DISCLAIMER: The concept of the Slayer is the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Sandollar Productions, Kuzui Enterprises, 20th Century Fox Television and the UPN Television Network. This particular version of that universe is mine. The grabboids aren't
mine - I've just borrowed them for a moment or two. The story is written for the pleasure of the author and readers, and has no lucrative purpose whatsoever. Please do not reproduce this story anywhere without the author's consent.
SPOILERS: ‘Chosen’ Sort of.
TIMELINE: Far, far future
It’s always the waiting that’s the worst.
It’s an old lesson, one grounded in endless sessions of sitting with his sister on the stairs, lingering in those long, interminable times between their mother going out and their father coming home.
Endless, unspoken empathies of wondering what next
– and always the expectation of it being far worse than the event, worse than the shouting and the anger, and the howl of a man betrayed by an addiction none of them could fight.
He’d thought it might be different in the service. There’d been long years of waiting for that too – waiting to be old enough to stamp his thumbprint on plastic and steel, waiting to be tall enough and strong enough for the recruiter to frown and nod and say you’ll do.
And then one day the recruiter had, even though he’d still been skinny as a rake and as clumsy as a new born puppy … and now he was a man, and a marine and he was still
waiting – with clammy palms and short tight breaths and a pounding heart beneath his regulation breastplates.
The tension in the air was thick enough to cut with a shimmer-blade.
“Any sign?” a voice hissed inside his helmet and he nearly jumped at the intrusion of it, the shattering of the silence. Nearly. His fingers tightened on the grip of his weapon and his inward breath was sharp – but he didn’t move. Didn’t give his position away.
“Not yet, sir,” he reported, keeping his voice low and his tone controlled. “Nothing’s moved since HA35 went down. Are we sure it’s still in the sector?”
“We’re sure.” There was a pause, as if the voice at the other end had stopped to confirm that confidence. “The energy monitors are definitely on the fritz, but we’re still picking up the seismics … “
“… and the Seer says, something wicked this way comes.
He nearly jumped a second time, his shoulders tensioning as a second armoured figure vaulted over the perimeter wall and quietly dropped into the space beside him. “Last and First
, Dessa!” he swore, slowly relaxing his trigger finger and risking the barest of glances towards the new arrival. She smirked. His eyes narrowed with irritation. “Don’t do
that. I’m stationed at red, here. You’re supposed to announce your approach.”
Dessa, to you, Gachnar. And I did. Not my fault if you Zeppos don’t use the usual channels.” She reached out and tapped the side of his helmet, triggering a cascade of message traffic from the main comms line.
“..and here on station Effwhyeye the word is Suuuuubeterranean. Keep your eyes on the ground, boys, because these bad boys sure don’t fly …”
He grimaced and hastily reached back to flip the switch off again. There was a reason the corps stuck to the restricted channels, and not just because the camp broadcasts were …w ell, camp
. A Zeppo was proud that he could function without enhancements or implants – and even with them, trying to disentangle official traffic from comms chatter and several simultaneous entcasts was likely to drive you crazy within minutes.
Unless you were a licensed Seer, of course, able to pick out exactly
what you needed to hear almost before the message was sent.
“We’re running on frequency six today,” he growled, keeping his eyes on the perimeter and trying very hard not to look at her, despite an almost overwhelming desire to glare.
“We are?” She sounded surprised. “Oh. Oops. Guess I’m following tomorrow’s orders again …”
.” His complaint was tight, whispered through gritted teeth. She was always
doing this to him. And this was hardly the time …
“Incoming,” she announced suddenly, the word backed by a sudden hint of pain. “It’s big, Zeph. Really big. There’s hunger and pain and … blood and fear …
The beast erupted from beneath the desert in a fountain of stones and dirt and spittle and blood. One jagged mandible hung down in tattered shreds, the legacy of HA35’s actions as he’d been dragged under the earth. The remaining three clicked and clattered as the creature surged out of its burrow, lifting a good twenty feet of its bulk into the air. The rest of it – another fifty feet at least – writhed up to coil across the soil, launching it forward with terrifying speed.
The waiting was over.
” Zephraim yelled, leaping to his feet and bringing the big gun to bear. Metal spat screaming metal, the heavy, high impact ammo spewing from the weapon at speeds that ripped the air apart. The beast reared back for a moment, hammered by the sudden assault – then squirmed forward a second time, howling and hungry as it headed for the source of vibration and sound.
Somewhere beside him, Dessa was adding to the attack, her body poised in a textbook perfect pose – one knee down, the other foot bracing her stance as her weapon spat fire and fury. Sharp, staccato shots, each one placed with predictive precision; they underpinned the hammer of his scattergun like the high top notes in an acappella cadence rap.
This – this
– was living. Feeling the weapon buck and writhe in his hands like a living thing, seeing death charge towards him in blind and mindless fury; there was nothing but the moment, the surge of adrenaline in his veins, the power of the gun hammering as loudly as his heart – and the manic grin that twisted his lips, because chancing fate and taking dumb risks was one thing, but he was a marine – strike that, he was a Zeppo
– and Zeppo’s knew how to play the game, how to up the stakes and still
walk out the other side smelling of roses …
Well, okay, smelling of gun oil and sweat and way too many days in combat gear, but – hey – that came with the territory too.
