Baby It's Cold Out Here
FIC: MC 45. Nov ’01 – Baby It’s Cold Out Here
Title: Baby It’s Cold Out Here
Rating: R (For Language later)
Relationships: X\F, K\T
Feedback: In lieu of a Faithbot yeah.
Disclaimer: If I own the chars, why don't Faith and Cordy do as
their master tells them? Woe is me.
Faith, Xander, Tara, and Kennedy belong to Mutant Enemy.
Tony Stark & Dr. Valerie Cooper belongs to Marvel.
Dennis Ryland belongs to The 4400
David Trenton belongs to Under Siege 1 & 2.
Dr. Cooper pursed her lips together as she mentally ran through her diary while hurrying through the White House’s vaunted corridors. It was as always a busy day. There was a meeting with Col. Fury to discuss funding, another meeting with Mr. Richards to discuss the progress of an invention of his, she’d have to re-read her notes to familiarise herself with the broad outline, and a meeting with Professor Xavier to discuss using some of his younger students in a campaign to decrease anti-mutant bigotry.
Although one could argue, once a bigot, always a bigot.
That edifying thought uppermost in her mind, she almost missed her office doorway. Shaking her head in self-reproach, she turned to the door and reached for the ivory handle. “Hello Dr. Cooper,”
Dr. Cooper’s breath caught as a lean man in his fifties with hawkish eyes and severe features stepped out of the shadows to the door’s right, his immaculately-cut suit failing to mask the man’s air of efficient coldness. “Hello?”
Valerie’s tone was even and her greeting framed as a question. The man smiled. “Dennis Ryland, NTAC.”
“Ah, National Threat Assessment Centre,” Dr. Cooper nodded in vague recognition of the sub-department of The Department Of Homeland Security set up in the wake of 9/11. “How might I help you, Mr. Ryland?”
“Dennis, please.” Valerie noticed the man’s smile failed to reach his cool, calculating eyes. “It’s a matter of considerable confidentiality.”
Valerie took the hint. “Can I see your id?”
“Of course,” the man passed his laminated identity card to her.
Valerie glanced at the man and then his photo before passing it back. “Thank you.” After unlocking and opening her door, she strode inside.
Pressed against her left office wall were her filing cabinets, none of her files were in there, they were all in the triple-encrypted and padlocked laptop sitting on her desk, a back up emailed to the basement’s servers at the end of business every day, just forms that might come in handy. On the right wall hung a number of bookcases, stuffed full of books in such varied topics as evolution, genetics, eugenics, biology, bio-engineering, neurology, and philosophy all diligently read and re-read in the vain hope of finding some hint or clue as to what had caused the proliferation of meta-humans over the past century or so.
“Darwin, Suresh, Burkhoff, Lamarck, Mendel, Hulbert,” Ryland pursed his lips as he perused her collection. “You have an impressive library.”
“They’re mandatory for my job,” Valerie dryly replied before sitting down. “Mr. Ryland, please, I have to be in New York in two hours.”
“Yes,” her unwelcome guest nodded. “Of course, I apologise for interrupting your day, but I wish to speak to you about a matter concerning your position as Chairman of the Commission on Superhuman Activities.”
Valerie glanced at her watch. “Talk fast, you have ten minutes.”
“Thank you. You’re aware of course CODENAME: BROTHERHOOD?”
“Ah,” Valerie nodded as she turned on the jamming device she had secreted under her desk lamp before continuing. “More than aware. I was briefed on it several weeks ago.” Valerie paused. “I was also informed that the Mithras Brotherhood and its leadership were outside my remit.”
”Perhaps they shouldn’t be,” her guest suggested. “I’m uncomfortable with the amount of leeway the President is showing them. It smacks of favourable behaviour.”
“After they saved his life, I’d be surprised if he didn’t trust them,” Valerie retorted. “Moreover, I’m uncomfortable with anyone who comes into this office and doubts the president.”
The middle-aged man shuffled uncomfortably at her tone. “Far be it for me to doubt the president, but I do doubt his judgment in this, what must be for him, very personal matter. And doesn’t democracy’s very existence hinge on us? Aren’t the citizens of this fine nation beholden to question their leaders?”
Valerie pursed her lips together, hating the logic in the man’s words. “You’ve five minutes.”
“I feel that at the very least, the Commission should have a look at them, if not policing their powers. There’s a number of points that concern me,” the bureaucrat continued. “Paramount of those is this Slayer-.”
“Her powers are supernatural rather than biological or technology based aren’t they?”
“That doesn’t make her any less deadly,” Ryland replied. “She’s taken down a number of formidable vampires and demons. She’s clearly a match for the likes of Blade and Daredevil, and might even be the equal of a major player like Wolverine. And who exactly is she? A nineteen year old with a considerable juvenile record for grand theft auto, burglary, and pick-pocketing.”
“But no actual crimes of violence?” Valerie pointed out.
“No, but she wasn’t empowered then.” The man’s scowl told her she’d scored a point. “Once, the Watcher’s Council would have supervised her and curtailed any wildness, but they’re largely extinct, thanks in large part to her lover.”
Valerie leaned back in her chair. “I suppose you have some thoughts about her lover?”
“Alexander Harris?” Ryland nodded his head. “He’s the current holder of a number of trinkets that would be of integral use in defending the country, the Always Pocket, the All-Seeing Eye, and the Eternal Archive. Any true patriot would hand these objects over to his country, instead he holds onto them-.”
“Perhaps he thinks he can make better use of them?”
Ryland shook his head. “He’s just a child, who is he to judge? Imagine what these items could do in the hands of Colonel Fury or Captain America?” Valerie’s eyes narrowed. Ryland had finally piqued her interest, his idea was tempting. “Although what a child, a youth with the skills of a warrior god and the finances of a medium-sized nation. A terrifying thought. If his power-base increases, he could conceivably over-throw the government in a decade or so.”
Valerie chuckled. “I’d expect better than hyperbole Mr. Ryland.”
“Hyperbole Dr. Cooper?” The bureaucrat leaned forward in his seat and shook his head. “Hardly. Consider this; in three years he’s already set up nineteen heavily-armed militia units both here and abroad. In another decade he could have perhaps a hundred teams fanatically loyal to him. And these units aren’t just armed, there’s some very dangerous beings working for him, some meta-humans – Eric Draven, the MacLeods, and Sara Pezzini for example. He’s also allied himself to Blade, Professor Xavier, Doctor Strange, and the Halliwell sisters. Powerful allies.”
