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Official Episode 3 Mission Wrap-Up


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**WARNING THIS POST WILL HAVE SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 1**

The purpose of this post is to give the official version of what happened in Season 1, Episode 3 of the Phoenix Site Living Series. These results are compiled from the episode playthroughs that where ran at tables and reported to us via After Action Reports. Future episodes of the Phoenix Site Living Series will build off of these official results for story arc and plot points.

 

Will Shakespeare threw down his quill and rubbed his face with his hands, before looking at his 10-year old son playing with worn-out quills and scraps of parchment on the stained carpet of the study.  “Hamnet, dear one, wouldst thou write this for me, please?”

Hamnet looked quizzically at his iambically challenged father.  “Father…thou knowest that I hope to surpass thy accomplishments one day – “

“Not until I am safely in my grave, little one.”

“As thou sayest, God forfend.   But intend to surpass thee I do, in due time.  Thou hast gifted me with some power of speech and written word.”

“Aye, thy tongue can be both sharp and smooth, as thou wilt.  When thou reachest thy maturity, thou wilt gain many a fair lady’s ear…and eye.”

“Thank you, Father.  But my place is not to take yours, now nor any time soon.  Thy place is to complete thy efforts, not displace them to my poor self.”

Will laughed, took a deep breath, and picked up his quill again.  “Hamnet, thy logic cannot be challenged, even by thine own Father.  I shall continue in my efforts.  Thank ye for thy wise thoughts.”

Hamnet had already returned to his play, dipping the least worn quill in his own inkpot, and scratching phrases that appealed to him in any available space on the parchment.

Downstairs, the door to the street opened, and closed loudly.  “Hamnet, hast thy mother already returned from market?”

Hamnet didn’t reply, but continued scratching away…until heavy footsteps starting ascending the stairs.  Multiple pairs of footsteps.

“Hamnet, get thee behind me,” commanded Will, standing and looking for something more sword-like than pen-like, anachronistic adages aside.  He grabbed an ancient, blunted dagger he used as a letter opener just as the door swung open, revealing three imposing figures.  Hamnet ducked behind his father, holding onto his breeches as he peeked at the intruders.

“Hite thee William Shakespeare?” challenged the man in the lead of the three, whose height and pale visage marked him as one not of this side of the veil.

“Just so.  How hite thee, pale one?  And thy companions?”

The man ducked through the doorway, his friends following.  He replied, “Thou mayst name me Puck, and my companions Oberon and Titania.”

Will shook his head in disbelief.  “Hamnet my son, dost thou see these intruders also, or am I in leave of my senses?”

“Indeed I do, Father.”

“Thou reassurest me.  Puck, thou sayest?  And Oberon and Titania?  None other than the characters in the very play on which I work this afternoon?”  He glanced down at Puck’s feet, not sure what to expect.

Puck laughed.  “No cloven hooves today, friend Will.  But we are who we say.  Behind me stand the king and queen of the Fae.”  He emphasized “stand” slightly, and looked pointedly at the four chairs arranged in front of the fireplace.

Will got the unspoken message.  “An it please thyself and thy friends, sit.”

Hamnet eased out from behind his father but stayed close.  The three strangers seated themselves, and Will took the fourth chair.  “What wouldst thou here?” he asked.

Oberon answered, his voice a deep, commanding rumble that perfectly fit his broad shoulders and extraordinarily handsome features, “We desire to help thee with thy latest play, William….”

 

Phoenix-1 emerged from the gate into a brown and gray world.  Just as portrayed by the MALP, P6H-970 was devoid of all signs of life or civilization.  “Please remind me Captain, why are we here?”

“Because there’s oxygen, Lanni,” answered Captain Rodriguez.  “As far as we know, where there’s oxygen, there’s plant life.  And where there’s plant life there’s probably animal life.  And where there’s animal life there might be intelligent life.  So we’re here to see what plant life we can find.”

Lanni nodded, obviously not convinced.

Rodriguez hid her smile.  “Okay folks, pair up.  Oringo and Bervel go north – uh, that’s that way,” she pointed helpfully.  “Maste and Lanni, east; Kulera and A’tir south, and I’ll take west.  Radio check every ten minutes.  If you don’t hear from me at the right time, come find me, please.”  That drew a few chuckles.  “Zig-zag as you go – you’re here to cover area, not distance.  Look around for a few hours.  In the unlikely event that you find anything interesting we’ll investigate.  Otherwise we’ll head back to Phoenix Base and a round of beers at Natok’s…on me.  Be back here at” – Rodriguez checked her watch – “1130 hours.”

Oringo gave a positive-sounding grunt, and he and Bervel headed off, eyes on the ground.  Everybody else followed their example.

 

Several hours later, with the sun approaching zenith, the team reassembled at the gate.  There was only one problem.  “Where is the DHD?” asked Maste.

“An excellent question,” concurred A’tir.

“No other footprints…only ours,” pointed out Oringo.

“What’s that?” asked Kulera, pointing to something glinting on the stairway to the gate.  She retrieved the object and held it up for inspection.  It was a bound collection of wooden pipes, arranged from short to long.

“It looks kind of like Tau’ri bamboo, but that blue tinge isn’t anything from Earth,” observed Bervel.

Kulera blew across the top of the pipes.  The result was less than euphonious.

