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.
The two Bruxans had gotten tired of waiting for their lord and had gone
looking for him. Probably, they were hoping for their turn with the beautiful
young lady. Maxine, hearing footsteps approaching but no voices, assumed it was
her team mates returning. While she was a little surprised at seeing the two
unexpected strangers, this wasn't what caused her to freeze at precisely the
They looked just like the two in the alley. An action replay? She'd snapped
of out the shock almost immediately. Had time to stun one. The other saw her
zat. Moved away from his fellow. Took her down with his own ray gun. This was
the same as the ones Eneas' men used.
Theo and Luc pulled out their 9mils, and silently eased off the safety. Luc
hoped the guy was reasonably sane as he really didn't want to shoot him. The
noise would probably attract unwanted attention.
On his mark, the pair of them ran into the room, aiming their hand guns at
the one conscious person there. Assuming he understood English, Luc told him to
drop his weapon.
Unfortunately, not all the Bruxai spoke English. This one didn't. He also
didn't seem to have much sense of self-preservation. He turned to see these two
strangers, and was raising his ray gun in Theo's direction.
With no choice, Luc fired. The guy slumped on top of his fellow. Dark blood
flowed from his shoulder. Not a fatal wound then. Probably.
While Theo ran to his cousin's side, Luc went to the doorway to turn away
anyone responding to the unusual loud noise. He almost collided with Tahmuras,
who was, thankfully, the first responder.
Tahmuras took in the scene with wide eyes. "He is dead? You kill
"No, he'll live, but he'll need the bullet digging out." Luc
mimed clawing at his own shoulder.
"Ah. Bullet. Is like arrowhead, yes?"
Luc nodded. "Yes, it's like an arrowhead," he smiled.
"I keep people away when you... when you... fix him?"
Luc gave him a thumbs up and a big smile of encouragement. He hoped Maxine
would recover soon. Like now.
Theo was relieved to find that Maxine was still breathing, and that her
pulse, while a little erratic, was still strong. He patted her face gently
saying, "Come on, Maxine, wake up." He felt a little stupid, but the
basic field medicine they'd been taught hadn't touched on alien ray guns. Next
he tried rubbing her hands and arms briskly to stimulate blood flow. Or
As Luc returned to deal with the two Bruxai, Maxine groaned.
"Oh god, that hurt." Her eyelids flickered open.
"Theo? Oh thank goodness. I screwed up."
Luc looked up from using a strip ripped off one of the sheets to pack the
wound. It was now oozing sluggishly.
"No you didn't, babe. It was two on to one."
"No, I screwed up. I froze, so I only got one of them."
"Ah. You mean you had a flashback."
"Ye How did you know?"
"Everyone gets one sooner or later in our business. Don't sweat it. And
if you're up to it, I could use a little help with these two."
Maxine hid the men's weapons and comm units with the others, then dumped the
bloodied shirts in one of the huge urns. Didn't want blood seeping through the
sheets. Or into the fine carpet.
The other two had gagged and zip-cuffed the Bruxans and trussed them up in
sheets by the time Tahmuras returned to say the coast was clear - or words to
Fortunately, the two captives were sinewy and not too heavy. They wanted to
get them both locked up in one trip, preferably before they regained
consciousness. Unfortunately, Frantisek had come round. He bellowed in anger
when he saw Tahmuras and the Tau'ri, demanding to be set free immediately, or
face dire and devastating consequences.
While the two captives were locked up in a cell apiece, Maxine faced up to
their leader behind the wall of solid iron bars. "Shout as much as you
like," she said in his own language. "Nobody can hear you. We're too
"My men will soon find me and set me free, and then you will suffer
extremely for this act of aggression!"
"Your men will not be coming," Maxine continued solemnly,
"and if you want to be given food, I suggest you aim for a little
humility. Politeness wouldn't go amiss either."
She soon got bored as Frantisek continued to yell demands and curses, and so
went to see his men being safely lodged in cells further along. Tahmuras had
provided Luc with a sharp knife. He dug out the bullet without difficulty, the
man remaining blissfully unconscious throughout.
