In the following few years, whenever Aunt Claire threw a party, Maxine
and her cousins contrived to disappear into the hayloft for a couple of hours,
to the frustration of Marya. Somehow she never managed to see them leave nor
follow them to their hideout, however hard she tried. And she did try!
No one had told her about the hayloft, and Aunt Claire, running interference
for the little group, was far too savvy for Marya.
Up in the hayloft, Maxine passed on all her favorite stories that Aunt
Claire had told her about Grandfather Daniel and his friends of S.G.1. - how
he'd befriended Chaka the Unas, how later on, Chaka had been captured and
enslaved. S.G.1 were captured by the slavers too, and Chaka and S.G.1
collaborated in their escape.
Later still, Chaka had helped Daniel to broker a deal with another Unas
called Kor Asek, or Iron Shirt, to mine naquadah for the Tau'ri. Grandfather
Daniel was good at making friends, even with weird scaly alien creatures.
"Remember," Maxine joked, "never say 'ka' till you've tried
"And never say 'ka' in Marya's hearing," Theo reminded them.
"Marya - KA!" Dom growled, which gave them the giggles.
Grandfather Daniel's story about how he'd helped Colonel Jack when he'd had
the Ancient's database downloaded into his head and then met the Asgard went
down well too, as did the story of how they'd visited Heliopolis with its
meeting place of the four races. Daniel had wanted to stay there, but Colonel
Jack had persuaded him to leave at the very last minute. Grandfather Daniel and
Colonel Jack had always been there for each other in time of need. They all
liked that strong bond of friendship. It gave them a good feeling.
"It was good that they reunited Catherine Langford and Ernest
Littlefield too," Maxine smiled.
"Yeah, but after fifty years!" Zak shuddered. "Fancy being
all alone for so long."
"Yes," Theo agreed. "Maybe, one day, we'll work for the
S.G.C. and, if he's still alive, we'll find Aunt Claire's brother Jonathan, and
bring him home to her."
Maxine gave a gentle sad smile. "That would be nice," she said,
"after all she's done for us, but I doubt it will happen. He would be well
into his eighties, seeing as he was nearly two years older than Aunt
There was collective sigh and an air of gloom fell over the proceedings.
"I don't know though," Theo said after a while. "Grandfather
Daniel lived to be ninety-one, so Great Uncle Jonathan could still be
The lightening of the mood was short-lived as Zak pointed out glumly,
"Like we'd ever get to go through the Stargate!"
Maxine and Theo exchanged a thoughtful look.
Being her great-great-grandfather's great-great-granddaughter, it took
Maxine only two years to gain her first degree in cryptology and linguistics.
Theo, two years older than Maxine, had graduated in the previous year, 2102.
He'd majored in earth sciences with engineering at Colorado Springs
University, having figured that, as the U.S. was almost out of oil - probably
already was in fact - the S.G.C. would want people who could find it on other
worlds and be able to extract it. He'd had to go along with the theological
teaching that The Lord had created the world as is, for the purposes of exams.
At least the stratigraphy at the present time was factual. There was a number
of useful texts in the library at Aunt Claire's too, to fill in the worst of
The engineering proved to be a breeze as he'd picked up a lot from his
father over the years. Waldo was very knowledgeable on the subject, and
studying with him at Hunter Ward's office in the evenings kept them both away
from the female cadre. He was now working on a doctorate at Colorado Technical
University, also in the Springs.
Up to the point of acquiring her first degree, Maxine's ideas about her
future had been fairly nebulous. She wanted to continue her studies, adding a
second degree and after that, a doctorate or two. After that...?
But it seemed that other parties had slightly different ideas. It had
already occurred to Maxine that her progress would be monitored by people
outside of Harrington as well as within. She couldn't deny that she was
probably the most able student the university had, plus she came with a good
Evidence of that interest came on the Tuesday of the week after her finals
results came out. Initially, it seemed like an ordinary summons to discuss her
progress and future. When she arrived in the interview room that afternoon, she
found six people seated behind the desk instead of the expected five. Besides
the principal and the heads of the departments of cryptology, linguistics,
anthropology and archaeology, there was a woman she'd never seen before.
This woman was dressed in a tight business-like grey suit, a shade or two
darker than her short, straight, steely grey hair. She had a death grip on a
slim travel document case on the desk. Maxine disliked her on sight, though she
couldn't put her finger on why exactly. She seemed inoffensive if a little
Principal Dovaston gave Maxine a welcoming smile. "Good afternoon, Miss
Pepperday. I suspect you already know that this interview is to discuss your
plans for your future."
Maxine nodded, trying to ignore the skinny woman at the end who was staring
at her in a manner she considered rude.
"I understand you wish to continue your studies with this University,
which pleases me greatly," the Principal continued with a glance at the
"Yes sir. I would like to take a second degree in anthropology and
archaeology - I've been studying those subjects with Dr. Pepperday for several
years now, so I anticipate that will take me another two years. After that, I'd
like to study for a doctorate."
"And what do you plan to do then, Miss Pepperday?" the stranger
butted in, giving her a thin-lipped smile that never came even close to her
pale water-grey eyes.
"Well that's looking four or five years hence, and a lot can happen in
that time, Ms...?"
"Indeed it can," the woman agreed, ignoring Maxine's attempt to
learn her name. "Right now, we have a better use for your abilities."
Maxine's eyes flashed. "Really? And who are 'we,' exactly?" The
subtle approach hadn't worked so she went for direct instead. That didn't work
either. She got another thin smile.
"Who we are need not concern you at this point. However, I have brought
with me some documents we would like you to decrypt and / or translate for us.
You will be paid for this and paid well. The government is not ungenerous to
those who are usef helpful I should say."
Maxine knew this. Aunt Claire's home was a highly valuable asset even
without its 'hidden depths.' She also knew Aunt Claire's feelings on the
subject and her motivations for accepting such a generous 'gift.' She realized
she was at a crossroads in her life and needed to handle the moment carefully.
This woman was clearly one of the government's goons - a type Maxine heartily
despised - but it would do her no good at all to antagonize the woman, and
possibly bring a whole load of grief, so she pinned on her party face.