“Let me try,” requested Lanni.  She raised the pipes to her lips and blew a mellow chromatic scale, then major and minor triads.  She looked thoughtful, and started playing a soulful tune.  The timbre was breathy but astonishingly rich.

“I think that’s a Tollan lament,” whispered Bythal.  Lanni nodded her confirmation without stopping her playing.

Rodriguez gestured for Bervel, A’tir and Oringo to join her.  They put their heads together and spoke quietly, to avoid disturbing the beautiful music.  “We need to try to dial the gate manually.  Bervel, see what you can do for power.  A’tir and Oringo, turn the inner ring when Bervel says.”

“A’tir, we’ll need to use your staff weapon.  I’ll have to think about what else we might be able to do.  There isn’t a cloud in the sky, so no chance of lightning any time soon…,” noted Bervel.

“Indeed.  Without additional power, I highly doubt we will be successful. But we will try,” answered A’tir.

“Think positive, guys.  Get to work.”

As they moved to fulfill their commander’s orders and Lanni’s final wistful notes drifted out over the barren wasteland, there was a flash of light by the gate.  A tall blonde man who wasn’t there a minute ago leaned against the gate’s inner ring, looking at Lanni with one pale eyebrow arched, and nodding in appreciation of the tune.  He stood and slowly clapped.

“Brava milady, brava,” the wild-haired man cheered.  He wore white leather shoes, white pants, and a tan shirt overlaid with darker tan suspenders and a narrow, light gray tie.  To complete the rad ensemble, he wore white cloth gloves that somewhat muffled his claps.

“Now, now, dear friends, no need for those,” he said, pointing to the weapons that were pointed back at him.

Rodriguez kept her P90 aimed in his direction, but made sure her finger was well clear of the trigger as she approached the stranger.  As she got closer, she could see that while one eye was ice blue, the other was so dilated that it appeared brown.  She stopped a couple of meters from the bottom of the stairs to the gate.  “I’m assuming you have something to do with the DHD’s disappearance…David Bowie, or whoever you are.  We are prepared to respond to tricks with force, if we have to.”

The man laughed as he descended the stairs.  Rodriguez moved back slowly, to keep a few meters between them.

“So you recognize my Seeming, eh?  Excellent, I do appreciate a knowledgeable audience.”  He bowed deeply, with a sweep of the arm, then went on.  “Welcome travelers! Earthers to be exact, yes?  Oh, I know you came from what you call the ‘Phoenix Site,’ but your SGC is based on Earth.  I have spent time on Earth, actually.  Last I wandered about it was what you call ‘the 80s.’  Oh, that was a fun decade!  The colors, the music, the movies!  I had high hopes for your people back then – high enough to take on this appearance.”

He stopped talking, his demeanor shifting abruptly as he stared intently at each member of the team in turn.  “Yes, well then.  Introductions.”  He smiled again.  “I am called Puck.  What should I call you?”

Rodriguez lowered her P90 slightly.  The others followed suit.  “I’m Captain Selena Rodriguez.  You can call me Rodriguez.”

“A’tir, of the Free Jaffa.”

“Bervel, originally of Tollana.”

“Oringo.”

Puck interjected, “My, my – you certainly aren’t from Earth…unless a lot has changed in the past 15 years.”

“Unas.  Goa’uld home world, no. My Unas home world.”

“Oh dear.  That couldn’t have worked out well for your race.”

Oringo just glared.

After an awkward few moments, Kulera broke the silence.  “Kulera, of the Aturen.”

“Kulera, you appear almost of the Fae realm.”  Seeing no recognition, he added, “Are you an elf?”

Rodriguez had to a suppress a very unmilitary giggle as Kulera just looked at Puck, mouth hanging open slightly in confusion.

Maste came to Kulera’s rescue.  “Maste, of the Tok’ra.”

“And Bythal, Maste’s host.”

“Lanni, from Kelowna, on Langara.”

“Quite gifted you are, Lanni o’ Langara.  Please keep the pipes as a memento of this journey, with my compliments.”

Lanni nodded cautious thanks.

Bervel asked, “So you don’t always look like this?”

“No, I can take on whatever appearance I desire…through magic.”

“Meaning science we don’t understand yet.”

“Quite so.”

Rodriguez had been thinking furiously, and the light bulb finally came on.  “Isn’t Puck a character in a Shakespeare play…A Midsummer Night’s….”

Dream, yes.” There was a flash of light, and a satyr stood before them, his tan shirt hanging over a goat’s belly and hindquarters.  Another flash and Puck was back to his human form, and laughing at the wide eyes of the team.  “None other.  We helped old Will with the writing, and the first performances.”

“’We’?”

“Oberon, Titania and I.  They were king and queen of the fairies.  We traveled together for many of your millenia, but sadly they have now passed beyond mortal ken.  I do miss their company.  Birds of a feather and so forth.”

Fairies?  “That’s very sad, but what do you want?  Where’s the DHD?”

“Elsewhere!” he chuckled.  “Nor will you have any success if you try to dial the gate by hand – it’s completely inactive now.”

“What gives you the right-“

“American, are you?” Puck interrupted.

“Yes.  Puerto Rican.”

 

 “Ah, then you are right.”

Rodriguez started to retort, but then certain events flooded her memory.  She kept silent.