When they were ready to leave, Maxine couldn't resist a final verbal sally
at Frantisek. "You know, I have a ship in orbit over Persulis, and if you
don't shut up right now, I'm going to call my commander and have him beam you
out of here - and cut off the beam just before you reach my ship. Then you can
scream all you want - for a few seconds. Nobody will hear you and nobody will
"Hah! You can't fool me! We have control of the Habbakuk!"
Frantisek said smugly.
"Well, I know that, stupid," Maxine came back with an even
smugger smile, "so - obviously - I wasn't referring to that old
Frantisek shut up then, just in case, and the rest returned to Tahmuras'
"So what now?" Theo asked.
"Now," said Luc with a scowl in Maxine's direction, "we call
As he activated his comm., J's voice cut in.
"We're on our way to join you and we've got trouble. I just got a call
from Bachmann. There are a dozen guys on horseback heading our way. They're
wearing baked leather armor and helmets and carrying... unusual... spears. They
all have a facial tattoo, including one whose tattoo is gold..."
"What? So we've gotten ourselves a goa'uld as well?" Luc asked.
"Looks very much like it."
Maxine butted in, ignoring a squawk of protest from Luc.
"What does it look like?" she demanded. "The
tattoo, I mean."
"Bachmann said it looked like three toothy mouths with wings."
"And Azi Dahaka is sometimes depicted as a winged three-headed
"Ai-eee!" Tahmuras cried, prostrating himself on the floor.
"The old god returns! Forgive me, Lord!" No one paid him any
"We'll come and meet you and if you need to bullshit, the Bruxai
leader's name is Lord Frantisek." She spelt it out and added, "he's
very foul-mouthed and grumpy."
"Yes, Lord Frantisek," J responded in a significantly louder
voice, "we're on our way now, and I see Vasile and ... "
"You got company?"
"Yes my Lord. S-Sorry, my Lord. We'll all be there in double quick
time. Andrei out."
"Oh, great! This sounds like fun!" Luc muttered. "Just when
it was all going so well. Okay, Maxine, you take Tahmuras and go find J and
Kern, while Theo and I come up with a plan."
Maxine stood over Tahmuras who was still a quivering heap of jelly on the
fine Persian carpet. Probably wishing it would fly away with him, she
"Come on, Tahmuras, find your backbone. We have work to do."
"No, no, no. You must go. Or hide. A long way away from here. The old
god is coming! He is a harsh god!"
"Look, Tahmuras, Azi Dahaka is not a god. He's just a parasite,
working a human host. The Tau'ri have defeated a whole lot of these
so-called gods. I'll tell you all about it as we go and meet our companions,
who may need rescuing..."
He seemed a little reassured, and also picked up on the obligation to match
the rescue of his daughter with the rescue of two of his new allies. Honor
By the time they reached the baha-zar, Tahmuras was much more sanguine if
not totally convinced. This was good because, as they set off across the market
place, Maxine, with her height advantage, saw her C.O. and Kern, side by side,
entering the area from a street opposite. She needed to be able to focus on
them, not a slightly freaked hazarapatish. They had their hands in the
The two Bruxai who'd accosted J and Kern mid-communication had bought the
bullshit enough not to shoot them, but not enough not to take them prisoner and
present them to Frantisek. In person.
Fortunately, they hadn't tried to contact Frantisek themselves. J had
suggested it, saying with cocky grin that dared them to try, "Sounds in a
pretty foul mood, so go ahead. Maybe you can cheer him up..."
Now, Vasile and his sidekick were walking behind them with their ray-guns
trained on their backs, and carrying SG-24's SMGs casually by their straps.
Maxine approached the four head on. J looked a little apprehensive when he
spotted her coming towards him. Kern's attention was elsewhere. Unsighted by
the Bruxai behind her team mates, she finger-signed D.U.C.K. Keeping her eyes
fixed on J's, she reached inside her robes and nodded.
"Whoops!" J, arms waving as if to maintain his balance, suddenly
lurched sideways, pulling Kern down with him. He rolled on top of him. It
wasn't just to protect Kern.
