Willow Rosenberg was having a good week.
Laying down in her bed beside her lover as the sun began to rise through their apartment's bay window, the red-haired wiccan found herself absently reflecting upon how well the Stargate Project had been proceeding since she began her experiments.
In all honesty, while she had said that she would try to spend only a week ensuring that the gate could be safely operated, Willow had never actually expected to live up to her claim. Something should have gone wrong at some point. After all, so far as they could tell, the portal hadn't been used in millennia. She'd never heard of anything technological which could endure for even a fraction of that time span.
At first, she had actually felt a bit guilty at just how well her tests were going, since she knew that Giles was still scrambling to find enough free slayers to make sure their end of the gate remained secure after Dawn's team went through, but Dawn's enthusiasm was contagious. Yes, Willow had started out worried about the whole opening a portal to a planet full of evil aliens/demons thing, but the more she thought about it, the cooler the whole thing was starting to sound. After all, no one else on the planet had ever even the left the solar system before, but, if Daniel was right, then the Stargate might take them more than twenty-thousand light years away. Take that, NASA.
Every experiment she had run so far seemed to indicate that the Stargate could be used completely safely. To be fair, her magic hadn't been very effective in probing the other side of the gate, but she had expected that. In fact, it provided considerable evidence that her theory about the Stargate breaking objects entering it down into their component atoms and facilitating travel through a wormhole was correct, since, of course, even her strongest magical spells couldn't endure under the radical change in local space time experienced upon passing through a wormhole's event-horizon unless she was present to compensate for the changing conditions. However, while magic had not been effective in finding out about the other side of the gate, robots had worked just fine. Figuring out a way to communicate with a robot once it got to wherever the gate went, as the connection might only be one way, was the real challenge, and one which Willow Rosenberg was more than capable of meeting.
While she couldn't cast any spells which would be maintained during gate travel, she had guessed, and then confirmed through an experiment, that transportation through the Stargate would not dissipate an object's magical energy. This was a good thing, as if it did, then any human travelling through the gate would be stripped of any magical abilities, like slayer strength or stored magical power. Also, of course, as all living objects had a certain amount of innate magical energy within them, dissipating all of a living being's magical energy would probably prove fatal.
Anyway, the point was that she could imbue a robot over time with a tremendous quantity of her own magical power, until her magic practically saturated the machine, and then, once it reached the other side of the gate, she could simply home in on her own magical power in order to make a connection. This probably wouldn't work with any other source of magical power through dimensional walls or whatever else might lie between her and the other end of the gate, but as all of her magical power contained echoes of her own soul, the connection should be strong enough to bypass just about any likely barrier.
Once again, just as anticipated, everything had worked out flawlessly. Her skill with robotics had not been quite up to constructing the Buffybot Mark II, but, fortunately, they didn't need anything nearly that sophisticated. Her own robotic creation, affectionately named B-bot in honor of her departed predecessor, looked more like the Mars Rover than a real person, and was little more than an elaborate sensor-suite attached to some tank treads. Even so, when she had sent it through the gate yesterday, the B-bot had no difficulties whatsoever. As it turned out, as far as she could tell, Daniel's theories had been right on the mark. The planet which she had directed the B-bot to briefly survey had three moons, so it was definitely not Earth, but her magical trace also placed it within their current universe. Of course that didn't guarantee that the goold weren't demons. They might be extra-terrestrial demons like that queller demon which had come to Sunnydale a few years ago, but, even so, Daniel's alien theory was looking better all the time.
Stretching her arms above her head, Willow carefully began to extricate herself from beneath the covers beside Kennedy, doing her utmost not to wake her girlfriend. As usual, the slayer had been out late last night patrolling the streets of London, so while she wouldn't object to Willow waking her, Willow would feel terrible for disturbing her rest so early in the morning. Besides, Kennedy made such a cute picture hidden deep beneath the covers with her pouty sleeping expression just barely poking out from beneath the blankets, that Willow didn't have the heart to disturb her.
