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.
It was no problem for Maxine. The short blade was hardly a suitable weapon
in any case. The youth was on the ground before the rest of the team had time
Maxine picked up the knife which had flown out of his hand. The youth
shuffled away from her, one arm thrown up to ward off expected blows. Maxine
didn't follow as he moved.
"Please stand," she repeated with an encouraging smile. "We
are not your enemy. We are your friends."
He got to his knees, hands held out in supplication. "I sorry. Please
no kill me," he begged in English.
"You are safe with me and my friends." Maxine stuck with Avestan
to distance herself from the more unpleasant of her Tau'ri colleagues.
The youth, still nervous, stood up. He never took his eyes off her face,
watching for signs of a sudden change of heart. Maxine took the blade of the
knife between thumb and forefinger and, laying the haft across the back of her
hand, presented it to him with an encouraging smile.
"I am Esther and I trust you. Take it."
The youth made several tentative movements before slowly and carefully
taking back his knife. Then he stepped back as if to show that he intended her
no harm. "I am Nashak."
"Greetings, Nashak, 'Friend of all'." Maxine gave him a brief
smile and then continued, "We have heard that bad men have come here. They
pretend that they are Tau'ri, but this is not true. They are the Bruxai."
"They speak Tau'ri," Nashak said, reverting to suspicion.
"Yes, they do," Maxine agreed, looking sad. "They want to
make our world part of their empire too. We cannot tell Tau'ri from Bruxai
"But maybe you can help. Please tell me who has come past in the last
It took a while as Maxine was by no means fluent in Avestan. If she had it
right, there was a group of seven in Persulis at the moment - one big man in
rich clothing accompanied by six others dressed like the Tau'ri. They came at
regular intervals of three or four days, and had the people of Persulis and the
outer parts of the province, named Elamedes, transport whatever took their
fancy to the 'Gate. This was mostly carpets, jewelry, perfumes and fine wines.
Sometimes and less frequently, ordinary Tau'ri came, usually in groups of
six and without the richly dressed leader. They usually took foodstuffs and
occasionally white marble. Maxine could work out where the latter was bound
for. It angered her that neither group ever gave anything in return, so far as
"We hide when they come, or they will make us take our fruit to the
Ring too. And it is our living. Without it, we have nothing to sell,"
Nashak explained. "I do not know why Jahandar - the satrap - lets them do
this. He should stand up to them!"
Maxine had a shrewd idea as to why he put up no resistance. The whole story
was too long and complicated to explain, so she settled for suggesting that the
bad guys were letting the satrap remain in power in exchange for his
co-operation. "He still has an easy life, plenty to eat?"
Nashak's eyes narrowed. "I do not know, but it is likely."
Oh shit, she thought, have I just planted the seeds of
revolution? She didn't want to inspire these young men into starting a
civil war they had no hope of winning.
"We have to be very careful. The Bruxai have weapons of great power,
and they are very cunning."
"So we have no hope of change?"
"I do not say that. We want to set up a fair trading agreement with
Persulis. The person who would not want this is your satrap."
"We should kill him?"
"I do not say that either. He is not what you think he is. The Bruxai
have... changed him. He is their victim too."
"Oh. Can he be changed back? My father says he was a good man many
"It... I believe it is possible, but difficult, and may take a long
time. Maybe years."
Nashak looked part relieved, part sad. "Is there nothing that can be
"Well, we hope we can do something."
"Five of you?" Nashak didn't seem too impressed.
"We were told that the people of Persulis are about to rebel. Is that
"There is talk - always talk - but without a leader, nothing gets
So this is another wild goose chase with J's life at stake? Maxine
thought, then said, "In a way, that is good. Many good people get killed
They both sighed at the truth of that. "Anyway," she went on,
"if we are to help, we'll need somewhere safe to hide in Persulis. Do you
know of any such place?"
She pulled out a map of the town.
"My Aunt Shirin has a washing shop on the corner of Rudabeh Street and
Abtum Street." Nashak pointed to the site on the map. "She is helped
by my cousin, Yazdin. They will help you."
"They will trust us?" Maxine asked. Nashak nodded. "Like you
'trusted' me at first? We do not want to hurt them if they attack us."
