On Saturday, May 29th 2094, when she was ten and a half and, according
to her father, growing like a damn' mushroom, Maxine went missing.
The atmosphere at home had been tense all that week. At the beginning there
was a glacial frostiness and the temperature had slowly ratchetted up from
there. Grandma Cassidy had taken Rusty out to the children's play area shortly
after lunch to give Kim a break and maybe tire him out a little.
When The Row finally broke out, it could have blistered paint. Felix had
taken himself off to the little shed at the end of the yard and locked himself
in. That left Maxine listening to the vitriolic words and clanging missiles on
She'd had enough and wanted some peace and quiet to get her homework done.
So she'd packed her books and pencils back into her school-bag along with her
pajamas, let herself out of the house - unnoticed by her parents - and set off
for Aunt Claire's. She'd previously taken note of the route her parents took
for family visits, in the expectation that, sooner or later, she would need to
find her own way there.
Maxine arrived outside Aunt Claire's house late in the afternoon, and, not
having been able to observe the key code, had to scrape aside some of the
gravel and wriggle under the gate. Good thing she was skinny as well as tall
for her age. Strangely, Aunt Claire didn't seem overly surprised to see her,
and listened calmly to her account.
"I see," was all she said, then led Maxine into the kitchen and
gave her some fresh lemonade and cookies, all homemade.
Maxine cried a little, but tried not to let Aunt Claire see. Aunt Claire had
seen but refrained from comment. He grandniece had already become quite
self-contained and wouldn't have wanted sympathy in case it made her cry all
the more. Some fool of a teacher had recently told her that 'big girls don't
cry' when Maxine was in trouble at school and felt particularly guilty about
it. It had made Claire's palm itch to slap the stupid woman when she'd gotten
to hear about it.
"You can use the kitchen table for your homework. You won't be
disturbed," Claire said, then went to have a word with Joel, her
She could have used the cranky telephone service but felt that the personal
touch would drive the point home more forcefully. She really wanted to eye-ball
her wayward nephew. It would also be easier on her temper if the 'phone system
was in one of its less co-operative moods which it was more often than not
these days. She sometimes wondered if this was down to covert surveillance of
some sort, which was a disincentive to use the 'phone at all.
Joel, the son of the then janitor at Harrington, had been in Claire's employ
for nearly thirteen years, ever since he'd left school. He had never done well
there. He'd been regarded as a bit simple and tormented accordingly. Claire had
given him a job which was well within his compass, and had generally taken him
under her wing. Not surprisingly, he had rapidly become devoted to her.
Now, she gave him instructions to drive her car to Logan Street and to
return with Rufus Pepperday. "If he refuses to come, tell him I
will come to him if he doesn't come to me. No need to tell
him that Maxine is here. He's smart enough to work it out anyway, but if he
asks, just tell him you have no idea."
"I shall play dumb," Joel replied and laughed. "I am quite
good at that!"
"So you are, Joel," Claire grinned appreciatively. She'd known for
a long time that, though he was not academically inclined, he was far from
As it turned out, Rufus had come without need of coercion. Burning with
resentment at what he saw as Aunt Claire's interference in his life, he strode
into Claire's home loudly demanding the return of his daughter. Claire called
him into her parlor and listened in patient silence to his rant.
This took him through an extensive repertoire up to and including his
favorite beef about Aunt Claire, in her role of Maxine's godmother, insisting
that for the child's own safety, she should have an additional, and biblical,
first name. "Like you didn't think I could protect my own daughter from
the fuckin' Warriors...."
"I guess. So let me have my daughter."
"No." Claire held up her hand against further protests. "Do
you seriously think that, having driven Maxine to leave home and walk three
miles across town all by herself with your screaming and yelling, that coming
here and screaming and yelling at me is going to make her want to return?"
Five foot eight inches looked up over her wire-framed spectacles and
directed a piercing look at six foot two. Six foot two looked down at the
carpet and shuffled his feet.
"All right. Now listen up. This is the way it's going to be. Joel will
take you home where you will make your peace with Kim. Maxine - she has a name,
a fine name, which you gave her - will be staying here overnight. Joel
will return her tomorrow evening in time for bed. For the future, when you and
Kim have a row - and I'm neither optimistic enough nor stupid enough to think
that this will never happen - then before either of you says a word, you
Rufus Pepperday, will take your children to a place of safety, either here or
to Kim's mother or to any other place they choose. Because if I have any more
of your waifs turning up on my doorstep, you will be in fucking deep
shit. Do I make myself clear?"
Rufus nodded. His aunt had made herself abundantly clear and without ever
raising her voice.
