Disclaimer in Prologue I
A/N: I apologize for those who read this chapter before. A formatting error developed somehow when this chapter was posted. It should make somewhat more sense, now.
Dawn felt the warm glow of the transporter as she glimmered into existence on the planet. In retrospect, she figured that was part of the consequences of technically being made from a ball of energy, because no one else she’d ever talked to ever felt more than a psychological tingling in the back of their skull while transporting.
Right, that’s not what she needed to think about, now, Dawn thought as she focused on the world materializing around her. She was also more aware than many, it seemed, in transport, as well. Again, probably a Key thing.
She hadn’t really thought about it in those terms before. All this Guardian stuff had brought it back to the surface.
And... that’s where they were now. What the hell?
“Something tells me this isn’t the Ferengi ship,” Dawn said sarcastically as they finished materializing, phasers in hand ready to begin the assault.
Tikas shot her a warning glance, and took out her tricorder, beginning to scan as Foley looked around. “Where are we?” Foley demanded, looking around at her security teams and taking in the surrounding ruins.
“We appear to have been redirected to the surface of the planet,” Tikas said, frowning. “There must have been some sort of transporter shield on the Ferengi ship. Why it didn’t simply send us back to Enterprise
...” Tikas said, trailing off. “Foley, take the lead. Loose formation.”
Dawn drew her own phaser and fell into her practiced position near the center of the group. As a doctor, of course, her job was to avoid direct combat and go immediately to any wounded for emergency treatment.
Tikas, of course, took this opportunity to hit her own commbadge, “Enterprise
, this is Tikas.”“Commander Tikas, this is
Enterprise. What’s going on?”
the captain’s voice said, clearly stating to the entire away team.
“There seems to have been some sort of transporter stop on the Ferengi ship, Captain. We’ve been redirected to the planet’s surface.”
Dawn could almost hear all the factors calculating in Koryavina’s head. They could then hear through the communications link:“Open fire again. Shoot to kill.”“Aye, Captain.”“Tikas, continue your investigation on the ground. We’ll contact you soon. Koryavina out.
Willow braced herself with magic as another phaser volley smashed into the back of her ship. Damn it. She was too close. She could feel her hair bleeding black as she exerted her strongest magical field behind. Just a few more seconds.
Just a few more seconds.
The ship shook from another phaser volley, and, as the ship began to break up, she just barely made it into Gateway’s atmosphere. She laughed in relief as she went airborne, vanishing from the exploding bridge in a flash of lightning and smoke. It was the last thing the Skran and his Ferengi crew would ever see.
It was then, having proceeded down an old, familiar, unchanging path, that Dawn, once again, beheld the most ancient artifact in the known galaxy.
“Commander?” asked one of the security team’s officers, in a tone which almost made Dawn roll her eyes. Seriously, didn’t they teach anything about professionalism at the Academy anymore?
“I am unsure,” Tikas said, answering his unspoken question, “But it is emitting a high amount of chroniton radiation. Dangerously high. Interesting,” she said, pushing a few buttons on the device.
“Wouldn’t the Enterprise
have detected that coming in-system?” Foley asked, looking up warily at the device.
“It would have,” Tikas replied, “but for entering the system as we did. The starbase above--” she said, as she closed her tricorder, “seems to be emitting a dampening field of antichronitons, to prevent detection. Now that we are on the planet, we can scan-- whatever it is.”
“What is it?” Foley asked.A question.
The whole team, except Dawn, jumped as they turned to look at the Guardian, with many of the security team taking aim with their phasers (yeah, right, as though that were going to do anything).Since before your ancestral suns burned in space, and before your races were born, I have awaited your question.
“Then, what are you?” Tikas asked.I am the Guardian of Forever.
The teams began to form up, warily, as Tikas continued, “What do you mean?”I am as I was and will be. I am my own beginning, my own ending.
