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This story is No. 7 in the series "A Different Future". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: On Tallura, Dawn and the others may be safely out of Glory’s reach, but their adventures are only just beginning. And safety is always a relative condition - sequel to "Fate's Little Plaything Volume One".

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Stargate > GeneralCordyfanFR1323281,0563128461,09714 Mar 116 Sep 14No

Plots and Counter-Plots

Summary:  On Tallura, Dawn and the others may be safely out of Glory’s reach, but their adventures are only just beginning.  And safety is always a relative condition.
Pairings:  None.
Disclaimer:  I don’t own Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stargate SG-1, or Stargate Atlantis.
Notes:  Continued from Fate’s Little Plaything Vol.1 (it will only make sense if you’ve read that story).

 

Drayana’s Chambers, Imperial Palace, Yaherin Var Imperial City, Tallura Prime – 31st December 2000 (Earth Date)

Breakfast, the Empress reflected, wasn’t the best time to receive unwelcome information.  On the other hand, this was certain to be a thoroughly unpleasant day in a myriad of ways, so one more piece of bad news would hardly make a difference.

“Your initiative is to be commended, Decurion Aquiliani.  Though spying on Imperial officials – no matter the justification – is not something I can officially condone...” The Empress gingerly held the data crystal between two fingers, as though it was red hot.

While the information it contained might not be red hot, it was certainly of concern.  Drayana reminded herself that she was fortunate to have people like Aquiliani on her side.  The young Imperial Guard had acted solely on her own observations and intuition that something was seriously amiss, an impression which was also slowly developing in the Empress’s own mind.

The crystal didn’t contain anything directly incriminating – aside from raising questions about the Regent’s judgement in choosing his friends – nor was it yet sufficient for further investigation by the Security Bureau.  It did, nonetheless, sound warning bells, especially in the light of events elsewhere.

“My apologies for the lapse in protocol, Your Excellency,” Aquiliani didn’t actually sound too remorseful. “But on at least four separate occasions, Joyce Summers and I have been followed outside the Palace.  Each time, I recognised our shadow as being one of the Regent’s staff.”

Drayana pinched her bottom lip.  By itself, following her guests could simply be passed off as an over-zealous concern for Talluran security in general and her own safety in particular.  And ordering surveillance of the Terrans was certainly in keeping with Ilarius’ distinctly xenophobic personality.  It wasn’t really something for which she could censure the Regent, since he’d only claim to have her best interests at heart.  Besides, it was best if he continued to believe his spies had been undetected.

“You are certain the Regent’s men did not realise they had been seen?” the Empress asked.

Aquiliani shook her head. “Their skills are actually quite poor, as might be expected from Ilarius’ clerks.  They probably have no training in surveillance techniques.  Nor were they decoys – I was careful to check the area for any more subtle individuals.”

Drayana needed no further assurance.  The Imperial Guard were all exhaustively -trained in counter-surveillance and counter-espionage techniques.  Aquiliani, in all likelihood, had only been faced with some administrative staff from the Regent’s office, pressed into service.  And even the most skilled spy would be hard-pressed to escape detection by an Imperial Guard.

Paranoia aside, the Empress had an instinctive feeling that Ilarius was interested in the Terran visitors for more disturbing reasons.  As yet, however, she lacked all the parts to the puzzle. 

One thing was certain, nevertheless.  It would be a disgrace to the Talluran Empire if any harm came to those she’d pledged to shelter and protect.  Her people’s tradition of sanctuary was virtually sacrosanct.  While she was on the throne, it would be upheld to the best of her ability – and the Ancestors wouldn’t be able to save anyone who breached that trust.  

“I wish Joyce would accept a further bodyguard,” Drayana mused aloud.

Dawn was indisputably much better protected than her mother.  Much of the time, she was protected by both SG-15 and the Imperial Guard, not to mention a Slayer who would likely kill anyone who even glanced at her young charge in the wrong way.

“She only agreed to me, after some argument, Your Excellency.  If you personally intercede, she might be persuaded...” the Decurion suggested.

Drayana shook her head. “Not unless absolutely necessary.  I promised the Asgard that they would be safe here and, without further information, I will not cause her any alarm.”

She paused. “Which is not to say that we cannot take additional, less obvious, precautions.  We can quietly assign two more Imperial Guards, in civilian clothes.  Neither Joyce, nor any spy, should be aware of their presence.”

The Empress still felt uneasy, but there were other related matters to deal with.

“Have you identified the Ch’Hanis who was present last night?”

Aquiliani nodded. “His name is Jugrub.  An exceedingly unpleasant individual, who is a known smuggler and suspected pirate.  We could ask the Security Bureau to arrest him.  And perhaps ask Regent Ilarius – and his former Proconsul friends – why they are consorting with such a creature.”

“Much as it might be tempting, that would alert this group to our suspicions.  Such as we have them, that is...  In any case, Ilarius and the others would merely claim that they believed him to be a harmless Ch’Hanis trader,” Drayana suggested reluctantly.

The neighbouring Ch’Hanis Freehold, though  not exactly on friendly terms with the Talluran Empire, never allowed that to get in the way of commerce.  At any given time, there were always a number of Ch’Hanis traders on Tallura Prime and its colonies.  People were, however, also distinctly wary of the seven-foot reptilians, and with excellent reason.  Past flare-ups between the two powerful neighbours had revealed one disturbing fact.  Namely, that the Ch’Hanis didn’t merely covet the Empires territory or resources, but also regarded its people as rare delicacies.  A formal treaty between the Empire and Freehold contained the explicit stipulation that any attempt to harvest Tallurans for eating purposes would result in the reptilians’ home planet being blasted into radioactive rubble – and the Imperial Fleet definitely had a persuasive edge in military terms – but the Ch’Hanis authorities couldn’t really control the activities of certain pirates. 

Drayana shuddered inwardly.  Piracy, with its usual consequences of theft, torture, rape and murder, was the scourge of large areas of the Vedda Galaxy.  Most species’ pirates, however, didn’t turn their prisoners into meals.

“Do you have any further orders, Your Excellency?” Drayana asked.

“This is not an official operation, Decurion.  I will not “order” you to do anything which might be regarded as illegal.  I would not, however, be displeased if you continued this line of enquiry.  Involve as few people as possible, within the Imperial Guard only for now.  In particular, I would be grateful if you would find that Ch’Hanis pirate and have him placed under surveillance.  And if the creature so much as licks his lips in the direction of one of our people?  Then act accordingly,” Drayana replied darkly.

 

Proconsulate Chamber, Imperial Palace, Yaherin Var Imperial City, Tallura Prime – 31st December 2000 (Earth Date)

The Empress was trying hard not to grind her teeth together or even scream at the top of her voice.  This was supposed to be an emergency session of the Proconsulate, aimed at solving the sudden and – to date – inexplicable famine on Thenatrix.  As such she’d hoped for meaningful explanations and solutions to the crisis from those Proconsuls whose Directorates were most directly involved.