That evening, Claire tucked Maxine up in bed in the best guestroom and
brought her a mug of soothing warm milk sweetened with honey.
"Now, Childie," she said, "I'm going to tell you a bedtime
story. Unlike most bed time stories, this one is true. Also unlike most bedtime
stories, this one is dangerous and best kept strictly between the two of
"Or the Civil Guard will come knocking at our doors?"
"Oh but that wouldn't be the first time. And Daddy's never been
kept in jail longer than overnight."
"Yes, and I sincerely hope he will continue to keep two or three steps
ahead of the authorities. This though, could be much, much
Maxine's eyes opened very wide. "Th-the Warriors of Christ?" she
"Yes indeed. That's why we all to go to all the church services,
whether we want to or not."
"Or they'll do bad things to us?"
"If they come knocking on our doors, they will do very bad
things to us, and they'll have the Civil Guard with them, to say it never
happened or that we resisted being taken for 're-education.' I say this not to
frighten you, but to warn you. It is important to know how things are. It helps
us to avoid making painful mistakes."
"Maybe you shouldn't tell me Aunt Claire."
"Oh, I think you're old enough and sensible enough. And it will give
you a reason to hope for better things as you pay the obligatory lip service to
the barbarian religious zealots. Besides, I trust you. I know you'll never let
Maxine looked very gratified. "Ok, if you think it'll be all right. I
trust you too, Aunt Claire."
"Then I'll begin. This is a story about Grandfather Daniel."
"Oh. It must be a very old story then."
Claire laughed. "To you, yes. To me, not so much. In fact, when I was
your age, he used to tell me his stories at bedtime too. He wasn't supposed to,
just like I'm not supposed to tell you, though for other reasons. Things were
much different then. Maybe, one day, rationality - sanity - will return.
Anyway, this story is also about a marvelous artefact, a sort of machine,
called a Stargate. There are billions of them and they were made by people
called the Ancients millions of years ago."
"So the Earth isn't six thousand years old, then?"
Claire chuckled. "No it isn't. It's about four and a half billion
years old and that is something else you should keep very much to yourself. In
fact - basic rule - if it goes against anything written in the Bible, don't say
it! Not in public anyway."
Claire went on to relate the story of how Grandfather Daniel had figured out
how to make the Stargate work and how Colonel Jack O'Neill, whose name was
actually Jonathan, had come on the scene.
"Jonathan? Like my grandfather who went 'missing in action' after The
"My brother, yes. He was named after Colonel O'Neill." Claire
smiled sadly. "Or General O'Neill as he later became."
Maxine managed to stay awake through the tale of Grandfather Daniel's being
dragged across the desert by the mastadge, but as Aunt Claire described the
discovery of actual people living on the alien planet, her eyelids gave up the
fight and she slipped into a peaceful sleep and dreams of distant worlds.
The next day, in between visits to church, Claire finished off the story and
Maxine asked her about the things Grandfather Daniel knew - the archaeology,
anthropology and linguistics, so Claire told her. She too had doctorates in
archaeology and anthropology along with ancient languages. Maxine was an apt
pupil and a very quick study, soaking up information like a sponge.
Thereafter, Maxine spent most of her weekends at Aunt Claire's. Joel
collected her from home after tea on Friday and took her home in time for bed
on Sunday evening. And so it went on until Uncle Waldo's forty-eighth birthday
party on Saturday, 27th April 2097. Claire liked to throw parties, ably
assisted by Joel's wife and her sister, to celebrate the birthdays of her
nearest kin, having no family of her own to celebrate.
Waldo Hunter was Claire's elder surviving nephew. His birthday was actually
on Sunday 28th. However, knowing that his wife, the baleful Martha-Bethany,
would make his life hell - which was an appropriate metaphor, Claire thought -
if she threw a party for him on the day itself, she'd organized the party for
the day before.
Naturally, the party did not go without a hitch, not that Claire expected it
to with Martha-Bethany and her obnoxious daughter, Marya-Mehitabel among the
Marya, nearly twenty years old, was very proud of the fact that her name
meant 'Handmaiden of The Lord,' a title she took very seriously. No one had
ever told her that it also meant 'bitter.' Waldo had certainly kept very quiet
on the subject. Like most of Grandfather Daniel's descendants, he wasn't
stupid. Unlike Grandfather Daniel, he had a strong sense of self-preservation,
though it had plainly been taking a nap the day he asked Martha-Bethany Barnes
to marry him.
His wife made much of the fact that Waldo's birthday was actually on Sunday,
and should be spent in prayer and contemplation, not in pleasurable indulgence;
moving it a day forward was just plain cheating.
"And yet you came too," Claire observed mildly. "I would not
have been offended had you declined my invitation."
