On the Monday morning, General Bradfield held a short briefing for
SG-24, including Lt. Kern and Captain Bachmann.
"As you probably all know by now, Major Kellerman... uh... met with an
unfortunate... accident over the weekend."
Bradfield's announcement was too euphemistic for Bachmann. "He was a
good man and a good officer, who died fighting the forces of evil, sir."
Luc felt Theo's warning fingers dig into his thigh below the table. He was
maintaining a strong control of himself, but appreciated the gesture. He said
nothing. Maxine on the other hand
"That's not what it said on the news coverage," she said. It
wasn't entirely clear whether her disapproving tone referred to Bachmann's
attempt to whitewash the Kellermanns' evil plans, or the fact that he was in
the briefing room at all.
"You mean what that faggot, Kirkwood, said?" he sneered.
Maxine stood up sharply and rounded on Bachmann who was seated beside her.
"So it was you? " she hissed in his face. "You
were the malicious bastard who laid the slanderous charge against
"What?" Bachmann was taken aback by the attack. "No! It's
just common knowledge that he's a fa"
"Don't you ever say that word again - not in my presence!
There is no question mark hanging over Ash's sexual orientation, as I
have very good reason to know"
"Doctor Pepper " Bradfield tried to cut in. Unsuccessfully.
"And if I find out that you were behind the kidnap,
torture and attempted murder of my... of my very close friend, then
you'd better watch your back. Captain!"
Theo was impressed. Maxine had effectively given the lie to Ash's
homosexuality without actually saying a word of a lie herself. He would thank
her later. With flowers. And chocolates.
Bradfield, hoping to defuse the situation while Bachmann could still walk
straight, said, "I suggest you take that under advisement, Captain. Now if
we could move on? Under the circumstances, I am deferring the mission to the
real P4D-131 until Monday next at 0800. This will enable Major Mitchell to
return to active duty with SG-24 - and allow recovery from whatever fourth of
July celebrations you have planned."
"But sir," Bachmann protested. "By then, it may be too late
to avert the impending rebellion. I suggest we go in hard now - shoot a
few of the peasants to show we mean business and"
"Because that worked sooo well on Tyogya, didn't it?
Captain," Luc asked, focusing all his resentment on to a militarily
As Bachmann leapt to his feet, Bradfield brought the flat of his hand down
on the table. Hard.
"That will do, people!" he growled. "You will conduct
yourselves like members of this country's armed forces - a well-disciplined
team, not an unruly kindergarten class." He waited for silence to
descend and then counted to a hundred.
"That's better." Bradfield turned to the stenographer.
"Please strike the inappropriate comments made by Captain Bachmann and
Doctor Pepperday from the record of this meeting. Now for those of you who have
not been to P4D-131 before, I have files on the planet for you to read and
inwardly digest during the coming week," he said, passing out folders to
all except Bachmann. "Captain Lucarelli, would you take a copy to Major
Mitchell. I'm sure he'll appreciate something to pass the time..."
With that, the briefing ended. Bachmann was out of the door first, looking
like a thundercloud. The rest, including General Bradfield, followed in
It was Luc's private opinion that Bachmann had been hoping to take over
command of SG-24 while J was incapacitated. He also suspected - strongly
suspected - that Bachmann would be kept on as 2IC, though not for too long if J
had any say in the matter. What was more worrying was that Major Kellermann had
clearly taken Bachmann into his confidence about why he'd come to the Springs,
what he planned to do - and to whom. Thank goodness Maxine had drawn attention
away from Theo and himself.
In this brown study, he picked up the two remaining copies of the report
from the table, unaware for the moment that Lt. Kern was loitering by the door
waiting for him.
"I'd just like to thank you for what you did at the weekend," he
Luc looked up sharply, then tried to hide his surprise. His focus of
attention snapped abruptly back into the here and now. First Bachmann, now
Kern? How many more had Kellermann been bragging to about his plans for the
weekend? No. Thinking back, Kellermann had ignored Kern at the briefing. But
even so, he needed to be very careful. What was Kern up to? Was he trying to
set him up. After the weekend he was now, de facto, a murderer.