Instead, it had turned into yet another round of passing the blame.  These hand-picked Proconsuls, supposed to be experts in their respective fields, were wasting all their energy on evasion and accusation – and precious little on solving the problem.  Meanwhile, her people were starving on the distant colony planet.

The time for debate, Drayana decided grimly, was long past.  The latest intelligence reports suggested that the Governor of Thenatrix was either utterly out of his depth and probably exacerbating the crisis, or involved at a more sinister level.  There had been a series of riots on the planet and pirate activity was series hampering relief operations.  She was, moreover, not entirely convinced that this crisis was a natural event.  Too many things were going wrong at once.  Her conversation with Decurion Aquiliani just prior to this meeting was certainly an unsettling one and did raise certain questions.  The Empress might be young, but she was far from naive.  A meeting between Ilarius, a number of disgraced former Proconsuls, and a suspected Ch’Hanis smuggler smelled like rotten fish.  Especially since the Planetary Governor was also an acquaintance of the Regent. 

There had to be a connection between the Thenatrix crisis and what looked very like the beginnings of a conspiracy.  But if Ilarius was, indeed, involved in a plot against her, the Empress wanted to be absolutely certain of the facts before moving against him.  The Regent was certainly capable of it – she could see the hatred reflected in his eyes every time they talked.  Drayana was also, however, quite certain that Ilarius had covered himself quite well.  Suspicions were one thing, but he would be acting largely through others.

The Empress sighed to herself.  At least she knew something was afoot and could quietly instruct her most loyal subjects to keep their eyes and ears open.  Ilarius and his cabal could, in any case, be left to one side for the moment.  Drayana aimed to take swift and decisive action over the Thenatrix crisis.  And it would be a surprise to everyone in this room.

“I cannot run a viable relief operation to Thenatrix, when every fourth transport is attacked by pirates,” the Proconsul for Agriculture declared.

“My forces are thinly deployed in that area and are doing their utmost to protect transports inbound to Thenatrix,” his counterpart at the Frontier and Customs Directorate shot back.

He also made a mental note to ask the local commander exactly what, in all the Fifteen Hells, he was actually doing with his assigned forces.

Frontier and Customs jabbed a finger at his counterpart. “Besides, if your officials had ensured emergency supplies on Thenatrix were at the correct levels, the crisis would not be so severe.  And how would you explain the loss of seventy percent of contingency stocks?”

“That is a matter for the Governor,” Agriculture sniffed. “And I do not like what you are implying...”

“There is also the question of tainted seed stocks on Thenatrix...” the Proconsul for Science pointed out, carefully adding fuel to the flames.

“The seed supplies passed every quality control test within my Directorate – and also the sample tested by your own incompetents!” Agriculture snarled.

“Enough!” The Empress raised her voice just enough to be heard over the squabbling Proconsuls and slammed the palm of her hand down on the conference table.

Drayana’s eyes narrowed, all trace of the fun-loving, mischievous teen completely absent.  She turned to the Imperial Advisory Council, sitting in a semi-circle to her left and, up to this point, uninvolved.

“Would you please wait outside for the moment?  The Proconsulate and I have a few things to discuss...” the Empress’ voice took on its iciest tone.

Most of the Advisory Council simply nodded.  It was within her right to exclude them from certain meetings.  They were also beginning to learn the danger signs.  The last time their young sovereign had used that tone of voice, it was merely a prelude to wholesale dismissals of corrupt Proconsuls.

“Your Excellency, it might be a good idea if...” Only Ilarius protested – he was keen to see how she dealt with the crisis he’d so carefully engineered, on multiple levels.

The various pieces had come together quite nicely for the Regent’s purposes.  First, he’d discovered that the Governor of Thenatrix had illegally sold seventy percent of his planet’s emergency reserve food supplies to traders from outside the Empire.  Secondly, the commander of the Frontier and Customs Force units in the area had siphoned off repair and operating funds, leaving almost forty percent of his ships unserviceable or lacking crews for regular operations.  Thirdly, Agriculture Directorate officials on Thenatrix had substituted cheap alternative seed supplies for the approved issue.  Clearly, the bureaucrats on the Empire’s most distant colony hadn’t quite grasped the extent of Drayana’s anti-graft measures on Tallura Prime and the closer colonies.  Nor the fact that these would inevitably reach the outer colony worlds – the Proconsulate had merely been Drayana’s first house-cleaning objective.

It had been comparatively easy for Ilarius to seize an opportunity to slip some seeds, obtained from a blight-struck world within the neighbouring Haamarii Protectorate, into the procurement system.  The Ch’Hanis pirate boss Jugrub had, meanwhile, been pleased to learn about the weakness of local law enforcement.  Now the Regent just had to sit back and watch how the Empress dealt with the crisis.  And if she successfully resolved this one, he had another half-a-dozen planetary and regional emergencies just waiting to happen.

Drayana kept her voice level, but firm, leaving him no choice but to comply. “You may leave us, Regent.”

The door closed behind the Ilarius and the Empress could be confident that with Vesarius outside, no one would try to eavesdrop.  She’d already had the room swept for microphones, while the tiny detector in her ring would alert her to any more recently placed bugs.  This was far from the kind of open and trusting political system Drayana aspired to, but until the practices and influence of Ilarius and his old guard were completely swept away, she’d have to accept certain things. Like mistrust, plotting and paranoia.

The Empress leant forward in her chair and looked each of the warring Proconsuls straight in the eye, not saying a word for several long, unnerving minutes.  In Political Science classes, Myrnn had always taught her the importance of preparing and controlling the moment, gaining moral ascendancy and authority over everyone else in the vicinity.  Drayana had very quickly learned to dominate the proceedings, even if it meant a certain degree of ruthlessness.  Of course, usually the young Empress preferred a softer approach, seeking common ground between the different bodies.  But when her people were dying due to either ineptitude, or worse, then she would engage Tyrant Mode. 

She steepled her fingers. “I had presumed that you would be a considerable improvement on certain of your predecessors.  It would be very unfortunate if you were to prove me wrong...”

The Empress suddenly turned to the Proconsul for Frontier and Customs, responsible for the security of the space routes in all conditions short of war. “There are twenty-five relief vessels scheduled to arrive at Thenatrix today.  If twenty-five cargoes are not unloaded safely, you will personally explain why.  And do not use the excuse of insufficient resources – I know how many men and ships you have in the area.  Enough to deal with any normal pirate threat.  If the threat is above average levels, you already have the authority to request assistance from the Imperial Defence Forces.  But no such requests have been received, so I must assume that you do not require additional help.”

Drayana had done her homework very thoroughly before this meeting.  She would brook no excuses or obfuscation.

