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Redefining Normal

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This story is No. 4 in the series "The Normal-verse Series". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Buffy has been brought back to life in a world radically transformed. Powerful forces are attempting to force Humanity on the 'correct' path. Unfortunately for them, Buffy has her own ideas about destiny...

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Star Trek > Multiple SeriesjAkLFR1815108,6421920666,40221 Jul 091 Jun 11No

Prologue

This is a crossover story between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Star Trek universe. There are also very limited appearances by some characters from the StarGate universe, although not enough to constitute a multiple crossover. All canon characters are the property of their respective copyright holders.



WARNING – this story has not been completely written! Although the outline has been fully plotted out, my free time has unfortunately become rather limited recently and the actual writing is going very slowly. I'm hoping to motivate myself by posting part of the story. Please feel free to comment or to offer suggestions for improving the story.



Redefining Normal



Prologue





2026 - Unnamed island in the Aegean Sea





It wasn't much of an island, just a small rocky outcropping, barely reaching above the slowly rising crystal blue waters of the Aegean Sea. Nothing grew there. Nothing could grow there. Salt had encrusted the soil throughout the entire land surface, sterilizing the ground so thoroughly not even the hardiest of brush could gain a foothold. Some lichen stained the rocks, proving the tenacity of life to adapt to even the worst environmental conditions... but even the hardiest of lichen could only survive in the shadows on the bottom of rocks along the shore, as if hiding from the omnipresent sun. Men could have imported soil and brought life to the island, had there been enough rain to supply fresh water, but rocky shoals kept boats from landing safely, and distance from trade routes or nearby settlements meant it wasn't worth the effort.

It hadn't always been that way.

Thousands of years ago, a small temple had been built here. Even back then, it had been considered out-of-the-way, with no local sources of potable water and the constant fear of breaching fragile wooden hulls on hidden underwater shoals. Nor were there any landmarks visible on the horizon to guide the ancient sailors. With only the most basic of celestial navigation techniques known at the time, it had taken a lifetime of experience with time and tide, along with the march of the stars --not to mention considerable faith-- for anyone to make the journey to the temple. Few had bothered. Those few who did had been loyal. They had come back year after year, once a year, every year, for better than eight centuries.

Until one day, they stopped coming.

Literally, one day. Whatever had happened on that terrible day so long ago, it had caused the worshipers to destroy the temple, throw their offerings into the sea, burn down whatever vegetation had existed at the time, and literally salt the earth to ensure that nothing would ever grow on that accursed island ever again. They had done everything they could to excise themselves and their faith from history. They had succeeded. Millennia later, nobody even knew which god they had worshipped, who they were, or where they came from in order to do so.

Dr. Darius Elbone had made it his life's work to discover the answers to those questions. An American of Greek descent, he had convinced the University of California, Berkeley, to fund an archaeological dig on the island on no less than four separate occasions, beginning in 2009. Unfortunately neither he nor his team of bright-eyed students had ever come up with a satisfactory answer. They'd found Greek and Hittite pottery fragments, even some which appeared Egyptian. But no coins, or gold, or statues, or anything definitive. If they had ever existed in the first place, they had all been destroyed along with the small temple. The youngest item recovered had been dated to 1140 BC. The oldest was from eight hundred years earlier. Nothing had been found dating from before or after those two dates.

It was a fascinating puzzle, and Dr. Elbone had been immensely proud that three of his students had written their doctoral dissertations on their own findings and theories concerning the unnamed island and its mysterious temple. On the forth dig, six years before, they had found indications that the old temple had been built atop a deep underwater cave, which over the centuries had been filled in by rock and sand and water. After three thousand years it had looked so similar to the rest of the island that they hadn't realized it had once been a cavern until special ground-penetrating radar had demonstrated that it wasn't a natural formation. It seemed that the same day the mysterious worshipers had destroyed the temple they had used nothing but muscle power and primitive tools to collapse the walls of the cavern. The destruction had opened the cavern to the sea, and time and tide and sand had cemented the ancient limestone rubble to the strength of concrete.

