The text was one of the wonders of Babylon... not the human Babylon, which had only a fraction of the grandeur, but the real city. Demons had gathered at the place where six dimensions met and built a monument to magic and power. The thick book with mysterious symbols and brittle papers had spells from five of the six dimensions that touched at that place. Humans and earth had no significant magic at the time, but due to some bad luck and a curse by a very cranky vengeance demon, the book ended up in human hands after the grand bridge which connected the different worlds fell.
The people who were auctioning it off had no idea what they held. They wore gloves and masks and carefully catalogued the strange symbols for the auction brochure, but they never let their bare hand rest on the cover and soak up the magic that was there for the taking. To them, the book was nothing more than a potential source of income for Rainier university, a donation from an odd old man.
Chancellor Edwards, the dean of that rather disreputable school hoped to purchase the book back during this open auction. She was still angry at the judge whose settlement order had stripped her department of funds and had driven away donors. So what if she had violated the privacy of a long-haired hippy brat who couldn't even get his doctorate finished? She had believed what his hippy mother and her hippy publisher friend had said, and the judge was a fool. And the professors and donors who avoided her anthropology department saying that it had lost status would be sorry when she claimed the tome, which was being called the Nemac text after the man who had found in a cave in Iraq. Once she controlled the text, they'd have to do some serious sucking up to get even one look at the valuable text.
Dr. Daniel Jackson was almost bouncing in his seat. Yeah, Jack teased him about the back pay that accumulated, but there was never anything that he wanted. What he loved was old books and old stones and old parchments and pretty much anything old. The Nemac text was worth spending his money on though. Jack had nearly choked at just how much money Daniel transferred to his checking account, but he was determined to win the book and take detailed notes on the writings to compare with the writings of all the aliens he'd studied and that he could never tell anyone about. If he didn't buy the book outright, he was going to have a hard time convincing any university library to give him access because he couldn't just explain that he thought the text might be the link to the missing Furling race.
Ethan Rayne had a slightly different goal. Ever since blowing up a corner of an Army prison and disappearing, he had been beset with entirely too many enemies. While he was proficient at the sort of magical sleight of hand required when one had pissed off at least a dozen demon lords, he wasn't used to ID checks and police and the blasted internet, which seemed to exist only to make it easier for people to track him. Some police bobby in a town no bigger than a Scottish sheep station had arrested him because the computer in his car had sent up a red flag when Ethan had stopped to eat. As a chaos mage, the Internet should have been a delight, but if he ever had enough time to do a proper spell without running for his life, Ethan was going to construct the largest 'denial of service' attack ever known to man. It would be beautiful—banks would fail, security systems crash, people would be forced to talk to each other face to face, and the chaos that created would always be worth the effort. And the first step toward this wonderful vision of the future was getting his hands on that book by mean either legal or illegal.
What Ethan didn't know what that Rupert Giles was also there. In part, Giles realized that Ethan would have come for the book as surely as Odysseus would have jumped over the side of his boat and swum straight for the Sirens if he'd been given a chance. In part, Giles could feel a creeping desperation as Buffy grew older and she escaped her fate over and over. The day would come when she couldn't escape her fate, and the book would be the best way for him to help her. He knew full well that his father would have called him seven kinds of a fool because using magic to escape a rightful destiny never led to anything good. Certainly Willow had learned that lesson when she had brought Buffy back from the dead, but this was not the same. He had accepted fate too often, and that had led him to leave Buffy alone when she most needed help, and he would not have that on his conscience again. Never again.
In the very back of the room sat the last man interested in bidding on the book. Eli Stoddard had always held a soft spot for Blair, and when the Chancellor had forced the boy to recant his dissertation in a rather transparent attempt to protect his research subject, he had been more than pleased to testify for Blair at the lawsuit. So had several other professors. In truth, most of the dissertation committee supported Blair, but until the Board of Regents could remove Chancellor Edwards, those professors who had remained at Rainier had chosen to stay out of the court in order to maintain some quality of life at the university. Edwards was a petty, unethical woman, and Eli was not about to allow her to claim the Nemac text and then try to secure her position through some petty politicking. The university deserved better. Blair Sandburg deserved better. Eli just hoped that if the Chancellor left, the young man would finally finish that dissertation of his... Eli didn't even care which dissertation Blair finished as long as he got one of them done. But if Edwards got that book, that wasn't going to happen.
