The following morning - Thursday - J requested a meeting with General
Bradfield, and found the CO immediately available.
"You've put your team together, Major?"
J handed over a sheet of paper listing his choices. "Subject to your
approval, yes sir."
Bradfield looked over the document. "A team of four? Including
"I settled on four because I don't think six works so well on
exploratory missions. It's more threatening - less friendly - in a first
contact situation, especially when we go in armed to the teeth. It says we
don't trust people, yet we expect them to trust us. People who are trustworthy
tend to trust others, at least in the first instance."
"Yes sir," J agreed, a little surprised. "And it's a lot
harder to turn enemies into friends than friends into enemies, so I'd like to
get off on the right foot if at all possible. If that doesn't work, then
we can move on to Plan B."
Bradfield nodded. "Continue."
"I've been doing a little research in the archives section, sir. In
the past, teams of four worked out pretty well for the most part. We made some
good allies - some not so helpful, it's true - but given a choice of having
unhelpful allies, or enemies, I'd prefer the unhelpful allies. Even those least
willing to step up to the mark may come through for us at time of need. Can't
say that about people we've already alienated."
Bradfield sighed. "Indeed, Major. So. About your choices. I can see
that Captain Lucarelli would make a more than adequate second. Now, Dr.
Pepperday. I presume this is not the Dr. Claire Pepperday whom we sometimes
J chuckled. "No sir. She's in her nineties now, so I don't think she'd
be up to going through the 'Gate again, though I wouldn't put it past
"You know Dr. Claire?"
"Only by repute, sir. Dr... Esther Pepperday is her grandniece,
and studied anth. and arch. with her for many years. She'd be an immense asset
to any team she joined, which is why I'd like her on mine. She's currently
working as a cryptologist and linguist at the ONS in the Springs."
"I see. She's going to need military training though - weapons
training, hand-to-hand combat "
"Well, I can't speak for her weapons ability, but you needn't worry
about her hand-to-hand." J's facial expression was pitched somewhere
between pride and discomfort.
"The first time we met, she dumped me on my ass. Sir."
Bradfield laughed out loud at that. "She must be good then. Now, what
about Dr. Hunter?"
"He's a geological engineer and a cousin of Dr. Pepperday. If we're
going to be looking for mineral resources, and assessing of the viability of
mining them, then he is man for the job. He also has a fair amount of
mechanical engineering skills as his father has a trucking company. I'm hoping
he can create some sort of motorized transport for the team."
"Really? I don't think that will be necessary. You're all fit and
able-bodied. Aren't you?"
"Yes sir, but motorized transport would increase both our range from
the 'Gate and the amount we can carry."
Bradfield looked almost surprised as if wondering why it hadn't been done
before. "You've made a good case on all counts, major, and you have my
blessing. I will do my best to convince the President that this will work.
Can't give you any guarantees though. I'm thinking that you already have one
strike against you where he's concerned."
"What?" J asked, startled.
"You tell the truth," Bradfield stated. "Truth tellers are
regarded as dangerous and so not looked upon favorably."
"I see. Well sir, I have no intention of changing who I am to court
his favor," J growled.
"I was hoping you'd say that, son. It would be in your interest,
however, if you could learn to pretend ..."
J drew a bow at a venture. "Like you, sir?"
General Bradfield gave him a long inscrutable stare. "Dismiss,
Major," he said sternly, but with the order came a slight smile and an
almost imperceptible nod.
The fledgling SG-24 was kept on tenterhooks for over a week. During the
intervening time, Luc had been on a further mission with SG-19 - a run of the
mill expedition to collect more grain, this time from P8Y-171.
"And we gave nothing in return," Luc said to J in the
commissary after the debriefing. There was a strong note of condemnation in his
voice. "Admittedly they had plenty to spare, but we just take, take, take,
take, take. It's all so wrong."
"I know. We're just a bunch of thieves when it comes down to it - and
it seems like that's fine, but skip church on Sunday...! Still, if we get our
team, maybe we can change things - a little anyway."
"It just seems to be taking such a long time to come to a decision.
I'm concerned about that. We're effectively four teams down at the moment with
one lost planet. Why are they dragging their heels?"
It wasn't until the following Friday afternoon after lunch that J was
recalled to General Bradfield's office.
"Sit down, Major. I have some good news and some... not so good news.
In the first instance, the President has graciously seen fit to approve your
choices, though he was loathe to lose Dr. Pepperday's services in the ONS. He
expects that she will continue to make herself available there if her expertise
"And if we're in the middle of a mission?"
"I managed to get him to see sense about that. The mission takes
priority. He has, however, come down firmly against a team of four. He insists
you take a full team of six including two marines for protection."
J groaned. "I had a feeling that might happen."
"I did my best, and it could've been worse, believe me. Your team is to
include Captain Beck and Lieutenant Kern."
J's heart sank. The chunky marine, and his lanky sidekick were two of the
now-Captain Bachmann's protégés. But, as Bradfield had said, it
could have been a lot worse; Stone and Bacon came to mind. He certainly
wouldn't have wanted either of them on his team!
"Thank you, sir. I appreciate your intervention on our behalf, and yes,
it could've been a lot worse."
"We'll have a briefing here on Monday for the whole team - let's say
09.00. After that, Dr. Pepperday and Dr. Hunter will have four week's weapons
training with Master Sergeant Robinson, running in parallel with three weeks
unarmed combat training with yourself, and a final week of survival training
ending with a three day survival weekend in the field - Colorado, that is. You
and Captain Lucarelli will be running it for the other four. Any questions,
"Beck and Kern will only be involved in the survival weekend?"
"That's correct. Anything further?"
"Fine. Good luck, Major. Dismiss."
That evening, J rounded up the usual suspects and the gang gathered at Ash's
"The good news is - SG-24 has been approved."
"And the bad news?" Theo asked.
"We have a coupla bandits on the team."
"Shit! Not "
"No, Luc, not them. Beck and Kern. Nearly as bad but not quite.
Bradfield apologized for that. Said it was the best deal he could get."
"And you believe him?" Luc asked skeptically.
"Yeah, I do actually. I think he's on our side."
"Oh little things he's said, body language, plus most of the
one-to-one meetings I've had with him have been off the record."
"Sure about that?" Ash asked. "Just because the stenographer
isn't there, doesn't mean there hasn't been some other sort of record
"Well, if he's playing a double game, then we're probably screwed, but
thinking back, if there was a record, I don't think he would've said some of
the things he did. Like, he said I should learn to pretend to be... well,
dishonest I guess more like the rest of the bandits."