The GPR had lacked the sensitivity to determine exactly what, if anything, had been in the cavern, but it was good enough to show there were no metallic objects larger than a penny buried under the collapse. Nor were there any artificial structures such as a tomb or cache of ceramic amphorae holding the Hittite equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Still, it had been interesting, and Dr. Elbone would almost certainly have received funding to launch a fifth dig had things been different.

Of course, a lot of things would have been different... had things been different.

Unfortunately for archaeology --not to mention a great many other things as well-- things were not different.

As an archaeologist Dr. Elbone was well aware that great historical changes pretty much always had multiple causes, and it was never really accurate to blame a single event for the subsequent disruption to society. But even for him, it was hard not to state that it all began with the loss of the StarGate. The StarGate was supposed to be the salvation of humanity, the great step forward into the Cosmos. Until it started to fail. The government had brought out Dr. Samantha Carter to explain what was happening, but like most people who watched her on television that day Dr. Elbone hadn't really understood what she was saying. Something about a deliberate alteration in natural laws which affected the physical properties of naquadah. The bottom line hadn't been all that hard to understand, however. The change in properties she was observing meant that naquadah could no longer maintain the integrity of the wormhole.

It didn't happen all at once. When they first noticed the problem, only the most distant parts of the StarGate network had ceased to function. But the collapse was unstoppable. The failure of the entire StarGate network inevitable. Given a hard time limit, the UN had managed to coordinate the exodus of several million people off-world, along with whatever resources they could take with them. Refugees and their often-pathetic belongings had been rushed through for as long as the StarGate remained operational. Fifty thousand people per planet, plus whatever supplies were on-hand while the 'Gate remained opened. Once it closed, they were on their own.

On an alien planet, with no hope of rescue if anything went wrong. Alone, until someone figured out another way to re-establish contact with planets light-years distant.

Eighteen months later the StarGate was nothing but a huge paperweight. The US Government had pumped $120 billion into the SGC, their bases and ships, all predicated on the promise of infinite returns in resources and technology. When none of those promises came to pass, and the bills still had to be paid, an economic house of cards started to collapse. The government had expected their gamble on the StarGate would pay off big, and had splurged in other areas until the deficit was well over ten trillion dollars. Without all the new technology and resources the SGC was supposed to deliver they had to cut back radically on spending, since they were effectively unable to borrow any more money.

The resulting recession would have been bad enough on its own, but the economic problems exacerbated political turmoil elsewhere as countries like India found themselves devastated by a crisis they'd had nothing to do with creating. They had been counting on the StarGate to relieve their population pressure. Not only was that relief valve no longer an option, their biggest market found itself cutting back on buying the few things countries like India were able to sell. Loss of employment led to loss of the resources necessary for social change, leading to anger and social unrest. Terrorism raised its ugly head, leading to fear, and more anger, and riots, and frustrated accusations, leading to threats, until eventually a mushroom cloud was reaching for the skies above Bangalore. Protestations of innocence hadn't prevented a retaliatory strike on Karachi, or a war which swiftly killed millions on the sub-continent. Both sides resented their powerlessness in the face of the events overtaking them with the force of a tsunami, and resentful groups, beyond state control, had used terrorist tactics to draw attention to their cause, or to blame their opponents for acts of horror often committed in the name of God.

Trains were derailed. Power distribution systems disrupted. Airplanes brought to earth by various means. Poisons placed in water supplies.

People everywhere grew ever more terrified as events spun out of control.

International travel ground to a halt. Delays caused by now-mandatory security inspections meant that food products weren't being shipped in required quantities. Poor people starved, and rich people were at first inconvenienced, and soon found their way of life actually threatened. Fear led to over-reaction, which inevitably led in turn to bad laws being enacted. Bad laws resulted in worse consequences. A bad Recession became a worse Depression, swiftly leading to the fragmentation of the global trading system. Tens of millions were left penniless, as their savings were wiped out and their retirement funds rendered valueless.

