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Lonely Souls

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This story is No. 2 in the series "Waifs and strays". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: The second (much longer) installment in the Waifs and Strays AU. Covers season 1. Please READ THE SERIES INTRODUCTION!

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > Joyce-Centered(Current Donor)vidiconFR1595738,6431501333353,12728 May 119 Mar 14No

For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky

Author’s Note:

Thanks very much to my Beta’s, Letomo and EllandrahSylver.

The following ways of notation may be found in this story. This is excluding whatever I need to represent chatting, texting and stuff like that. And you can thank Twilightwanderer for the Abbott and Costello.

Speech: “Who’s on first.”

Thought: *What’s on second.*

Vision: #I-don’t-know’s on third.#

Thanks for the latest recommenders Darksidhe and RebeccaAshling.

To my other recommenders, know that I appreciate every one of you, and for sticking with me.

Last time I spoke about the importance of reviews and feedback. Part of the current story line was born of those, reviews and feedback, so don’t think it is useless, leave your (re)views, point out inconsistencies, let yourself be heard.

Speech: “Who’s on first.”

Thought: *What’s on second.*

Vision: #I-don’t-know’s on third.#

66 For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky

Wednesday, 15th of November, after lunch

Joyce felt her bile rising, the almost finished cup of coffee coming up out of her stomach, her breakfast following and she grabbed the woven Indian waste paper basket and vomited into it. She grabbed her phone with a trembling hand and speed dialed Simon.

“Simon, it’s Joyce. I need you to come to the Gallery, as soon as you can. You also need to check if any sort of building work is going on at Sunnydale Research, and make them stop everything! You need to bring Giles and Miss Calendar, and Willow and Dave, they're in PE, or-or get them to the computer lab, Call Hurst, or Lewis. It’s very urgent. Something’s… happened. Simon… I need you… Oh God, Simon… please, HURRY!”

Joyce turned back to the computer. Don’t worry, ‘tit Saule… Daddys on his way with the calvary… we’ll get you out as quick as we can…

Mom? I’m scared? What if he comes back? He hurt me, Mom! He hurt me! He's outside, Mom, I can't stop him anymore! There are men there and they’re going to cut the power. I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!

He can’t come back, Lovey. Buffy killed him after Giles and Miss Calendar threw him out of the Internet. He can’t ever hurt you agian. He won’t ever hurt you again; now tell mommy exactly where you are, can you do that for mommy?

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Simon ran down the stairs, mobile in hand. “I’m headed for the Gallery, Hurst. We need Dave and Willow at the computer lab, or at the Gallery with their laptops, and we need Giles and Miss Calendar. And get someone at the Guardhouse to drive over Jon and Charles, we may need them.”

He skidded out of the building, got in his car and accelerated. Joyce had sounded desperate, and he could feel her grief and worry pulsing through their bond. Whatever was going on, it was very bad, and it involved the children.

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A large man in a good suit stepped into the Comp Sci lab as Jenny was wrapping up a class. His hair was cut very short and his face was Slavic. He looked serious and not to be trifled with. He looked at her and spoke in accented English. “Miss Calendar?”

“Errr? Yes?”

“Your classes finished for day?”

“Err? No? We’ve just started. Look, who are you and what are you doing in the school?”

“I am Oleg Bchenka… you will come with me.”

“What? I will do no such thing! Are you nuts?”

The man appeared to ponder her question. Then he shook his head with finality. “No. Am not mad. You can walk or I will carry.”

“Ha! I’d like to see you try!”

He took a step closer and Jenny saw his muscles flex under his coat. She swallowed. “On second thought… class, chapters two and three for next week… Advanced group, I want to see a self-written web page that will work when more than three people hit it at once.” She packed her bag and hurried along the big Slav, occasionally looking up at him with a worried expression. “So what’s this all about?”

“Dr. Meier say you come. You come.”

“Gosh. Man really knows how to sweep a girl of her feet,” Jenny muttered.

The big man nodded proudly. “I taught him that.” Jenny rolled her eyes and decided that elaborate sarcasm was probably not going to work here. She was not terribly surprised to see Rupert being herded outside by Lewis, who she did know. “Do you have any notion what’s wrong?”

“No, Dr. Giles. Dr. Meier called to tell us to bring you and Miss Calendar and Mr. Kirby and Miss Willow to the Gallery or the computer lab, with their laptops. Considering the Uplink at the computer lab is slower than the one at the Gallery, and communication might be easier with all of us there, we’re moving you there. Very quickly.” Lewis replied.

“What about Principal Snyder? What about my classes?”

“Hurst is asking Neave Cameron to stand in for you; she has experience teaching Comp Sci,” Lewis responded, leading the group out of the building and onto the parking lot. Dave and Willow were being herded by Hurst, still in gym clothes, both clutching their laptops and both looking more than a little confused. “What’s going on, Hurst? Can’t you tell us?”

Hurst shook his head. “All I know is that Ms. Summers needs all of you at the Gallery, as fast as possible. So fasten your seatbelts.”

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Simon broke every speed limit as he drove to the Gallery. He’d slammed into the small parking lot beside it and was in through the door in seconds. Marianne looked at him worriedly.

“She’s in her office, she’s crying…”

Simon opened the door to the office, vaguely hearing the door open behind him and the soft exclamation as Willow heard Joyce sob and noting that Hurst or Lewis must have driven like madmen to get here this quick.

“Joyce, darling? What’s wrong?” Simon asked gently.

“M-Moloch, Moloch is wrong,” Joyce sobbed, still typing.

Giles and Jenny came into the office to stand by the desk, looking stunned. “Moloch? But he’s dead!” Jenny exclaimed. “Isn’t he?”

“Daddy’s here, Willow, love. Don’t worry, I’m still there with you, I’m going to talk to daddy now, but I’m still holding you.” Joyce spoke to the machine as she typed.

Simon blinked. “Joyce… what?”

Willow had come in now as well, with Dave. “Mom? I’m right here. Who are you talking to?”

Joyce looked up at them, her eyes red and her cheeks tear-stained. “Willow, Dave, could you wait outside for just a minute?”

Willow nodded reluctantly, before she was dragged out by a very pale Dave. Hurst closed the door and obviously took up position to keep Willow from eavesdropping.

