The Plan began with a frontal assault. That meant that they
would go in through the main gate, like the innocent company of strolling
players they purported to be, having been hired to entertain the king. They had
been booked for a return show the last time they'd performed for him.
They went via another world - the Contras' secondary base which
they referred to as 'The Warehouse.' This was basically a big warehouse with a
'Gate in it, plus a couple of guard posts and an accommodation block. Here, the
Contras kept bigger items like their carts and equipment for major missions.
"You know," Eneas remarked to J as they geared up,
"I think this could be our biggest mission to date. Well, maybe not
biggest, but most important."
Besides S.G.-24 and Major King, Eneas was bringing five of his
men who had quite a professional juggling and tumbling routine. The clubs were
heavy and could be used as weapons - often had been in the past.
Ioana was included in the party along with two of the girls
from her team who had an impressive gymnastic dance routine. Ruxi was going
too, as Theo had been stuck with 'Gate duty and they still had much to discuss.
Aurel, Gav, Stelian and Ruby also insisted on tagging along as spies.
Toby protested when Eneas gave him a Contras' version of a
kevlar vest to wear under his peasant costume.
Eneas rested his arm across Toby's shoulder. "You, my
friend, are the focus of our mission. If anything happens to you, then our
"But, I can't be the only one so protected!"
"You aren't. Ioana is our medic., so she'll be protected
too. So please. Put it on. Consider it a gift that we will be offended if you
don't accept," Eneas said with a nod and a smile.
Toby gave in and obeyed orders.
When all were ready, Eneas dialed the Ceresc-tsara 'Gate. Theo
sent KIT through first to check out the lie of the land. Although it was
midday, all was quiet on the other side, so the group of nineteen set off.
They were pushing or pulling carts containing costumes, wigs,
juggling clubs, make-up and scenery. These disguised the carts' false bottoms
which contained weaponry and explosives. J was a little wary about the latter.
They went through the main gate after bribing the guards. Again.
Inside, they headed for the king's mansion. SG-14's presence
there was advertized by the gate-keeper leaning against the wall of his booth,
bleeding from a shoulder wound, and signs of the use of C4 on the gates. J sent
his bug over the wall to spy out the land.
Lt. Yardley and SG-14's linguist, Dr. Jessop, were rooting
around in the bushes. J then sent the bug through an open window. Col. Rushton,
Major Underwood, Lt. Chambers and Captain Bachman were searching the mansion's
interior. They seemed to have started at the king's quarters and were working
their way to the other end of the building.
The company therefore followed SG-24's route over the wall and
through the cellar to the king's quarters, taking their weaponry with them.
Toby was dressed in the king's robes along with a fake gold crown from Contra's
costume store. He might as well look the part.
Silent as shadows, the Contras headed for the minstrels'
gallery. Toby and SG-24 went to a mezzanine walkway above the king's table and
overlooking the dining hall in the direction of the minstrels' gallery. There,
they hide behind the supporting columns. And waited.
J monitored SG-14's activities via the bug glasses. The High
Chamberlain, Ionascu, was fussing around SG-14. Bachman drew his pistol on him
and told him to fuck off, or at least to shut the fuck up. Ionascu patently
hadn't understood either the order, nor the import of the 9 mil.
Bachman shot him anyway.
J took it as his cue and nodded to Eneas who tossed a thunder
flash into the center of the hall.
It was small by Eneas's standards but big enough to fetch the
bad guys running back into the hall, Rushton having summoned the other two in
from the garden. They spread out, searching the hall but failed to look up.
Until Toby put his fingers to his lips and gave a piercing whistle.
"Looking for something?" he called down, then ducked
below the parapet as half a dozen SMGs swung around to point upwards in his
direction. Behind them, the Contras opened up with their ray guns, taking out
the entire team with assistance from SG-24 using their borrowed ray guns.
"Didn't see that one coming, did ya?" Toby
When SG-14 recovered consciousness, they were chained up in the
mansion's underground prison cells. Not that they could tell as they had black
hoods over their heads. Toby, along with the Contras and SG-24, the latter
lurking in a dark corner, waited for them to come round before confronting
them, first letting them discuss their predicament among themselves.
"What the fuck just happened?" Bachman groaned.