Millions of once comfortable, well-off people found themselves destitute.

People like Dr. Darius Elbone.

He was 68 years old. He'd moved to Greece a few years earlier, expecting to enjoy a working retirement where he could oversee the next generation of archaeologists who would follow in his footsteps, hopefully finding answers to the questions he'd brought up. But now there were no new archaeologists, no new digs being funded, and no retirement income from a university seven thousand miles away which could no longer even pay its own bills. A letter explaining the small problem of an 'unfunded liability' in relation to his expectations of having retirement income still made him seethe with rage. Without any income he'd been forced to sell those precious items he had collected over a lifetime, but even then there were few buyers. The barter system had returned with a vengeance. Some things couldn't be bought at any price.

Things like the medications his wife needed to treat her heart condition.

The experts guesstimated that it was going to be a bad five years, but eventually the System would straighten itself out and things would get back to what used to be considered ‘normal.’ His wife didn't have five years! Unfortunately there wasn't a damned thing anyone could do about it, except muddle through and hope for the best. So his sick wife tried to grow food in the poor excuse for a garden they'd managed to acquire, and Dr. Elbone tried to forget that millions of people not that far from him in Athens were in the same situation as they were. Only they didn't have gardens. They would eventually go seeking food from wherever they could get it… and take it from anyone who wasn't in a position to keep it from them. Only one year into the 'five bad years' anticipated, and there were already food riots in what had been the cradle of Western civilization. He knew those riots would soon spread. Knew they would increase in violence.

Knew he stood absolutely no chance of surviving the disaster he could see looming just beyond the horizon.

So, every few days, he packed up what little he had and sailed out to the small island which had obsessed him for decades, clearing out the rock, using explosives to make things easier for himself despite knowing what his colleagues would say of such sacrilege. He was old and working by himself, and his wife was sick and he was surrounded by younger, fitter, hungrier people, so if he wanted to get some answers before they killed him for what little he had then it was his right to use a few shortcuts.

Okay. A huuuugggge shortcut. But he was living in a period where history was being played out. The events of the next five years would be studied by scholars for centuries. Dr. Elbone had long since understood that the momentous events of history were far more pleasant to study than to live through. So perhaps he could at least possess a piece of history, since he was powerless to affect the history-in-the-making surrounding him. Or perhaps he was simply escaping reality by returning time after time to his little island, performing back-breaking labor under the relentless Mediterranean sun, turning deaf ears to the collapse of society in Greece, in Europe, and around the entire world.



In those few moments when he was honest with himself, Dr. Elbone never really expected he would find anything before the mobs came for him. Perhaps people weren't as savage as he thought they were under their thin veneer of civilization. Or maybe they were just smart enough to know how bad things would get if they all gave into their baser instincts even before things got as bad as they were likely to get during the next few years. Either way, the mobs had been temporarily placated by government efforts at food distribution. Months passed, and his wife got sicker, and with nothing better to do he continued to return to the island.

The pit was ten feet deep, and given that the island itself was only a few feet above the surface of the waves at its highest point, water was starting to seep into the bottom. He could see where the ancient walls had been, and was careful to use the 'quick-and-dirty' excavation method only in locations where he was fairly certain nothing could have been left behind when the walls were collapsed. Elsewhere he was far more careful, although his use of a pick and shovel would have been considered outrageously destructive during a real archaeological dig. Dr. Elbone was well aware that this was no longer about archaeology; this was obsession. The pretense of archaeology for the purpose of self-delusion, trying to pretend for a few hours that his whole world wasn't falling apart all around him.

