Scoobies and a Retiree
A/N: This is a sequel to “The League of Extraordinary Women”. It will make a lot more sense if you read that first.
Disclaimer: None of these characters belong to me. If you want details on ownership and all that jazz, you’ll want to read the appropriate intros in “The League of Extraordinary Women”.
He had been fishing for most of the morning. He hadn’t caught anything, except half a dozen mosquitoes that hadn’t moved off his skin fast enough. Not that he cared if he caught any fish. Or if he got bitten so many times he turned into one huge bug bite.
He opened the cooler and lifted out another beer. Beer was good. It was about the only good thing left in his life. And if he drank enough of it, he didn’t have to think about everything else in his life. He would just fish and drink beer all day, and stargaze and drink beer all night, and try not to think about anything else ever again.
“Knock knock!” called out some jerk over by the cabin. “Anyone around?”
He sighed inwardly. The gate clearly said ‘No Solicitors’ and ‘Do Not Enter’. Why couldn’t anyone read the signs? Why couldn’t any obey the signs?
He turned around, expecting to see an annoying young guy in a nice suit. Maybe the sort of person who would get really pissed off if he got pushed in the pond. But this guy wasn’t like that.
This guy was a young guy with dark brown, shaggy hair and a big grin. This guy was wearing a t-shirt under a flannel shirt, old jeans, and well-worn work boots. Maybe this guy was an itinerant repairman looking for houses to work on.
He yelled out, “Hey! The sign says ‘Do Not Enter’! No habla Ingles?”
The guy laughed. “Hey! Us speak the English real good already! At least, that’s what my teachers figured. Xander Harris. You’re Jack O’Neill, U.S. Air Force colonel, retired, right?”
Jack kept his beer in his hand, but he started checking the kid for weapons. And he started checking his surroundings. No one in the area knew he was retired military. No one in the military that he didn’t already know called him ‘Jack’. His service record was under the name Jonathan Angus O’Neill. Two ‘L’s.
Okay, the kid wasn’t carrying, unless he had a gun tucked behind his back. No sign of anything obvious yet, which might just mean the guy was a pro. And there were no sounds of infiltrators. Jack could hear the birds in the woods on either side of him. That didn’t rule out snipers, but Jack knew from experience that there were no decent sniper nests with an adequate view into the glen around the pond. The mountains he could see from the cabin were all at least ten miles off, and no sniper could hit a target even one fifth that far. Not that he was going to talk about sniper tactics ever again. That was all classified Spec Ops business.
Jack went with the stall. “How come you know me, and I don’t know you?”
Xander strolled over and plopped down on the grass. “We have friends in common. Well, technically, I have some friends who have some friends who know some of your friends. And they said I ought to come out here and talk with you for a bit. Maybe bring you some important stuff, like some blue jello, a sixpack of Heineken, a couple boxes of Fruit Loops, and I got some Mexican food staying warm in the truck in case you let me stay for lunch.”
Jack played dumb. Plenty of people had told him it was his easiest role. “Hey, that sounds great. I can always use more beer, and I’m out of jello.”
Xander casually said, “Y’know, the blue jello isn’t my fave, I like the cherry jello best, especially with black cherries in it, and maybe some chopped walnuts, but it sure beats the pineapple-grapefruit mess they used to make.” He pretended to shudder. “Eww. School lunches. If you can ruin jello, you shouldn’t be allowed to call it lunch.”
Jack recognized the act. The kid was good. But Jack had been pulling this act for longer than the kid had been alive. So… Options. Send the kid on his way, ignore him, or let him talk for a while and see if the kid spilled anything? Jack was out of the game, and had been for a few years now, so he couldn’t figure out why anyone would be visiting him now. Unless one of his old black ops had been ‘awakened’ and someone was hunting for intel. That could be bad.
Still, he couldn’t see anyone sending this kid. Anyone in the U.S. DoD or intelligence communities would know to send Charlie Kawalsky or maybe General West. Anyone on the other side ought to know better than pulling crap like this. The Russians could train someone to pass this well as an American, but they would send someone Jack was more likely to talk to, like a hot brunette or at least one of the retired KGB men that Jack had run into at one time or another. Pretty much everyone else on his list had no shot at finding and training an obviously whitebread American kid this young.
Jack asked, “Want a beer?”
“Thanks, but I’ll pass. I’m not a big drinker,” the kid said. “There any fish in that pond?”
“Sure,” Jack told him. Meanwhile, Jack was trying to work out the pass on the beer. Surely anyone who wanted him to confide in them was going to go along with something like a beer or two. Or ten.