“Who’ve never been less than patriotic,” Valerie replied. “These aren’t the sort of people who would knowingly be involved with or support a traitor.”
“Here’s another thought to ponder,” Ryland pressed. “As American citizens they’ve been active in a number of overseas actions. In England they destroyed the very Council that has policed the Slayer line for centuries. In France and Russia, where they ran afoul of the government. This would cause our government considerable embarrassment if their identities were made public.”
“I fail to see how their actions reflect badly on our nation. You yourself pointed out they acted as private citizens. We have plausible deniability in every sense of the word,” Valerie countered. “Moreover, I fail to see how they can be justifiably criticised for their actions considering the innocents they usually save and without revealing the existence of demons to the world in general. Something no government wants given the widespread panic that it would undoubtedly create.” Valerie made a show of glancing at her watch. “Oh goodness gracious, our time is up.”
The bureaucrat grimaced. “Dr. Cooper, if I might just have five more minu-.”
“I’m afraid not, Colonel Fury has little patience with lateness.”
The legendary soldier’s name garnered the hoped for reaction. The man nodded stiffly as he rose. “Well thank you for listening. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye.” Dr. Cooper stared after the man who’d just left, the door swinging shut after him before sinking back in her leather-upholstered chair. Washington DC. was a hard city to live much less prosper in, especially a woman. And especially those who failed to do the proper research. She reached for her phone then sank back in her seat. “No,” she shook her before reaching into her handbag and pulling out her cell. Best this call was completely off the books. “Hello, Tony, it’s Val. Can I arrange a meeting with you off the record? It’s urgent.”
Stark Tower, NYC
“Would you like another glass of wine, Valerie?”
Valerie reached for the bottle only to be dissuaded by a wave from her host. “Allow me,” the billionaire businessman began to pour the red into her glass.
“How long have you been funding the Mithras Brotherhood?”
The wine sloshed slightly over the rim of her glass as her host looked towards her. “I beg your pardon?”
Dr. Cooper glanced around the romantically darkened apartment, mood music playing in the background, savouring her brief victory over the normally unflappable businessman before inevitably returning her gaze to him. “Please, don’t try and play the innocent with me. The Mithras Brotherhood have been quite the hot topic in the highest government circles ever since they saved the President’s life this time last year.”
”I don’t know who this Mithras Brotherhood are,” the recovering alcoholic carefully placed the wine bottle back on the table before reaching for his lightly chilled glass of water, “and I’m more than a little shocked to discover there’s been an attempt on the President’s life.”
“Oh please,” Dr. Cooper snorted in a most unladylike fashion. “I’ve seen their file and I know that they saved your life in August of 1999. While most of the others with access to the Brotherhood files believe it was an one-off event, I know your true identity. While I can believe that hedonistic playboy Tony Stark can utter a glib thanks and forget about them ten seconds after they leave, I find it hard to imagine altruistic hero Iron Man just letting them walk away without helping.”
“There’s a compliment in there somewhere,” her host wryly commented as he sat back down.
“Don’t look too closely for it, you’ll only re-swell your head,” Valerie’s smile disappeared. “So just what is your involvement? I’m betting you’re the true money behind the group?”
“What’s your interest?”
Dr. Cooper noted her host’s face was suddenly stone-like. “I requested this meeting because certain factions are agitating for a tighter control on these youths. The President is more than happy to give them their head and given their record I’m inclined to agree, however if enough pressure is brought to bear on the Man, he might change his mind.”
Stark sipped at his glass before speaking. “Certain factions?”
Valerie noted her companion had not yet confirmed his involvement with the Mithras Brotherhood, but decided to humour him. “A man by the name of Dennis Ryland, a bureaucrat working for the NTAC,” Stark’s nod proved he knew who they were, “to be exact. He was in my office briefing against them just before I rang you.”
“And if he’s spoken to you, he’ll be speaking to others?”
Stark’s tone was almost disinterested but Valerie nodded. “Exactly. Even worse, I checked his file, and its not good. He’s a smooth operator Tony. He used to work for the NSA and it’s amazing how many groups he’s campaigned for crackdowns on have proven his point for him by committing criminal acts or acts of civil disobedience.”
“You think he’s falsified reports, planted evidence, and orchestrated events?” queried Tony, eyes narrowed. “What’s his problem with these kids anyhow?”
“I think he’s a hard-liner, one of those nuts who wants more and more regulation,” Valerie replied with a shrug. “Or he could be jealous of the boy’s money, the adventures he has, the female company he keeps, or the chance he supposedly has to save the world.”
“He’s jealous of that?” Stark chuckled and shook his head. “Delusional idiot. He’s no idea. Yes, it’s a glorious honour but also a terrifying responsibility. I don’t envy the boy that.”
“So you do know him?” Valerie leapt on her companion’s inadvertent slip.
“Aye,” Stark nodded after a second. “I know him. I’m not bankrolling him though, his money is his own. I suspect his wealth may even exceed that of Bill Gates.”
“How is that possible?” Valerie gasped.
“He’s from old money,” Stark chuckled dryly. “Dawn of time old money. These things accumulate over the millennia. But I did make some suggestions as regarding organisational structure and introduce him to some contacts.”
“You mean Brill Lyle and Yaz?” Valerie changed tack when Stark didn’t dignify her query with an answer. “You trust them?”
“This life of super-heroes, must look very glamorous to those not in it. Dangerous but exciting. The truth’s something different.” Tony’s face took on a melancholy expression. “Myself, Spiderman, Daredevil, all the costumed heroes made the decision to make a stand, to try and use our powers for good, but with that decision comes considerable sacrifices. Some of us risk having families, but others either decide that they’d never subject another to the danger or never have the time. It can get lonely. I’d never tell them, but I’ve come to regard Xander as a son and Tara and Faith as daughters.”
“And what are they like?” Valerie pressed, her tone held carefully respectful.
“Xander’s a lot like Steve,” Tony smiled at the mention of his fellow Avenger. “He’s a true believer, a man of honour who’ll never stop going, never stop fighting. Faith’s she’s like Logan-.”