Under cover of the kerfuffle, Maxine activated her zat. This time, she
didn't freeze and took down both Bruxai before they had time to react. The
baha-zar emptied rapidly as if by magic. No one wanted to get caught up in
whatever was going on.
Stowing her zat out of sight, she gave J a hand up. "Grab a bad guy
each and follow us," she said while Kern was wondering how the strange
turn-about had come to pass. Tahmuras had collected all the weapons and was
using his robe to carry them in.
Frantisek was not best pleased to see two more of his men being carried past
his cell, but looked relieved when no more were brought in and locked up. As
the Tau'ri left, he snarled, "When I get my hands you, bitch, I'll make
sure you suffer before you die!"
"Um, that would be psycho-bitch to you," Maxine said with a
friendly grin at Kern.
Kern decided to join in with the Bruxai-baiting. "Scary
psycho-bitch," he said with a knowing leer. "She can kill a man with
just her finger tips. I know. I've seen her do it." Then he
followed her out with a decided swagger which nearly made the others crack up.
The four returned to the small antechamber, which now contained quite an
Arsenal of modern weapons.
"Looks like you've been busy," J observed. "Only two more
Bruxai to go. Good work, team!"
Luc saw Maxine's stricken look. He took J's arm and led him aside. "No,
there aren't," he said quietly, "and now isn't the time to go
J noted the warning expression on his face and nodded. "Ok. So do we
have a plan?"
"Yes. If we have time to put it into operation, I think I can make it
work. We'll need a little help from the Persulians though."
Soon, there was feverish activity. Tahmuras had the satrap's servants
running to and fro between the baha-zar and the front of the bab-khanah,
carrying trestles which SG-24 arranged in a curved line some twenty yards away
from the entrance. This was about the maximum effective range of the ray guns.
The legs of the trestles were secured by piles of rocks, stones, bricks and
anything else that came to hand.
Tahmuras' men were busy fetching every spear that could be found from the
armory. A lot of them were not in good condition through lack of use, but for
the purposes of the operation, that didn't matter. Under Luc's supervision, and
assisted by Theo, the spears were leaned against the trestles at a 45 degree
angle, pointing in the direction from which the enemy would arrive. They were
fixed as well as possible to form a chevaux-de-frise. The colored cloths from
the market tables were tacked on to each end of the trestles across the lower
half of the spears, creating a rippling, fluttering barrier.
Another thirty feet beyond that, J buried three blocks of C4 under the
gravel of the road, and the other two about six feet to either side of the
road. Maxine had gone to Aunt Shirin's to collect her and Theo's SMGs, and to
The finishing touches were being set in place as she arrived back at the
base of operations. This was just in time for J, through her, to warn the
people that the approaching enemy had strange spears which could do serious
damage, and therefore they were sending their helpers as far away as possible
from the main gate. The area around the Rivergate would be good...
With the half the town nearly empty and the main gates closed and barred,
SG-24 and Tahmuras went up to the walkway behind the protective wall along the
top of the bab-khanah to await the goa'uld. They had not only their SMGs and
9mils, but also the five Bruxan ray guns. The last two they'd taken still
worked despite having been zatted.
Tahmuras quickly learned how to fire one, so J decided to make him a present
of them. It was small recompense and might even up the odds a little if
Persulis was troubled again by 'bandits.'
Maxine kept quiet about her zat. Kern was doing his best to fit in with the
team, but she still felt that the less she had to explain, the better.
Luc was in charge of the row of detonators.
J had decided to take on the 'negotiations' and to impose English as the
language of choice on the first prime. All the other goa'uld had spoken
English, and Eneas had said it was a lingua franca on the rise. It would also
be better for Tahmuras, who insisted on being present as the leader of his
people, if he couldn't understand very well what was being said.
They had just gotten into position when Azi Dahaka's jaffa came into sight
riding glossy black horses, two by two, at a gentle canter, and with the first
prime bringing up the rear. J was pleased to see that. He didn't think Teal'c
would ever have taken that position - much more likely to lead from the front
if Daniel's journals were anything to go by, and he thought they were. Still,
it wouldn't do to underestimate the guy.