"No idea," Major Underwood grunted, "but those
weapons were not mediaeval."
"Hey Bachman, I thought you said this King Tobias would
be a pushover," Col. Rushton grumbled.
"Look on the bright side," Dr. Jessop said. "At
least your friend Mitchell doesn't know about this cock-up."
"Mitchell's no friend of mine," Bachman snapped,
covering up a smothered snigger from Maxine. "In fact, if I didn't know
the idiot and his team were chasing their tails round the Agora lookin' for
those kids, I'd say this situation had his paw marks all over it, fuck
'King Tobias' thought it was time to get down to business.
"Ah, you're awake, gentlemen. Your actions today have been
perfidious, and, being in breach of our treaty, bordering on treasonable. That
treaty is now suspended pending an explanation by your government for this
incursion. The treaty will then be renegotiated reducing our contribution from
ten per cent to five per cent."
"You can't do that!" Rushton blustered.
"Oh, but I can," Tobias said. "Who's king?"
"You are," Rushton responded sulkily.
"Good. Glad we've got that straight. Now, I am not an
unreasonable man. Five of you will be set free, minus your weapons. You will be
escorted to the 'Gate and sent back home with a diplomatic message from me for
your masters regarding this incident. Please bear in mind that Noucincu is not
quite as mediaeval as you might think, so don't bother making any more
Toby paused. "One of you will not be returning. Captain
Bachman will be remaining in my dungeon for the attempted murder of my High
Chamberlain, Ionascu, who is currently in a critical condition with your 9 mil.
slug in his gut. If he should die, so will you!"
"Hey that wasn't me!" Bachman protested.
"Yes, it was you. You were seen and identified by a
witness of unimpeachable reputation."
Fortunately, as Toby had no intention of executing Bachman,
tempting though that thought was, Ioana had managed to save Ionascu's life. No
one was going to tell Bachman that though. He could sweat a little - no - a
whole lot longer.
After that, Toby summoned his head chef and, reverting to
'Anton' mode, made plans for a 'thank you' dinner party for SG-24 and the
Contras that evening. Thereafter, word spread rapidly around the town that the
king had returned 'from a hunting trip,' and with the uncertainty removed, life
began to get back to normal.
Meanwhile, Toby and his guests discussed how to improve
Ceresc-tsara in general and Noucincu in particular. Maxine took Ruby aside for
a quiet word, leaving a message with her should anyone notice she was missing,
then headed off for the 'Gate.
She'd all but forgotten that her cousin and Ruxi were watching
the 'Gate until she'd almost reached it. She couldn't see them, but she could
hear them clearly. It was partly in a spirit of mischief that she opened a time
loop and went to find them. She then sat down between them and closed the time
"Having a good time?" she asked as they both shrieked
"Did you have to do that?" Theo asked once
he'd regained his composure.
"What? You rather I was Bachman?" Maxine grinned.
"Hell no! He's not here is he?"
"Fortunately not as you were soo easy to creep up
"Ah, sorry. Not exactly keeping a keen look-out were
we?" Theo said looking a little guilty. "Though I can't help thinking
you cheated... I take it the mission went well?"
"Oh, yeah! But I don't have time to tell you about it
right now. All being well, I'll be back in an hour or two, then we can all go
to the party!"
It was around 1800 hours when Maxine walked down the ramp at
the S.G.C. The shift was changing so no one paid her much attention, being in a
hurry to catch the shift bus home. She was just in time to grab a place on said
bus into the Springs, then walked to Rachel King's apartment and rang the bell.
She was lucky - very lucky, she realized - that Rachel was at
home. Rachel looked through the door's peephole but didn't immediately
"Who is it?" she called.
"It's me, Esther Pepperday."
Rachel let her in. "Sorry, you look so different."
She was looking hopeful. Maxine's 'Grey Grue' had shed her grey
apparel and was wearing a long dress. The material was patterned with irregular
wavy vertical stripes in harmonizing marine shades of blue, green and lavender.
Rachel looked years younger.
Maxine couldn't help but say, "Wow! You look
"Thank you," Rachel smiled, the smile making her look
"Rachel, do you have any reason to carry on living here in
"Not really, no."