"Uh, sorry?" he said, pretending he hadn't heard what Kern had
"I said I'd just like to thank you for what you did at the
Luc continued to play dumb. "I'm sorry, I'm not with you. What did I
"I know you were at the church on Saturday night and I'd like to thank
you for rescuing my cousin, Solly," Kern said. "Those Warriors
would've burned him to death too if you hadn't intervened when you did."
Damn, they should've sworn those three to secrecy too, like they had with
Ash's companions in misery up the mountain. Actually, they hadn't sworn them to
secrecy either, just asked them not to talk about it. They'd looked like they
never wanted to think about it again ever, never mind talk about it at the
time, so they should be ok there
"And I know you were on Cheyenne Mountain too, so I'd also like to
thank you for saving the others as well. Michael's a... 'very close friend' of
Solly's," Kern went on, not noticing Luc's tenseness.
"Well, if you'd really like to thank me, then just don't mention it to
anyone else, okay?" Luc asked, and recalling Rufus's sentiment, added,
"If you want to do something more constructive, then look around for
someone who needs your help and pass on the good deed. Then tell them to pass
it in too."
Kern's eyes lit up. "Hey, that's a great idea," he said and walked
off whistling merrily.
Luc drew a deep breath and leaned against the doorpost for a moment. Clearly
they hadn't thought it through nearly carefully enough. With hindsight, they
should've had a debriefing session while they were at Ash's, but he supposed
they were still too buzzed on adrenaline at that time - so high on their
success in rescuing Ash and the other five young men who would otherwise have
perished horribly. Like the Kellermanns did.
Luc was still deep in thought as he arrived at the infirmary.
"You look troubled," J said, as Luc handed him the briefing
folder. "Something to do with the weekend?"
"Yeah," Luc responded slowly.
"But you rescued Ash and the others, didn't you? So what's the
Luc looked around at the security cameras, then, in case anyone could
lip-read, rubbed his hand across his lower face as he said quietly, "We
weren't careful enough. And I can't really talk about it here. We need a
meeting to work though all the potential problems. And soon."
"All?" J echoed. "Sure this isn't just more of Maxine's
"Certain. She was hardly involved anyway. Rufus kept her out of it
pretty much. She was not best pleased about that."
"Oh." J picked up the folder.
"Present from General Bradfield. A little light reading to pass the
time," Luc grinned. "The mission's been postponed until next Monday
when you'll be back on active service - which didn't suit Bachmann at all. I
reckon he was expecting to take the lead on a mission this week."
"And he thinks he'll be my 2IC?"
"Looks very much like it." Luc ran his hand over his face again.
"I think Kellermann had taken him into his confidence about his plans for
last weekend too."
"Ah. I see your concerns. Kern?"
"Don't think so, though he does know about - you know..."
J sat up sharply. "You're kidding!"
"No, but I don't think he'll be a problem."
J raised a questioning eyebrow.
"It seems," Luc muttered behind his hand, "that a cousin of
his was lined up for the same treatment as Ash, and the cousin's - 'very close
friend' - was with Ash. I don't think Kern's sharp enough to pull off
the lie if that wasn't true."
J considered it. "You're probably right. I don't see him as B.S.C.
Luc nodded. "Now I'm going to try and track down the other - er -
members. If any of 'em show up here, tell 'em usual time, usual place,
A quick check revealed that, as expected, Maxine's cryptological duties had
taken her to WPX, and of course, he had no legitimate reason for hauling ass
over there. He had no difficulty in finding Theo though. He was on Level 28,
busy putting the finishing touches to the PATTs. Once he'd fitted the rollbars,
he was hoping to give them their first airing on the next mission.
"Leave it with me," Theo said. "I'll page Ash, and I'm sure
he can find some reason to go to the Arlington Building."
At Ash's, that evening, Luc took the chair.
"I've called this meeting, because we've been a little too sloppy, or
too cocky. Too casual certainly. We need to go back over the weekend and try
and tie up some of the loose ends. Firstly, thanks go to Maxine for shutting
down one possible complication this morning. Actually, it was that which set me
He explained his ideas about Bachmann, and about Kern's being in the loop
also, and saw that they were up to speed on why he'd called the meeting.