Padding quietly towards their apartment's kitchenette, Willow closed the door so that she could take out her cell phone and call someone whom she did have the heart to disturb while eating her breakfast. After all, Buffy was in the States right now, back to doing the recruitment thing, so it shouldn't be much past midnight for her. That was practically prime patrolling time for slayers, so, unless she was busy with vampires or something, she should have lots of time to talk.
Flipping open her cell, Willow pressed the number on her speed dial for Buffy, while, with her other hand, she started pouring some corn flakes out of a cereal box.
“Hey, Buffy. You busy? Great, great. Kennedy's still asleep, so I was just figuring that we could try doing the talking thing if you weren't busy. Yep, yep, everything's good with me. You?”
Willow briefly stopped talking to eat some cereal, as Buffy filled her in on the latest happenings in Florida.
“What? Seriously? You found a master vampire who'd set up shop inside the Tower of Terror at Disneyland? Yeah, yeah, I guess he would fit right in, but I mean, Disneyland? Even for us, you've got to admit that that's pretty weird.”
As Buffy expounded upon other far weirder events in their lives, Willow went back to her cereal for a few moments.
“Yep, Dawnie's still doing the happy, cheerful, bouncing off walls thing.”
Buffy asked the obvious question in reply, and Willow was unable to hide her wince at deceiving her friend. Fortunately. Buffy was not in the room to see the reaction, so the slip went unnoticed.
“I don't know. Maybe she's just excited about that gauntlet thing she found. Yes, Buffy, I'm keeping an eye on her. No, Buffy, I don't think she's planning something. Maybe she's in a good mood just because. What do you mean 'am I sure that Dawn hasn't been replaced by a pod person?' I think she's just growing up and maturing. Buffy, sometimes you don't give Dawn enough credit. Maybe she's finally starting to realize that we have her best interests at heart. Oh come on, Buffy. She's not that bad. Yeah, yeah, we can agree to disagree.”
“Right, so everyone else? Well, Vi's happy that Dawn's happy, and that she's making so much progress with Daniel. Well, no, I haven't seen them do anything, but Daniel and Vi have been spending a lot of time together lately. Yes, Buffy, I'll make sure to send you lots of cute pictures if they hook up. Anyway, Daniel's positively enthralled by Dawn's new practical guide to goold mythology. Yes, yes, I'm sure it's the guide he's interested in and not Dawn. No, I'm not going to threaten him. Stop whining, Buffy. You know you didn't mean it about the threatening anyway. Right, so Catherine's the same as ever, except a bit excited that everyone's work is going so well, and of course Ken's always great. Um, let's see, was there anything else?”
“Oh, right! Did you hear about what happened to Xander in Africa with that bunch of prepubescent succubi? You did? I know. Wasn't that a riot? I mean, only Xander could show up to save a tribe from a prophesied army of demons and end up getting captured by a bunch of baby sex demons wanting to seduce him. Yes, I completely, wait, what? A chaos demon? Ugh, I hate those things. They're so slimy. Right, I won't distract you any more then. Good luck, and try not to let it get slime all over you!”
Finishing up her breakfast after Buffy's hurried goodbye, Willow tip toed back into her room and started taking out some of her work clothes so that she could get dressed for the day. Today should be the last day of tests. She just wanted to check that activating the portal multiple times would always take them to the same place and that nothing too terrible had happened to the B-bot overnight. Then, tomorrow, they would be ready to start their first foray into whatever was on the other side of the Stargate.* * *
Daniel Jackson was having a bad week.
Now, to be fair, not everything was bad. The Stargate was on the verge of being operational. He was meeting people from exciting new cultures nearly every day as Vi helped him to familiarize himself with the supernatural. Moreover, since Dawn's discovery of a goold gauntlet in one of the Watcher's Council's vaults, their team had requested, and been granted, permission to search all of the Council's local storage facilities for any other goold paraphernalia. Of course, they had not found anything yet, but the opportunity to comb through a treasure trove of ancient, mystical artifacts could have occupied the archaeologist for months. It could have occupied him, if not for his current occupation, which was also the source of his recent dismay.