Agriculture was next in the firing line. “Your Directorate will ensure that this famine swiftly comes to an end.  There are more than adequate reserves within the Empire to deal with four or more such shortfalls.  I also want to know why so many different crops were suddenly affected by this blight, if your quality control procedures are so effective.  Furthermore, it is your responsibility – together with the Planetary Governor – to ensure that contingency stocks are maintained at one hundred percent, at all times.  I wish to know why this was not the case – and I will also be having the same conversation with the Governor.”

The Proconsul considered a defensive reply, but decided it might not be such a good idea.  He knew a secure and prestigious job position when he had one, even if the Empress was exceedingly intolerant of failure.

“And Science?  This civilization has collapsed and rebuilt itself from basics a dozen times and more over the ages.  We are not exactly living in the caves right now.  You have the genomes mapped for every key crop our people currently grow – and for each of the diseases which affect these.  A star-faring people should not have to worry about crop failure!  I want a report on the reasons why this has happened, three days from now,” the third Proconsul had to accept her share of Imperial ire, just like her counterparts.

“Now get out of my sight!” Drayana growled in dismissal.

Her approach might have been somewhat autocratic in tone, but the Consular Houses – the elected representatives of her people – would certainly approve.  Even the best Proconsuls still had a great deal to live down, given the excesses of the Regency Proconsulate.

Drayana waited until the trio had scampered out the door, terrified of losing their comfortable positions and associated benefits.  A Proconsulate seat had all too frequently been treated as a sinecure under Ilarius.  These days, however, they had to work and show results.  And the Empress held herself to the same high standard.

She touched the vid-screen in front of her, activating a link to the Treasury.  Five minutes later, a team from the fearsome Imperial Audit Sub-Directorate were heading for the spaceport.  If the Governor’s financial dealings were even slightly suspect, the auditors would uncover the facts in short order. 

Next Drayana called for her guard CO.  She’d need more than the Imperial Audit on Thenatrix.

“Where – when - will I find some Proconsuls worthy of the fricking title, Centurion?” the Empress growled, as the commander of her personal detail entered.

Vesarian suppressed a grin. “ “Worthy of the fricking title”, Your Excellency?  I believe you have been spending too much time around Diana Prince.”

Some of the Slayer’s favourite words weren’t directly translatable into Talluran and Drayana had accidentally found herself using a few of them in conversation of late.

The Empress mock-glared at him. “I have just eaten three Proconsuls for breakfast.  Perhaps an Imperial Guard Centurion would take the edge off my appetite...”

Vesarian nodded solemnly. “I believe I would be rather unpalatable for Your Excellency’s taste.”

Drayana shook her head and chuckled.  The Imperial Guard Centurion was more than her trusted bodyguard.  At times he was a useful adviser and confidante, outside the official circle.  More than that, she could call him a friend.

“I will be visiting Thenatrix today...” she continued.

“Using the Astria Porta, Your Excellency?” Vesarian enquired.

Drayana shook her head. “There is a twelve ship convoy due to leave in a few hours.  This one will have proper protection.  And the local pirates also need a lesson in consequences...”

Vesarian nodded understandingly. “The First Squadron, Your Excellency?”

The First Squadron was a unit of the Imperial Fleet, crewed solely by the Imperial Guard, and a powerful symbol of the Empire.  Usually deployed in defence of Tallura Prime, the force always transported and protected the Empress when she was off-world, with the exception of short trips through the Stargate.

“Two hours readiness, Centurion,” Drayana confirmed.

“And full combat gear, just in case the Governor is not happy to see our Imperial Person,” she smiled thinly.

The Governor of Thenatrix was definitely old guard and an ally of Ilarius.  While the Empress had no grounds to suspect that he might move against her, she decided that a show of force might not go amiss.  Displays of military might weren’t, in general, the Talluran way – and they certainly weren’t  Drayana’s – but sometimes it was necessary to show teeth.  Historically, there had been times when Planetary Governors  attempted to establish their own little fiefdoms, seeking to undermine the democratic authority of the Planetary, Regional and District Consuls and deliberately ignoring Imperial authority.  In a few cases, the result had been open conflict. 

Thenatrix might not yet be in that situation – though Drayana had already received complaints from members of the three Consular Houses – but the Empress had no intentions of allowing this problem to deepen.  There was also a very real possibility that Thenatrix would require a new Planetary Governor by the end of the day.

“I also suggest you invite Lieutenant-Colonel Logan.  After all, he could be classed as a Terran military observer,” she suggested.

If nothing else, the Empress thought glumly, the Terran officer would at least see what a corrupt mess she’d inherited from the Regent and previous Proconsulate.

 

Guardrooms, Imperial Palace, Yaherin Var Imperial City, Tallura Prime – 31st December 2000 (Earth Date)

“I’ll be gone the rest of today and maybe tomorrow.  While I’m off-world, I want you to start training Joyce and Dawn on standard sidearms and let them shoot off a Zat.  I’ve arranged a time-slot on the Imperial Guard shooting range,” Logan briefed his XO, Captain Bill Sato.

The Colonel hadn’t initially been sure if he should take the Empress up on her offer.  On the other hand, remaining on Tallura Prime might just tip off the bad guys, if there were any.  Moreover, turning down an invitation from their host – especially the head of state – might be diplomatically and personally insulting.

SG-15’s second-in-command looked dubious. “It was tricky enough persuading Joyce to just learn how a Zat works.  Not sure she’ll be too happy about shooting an M9 or M11.  And if I suggest putting a sidearm into Dawn’s hand?  She’ll hit the roof, sir.”

“Probably, but I still want them both to have that extra level of protection.  The doc and I briefed Joyce on the situation last night.  Took it better than you might think.  Not like she isn’t used to danger for herself and family,” Logan responded.

Sato chewed his bottom lip. “If we’re so worried about local politics and conspiracies, maybe we should just call the Asgard to pick us up.”

The Colonel shook his head. He’d actually seriously considered that option.  In fact, Logan had half-expected Joyce to demand he do just that the previous night, but the woman was more sanguine than anticipated.  Evidently, with two daughters who were Slayers – including one who was also a serving paratrooper – and having just had a major health scare herself, she was becoming somewhat philosophical about relative levels of risk.  As a threat, an embittered politician who might, or might not, have ill-intentions towards her and her daughter, simply didn’t begin to measure up against an insane Hell Goddess back on Earth.

“Baldur left the transmitter for emergency use.  I’m pretty sure worrying about some bureaucrat, with a bug up his ass about anyone who isn’t Talluran, doesn’t really count as an emergency,” Logan pointed out.

He shrugged. “Besides, where would we go?  The Asgard weren’t keen on hosting us themselves - I get the feeling they aren’t set up for anyone who isn’t short and grey.  And having us underfoot on one of their warships for five months probably isn’t an option, either.”

Even the Asgard, who took emotional control to its limits, had found live-wire Dawn to be somewhat trying at times.  Five more months and they might just abandon their war with the Replicators and open up a new front against Earth.

