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In Their Shadow

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Summary: Xander's been transported to the 27th century? Can he adapt to life in the future? Can he ever return home? And more to the point, can the guy stay out of trouble for once?

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Literature > Sci-Fi > Night's Dawn Trilogy, TheSmegheadFR151174,52121114,47012 Jan 0412 Jan 04Yes

Touristy Stuff And Xander Version 2

Title: In Their Shadow - Chapter 14

Author: Robert Cox (smeghead_76@dodo.com.au)

Disclaimer: Buffy is owned by Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy productions. The Night's Dawn trilogy is owned by Peter F. Hamilton. At least until the copyright runs out, anyway. Since that won't happen for a long time at the least, I've just gotta hope that no-one takes offence.

Summary: Xander has been transported to the 27th century. Can he adapt to life in the future? Can he ever return home? And, more to the point, can the guy stay out of trouble for once?

Rating: M-15+ (Australian system)

AN: Thanks to Grossclout, who volunteered for beta-ing duties in the later parts.

AN2: There are a couple of non-standard methods of communication used in this story, represented as follows: Affinity and {Datavises}



Voidhawk Oenone, interplanetary space

Twenty million kilometres above the North Stellar Pole, Sol System

17th June, 2614


The voidhawk emerged from the wormhole, which closed behind it, and reconfigured its distortion field for normal space travel. The passengers, of course, never noticed a thing, due to the fact that voidhawks are capable of manipulating their distortion fields to provide gravity for the life-support toroids. In fact, both voidhawks and blackhawks were also capable of using their distortion fields to provide a counteracting force to the effect of manoeuvres of up to four gravities, while providing a steady one-gee environment in the life-support toroids.

Syrinx, of course, knew that they had swallowed into the Sol system. After all, course choices were a joint intuitive choice between a voidhawk and its captain, which was hardly surprising, given that each voidhawk captain spent a year gestating within 'their' voidhawk.

Looking over at the spare acceleration couch that Xander was secured to by his acceleration webbing, she saw that he was chatting animatedly with Serina and Ruben. Even Oenone was making the occasional comment, to her surprise. The voidhawk rarely got involved in conversations with passengers.

He's a nice young man, Oenone told her. I like him.

Syrinx smothered a grin. Obviously, the voidhawk had picked up the general gist of her thoughts. You say that about almost everyone I meet. First Joshua, and then Mosul. Have you ever met anyone you didn't like?

Not so far, the voidhawk replied. Xander is also very polite. He hasn't asked how old Ruben is, or made any comment about your relationship, for instance.

That's true. Everyone she'd met had asked how old Ruben was, and their reactions when they'd found out that, at the age of one hundred and thirty-seven, he was almost precisely a century older than her, had been a cause of some mild amusement for her. Xander had been just about the first person - apart from Joshua - who hadn't asked, or made some sort of comment. Although I suspect that that may have something to do with the fact that the relationship between Buffy and Angel involved a larger age gap, she pointed out.

That is a possibility.

"We've arrived in the Sol system," she announced, more for Xander's benefit than anything else, as the other crew members already knew thanks to their affinity link with the voidhawk. "At the moment, we're twenty million kilometres above the North Stellar Pole. Xander, if you'd care to look at the AV pillar in front of you, you'll see something that might interest you." Complying with her affinity request, Oenone focused its sensor blisters on the inner solar system, and projected the resulting display through the Audio-Visual pillar in front of Xander's acceleration couch.

Xander had used AV pillars a number of times while staying with Joshua, and had found them easy to use - 'look into the light' was about the extent of the instructions - and as he turned his head so that the pulses of encoded light played across his eyes, an image slid down his optic nerves and blossomed in his mind. What he saw was this:

A very large, extremely bright, object at the centre of the view that was obviously the sun - Oenone had brought several filters on-line so as not to damage Xander's eyesight - and a small bright dot, barely visible against the glare of the sun, that was Mercury.