"I will certainly do my best," she smiled. "Might I know the
provenance of these papers, please?"
"That need not concern you."
"No ma'am, but it would substantially help me in achieving a correct
interpretation of the information."
"I think you will find adequate annotations in the margins to help you
there." Maxine detected a slightly patronizing tone. The woman stood up
and handed her the document case. "I shall return one week today."
With that, she marched out of the room.
Silence fell for several long moments. Finally, Principal Dovaston said,
"I apologize for that intrusion. I was given no choice in the
"I quite understand, sir."
"Not... entirely," he replied. "The government has in mind
to transfer you to the new Office of National Security in Colorado
"I'm sorry but I've been over-ruled on this."
"Don't I get a say in the matter?"
"You could refuse, of course, but I would advise against it,"
Dovaston sighed. "I'm afraid that refusal to transfer wouldn't guarantee
your return to study here."
"So effectively, I have a gun to my head?"
"It would seem so," Dovaston agreed. Maxine paced up and down the
office a couple of times. "Maybe we could achieve a compromise? Perhaps I
could continue studying here part-time and spend the rest of the time in the
"Well, you certainly have the ability to do your second degree on a
part-time basis," Professor Mason of the anthropology department agreed,
"especially given your connection with Dr. Pepperday. I would not raise
any objection to that."
"Nor I," Professor Baxter from archaeology said. Neither of them
wanted to lose such a gifted and diligent student.
Maxine went directly to Aunt Claire's after the meeting. She had no
intention of dragging her aunt into what she regarded as her battle, but she
felt in need of her peaceful haven there.
Aunt Claire made her a coffee and listened grim-faced to Maxine's account of
"I suspect these are 'test pieces' to see if I'm as good as they hope I
am," Maxine said. "I also suspect they contain personal information
about people they consider 'enemies of the state' to see if I'll... if I'll
give them up to the authorities. I hope they're not real people," she
concluded in a quiet voice.
"I hope not too," Claire responded, "because you know you're
going to have to give them up, real or not, don't you?"
Maxine nodded. "I just hope it's no one I know - like Dad..."
"I doubt they would do that. It's far too obvious, and it would be
pushing it a bit to expect you to betray a family member."
"Well guess I'd better take a look and see the damage," Maxine
said reluctantly, finishing her coffee.
She unzipped the case and took out a dozen sheets of paper. The top four
pages comprised a single document in numeric code; she would need access to one
of the cryptology department's three highly temperamental computers for that
The rest were all photocopies: a Caesar cipher and two Vigenères, a
page written in Hebrew and one in Arabic. The tenth was Native American (Lakota
Sioux) and the eleventh, Linear B. A glimpse at the final one, a rubbing from a
stone tablet, pulled her up short.
"Oh? Dear?" Aunt Claire asked.
"I think I'm going to have to admit defeat on this one."
"Yep. It's in Linear A, and as - unless you know different - you and I
are the only people who can read it, I think it might cause a few raised
eyebrows and a whole lot of questions if I translate it."
"Several words of Linear A are known"
"Yes, I know, but I can't remember with absolute certainty, which ones
those are, and I don't want 'translate' an unknown one by accident."
"Good point," Claire conceded. "Let's have a look."
Maxine passed it over. Claire looked it over with a little more care,
chuckled and then passed it back. "You might like to take another look at
it," she grinned.
Maxine did, and gasped. "Well, what a cheat! Ah, no. It's a
"I think so. The first eight lines are random syllables that make no
sense. The next six lines look like Linear A syllables used as a substitution
code, followed by six lines in actual Linear A."
Aunt Claire grunted. "I didn't read that far. That'll teach me not to
"It's also taught me to be very careful in future. I could
easily have cracked the sub code and continued on just reading the Linear
"I don't think so. You would've worked it out eventually."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, but possibly not. I want to get
this done quickly to prove to the Grey Grue - and myself I guess - that I
can work for them in the Springs, and study for my second degree
here. So I might well have fallen for their trap in my hurry to get it
"Would you like me to check it when you're done, dear? A fresh pair of
eyes may spot something you've missed, though I doubt you'll miss anything
"That would be great If you wouldn't mind?"
"Of course I don't mind! Just as a matter of interest, what does the
Linear A one say?"
"Well, prima facie " Maxine chuckled, "or perhaps that
should be secunda facie, the first eight lines are still gibberish, but I'll
definitely double check it. The next six will be a pencil and paper job. The
last six lines though, are very interesting:
"'Peoples of Pesher, Arraby, and Yudar. Heed the words of your God, Azi
Dahaka. You were brought here to serve your God, not to rise up against Him.
Those who have tried to rebel have failed miserably and met a fierce and
painful end - their families also. You will work for me. You will fight for me.
You will make me triumphant over mine enemies, the forces of Ishkur, Enlil,
Pazuzu and Baal, whatever the cost, or you will perish in great torment by my
hand, the hand of your God, Azi Dahaka.'"
"I can see why your Grey Grue didn't want to give you the provenance
of that one," Claire commented drily.
"You think they've come across more goa'uld?"
"I couldn't say for certain, but it's possible. It's undoubtedly come
from off-world, which they couldn't very well tell you. It might've been found
any time in the last hundred years, but even if it's a recent discovery, it
could date back several thousand years - hundreds certainly. The only goa'uld
name I recognize is Baal. As he was around in Grandfather's time, it could well
be that he'd already wiped out Azi Dahaka and his rivals."
"All the names seem Middle Eastern,"Maxine observed.
"Persian, mostly. I don't recall your mentioning any of them in the past,
except from the point of view of our interest in mythology."
"No. Barring Baal, they're all unfamiliar in the context of the
Maxine had a sudden thought and shivered. "This could be a trap for
both of us," she exclaimed. "If I display any knowledge I shouldn't
have, they'll know you told me!"
Claire stared at her niece over her glasses. "Good point. We're both
going to have to be even more careful from now on."