"In retrospect," Luc went on, "blowing up the church probably
wasn't a good idea"
"Dad said Project Hell's Gate's been going on for a year, collecting
names and such. They were going to start taking action so he wanted to hit the
Warriors hard. Before they killed anyone," Maxine said. She sounded a
"Don't get me wrong," Luc reassured her. "I'm not
criticizing. We had no means of knowing what was going to happen later on. The
thing is that blowing up the church, satisfying as it was at the time, was
clearly the work of man, not of God - unless we can sell it that God's taken to
using C4 and kerosene... " Luc said wrily. "That could undermine the
credibility of 'The Miracle on the Mountain.'"
"But the reporter and cameraman were there and recorded it all,"
Ash protested. "They didn't know anyone else was up there."
"Yes, that was a good move, sending us to take cover," Luc
agreed. "Though there's always the possibility that someone's going to say
it was a put-up job - that maybe the press were in on it."
"But if the press were in on it, that would make them accessories at
best, and I don't think they'd deliberately risk crossing the Warriors even for
a good story. In any case, even with the three of us and the two reporters, we
couldn't have overpowered the Kellermanns."
"Don't forget, it was the Kellermanns who requested that the press be
there," Theo pointed out.
"And the reporters saw the pale blue light around Ash. There's
no way we could've faked that."
Luc thought about it. "Hm, maybe we'll get away with that one, though
we have to be aware that there could be problems later on. Moving on, the
police authorities are probably still picking through the debris at the church,
and you can bet that the Warriors will be on their case. So we have to consider
what they'll find."
"I don't think they'll find anything that could tie it to us,"
Theo said, "nor do I think many witnesses are going to be falling over
themselves to help the Warriors. It would be difficult to provide descriptions
anyway, given it was dark and we were all wearing black, including headgear, so
not even red hair to give us away."
"And yet Solly Kern was able to identify us to his cousin," Luc
reminded them, "which is definitely something we need to deal with
"Isn't that a bit like locking the stable door, etc?" Maxine
"Well, in that it's something we should've thought of sooner, yes, but
that doesn't mean we shouldn't consider it now."
"Well, how do you think Solly Kern identified us?" Luc looked
around, waiting for the sound of tumbling pennies. Theo was first judging by
"We must've used our own names at some point."
"That's what I think," Luc agreed, "though it would only take
one name, for someone who knows us all, to work out who the others were. So I
suggest we think up Special Mission Names that we only use on something like
this. And I know from Esther Maxine, that it isn't easy. Also, they mustn't be
easily connected to our real names, so plain and simple - nothing too...
intellectual. Think about it and let me know later."
The rest nodded thoughtfully.
"Oh, and on a related point, we really ought to work on improving our
signing, too. We've learned fingerspelling and a few basic words, but it
certainly isn't something we slip into either naturally or easily. We need much
more practice. And maybe a second language isn't a bad idea either."
"Which language did you have in mind?" Maxine asked.
"Whatever is easiest I guess," Luc said. "Romanian would
probably be useful."
"Yes. I wouldn't discourage it except that the Bruxai would know what
"Oh. So they would. Dang. Got any suggestions on what's easy to learn
and unlikely to be known by either Tau'ri or Bruxai?"
"I think that would be Japanese."
"What? With all those - well, chicken scratchings?!" Theo
Maxine laughed. "We don't have to use kanji or kana, though they aren't
as bad as you might think. There's also romanji which uses the same Roman
alphabet we do. And we don't have to go for perfect grammar. Just putting in a
few words here and there would help to keep things secret, and confuse our
"Right. Going back to the investigation of the remains of the
church," Luc continued, "we need to consider what they will
find - and what they won't. They'll likely find residue that will
suggest C4, which could put us in the frame again, although there's a big
contingent of staff at the SGC, and the Colorado Mining Association uses
explosives too. Don't know how good their security is."
"I think we're in the clear on that one," Maxine said. "Dad
brought his own C4 so there won't be any missing from the armory. Well, not yet
anyway." She gave an impish grin.
"Oh. Right. However, they'll probably find the remains of Benjy the
Bigot, which means the Warriors will likely be out for revenge on
someone. And here, I think, is our biggest problem. Those are the
only human remains they'll find, but I'm willing to bet that quite a few
of the Warriors will know that there were three others in there that night
and who they are..."