“All we can do is keep our eyes open and ears to the ground, Captain.  And make sure everyone can handle themselves in a pinch.  So that means at least an hour on the range every day, ‘til Dawn and Joyce can comfortably hit a target.  Make sure the doc’s up to scratch, too.  And Diana, though she seems a natural around anything you might call a weapon...”

Only two days earlier, he’d witnessed the Slayer giving several Imperial Guards a lesson in sword-fighting techniques.  The Tallurans might be expert with their short swords, but they didn’t stand a chance against the brunette, with her Varrini Sentinel Blade.  Fencing with razor-sharp naked blades and using her vastly superior speed, agility and reflexes to devastating effect, Diana had easily disarmed three of them in about thirty seconds.  Using a pair of Sentinel Blades, she was even more lethal. 

Logan had to admit to feeling slightly jealous.  O’Neill would eventually have a Slayer on his team, in the eye-pleasing shape of Sergeant Chase.  Admittedly, the latter was military-trained, but Logan still would have given his eye teeth to have Diana Prince assigned to SG-15 on a permanent basis.  There was, of course, the little matter of accepting Air Force discipline.  O’Neill’s Trench Rat, as he’d affectionately nicknamed the soldier, might be insubordinate to a shocking degree, but she still understood Forces’ Regs and the notion of Chain of Command.  Diana on the other hand – or Cordelia’s sister, for that matter – would never accept military discipline.

“Joyce is probably less concerned about anyone from SG-15 teaching Dawn self-defence,” Logan suggested. “But she is kinda worried about the kid getting a Slayer complex – going home and thinking she can be the same as her two big sisters.  So Joyce is keeping a real close eye on what Diana teaches the young un’.  Basic kick ‘em-in-the-balls-and-run stuff?  Really all she’s happy with.”

“Fine as far as it goes, but...  Doc Lam is pretty well-qualified in Aikido.  Maybe she can show Dawn a few moves,” Sato suggested.

Logan nodded. “Can’t hurt.  But try to talk Joyce into backing down some.  Slayer moves seem to be pretty good at bringing down bigger, stronger things.  Even without the superpower package, that might just be useful for Dawn.”

“Can’t help thinking we’re overreacting here, sir,” Sato offered cautiously.

“Perhaps, perhaps not.  But my gut has never let me down yet.  Right now it’s churning – and nothing to do with breakfast.  Anyway, I’m leaving SG-15 – and the Summers’ security – in your hands ‘til I get back,” Logan told him.

“I’ll try not to screw up, sir,” Sato responded.

“If you do, it won’t be me you’ll answer to.  Not even General Hammond...” the Colonel reminded him.

Back at Cheyenne Mountain, the two Slayers had been somewhat vague about the specific consequences if anything happened to their mother and sister.  SG-15 could, nevertheless, fill in the blanks, and the overall message had been received loud and clear.

 

Imperial Palace Guest Apartments, Imperial Palace, Yaherin Var Imperial City, Tallura Prime – 31st December 2000 (Earth Date)

Dawn pushed the cereal around her plate in clear distaste.  Certain Talluran foods might resemble those back home, but tasted utterly different.  Sometimes, the surprise was a pleasant one, but she couldn’t say that about the breakfast selection.  The cereal almost resembled Cheerios, but it tasted positively vile – she couldn’t actually think of a similar taste back home.  And milk – whatever animal it came from – shouldn’t be pale blue, nor taste vaguely of chicken soup.  Even Dawn’s weird and wonderful tastes in food only went so far.

“Eat your breakfast, or don’t eat it, young lady.  Either way, just stop playing with your food,” Joyce frowned.

“Well, it’s totally icky...” Dawn complained, wondering if she could sneak an MRE from the emergency supplies.

“Can’t we just forget about buying stuff that looks like breakfast food back home, but tastes like sh...  That tastes horrible?  I mean, we’ve kinda figured out what we like, so who cares if it isn’t normal morning food?” she pointed out hopefully.

Joyce nodded, pushing the unappetising remains of her omelette to one side.  Talluran eggs weren’t quite the same as back home, either.  The fruit juice was palatable enough, but it wasn’t the glass of freshly squeezed orange she always enjoyed in the morning.  Nor did they seem to have a decent bacon substitute.

“You might have a point,” she agreed, adding a more discerning food-shopping expedition to the day’s activities.

Dawn, she noted, seemed slightly down at the mouth.  It wasn’t hard to discern the reasons, of course.

“What d’you want to do today, honey?” Joyce asked.

Her daughter shrugged, clearly disgruntled. “Don’t know, really...  This being the Talluran version of a weekend and all?  Drayana and I were planning a trip through the Stargate.  She was going to show me this little moon, where only the Empress is allowed.  Sorta like a holiday spot...  But now she’s caught up in the political stuff?  Guess I’ve only the “how much of a fruitcake am I” session with Doctor Lam.”

“It isn’t Drayana’s fault, Dawn.  She’s the Empress of twelve whole planets.  That’s like taking our President, putting him in charge of the entire world, then giving him another eleven to look after,” Joyce pointed out reasonably.

That, she decided, was a very alarming analogy.  Personally, Joyce wouldn’t have given any of the last few US Presidents authority over a hamburger stand, let alone a country.

“But there will be times when official business has precedence over what Drayana wants to do.  Pretty sure she won’t be happy about it, either,” Joyce continued.

She was growing a little concerned about how close the two had become in a remarkably short period of time.  The friend/younger sister-older sister-type relationship which had developed was, admittedly, predictable.  There was no one else around the Imperial Palace close to Dawn’s age, especially since sending her to a Talluran school for even a short time had been a cross-cultural disaster.  The same was true for Drayana, who’d had comparatively little contact with others her own age up to now.  And as Empress, she’d never really know who was a genuine friend.

Dawn, on the other hand, was a visitor.  Therefore, she had no personal agenda, or political intent.  They’d been good for each other so far – the mutual capacity for mischief didn’t really matter – despite the age difference.  For Dawn, Drayana was a substitute for both Cassie Fraiser and her sisters.

But Joyce could also see a great deal of mutual distress at the end of their stay on Tallura.  The chances of the two girls seeing each other again were essentially non-existent and they didn’t even have a means of keeping in contact.  As long-distance friendships went, the inter-galactic variety were simply impossible to sustain. 

“So why do I have to see Doctor Lam?” Dawn pouted. “Pretty sure I’m not crazy.”

Her mother smiled patiently. “I told you already.  It’s nothing like that.  She’s just studying how being away from Earth for a long time affects us.  We’ll all be talking to the doctor.  Of course you don’t have to, but she came along to care for us all.  Especially me...”

“And to make sure Faith – sorry, Diana – doesn’t turn into a psycho killer again,” Dawn added knowingly – she was no one’s fool.

Joyce’s lips tightened. “I thought we’d been through this, missy...”