The rest contemplated the suggestion. "Actually, that does have a ring
of truth to it," Maxine opined. "For years, Aunt Claire worked for
President Harrington against her will because she figured that if she didn't,
he'd employ some hanger-on with questionable - no, probably non-existent -
ethical standards. Could be Bradfield's the same, and don't forget that Teal'c
worked for decades for Apophis, yet working against him where he could
until an opportunity came along to defeat him."
Theo chuckled. "And haven't we all been pretending to be what we're not
for years?" he asked with a fond smile at Ash.
"We've certainly been pretending to be less knowledgeable than we
are," Luc agreed.
"Like Colonel O'Neill," Maxine grinned. "Though I don't think
acting like a total dumb schmuck would go down too well these days."
"It usually pays to let people think you're not as sharp as you
are," J said, "though in your case, Maxine, I think your cover's
He waited for the laughter to abate, then continued, "The next thing
is that you two are going to have four weeks military training."
"Oh joy!" Theo said, not sounding particularly thrilled, while
Maxine pulled a face.
"The trouble with military superiority is that those with the best
weapons get to thinking that 'might is right' and so never think to look for a
better way," she said, sounding for the moment like her
J decided against defending the edict. "Unfortunately, it's a condition
of joining SG-24. It'll end in a weekend's survival exercise, which will be
competitive. That will also allow you to get to know your fellow team-members
"Do I want to?"
"Probably not. However, consider Sun Tzu's Ping-fa... Er, The
Art of War." In response to a further grimace, he added, "No,
seriously, Maxine, you would probably appreciate it. First rules - know
yourself, and know your enemy... And, all warfare is based on deception."
Maxine was looking interested so he went on. "Do not kill when you can
maim; do not maim when you can injure; do not injure when you can intimidate;
do not intimidate when you can avoid, because all life is precious and should
be cherished. And... and... supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's
resistance without fighting."
"Ok, I get the point. Give me the book and I'll read it," Maxine
"You won't regret it," J promised, "Oh, and here's another
one you might like, "If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to
irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant."
"Alright already!" she laughed.
The first job on Monday morning was inducting the two new members into the
S.G.C. Once the paperwork had been sorted out - Theo had acquired the
appropriate security clearance and Maxine's had been upgraded - they were taken
down to Level 28 to see the 'Gate.
They were both prepared to put on a suitable show of amazement. However,
although they'd both seen Grandfather Daniel's photo of the 'Gate on Simarka,
they found there was no need for dissembling. Their gasps of awe - of wonder
that they were really there - really standing in front of the Stargate -
pretty much blew them away.
Perhaps their knowledge of the history of the 'Gate and their connection to
it simply amplified their reactions. Over a hundred years ago, Grandfather
Daniel might have stood upon the very same spot. Both felt a frisson of
excitement that made the hairs on the back of their necks stand on end. Or
maybe it was something more...?
Theo glanced at Maxine, took her hand and gave it a little squeeze. She
squeezed his hand back and looked at him, her eyes distinctly watery.
09.00 saw the whole team gathered together in the briefing room, including
Captain Beck and Lieutenant Kern. As General Bradfield was in a meeting with
President Warren, the meeting was chaired by his second, Colonel Kochanowski.
Rather surprisingly, the meeting went quite smoothly; everyone was on best
behavior for the most part.
Kochanowski began the proceedings by asking Dr. Pepperday to introduce
herself and explain what she saw her role in the team to be. Thereafter, each
team member in turn followed suit. Both the new inductees followed a line of
modesty, neither putting themselves forward unduly.
Both marines described their roles as protecting the civilians and
assisting in the safe and successful completion of mission objectives. So far,
so good, though there was a slight disagreement when Captain Beck introduced
himself as SG-24's 2IC, and was corrected by Major Mitchell. Beck then
protested that he had three years more field experience than Captain Lucarelli.
"Captain Beck has a point, Major," Kochanowski said with a
questioning look at J.
"Agreed, sir. However, I have less knowledge of Captain Beck's
strengths, and his conduct in the field than I have of Captain Lucarelli's. I
feel that a close understanding between CO and 2IC is necessary for the smooth
running of missions. Ergo, Captain Lucarelli is my first choice."
Captain Beck appeared to accept his decision and his reasoning, but J
thought that it would be no surprise if a Presidential override was forthcoming
Once all the introductions had finished, Col. Kochanowski instructed Dr
Pepperday and Dr. Hunter to report to Master Sergeant Robinson on the indoor
firing range for weapons training that afternoon, following unarmed combat
training with Major Mitchell immediately after the briefing. With no questions
to answer, he then brought the meeting to a close, and left.
On his way out of the room, Beck growled at J, "It's easy to see why
you're so 'wedded' to Lucarelli as yer second, ya fuckin' faggot!"
For a moment, J was floored by the attack but recovered quickly, recalling
his brother Linc's scary style. "Oh! Do I see the green-eyed monster
rampant in my team?" he asked, his voice low and not quite sultry.
"You want to be my 2IC because you want to get off with me?
Is that it? Well, sorry to disappoint, but your gaydar's well on the fritz
there. Never mind though. I'll pass the message around that you're looking for
some hot guy-on-guy action. Will that do for you?"
Beck's face fell ludicrously. "Y-you wouldn't," he faltered. J
flashed a crocodile smile. "Bite me. Play nice and don't go telling tales
out of school, then probably not. Make a nuisance of yourself and it could be a
whole other story..."
The firing range was a distinct challenge for Maxine, who'd never done any
Theo had spent plenty of huntin', shootin' and fishin' weekends, with his
father, or with Uncle Barney, Zak and Dom, or the five of them altogether. This
pastime was naturally deplored by Martha-Bethany, particularly as it often
resulted in their missing morning and afternoon church. It kept the Hunter pair
out of her hair - and out of earshot however. They figured that the threat of
eternal hellfire was well worth the risk. Theo had therefore had plenty of
experience with guns, if not a 9mil., but soon picked up the new discipline.
Maxine, on the other hand, had had no such experience. She was also, inter
alia, an anthropologist. Her interest was in foreign, or alien, cultures -
getting to know about different peoples, to know what made them tick - not in
killing them. That ran totally counter to her own raison d'être.
She pointed roughly in the direction of the targets, closed her eyes and
squeezed the trigger. Despite Sergeant Robinson's warning about the recoil, the
power of it surprised her. She opened one eye and saw a neat hole, around waist
height, a little to the left of the black, man-shaped outline. She tried again
and put another neat hole at the same height on the other side of the target.
By the time she'd emptied the clip, there was a neat arch of holes around
the edges and none on the black shape.