Due to the nature of his own delusion, it took some time for Dr. Elbone to realize he had actually found something. Forcing himself to stop, to take a drink of water, he finally took a look at whatever it was he had uncovered, studying it from all sides. For a moment he even debated whether he should go any further. Archaeology-by-dynamite was fine when you were a nut-case on the brink of despair. It wasn't so good when you actually were a world-renowned expert who had actually made a genuine find. Wincing when he noticed that his shovel had already damaged the rock, he assuaged his conscience with the knowledge that it was just a cover stone, a roughly-carved flat rock topping a square stone box. The box served only to protect the contents within. In better times the box itself would be considered important, if not nearly so much as the contents. Under present circumstances, Dr. Elbone was only concerned with whatever might be inside.

It was unusual to find such an item roughly carved from rock. Generally, a pyxis would be shaped from clay, which was much lighter and far easier to work. Perhaps it was even older than the temple had been. Was it an ossuary? They'd never found anything indicating there had been people buried at the site, but it wasn't uncommon for devout adherents to want their bones to be interred near a favorite temple. Only usually there would be other, generally rather emphatic, indications of a burial site, and he'd never come across any of them. Professional responsibility or no, it simply wasn't in him not to discover what was in that box.

Carefully chipping away the surrounding rock, which had all but fused to the possible ossuary, it took Dr. Elbone three hours using hand tools to reach the point where he could remove it from the rubble and haul it out of the hole to where the now-setting sun provided just enough light for him to carefully move the box using a block and tackle system. He used extreme caution to winch it out of the crater he'd dug beneath the former location of the temple. Only when it was on a secure, level surface did he carefully remove the top plate. Even that small component was fairly heavy, and it was only his excitement which had permitted the archaeologist to lift it from the rough rock sides.

Inside, the box was filled with sand.

For a moment he was crushed, until he realized that it was likely the sand was being used as packing material, protecting whatever had been contained in the box. Carefully scooping the sand away, one handful at a time, he slowly uncovered the vase.

It was carved from obsidian. Black volcanic glass; although hardly fragile, it was one of the hardest substances to work known to ancient cultures. Primitive human ancestors had used flakes of obsidian as knives for literally tens of thousands of years. However, as it was too brittle to hammer and too tough to abrade, forming and shaping such material into a vase would constitute an almost superhuman act of labor for a culture which didn't have machines or sophisticated tools.

Dr. Elbone momentarily thought of the famous crystal skulls claimed to be of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican origin, but absent any details on their discovery and excavation most archaeologists assumed them to be fakes. The only expert he knew who thought they might be genuine was Dr. Daniel Jackson; but he had never explained why. Granted that Daniel had turned out to be essentially correct about the pyramids, but after the debacle with the StarGate he was once again virtually persona non grata within the archaeological community. He would be of little help convincing his colleagues of the legitimacy of his find.

Frowning, Dr. Elbone admitted to himself that it was likely he was setting up his greatest discovery to be dismissed as of dubious authenticity due to his impatience and lack of documentation. He'd been careful to take hundreds of electronic images of the site and his progress, but knew that until extensive testing on the actual artifact proved his claim he was likely to be laughed at by those same colleagues who had twice dismissed Daniel Jackson as a lunatic. Of course, Dr. Elbone could cheer himself with the thought that he was unlikely to survive to see the next archaeological convention. But if he continued, he would at least be able to send the vase to someone more reputable in order to start the process of testing everything possible concerning the find. Given a choice of an extraordinary artifact from a dubious source, or no artifact from a revered but sadly now-dead colleague, archaeologists have a long and not-so-distinguished history of preferring the former.

Finally, he was able to remove the vase from the stone box. As a work of art it was extraordinary. As an archaeological discovery it was priceless. About twenty inches long, perhaps eight in diameter at the widest point in the body, it had a slender throat and just a slight extension providing a spout. The top had been sealed with what appeared to be course linen, secured with thin hemp rope, then covered in tar. Even after so many centuries the seal remained intact. Despite his excitement Dr. Elbone had no intentions of opening it outside of a fully-equipped lab.

That decision was reinforced by his next amazing discovery; something had been carved into the surface of the vase.

