Phantom Days: Walkabout,Cookout,Drink-off,Bust-up
Phantom Days- Walkabout, Cookout, Drink-off, Bust-up - 09
Willow stood 800 feet above the ground with her auburn hair dancing gently about her face and the sun shining brightly through her closed eyelids. She let the daylight and the breeze hug her softly and tingle against her skin. She felt peaceful, in a bubble of serenity. Then it came back – the exhilaration, and the anxiety. Willow turned and looked back. Xander’s face was a pale white moon glaring back at her. She looked out again across the city of San Francisco where only a few of the towering high-rises stood taller than she did at that moment.
She was on the open-air deck of a huge circular platform that stood at the tip of a 300 metre-high narrow tower that reminded her of the CN Tower in Toronto.
Xander was looking across the deck, where people were laughing and gasping as they shuffled to the platform’s edge as far as the energy field allowed. Over that edge, a shear drop to ground level and a breathtaking view of the bustling cityscape. He looked ill as he played with the zipper of his white jump suit.
Will wore the same suit with elbow and knee pads and, when the young guy in the Drop Zone uniform gave her the signal, she pulled her hair back and strapped on the hard hat.
She declined the offer of a hypo to counteract the effects of sudden shock, and the young worker – a tall beach boy type – raised his voice over the wind.
"You’re protected the whole way down by a forcefield tunnel," he yelled through her helmet "Thirty feet from ground level a gravity flux field will slow you very quickly and bring you to a safe landing. The system has never failed, but for your own peace of mind, if you’re still travelling at terminal velocity, the emergency system will beam you to safety at twenty feet, okay?"
She gave him a thumbs-up.
"Most people tend to flail about on their first drop," he added, and dropped her face visor. "I recommend either a diving or flat open position."
She nodded and he stepped back. Before her on the platform was a round hole in the deck, under which hovered a thin sheet of mist. Red lights around the rim of the hole turned green and the beach boy gave her head a tap.
Willow Rosenberg stepped out onto the mist as confidently as her legs would take her and the force field shimmered underfoot. She lay flat out on her stomach as instructed, with her nose against the glistening energy floor. She knew what was waiting for her on the other side but the mist was deceptive.
She tried to breathe slowly and tried to keep from getting up and running away.
The lights went red. Too late to back out now.
Beach boy began the five-second count down.
The mist generators beneath her stopped pumping and the thin cloud began to open up.
Just as the terrible reality became visible, the klaxon sounded and the floor went from under her.
Willow dropped out of the mist and stopped breathing as Frisco opened up 800 feet below her.
She seemed to float rather than fall in the beginning, and there was time enough for the view to amaze her. But once the initial awe was out of the way, it became clear just how fast she was falling. The landing bay area was reaching up for her at a frightful pace and her lungs went wild.
She screamed the last 500 feet down until, almost on impact, some magic force that wasn’t her own pushed against her chest and limbs until she found herself lowering gently to the mat floor of the fenced landing bay.
High above, Xander was looking down the hole with the memory of her desperate scream still ringing through his ears.
"So," the beach boy dude said to him, "feel like giving it a go?"
"Aw, hell no," he replied, and looked at the woman with the shock-relief treatment. "But I’ll take one of those."
On solid ground, an older man helped Will to her feet. "How are you feeling?" he asked her.
Her face was flushed and loose and her eyes teary. She began to laugh and couldn’t stop.
The man laughed in return. "Welcome back to earth."* * *Earlier that day:
The morning sun burst through a wall of glass and wrapped its warm yellow glow around Willow Rosenberg. She looked out over San Francisco’s Horseshoe Bay in wonder at the astonishing view. Five storeys below her were beautiful gardens of domed shrubs and ponds, beyond that a handful of 24th century towers and skyscrapers. Past those lay the bay cloaked in a low morning fog and out of the mist rose the deep orange towers of the Golden Gate Bridge – standing there like a slice of the past. She’d never been to San Francisco, but still it felt like she was home.
It was Earth. A few hundred years newer than the one she had last seen, but it was still their homeworld. And, for the very first time, they were free to explore the future.
Past the old bridge, San Francisco City was just a pale shadow in the distance. Over the horizon beyond the bay, the sun was rising above the fog and beaming through the glass of the apartment. She took a spoonful of real breakfast cereal and gazed out at the view.
She couldn’t believe the place they were staying in. It was some kind of guest quarters for alien ambassadors on the grounds of Starfleet HQ near Fort Baker, and it was luxuriously high-tech.
She’d been the first to wake up and shuffle out of her luxury bedroom into the dark open-plan apartment. She’d called "Lights," and then realised that she wasn’t in space. Tapping the switch on the wall computer, she’d watched as the giant windows that spanned the entire room, lounge and kitchen, faded from black to clear and the glow of the morning sun broke through.
She felt she was glowing too. There was something in the air here that just made her feel… positive. Optimistic. Like everything was going to be all right.
As Willow looked out in wonder at the golden Frisco morning, she couldn’t help but feel guilty.
By God, she missed Tara. So much it could stop her breath. Yet, she didn’t feel the sadness of loss, because she hadn’t really lost her. Tara was alive and well and she had a Willow. She was just glad to know that Tara was happy and that there was a version of herself out there that could be with her.
What really nailed in the guilt was that this new future world had her so excited. Not long after their cross-dimensional flight had crash-landed here, she’d had a little voice at the back of her brain telling her that a life here could really challenge her and allow her skills to blossom. Picard’s encouragement had given that voice volume and now it seemed to be the dominant one in her head. She was stuck in spaceville, never to leave, and she could actually accept it. The part of her that missed Tara, and home, even her folks, would just have to learn to live with it.
The door to the master bedroom swished open and Anya stumbled out scratching at her wild hair, wearing the same standard issue night gown as Willow.
"Morning!" beamed the young witch. "Check out the view here, it’s amazing."
Anya gave the window a half-second glance and went to the kitchen. "Yep. Amazing." She switched on the replicator unit. "Give me coffee."
"What’s up with you?"
"Morning glory," Anya grumbled.
"Um…that sounds like you should be more with the happy and less with the grumpy."
," she repeated. "Xander has it almost every morning and now we can’t have sex because he says it’s not appropriate with you in the next room."
"Oh," she said, realising she was referring to Xander’s dawn horn. "Oh
. Is that all you ever think about? Sex?"
"Sorry, I forgot. Money."
"And I won’t be seeing any of that
anytime soon either."
Willow tried to bring some positivity back into the room, "Want some cereal?" she asked. "I forgot how great real food can taste."
Xander’s sleepy voice came from the bedroom; "Did someone say the magic ‘F’ word?"
It was almost 11am by the time they’d finished breakfast and dressed. Willow was the only one actually wearing the comm badge they’d been issued. Partly, she knew it was a matter of pride – a status symbol. She wanted people to know she was with the Starfleet. More importantly, she knew they’d been issued for a reason and she couldn’t help but follow the rules.
Xander was desperately attempting to manoeuvre the computer into saying rude words when a knock came at the door. A knock, not a chirp.
The trio shared a look of puzzlement.