"Oh, I haven't come to enjoy myself," Martha-Bethany informed her
No, just to make sure no one else does, Claire thought.
"Are you not aware, that although today is a Saturday, it is also St.
Theophilus' Day, St. Floribert's Day and St. John of Constantinople's
"Martha-Bethany!" Claire exclaimed in feigned horror, "You
haven't turned Catholic, have you?"
The unwelcome guest's jaw dropped. "I most certainly have not!"
"Oh, I do apologize! I should have remembered. The Catholics call them
Feast Days, don't they?"
Martha-Bethany gave a deeply offended sniff and strode off towards the
dining room with her nose in the air.
"Oops," Claire murmured to herself, "shouldn't have done
She noticed that two other guests were missing and had a good idea of where
to find them. Collecting some peppermint drops from the kitchen, she went out
into the yard and headed for the little summerhouse. When the sun was on it, it
was pleasantly warm inside even on cold spring days. Sure enough, the curtains
were pulled too and voices were coming from inside. As she came closer she
heard Rufus' voice.
"How on earth do you put up with the woman?"
"Long years of practice," Waldo replied ruefully. "She wasn't
always like this you know - only since her cousin came to visit a coupla months
after we were married, and brought this hell-fire preacher with him - Pastor
Jeremiah Phelps, may he burn in hell for all the trouble he's caused!"
Claire knocked lightly on the door and entered. The two men, whisky glasses
in hand, had turned to the door, aghast, but relaxed when they saw who it was.
"God, Aunt Claire!" Rufus exclaimed, "Give a man a heart
attack, why don't you?"
Claire handed them a couple of peppermint drops each. "I just came to
warn you, actually. Martha-Bethany is on the warpath."
"Tell me something I don't know," Waldo grunted glumly.
"So I suggest you put the whisky bottle back under the floorboards -
the glasses too. Joel will fetch them in later when everyone's gone. Then you'd
better come back inside before Martha-Bethany misses you, and make like you're
having a really miserable time."
Waldo chuckled, appreciating the mordant humor, while Rufus stashed the
whisky. He'd just replaced the loose plank when the lady in question arrived,
barging in without warning.
"I thought so! And what are you up to in here, as if I couldn't
guess?" she said, sniffing the air suspiciously.
"Just havin' a little man talk, Martha-B," Rufus said,
deliberately needling her with his unwelcome familiarity.
"Actually, they were just discussing what to get you for your birthday
next month," Claire said.
Martha-Bethany jumped. "Oh, Doctor Pepperday! I didn't see you
there," she said disapprovingly, as if Claire had deliberately concealed
herself behind the door. Turning back to the men, she asked, eyes full of
distrust, "And what have you decided on?"
"Aw, now Martha-B, it wouldn't be much of a surprise if you knew in
advance, now would it?" Rufus drawled. There were times when Claire really
liked her troublesome nephew.
Meanwhile Maxine, who had willingly been co-opted into sharing hostess
duties, was circulating among the other guests, passing round plates of cookies
and cakes and collecting empty cups and glasses. Passing the door to the
breakfast room, she heard her cousin, Zachary Ward, talking in a low voice.
"I swear, Theo, there's definitely something fishy going on up in
"Just because a guy goes missing, doesn't mean it has anything to do
with the mountain."
"Yes. It does," Zak said more forcefully. "You don't know
the whole story."
"Do I want to?" Theo asked. He sounded unhappy, Maxine thought.
"Yeah, it's dead weird!" The third voice belonged to Zak's
eleven year old brother, Dominic.
Maxine had to go in. As she entered, three heads turned towards her, wearing
much the same expressions as Rufus and Waldo had when Claire arrived, though
this time, there was no whisky involved. There was a collective sigh of relief
from the three boys when they saw who it was.
"Yees," Maxine said with a knowing look. "I suggest you keep
your voices down. Or find somewhere really private. You never know who might be
earwigging..." She thought for a moment. "Alternatively, you could
change the subject to something safer."
An hour or so later, Maxine came across Theo on his own. He was sitting on
the floor in the nook under the staircase, with his arms wrapped round his
knees and his head resting on them, looking towards the wall. He was a picture
of abject misery. She got down on hands and knees and moved into the space
beside him. He didn't seem to notice, so she gave him a gentle nudge.
"Go away, Marya," he growled.
"Not Marya," she murmured.
He raised his head and gave her a slightly watery smile but said nothing.
Neither did Maxine for a while. Just let him get used to the company. She
nudged him again.
"What?" he scowled.
"I think we ought to talk," she said, "but not here."
