Things stayed quiet for a few days, that suspicious kind of quiet that I've learned is just fate head-faking you before making a drive for the hoop to make a backboard shattering slam-dunk. I got busy with one thing or another so of course I forgot that Slaying was only ONE of my jobs and I was about to earn every penny of what I got paid for the next big crisis.
Xander looked through powerful binoculars at a huge cargo vessel.
"So Rock what's the Over-Under on this operation." Xander sighed.
Rock paused in thought, "if we don't get killed by the crew manning that monster or the people who own her then we can look forward to getting killed by Miss Balalaika if we screw up and she gets implicated in anyway with what we're up to."
"Worst Case Scenario," Xander chuckled dismissively, "we''ll deal - if and when it happens."
"...And of course if Miss Buffy has seen that Youtube clip then she might find a way to kill you even if you mange to survive everybody else."
Xander's face fell, "Oh yeah, and she'd do it too," he sighed, "She can be a real bitch when she's properly motivated."
That youtube clip was one more headache on top of several in Xander's less-then-normal life. Faith had shown him the clip, now at double its hit count since her first viewing in Balalaika's office. RIght now Xander was favouring avoidance as the tactic of choice. He was avoiding answering his phone or checking his email which he suspected was already filling with messages from Buffy and Willow.
Benny, the Lagoon's resident tech wizard had wiped up a bot that collated all the Internet chatboard traffic concerning him and it seemed several people were wanting to DO something ... they were not sure what that something was. Xander knew it was only a matter of time before some well meaning idiot decided to come looking for the infamous Xander Harris. It was still a shock however when Harmony's website declared she'd joined in the hunt wtih some lunatic calling himself Hound the Bounty Hunter. He was hoping it was somebodies idea of a joke but such hope was, in his experience, naive.
Rock looked at Xander speculatively, "Should I mention that according to town gossip a couple of TV stars including some bottle blonde and some guy with a saggy face, checked into the Seashore Motel."
"Wow Clem's with her? I miss him, he was great." Xander paused in thought, "Wait Harmony's people checked her into a seedy fleabag like the Seashore, that gotta be causing her fits. That place is a crapfest..."
"... It does have a nice view." Rock pointed out.
"Yeah? a nice view of crap." Xander insisted, "If you want to hang with the cool kids Rock you gotta get with the whole clique hatred thing. We hate Harmony, she was an exhibit A Mean Girl in high school and becoming a soulless monster didn't improve things much."
"So if she is a vampire, why exactly haven't you killed her yet?"
"Sentimental reasons mostly, every time we've ever had the chance to kill her we end up letting her go, I mean it is kind of our fault she got vamp'ed in the first place."
"...and yet you don't like her and would prefer if I didn't as well."
"... And hating someone cause they were a bitch in high school ... seems a little high school if you know what I mean so yeah, its one of those weird dichotomies in my life. and if you ever tell Faith I used a big brain word like that in conversation; i'll deny it then I'll kill you...I did use it right though?"
Rock smiled, "Relax, your secret is safe with me."
"Well come on, what would you want us to do if we met the people who tormented you in high school?" Xander asked in explanation.
Rock gotta wistful smile on his face, "They'd wet their pants if they saw me now."
Dutch's voice came through the comm Xander had set in his ear.
"Talk to me Harris what's it look like out there?"
"She's Russian assuming the lettering on the hull is accurate." Xander reported.
Benny interrupted, "Make that WAS Russian, the ID on the hull doesnt match the profile registered."
"What's that mean again?" Xander asked.
Rock shuddered, "It means she's a smugglers ship alright, they've changed the name and ID so many times that at this point, the ship might as well not even exist."
"Translation - bad guys, doing bad things who will not like us very much in a few minutes." Xander summarized. "They're working for the Evil Lawyers even if its third party. If Wolfram and Hart are active in the South China Sea that can only mean bad news for all of us."
The Torpedo Boat pulled closer to the large ship.
"Alright Rock, time to earn your pay." Dutch ordered, "Time to let them know what the score is." Rock paled.
Rock's primary skill-set was in negotiation. So Dutch frequently made him issue the request for ships the Lagoon was waylaying to stop or risk being fired upon. A great idea in theory save that Rock tended to issue such requests, as he did most things, in the politest manner possible. His tactic occasionally worked but more often it didn't, perspective victims having some difficulty equating the reasonable calm voice on the loudspeaker with the very real threat of violence it was promising. By longstanding agreement any time Revy was forced to discharge one of the heftier weapons to get a stubborn ship captain's attention so he would kill his engines, the cost of replacing the load out on said weapons came out of Rock's portion of the profit from their missions.
One reason Rock was glad when Xander returned to Roanapur, occasionally assisting the Lagoon crew on their assignments, was The New Watcher's Council's deep, deep pockets. Xander, Faith and by extension, anyone they worked with, quite literally had a blank check to do whatever was needed to defend and maintain the Slayers in Roanapur and handle the occasional assignment that required ... more ... moral flexibility, then their usual missions.
"I thought you'd want Xander to do it this time." Rock muttered nervously.