Joyce typed a few more words before throwing herself into Simon’s arms.  “He copied her Simon… that bastard demon… he copied Willow into a computer and… she won’t tell me the things he did Simon… but she… she’s been sitting in a broom closet… in there… rather than go into the place he made…” she sobbed incoherently.

Simon closed his eyes for a second. “Shit.” He dug out his phone and dialed. “Gerry? I need you to run down everything we have on Calax Research and Development… I want the names of everyone, and I mean everyone, who was in there the past two months, and get me… fuck I don’t know, get me people who know about consciousness and machinery…” He hung up without waiting for a reply. He grabbed the chair opposite Joyce and sat down by her. He typed as he spoke. “Daddy’s here, honey. We’ll call Nana and she’ll come over from LA straight away.”

Jenny felt her knees grow weak. She would have fallen if Rupert had not caught her. The librarian himself was shaking, she could feel. “Bloody hell.” And swearing, obviously. In an endearingly British way. She swallowed.

“There’s a copy of Willow in the machine? Where? How?”

“She said something about a great black machine and then she was in a room, with Moloch, and then… she just won’t tell me,” Joyce had managed to recover herself a bit. “She’s in a heavily fortified room, very thick walls. She’s been keeping people away by messing with work orders and making them think nothing is working.” She bit her lip. “You’d better call in Willow now, and Dave.”

Jenny nodded. “Dave was part of Moloch’s group, he might know more.”

The two teens came in; looking rather pale in Dave’s case and full of curiosity in Willow’s. Willow took in the sight of her worried parents sitting by the keyboard. Joyce whispered something to Simon and he nodded. He rose as did she and he sat in her seat and she on his lap. They typed, alternately, trying to reassure their daughter.

Willow groaned. “Do we have to watch you smooch?”

Joyce smiled, but it was as sad smile. “Willow, Dave, can you stop that tracker worm thing you sent after Lebannen?”

“Yeah, I suppose so, but it’s too late I think, the damage is done, it was when we set it loose. Sorry, Mom,” Willow said, once again embarrassed by her precipitous action of the day before.

“Please do. Lebannen…” Joyce took a deep breath. “Willow, the reason Lebannen was so good at hacking you is because she is you, a copy of you. Moloch made a copy of you. She’s trapped in a computer at Sunnydale Research. Your tracker is hurting her.”

Willow went as white as a sheet, Dave went even more pale than he had been before. “She’s me? I’m hurting her? Oh God!”

Joyce rose from Simon’s lap instantly and hugged her. “I’m sorry, Willow. I’m so sorry.”

Dave had his eyes closed, swallowed heavily and then opened them again. “It was one of Moloch’s plans. He wanted a copy of Willow in both worlds, to enjoy her… company.” His shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry Willow, when we heard nothing; nothing contacted us, when no-one found anything in the Calax computers… I thought it had failed.”

Willow looked at Dave with fear in her eyes, her hands opening her laptop in a reflexive way. “What was he planning to do with me?”

Dave shuddered. “Terrible things. He… Fritz…” Dave took a deep breath. “There are computer games, online games even, where the player can... create people, and do things to them… hurt them… even kill them if they wanted to. And they can be really lifelike. Fritz loved them.”

Willow gulped audibly. “I saw a site like that once. I-I… My computer self isn’t going to be a happy little camper, is she?”

Dave shuddered. He seemed to shrink. He whispered, in a voice filled with self-loathing. “No. No, she isn’t.”

Willow’s eyes widened. “Dave? What about game time?”

Dave groaned. “Oh, shit no.”

“David! Language.” Joyce said automatically. Then she looked up. “What’s game time?”

Willow took a deep breath. “Remember when I was playing that computer game, Civilization?”

“Yes?”

“Well, time went faster in that game than in reality. Every turn was twenty, or ten or five or one year, but needed only minutes in real time…” Willow’s voice trailed off as Joyce and Simon exchanged shocked looks.

“She – you… may have been in there for years?” Joyce whispered her voice strained.

“Yes, Ms. Summers. We have no idea how her perception of time is in there,” Dave confirmed. “I-I should have…”

Joyce raised a hand to forestall him. “David… Dave. It’s not your fault. You were almost killed. You didn’t know if it was successful.”

“I should’ve told you! I should’ve told somebody!” Dave cried out in an anguished voice, his eyes screwed shut and tears running down his cheeks. “I was…” Willow stepped up to him and drew him close. Dave froze for a second before burying his face in her shoulder and sobbing.

“Young and scared and then there was Willow and you were in love?” Joyce smiled.

Jenny took a deep breath. “Excuse me? I have a question. Are we certain that this is Willow? It might be Moloch.”

Joyce nodded. “That did occur to me,” She closed her eyes. “And I could have been a lot colder and harsher. But if this is Willow, and I fear that it is, I don’t want her to think I don’t love her.”

Jenny nodded. “So? How do we find out?”

Simon looked at Willow, Dave and Jenny. “Well, you three ought to be able to help. And we’ll call Nanny and Cecilia, they’re both much better at seeing aura’s than I am. I might be able to sense a demon, but a demon in a machine?”

Willow nodded. “Buffy might.”

Joyce looked at Simon, who shrugged. “Her demon sensing is not that great, but it’s another way of ascertaining if this is a demon or not.”

Willow nodded and then gently sat Dave on a chair. “C’mon Dave, we gotta see what we can find out.”

Simon sighed. “Yes. And I need to get to the Labs and see what is going on there.”

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Wednesday, 15th of November, late afternoon

Danielle strode out of the car up to front desk of Sunnydale Research without stopping her stride for the armored glass doors, which parted before her. She vaguely heard the heavy thunk of the MIC company car’s door closing and then the car driving off, back to LA. Not being allowed to drive was a problem when she was in a hurry. Or would be if the LA office did not provide her with a chauffeur driven Limo if she even made mention that she needed to go somewhere.

“Mrs. Moritz? I’ll inform Dr. Meier that you’re here.” The huge, young security guard gave her a friendly smile and turned to the phone. Danielle noted that a series of elegantly carved stakes lay on a shelf beneath the desk, and she thought she recognized the stock of a crossbow. Simon came up minutes later, looking haggard, tired and disheveled, and a far cry from his usual immaculate turn out. He kissed her cheek lightly and led her through the interior doors, deep into the research facility.