His mismatched eyes went icy.  “Just so.  Sometimes might really does make right…at least that’s been my experience.  So here’s the thing: I have the might, so I’ll decide what’s right.  You are children, running around pretending to be adults.  Meanwhile, monsters are awakened by your presence, or are prodded into action when otherwise they were happy to sit like sloths upon their thrones.  Why should I allow your continued use of the Stargate?  Why should I allow you to endanger yourself and those to whose doors you bring havoc?”

He waved his arm, and the barren desert was replaced by a lush forest at the edge of a plain of tall purple-blue grass.  A warm, humid breeze rustled the grass and leaves.  The gate was ringed neatly with white gravel, which connected to a well-maintained earthen trail that ran along the forest’s flank.  Rodriguez was momentarily surprised that it wasn’t paved with yellow bricks.

“What you see now is only the beginning of my powers.  With a thought I could shut off the Stargates on Earth and at Phoenix Base, and anywhere else I wish.”

His demeanor shifted again, and he smiled.  “But for now, my belly grumbles, and I am of the mind to fill it with good food and drink!  Meet me in Court of Athens, a settlement not too far for your legs to take you before evening.  Find me at the Souvlaki Lounge.  I shall treat you to a fine supper if you arrive in time.”

And with that, Puck disappeared in yet another flash of light…only to reappear a moment later.  “Oh, and keep to the path.  It is quite important.”  He disappeared again.  The team waited, but this time he did not reappear.

Finally Rodriguez spoke.  “Circle up, people.  Thoughts?”

A’tir replied, “I see no reason to do as this ‘Puck’ says.  Stay here and report to Phoenix at our next check-in.  They can send a naquadah generator so we can escape.”

Kulera asked, “What is an ‘elf’?”  Rodriguez bit her lip and ignored her.

Bythal gave a diplomat’s response.  “Even if we have no intention of bowing to Puck’s will, it’s obvious he’s a being of great power.  We should spend whatever time we can with him, try to get to know him, find out what he wants, and his strengths and weaknesses.  I say we meet him.”

Bervel added, “At least we’ll get a free meal out of it, if he sticks to his word.”

Rodriguez waited for other opinions but got none.  “Okay.  We’re going to follow the path and we’re going to report back when the gate opens in“ – she checked her watch – “about 20 minutes.  That way we won’t lose any time if we decide to go on to Court of Athens, but we won’t be so far away that it’s a big deal if we decide to come back here after talking to base.  Let’s move.”

Those who had doffed their rucks picked them back up now, and within 30 seconds Phoenix1 was on the march to Court of Athens.  20 minutes later Rodriguez’s watch vibrated against her wrist, and she pressed the call button of her radio.  “Phoenix 1 to Phoenix Base.  Phoenix Base, this is Rodriguez, over.”  She continued calling every 30 seconds for 10 minutes before accepting defeat.  Speaking loudly enough for everybody to hear her clearly while they marched, she said, “It seems Puck wasn’t kidding about being able to shut off gates at a whim.  We’re going to Court of Athens and we’re going to make sure he considers us worthy.  No pressure, but the future of all the Alliance races may be up to us now.”  The expressions that met this statement were grim.

A short time later the forest on their right gave way to more purple-blue grass, which gave way in turn to fields on both sides of the path.  The fields were marked by wood posts every three meters, strung with a few strands of wire.  To Rodriguez’s eye the wire didn’t look sufficient to stop much of anything, but that thought was quickly dispelled as sounds of distress reached the team’s ears.  A hundred meters up the path, they could see a quadruped nearly the size of a Tau’ri cow, tangled in the wires, which crackled with energy as the beast struggled.  Its cries of pain were like screeching tires mixed with the mewling of baby lambs, and its snapping beak looked like it could be used as a vicious weapon.

“Wait, Kulera,” ordered Rodriguez as the medic started toward the struggling beast.

“But Captain, it needs our help.”

“Just wait a minute.  Puck said we needed to stay on the path.  That thing is four or five meters off the path.”

“Surely that is not sufficient reason to ignore its plight.”

Rodriguez hesitated, then nodded.  “Very well.  See what you can do.”

As Kulera cautiously approached the beast, the ground shook and a roar filled the air.  A much bigger version of the same beast charged through the grass toward the team.

“Weapons ready but do not fire until I say so!” ordered Rodriguez.

The adult beast – It must be Mama, thought the Captain – stopped its charge about 20 meters away, and began pacing back and forth, roaring and making occasional feints toward the team.

“Do what you have to do, Kulera, and do it fast!” called Rodriguez over her shoulder.

“Wait, what’s that –“ began Bervel.

“I’m trying to see what –“ said Kulera at the same time.  There was a loud snap, then a dull thud.

“– box over there?” finished Bervel.  “Kulera!”

“Bythal, help Kulera!  Bervel, what box?”

Rodriguez didn’t like Mama’s attitude as the number of people facing off against her shrank from six to four.  The giant beast stopped roaring as much, and started moving closer instead.  Behind her, she could hear boots pounding the other way.  A few seconds later Bervel called, “Did it stop?”

Bythal replied, “The wire isn’t crackling anymore!”

Now the thudding boots ran back toward the rest of the team.  Rodriguez raised her P90 to sight on Mama’s looming armored head.  “Get that thing free now!”  She could hear a few quick snips, and the baby’s pitiful cries abruptly terminated.  With the padding of four broad feet in the dirt, the beast passed Rodriguez and rejoined its mother.  The two nuzzled before the baby went to stand by its mother’s rear.  Mama roared once more to let the team know who was boss, then mother and baby both turned and walked back into the deep grass.