“Because riddles are always helpful,” Dawn snarked at the sentient time portal. Maybe not the best thing she could do, but, well, she was dealing with prophecy. Again. It was enough to put anyone in a bad mood. Tikas, Foley and some members of the security team looked to Dawn, nearly in shock, at the sudden hostility in her tone.I answer as simply as I may that your companions may understand, Clavis.
Well, she’d certainly not been expecting that. After that, even more of the team looked to her, quizzically. Only Tikas looked with some understanding, given her knowledge, and, through her usually normalized, blank gaze shone through nearly as much shock as she’d ever seen on her Romulan friend’s face.
Before Dawn could speak again, though, the Guardian continued.Behold, then, if you like. Your world’s history.
Images began to flash by at a given speed. As Dawn recalled from Captain Kirk’s report, it would go neither faster nor slower. It was designed to go at a given, unchanging speed, turning, as someone once put it, the accomplishment of many years into an hourglass. Or, at least, that’s what she had read.
Dawn, herself, was shocked at the voice. It took almost a full second before it registered in her mind, and she looked up. She knew, of course, intellectually, that she was, for all intents and purposes, immortal, but they hadn’t seen one another in... was it two centuries now? Maybe more.
But that wasn’t the person she’d seen before.
It was an aspect she’d done all she could to forget.
For there, upon a hill raised up above the Enterprise
landing party, was the face of Willow Rosenberg, her black hair framing a veined face, lightning still crackling in the folds of the stereotypical black witch’s robe that matched her hair.
But there was something different. Metal. There was an implant, almost not visible, attached to the side of her face. She knew the look of every single implant known to Federation science, and she knew that one.
The security teams turned, aiming their phasers at the new, startling element, but Dawn felt her phaser slip out of her grasp, the weapons of the entire team going flying away from them, toward Willow.
“You won’t need those,” she said. “Stay back,” she said, as she cleared a path with a thickening spell and walked forward to the Guardian.
Dawn tried to move forward, but found herself stuck in place, unable to move or speak, as Willow moved. The others seemed to be in the same condition. She could hear Tikas’ commbadge ringing out a demand from above for a report, but there was, obviously, no response.
Willow came up to portal and, pulling a knife out of thin air, sliced at her own arm, saying a few words in what Dawn recognized as Japanese as her blood dripped to the ground before the Guardian. The Guardian itself flashed an unnatural, green color, and Dawn felt a twinge as it happened. She just barely managed to force air out her lungs, at that moment.
Willow turned, and, if not for the circumstances, almost comically took a double take on seeing her. But she smiled unnaturally. “Don’t worry, Dawnie. Everything will be better.”
To Dawn’s horror, she stepped forward and, closing her eyes, leaped through the Guardian portal, and it, and everything else, fell silent.
“What the hell was that?” Foley demanded, looking straight at Dawn.
Tikas, at the same time glancing at Dawn, hit her commbadge. “Tikas to Enterprise
There was silence.
“Tikas to Enterprise
, please respond.”
The security chief hit her own commbadge, now. “Foley to Enterprise
Dawn mouthed a curse as she looked up at the Guardian, and spoke, “Is this what you were talking about? This kind of mess?”
“Doctor, I--” Foley said, her clearly losing her temper as she grabbed Dawn’s arm, but she shook it off and continued addressing the Guardian, totally ignoring her friend.
“God. What possessed the idiots that made you? What kind of sick people were they?”
The Guardian remained totally silent through her vitriol. Before Dawn could continue, though, a man cried out in pain, and collapsed.
“Ensign!” one of his subordinates called out, and moved, catching him and lowering him easily to the ground. Dawn rushed over, herself, her training overriding her anger, and pulled out a medical tricorder.
“Hold him still, Crewman,” Dawn said, pulling out her medical tricorder and beginning to scan Charlie Mason. He was a good kid, fairly recently out of the Academy. He’d been rescued when--
Dawn was forced from her thoughts as Foley spoke.
“What was that, T’Belaar?” she demanded, undeterred by her subordinate’s collapse. Dawn continued scanning, trying to think of something she could possibly say to explain all of this. “Why did it talk to you? What are you?” she said, accusingly, sounding betrayed.