“Diana and I are okay these days, mom,” Dawn sighed, before her mother moved into lecture mode.

“After your session with the doctor, Captain Sato wants us both on the shooting range for a few hours.  Plus some unarmed combat training with Diana and Doctor Lam,” Joyce told her reluctantly.

“Really?  They’re gonna teach us how to fight properly?” Dawn suddenly brightened up.

“They’ll be teaching us self-defence,” her mother responded firmly. “This isn’t a master-class in how to kill vampires and demons, or turning you into a miniature version of your sisters.  D’you hear me?”

Dawn nodded in reluctant acquiescence. “I hear you, mom.”

Then she frowned. “Are we in danger, mom?  I mean, why are you suddenly allowing them to train us both?  And with guns?  Back home, you said you’d tan the hide off me, if I ever went anywhere near Buffy’s and Cordelia’s weapons.”

She looked pensive for a moment. “Bet it’s that old Regent guy.  He really doesn’t like us!”

Joyce bit back a curse.  Dawn was certainly every inch as suspicious as her sisters.  But right now, she really didn’t want her daughter seeing conspiracies around every corner.  Fate, however, seemed to get off on putting her daughters into dangerous situations at every opportunity.  They’d travelled to another galaxy, only for the same old crap to rear its ugly head.  Well, maybe not exactly the same old crap – Ilarius was a mere mortal, with no supernatural powers – but close enough.

When they returned to Earth, that relocation to Colorado Springs was definitely on the cards.  No doubt, it would have its own dangers, but Giles had assured her that the city had a minimal level of demonic activity, whatever that indicated.  In any case, raising Dawn somewhere that wasn’t the Hellmouth was a good start.  Plus, having been away for so long, she’d have to restart her business yet again, so it might as well be somewhere else.

“Okay, honey.  For once, you’ll have to listen carefully and promise not to say or do the wrong thing.  Or even act as though there’s anything wrong.  It’s not so much that the Regent doesn’t like us – though that’s probably part of it – but...” Explaining the intricacies of Imperial politics and potential conspiracies to Dawn wouldn’t, Joyce reflected wryly, be the easiest thing she’d ever done.

 

Carolyn Lam’s Apartment, Imperial Palace, Yaherin Var Imperial City, Tallura Prime– 31st December 2000 (Earth Date)

In spite of her mother’s reassurances, Dawn was still suspicious of the USAF psychiatrist and her motives.  Besides, didn’t she have enough to worry about, with that creepy regent lurking in the background, probably planning to kill them all, despite what her mother said?

“You’re not gonna ask me about my childhood?  Or how it feels being the youngest child, without any superpowers?  Or whether I have any Daddy Issues?  Or if I wet the bed every night?” Dawn asked sardonically, folding her arms.

She’d seen lots of shrinks on TV.  Buffy had even been briefly committed to a psychiatric unit after she burned down Hemery Gym.  Which was totally unfair of her parents and the doctors.

Once, in Fifth Grade, Dawn had also been sent to the school counsellor, after punching  a guy who’d stuck chewing gum in her hair.  She hadn’t liked that wannabe head-doctor, either.

Lam shook her head. “Not unless you want to talk about it.  As for “Daddy Issues”?  Got more than a few of those myself...”

No doubt Dawn’s psychological profile would be fascinating, growing up with a Slayer in the house and living in a town that was overrun with creatures who were – sometimes literally – spawned in Hell.  Then targeted as a blood sacrifice by a genuine Hell Goddess.  The youngest Summers actually seemed quite well adjusted, all things considered.

Certainly, Lam had been forced to reassess all sorts of things about her own world view after reading the Sunnydale file.  For a moment, she idly wondered how her father – General Hank “Squared-away” Landry, United States Air Force, sir – would react to discovering that vampires were real.

Dawn rested her chin on her palm, nodded, and adopted a calm expression. Just like Lam was doing to her.

“Really?  Want to talk about it?”

The psychiatrist waved a finger at her, brow furrowing. “Very funny, little miss smarty-pants!”

Dawn sniggered. “Okay...  Can we hurry up and finish this already?  I wanna go shoot something.”

“A definite transference of violent tendencies from her two siblings...” Lam muttered to herself, scribbling furiously on a notepad.

“I’m not violent!” Dawn protested, glaring furiously.

This was exactly the sort of thing she’d been afraid of.

The USAF doctor sniggered. “Gotcha!  Okay, so how about we start...”

Lam chewed on her pen. “Can you tell me how you felt during your trip here?”

“Which part of it?” Dawn asked cautiously. 

The psychiatrist shrugged. “Any of it.  Just what you want to tell me.”

“I felt really, really small.  I mean, I’ve read about the stars and stuff – not ‘cause I’m a great big geek, but just ‘cause I like reading – and it gives you all the distances.  But when Baldy stopped the ship between Andromeda, Ida and this galaxy?  That was, like, wow...  So big, it was scary...” Dawn tried hard to put her impressions into words.

“I mean, I’m used to looking up and seeing stars and our moon.  But those stars are all from the Milky Way and I can recognise constellations like the Big Dipper and Orion,” she shook her head.

Lam smiled. “If it helps, I felt exactly the same way.  And what were your impressions about the ship?  And the Asgard?”

Dawn made a face. “Felt kinda primitive, I suppose.  The Asgard are so far ahead of us, we’re like cavemen in comparison.  They’re majorly different from us.  Not just the way they look - ‘cause who cares about that - but the way they think and do stuff – hard to figure out what they’re thinking, actually.  Not big on the emotional scale.”

“How about Tallura and the Tallurans?” the doctor made a few more notes.

“It’s different here, but not so much.  Sure, they’re way ahead of us in some things – a whole lotta things - but the Old City could almost be from back home.  And the Tallurans think like us.  Or Drayana does, anyway.  We kinda understand each other...”

Lam chuckled. “You certainly understand each other enough to get into trouble together.”

Dawn grinned. “She’s great fun, not like I thought an Empress could be.  But scary, too...”

“Why?” the doctor frowned. “She hasn’t harmed or threatened you?”

“No!” Dawn almost shouted her denial of that suggestion. “Drayana’s really fun.  She’s just so smart, too.  Four years older than me and she knows enough to be ruling a whole empire.  And that’s kinda weird.  Makes me feel like the dumb side-kick...”

“Drayana was taught to read and write from age three, Dawn, and educated very intensively.  But you’re good for her - Livia and Arius both say she hasn’t seemed so happy in a long time,” Lam pointed out.

Like Joyce, she didn’t like to think what would happen when those two had to separate, having bonded in a matter of days.  That might be a subject for discussion at a future session, albeit a delicate one.

“Guess I’m the first person in space from Earth.  My age, that is...” Dawn reflected.

“Hmmm,” Lam had been keeping one piece of information for a convenient time and now seemed as appropriate as any.