Further out was a larger dot - Xander thought that he could barely make out hints of yellow and white - that indicated the position of Venus.

The truly amazing thing was in the third orbital slot, however.

Forty-seven bright blue-green dots, all tracing their orbital paths around the primary in procession. One of them was Earth, Xander knew, with the other forty-six the former stage one colony worlds that Joshua had put there at the end of the possession crisis. Of course, Joshua had told him this, but seeing it like this really drove the point home.

For Xander, simply seeing Earth from space probably would have been awe-inspiring enough, but this brought it to a whole new level. In fact, he barely registered the orange-red dot that was Mars - despite the successful terraforming of the planet, over two-thirds of the surface was still desert - and the sprinkling of dots at the very edge of the image that marked some of the larger asteroids.

To put it simply, this was a view that very few people had seen before. Most of the starships - voidhawks, blackhawks and Adamist starships - that travelled to and from the Sol system used the emergence zones for the planet they were arriving at or departing. Not many were willing to incur the expenditure of time or fuel required - although fuel wasn't a concern for the bitek starships - to manoeuvre themselves into an appropriate position.

"Wow," Xander said softly. At that moment, his expression was that of pure awe, and all of the cynicism, bitterness and barely-controlled anger that had seeped into his personality over the past two years had evaporated, leaving only his sense of wonder - which was being stimulated by the view he was seeing.

Hearing the awe in his voice, Syrinx and the others shared grins throughout the bridge. The first time Oenone had spoken to him had caused no small amount of surprise, but over the last day-and-a-half, he had recovered sufficiently to take part in conversations with the voidhawk, although there was still amazement in his voice whenever he talked to Oenone.

Truth be told, the voidhawk wasn't the only one who liked the young man. Once they'd gotten to know him, all of the other crew-members had found themselves liking Xander as well. Making friends, it seemed, was just something he seemed to do well. That, combined with what Joshua had told her of Xander's desire to have a better opportunity to see what the interior of a habitat looked like, made the decision she was about to make a lot easier.

She was going to take him on a brief visit to Romulus. A brief affinity discussion with the crew and Oenone revealed that they felt pretty much the same way themselves, and a fraction of a second later, energy flowed through the voidhawk's patterning cells once more as it initiated a swallow manoeuvre to one of Saturn's emergence zones.

****

Emergence zone TRN-9310, 750,000-kilometre orbit

Saturn, Sol System

17th June, 2614


Saturn, like Jupiter, was a hive of Edenist activity. Unlike Jupiter, however, the focus of activity was not Helium-3 mining. Instead, Saturn was the premier voidhawk base in the Confederation. The first voidhawks had been gestated here in the year 2225, along with the habitats Romulus and Remus to serve as bases.

Since then, the increasing numbers of voidhawks had meant a corresponding increase in the number of habitats required to support them, along with their crews, to over three hundred, with more being germinated every year.

Although there was no commercial mining of Helium-3 from Saturn, cloudscoops were still lowered into the planet's atmosphere to meet the Saturnian habitats' fuel requirements. Even though the vast majority of the power requirements of each habitat was met by the organic induction cables that swept through the immense magnetosphere of the gas giant, there was still a requirement for fusion generators, mainly to serve as a backup in case all of the induction cables for a habitat were lost at once. Also, every voidhawk was also able to draw power from a fusion generator, increasing the number of sequential swallows it was able to undertake before needing to recharge its energy reserves from ten to twenty.

Edenists are nothing if not thorough in their contingency planning.

When Oenone emerged from its wormhole, it was immediately hailed by Saturn Traffic Control.

Voidhawk Oenone, requesting approach clearance to Romulus, the voidhawk replied.

Clearance granted, Oenone. Handing you over to Romulus Traffic Control now.

Thank you.

As the voidhawk negotiated approach clearance to its home habitat, it shared its view with Xander and the crew. Predictably, it had more of an effect on Xander than the crew who, after all, had seen it many times before.