“What sort of kick was that supposed to be?” Kennedy growled, catching Daniel's foot in mid-air.
Apparently feeling that he needed a reminder of what was at stake, she started violently shaking his leg until he lost his balance, collapsing on the floor.
“Don't you get it? If you're this pathetic tomorrow, Willow could get seriously injured. Your balance was all wrong and you didn't take into account your opponent's abilities at all! We've been doing this for a week. Haven't you managed to learn yet not to attack someone who's many times stronger and faster than you head on?”
Daniel just groaned. Today had not been as bad as the previous six days, as his trainer was well aware that he'd need to be in near tip top shape tomorrow, but this just meant that she'd switched from the mind-numbingly painful attacks to the humiliating.
As he wasn't getting up, Kennedy kicked him.
“Come on. We're not even close to being done here. I told you that you need to attack with a strategy designed to negate my advantages. According to the watcher's accounts, the leader of the goold on Earth, Ra, was able to kill at least two slayers in single combat. That means that you might need to be able to at least distract someone like a slayer for a few seconds in a pinch. So, come on. I want to see a three second distraction, at the very least.”
A bit shakily, Daniel rose to his feet again from the training mat. Clearly, Kennedy had been some sort of ruthless drill sergeant in one of her past lives, or maybe she had been some sort of professional torturer. How on Earth was he supposed to do anything to a slayer? Kennedy was stronger, faster and far more skilled than he would ever be. She had fought things with a smile on her face which would have sent an entire platoon of marines running screaming. Exactly what sort of distraction could he seriously hope to accomplish?
One week ago, Daniel had been fairly confident in his combat skills. His training with watcher Victor Gladstone was progressing well, as he'd learned a number of basic self-defense maneuvers. He had also developed basic proficiency with a crossbow, which Victor had confided in him was a far more important skill than hand-to-hand combat for a watcher.
“Daniel, you'll never be able to fight a vampire or most demons with your fists, but with that crossbow, if you know what you're doing, you can kill a vampire before it even gets close to you. Your main job is to provide information to your slayer and not be a liability, so you should try to stay out of the way of your slayer's fights. Attacking from a distance, if you attack at all, is probably your best bet.”
Daniel had taken Victor's words to heart and practiced everyday with the crossbow he'd been provided. Secretly, he wished that the Council had provided him with a gun instead, as nothing in the Watcher's Council's records suggested that a gun could not be used to kill a goold. He figured it was at least worth a try. Unfortunately, the Council was not particularly fond of firearms, as they were of little use against most demons, so their team would not be outfitted with modern weaponry. Thus, he had figured that developing skill with a crossbow was his best option. Unfortunately, Kennedy had rather viciously taken to quashing this view after she took over his training.
Catching his crossbow bolts in midair, as she calmly stalked towards him, the cocky brunette had simply raised an eyebrow at his shock, before smoothly disarming him.
“Alright. No more toys for you, Dr. Jackson. Let's see what you've really got.”
Kennedy had then proceeded to beat him into the ground day after day, pointing out an ever growing list of his flaws after each effortless victory.
“Right. You're both over-extending and telegraphing your punches, Daniel. Could you try to fix at least one of those for next time?”
“So, what do you call that, exactly? A suicidal head-long charge? Think before you attack.”
“You know, Daniel, if you wear your hair as long as a girl's, then it's just as grabbable as any other girl's as well. Try to keep that in mind.”
He had considered Victor a harsh teacher, but it seemed to him that Kennedy came from the school of hard knocks with sledgehammers. He understood the purpose of the training. Some goold were nearly as strong and fast as slayers, so he would be served well if he was at least mildly familiar with what opponents with those sort of abilities could do. However, he did not see why he could not have done this training with Vi instead. She was a slayer too, after all, and not half so demanding or vindictive.
