Prologue: Up Inside the Cyclone
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May 13, 1998
Supporting the injured Watcher, Xander half-walked and half-dragged Giles out of the mansion. He had caught a few glimpses of Buffy fighting Angelus, and to his untrained eye, the battle seemed fairly evenly matched. Buffy wasn’t pulling any punches, and there sure wasn’t any part of Angel left to go easy on the Slayer.
Giles coughed as he squinted in the bright sunlight, feeling the pain of his injuries as well as the guilt of revealing what he knew about how to free Acathla. It had been a trick, an illusion, but he had still talked, despite his Watcher training. An illusion he couldn’t see through, and he may have doomed the world because of it.
“You okay?” Xander said, glancing back in the direction of the mansion. Buffy still had to be fighting the vampire, and he was supposed to be the cavalry. Not MEDEVAC, as they say. He was seriously reconsidering the intelligence of having Buffy face Angelus alone.
“I’ll…I’ll be alright,” Giles said, grimly. Though he wasn’t too sure about that. The last few months had been hard, and they had all had to put up with so much, Buffy most of all. Still, the world came first. It had too.
Xander set the Watcher down on the side of the driveway leading away from the mansion. It was daylight, morning having already broken by the time he had rescued Giles, so there was little chance that the Watcher would be set upon by vampires, or even demons for that matter.
Looking the older man in the eye, he knew that Giles knew what he was going to do. What he had to do. He looked down at the stake in his hand, the weapon feeling oddly inadequate. It would have to do though.
The boy raced back to the mansion, going around the corner, and only stopping as he reached the garage. The door had been blown out by Spike’s quick exit, the blonde vampire not caring to do anything to actually save the world beyond getting Drusilla out of there. If nothing else, the vampire had held true to his part of the bargain.
The sounds of battle filtered out to him as Xander walked through and into the interior of the house. He moved through abandoned rooms and hallways, edging to the atrium that the sounds were emanating from. He moved quickly, but as silently as he could, wishing that he could remember more from when he had been possessed by the soldier at Halloween. He really should have kept up more practice, but it was too late to think about that now.
“Oh crap,” Xander said, eyes wide as he saw Angelus pull the sword from the stone chest of the demonic statute. Buffy and Angelus had gone back at it, but he could see that the stone mouth of Acathla had opened, a portal of dark yellow and black energy appearing before it’s gaping maw. It grew larger and larger as the Slayer and her enemy crossed swords, crackling energy sparking as the portal grew larger and larger.
He knew that there was little time, and that the portal would grow until it consumed the world and sent it to hell. Gulping, Xander knew that he had to do something to tip the battle in Buffy’s favor. And, he knew that it would be something appropriately dumb.
Rushing out, he jumped on Angelus’ back as Buffy slashed the vampire across the hand. Xander tried to get the stake into place, but the vampire was struggling too much.
“Xander,” Buffy shouted, trying to find a place to strike. But, the two were struggling too much to get a clear shot in.
Angelus tried to push the boy on his back away with a free hand, smearing his blood on Xander’s chest, staining his blue sweater, but the grip was too tight and he didn’t have enough leverage to utilize his full strength. Before he could flip Xander over his shoulder, Angelus gasped, a sharp pain in his core. His eyes flashing gold, Angelus felt something enter his undead body, recognizing that the soul of Angel returning. Struggling against it, the vampire screamed as he arched his back, tossing the boy back and off of him.
Buffy could only look on in shock as she saw the vampire’s eyes flash, knowing that Willow must have tried again and somehow succeeded in restoring Angel’s soul. Looking up and past him though, she managed to catch sight of Xander as he flew through the air, time seeming to slow as he entered the portal and was engulfed by it, disappearing in sight.
The last thing that Xander saw was Angel collapse to his knees as Buffy rushed forward. Then he saw nothing. And felt only pain.
January 3, 2021
The air was still, and the night calm amidst the rubble that used to be the 110/10 interchange. Stone and concrete and rusted rebar lay twisted and burnt all around. Mounds of accumulated debris from the first strike and tunnel collapses made the area a maze of corridors and ridges of wreckage. Nuclear fire had long since blasted the area, washing the land clean of so much of the human life that dotted it. 3 billion lives had been extinguished on April 21, 2011. Hundreds of millions more dying in the genocide that came after as the machines started their campaign to rid the land of the human infestation. Death camps had worked for years, many still in operation, to wipe out all of mankind.
The surface of Los Angeles had long since been abandoned by most of humanity. Only the soldiers dared to challenge the metal and venture up to the surface, the toughest were the sapper teams who used the rubble and ruins to hide themselves from the tracked and aerial HK’s that hunted them like rats. Infiltrators, from the T-600’s to the T-888’s were strewn across the wasteland, rooting out the humans in their nests, where the larger machines could not go.