Before Dawn could even try to make an excuse, Tikas spoke, “That’s classified, Lieutenant.”
Foley spun around, facing the Romulan, and began, “I--” before being interrupted by Tikas.
“Don’t, Davina. Trust me.”
Foley stiffened, standing quite straight for several seconds before she steeled herself, reflexively swallowing and curtly nodding to the first officer. She turned back to Dawn and, controlling her voice, spoke, “How’s Mason?”
“I’m not sure,” Dawn said, temporarily grateful for the distraction, “There’s nothing medically wrong with him. His implants are-- whoa.”
Dawn immediately went for her medpack, quickly tearing it open and retrieving a hypospray. As she typed in the formula to a solution of drugs, she spoke, “His implants are on overdrive. He’s making nanoprobes.” The mini-replicator finishing, she grabbed the container and plugged it into the hypospray, putting it to Mason’s neck and injecting. “There. That should slow them down. His implants, from before he was rehabilitated, have been reactivated. I need to get him back to the Enterprise
before he reassimilates himself.”
“How did they get reactivated?” Davina demanded. “He hasn’t been with the Collective since he was twelve.”
“I don’t know. But, I intend to find out,” Dawn said, resealing her medpack and standing. “Commander Tikas, requesting permission to initiate telepathic link.”
Tikas froze for a second, but nodded. Dawn nodded back, and ducked back down, staring at the once-Borg child for a few seconds as she carefully placed her right hand on his face. She closed her eyes, feeling for the precise nerve endings she needed to access... not quite. Not quite. There.
“My mind, to your mind,” she said, feeling her way into his ideas, his imaginings, his mental center. “My thoughts, to your thoughts. Our minds are merging. Our minds are one.
Then, she saw. A thousand fleets over a thousand worlds. The Alpha Quadrant in ruins.
She could feel the thoughts coursing through of a mass of voices, screaming apart yet speaking in unison.Reintegration process slowed. Hostile presence detected. Interspecies Hybrid. Elements of Species 3259 mixed with unknown species. Analysis suggests temporal displacement. Prepare for assimilation. Redirect vessels to Sector--
Dawn broke the link in shock.
“It’s the Borg. They’ve taken the entire quadrant,” she said. “I don’t know how. They caught me peeking in almost right away. Where did she go?" Dawn said, addressing the GuardianShe has passed into what was.
Dawn stood, reattaching her medpack to her belt, and spoke, “When?”A critical moment. Yet but a grain of sand in the desert of history.
“Don’t speak in riddles. What happened to Earth? What happened?”
Nothing but silence came from the time portal.
“T’Belaar,” Tikas said. “Perhaps... you might explain what you mean to the rest of us.”
Dawn looked back, and was mildly embarrassed to see how her display was being watched by the entire boarding party.
“I’m sorry, I-- there’s a lot to explain,” she said. “When I was in the ensign’s mind, the Borg... they didn’t recognize me as human. However it is...”
“But, if humanity just fell back,” the other security ensign - Ensign Kariss, she thought - said, “Then they would still be there. Maybe unworthy for assimilation, but--”
The other option was far too horrifying to contemplate, but everyone went to it.
“I don’t know how,” Dawn said, “But Earth must have been-- anyway,” she said, moving away from that subject, “Tikas knows all of this,” and, after a few moments for the team to turn to the first officer for her to confirm it, and she spoke again, “And I’d tell you more now, but now is not really the best time for a show-and-tell. The Borg are coming.”
Tikas spoke, “If we can go back in time, try to fix whatever--” she had almost identified Willow by name, but quickly substituted “that woman broke. T’Belaar, you’re with me.”
“Commander, I must protest,” Lieutenant Foley said. “For the most senior officers to go without any security complement would be in violation of--”
“Lieutenant Foley,” Tikas said. “This is a question of practicality. Forgive me, but you would not blend in on pre-warp Earth. Only two could possibly make it through there,” she said, indicating the Guardian, “and I need someone with experience in Earth history to go with me. That’s T’Belaar.”