“Having seen the photos, I’m really not seeing the similarity,” Valerie dryly commented as she sipped at her wine.
“You don’t think Logan would look dazzling in a cocktail dress?” Tony smiled wryly at her choked gasp. “No, she’s thorny on the outside just like Wolverine, inside though, she’s a heart as big as Texas and an undying loyalty to those she’s privileged with her friendship. As for Tara, she’s the glue that holds them together, the sweetest most loving person you could hope to meet.”
“You care deeply for them,” Valerie rather unnecessarily commented.
”Yes I do.” Tony looked briefly uncomfortable. “Thank you for the information.”
“What do you intend to do with it?” Valerie felt she had to ask.
”Don’t worry, nothing will be traced back to you,” Tony soothed. “Now, for dessert-.”
* * *
Tony sighed as his guest left, thoughts turning to this fly in the ointment. This Ryland character would have to be dealt with, and he didn’t care if he had to call in every favour he had to do it. First though, he’d do a search, see if there were some underhand business dealings or unwise political manoeuvrings he could link this civil servant to. Steve and Xander might be snowy white, but he was more pragmatic than either, and he’d protect them or any of his friends with his life, blackening the name of an over-officious bureaucrat was a relatively small price to pay. He turned on his computer and automatically turned to his email, brow furrowing when he noticed an unfamiliar email address, his accounts were known only to a handful of people, and his spam programs were several generations ahead of anything commercially or militarily available.
Curiosity forced him to open the email. “Ah hell,” he groaned as he read its contents. “Faith is not going to like this.”
“Tell me again why the fuck are we doing this?” Faith had to yell to be heard over their aeroplane’s whirling turbines. “I mean what has he ever done for us?”
“Gave Xander a way to get to his money,” Tara reminded.
“Helped me plan the Brotherhood’s structure,” Xander replied.
“Set us up with communications and arms suppliers,” Kennedy added.
“Gave Xander a bunch of CDs of occult information,” Tara put in.
“Yeah but apart from that, why us?” Faith demanded.
Xander’s eyes-roll was visible even in the cargo-hold’s half-light. “I told you, according to these conspiracy nuts this Initiative are supposedly involved in demonic research. That makes it our problem. Their base went off-line three days, we need to get in there and check it out before the army gets in there.”
Faith snorted. ”We’re trusting conspiracy whackjobs now?”
“They were good enough to hack into Mr. Stark’s computer systems,” Xander pointed out. “If someone goes to that much effort, they’re either on the level or want us in a compromising position badly enough to make it worth the effort of tracking them down.”
Faith pouted, damn logic. “Have I told you I hate the cold?”
“In Canada,” Tara replied.
“Don’t forget Siberia,” Kennedy as usual unhelpfully added.
“But at least you look cute in a parka,” Xander comforted.
Faith shook her head. “I need new friends.”
“Preaching to the converted.”
“I heard that,” Faith warned with a glare at Kennedy.
Kennedy smiled sweetly. “And yet still, you can’t take a hint.”
“I swear,” Faith glowered.
* * *
Xander hid a smile as he glanced out of the window, the girls’ bickering dissipating to background noise as he peered down on the sheer whiteness below.
According to the Antarctic Treaty of ’61, now signed by forty-five nations, the Antarctic was set aside as a scientific preserve, with military action banned on the continent. The entire continent had been cut up like a pie, with each signatory getting a slice. As such, it had been the subject of the first arms control treaty during the Cold War.
Of course, that was only the official version. In the past forty years, half a dozen unofficial and undeclared military engagements had been fought over the land. Research stations could often be a thousand miles apart, leaving them woefully secluded, especially when one considered the torrid weather conditions and treacherous terrain. Sometimes these research stations found something of value – uranium, plutonium, gold. It wasn’t inconceivable that a foreign state in need of such resources had heard of a strike and sent an incursion force to secure the discovery before anyone was even aware it was there.
Of course, Xander grimaced, that was the optimistic viewpoint. They could have dug up a demon that had slaughtered them all. Or as Faith suggested it was a trap, and they were going to walk right into it. “Just great,” he muttered. “Her pessimism is catching.”
The intercom crackled into life. “Hold on,” the Stark-employed pilot warned. “We’re going in for landing.”
* * *
Twenty minutes later and they were piling out of the plane, bruised and battered by their landing. “Hey!” Faith snarked at the pilot. “Where you learn to fly? Blind school? Why did you pick this flight to fuckin’ forget your guide dog?”
The pilot, a small man, stared wide-eyed at his furious girl-friend. “Um, the conditions make landing difficult-.”
”Conditions?” Faith snapped. “I nearly ended up with a concussion. How’s that for a condition.”
“You landed on your head, Faith,” Kennedy unhelpfully interrupted. “You were safe.”
”Safe!” Faith strode towards the potential. “I’ll tell you what’s -.”
The wide-eyed pilot turned to him. “Where’s your equipment?”
”We’re better equipped than we look,” Xander evaded. The man had no need to learn about The Always Pocket.
”If you’re sure.” The pilot passed him a box with two switches and a red-light on it. “This is the homing beacon for this plane. We’ll be here for seventy-two hours. After that,” the man shrugged, “you’ll have to radio in for help.”
So reassuring. This was getting better and better by the moment. “What about the base?”
“Nine miles to the north, any closer and their radar would have picked me up.” The pilot passed him another device, this one slim and pencil shaped. “This is a homing beacon for the base, just follow the compass. It’s a tough walk though, should you be taking the ladies on this trek?” The pilot looked from him to Faith and the others already marching in the direction of the signal. “This is a dangerous place. You might be able to handle it,” the pilot looked briefly doubtful, “but not those wisps of girls.”
Xander shrugged at the pilot. “They’re tougher than they look.”
“I hate the freakin’ cold!”
Xander sighed at Faith’s voice. “And she sounds.”
“Do you see anything?” Faith whispered.
“No,” Xander continued to stare through his binoculars. They were lying on a ledge over-looking the base. The base itself was a round shaped three-storied building with small windows and apparently a single entrance, through a long covered passageway sticking out from the building. At least if there were any other entrances, he couldn’t make them out.