"You don't want to have anything to do with me," Theo responded,
and added with a slight crack in his voice, "I'll only drag you down with
"Yes I do, and no you won't, so come on. I know somewhere where the
Malevalent Marya can't creep up on us."
She grabbed his hand and pulled him out of the nook, sliding him across
Aunt Claire's well-polished wood floor. Theo gave in to force majeure and got
to his feet. Looking round and seeing no sign of either Marya or her mother,
Maxine dragged Theo behind her through the kitchen and out into the yard. Joel
was busy raking a seed-bed in the vegetable garden. Maxine went up to him.
"Joel, you know Marya don't you?"
Joel nodded, making a sour face.
"Well, if she comes out here looking for us, could you tell her you
haven't seen us? The same goes for Aunt Martha-Bethany."
Joel rolled his eyes. "It'll be a pleasure, Miss Maxine." He gave
her and Theo a speculative grin. "Are you off canoodling?"
"Certainly not," Maxine said.
Joel's face fell. "Sorry Miss Maxine, I didn't mean t"
"No, I'm the one who should apologize. I didn't mean to snap. Must be
The Marya Effect." She shuddered.
"Oh. I see," Joel said, giving Maxine a relieved smile and a
thumbs-up. "Ok then. I haven't seen you. Right?"
Maxine led Theo to what had once been a stable, but now housed Aunt Claire's
car, and the old 'people carrier' that Rufus had restored so that Joel could
drive the Hunters and the Wards between Denver and the Springs. The old stable
also had a hayloft.
Maxine and Theo climbed the ladder and pulled it up after them. They lay on
the floor where they could see anyone coming in, and duck out of the way so as
not to be seen themselves. Maxine didn't bother wasting time on small talk.
"Ok, what's Her Awfulness done now?"
Theo gave a morose sigh. "It's more what she said and she's probably
right; I shall burn in hell for all eternity..."
"That's bollocks! She's just trying to get under your skin - and
succeeding by the sound of it. Don't let her get to you."
"That's easy to say. You don't have to live with her."
"Look, Theo, have you ever done, or would you ever do, anything
that would make your Dad dig a deep pit in your yard, fill it with kindling,
set fire to it then throw you into it?"
"No! Of course I haven't! He he wouldn't!" Theo
"And even if you'd done something really bad, he still wouldn't
do that, would he? Because that would be an evil and cruel punishment for a
father to impose, right?"
"So you think God would do something to you that's so evil and cruel
that your own father wouldn't even consider it?"
Theo looked thoughtful.
"'Cos either your Dad's waaay better than God, or you're in no
danger of going to hell."
"Isn't that kinda blasphemous?" Theo asked, wrinkling his nose.
"I think it's blasphemous to make out you're speaking for God - to use
God to make people do what you want them to!"
Theo gave her a reluctant smile. "I guess." He seemed relieved if
not entirely convinced.
"So what brought all this on?"
"My birthday last October."
"What? We had a great time," Maxine exclaimed, puzzled.
"Well, actually, it all started the Sunday after. Mom sent Pop off on
some wild goose chase, then Uncle Ezra came round with my cousin, Reuben. They
said that now I was fifteen, it was time for me to join The Young
Maxine was horrified. The Young Warriors were the youth branch of The
Warriors of Christ. They were basically 'saintly' young thugs in training to
persecute those who weren't totally dedicated to Christ as their savior, which
in reality meant anyone they took a dislike to.
"Shit! We got Warriors of Christ in the family?"
"Not on Pop's side, thank God! But on Mom's side, I think the family's
riddled with 'em pretty much. Uncle Ezra is obviously, and Reuben, and I
wouldn't bet against any of his brothers being in either the Y.W.s or the
A sudden thought struck Maxine. "Fuck! I wonder if they had anything to
do with Uncle Philo's death."
Theo's jaw dropped. Uncle Philo was the second of Rosa and Cosmo Hunter's
three children. He was born two years after Waldo. His death at the age of
twenty four had never been adequately explained. Waldo and Dido always believed
that their brother's death had caused their father to die of grief.
"Well, I wouldn't put it past them!" he said, his voice laden with
"So what happened when you said you wouldn't join?" Maxine asked,
certain of Theo's response. He gave her a wry grin, acknowledging that she was
"They said it was my duty. That The Rapture wouldn't come unless I
joined and did my bit for The Lord - hallelujah! It's been delayed
because of too many people whose faith was weak. It was my duty to make
those people believe and keep them true to The Lord - hallelujah! If I
didn't, and The Rapture didn't come, it would be all my fault. I said I wasn't
a warrior and that I believed Jesus preached peace and love, not war. Then they
said, we have to fight for peace and that I was born on St. Amicus' Day."