Most of the work turned out to be fairly straightforward, mundane even. The
Caesar, the Vigenères and the Linear B read like test papers, although
Maxine was suspicious about the latter.
The Mycenaean Civilization was in existence roughly between 1600 and 1100
B.C.E. Linear B declined along with that civilization, yet the subject matter
referred to the Delian League which flourished in the fifth century B.C.E.,
some six hundred years after Linear B had died out.
Maxine duly commented on this apparent anachronism. She felt that the
absence of a note to this effect on her translation would be more likely to
raise questions than its presence. She kept her comments factual and resisted
the urge for sarcasm. Claire agreed on both counts.
Of the other three translations, the Hebrew text was an account of the
Bar-mitzvah of a Jewish boy in New York state, and the Arabic one was a plea to
a fellow Student of Islam for a safe place to live where the Warriors of Christ
would just leave him the fuck alone. He didn't want any trouble; he didn't want
to make any trouble. Was it too much to ask to be left in peace?
Apparently it was, Maxine thought.
The Lakota Sioux page was setting up a meeting for a gambling den across the
Canadian border. As this was addressed to Núnpa Wica (#2 man) from
Záptan Wica (#5 man), and the meeting place was Hanhepi wi Miní,
or Moon Water, at the usual time, she didn't think she was giving too much away
on that one. These took her the best part of Wednesday.
The main document - the four pages of groups of five digits - took her most
of the next day and put a serious strain on her temper. For a moment, she
considered requisitioning a reliable computer from the Grey Grue, but figured
that this would simply add more weight to the G.G.'s insistence that she
relocate to the Springs. So she sucked it up and dealt with it. It was
completely banal and Maxine couldn't help wondering if this was a deliberate
ploy to make her want to leave the three heaps of junk behind and head
Then she came to a small section embedded in the number blocks about
two-thirds of the way down the final page. It was a totally different and much
more complex cipher, quite elegant in fact, and far from banal:
'When the grain rusts and the people are starving, the Lord God will send
manna from heaven through the Gateway to the Stars.' Maxine didn't know what to
make of it. It was like someone was telling her about the Stargate.
Which was highly classified. And she had no security clearance.
The implication that food was coming through the Stargate from off-world
colonies came as no surprise given the amount of trade Hunter Ward and a number
of other trucking companies was getting from the Mountain. There was far too
much anonymous stuff coming out of there for it all to originate on the planet
of the Tau'ri.
She thought long and hard about what to do with that section. In the end,
she settled for a literal rendering and added a comment that there was nothing
else in the text to indicate what it might refer to, other than the Biblical
reassurance that The Lord will provide in times of need. Claire, also puzzled
by that line, couldn't improve on Maxine's efforts.
"If I didn't know otherwise, I'd say Oma Desala was behind that
one," Claire said, shaking her head, "which is of course impossible -
well maybe not impossible but very highly unlikely..."
On the Friday morning of the same week, Maxine went into Harrington and made
her way to Principal Dovaston's office. She intended to hand in her completed
work so she had verification of her ability to decrypt or translate and study
at the same time.
"Come!" the Principal called, immediately after her rap on the
She walked into his office and stopped dead. The Grey Grue was there too.
Maxine gave Dovaston an enquiring look and got a non-committal bland one in
"Um, I'm sorry to intrude. I'll come back later," Maxine said and
made to leave.
"No need to leave on my account, Miss Pepperday," the Grey Grue
said with her customary thin smile. "I was in the area so I thought I
would pop in and see how your work is progressing."
"It's finished, ma'am, at least as far as I am able"
"You haven't completed the project?" The Grey Grue gave an
appearance of surprise.
"No, as I suspect you anticipated, since the final page is in Linear A
which has yet to be deciphered. So unless you have the Linear A equivalent of
the Rosetta Stone, I'm afraid I'll have to pass on that one."
The Grey Grue looked disappointed.
"However," Maxine continued, " the middle section contained
a concealed code using Linear A syllables to represent individual English
letters. That was not a problem. Hence I've come to leave this," Maxine
gestured with the document case, "with Principal Dovaston to await your
"You are welcome to take a few more days to complete the
project," the Grey Grue replied.
"That won't be necessary, ma'am. I can do no more than I already have.
Sorry to disappoint."
"Perhaps Dr. Pepperday"
Maxine saw red. "How can I make this any clearer? This. Cannot. Be.
Done. Not by me. Not by anyone. If Dr. Pepperday had deciphered Linear A, I
think the whole world would have heard about it by now. You gave this project
to me to do, which I have done to the best of my ability, and I have no
intention of running to my aunt like a lazy child asking her parents to do her
homework for her!"
For a moment, the Grey Grue looked well the word, mortified, came to
mind. "I do apologize, Miss Pepperday. I did not intend to give
"That's ok." Maxine was rewarded by an almost genuine smile. She'd
been unable to keep a grudging tone out of her voice and now she felt guilty
"Very well, Miss Pepperday, I will take you at your word and return
these documents to my superiors."
"You will receive payment as promised."
"I was referring to next term, ma'am."
"Assuming your work is up to standard, which I anticipate that it is,
you will begin working for the Office of National Security in Colorado
Maxine took a deep breath. "I have a better idea, ma'am. I spend three
days per week in Colorado Springs, working for you, and the rest of the week
here, working for my second degree."
She got a long inscrutable look from the Grey Grue. "I will put your
suggestion to my supervisor, Miss Pepperday. Good day."
Then she picked up the document case and was gone.
Much to Maxine's surprise, 'we' agreed to her suggestion. She was to start
full time at the O.N.S. on Monday June 3rd and continue thus until the first
day of the fall semester. This meant finding accommodation in the Springs. On
the previous Saturday, she'd met up with Theo who'd taken the option of a dorm
room for the duration of his studies.
This had not gone down well with his mother, who deemed him to be an
ingrate, and his sister, who declared him a coward and a rat. Neither of them
spared a moment's thought for the fact that their own behavior might have
driven him away from home.
Marya still hadn't forgiven him for declining to join the Young Warriors.