Kennedy had berated him at length for his reliance upon the crossbow that first day.
“From both my experiences and Buffy's stories, non-superhuman slayer back-up tends to get captured a lot. When you're captured, the goold are probably going to take away any toys you've brought with you, so you need to learn to do without them.”
Daniel doubted he would be captured that often. After all, if he just focused on not getting separated from his team, then there shouldn't be that many opportunities for the goold or anything else on the other side of the gate to capture him. Even so, Kennedy made a fair point. Her insistence that he be able to distract her was more troublesome.
“If you're really stuck on this, just ask Dawn. She's great at distracting her kidnappers in order to help her allies pull off a rescue. It's an important skill, but whether it's by getting me angry enough to make a mistake, deviousness or strategy, you need to be able to keep me off balance for at least a few seconds.”
Daniel was finding the entire task hopeless. How was he supposed to get her angry when she knew he was trying to get her angry? She was twice as devious as he was and knew five times as many tricks as well. Lastly, what sort of strategy could be executed in the half-second it took her to blur across the sparring mat and plant him on his butt. He hadn't even managed to get out of the way of one of her attacks yet. If nothing else, he was adding day by day to his list of things not to do when fighting an opponent with slayer speed and strength. That at least might be mildly useful against the goold.
At least Vi had been more than happy to commiserate with him about Kennedy harsh teaching methods.
“Yep. She was just the same when she was teaching the rest of us potentials back in Sunnydale. I haven't seen you in tears yet, so you're at least ahead of a third of the girls she taught there. It might also be a bit personal.”
Daniel blinked owlishly behind his glasses.
“Personal? But I'd hardly said ten words to her before she had started teaching me.”
“Maybe, but you know that Kennedy won't be going through the Stargate with us, right? Giles has put her in charge of overseeing the slayers protecting the gate and recall grid while we're gone. It's important, of course, but it's probably killing her that Willow's going into danger without her.”
Vi's words had inspired some sympathy in Daniel for his teacher right up until the first time she mercilessly took him apart the next morning.
Moving back into what he hoped was a balanced stance, Daniel decided he'd had enough playing by Kennedy's ridiculous rules. Fighting hand-to-hand against an opponent who outclassed him in every respect was completely idiotic. The walls were literally covered in weapons of all kinds. Not that he knew how to use any of them, but he could see a basket-hilted sword from the mid-seventeenth century, and if he took a few steps backwards towards the wall behind him, then it would nearly be within his reach.
This time, as Kennedy charged him, Daniel quickly reached back and pulled the sword off the wall, grasping it by its hilt in his right hand. Of course, the sword made no difference. Kennedy effortlessly dodged under his hasty swing before striking the top of his hand hard enough to force him to let go of the sword. Then she picked the blade up deftly and held it to his throat with a mildly disturbing smile on her face.
“Well done, Daniel,” the slayer stated. “It seems that you've finally passed lesson one. A pity that there's no time to teach you any more.”
“Huh? Lesson what?”
Kennedy looked at him like he was an idiot.
“You mean you still don't get it? Why do you think I had the wall covered with weapons? Lesson one: in a fight, don't play by your opponent's rules, especially if your opponent's rules guarantee that you're going to lose.”
“What? But you said-”
“Daniel,” Kennedy interrupted him firmly, “tomorrow, you're going to be travelling to a planet which is probably filled with super strong evil aliens who have either incredibly advanced technology, magical powers, or both. If you fight them fairly, you'll die, and so will everyone else who's relying on you to pull your weight. Do you not get that?”
The linguist grimaced and nodded. He got it. He just wished that Kennedy could have just said that from the start, instead of spending a week beating him to a pulp.
“Good. In my experience, it's the painful lessons that stick with you, so hopefully you won't forget.”
The slayer dropped her sword from his neck before replacing the sword in its former position on the wall and starting to walk towards the door.