"Apparently he was a French knight who worked for some guy called
Charlie Main. He took part in a campaign in Italy and got martyred for it. So I
said I wasn't aiming to be a saint."
"God! I bet that went down well! Not!"
"Oh they didn't get chance to react to that, because Pop walked in
then. He said he didn't want any child of his joining up with that bunch of
"Wow! Go, Uncle Waldo!"
"Yeah. Uncle Ezra took the huff at that and they left saying I'd
regret my decision but that there would be rejoicing in the presence of the
angels of The Lord - hallelujah! - when I changed my mind. Which I
would. There was a kind of silent 'or else' tacked on to the end of that. Of
course, Pop got it in the neck from Mom when she found out."
"Jesus, poor uncle Waldo."
"Yeah," Theo sighed. "Still, he manages to spend most of his
time at work, for which Uncle Barney is very grateful. Anyhow, ever since Uncle
Ezra came round, the efforts - mostly from Marya - to make me change my mind
have been unceasing."
"Huh? Marya's a Y.W.?"
"God no!" Theo rolled his eyes. "They don't allow
'wimmin' in the warriors - well, not as warriors anyway. Their job is
just to make themselves useful to the men - mostly supplying 'information' to
their menfolk for them to go sort out, and adding their 'encouragement' to
backsliders like me."
"Oh great, so we have a couple of spies in the camp?"
"Marya certainly is, but Mom knows which side her bread's
buttered." The cynicism there was palpable. "She wouldn't do anything
to land Pop in the shit, which kinda extends to me. But Marya hasn't let up
since Uncle Ezra's visit. 'The Rapture isn't coming and it's all your fault,
Theodore. You are so gonna burn in hell for all eternity... Yadda,
"Well, at least we've cleared up that misapprehension. We have,
"I guess so." Theo gave her a world weary smile. Maxine
appreciated the effort. "Thing is," he went on, "when you keep
hearing the same thing over and over and over again, day in, day out, you kind
of get to believe it. It seems easier that way."
Maxine shuddered. "Yeah. That's called brainwashing, Theo." She
had an idea. "Ya know, Your brain needs to have a new direction."
"Ok, let's hear it."
"Erm, I need to get clearance first."
"Oh, by the way, what were Zak and Dom talking about when I, as in
not-Marya, walked in on you all?"
"Well, it's not a secret particularly," Theo conceded and told
his cousin the salient features of the weirdness of Cheyenne Mountain.
Waldo and Barnaby Ward - Zak and Dom's father - ran a road haulage business
together, the Hunter Ward Trucking Company. This was not only a profitable
business in hard times, but also meant they got business allowance fuel coupons
- highly desirable when rationing was the order of the day.
One of their clients was the S.G.C. up in Cheyenne Mountain. No one knew
what the letters stood for, and no one went up there unless he had a really
good reason. Snooping was rigorously discouraged by extensive amounts of razor
wire, or at the business end of a rifle if need be.
The way the system worked was that the S.G.C. delivered their cargoes to
various warehouses and depots in the Springs during the night. Their trucks
were unloaded and the goods re-loaded on to the trucks of their various haulage
contractors for shipping out across the country. Where possible, the cargoes
went by freight train, but a lot of places still hadn't been reconnected to the
rail network since The Great Disaster of 2064.
In the October of that year, a massive subduction earthquake along the Juan
de Fuco fault line under the Cascades had registered a magnitude of 9.7 on the
Richter scale. It had set off quakes along the San Andreas and Hayward Faults,
a blind thrust fault on the San Gregorio, plus a minor movement of the
Calaveras Fault among others. The ground movements also triggered eruptions of
Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood, with lahars and pyroclastic
flows laying waste to a sizeable area of the states of Washington and Oregon.
Hell on earth was how survivors described it. Those accounts had been
grabbed joyously by the Warriors of Christ as proof manifest of the anger of
God at the growing religious apathy, and tolerance for sinners and
non-Christians in the once great U.S. of A. Clearly this could no longer be
accepted by The Righteous. If The Rapture was to come, action must be taken
now! What came instead was a close approximation to a nuclear winter for
"The strange thing is," Theo went on, "that no one's allowed
to look under the hoods of the trucks that come from the Mountain. Not that
they ever break down or anything. Which is kinda odd in the usual way of such
things. Anyhow, Simon Breckenridge, one of the drivers from Turner
Transportation, reckoned he was going to have a look while the S.G.C.'s drivers
were taking a break during the unloading."
"So what did he find?" Maxine asked, suspecting that she already
knew the answer to that one.
"The hood was welded shut. They all were."
"So why make a big fuss about not looking under the hood?"