This decision had blighted her life. In her mind, he was to have made friends
with other Young Warriors and introduced her to their older brothers, she being
four years older than Theo. She would then have chosen the handsomest,
hunkiest, most devout one, married him, raised a large family - America needed
repopulating - and lived happily ever after. That hadn't happened and it was
all Theodore's fault.
This was entirely untrue. Among the young men in their local congregation,
Miss Marya Hunter was known, though not to her face, as The Man Hunter. Bad
news travels fast in a small community.
Over a coffee in the C.T.U.'s commissary, Theo said, "I know where
there's a vacancy."
"You could have my old room." He ducked a playful swat and
"The price is waay too high," Maxine grinned back, "not that
Aunt Martha-Bethany would want demon spawn like me under the same roof with
"Oh I'm sure Marya would soon make you see The Light." This wasn't
"Thanks, but no thanks. Aunt Dido's already offered me their box room
until I find something more suitable."
"It's not a bad size for a box room," Theo smiled. "Oh by
the way, keep a look out for a friend of mine, Ash Kirkwood. He works for the
O.N.S. too. You'll like him. He's brilliant with computers."
Maxine's face took on the look of a starving child looking into the window
of a candy store. "Really?! I love him already!"
Theo chuckled. "Of course, the O.N.S. is a big place, so your paths
may never cross "
"Oh, they'll cross, all right!" Maxine declared. "I'm going
to need a reliable computer for my job."
"Well, I think the O.N.S. is probably well enough equipped, but if you
have any problems, well, Ash is one of their trouble-shooters."
As it happened, their paths crossed sooner than either of them anticipated -
on Maxine's first day, in fact.
Maxine arrived promptly at 08.30 outside the new O.N.S. building off Holland
Park Boulevard. It sounded quite pleasant. The reality was an oppressive
fortification with imposing gates set in an eight foot high wall topped with
Beside the gates was a guard-post. The guard called in to report her arrival
and a woman came out to collect her. She looked to be in her mid-thirties and
was dressed much like the Grey Grue in a grey suit with pencil thin skirt and
her face wore a serious expression.
"Good morning, Miss Pepperday, come on through and we'll get started
on the paperwork."
Maxine followed her through the building's main entrance and into a small
office beside it. The slot-in name on the door said: Miss R. Finch.
"I'm afraid there's a fair amount of reading to do first - dos and
don'ts - that kind of thing, and then we'll get you your security clearance
I.D. I'm Ruth, by the way," she said picking up a blue file from her desk.
"Esther," Maxine responded, sticking to her 'security name.'
"Ok, Esther, we'll go to the office that's been assigned to you. I'm
afraid it's more like a broom closet, though as broom closets go, it's quite
roomy." Ruth let her mouth quirk into an impish smile which made her look
suddenly younger. "I'm afraid your clearance level will only be
'Confidential' in the first instance."
"That's fine," Maxine said, more relieved than anything. It
probably meant she'd be a tiny insignificant cog in a very big wheel and hence
not be stuck having to betray some basically harmless individual who simply
didn't like the way the country was going - which was a fair description of
herself, thinking on, and various family members like Aunt Claire. She could
hide herself away in her little - no, make that her big broom closet
where no one would bother her.
Ruth chattered away inconsequentially for the most part, relieving Maxine
of the burden of conversation, as she led the way along labyrinthine corridors
which fortunately had colored tape guidelines on the floor. They seemed to be
following the grey route. Grey...?
"Um, Ruth," Maxine said as her guide paused for breath, "do
I have to wear a suit like you?"
The question seemed to floor her companion. Maxine tried again. "Is it
like a uniform thing?"
"Er, well, no. Not particularly. Bright colors are kind of frowned
That didn't bother Maxine too much. She wasn't one for drawing undue
attention to herself, generally speaking. Her deep copper-red hair drew quite
enough attention without adding to it!
Ruth glanced down. "Pants, too."
"Really?" Maxine squeaked in surprise. "I always wear pants.
They're much warmer and more comfortable than frocks - easier to walk in too.
How on earth do you manage in such a tight skirt?"
"Guess I'm used to it. You might like to consider buying something a
little more womanly for special occasions though," Ruth suggested
"How about a full skirt? Ankle-length?"
"Yes, that would be fine," Ruth smiled.
"Great! Then I could slip it on over my pants when 'wimmin-clothing'
"You're not seri You are, aren't you?"
They reached the Big Broom Closet before Ruth could begin a new topic of
conversation. The door had a slot-in name card too: Miss E. M. Pepperday.
Ruth unlocked the door and then gave the keys to Maxine. "There's a
spare set in my office if you lose these, though I recommend that you don't.
The paperwork is horrendous!" She gave a graphic shudder. "I'll leave
you to read this and sign in all the relevant places. Bring it back to me when
you're done. Just follow the"
"Grey line - gotcha."
"Yes." Ruth sounded surprised. "I'll, um, I'll see you later
Maxine closed the door after her and looked around her new surroundings.
Opposite the door and about three inches below the ceiling there was a narrow
window about four feet along and six inches down. It let in light, and if
opened by a long pole, fresh air. There was no pole, but Maxine reckoned she
could reach the catch if she stood on something.
The height of the room made it feel like being at the bottom of a well. The
matt grey paint on the walls didn't help any. Maxine wondered whimsically if
the Grey Grue had ended up that way from the gruesome greyness of the building
leaching through into the core of her being. She wondered if she'd end up the
same way thirty years down the line. Not a happy thought.
Below the window was a very basic desk with a computer and a small monitor
on it. The computer wasn't plugged in. Tucked under the desk there was an
uncomfortable looking chair with a grey seat. Behind the door was a tall grey
locker and next to it was a squat grey unit. The bottom half of the latter was
a filing drawer and above that was a stock of paper and writing implements.
The first thing Maxine did after hanging her coat in the locker, was to kick
off her shoes and climb on the desk to look out of the window. Tall as she was,
she could only see the summit of Pikes Peak, which would've been pleasant
enough were it not for the razor wire in between.