"Would you be prepared to relocate? At very short
Rachel looked stunned. "You've found him?" she asked
Maxine nodded, grinning broadly. "So go pack a bag or
three and let's go. Before anyone can stop us!"
Rachel already had a couple of holdalls almost filled in
anticipation, and flew round packing a few last items. Maxine was touched by
Rachel's faith in her.
That done, they loaded the bags into the trunk of Rachel's car,
then she drove them both up to the S.G.C. parking garage. Soon, they hit
trouble - nothing too major, just a problem signing back in.
The new shift's desk clerk recognized Maxine despite her
changed appearance. "I'm sorry, Dr. Pepperday, but you don't have
clearance from the President to pass this checkpoint."
"Then your information is out of date. Ask yourself how I
left the S.G.C. in the first place."
That gave him pause. While he was vacillating, Maxine took her
chance. "Look, Captain, we've got the damn' ship back, but there are a few
more 'i s' to dot and 't s' to cross, which is why I've had to make a flying
visit home to collect my assistant here. Of course, if you're going to hold us
up and we lose the ship for good, then on your head be it. You can
explain it to President Warren..."
The young captain capitulated. They signed in, Rachel scrawling
a false name as Maxine had suggested earlier. Then taking a bag each, they
hurried down to the 'Gate room.
"Dial up P5R-772 please, Sergeant Purvis," Maxine
Sergeant Purvis did so. Maxine took Rachel's hand and together
they walked up the ramp and through the 'Gate.
"Well, you've really burnt your boats now," Maxine
said on the other side. "No going back."
"You know what? I don't care!" Rachel grinned.
"Good! And by the way, you are no longer Rachel King. You
are now Princess Rachel."
"Well, your father is King Tobias here, so I guess that
makes you a princess."
Rachel gave a watery chuckle. "He used to call me his
On the way back to Noucincu, along with Theo, who carried one
of Rachel's bags, and Ruxi, Maxine filled in all the details Rachel wasn't
officially cleared to know. Well, she wasn't going back, and Maxine figured she
ought to know about the Bruxai, who'd kidnaped her father, the Contras who'd
helped to rescue him. And President Warren.
It was nearly nightfall as they approached the town gates and
the guards were beginning to close them. Maxine strode up to the gates.
"Stand aside," she ordered.
"We don't take orders from the likes of you!"
"You do now! Princess Rachel is guest of honor at King
Tobias' dinner party tonight. So if you don't want your head to be adorning
these walls on a spike in the morning, you will let us through. And find a
couple of men to carry the princess's baggage to the king's residence.
Well, it had been a funny sort of a day all round, and the town
had been rife with rumors and men with strange weapons. Discretion won out over
valor - or being pushy. They didn't even bother to demand a bribe.
Maxine dismissed their escort after the men had put down
Rachel's baggage and rapped on the mansion's big brass knocker. Two teenagers
in blue livery answered the knock.
"Conduct us to the main hall and announce the Princess
Rachel," Maxine ordered. "Then take her luggage to the king's
The two scurried off to do her bidding, throwing open the
double doors for them to enter. There was a stunned silence for moment, then
Toby ran over, wrapped his arms around his daughter and swung her off her feet.
"For this, you are - all of you - forever my friends, and
if you ever need a safe haven, this is it!" Toby said with tears in his
This was the cue for the party began amid rejoicing all round.
Then there would be much catching up to do for father and daughter.
All the guests stayed for another three days to ensure that the
unknown régime change went smoothly and for SG-24 to work out their
alibi. Rachel blossomed in her new environment. Looking back to when they'd
first met, Maxine began to understand how sad she must have been back then.
There now remained only the final act.
Toby would hang on to SG-14 for another week to give SG-24 time
to get everything wound up, then he would return them, he said with a sinister
little laugh. Except for Bachman whom he would hang on to indefinitely against
further Tau'ri marauding...
"Actually, I suspect Bachman may well have out-lived his
usefulness where Warren's concerned," J said cynically.
"Oh well, I dare say you'll be happy to have him kept out
of your - er - hair?" Toby grinned.
Meanwhile, Eneas's red team had cleaned out Dignity totally -
including the sound system and CDs. All that was left was the 'Gate, the
necessary flight computer, and several sledge hammers and chisels. The ship was
now parked in geosynchronous orbit above the Agora.