Rodriguez lowered her P90 and let out a breath she hadn’t noticed she was holding.  “That was close.”

“Indeed,” concurred A’tir.

“I had to face down a wolf once, on a dig in the middle of the night.  This wasn’t like that,” commented Lanni, wiping sweat from her brow.

“What happened?” asked Kulera, sitting up and holding her head.

“You touched a wire,” explained Oringo.

“Ow,” responded Kulera, holding up her singed hand.

“I’ll bandage that if you talk me through it,” offered Bythal.

For the next few minutes Bythal applied salve and wrapped Kulera’s injured hand.  By the time she was done, Kulera’s head was much clearer.

“Alright.  No more adventures today.  Let’s stick to the path and meet Puck,” commanded Rodriguez as the team started moving again.

Another kilometer farther on and the wire fence ended.  Instead of fields the path now coursed through a sea of waist-high purple-blue grass on each side.  As the sun reached the midway point between the zenith and horizon, Oringo called out, “What that?” pointing to a glint and familiar shape peeking over the tall grass.

Bythal shaded her eyes.  “It looks like the DHD!”  She started to move off the path.

“Wait!” cried Rodriguez.  “Think about it – is that really the DHD?  Or a trick?”

Bervel went to stand by Bythal’s side and looked with her.  “It certainly appears to be the DHD.  But why would it be here?  How would it get here?  DHDs are heavy!”

“You’re talking about a being who could shut off a Stargate,” pointed out Bythal.

“Indeed,” agreed A’tir.  “But I believe as the Captain does – this is a trick.”

“What good would it do us if it is real?” asked Lanni.  “It’s not like we’re going to pick it up and carry it back to the gate.  And who knows how close a DHD has to be to the gate it controls, to work.”

“I will not touch it,” grimaced Kulera.

“Agreed.  Move along, people, nothing to see here,” ordered Rodriguez.  With a few backward glances the team kept moving.  Then everybody jumped as there was a loud bang, and a fanfare of trumpets coming from empty air.  Looking back at where the DHD had been, all that remained of it was a cloud of multicolored confetti slowly spiraling to the ground.

“Nice, very mature,” grumphed Bervel.

“Pretty much every polytheistic culture has a trickster god,” provided Lanni helpfully.  “I guess we just found Earth’s.”

“Puck isn’t the only Tau’ri trickster, but if I remember my high school Shakespeare right – in Spanish translation – he was a trickster,” agreed Rodriguez.

Less than a kilometer ahead, a grove of enormous trees rose above the grass.  As the team passed by, they could hear a faint but distinct cry of “Help!” from the shadows between the redwood-sized trunks about 30 meters off the path.  This time nobody moved – they turned to Rodriguez.

“We can’t really know what Puck’s thinking, but the DHD was about us – the baby whatever-it-was, and this, aren’t.  We should help, and he can be damned if he counts it against us for leaving the path.”

Kulera looked relieved, and led the team toward the cries, Oringo and A’tir trailing close behind in case there was any danger.

As the team entered the shade of the trees, the grass shortened and thinned until it was only a sparse carpet.  The intermittent cries slowly grew closer and louder, guiding them.  A hundred meters farther in they came upon a small garden, with two wooden chairs and a well.  Water from a recent shower dripped from above, wetting the patch of grass and the enormous orange fungi sprouting from the tree trunks.  At the base of a particularly massive tree, into the side of which was carved a stairway, a small creature stood sobbing over the prone body of another, older individual of his kind.

“Help, please help!” the boy fairly screamed as Kulera and the rest of the team came into view.

Kulera rushed to his side and started examining the unconscious female.  Bythal knelt and took the boy’s hands.  “Kulera will fix your…”

“Grandma,” the boy sobbed.

“…your grandma right up.  What is your name?”

The boy sniffed.  “Tergen.”

“And what is your grandmother’s name?”

“Wyllin.”  He sobbed again.  “We live up there, inside the tree.  She was coming down the stairs and the rail broke and she fell,” he said, pointing to a break in the railing several meters up, then at the fragments of the rail on the ground.

Kulera began calling, “Wyllin?  Wyllin, can you hear me?”  The woman’s eyes opened slightly, but that was all.  Kulera opened her eyes with her fingers and used a small Tau’ri light to test Wyllin’s pupils.  “Do not worry Tergen, your grandma needs to rest a little now.  We will put a nice bandage on her head, and she will be fine before you know it.”

Tergen sniffled and asked Bythal, “What are you?”

“Most of us are called humans, but we are from all different places.  Oringo there is Unas.”

“He’s scary-looking.”

Bythal laughed reassuringly.  “Do not worry, he is very nice.  How about you – what are your people called?”

“We’re Minos.”  He shook his head to show off his horns.  “Once, in town, we saw some people who looked like you.  They didn’t have horns either.  They were weird-looking.”

“You have very nice horns, Tergen.  I wish I had horns that nice,” Bythal responded diplomatically.

Kulera was nearly done wrapping Wyllin’s head.  As she tucked in the loose end of the bandage she gestured for Rodriguez to conference with her out of the boy’s earshot.