It was still spectacular and worth seeing, of course.

The multi-coloured cloud bands writhed against each other in their perpetual struggle, and Earth-sized hurricanes twisted and moved as the complex gravitational interactions between Saturn and its closest moons stirred the planet's atmosphere with giant invisible fingers. A dark dot trekking across the face of the planet was one of its moons - Titan, probably, or perhaps Mimas.

Seeing an object which wasn't all that much smaller than Earth itself reduced to insignificance next to the majestic bulk of Saturn drove home to Xander the immense scale of the spectacle before him. They were approaching from slightly above the plane of the ecliptic, so Xander also got a good view of Saturn's famed rings.

Oenone's sensor resolution wasn't good enough to pick out individual ring particles, but he could still pick out the rotation of the rings. Outside the furthermost ring, there were reddish-brown cylinders visible, each one surrounded by a halo of thin lines extending at right angles as the cylinders rotated. The long axis of the cylinders - habitats - was perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic, so they appeared to be rolling along their orbital paths.

One habitat was centred in the view, and appeared to be growing larger as they approached. "I take it that's where we're headed?" Xander asked.

"That's right," Syrinx replied. "Although this probably isn't the destination Ione had in mind for you, I think we can afford to take the time to pay a quick visit."

Xander briefly thought of protesting, but decided not to. Apart from anything else, he didn't think he'd achieve too much. Besides, he was curious. After all of the other marvels he'd witnessed so far, he wanted to find out what else he would be shown. Given the trend so far, he doubted that it would be anything but extraordinary.

****

Counter-rotating Spaceport, Habitat 'Romulus'

Saturn orbit, Sol System

17th June, 2614


Of course, Xander first had to traverse the free-fall environment of the spaceport.

Unsurprisingly, he was terrible at it, having never been exposed to it before, and only quick actions on the part of Oenone's crew prevented him from doing himself an injury by hitting walls, ceiling or floor... or other people, for that matter.

At least he wasn't sick, although the grimace he wore indicated that, at times, it was an option.

Even moving as quickly as possible, it still took them nearly half an hour to reach the point where the gravity was strong enough for Xander to start playing a more active role in moving himself. "Thanks, guys," he said with some relief. "Floating around might look like fun, but it's something that takes a while to get used to."

That was a concept Syrinx and the others had some difficulty grasping - like all Edenists, and Adamists in the spaceflight industry, they had had geneering to give them perfect floating-point balance, which eliminated all forms of motion sickness.

All of a sudden, both Syrinx and Serina were grinning wickedly, causing Xander to wonder why. Then, from the darkest depths of his imagination, came, One thing that would be really interesting in free-fall would be sex...

The mental image that thought conjured up, while interesting, caused Xander to gulp. Not only would he be more than likely to throw up - always a mood-killer - but he'd probably drift into something... probably something with sharp and inconvenient edges, too. And can I just say, 'OUCH'?

With that thought, the mental image disappeared, which was probably just as well, since they'd reached the entrance to Romulus' interior. The sudden change in the light caused Xander to blink a few times before his vision cleared and he was able to get a good view of the parkland that make up the majority of the inhabitable area.

And it was a damned impressive sight too. There were parks, forests, lakes and rolling grasslands. Above it all, the axial light tube provided the same sort of light provided by Earth's sun. Currently, the fusion-powered light-tube was simulating mid-morning, and Xander wasn't able to tell the difference from any normal day he was used to.

A gentle tug on the arm from Syrinx reminded him that he was gawking like a tourist - which he was, in a way - and standing in the middle of the entrance to the spaceport. Blushing slightly, he stepped to one side before resuming his staring. Something on the edge of vision caught his attention, and he peered into the distance to see-

What he was thinking of as 'the ground' rising up in a huge arc, up past the light-tube. Casting a glance over his shoulder, he looked behind him to see pretty much the same thing happening behind him. Craning his head backward, he tried to look past the light-tube, and he managed to dimly see both 'walls' meet high above him. Suddenly hit by a wave of vertigo, he shook his head to clear it, and resolved not to do that again. This is a cylinder, after all, he realised. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that something like this would happen.