As the first two horses approached the barrier with the cloths flapping and
snapping in the rising breeze, they broke to either side despite the sharp
jerking on their bits by the riders that made Maxine think of Sergeant Quinney.
The next pair pulled up too. They were used to people running away and were
having nothing to do with the bizarre menace ahead of them. Luc noticed that
Azi's horsemen hadn't developed the concept of stirrups yet.
One rider circled round and rode his horse at a gallop towards the barricade
intending it to leap over as an example to the rest. The move did not go as
planned. The horse skidded to a stop. The rider, continued his forward momentum
until impaled through the neck on one of the spears.
This rather deflated the bellowed demand of the first prime, which in any
case was spoken in Old Avestan.
"Say what?" J yelled. "Speak English. I know you can!"
With one man down and the rest milling around trying to regain control of
their horses, his order didn't come across with nearly as much impact the
second time around.
"I am Vishnasp, First Prime of Azi Dahaka. Kneel before your
God!" he cried, though he didn't look totally convinced himself.
J made a show of looking all around, then shrugged. "I don't see any
gods. Have you lost one? You might like to see to your minion there, by the
way. He doesn't look too well."
"Respect your God or he will crush you under the heel of his
boot," the first prime continued, a little half-heartedly.
"Look, you and I both know that Azi Dahaka is not a god. He -
or it - is a goa'uld. We are the Tau'ri, and we eat goa'uld for
breakfast. So far," J counted off on his fingers, "we've killed
Apophis, Hathor, Cronos, Heru'ur, Anubis, Marduk - no, someone else got to him,
Nirrti, Osiris, Baal... Need I go on? No, I don't think I do. So right
now, you and your men are going to turn tail and leave. You will not return
because this world is under the Protected Planets Treaty, policed by the
"Or what?" the first prime demanded, recovering a little of his
"Best not find out," J called, giving Vishnasp his best crocodile
This left Vishnasp in a bit of a quandary. The guy looking down on him was
certainly not buying the usual propaganda, yet he could hardly return empty
handed or Azi Dahaka would surely make him suffer for it.
As he hesitated, one of his men made the decision for him. Hoping to take
over from this clearly weak-willed first prime, he charged his staff weapon.
SG-24 had never heard the sound before, but were well aware of the import from
the electrical crackle at its tip. J fired his captured ray gun before the man
could aim his weapon. He and the horse both went down.
"Any more?" J asked brightly.
The first prime was not having a good day. He was in a double bind. Action
might be disastrous. Inaction right now might - probably would - result in
mutiny. But. There were only six of them against eleven jaffa... He gave the
order, and the remaining staff weapons were charged. It was the wrong choice.
In front of them, the niftier ray guns sprayed the area with electrical
fire. Behind them, the C4 exploded in a rapid ear-splitting sequence, spraying
out gravel like shrapnel. The horses that hadn't been brought down by the ray
guns bolted in panic, unseating most of their riders.
"Had enough, yet?" J barracked as the dust settled.
They had. This was clearly not the pushover peasantry they were expecting.
Like bully boys the world over, they decided to throw in the towel when
"Ok, toss your staff weapons, armor and helmets over the barrier. Be
smart. Don't try and play the hero, or we'll crush your symbiotes inside you,
and you know what that means!"
They did. No one tried anything. It was a sorry band of men who were
escorted to the 'Gate by SG-24 who were riding those horses that had calmed
down. Half of the jaffa were still recovering from the ray gun blasts and the
others were carrying the body of the rider who'd landed on the spear and bled
At the 'Gate, J had a little mercy on them, suggesting they might like to go
to some world other than Azi's. That was ok by him so long as they played nice.
If they didn't, the Tau'ri were sure to find them sooner or later, and then
they would get really mad, and things could get real ugly real quick.
J had no idea where the address Vishnasp had dialed would take them. He
hoped that he'd picked somewhere well off Azi's radar. That way, when the team
didn't return, Persulis might be left alone like SG-1 had been told had
happened to the Lok'na Kor planets when they were searching for the Harcesis
When the unwelcome visitors had all departed and the wormhole had collapsed,
J called, "Ok, Bachmann, you can come out now."