Nashak seemed to be wrestling with some inner problem. He finally came to a
decision and said, "Yazdin will trust you if you tell her that Nashak
still keeps the secret, but that the horse's name was Veer."
"Oh, and you should go in by the Rivergate. It is on the other side of
the town where the bargemen unload their goods. It is further to travel, but it
is less well guarded and Aunt Shirin's shop is not far away."
Maxine noticed the rest of the team standing in a row along the road
watching her, all with arms folded and heads tipped to one side like birds on a
wire. Hastily, she thanked Nashak and wished him good fortune. Then they were
Some twenty minutes later, the warm terracotta-colored brick walls of
Persulis came into sight as the road followed a gentle curve. Ahead of the
team, it dipped smoothly into a shallow, flat-bottomed valley. A sluggish river
meandered along behind the town.
On the farther side of the river were orchards, olive groves and lavender
bushes. On this side, was pasture with numerous copses partly designed to give
shelter to the animals which grazed there. Some of the trees were pollarded or
coppiced, presumably to be used for charcoal or for weaving hurdles. It looked
very peaceful from that distance.
The team had a break for another meeting before they were close enough for
any guards patrolling outside the main gate and along the walls of the
bab-khanah, or gate-house, to notice.
J was concerned to hear that there was a group of Bruxai present. "We
really need more intell. on them, particularly about their weapons and military
"Not to mention why they're here," Luc said.
"And why now," Theo added.
Maxine passed on the rest of her conversation with Nashak. "So if we
can sneak in by the Rivergate and hide out in the laundry, maybe we can spy out
the situation from there."
"Sounds like a plan," J agreed. He looked around. "If I
remember correctly, there's a narrow track off to the left near here that goes
down to the river. Then it follows the river to a sort of packhorse bridge,
presumably near that Rivergate you mentioned, Doctor. If we follow that, maybe
we can find a bit of woodland big enough to hide the PATTs in, then go in on
foot. If anyone's expecting us, it probably won't be by the back door."
"And if the local guards see us, maybe we can con them that we're with
the other group," Kern put in.
"Good thinking, Lieutenant," J smiled. The guy still posed a
possible threat to the group, but J was inclined to down-grade it to Def-Con
The plan went suspiciously well. No one spotted them as the low buggies
traveled towards the river. The high grasses of late summer hid them from the
town. As they neared the river, the track passed through a small wood. It was a
perfect parking spot for the PATTs, especially when they were covered with
camouflage netting from their trunks.
From there, a brisk march took them past landing stages where the bargees
were unloading a variety of wares. They paid no overt attention to SG-24. If
anything, it seemed like they were hoping SG-24 would pay no attention to them.
That told its own tale. There were a couple of guards with spears posted at
either side of the Rivergate. The team swept past them and on into the town as
if they owned the place. And went unchallenged.
Inside, the town was a labyrinth of block-paved streets between houses and
business premises built of the same pinkish-brown bricks. Both the local men
and women wore shalwars for the most part, with light fitted jackets and
ankle-length robes over them. They were less elaborate and colorful than the
terrestrial version of ancient Persian clothing, looking faded, dull and worn.
Like their owners, Maxine thought.
Aunt Shirin's Washing Shop was about another fifteen minutes away, allowing
for a couple of wrong turnings owing to missing street signs. Maxine went in
through the bead curtain first to prepare the ground for the arrival of four
big guys in the steamy laundry.
Her own solitary appearance caused enough concern as it was, with the two
women backing away from her until their progress was halted by the rear wall.
Actually, terror was nearer the mark.
"Do not be afraid, Shirin and Yazdin," Maxine began. The aunt and
her daughter exchanged surprised looks at being addressed in their native
language, and by their names. "I come from your kinsman, Nashak."
At that, both faces fell. "He... he is dead?" The younger one
Oh, this was too bad! Was that all the Tau'ri meant to the people of this
world? Thievery and murder? It was going to take more that a few well-meaning
... what were they? subversives? ... to make any sort of difference even in
this small corner of the universe.