The kid said, “Just asking, because the insects on the surface aren’t getting eaten, at all, which usually means no fish to chow down on ‘em.”
Jack pretended to be affronted and said, “Hey, it’s my lake, I ought to know if there’s fish in there.”
The kid just shrugged. “Hey, I call ‘em like I see ‘em.”
“And how do you see me?” Jack asked.
The kid shrugged again. “A guy with a crapton of potential, going through a super bad time in his life, and no one helping him out.”
“So… you’re here to help me out? And then I… what?”
The kid said, “Well, really I was hoping you’d help me out. I know a lot about you that isn’t in your record, even if the details are probably messed up. I know you have a lot of experience as an Air Force officer, and in small-team ops. I know you don’t believe in leaving your people behind. I know you’re brave enough that some people probably call it stupidity. I know most of your best work is in blacked-out files no one gets to look at. I have some people who could really use your expertise, pretty much like you helped the Afghanis, only not so much with the RPGs and more with the swords and battleaxes…”
“Swords and battleaxes?” Jack smirked, “You want me to train you for a Ren Faire?”
Xander laughed. “Yeah, we’ve tried that as a cover a couple times. It’s got some gaping holes in it, though.”
Jack asked, “So what do you really want me to do?”
Xander said, “Let me tell you a completely made-up story that you’ll know is fake. That’ll give you the basics of what we’re looking for, without telling you anything about what’s really going on. Then, if you sign a few non-disclosure agreements, I can take you and show you one of our bases, and you can meet some of us and get a feel for what’s really going on, and where you can help the most. And if you agree then, you get to sign more docs, and then you get read into the real bottom line. You know, the usual.”
Jack asked, “So… your secret base. Iraq? Mexico City?”
Xander grinned. “Cleveland.”
Jack gaped at that. “Cleveland? CLEVELAND? That place is a pit. Nobody wants to have a base in Cleveland. Not even the Cleveland Indians.” Xander just grinned. “So tell me your fairy tale.”
Xander flopped down on his back, which told Jack the kid wasn’t carrying any hardware in a holster at the small of his back. He looked up at the clouds and said, “Let’s pretend we live in a world with vampires and demons and magic. Remember, this is going to be so fake you’ll know it isn’t what’s really going on, right?”
“Right.” Okay, Jack had to admit it. He had no idea where the kid was going to go with this one. If the kid was going to be pushing any ideology, it was going to be so oblique it would take an English major to find it.
Xander went on, “So the evil guys have vampires and demons. The good guys have heroes who fight the demons. Only the good guys were these old shamans about ten thousand years ago, so they picked someone in the prime of life, who wouldn’t be a threat to their position if they got superpowered up. And back then, the average lifespan was only like thirty years. So who would they pick?”
Jack thought for a second. “Couldn’t be a tribal warrior. He’d use his superpowers to take over, even if he’s Peter Parker or Steve Rogers. He’s the strongest. He has to rule the tribe. Couldn’t be a boy. Not mature enough, and they want someone in their prime, and anyway, in five years he’d be a man and want to take over the tribe. So… they pick a woman. Someone in their prime but clearly not a threat. So maybe fifteen to twenty.”
Xander grinned. “You’re good. We’ll go with that. So the shamans take a fifteen year old woman and shove the essence of a demon into her so she’s magically empowered to be able to kill vampires and demons. Of course, she dies before long, because that’s a hazard pay kind of job. What then?”
Jack could play this game all day. “So the shamans shove that demon essence into another victim. Or else they make it self-perpetuating.”
Xander nodded. “Let’s go with door number two, Monty. So every time the girl dies, a new girl, still around fifteen, gets the power. And the shamans try to find the new kid, keep the new kid in line, try to use her to keep themselves in power, try to make sure she kills off any vampires or demons that might be threatening anyone they like…”
“Are they sparkly vampires?”
Xander laughed so hard he choked. “Man! That’s good. I have a couple friends – female type friends – who HATE that whole sparkly, broody, romantic vampire crap.”
Jack knew there was more to it than that, but he couldn’t work out what it could be. But he knew he had gotten a piece of the puzzle he wasn’t supposed to have.
Xander said, “So let’s say that the self-perpetuating magic never shuts off because there’s still vampires and demons running around loose.”
“And no one notices?” Jack asked.
Xander said, “Well, that’s part of the story. Turns out there’s stuff that’s so scary people don’t want to see it, don’t want to believe it, don’t want to deal. Most people, if they see it, they weird out and convince themselves it’s something else.”