When he appeared through the bushes, J trotted over to him on his fine black
stallion and added, "Thanks for the heads up."
"Who were they?"
"You not seen them when you've been here before?" J asked from
his high perch.
"Never." Bachmann looked genuinely mystified.
"Oh, and that reminds me, we came across a group of guys dressed in
BDUs like ours. You seen them before?"
Bachmann feigned ignorance. "What did they say?"
J sighed. "I'm afraid dead men tell no tales. Those spear things make a
real mess of a man."
"They're all dead?" Bachmann exclaimed.
"All?" J asked, playing dumb. He noted the way Bachmann's eyes
slid away from his, and figured he was thinking it was a good thing Major
Mitchell was so dumb, otherwise he might just have let slip information that he
J screwed up his eyes and wagged his finger as if counting bodies in his
mind's eye. "Well, there were seven bodies in front of the main gate.
Guess they were defending the town against those other guys."
Bachmann's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "If those guys on horseback
killed the - the other guys, how come none of you got hurt?"
"Just lucky, I guess," J said airily. "We were in the north
of the town when you called and by the time we got to the main gate, it was all
but over. The guys like us had the nous to knock down a lot of the horses. The
riders were on foot and trying to find a way around the unconscious horses. We
used the gates and the heap of bodies for cover and finished the job. Anyway,
we have to go back and get the PATTs and the rest of our gear, so I'd like you
to take cover and watch the 'Gate again till we return."
On the way back, Kern put his mount to the gallop, clearly at home on
horseback even without stirrups. "Plainsman," J grinned at Theo,
remembering their intell gathering before the survival weekend.
Maxine looked out for Nashak to thank him for his help, to say that their
mission had prospered and that, hopefully, things might change for the better.
"Oh, and your aunt and cousin are both well. Lt. Kern up ahead there gave
them a little help with the washing," she smiled.
Nashak's look of astonishment made her laugh. "See, we aren't
When SG-24 arrived back in Persulis, they found the town pretty much back
to normal. The chevaux-de-frise had been dismantled and the holes in the road
were being filled in. The rest of the horses had been rounded up and were
tethered in the parade ground. The body armor and helmets had been piled up
outside the armory by Tahmuras' men. He clearly wasn't one to let the grass
grow under his feet, given half a chance.
He'd had a bit of a problem over what to do with the staff weapons. On the
plus side, he hadn't seen a demonstration of their power thanks to SG-24. The
downside was that he had no idea what they did or how they functioned.
Grandfather Daniel's journals hadn't dwelled on that part so the rest were
almost as much in the dark. Not wanting to risk any collateral damage, Luc and
Theo took one outside the gates to play with.
The weapon was basic and the mechanism easily worked out, so Theo fetched
Tahmuras for a demonstration. Luc put the weapon in Tahmuras hands and,
standing behind him with his hands on Tahmuras', he activated the staff.
Together, they took aim at a sick-looking tree some forty feet away and fired.
The tree blossomed in a fearful explosion of branches, twigs and splinters.
Tahmuras was amazed. "I happy them not shoot at we!"
Luc grinned. "Yeah, me too!"
The three returned to Tahmuras' quarters then to discuss the results of the
mission. This was mostly between J and Tahmuras, via Maxine.
"The men with the staff weapons, will they come back again?" was
Tahmuras' most urgent concern.
"Well, we can't be absolutely certain, but I think it's highly
unlikely. I don't think the men we took back to the 'Gate - er, the Ring - have
gone back to Azi," J said, noting the way Tahmuras winced at his casual
reference to their god. If he heard it often enough, maybe he'd be a little
less in awe.
"The thing is," J went on, "that the goa'uld, of which Azi is
one, like an easy life - not so much sitting around and doing nothing as taking
what they want without too much effort. Why waste time and resources on a world
that shows some resistance when you can move on to the next one where there's
little or no resistance? They also don't tolerate failure, which is why I don't
think our invaders have gone back to Azi."