"So, what do you think?" Startled from his reverie, he looked to one side to see Serina standing beside him, grinning at his reaction.

"It's... amazing," he said slowly. "And it'd be a fair bet to assume that Tranquillity looks like this as well?"

"It's a bet you'd win," Serina agreed. "But on a larger scale, since Tranquillity is somewhat bigger than Romulus."

"Fair enough," Xander said, not yet accustomed to his new surroundings.

"Come on," Syrinx spoke up from his other side. "There's someone I want you to meet."

"Who would that be?"

"You'll see."

Xander let himself be guided towards the nearest tube-train nexus. Whatever was going to happen next, it was sure to be interesting.

Syrinx contacted Athene via affinity. Mother?

Yes, Syrinx?

Would you mind if I dropped in for lunch? The rest of my crew, along with another person, are coming along as guests.

Not at all. You should know that. And who's the guest?

I just thought I'd give you fair warning, and you'll have to wait and see.

Your mystery passenger from Norfolk, perhaps? And since you only spoke of one guest, I'm assuming that it isn't Joshua.

Mother!

As Syrinx ended the affinity contact, the last thing she heard was Athene's 'laughter'.

****

After a short journey in a tube-carriage - which Xander couldn't help but compare to a subway system - they reached the small valley which held Athene's house. During the short walk to the house, Xander was still admiring the surroundings - the landscape, rather than the occasional Edenist woman the small group passed, although he found them to be universally beautiful as well, with only the exact level of beauty varying.

When he reached the arm of the valley that the house nestled in, he stopped dead. It seemed to sit so perfectly in place that it became difficult to tell where the house ended and the ground began. Well-maintained lawns and gardens surrounded it on all sides, and sheep wandered placidly throughout the area, ensuring that the lawn stayed well-trimmed... Waaaitaminnit... those are not sheep. No sheep I've ever seen is gold-coloured. And are those monkeys I see working in the garden?

"Errr... Syrinx," he said slowly. "What are those?" He pointed at the 'animals'.

"Bitek constructs," Syrinx said with a small smile.

"Bitek?"

"Sort of like Oenone, but on a smaller scale. They're geneered - genetically-engineered - animals used for maintenance tasks, such as gardening."

"Oh," Xander mumbled, still staring at the bitek servitors.

Still grinning, Syrinx led him to where one of the 'monkeys' was working. Picking up the presence of humans, the servitor ceased its work and stood still, in case there were updated instructions for it. Not that Syrinx would consider overriding Athene's instructions, of course.

Closer up, Xander could see where the resemblance to a normal monkey ended. The fact that it had human-looking hands and feet could be considered something of a heavy hint. "This is a housechimp, Xander," Syrinx said. "It's mainly used for domestic tasks, such as cleaning up, cooking, gardening and the like."

Xander couldn't help but consider the semi-permanent state of clutter that passed for normal in his apartment and grinning wryly at the thought of having one of them so that the level of mess would be reduced from 'I know there's a floor under here somewhere' to 'merely untidy'. He somehow doubted, however, that he'd be allowed to take one back with him.

"Come on," Syrinx said. "The reason I brought you here - and that includes the habitat - is that I want you to meet someone."

Following the winding path across the lawn, Syrinx led the group to the front door, which she opened without knocking. Xander wondered about that for a moment, before realising that she'd probably alerted the person who lived here to her arrival via affinity.

People would have been a more accurate to put it, since as soon as she stepped through the door, she was greeted by a cry of "SYRINX!" Following close behind, Xander saw her mobbed by a fairly large group of children, ranging in age from toddlers to teenagers. For the next few minutes, she was kept busy; offering greetings and hugs to each and every one of the children as they enthusiastically asked where she'd been for the past few days, and who her friend was.