"Must be our Phantom liaison," uttered Will. She was suddenly rather nervous. It hadn’t really hit her until now, but there was a stranger on the other side of that door who would take them away into a new unknown, with new people. Xander and Anya had been through it before, but not Will. She wasn’t prepared.
"How about a game of guess-the-species?" said Xander.
Will frowned at him.
"Our new crewmate’s here, right? So, what’ll they be? One of the wrinkle noses? A blue baldy? Maybe another bug-eyed Roswell alien?"
"It’ll be a pointy Vulcan," decided Anya. "They’re everywhere."
"Right," he agreed. "Here with his confused eyebrows and computer-speak, boring us with logic and matter-of-facts."
"Doesn’t sound so bad," Anya replied. In fact, it sounded right up her street.
And then the someone knocked again.
"A-answer it," said Will, nervously lifting her hands to her mouth. Butterflies had joined the breakfast in her stomach.
Xander went to the door and held his fingers over the wall panel, looking back to see if the others were really ready. They didn’t look so ready. He didn’t feel so ready.
He hit the switch and the door panels whooshed apart to reveal… a short black-haired girl.
She was human, about Willow’s height, mid twenties, with short black hair. She wore a black jacket with oversized collars and futuristic green cargo pants, topped off at the bottom with a heavy set of boots. Her eyes were blue and wide apart, decorated with black eye liner, and her nose was a cute button in the middle of her dainty face. Her short nails were also painted black. She obviously liked black.
A smile erupted on her face when she saw them. "Oh my God, wow, hi! I’m Kimberly – Kimberly Clegg." She was British, but not posh like Giles. "You guys are the Spooky Group, for real?"
"Well," started Willow, about to explain how they weren’t called the Spooky Group at all, "we’re the ones…" then she gave up and went with it. "Yeah…that’s us."
"In the handsome flesh," said Xander, attracting a squint of disapproval from Anya.
"It’s a pleasure to meet you, seriously." Kimberly gave them all a hardy shake of the hand. "You guys are from the past, ay? I mean A past. I knocked on the door back there. That was my homage." She grinned again. "I love history and mythology, and I couldn’t believe it when all this craziness started with demons and magic. It’s taking a while for it to sink in down here, believe me." She looked around. "Wow… this place is great. I always wondered how the ambassadors lived. Big difference from the cadet barracks across the way. Anyway, you’re probably ready to get out of here, ay?" They looked a little startled.
"Are-are we going to the Phantom already?" asked Will.
"Didn’t anyone tell you?" said the new girl. "We ship out tomorrow morning, but Captain Rayner’s organised a party tonight in the city. Food, drink – the whole shebang. But I thought, with this being your first time on our Earth, you’d wanna take a look around while there’s time."
That brought some life back to their faces.
"Hope you have strong stomachs," said Kimberly.
"…Why?" asked Xander. "Where are you taking us?"
Clegg gave them a devilish smile. "Platform Eight-hundred. The Drop Zone."* * *
They left the apartment block and Kimberly Clegg walked them onto a waiting minibus; a floating bus decorated with the Starfleet crest and banner of the United Federation of Planets. The young officer at the wheel had no wheel at all, just a throttle bar in one hand and a joystick in the other. He rolled the lever forward and took them off Starfleet grounds for the first time, and out around Fort Baker towards the bay.
Clegg turned around in her seat. "So… You’re Xander Harris?"
"Xander Harris is me."
"And you guys are married?"
Anya turned on him with slits for eyes. "Well now, that wasn’t at all hasty or revealing. It’s like that
Xander grimaced at his own tactlessness.
"Anya, right?" said Clegg, saving him. "You’re the expert in Demonology?"
Anya quickly forgot about being offended. "I do
have a few years of experience in the field," she said proudly.
"And Willow Rosenberg," Kimberly said in awe. "You’re a witch
?" This she said with great reverence, not the usual fear or mockery.
"It’s not on my résumé, but I am
pretty witchly with the magicks." Willow gave her a beaming smile.
Kimberly returned it. "I’m really
looking forward to working with you guys."
They passed by another set of grounds.
"There’s Starfleet Academy," said their escort.
Willow gazed out with her face against the glass. "You went there?"
"Sure did. Four years. Good times."
"What’s it like?" Will asked with wonder.
Clegg grinned. The witch was genuinely interested. "It’s the best four years of your life. Makes you who you’re gonna be for the rest of it. Oh, and at the other side of the bay there – you can’t really see it from here – there’s the Federation Council building."
"Council? Not another council," muttered Anya.
Will was confused. "I thought there was a President."
"He’s in Paris."
"Vacation?" asked Xander.
"No," she laughed. "That’s where his office is."
The taxi ride took them onto the old redwood highway and over the Golden Gate Bridge.
They looked out with amazement, and up at the narrowing art deco spires of orange linked by a web of huge suspension cables.
"Damn," sighed Xander. "I left my camera in another dimension."
Kimberly pulled a small device from her jacket.
"You have a cellphone?" said a surprised Anya.
"It’s my X-Press Four Hundred – a personal media buddy. Not exactly Starfleet issue but it’ll do almost anything. Including taking pictures." She had the driver pull over near the Presidio on the south side of the bridge and then roped him into taking a shot of them against the monument before heading on into the outskirts of the city.* * *
Willow, Xander and Anya were standing at the base of a round glass stem that stretched for 800 feet into the sky. It was the transparent stem of a massive tower. They had to strain their necks back to see the disc at the very top, far above them.
Kimberly approached from the tower with a cool blond fellow in a Platform 800 Drop Zone
"Hi, guys," he said to the three visitors. "Welcome to San Francisco. I hear it’s your first time in town. If you’d care to follow me, I’ll introduce you to the city in a way you’ll never forget."
The three of them were led into the tower by the cheery employee while Kimberly stayed behind with her camera, joining a small crowd at the landing area. She couldn’t wait for them to see their faces when they saw their pictures.
In the open glass elevator ride, the panoramic Frisco cityscape opened up to them as they rose towards the sky.
Xander began to suspect there was something wrong about Platform 800 when, all around them, people in crash helmets, some wailing and flapping wildly, fell past them at light-speed.
Looking up to the disc, now clearly an observation deck, they saw four misty openings on each side of them. 800 feet above the ground, people dropped like bricks through the holes and shot by them without any sign of cables, ropes, or chutes.
He wondered if Suicide Zone
wasn’t a more appropriate title.
The view turned black as the ride came to a stop and opened up inside the 360-degree observation deck.
The Scooby trio was shocked by the stunning views of Fog City. They were even more shocked when they realised what the Drop Zone attraction was all about. And then, their guide offered to take them up to the open platform and toss them over the edge…
Anya watched Willow tear by from the safety of the windowed deck and prayed that Xander would back-out, which he thankfully did.
Will was still in hysterics when they re-boarded the bus and headed back to Starfleet HQ.* * *
"End of the line, folks," said their driver as he pulled up to their apartment block.
As they disembarked, he pulled out a palm computer and stylus pen. "Say, do you think I could get your autographs?"
