Part One: Bad Penny
It seems like some folks never do get a break – or when they get one, they’re so used to it not working out that they let it slip right outta their hands. My buddy Jack Dalton’s like that. He’s tried more new schemes and made more fresh starts than I can count, but the only ones he sticks with are the ones that don’t go anywhere.
He turned up one day with a treasure map. Well, not exactly a map; he’d been hanging out online with the nutjobs on Usenet, and something he picked up on alt.conspiracy.area51 led him to meeting some shady type in a bar on the bad side of LA. Okay, one of the bad sides of LA. I never did get the details straight, but I know money changed hands more than once, and Jack talked to a whole string of people whose names all seemed to be Smith, and next thing you know he was at the marina, hammering on my door, too excited about his great scheme to answer questions about where he’d been, why he smelled so bad, and who had messed up his face and given him a black eye this time.
What he had was an old handwritten journal, which was supposed to have a map in it. We worked our way through the entries that were supposed to be clues, solved the puzzles, and ended up with nada. No map. Jack handed me the journal and went back to Usenet hoping for a new golden goose, and I gave the journal to my archeologist friend Dr. Lacie Najjar.
Two weeks later, she was pitching an exploratory mission to the Phoenix committee for Research Funding. Six months after that, Pete was helping her patch together enough grants for a dig in the hills inland from Palaepaphos, in southwest Cyprus – the Greek side of Cyprus, that is, not the Turkish side. By early 1998, she’d got the first reports published on their finds, her professional cred had hit the stratosphere, and getting funding for the next season was a heck of a lot easier. Jack Dalton was mentioned in the footnotes with having ‘provided invaluable assistance leading to the original discovery’, but since they weren’t finding gold coins or jeweled doodads, he wasn’t real interested any more.
By the fall of ‘98, when Dr. Najjar cabled me asking me to come right now please, Dalton had gone back to doing his stage magician act, which gave him plenty of time to hang out online. I didn’t tell him I was going out to Cyprus. I didn’t think he’d want to hear about it.
The first thing MacGyver noticed, waking up on his fourth day at the dig, was that it was quiet. As in, way too quiet. Empty quiet. Bad quiet.
He stumbled out into the bright October morning sunshine, blinking and running a hand through his already wild hair. The night before, Lacie had started dropping hints that she was really glad to see him, and that she thought friendship wasn’t at all what she had in mind, and Mac had decided it would be safer not to go back to his tent. Some hints get dropped lightly, others land like a bowling ball on the toes. Harry hadn’t said that, but he should have. The temperature at night was still mild, so he had snagged a spare blanket to pad the hard ground, wadded up his unneeded jacket for a pillow, and found a nice quiet corner well out of the way.
Mac shook his head, trying to clear it. It was a shame that the dig site was up in the hills, miles away from any body of water. If they’d been working in Palaepaphos, the ocean would have been nice and handy. A quick swim would’ve been nice – although, the way this trip was going, he’d probably end up with mermaids or sea-borne nymphs or something like that.
The camp was still completely quiet, and there should have been noise. There should have been activity: with the tourist season over, Lacie had hired help from Pachna, the nearest town. It was too early for the local help to arrive, but they were expecting supplies to be delivered that morning. At the very least, the graduate archeology interns – three Greek Cypriots from the University of Cyprus in Nicosia – should have been getting breakfast ready and grumbling.
MacGyver was beginning to wonder if he’d stumbled into a Twilight Zone episode when he spotted Lacie, the only other person in sight. She was sitting at the foot of the escarpment that bounded the camp to the north, in front of the passage that opened into the hillside, the heart of the dig. She didn’t seem to be doing anything: just sitting and staring at nothing, her hands hanging slackly in her lap.
Behind her, the passage was swallowed in darkness after only a few feet, the bright sunlight ending in a sharp line of shadow where the passage seemed to end. It was a false wall, concealing an abrupt turn that opened into a whole series of chambers, passages, and twisting corridors: that had been the critical discovery, much bigger than any unlikely artifacts they’d found, the one that had lifted the obscure site from a minor spot on Cyprus’ crowded archeological map to a ‘potentially major find’. The tomb – if it was a tomb – was a complete aberration: in the wrong style for the locale and the era, and in the wrong location, miles from the ancient capital city and seaport of Palaepaphos, up in the twisty hills beyond the cultivated areas, even beyond the ever-spreading tide of development that was beginning to turn Cyprus into a shallow, glossy imitation of every other resort haven in the world.
Mac looked hastily around the dig. Nothing seemed to be broken or missing; even the tools were still where they’d been left at the end of the previous day. They hadn’t discovered anything that could be stolen, anyway, not unless there were antiquities thieves capable of stealing an entire hill.
He hurried over to where Lacie was sitting, his shadow falling across her face and etching a dark line on the light stone and earth of the hillside behind her.
“Dr. Najjar? Lacie? You okay? Are you hurt?” She didn’t look hurt, just dazed. She shook her head and blinked at him, her eyes coming into focus. “Lacie, don’t you think it’s about time you filled me in on what’s goin’ on?”