“Cassandra Fraiser isn’t from Earth, you know,” the psychiatrist offered nonchalantly.

“You’re kidding!  Cassie’s as human as you and me!” the youngest Summers protested.

Her best friend seemed perfectly normal, after all.

“I didn’t say she wasn’t human, Dawn.  The Milky Way’s full of humans, most of their societies less advanced than ours,” Lam explained.

“So why’s she on Earth?” Dawn wanted to know.

“Cassie’s the only survivor from her planet.  The others were all killed by...  Well, killed by our enemies in the Milky Way,” Lam decided that now wasn’t the time for a lesson the Goa’uld.

“Poor Cassie!  That’s – that’s horrible!” Dawn exclaimed in dismay.

The psychiatrist nodded. “You’ve a lot to learn about space and what Stargate Command’s been doing there, Dawn.  The Milky Way actually isn’t a very friendly neighbourhood to live...”

She silently scolded herself for that.  The youngster could do without nightmares about alien invasions.

“We’ll talk again about this,” Lam promised.

“But I’d kinda like to know now...” Dawn complained.

“Later,” Lam replied firmly.

The psychiatrist closed her notebook. “That’ll do for the first session.  I’ll want to ask you more questions, in more detail, once I’ve talked to the others.”

“Can we go shoot stuff now?” Dawn ventured, realising she wasn’t going to find out anything more today.

Tomorrow, however, was a different matter.  Lam had opened a can of worms and she wouldn’t be able to stuff them back inside.  Dawn would squeeze every last drop of information out of the USAF doctor.

The psychologist nodded tolerantly. “Yes, God help us...  Now you learn to use a gun...”

 

Jugrub’s Apartment, Yaherin Var Imperial City, Tallura Prime – 31st December 2000 (Earth Date)

From the apartment he’d temporarily rented in the New City, Jugrub enjoyed an excellent view of the distant Yaherin Var spaceport.  The pirate had a number of such boltholes scattered around the Talluran capital and elsewhere, never staying long in any of them when he was on this planet.  So far, multiple identities had kept him below the sensor horizon of the planetary security forces, but it also paid to keep on the move.

This was a particularly useful hideout.  Not only was it close to his means of escape from the planet, but it also provided him with an excellent view of potential targets arriving and departing from the spaceport.  In addition, Jugrub could also use this vantage point to keep track of his local trading competitors – the reptilian’s business was largely of the illegal variety, but his various alternative identities also compelled him to operate legitimately.

A distinctive blue and gold shuttle lifting off from the spaceport was a distinct and inconvenient surprise for the reptilian.  The livery of the Imperial shuttle was unmistakable and the presence of multiple escort fighters indicated that the Empress was aboard.  That, Jugrub realised, probably changed his plans considerably.

Ilarius had predicted that Drayana would visit Thenatrix today, in an effort to bring the situation under control.  Clearly, the Regent had played some part in fomenting the crisis, but he was also unwilling to reveal the details.  He’d also anticipated the Empress would travel via Tallura Prime’s Astria Porta, but the presence of the shuttle indicated that she’d opted to take her personal battle squadron along.  That wasn’t good news.  Together with Carthug, another Ch’Hanis pirate supremo, Jugrub had planned a major attack on the shipping lanes close to Thenatrix today.  Much closer, in fact, than had previously been the case.  The idea had been to show the Empress how much she was losing control and, hopefully, to frighten the child into making the wrong political move.

Jugrub still didn’t trust the Regent.  After all, the Talluran politician clearly hated him and his entire race.  His hatred for the Empress, however, must be so much greater, if he felt compelled to ally himself with the Ch’Hanis, even on such an unofficial basis.  It simply didn’t seem natural for a Talluran to align himself with a species who regarded him and all his people as a tasty main dish.  Perhaps not the ageing Ilarius himself, Jugrub chuckled – the young ones were considered the tastiest – but the principle remained the same.

Now, in any case, it would be suicide to implement the plan.  His raiding craft, a variety of modified transports and obsolete Ch’Hanis patrol craft obtained on the black market, were no match for the smallest of the First Squadron’s warships, let alone the mighty Tallura Regnatrix.  Jugrub had committed two-thirds of his ships to the plan, with the remainder engaged in diversionary operations to draw off the local Frontier and Customs units.

The Ch’Hanis pirate chieftain had to think quickly.  The he grinned widely, revealing a mouthful of razor-sharp fangs.  Perhaps all that planning might not be for nothing after all, he decided.  If his current ally – and one-time rival – wasn’t informed of the changed circumstances, then the bulk of his force would emerge from hyperspace, straight into the weapons of the Imperial Fleet.  By the end of the day, Carthug would be a non-entity – perhaps even dead, if he’d indulged his foolish habit of accompanying his ships into battle – and Jugrub’s own forces would still be intact.

There was a downside, of course.  If his ships didn’t participate in the raids today, there would be no Talluran captives to feast upon when he returned home in a few days time.  Of course, if the Regent was ultimately successful in toppling the Empress, perhaps Jugrub would be the recipient of that particularly succulent young treat.  Ilarius hadn’t yet revealed his ultimate plan, but the Ch’Hanis pirate hoped to take it a step further than the Regent anticipated.

Why stop with the Empress, if he could give his people the whole delicious Talluran race on a literal plate?

 

Imperial Guard shooting Range, Imperial Palace, Yaherin Var Imperial City, Tallura Prime – 31st December 2000

“Who’s the fricking Slayer here, doc?  How ‘bout you stick to reading heads, while I teach little D how to kick ass properly?” Faith folded her arms.

Lam held her ground. “Dawn certainly isn’t a Slayer.  Most of your moves are offensive ones, relying on kicking and punching.  She doesn’t have your raw strength and the sheer speed.  It makes more sense if she learns how to use an enemy’s strength against him.”

The Slayer snorted. “You don’t know shit, doc!  That Aikido crap’s only a delaying tactic.  Keeps the bad guy off balance for a while, but eventually?  If she’s – or he’s – any good, you’ll get the crap beaten out of you.  And Dawn?  Not big on endurance.  Needs to get her licks in fast...  And if the bad guy has faster reactions, Aikido ain’t gonna fricking work at all!”

Sato shook his head.  Diana and Carolyn Lam had been arguing for twenty minutes over who was better qualified to teach Dawn and her mother self-defence.  And in his opinion, Lam was talking out of her ass.  She might have a few valid points, but no one knew unarmed combat quite like a Slayer.  The doctor was a typical Type-A personality – like most people employed by the SGC – and hated to be told she was wrong.  He also knew how this would end – namely, with Lam’s face mashed into the mat, Diana having demonstrated just how useless Aikido actually was against some opponents.  Then they’d have another argument about how the demonstration wasn’t valid proof of anything, since Dawn wouldn’t be fighting Slayers.