Just in front of the building was a military helicopter, to its left a room that Xander guessed would be the back-up generator, and another hundred yards ahead of that stood a rounded iron hut that Xander figured must be an observation post. There should be fourteen soldiers, five scientists, and three technicians and engineers, but instead there was no sign of any life.
“Nothing at all?” his girl-friend pressed.
Xander glared at the increasingly irritating brunette and offered her the glasses. “Do you want to have a look?”
“Jeez,” Faith looked injured, “who got your panties in a bunch?”
Xander gritted his teeth even as Tara and Kennedy giggled in the background. All the way here it had been moan, moan. Now that they were here it was as if the last two and a half cold, infuriating, and draining hours hadn’t happened.
Why did these things always happen to him? Why couldn’t his girl-friend be just a little -.
Xander shook his head, snapping that thought off in mid-formation. But then she wouldn’t be the girl who both drove him crazy and filled his life with such happiness. Of course, life would be a lot easier though.
Well, call a spade a spade, boring as hell.
“So,” Faith continued, blithely oblivious to his internal monologue, “what are we still here for?” The beautiful brunette grinned. “I always wanted to see the inside of a soldier’s dorm.”
“I believe her,” Kennedy muttered.
“Three of them,” he shook his head. “Why is there three of them?” Sensing three sets of eyes zeroing in on him, he hurriedly changed the subject. “Doesn’t it strike anyone else as strange that there’s no signs of life down there?”
”There won’t be any signs of life up here unless we either set up a tent or head down there,” Faith pointed out.
“Fine,” Xander gritted his teeth together. “This ledge is too steep to easily traverse, we’ll head for the slight slope by the observation post and head down there.”
”God,” Faith moaned theatrically, “I just love a man with a plan.”
“Count to ten Xander,” Tara giggled.
“Shut up all of you,” Xander muttered. “Look, in case we don’t have time to arm later, who wants what?”
“Mossberg 590 with Flechette rounds, an Ingram Mac-10 with half a dozen magazines, a Beretta 92F with half a dozen magazines, and a couple of stun and a couple of smoke grenades,” Kennedy promptly replied.
“Jesus,” Faith snorted. “I didn’t realise we were re-fighting world war II.” His girl-friend paused. “I’ll take a Mossberg 590 and an Ingram Mac-10, half a dozen magazines.”
Xander nodded as he doled the weapons out. He glanced towards the witch only for Tara to determinedly shake her head. Xander shook his head before passing her a K-BAR and a Beretta 93R. The witch’s eyes narrowed and her mouth opened. “You might get too injured to use magic, humour me.”
After a second Tara’s expression softened. “Sure, sorry.”
“No problem,” Xander smiled back at the witch.
“Oh god, when you’ve finished, I’m freezing my tits off here,” Faith growled.
Xander glanced at his girl-friend and faked a look of concern. “Really? ‘Cause I could check them out for you.”
“I’ll do it.” Xander looked towards Kennedy. The potential grinned. “Hey, a girl’s gotta take her opportunities.”
“I’ll help,” Tara volunteered.
”I’ll watch,” Xander decided.
“And suddenly I’m not the most lewd person here,” Faith mused. “We movin’?”
“Yeah,” Xander turned serious as he pulled his twin holstered Desert Eagles out of the Always Pocket and struggled into his harness, placing the automatics under his shoulders as he also pulled out a Mossberg 590. “I’ll lead the way. Faith, you’re at the rear, Ken, Tara, I want you spread out twenty paces apart, one off to the left, the other to the right, and keep your eyes peeled.”
Snow crunched underfoot as they advanced on the station, stopping at the observation post. Xander swallowed as he yanked the door open. “Nothing,” he muttered as he peered in on the inky darkness. He turned to his companions. “Hit the deck, I’m going to check it out, see if there’s any clues.” Xander didn’t wait to see if he was obeyed before stepping through the entrance, eyes straining to pierce the darkness. He started at a scratching sound, gun swinging to the noise. Xander heaved a sigh of relief as he realised the sound was just a scurrying rat disappearing out of a hole in the floorboards. “Thank god. And also, ugh.” He looked around. There really wasn’t much to see, a desk with a succession of monitors on it and a pair of seats was about it. No clue as to what had happened, or that anything had.
Except normally such a place would be manned 24/7.
Yeah, Xander backed out of the hut, something was definitely up. His companions trailing behind, he edged towards the station’s entrance, heart thumping louder with every step. He stopped by the door, wincing as he noted there was a keypad by the door but that it was irrelevant because the door was slightly ajar. “Faith,” Xander looked over his shoulder to see his girl-friend hurrying up, “cover me.”
“Sure, hon.” Faith nodded.
Xander took a breath before kicking the heavy door open. The door swung inwards, revealing a dark passageway and a foul smell that had them all grimacing.
“Notice the smell?” Faith muttered.
Xander nodded. “Yeah,” he replied as he handed out pencil-torches. “Smells like death.”
“Pencil torches?” Kennedy sniffed and shook her head as she peered into the passageway’s nigh-on impregnable darkness. “This is a waste of time.” She looked out and towards the shed containing the back-up generator. “We should get that working and have some real light!”
Xander shot her a wry look. “You mean I should?”
“Hey, we’re girls, we need men-folk for these things,” Tara retorted with a grin.
“Knew they had to have their uses,” Faith muttered.
”I hear that,” Kennedy found herself in a moment of rare agreement with the fiery Slayer.
Xander sighed and shook his head. “Think about it, if the lights suddenly go on, if there is someone or something hostile in here, its gonna realise we’re here.”
“Optimistic soul aren’t you?” Kennedy muttered.
“That’s why I love him,” Faith winked, “his sunny disposition.”
“Why me?” Xander peered inside the passageway before continuing. “I’ll go first and stick to the left wall, Ken you’re next and on the left, Tara take the right, Faith the-.”
”Left, Jeez, I don’t need a picture Xan,” Faith interrupted.
“Okay,” Xander nodded. “Let’s go.”
* * *
Xander crept down into the tunnel, shoulder rubbing against the wall as he squinted into the darkness, his and his friends’ nervous breathing echoing in his ears adding to the feeling of tense claustrophobia. He raised a hand as he noticed something sticky under his foot and squatted down, fingers reaching down experimentally to pick at the puddle. “What is it?”