"Yes, you'd do a whole lot better if you kept your eyes open,"
Robinson said gruffly, handing her another clip. Then he had to show her how to
eject the spent clip and insert the new one. "You really haven't done this
before, have you?"
"Well no. I've never needed to. I mean, I've met people that make me
think the world would be a better place without them, but it's a big step to
actually wanting to kill them."
"It's not a case of wanting to kill people, but needing to,
ma'am." Maxine swallowed and gave Robinson a deer in the headlights look.
He looked disapproving as though she'd just committed an act of gross
"Yes, going through the 'Gate is dangerous, and it's likely that at
some point, people will shoot at you - maybe hit you - possibly kill you. If
you can't handle that "
"It's not that," Maxine snapped. "I more used to talking my
way out of trouble, not shooting at it."
"Then you'd better get used to the idea or you're no use in the
field." When Robinson had gone along the line to check out on other new
members of the SGC, Theo took a hand. Standing behind her with his hands over
hers, he showed her how to stand and how to aim. The next round was in the
black - just.
Theo took her gun and fired a shot. "This gun shoots a little low and
a little to the left. You need to aim a bit higher and to the right to
compensate. Now you try it."
This time, the bullet hit the top right-hand corner of the sheet...
Eventually, she began to get the hang of it, but although most of her shots
were on target, they looked more like mice had nibbled away at the edge of the
"No, no, no," Robinson exclaimed. "You have to go for the
head shot - the kill shot!"
Maxine glared at him in a way that could've stripped paint. She turned back
to the target and fired off half a dozen quick shots. They formed a neat little
cluster in the groin area.
"No, no and again, no. You were supposed to go for the head shot!"
Maxine put the gun down. She looked significantly below Robinson's belt.
"I did," she said and stalked off.
J had arrived moments earlier to check up on his two new team members in the
fond expectation of seeing a demonstration of their prowess. He arrived just in
time to catch Maxine's hissy fit. Theo held out both hands and shrugged
helplessly. J scowled and took off after her.
He soon caught up with her, grabbed her by the arm and swung her round to
face him. Two spots of bright anger flamed in her cheeks and her green eyes
sparked a challenge. But Maxine wasn't the only one with a temper.
"Dr. Pepperday. There is no room in my team for behavior
like I just witnessed," J said, his anger cold and controlled, his voice
pitched very low. "I need to be able to trust my team - all my team
- to behave in a civilized and competent manner at all times. I do not tolerate
passengers, nor do I tolerate infantile temper tantrums. Now you either go
straight back in there, make a groveling apology to Sergeant Robinson, who is
just doing his job - or trying to - and you do what is required, or you're off
my team as of right now. Your choice."
He let go of her arm and watched her retrace her steps but didn't follow
her. He was confident that she would the right thing.
The following morning's unarmed combat went ok, though not as well as on the
previous morning. Maxine seemed subdued. She was holding her own, and throwing
in some of the unorthodox moves she'd been taught by her father and which
fitted in quite well with the jiu jitsu J was teaching. But she was just going
through the motions; the sparkle was missing.
J was concerned. He didn't regret what he'd said to her the previous day. It
was all true and he couldn't in all conscience make exceptions for her because
she was a friend. He'd spoken harshly though - more harshly than he might have
done to an unknown rookie. Because she was a friend? Because he knew her?
Because he expected more of her? Maybe. Whatever, he hoped she'd come out of it
stronger - hoped he wouldn't lose her. Even without military training, she
would be an asset and his team needed her knowledge and talents.
The afternoon had the new recruits on a outdoor range where they learned to
compensate for weather conditions, particularly cross-winds. Again, Maxine's
performance was passable but hardly dazzling. The next day dealt with SMGs and
also explosives - specifically setting charges with C4. Theo already knew a
reasonable amount about this from the mining part of his university studies..
On the last two days of the week, Sergeant Robinson had them stripping down
their weapons, cleaning them and then putting them back together again - over
and over and over again until they could do it blindfolded in the dark with one
hand tied behind them. Or so it seemed.
This was something Maxine did well - very well. It suited her cryptologist's
brain and there was no shooting at anything. She showed no pleasure in her new
skill however and was still distinctly lackluster. This was feeding through
into her unarmed combat too, much to J's dismay.
He wondered if he should have a quiet pastoral word with her, but decided to
give it another couple of weeks before he did - wanted to give her a chance to
snap out of it by herself. She would probably would appreciate being nanny-ed
even less than the original reprimand in any case. It still gave him cause to
worry though. Maybe he really had been too hard on her? Had misread her? He
had, but not quite in the way he thought.
Theo spent the weekend in Hunter Ward's machine shop, working on designs for
an all-terrain vehicle with his father and the Wards. He couldn't say much
about what it was for, though Zak and Dom put two and two together and came up
with a number somewhere between 3.99 and 4.01.
Maxine had slipped off quietly and managed to contact her aunt on the
unreliable telephone system before the shift bus arrived to take workers down
into the 'Springs. Joel duly arrived to collect her from the small apartment
she'd found a couple of years back. It was near Ash's pad and so enabled her to
keep in touch with both him and Theo fairly easily.
Aunt Claire was looking frailer these days, which was only to be expected as
she'd celebrated her ninety-second birthday that January. She was quite spry
for her age however and her brain was as sharp as ever. She welcomed her
great-niece and took her through into the kitchen for lemonade and cookies just
like she had when Maxine had shown up, waif-like, on her doorstep some fifteen
years earlier. She didn't need too be a psychic to know that there was
something wrong here now, as it had been then. She sat down at the table and
waited for Maxine to begin.
"I don't think I can do it, Aunt Claire," she said miserably.
"They say you should be careful what you wish for. Now I have my wish and
I don't think I can go through with it."
"Why not, Childie?" Claire asked, reverting to her childhood
"We've been doing unarmed combat this week - and for the next three
weeks and I'm fine with that. You can knock people down and they get straight
back up again... well, maybe not straight away," she amended with a watery
chuckle,"but then, we've been doing weapons training too, and that's when
it hit me That when you shoot someone, he may never get up again -
that... I might end up killing someone. Maybe I'll leave some family without a
father - like Grandfather Daniel was - or someone will lose a beloved son - a
young man who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time - or
maybe my bullet will go astray and hit a child..."
Claire stood up and came round the table to wrap her arms around Maxine and
hug her. "I won't say it will not happen to you," she said
softly in her ear, "but if and when it does, you will react the way
they're training you to, because if you don't, you know you may end up carrying
one of your own team home in a body bag, and that is far, far worse."
"Have... have you ever... ever killed someone, Aunt
Claire?" she faltered.