The only material available to primitive cultures capable of engraving the surface of obsidian would be natural diamond. He had been feeling the texture of the vase, almost caressing it, when his sensitive finger tips had noted the tiny indentations in the otherwise perfectly smooth surface. Carefully lifting it up to his face, he exhaled onto the glass, the moisture on his breath instantly condensing just like it would on a mirror. The condensation brought out the details of what few scrapes and indentations there were in the surface of the vase. There weren’t many. Although not perfectly round, the sort of mathematical precision only a machine could achieve, it demonstrated extraordinarily craftsmanship from what had to have been a technologically sophisticated people.

Once in the lab, trace-gas analysis on the obsidian would show where it came from and hopefully provide a clue as to which culture had actually carved the vase. Whoever they were, they were likely to get a huge boost in publicity given the glorious example of their art which would eventually be put on display to the general public. It wasn't quite King Tut's mask... but it was probably the most beautiful --and perhaps even most significant-- archaeological discovery made since Carter had chipped away in the Valley of the Kings. Dr. Elbone could not help but feel a certain sense of satisfaction, of triumph, as the moisture from his breath brought out the details of the engraving on the surface of the vase...

His breath caught. The strength disappeared from his arms. Only adamant determination to prevent the slightest damage to the vase prevented him from dropping it in shock. It couldn't be...

He read it again. The word hadn't changed.

Although he didn't know it, his world had. For Dr. Darius Elbone, life would never be the same again.

He was still trying to grasp the immensity of his discovery when the next unbelievable development occurred. From behind him, someone spoke. "Give me the vase, Dr. Elbone."

Despite himself he jumped in shock, arms protecting the priceless vase as he quickly swung around, facing someone who couldn't possibly be there. Stunned and confused and completely out of his mind given the events of the past few hours he settled on an inane comment, one he had been forced to state a billion times before. "Al-bonn-eh. It's pronounced Al-bonn-eh."

The other man grimaced. He wasn't overly tall, nor short. Stocky, but reasonably fit. Shortish hair, now greying, above angry, frightened blue eyes. His voice had a distinct American accent. He appeared nervous, eyes constantly shifting around, aiming the strange-looking gun-shaped device he carried in one hand not only at Elbone, but sweeping it around, as if someone else might just pop out of nowhere at any moment, on a deserted island, where anything approaching from any direction could be seen as far away as the horizon. The idea that anyone could just sneak up on them was ludicrous.

Of course, the stranger himself had somehow managed to do just that...

"Give me the urn! Please! You cannot let that thing be opened..."

His words fell silent as lights started to sparkle all around him --all through him!-- and he literally disappeared, just as a thin beam of light, like a laser, only traveling much slower and an intense blue color, sliced through the space he had just been occupying. Off to Elbone's left two more men had suddenly appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and fired their hand-held ray guns the moment they saw the first newcomer. These two were wearing different coveralls than the first one; darker in color, more military looking, with pockets and epaulets and insignia. A leather strap went from shoulder to waist, with a knife-like device in a holster where it met the belt. They looked meaner too. Tougher, more arrogant; unwilling to tolerate the slightest dissent. When they spoke, the words were also in English, but the accent less identifiable, somehow less educated. "Put the urn down and step back, Doctor. Do it now! Or else."

What the 'or else' might entail was left to his imagination when the first trespasser suddenly reappeared in a twinkle of lights, just as the second two seemed to dematerialize in a less twinkly, kind of halo-effect 'light circles sliding up and down their bodies' manner. But they were just an instant too slow in disappearing, as one of them looked to be screaming in pain when a line of laser-light fired by the first man seemed to hit him just before he faded to invisibility. The original newcomer once again faced Elbone, ray-gun again sweeping around him. His expression was almost pleading as he looked at Elbone for only an instant before sweeping his eyes around to search out more of the invisible strangers. "Step back from the vase, Doctor. Please! I'm trying to save you! To save your entire planet!"