, you hellspawn!”
His finger twitched, changing the steady stream of his assault into a dancing rhythm that drove the beast into a frenzy. Most of his shots were bouncing off armoured hide, but some were biting home, and Dessa’s targeted attack was busy making a deep impression – striking between
the layered plates and tearing the muscled flesh beneath. Nothing life threatening – but the pain was making the creature madder than hell; each shot jerked it back with reaction, then sent it writhing forward with fury. It was well up the slope by now, its head lifted, its mouth parts gnashing the air and its body undulating with determined speed.
It was thirty feet away.
Bullets bounced with bruising force, scattering around the thing like a halo of fire.
Dessa was shaking, despite having – or perhaps because
she had - more idea of what was going to happen next than he did. She went on shooting though, steady and determined, making each shot count.
Who needed a Slayer, when you had a Seer on your team?
Twenty feet.Grave dust this thing’s big!
“Just a little more. A little
more … gotcha!
His foot kicked out, triggering the electronet he and H35 had spent all morning laying out across the sloping ground. Lines of force snapped upward, tangling the beast in a weave of shimmering power. Its charge of fury became a furious writhe of pain, and it twisted, lightning fast, seeking escape in the sanctuary of the ground.
Only to slam itself into unyielding rock, into the granite underfooting of the base, picked for precisely that reason.
After all, when you’ve been sent to clear a world of huge, hungry, heart thumping beasts that burrowed
, only an idiot would build his main camp on a foundation of sand
An idiot – or a Zeppo squad – one choosing to leave just enough wriggle room for the subterranean predators to lure them into a shooting ally and cut them down to size.
When you didn’t
have a slayer on the team, you had to make do with what you had …
“You were right,” Zeph said, locking the scattergun back into standby mode and allowing himself a deep breath of relief. Still alive. Still feeling good
. “That’s one big
It was writhing and struggling within the net, tangling itself deeper into the trap. Someone who didn’t know better might even feel sorry for its helpless struggles. Not him though. He’d seen good men dragged down by these things, had witnessed what was left of settlements after they’d been used as a hunting ground. True, they weren’t anything like a vamp - they were vulnerable to non-mystical weaponry and had barely a hint of demonic ancestry – but they were big and nasty and intent on eating people.
And anything else that moved, for that matter.
“Biggest so far.” Dessa got back to her feet and dusted some of the dirt off her knee. She threw him a knowing look. “Going for the record, again?”
“As if,” he laughed, reaching for his comms button. “Zero seven seven five reporting in. Another one in the catcher’s mitt, sir. Standing by for despatch.”
“Well done, Forbes.” The watch officer’s voice sounded amused. “Can’t say I approve of all that grandstanding, but - good catch. We’ll get it weighed and measured, add it to your tally. Despatch team’s on its way. Seismics are clear. Does Lt Chevalier say we can stand down?”
Zeph raised his eyebrow at Dessa; her eyes went distant for a moment, then she nodded with confidence. “Nothing on my forecast but a long shower …and a long journey,” she added with some surprise. “Is the base being relieved?”
“Not a chance in hell,” Zeph muttered. They’d shipped in half a squadron of rookies only the week before – and he’d seen the high altitude scans. There were Sandsuckers out there that made this one look like the economy model. “We’re clear to stand down, sir. Should I send a request for a replacement HA?”
“No need, Forbes. We’ve still got its signal on the board – they build those things to survive enzonic toxins, remember? I don’t suppose a little stomach acid will slow it down. Not much, anyway. I’ll get Despatch to recover what it can – and you can spend your trip fixing the rest of it.”
“Trip, sir?” Zepth raised his other eyebrow, and Dessa smirked at him.
“You wanna stay in the nursery all your life?” That was the Colonel’s voice. Zeph didn’t need to see him to get the measure of his grin. It packed almost as big a punch as a Zee-sixty railgun. “You got two years basic under your belt. That means you’ve qualified to join a real
squad, up on the front line. You’re a good kid, and you’re going to be a great soldier – but not if you stick around the likes of me. We got a new Seer coming in – a rookie, but a good’un – or so they tell me. Chevalier’s being reassigned, and I pulled a few strings to let you go with her. Back your bags, kid. Sew a stripe on your uniform, and hitch a ride on a star. I got you a place in the big leagues. Supporting the Slayers on the Rupert Giles.
I know you can hack it. Don’t let me down.”
Zephraim Forbes – Zeppo first class, journeyman Crafter, Gun master and seasoned Bug hunter – snapped smartly to attention, fighting down a demon eating grin of delight and triumph. “Sir, no sir!
Dessa was smirking at him, her trademark I told you so
look dancing in her eyes. He didn’t care. This – this
was what he’d been waiting for. What he’d dreamed of, ever since the day he’d first pressed his nose to the recruitment office window and seen a Slayer in action. Dancing with death across the big display screen.One day, I’ll see that dance for real …
Not just see it – but support it: act as bait and barricade and backup. All those things that Zeppos do so well.
The waiting really was
He was finally on his way to join the real war. Where Watchers, Slayers – and Demons were waiting for him.