"Everyone, this is Xander," she announced.

"Hello, Xander," was the chorused response from the children.

"Erm... hi everyone," Xander managed to say, eyeing the children in a slightly nervous manner, just in case they decided to extend the same boisterous greeting to him as they did to Syrinx.

Syrinx saw this, and decided to take pity on him. "Come on, Xander, this way," she said, leading him by the arm through the throng of children who, seeing that the new person they'd just met was unable to stay, practically stampeded out the front door, eliciting a chuckle from Syrinx. When Xander gave her a questioning look, she smiled and said. "Before too long, the garden is going to look like a disaster zone. The servitors are going to have a lot of work to do to make it presentable again."

Xander smirked and said, "Kids, huh?"

Any response Syrinx might have made was interrupted by the arrival of a woman who appeared to in her late middle age and whose appearance Xander could only describe as 'distinguished'. The resemblance between her and Syrinx was close enough to make it obvious that this was Syrinx's mother.

"Mother, I'd like you to meet Xander Harris. Xander, this is Athene, my mother."

Giving Syrinx a look that promised payback for this later, Athene extended her hand to Xander. "Pleased to meet you, Xander. Your exploits make an interesting - and disturbing - tale."

Shaking Athene's hand, Xander replied, "Likewise," before her second sentence sank in fully. "Has everyone seen that damned file?" he asked plaintively.

Athene chuckled and shook her head. "Not literally everyone, Xander," she reassured him. Xander started to look relieved, when Athene continued with a slight grin, "Just most of the people you're likely to meet."

Xander's relieved expression vanished instantly. "Your mother has a twisted sense of humour, Syrinx," he commented.

Syrinx smirked and replied, "Yes. Yes, she does. For some reason, she seems to delight in seeing how much she can embarrass me."

Athene tried to look innocent, but the effect was spoiled by the slight grin on her face. "It builds character, dear, as you well know."

"In that case, I must have the best-built character of all Edenists," Syrinx shot back.

By this time, Xander and Syrinx's crew were snickering quietly, but stopped when both Syrinx and Athene turned semi-serious looks their way. "Something funny?" Syrinx asked, which caused her crew to make defensive denials - which weren't much more than half-hearted.

Xander, however, grinned unrepentantly and said, "Yep. I find it amusing to see someone else being embarrassed; don't like it when it's me, of course, but it's funny to watch when it happens to someone else."

Athene laughed delightedly, and looped her arm through Xander's. "I knew I was going to like you," she announced. "It's nice to know that I haven't lost my ability to judge people in my old age."

As she led him towards the dining room - where housechimps were setting the table for lunch - Xander said, "You're not old, Athene. You've matured, like a fine wine."

As Athene laughed delightedly again, Syrinx shook her head ruefully. Maybe I should have thought more carefully before introducing Xander to my mother.

****

After a hearty meal, and as the dishes were being cleared away by the housechimps - throughout the meal, Xander had persisted in feeding them bananas, much to the amusement of all - everyone retired to the sitting room with coffee.

"So, Xander," Athene started. "What do you think of Romulus so far?"

"I haven't seen a great deal so far," Xander replied. "But what I have seen looks pretty impressive." Taking a sip of his coffee, he continued, "And somehow, I get the feeling that I won't get too much of a chance to see much more, either."

Syrinx nodded. "I've pretty much used up what slack there was in the schedule," she said. Noticing the sudden shift in Xander's expression, she added, "Not that we have to leave right now... but we can't spend too long here."

Athene took this opportunity to ask a question that had been on her mind ever since the end of lunch. "So, Xander, what do you plan on doing when you get to Earth?"

"Well, I've got a stop to make at the O'Neill Halo," he replied, "where I'll be fitted with neural nanonics and AT implants. After that? I'm not sure. I guess I'll just have to take it as it comes."