"They will not come back to see what happened?" Tahmuras asked.
"I doubt it. For all he knows, this world has become uninhabitable -
maybe the air is now poisonous or something. Azi's just lost a dozen jaffa and
his First Prime. Not that he'll care too much about that. It's just a nuisance.
But he won't want to lose any more just to satisfy his curiosity. The main
problem would be if you decide to go and take over some of his worlds - maybe
stir up a revolution. Cause him any trouble like that, then yes, he'll be a
very jealous 'god.' I don't imagine that's likely to happen though!" J
"Certainly not!" Tahmuras said, blenching at the thought.
"The Bruxai are another matter though. They will almost certainly be
back. I suggest you give it out that Frantisek and his men nobly gave their
lives defending the town from Azi and his men. It might be a good idea to dig
some graves - plant flowers on them or something. You could say that Jahandar
was killed too and named you as his successor with his dying breath."
"But what do we do with them? We cannot afford to keep them prisoners
"No, you can't, not with all of them, though I suggest you keep
Jahandar. The others," J said, with a slightly shamefaced look at Maxine
after his previous lofty stance on the subject, "I suggest you do to them
what they would do with you, and sell them as slaves."
Tahmuras' face lit up at that. "May we keep some of the sale
"My friend, you can keep it all. You can also keep the horses, the
armor, the staff weapons - be careful how you use them though - and the ray
Tahmuras looked overjoyed for a moment, then his face fell. "How much
payment do you want for them?"
J gave him a warm smile. "Nothing. Just think of it as a very small
recompense for all that has been taken from you without trade or payment. Oh,
and we'd appreciate your friendship too. One more thing. I suggest you keep a
couple of men on duty, hiding by the - the Ring. You could change the shift
every so often, using the horses for speed. We'll leave you the Bruxan
communicators, so your guards can call in and let you know who's coming. That
way, you'll have a couple of hours warning if they're on foot. Finally, I would
advise against going through the Ring yourself, especially if someone seems
particularly insistent that you do, or you might end up like Jahandar."
Tahmuras nodded his understanding. "Thank you once again, my friends.
I'll stay well away from it! I shall start a training régime for my men
and recruit some more guards."
"And we will try to set up a proper trading treaty that's fair for
With that, the meeting broke up. SG-24 left by the Rivergate again as they
had to return their borrowed raiment, and wanted to thank Shirin and Yazdin for
their help. Then it was time to collect the PATTs and set off for home.
Of course, J got more hassle from Bachmann when they arrived at the 'Gate.
He wanted to know what had happened to the horses. And the weapons.
"That's none of your business, Bachmann."
"But the President's gonna want to know," Bachmann yelled.
"Then the President can ask me. I can speak for myself. I don't
need a liaison officer and if I did, I'd pick someone with a little more tact
and diplomacy than you possess. Captain."
"It doesn't work like that," Bachmann ranted.
"Oh? Then how does it work? And keep your voice down. You're scaring
Bachmann had no real answer to that. "Not like that," he muttered.
"O-kay. In that case, Lt. Kern, would you dial home, please."
Kern, looking rather smug, did so. J wondered if there was a little bad
blood between Bachmann and Kern too. He sent Bachmann through first, followed
by Kern. Theo and Luc took their time to allow Maxine to scratch the Tau'ri
symbol on a rock near the other scratched sign. Underneath, she placed a
letter, pre-written in Romanian, recording their visit and its outcome.
There was little opportunity to discuss with Dr. Flint what was really
troubling three of the members of SG-24, even though Bachmann, naturally, went
to Dr. Dawson for his medical check. She was observant enough to register that
something was wrong, and a bitter request from Luc for a pill that would
restore his lost humanity gave her a pretty accurate idea of what the problem
For the time being, she agreed to provide mild medication to help them
catch up on lost sleep. She also invited them round to her apartment at the
weekend to talk about the 'problem' in more congenial surroundings - either
together or separately. They thanked her and opted for togetherness.