Curiosity satisfied, she decided that henceforth she would make do with
looking with a wistful eye, Upon that little tent of blue, Which prisoners
call the sky. When it wasn't grey, that was.
Maxine went over the contents of the blue file with the proverbial
fine-toothed comb, making sure she was fully familiar with every part of it
that might, even remotely, affect her and those she loved. No skim-reading on
this document! It was a tedious job, but an essential one.
After a couple of hours she was wondering if there was some
provision here for making coffee, which suggested that she needed a break. Her
mind was clearly wandering, and that would not do. She was halfway to her feet
when the door opened and a young man in a white lab coat walked in. Each eyed
the other in surprise.
"Oh! Miss Pepperday. I didn't realize you'd started already or I
would've come by sooner."
"I thought the door was locked," Maxine said at the same time.
"It was, but I have a skeleton key for the offices I service,"
replied the young man. He had pale collar-length hair, almost white, and bangs
that didn't quite reach his dark blue eyes. "I'm Asher Kirkwood, by the
way, and I take it you are Theo's genius cousin? Please, call me Ash. Everyone
else does." His eyes twinkled when he smiled.
"So you're the computer wizard?"
"Well, I don't know about that. I just collect old computers in any
condition and cannibalize them for the parts so that I can keep enough
functioning for our needs Well, the government's needs anyway." He
"Right. Oh, and I'm happy for you to call me Maxine, but I'd appreciate
it if you'd call me Esther here. It's more Religiously Correct." She
rolled her eyes. They both laughed.
Ash then took her to a small break room where she could get something to
eat and drink.
"Now I'll go back and get your computer set up. Page me if you want it
reconfiguring. Oh, and follow the green line if you want lunch in the
commissary." He gave her a wide smile, "Or if you value your stomach,
try the Sunny Side Up café. It's midway between here and the C.T.U. off
North Chestnut Street. The food's basic but good."
"Sounds good. Can you give me directions please?"
"I can do better that. I'll take you there myself."
It was ten minutes shy of noon when Maxine decided she'd mastered the
contents of the blue file and returned it, duly signed in all the right places,
to Ruth Finch.
"Thanks, Esther. You might as well take an early lunch - maybe take a
look round the town while you're at it," Ruth smiled. "No need to
rush back today. It'll take a while to process the paperwork and get your
clearance and I.D. sorted out."
"Ok. Thank you. Um, could you tell me how I can contact Asher Kirkwood
"Good point." Ruth went over to a locked closet. "You'll
need a pager. Ash has set up a radio paging system for us."
She ferreted around in one of the boxes in the closet, pulled out a small
back gizmo with a screen set into it. She fingered the controls for a moment or
two then showed Maxine how it worked.
"The names in it are on a need-to-know basis. Not many at the moment,
but you'll no doubt collect a load more in time and probably wish you
hadn't," Ruth grimaced.
There was a knock on the door and Ash looked in.
"You weren't in your... um, office," he grinned, "so I
thought you'd probably be here. Ah, you've got a pager. Good. Shall we
"Page me when you get back to the guard-post, Esther. I'll bring your
badge with me when I come to collect you."
It was a pleasant day for the walk to the Sunny Side Up, and the two enjoyed
an interesting chat along the way. Ash collected old movies and television
programs on DVDs. Quite a lot had managed to survive the various disasters, and
he'd managed to find a working a player and monitor system to watch them on.
"But keep that information to yourself. Some of the films wouldn't go
down too well in certain quarters, if you take my meaning."
"Among others," he nodded.
"You're very trusting," Maxine observed.
"I could be a spy or something."
"Theo trusts you. That's good enough for me," Ash said with a shy
The café was a cheery little place - warm and welcoming. The pair
both opted for eggs, bacon and fries with home-bake apple pie for dessert. They
were just enjoying a second mug of coffee when the door opened.
Ash looked across the café. "Theo!" he yelled, beaming from
ear to ear. "Come and join us!"
Maxine registered the responding smile on Theo's face as he came over. She
made a decision. He probably wouldn't like it, but she feared to do otherwise.
"I was just going to invite Maxine over tonight to watch a film,"
Ash was saying.
"You mean your old MacGyver DVDs," Theo laughed.
"Hey, they're good. You could learn a lot from them."
In response to Maxine's questioning look, Theo explained. "It was an
old action-adventure television series from over a hundred years ago that was
transferred on to the DVD format. The hero doesn't believe in using guns -
prefers brain to brawn. He uses whatever household tools, chemicals and such
like equipment are on hand to improvise a way out of awkward situations."
He noticed his friend grinning at his enthusiastic description and gave a
wry smile. "Yes, Ash. You're right. They are a useful manual on how to get
out of trouble by coming up with a solution on the fly. And yes, Ash, the
stories are good, too well, quite good," he amended with an impish
look at his friend.
"So would you like to come around tonight and take a look?" Ash
asked, ignoring Theo.
"Yes, I would. It sounds like they could come in useful some
time," Maxine smiled.
Ash looked at his watch. "We're going to have to go."
"That's ok, Ash. You go on ahead. Ruth said I don't have to hurry back
today, and I want a word with Theo. But I look forward to seeing you
tonight," Maxine said with a warm smile.
After he'd gone and Theo had ordered his lunch, he gave Maxine a speculative
look. "So what's the problem?"
"Ah, we won't discuss it now. Ash and I passed a little park along the
way here. We'll talk there."
Half an hour later, as Maxine and her cousin entered the park, Theo began.
"Ok, what's all this about?"
"Not here. Over there - away from the trees."
"Maxine! You're getting paranoid."
"So? It could save your life. You might like to try it."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I'm talking about the look that passed between you and Ash when you
came into the café. If you were a couple, I would've told you to get a
room. And you are a couple, aren't you?"
"That's no business of yours! I'd no idea you were so
"I am not being judgmental. I'm only talking to you about it
because I care about you. I like Ash too. The thing is, in that instant, it was
blindingly obvious to the most unimaginative observer that you two are
waaay closer than the damn' Bible allows."
Theo tried to break in, but Maxine was on a roll.