“Anyway, I guess we're done for today, then,” Kennedy called over her shoulder. “Why don't you go get some tlc from your girlfriend, so you can be on tip-top shape to watch Willow's back tomorrow?”
Sweating and breathing raggedly, in contrast to his trainer's still pristine condition, Daniel still felt a faint stirring of confusion at Kennedy's final remark. His girlfriend? Who was she talking about? Oh, well. He supposed it didn't matter. Maybe Vi and Dawn wouldn't mind if he stopped by for a little while before he went home to sleep. Tomorrow was a big day, so he should probably get to sleep early in a real bed. Falling asleep in his office chair when the caffeine gave out might not cut it if he wanted to be fresh for the trip through the Stargate. Daniel absently checked the clock on the wall. However, three in the afternoon was just a little too early. He might as well stick around the Council's headquarters for a few more hours before going home.* * *
A little less than twenty four hours later, the time had finally arrived. All that remained was for Willow to activate the gate, and the four of them would be walking forward into a brave new world. Dawn, Vi, Daniel and Willow were all dressed in casual clothing, although they had tried to both wear and pack clothes which were comfortable and functional. Each of them also wore a small backpack containing the essentials they absolutely needed to survive, while the rest of their gear would be pushed through the gate ahead of them on a large, steel cart.
In these last moments, Dawn finally began to feel faintly nervous. No one had been more enthusiastic about the Stargate project than her, not even Catherine, but now, at the moment of truth, she found that the butterflies she had willfully ignored for months had begun riotously dancing within her stomach.
What if the Stargate killed her? What if the goold killed her? What if she was captured by aliens and never saw Buffy again?
Their last conversation had been a stupid argument about whether strappy sandals or high-heeled pumps were the thing to wear this spring. Seriously, couldn't they have talked about something more meaningful? She should have at least told Buffy that she loved her. Argh! Stupid Buffy! Why couldn't she have just admitted that Dawn was right? Then they could have done the whole I love you thing at the end of the conversation, and Dawn would feel way better about possibly dying or being abducted by evil aliens. Okay, so maybe she would only feel a bit better, but even so, Dawn wished she had told Buffy she loved her.
As Willow fiddled with her specially designed gate interface, murmuring a delicate and complicated translation spell which would get the Stargate to accept as valid input the gate symbols she'd scanned onto her laptop, Dawn found herself gripping Vi's hand tightly, shaking ever so slightly. A bit surprisingly, Vi was trembling as well, and quickly glanced towards Dawn, offering a tremulous smile.
“Well, I guess this is it? Off to get vaporized in the gate,” the redhead declared with unconvincing levity.
Daniel spoke up then, trying to reassure his friends.
“I'm sure it'll be just fine. Willow's been testing for a week, and the B-bot had no troubles getting through at all, so we'll all be okay. Isn't it you who's been so looking forward to this, Dawn?”
Dawn pouted, directing the stink eye at Daniel.
“Hmmph. As if you haven't been just as excited for days.”
“Well, of course,” Daniel grinned. “Beyond that Stargate, there's a whole new world. Who knows what sort of culture or societies may have developed. I can't wait.”
Dawn fought the urge to kick the stupid archaeologist in the shins. How could he not be even a little nervous. The Stargate was going to literally take apart their bodies piece by piece, and they had nothing but one dumb experiment with a robot to guarantee for them that it could properly reassemble them. What if she came out with two heads or three arms or bad skin? Buffy would tease her forever if she came back all wrinkly or something.
Of course, Daniel also had the advantage that he wasn't secretly a former green energy being. She wasn't really that hot at physics, but, from what Willow had described of the Stargate's operation, it sounded like it sort of turned people into energy. What if it turned her back into the Key? Had Willow even considered that? What if the Key confused the reassembler thing, so she got stuck inside the Stargate? Would they be able to get her out?