She looked around and frowned.
“When you sent that cable, you said it was important. You asked me to come right away. Then, when I got here, you said it was ‘hard to explain’.” Best not to mention the previous night’s awkward exchange, unless she brought it up.
“MacGyver – ” Lacie stood up, shakily; he caught her arm and steadied her. “What the hell am I doing out here?”
“You don’t know?”
“A minute ago, we were cleaning up after that awful dinner Ioannis made, and you said something about the moon rising.” She scowled at the sun. “It’s morning. Where is everyone? What the hell happened?”
“You don’t, um, remember?” Mac felt his neck reddening. He told himself it was relief.
Lacie narrowed her eyes. “Is there something I should be remembering?”
The question was unanswerable, and Mac felt a new wave of relief – cooling instead of warming this time – at the sound of a Jeep approaching at the highest speed the dirt road could manage safely.
The driver wasn’t a local; he was a massively tall black man with an impassive face and an incongruous straw hat pulled low on his forehead. The passenger was anything but impassive; he peered around at the trenches, the worktables and sieving station, and the passage opening, as if familiar with the sights of an active dig. He hurried up to where Mac and Lacie stood and held out a hand.
“Hello, I’m Doctor Jackson . . . ” his voice trailed off as he peered up at Mac, seeming suddenly confused.
Lacie broke in. “Dr. Jackson – as in Daniel Jackson?” He turned to her and held out his hand; she folded her arms. “I’m Dr. Najjar. What the hell do you think you’re doing on my dig site?”
Dr. Jackson shifted from gaping at Mac to gaping at Lacie. “Excuse me? I didn’t think we’d met.”
“We haven’t. I read part of one of your so-called papers, a few years ago – although that was probably the last time you published anything, right? Unless you’ve found a good agent for fantasy novels. If you’re barging in on my dig looking for evidence for your so-called theories – ”
“Whoa!” MacGyver broke in. “Wait a minute, awright? Lacie, who is this guy, and what’s the problem?”
“You don’t know? Well, you never did get into the Egyptology side of the field, did you? Daniel Jackson here is the Erich von Däniken of the new generation, except he actually reached a respectable academic height before falling into a vat of alien Kool-aid. He had all these crazy ideas, which he managed to publish, about space aliens building the pyramids to use as spaceships . . . ”
“Excuse me.” Jackson seemed to have snapped out of his bemusement; he was suddenly focused, gesturing emphatically and speaking rapidly. “You can laugh at my theories, but that doesn’t mean you should misrepresent them. I never implied that anyone but the Egyptians built the actual pyramids. The Egyptians were a wonderful race with a highly advanced Bronze Age technological culture, fully capable of building megalithic stone monuments with basic tools alone, but yes, some of the pyramids were landing platforms for spaceships. You could at least entertain, in theory, the possibility that both of these things might be true.”
Lacie looked on the edge of an explosion that might have buried the camp deeper than Pompeii. Jackson interrupted her before she could even start to speak.
“Anyway. I’m not here because of any academic theories, okay? And, if you don’t mind my asking – well, even if you do – it seems to me that your camp’s awfully empty. It’s not Sunday. Today isn’t a holiday. Where’s your staff?”
Lacie looked too angry to reply coherently, so Mac stepped in. “Fact is, we’re not sure.”
Jackson studied him with a strange intensity. “I’m, um, sorry – what was your name?”
“MacGyver.” Mac shook the man’s proffered hand.
“Daniel Jackson. And this is Teal’c.” Another handshake, and Mac braced himself for the kind of brutal squeeze that usually came from men with something to prove to strangers. When the grip was a precisely measured firm clasp instead, he was startled but relieved; ‘Teal’c’ looked like he could do some real damage.
“So what brings you out here, Dr. Jackson?” Mac asked. “We’re kinda out of the way.”
“Yeah, no kidding. It wasn’t easy to find you out here, you know . . . ”
“Oh, give me a break,” Lacie snapped. “All you had to do was ask for directions in Limassol and then ask again in Pachna. For a few lira, you could even have hired someone to drive you. Or are you too hard up for that?”
The black man spoke for the first time. “We were unable to secure a local driver. They refused to assist us. They seemed frightened to approach this place.”
“Oh, give me a break already!” Lacie snapped. “This isn’t some damned cliché of a benighted backwater where the locals are wallowing in superstition. This is Cyprus. My graduate interns are locals, for god’s sake!”
“And they’re gone, too,” Mac said slowly. “It looks like they ran away in the night.”
Daniel Jackson was staring at MacGyver again. “This is really hard to take in,” he murmured. “Um, Mr. MacGyver – ”
“Okay. MacGyver. I don’t suppose you have any – relatives – in the military?”
“Me?” Mac blinked in astonishment.
“He hasn’t got any relatives at all,” Lacie interrupted.
“Um, well, I do, kinda. I’ve got a cousin who’s in the Air Force, or who was. I haven’t seen him in years.” Mac shrugged. “We never had much in common.”
“Make that never had anything in common.”