He started slightly at Kennedy’s hiss. “My guess would be blood.” He rose and glanced back. “Quiet now,” he warned as he rose and continued on.
The passageway spilt out into a t-shaped junction after an indeterminate amount of time. “We could split up,” Kennedy suggested. “Me and Tar take the left and you two go right-.”
“Not in this darkness,” Xander disagreed. “Let’s get a clue of just what we’re dealing before deciding if we should split up. Besides, I don’t want to end up shooting one of you by mistake. Well except maybe Faith-, oww!” he rubbed his ass after the Slayer’s kick. “We’ll go left.”
Xander led the group down another darkened passageway. “Gee,” Kennedy muttered, “they could do with signs or something.”
“This place is top-secret.” Xander shook his head. “They wouldn’t want to make it easy for anyone invading the place to make their way around. Do you know in the UK during the second world war, they removed or turned the wrong way many of the road signs in case they were invaded?”
”Boring?” Faith faked a yawn. “Wait hon.”
Turning at the sudden serious tone in his girl-friend’s voice, Xander hurried back to find her crouched, a handful of spent shells in her hands as she looked up at the wall, “bullet holes Xan, you wouldn’t have noticed them, but what with me having better vision. There was a battle here.”
”How many shells?” Tara asked in a whisper.
”A lot,” Faith replied.
“There’s blood on the wall opposite,” Kennedy sounded shaken. “What went on here?”
“That’s what we’re meant to find out.” Xander turned back to the front. “Come on.” He continued on his path, stopping as something crunched underfoot. “Glass.” He looked around, slowly registering the door to his right with its paned window smashed in. “This way.” He tried the door and was relieved when it swung open. After a second blindly reaching for the light switch, he managed to turn it on. “Huh,” he muttered when the light flickered into life. “Whadda you know, power ain’t out. It’s just the lights to the corridors.”
Even as he spoke Xander looked around. They’d found the base’s offices. Or at least what had once served as it. A table that had been set in the centre of the office had been flipped onto its back, the papers that had been on it lying on the floor. A bin was likewise overturned in the far corner, a heavy filing cabinet lying on top of it. Bullet shells littered the ground and several chairs had been tipped over, three of the room’s four computers had their screens shot out.
“Nice working environment,” Faith cracked without a hint of a smile.
”You noticed that, huh?” Xander looked towards Tara, mouth opening.
”On it,” the witch smiled as she pre-empted his request. In seconds the honey-blonde was sat and tapping at the remaining computer’s keyboard, using the skills taught by Angela Bennett.
“Xan,” Xander turned to his girl-friend. “All these bullets, all this blood. Where the hell are the bodies?”
“Yeah, I was wondering about that too,” Xander agreed. “I hate to think it, but maybe cannibals attacked.”
”Gross,” Kennedy’s nose wrinkled. “But that would still leave the bones.”
Xander joined Faith in turning towards the potential. “And I’m the gross one?”
“Oh boy!” Tara cried out.
In seconds they were stood behind the witch. “What’s up?” Faith impatiently demanded.
“What happened here, it’s not good.”
“I think we’d all kinda figured that out already,” Kennedy dryly pointed out. “Well except maybe Xander.”
“Hey don’t you start too!” Xander protested. “No fair!”
Tara ignored their bickering. “I’ve found their on-line diary. This base was opened a month ago after an archaeological dig found something they carbon-dated at around 5,000,000 years old-.”
“Mithras’ time,” Xander muttered.
“Yeah,” Tara nodded, her eyes fixed on the computer screen. “They thought it was some sort of dinosaur or animal they’d never heard of before and were going to dig it up. It would have been the scientific find of the decade but the military moved in.” Tara shook her head. “The Initiative believe it’s demonic. According to this, the plan was to dig up the thing up and experiment on it until they could splice its genes with a human’s to make a super-soldier.”
”Gross much!” Faith commented.
“Didn’t they learn anything after all the failures after Captain America and the mess with the Weapon X program?” Xander muttered. “What happened?”
“Three weeks ago, cells were taken from the monster and tests showed it was extremely resistant to germs, illnesses, temperature extremes, and had the muscle structure that enabled it to be simultaneously super-fast, super-durable, and strong. Then, five days ago they began to melt the ice around it. I haven’t gotten any further.”
”Right,” Xander nodded. “Well done.” He passed Kennedy a radio. “You stay here with Tara, if she finds anything radio us. Tara, where’s the thing being kept?”
“Xander, before you go, can I have our laptop?”
Xander stopped and turned towards Tara, eyes quizzical. “Isn’t one computer enough?” he queried, glancing towards the desktop computer the witch was sat at.
The witch grinned at him. “I’m going to check the graphics files, see if I can find a photograph of the monster. I’d like to compare it with our monsters on file; oh can I have the Eternal Archive too?”
”Sure,” Xander nodded, “makes sense.” He opened the Always Pocket and pulled out the requested items, passing them to Kennedy before turning to Faith. “You ready?”
”I was born ready,” was the unsurprisingly ballsy reply.
Xander grinned before looking towards Tara. “Straight to the end of the corridor, down two flights of step and the keypad entry code is ‘Terata’?”
“Latin for monster,” Tara nodded. “That’s right.”
”Thanks,” Xander grinned at Faith again. “Heel.”
”Don’t push it Harris,” his girl-friend warned.
* * *
Xander stopped by a door and motioned with his head for Faith to take up a flanking position. Once she had, he reached for the door’s steel handle and gently pulled down. The door opened with what was for Xander a deafening creak. He winced as he stepped inside.
The room had clearly been the base’s recreation room once. Now though, the garishly coloured jukebox in the far right corner was lying on its side, its font smashed in. The card table lay on top of it, one of its legs thrust through the jukebox’s front. The ping pong table that had stood in the centre of the room had been split in half, the room’s coffee maker lying on top of it, and the base’s two dart boards now had bullet rather than dart holes in them. Blood smeared the walls, disfiguring the posters of the era’s winsome pop stars hung there. “I’m guessing someone really didn’t like losing at ping-pong.”
“Yeah,” Xander muttered. Faith’s joke fell on stony ground. This was the fifth room they’d passed through. They were always the same, completely wrecked, but no sign of those who’d inhabited and clearly fought here. “Back out,” he muttered. “The stairwell’s just ahead.”