"Oh god!" Theo groaned, "so they'll go and round them up
"Yeah. If they haven't already," Luc nodded. "We shouldn't
just have told them to leave the state. We should've made sure they were on
their way to a safe place before we went up the mountain."
"But - we might've been too late for Ash if we had," Theo said
sadly, thinking of the vengeance the Warriors would take out on the others now
that Ash and co. were safe. Probably safe.
There was a long mournful silence for a while, broken eventually by Theo.
"Looking back, Uncle Rufus kind of took over running the mission,"
he mused. "Is it possible he might've had that angle covered"
"And 'forgotten' to mention it?" Maxine's eyes snapped.
"Ohh yes, that's more than likely! Also, that he wasn't
working alone - apart from us, I mean." She took in everyone's surprised
looks. "He's always given the impression that he was a bit of a
loser an idle layabout, a philanderer and a general pain in the ass to
Mom. Lately, I've been wondering if it isn't just that - an impression - a
"Why?" Theo asked.
"Well, think about it. Think about the timing. What brought him at that
"How he knew about - what was it? - Project Hell's Gate?"
"Oh. Well that's the easy part. Several years ago, he had Rusty join
the Young Warriors."
Theo's face fell. "No!"
"That was my reaction at the time." Maxine scowled. "I didn't
think I could ever trust Rusty again. At the weekend, Dad laughed at me for not
realizing sooner - like right back when Rusty first sprang it on us. Oh, and
your name was on the Hell's Gate list, Theo, but Rusty bull-shitted you off
it," she grinned.
"Obviously runs in the family then," Luc commented.
"Anyway, he also said that Josiah Fischer, and I quote, 'is one of us.'
Fischer even told him about Ash and me holding hands on the way back from the
Sunny Side Up."
Ash's eyes bugged out at that.
"So, who are 'us'?" Luc asked.
"He wouldn't say. Said I didn't need to know - and get this - like
he doesn't need to know what we get up to when we go through the
There was a stunned silence.
"So... Ash and I are going down to the 'phone across the street and
call him," Maxine said, grabbing Ash's unresisting hand. He went along
with it, figuring she was in protective mode again. In any case, it was easier
to go with the flow where Maxine was concerned.
They returned a few minutes later, still holding hands, and with Maxine
looking pissed off.
"What's happened," Theo demanded, worried.
"He wasn't there," she snapped.
Theo still looked worried, as did Luc.
"He'd told Mom to tell me - When. I. Rang. - that they're all
safe - all eleven of them..."
"Yes. Presumably that refers to those destined for the other stakes in
the cellar. He said he'd leave Ash's safety to Theo."
"So we're in the clear!" Luc grinned.
<He wasn't grinning the following Monday. Nor was Theo when they met up
in the commissary at 0700. Neither of them had been sleeping well.
They'd had little contact with the rest of the team too. A sudden influx of
battered marines from missions to rebellious planets - though not P4D-131,
surprisingly - had resulted in J's being sent home on medical leave. Maxine had
been spending her days at WPX.
Theo had stayed well away from Ash, not wanting to risk putting his safety
in jeopardy. He'd gone home to visit his father when his mother and sister were
usually out at their church's Women's Group. Unfortunately, Marya - now in her
thirties and still unwed - was unwell and their mother was cosseting her.
Naturally, they had very definite opinions about the events of the
weekend... Theo was sorely tried when they asked him if he'd seen those poor
Warriors being burned to death by the forces of evil.
"It was an Act of God," he'd replied tartly.
"A likely tale!" Martha-Bethany said, adding, "That nearly
naked young man that told it was obviously a fa- er, homosexual."
"Rubbish!" Theo snapped. "They denied it - probably just
upset some vindictive people. Besides, he and the other two youths looked like
they had all the strength of over-cooked pasta." (Pace Ash, he
thought) "How could they possibly have gotten free, overpowered the
Warriors - who were all big strong guys - and fastened them to the
stakes without the help of God?"
"Help of the Devil himself, more like," Marya opined.