In the heat of discussion and frayed nerves, none of them had noticed when the second Jeep had arrived. Mac whirled and stared at the man in BDUs who was now sauntering towards them. Behind him, another figure in field uniform, a woman, was clambering out of the vehicle.
“Hiya, Mac. You still goin’ by ‘Mac’?”
MacGyver found his voice. “Hello, Jack. You still goin’ by ‘goon’?”
“I don’t get it, Jack.” Daniel and Teal’c were helping Jack unload the gear from the Jeeps. “You’ve never mentioned him.”
“Ya know that whole not-liking-geeks thing of mine?” A nod and an eyebrow twitch replied. “You don’t think it started with Daniel, do you?”
“Did you grow up together?” Daniel never did know when to stop pushing.
“No.” Jack hauled out a heavy pack and handed it to Teal’c, who took it one-handed with no apparent effort. “We started that way, but my family moved around a lot. His stayed put. For a while, my folks would send me back to Minnesota for the summer. I liked Minnesota.”
“Look, I don’t wanna talk about it, okay?” Jack slung another heavy pack over his shoulder. “We got along all right for a while, till he went all knee-jerk on me.”
“I don’t get it, Mac.” Lacie and Mac were figuring out, quickly, where the new arrivals would stay and where their gear should go. The other Air Force officer from the second Jeep, Captain Sam Carter, was with them, but she had fallen several paces behind. “I thought you didn’t have any family.”
“Colonel Jack O’Neill, United States Air Force, doesn’t exactly count as family,” MacGyver growled. “He sure doesn’t count me, anyway.”
“Is it the gun thing?”
“Mostly. I guess. Heck, I don’t even really know any more.” Mac glanced over his shoulder. Carter was studying him with the same astonishment that Dr. Jackson had shown. C’mon, stop staring, willya? We don’t look that much alike, do we? But at least she was giving them some space – she seemed the only one of their uninvited guests who had any awareness of how unwelcome they were, or any sympathy.
“How long did you say it had been? Your cousin – he’s got no idea just what you’ve been doing with your life, does he?”
“Look, I don’t wanna talk about it, okay?”
The gear from the second Jeep turned out to include some unexpected scientific apparatus: chemical testing equipment, soil and gas sampling and testing kits, a radio frequency transmitter and a collection of radio frequency amplifiers that made MacGyver’s eyes widen. Mac helped Teal’c and Carter unload it all, while he tried to find out why an Air Force captain thought all that shiny equipment was going to be needed at a dig site. He briefly wondered if the miniature invasion was a cover for some other activity, but he couldn’t think of any kind of covert operation that would fit the circumstances. The scientific gear was all wrong, for starters.
He could see a hurricane of gesticulation on the other side of the camp, as Lacie finished a heated discussion with Dr. Jackson and stalked away. Mac made his excuses, tearing himself away from the top-of-the-line spectrum analyzer with genuine reluctance, and hurried to catch up with her.
“It didn’t go well.” He didn’t need to make it a question.
“It looks like we’re stuck with them for a while.” She made a face. “The paper I just published on the dig. Can you believe it? He read it. Damn him.”
“Yeah, but that’s good, isn’t it? It was a great paper . . . ”
“Oh, it’s just terrific. I barely skimmed his old papers, but he apparently read my recent one in depth, and then went back and reviewed most of my older work. I feel like I just sat through my dissertation defense all over again, only worse.”
“But didn’t you say his field’s Egyptology? Why is he here?”
Lacie seethed. “The worst part is that I can’t think of any way to make him leave. You saw the kind of muscle he brought with him – and they’ve got authorisation from the government at Nicosia. A letter personally signed by the Director of the Department of Antiquities, no less. God knows how Dr. Spaceballs got it. Connections, I bet.”
Mac grimaced. “You want me to call Pete at Phoenix and try to get Jackson’s License to Meddle pulled?” He frowned at Lacie’s expression; she didn’t seem to have heard him. “Lacie?”
“What?” She shook her head, blinked, rubbed her temples. “No. No, that would take days and probably just make trouble . . . I could lose my own excavation license if I cross the wrong person . . . all he says he wants to do is check out the tomb and the labyrinth, and take his best shot at translating the inscriptions. I hope he isn’t lying. It sounds like the fastest way to get rid of him is to let him do just that.”
“Aw, man. You’re gonna have to put up with him for – how long?”
Lacie looked almost sheepish. “God, Mac, I really, really hate having to admit this – but Daniel Jackson can probably walk in there and translate the whole thing in less time that it would take me just to transcribe it. With his help – who am I kidding? – with me helping him, we could have most of it done in a few days.”
Mac stared. “You’re kidding me.”
“Do I look like I’m kidding?”
“He’s that good?”
“He’s the best.” She made a face.
“But he’s an Egyptologist! That isn’t hieroglyphics in there – ”
“Damned right. It’s all Cypriot Syllabary. But Jackson’s a linguistic wünderkind. That’s why the whole crackpot business is so embarrassing. He was so goddamn brilliant.”