The Scoobs were a little bewildered by the request, but they humoured the officer.
"My Sister’s gonna go crazy when I show her these," he told them.
Outside, Kimberly was waiting. "You better get used to that, guys. You’re the new big thing in town."
Clegg told them she’d pick them up before 6pm for the launch party. She got her X-Press out and showed them her e-mail from their new Phantom chief. It simply read:Holme Park Community Centre, 1800hrs. Casual attire recommended. Bring an empty stomach.
Cpt. Javen Rayner.
She told them there was plenty to see around Starfleet HQ, said goodbye, and pointed them in the direction of something called the Fleet Museum.
Once Willow managed to convince her co-Scoobs to go there, they walked around the outskirts of the gardens with the domed shrubs, expansive lawns and ponds until they found their way to a park on the grounds where a large unusual building stood. It was made up of many levels of glass encompassed in white angled beams like the bones of a whale skeleton. Shallow pools of sky blue water scattered with tall thin trees surrounded the other side of the museum and led to the main entrance.
The thought of a museum gave Xander chills. "I hope there aren’t a lot of boards to read."
They took a path between the pools and entered the huge structure. In the foyer, a smartly dressed holographic woman materialised before them. "Welcome to the Fleet Museum. Do you require an interactive guide?"
Willow’s face took on a geeky rigor mortis.
They were lead around the museum, where so much stuff was being explained by their hologram that Xander feared, with all of it passing right in one ear and out the other, that his brain might get dragged out with the tide.
On the third level, where numerous historical pieces were on display, a family with 3 young children was being shown around by a cartoon character, like something straight out of the Roger Rabbit movie.
"Whoa," Xander said when he saw it. "Maybe after this we can go to Toon Town?"
He found this section much more interesting. So far it had been a massive history of Starfleet and its founding, then the history of ship construction. Now there were some practical displays.
They learned about James T. Kirk as they wandered around the remains of his first bridge – from the original Enterprise NCC-1701. They were shown cabinets containing Kirk’s old uniforms and other items from his home and office. It was here, as they entered a section devoted to the Enterprise-D, that they learned it was the lead ship of the fleet – the flagship of the entire Federation. Jean-Luc Picard’s command chair, recovered from the wrecked Enterprise-D, was on show here. They realised how much the Enterprise crew had been through together in the last 12 years. It didn’t go unnoticed that they’d managed to smash their last starship.
Finally, they came to the top floor where a shuttle service and beaming pads could transport them up to the Orbital Fleet Museum where they would see and board the real space ships of years gone by, including a Constitution-class like the original Enterprise. They easily agreed to keep their feet on the ground while they could. It was possible to view the ships inside and out through live camera feeds.
Soon they came to the last section of the museum.
"Welcome to Spacedock," said their enthusiastic tour guide as they came to a room that was a mock-up of a Spacedock observation deck with large computer screens showing live angles on the ships parked up there. The images were so clear they looked like the real windows. It was 24th century CCTV.
Xander and Anya went to the largest screen and saw the Enterprise and Rutherford being worked on by smaller craft. Xander wondered if the Rutherford crew was still around up there.
A little boy and his grandmother followed them in.
"Gramma, Gramma, look!" the boy came tearing across the hall. "Is that Enterprise
She caught up with him and looked over the hull markings. "That’s the one."
The old lady spoke to Xander and Anya; "When he heard the flagship was in Spacedock he absolutely insisted on coming down here again
. I don’t know why my daughter doesn’t just move back to Earth and be done with it." She smiled at them. "Do either of you happen to know when the Spacedock tour leaves?"
They said not.
The boy looked up at them with wide excited eyes. "Isn’t it cool
"Oh, yeah," agreed Xander. "She’s rockin’ the coolness alright."
"Actually, we used to work there," said Anya.
"Well, we were more like ambassadors," he corrected.
The boy and his grandmother regarded them dubiously.
"It was only for a few days," Xander explained. "Just till we saved the universe."
They looked even less convinced at that.
Anya tried to win them back; "You know, the whole ‘son of the Devil, demon-zombie army’ Royal Rumble."
"Come along now, Timmy," said the old girl as she promptly led her grandson away.
They heard the boy say: "Gramma, who were they?"
She tried to whisper back: "Remember when you came here last year with school? Sometimes hospitals take patients on field trips too."
Anya huffed at the insult and gave Xander such a look of exasperation it actually made him feel guilty for it. She scanned around the room and saw Willow having a long drawn-out question-and-answer session with the fake guide.
She huffed again. "…I’m bored."
As cool as a space museum was, Xander’s opinion of them hadn’t changed.
They decided to go out to the gardens and asked Will to meet them when she was done.* * *
A short time later, Willow found her friends back at the HQ gardens, laying out on the grass in the sun. She slid her feet out from her slip-ons and walked barefoot across the lawn, the grass a soft carpet under her soles. The perfectly green and feather-like strands of grass were too delicate to be called blades as they tickled between her toes. She spun with her arms stretched open to feel the sun’s radiance on her palms and face.
She sat for a while quietly and watched the Starfleet personnel passing by before sprawling out with Anya and Xander to form a human star.
Xander was glad for the month of May. "Ya gotta love the beginning of summer. Not too cold, not too hot. Just right."
"Can you believe it’s November back home now?" said Will. "I mean…it would’ve been for us."
Xander pondered. "I wonder what I’m doing right now. The other me."
A transport shuttlebus flew across the sky above them and he reflected; "We’re never gonna see an aeroplane fly overhead again,"
After a beat, Anya said; "The moon looked different last night. All twinkly and bumpy."
"There’re people living up there now," said Will. "It has cities and everything."
Xander gave it some consideration. "I know we’ve seen some kooky business lately but, now that we’re back on solid earthly turf, it’s just so weird to think there are people on the moon. Where are you off to today, Xander? Why, I’m just gonna visit my folks … on the moon." He let out a whistle. "Reminds me, …know what I won’t
miss? …My parents. Back when I lived in their basement I used to wish for something like this to happen. Only, in my wish, it was my folks who got sucked into a vortex never to return."
It was strange, all right. Going from the people of Sunnydale to the people of Starfleet. And now they were about to change again.
It troubled Willow. "I never really stopped to think about it till now…but, from tomorrow we have to work with a whole new bunch of people. You’ve done it before. Should I be panicky?"
"Nah," replied Xander. "Working on the Rutherford, …it was pretty neat. Like Troi said to me once; every new job’s a chance to learn something new and meet different people."
He sounded very positive. A little too positive.
"He’s doing the denial thing," said Anya.
"No I’m not."
Xander fell into grumpy silence.
Anya began to shuffle uncomfortably in the grass.
"What are we doing?" she finally blurted out.
Xander angled his head back to look at her. "Huh?"
"Why are we letting them move us around like we’re your little wizardy wargame characters?"
wargame characters?" he chuckled with embarrassment. "Surely you mean the ones I’m… holding for… that guy from work…?"
Will giggled. "Busted."
Anya wasn’t laughing. "It’s temporary though? Right? They’re not expecting us to stay on that Phantom spaceship forever are they?"