"He is very well, or was when I spoke with him a little while
ago," Maxine said softly. "To show good faith, he said that he still
keeps the secret, but that the horse's name was Veer. I do not know what this
means but he said you would understand and that you would help us to help the
people of Persulis."
The look on Yazdin's face showed that she did indeed understand. "If
you are willing to help us, my friends and I just need somewhere safe to hide
for a short while."
Mother and daughter exchanged looks, then Shirin nodded. "If you will
help us, then yes, you may stay."
Maxine stuck an arm out through the bead curtain and gave the rest the
thumbs up. The two little ladies were amazed at their large guests.
"You are disguised as the Tau'ri?" Yazdin asked.
"Ah. It's a very long story, but not all the Tau'ri are your enemy. We
are Tau'ri and we wish you no harm, though there are other Tau'ri who would.
The really bad men are called the Bruxai. They pretend to be Tau'ri and do evil
things in our name. Likewise, there are some good Bruxai who are fighting their
The washer women looked baffled. Maxine sighed. "Yes, it is hard to
She thought for a moment, then turned to J. "They thought we were
disguised as Tau'ri. Now it occurs to me that it might be easier to spy
out the land if I was disguised as a Persulian."
"What, and go out alone?"
"Well, I'm the only one here who speaks the local language."
"Yes, and you'll take back-up. This is not open for discussion."
Maxine looked mutinous for a moment, then said, "Ok, I'll take Luc and
Theo as the least threatening-looking of you four and if they have to
bring their Calicos, they'll have to keep them hidden, otherwise my covert
mission will not be terribly... covert."
J grimaced, but had to concede that she had a good point. He nodded.
"Assuming you can get you hands on a suitable disguise."
Maxine turned her attention back to their hosts. "We need to find out
where the Bruxai are, and also a little more about what they do here. Can you
lend some Persulian clothing to me and two of my friends? We will return
them or pay for them if they get damaged."
"It will be hard. You are all so tall. But I will send Yazdin to my
brother. He owes me... "
While they were waiting, Theo had an idea. "You know we really ought to
keep spare clothes for disguising ourselves in the trunks of the PATTs. Never
know when we might need them - like now."
"Nice idea," Luc agreed. "I wonder if we could buy some
Looking towards Kern, J sounded a warning note in pointing out that they
didn't have any of the local currency."
"Maybe we could do some chores in exchange," Kern suggested. He
really seemed to be getting into the swing of things. No suggestion that they
should just take what they wanted. J was impressed. And pleased. Def-Con four
Shirin and Yazdin helped to dress Maxine and her escorts in their borrowed
clothes - shalwar pants, jacket and a long robe in shades of blue, purple and
green - so that they looked normal, despite the utility vests and 9mils. hidden
underneath. And the boots. This was difficult with Luc who, alone of the three,
insisted on taking his Calico. Yazdin also lent Maxine her own head-scarf to
cover her distinctive hair.
Before they set off, Lieutenant Kern asked Doctor Pepperday if she would
offer Aunt Shirin his services with the washing as they had to be running late
with their work. He'd prefer to be doing something than nothing anyway.
Maxine, surprised, did so. Thus, the scouting party left with Kern using his
greater strength to wring out the wet clothes, and J lurking in the shadows
behind the bead curtain, keeping an eye on what was going on in the streets
that met at the corner. Fortunately, the sun cast the doorway into shadow.
The aim of the scouting party was to pick up local gossip on their way to
the compound of the satrap, Jahandar, and play it by ear from there. The
compound was adjacent to the Baha-zar or market place. It was easier to blend
in than expected. A slump in their posture reduced their significant height
difference and a lot of the townsfolk had 'panda faces' too.
Theo and Maxine, posing as a couple, went ahead with Luc following them a
few paces behind. Maxine heard nothing of any usefulness, just more depressing
laments about the Tau'ri, and how did they expect the people to survive when
they took such excessive tributes?
Tributes? So that was what they were calling their organized theft.