Claire sat down in an adjacent chair and looked into Maxine's eyes. She bit
her lip and nodded.
"Yes," she whispered, "but only once. I was on a mission
with SG-1. Jonathan was my CO. That happened very rarely because of the
closeness of our relationship. Other members of the team would 'know' that if
he had to chose to rescue one of them, or his sister, he wouldn't choose them.
Whether they were right or not, I don't know. I do know that on any
other team, if I was rescued first, they would put it down to my knowledge -
that I'd be harder to replace. It doesn't make it much better but there is a
difference. It's easier for other members of the team to accept if someone gets
special treatment. But I digress.
"It had been a long and difficult mission. We were about a day's trek
from the 'Gate and we were all dog-tired so we made camp. I'd taken first watch
and just changed with Jonathan. I was on the brink of sleep when something
dragged me back. I've no idea what it was, footsteps on pebbles, clothing
brushing the side of my tent. Something anyway.
"I reacted on instinct, grabbed my Beretta and slithered to my tent
opening. Jonathan was nodding over a tin mug of coffee by the campfire. It's
difficult taking second watch. You've only had a couple of hours sleep, because
you can't fall asleep straight away. You're trying too hard because you know
you aren't going to get enough sleep. When you get woken to take your watch,
your brain's trying its best to try to drag back into sleep again because it
knows what's good for you...
"Except that it's not so good when someone's trying to kill you. There
was a dark shape creeping up on him from the shadow, cast by the moonlight, of
a large rock outcrop. As he came out of the shadow, the moonlight reflected on
a blade. I didn't think about it - didn't have time - just took the head shot
and fired. I guess I was a bit of a mess afterwards, and I still have
nightmares about it now and again, but we survived. Jonathan was left with a
slight scar on the side of his neck where the blade caught it as the man went
"Who was he? Someone you'd met on the mission?"
"I've no idea. The rest of the team told me to go back to sleep - the
excitement was over. When I woke up in the morning, all trace of the attacker
had gone. The rest of the team said it had been taken care of because they
didn't want the death being traced back to the Tau'ri. But I think they didn't
want me to see the face of my victim or the mess I'd made of him. Think I
might've come to terms with it better if I had seen him."
"Am I being stupid then in being afraid to no, that's the wrong
word... being unwilling to take a life?"
"No, I think it's just natural - a good thing even. Means you'll only
do it as a last resort. I had much the same misgivings when I started out. And
you'll find that when if you have to, you will, because the
alternative will be unthinkable. Does that make things any clearer?"
"Yes, it does, and thank you, Aunt Claire. It can't have been easy for
you to relive it."
"No, but it was a long ago now, and time softens the edges - blurs the
Maxine didn't believe her; there had been too much clarity in the account.
No, Aunt Claire still remembered it vividly.
"Captain Lucarelli, a word, please."
Luc stopped and turned around in the corridor. "Is this official,
Major?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Hm, semi-official, but definitely off the record. The commissary will
The lunch rush had finished so they found a quiet corner table with no
"What's the problem?"
"I hope there isn't one, but... I think might have blown it with
Maxine," J said.
J explained Maxine's strange behavior the previous week. "I came down
on her pretty heavily, but I really can't make exceptions just because she's a
Luc tipped his head on one side. "And a civilian?"
"Yeah," J said slowly. "That makes me wonder if I wasn't a
tad too harsh. She was so subdued for the rest of the week - just went through
"You think there might be something else?"
"I don't know. Possibly."
"And you want me to keep an eye out for her?"
"If you would. Find out if there's anything I don't know and
"'Kay. By the way, you been stomping all over Beck too?" Luc
J looked puzzled so Luc explained.
"He was well pissed off last week at being passed over as your second.
Naturally I'm watching my back, but he hasn't said or done anything, except
give me the cold shoulder, which he usually does anyway, being as I'm a
'fucking dago.' I ask you, does Lucarelli sound in any way Spanish or Mexican?
What?" he ended as J started chuckling.
"He called me a fucking faggot."
"Seems he thinks I had an ulterior motive for preferring you. I
corrected him and offered, by way of making amends for his disappointment, to
pass the word around that he was looking for some... masculine comfort."
Luc cracked out laughing. "And he believed you?"
"That's the joy of it. He doesn't know. He knows that if it was the
other way round, he would, so he can't be certain I won't."
Luc looked thoughtful. "So long as it hasn't just expanded the threat
- that he won't delegate to some of his friends."
"He has friends?" J chuckled. "But you're right. We're gonna
have to keep an eye on the lot of them. I warned Theo, by the way. Not that he
needed it, but it's as well to know the most likely threats."
In the commissary at lunchtime next day, Theo and Maxine, together with a
couple of other new recruits were just finishing as Luc arrived, tray in hands.
"Hey," he smiled. "Ok if I join you?"
"Sure, but we're just leaving," one of the new guys said.
"You too, bambina mia?" Luc asked looking hurt.
Maxine laughed quietly and shook her head, "Ok, I give in. I'll stay
and keep you company, but enough with the baby talk already..."
Luc waited till the rest were out of earshot.
"So, how's it going?"
"Fine," Maxine smiled. "Why wouldn't it be?"
"Oh, a little bird told me you were having problems."
Maxine's lips narrowed into a thin hard line. "Cyanocitta cristata, by
"Oh, never mind. I'm fine, really I am, so you can tell your 'little
bird' that you've done your job."
"Hey, Ma Esther, I mean. It's not like that. No need to get so...
Maxine sighed. "Sorry, I shouldn't take it out on you. I behaved
stupidly, J ripped me a new one - which I deserved. It's over. I've moved on.
End of story."
"Yeah, well, that's good the, er, moving on bit. J was just
worried that he'd... well, that he'd taken it a bit too far that's all."
"Broken my spirit? No, no he didn't do that. I nearly did it to myself,
but I've gotten my head around it now, and I'm fine. Honestly," she
smiled. "Just tell him to do his own dirty work in future. I don't
bite." A thoughtful look segued into evil. "Actually I lied. I do
bite but keep that to yourself!"
The final week's training was 'wilderness survival,' pretty much on a
one-to-one basis. The other new recruits were distributed to the teams to which
they were likely to be assigned, while J and Luc were with Maxine and Theo. The
latter was pretty much on home turf. Maxine, more at home in the urban jungle,
was on a steep learning curve again.
The first two days were spent on theory: map-reading, use of compass - and
how to improvise if one didn't have a compass; where to find water, how to
extract it and how to purify it; learning which plants are edible and which
poisonous; how and where to find edible animals and fish, how to trap or catch
them, and how to prepare and cook them.