"By long standing agreement Xander is no longer allowed to deliver the request for the ship we want to board to heave to and stop."
"They hate my pirate voice." Xander whined,
Rock blinked, "I'm sorry, your ... Pirate Voice."
Xander started weaving about the deck shouting like a twisted mix of drugged out rock star and some sort of demented Long John Silver Clone. "Avast ye scurvy dogs heave to or ye be swinging from the yard-arm by three bells!" he cried out.
Rock stared back at him with stony silence.
"Come on it was funny then it's still funny." Xander grumbled after a moment.
"...And Revy let him live after he did that?" Rock asked.
"It was touch and go for a while ...a long, long while."
"That better not be Dumb-Ass Number Two doing his so-called Pirate voice." Revy snapped, while using her pet name for Xander, "... or else bloods gonna flow."
Xander startled, Having Revy sneak up on him was getting to be worrisome. She suddenly could move with such subtlety which was frankly kind of scary. She was carrying a huge rifle in her hands. Xander stared as she hefted the huge gas powered weapon with an ease that gave lie to the weapons hefty weight.
"Isn't that an anti tank gun?" Xander asked.
"Yeah it is - why?" Revy said in a dismissive voice.
"Usually weighs in at about forty or fifty pounds - unloaded?"Xander asked while eyeing the small woman comfortably wielding the heavy weapon.
"Some of them." she shrugged.
Revy heaved the weapon up, sighting down the long barrel. She fired a fifty caliber explosive round that sheared off a massive strut causing the thing to crash to the deck. Debris hung out over the water including a rope dangling in a manner only an insane lunatic would find hanging tempting.
"Did Revy just fire a forty pound weapon?" Xander asked doubting his eyes.
Rock nodded, "Revy just fired a forty pound weapon - one-handed - hitting her target with pinpoint accuracy."
Revy swung the weapon up on to her shoulder and took a running start hurling herself out over the gulf of space between the two vessels grabbing onto the rope. She then run along side the hull of the ship gathering power for a swing that carried her up onto the ship's deck where she landed with perfect precision managing a kick that took out one of the men on deck.
She whipped the ATG up firing another explosive round at a cluster of men. She fired again as several of the crew began closing hoping to overwhelm her as the first of them reached her she reversed her grip on the huge weapon adding her strength to the weapon's weight batting the man so hard he flew off the deck arcing out over the water landing with the kind of splash that you don't usually make if your bones are still in one piece.
"Well if they didn't know they were being boarded by pirates I guess they do now." Xander muttered.
Revy stopped by a rope ladder kicking it down to the Lagoon crew before pulling out her guns and started an orgy of violence.
A swift moving shadow streaked from the Lagoon to the deck of the freighter. Xander could not easily follow this shadow but he knew all to well what it was.
he turned an accusing eye on Rock, "I thought you left Shunsi back at port. this op is too dangerous for her to be on."
Rock shrugged, "Have you ever tried arguing with a teenage girl who can bench press twice your weight without even blinking?"
"All the time."Xander declared.
"Since you're hiding from your phone and e-mail I guess I won't bother asking how that's worked out for you so far." Rock reminded him.
The diminutive girl was moving like a dancer, in her hands was a whip-chain which she used alternately to entangle, strike, trip up her foes and in a moment right out of the best kung fu movie ever she even managed to deflect several bullets shot at her with the thing as she whirled it around herself.
"She's getting good with that whip chain," Xander commented dryly, "I guess those lessons you pay Shunhua for are paying off, any chance you'll let me sit in on them?"
Rock shook his head, "Nope, she won't let me watch, and Shunsi comes back from every lesson looking like she has bruises ontop of the bruises with flesh wounds to break up the monotony but whatever Shenhua's teaching her she's becoming deadly as hell and she always goes back for more."
Xander climbed to the deck in time to see Revy being attacked by a group of guys about five of them converging on Revy. She ran at the largest, throwing herself into the air with a kick that snapped his head back. While in the air, she snapped off shots at two more before landing with a vicious foot sweep that took down a fourth. She rolled across him somehow managing to grab his head in the process snapping his neck.
One of the last of the sailors drew a bead on the gunwoman with a powerful rifle. Shunsi lashed out with her whipchain in time to entangle his arm. She twisted and yanked on the chain and Xander heard the too familiar sound of bones breaking. He screamed high and loud.
Revy grabbed the sailor and slammed the guy into the deck jamming the barrel of her gun against his skull.
"How do I get into the cargo hold? I already know what you got down there I can smell them!" Revy snarled.
"JFK's birthday - the code is JFK's birthday." the man said panicking.
"Check it." Revy snapped
Xander walked over to a door and touched a keypad. "Let see 0-5-2-9-1-7" Xander paused, "You know I used to ask Willow all the time what is the good of knowing stuff like this I mean when is knowing Kennedy's Birthday ever going to come in handy."
"Guess the jokes on you then," Dutch replied calmly. As he pulled open the door. the two descended into the dark, The loud barking of Revy's gun hinted at the final fate of the rest of the ships crew..
"I doubt you've failed to notice Revy's slightly more blood thirsty lately?" Xander asked quietly.