The trio had been ambling along in the general direction of the Baha-zar
when they heard muted cries of warning. Along with everyone else, they moved
aside, like the parting of the Red Sea, and turned their faces away towards the
Coming towards them were two men men in green BDU-style clothing. Looking
through her fingers as they strode imperiously past, Maxine noted that one had
greying hair and the other had a long scar running down his left cheek to his
They were gone too quickly for Maxine to catch more than a few words, but
those words were Romanian: "How could we miss their arrival?" and
"Maybe they're not here yet..."
Once they were out of range, Maxine dived into one of many narrow alleys
that branched off the main streets. She called J while Theo and Luc shielded
her from the sight of any passers-by.
Having passed on the overheard exchange, she concluded, "I suspect
they're looking for us and they may be coming your way in however long it is
since we left you."
"Ok, thanks. And stay out of trouble," J ended. He didn't expect
her to pay much attention to that order. It avoided disappointment later.
An opportunity for disobedience wasn't long in coming, and Maxine saw no
good reason to pass it up.
The scouting party had arrived at the Baha-zar. It couldn't be described as
bustling by any means. The stalls had a little limited merchandise on the tops
of the tables. The better stuff was probably kept hidden behind the cloths that
covered the tables and hung down in front. No doubt a well-stocked stall would
act as a magnet for the Bruxan magpies.
On the far side of the Baha-zar, the high wall of Jahandar's compound
loomed. Luc had split off from the pair and was drifting over to the compound
wall for a closer look.
Theo and Maxine were casually strolling in that general direction too, not
wishing to show too obvious an interest, when there was a piercing scream from
some way behind them.
An attractive young woman, who looked to be in her mid-twenties and
therefore probably in her late teens, was struggling between the two Bruxai.
No. These were different ones. Both had black hair and no facial scars. One was
dragging the girl along by her right wrist. The other, at the rear of the
group, had her left wrist in case she wriggled away from his companion.
"This one's mine," Maxine hissed to Theo as she looked around for
a suitable weapon. "You look after the girl," she said and told him
the local word for 'friend.'
The Bruxai and their captive were almost alongside by this time. "Lord
Frantisek will enjoy you," the leading guy said with a leer, "which
means a good bonus for me."
"And me!" his fellow responded with a growl.
"You'll get your cut."
"Fifty-fifty this time!"
During the incipient argument, Maxine had seized a stout wooden staff from
an old man who was leaning back against a stall, trying to keep out of the way.
She thrust the staff between the legs of the guy following.
He stumbled. Didn't fall. Turned to see his attacker. Got the full force of
Maxine's wrath - and the staff - across his face. Dropped to his knees, blood
pumping from his nose. The leader let loose his hold on the girl's wrist. Came
to his sidekick's aid.
Maxine tossed the staff back to the bemused old man. He'd thought it would
be the last he saw of it. As Theo dragged the girl to safety, Maxine legged it.
The two Bruxai weren't far behind as she ran down the nearest street.
Luc wasn't immediately aware of what had gone down, but quickly joined Theo
and the girl once he registered the mild clamor.
"Maxine," Theo replied, as if this explained everything.
"She rescued this young lady," Theo said, indicating the girl who
was cowering at his side, not certain what had just happened.
"Friend,"he said soothingly, patting her on the arm.
"So where is she?" Luc asked, frustration building.
"She went up that street behind the blue and green stall, followed by
a couple of bad guys."
Luc rolled his eyes and set off in pursuit. J would definitely have his
nuts if he went back without her.
By the time he reached the turning, she was nowhere in sight. Oh, this
didn't look good. On the plus side there was no sound of conflict. Or was it a
plus? Heart in mouth, he ran to the end of the street and looked both ways at
the junction, but found nothing. Maybe, he'd gone to far? He retraced his steps
looking down every alleyway as he passed.
He was nearly back at the Baha-zar when he heard a whispered, 'Luc?' from an
alley opposite the one he was looking down.
He spun round to see Maxine sitting down a little way away from the
entrance to the alley. She was leaning against the wall, arms wrapped
protectively round herself. Her face was blank, devoid of all emotion. No, not
quite. Something was shining on her cheek. Tears?
Luc went down the alley, sat down beside her and wrapped an arm round her
shoulder. There was no response.
"What's the matter, babe?"
She gave a little snort of protest. "I think I'll be joining you and
Theo with Timmy," she responded dolefully.