There was a useful section on how and where to make camp, how to make a
fire without matches, different types of fires for cooking or for warmth - and
how to dig latrines, which were to be downhill from the camp and well away from
the water supply.
"You'd be surprised how many people fall foul of that one," J said
to groans from the rest.
There was a lot on different types of knots and their various uses, basic
weather forecasting from cloud formations and wind directions - high and low
level - and how to make use of whatever useful objects were available in the
"Very MacGyver, isn't it?" Maxine observed with a grin.
"Where do you think the manual comes from?" Luc grinned back.
At the end of Tuesday, they were kindly provided with their survival kits
and shown how to pack them. It was amazing how much could be packed into a
small tin box; matches, a tallow candle - shaved square for easier packing and
usable for cooking or even eating in an emergency - a flint and striker,
magnifying glass, needles and thread, fish hooks and line, compass, beta light,
snare wire, water sterilizing tablets, small saw blade, two scalpel blades,
plasters, butterfly sutures, pain killers, diarrhoea medication, antihistamine,
antibiotics and a condom.
"A condom?" Maxine exclaimed. "For me?"
"Yes, Maxine, a condom for you... It holds two pints of water..."
The next two days were taken up by putting what they'd learnt into practice,
as far as time and terrain permitted. The chosen terrain was in the area to the
west of the SGC's entrance. The training went well and a good time was had by
one and all, so long as one didn't mind getting cold, wet and muddy. Before
they broke camp, J gave them a briefing on the coming weekend's trial.
"As you know, you two will be pitted against Beck and Kern. The trial
runs from 14.00 tomorrow, Friday - so you can at least get a good lunch - until
12.00 Monday. The aim is not only to survive, but also to capture the 'enemy
flags' while protecting your own. They'll be tucked, fairly securely, in the
backs of your belts. You'll have a green and a blue flag; they'll have the red
and the yellow ones. Luc and I will be around to see fair play. Any
"Fair play?" Maxine asked skeptically.
"Er, yeah, sort of. Basically, no killing," J grinned.
"So... in other words," Theo asked, seeking confirmation,
"anything else goes?"
Theo and Maxine exchanged impish looks. "Good!"
"Where are Beck and Kern from?"
Theo wanted to know.
"Beck's from Oklahoma and Kern's from Kansas."
"Plainsmen then? Oh, good," Theo said with a feral smile, adding
innocently, "Any information on their plans for the weekend?"
J coughed. "I'm supposed to be impartial here, ya know!"
"So? We're just working on the principal of 'know your enemy.' You
should be pleased that we've been studying your manual."
Maxine took up the thread. "Section thirteen, paragraph four: 'what
enables the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the
reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.' "
"Well," Luc responded, "I don't think it's giving away any
state secrets to say that Beck has been bragging about how easy it's going to
be to take out the pair he's been brought in to babysit. Also, Beck overheard
the little confrontation in the corridor "
"Ouch! Sorry Maxine!" J grimaced, biting his lip. "My bad. I
shoulda found somewhere private. So much for temper control."
"That's ok. I don't have a problem with it. It's just water under the
"Except you know they're now certain to be targeting you as potentially
the weak link?" J said looking guilty.
"So they are," Maxine grinned, eyes sparkling. "Section 1,
paragraph 22. Bring it on!" She and her cousin hit a high five.
"What, you two've got it all planned out already?"
"Oh, yeah! Section 1, paragraph 24," came in chorus.
"Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected?
I don't think I want to know," J muttered.
"Tell me," Theo continued, "does the game continue after
we've captured their flags?"
"Yes. They would have the rest of the time to try and get them
"Right. What about if we captured them? - Beck and Kern?"
Maxine asked, all wide-eyed innocence.
J and Luc exchanged glances. "I don't know," J admitted. "I
don't think it's ever happened."
Captain Beck and Lieutenant Kern arrived in the commissary on the dot of
midday, along with several of their friends. It was going to be a breeze - a
stroll in the park. The plan was to get an early start, taunting the opposition
when, shaking with fear, they arrived for their lunch. Then they'd leave their
friends to finish the job of psyching them out - making it clear that they
hadn't a hope in hell and might as well cut short the agony and call it quits
now. Demoralized, they might even just hand over their flags at the first
An hour later, there was no sign of either of the two doctors. The group in
the commissary were laughing and joking about it. Either the 'babes in the
wood' were going to be very hungry over the weekend, or they'd just
bottled out, plain and simple. Most people put their money on the latter.
At 13.30, Beck and Kern got tired of waiting for their victims to show up
and decided to collect their gear and leave the fun to their friends. Their
friends had a long wait. Theo and Maxine had had a sustaining breakfast at the
Sunny Side Up at 07.00, caught the shift bus up to the Cheyenne Mountain
Complex, and had already arrived at their planned campsite before Beck and Kern
had even entered the commissary.
They'd traveled light. Their backpacks contained their survival kits,
equipment they thought would be most useful for their plans, and a few energy
bars for emergencies. This was per paragraph nine of section 2 of Ping-fa:
'Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy. Thus the army
will have food enough for its needs.' Not that they needed to raid the
opposition's supplies, but they planned to.
The chosen place for their camp was a cave reasonably high up and with a
commanding view over the terrain used in wilderness survival exercises. The
cave was technically outside the area of the trial, but then, it wasn't against
The Rule, and they didn't imagine that the opposition had any intention of
The cave was relatively new - a side-effect of the Great Disaster. An
igneous intrusion had pushed its way towards the surface a few miles west of
the entrance to the C.M.C., much in the manner of Pike's Peak, a billion years
earlier. Fortunately, it had been on a very much smaller scale and with much
less power - just a slender up-welling of magma through breaks in the overlying
bedding planes. This had pushed up the layers of rock above it until they
cracked, leaving a tent-like opening.
Theo, his father, and the Wards had only discovered it by accident on a
hunting weekend some eight or ten years previously when the weather had closed
in very rapidly, leaving them facing a very unpleasant and perilous time up on
the exposed hillside. Then Dom had spotted the dark patch above and to the left
of them. They'd made thankfully for it and waited out the storm there.
With his interest in earth sciences, and the fact that the cave was not
marked on their map, Theo had worked out what had happened with reasonable
accuracy. A further factor was that the ambient temperature of the small cave
was several degrees warmer than the 50-51 F of most cave systems. The magma was
still cooling and, being insulated by virtue of being quite deeply buried,
would continue to do so for many, many centuries to come.
It was a dangerous place to stay though because with the cooling came slow
contraction which loosened the cave structure and threatened its integrity.