"What?" Theo exclaimed. "Have you lost your faith, Marya? Do
you seriously believe that in a battle between God and the Devil, God would
"He's got a point there," Waldo said.
"Of course God would triumph - did triumph," Marya stated.
"No doubt the martyrs are, at this very moment, singing God's praises in
"After the Lord let them die an excruciating death?" her father
Theo bit his lip and looked away.
"While the Devil wrapped those... 'ho-mo-sexuals' ...in a
silvery-blue cloud of light that healed the boys' wounds, including a broken
leg, and took their pain away?" Waldo concluded, unable to keep a note of
derision from his voice.
"We all have to suffer to come to God," Martha-Bethany declared
"Ain't that the truth?" Waldo muttered.
Theo remembered Maxine's cover story. "And before you go shooting your
mouths off about Ash"
"You know him?" Marya asked. She sounded like he'd just
admitted to being a close personal friend of Satan himself.
"Yes. I do. As I was saying - before you go shooting your mouths off
about Ash - you might like to bear in mind that he's Maxine's boyfriend."
Then he stalked out of the house, slamming the door behind him and half
expecting to hear a cock crow thrice. He would apologize to his father later.
At his office.
Maxine had seen a lot of Ash during the week. She'd made a point of being
seen with him in the commissaries of both the SGC and the Arlington Building.
To enhance the concept of Ash's heterosexuality, she'd slept over at his pad,
even sharing his bed. She'd slept in her jammies but left a skimpy nightdress
on the unmade bed. She'd also washed her underwear and left it drying on the
Before leaving for work each day, they'd left a narrow strip of camouflaged
sticky paper tape across the bottom of the door and the door jamb. On their
return on Thursday, they found it was snapped. Someone had been in the
Ash swept the whole place for bugs but didn't find any, nor was anything
missing. There was always the possibility of someone with listening equipment
in the block across the way, though Ash didn't think it very likely.
On the morning of the mission to the real P4D-131, Maxine spotted her
cousin and Luc hidden away at a corner table in the commissary and took her
breakfast tray over to join them. They looked up as she put her tray down. She
was disturbed by what she saw. They looked like a couple of pandas with pale
faces and dark rings round their eyes.
Remembering her own crisis of conscience, she had a pretty good idea of the
cause. She also wondered if her father had been talking to Aunt Claire - or
vice versa. That might explain why she'd been maneuvered out of having any part
in the action.
"I think you guys need to talk," she said as she sat down. The
pair regarded her with dull eyes. It cut her to the quick. "I mean it. I
think you should both see Timmy."
"We have a mission in an hour," Luc objected.
"I don't mean now. When we get back."
"If we get back," Theo said bleakly, the implication being that if
they didn't, they would have come by their just deserts.
"It's the other weekend isn't it?"
Both ignored her and pushed their food aimlessly round their plates. It was
so out of character.
"It was the first time you've killed someone, wasn't it?" she
He looked down, not meeting her eyes.
"It wasn't the first time for me," Luc mumbled.
"But it was the first time you've burned someone alive, wasn't
His head shot up then, teeth cutting into his lower lip but not quite
drawing blood. He was wearing the same tormented look in his eyes as he had in
the corridor after he'd first heard Kellermann's name mentioned.
Inwardly, she cursed that name, and the ones who'd owned it, for what they'd
done to her friends. Whatever that was. She sighed. There didn't seem to be
anything she could do now, but when they got back again, they had to sort it
The pair stood up. "See you in the 'Gate Room," Luc said, as they
put the plates of half-eaten breakfast back on their trays and took them away.
Maxine had nearly finished when J arrived. As he sat down, she said,
"We've got a problem. Probably a big problem."
He shot her a look of concern. "Bachmann?"
"Oh god no!"
That reaction had J really worried. He knew little about that weekend. He'd
seen the news and Luc had seemed fine when he'd delivered the folder about
P4D-131. What had he missed?
"I just hope Bachmann does something to get under their skin and snap
them out of it," she went on. "No. That's the wrong expression.
Nothing's going to snap them out of it." She sighed mournfully.
"Why? What's happened?"
"It's something like what they call post-traumatic stress, I think.
Theo's never killed before - not a human anyway... if you could call those guys
human, and neither of them have taken a life that way before."