He’d spent most of the first hour teaching Joyce and her daughter basic firearms safety and the features of their weapons.  Both had been issued an M11, the USAF designation for the 9mm SiG-Sauer P228, generally issued when a reasonably compact weapon was required.  Now, having demonstrated how to chamber a round, load and remove magazines, operate the safety catch, and clear a jam, Sato was ready to let the two Sunnydalers fire off a few bullets.

The Imperial Guard firing range had all manner of sophisticated holographic targeting devices, for use with plasma weapons in training mode.  For good old-fashioned bullet-throwers, however, the Tallurans had provided basic metal silhouette targets, similar to those back home.

Sato took up position directly behind Dawn, ready to grab her arm if she did anything foolish with a loaded weapon in her hand.

“Is this okay?” the youngster asked nervously, as the Captain corrected her stance.

“Move your shoulders forward and bend your knees a little...” he instructed.

“Now, just like I told you...  Gentle pressure on the trigger...  Squeeze it, don’t pull it...  Shoot between inhaling and exhaling...” Sato quietly coached her.

The first round impacted a good two feet from the target, the second was worse, and the third and fourth might have downed any Talluran flying creature overhead.

“It jumps around!” Dawn complained.

“You’ll learn to compensate for the recoil and hold the weapon on target,” Sato reassured her. “But it might also help if you didn’t close your eyes each time you squeeze the trigger.”

“Right there with you, Dawn,” Joyce said wryly from the next firing position, having performed equally as poorly.

“My shooting so sucks!” the youngster complained.

“Watch that mouth, young lady,” Joyce warned.

Sato smiled encouragingly. “What d’you expect first time?  Let’s try again...”

 

Half-an-hour later, Dawn was beginning to hit the target where it mattered, if only with a proportion of her shots.  However, her wrists were getting tired under the unaccustomed strain of holding the M11 on target and trying to control its recoil.

“I think that’ll do for today.  Same time tomorrow?” Sato retrieved the weapons from his trainees – he’d only permanently issue them when he was sure Joyce and Dawn were more of a danger to an enemy, than a friend.

The Captain reached into his pocket and produced two switchblades. “In the interim, I want you both to carry these.  They’re easy to hide.  Someone tries to grab you?  Push the blade under their ribs.”

Dawn gulped, while her mother looked positively appalled at the idea.

“We can teach you all the unarmed combat in the world, but armed combat always wins, hands-down.  And if you’re in danger?  Better the other guy ends up dead,” Sato pointed out grimly.

“Yo, doc!  You couldn’t hit the side of a fricking barn door from two inches away!” the Slayer crowed, as she put a whole magazine from her M4 carbine into one of the target silhouettes.

“I prefer to take my time,” Lam retorted primly.

Sato turned to Joyce and Dawn. “Of course, these two might argue the bad guy to death...”

 

Fleet Base One, Orbiting Tallura Prime – 31st December 2000 (Earth Date)

“Please try to avoid drooling on the deck-plating...” Vesarian sniggered, as the Imperial Flagship came into view through the shuttle’s windows.

With Drayana at the rear of the shuttle, briefing her audit team, the Talluran officer was giving his SG-15 counterpart a brief guided tour of the Imperial Fleet space-dock.

Logan’s tongue was, indeed, almost hanging out.  The SGC Lieutenant-Colonel had been involved in the early stages of planning for the X-303 Programme, the projected starship representing the very best of the alien technologies available to Earth, plus a generous helping of human high-tech and ingenuity.  The X-303 was quite possibly the most ambitious and sophisticated piece of machinery ever put together by humanity.  But in comparison to Tallura Regnatrix, the USAF’s ultra-classified pride and joy appeared positively clunky.

Logan had to remind himself that the Tallurans’ average technological level was assessed by the Asgard at around two hundred years ahead of Earth.  In some areas, however, they were probably even more advanced, especially where – like the SGC – they had access to sophisticated alien technologies.  It was easy to forget, when walking through the markets of the Old City, that the Tallurans were also masters of such fields as cold fusion, plasma-based energy applications, and nanotechnology.  He suspected that the Tallura Regnatrix also had at least some Asgard input, no doubt in accord with their usual strictures on the transfer of weapons technology. 

The most startling and noticeable thing about the Talluran Heavy Cruiser was the reflective hull-coating.  It was effectively a mirror, making the contours of the ship – which were almost completely smooth – difficult to make out, since it reflected everything from the space-dock lights to the stars and even the planetary surface.  As he watched in fascination, the ship abruptly reverted to a seamless grey, its surface virtually unbroken by obvious weaponry or sensors.

“Nanotechnology-based armour,” Vesarian explained, in answer to the USAF officer’s astonished expression. “It can be switched on and off and has excellent ablative characteristics against directed-energy weapons.  Of course, the ship also has energy-shielding and – below the nanotech ablative layers – solid armour protection against kinetic projectiles.”

With its nanobots inactive, it was much easier to pick out details of the Tallura Regnatrix.  The Imperial Flagship was strongly reminiscent of a stingray, with more or less the same shape and streamlining, and even including a slender pointed tail.  Though it was tricky to estimate size in space, a nearby shuttle gave Logan a baseline.  Compared to the X-303, the Tallura Regnatrix was probably over double the length, with a more or less one-to-one length to width ratio.  Smaller than a Goa’uld Ha’tak, Logan nevertheless wouldn’t have been surprised if the cruiser could almost match one.

“Weapons?” Logan was pretty sure Hammond would order Samantha Carter to sell herself on the streets of Colorado Springs, just for a look at one of these.

Perhaps he could persuade the Tallurans to give him the blueprints.  Earth might lack the know-how to produce its own version, but the scientists and engineers could surely learn something.

“Plasma Cannon, Continuous-Wave Neutral Particle Beams, and hypersonic missiles.  She also carries forty fighters, ten assault shuttles and has berths for up to one thousand Marines,” Vesarian replied.

“The ship is powered by four naquadah-enhanced cold fusion reactors.  The hyperdrive is capable only of intra-galactic travel at present, but she is very agile and extremely fast on sub-light engines.”

A number of other ships were also forming up around Tallura Regnatrix, all with more or less the same basic shape and appearance, but of varying sizes.  Two of them, Venatiur and Venaterix, were classed as Light Cruisers and approximately half the size of the flagship.  The other six, Patrol Cruisers, were only half the size of the Light Cruisers.

“Patrol Cruisers can operate equally well in a sub-oceanic environment,” Vesarian continued his introduction to the Imperial Fleet.

“Underwater?” Logan added submarine warfare to a list of Talluran military capabilities.

“Two of our worlds – Oceanium and Titanea – are primarily oceanic.  They are also a valuable source of a number of essential minerals,” the Imperial Guard officer replied.

They were also two of the biggest security headaches, so far as the Imperial Defence Force was concerned.  A long way from Tallura Prime, the twin worlds had been settled and developed out of necessity, in order to maintain an adequate supply of strategic materials such as Trinium and Naquadah.  Unfortunately, these were equally prized by some of the Empire’s neighbours – and any number of smugglers and pirates – and it was an ongoing struggle to keep the two thinly populated planets under Imperial control.