While they were waiting, Ioana took pity on 'Blondie.' She
found some brown dye and returned his hair to its original color, more or less.
Luc had a shave.
Then SG-24, along with Aurel, 'Gated on to Dignity. Aurel
parked Dignity in the space port, pretty much in the same place he'd taken her
from. He wanted to stay for the demolition but J wouldn't hear of it. He didn't
want to be responsible for Aurel's getting caught and sold on the slave market
or worse. Aurel, being generally sensible, gave up and 'Gated back to Gradina.
With Theo and Maxine keeping watch outside, J and Luc set about
wrecking the flight computer. It didn't take long considering they were very
meticulous about it. That done, they found a couple of Astunomia guards and
took them to Dignity.
"This is a Tau'ri ship that was stolen from here several
years ago," Maxine said. "We were sent here to recover the vessel,
but we can't get into it to fly it home. Could you post a guard on it so it
won't be stolen again, please. We'll send an aeronautics team to deal with it
as soon as possible."
The guards, jealous of their reputation as a crime free market,
happily agreed, and apologized for the original theft.
"Oh, and could you give me a receipt to say where and when
we found it and its state too, please?" Once the paperwork had been
completed - in quadruplicate, two copies for each party - SG-24 headed back to
the Agora 'Gate.
Much to their surprise, there was no welcoming party. Maxine
still used Daniel's time loop brooch though. Then they were home. And facing a
'Gate Room full of SFs with weapons trained on them...
"Well, hey, what's going on here?" J demanded.
"You're not allowed back on Earth. Sir." grinned a
Maxine pushed past J. "Ohh, yes we are," she said,
waving the Astunomia papers, "so just go fetch General Bradfield!
There was a slightly stunned silence.
"What she said," J grinned.
Bradfield appeared very promptly. Maxine handed over the top
copy and stowed her other copy in her jeans pocket.
"Yes, that looks fine," the general smiled.
"I'll see you four for debriefing after your medical checks. The rest of
The team's first destination however was the PATT storage bay.
There, they locked away all their gold coins. They would just return the small
"So you did it! Well done SG-24! How did you manage
it?" Bradfield asked.
"A bit of a wild goose chase and a lot of luck," J
"And basically, they're good kids," Maxine added.
"When we finally caught up with them, they were really upset that they'd
caused us so much trouble, bless them."
"They knew of a planet within the ship's range where they
could make a new home for themselves, so they flew us there."
"Where was that, Major?" Bradfield asked.
"I'm sorry we have no idea, sir. They landed the ship
pretty much in the middle of nowhere, then moved all their personal effects
out, including their deadly sound system. I doubt our European allies would've
wanted that, so I guess the kids did them a favor there."
The rest of the team chuckled at that.
"Then Aurel flew us back to the Agora," J continued,
"and left the ship where they'd found it. He said he'd use the ship's
'Gate to go back to the world where the rest were and we parted company. Dr.
Pepperday got the Astunomia to place a guard on the ship so it won't be stolen
again before our European allies go and collect it. They also gave us a receipt
to show that we've fulfilled our part of the mission."
"Oh, and here's the remains of our money, sir," Theo
said, producing his money pouch. "I'm afraid there isn't much left."
"We had to pay a few bribes," Luc explained.
"I see. Well that all seems in order, SG-24.
Maxine couldn't help thinking that Warren wasn't going to be
too happy with their very sketchy reports, especially when their supposed
allies found that the ship had been stripped and trashed. Strangely, she didn't
receive an urgent summons to explain herself. Maybe Warren was beginning to
realize that he wasn't going to get very far with her? Or maybe he was just
giving her enough rope...?
Happily for SG-24 and Ash, they all happened to be in the 'Gate
Room when King Tobias returned the five members of SG-14 as promised, along
with a serious diplomatic complaint about their behavior. He was suspending the
treaty pending an explanation and an apology.
It was the manner of their return which caused all the fuss.
Apparently, Ioana had wanted her blindfolds back, so these had been replaced
with their BDU pants.
The cream of the jest was that SG-14 had unfortunately gone
commando, and the weather on the march back to the 'Gate had been particularly
chilly that morning...
It was clear that King Tobias Mk2 was not someone to take