It wasn’t just the faces, Sam Carter told herself, although that was eerie enough. The hair was the big thing, of course – MacGyver’s hair was sandy and shaggy, with a lot of grey streaks, and long enough that it made her twitch. She’d been around military men for most of her life, after all. But if she squinted a little, enough to be able to overlook the length and shagginess – well, the Colonel’s hair had started to show plenty of silver also, lately. Maybe it was an effect of all the Gate travel in this last year and a half, or the razor-edge precipices of the political infighting, or the constant state of alert against incipient alien invasion.
In some lights, one face looked more weatherbeaten; then they’d turn down another street in their tramp through the town of Pachna, the angle of the sun would change, and the creases and furrows would shift and equalise. No, it wasn’t just the faces. It was the voices which were much, much too similar, so much that it bordered on creepy. Similar timbre. Identical accent. The vocabulary was a big difference, but the tone was the biggest. Most of O’Neill’s comments had that acid edge, with a needle hidden in every sentence. It was a tone of voice that she knew well by now, and it meant real trouble. MacGyver’s tone was easier, or had started out that way; every so often a needle would get through, and his voice would sharpen and a hidden edge would gleam.
“Aren’t we gonna need a translator?” Jack’s tone made the innocent question seem impossibly barbed.
“This is Cyprus, not Somalia. Pretty nearly everyone here speaks English.” MacGyver’s bland tone made the answer seem impossibly pedantic.
“Somalia, huh? Been there recently?”
“Oughta be easy to find out why your morning crew never showed.”
“Easy enough that you didn’t need to come along.”
Sam felt a sudden urge to smack them both and send them to their rooms.
“I’d just be underfoot at the dig. Daniel’s a geek, but he knows his business.”
Three inquiries and three closed doors later, nothing was looking easy.
The shopkeeper who had arranged to provide regular food supplies slipped out the back of his shop when he saw them coming. His son, who was supposed to have brought everything in his truck, along with fresh water, reverted to an unintelligibly heavy accent and poured out a meaningless torrent of explanation that explained nothing but seemed to indicate that the truck wasn’t running. His father then drove away in the truck, but the son ignored the lack of corroboration.
At their next stop, the woman who’d been baking for them, who was vaguely related to one of the graduate interns, tried to slip out the back as well, only to run into Sam. She sullenly admitted that her cousin’s nephew-in-law had been there the night before, with his university friends Demetris and Ioannis, and they were all long gone. Where they’d gone, she didn’t want to know and thought they shouldn’t either. Back to Nicosia, she supposed. Where else? She’d been garrulous and inquisitive when Mac had first met her, three days before; now, her replies were clipped monosyllables, delivered with folded arms and a stony expression. As they turned to go, MacGyver glanced back and saw that her hands were shaking as she closed the door.
“Nice people,” Jack drawled.
“They’re scared,” Mac said. “I don’t understand why, though.”
“I think you’re right,” Sam said slowly. “What could have scared them like that?”
“I don’t think they know themselves.”
Jack climbed back into the Jeep and slouched in his seat.. “Might as well head back. We’re wastin’ our time here.” He scowled when MacGyver settled into the driver’s seat and headed, not back towards the dig, but north towards Troodos. “What the hell do you think you’re doin’? I said we should go back to camp.”
“You can give all the orders you like,” MacGyver said through set teeth. “I bet you can find someone who has to follow them. I don’t.” He spun the wheel and headed down a side road. “If you don’t like it, fine. Take the Jeep – it’s your Jeep, anyway – and I’ll hitch a ride or something.” He began to brake and pull over.
“Excuse me.” Sam’s voice cut through the noise of the roughening road and the rapidly rising hostility. “Sir, MacGyver does seem to know the area better than we do.”
“Okay, fine. Mac, whatta ya got up your sleeve this time?”
“So you’re absolutely certain about the wording? The text really did call it the Tomb of Aphrodite?”
“You think I’d make a mistake that obvious? That stupid?”
Daniel Jackson turned to Lacie Najjar and pulled off his glasses. His eyes met hers with a frank openness that she found difficult to face. “Dr. Najjar, I know you don’t like or respect me. You think I’m a crackpot and an intruder, and I suppose you’re right about the second, and I’m sorry, because I really do understand how rotten it must be to have someone like me turn up and shove himself into your dig. You’re probably worried that I’ll try to publish something you think is crazy or demented or embarrassing, and it’ll undermine your own professional standing and maybe cast doubt on the importance of your find here. Have I got all that right?”
“Uh . . . yes.”
“Well, this probably won’t help much, but maybe you can back off just a little bit with the whole chip-on-your-shoulder business. I’m not here to steal your thunder, or taint your discoveries, or damage your reputation. I’m not going to publish anything I find here – well, not publicly – and I wish I could tell you what I’m looking for, but I can’t. I can tell you that, although it might not mean anything to you, since you probably have no professional respect for me, I have tremendous professional respect for you. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have complete confidence in the work you’ve done so far.”
“Uh.” Lacie blinked. “Dr. Jackson, do you always talk like that? And wave your hands like that?”