Every now and again, trickles of rubble could be heard from the distant end of
the long narrow cave, and occasionally, the thud of a falling rock. But the
danger of hypothermia seemed greater, so they took the risk of remaining in the
cave. They stayed near the entrance though, ready for a quick getaway in the
event of a major collapse.
On subsequent trips, the Hunters and the Wards had customized their little
cave, taking up rolls of corrugated iron, which they'd used to make a lean-to
some twenty feet from the entrance on the right-hand-side. It was about six or
eight feet in length and was designed to be a safe(r) haven in the event of a
cave-in. There was a layer of bits of foam rubber on the floor and a tarpaulin
on top of that to provide a dry, and not too lumpy, place to sleep if they were
benighted there again.
They had also piled up a heap of small rocks and debris in front of the
lean-to to hide it, so that the casual observer would simply see a rock fall
and not hang around to investigate. Not that there was much 'passing traffic.'
On arrival, Theo and Maxine checked out the stores they'd brought up on
visits they'd made on the previous two weekends in anticipation of the trial.
There was quite a lot of stuff - sleeping bags, clean dry clothing, tins of
food - corned beef, baked beans and such like, and bottles of water - ropes and
wire, but then, they'd had a little help...
On arrival, the pair set about rigging up trip-wires along routes that led
to their hide-out. The wires were coated in mud and lichen by way of
camouflage, and old tin cans, hidden, were attached to the wires to sound the
alarm if anyone tried to creep up on them. Then they settled down with
binoculars to keep watch on the area below them.
Although they were over an hour and a half later than planned, Captain Beck
and Lieutenant Kern saw no reason for haste and ambled casually towards the
area where new recruits were shown how to make camp. There were recent remains
of campfires, but the ashes were cold, so obviously not all that recent. They'd
seen no signs on any of the tracks or trails either.
"Maybe they're still packing up," Kern grinned.
"Yeah. Didn't think they'd be quite this hopeless," Beck
"Oh well, may as well make camp behind this outcrop and watch for their
While Kern built a fire, Beck kept watch. He had quite a long wait - nearly
two hours. Kern had put a pot of coffee on to brew and they were beginning to
think of food when two figures appeared from the direction of the C.M.C.
"Well, fuck me! How stupid can they be? Didn't Major Disaster bother to
tell them anything about camouflage? About blending in with the surroundings?
They're a couple of walking targets like that!"
Kern followed where Beck was pointing. Two figures were heading in the
direction of their camp. The shorter one was wearing a bright blue cagoule, the
taller one a red - red! - anorak, both with the hoods pulled down over
their eyes as if they were expecting a snowstorm.
Beck and Kern pulled back behind their rocky outcrop, and waited until the
opposition had passed by their hiding place without even noticing. They looked
at each other and grinned. Beck signaled to Kern to follow the pair of
dumb-clucks. This was going to be fun - see how far they could follow the
opposition before either of them noticed, then grab the flags and keep out of
trouble till Monday lunch time.
They'd been following the pair for some twenty minutes with no sign of their
being noticed, and it was beginning to get a little boring. Beck nodded to Kern
and the pair speeded up until they were right behind the couple. Still no
reaction, so the marines dived at them, grabbed each one round the waist and
brought them down. Beck fumbled under the blue cagoule for the flag, and took
the opportunity to grope the girl. And stopped. Eyes opened wide in shock.
Unless he was seriously mistaken about Dr. Esther Pepperday, he
shouldn't be feeling what he was feeling...
He got off his victim and rolled the person over. A pair of piercing blue
eyes met his - blue eyes, set under deeply scowling black eyebrows.
"We are Warriors of Christ," growled the young man. "Know ye
not that ye shall not lie with a man as one lies with a women? This is an
abomination! Ye shall surely be put to death!"
"What?! No! No, you've got it all wrong!" the big marine cried,
getting hurriedly to his feet, while Kern looked on in amazement.
"I know what I felt," the young man said, glowering at his
"I - I thought you were a woman," Beck said, his excuse sounding
execrable even in his own ears.
The young man's companion struggled out from under Kern and shot a
questioning look at his companion.
"He fondled your...?" he asked. Getting a nod of assent, he asked,
"And is that your normal method of discovering a stranger's gender?"
"N-no, of course not," Beck said. "We took you for two... for
two colleagues whom we are trying to capture. One of them's a
That didn't sound too good either. Another idea came to him. "What are
you two doing up here anyway," he demanded, moving into bluster mode.
"This is military land."
"There ye are mistaken," said the one in red, raising his hands
heavenwards. "This land belongs to God!"
"Hallelujah!" cried his companion.
"Look, I'm not a fuck I am not a faggot, ok?" Beck
tried again. "It was just a simple mistake. Honest."
"If you truly repent your evil ways, then get down upon your knees
right now and pray to the Lord for His Divine Forgiveness."
Beck did so. He was not big on religion but no one questioned a WoC unless
he wanted his life to get really 'interesting' really quickly. He mumbled
something that ended with "Amen."
The two Warriors seemed satisfied as they raised their hands and cried,
"Hallelujah! There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one
sinner that repenteth. Halle-lu-jah!"
The one in red then stepped forward. "We will leave you here, friends,
but we, or our brethren will be here in the coming days, and remember - The
Lord is all-knowing and all-powerful. He is with you always!"
"Hallelujah!" cried his companion. Beck and Kern watched the two
young men stalk away, then turned back to their camp, where another nasty
surprise awaited them.
"Hey! Where are our backpacks?" Kern cried in alarm.
"Our backpacks! They're gone!"
"You're shittin' me!"
"I wish I was," Kern said glumly.
"Dammit! They musta been following those Warriors."
"At least they haven't taken everything," Kern commented, trying
to look on the bright side as large drops of rain began to fall. "They've
left us our bivi bags, fire's still going... " he inspected the pot,
"...the coffee's still here and it's still hot. Oh, and we still have
Their comm. units were also still there. These were set only to contact
Major Mitchell or Captain Lucarelli and were to be used only in the event of
serious problems. There was a note pinned under one of the units. It read,
"For when you're ready to give up..." and was signed T.J.Hunter and
E.M.Pepperday. Beck went into paroxysms of expletives - impressive even for a
After he'd calmed down, he consulted his chronometer. 19.43 hrs. Half an
hour to sunset, though with the lowering cloud, it was already quite murky.
"I think we'll make a dawn raid tomorrow," Beck decided, ignoring
the fact that they didn't know where to raid as yet. "Maybe the rain will
have passed then. For now, we're better off getting some hot coffee inside us
and hunkering down. You can take first watch. Wake me at midnight."