The atmosphere at the briefing afterwards was tense. Bradfield couldn't
quite figure out precisely why, but could hazard a shrewd guess. J reported a
successful mission with Persulis, defended against hostile forces, at peace and
ready to receive the Trade Delegation. Bachmann complained that proper
protocols hadn't been observed.
"You mean the protocol that says you go in hard and shoot a few
peasants?" Luc asked provocatively.
This earned him a friendly scowl from his C.O. and a glare from the current
2IC that said, this isn't over - very far from over. At this point, a
clerical officer arrived with a written message for Captain Bachmann. Maxine,
seeing the look of foreboding on his face as he read it, had no doubt about who
it was from or what it said. So she was off the hook. For the time being
It was early evening when they arrived back in the Springs. Kern had been
dropped off by the shift bus earlier. His mother would want to be sure he was
safe, he said.
The rest decided to pig out at The Sunny Side Up by way of relaxation and
collected Ash en route. It was a pleasant end to the day. The adrenaline was
wearing off, and the sticky toffee pudding made them all feel pleasantly
As they were thinking of heading bed-ward, an old man came over to them. He
looked like a bit of a tramp with a silky white beard and a homburg hat over
unruly white hair. Although scruffy, he looked clean though, clean enough to
get served anyway. He'd come in earlier and was now carrying a second mug of
coffee. He put it down on their table.
"Do you mind if I sit here?" he asked quietly, indicating the
empty seat in the six-seater booth.
"Sure. We're just going anyway," J said.
As Maxine made to move, the old man grasped her wrist in a surprisingly
strong grip. "No. Stay a moment," he said urgently, and moved his
spare hand up to touch a milky greenish blue gem set in a white gold brooch
that was pinned to his lapel.
She looked up into his face in surprise. The bright intelligent blue eyes
that met hers made her gasp.
He put a warning finger to his lips, then holding her hand, sat down
opposite her, next to J. Who wasn't moving. At all. Nor was anyone else. It was
like everyone was in freeze-frame except for Maxine and the old man sitting
"Um, may I speak now?" The old man smiled gently and nodded.
"Have you stopped time?"
"Not exactly. I have something important to tell you and I don't have
much time, so I created a time-loop."
"A time-loop? Should I know what that is?"
"Probably not. Time generally travels in a straight line. I've set up a
small tunnel through time, a bit like a wormhole goes through space, except
that the time-loop branches off, loops round and will join up to the rest of
the time continuum about a second or so after the loop started."
"You're not supposed to be doing this are you, Grandfather?"
"No I'm not. That's why I don't have much... time."
"So what's the problem?"
"Kyros. He's showed up on planet Earth, which is bad. Very bad."
"Um, who is Kyros and why is it bad?"
"Oh, sorry. He's kind of like me."
"Yes. Actually, he's more like Anubis. I suspect they may have been
hanging out together some time back. But I digress. Kyros has spent aeons
hunting for a particular artefact. The Ancients think he's getting close, but
"They won't do anything about it."
"Right," Daniel said, rolling his eyes. "If he's really as
close as they think he is and he's here somewhere, this is not
"So what's this artefact?"
"The Stemma Dunamatelikon."
"The Crown of Ultimate Power." Maxine mused.
"Er, yes. That's right. Now I don't know much about it - what it looks
like or where it is. I only know that it should be destroyed because it will be
very dangerous in the wrong hands, which is most people's."
"But not yours, surely."
"Especially mine! Did you not read about the dream Shifu gave
"Well of course. That was creepy, and so not like you!"
"But it showed me that I have it in me - what I'm capable of - given
the wrong set of circumstances. Even with all I know, I'm far from certain that
I could resist its lure. Which is why it has to be destroyed."
"And how do we do that? Drop it in Mount Doom? Um, sorry."