"It’s just ‘till these Spacefleets’ know what they’re doing," he assured her.
know what they’re doing? We
don’t know what we’re doing. We’re meant to give them all our knowledge but I don’t even know if there’s any knowledge left in my brain."
"We’ll do our best, hon. It always worked for us before."
"Sure," she scoffed, "when we had braniac Giles and a Slayer – before we became the sidekick spin-off."
Willow felt that comment leap across the lawn and stab her in a sore place. "Why does everyone think we’re sidekicks? We’re not sidekicks. We are
the team now."
Xander jumped in to stop the potential fight; "I need a haircut. Ya think there’s anywhere around here an interdimensional tourist can get a complimentary cropping?"
The girls didn’t answer, and things went quiet for a time.
It was Willow who broke the silence. "You think she’s okay?"
Xander knew who she meant. "She’s Buffy. She’ll be okay."
"I wish we coulda given Giles a housewarming," she said with sadness in her voice. "I wonder where he is now…"
A few minutes passed on the sunny lawn when they decided to move on and explore the buildings around HQ. It wasn’t long before they came across a small new-age shopping arcade, where they avoided eating so as not to spoil whatever was on the menu for that night, and wound up having a trim at the officer’s barbershop. Xander’s haircut was the most severe. He had the growing curtains and moppy look replaced by short back and sides. Now he looked more like he did the year before, thought Willow. Only a little beefier. She didn’t tell him that.
They lazed another hour away in the sun until Anya decided she was returning to the apartment for a nap and taking Xander with her. Willow chose to stay in the daylight and breathe the fresh air so they could ‘nap’ in peace.
Alone on the grass, Willow had time to think.
She was afraid. Afraid that they were facing the end of the old gang. Things may never be the same again. It did scare her for sure, but it also opened up a new opportunity. Perhaps now she could put together her own astronautical supernatural crime-fighting team. A new band of heroes with Willow the Witch as the front man for a change.
That could be pretty awesome, she thought.
She sprawled herself out on the grass and smiled from ear to ear.Bring it on
.* * *
By 5:40pm, they were back in their apartment, all dressed and prepped to go. Gone was Xander’s Battlestar Galactica outfit, replaced by a simple brown sweater and black pants. And he’d even managed to run a comb through his hair. Anya looked pretty in a nice floral dress, and Willow had opted for her usual unusual mix – black vinyl pants, thin crimson sweater and a long brown and blue buttonless cardigan.
"I’m starved," Xander grumbled. "My stomach thinks my throat’s been cut."
"We’re gonna be leaving soon," said Will.
He rubbed his fingers together thoughtfully. "I could just replicate a burger…"
Anya stroked his arm. "Be patient." She turned to Kimberly Clegg, who was waiting on them in the den area. "What’s with this party anyway?" asked Anya. "No one threw a party the last time we had to do this."
"I figure Captain Rayner wants to get everyone together so he can see who’ll be working for him," Kimberly explained. "Y’know, this crew’s been thrown together by Command at short notice and usually a captain gets the pick of his people. We’ve got a lot of guys working together for the first time on a stressful and dangerous mission. I already checked over some of the crew manifest and a lot of us are young and inexperienced. He probably just wants to get a feel for us and get us used to each other while we can still relax."
"So you don’t know anyone there either?" said Will.
That made them feel a little better. They were all on the same ground.
"We haven’t had chance to see Giles since we got here," Will said to Kimberly. "Is he staying around here?"
"I heard they gave him a house just out of the city," she answered. She jumped up from her chair and looked them over. "Okay…" It looked like they were finally dressed and sorted. "Ready for this?"
They whimpered back, and Will replied; "I guess."
"Great," she beamed. "Let’s go to a party."* * *
The Phantom launch party was being held in a suburban community centre in a small quiet park.
The Scoobs arrived inside the building and discovered a kind of barroom with a future plastic look, yet with a retro sixties feel. The surfaces were white; the walls seemed to glow with soft colours all around the room. Faint purples, yellows, blues and pinks, with barely a straight edge in sight. The outer wall undulated around the room in waves, forming secluded areas with bench seats and drinks tables. None of the tables had legs and the seating seemed to hang off the floor and away from the walls.
The tucked-away bench seats were of curved moulded purple with pink padding, lit from behind. On the end of each bench seat, beside the pink cushion, a torch of holographic flame danced like real fire. It was all a bit funky and avant-garde.
At the opposite side of the hall was the bar. A white area with a back-lit wavy counter with high tables and stools. The rear wall was glass panelling and a large glass door opened into a garden.
A busy crowd filled the open centre of the room, chatting and mingling away. People and things of all sizes, shapes and colours. There were more of the Andorians, like the Rutherford’s doctor, a few Vulcans, some official looking Starfleet people, but mostly a casual assortment.
As they entered, Kimberly grew even more energised by the atmosphere of the room. "Need a drink?" she buzzed. "Should be beer around here somewhere." She left them and zipped across the room.
"Over-enthusiastic much?" Xander remarked. "If she’s this hyper before
beer we’re gonna need to tie her down to something."
Kimberly ran into a familiar face from the crew manifest on her way to the bar and she called the Scoobs across to meet a young Chinese girl. She was shorter than all of them and wore a traditional cheongsam– a tight-fitting short-sleeved mandarin dress of richly embroidered vibrant red silk.
"This’s Mei-Li," said Kimberly. "She’s on our team."
She gave a shy wave.
team?" repeated Anya.
"You don’t know?" said Clegg. "Jeez, they really didn’t tell you much. The Phantom’s getting a Paranormal Research team. The head of PRD’s coming with us and you guys are our advisors."
Once again the Slay-Team were surprised, this time by the formal nature of their new assignment. …They actually had jobs
Xander realised he’d been demoted. On the Rutherford he’d been an ambassador!
They each introduced themselves to Mei-Li Hua, which was pronounced May-Lee Wa, and discovered that she was only 19 years old, almost straight out of the Academy. She’d been with Starfleet R&D for 3 months, since graduation, and then the Paranormal Research Department at HQ for the past 3 days.
Kimberly quickly dragged them all across to the bar, where Anya said; "I fail to see the point in serving alcohol that doesn’t actually contain any alcohol. Why drink if you can’t get drunk?"
Clegg assured them that the booze they were serving was the real deal. "None of that synthehol stuff."
A blue barman came over and Clegg threw out a handful of digits. "Beers for five, good sir."
The tankards arrived and they clashed glasses in a round of ‘cheers’ and leaned on the bar as a group, examining the hall before them.
Xander’s stomach gave him another painful nudge. "Isn’t there supposed to be food?"
Mei-Li answered in her quiet tone; "There are people outside trying to use a barbecue. I think they could use some assistance from someone who knows how to operate one."
"Don’t look at me," said Xander. "It’s already been established that I lack barbecoolness."
Mei-Li giggled at his Xanderness.
Kimberly pointed out a man who looked in his mid-thirties (which, in this future where life spans are longer, probably meant he was about 40 – Picard looked 60 but was in fact a whopping 71!). "That’s our Chief Engineer. Carver."