Light dawned. "You killed them?"
Maxine nodded. "Both of them," she said, and choked back a sob.
"It was so easy."
"We'd better get rid of the bodies before anyone misses them and comes
looking." Luc said, looking along the alley. "Er, where are
"Gone," came the wan reply, "as if they'd never
"Ah. You brought your zat?"
Another nod. "I lured them down here because there was no one to see,
and it was narrow. One shot took them both down. Two more shots and... and
then... and then there was nothing there. I didn't even give it a second
thought before I fired. They didn't stand a chance..."
"Well, I won't tell you not to feel too bad about it. I can't
really." He sighed, revisiting the Mountain and hearing the screams of the
Kellermanns in his mind. "But we'd better get back to Theo. He'll be
worried. Do you think can stand?"
"If you give me a hand up."
Luc guided Maxine back to the Baha-zar with his arm around her waist. Theo
was still where Maxine left him, along with the girl who was sitting on box
behind the nearby stall. The stall's owner had given them both some sort of
fruit juice to drink.
When her savior appeared, the girl stood up and thanked her profusely. It
made Maxine feel a little better about killing the two men, but not a lot.
Granted she'd acted on instinct to protect an innocent, but that didn't affect
the fact that she'd acted as judge, jury and executioner, without leave to
appeal. And didn't that mean she'd just sunk to their level?
The old man, too, was still there. He'd heard Theo say 'friend' and
presumably curiosity had kept him there. He was delighted to have gotten his
staff back. It was the only support in his old age, he said. Strangely, that
did make her feel better in that she'd kept faith with him and shown that not
all Tau'ri were thieves. Not that he knew they were Tau'ri, but still.
Prompted by Theo, Maxine asked the girl, Gulshan, if she would like an
escort home. She accepted with alacrity. She was not the only one to have been
seized on the streets. Several more had been dragged off, never to be seen
again. That fact reconciled Maxine a little more to the killings. Her
Meanwhile, J was not left kicking his heels to no purpose. While lurking by
the door, he noted a couple of strident voices coming closer. He didn't
understand what was being said, but the language didn't sound local - more like
the way Radu spoke. The timing was about right for it to be the two guys Maxine
had warned him about earlier.
As it had sounded like they were on the look out for SG-24, he couldn't very
well go out and tackle them. Shirin and her daughter would probably pay the
price if it was discovered that they given sanctuary to The Enemy.
Fortune favored him in that he was in the right place at the right time. The
pair didn't keep their voices down. Why bother when they were in control of the
town and the dumb locals probably didn't understand them anyway? So they
stopped at the street corner from which to watch several directions at once.
They were also about six or seven feet from where J was standing inside the
There was a familiar radio clunk, and the grey-haired guy began a peremptory
summons. Peering cautiously through the strands of the bead curtain, he could
see that they used similar comm. units to the SGC.
From the tone and attitude, whomever he was calling wasn't answering. He
tried a second call, also unanswered. There followed what was probably a string
of cuss words.
His colleague seemed to make a suggestion and Grey Hair made another call.
In English. The conversation stunned J, even though he'd had suspicions.
"Andrei, come in, Andrei."
"Yeah, what's the problem, Vasile?" came the voice of Bachmann.
It was definitely Bachmann. If there had been any doubt whatsoever, Vasile's
next words banished it.
"Where's your team? I thought you said they had some fast
"They do. They shoulda reached Persulis an hour ago."
"Well they're not here. I have my men quartering the town and I have
"Maybe they've gone on a sightseeing trip along the way. Wouldn't put
it past them. If they are in Persulis, they shouldn't be difficult to spot.
Even the wench is half a head taller than most of the local men."
"Right. Let me know if they go back to the 'Gate. Good idea staying by
the 'Gate, by the way. Vasile out."
Wench, huh? Good thing Maxine hadn't heard that one, J
It was a good thing Bachmann was well out of reach of J too, as he would've
been hard put to control his temper, the same way he hadn't at the marina. Good
thing Linc. had caught him in time.
Of course, he now had a serious problem - what to do with the traitor? Or
maybe he was an enemy agent, swapped in by the - what were they? - Strigoi?