Dawn took several deep, calming breaths. She would just have to trust that Willow knew what she was doing. As the wiccan finally finished chanting and the ground began to shake, indicating the Stargate's start-up sequence had begun, Dawn forced her racing heart to slow down. She'd been looking forward to this for months, and they had taken every precaution. Nothing would go wrong. She was sure that nothing would go wrong.
As the gate finished dialing, a sudden wavelike burst of energy surged forth from the Stargate with a whooshing sound before settling back into the gently churning pool of energy which Willow had termed the event horizon of the active Stargate.
Dawn took a deep breath through her nose and then slowly exhaled. It was time to go before she lost her nerve.
Releasing Vi's hand and striding forward, Dawn started to gradually push the cart carrying their gear up the ramp towards the Stargate.
“Hey, Dawn,” Vi exclaimed. “Do you need any help with that?”
Dawn smiled over her shoulder in reply. They had about one hundred pounds of gear, but she was strong and the ramp towards the gate was not too steep, so she'd be fine.
“No. I'm okay. I just, I just... do you mind if I go first?”
Willow was quick to cut in with a questioning tone.
“Are you sure, Dawnie? Maybe I should-”
“No, Willow,” Dawn curtly interrupted her. “If anything goes wrong, then we'll need you here to fix it, so you should go in last and only after you've confirmed with the B-bot that we've all made it through okay. I just really want to go through first, alright. This was my idea, so I want you all to wait until you're sure I'm through to follow me? Don't go in until you're sure that I've made it through the gate in one piece.”
Her friends looked uncertain, but after a moment of hesitation, all three nodded, understanding the reason behind Dawn's request, even if they did not necessarily agree with her.
Dawn abruptly pushed the cart forward and through the gate, releasing it to, she hoped, land on the other side of the Stargate. She marveled for a moment at the fact that she could almost fully immerse her arms in the gate with no ill effects. Willow had tried to explain the phenomenon to her, but Dawn had not really understood her. All she had heard was 'blah blah event horizon blah blah hyperspace blah blah blah discrete units.'
The small part of the phenomenon which Dawn had understood was that somehow, right up until the moment when she fully immersed herself in the Stargate, she would remain fully here. It was only in that final instant when her entire body was immersed that she would vanish into a wormhole and race across space towards the gate's final destination. She idly wondered what would happen if she put just her head inside the gate. Would she drown? The pool wasn't really water, but she wasn't sure that she would be able to breathe like that either. In the end, she wasn't quite brave enough to test how her head would do in the hyperspace buffer thing Willow had claimed held parts of an object before the whole of the object was in position for transport.
Glancing over her shoulder one more time, Dawn drank in the sight of Vi, Willow and Daniel for what might be the last time before letting a mischievous smirk cross her face.
“So what sort of odds are you giving that I make it through this mission alive and without being kidnapped, Willow? I was wondering if I could place a bet.”
Willow looked appalled .
“Odds? Dawn, you can't be serious. I'd never-”
“Nope, wasn't serious at all,” Dawn interrupted, still smiling. “Just wanted to see that expression on your face again. See you on the other side.”
Then, turning back towards the blue pool of energy, Dawn stepped forward and through the Stargate.
AN: So this is the last of the character development chapters for a good long while. From here on in, we're diving into the action, and I have to say that I am looking forward to it. One remark I should make is that, if you have any suggestions about what you'd like to see on Abydos, you should let me know now, so that I can see if I can try and work them into the plot. I make no promises, as I've already decided a lot of what's coming up, but I'm always open to good ideas. I should also note that people looking for a simple rehashing of the movie are likely to be disappointed. While I will stick loosely to canon, the emphasis should be on loose, as a number of subtle changes made so far will shortly start to snowball. Roughly put, you should expect to see the characters and setting from the movie, but the actual plot has been thrown out the window due to changes in the timeline. I'm personally not that disappointed, as I just forced myself to watch the movie again. Wow. While it had some fantastic scenes, I'd forgotten just how hokey it was at times. Also, as this story is really headed towards SG-1, expect SG-1 canon and movie canon to be blended freely.