A wind blew, coming up out of nowhere, twisting into a dust devil. Light debris and cement dust skittered around, plinking off of planks of concrete and twisted metal. A whine sounded, no source detectable as the intensity of the small whirlwind picked up.
Approximately five yards away, a T-888 heard the sound, head turning as its optical sensors picked up flashes of light where there should not be any. Its command subroutines ran through its processor chip in microseconds, overriding its patrol protocol, its body moving in order to better investigate the source of the sound.
Time and battle damage had since uncovered the truth about the machine, patches of skin destroyed to reveal the hyperalloy endoskeleton beneath. It had been assigned to a roving patrol through that sector of southern Los Angeles by the Skynet Central Core, its living tissue cover having been damaged beyond cost-effective repair. This was all it was good for now.
It did not care though, as it was simply a machine. An incredibly complex machine, but a machine nonetheless. With no feelings, it had no sense of anger or resentment, or patience or impatience. It simply stood upon the brown and black hood of hulk of a car, watching as more flashes of purple light and crackles of blue lightning appeared before him. It turned its M95A1 phased plasma rifle towards the center of the light, not caring how long it would take before something happened. Stoic as the dead, it waited for stimulus to cause it to react.
A sphere of white light appeared, growing to about four feet in radius, the energy moving through solid stone and metal as it cut a space between spaces, swapping a section of space-time for another, one from more than a decade ago. It disappeared after a few moments, the edges of material that had touched the time bubble glowing red hot from the energy transfer.
Coughing, a naked figure rolled onto his back in a shallow pit made by the energy bubble, gasping for air. He opened his eyes, feeling them burn as he tried to focus on the now night sky. It hadn’t been night before. All he remembered was the pain, his mind flashing to Buffy screaming. Or had she? He couldn’t remember exactly everything that had gone on. Acathla. And the portal. He remembered that, but it had been day. And now it wasn’t. It made no sense.
He struggled to get to get to his knees, not noticing the figure standing over him until he had been pulled to his feet. He tried to resist, looking up and noticing the red glowing eye and gleaming metal that made up parts of what looked like a grotesque mockery of a human face.
Xander’s mouth opened in shock, his nakedness forgotten as he saw the monster that had grabbed a hold of him. His mind flashed to the closest memory he had that could frame the beast in perspective; it was Ted coming back for revenge.
The T-888, only looked down without comment, a scan on the human working its way through, the data being processed, and revealing that he was no threat. However, its memory banks also indicated that the human’s method of arrival was not usual. Humanity had not previously demonstrated such a capacity according to Skynet records. It bore further investigation.
“What are you?” Xander managed to groan out, unconsciously and consciously trying to scramble away from the towering hulk. It was no use, and the thing’s hold on his bare shoulder was becoming painful as it tightened its grip to keep him from escaping.
The terminator said nothing, reaching up its right hand, still holding its large bullpup rifle. Still analyzing, the machine brought its arm forward, pistons driving its still human-looking fist into the young boy’s face, a minimum of force utilized so as to ensure that he would still be alive when he was brought in for processing. The human bore further investigation, but not by him. The machine triggered its communications device, linking its way through the comm-system of a nearby aerial T400 HK, and sending out a request signal to reroute the nearest prisoner transport to a flat section of road 0.74 klicks from its current position.
Xander could only try to steel himself as he saw the fist come his way, the giant wielding a ridiculously oversized gun as if it was made of plastic. It was the last thing he saw, with pain being the last thing that he felt.
August 9, 1998
The flash of light died away as the energy needed to punch through time died away. The energy bubble that protected the living bodies within through its travel through time faded to reveal the time travelers that had come through.
There was no one to see the sight, one that had been seen by so few people before, either in the past or the future. So few people that saw those that sought to fight the future, and to save humanity from a demon of its own creation.
A man started to pick himself up as smoke rose from the scorched asphalt, eyes scanning the alley that he had landed in, noting every dark corner and crevice that danger may be lurking in. Time had honed him into a survivor. His piercing eyes missing little, and his every muscle poised to burst forth in nervous energy at the slightest hint of danger.
To the world, little time had passed. 88 days since this body had been in that timeline. But to him, it had been longer. It had been closer to seven years. And to a body, time had had its influence. The man, now twenty-four, had become a man of the future.
He was a little thin, though wiry and strong, a mixture of hard labor and little food molding his form as best it could. Old burns and bullet wounds dotted his body, with the remains of hastily stitched up jagged lines marring his chest in rows of white scar tissue. Laser-scanned onto his left forearm was a digital barcode, a twelve-digit tag number below it. Evidence of his time in the local work camp. The death camp, where he had had to load bodies for disposal. Until the day…
Snaking around his right arm from just above his elbow to his mid-forearm was an intricate dragon tattoo. Similar to one that had been inked on one of his closest friends from his old platoon. A gift, and lesson, from becoming too despondent and drinking too much engine hooch.