The rain was coming down harder now, so they shuffled into their bivi bags.
Kern poured them each a mug of coffee. Beck knocked his back in one, then
pulled his bivi bag up to his neck and laid down to try and grab some
refreshing but, under the circumstances, probably elusive sleep.
It wasn't long before he was snoring gently. Kern looked on enviously. The
sound was making him feel sleepy too. More coffee was needed he thought, and
having drunk a second mug, he pulled his bivi bag up to his neck and leaned
back against the rock for a cold and tedious four hour watch until he too,
could get some sleep.
In the event, Beck awoke as grey light was filtering into the eastern sky.
The rain had stopped, but the sky above was leaden with the promise of more
rain to come. He slid his arm out of his bivi bag and looked at his
chronometer. 04.54? What the fuck?!
"Kern!" he yelled. "I told you to wake me at midnight!"
The only response was a series of sleepy grunts and snuffles. Beck sat up
sharply and looked across at his teammate. Kern had slumped sideways and was
dead to the world. Beck was furious. The fire had gone out, and with no matches
or flint and everything around them soaked by the heavy overnight rain, no
means of starting one. They also had no food, not even an energy bar between
Fury galvanized him into action. He shucked himself out of his bivi bag,
then went over and kicked Kern. Hard.
Kern, suddenly jerked out of a pleasant dream, yelled. Loudly.
"What the fuck was that for?" he beefed.
"Falling asleep when you're supposed to be on watch for one thing.
Letting the fire go out for another," Beck shouted.
Kern blinked and looked around. He noted the dark grey sky and the lighter
grey smudge on the horizon. Yep. It was definitely gone midnight.
"Sorry," he groaned. "I've never done that before -
ever," he said, puzzled. "This mission isn't going too well, is
"Ya could say!" Beck grumbled.
Kern rolled down his bivi bag, got to his feet and stepped out of it. As he
picked it up to pack it away, both men notice a round, flat rock he'd been
lying on. It bore a large 'X' scratched in its surface. Beck let fly another
stream of expletives.
Kern picked up the rock. His first reaction was one of pleasure. Underneath
was a couple of energy bars in a waterproof bag along with another note. His
second reaction was one of horror.
"No!" he yelled, fumbling for the back of his belt.
Beck grabbed the note and his language became even more creative in a crude
sort of way. The message read, "Fair exchange is no robbery. Give up now
and there's a nice bowl of stew for you. Why prolong the misery?"
At least they now had something to eat, not that they were at all
grateful. Beck and Kern exchanged wrathful looks. While they'd slept, the two
fucking civilians had raided their camp and taken their flags. Taken out by
rookies. This was beyond humiliating. It also meant war. No more Mr. Nice Guys.
The trouble was, Hunter and Pepperday seemed to have the whip-hand as well as
So what to do? They had no camp as such to guard or defend, and little to
carry so they decided to split up. They would cover more ground that way. Kern
would take the 'high road,' and Beck the 'low road.' It seemed it was essential
to keep each other in sight too. They'd clearly underestimated the rookies so
far - certainly in the dirty tricks department if not in actual wilderness
Kern was the first to catch a break. Up ahead along the track he was
following was a tiny scrap of red cloth caught on a tall spiky bush - the same
red as his lost flag. Going to examine it would put him out of sight behind the
bush, so he waved to Beck to let him know where he was. As luck would have it,
his CO chose that moment to bend down as though examining something. He was
also too far away to holler as their quarry would likely hear too. Oh well.
He'd just reach up, grab the clue and
Fell flat on his face, feet entangled in a wire cat's cradle across the
track. Before he could react, something big and heavy landed on him, knocking
the breath out of his body. Gaffer tape was slapped over his mouth. His arms
were pulled behind him and tightly bound. A hood was put over his head and he
was dragged to his feet. He was guided - half pulled, half pushed, sometimes
shoved down and occasionally lifted - to some unknown destination.
About half an hour later, as near as he could gauge it, the journey stopped
and he was pushed into a sitting position.
"One down, one to go," came a cheerful - and familiar - female
voice. Dear God, could this weekend get any worse? Beck was definitely going to
have his balls for this.
"Now don't think about shouting or anything, or this goes straight
back on," Maxine said, lifting the hood a tiny bit and peeling the gaffer
tape off his mouth. "And don't lean back, or you'll crack your head on the
"Roof? Where am I?"
"You're in a cave - a new one that opened up in the Great Disaster, so
it's not on any maps yet," Maxine told him.
Theo picked up a small rock and skimmed it as far as he could down the
length of the cave. It landed with a satisfying thunk and a trickle of pebbles
in the distance.
"Being so new," he explained, "it's not terribly
"What? You mean we're going to be buried alive?" Kern squawked.
"Oh, I doubt it," Theo replied in bracing tones. "Geological
processes are usually quite slow."
"W-what about earthquakes and stuff?"
"They move faster," Theo conceded. "But don't worry, we're
not too far from the exit. Fancy something to eat?"
Kern became aware of an appetizing aroma. "It's not poisoned is
His captors laughed aloud at that. "No it isn't. It's perfectly
safe," Theo said. "It's being stewing a couple of hours now. It won't
kill you, nor will it make you ill. We don't want you throwing up or spraying
crap all around our nice clean cave."
"Thank you so much for that image, Theo," Maxine responded
appearing from behind the rock pile with a dish of stew. "Now, I'm going
to take your hood off, and you are going to behave because this stew is good
and hot, so I don't want to spill it in your lap - if you take my
Kern did! She removed the hood, then fed him the stew which was remarkably
good. He complimented her on her cooking and got a frosty look in return.
"Actually, it's Theo you should be thanking. He caught 'em and he
"Erm, what was in it?" Kern asked.
"Oh, several small lizards, a snake, a raccoon and a coupla
rats..." The pair cracked out laughing again as the expression on Kern's
"He's teasing. It's mostly just rabbits."
Kern didn't ask what it mostly wasn't. He was pretty sure he didn't really
want to know.
Theo and Maxine were almost caught off-guard at this point as a shadow fell
across the cave mouth.
Beck, failing to see Kern when he stood up from investigating what looked
like a military boot, suspected that his teammate had been taken out. He
hurried up to the point where he'd last seen Kern and followed the imprints of
his boots in the damp ground. He observed the torn scrap of red cloth and
noticed the tangled wire which had not yet been reset.
At this point he admitted to himself that the rookies were by no means as
dumb as he'd taken them for. On his guard, he followed the tracks and spotted
the trip wires across the path leading past a dark shadow overhung ivy and
other trailing plants. Using extreme caution, he moved cautiously forward and
was rewarded when he heard voices and laughter.