Up front, the auctioneer put up one donated item after another in blissful ignorance. A silver tetradrachm of Athena sold for $535, a Phoenician bronze pendant with a stone scaraboid seal caused a minor flurry up front and ended up selling for $310, well above the true value, and a single-notched winged bannerstone caused a war between the University of Berkley and Humboldt State University before Humboldt finally took it at $385.
Two staff members pushed a covered cart to the front, and carefully placed a number of ancient books on the table with their white gloves.
"Ah yes. We have a number of books today, including the extremely rare first edition Bay Psalm Book printed in 1640 with notes from original owner detailing the sins of those from the Massachusetts Bay Colony." The auctioneer's eyes lit up at the idea of the money that would bring. But he decided to start with the oldest book on his table, a book so ancient that the text was largely worn off the paper. It had historical significance, and the universities would, no doubt, fight over this one, but it would not attract the book collectors who could drive prices up into the tens or hundreds of thousands. In fact, several people had perked up at the mention of the Bay Psalm Book.
"But first, we have the Nemac text. This book is from Babylon and is a bit of an anachronism considering that most of the texts of this age are done in clay. This is one of the oldest books in circulation, which certainly has an academic value to those of you who want to take home something to your history and archeological departments." The auctioneer carefully didn't mention that the book was largely a showpiece with very little remaining text. Caveat emptor was his motto. He carefully put the book on the special stand for the item up for auction.
"Do I have a starting bid?" He was about to suggest a thousand dollars, when Chancellor Edwards called out, "$5,000!"
Practice and professionalism kept the auctioneer from blinking in surprise. As an ending bid, he had hoped to get $8,000 to $10,000, but as an opening bid, that was far above his expectations. He didn't let the audience know that, however. "I have $5,000, do I have $5,500?"
Daniel raised his numbered paddle, very carefully ignoring the snort of disgust from Jack.
"$6,000!" Giles called out quickly. His resources were limited, and he hoped that by showing his determination up front, others would be scared away. Of course, he would still have Ethan to deal with, but he expected Ethan to attack after the auction. He hadn't even seen that the mage was sitting three rows behind him.
"$6,500!" Chancellor Edwards called out, raising her own paddle and glaring at this rude Englishman who was threatening to upset her plans. She wanted that book. More to the point, she needed that book.
"$7,000!" Giles immediately countered.
"$8,000!" Daniel called out.
Jack leaned over to whisper in his ear. "For crying out loud. It's a book, Danny. Don't you have enough of them already?" Daniel spared Jack a nasty glare before focusing on the auction again.
"$10,000." Ethan said. While he had no intention of actually giving anyone money, it would be amusing to get Rupert's knickers in a twist. Sure enough, Giles turned around and stared at Ethan with pure, undisguised hatred.
"$12,000." Giles hissed the offer out.
"$13,000." The moment Daniel made his offer, Jack put his hands over his eyes and refused to watch the auction anymore. It was bad enough to see other people take advantage of Daniel, but seeing the man screw himself was more than Jack could take. There were dangers Jack could protect Daniel from, and then there were those times when life forced him to sit back and watch Daniel shoot himself in the foot.
"$14,000," Chancellor Edwards said, her voice just a little tremulous. She wasn't sure where she'd find that much money in the budget, but she wanted the book. She'd made all her plans and built her hopes around that book, and she didn't like having to give up a plan once she had it. Her father had always told her to never change horses midstream, and Edwards would ride a horse until they both drowned before she would violate her father's command.
The auctioneer looked from one party to another, not sure what had caused such a flurry of interest in such a largely uninteresting book.
"$15,000," Daniel offered.
"Aw geez," Jack muttered, not uncovering his eyes.
"This could go on all day," Ethan said with some disgust. Patience had never been his best virtue... actually no virtue was his best virtue, but he was not willing to play this particular game anymore. Ethan frowned, mumbling under his breath and the neatly lined up books on the table tumbled to the ground as one table leg mysteriously failed. The auctioneer made an inarticulate cry and lunged for the Bay Psalm Book.
"Well, really," Giles said with disgust.
Chancellor Edwards stood up and raised her paddle. "The auction has started. We have to finish. I'm bidding $16,000." She did not like how the auctioneer ignored her and knelt on the floor carefully examining one crumpled corner of the Bay Psalm Book.
"Sod off," Ethan and Giles told her in unison without even pausing in their war of stares.
Eli watched silently. Offering those in his row a quiet apology, he edged close to the north wall, hunched down so that, hopefully, no one would notice him.