“Well, no. Sometimes I’m worse.” He replaced his glasses. “How about calling me ‘Daniel’? Maybe then you can forget I’m the same guy who got drummed out of the holy academic shrines for publishing crap.”
“Okay . . . Daniel.”
The worktable held a detailed plat map of the site. He gestured towards it. “Can you show me where you found the copper disk?”
Lacie bent over the map, bemused. “As you know from my paper, the journal that gave us the original lead wasn’t the work of a trained archeologist – ”
“Obviously. He found the first disk in 1927, dug it up and took it with him, and didn’t take the time to record its location and provenance correctly.”
“And he didn’t publish his find, or return to the site. That disk is in the vaults at the British Museum – it isn’t interesting or significant enough to be put on display – but I did manage to get a look at it, after we found the second one, here.” She indicated the spot on the map. “Our trench cut right into it. I just about had a heart attack.”
“You couldn’t have expected that there would be a second one – ”
“I know.” Lacie had forgotten that she was talking to a maverick who’d been effectively excommunicated from their profession. “The copper was so damned thin. The shovel sliced right through it. It had the same glazing on it as the other one, and the glass cracked and broke.”
“But you were able to recover most of the disk intact.” Daniel’s voice was soothing, reassuring, as he studied the pictures of the peculiar artifact. “No markings at all? No lettering, no inscriptions . . . ?”
“Not a damned thing! There’s the glass coating – but the greenish colour of the glass is just from the mineral content. No attempt to make it decorative or anything like that. Chamberlain St. Johns – the dilettante who wrote the journal – thought it was a ceremonial shield. At a meter across, it’s a reasonable size for that, but there are no handles.”
“What do you think it was?”
“Damned if I know.” Lacie scowled at the photographs. “Ioannis – he’s one of my graduate assistants – called it the Bad Penny.” She glanced at Daniel, looking embarrassed. “You know. It’s a disk of copper, and it’s not really worth anything. And it showed up when we didn’t expect it.”
“Where is it now?”
“At the University of Edinburgh. The big boys at Phoenix thought the archeology department there had the best lab facilities for analysis, so I took it there myself after the spring season wrapped up. I sure as hell didn’t want to keep it here, where it might get stolen.”
“And you haven’t found any other artifacts?”
“Nothing significant. Just as well. I haven’t had to worry too much about security in general so far.” She glanced up, startled, as Teal’c ducked his head under the edge of the canopy that shaded the worktable. She couldn’t get used to how quietly the giant could move.
She couldn’t figure out what his role was, either. She had assumed he was a bodyguard of some kind, but every so often Daniel would turn to him and ask a question, as if the man was a professional authority of some kind. Even now, they were at it again: Teal’c studying the photographs of the two copper disks, his face impassive, but somehow speaking volumes in its silence.
He handed the photos back to Daniel. “I have never seen anything like this, Daniel Jackson.”
“Not even remotely?”
Well, that was that. Daniel stood up and turned to Lacie.
“Can you give me a tour of the labyrinth now?”
After less than twenty minutes, MacGyver pulled up in front of a low-slung, rambling farmhouse on a hillside overlooking swathes of terraced fields and olive groves. Jack gave a sardonic look at the chickens clustered in front of the door and indicated that he’d stay with the Jeep.
The man who answered the door was blue-eyed and white-haired, with a broad face terraced with wrinkles. He peered at Mac, glanced at Sam, then turned back to Mac again with a broad smile and an expansive gesture. “MacGyver! My friend! You return at last! It has been too long, much too long. Come in, come in! You and your lady friend – your wife, perhaps?”
Mac looked too alarmed to speak, merely shaking his head vigourously. Sam held out a hand. “Dr. Samantha Carter. Glad to meet you.”
Real sharp, Mac thought. The military rank wouldn’t go down so good, but where there’s archeologists piled up in every corner, a doctorate won’t raise any flags.
The farmer shook her hand heartily. “Costas Kyriazis. My house is yours. Come in, come in!”
Sam looked around the farm kitchen as Costas bustled around, fetching glasses of cold water and dishes of food for his guests. They could hear the sounds of a fretful baby in the next room, but the home was neat and clean, obviously prosperous. “So, um, you know each other.”
“I did him a favour a lotta years ago,” MacGyver said diffidently.
“A favour, he says! Ha! My friend, God loves a humble man, but he loves you enough already. You don’t need to push it.”
Sam looked questioningly from one to the other. Mac settled into a kitchen chair, waving at Costas to go on.
“My sister Annitsa,” Costas declared. “So pretty, so clever, so willful. She married a Turk – back when we all lived mixed, you know, before the fighting, we had many neighbours who were Turks. She married one, my stubborn sister. When the fighting began, he was forced to flee to the north. She chose to stay here. Later, she changes her mind. But it is too late then! Ah, no. My friend MacGyver helps her, he takes her north, he sees her safely to her husband’s new home. Without MacGyver, my sister would still be neither widow nor wife.”
“How’s that worked out?” Mac asked.
Costas’ smile grew even larger. “Very very well!! I have three nephews and a niece. I do not see them, no, but one day, who knows? Annitsa writes. She sends the letters through a cousin in Athens. They are all in school, they do well, and Rauf is a striker on his football team.”