* * *
“I’ve cracked it!” Tara exulted.
“I thought the correct term was ‘hacked’,” Kennedy teased.
”Whatever,” Tara glared playfully at her girl-friend. “Shouldn’t you be watching the door?”
“I’d rather be watching you,” Kennedy replied. Tara faked gagging even as she giggled. “Oh shut up and look at those graphics.”
“Okay,” Tara smiled at her girl-friend before starting through the folders. “No, they’re just pictures of the people stationed here. That’s microscoped photos of the cell samples they took, which would be useful if I’m an evolutionary biologist but I’m not. This folder is the monster.”
”That looks like a block of ice,” Kennedy commented.
”Duh, that’s because it is,” Tara replied.
”Damn, that sounded Faith-like,” Kennedy retorted. “I didn’t realise we were role-playing.”
“Ken!” Tara’s blush was rewarded by her girl-friend’s giggle. “That’s just-.” Cheeks still blazing, he turned her eyes back to the screen and started through the photos up to the date the ice was melted. “Oh, oh.”
* * *
“Man!” Faith gasped as she stared down the darkened stairwell, her Slayer vision enabling her to see better than Xander. “Shit, I better go first.”
“Why?” demanded her boy-friend.
“Well for one,” Faith peered into the swirling darkness. “Five steps down something, I’m guessing a grenade, took out the stair-rail, two steps further down and there’s a chunk missing out of the right side of the steps, and some missing from the landing two steps lower from that. Hell, there’s a chunk gone from the wall, and it looks scorched to hell.” Faith turned to her boy-friend and grinned. “You know how you like watching my ass? Well stick real close to it now, we wouldn’t want ya to fall.”
Xander nodded. “Stick to the left wall?”
“Sounds ‘bout right,” Faith could have managed the obstacles quite nimbly but slowed her descent so not to get too far ahead of her partner. Finally they reached a featureless steel-grey door with an alphanumeric keypad to its left.
“Here’s a comforting thought,” Xander commented. “Someone hit this damn thing with a grenade took out a chunk of the wall, and part of the railing, but it still kept on coming and charged through everyone on the higher levels.”
“Comforting you say?” Faith snorted. “That’s one wicked strange definition.” Faith looked at the keypad. “What are ya waiting for?”
* * *
”Wow,” Kennedy stared at the creature. “That is one ugly demon. I mean, even for a demon”
“Yeah,” Tara stared at the horrifying beast.
Judging from the photo and the men stood around it, it had to be somewhere over seven feet tall and covered with enough muscle to make it look squat. Its grey flesh had a gnarled, leathery look that seemed to suggest just about any weapon would bounce off it. Two curved horns erupted out its massive shoulders while the knuckles on its six-fingered hands were spiked. Its head was square and its wide mouth filled with piranha-like teeth while its nose had not two but three, the third one according to the notes perhaps used to expel a noxious mist. The creature only had a single eye, but it took up the majority of its forehead, while a pair of ram-like horns jutted out of the top of its head.
“Wow,” Kennedy whispered. “That thing looks like it could have a fouler temper than Faith.”
Tara shot her girl-friend a reproachful look. “Pass me the lap-top. I’ll see if I can find a match on the search program.”
“Try Big Ugly,” her girl-friend unhelpfully suggested.
* * *
“Cover the door,” Xander rather unnecessarily ordered as he tapped the codeword in. The door beeped and slid to one side. “Oh shit,” he swore as he stepped through the doorway.
The cavern was lit by a long light swinging overhead from its high ceiling. The centre of the floor had been lifted up to reveal the ice underground, a sizable chunk carved out. On the near side was a selection of laboratory equipment lay shattered on the ground, microscopes, Bunsen burners, test tubes, beakers, and other unrecognisable but obviously more sophisticated pieces.
And on the far side stood the sucked clean skulls of the base inhabitants.
“You know,” Faith muttered, “I’d really rather not know what the hell -.” Faith looked down as a growl erupted from the hole in the ground. “Oh fuck.”
Xander stepped back as the creature burst out of the snow. “Yep! That about covers it!”
“What is it Tara?” Kennedy peered over her girl-friend’s shoulder as she peered at the Eternal Archive.
”I’ve found it!”
“That’s good isn’t it?” Kennedy stared at her girl-friend.
“Oh,” Tara turned her wide-eyes towards her, “not really.”
* * *
“Shoot it!” Faith screamed as her Mossberg 590 bucked in her hands.
“Gee!” Xander snapped as shell after shell crashed into the demon. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
The air filled with gun smoke and the massive beast rocked under each shot, but just as quickly as it was hit, the creature healed and continued coming.
“You must be missing!” Faith yelled.
”Oh yeah, it’s always me!” Xander snapped as he ran out of ammo.
“Fuck!” Faith flung her shotgun down with an angry snarl. “Load some of those explosive rounds, I’ll give you a minute!”
Xander’s eyes widened in horror as he realised what his possibly clinically insane lover was going to try. ”Faith, no!”
* * *
“What do you mean?” Kennedy asked.
“The thing is called a ‘Centum’-.”
“That’s Latin for hundred isn’t it?” Kennedy queried.
Tara nodded. ”Yeah, you’ll find out why in a moment. They date back to Mithras’ time. The Old Ones created them back in the days of the pit fights. Should a human other then the ‘bred pit-fighters like Mithras’ manage ninety-nine kills in the pits, they’d only have to win one more fight to get their freedom. In that hundredth fight they’d face a Centum-.”
“A hundred,” Kennedy nodded in understanding.
“Exactly,” her girl-friend agreed before continuing. “The Centums were specially bred to be the perfect weapon, with an awesomely high pain tolerance level, almost impossible to wound, and even if you did, they healed nearly instantly. As strong as an ogre and lightning fast with the ability to fight for hours before tiring. Their senses were all heightened, and they were bred to live for battle, they could survive forever without food, or in intensely hot or cold temperatures just going into a coma until-.”
“They were awoken?” Kennedy interrupted with a guess.
“Yeah,” Tara licked her lips. “It says here that only forty-three men lived long enough to face to a Centum, none defeated it. Their only weakness is their lack of intelligence, they have only one thought - to kill.”