“Unless her physiology is very different from yours and mine, she should be okay.  The pupillary response is good.  She was knocked out cold, she has a broken arm and leg, but her skull is intact and I see no signs of intracranial hemorrhaging.  She may also have a couple of cracked ribs, but there is nothing I can do about those.  I will give her some medicine and set the broken bones, but what she needs most is time – I estimate she will regain consciousness in 30 minutes to two hours.”

“You need to stay until she does, though.”

“Yes.  To do otherwise would be unethical.”

“I don’t want to delay as long as two hours.  What if A’tir stays here with you, while the rest of us go ahead?  We’ll stay in radio contact – if that fails you should rejoin us as quickly as you can.”

“If Wyllin has awakened.”

Rodriguez shook her head.  “You’re a medic.  I can’t order you to leave a patient.  But I think if we lose radio contact you should leave immediately.”

Kulera sucked in her lower lip.  “We shall see what the circumstances are, if and when the problem arises.  I cannot promise more than that.”

“Very well.”

The two women returned to Wyllin’s side.

“She squeezed my hand a little!” enthused Tergen, holding his grandmother’s hand between his own diminutive ones.

“That is wonderful, Tergen!” responded Kulera.  “Most of my friends are going now, but A’tir here” – she pointed to the silent warrior – “and I will stay for a little while longer.  Before we go, we will make sure your grandmother is well enough to take care of herself and you.”

With cries of farewell and a few brief words between Rodriguez and A’tir, most of the team headed back through the woods.  Rodriguez performed a radio check once they had regained the path.

“5 by 5, over” responded A’tir.

Rodriguez repeated the check every 15 minutes, three more times before A’tir’s response changed.  “Wyllin has regained consciousness.  Kulera is examining her.  We estimate we may depart in” – there was a pause – “30 minutes.  Over.”

“Very good, A’tir.  Double-time it to meet us as soon as possible.  We’ll try to walk slow.  Over.”

“Understood.  A’tir out.”

 

“Is it just me or has it gotten awfully hot in the past few minutes?” asked Rodriguez, wiping her brow with her sleeve.  Looking far ahead, the hard earth path took on the appearance of a pool of water shimmering in the blazing sun.

“What’s that?” asked Lanni, pointing to a purple glass bottle in the middle of the path a few meters ahead.  “I would swear that wasn’t there a second ago.”

“Uh-huh,” agreed Oringo.  “Poof – there now.  And hot, yes.”

Before Rodriguez could say anything, Bythal had picked up the bottle and was examining the parchment tied to its neck.  “’A little refreshment on this hot day.’  I do not think I will be drinking it though.”

“Oh yeah, we’re not falling for anything like that,” answered Rodriguez.  Everybody else nodded agreement.

“You are sooo right!” piped a squeaky voice from the grass at the side of the path.  The team pivoted as one to stare toward the voice’s source.  An equally high-pitched giggle sounded from the opposite site of the path, and half the team swung back to face that way.  “Don’t be silly, Alven!  That’s just what they need on a hot day!”

“Show yourselves!” commanded Rodriguez, switching focus back and forth between the two sides of the path.

Two tiny people with brilliant butterfly wings rose out of the grass to hover in the air.  It appeared that Alven was the male.

The female said, “That’s a gift from Puck.  I think he’s being helpful.”

Alven covered his mouth and giggled uncontrollably.  “Tutz, you are bad.  Big people, I wouldn’t drink from the bottle, but Tutz is right – the liquid will cool you.”

“What will happen if we drink from the bottle?” asked Bythal, looking at it in some fascination.  The only response was more high-pitched giggles.

Rodriguez was starting to get a headache.  “Don’t even think about it, Bythal.  Maybe Maste could keep you safe…and then again, maybe not.”

Bythal put the bottle down and nodded.  “As the Tau’ri say, better safe than sorry.”

“Ohhhh!” whined Tutz, “You’re no fun.  C’mon Alven, last one to the creek’s a rotten egg!”

The two zoomed off toward a belt of trees that must have bordered the creek, trash-talking as they went.  Once the high-pitched voices faded into the afternoon’s silence, Rodriguez’s headache started abating.

Her radio crackled.  “Captain, this is A’tir.  Come in please.  Over.”

“Rodriguez.  What’s up, A’tir?  Over.”

“We are running to catch up with you now, Captain.”  She could hear the rhythmic bounce of his words.  “But we have a warning from Wyllin.  There is a creature nearby called a ‘vambesk.’  It can mimic the cries of people in distress.  It is extremely dangerous.  Over.”

“So if we hear another cry for help we’ll be extra careful investigating.  Over.”

“Indeed, please do, Captain.  A’tir out.”

“Okay folks, you all heard that?”  She waited to get a confirmation from each of the others.

“Canteens out – everybody stay hydrated in this heat.  Then we’ll keep moving, but keep an eye on the grass.  If this thing is any size at all and it’s hiding in the grass, we should either see it, or a “hole” in the grass where it’s lying.”

After only a few more minutes the unnatural heat abated.  “More tricks, Captain,” observed Bervel.

 

The team trekked on, enjoying the walk more now that the day was merely warm instead of hot.  The path dove into the forest, providing more welcome shade.

Suddenly, a cry of “Help!” sounded through the trees.  It sounded close, but Rodriguez could see nothing in the sylvan gloom.

Bythal peered intently between the trees.  “Captain…that is no child.”