"And you think it's getting to them?"
"Not getting. Got. Badly."
J and Maxine checked in at the control room that there was no fresh activity
registered by the AVCOP on their way down to the 'Gate Room. It seemed to be in
a state of mild chaos.
There were half a dozen PATTs taking up most of the floor along with a
number of SFs. Luc, Theo and Lt. Kern were also there along with the tech who
was ready to dial P4D-131 on the DHD at the back of the room. She was looking
unimpressed as Bachmann was holding forth about how the vehicles were for girls
and gorks and people who weren't physically fit enough to be in the military.
There was no sign of General Bradfield.
"What's the problem, Captain?" J asked. He kept his voice low, but
it still carried to everyone in the room.
"These toy cars," Bachmann said disparagingly, indicating the
"And this is a problem for you because...?"
"I'm a marine." To emphasize this, he thumped his chest. It just
made J want to laugh. "We're fit and strong and don't need this sort of
nannying that these - gorks - are getting," he sneered.
"So - you don't want one?"
"Don't need one."
"Oh. Okay." J shrugged. He beckoned to the nearest SF.
"Captain Bachmann doesn't require his vehicle, so take it back to the
storage bay." The SF saluted and settled into the driver's seat.
J stowed his pack in the roomy trunk space, then took his place in one of
the PATTs, clipping his Calico to the side of the vehicle. The rest followed
"Everyone ready?" J asked and after getting nods all round, turned
to the DHD tech. "Ok, Sergeant Purvis, dial it up."
When the event horizon had stabilized, J spoke to Bachmann. "Take
Bachmann hoisted his pack on to his back, and strode up the ramp through the
'Gate followed by a procession of the PATTs. When J arrived last, he saw
Bachmann striding down the broad graveled road away from the 'Gate at double
quick time. Oh this was going to be fun...
"Captain Bachmann," J called.
Bachmann affected not to hear him. Payback for his ignoring the then Lt.
Colonel's orders? J had deemed Bachmann's orders to be illegal in that
following them would have resulted in the loss of the whole team. Bachmann had
no such reason.
"Lt. Kern, fetch Captain Bachmann back here, please. At gunpoint if
Kern blinked, snapped a gleeful salute, and shot off after his quarry. J
grinned as he climbed out of his PATT and stood up. He didn't want to be
craning his neck up at Bachmann.
Maxine took the opportunity to look around the 'Gate and found something she
would rather not have. Still, forewarned was forearmed...
"Good thing we met Eneas and his band," she said. "One thing
that wasn't in our information folders is that this is a Bruxai controlled
"Thanks. I'm thinking that Warren knows this," J replied.
"You think it's another attempt to - to - um"
J gave a small smile. "To get rid of me?"
Maxine gave a brisk nod.
Kern was now shepherding a grouchy looking Captain back into the circle of
gravel around the 'Gate, putting an end to the conversation.
"And where were you going, Captain?" J drawled.
"To Persulis. I know the way," Bachmann said crossly.
"I know you do. We all do. Thing is, unless you're psychic, you don't
know what my orders are. Are you psychic, Captain?"
"Don't have to be psychic to know the plan - go in hard and put down
"Ah, but the thing you didn't know is that you're staying here."
"What?" Bachmann protested.
"I need someone to watch the 'Gate and you've selected yourself for the
"Captain, unencumbered, you could probably top twenty miles per hour.
Over a hundred yard dash. These babies will do around forty miles an
hour in optimum conditions. For as long as required. Through your own free
choice of declining to use one of these 'toy cars,' you would slow us down -
and not be as fresh as we need you to be when we arrive. Therefore, you are the
obvious person to watch the 'Gate, and don't say 'What?' It's
But Bachmann's face had taken on the look of a poker player who's looking at
a straight flush and can't quite conceal this fact.
"I have orders from the President that, as your 2IC, I am to stay with
you to share the burden of command, and to watch your back." He sounded
immensely smug, but a straight flush can be beaten...
J said nothing, just held out his hand. Bachmann looked down at it, puzzled.
"The President's orders," J prompted. "Hand 'em over."
"Those are his own orders. Given to me personally."