“Oh boy,” Kennedy lunged for her radio. “We better tell the othe-.” Her voice trailed off as she turned it on to hear gunfire and excited shouting.
”I guess they already know,” Tara gasped.
* * *
Faith ignored her honey’s shouts, he was such a worry-wart, to leap into action, lunging under the giant demon’s swinging haymaker to deposit a hefty kick into its bread-basket. She grunted in surprise as her foot bounced off the monster’s hide. “Not good,” she mused as she ducked a back-hander before executing a standing leaping drop-kick that crashed both heels-first into the monster’s considerable chest.
”Shit!” Faith cursed as the demon swatted her out of the air, knocking her to the hard floor. She rolled out of the way of a follow-up stomp. “Jesus, Harris!” She cursed as she snap-kicked the thing in its left knee and caught an elbow in the side of the head as payment. “How long does it take to-, shit!” Faith’s question turned to a wail as the monster grabbed her by her coat’s swinging hood and flung her into the table behind her, knocking it and her to the ground.
Dazed, she could only watch as the gigantic beast charged her. Okay, so maybe Xan had been right after all.
Suddenly the beast was rocked by shot after shot from Xander’s shotgun. ‘”Bout time,” Faith groaned as she struggled to her feet, eyes fixed on the howling monster.
“You’re welcome by the way,” Xander snarked before glancing over the shoulder. “I’m thinking we should run.”
“Hell yeah,” Faith nodded then winced. “I’m not proud, look at my boyfriend.”
“Why do I bother?” Xander mused as they backed towards the door. Xander gulped as the beast turned to them, single eye blazing with hatred.
”Oh great,” Faith scowled. “Now you pissed him off.”
* * *
Kennedy picked up her weapons. “We better get down there fast!”
”Give me a minute,” Tara shook her head. “I have to check if it has got any other weaknesses.”
* * *
“I pissed-,” Xander shook his head. “Why me?” He glanced at the distance between them and the monster. Perhaps 40 paces at the most and they were still fifteen paces from the door, Faith might make it, but he never would. “Screw it.” He drew a concussion grenade and threw it to the beast’s feet.
The cavern exploded in a cascade of orange, red, and yellow, their ears popping with the force of the explosion, the beast flung to the far side of the cavern. They on the other hand had been flung through the door and were now lying on the landing’s cold concrete, a dusty mist obscuring their vision.
“Oh smart move,” Faith coughed.
“Geez, quit nagging, I got us through the door didn’t I?”
“And he’s so happy about it.” Faith grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet. “Let’s hustle.”
His body aching from his unceremonial flight through the door, he swore there was a dent in his head where he’d collided with it, Xander stumbled after his rather more fleet-footed lover, unerringly following her denim-clad derrière up the stairs.
It was good to see being the supposed future saviour of the world had some advantages. Xander stopped as they reached the top landing and peered over the edge. “Are you fuckin’ crazy?” his girl-friend demanded. “We need to get some distance between us and that ugly mo-fo!”
Xander whimpered at the way the brunette beauty’s shrill reverberated around his aching head. “Please,” he muttered. “Don’t shout.”
“Fine,” Faith grunted. “Then what the hell are you doin’?”
“Laying a trap,” he replied, eyes fixed over the landing railing as he reached into the Always Pocket and pulled out a pair of incendiary grenades. “Let’s see how he likes fire.” The moment the demon’s huge foot appeared on the bottom step; Xander dropped the explosives and leaned back.
And not a moment too soon as a fiery geyser shot up, scorching the stone to his left and melting the paint on the railing a foot and a half in front of him before dropping back down. “GAAAAAAAAAAA!”
“My guess, he likes fire about as much as I like Britney Spears,” Faith dryly commented.
“Yeah but does it-, oh shit!” Xander leapt back as the creature leapt up to roughly parallel with the landing, smoke wafting off its charred hide. His finger tugged at the shotgun’s trigger. Two shotgun blasts caught the monster full in the chest, knocking it back down.
“Now can we-.”
”Run!” Xander yelled.
”Yeah,” Faith flung open the door and raced through it. “I was gonna say that!” Xander followed, struggling to keep up with the Slayer as she raced through the darkened corridors. “Tar, Ken! Incoming!”
“It’s a Centum-.”
”Explanations later, Tara,” Xander interrupted as he looked towards Faith and Kennedy, throwing them each a trio of Ingrams as he rapidly spoke. “Faith, Kennedy, you two get into those doorways just opposite one another and hit the thing with everything you’ve got.”
Faith stared at the machine guns even as she caught them. ”Explosive shotgun rounds just pissed it off, what do you expect these to do? Make it think it’s been attacked by fire ants?”
Xander scowled at his girl-friend. “Just slow it down. I need time to load up my missile launcher.”
“Missile launcher?” Kennedy shook her head. “You guys are crazy!”
”Tara,” Xander looked towards the pensive-looking witch. “Get in the doorway with Kennedy and get her to give you one of the guns, you don’t want to be behind me when it fires.”
“Still talking about the missile launcher, Xan?”
“Funny, Faith,” Xander dropped to one knee and pulled the AT4 out. He licked his lips as the monster raced around the corner, wide shoulders almost touching the walls, and the firing from the three girls began. His ears pounded and cordite clung to the back of his throat as bullet after bullet were expelled, repeated shots bouncing off the beast’s hide.
The monster howled in continual pain but persisted in advancing. Breath coming in frantic pants, Xander hurriedly placed a High Penetration fin-shaped warhead into his missile launcher’s nozzle, disengaged the two safeties, cocked the firing pin, and pulled the trigger.
He didn’t bother aiming, he didn’t have to, the charging beast was only thirty to forty feet away from him, dead ahead, and in an enclosed space. The missile wooshed to its target, exploding against the monster’s vault-sized chest in a fiery storm. The impact flung the demon from his feet and through the concrete wall twenty feet behind it. The force of the explosion tore the paint from the walls and shattered every window, dust from the shaken building filling the air. But after a hushed silence, the beast rose and climbed through the hole in the wall, its body blackened with char.
“Oh,” Faith shakily said, “you have got to be fuckin’ kiddin’ me.”
“Leave him to me.”
“Oh shit,” Faith muttered.