“So how’s your own family doin’?”
The baby in the next room began to wail. Costas’ smile became visibly ragged. “My youngest grandchild. She will have many fine, healthy teeth. The rest of us may be dead of exhaustion by then, but God has always called on us to make sacrifices for the children.” There were dark smudges under his eyes. “Now, my friend. Tell me there is something you need.” He looked eager, even hopeful.
Mac gave him a long, measuring look. “I know that face, Costas.”
“What face? This face?”
“Lemme guess. There’s something you need too.”
Costas shrugged. “Perhaps, perhaps. The new pump for my well. She does not go so good these days.”
“Costas, that pump wasn’t new when you got it, and that was fifteen years ago!”
“It is newer than my old pump was!”
“Not any more!” Mac hauled himself out of the chair. “C’mon, let’s take a look. Capt – um, Doctor Carter, you know much about pumps?”
As it turned out, Sam knew a fair amount about pumps, although MacGyver knew this pump already. Half an hour later, the old pump had a new gasket made from heavy felt impregnated with beeswax, and Sam was wishing that she could somehow manage to drag Mac back to Cheyenne Mountain and introduce him to Sgt. Siler. She had also recognised what a priceless resource Costas was: the man was an affable, garrulous busybody, an ideal source for local intel.
“Yeah, that’s right. This morning, no crew and nobody in town willin’ to talk about it. And now you’re tellin’ us that ‘nobody ever goes there’, not really. Why not?”
Costas shrugged. “Why should they?”
“Even though that one guy found that copper disk, way back before the First War, nobody local ever went pokin’ around lookin’ for more?”
The farmer waved a hand. “It is interesting, yes, but it is hardly a fine artifact. It was not valuable or even beautiful.”
“You said nobody goes there,” Sam broke in. “Is the place supposed to be bad luck? A curse, maybe, or the Evil Eye?”
“No, no. Who believes in the Evil Eye these days?” Costas made a surreptitious warding gesture. “It is nonsense. Nobody goes there. Nobody ever has. That is all.”
“So there really aren’t any local stories about ‘Aphrodite’s Well’?”
“Ha, that is not even a story. It is a tradition.” Costas made a derisive noise. “It is all foolishness. There could never be a well there. There is no water. You know that!”
Before leading Daniel into the subterranean complex, Lacie switched on the portable generator that fed current to the inner chambers where Mac had rigged electric lights. The lights were dim, mostly pointed at blank corners of solid rock, so that the illumination bounced back from the pale stone and didn’t risk damaging anything. Their shadows swooped wildly as they walked, shooting up to mammoth size and then winking out as they passed from one half-lit section to another. She clicked her flashlight on and indicated a brightly decorated wall. “Here’s where the discrepancy starts. The text plainly called it Aphrodite’s Tomb, but when you get to the first inscriptions, they’re all calling it Aphrodite’s Well. Then, over here – ”
Daniel trained his own flashlight on the wall, and the painted letters sprang into clear focus. “ . . . let none but the Goddess herself bind with the Girdle of Aphrodite, for it makes any woman impossible to resist. It is the deepest wish of every mortal woman to serve the Goddess, and to walk in Her path and breathe with Her lips. For this is the will of the Great Ones, that only the most perfect shall serve Her . . . ” He glanced up as the entrance to the passage was briefly eclipsed. Teal’c had followed them in and was studying the inscriptions, his eyes gleaming.
“The Well of Aphrodite. There are stories of this amongst your people?” The deep voice resonated in the stone chamber.
“Yes, there are a lot of myths about Aphrodite. She was called the Cypriot – she was supposedly born here – ”
“Not here,” Lacie interrupted. “She was born from the foam of the ocean, and stepped onto land for the first time at Aphrodite’s Rock at Petra Tou Romio. That’s just off the coast to the southwest, only a few miles away.”
Daniel nodded. “Some theories claim that her worship originated in Asia Minor and spread to Greece via Cyprus, but the older myths all point here. The early stories about her were positive – she was the goddess of love and beauty, she blessed lovers, granted virility to men and fertility to women – but later myths represented her as insanely jealous, punishing any mortal who might be a rival – sound familiar?”
“Anyway, she was supposed to bathe regularly in a sacred spring or river, where she ‘renewed her virginity’.”
“That does not sound comfortable.”
“Well, no, not if you’re taking it literally. Look at this inscription – ” He waved the light. “It’s describing a regular tribute of ‘seven perfect youths and seven perfect maidens’ – ‘They shall be mourned as dead, but honoured amongst the Immortals’ – there are myths about that too . . . some versions portray it as every year, but Diodorus makes it clear that it was every nine years.” He glanced over at Lacie and lowered his voice so that only Teal’c could hear him. “Robert Graves called that a Great Year, but suppose it’s an actual year – only in a different solar system?”
“It is possible.”
Daniel turned back to the inscription. “ ‘Perfect youths’ and ‘perfect maidens’ . . . that’s a bit like the Book of Esther, where the most beautiful virgin from each province was sent to the King – Teal’c, what if they were taken as hosts? Or as Jaffa?”