“Nanny, thank you for coming so quickly.” His voice was hesitant and weary.

Danielle snorted. “I was hardly going to dawdle after your news now was I, Simon?”

Simon smiled a little. “No, I suppose not.” He led her to an elevator and they descended in silence. Simon led her through the halls, being painted white and some actually being paneled. Simon had a thing for old fashioned style, his offices tended to look like they had been transported whole from a nineteenth century family solicitor's office at the Inner Temple in London.   

They arrived in a large room, filled with tools. Large metal hinges were set into the wall and Danielle noted that the passage it led to was rough and lined with clumps of what looked like hard plastic. Simon smiled at her. “Security measures. The Calax mainframe was well protected.”

There were a lot of people in the small room beyond, or at least it felt that way. Buffy and Willow were looking at her and Joyce was typing, her body leaning over a laptop set up against the far wall of the room on a small desk.

But the room was dominated by the large, whirring machines standing in the middle of the room, each in an earthquake proof cabinet.

Danielle opened her bag and drew a circle in sand, Willow watching avidly. Then she added some candles, roasted some herbs over them in a small copper pan, lit a small brazier above which she hung a small cauldron and poured the contents of a bottle into it.

Willow gave her grandmother a look. “Nana, how much of the stuff in your kitchen do you use in spells?”

Danielle grinned. “Almost all of it, dear.”

The fluid in the cauldron started to steam and Danielle hung over it, inhaling the steam, letting it rise around her head. It did not condense back into the air but swirled within the confines of the circle.

Danielle closed her eyes and opened them again. And then she gasped.

Simon reached out and touched her. “What do you see, Nanny?”

Danielle saw Buffy heft an axe, a fireman's axe with a rubber padded handle. She wore rubber boots and a pair of thick gloves. Danielle shook her head frantically.

“A soul. Not a demon. A soul.”

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Wednesday, 15th of November, evening

Willow was blushing furiously as she lay on the bed, mostly naked. Her grandmothers were standing beside her bed, looking at her thoughtfully. “No tears or strains or rips. Nothing. There is nothing in her aura to show that she was soul-torn.” Danielle said to Cecelia.

The other woman nodded. “Yes. Where ever that soul came from, it wasn't torn from Willow.”

Willow sighed. “Okay, now that you've poked and prodded and tickled me and have come to that conclusion three times, can I please get dressed?” She begged. She drew the sheet up over her, she knew that Nana had changed her diapers and all, and that this was more like a doctor's examination than anything else but still it was a bit humiliating to lie on a bed only in her panties while two powerful witches checked her aura and chakra points for signs of her soul having been split.

Danielle smiled. “Yes dear, sorry about that. We'll be downstairs.” She led Cecelia out of the room and closed the door.

Willow hastily donned her clothes again. Before hurrying downstairs she double checked is she was really wearing everything and everything was in place. There was a computer in the living room and Joyce was behind it. Willow shivered.  

“How is she? How am I?”

“Scared, but better.”

“Why didn’t she contact us before? Why did she wait so long?” Buffy demanded to know from a corner of the couch. Dawn was leaning against her and looking at the laptop with wide eyes. Kit was shivering and leaning against Charles. Evy was between Arlene and Jon her hands pale and trembling in theirs.

Joyce looked at Willow with worry in her eyes. “She thought you were Moloch. You did try to find her and well, she tried to contact us and we never replied. We all thought she was spam.”

Willow winced. “What names did she use?”

“Weeping_Willow. Littleredtree. Much like you.”

Willow but her lip. “May I?” She gestured at the laptop and Joyce nodded and rose.

Willow sat down took a deep breath and then started to type. Hello.

Hey

This may be stupid question, but why are we typing? I can turn on the camera and we can add a mic, could you hear us then? And maybe create a picture of yourself?

I look like you. It would be weird. I am you; that's even weirder.

So we'd be like twins. There's lots of twins.

Twins don't have the same thoughts, the same memories.

Neither do we. We became different persons. I mean, I’m Nerdanel and you're Lebannen, if you were me you'd have gone for Amarië.

Lebannen felt right. Like me.

What, like some sidekick boy who gets promoted to king?

I'm so not a sidekick!

Lebannen is.

Well Amarië was a dumb blonde who spent most of her life waiting for permission from her daddy to marry! And Nerdanel was a stupid bitch who let her husband ruin their sons!

Joyce cleared her throat at the typed words. Willow grinned. Mom says ‘Language!’

Sorry, Mom! Heh. I suppose we can work on a way to make me an image. And a voice.

That's the spirit. I have a lot of stuff to tell you.

Okay. Is Dave a good kisser? How far down the pitch have you gotten?

Hssst! Mom's here!

Oh, yeah. Sorry. Maybe we should turn on the mic and the speakers, so I know who’s there. That might be easier.

Joyce looked at Willow's red ears and grinned. “No, this is quite interesting, do continue.”

“Mom!” Willow glanced at Simon who seemed to be glaring at her with a look that boded ill for Dave. Willow hurriedly turned on the microphone and speakers

“You can tell her later,” Joyce smirked. “What was all that stuff about sidekicks?”

“Her netname, you know, Lebannen. He was the sidekick of the main character of a book. By Ursula LeGuin.”

“He?”

Willow grinned. “Yeah, he. Want to tell us something, Lebby?”

“Lebby? Ugh. And no, the name just seemed appropriate.” A voice came from the speaker sounding a lot like Willow.

Joyce pursed her lips. “Does it mean anything? Or was it what the character did?”

“It means Rowan. The character goes through an amazing development and-” the voice spoke from the speakers.

“Did you say Rowan?” Danielle interrupted.

“Yeah? Why?” The speaker voice sounded confused.

Danielle took a deep breath. “I think I know whose soul… who you are dear.”

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Wednesday, 15th of November, early morning

Jack was startled from his reverie by the ringing of his phone. He picked it up and answered thoughtlessly. “O’Neill.”

“Colonel O’Neill, my office. Now,” Hammond’s voice barked.

Then there was a dial tone. Jack looked at the phone, sighed and rose. He straightened his jacket and walked to the General’s office nodded at the orderly and was waved right in. He saluted and stood at attention. “Sir.”