”Yeah,” Xander nodded as he gazed at Tara, eyes unable to focus thanks to the dazzling glow surrounding her. “That was my first reaction.”
* * *
Energy and love coursed through Tara in roughly equal measure as she stared at the demon, empowering her to a degree she’d never felt before. Despite the snarling monster racing towards her, she’d never felt more confident or in charge. She stepped past Xander and stood between her friends and the demon. “I am ‘The Quiet Storm’, ‘The Righteous Light’, and,” she raised her palms towards the demon, “you will not harm them.”
Blasts of white energy burst from her hands, smashing into the advancing monster. “AHHHHHH!” The demon’s teeth filled mouth opened in a shocked scream, hideous body writhing in helpless agony. And then it exploded, body parts, organs, and viscera spraying the wall.
“Well,” Faith’s cocksure drawl broke the shocked silence that followed the demon’s demise. “If I knew it was gonna be this easy I’d have brought sandwiches.”
“Tara,” Xander shakily added. “Have you been holding out on us?”
“And who in the blue hell is ‘The Quiet Storm’?” Faith added.
Tara began to turn towards Faith. Xander gasped as the light surrounding the witch suddenly dissipated and the honey-blonde’s legs seemed to fold under her. He leapt to catch her, but despite her greater distance Faith’s Slayer speed managed to get her to the New Mexican first. Eyes luminous with barely controlled panic, Faith looked towards to him. “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” Xander admitted, chest tight with fear.
* * *
“I know how rough this flight can be,” Faith empathised. “If you want I can get Xan to get some pillo-.”
“Kennedy! Faith!” Tara snapped. “Stop fussing!” The hurt look on her best friend’s face made Tara instantly regret her rare flash of anger. “I’m sorry,” she forced a smile, “but I’m fine.”
The sultry Slayer stared suspiciously at her. “Ya sure?”
“Really,” her smile widened at her friends’ concern, a warm glow filling her.
“What happened, Tara?” Kennedy asked.
“Magic overload, I’ve never used that much magic before. I’d been absorbing mana ever since the moment I discovered what the thing was.” Tara winced slightly as she turned her head. “If Xander and Faith had managed to deal with it themselves, I’d have just released it gradually, but letting go of it all at once drained me.” Her entire body ached in fact. By the time she’d started to come around, they’d almost reached the plane.
“Wow,” Faith gasped. “I didn’t know you were that powerful.”
Tara reddened at her idol and best friend’s admiration. “Training with Doctor Strange has helped a lot. But I can’t do it that often, it takes too long to build up and it’s too draining.” So far, she didn’t add, not knowing how strong she’d get and not wanting the pressure of her friends’ expectations.
“And what was all that ‘Quiet Storm’ and ‘Righteous Light’ stuff?” Xander asked.
”You know I read the Eternal Archive a lot-.”
”So would I if my only other option was a girl-friend like Kennedy,” Faith snorted.
“You should be so-.” Kennedy sulkily quietened at a look from Xander, one of his ‘this is serious’ looks.
“I’ve found a lot of prophecies about us. Some of the more detailed ones are demonic so they’re no good, and none of them are too detailed. But sometimes I’m referred as ‘The Quiet Storm’, and sometimes I’m called ‘The Righteous Light’.”
“Cool,” Faith spoke a second before the others. “What are our names?”
”Xander’s ‘Returning God’,” Faith groaned theatrically. “You’re ‘Death’s Beauty’ or ‘Dark-Eyed Doom’, and Kennedy’s ‘Graceful Danger’.”
”So why did you shout it during the battle?” Kennedy asked.
Tara blushed. “Um, it seemed to fit the moment.” She scowled at the others’ laughs. “Oh shut up the lot of you!”
* * *
Mid-evening’s half-light had cast the office in shadow, the two men within in it only illuminated by the desk’s light. “Hello sir,” Dennis Ryland paused on the threshold of his boss’ office, brow furrowing at the unexpected guest sat to the left of the director’s desk. He nodded uncertainly at the interloper. “Sir.”
Falco’s heavy brow creased at his entry, jaw setting in a typically pugnacious line. “Ryland. Sit.”
“Thank you,” eyes flitting nervously from his thickly built boss to the rather more austere guest, he strode over to the empty seat and sat down. It was rare enough for him to get a call into the director’s office, even rarer to have the National Security Advisor in attendance.
After a second Falco spoke. “You’ve heard of the Initiative project under our purview?”
“Yes sir,” Ryland hid a smile. Finally those Mithras cowboys were going to be pulled under some sort of governmental control. Maybe he could even arrange it so the Slayer was experimented on so they could find out how she worked and at last re-start their super-solider program. “It’s a project originally started in the 40s to combat Hitler’s use of occultism. Its scope expanded after the war to research demons.”
“That’s correct,” Trenton leaned forward, eyes fixed on him, elbows on his knees and hands clasped. “You’re to be re-assigned to them for the foreseeable future.”
”Sir?” Ryland struggled to contain his burgeoning glee. Better, and better. They were going to give him some sort of oversight responsibility for the Mithras Brotherhood?
“You’ll be leaving for the Antarctica in,” Falco glanced at his watch, “three hours?”
“Antarctica?” Ryland’s elation withered away to be replaced by alarm. “B…but…”
“To be frank,” Trenton interrupted. “The Man has been contacted about your politicking regarding the Mithras Brotherhood. At the best of times he doesn’t like being questioned. This is not the best of times or issues to question him on.” Ryland’s mouth opened. “Silence.” The National Security Advisor nodded at his obedient muteness. “The post was a research station. They found a demon and were attempting to experiment on it when it awoke and slaughtered them all despite their best efforts to contain it. Somehow the Mithras Brotherhood were alerted to this catastrophe and went out to prevent it from spiralling out of control at considerable risk to themselves. Of course, the base is now quite an embarrassment to this government, should news of what happened there leak out. So, when news of your activities came to his attention, the President decided you’d be the perfect man to supervise the clean-up there. He thought there was a poetic symmetry to it.” Trenton smiled. “And so do I. You can either resign and lose your pension and benefits, and influence, or take this assignment and just lose your influence. Your choice.”
Ryland gasped, all his dreams turning to ash. Finally he nodded numbly. “I’ll take the assignment.”