"I heard she left quite the horrorshow at Big Red's place a while back, Faith was there."
"She told me about it. Look Dutch you've known her longer then me..."
"She shows up on time -- does her work and hasn't tried to kill me or anyone I wouldn't mind seeing dead anyway. Now shut it." Dutch shushed him as he stepped further into the gloom, "What the hell?"
On the floor of the hold were several men and woman chained together. the ones closest to the stairs blinked in the harsh light from the opening to the hold.
"What did we stumble into here some kind of human trafficking operation?"
"its trafficking but I don't think their human, at least not entirely."Xander had caught sight of a familiar scar on several of the prisoners.
Suddenly one of the prisoners hurled himself at Xander. screaming in a frenzy. the large man's weight forced Xander to the floor. Xander tried to roll free but the man was clutched tight to him forcing a chain to his throat.
"Release us poacher, release us now or the boy dies."
You'd want to rethink that." Dutch snapped chambering a round into his shotgun.
"If you fire, the boy will be hit as well - now keys, let us go, or I end him right now."
Revy dropped into the hold,"Dutch what the hell's going on here?"
"A little aggressive negotiation. Revy." Xander grunted as he struggled to free himself.
"I said give us the keys or he dies." The old man cried out, his intent was clear.
Revy steadied her weapons, a savage grin stretching across her face. "Ain't nobody dying here old man. 'cept maybe you. You do him, I swear I'll personally vent every man woman and child in here." Revy snarled, her eyes flashed with rage.
"You think I'm afraid to die?" the old man snarled.
"You aren't but she is." Revy pointed her gun at a cowering child. she then shifted her aim to still another prisoner, "He looks a little nervous too - maybe I should put the first round into him." She swung her pistol around the room. "How about it old guy who's getting the chop first. You know I don't give a rat ass. You kill ONE of MY people and i'll kill EVERY SINGLE ONE of yours."
"Revy this isn't the time for Whitman Fever." Dutch hissed.
One of the prisoners made a rush at Revy. Shunsi tangled his legs with her whip-chain bringing the man down. She leaped atop the man, banging his head off the hard surface of the deck. She clutched his head in an all too familiar fashion. She was obviously about to snap his neck.
"Shunsi - No!" Rock snapped.
The girl looked up at Rock with guilty eyes. "Only when you HAVE TO not because you WANT TO." he hissed. Shunsi nodded letting go of the man's head.
The old man however just looked at Revy and those with her. "You're WITH them? How?"
Dutch was still talking from behind the safety of his shotgun , "Xander what the hells going on here what have we stumbled into."
Xander looked around, "I'm going out on a limb here but I think the crew were poachers trading werewolf pelts."
"You mean the crew is...dead, you killed them." one of the people asked looking at Revy. "Are you here to free us?"
"My name is Xander Harris I'm with the Watchers Council and these are my friends. Odd as this will be for you all to believe but...I'm on your side."
The old man reluctantly released the Watcher. "Carlin is my name I lead these people as best I can. IF you really are here to help then you have my thanks."
Xander nodded as he rubbed feeling back into his shoulders and throat. "Relax Carlin, my policy has always been no autopsy, no foul."
"...But Why would the Watchers and presumably their Slayers take interest in our plight?"
"Worlds changed Carlin, we cant pretend like that fact doesn't stare us in the face every damn day. Besides I have a friend who's a werewolf. I wouldn't leave Oz in a situation like this so I sure as hell won't leave you guys in the lurch."
Xander and Dutch moved moved every one up on the deck where Benny was patching into the ships navigational systems. Within minutes, he had the huge ship slaved to the lagoon's navigational systems. Where the PT boat went, so would go the large vessel.
Dutch looked at the people milling about in the daylight hugging each other and looking at him and his crew as if not sure what to make of them.
"You're telling me they're all Werewolves? - every one."
"Werewolf trafficking is big business. If you can find a place to ...store your stock for the three weeks out of the month they're human, you get a rare animal skin. the blood is also valuable and even the teeth and claws can be used."
"But they're human , I mean mostly human " Benny looked clearly disgusted.
"Benny I didn't say I liked it I just deal with it. " Xander snapped bitterly
"What's with you?" Benny asked
"Every time I think I've reached the absolute bottom of what one person can do to another something comes along that gives me a rude awakening. That was the one thing I did not miss about living in Roanapur."
Revy was looking at the milling crowd of former human cargo, with a wary gaze."Big Sis ain't gonna be happy about this I'll tell you that for free."
"We busted up the vessel and got the cargo." Rock pointed out.
"... Which we are supposed to sink minus a little something for our trouble." Revy reminded him, "What does twenty percent of human cargo translate to in dollars and cents?"
Xander cursed, "She's right, plus some of them are sick from being locked in the damn hold. There's way too many to carry on the Lagoon. and we can't leave the ship out here in open water."
With little choice the Crew began the journey back to Roanapur, Every one tried to take as much joy in the actual trip as possible. Assuming any of them survived Balalaika's wrath, it was likely to be the last fun any of them would be having for a long time.