Moving slightly, Rodriguez could now see what Bythal had spotted: a,terrifying creature looked at them from between trees that hid most of its form, although it looked twice as large as a human.  With a skull that reminded her somewhat of a hammerhead shark, the gaping maw of razor-edged teeth seemed entirely appropriate.

“Safeties off.  Don’t fire until I do.  Move slowly that way, but keep facing it,” Rodriguez ordered, gesturing with her head down the path.

Now that they knew what to look for, the whole team could see the vambesk’s head pivoting to track them.  Its tongue darted out to catch the drool dripping from its jaws.  It started approaching, its silence surprising given its size.

“Not yet…not yet,” Rodriguez said quietly.

The beast began walking faster.  As it got to about 15 meters away it roared, probably intending to scare its prey into freezing, and accelerated into a full-speed charge.

“Now!” screamed Rodriguez, firing her P90.

The woods that had been so quiet only 60 seconds earlier now rang with the sound of multiple firearms.  The vambesk stumbled and dropped, bleeding profusely from multiple wounds.  It shivered and lay still, its jaws less than a meter from Rodriguez’s foot.

“Look around, there might be another!” warned the Captain.

The team warily searched their surroundings.  Seeing no threat, they lowered their weapons, but remained vigilant as they gathered to look at the monster’s corpse.

“I’m going to see this in my dreams tonight…or whenever we get back,” murmured Rodriguez.

“You aren’t the only one,” said Lanni.

“Good kill.  Strong foe,” countered Oringo.

Pounding footsteps approaching fast became audible.  A few of the team members started to raise their weapons before they realized what it was.

Kulera sprinted into view from around a bend in the path, joined a few seconds later by A’tir.  They slowed as they saw the unmoving corpse of the vambesk.

“We heard the shooting,” panted Kulera.

Bervel responded, pointing to the vambesk, “Bythal spotted it before it could attack, and we were able to take it down before it could reach us.  I would not have wanted to be grabbed by those teeth….”  He shuddered.

Rodriguez nodded.  “Have another swallow of water, then let’s keep moving.  The sun’s getting low, and we don’t know how far it is to town.”

Kulera started.  “Oh…but we do, Captain.  Wyllin told us – perhaps another hour.”

“Good.  Onward!”

 

Thirty minutes of steady walking passed without incident.  The path exited the woods and began threading through rolling hillsides covered in the same purple-blue grass as on the plains.  With the decreased visibility, Oringo began scouting about 50 meters ahead.  As he rounded a bend he stopped, turned and called back to the rest of the team, “Fork ahead.  Old man,” then he turned to continue out of sight around the shoulder of the hill.

With thoughts of Yogi Berra running through her head, Rodriguez moved into the lead and followed quickly, forcing the team to speed up as well.  Rounding the bend, they saw that the path continued straight, but a branch also split off and disappeared over a low rise to the right.  Both branches were the same width and appeared equally used.

At the fork squatted a man in tattered robes, his long hair ratted and wild.  On the ground before him lay a shallow tin dish.  As Rodriguez joined Oringo a few meters from the man, she could see that a few copper coins lay in the dish.  A gentle breeze wafted the stench of his unwashed body and alcohol to their nostrils.

“Something?  Something for a poor beggar?” asked the man, holding out his hand.

Kulera dropped her pack and started rummaging through it, coming up with a couple of MREs.  She approached the man and dropped to one knee, holding out the plastic-wrapped boxes.  “Here sir.  We have no money, but have some food.”

The man raised his face and snatched the proffered food from Kulera’s hand.  Without a word of thanks – or any word at all – he tore open one of the pouches and the box it contained, and started rooting through for the tastiest-looking packet.  All the while he continued to glare menacingly at the team, especially Kulera since she was the closest.  Kulera returned the attention calmly before saying, “We are going to Court of Athens.  Which path should we take?”

The man held out one hand, gesturing for more food even as he poured pretzels into his mouth with the other.

When no more food was immediately forthcoming, the man spoke, spraying bits of half-chewed pretzel.  “Give me another of these boxes, then I will tell you which path.”

Rodriguez dug another MRE out of her thigh pocket and handed it over.  This time the man at least nodded in thanks, but he had moved on to the entrée (braised tofu) from the first box, and was too busy filling his mouth to provide any more help.

A’tir stepped forward.  “Old man, tell us what we need to know.”

The man pointed and mimed as if drinking from the canteen at A’tir’s belt.  The Jaffa handed over the canteen.  The man unscrewed the cap and drank deeply, overflow running down the sides of his mouth and cutting little channels in the grime.

Having drained the canteen he started to hand it back to A’tir, who held out his hand in alarmed refusal.  “No, you may keep it as my gift.”

The man shrugged and tucked the canteen behind him, then dove back into the tofu.  When he had finished that and started emptying the instant coffee, creamer and sugar packets directly into his mouth, Rodriguez lost patience.  “Look, you’ve eaten about 2500 calories in something like three minutes, and we’ve given you two more meals for later.  Which way to Court of Athens?”

The man’s eyes twinkled as he loudly swallowed the coffee and condiments, then started tearing open another MRE.  But he did not answer.  Kulera tilted her head quizzically, and leaned in for a closer look.  “Puck?”

The old man stopped dismantling the MRE and smiled broadly, displaying the gaps in his yellowed teeth.  Then suddenly he was no longer seated, nor dirty, nor old, and Kulera was looking at his white-clad knees instead of his face.  She stood and moved back as Puck laughed in delight.