He was average height with brown swept-back hair and the hint of facial hair on his top lip and chin.
She was about to point out some others when a thin man came in from the garden. He looked in his forties, short mousy blond hair, with a face that had a severity to it that was amplified by its skeletal thinness.
Xander thought he looked like something out of a nightmare.
"That’s the Captain," said Clegg.
The man reached the centre of the room and clapped his hands for quiet. "Hey, hey. First I want to welcome everyone to this launch party; Phantom crew, friends and relatives. I’m Captain Javen Rayner–" A few friendly heckles came from the back. "Relax, I’m not going to bore you for long. Just wanted to let you know there’ll be an old-fashioned barbecue in honour of our transdimensional advisors," he pointed to the Scoobs, "out back in five minutes."
"Half an hour," someone shouted from the garden.
"Five…or ten minutes," rephrased Rayner. "Seems that the old pals I invited to help out never used a barbecue either. The point is, food’s coming. Enjoy the evening, get to know each other and, most importantly, go to bed early. Anyone late tomorrow’s going on report. Thank you." He walked back through the crowd and into the garden.
"Was he joking?" asked Xander. Captain Freeman hadn’t been like that.
"Didn’t look like he was joking," noted Anya.
"He wasn’t," said Kimberly.
"I’ve heard he’s an iron captain," Mei-Li said softly.
"Yeah, I talked to an old Academy friend who served under him on the USS Marriott
," Kimberly told them. "She said he’s a tough boss; fiercely strict. They picked him for the Phantom because he’s strong and decisive."
"His first officer’s transferring from the Marriott too," added Mei.
Clegg nodded. "They’re a balance, my friend says. Varik’s a Vulcan, and his calmness and diplomacy level up against Rayner’s hard fist. Action and logic."
"The fighter and the thinker," said Mei.
Suddenly Xander wasn’t so sure about this whole mission. Working for a military ogre and a walking computer? Goodbye Rutherford
, he thought to himself, hello boot camp
Rather than mingle for the next ten minutes, the Scoobs found themselves being mingled at. Since their soon-to-be-captain had pointed them out, a mess of people from all walks of life had approached them. It was awe-inspiring to realise just how much they had become celebrities with their recent antics at Epsilon Ursae.
The worst of it were all the same questions being thrown at them – ‘Is it true? About Demons and monsters? Are you all really superhuman? Can you do magic? Is it true you saved the universe from destruction?’ etc etc. The hardest to answer was ‘What’s the past really like?’
Finally there came a break in the flow of admirers.
Willow looked around the crowd and wished for some familiar faces. If only Data or Troi or Geordi could have been with them. At least she had Xander.
"Okay," said a breathless Xander, "I’m officially overwhelmed. My whelm is well and truly under me."
Kimberly led them to one of the secluded floating bench seats where they enjoyed a rest in their new glowing surroundings. Xander was knelt beside the bench toying with the holographic flame when a shadow fell over them. Looking up, they saw what they could only describe as the impossible.
A giant of a man, maybe late twenties, and mixed-race in appearance. His skin was a light bronzed shade of brown, his hair closely cropped to his skull, and he wore a tight white vest and loose grey pants. But it was what lay under his clothing that surprised them. His body was enormous with muscle, and enormous in general. But he looked human.
Xander had to stand upright just to gauge the guy’s height. No way
, he thought, realising he had to be about seven and a half feet tall if he was an inch. The dude was about 2.3 metres from bottom to top. His biceps were at least as thick as Xander’s thighs and every bump of his eight-pack showed through the vest.Must be the new doorman
, thought Xander. He couldn’t stop what he said from slipping out his mouth; "I see steroids have been decriminalised."
The big man put a large paw on Xander’s shoulders and gave him a gentle squeeze. Xander swallowed hard and waited for the other fist to hit him like a bowling ball.
Instead, the giant gave him a knowing smile and spoke, his voice deep and strong, yet with a softness that was friendly. "I heard you were funny," he said, before spotting Kimberly. "Hey. You I’ve seen before."
"We were both at the Academy," said Clegg. "You graduated my freshman year."
"Right," he nodded and put out a hand to her. "Laine."
"I know. You… stood out. Kimberly Clegg." She shook his huge hand with her tiny one. "Head of security, right?" Laine nodded back at her. "You know who’s on your team yet?" she asked.
"Just that my number two’s a Monchezken," he answered. "Schlatnak M’Raknayr."
Willow’s eyes lit up. "Schlatnak’s going with us? Cool."
Anya glared at the hunk of man that was Laine. He’s bigger than Olaf
, she noted in astonishment. She whispered to Willow; "How did he get so big?"
Kimberly introduced the Scooby Gang to Laine. She introduced Anya as a Demon specialist, Xander as an experienced Demon hunter and Willow as their expert in magic.
"Magic?" Laine repeated, unconvinced. "You’re a magician?"
Willow wanted to be offended by that, but Laine was just…too big. "I’m a witch. I do witch magic." Then she whispered to Kimberly; "Most magicians don’t even do magic."
From the big man’s expression, he was clearly a supernatural sceptic.
The Scoobs were surprised again when a tiny little humanoid creature came over and stood beside Laine. It was even shorter than Mei-Li.
"Hello," he said to them mechanically, emphasising each syllable in a gruff tone. "I am Lieutenant Nog." He turned and angled his head up to meet eyes with Laine. They examined each other curiously.
you?" Anya blurted out, catching everyone’s attention.
"I am Ferengi."
"Your ears are huge." The others looked at Anya with dismay.
"Thank you," replied Nog, rubbing them proudly. "I like to think I have good lobes."
"We’ve got the smallest and the biggest crew members right here," Kimberly declared with delight.
Nog gave Laine another examination, which strained his neck. "I should point out that Lieutenant Schlatnak is the tallest member of the crew by two and a half Earth centimetres."
"But who’s stronger, little Ferengi?" Laine tightened up one of his bulging arms.
"Buffy could take you," stated Anya.
Xander gave her a swift nudge. "Don’t upset the sasquatch."
Laine’s eyes narrowed. "She’s the one they call the Slayer?"
Kimberly latched onto the concept, "Yeah, imagine that. Superhuman Demon-killer versus the rippling man-mountain here. It’d be something to see"
"I’m not gonna fight a little girl," Laine argued.
"Why not?" asked Nog. "Are you afraid of losing?"
The big man fired an eyebrow down at him. "I’m afraid of no one in this universe." He turned to Anya. "Or yours."
"Where is this ‘Slayer’ of yours?" asked Nog.
"They split us up," replied Willow. "There’s this whole thing about us all being together and going boom. It’s safer for everyone if we’re not in the same place too long." It made her sad to say the words.
"She went with the grizzly Kling-on people," added Anya.
"She’s even dressing like them now," Xander sighed.
Laine made a mental note of that. This little girl was with the warrior race, and they allowed her to wear their armour? That deserved some respect. Maybe it was a good thing he couldn’t wrestle with her. He kept quiet and looked unimpressed.