“It does sound like a Selection, but with the conquered tribes forced to choose from amongst their own.”
“We already know that the Goa’uld were willing to use humans for genetic experimentation. Cross-breeding the finest available, um, specimens at regular intervals would be one way of getting a lot of results . . . ”
Lacie pushed herself between Daniel and Teal’c, glaring from one to the other. “What the hell are you two talking about?”
The two men looked at each other. Daniel was opening his mouth to speak when Lacie hurried on. “I can’t hear a word you’ve been saying with all these damned echoes. Do you want to see the next set of chambers or not?”
Daniel and Teal’c carefully looked away from each other’s eyes as they followed her into the next passage.
Sam and Mac took their leave at last. There was a wooden bench in front of the farmhouse; a young woman was sitting there, her head slumped backwards against the wall behind her, sound asleep and snoring. A platter of food sat on the bench beside her; she had clearly come out to make sure the third guest didn’t starve to death. On the ground in front of her sat Colonel Jack O’Neill, holding a baby about six months old. Sam realised they hadn’t heard any crying for quite some time.
The baby’s face was streaked with dried tears, but she had obviously forgotten her misery as she stared in astonishment at Jack’s hands. He was making his fingers magically appear and disappear into his fists, or his ears, or his hat. The child was absentmindedly sucking on the spoon from Jack’s mess kit, which was probably the only metal object Jack carried that wasn’t sharp or poisonous or explosive.
Sam was carefully hiding her grin when she saw the look on MacGyver’s face, and had to swallow hard. They don’t know anything about each other, do they?
As Mac put the Jeep into gear, he glanced sideways at Sam. She was looking at him oddly.
“That trick with the gasket was very clever.”
“I just realised – your name’s MacGyver.”
“We already established that, Captain,” Jack drawled from the rear seat. “What’s your point?”
“The name. At Cornell, whenever anybody did that kind of trick – solving a problem like that – everybody called it ‘macgyvering’. I’ve heard it used in a lot of places since then. Nobody seemed to know where the word came from.”
“Mac here always did that kinda stuff. He had a reputation for it.”
She tried to catch Mac’s eye, but he was resolutely staring at the road. “Could it have started with you?”
MacGyver winced and shrugged. “Yeah, I think it did. I guess. Did you say Cornell?”
“Yes, I got my doctorate in astrophysics there.”
MacGyver drove in silence for the next several minutes, concentrating on the loops of dusty road snaking through the hills. The autumn rains hadn’t started yet, and the midday sun was baking warm smells from the scrubby vegetation. Mac breathed deeply as they drove past a stand of carob trees in bloom.
“So this isn’t your first visit to Cyprus,” Sam remarked. “When did you meet Costas?”
“Oh, way back – must be over twenty years by now. My son would say he’s part of the Legions of Yafod.”
“Yafod?” Sam asked.
“Your son?” Jack demanded at the same time. His voice was harsh. “You’re married?”
“No.” Mac replied. He smiled warmly at Sam. “It’s an old joke with him. ‘Yafod’ stands for ‘Yet Another Friend of Dad’s.’ ”
“That’s great,” Sam said warmly. “How old is he?”
“Twenty-four. He’s finishing up college right now. And he’s also called Sam.” Mac glanced at Jack in the rear-view mirror and made a visible effort. “How ‘bout you, Jack? Are you married?”
For an instant, there was a crack in the armour: a faint gleam of something, almost like wistful regret, glinted in Jack’s eyes. Almost human, MacGyver thought. Then the window snapped shut again.
“Divorced,” Jack said, one curt word that left no room for more conversation.
Mac gritted his teeth as the sense of camaraderie evaporated into dust. He hoped Daniel Jackson had been making progress on the translations in their absence. Really fast progress . . . it couldn’t be fast enough.
“It must be talking about Selection, Teal’c. Look at this.” Daniel’s voice woke murmuring echoes as he moved to the next section. “ ‘At the Hour of the Goddess, the Handmaiden shall be summoned to make ready the Blessed and Glorious Ones. The Eyes of Argus shall open and the Goddess shall come to choose Her consorts’ – and ‘consorts’ is definitely plural. And the whole thing is definitely strange. The story of Argus is part of the mythology of Hera, not Aphrodite.”
“Is Argus another of your ancient gods?”
“No, not exactly. More like a Jaffa. Argus was the hundred-eyed guardian who served Hera. He was killed by Hermes, on a mission from Zeus, and then turned into a peacock – it’s kind of a long story.”
“It is a strange story. I do not know the name ‘Argus’. But the other names – Hera and Aphrodite – ”
“Goa’uld System Lords? Or Queens? Can they be the same? Hathor said she’d been the consort of Ra, but she didn’t seem to need a male Goa’uld at all.”
“It varies. Some Goa’uld Queens are System Lords in their own right. Some System Lords take a Queen as a consort, or an ally. Without a Queen, there are no young symbionts, and the Goa’uld cannot increase the hosts of their Jaffa.”