"Just ask yourself what might be happening right now if Marya or
one of her friends had seen that look! I mean, Marya might not have informed
against you - even she might balk at dragging the family name through
the mire - but what about Ash? Yes, Theo, I could have ignored that
look, but I didn't want to end up wishing I'd said this sooner, when either or
both of you are dancing on the end of a lynch mob's rope."
"Maxine!" Theo was looking appalled. "Were we really that
"Yes. You were. Ok, it was only for an instant, and maybe I could tell
because I'm family and I know you pretty well, but if I could see it, do you
seriously think no one else would?"
Theo, tight-lipped, shook his head.
"You two have got to be more careful in future - paranoid if you
must. Because I don't want to lose you, Theo. You're one of the best," she
"So you really don't have a problem with Ash and me being together -
well, as together as we can be?"
"Oh God, no! I don't want to know the details, but so long as you two
are happy, that's fine with me." She laughed. "But you can tell Ash
that if he ever does anything to hurt you, he'll have me to deal
"Ooh - scary Maxine," Theo grinned, a look of relief on his face.
That evening, Uncle Waldo collected Maxine from the Ward family home. He
drove her to Ash's small apartment and would take her back again around half
past ten. Officially (for the benefit of Martha-Bethany) he was at work,
repairing one of the trucks which needed a new cam shaft. He was also working
on the principle that his wife wouldn't know a cam shaft from a game of poker,
which, as she never ventured near the dirty, smelly premises that provided her
daily bread, was true. He would also get to see his son without interference
from the snoopers.
'Ash's Pad,' though small, was well appointed. His father had connections
with the Cheyenne Mountain Complex - unrevealed connections, which was
revealing in itself.
When Maxine arrived, the Pad seemed rather crammed as, besides Ash, Theo and
herself, there were two other young men whom she hadn't seen before. One was
tall - a couple of inches taller than Theo who, now twenty one, was a strapping
six footer. The other, who had dark Latin good looks, was about the same height
as Maxine. Friends of Ash, they were both avid MacGyver fans, and hearing that
there was a showing on offer that evening, had invited themselves over.
Ash began the introductions. The one with the lustrous black hair, deep
brown eyes and dazzling smile, did indeed have Italian ancestry. He was a
student at the Air Force Academy in the Springs and his name was Giancarlo
"But friends, ma bella signorina," he said, taking her hand and
kissing it, "call me Luc."
Maxine choked. "Is he for real?" she asked Ash.
"Unfortunately," Ash replied, rolling his eyes.
"Oh bambina mia," Luc exclaimed, feigning heartbreak, "you
cut me to the quick."
"Give it up, Luc," Theo grinned. "Maxine is never going to
fall for it."
"Oh, I don't know," Luc said, giving her an assessing look.
"What say you and me blow this joint, Babe, and hit the town? The night is
Maxine chuckled. "Theo's right actually... Nice try though."
"Is this little pipsqueak bothering you ma'am?" asked the tall
one with a mocking smile at the other. "If he is, just say the word, and
I'll kick him out on his ass."
Maxine gave him a sideways look and said, "I hope you don't think I'm
the sort of female who relies on some guy to fight her battles for her,"
adding archly, "or that I can't look after myself. I'm Maxine, by the
She held out her hand to shake his. Theo winced. The tall guy didn't seem to
notice, accepting the proffered hand. A quick deflection. A twist. A heel
hooked around his ankle. And he was looking up at her from the floor, while the
others fell about laughing.
"Hey! No fair!"
"Oh, get up and quit whinin', J," Luc said, still laughing.
"She beat you fair and square."
"No, he's right. It wasn't fair. He wasn't expecting it," Maxine
conceded. "I don't suppose I could do it again."
"No, Luc's right," the one addressed as J said as he got to his
feet again. "I made an assumption and followed it with a very basic error.
So I deserved it. And that lot are laughing their asses off because I spend
most of my spare time practicing various martial arts," he concluded
ruefully. He gave her a different sort of assessing look. "So what martial
arts do you do?"
"She doesn't," Theo grinned, "unless street fighting's a
martial art? Her pop's been teaching her that since she was a little kid. And
if my Uncle Rufus is anything to go by, don't expect her to fight fair!"
J's full name was Jefferson Mitchell, and he hated his first name. He
didn't even have a middle name to fall back on so he reduced his first name to
the minimum. He'd just graduated from the Air Force Academy, which was where
he'd met Luc whose side-line was mediaeval weaponry.
"Mitchell?" Maxine said when she could get a word in. "Your
family always been in the Air Force?"
"Yep. Even unto the seventh generation." J looked at her
"No. You had a particular reason in mind."
"Can anyone join in?" Luc asked, "'cos my
great-great-grandfather was in the Air Force too."
"Really?" J said. "I didn't know that."
"Oh yeah. Colonel Louis Ferretti," Luc said proudly.
"Well, this is weird," Theo said and got a warning look from his
"Aunt Claire," Maxine muttered as a warning, but Theo couldn't
help pushing a little further.
"So who was your great-great-grandfather, J?" he asked. Maxine
looked daggers at him.
"Major General Cameron Mitchell. Now, would someone care to say why
all the interest?"
"I'll think about it," Maxine said, "but first, do you know
what he did in the Air Force?"
"I do actually," J replied, looking serious. "I suspect you
do too, don't you? Both of you?" His glance took in both Maxine and Theo.
"Maybe," Maxine hedged, "depending on what you were
"Maybe I can make it a little easier for you."
"Luc, no!" J warned.
"Okay, I won't mention the Big Round Thing."
"Not funny, Luc!" J scowled.
"No, but it helps a lot," Theo said.
"Finally!" J looked at the two cousins.
Maxine took an exasperated breath. "Ok. Our great-great-grandfather was
Dr. Daniel Jackson."
"The one who got the Big Round Thing to work?"
"That's the one."
Ash had been hanging around on the periphery, listening with interest. J
noticed his interest and looked around the rest of the group. "Are we safe
here?" he asked.
"Oh, for goodness' sake," Ash grinned. "Stop pussy-footing
around and call a Stargate a Stargate, why don't you?"