"Quite. Besides, if you've got a secret you don't want people to find
out about, you don't let on that you're keeping anything secret."
Maxine shot him an approving look. Yes, her idea was a good one. "Go
on," she said, feeling that there was more to come.
"Well, the next night, Breckenridge didn't show up for work, though his
car was found in the parking lot. A couple of our guys lent T.T.'s a hand with
the transfer to their trucks, which is how come Zak and Dom knew about it. Mr
Turner went round to Breckenridge's house. Not only was there nobody there, but
the house had been completely emptied and there was a 'To Let' sign up
"That sounds bad."
"Oh yeah. Most of the neighbors claimed not to have seen anything,
which seems unlikely, but one kid said he'd seen a big dark car pull up
outside. There was a full moon that night, otherwise he couldn't have seen
anything. Two men got out, ran up the steps, got the door open somehow and went
inside. About five minutes later, Mrs. Breckenridge came out carrying the baby
while one of the men dragged the older child along by the arm. They were
bundled into the car and driven off at high speed. Then a big truck arrived,
all the furniture and belongings were loaded into it then it drove off too. I
suppose the 'don't look under the hood' thing was a test with some sort of
alarm rigged somehow. Guess Breckenridge failed the test."
"That is diabolical!" Maxine exclaimed, "Both deceitful and
scary." It also made up her mind that Zak and Dom had to be included; they
needed to be protected. "Look stay here. There's a couple of things I need
to do, then I'll be right back. When I've gone, pull the ladder back up and
keep quiet, ok?"
Theo nodded but said nothing. The effect of having his life run for him by
the females in his family? Maxine hoped she wasn't included in that undesirable
category of manipulative and overbearing women.
Maxine slipped out of the side door of the stable which was unsighted from
the house, first checking that the coast was clear. She hurried back to the
house to find Aunt Claire, brushing the dust off her clothes as she went.
Passing through the kitchen, she ran straight into Marya - almost literally.
"Esther, have you seen Theodore?" she demanded.
Maxine paused as though in thought. "Er, yes. He was sitting under the
stairs last time I saw him. Is he alright? It's not like him to hide himself
away. I mean, he's never been the 'life-and-soul-of-the-party' type, but he
usually joins in with everyone else."
"Must be his guilty conscience," Marya said in a manner that
could only be described as snide.
"Oh? How come?" Maxine asked, all disingenuous innocence.
Marya, who would usually launch into a lengthy diatribe about her latest
victim's shortcomings with the minimum of invitations - or none at all - was
strangely reticent this time. "Oh he's just being his usual obdurate self,
but he'll soon see the light," was all she said in her irritatingly
supercilious manner, then she whirled away on her quest. Maxine thought it was
just as well. She'd felt an overwhelming urge to throttle her.
Maxine took a little more care and managed to avoid both Aunt
Martha-Bethany and Marya. When she spotted Aunt Claire, she strolled casually
towards her, collecting empty plates as she went. As they passed, Maxine said
softly, "I think we need some more lemonade. Could you give me a
Five minutes later, Aunt Claire joined her in the cellar. "What's the
problem, Maxine?" she asked looking concerned.
"We have problems - well, Theo certainly has. They're pressuring him to
join the Y.W.s - have been doing since last October - Marya especially. She
keeps on and on about him delaying The Rapture and burning in hell for it. You
get the picture? And it's worse. Aunt Martha-Bethany's brother and his family
belong the W.o.C.s."
Claire inhaled slowly. "Yes, I suspected as much."
"So I want to tell Theo about you know who and you know what. I want to
give his thoughts a better direction - something to hope for. And I want
to include Zak and Dom in that too."
"Well, Theo certainly. He's a good boy - trustworthy. But Zak and Dom?
Dom especially. He's only eleven."
"Which is older than I was when you told me."
Aunt Claire still didn't seem convinced. She looked long and hard at Maxine.
"There's more, isn't there?" she said at last.
Maxine nodded. "Yes, there is." She went on to outline the
disappearance of Simon Breckenridge after he'd tried to break into the engine
compartments of the trucks from the Mountain. "I'm guessing they have
naquadah generators, but why tell people not to do something they probably
wouldn't even think of doing without being led to believe there was something
of interest to investigate. It's... It's..."
"Entrapment? Sounds suspiciously like it."
"So that's why I want to include Zak and Dom. Felix and Rusty aren't
in the same danger, so I'm not asking to tell them too, but Zak and Dom - and
Uncle Barney - already know enough to get themselves into serious trouble by
the sound of it. If they know a little of the truth about what's going on under
the mountain, a) they won't be tempted to do something that could get them into
bigger trouble, and b) they'll know how very careful they have to be. Like Theo
said, the best way to keep a secret is not to let anyone know you have any
secrets to keep."