Either way, he was going to be working against them. Not that that was news; he
was going to do that anyway.
J was faced with a real dilemma. Having lost one man, albeit by Beck's own
actions, to 'lose' a second man would look like carelessness and cast doubt on
his ability to lead. He could even be court-martialed and if he lost his
command, he'd be no use to his team - unable to make any difference, however
On the other hand, Bachmann at liberty in the SGC could do untold damage.
Nor could he charge Bachmann with treason. At the moment, it would only be his
word against Bachmann's. Moreover, the accusation would alert Warren that his
cover was blown, and that was not to be thought of until they had a plan for
dealing with him.
Actually, it was a trilemma. If Bachmann had been switched - and when? -
then the real Lt. Col. Bachmann might be a half-way decent guy, and yet another
victim of the Bruxai, not one to be summarily wiped out. He had to have had
some sort of merit to get a bird in the first instance. Assuming it wasn't down
to meddling by Warren.
About Warren? He'd been President for - well, too long in J's opinion. He'd
first been elected to that office in 2096 amid rumors of vote-rigging - not
that that was in any way unusual. Many saw him as a second Melchisedec
Harrington, he who was believed to have come to power by assassinating his
brother, President Joshua Harrington in 2074. Hm, had Harrington been just a
corrupt guy, or another Bruxan cuckoo?
Then in the August of 2104, after two terms in office, Warren had declared a
State of Emergency, still extant, and postponed that year's elections. He and
all his hangers-on 'necessary for the continuance of good government,' had been
'moved to a place of safety,' - off-world, unknown to most of the country.
From there, he could easily cut and run if necessary. J supposed the fact
that there had been no elections, fair or otherwise, since 2100 meant that the
Bruxai had effectively taken over the U.S. already. He didn't know about the
rest of the world...
Back in the baha-zar, the rest of the team were taking Gulshan home. She
lived in the sprawling compound surrounding the satrap's residence. There were
two guards outside the postern who gave the traditional, 'halt, who goes
"It's all right, they're with me," Gulshan said with a bashful
smile at one of the pair. The three rescuers followed her through the narrow
gate and on to a parade ground. Apart from a few soldiers going about their
business in a distinctly lackluster way, it was almost empty.
As they were midway across the sandy area, a man came out of a doorway on
the far side. By his apparel, he seemed to be a higher ranking soldier. As soon
as Gulshan saw him, she ran to him and threw herself at his feet.
"I am sorry, father, very sorry. You were right and I was so
The man bent down and took her hands. "Rise, Gulshan, and tell me what
"I broke my comb and went into the baha-zar to buy a new one."
"And you went alone?"
Gulshan hung her head. "Yes, father," she whispered. "I
thought I was safe with so many people about. But two men grabbed me by the
arms and dragged me away."
"More Tau'ri scum?" The question was rhetorical. He already seemed
to know the answer. "So how did you escape?"
"These people rescued me."
The man had noticed their presence earlier but had been far too focused on
his daughter to spare them proper attention. "You took a big risk there,
and I thank you for it. But who are my daughter's saviors?"
Maxine gave formal introductions.
"I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I am Tahmuras,
Hazarapatish to Jahandar, satrap of Persulis."
"Hazarapatish? You have a thousand men under your command?" Maxine
asked in surprise.
Tahmuras hung his head, looking embarrassed. "You think I should be
able to take more care of my own daughter? And you are right. But times have
changed. I was once a true Hazarapatish, but now I hold that title in name
"What happened? I mean... I am sorry, I should not ask such personal
"Do not be concerned. Anyone in Persulis would tell you anyway. Several
years ago, the accursed Tau'ri scum came to our world. They said they would
protect us and told Jahandar he no longer needed a standing army. I argued
against it, and they agreed to Jahandar's having a personal guard. I think they
realized that Jahandar's life might be in danger for letting these Tau'ri scum
take anything they want and leaving us powerless to do anything about it."
Maxine sighed. "Is there anywhere that we could talk privately with
you. There are things I think you should know."
His face reflected puzzlement, hope, and doubt. After a moment's thought,
he nodded and indicated for them to follow him.