But Kimberly could hear something sad in their voices. Like maybe they felt they were losing their friend to a group of strange aliens.
Their attention was drawn to the back of the building.
Something was happening in the garden – a flurry of activity followed by the sound of people calling in to their friends and relatives.
"Looks like the food’s being released," said a hungry Laine and headed out.
Xander couldn’t hold back. Anya asked him to pick her something up and Mei-Li went along.
Nog joined Willow, Kimberly and Anya on the purply-pink bench and got properly introduced.
They watched the crowds piling out into the garden where a plume of smoke rose up from the barbecue and the stubbly bronzed head of Laine stood above all others.
"How can anyone get so…" Willow put her arms out to simulate bigness.
"I knew a troll once," said Anya. "His name was Olaf, and he wasn’t even close to that big. Even when he was human he was big. But not that
big. Of course, he didn’t become a troll until I–" she stopped herself and ran her hand through the harmless flame as casually as she could.
"Actually," Kimberly said, leaning in to Willow secretively, "there was a rumour around the Academy that he’s a Chameloid."
Will looked back at her blankly.
"A shapeshifter," she explained quietly. "He can look anyway he wants. Or like anyone he wants."
"That explains it," said Anya.
"But Chameloids are almost as mythical as Santa Claus or the Loch Ness monster," Clegg went on. "Supposedly, James Kirk met one on…where was it?"
"Rura Penthe," finished Nog.
"But I believe Commander Laine’s file lists him as Hu-man," reported the Ferengi.
Kimberly shrugged. "Like I said, it’s a rumour." * * *
An hour later and the whole group were gathered outside enjoying fresh air, food and free booze.
An older Indian man sporting a manly moustache passed by them on his way to the BBQ. He gave them a polite nod as he went.
"Who’s that guy?" asked Kimberly. She hadn’t seen everyone’s file and he looked like a senior officer type.
"I think he’s our doctor," Mei-Li said.
"I heard we got two docs," said Laine, but he didn’t really care too much about that. "What I wanna know is who’s gonna be flying the bird."
"Another Enterprise transfer, I believe," Nog offered.
A few minutes later there looked to be some confusion growing around the barbecue. The smoke had died down and it seemed that the fire was out. Some were still hungering for nourishment and the group of amateur chefs were asking if anyone knew how to get it going again. Rayner headed over to help them out.
Meanwhile, Kimberly told the Scoobs how fascinated she’d become when she’d heard about the supernatural, but that she still wasn’t sure if she quite believed it.
Willow saw the barbecue situation and, with a good helping of beer down her, thought it a good chance to show off a little. She raised a hand to light the cooker magically.
Xander saw what she was up to. "Whoa. Remember what happened last time?"
"Hey," she fired back, "That was Dracula, not me." She waved her hand. "Ignis incende."
The barbecue went up like a shot, sending a bunch of people diving for cover. The flame died down and the coals began to smoke again. Rayner quickly composed himself and turned suspiciously, catching Willow’s eye. His expression was stern, but he went back to cooking and said nothing.
A few others whispered about it but didn’t dare to approach them.
Clegg could hardly contain herself. "That was wild
." She took Will’s hands in hers and looked them over for any visible sign of… of what? Magic? She didn’t notice Willow’s cheeks glow red as she held her hands.
Anya moved closer to Laine. "So, you’re a shapeshifter?"
They looked across at her suddenly as one group, utterly flabbergasted at her sheer unbridled gall.
"What?" Laine choked. "Not you guys too." He flexed his muscles. "These babies are all natural. Shapeshifter? Ha. Ask anyone here from Starfleet Command – I’ve had the blood tests. I’m no Dominion Founder." He was beginning to overheat.
"Sorry," Willow jumped in. "You’ll have to excuse Anya. Her mouth generally bypasses her CPU."
Anya gave Xander a slap across the arm. "Defend me."
"What? She’s right."
Will was beginning to wonder if they’d all had a bit too much to drink already.
"What’s your name again?" Anya said to the big guy.
"That your first or last name?" she interrogated.
"It’s just Laine."
"I see." Anya put a hand to her mouth and whispered loudly to the others, "He’s a shapeshifter all right." She turned back to Laine. "Humans have at least two names. Like me – Anya Jenkins. I’m human," she boasted with a grin.
"I changed it legally."
"Really? And what was it before?"
Laine scowled down at her. Inwardly, her badgering impressed him. She was a strong-willed woman and he liked that.
She turned to find an official-looking lady with a computer handset. "…Yes."
She held up her device. "I need your imprint for our records."
Willow looked around but no one offered any explanation. "Imprint?"
The lady asked her to plant her right thumb on the screen of the handset, and explained it would act as her signature for all future transactions and dealings. She took Xander and Anya’s and explained; "You’ll need to give your imprints to the Quartermaster General’s office on collection of your uniforms before taking your transport to Spacedock in the morning."
The Scoobs were once more in the surprised zone.
"Uniforms?" said Xander. "We have uniforms?"
"Is it figure-hugging?" questioned Anya. "Can we choose the colour?"
The lady put up her hands. "That’s not my department," and then she left.
Xander smiled. "Our own uniforms." He gave Willow a wink.* * *
Javen Rayner left the re-ignited barbecue in the hands of his friends and moved back into the crowd, looking towards the red-headed girl. The idea of witchcraft didn’t hold much water with him but, if she did have unnatural abilities, he wondered how capable he was of keeping them under control. She was, after all, a civilian. He liked that even less. On a mission like the Phantom’s he didn’t need unruly non-commissioned characters running loose on his ship.
Admiral Asquith approached him from the sidelines and took him to one side. The admiral was a grey-haired bearded man, and Rayner’s former commanding officer. The old man had been his captain for many years.
"You read Picard’s report on the Delta Vindi incident?" asked the admiral, talking of the Vulcan temple massacre.
The admiral wanted to say something but couldn’t find the words. Rayner put a hand on his shoulder. "Don’t worry, Captain. We’ll round them up." He was speaking of the loose creatures they were calling ‘Demons’.
"Needless to say, Javen, be careful out there. Be damn careful."
"I’m more concerned with these advisors you’re giving us." Rayner looked over to them again. Just a bunch of kids. "Whatever they did at Epsilon Ursae seemed to work, but they didn’t bring much to the table in their last mission. As for this Paranormal Research Department that’s taking over my ship… how much control are you expecting me to hand over to them?"
"Well, that’s a balance you’re going to have to find yourself when you’re out there, I’m afraid. You’re the Captain, Javen. They’re only with you to assist. Use them in whatever way works for you."
Rayner sighed and looked at the PRD team. What worked for him was not having them anywhere near his ship at all.* * *
"Romulan ale is still
illegal," Kimberly uttered under her breath.
"And I know where we can get it," Laine whispered back.
It was just the pair of them and the Scoobs left in their purply benched alcove. It was after 10pm and most people had gone already, including Nog and Mei-Li. The young Ferengi was a stickler for following captain’s orders and Mei-Li was a raw recruit on her first space assignment. They’d both left for bed. Laine was trying to drag them into a night on the tiles and Kimberly seemed game. The Scoobs, too, were so loosened by drink that there wasn’t much argument in them. Fun was deserved. Fun was called for. Fun was about to meet the Phantom crew and get its jive on.