Dawn winced slightly as they turned to her. Actually, Davina probably could fit in if she ended up in the right place. She might just pass for one of the friendlier demon clans. But now was not the time to go around playing with semantics.
But Tikas’ voice brooked no contradiction, and Foley nodded, standing aside. “What should we do until we get back, ma’am?”
Tikas looked to Dawn, nodded slightly, and looked back to Foley. “If we’re not back in twenty minutes, designate another team to make the attempt.” Tikas took out her tricorder and pushed several buttons, while Dawn retrieved two phasers from the ground away from the party, “I’ve transmitted all the data I have to your tricorders. You should record what happens, see if you can replicate it if you need to. If the Borg come...”
Tikas trailed off for a minute as Dawn handed her one of the hand phasers, and she took the opportunity to attach it to her belt.
“If the Borg come, you’re ordered to scatter. Avoiding assimilation is your top priority,” Tikas said. “Is that clear?”
A chorus responded in the positive, and Tikas looked back to Dawn. “Are you ready, Doctor?”
“Whenever you are,” she responded.
“Then do it.”
The two of them approached the Guardian of Forever, and Dawn called out.
“Guardian! Can you show history in any other way?”I was made to offer the past in this manner. I cannot change.
“Then what did Willow do?” Dawn asked, probing.She acquired the ability to change it in my stead.
“Can I acquire that ability?” Dawn asked, parroting his turn of phrase.It is yours already, Clavis.
Dawn was silent for a second, and then said, “Then show me the history of the Sunnydale Hellmouth. In reverse.”Behold.
She could see a dragon flying. Flashes of lightning. Vaguely familiar images. She felt, she felt... something. She focused herself, and, at a precise moment - decided by her instinct alone, she called out.
Tikas and Dawn jumped through the Guardian and out, into a pile of trash.
Dawn looked down, in disgust. They stepped out of the garbage, and looked around. The sun was shining, just barely, rising from the east to greet a new California day.
Dawn looked back and forth in the alley, and walked forward with Tikas. Tikas had been about to ask a question, but Dawn held up her finger. Tikas fell silent to wait. Dawn stepped carefully out toward the street, and looked back, and forth. Yep.
She looked up at the sign of the store to her right, and saw... not quite what she expected, but the in the right general area.
Dawn signalled Tikas to follow her, and they began walking down the street, in silence. There were few people out, apparently, this early in the morning. An occasional car drove past, but otherwise the streets of Sunnydale were still as abandoned as they were at night.
They arrived in front of an empty storefront. About a week’s worth of old newspapers were still sitting on the front step. Probably just another casualty of Sunnydale Neck Rupture Syndrome. Dawn sighed as she reached to the doorknob, and turned it to the breaking point, and forcing it open. She bent down, grabbing the newspapers as they went inside, and closed the door behind them.
Dawn led Tikas to the empty desk in the front, sorting the newspapers to find the most recent one.
“Here we go,” she said, expanding it out and showing it to Tikas. “This is what we needed. The Sunnydale Press
. Thursday, March 27, 1997. This is just after we moved to Sunnydale.”
“What made you jump when you did, T’Belaar?” Tikas asked.
“Instinct. I’m not sure what it was,” Dawn admitted. “I think I just felt when Willow entered the timestream, and, since it was running in reverse, jumped in after. I have no idea how much further back we are.”
Tikas nodded and looked down at the newspaper. Yay for whatever accident of history made American English mostly the same thing as Standard Federation Terran.
“So what do we do, now?” Tikas asked.
“We watch,” Dawn said. “If Willow’s going to make a move, she’s going to make it here. What we need is some way to keep watch my sister and her friends, make sure Willow doesn't cont-- huh.”
She had turned to the obituaries, and stared at one immediately belowDr. Stephen Gregory - beloved teacher
“I think I just found our in.”