Carefully, trained fingers moving deftly, Professor Walsh lowered the scalpel into Riley’s chest cavity, made a minute, almost imperceptible movement, then slowly raised it back out, and glanced at the monitors. Riley continued to breathe, continued to live. He was almost safe.
It had been hours since the mission at the Hive had been completed, but Walsh still didn’t know what had happened down there. As soon as she’d seen Riley’s… condition, her priorities had shifted in a hurry. She hadn't left his side for a moment, even to learn the results of the mission. Saving her best agent came first, and she hadn‘t wasted a moment in getting him prepped for surgery.
Open-chest operations were never easy, but removing the alien embryo from Riley had been especially tasking on Walsh's skills. For one thing, too little was still known about the creature for her to proceed with full confidence. For another, if the embryo was damaged in any way, Riley's internal organs would be doused in acid, condemning him to a horrible death. Also, the facehugger clamped on his head made it impossible to anaesthetize Riley through normal means. Walsh and Doctor Angleman had been forced to use injections to keep Riley under while they opened his chest. But despite all this, Walsh was completely confident that Riley was not going to die today, for two reasons. First of all, because Professor Margaret Walsh was, aside from a fairly decent professor of psychology, one of the best damn surgeons in the United States, and had Adam to prove it. Second, because she did not
like to lose.
In a strange twist, the alien facehugger had been a big help during the surgery; it turned out that its body functioned as a life-support unit for the host, keeping its victim alive long enough for the embryo to be born or, in this case, removed. But getting the revolting little packet of pulsating alien flesh out of Riley had still been tricky. It was nestled among Riley’s organs, and had anchored itself there with dozens of tiny tendrils radiating out from the embryo and inserted into Riley’s body. Apparently, it was through these fibres that the alien embryo drew nutrients and genetic information from the host while it grew into a chestbursting larva. Fortunately, they were far too thin to contain acid, which made it possible- barely- for some precise scalpel work by Professor Walsh to sever the tendrils.
Again she dipped the blade into his chest, and the last strand was cleanly sliced away from its mooring within Riley’s flesh. Walsh breathed out gently. The worst was over. Now it was just a matter of removing the embryo and stitching up his chest, and then it would be up to his own strength- and the drugs Walsh had been secretly slipping her soldiers- to help him recover from one of the most difficult surgeries Walsh had ever performed.
“You’re going to make it,” she whispered to Riley. “It’s all going to be okay now.”
“Not quite everything,” Dr. Angleman said from behind her. With Walsh occupied with Riley, it had fallen to Angleman to go debrief the soldiers as soon as he could be spared from the surgery. “Ready for the report?”
Walsh sighed and turned away from Corporal Finn. “I suppose it’s overdue. What the hell happened down there?”
“It seems that Jacob Traeten was not entirely honest with us. He didn’t mention that, prior to his arrest, the Ravnon team had observed four subterrestials entering the Hive and being ambushed, subdued and impregnated by the Xenomorphs. Nor did he mention the Xenomorphs‘ practice of defending the Hive by concealing eggs near the entrances,” Angleman said. “Our people went in there facing a larger and more well-prepared force than he led us to believe.”
“The slimy bastard.” Walsh’s face was. “Tell me you found him.”
Angleman smiled. “Parts of him.”
“He didn’t make it?” Walsh asked.
“Apparently his plan was to capture a larval Xenomorph and escape during the chaos. It… didn’t turn out very well for him.”
“Lucky for him,” Walsh said. “How many people did we lose?”
Dr. Angleman looked grim. “We had almost total casualties. In addition to Corporal Finn, Forrest is still alive and relatively unharmed. He’s suffering from venom-induced paralysis, but it should pass shortly. Private Thrace survived as well, although his hand will have to be amputated.”
“Damn,” sighed Walsh. “He was a good one. Just tell me we got the aliens. All
the aliens.” She smiled. "Once we're sure this is over, we can get started making our improvements to Adam, and this will all have been worth it."
“Every single one of the Xenomorphs appears to have been destroyed.” Angleman said. “But…”
“What is it?”
Angleman swallowed. The Professor was not going to be happy. “While you were working on Agent Finn, our superiors contacted us. The casualties of tonight’s operation, coupled with our previous difficulties in containing the aliens, have convinced them that the Initiative is not qualified to handle threats both subterrestrial and
extraterrestrial. Our jurisdiction over the Xenomorph situation- with all related materials and data- is going to be transferred to another agency which I believe you are aware of…”
The Doctor had been right. Walsh was not happy. “Damn! This is all that bastard Traeten‘s fault! We wouldn‘t have had any problems or casualties if not for…” She took a deep breath. “Okay… fine. All right. Let me guess. ’All materials and data’ includes the Xenomorph body we were going to incorporate into Adam’s design.”
Angleman nodded. “We’ll have to go back to his original schematics.”