"What's going on?" Luc asked, unable to follow the conversation.
"Talk quietly," Maxine whispered. "English may not be safe
right now, but I think we might have caught a break."
"We should contact J," Luc stated.
Maxine gave a sharp shake of her head. "Not yet, not till we have
something to tell him."
Luc was tempted to call J anyway, but didn't want to screw up whatever it
was that Maxine was up to. Working with Maxine was frustrating that way.
Strictly speaking, he was in charge, but not being able to speak whatever
language it was, he had to trust her judgement until she gave him cause
to doubt it. He just hoped it wouldn't be terminal cause.
Tahmuras led them to his private quarters in the large adjacent barracks.
The nearly empty building echoed to the sound of their feet. Now at home, he
sent Gulshan to fetch refreshment for their guests.
When the guests were seated around the table, Tahmuras began. "What are
these things I should know?"
"Firstly, your main enemy are the Bruxai, not the Tau'ri. They were
the ones who tried to take your daughter."
She went on to explain what they knew of the Bruxai, the Contra-Bruxai and
the Tau'ri who were under Bruxan control.
"And how do you know all this?" Tahmuras wanted to know.
"I will not lie to you. I know because we are Tau'ri and we
oppose the actions of those who take what they want without payment and cause
distress to people such as your daughter and yourself. And this is not all that
you should know."
Maxine explained as simply as possible about the Bruxai's mind-swap ability
and that Jahandar was probably one of those Bruxai.
Tahmuras, alarmed, jerked to his feet. "Then he must be punished!"
Maxine grabbed his sleeve. "No! He must not be killed!"
Tahmuras scowled. "He has betrayed his people. He deserves no
"Do not act in haste. He did not willingly betray your people. He was
tricked. Right now, the real Jahandar is a slave on another world, trapped in
the Bruxan's body with no memory of who he is, while the Bruxan rules
"I see," he said, sitting down as Gulshan brought in
refreshments. "You are right. I need to keep a cool head."
After the food had been eaten - basic foodstuffs which seemed to cause
Gulshan some shame - and she had cleared away the dishes, Tahmuras returned to
the matter in hand. What to do with the satrap.
"He is currently entertaining some of the Tau - er - Bruxai," he
began, "Frantisek and six of his men. Two are still in the audience
chamber with Frantisek. The other four left some time ago."
"They were probably hunting us with the aim of killing us when they
got side-tracked by your daughter."
Tahmuras' face looked thunderous. "I would dearly like to kill them
with my own hands!" he growled.
"You are too late," Maxine sighed. "I already killed
"But that is wonderful!" Tahmuras beamed. I - we - owe you a
"Please - it's not something I'm proud of. One moment please."
Seeing the bored look on Theo's face and the increasingly irritated one on
Luc's, she figured she'd better fill them in on what she and Tahmuras were
"Well, it's obvious, isn't it?" Luc said. "Lure Jahandar
away, zat him - once - keep him prisoner until the real Jahandar shows up and
replace him with our friend here as a kind of regent."
"Zat him?" Tahmuras asked.
"Wait, you speak English - er Tau'ri?" Luc exclaimed, annoyed at
having had to listen to the foreign language when they could all have used
"Jahandar - this one - demand we spoke your tongue. But we not get
exercise so we not spoke good."
Then again, maybe not, Luc thought. "Okay, here's a plan. You
fetch Jahandar away from the Bruxai. We... tie him up. You keep him prisoner.
You act as satrap. Understand?"
Tahmuras nodded. "Then you do same with Bruxai, yes?"
"Yes! Finally! Something to do! First, we'd better contact J."
"I don't think that's a good idea," Theo said.
"Because he's bound to come and join in," Maxine pointed out,
"and there are two other guys out there looking to kill him."
"He's a big boy, Maxine. He knows the score and he can take care of
himself, plus he's got Kern with him."
"Yes, but he has no disguise"
"Definitely gonna have to do something about that," Theo muttered
"and the Bruxai probably know the town way better than J
"And, as we're contemplating a régime change, he'll probably
think it's a bad idea," Theo said.
"No. Is good idea." Tahmuras was clearly up for it, and it was
his town, his country.