“Sit down, Colonel.” Hammond looked at his second in command and then down at the file in front of him. “It was my intention to gauge the abilities of Major Ellis while giving her some time at the base as the head of the science department and then see if she would, and I had no doubt she would be excellent at it, command one of the SG teams through the gate,” He tapped the file. “And here you tell me that Major Ellis should not be given command of an SG team. Care to explain that, Colonel?”

“Sir. I-I….” Jack closed his eyes. “I’ve been trying to write this into a report and I’ve failed. Permission to speak freely, Sir?”

Hammond raised an eyebrow. “Very well. Go ahead Colonel.”

“Arlene and I… We were involved in the early eighties. Then I got orders, a mission that was more than likely to end in my death. And I left her.”

Hammond raised an eyebrow. “I see. You think the Major will have trouble serving under your command? If so, that should have come up during the initial discussion of her activation.”

“No sir, Major Ellis is far too good an officer for that. Sir, how much do you know about Hearts of Fire?”

“Not very much, just the bare bones.”

“Certain families have more power than others. Some have what is called a Destiny attached to them.” Jack looked at his hands.

“Yes?”

“My family, or Granddad’s at any rate, has a Destiny. So does Major Ellis’. She’s also a very powerful adept.”

“Your point with all this, Colonel?” Hammond asked, slightly impatient.

Jack reached into his pocket, got out his wallet and handed it over, opened. Hammond noted that a picture of a girl was inserted next to the picture of Charlie O’Neill. A teenager. Old enough to have been born of a liaison between O’Neill and Ellis.

Very slowly the General looked up. “She was pregnant. You abandoned her.” His voice was icy cold and full of stern disapproval.

Jack winced. “Yes, sir. But not voluntarily, we think. Arl- Major Ellis-”

“Call her Arlene when we are discussing personal matters. And Major Ellis when they are personnel matters.” Hammond’s face was perfectly straight.

Jack groaned at the pun. “Evy was put up for adoption. Arlene… There was a spell on us, sir – on both of us. Marigold wanted Evy. They… We think Marigold may have been responsible for… Ch-Charlie dying. With his death, Evy would be my heir, without a single doubt. If they had her, well, you can imagine it wouldn’t be good, sir.”

Hammond nodded. “I can see how that would make for an emotional situation, but officers have had to serve in such situations before.”

Jack drew a deep breath. “Sir, let me tell you about how they treated Evy…”

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Wednesday, 15th of November, evening

“I’ve never heard a computer cry,” Danielle said softly, her hand on the whirring computer tower. Cecelia was standing by the desk, watching the image that Rowan had formed for herself sobbing uncontrollably. A shadowy shape held the crying computer generated image of Willow, or Rowan, or whatever they should call her.

“I doubt many of them have had reason to,” Simon replied. “How certain are you?”

“More certain every minute. She feels like one of us, Simon. Even if she is in the machine.”

“How do we get her out of there, Nanny?” Simon asked in a whisper. “Do you know of any spells?”

“Simon, it would require body. Where do you think we can find one of those?”

“In Sunnydale? I’ll tell Hurst to walk into the nearest alley.”

Danielle rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean.”

“I do.”

Joyce was typing on the keyboard attached to the tower and Willow and Dave were at their laptops, side by side, occasionally whispering. “Rowan? Did you try and change the place around you?” Willow called out.

There was a sob and the computer image looked up. “Ch-change?”

“Yeah. ‘Cause you live in a cupboard, and you’re sorta me and you know, us and cupboards, so not a good thing.” Willow shuddered at the memory that returned and Dave gave her a quick hug.

There was a slight sob. “It’s better with Mom holding me.”

“Yeah well, everything is better with Mom holding you. But Moloch is dead, so that means you don’t have to be afraid he’ll be back and punish you. So we can change-” Willow took a deep breath. “Change the room we saw, make it all different.”

There was another sob. “Will Mom still hold me?”

Joyce smiled. “Of course, dear. I’m right there, holding you.” She sat down at her keyboard and typed. <Hugs Rowan tightly>.  The shadowy figure hugged the image of Rowan more tightly, and Rowan relaxed into her embrace.

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Wednesday, 15th of November, early afternoon

Sam Carter growled at the computer screen. “Oh, come ON!”

Daniel stuck his head around the door. “Anything wrong, Sam?”

“Nothing you can help with, Daniel.”

“Try me.” Daniel sat down and Sam glared at him. Daniel showed no sign of moving, coffee mug in hand, a slight smile on his lips.

“I'm looking for a scientist.” Sam snarled. “Happy now?”

“Looking for a scientist? Why?”

Sam sighed. “Well, actually I don't know what I'm looking for. Or who. Or if it’s one person, or several. It’s a mystery, really.”

“Ah. Like Nerdanel?”

Sam winced. “Don't remind me. No, or maybe.” She took a deep breath. “About seven years ago Stephen Hawking wrote a paper on black holes and it was published in Astronomy and Astrophysics. A graduate student forgot he- his copy on the London Underground. His name and address were on it and one morning a week later he found it on his doorstep. Hawking's piece, and several others, had been scribbled in. There was a note of apology for the damage to the text and for the fact the magazine had been kept so long. The student was surprised at the quality of the emendations for what he thought had to be an elaborate joke. He took it to his professor, who contacted Hawking.”

“Okay. From the way you act about this I doubt it was nonsense.”

“It was genius! It still is!” Sam almost wailed. “It's the foundation of my work in portals, it was vital to our understanding of the Stargate. And we don't know who did it!”

“The note wasn't signed?”

“Dr. Xenophilius Ethelred Lovegood.” Sam watched as Daniel worked it out.

“Xeno Philius, Strangelove, Ethelred, as in Ethelred the Unready and Lovegood? What was it, some kind of joke?”

“Nobody knows. Suffice it to say that there is no such person as Xenophilius Lovegood listed at any University. Some of the equations and the note were written on parchment, and according to later analysis, in gallnut ink with a quill or nib pen. That strengthened the first idea it was a joke. I have a program that trawls the net, looking for similar equations. I thought it'd found him.”

“Not him?”

Sam shook her head and then perked up. “Winifred Burkle. She's working on String theory and is using Lovegood equation number 3 as a basis for it.”

“And this cheers you up why?”