Despite his ludicrous, in fact somewhat vainglorious words, he was quick to fade into invisibility behind his display of twinkling lights when four others halo-ed in, already aiming their ray guns in his direction and firing the moment their bodies solidified. But just a fraction of a second later he was back, behind three of them, firing just as the fourth returned fire, apparently having expected him to reappear in exactly that position. In addition to his invisibility device he must have been wearing some kind of anti-ray-gun shield, which briefly glowed a pale yellow as it brushed aside the blast. His opponents weren't as fortunate, and cried out in pain when two of them were hit in rapid succession by the green laser light from his ray gun.

This went on for several minutes. At first there appeared to be only one of the first man who had showed up, but Elbone saw an individual who looked remarkably similar but was dressed differently appear an instant later, protecting what appeared to be an injured arm. He looked older than his compatriot, or perhaps pain just made him appear that way, as the original appeared an instant later when he disappeared, having taken out two more of the second group. There was however a number of distinct individuals in the other group, most wearing the same dark coveralls, all shooting their ray guns in every direction except towards Elbone. Despite their threats, it seemed nobody wanted to take a chance on hitting him. Or perhaps, he decided upon further consideration, unwilling to risk hitting the urn.

Three or four of them would appear simultaneously, although he only saw one of their opponents at any given time. But the interval between the singleton's appearances was tiny; one would appear and disappear seemingly every few seconds. The other group had the advantage in numbers, but the first team could cycle their disappearing light show quicker. Surprisingly, it was someone from the second team who next spoke to him. "Dammit professor, give us the goddamned vase! He'll use it to destroy the entire human race! Don't trust him!"

"'Him?!' Why should I trust you?!" Dr. Elbone was shocked to see the original man get hit by one of the laser-like blasts, exactly where what he had thought to be another person on his team had been injured. Yet when he appeared again a few seconds later, the wound was nowhere to be seen! Was he a clone?! Was he perhaps traveling in time?! What about the others; were they also time travelers, yet not clones? Time traveling would explain why they always knew exactly where the first one would reappear, although Elbone had until then assumed they merely had some kind of device which could track him while he was invisible. A few of them were rolling and tumbling the instant they appeared to get away from where the other side expected them to be. It was hard to be certain, but Elbone thought he saw dirt patterns show up on their uniforms before they did the roll which had caused the stain. Rocks exploded when the blasts from the ray guns missed their target. Huge caches of water were vaporized instantly when struck. Those ray gun blasts contained enormous energies. This wasn't staged, nor a delusion! These were real people, doing really impossible things! All in all, it left his mind even more stunned than it had been over his discovery.

Dr. Elbone was a trained scientist. The preponderance of evidence indicated that he was witnessing two teams of time travelers attempt to prevent each other from getting hold of his discovery. There was no way for him to determine which one was on the 'good' side, and it was readily apparent that he would not be able to prevent the urn from falling into the hands of whichever side won. Both sides had ray guns capable of blowing huge holes in solid rock, they could become invisible, they could appear anywhere they wanted to... and they could travel through time! Either he had completely lost his mind --which Elbone privately admitted seemed the most likely conclusion-- or his discovery had attracted the attention of time travelers from far enough in the future that they had created devices of staggering technological sophistication. Although there were apparently restrictions on how many could appear at any given time. Multiple copies of the first man did not appear at once, and no more than four of the others ever appeared at a time. However, it appeared as if the first man who had appeared had a technological advantage which more than made up for his numerical disadvantage, as he was slowly but surely gaining the upper hand... until the other team sent in a ringer.