"Well, unfortunately, he neglected to pass those orders on to me. Not
even a memo - and I do read my memos. Diligently."
"Are you calling me a liar?"
"That would be, are you calling me a liar - sir?" J pointed out
mildly. "Actually, it's one of those little 'Chain of Command' things that
you seem to have forgotten. You see, the way it works, is that the people at
the top give the orders and these filter down to the lower ranks. The people at
the top do not send their orders down to Airman Basic and ask him if he'd
kindly pass them on upwards. So until I get orders otherwise from higher up the
Chain of Command, my orders stand."
"The President won't be pleased about this. Major."
J ambled over to the DHD and started dialing. As the shimmering surface
settled, he indicated the 'Gate with a flourish. "There you go Captain,
off to Washington PX. You go and whine to the President about how you don't
have official orders and would he please write them out for you. Of course, by
the time you get back here, we shall be long gone..."
Bachmann was furious and hid it very badly.
J walked back to his unwanted 2IC. They were almost touching. "Yes, I
have a temper too," J said very softly to Bachmann's left ear. "Be
thankful that I have some control over mine, or right now, you'd be lying at my
feet with a bullet in your brain for mutiny. Do I make myself clear?" He
stepped back, assessing the effect.
Bachmann, teeth tightly gritted, nodded.
"I don't hear you, Captain."
"Fine." J gave him a smile of apparent approval. "Actually
you will be following the President's orders in part. You'll be watching our
backs here. It's an important job so try not to screw up this time. Now, when
Lt. Kern was doing this job on an earlier mission, he used his initiative. He
had the nous to hide the AVCOP. It's a big advertisement of our presence here
which we can well do without, so that'll be your first job. Hide the AVCOP -
ooh - behind that sort of rhododendron bush over there. Then find somewhere to
conceal yourself until you hear otherwise. If anyone, or anything, comes
through the 'Gate, you call me on your comm., as soon as tactically possible
and give me full details. You will remain hidden. You will not give away
your position. You will not make contact with them and you will
certainly not shoot anyone. That would be way too much of a giveaway
that we're here. Understood?"
For good measure, J had Bachmann repeat his orders back to him, which he
did correctly but with a very bad grace. The rest then set off for Persulis,
held to be at the heart of the rebellion, with Luc taking point.
J, bringing up the rear, could almost feel Bachmann's eyes boring into his
back, along with waves of animosity rolling over him. He figured that Bachmann
wasn't charged with 'watching his back' with a view to protecting it - and that
Warren wasn't going to be pleased with his new mole in SG-24 in consequence.
It was estimated that the journey, which would have taken going on for two
hours on foot, would take less than half an hour. The road was broad. There
were gently sloping fields of vines to either side. The ripe, deep purple
grapes were being harvested by what were possibly peasants but were more likely
to be slaves.
They'd only been traveling for about ten minutes when J registered that, as
soon as the workers noticed their presence, they ducked for cover between the
vines. Too scared to fight, not allowed to flee, so they hid? Why exactly? Time
for a discussion. He called Luc on his comm. In response, Luc pulled up, the
rest pulling in behind him.
"Problem?" Luc asked.
"Maybe. Or possibly an opportunity," J replied and passed on his
observations. The others had noticed too, and weren't particularly happy about
it either. "Comments? Suggestions?"
"Do you think they're afraid of us, or the PATTs?" Kern asked.
"Well, the motors are nearly silent," Theo said, "plus we're
passing by - not making any threatening moves in their direction... "
"So it has to be us," J concluded.
"Or - what they think we are," Maxine said.
Kern was looking puzzled. J looked around at the rest, wondering how much to
confide in the lieutenant - how well they could trust him.
"A word, Major," Luc said, taking him to one side. "I think
we have to tell him about the Bruxai, at least some of it. He has enough
blackmail material on us anyway, knowing about the... Kellermann affair."
J nodded. "So more BS then... and, as I 'wasn't there' and he seems to
like you, that job falls to you."
Luc went over to Kern. "I think there's something you need to know.
It's also something you need to keep to yourself"
"Like the resc" He made Luc think of an over-enthusiastic
"Just like that, but more so. If this gets to the wrong ears, it could
cause a lot of problems for all of us, you included, which is why I think you
need to know."