There was a sudden dead silence as four pairs of eyes bugged out and four
jaws dropped. Ash broke the silence, hugging himself and dancing around,
laughing like a drain.
J was the first to regain his composure. "H-how do you know about...
"The Stargate?" Ash said with a face-splitting grin. "Well,
I've been through it three times already."
Even Theo didn't know about that. Everyone wanted to know more and the air
was full of questions. Ash waited for them all to calm down before joining the
dots for them.
"Well, there's always work for a computer techie, especially as there
aren't many of us around, and I am The Best!"
"This is why I like him so much," Theo grinned at Maxine.
"It's the unadulterated modesty of the guy."
Ash stuck his tongue out. "I've also created the rumor that computers
are very delicate and don't like to be moved - or unplugged," he continued
smiling like the archetypal manic scientist. "That way, I can keep tabs on
which computer's where and what's on it. Of course, the non-techies don't know
"Ash, be careful," Theo said, looking seriously worried.
"What about the other techs?"
"You worry too much, Theo."
"He's right to, Ash," Maxine said. "'Quis custodiet ipsum
"Who's watching the watcher?" Maxine translated. "While
you're watching what other people are doing on their computers, who's watching
you while you - er...."
"Hack into the hard disks?"
"Something like that. Maybe you leave a trail for others to
"I seriously doubt it. I cover my tracks pretty well."
"It only needs one person - of the wrong persuasion - to get you into
big trouble." Maxine turned to her cousin. "And don't you dare
mention the P word!"
"I was going to say that I agree with you. And that paranoia isn't
altogether a bad thing. Just don't overdo it, or we'll never get
"I'm not saying jump at every shadow. I just want you to stay safe,
"Hey, we're big boys, now y'know," Theo said a little testily.
"And we can still get dumped on our asses very easily - and painfully -
if we don't stay alert," J said with a rueful grin.
"So how come you got to go through the Stargate, Ash?" Theo said,
moving on rapidly.
"Well, they've set up a new Alpha Site on P7X-259. The planet's called
New America. President Harrington - Melchisedec Harrington, that is - set it up
in 2080 "
There were whistles of surprise. "No shit! That long ago?" J
"Yep. The Alpha Site itself is called Washington PX by the way. Over
the past twenty odd years, it's been developed quite substantially. Oh, and
Harrington's still alive and living in New Richmond on New America. I haven't
been there, but I hear he's living in something like a royal palace." Ash
scowled. "I also hear that it was built using slave labor, pretty
"It just keeps getting worse, doesn't it?" Luc sighed.
Thereafter, whenever the members of 'The BRT Gang' were free at the same
time, they gathered at Ash's Pad to watch MacGyver DVDs and exchange tales
about the original S.G.1 and S.G.2. Maxine even risked bringing in one of
Grandfather Daniel's diaries, which was viewed like a holy icon. It was the one
with the accounts of S.G.1's encounter with Aris Boch, the medieval
civilization that was going to sacrifice a young woman - and S.G.1! - to a
'demon,' their stumbling into Apophis' training school And the death of
Ash had more reports to contribute. He was occasionally called through the
Stargate to fix the few working computers in Washington PX. There had been a
massive computer installation in the old Stargate Command, but these had mostly
been destroyed during the Great Disaster. Ash was able to scavenge them for
spare parts but they would never work again.
As the base had used a computer to dial planetary addresses before the Great
Disaster, it was fortunate - miraculous, some people thought, and thus a sign
of God's favor - that the emergency D.H.D. had survived.
This had been collected by ship from a barren planet in 2015, and
subsequently mothballed on Level 28. When the S.G.C. had been excavated and
re-opened in 2067, it was undamaged, and the self-destruct mechanism had not
been activated. Miraculous indeed!
This D.H.D. now stood in the old 'Gate Room below the control room window.
Ash's tales, being current, were worrying - beyond worrying. Chilling would
be a good description in fact. Washington PX was being run like the King's
Castle for a medieval fiefdom, and controlled by the S.G. teams. Bottom line,
they were plundering other worlds of minerals, and collecting 'taxes' in the
form of food stuffs. Much of it was for the benefit of Old America and its
people, but a lot was siphoned off for the benefit of the S.G. 'robber barons.'
"How and when did we become the bad guys of the universe," Luc
asked one evening after a particularly gruesome account from Ash.
"When? Probably after the Great Disaster," J responded.
"How? A long line of corrupt governance."
"There was corrupt governance during the original S.G.1's
time,"Theo pointed out. "Remember Kinsey? The S.G.C. would
never kowtow to his machinations."
"That was because the S.G.C. had good leaders," Maxine said.
"At least for the first fifteen years. I wouldn't put it past Tits to soil
his hands though - or at least look the other way - if there was something in
it for him. What?"
Ash was laughing. "Tits?" he sniggered.
"Oh. Right. It was Grandfather Daniel's 'pet name' for General Thornley
who succeeded General Landry. I suspect it's an acronym for 'Thorn in the
Work-wise, Maxine and Theo continued their studies and Maxine spent her
three days a week in the BBC - the Big Broom Closet. She didn't worry about
finding alternative accommodation. She was happy enough in Aunt Dido and Uncle
Barney's box room. It was big enough and she felt safe there. Occasionally, she
crashed at Ash's pad. She thought it might protect both him and Theo if it was
thought he had a girlfriend.
Her work at the ONS was mundane, segueing into boring for the most part. The
bulk of it was deciphering coded government memos, with some translations.
Occasionally, she was asked to encrypt messages. She suspected that these would
by double checked so she played by the book. For the most part.
Occasionally, she came across names that seemed like their owners were in
trouble, or heading for it. She made mental notes in these cases, and the BRT
gang tried to see if those could be found before the noose tightened around
their necks. Mostly, they were unknowns from other states for whom they could
do nothing, but every now and again, they managed to track someone down closer
Zak and Dom, now nineteen and seventeen, enjoyed taking a hand in that.
They liked playing detective, but it was a dangerous game. They had both gone
into the family business, and Zak was working for qualifications in accounting.