“Because she was studying history and her returning to Physics is awesome!” Sam beamed at Daniel. “I’ll have to contact her and ask her if she wants to contribute some of her work to the Program.”

“Awesome?” Daniel's mouth quirked. “Really?”

Sam flushed, “Yes. She's gonna make a difference, trust me.”

“I see.” Daniel rose and made to leave. Standing in the doorway he looked over his shoulder. “Oh, by the way, Sam? Weren't you in London seven years ago? Before you went and studied under Professor Hawking in Cambridge?” 

Sam groaned. “Yes.”

“Still have the magazine and the note?”

“Yes.”

“Thought you might.”

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Wednesday 15th of November, quite late really

“So what are you two doing?” Buffy stood behind Dave and Willow, who were red-eyed and yawning at their screens.

“Building a house.” Willow murmured.

“What?”

Dave smiled tiredly. “We've got pictures of your Mom's house, digital ones, and we're working on an algorithm to allow Rowan to interact with it. And possibly to create a couple of avatars for all of you, as well as her, so you can talk with her in the computer.”

“Yeah, you see, when Mom types she's hugging Rowan, Rowan feels like she's being hugged. So we want to extend that.”

Buffy blinked. “Cool. So you're building her a house in there. An ideas about out here?”

Willow wilted. “None. I think Dad and Nana and Gran are talking about it, but they keep saying this is too dark, that is too dark. I mean, can't they just create a body and siphon her in or something?”

“No, we can't. Magic affecting Souls? That's a very slippery slope. You could consider it a type of resurrection, which is good for neither recipient nor the caster,” Danielle explained, repressively. “There will be no conjuring of bodies and slapping in a soul and memories. Not to mention the fact that in many ways she's you, which opens up a whole other can of ethical worms.”

Willow looked a bit mulish and then yawned. “Yeah, true. Would be kinda nice to have another sister, though.”

“You already have three,” Danielle teased. “Don't be greedy.”

Willow giggled and then yawned again.

Joyce rose. “It's far too late. We're going to bed. Rowan, you go to sleep as well.”

“I'm a computer. How am I supposed to do that?” Rowan asked in a slightly irritated tone of voice.

“Willow and Dave coded a bedroom with you, right? And the bathroom in the house is finished?”

There was a moment's silence. “Yeah. Right after we removed the... the room.”

“Yes. I want you to take a nice, long shower, put on your nightshirt and by the time we're all ready, you'll be all ready for bed and tucking in.” Joyce instructed in a voice that brooked no argument.

“Yes, Mom,” the startled computer voice replied. Seconds later the sound of a shower came over the speakers.

Joyce nodded. “Very good. Well, let’s go, tomorrow is school day.”

The teens exchanged looks and then shrugged, filing out of the room.  

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Thursday November 16th, just after the start of school

Jenny Calendar grinned. The shoulder mounted camera and microphone on Willow’s shoulder, ostensibly for a special project for Computer Science, were allowing Rowan to observe the classes her brother and sisters were taking, to see the world again like a teenager. She and Rupert were rather worried about the effects her long, lonely stay might have on the girl in the machine. But for now, Rowan seemed quite well adjusted. For someone who had been sitting alone in a cupboard, manipulating the world’s computers and trying to recover from being horribly assaulted by a demon while fearing its return every minute of the day.

Willow giggled at whatever Rowan was saying in her ear bud. It was apparently very distracting to have one’s twin speak in one’s ear.

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Thursday November 16th, after school

“Right. This type of training will be important for all of you so this will be an extended class.” Simon stated firmly as he faced the small group in the library at Hooghwater.

Amy raised an eyebrow at the computer screen. “And magic can be taught to electronic err… people?”

Simon shrugged. “I don’t know, I’ve never done it. But I want her to have as thorough a background in magic as I can give her, in case we do find a way to decant her into a body.”

“Decant? You make me sound like juice,” Rowan objected.

“Like fine wine. Which none of you are allowed to have, or will touch, for six more years. Understood?” Simon sternly replied.

Clarice coughed from her place on the couch. “I hope that does not go for me, brother dear?”

Simon sighed. “No, it doesn’t. Now, you’ll be learning how to defend yourselves from mental attacks, and how to sense them. For that you need to create an outer shield, an inner shield and defenses in depth.”

Willow giggled. “Dad, you’re doing officer speak again. And you’re not in uniform. And Mom’s not here, so no need to try and impress her. And I did not just say that, did I?”

Amy and Rowan groaned. Clarice grinned. “Yes, you did. Now, Simon. Explain.”

Simon eyed his apprentices and sighed again. “Mental defenses are much like an old fashioned castle. The book I learned from was written by a member of the Order Hospitallers and he used the Crac des Chevaliers as his example. Now your outer ramparts-”

There was a giggle from Rowan. “He said ram.”

Willow started to giggle too.

Simon rolled his eyes. “The outer shield is formed by tapping into your power and raising a thin wall. Unlike with real castles, the outer shield is the weakest. When it falls, you know you have to ramp up-”

Willow and Rowan started to giggle again. Clarice rolled her eyes. “How do you maintain such a shield?”

“Well in my case I have a light touch on my magical core, to maintain it. It takes most of my energy to do so. Inner defences are based upon a mixture of power and mental discipline-”

Willow almost started laughing. Rowan muted the sound and was seen to be convulsing on the screen, wrapped in mirth.

Simon exchanged looks with Clarice. “Do I even want to consider what might have set them off this time?”

Clarice eyes her nieces and shook her head. “Probably not, no. What if the attacker is much more powerful?” 

“You make certain your defences are tailored to that. A more powerful attacker, you change the wall to a labyrinth. You give him what he thinks he’s looking for.”

“And if he uses magic to attack you physically? What do you do then?” Amy asked, looking at the giggling redheads.

“Well, you all can dip into your power. I tend to have a very light touch on the nearest leyline as well. Now when you come under a massive attack-”

“He said massive!” Rowan howled with laughter. Willow joined her and slid off the couch.

Simon buried his face in his hands. “This has to be Karma for something, but I can’t have been that bad…”

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Thursday November 16th, after dinner

“Mommomomomomom! NANANANANANANA!!” The speakers flanking the camera on Joyce’s desk sang.