Laine led them out, giving the very serious impression they were on their way home.
The young Starfleet driver from earlier was still outside waiting to return the Scoobs to HQ.
Laine used his presence to convince the driver to drop them off near South of Market in the city and forget he’d seen them. The guy didn’t like it at all but he did the deed and left them at the edge of the seediest side of town before scuttling away again in his hover bus.
Laine took them through dark streets lined with nightclubs until they reached The Traveller’s Stronghold, a particularly dangerous-looking bar hidden away in a basement down a stereotypically steamy alley.
"You remember this place from your academy days?" Laine said to Clegg as they looked down the side street at the neon sign.
"Oh, yeah." She remembered more than a few occasions when she’d sneaked out to this and many other bars during her cadet years. "But they don’t serve Romulan ale, big guy."
"You have to know who to ask," he revealed. Not to mention how
Kimberly told Willow to hide her Starfleet communicator badge inside her clothing then led them in, but when the alien doorman saw them he held them back. They looked a little tame for a place like The Traveller’s Stronghold, he thought. Until he saw Laine.
"There a problem with my friends here?" said the ripped officer.
Soon, the Scooby trio were led down a narrow staircase and faced with the dankest, scariest pit of a basement they’d ever encountered. Danker than Xander’s old place and scarier than any vamp nest.
A group that could loosely be called a band was hammering out some bizarre pulsating drumbeat on hanging pipes as the Scooby Gang looked over the heaving room. There were aliens of all breeds everywhere in sight. Many of them were so severely alien they looked uncomfortably Demonish for their liking. Laine leaned in between Xander and Anya’s shoulders and pointed a few aliens out to them.
The tall bony-faced gang of Alice Coopers were Nausicaans, a bald ratty-looking fellow was a Yridian, the fierce-featured hairy cat man was a Caitian, and there was a seriously Demony spike-faced blue giant that was a Bargonite. There were many others too – big hairy ones, melty-faced ones, blue and green ones, crested ones, bony ones, insect ones, a bunch of chubby orange Pakleds… so many. It was a menagerie of misfits.
Laine and Clegg loved the mix of culture and danger in this place. Laine was security, and Clegg was ex-security, so perhaps it was the combination of lawlessness and volatility that had something to do with it.
"This’s the local spaceport for alien travellers who don’t
have business with the Federation," shouted Clegg over the din. "Most of these guys are passing through. Watch your backs."
Xander couldn’t get Mos Eisley out of his head as they followed Laine to the bar. Their massive companion had words with a couple of the bar staff and was soon handing out glasses of Romulan ale. The Scoobs were caught off-guard by the power of the blue liquid.
"Jeez," said Xander through a scrunched face. "That’s some heavy juice."
Willow hadn’t expected to mingle in such a rough dive but, thanks to Laine’s presence and outgoing nature, they were soon hearing the tales and life stories of a whole mess of alien people. Traders, smugglers, and the generally criminal. Kimberly told them that half these ‘baddies’ were probably as straight as a Vulcan but had the look and the swagger to hang out in a place like this.
Three more ales later and Xander was halfway catatonic. He could only look on as Anya pawed drunkenly at his chest, mumbling incoherently about how great he was and how much she respected the python. He thought she was talking about his
python until she started rambling on about how she respected it for including rabbit in its diet. "Nasty, nasty bunnies," she shook her head and blew a raspberry.
Willow and Kimberly were pretty much holding each other up, and Will was even hit on by some kind of alien thing which Clegg soon shooed off.
"So, anyway," boomed Laine, continuing his story, "this old Ferengi latched onto my thigh and started gnawing on it like a chicken leg–"
Xander screamed out with laughter. His intoxicated muscles spasmed wildly and he smacked against something so hard he thought he’d broken his funny bone.
Laine immediately dragged him to one side and took his place as a big ugly Nausicaan spun to confront the bumbling fool that had knocked the drink he was holding all down his crotch.
"WHICH DEAD MAN…?" The Nausicaan was tall but when he saw Laine standing a foot taller than him he visibly withered. With a grumble, the Alice Cooper look-alike moved off to join his gang across the room.
"Ooooooh," teased Kimberly, jabbing a wandering finger into Laine’s belly. "Nausicaan’s gonna getchya."
He swallowed his fifth ale quickly. He wasn’t one to run from a fight, but the last thing they needed was for Starfleet to get a report that a group fitting their description was anywhere near The Traveller’s Stronghold, never mind getting into a barroom brawl. And, somehow, he didn’t think their new captain would be impressed if the others arrived on the Phantom the next morning decorated with bruises and knife wounds. And any doctor they went to would have to report their treatment.
"Come on," he said to them. "It’s almost one a.m. We better be…going…" He sighed regretfully as four Nausicaan’s arrived in front of them. It was too late. "We really
don’t need this."
Kimberly had stiffened up and Willow was beginning to realise, through a haze, that something serious was on the schedule.
Anya turned to Laine, recalling her remark about Buffy taking him. "You can take these guys. Right?"
"It’s not that simple." Laine shook his head. He couldn’t see any way out of this. "Damn it. Get behind me."
Anya did, pulling Xander awkwardly with her. "This should be good," he slurred.
Kimberly tried to take cover behind him but was held back by a steadfast Willow who refused to budge. She tried to explain about Nausicaans but the flame-haired girl waggled a warning finger at them.
"Make it easily on yourselves and walk away," blathered Willow. "We eat Nausians for breakfast."
Kimberly’s jaw came unhinged. "Willow!"
The witch chuckled. "Who’s first for the chop?" She pointed each of them out, "Alice Cooper? …Slash? …Gene Simmons?" she giggled again. "Or you?" she pointed to the fourth one and remembered the barbecue. She wafted her hand dramatically; "Ignis incende!"
The Nausicaan’s hair went up in flame and he ran screaming for a glass of liquid.
"That one’s Michael Jackson!" Willow’s laugh was cut short as Alice Cooper lifted her by the neck and began to choke the life from her.
Laine moved in on Slash and knocked him out with one thunder-blow of his fist, and shoved Gene Simmons over a table onto the wet floor.
The moment Willow found herself up in the air with the alien hands round her neck, she went certifiable on his ass.
Drunk she might be, but she had more magic than alcohol in her blood.
She called on her telekinetic force, stronger now for she was on the very Earth that she drew her power of nature from, and she exploded the space between her own body and the Nausicaan’s. They flew apart in opposite directions.
Alice Cooper was stunned but he pulled a knife and came at her. Laine moved to intercept but Willow held him back with her power. Alice Cooper came and Willow did the only thing any respecting drunk should do in a bar fight. She raised a chair into the air behind the alien and fired it toward the back of his head. Sadly, her drunken aim was off and the chair leg barely scraped him as it went by and crashed into the shelves of bottles behind the bar.
She cringed and tried again. The table that followed it was too big to miss its mark. Alice Cooper was down and out.