Jack had seen that, all right. Mostly about things like terrorism. People want it to go away, but don’t want to do what it takes to stop it, and don’t want to admit that there are people who have to do those jobs. And anybody who does a job like that must be a monster.
Was that what Xander was getting at? Jack wasn’t seeing it. Not with the ‘swords and battleaxes’ bit, unless that was an analogy for something else.
Xander said, “So the girls keep on getting superpowers, then fighting vampires and demons until they die, and then a new girl gets stuck with the superpowers. The shamans become an organized group of stuffy old guys who think they know what’s best for their pretty little weapons, but they sort of forget over the centuries that they’re dealing with girls, not weapons. They train them, keep them isolated, turn ‘em into little sword-wielding robots. So along comes… oh let’s pick a girl who would be least suited to being the next vampire killing machine. Whadda ya think?”
Jack still didn’t know where Xander was going with this, but he could play this game. He knew too much about child soldiers in Africa and Asia not to know what to pick. He said, “An American girl. Well off. Never had to do anything she couldn’t wheedle daddy into doing for her. Maybe a cheerleader. Cute and fluffy and ill-equipped to be anything except a trophy wife.”
Xander grinned, like Jack had stepped into a trap. “Good one. Let’s run with that. We’ll make her… how about a California Valley Girl? We’ll name her… Buffy.”
Jack grinned. “Okay. Buffy the Vampire Killer. Sounds like a great movie.”
Xander nodded. “Yep. Playing at a drive-in near you, along with ‘Mars Needs Women’.”
Jack frowned. “Hey! That was a great movie!” Xander laughed.
Xander said, “Okay. So our little cheerleader – blonde and petite, of course – has no idea what to do when she gets superpowers and gets dropped into this mess. She doesn’t even believe in this stuff. So things get sticky. And then, since we have magic, we can have magical prophecies. So there’s a prophecy that says she’ll have to face this really old master vampire, and he’ll kill her, and he’ll create hell on earth. Not of the good.”
“Nope, doesn’t sound good for our cheerleader.”
Xander said, “But there’s something we can do. She’s still stuck fighting with swords and battleaxes and wooden stakes, and bullets don’t really do squat against her opponents, but other things have changed since the first vampire… killer.”
Jack had a feeling that Xander had been about to say something else. He didn’t know what, but he had a feeling he’d just been handed a second piece of the puzzle. He pretended not to notice, and he played along, “Everything’s changed since ten thousand years ago. Politics, weaponry, battle tactics, medicine, the terrain of a battlefield…”
Xander said, “I’ll go with medicine for 500, Alex.” Jack snorted, and Xander continued, “So she has to die. Prophecies are always, always right. But she’s slipped up and made friends at school, when the stuffy old guys wanted her isolated and alone. Friends who found out about vampires and… what did we name her?”
“Buffy,” Jack supplied. But he knew Xander hadn’t forgotten. So was there really someone named Buffy involved in whatever this was? And what kind of parents name their daughter Buffy? Unless the parents’ names were Muffy and Buddy, he was pretty sure naming a kid Buffy was a hanging offense. Or should be.
“Okay, Buffy has friends. One really smart one, and one really stupid one.”
Jack knew that tone of voice. Whatever Xander was making up, it was some sort of analogy, because Jack was pretty damn sure the ‘really stupid one’ was Xander himself. So whatever this was, Xander was in it up to his eyeballs, and had been for a long time. Even if he looked like he was only about twenty-five.
Xander kept going. “The really stupid one follows Buffy down into caves full of vampires, and finds her drowned after the master vampire beat her up and drank her blood and dumped her face first into a pool. But this is modern times.”
Modern times… medicine… drowning… Jack made the tiny leap Xander was so obviously pushing him toward. “He does CPR.”
“Yeah. And Buffy lives again. She gets up and saves the day. But she was dead for a couple minutes. And when a vampire killer dies…”
“Another one gets picked,” Jack finished.
“Exactly. So now there’s more than one out there. There’s two. And eventually, there’s a lot more than two. But they don’t have the stuffy old men around anymore, and anyway the stuffy old men don’t know about modern strategy, or small-team tactics, or anything. So they said, ‘Hey Xander, you’re a guy, why don’t you do some guy stuff and talk to other guys, and find a guy who knows military guy stuff so he can help us in a guy way?’ and I did. The remaining stuffy old guys knew people, and some of those people are military in a couple different countries, and so I came to talk to you. And I’m also going to check out a couple other retired American officers, and some retired SAS guys in England.”