Joyce sighed and looked at Danielle, who was grinning, even while her eyes were serious.

“Yes, Rowan?”

“YoutoldmetotellyouifIrememberedanythingnomatterhowstrange,thatmighthelpin findingoutwhereIwas,youknowbefore.AndWillowsaysthatitwasn’therwormthat attackedmefirst,soithadtobesomethingelse.”

“Rowan, the fact that you don’t need to breathe does not mean my ears do not need time to process what you are saying,” Joyce told the camera dryly. Her screen split in two, to show the image Rowan had crafted for herself on one side and the much maligned, and deservedly so, inventory program on the other.

Rowan flushed slightly. “Sorry, Mom. But anyway, I remember, just before I went into meltdown mode, you know, there was this girl, this naked girl…”

Danielle smiled. “A naked girl? Really?”

Rowan sighed. “NANA!! I’m serious. She was tied to a floor and real scared and there was this guy in suit who tried to make me go into some crystal. And I didn’t want to, so I launched lightning at him, and then I knew the girl really didn’t want to be there, so I pulled her out. But I sorta lost her...” she finished, looking rather sheepish.

“Lost her?”

“Yeah. You know, I was scared – okay I was terrified. She was too, but well, I didn’t know what I was doing and well, she fell. I dropped her…”

Danielle nodded. “Do you know where? Was it close? Or far away?”

“It felt fairly close.” Rowan mused. 

Joyce smiled. “Which for a incorporeal being stuck in a computer with access to the internet may be anywhere. Send an email to your father and tell him, he’ll take it from there.”

“Kay. See you later Mom, Nana!” Rowan’s image disappeared and the inventory program once more took up the whole screen.

“She’s being far too perky,” Danielle noted. “I don’t like it. Whenever Willow was that perky, something bad had happened. But Willow tends to crash after a few hours.”

“I know,” Joyce bit her lip. “The hug is still on.”

Danielle blinked. “What?”

“As long as I don’t tell her that I’m not hugging her…” Joyce gestured rather helplessly at the screen. “She’s never alone.”

Danielle nodded thoughtfully. “Considering how lonely she’s been, that might actually be the best thing for her.”

Joyce closed her eyes. “Is it bad that I want to bring back Moloch and kill him several times over for what he did to them?”

“Are they a them? Aren’t they both still Willow? They only have Willow’s memories, even if Rowan’s soul is changing the perceptions Willow had of them. And her own memories since they were separated? Not the sort of thing to create a stable personality,” Danielle sat down and sighed. “Sometimes I wish things were simple.”

Joyce snorted. “Don’t I know it.”

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Thursday November 16th, morning

“Here she is. Jane Doe. Found naked with signs of having been tied up, floating just offshore. She hasn’t said anything, just struggled against her restraints. She’s probably some runaway from LA,” the Sunnydale Memorial doctor stated with disinterest.

“Since she was tied up before coming here, fighting against being restrained is really no surprise, is it?” Simon said sharply. He walked up to the bed and looked at the young woman lying there. “Leave us.”

“I’m afraid I can’t allow that. Only primary caretakers or-”

“I’m picking up the bill. I’m a doctor. I’m on the hospital's emergency call list. And you have ten seconds to get out of this room before I have you up before a board of investigation for medical malpractice,” Simon’s voice was icy cold. “And trust me, when you and I stand before that board, Dr. Munroe, I will not be the one whose career takes a nosedive. Do you understand?”  

The young doctor nodded, cast a fearful glance at the older man and left hurriedly.

Simon looked at the girl; heavily drugged girl, medicated was not a word he’d use in this case, tied to the bed and still struggling in her sleep, fitfully moving about.

“This might take some time. I’d better call in the cavalry,” he muttered, taking out his cell and walking into the hallway.

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Friday November 17th, morning

Kendra woke. She felt sluggish, but not as bad as she had when she woke up previously. She could also feel that the restraints were gone, and the bed sheets were much softer than she had grown used to in the hospital. And the smell was different. The pillow smelled fairy faintly of passion flowers and there was a scent of potpourri in the room. She turned her head and saw that there was a window, with the drapes closed. She heard the sound of birdsong. The walls were newly painted, that was another smell.

“Ah, good you’re awake,” The door had opened and Kendra tensed. There was a blonde woman standing in the doorway. “You’ve been sleeping for a day, ever since we brought you here.” The woman continued.

Kendra looked the woman. “Ahm Kendra, Kendra Young.”

“Joyce Summers. I assume that the accent is to hide the rather cute British one you used while you were dreaming?”

Kendra blinked. “Err…”

“I’ll take that as a yes then. We already knew who you were, by the way, we did a little snooping. You came into America from Jamaica and your guardian is one Samuel Zabuto.”

Kendra tensed. “How do you know all that?” Her accent was now rather more refined.

“Two of my daughters are world class hackers. And my fiancé has resources you wouldn’t believe,” Joyce said calmly, as she sat down on the bed and felt Kendra’s forehead. “Good, the fever’s gone. Show me your wrists.”

Kendra rather hesitantly did as she was told. Joyce pursed her lips. “I fear you will keep the scars. Simon says they may get better with time.”

“Who’s Simon?”

“Fiancé. Also a doctor. You should get dressed, we’re having breakfast and then you’re going to school.”

Kendra’s eyes narrowed. “What?”

“School. Sunnydale High. Not for lessons, at least not yet. But there you will meet Rupert Giles, Watcher to the current Slayer.”

Kendra blinked. “You know about the Slayer? Are you a Watcher too?”

The friendly smile the woman had been sporting turned brittle. “No. I’m her mother.” 

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Kendra walked from the one house to the other house, noting that they were being connected by an annex. She also noted that the connection was going to be the size of a small house itself. The girl tugging her hand was obviously used to the building work, as was the very tall old gentleman with the cane. Another even older gentleman was coming from under some arch into the garden and nodded at her kindly as he slowly mounted the steps aided by his canes. Another girl, Kendra’s age or a little older, with red and black hair, ran out to help him, badgering him about using his wheelchair. Kendra took a deep breath and walked up the stairs to the porch and then into the kitchen. It was full, she noted, of people. Another girl, about the same age as the one who had dragged her in. A brunet boy, taller than Kendra, a small blonde, and a redhead. Another redhead was humming on a TV screen and the blonde woman and a tall dark-haired man were distributing toast from an industrial sized toaster. And older redheaded lady was reading a newspaper and occasionally scowling at the girl humming on the screen.