"Ok, go on," Kern nodded, suddenly serious.
"It's about the last mission we had when you were on compassionate
leave. Somehow the 'Gate address got screwed up and we were sent to the wrong
world. There was a bit of a war going on there for control of the planet. Three
of us blundered into one faction. We were captured and taken into their camp in
the surrounding forest. Turned out they were the good guys. Major Mitchell was
delayed at the SGC and then got caught later on by the bad guys, called the
Bruxai. They nearly killed him. Fortunately, once our guys realized we didn't
belong to the other faction, they organized a rescue and brought Major Mitchell
back with them."
"Wow," Kern, wide-eyed, murmured. "Nothing like that happened
on any missions I've been on. But... how does that affect us here?"
"Ah, that's the point," Luc continued. "We were told that
the bad guys are aiming to build a great empire and they're taking over lots of
worlds - or trying to. Some of ours are in their sights. Our guys said they
leave a sign scratched on stones near Stargates, depending on whether it's a
safe world or one that these bad guys have taken over."
"And this planet's been taken over already?" Kern asked.
"So how come no one at the SGC told us about this?"
"That's a very good question," J said.
Kern looked shocked. "You think someone at the SGC is collaborating
"In exchange for kick-backs? Seems likely."
"Any idea who?"
"Yes, I have," J replied, "and I think he suspects I know
he's up to something, hence the attempt on my life on the last mission.
That's why we thought you should know, and why you mustn't pass any of this on
to anyone else, however much you trust him. Or her. If you hear anything
in the SGC that you think sounds a bit suspicious, come and tell me, or get one
of the rest of the team to pass it on."
"One of the rest of the team?" Kern said slowly. "Not
including Captain Bachmann?"
J gave a smile of genuine approval. "Ahh, no. Not including Captain
"Is he the collaborator?"
"He's not the one I have in mind, though it's possible they're working
together. As you've obviously noticed, there's been a little bad blood between
us since Tyogya."
"And payback's a bitch," Kern grinned. "Er, sir."
J acknowledged the hit with a wry smile, wondering if he'd been riding his
erstwhile CO too hard. Though of course, Bachmann was a marine. He didn't need
nannying like a gork. He could take it. But...
"I think, if Bachmann saw an opportunity to make trouble for our team,
he'd take it like a shot."
Kern's face fell. "Oh, I hope not sir. I like being a member of SG-24.
It's the first one I've been in where I've really felt a part of the team, not
just a spare limb."
"Thank you, Lieutenant," J grinned. "That's good to know -
very good to know."
J meant it too. It looked like his efforts to be more inclusive of Kern were
paying off. He certainly seemed a different person, now that Beck had removed
himself from the SGC and thus freed the young lieutenant from his undesirable
influence. J also wondered how he'd been treated by other teams, given that
they themselves hadn't been particularly welcoming when they'd had Kern dumped
on them at the beginning. Seemed he wasn't alone in that thought.
"Guess we ought to apologize for the trouble we put you through when
we were training," Theo said.
Kern's cup looked like it was about to overflow. "Aw, that's ok, Doctor
Hunter. No hard feelin's. Besides, you make a real good stew." He turned
to Maxine. "And I'm sorry I called you a psycho-bitch, Doctor
She grinned back. "Don't worry, I really treasure that one! Now I'll go
see what I can find out, 'kay?" she asked J who nodded.
Walking along the ends of the rows of vines, she looked for someone hiding.
It didn't long before she saw a youth, cowering between the rows. He was
wearing traditional baggy shalwar pants that were a faded brick red color, and
a fitted jacket in more or less the same shade.
"Please stand," she said in the Young Avestan tongue. She'd been
reacquainting herself with this, one of the principal languages of ancient
Persia. One or two words used in the information file suggested that it was the
principal language of Persulis also. "I wish to talk with you."
The youth, looking nervous - or suspicious, or both - stood up.
"You are not Tau'ri?"
"Yes, we are Tau'ri" she began. It was enough.
Whatever the reason - an opportunity, hatred, the 'red mist' or all three -
he was galvanized into action. He leapt at Maxine, attempting to slash at her
throat with his curved harvesting knife.