Walsh sighed as her vision of absolute perfection evaporated. She turned away and was silent, brooding. They would have started upgrading Adam tomorrow… Angleman waited patiently, knowing the conversation wasn’t over, and that disturbing the Professor in this state was a very bad idea. Eventually she spoke again.
“I wanted to see if she could be controlled…” she mused. “That’s why I let her and her silly friends come along. But she didn’t hang back. She charged in there without orders or permission.”
“Yes, but without the actions of the civilians, our casualties would almost certainly have been total. They destroyed Hostile 100 and most of the Xenomorphs as well,” Angleman said. “They’re powerful.”
“Yes, they certainly are,“ Walsh agreed. She turned back towards the Doctor. “We’ll give her a try. I’m going to schedule a joint night time training exercise for the Slayer and our men this week,” she said. “I have high hopes for her. Her attachment to Riley should make her integration and control smoother, and if anything goes wrong… the contingency is already being prepared.”
“Very good Professor,” Angleman said. “Anything else?”
“Nothing except that I’m going to stitch up Finn and get some damn sleep. This has been a hell of a long night.” And with that, Walsh bent over the soldier again.
“Hey Buffy,” Willow said as she, Xander and Giles entered the dorm room. The Slayer barely looked up. She was sprawled on her bed, where she’d been all day, and most of what night had still remained by the time they had returned from the Hive. She probably could have come into class today, but explaining her bruises, blisters, scrapes, and the teeth marks on her shoulder would have taken some doing. Besides which, she’d been completely wiped. Even by the Scoobies’ standards, last night had been a nasty one.
“Hey Will,” she said. “Thanks for covering for me. Did everyone buy that I was sick?”
Willow laughed. “Oh yeah. Professor Walsh even mentioned that you’d seemed a bit under the weather lately. Which was weirdly nice of her, but hey, we did save the Initative’s butt last night.”
Buffy sat straight up at the mention of Walsh. “Did she say anything-”
“About Riley?” Riley said, appearing behind them. “He’s gonna be fine.” Buffy gasped and leapt up to run to him, only to be caught by Xander and Giles.
“Easy, there,” Xander admonished. “The invincible commando isn’t feeling too invincible after open-chest surgery.” Indeed, Riley was very pale, which contrasted gruesomely with the bright red scars on his face where the facehugger had gripped his flesh. He leaned heavily against the doorway, and Willow stood close to him ready to catch him if he fell.
“I’m fine, really,” Riley insisted with an amazing lack of conviction. “I just had to see you. I heard that you got hurt down there, and there were already enough people who suffered on my mission.” Buffy started to protest, and he held up a hand. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to blame myself for what happened to the team. Walsh told me about what Traeten did. I still can’t believe it, though…”
“Believe it,” Xander said. “He was still trying to get his hands on those aliens even while a war was going on around him. Instead, they got their hands on him. It wasn’t pretty.”
“No great loss,” Giles said. “I’m still quite frankly amazed that Walsh was able to remove the embryo. It must have been an impressive feat of surgery.”
Riley smiled. “Maggie’s the best.”
A look of worry crossed Giles’ face as a thought occurred to him. “Riley, did Walsh ever say anything about what was done with the embryo?”
Riley was surprised. He’d never even thought to ask. “Nope, just that it was gone.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Buffy said confidently. “Even if that thing did survive the surgery, she won’t do anything stupid. Walsh has just had her soldiers torn up pretty bad by these aliens, and Riley’s told me how much she cares about them.” Riley nodded his confirmation. “She probably doesn’t want to see another one of those things ever again- an attitude which I completely support, by the way. I’ll bet that embryo, dead or alive, has a date with an Initiative incinerator.” She frowned. “Do they have incinerators? I’ll bet they use something more high-tech.”
“I’m just glad it’s all over,” Xander said. “We’re back to fighting things that we can safely stab without getting acid on us.”
“Hmm.” Riley looked troubled.
“What?” asked Buffy.
“It’s just that… Professor Walsh. She told me that during her interrogation of Traeten, he said that the aliens coming to Earth couldn’t be coincidence. That for these eggs to keep landing here… The odds were just too great for it to be random chance. Something had to be sending them.” Riley looked at them. “She thought he might have been right.”
They were all silent. Xander looked at Buffy, who looked at Willow, who looked to Giles.
“Well, we may hope that if there is any purpose behind these creatures, the events of the past few days have taught it a lesson,“ He removed his glasses and started cleaning them. “Until then…. well, all we really can do…”
Xander finished for him. “Keep watching the skies.”
Buffy looked outside. The sky was blue and clear, but beyond it was vast blackness lit by cold stars. And the blackness wasn’t empty.
“Keep watching the skies.”
They all looked grim until Xander spoke up again. “Hey, who feels like hot dogs? I feel like hot dogs.” And, for Buffy and her friends, life went on.