“So why me?” Jack asked. “I’m sure a lot of these other guys work as contractors or bodyguards or other things, and they’re in shape and ready for action. I’m… not.” Boy, that was sure an understatement.
Xander grinned, “Okay, let me tell you another big lie. The truth? You have to come talk to us and sign non-disclosure agreements until your hands cramp, and all that jazz.”
“Wow, you make it sound so appealing,” Jack said wryly.
Xander said, “So let’s pretend that our heroine from the last story, Buffy, gets asked to go to another universe to save the day, and there she meets a team of other superheroines and just plain heroines. And they do save the day. But in the process, Buffy finds out that one of the heroines has been trained by her boss, one Jack O’Neill, colonel, U.S.A.F. And this Buffy gets to meet said Jack O’Neill from another dimension, and thinks he’d be a pretty cool guy to train her and all the other vampire killers she tries to take care of. So I’m here asking you if you can be like some guy in an alternate universe who you’d never believe could be real.”
Jack said, “I can be unreal. I’ve been accused of it more than once.”
Xander said, “I asked around and got to talk to a few people who… know people. Major Kawalsky said you were pretty high on the ‘real’ scale, and General West said you were pretty high on the ‘insubordination’ scale. We like both of those.”
Jack said, “Not a lot of people like an officer who’s high on the Rude And Snarky Scale.”
Xander said, “About all we have is people who are high on the Rude And Snarky Scale. We have hardly anyone who’s old and tweedy and stuffy anymore, so we mainly have the young and wisecrack-y and not so much with the all-knowing.”
Jack thought about it for a bit. He looked at the pond, and he considered where his life had gone. He finally said, “Let’s have lunch. And we’ll see if this Mexican food meets my exacting standards.”
Xander left two hours later, and Jack sat fishing for another hour after that. Then he started doing what he needed to do. He went through everything Xander had brought into the house. He checked everything Xander could have touched, both inside and outside the house. Nothing. But no one needed to be anywhere near his house to put a tap on his line. Anybody official, or even good at pretending to be official, could have the tap in place miles away at a phone bank.
He dug up the sat phone in the basement and popped in some new batteries. Then he hiked two miles to a pristine clearing that had no houses anywhere nearby. He made sure the encryption system was running, and he called.
He had nothing to lose if he followed this lead. Charlie was dead, and Jack had never been able to shake the guilt because Charlie had gotten into Jack’s gunsafe and shot himself with Jack’s firearm. Sarah had given up on him and divorced him. His foster parents were long dead. He was out of the Air Force. There was no one who would care if he went on one more mission and never came back.
It took him a while to get through to General West, but he had all the time in the world these days. Finally, the general’s adjutant put him through. “General, sorry to bother you, but your name came up. I got a recruitment visit from Xander Harris of the IWC.”
General West said, “Jack, the IWC is one of the big secrets of the international spook community, and it’s Need To Know even there. No one really knows who they are, or who they fight – and if they do know they won’t talk to anyone I know – but they’re considered one of the untouchables. If they want to go into Scotland or Texas or Venezuela, we say ‘yes sir, how high’. If they want to go into North Korea or Red China, the Reds say ‘okay anything you want’ to them. If they want to go into Iraq, even the Iraqis play nice. Anybody who’s ever crossed them ended up shit creek without a paddle, and a lot of them ended up begging the IWC to come save their asses, even if they won’t tell us what they had to be saved from. And now the IWC seem to want you. Anything you can find out about them that you can tell me, I’d like to find out.”
Jack said, “Good. Because I’m going in, and I think I’m going to need someone at your level as a covert handler. And if I don’t come back, I’d like someone with some authority to know where the body might be buried. I’m going to Cleveland next week.”
“All right son, you do what you have to do, and I’ll backstop things here. Good luck.”
Jack hung up the sat phone and thought about all the things he was going to need to acquire covertly between now and his flight to Cleveland next week. Some of them he had buried in the dirt floor of the cabin basement. Some of them, like burner phones, he could pick up pretty much anywhere. So he needed to check his old gear, clean it, figure out what he needed to replace, and decide how he was going to do all that when the IWC probably had surveillance on him already.
He hadn’t had a purpose in life for a few years now, but Xander Harris had given him one. The IWC was a secret organization that turned little girls into killers. It was a bunch of bastards who gave kids weapons and let them die. He had failed Charlie, but he was not going to let them get away with this, no matter how deep undercover he had to go.
He was going to bring down the entire IWC, or die trying.