“Ah, Kendra, good morning again,” the woman called Joyce Summers said brightly. “Quick introductions in order of age, Alexander-”

“MOM!!” Xander whined.

Joyce grinned and continued pointing and introducing. “Make that Xander, Buffy, Willow, Rowan-”

“Hey! Why Am I younger?” the girl on the screen demanded to know.

“Because Rowan, you were the second born,” Joyce replied calmly. “Now hush. And that’s Kit and Dawn.” She smiled at Kendra. “That’s Simon, and that lot are ours.” She gestured at the group of teens. Kendra nodded in understanding.

A short, determined looking woman with auburn hair walked into the kitchen from the basement, a hairbrush and a comb in her hand, seized the girl with the bad dye job and pulled her down into the basement. Seconds later there was a wail. “OOOWWWW!!! MOM!”

“And that was my older sister Arlene and her daughter Evelyn, that’s Evy, who really should know by now not to go to sleep with wet hair,” Joyce explained to the rather astonished looking Kendra. “That’s Simon’s father, Charles.”

Charles coughed and looked about to protest when Kit, on the stool next to him, reached out and hugged him. “Grandpa Charles, sometimes real family is who you find, not who you’re born to. So shush.” Then she blushed furiously and let go, looking at her hands. The man called Charles smiled and hugged her around the shoulder.

Joyce smiled brightly and then gestured at the older redheaded woman. “That’s Mrs. Danielle Moritz, she’s Willow’s grandmother and Simon’s other honorary parent.”

The lady blinked and looked at the dark haired man as if expecting him to protest. When he didn’t she swallowed visibly, dropped off her stool and hugged him.

Kendra noticed that the redheads, both the one on the screen and the one there in person sniffled a bit at that. The others mostly looked thoughtful.

Joyce smiled at the scene and then at Kendra. “My parents and eldest sister, Clarice, will be here any minute now.”

Kendra looked from face to face, her eyes finally settling on the tiny blonde who was scowling at the girl called Dawn. “You finished the milk again!”

“I did so not! That was Xander! I finished the juice!” the younger girl replied hotly.

Kendra looked from tiny blonde to Joyce, whose eyes were sad and whose expression was strained. “Yes. She’s the one.”

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Friday November 17th, late morning

The woman called Clarice drove Kendra to the High School, after taking Kendra to a large shop to buy her clothes first. Clarice led her to the Library. Kendra did not ask any questions, merely observing that she drove well and seemed to know her way through the town and school both.

The library at Sunnydale High held a great many volumes that Kendra found interesting. It also held the Watcher of the Slayer, a gentleman dressed in tweed and wearing glasses. He was polishing them when she came in, and sighing as the Slayer was glaring at one of the books on the table. Dr. Meier was there as well, his face cold and shuttered as he looked at the Watcher, an expression of distaste and contempt on his face. Kendra doubted many others would have seen it, but she had been trained to recognize such emotions from the day Mr. Zabuto took her in. Buffy looked up and brightened. “Ah, Giles, here’s Kendra. And I’ve got History, so you can tell me about Rorschach demons later.”

“Rorormach Demons, Buffy,” the watcher sighed.

“Yeah, sure, whatever. Have fun!” Buffy hastened away.

Kendra looked after her, confused. “Why did she not stay to be instructed?”

Simon let out a bark of laughter. “Buffy sees things a bit different from Watcher trained Potentials and Slayers. Now, we need to ask you some questions. Sit, please.” He took out a list and asked questions that Kendra answered easily, occasionally interrupted for a clarification by Primus Giles. Kendra eyed the Watcher with a certain awe.

“So this man defeated Mr. Zabuto quite easily? What did he look like?” Giles asked gently.

Kendra closed her eyes and remembered the man. He’d looked pleasant enough, she supposed. She gave a description. Tall, muscular but lanky, an excellent fighter.

“And Mr. Zabuto told you to run? He stayed behind and kept him from you?” Giles insisted. 

Kendra nodded, tears running down her face.

“So he wouldn’t have been capable of calling the airport and making certain that you got on your flight? Or to arrange for an Unaccompanied Minor to be taken to LA via a connecting flight?” Simon asked, looking at a sheet of paper.

Giles looked at him as if he was insane. “What?”

“He wasn’t after Kendra. He was after the watcher.”

Simon handed the sheet over to Giles, who read it with mounting amazement. “Th-this shows...”

“By the way Kendra, Mr. Zabuto is not dead. He’s in hospital and will need a lot of time to recover. He’s suffered a severe concussion and many other injuries. He was thrown out of a moving vehicle onto the pavement outside the hospital ER. Several thousand dollars was found on his person, and his medical insurance papers.”

“What?” Giles burst out. “You knew that and let her believe that Sam was dead?”

“Yes. Strange isn’t it, you call him Sam. Yet Kendra, who has lived with him for most of her life, calls him Mr. Zabuto?” Simon’s voice was carefully neutral. “Makes me wonder what Buffy’s life would have been like if you lot had found her earlier. Such a warm, loving way of treating one’s ward.”

Giles opened his mouth but Simon shook his head. “Clarice, would you take Kendra and take her back home?”

Kendra could have sworn that Clarice was about to protest, but the woman merely sighed and shook her head. “Try not to get blood on the books.” She took Kendra’s arm and led her away. They exited the library. A beautiful brunette girl, surrounded by a gaggle of others, was holding court in the corridor just outside the Library, discussing something called Jimmy Shoes. She wondered what was so wondrous about shoes made by this Jimmy, but hesitated to ask, as there were far more important things to worry about.

Kendra bit her lip. “What did he mean? Why is he so disrespectful to the Primus?”

“Primus?”

“The Watcher to the Slayer. He is the Primus, the First Watcher. He has a very important voice in Council deliberations.”

Clarice stiffened. “Let me guess, the Slayer doesn’t.”

Kendra blinked. “Why would she need to, with the Primus speaking for her, from his greater wisdom and experience?”