Luc bowed to force majeur. "Ok, let's do it."
Tahmuras went sedately into the main audience chamber and stood beside
Jahandar's ornately carved chair. It was ten minutes before the satrap deigned
to acknowledge his presence.
"What?" he demanded brusquely.
Tahmuras informed him that there was a young lady awaiting him in the small
antechamber adjacent to his, Tahmuras', quarters. "She says she has
information for you from Kashan and has also brought you a gift. Will you see
"Is she pretty?"
"No, my Lord, she is beautiful!"
"Then I will come at once," Jahandar said and followed his
hazarapatish through the winding maze of corridors that led to the small
This room was a mere thirty feet long and thirty feet wide. In each corner
of the room was a decorative clay urn which was at least five feet tall. Along
each wall were upholstered couches with low tables in front of them bearing
bowls of pot-pourri.
The young lady stood in the middle of the chamber on the center of a fine
Persian-style carpet and with her back to the entrance, apparently alone. On
Jahandar's entry, she turned to face him. She was holding something in her
hand. It was a strange-looking thing - metallic - yet appeared to fold into
three parts. The satrap had never seen anything like it before.
The next thing he saw was coruscating blue light, coming straight at him.
This was followed by intense, all-pervading pain then blessed blackness.
Theo and Luc came out from behind two of the decorative clay urns. Gulshan,
unaware of their purpose, had brought in several clean sheets earlier. Theo
fetched one of these from behind another urn while Luc zip-cuffed the satrap's
wrists and ankles and firmly gagged him. They trussed him up in the sheet to
disguise their captive. Luc hefted him up over his shoulder and followed
Their destination was the underground cells below the barracks. These were
accessed by a stairway between the barracks and the hazarapatish's quarters.
There were two sets of cells, one to the north, furthest from the satrap's
residence, and one to the south with a passageway linking both sets.
These had not been used for many years. The satrap's way of dealing with
criminals, and presumably dissidents too, was to hand them over to the Bruxai
The satrap was lodged in the northern block as he was fairly light. He was
thoroughly searched but had no weapons on him - probably an edict from the
Bruxai - nor any keys. Tahmuras had the second of two sets. Jahandar had still
not regained consciousness when Luc removed the gag and restraints. Tahmuras
locked the iron-bound cell door, then led his guests back for the second part
of the plan.
Frantisek and his two men had continued to tuck into the splendid feast
Jahandar had laid on for them. They had not yet begun to wonder at his absence,
believing that he was no doubt enjoying the young lady's charms. When Tahmuras
returned to extend to Frantisek an invitation from Jahandar to join him and the
beautiful young lady from Kashan, he too snapped up the bait willingly.
Unconscious, he was more of a problem to move though, being a good foot
taller than Jahandar and at least seventy pounds heavier.
"I see why you didn't want this guy in Jahandar's cell block,"
Theo said as he and Luc struggled to strip Frantisek of his heavy, crimson
brocade robe with its rich fur lining. "Guess he doesn't know the
meaning of starvation!"
"I think you should have this, Tahmuras," Luc said, handing him
the gaudy raiment. "It's more suitable for Persulis' new satrap. Hm, you
might want it fumigating first though."
Maxine obligingly translated, then hid Frantisek's weapons and comm unit
behind an urn where Luc's calico had already been hidden.
It took some time for Theo and Luc to lug the corpulent Bruxan between them
to the nearer set of cells. "Two down, two to go," Luc grinned as
Tahmuras locked the cell door.
As the two Tau'ri knew their way back to the small antechamber now, Tahmuras
took a detour to Jahandar's personal suite of rooms to retrieve the other set
of keys to the cells. It was at this point that things began to go awry.
As Theo and Luc approached the chamber, they heard a voice, a male voice,
where there should have been silence. The pair exchanged looks of alarm and
made haste to the room.
Peering into the room, they saw one guy in green BDUs leaning over another
who was laid on the floor. He was slapping his face and saying something in a
language they didn't recognize, but sounded like Radu's.
But it wasn't this pair that Theo and Luc were focused on. There was a
second motionless figure laid on the carpet.