“They must need a big supply. I get the feeling that mortality’s pretty high in the Jaffa hosts.”
Lacie had been making a sketch of the decorative patterns framing the doorway that led back out towards the open air, while Daniel examined the inscriptions. She set the sketchpad down and glanced at her watch. “You’d think Mac would be back by now,” she said. “Can’t be much longer. Do you want to see the inner chamber now, or wait till after lunch?”
“The inner chamber?”
“MacGyver only got the lights rigged up to it day before yesterday, and we spent all day yesterday photographing. Come on. There aren’t any inscriptions, but it’s worth seeing. We dubbed it the Throne Room.”
The other rooms had all been square or rectangular; this room was circular, high-ceilinged, and large enough to hold a good-sized crowd of people. As Lacie had said, the walls bore no writing, but were elaborately painted with brilliant murals, abstract patterns of flowers, fruit, twining vines and wavy lines, birds, seashells, and assorted fauna. The floor was a mosaic of small glassy tiles that glittered in the dim, indirect light – Daniel was relieved to see that the electric lights had been rigged with filters to keep the delicate paintings from fading.
Dominating the centre of the room was a large stone chair, also inset with mosaic tiles. Daniel studied it intently. “Wow.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty damned spectacular, isn’t it?”
“I’m especially impressed by the condition.” He walked around the throne slowly, playing his flashlight over it. The mosaic sparkled under the light, throwing green and blue and gold reflective sparks that played across the walls and ceiling like handfuls of glitter. Teal’c gave the throne a long, thoughtful stare, then turned his back on it and began a close scrutiny of the chamber walls.
“You’re not kidding,” Lacie replied. “Every tile is in place. You’d think it had only been finished yesterday, wouldn’t you? Except for the dust.”
“There isn’t even much of that,” Daniel said absently.
“Yeah, that was another funny thing. From the beginning of the explorations, the farther we’ve gone into the labyrinth, the less dust there’s been, but there’s always been some. In here, it’s damned near swept and garnished.”
Daniel shone his light on the seat of the chair. “Not quite scrubbed clean, but . . . ” he leaned closer. “No, not wiped clean, either – Lacie, there’s an impression here. Somebody’s been sitting here, and recently.”
“What!?” Lacie looked incensed. Then a wave of confusion crossed her face. “Oh. No, I remember now. That was me.”
“What?” Daniel stared at her. Teal’c turned from his study of the walls and studied her instead. “You sat on an artifact?”
She walked up to the throne, blinking when Daniel pointed his flashlight at her. “It was right at the end of the day. Ioannis and MacGyver had already gone outside. Demetris insisted – he thought it would be funny.” Lacie frowned. “I’m sure I told him no, but I also remember sitting on the throne, looking around . . . looking around at everyone, seeing it all . . . ” She swayed, her face momentarily blank.
“Lacie Najjar?” Teal’c’s voice could have penetrated a brick wall, but Lacie barely seemed to notice.
She reached out and ran a hand along the arm of the throne.
Daniel made an outraged noise and moved to stop her, but Teal’c was suddenly beside him, catching his arm and holding him back. “Daniel Jackson. Do not touch her.” His soft voice seemed to raise more echoes that a shout would have.
Under Lacie’s hand, the tiles of the throne began to gleam, lines and waves of light and colour flowing out and away from her touch. A wave of greenish light washed up her arm. Her eyes widened, and her mouth opened as if to shriek; instead, she began chanting in a sing-song voice, a phrase of only a few words, repeated.
Daniel shook off Teal’c’s grasp. “ ‘The Handmaiden shall be summoned’ – Teal’c, hurry before she gives away Earth to the Goa’uld!” The light was brighter every instant, and had begun to pulse in time to Lacie’s chanting.
Teal’c had provided himself with a massive multi-celled flashlight, nearly a foot long. He took a single step forward, bent one leg to lunge very low, and hooked Lacie’s leg behind the knee with the flashlight.
She lost her footing, stumbled, lost contact with the throne, fell heavily. The light flared and died, and her chant ended abruptly in a cry of pain. The electric lights arced and popped, and the room was plunged into darkness except for the faint double star of Daniel’s and Teal’c’s flashlights.
Teal’c scooped Lacie up from the floor and ran out of the room, retraced the maze of passages, not stopping until he’d reached open air. He looked back, frowning, his eyes growing wider with alarm as he waited for Daniel to emerge. The camp was silent; the others hadn’t returned yet.
Daniel came out of the passageway, blinking in the bright sunlight. He looked at Lacie, slumped in Teal’c arms.
“Is she all right?”
“She is unconscious but still breathing. I think she is unhurt. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. I waited for a couple of minutes at the entrance to the throne room. It stayed dark and quiet, and the lights in the other rooms are still lit.” Daniel walked over to the generator and shut it down. “Whatever that was, I don’t think she managed to turn it on.”
“Perhaps not. We must not permit her to enter the tomb again.”
“That’s gonna be pretty awkward, Teal’c. It is her dig.”
“She does not possess this ‘dig’, as you call it. The dig is possessing her.”