Clarice closed her eyes and relaxed, very slowly, from the tension that had settled over her, her breath slowing. “I’m beginning to understand Simon’s point,” she muttered. Then she took Kendra’s hand and led her outside. “Simon has had very bad experiences with the Watchers, and he believes that Slayers should have a say in their own destinies. But I’ll be the first to admit he’s not always entirely rational when it comes to the Council of Watchers.”

“Oh. I see.”

“OHHMMMMMYGODDD!!! GUYS!! It’s Darlin’ Starlin’!”

Clarice winced as a girl rushed up to her, face awed and filled with hero worship. Kendra shook off her hand and stood back, seeing the woman nearly swamped by teenagers. Then she walked quickly back to the Library. If Dr. Meier was not rational with regards to the Watchers, he might hurt the Primus. That could not be allowed. She noted that the brunette was still holding court and her voice was loud enough to mask the sound of the library doors, she had noted upon exiting. She gently pushed one open, allowing herself just enough space to get in. The central table was empty. But the door to the office was closed, and she headed for that. She heard the raised voices through the door.  

“So that’s what you wanted for Buffy, is it? The ultimate automaton? The perfect little Slayer? Trained to within an inch of her life?”

“I-I assure you it was never my intention to make Buffy into a Council puppet!” The Primus responded hotly.

“Oh? Well excuse me for holding the Council’s so called record against you!”

“That was a long time ago! Things have changed,” Mr. Giles insisted.

“Changed? Do you know how many of the Watchers we had deported or arrested had abused the Potentials they were supposed to watch over? How many made them share their beds?” Simon scathingly replied. “Was that what you had in mind for Buffy, perhaps? Your own little private slayer? All alone and ready for you, cut off from her family and friends? So easy for you to manipulate, to mold… To… handle.”

“What the hell is wrong with you? You know I don’t think of her that way!” Giles insisted.

Kendra blinked. *There are Watchers who would do such a thing?* 

“No, maybe you don’t. But still, she must be a dreadful disappointment for you. She does not kill those demons that are neutral or on the side of man, unlike the Council.”

Kendra heard Mr. Giles’ angry reply. “That is only a splinter faction, and you know it!”

“That splinter faction has been in power for a long time then. The Wild Hunt that rode Ireland and chased Cheila comes to mind,” there was a noise of a chair creaking. “Or the murdering bastards who’re the reason that Kendra is here. Or what Kendra is.” His voice was ice cold and his hands were folded on the table. “I’ve contacted the Grand Magister. The Concordat will vote, at the next Equinox, if any Council Watchers will be allowed to remain in America.”

Giles swallowed and Kendra gaped at the pure evil that Simon was spewing. *Ban the Council? But the Destiny! Who will train the Chosen? Why would you do such an evil thing?*

“Why? What have we done?” Giles asked defiantly. “We’ve obeyed your injunctions.”

Kendra heard the snicks of Simon’s attaché case opening and the rustle of papers.

“That is the reason, Faith Lehane, sent to a Meier House after an incident of domestic violence involving her mother and a pimp. Taken in by two master martial artists. Being trained in Kendo, Savate, Karate. Going to school, learning languages. Her mother is a prostitute, her father unknown, she was taken in by Frank and Gladys Howard and for the first time in her life she was happy,” he told Giles in a withering voice. “And then the Council came. Her foster mother is dead. Her foster father has… disappeared. A girl was killed to make people believed that Faith herself died in the same fire that killed Gladys Howard. Not even the Grand Magister has been able to find her. Alive or dead.”

Kendra heard the agitated turning of pages, the heavy breathing of what sounded like a man in a rage, and in terrible pain. “This is… Oh Lord! I know that man!”

“Knew. He’s dead. Tortured to death. In Britain. It may interest you to know that a source has told me that Frank and Gladys Howard were more than they appeared. Something I thought was merely a legend, or at least, something I did not think existed anymore.” Kendra leaned forward to listen more closely. Simon continued speaking.  “Lightning warriors. Both of them. And my source tells me that Frank Howard has gone off the deep end and is killing Watchers left and right.”

Mr. Giles’ voice was shocked. “Sam Zabuto…”

“Took Kendra from her parents when she was five years old. No doubt the old fucker would have died of an overdose of bottle gourd if he hadn’t told Kendra to run.” Simon’s voice was dismissive and Kendra gasped, biting back tears.

“Okay that’s enough.” Kendra whirled around to see the angry face of Clarice behind her. The woman reached out and opened the door, pushing Kendra inside.

“Simon, what the hell is wrong with you? I know that you don’t like watchers, but this is going too far. And Rupert has shown he’s better than that! And you knew Kendra was out here!”

Simon turned to look at Clarice and Kendra, and Kendra noted that his eyes were much darker, as if the pupils took up all of his eyes. He smiled, and it was not a pleasant smile. Then he looked away. Clarice’s voice trailed off.

“Rupert? This Hellmouth you lot keep talking about? Where exactly is it?”

Mr. Giles blinked, his confusion at the interruption and then this question clear. “We don’t know exactly. Why?”

“Because Simon always keeps a tap onto a leyline, when he feels threatened. And if he does that anywhere near a Hellmouth…”

Simon chuckled, raising his head. His eyes were completely black.   

End note:

Now this would be an evil place to end the story… Sorry for the cliff-hanger. You can blame it on Letomo, who convinced me (okay, it was easy) to end it here… Please note that the typos in Joyce typing scenes are meant to be there. For verisimilitude. ;-)

The title is the title of an original Star Trek episode. (Season 3, episode 8)

Lebannen appears in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Farthest Shore, part of her Earthsea chronicles. I own neither Star Trek or the works of Ursula Le Guin.

Appended: I forgot this and never noticed. thanks to SpacedCadet to pointing it out.

Dr. Strangelove, or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb, (1964) was directed by Stanley Kubrick and starred Peter Sellers. It features the eponymous Dr. Strangelove a (former?) Nazi rocket and nuclear scientist/ unspecified physicist, a typical example of a mad scientist.

Ethelread the Unraed, (circa 968 – 23 April 1016) or the badly advised was a king of England who attempted to buy of the Viking raids of the time with large amounts of Danegeld. He also broke the power for the magnates (great nobles) of his kingdom and drove the Vikings off by force of arms on other occasions, when he had the opportunity. Modern scholarly consensus is that he was actually a pretty good king.
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