Spike was no stranger to hangovers. Over a couple centuries of hard living during which he’d repeatedly pushed his vampiric tolerance for self-abuse to the limit, he had even developed a crude classification system in his mind for morning-after maladies. There was the “Dead-Slayer-Celebration” hangover. There was the “Bloody-Dru-ran-off-on-me- again” hangover. There was even the “Never-ever-gonna-get-in-another-drinking-contest-with-a-Hellion-EVER” hangover.
But never, not once in the depths of his darkest and most turbulent nightmares, had Spike ever imagined that one day he would have an “accidentally-saved-the-Scoobies’-lives” hangover.
“Ohhh…” he groaned. Spike had well and truly hit the whiskey after returning from the Master’s old cathedral-cum alien lair, and eventually passed out. Looked like it was night again; he must have been out the entire day.
He got up, not without difficulty, and got himself a blood packet. As he tried to shake off his headache, he tried to focus on the positive. There was precedent for this sort of thing, after all. Hell, saving a Scooby- Giles!- was how he’d gotten roped into this bloody mess in the first place. And it had looked like Junior was about to jump Willow when Spike had waded in, and Spike liked Red, at least as far as humans went. If he could stand saving the Watcher, he certainly could stand saving her.
Still, it rankled him that after getting into the nest, almost getting his head torn off by the thing that had come out of his chest, and accidentally helping the Slayer, he‘d left with no one knowing that he’d even been there, let alone that he’d saved anyone’s life. What it added up to was that he wasn’t going to get any bloody credit, let alone cash, for going through all that.
“Bloody bunch of bollocks,” he muttered sullenly. His face grew dark and distorted, his brow wrinkled, his eyes yellowed, and his fangs extended as he sank them into the revoltingly cold packet of cow blood. Spike drank, and tried to redirect his thoughts back along happier paths. For one thing, the whole whack of soldier-boys who’d gotten messily torn apart really took the edge off. And as nasty as all this had been, it was bloody well over. He’d bashed in Junior himself, and was pretty sure the Slayer and co. had put paid to all the other alien crawlies down there.
His chest was healing up fine too, although he was still able to stick his finger in and touch his liver, which was just bloody weird. Hell, it looked like by the time the wound was done closing, no one would even be able to tell what had happened, which suited him just fine. The nightmare that he’d experienced in that hospital was one horror story he’d rather keep to himself.
All in all, he decided, it could be a lot worse. The aliens were all dead, Spike was still on top, and, there were absolutely no loose ends laying around to trip anything up. Spike closed his eyes, satisfied, and drank deep.
A man stood on the Sunnydale bluffs under the midnight moon. Below him, the remains of a stolen Sunnydale police car sank into the sea. Its usefulness was over, along with that of certain other tools. The man took out a cell phone and dialed.
“Hello sir? Yes, it’s me. It’s all over here. Traeten and the Xenomorphs are dead, and Ravnon‘s people are all either dead or in government custody.”
“No sir, not completely accounted for. There may have been a survivor. One of the Initiative’s soldiers was impregnated during the battle. I don’t know what happened to him but it’s possible- Oh? You’re sure sir? Completely alive and unharmed? Remarkable.”
“Tomorrow? If you can acquire details of the transportation arrangements, then I might be able to intercept it- It’s already being taken care of? Very good sir.”
“No, my cover is still completely intact. Traeten never suspected who I really was.” The listener knew this was true. If Traeten had had any inkling of what the caller was truly capable of, he certainly would have made greater use of him than just impersonating a police officer.
“No sir, neither the Initiative nor the Slayer suspect anything. As far as they know, I’m one of the Ravnon agents who died in the Hive... No sir, I don‘t think we have to worry about the Slayer or her circle. They think it‘s all over.”
“Yes, I agree. Traeten was a fool. Resourceful, and far too clever for his own good, but still a fool. However, I managed to copy all his files before the Initiative seized them; they contain all the information about his dealings with Walsh. I understand you have an interest in Walsh’s project?”
“Yes sir, I understand. The project appears to be proceeding very well. Walsh and Angleman still have full confidence in it, as did Traeten. No sir, they don’t have any worries or suspicions about it at all… very good sir. Oh. I see…”
“Very well then sir. I’ll be back in Los Angeles by tomorrow. Yes… of course. Thank you. Good bye… Mr. Manners.”
Above Los Angeles, the stars- and the things in them- looked down on the city coldly and indifferently. In the offices of Wolfram & Hart, Holland Manners put down his phone and looked up at them. It was going to be a busy summer…
A/N: And that's the end (?). I hope you've enjoyed yourselves; God knows I had the time of my life pitting Buffy against the Aliens. Thank you once more for reading and reviewing,
aka Jesse MacLean
PS- A free facehugger plushie to whoever can find the most geek references in this story. There’s a big one in the last scene.