Elbone almost lost control of his bladder when the newcomer appeared, just like the others had, out of a dancing halo of circular lights. It looked like... well, like nothing so much as a vampire! Distorted facial bone structure. Extremely pale white skin. Fangs. Not just the canines, but all of his teeth were sharpened into points. Cloudy pale blue eyes, as if he had cataracts, but when it looked directly at Elbone, head cocked slightly to one side, the old man froze in terror at the malevolence of the glare. There were claws at the tips of his fingers, and his hair was as pale as his skin. He was wearing what appeared to be a leather suit with plenty of buckles and hooks. When the original newcomer saw him he immediately turned and fired at the vampire... who completely ignored him, concentrating on Elbone, his shield dispersing the beam from the ray gun as if it was beneath his notice. The men on the other team didn't look any happier to see the vampire, but didn't waste their ammunition; they simply got out of its way. Elbone was terrified. An almost atavistic terror, it was mixed only with an indignant if silent complaint: it was still daytime! The sun was still up! Vampires weren’t supposed to come out in the sun!

This one didn’t seem to care about the sun. Almost casually, it began to glide towards Elbone, its movements possessing the terrifyingly sensual smoothness of a snake, eyes never leaving his, almost hypnotic in their maliciousness. This creature looked upon Elbone as nothing more than prey, an animal to be slaughtered, preferably slowly, with the sadistic playfulness of a cat taunting a trapped mouse. This wasn't a cute little vampire like they were portrayed in the movies --sexy, almost pitiful as they brooded in a pathetic Euro-trashy way-- but a vicious killer who wanted nothing more than to use its fangs to rip his throat out.

Elbone had never been more terrified in his entire life. He'd never felt so old, or more desperate to survive to get even older, or more certain he was not destined to do so...

...when the vase suddenly disappeared.

There was no preparatory light show. One instant it was there; the next... gone. Elbone was an archaeologist --a good archaeologist, dammit!-- and the shock of losing his find was more horrific than even the approaching vampire. Whatever hypnotic trance it had used on him was instantly broken, and he was finally able to scream in horror. Horror at the loss of the greatest archaeological find in a century. Horror at the loss of his life's work. Horror at what he expected the pissed-off vampire was about to do with him over being denied its reward.

Only, when he looked up, Dr. Elbone was amazed to see that everyone else was staring at his empty hands with expressions of confused horror not too dissimilar from his own. Nobody was shooting anymore. In fact, they all looked so confused it was as if nobody knew what to do next. It slowly dawned on the archaeologist that none of them had been responsible for the urn's disappearance, and everyone was wondering what had happened to it. Which didn't make sense. All the evidence indicated they were time travelers! Almost by definition, they had to know what was going to happen. Even if none of them had done it, wouldn't they all know that it was going to happen at that point in time? Or was he missing something?

Apparently they simultaneously decided to regroup and think things over, because without another word they all disappeared. Well, all of the humans anyway. The vampire remained behind for a few seconds after the others faded into their respective twinkling lights, glaring at him, but not making any threatening moves. Until it too disappeared, using the same halo-effect light show the second group had used each time they turned invisible.

Dr. Elbone was once again the only occupant of the tiny island.

To say that he was shocked was an understatement. One thought kept going through his mind: What the hell just happened?!? It took a few seconds before he was able to come up with a few tertiary questions, given the complete lack of any answer to the primary one. Who were those people? Where had they come from? It was obvious they had wanted the vase, but why? And if they were time travelers, why hadn't they just gone back in time and taken it before he came along? None of it made any sense!!

Furiously thinking, he looked around the small island, the excavation still visible with the setting sun remaining just above the horizon despite what had seemed like ten hours having passed since the last time he saw it. Elbone tried to understand what had just occurred, tried to wrap him mind around the amazing things he had just witnessed. But he couldn't. No matter how many questions he had, how many guesses he might make, only one thing really mattered. Only one thing was truly important. Despite the blasted rock where the ray guns had hit, despite the blood stains where bodies had fallen before they disappeared, despite the empty ossuary sitting untouched but empty on the side of the pit or all the photos on the chip in his camera, there was no actual evidence that what he had just seen had actually happened.

Without such evidence, there was no way in hell anyone in the archaeological community would ever believe him when he claimed that for a few incredible minutes, his own unworthy hands had been fortunate enough to hold Pandora's Box.
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