He knew he would be at a disadvantage if he went into the darkness of the
cave straight away, so he closed his eyes and waited for a minute or so to
allow his eyes to acclimatize. Then he stepped through the opening into the
cave. His quarry was six or seven feet away from him.
Theo recovered first. "Come to surrender?" he asked in a
"Nope. I've come to collect the flags, all four of them, and you are
going to release Kern."
"I don't think so,"Theo said with a mocking smile. He sounded
cool and confident - far from what he was actually feeling, especially when
Beck pulled out his hunting knife and advanced slowly and menacingly towards
Maxine who was nearest to him.
She back away with a girly scream. "Don't hurt me!" she pleaded,
holding up her hands in a pathetic attempt at defence. It only succeeded in
luring him on.
The knife was almost under her nose, when she stepped smartly back. Left a
foot behind. Grabbed his arm and pulled him onward. Used his own mass and
momentum against him. Unbalanced him. Twisted his arm. Applied a lock. Sharp
knee thrust to his elbow. Removed the knife from his slackened grip.
"Now are you going to surrender?" Theo asked again.
"Not a chance in hell," Beck grunted, game to the end, but
reaching with his free hand for his right shoulder which felt like, maybe, it
"Wrong answer," Maxine snapped.
Jabbed finger tips in the side of his neck. Beck slumped to the ground. Only
her grip on his arm prevented his head from hitting the rock floor.
Theo was already calling up J on his comm. while Kern, stunned at the rapid
turn-around, yelled, "Beck! Captain!" There was no response.
"What've you done to him?" he demanded of Maxine.
"Oh, just stopped his heart," she replied matter of factly.
"What? You've killed him?"
"Only temporarily. But it'll become permanent real soon if you don't
tell Major Mitchell you surrender right now."
Theo held the comm. unit to Kern's mouth. "Ok, we surrender, we
surrender! The psycho-bitch just killed Beck!"
Theo pulled the comm. away. "Did you get that? They surrendered?"
On confirmation, Maxine jabbed her fingers into Beck's neck again. He drew a
deep gasp of air then set off coughing.
"Fuckin' hell!" Kern murmured, as Theo put the comm. unit down and
helped Maxine tie up Beck before he came round enough to be a nuisance.
"Ok, all done and dusted," Theo told J.
"Where are you?"
"I'll send up a flare."
While Theo was outside, waiting to guide J and Luc to their hideout, Maxine
guarded the two prisoners. When Beck was sufficiently recovered - and directing
a baleful glare at his captor, Maxine got down to business.
"This is the way it's going to be. We will say nothing about how easy
it was to take you out provided you don't make any more trouble for us."
Kern was more than happy to go along with that. Beck looked like he needed
"Moreover," Maxine went on, "neither of you will ever
return to this cave, nor will you reveal its location to anyone. On pain of
death, and yes, I do mean that. In case your memory of the event is a little
hazy, Lieutenant Kern will be able to tell you that I am perfectly capable of
fulfilling that threat."
Kern nodded vigorously.
"Disposal of your corpses will not be a problem - dump them at the far
end of the cave - a little judicious use of C4 and no one will ever
know..." she concluded, dropping her voice to a chilling low growl.
The two prisoners could hardly wait for Theo and the rest to arrive, trussed
up as they were like a couple of thanksgiving turkeys and under the slightly
manic gaze of the scary 'psycho-bitch.' Maxine rather like that one.
J and Luc were suitably impressed and agreed that the contest was over
since neither Beck nor Kern were in a position to continue.
Major Mitchell gave Maxine an inquiring look. "So, Dr. Pepperday, what
was all that about you killing Captain Beck."
Maxine looked amused. "Oh, I just temporarily stopped his heart,"
she said airily.
J's jaw dropped and his eyes opened wide in disbelief. "Dim mok?"
he whispered. "I never taught you that."
"No. It was just one of those little somethings that one picks up on
life's highways and - erm - byways."
That evening, being Saturday, the gang had a little celebratory party at
Ash's, and Theo brought along a couple of guests of honor. J and Luc in
particular wanted to know all the details about how the pair had outwitted the
two marines - two experienced marines.
"But I did promise not to spread the tale around, so long as they don't
make trouble, so don't make me an oath-breaker please."
The rest agreed.
"Ok, so how'd you pull that one off?" J demanded. He hated being
kept in the dark.
"Forward planning and a little outside assistance," Theo said.
"Outside assistance?" J asked suspiciously. "That's not
"No," Maxine agreed, "but it wasn't against The Rule."
"The Rule?" Ash queried.
"No killing," Maxine said.
"One rule," J exclaimed, "Just one rule, and you couldn't
even obey that!"
"What?!" came a startled exclamation from the rest.
"It's just a bundle of nerves that stop the heart if you hit them
right. What? It was only temporary."
"So, this outside assistance?" Luc prompted.
"Oh yeah. Step forward, Zak and Dom," Theo said, with a flourish
of his arm towards them.
The two men stood up, exchanged a grin, raised their arms and cried,
Ash's face turned ashen. He looked like he'd been entertaining a couple of
Theo laughed. "It's ok, they're a couple of cousins of ours who have
nothing to do with the Warriors, other than to thwart then wherever possible.
Their job was to provide a diversion so we could raid the enemy camp. I take it
the hallelujah had something to do with it?"
Zak and Dom told their tale to howls of amusement all round.
"Then, while Beck and Kern were out of the way, we took most of their
stuff and, as they had some coffee on the go, we - er - 'improved' it a
little." Theo said.
"Yes, we added a couple of Aunt Martha-Bethany's sleeping pills, ground
up," Maxine grinned. "While they were asleep, we took their flags.
After that, the rest was easy."
"What about the cave, though," Dom asked. "Do we need to
move all our stuff out of it?"
"Stuff?" J asked, almost fearing what he was going to hear.
"Beds, sort of, sleeping bags, change of clothes, camping
stove..." Theo said.
Luc cracked a laugh at that. "So while they had bivi bags and no food,
you two had all the comforts of home?!"
"Yes, and we'd like to keep it that way," Zak said.
"It's ok," Maxine said. "I told them that if they ever go
back, or reveal the location, I'd kill them both, leave their bodies at the far
end of the cave and bury them under a C4 assisted roof collapse."
J, suddenly flashing back to that incident at the marina many years ago,
looked horrified. "Maxine, you wouldn't!"
"'Course not. But they don't know that. They only know I have the
capability. Like you said when you quoted Ping-fa, section 1, paragraph
18 to me. 'All warfare is based on deception,'" she said with a very smug