There were no more villains to defend against but Willow couldn’t help herself. "Deslavo!" she called and threw a ball of blue energy into the ceiling, blowing out a light.
"Okay," Laine wrangled his inebriated companions up. "Time to go." He pushed them up the stairway just as Gene Simmons picked himself off the floor and came up behind him with a dagger. Laine could feel the sneaking Nausicaan trying to ambush him. He threw his arm back and over the arm of his attacker, raising it and almost snapping it at the elbow. The knife dropped and Laine put him out with one good punch.
The Phantom team staggered out into the street.
Kimberly held onto Willow and bounced around excitedly. "That was…so damn amazing! How did you do
that? You totally tackled a Nausicaan with magic!"
Xander fell against his woman. "I’m so full of the good ale I’m gonna be garglin’ booze soon."
"I …want you …so bad right now," mumbled Anya as she slid to the ground and went to sleep.
Laine reappeared from the alley. "We’re in big trouble."
Kimberly was beer-dizzy but she understood the problem. Not only would it be an easy task to identify Laine from his description, but Willow’s cool little magic show had a way of fast becoming gossip.
"It’s an easy fix," sputtered Will from her seat on the ground. "I can make them forget!" She was almost positive she’d heard of a Tabula Rasa memory spell. Then she remembered she had no idea what it actually required and that it was above her level of witchery. Then she realised she couldn’t remember the memory spell and laughed.
"No," Laine insisted. "No more magic." He still didn’t know what to make of what he’d seen her do in the bar, but he didn’t want her making things any worse.
Xander tried to fire up his memory. He looked down to Will, "What about that door trick you pulled on Barabbas?"
"Barabbas?" puzzled the witch. What did the Biblical bandit have to do with anything? "Oh, Baragnos? Yeah, the contego material stretchy spell! I could make the door of the bar into a wall… it might crush the door though…"
"What?" said Laine. "No."
," insisted Will with a wave.
"No. No more. Anyway, they’d still be able to communicate with the outside world."
"Not if we knock out their transceiver!" suggested Kimberly, getting caught up in the mood for espionage.
"Their transceiver’s inside
the building," he reminded her. "You’ve had too much to drink, Clegg."
"But, if we knock out the junction assembly for the whole block… We could take Willow’s communicator apart, bypass the encryption circuit, and overload the sarium power cell to blow out the assembly coupling for the entire street…" She stopped…
How could she send such a subspace radio signal to the small transceiver unit in the comm badge?
"…I could use this–" she pulled out her X-Press 400 Media Buddy, "–to piggy-back onto the subspace frequency of the communicator and… bam." She looked to the big guy triumphantly.
For a moment he appeared impressed by her unorthodox quick thinking, then he returned a stern frown her way.
He was right, she realised. She was talking crazy. It would take the worst investigator less than ten minutes to discover a Starfleet officer had used a comm unit to destroy communications to a whole street, less than five minutes to realise magic had been used to make the bar’s door a wall, and about a two-minute chat with the patrons to figure out it was them.
Laine looked back to the alley. No others had left the bar yet. He wondered what the chances were of this little incident going unnoticed until they’d shipped out later that morning. "C’mon," he signalled to Clegg. "Let’s get these delinquents back to their crash pad."
Xander carried a comatose Anya, and Clegg supported Willow as Willow in turn supported her, and they walked the few hundred metres to the South Beach.
When Laine was satisfied they were out of harms way he stopped. "You should call them a cab," he said when Clegg got out her X-Press.
"Got a better idea," she replied. "I’m calling my ex."
"Whoa now," Xander cut in. He went on sympathetically; "Look, sure, you’ve had a lot to drink and you’re probably on a downer about now, but, really, don’t do this to yourself. Calling your ex is not the way to go."
"Drunk dialling…" Will shook her head. "Big mistake."
Kimberly smiled at them. "I’m getting us a ride
."* * *
Just a few minutes later, and a small hover car pulled up to the sidewalk next to Clegg and a moppy-haired young Englishman got out. He lived in Frisco and worked as a maintenance technician at Starfleet HQ and the Academy.
"Kimbers," he acknowledged with a humoured shake of his head.
She smiled back. "Got some out-of-towner townies could use a lift back to their digs."
He helped Xander lay Anya in the back of his car then let him and Willow climb in after her before rolling the rear door back down into place. He looked over the roof as Kimberly went to the passenger side door.
"I know you only came down here so you could meet them
," she said, tipping her head at the interdimensional trio.
He let out a laugh. He figured she’d counted on that when she called him. "What kind of guy gets roped into picking his drunken ex up at one in the morning?"
"You know I know you work the late shift and don’t sleep till dawn."
He smiled again. She knew him well enough.
They left Laine at the roadside. He told them he was staying close by anyway. Not that there was any room for him in the car.
Xander’s eyes were trying to close on him when he noticed they were coming up to the Golden Gate Bridge again.
Anya was in his arms, touching his bottom lip with a playful finger. Her eyes were almost shut. "I love youuu," she droned sleepily.
"Ditto," he replied.
She stopped playing with his lip, held him, and drifted off again. "Don’t be a ghost."
He had no idea what she was talking about, but he patted her on the back lovingly. "Okay," he agreed, then spoke to their driver; "What’s this thing run on?" he asked.
"G-one-thousand series power cell," the guy replied. "Top of the range."
"What kinda speed can you get out of it?" asked Xander.
"Well, there’s a limit–"
"Can it fly any higher?"
"It doesn’t fly, though–"
"What if you drove off the bridge? Would it hover or kasplash?"
The guy turned to his ex-girlfriend. "These are the Heroes of the Demon Dimension?"
"Hey, they’re still human," she retorted. "Plus, you should see what Willow can do – she’s like a fire-tamer super-witch!" she rolled around in her seat to face Will. "You gotta teach me that stuff, it’s outstanding."
Will was so drunk she could do nothing but stare into Kimberly Clegg’s big blue eyes and smile.
By the time the Scoobs got back to their apartment it was gone 1:30am and there was no strength in them. They collapsed in their beds and slept. The rest of the morning brought trips to the bathroom, much hurling, and more sleeping.
Then, much to their distress, at 7am, it was time to go to work.* * *Space, 2418 AD:
"A bar fight?" Lt. Leonid Korotkin said in astonishment.
Captain Rosenberg smiled at the thought of her youthful shenanigans all those years ago. "That’s probably about as out-of-control as I’ve ever been. I was young. I should probably have had more nights like that while I had the chance."
"I can’t believe you were taken to such a place by Starfleet officers," said Lt. Crius.
"Well, they were young too," she explained, then realised what she had divulged. "I probably shouldn’t have told you all that."
Young Korotkin held up his right hand. "We’ll never tell a soul, Captain."
She knew he’d tell her anything just to hear more. "Thank you."
"And you had to report to the Phantom the same morning?" asked Crius.
"That’s right." She thought back. "…But, by god, we felt every glass of Romulan ale that day…"
I named the character of Kimberly Clegg long before I even knew there was a Liberal Democrat party leader (now deputy Prime Minister) called Nick Clegg. So, no relation there.