"Yes, well never mind that for the moment. The Stemma will only
produce its greatest power when used by someone who's read the Bibliomegiston
ton Gnosairapolutos ton Diabolanthropos or The Great Book of the Absolute
Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is known colloquially as The Diabolikon. That
must be destroyed too. Now, the Ascended Ancients slapped a megalock on it when
it came into their possession. This means that it can only be opened by someone
who is pure of spirit. Then they hid it in a safe place. The trouble is, that
place was not safe enough. It's gone missing... Now, if Kyros hasn't gotten his
hands on it yet, he's not far away - and he'll be looking for someone who
is pure of spirit so that he can con him, as he conned me, into opening
it for him."
As he spoke, he cast a significant look at Ash.
"No!" Maxine exclaimed. "He's been through enough already!
Hang on though. Doesn't being gay rule him out of the 'pure in spirit'
"With the Warriors, yes, but not where it really matters."
Daniel looked a little uncomfortable. "I think I'd better fill in a few
background details while I'm here, like how I ended up on Vis Uban sans clothes
and sans memory."
"Go on," Maxine begged. She sensed a new story here as there
hadn't been anything about it in the journals.
Daniel looked a little put out. "This isn't a fairy story to entertain
little children. It's deadly serious."
"Yes Grandfather," Maxine responded, trying to keep the
anticipatory gleam from her eye - and failing.
Daniel gave a rueful chuckle. "Well then, sometime after I ascended for
the first time, Kyros approached me. Looking back, he'd obviously been biding
his time until the Others had decided I'd found my feet, and left me to follow
my own path pretty much. He befriended me, telling me he'd only been ascended a
short time just like me. That was a lie. He was grooming me, as a pure spirit,
so I would open the Diabolikon for him..."
Seeing the sad look on Daniel's face, Maxine stroked his hand gently with
her thumb. "And you did, didn't you? Just to help out a 'friend?'"
Daniel nodded slowly. "Yes," he whispered. "The Ancients
caught me, wiped my memory and threw me out, but not before I'd read some of it
- gained knowledge that I shouldn't have."
"Did Kyros read any of the Diabolikon?"
"No. The Ancients acted before that happened and threw him out
"So he's no longer ascended?"
"Yes, he is. He was helped to re-ascend by a group called - if I have
it right - Dwimmerlings."
Maxine's face fell. "Oh no."
"You know them?"
"We know of them. What the Ori were to the Ancients, the Dwimmerlings
are to the Furlings."
"Oh, that's bad. Wait, you've met the Furlings?"
"We've met their descendants. The Furlings are known to them as the
"Oh? Well that joins a few dots for me," Daniel smiled.
"Anyway, over time, some - most - of my memories have returned. Know this,
Maxine, I cannot, must not, touch either the Stemma or the Diabolikon,
because I am now... tainted. That... taint, will prevent me opening the book a
second time, but the Crown will still give me unbelievable power. It draws Dark
Energy to itself for the wearer to use - if he has the knowledge. I have enough
of that knowledge to be very dangerous. And I'm not strong enough to
Maxine's jaw had dropped and her face took on an expression of sudden, and
unwelcome, enlightenment. "D-Dark Energy?" she breathed.
"I think I know where it is - the Stemma."
Daniel instantly caught on. "It's in the S.G.C., isn't it?"
"I think so," Maxine said. "I've even had it on my own head
for a while." She described to him the crown she'd 'confiscated' from King
"I can't be certain, but it sounds extremely likely."
"So how do we destroy it?"
As she spoke, Daniel looked around in consternation. He seemed to be glowing
gently and little effervescent sparkles of light broke away from him and faded
"No! No, no, no!" he screamed, waving his arms as if
fighting an invisible foe. "Not now!" He looked
apologetically at Maxine, then an idea lit his eyes.
He pulled the brooch off his lapel and slapped it in her hand. "Look
after this for me!" Then he was gone - jerked back into the ether by some
Suddenly, everyone was moving normally as if the conversation had never
happened. Maxine was beginning to think that she'd zoned out and imagined it.
But the rest of the team were looking baffled and J was peering under the
"Huh? Where'd the old guy go?" he exclaimed. Then she realized she
had something in her hand. The brooch! So it hadn't been a hallucination.
"I think the Ancients took him," she said. "We could have a
monumental problem on our hands here and I think Grandfather Daniel expects us
to fix it."