“You found me out!  How ever did you do it?” he asked Kulera.

“Honestly I do not know.  There was something about the old man – his ticks and mannerisms somehow reminded me of you at the gate.”

“Very good!  I’ll bid you adieu for now.  Follow that path” – he pointed to the branch winding up and over the hill – “and see you at the Souvlaki Lounge.”  He winked and vanished.

Bervel helped Kulera don her ruck again, and the team headed up the winding path.  As they reached the top of the hill a stunning sight greeted them.  Lit from the side by the lowering sun, a white marble city lay before them, extending from the bottom of the little valley up to an acropolis atop the hill opposite where they now stood.  A magnificent temple stood atop the acropolis, shining in the low rays.

Stopping for only a moment to appreciate the view, the team hurried down the path, past occasional houses and outbuildings into the town proper.  As they approached the outer ring of contiguous dwellings the path became a true road, paved with granite cobbles.  The team proceeded up the road as it began to rise from the valley floor toward the center of town.  In the distance they could hear the shouts of several people, sounding as if they were searching for something or somebody.

As they strode along, a small shadow in the deepening darkness darted across the street a dozen meters ahead, crossing from one alley to the next.  “What that?” asked Oringo.

Rodriguez answered, “Not sure – I couldn’t see either.  Do you want to check it out?  We’ll wait here for a few minutes.”

Oringo jogged ahead and ducked into the alley.  The rest of the team stood or squatted by the alley entrance, as the mood took them.  A few minutes later Oringo returned empty-handed.  “Got close enough to see.  Minos child.  I stop chase.”

“Yeah, that’s probably best – we don’t need to be arrested for attempted kidnapping.  Okay, back on your feet people, on to the Souvlaki Lounge!”  The team continued up the street.

“Do you notice the shouts are getting louder?” asked Bythal.

“They’re calling for somebody – ‘Fleura,’” noted Berval.  “Do you think…?”

“…that is who Oringo was chasing?” finished Maste.  “I am afraid that is likely.”

Minutes later the team could see a crowd of Minos coming the other way, splitting off to search every nook and alley.  Their horns glinted in the light of the torches they held.  Some were also carrying long poles with loops on the end, like snares, and others carried blowguns and crossbows.  “Hold up,” ordered Rodriguez to the rest of the team as she went a few meters ahead.

“Greetings from Earth!” she called to the large male Minos at the head of the group.  He had been looking from side to side and hadn’t noticed her, and the sudden call startled him.

His startled stare became one of desperation.  He approached the Captain – he was at least a head taller, even without the three sets of horns on his head.  “I am Bowjin,” he rumbled.  “I would offer you food and welcome, strangers, but we are in search of a lost girl.  Have you happened upon such?”

Rodriguez gestured Oringo forward.  “Bowjin, I am Rodriguez and this is my friend Oringo.  He saw a girl near the edge of town just a few minutes ago, down there.”

“Please, Oringo, show me.”

Oringo grunted assent and trotted back down the street to the alley, Bowjin and several of the other townspeople following close behind.  “Here,” he said, pointing down the alley.  “We run now.  You guide.  Team and Minos help.”  The assembled company streamed into the narrow alley, running as fast as they could while dodging items stored there.  They emerged into another broad street, where Oringo nearly knocked a Minos flat who was crossing in front of the alley at just the wrong moment.  The Minos’ ornate headdress skidded across the road.  Bowjin stopped, momentarily in shock, before helping up the other man and retrieving the headdress.  His reward was a string of angry accusations.

“Please sir, we seek my daughter Fleura.”  He looked sideways at Oringo before leaning closer to the other man.  “It is her time, and she ran away.  We are desperate.”

The other man’s demeanor changed in an instant, to one of fearful understanding.  “I saw a child just over there.  She was crouched behind some amphorae.  I thought she was playing a game.”

“Thank you, sir, thank you!” Bowjin cried over his shoulder as he sprinted toward the cluster of large jars, Oringo a few steps behind.  Just before they reached the amphorae, a small, dark shadow darted out of her hiding place and ran up the street in front of her father.  The figure nimbly dodged through a herd of small, goat-like creatures.  Bowjin and Oringo were not so lucky – the creatures closed in, butting at the two adults, looking for treats.  While they waded through the scrum, Fleura gained ground ahead of them.

On the other side of the herd were a few larger creatures, resembling water buffaloes as Rodriguez had seen them in National Geographic.  The bovines were unperturbed by Bowjin and Oringo’s passage, but the sight of a whole crowd of Minos and humans was another matter – as the crowd made their way through the goat-like herd, the larger animals turned and trotted up the street after Bowjin and Oringo, briefly joining the chase before diverting onto a side street.

Seeing Bowjin and Oringo starting to slow, Kulera sprinted ahead, taking the lead with her long legs.  She could see Fleura ahead, also starting to slow.  With an extra burst of speed, she caught up to the Minos girl and wrapped her in her arms.

“No!  Let me go!” sobbed Fleura, struggling to get free.  “Put me down!”

Kulera kneeled and set the girl on her feet, but didn’t let go.

“You have to let me go.  I have to get outside the town before…before….”

Oringo arrived, followed closely by Bowjin.  Fleura’s father was panting harshly, but he was able to get out a few words.  “Fleura.  Come with me now.  It’s not too late.”