They therefore had reason to be riding around, delivering messages and such
When the gang managed to find the whereabouts of a potential victim, his or
her name was written in block capitals on a square sheet of paper. This was
then folded along the diagonal. An eye was crudely drawn on the triangle so
formed and Zak or Dom would deliver it surreptitiously to the given address.
If anyone tried to stop them or question them, they were to play dumb and
say, "That man over there - oh, he's gone! He give me ten bucks to deliver
it. I di'n't think I was doin' anythin' wrong. I will give the money to the
church and pray to God for forgivingness."
Fortunately, this was never put to the test, as Dom especially would've been
hard put to keep a straight face. Nor did they ever learn if their little
messages had the desired effect. They could only hope that they'd made a
There was worse news to come that year. Wheat rust disease had taken a firm
hold on crops all across the country. It looked like the harvest was going to
fail entirely. President Elijah Warren made repeated broadcasts to the nation,
via the remains of the terrestrial television services and newspapers, that a
large surplus had been built up over previous years and that no one would go
The BRT gang had a pretty good idea about the source of this 'surplus.' The
amount of unknown freight coming out of the mountain had quadrupled since the
first appearance of wheat rust. They figured this meant that poor people on
less advanced worlds would be the ones selected to go hungry. But despite the
reassurances of President Warren, there was a number of outbreaks of violence
involving various factions.
The Ebony Brotherhood was particularly active. History had showed them again
and again, that in times of trouble, they were always the bottom of the heap
when it came to the distribution of aid. The oldest members of the Brotherhood
remembered the tales their parents told them and the songs they sang, going
back to Hurricane Katrina, nearly a hundred years previously. Then, and with
every category five hurricane since, the W.A.S.P.s, had gotten all the aid they
needed first, and were soon back on their feet. For the rest, help was a long
The rise in sea-level and increasingly more vigorous hurricanes, culminating
in Hurricane Delia two years before The Great Disaster, removed New Orleans
from the map entirely and most of the southern and eastern seaboards were
seriously damaged. Again, W.A.S.P.s, notably the Southern Baptists, got all the
help and the rest, reading between the lines, could go fuck themselves.
That led to riots and the formation of the Ebony Brotherhood, dedicated to
the protection of black people. This included Creoles and other people of mixed
race and Latinos - all the down-trodden. The authorities decided to take the
easy option and left them largely in control of the southern states where they
eked out a living in ghettoized houses once belonging to The Whites whom they
drove out of 'their territory' - by force if the whites didn't remove
themselves from the areas 'polluted' by the blacks.
Now, they were ready to raise Cain again... This was a bad idea, as it
played straight into the hands of President Warren, who was approaching the
final year of his second term. In late October 2103, he declared a 'State of
Emergency' with suspension of elections for the duration.
It was announced shortly after that he and all his staff "necessary for
the continuance of good government," had been moved to a place of safety.
This was officially Colorado Springs. A suite of offices had been put at his
disposal in the ONS In practice, he was probably off world most of the time.
Maxine occasionally caught glimpses of the sleek suave figure heading to or
from 'The Presidential Suite,' and Ash had seen him arrive at the Alpha Site
and drive off in a horse-drawn carriage. Presumably they hadn't gotten around
to setting up any industrial installations there yet, and getting a stretch
limo down to level 28 and through the Stargate was too much trouble; the 'roof
access' was probably still blocked.
Life went on...
The following April, Rusty dropped a bombshell.
Relations between Rufus and Kim were on an even keel - had been for several
months, surprisingly - and the whole family was gathered around the family
dinner table one Saturday shortly after Rusty's fifteenth birthday. The
atmosphere was positively convivial.
Then Rusty said, "Oh, by the way, I've joined The Young
Kim screamed, masking Maxine's gasp of horror.
"You mean, if I don't watch my language you'll turn me in?" Kim
"No, Mom," Rusty said, shaking his head vigorously.
"You're going to use blackmail to make me let you do whatever you
want. That's it, isn't it? I can't believe I've nurtured such a snake in my...
in my... Ok, bosom. Go on, go and report me for saying bosom..."
With her mother getting into one of her rants - and with good reason on
this occasion - no one would get a word in until she'd wound down. Maxine's
mind switched to her own concerns, specifically Aunt Claire and her cousins.
They would have to be warned as soon as possible, but without its looking like
a knee-jerk reaction to Rusty's announcement. Thank goodness she'd kept him and
Felix out of the loop! And then there was her father. He could well be involved
in something that would put him in danger too.
Damn Rusty! This was worse than Marya and her cronies - well maybe not for
Theo. He was accustomed to walking as though on broken glass with bare feet.
Now, she'd have to watch her step constantly, just like she'd kept exhorting
all the others to do. A dose of her own medicine?
She realized that her mother was winding down, and Rusty was saying,
"Anyway, you'd better all start calling me Isaac - at least in
public." Maxine shot him a sharp look. Rusty returned a reassuring smile.
"It's okay Maxine. I'm not a spy in your midst, honestly."
And what exactly does he mean by that? she wondered. Why would he
think she feared he was a spy? Why say it to her rather than her mother;
she was the one who'd gone off on a tangent about betrayal.
It then occurred to her, looking back, that neither her father nor Felix had
shown any surprise. No disapproval either. Were they covert members of The
Warriors? If so, for how long? Had she been as careful as she thought she'd
been? Were her activities already known about? Again, for how long?
Rusty was shaking her arm. "Are you all right, Sis?"
"Um, yes... yeah, I'm fine. Really. It's just a bit of a shock, that's
He gave her a hug. "Look, I just wondered what the Y.W.s get up to, and
when Jerry Hughes said he was joining and suggested I join too, I just went
along with it. If anything, I'm a spy in their camp, not the other way
Maxine nodded dumbly and gave him a small smile. Maybe what he said was
true, but even if it was, she knew all about the brainwashing ways of the
Warriors. Maybe he was one of the 'good guys' right now but, yet again, for how
One thing was sure. She could never fully trust her little brother ever
again, and that grieved her deeply.