"Now open the main locks."
"Fully opened. What's that thing anyway?" Vila asked, watching the ring grow on screen as Avon manoeuvred the Liberator towards it.
"If I'm right," said Avon, giving the right lateral minimum power, "it's a Stargate."
"A wormhole portal to another part of the galaxy." Avon frowned in concentration. "Commencing docking now."
"Oh those. Thought they got rid of them all centuries ago to keep those religious nutters out. The wossnames, the Awry."
"Close enough. And yes, they did. They obviously never found this one orbiting a neutron star."
"What d'you want it for? I mean, it won't go anywhere, will it? Not if there aren't any others left."
"All knowledge is useful. And possibly profitable. Let's take a look."
"Wonder what all these symbols are." Vila ran his hands over the ancient carvings.
"Leave them alone," Avon said absently, poking at the crystals he had exposed in the controls. There was a sudden grinding noise and Vila yelped and leaped back. "What did you do, Vila?"
"Nothing! Honest! It turned into a pool on its side all by itself!"
A man tumbled out of the rippling blue surface and picked himself up staring around with wild eyes. "Oh, crap. They got me, didn't they?"
"Who?" Vila asked with the curiosity of the relatively safe now that the Stargate had closed down.
"You name it." The man patted himself all over. "Poisonous creepers, humongous mosquitoes, little bitey furry vermin, heavily-armed Wraith, all out to get me. It's always me they go for. What, I have a target painted on me?"
"I know the feeling," said Vila. "I'm Vila, by the way." And at last he had the chance to get Avon back for his dismissive introduction of him to Tynus. "Oh and that's Avon."
"Rodney McKay." Rodney stared in horror at his arm. "I knew it. They got me." He clutched himself in horror.
"A mere scratch," said Avon.
"Scratch? Easy for you to say." Rodney stopped and looked around for the first time. "Where am I anyway?"
"The deep space vehicle Liberator."
"And you're lucky," said Vila, " because only an hour ago, that ring thing was still out there in space."
"But I dialled Atla--" Rodney clapped a hand to his forehead. "Oh, crap. That Wraith hit the controls just as I finished."
"Which brought you about a thousand years into your future," said Avon.
"How do you know that?"
"Oh, yeah? You gonna maybe elaborate?"
"No. It night be harmful for you to know the future."
"Yeah, point." Rodney paced in thought. He clicked his fingers. "Oookay, I have to reproduce the exact conditions--in reverse--to get back. If I know the exact time and location, that should be easy. Just give me access to a computer."
Avon nodded. "All right. Follow me to the flight deck."
Rodney blinked at the blinking perspex box. "Okay, so I really am in the future. That or that's some sort of modern art. You just talk to it?"
"Politely." Rodney rolled his eyes. "You have a sensitive computer. Oh joy." He sat down and rubbed his hands. "Right, this shouldn't take long. Not with the best brain in the galaxy and a decent bit of hardware."
"Such perspicacity and you've only just met me," Avon murmured.
"I meant me of course."
"I think I'll stand well clear," said Vila. "Two egos this big probably have an event horizon."
"Okay, ready?" Rodney stood poised in front of the Stargate.
"Ready." Avon checked the setting on the equipment he and Vila had rigged up, the main component of which was a Liberator handgun.
"That thing had better be aimed properly." Rodney punched the last setting, Avon pressed his button, and Rodney screamed and leaped into the blue.
"Bit like a Kzint," said Vila.
"I suspect a small piece of crystal intersected with a buttock," said Avon.
"Hope he got home."
"I'm sure he did. He had a brilliant mind," Avon said regretfully, "almost the equal of my own."
"Apart from that, he was a nice chap. Had a very sensible attitude to danger."
"Yes, I considered him very congenial apart from his cowardice and hypochondria."
Avon and Vila looked at each other and grinned.