“I don’t see anywhere to dock,” Logan pointed out, as the shuttle swept in beneath the Flagship, quickly losing forward velocity.

“Nanotechnology can be very deceptive, Colonel,” Vesarian offered, pointing to the underside of the Tallura Regnatrix.

Sure enough, the Heavy Cruiser’s smooth skin rippled away to reveal a door, which promptly slid open, ready to admit the shuttle to an internal bay.  The half-dozen escort fighters simultaneously peeled away, heading for two bays which had just opened on either side of the vessel.

Logan grinned to himself.  After this trip, O’Neill and rest of SG-1 certainly wouldn’t have a monopoly on the best stories.

 

Aelina’s Tavern,  Yaherin Var Imperial City, Tallura Prime – 31st December 2000 (Earth Date)

Dawn rose from the table and wiped the residual sauce from her mouth.  Talluran breakfast might not be anything to write home about, but she really had no problems with most of their other cooking.  And Aelina’s food was always, without exception, delicious.

“Where are you going, honey?” Joyce immediately asked.

“I have to pee, is all...” her daughter shrugged.

“I’ll come with you,” Faith nodded.

Dawn exhaled deeply.  The whole being guarded twenty-eight hours per day gig was getting really annoying at times.

“I’m a big girl now.  Think I can manage by myself...” she replied with a sarcastic edge to her voice.

“It would be best if one of us accompanied you,” Aquiliani put in, as always in her protective Imperial Guard mode.

“She’ll be just fine.  What could happen in here?” Joyce suggested lightly.

After all, this was the friendliest of establishments and they’d already identified the Regent’s assigned spy.  They were all becoming quite adept at playing Spot the Shadow, while pretending to be completely oblivious.

Dawn smiled gratefully. “Uh...  Where is the little girl’s room?”

“’bout two miles away,” Faith replied. “Down those stairs over there.  Take a left, then the third door.  Down another three or four steps, second door on the right.  Along a passageway, though another door, then it’s the one on your left.  Got that, squirt?  Or d’you want me to come with?”

“I got it.  Just have to remember the Talluran symbol...  Walked into the men’s room three days ago by mistake,” Dawn told her.

“I make that “mistake” all the time, kiddo,” the Slayer smirked.

“And careful with the plumbing...  Fricking thing nearly sucked me under last time!” she called after Dawn.

 

On leaving the bathroom, all it took was one wrong turn.  Dawn suddenly found herself outdoors, in a somewhat dingy alleyway, the heavy door slamming shut behind her.  Unfortunately, as some sort of fire exit, there also seemed to be no way of opening it from outside.  She sighed and let rip a few choice phrases, any one of which would have resulted in a thorough soaping from her mother, then turned to walk down the alley.  The youngster had no idea where she was, but this wasn’t Sunnydale.  Once she’d navigated her way out of these passageways, some native of Yaherin Var would be able to give her directions back to the tavern.  After all, it wasn’t as if there was a vampire lurking around every corner here, and even street crime was extremely rare.

A few minutes later, Dawn rounded the corner into yet another featureless alley.  All at once, two large and formidable-looking creatures blocked her path.  About seven-foot tall, with orange eyes and an impressive array of teeth.  She nervously reminded herself that these weren’t demons.  Yaherin Var attracted numerous alien species, though she hadn’t seen any personally as yet.

“Excuse me...  I’m slightly lost here...  Looking for Aelina’s Tavern...” Dawn ventured nervously.

The two Ch’Hanis shared a glance and smiled rather unpleasantly. “You do not smell like a Talluran, not quite...”

One of the reptilians sniffed again.  Outward appearances aside, this one definitely wasn’t a Talluran.

“I’m a Terran, from Earth,” Dawn responded defensively, instinctively on guard.

“Really?” One of the lizard-like creatures replied, as the other licked its lips. “I thought Earth was part of Talluran mythology and several galaxies away.”

Normally, the majority of Ch’Hanis were absolutely law-abiding on Tallura Prime.  The locals were somewhat wary of them – and these two enjoyed the slight feelings of fear they engendered – but also kept them under close observation.  This, however, was an almost irresistible opportunity.  An exotic young alien specimen, who smelled even sweeter than her Talluran equivalents, and who was quite alone.  No doubt she’d make a tasty meal.  Alternatively, given the novelty value, she might be worth a great deal on the illegal slave market.  Either way, they could probably grab her now, before someone noticed she was missing.

“You don’t know where the tavern is...?” Dawn began to back off.

These two did not look friendly.  In fact, hungry vampires and demons had eyed her in exactly the same way back home.  Their expression was quite easy to read and said “tasty snack”.  The youngest Summers abruptly turned on her heel and ran for her life, yelling for help, the two Ch’Hanis hot on her heels.

 

“She’s been gone too fricking long!” Faith announced worriedly.

“Something she ate?” Lam suggested.

Joyce shook her head anxiously. “This is Dawn we’re talking about.  Chances are, she’s in trouble.  I shouldn’t have...”

“Fuck!  Shoulda gone with her!  Captain?  With me!” Faith bolted from her seat and disappeared into the crowds.

“Best if I go,” Aquiliani gestured to Sato to remain where he was, then rushed after the Slayer.

 

Helpless Victim Rule Number Three – always take the wrong turning - Dawn told herself bitterly, reaching the end of a blind alley, surrounded by seemingly empty warehouse-type buildings.

“No sense running little one...” one of the Ch’Hanis practically hissed like a snake. “There is no one here to help you.”

“And running just makes the meat tough,” the other alien sniggered at a terrified Dawn.

The first reptilian shook his head. “Not this time, much as I am tempted.  This one will be worth a great deal at market.  An unusual specimen and young – many years of work there.  And perhaps certain other attractions...”

The second Ch’Hanis practically spat. “With a mammal?  I would rather take a vow of abstinence.”

“You’re making a big mistake here...” Dawn backed against the wall and continued to scream for help.

It certainly wasn’t Sunnydale.  Back home, Buffy was invariably around to save her neck at the last moment.  And in Sunnydale, at least as a general rule, nothing tried to eat you until after dark.

For all her unsatisfied yearning to be like her sisters, Dawn suddenly had a dreadful realisation.  She was no more than a horribly vulnerable twelve-year-old, with the sketchiest of self-defence training, and not even a match for one of these things, let alone two.

“I believe you have made the mistake, young one!” the first Ch’Hanis laughed and advanced menacingly towards the trembling youngster.

“But they don’t even have fricking Tuesdays on this planet!” Dawn wailed.

 

*It might be a few weeks before I can post the next chapter of this one, as I’m still working on the next instalment of Fate’s Little Plaything.  In the meantime, hope you enjoy it.*
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