Kulera looked a question at Oringo, who looked one right back at her.  “Not too late for what?” the Aturen asked.

“It…does not matter,” answered Bowjin between rapid breaths.

“We may be able to help, if you tell us.”

Bowjin gently took Fleura by the arm.  Kulera released her as her father knelt and held her.  “Fleura, you must receive the treatment.”

“No, let me go!  I have to leave!” the girl sobbed.

Another Minos approached, holding a primitive hypodermic up in the torchlight and tapping it to make sure there were no air bubbles.  Leaning over, she jabbed the girl in the arm and pressed the plunger.  The effects were immediate – Fleura shuddered and her eyes rolled back. Her father swept her up in his arms as she lost consciousness.

“Thank you Oringo, thank you…” – he paused.

“Kulera.”

“Thank you Kulera.”  As Rodriguez approached, he added, “Thank you Rodriguez.  You have all saved my girl’s life.”

“From what?” Kulera asked again.

“A sickness.  It does not matter.  She will be well now.”

Rodriguez, Kulera and Oringo looked at each other, but decided to drop the questioning.  Whatever this sickness was, it was obvious Bowjin wasn’t going to talk about it.

“Can you tell us where the Souvlaki Lounge is?  We’re meeting someone there.”

Bowjin started walking back toward the center of town.  “I will show you the way.  Follow me.”

The small group approached the crowd.  When the other Minos could see Fleura in Bowjin’s arms they made a sound – almost a cheer, but more like a collective sigh of relief.  Most began to disperse, but a few came up and clapped Bowjin on the back or clasped his shoulder, murmuring words of reassurance and encouragement.

The much-reduced crowd filed back through the alley the way they came, then turned and headed uphill once more.  When they reached a broad intersection, Bowjin pointed to the left with his chin.  “The Souvlaki Lounge is a short walk up that way.  You will not be able to miss it.  My home lies this way,” he said, gesturing to the right.  “I will take Fleura there so she can sleep, and awaken healthy.  Good night my friends, and thank you again.”

The team offered their well-wishes and parted ways with Fleura and her father, before heading up the street to the left.

Bowjin wasn’t exaggerating – mouthwatering scents permeated the air long before the cozy, well-lit taverna came into view around a bend.  Entering the whitewashed building, the team immediately spotted Puck sitting at a large table by himself, away from where the locals were drinking and talking.  Swirling a glass of red wine and lifting it to his nose with his eyes closed, he nevertheless called out, “I see you accepted my invitation!  And just in time, dinner is about to be served.”

As the team made their way to the table, barmaids emerged through the door from the kitchen, carrying trays of vegetables, meats and cheeses, small amphorae of wine, and more glasses.

Puck drained his glass and set it down, finally opening his eyes.  “Please sit, feast, enjoy, and we will continue our little talk.  What happened along your journey today?”

Rodriguez began the story, handing off to Lanni, then Bervel, and finally Kulera for Fleura’s story.  Puck occasionally asked questions, but mostly just ate, drank and listened.

“Do you know what Fleura’s affliction was, Puck?” asked Kulera when she concluded.

“Ah yes.  The Minos are afflicted by the ‘Curse.’”  Seeing the unhappy looks directed his way from the taverna’s other occupants, Puck lowered his voice.  “When Minos children reach a certain age, they feel an irresistible need to leave Court of Athens.  Once outside the town they become baellanids – fearsome monsters.  They may end up killing those they loved most.  I suspect Fleura may have started to change earlier than usual, so her parents weren’t ready.  That happens sometimes,” he said dismissively.

“You know about this?  And have done nothing to help them?”

“Of course I have – I created the serum they use to prevent the change.  But it’s only effective when the change is imminent.”  He took a sip of wine.  “And I’m trying to remove the cause of the Curse at a genetic level.  Frightfully difficult, I’m afraid.  It’s closely tied to the same genes that make them ‘people’ rather than animals.”

Kulera hesitantly nodded, not entirely sure she believed the trickster.

Stifling a yawn, Puck set down his empty glass – one of many he had drained that night.  “My, quite the busy day you youngsters have had.  But well played, well played.”  He looked at Rodriguez, A’tir, Kulera, Bervel, Lanni, Oringo and Bythal in turn.  There was a glint of mischief in his mismatched eyes, but gratitude and honor were also evident.

“I shall see you home safely, and you will find that your Stargate works perfectly.  Perhaps we shall see one another again, for there is much afoot across this galaxy – nay, this universe!  I am quite certain you will partake in much of it.  Be well.”

With a wave of his hand, light consumed the team members.

Still dazzled, Rodriguez heard what sounded like a thick coffee mug bouncing off concrete.  After another moment her eyes had recovered enough that she could see the team was in the gate room at Phoenix Base.  Directly in front of her a startled guard was lowering his rifle after recognizing the unexpected returnees.  “Uh, welcome back, Phoenix 1?”

Rodriguez smiled at the confusion evident on the guard’s face.  “Yes, we are back, aren’t we?”  She turned to the rest of the team, who were busy making sure all their body parts were where they were supposed to be.

“Captain?”

“Yes, Kulera?”

“What is an ‘elf’?”

None of her teammates could understand the fit of laughter that overtook their commander.

Episode Wrap-Up Written By:

Stephen Runyon

 

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