After a weighty pause, Claire nodded. "You make a good case, Maxine. I
trust your judgment. Tell them. I'll have a quiet word with Barney, too. Waldo
already knows how to keep his mouth shut." She rolled her eyes. "Now,
we'd better take some more lemonade up to the kitchen."
It didn't take Maxine long to find the two Ward brothers. Aunt Claire had in
her study a computer game console that still worked, so they were playing a
game with a little blue hedgehog in it. Maxine joined them.
She waited until the little blue hedgehog impaled itself on some vertical
spikes, ending the game, then said seriously, "I want the two of you to
come with me now. It's very important."
"Deadly important?" Dominic demanded, unwilling to leave the
"Yes, Dom, deadly important. And you can come back here very
"Oh. Is it something to with the Mounmph" His eyes widened
as Maxine clapped a hand over his mouth.
"Sh. Yes it is, so keep your voice down. You don't know who might be
They made it safely up into the hayloft and pulled up the ladder.
"First off," Maxine said to her two younger cousins, "if
Marya or her mother come in and realize there's someone up here, Theo and I
aren't here - never have been. You'll have to get rid of them, and whatever you
do, don't let them bully you into letting the ladder down."
"Ok," Zak nodded, pleased to be involved in thwarting the Hunter
women. "I'll say we're playing hide and seek and tell her not to tell Theo
or she'll be a rotten spoilsport and Aunt Claire won't invite her any
Maxine grinned. "Yes, that should work." She became more serious.
"What I'm going to tell you now is, as Dom said, deadly important. It
must stay between the four of us. And to keep it secret, as Theo says,
you mustn't let anyone know that you even know anything secret."
"I wouldn't tell, even if someone found out I had a secret," Dom
declared, full of naïve confidence.
"How about if you refused to tell, then you heard your Mom screaming in
the next room, then they gave you one of her bloody fingernails with the
promise of more to come from her if you won't talk?"
Dom looked suitably shocked. "They wouldn't do that Would
they?" he said in a very small voice.
"That and worse probably. That's the trouble with secrets -
everyone wants to know them."
"Like Mr. Breckenridge, you mean?" Zak said.
"Exactly like Mr. Breckenridge. Whatever's happened to him, you can
bet it isn't good and the same goes for his family," Maxine said
seriously. "So if anyone - anyone at all - knows you know anything about
the Mountain and what goes on there, you could 'disappear' too."
"So no 'I-know-something-you-don't-know,'" Theo chanted then
continued quietly, "or we could all be up shit creek."
"Ooh, you swore!" Dom feigned shock and horror.
Theo got right in his face. "Yes, Dom, that's how bad it is, so if
Maxine says to take it seriously, that's what you have to do."
"Ok," Dom said, suitably chastened.
"Right, let's move on," Maxine said. "I have a good idea of
what's under those hoods, and I'm going to tell you and you only. Not Felix or
Rusty because they aren't in the same danger you two are."
Two pairs of very round eyes focused on her. Yes, they'd got the point, she
thought with relief.
"Next is kind of a history lesson." There were groans. "It's
family history that you need to know. I'm sure you've all heard of Grandfather
Daniel. He was Aunt Claire's grandfather, which makes him your
great-great-grandfather, but you don't need to know about that. Just call him
Grandfather Daniel, ok?"
There were nods.
"He was a great man - a hero - though very few people knew about it -
still don't because it's a government secret, even though he saved the
There was a voiceless, "Wow!" from all three.
"And yes, Dom, there is some serious weirdness going on under the
mountain, where the S.G.C. is based. That stands - or stood for - Stargate
Command, and Grandfather Daniel's involvement with it began a hundred years
"Stargate?" Theo said.
Maxine nodded. "There are Stargates on billions of planets like ours
all over the universe and - don't correct anybody on this or you'll be in real
hot water - they are millions of years old. It's true!" she stressed as
all three stared at her in disbelief.
"So these... Stargates," Zak said, scepticism patent in every
word, "they go to other planets, right?"
"How?" Theo asked.
"I don't fully understand the science of it, but the Stargate creates
what's called a wormhole - a kind of tunnel - through space to another
"On another world?" Dom asked, his imagination captured. "And
Grandfather Daniel went to another planet?"
"That's right. Lots of other worlds actually, like Abydos, which
doesn't exist any more, Chulak, Cimmeria, the Land of Light. Mostly they're
only known by coded 'Gate addresses like P3X-774."
"How did he get involved?" Theo asked.
"Well, he was the first person to work out how to make the 'Gate
"So he was a scientist?"