He heard sound, and glancing over to his right, the man caught sight of a thickly built torso rise up, black plates of thick chitin rippling as the demon stood straight and glanced about the derelict alley.
The demon, assuring himself that there was no danger or prying eyes, turned to the man that was just now rising to his feet, their nakedness not bothering either of them. For given what they had been through, both in the world and with each other, a lack of clothes was the least of their concerns. The monster spoke, voice soft though gravelly in tone, “are you alright, Xander?”
Xander looked at the demon with tired eyes, red and puffy from lack of sleep and too many night patrols compounded. Battle stress was often ignored by them, as it was by most of the Resistance soldiers. There was no time for downtime. No leave. Not for them. The little they could get of rest in the tunnels was never enough. They’d learned to make do with never enough. “I’ll be fine, Burke. We need to get some clothes.”
Turning his head, the demon Burke, heard a sound of an approaching couple. Presumably human. “I’ll be back. Wait here.”
Xander simply nodded as the heavily-muscled demon melted into the shadows, his dark coloring allowing him to almost disappear. He had no idea what kind of demon Burke was, even the demon was tight-lipped about that despite the years they had fought together. Still, he trusted the demon with his life. More than he ever thought he would be capable of. But, time and the future had a way of changing what a man thought himself capable of or able to do.
It wasn’t long before a couple of groans were heard; a minute or two later before the demon reappeared, holding some clothes that would them both, roughly speaking. The demon had grabbed himself a coat and pants that would break up his inhuman shape, but he was still bulkier than most, and would have to stay hidden so as not to be noticed for what he was.
“Did you kill them?” Xander asked as he took the clothes that were offered him. They looked normal, as far as he could tell. Hopefully the machine had worked as it was supposed to. Evidently, the original portal that had brought him to the future had disrupted this part of space-time, making it harder for the bubble techs to get a clear lock on anything closer. Or so Cullie’s brother had said.
Burke shook his head. “I knew that you wouldn’t like it.”
“Yeah,” Xander said grimly, all too well knowing that the plan to integrate demons into the Resistance had not been without its problems. Growing pains, though ones that had cost lives. That and the ramifications of such things were unknowable. Then again, the world did end in 13 years. “Good.”
He dressed himself as quickly as he could, thinking that it was odd not to be wearing the cobbled together armor and equipment that they normally were outfitted with. He felt a little naked without his plasma rifle, at this point even a handgun would be better than nothing.
Breathing in through his nose deeply, Xander steeled himself. He opened his mouth and stuck his right index and middle finger as deeply into it as he could, pushing down as hard as he dared. Going with the gag reflex, he vomited onto the ground. Bile and the remnants of his last meal purged itself from his stomach. A plastic wrapped object fell with it and splattered onto the asphalt.
Reaching down, he picked it up, wiping it off carefully on a leg of his new pants. Xander unwrapped the object carefully, feeling the still new spike of pain in his chest. He unfolded what lay beneath carefully, his good luck charm. Though it had been through a lot, a few tears and other damage, it meant the world to him.
Nothing dead could come through. No clothes. No weapons. But, there were ways around it. For small items. The dead still had its ways of being there despite themselves.
Burke moved closer, knowing what it was that his human commander was looking at. He had been the one to take it after all. A moment of happiness, when those came all too seldom. And all the more precious because of it.
Xander looked at the picture, smiling softly too himself, his eyes threatening to tear up. He knew that it wasn’t the time for it, but he couldn’t help it. He could feel Burke’s eyes on him. He didn’t bother to look up. “You know the funny thing?”
The demon didn’t bother to answer, knowing that Xander was too engrossed in the subject of the photograph.
“She’s alive now,” Xander said. It was obvious. Temporal Metaphysics 1. Not even a graduate level class. Go to the past, and anyone that died prior to the point of departure, but after the point of arrival, would be alive again. Of course, they wouldn’t know who you were. It was like a special kind of hell. A special kind of torment. “Of course, she’d be like seven now.”
“Six,” Burke gently corrected him. He had been there when they had first met. Xander had been a mess; subject of Zuth-lu knew what at the hands of the Grays and the Machine for two months. His squad had gone off the reservation to get him back from them. But, she had been the one to save him. She had pieced him back together, body and soul.
“We can save them,” Xander said, folding the picture and slipping it into his pants’ pocket. He looked up at the demon. “Remember what Derek said? We can save everyone. Fix all the mistakes.”
Burke nodded, it was why they were here. Why they had volunteered for the mission. John Connor had sent them back for a reason. Sent them all back for a reason.
Kyle. Derek. Timms. Sayles. Sumner. Boykins. Even the two scrubbed endos.
“It begins now,” Xander said, straightening himself up. He stepped closer to the foot of the alleyway, making sure that it was clear. “Let’s go.”
They had a mission to complete, and a world to save.