"I... I... There are rules!" Edwards was slowly reddening. The auctioneer finally decided that the book was damaged and no amount of wishing would undamaged it. Time to get the auction focused back on the money.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen," the auctioneer tried to soothe the crowd. A good number of people were now on their feet, and collectors were fluttering in their concern over the fallen books.
"I am not a gentleman. The gender inequality implicit in that statement offends me," Edwards snapped. The two men nearest her rolled their eyes, and her gaze snapped to them like a shark smelling blood. "Do not act condescendingly toward me." She poked her finger in the face of the closest misogynist. "Do you know who I am? Do you know who I am?"
The man might have tried to answer because he did know her, only Ethan made a dash toward the front of the room.
"You bloody little twit," Giles said as he sprang after. Somehow, the chairs seemed to get tangled with Giles and with each other and with the audience members who were doing nothing but sitting there. Metal folded and unfolded without warning. Giles went down like a felled tree, his glasses flying off into the crowd, and a tripod went scrambling after them, stomping at the lens. That was just too far for most people, and the screaming started.
"Danny, we're going," Jack said, grabbing Daniel with one hand and punching the center of his chair back with the other. The chair retreated with a whimper.
"Don't make me zat you," Jack warned.
"You don't have a zat." Daniel said that with some confidence.
"I'm traveling with you. I assumed that I would need to zat someone, and the odds were running three to one that the someone would be you."
Daniel looked at Jack for a moment and realized he wasn't joking. "You lied to the general about not taking alien tech out of the mountain," Daniel protested weakly as Jack pulled him away from the book.
"The general bet five dollars that I would end up zatting some woman who tried to kidnap you," Jack pointed out as they reached the door and headed for the parking lot at a quick trot.
Inside, the chaos was just multiplying. "This is unacceptable. I am a chancellor!" Edwards cried out before a chair took her down. She vanished under a pile of men having a wrestling match with the rug.
Eli detoured around the auctioneer and made a dash for the podium and the Nemac text.
"Fair warning, chap, that is my book," Ethan warned as he came up on the opposite side of the podium from Eli.
Eli smiled. "Fair warning, chap, I've been studying tribal cultures since you were in diapers." Eli was old, and his bones ached when it rained, which is why he was so grateful that the debacle with Blair had finally convinced him to move to Florida, but he wasn't as harmless as people assumed.
Ethan wasn't giving up easy though. One old man stood between him and a magic powerhouse that could solve all his problems. Ethan slowly brought up his hands and opened his mouth to cast an incantation that would blast the old man and half the building out of his way. It was his little ace-in-the-hole spell, and it had worked wonders on the Army jail.
"Erk'eta munay," Eli blurted. A wind rose in the room, catching papers and sending them flying like demented birds.
"Small potatoes, old man," Ethan said dismissively. With a cruel smile, he stepped forward to claim his prize.
"Think again. You know, magic is just part of culture," Eli answered. A wail rose, and the papers coalesced into hands that scrambled over the backs of the few audience members who hadn't yet fled. They fled now. Or most did. Giles was still crawling on the floor trying to retrieve his glasses from the blasted tripod.
"Bloody hell. Good job," Ethan said with some admiration as the hands grabbed at him. Tiny lines of red appeared from hundreds of paper cuts. "Mayan spirit?" he asked.
"She's quite helpful," Eli agreed. Ethan tried to push forward, leaning hard like one of those idiots on the news who tries to walk into a hurricane.
Eli stepped forward and rested his bare palm on the cover of the book. All the papers fluttered to the ground, and the chairs rattled as they fell and Giles finally snatched his glasses back from the tripod only to find both lenses quite gone.
"Thank you," Eli said to the air. Ethan might be rude enough to not thank the spirits who he called on, but Eli had always found that courtesy was the best policy.
"Bugger that," Ethan said with a scowl as he straightened up a chair and sat. "Right then, what now?"
Eli looked around. "Now, nothing," he said with a shrug. "That was the point, to make sure nothing happened." Eli smiled and headed for the back of the room still clutching the book. Ethan considered attacking the old man, but he really didn't want to get blasted into individual atoms.
Jim Ellison stood in the alcove watching the whole time with growing horror. His prophetic dreams might have warned him to come today, but they definitely hadn't prepared him for this. "Damn," Jim said quietly.
Blair leaned back into him, and Jim let his arm rest on Blair's shoulder. "We geeks can be mean little shits," Blair offered.
Jim decided that if Blair ever wanted a book, he was getting together a special ops team to back him up. "That you are," Jim agreed. "The meanest."