"Not exactly, Zak - not that sort of a scientist anyway, but he found
out how to... to turn it on, sort of. Like, you and Dom know how to make that
hedgehog game work, but you don't know what's going on inside the box."
"I get it," Zak said.
"How do you know all this?" Theo wanted to know.
"Aunt Claire told me."
"Oh. How does she know all this?"
"Grandfather Daniel told her himself when he was looking after his
grandchildren after their father died - on P7C-124, I think."
All three boys sat up sharply at that. "He died on another world?"
Dom asked, eyes like saucers.
"Yes, and Aunt Claire herself has been to other planets too. She
joined the S.G.C. in twenty-forty-something and worked under the Mountain right
up the Great Disaster."
"Really? How come she survived?" Theo asked.
"She just happened to be on vacation that week. Sadly, her brother was
off-world at the time. She never saw him again."
"But... but if he was off-world, he could've survived?" Zak
"It's possible. Aunt Claire campaigned for over two years to have the
'Gate reopened. Cheyenne Mountain contains lots of offices, science labs,
accommodation, and so on, going down 28 levels. A lot of that collapsed during
the Disaster. The Stargate is right at the bottom, so it took a while to clear
the rubble - and the bodies - and get it back into use. That was three years
after the Disaster. Anyway, immediately after the Disaster, the people who were
off-world couldn't get back. The Stargate has a sort of cover that stops people
- enemies specifically "
"We have alien enemies?" Dom exclaimed.
"Well we had. But with the cover in place, they can't come through.
Well they could but they'd get splattered against the cover and die."
"Isn't that very messy?"
"No. The Stargate changes your body into a stream of millions of tiny
particles and the Stargate at the other end changes them back into you. If they
hit a solid object, all the tiny particles just - well - kind of evaporate, I
guess, like steam. Or something."
Dom got the wide-eyed look again. "I am never going through a
Stargate !" he declared, shuddering.
"Of course not," Zak reassured him. "How can you go through a
Stargate when you don't know it exists? Right Maxine?" He said with a
grin. Everyone chuckled, Dom a little belatedly.
Theo looked serious then. "Does that mean our guys got
"I don't think so. They could communicate with the S.G.C. and when it
was safe, they got a green light. If they didn't get a green light, they
wouldn't go through the Stargate at the other end. Aunt Claire thought they
would stay at the Alpha Site "
"What's that?" Dom. Again.
"Long ago, in Grandfather Daniel's time, they set up an Alpha Site on
a safe planet so that if Earth was invaded, all the important people would have
a safe place to go to till the danger had passed."
"Politicians, you mean?" Theo said cynically.
"Some. Mostly scientists and other useful people, I think. Anyway, Aunt
Claire thought it was probable that the off-world teams would use the Alpha
Site as their base until they could get home, and pitched for a visit there.
Her boss thought that if there had been anyone there, they would probably have
made contact already, but seeing as my grandfather was leading the SG-4 team,
he gave in. Aunt Claire was one of the rescue team that went." Maxine gave
a sad little sigh. "All they found was destruction and devastation. One of
her team found a handwritten log in the Command Post. Several teams had
gone to the Alpha Site, and their activities were recorded."
Maxine paused in sorrow. Theo gently prodded her to continue. She took a
deep breath. "The record broke off abruptly in the middle of an entry in
August, 2066. When Aunt Claire's team extended the search around the site, they
found the remains of eleven humans."
"Aunt Claire's brother?" Theo asked.
"So far as she could tell, he wasn't there. What had happened to him
and the other sixteen missing personnel, no one knows - probably never will.
Whatever it was, I doubt it would be good."
There was a long pause. Finally, Zak said, "What about the truck
"Oh yeah. Well, the Stargate is made of a mineral called
"Never heard of it!"
"Hold that thought." Maxine sent a mock scowl Zak's way. "One
world that Grandfather Daniel went to was called Orban. The people there taught
our people how to make small power generators out of naquadah. I'm pretty sure
that's what under the hoods of those trucks."
"Dom! How old are you?" Zak exclaimed, playfully batting the back
of his brother's head.
"No, it's a fair question," Maxine said, suddenly thinking so
Dad can keep secrets too. "I think those trucks are powered by
naquadah cells because that's what Aunt Claire's vehicles have."
Three jaws dropped in unison.
"Guess it's all true, then," Theo finally said.
"And we are all in danger," Zak agreed in a subdued voice.
"But now you know the score, and you know how to keep out of the
really serious trouble."
"Yeah. Thanks, Maxine."
"Thanks for trusting us too," Theo added.
"Well, I hope it'll give you something to hold on to when Marya's
"I think so," Theo smiled.