Athene nodded at Xander's resolution to accept whatever came his way. "I'm sure that you'll be able to handle whatever comes your way, Xander. You seem like the sort of person that's capable of it."

Xander nodded, but his expression suggested something entirely different. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, Athene, but I'm not so sure about that. After all, I've let things get to me in the past."

"That may be true," Athene conceded, "but I think you'll do better this time."

"I hope so, Athene. I really do."

That was where they had to leave it, however. After making his farewells to Athene - along with a promise to make another visit to Romulus if he got the chance - Xander and the others returned to Oenone, headed towards the point where they could safely initiate a swallow manoeuvre to Earth.

At Xander's request, Oenone provided him with a view of the habitat receding behind them. As it dwindled to a dot, and just prior to the swallow manoeuvre being initiated, Xander sighed quietly.

"What is it, Xander?" Syrinx asked.

"It's just that... everyone's been so helpful ever since I arrived - well, apart from a brief misunderstanding back at Tranquillity, but that was cleared up without any lasting damage," Xander said, rubbing the shoulder that had been dislocated before being patched up with a medical nanonic. "I hope that I won't let anybody down."

"Don't worry about that," Serina put in. "You'll do fine."

Xander smiled gratefully at her. "Thanks."

****

Marine Surgical Ward/Implant Section, Asteroid 'Normandy'

O'Neill Halo, Sol System

17th June, 2614


Once Oenone swallowed into one of Earth's emergence zones, they were directed to a landing pedestal on one of the asteroids that served as a medical facility for the Govcentral military, and a short time later, Xander found himself talking with representatives of the Govcentral Marines, the Govcentral Internal Security Division, and Edenist Intelligence.

Somewhat to his surprise, Syrinx had accompanied him, saying that she had a message from Ione to pass on, which had been a request to ensure that the neural nanonics and implants that Xander received were top-of-the-line, along with an offer to meet any expenses incurred. The request was quickly agreed with - Ione's offer to pay was met with gratitude, but waved aside - and less than half an hour later, Xander found himself lying face-down on some sort of table, being prepared for neural nanonic implantation.

"So how long will this take?" he asked, as one of the medical personnel loaded the capsule containing the neural nanonics into the implant package.

"About two hours," was the reply. "This is not something that can be rushed, you know. After all, you are going to have something implanted into your brain, Xander. If even one mistake is made, you could end up with permanent brain damage."

"Oh." In that case, Xander wanted them to be very careful, indeed.

They'd shown him the capsule that contained the neural nanonics, and it hadn't looked all that impressive, truth be told. In fact, it had looked like a pill, not much larger than the ones he had swallowed to get rid of headaches.

But inside it, however, had been a densely-packed string of molecules, designed by an AI to be a computer many times more powerful than any he had ever seen before. Not that he was going to see this one, of course, as it would be implanted without the capsule ever being opened. "Hold still for a moment," he was instructed as what looked like a set of goggles was fitted over his eyes.

"What's this?" he asked, as he felt a brief tingle around his eyes as the edges annealed to his skin. When the hand that had supported them was taken away, the goggles remained in place, leaving him in darkness.

"Didactic imprinter. I'll just slot the instructional flek into place... got it. This will teach you how to use the neural nanonics once they've been implanted. Speaking of which, you might feel something on the back of your neck for a moment... right."

Xander did feel another brief tingle on the back of his neck as the medical package bonded to his skin before the area went numb. "That was the implanter starting the implant process," he was told. "Now, the next thing you'll see is a green flash, followed by a purple flash, which will last for about fifteen seconds. Try not to blink. It should happen eight times."

"What happens if I do blink?"

"Not a lot - it just means that that series of instructions will have to be repeated."

"And this is how everyone learns?" Xander asked, curious.

"Yep. No schools, no classrooms. Just sit with one of these on your face for a few minutes, and that's pretty much a day's worth of learning from your time."

Naturally, Xander was enchanted by the possibilities. "How well does the information stick?"

"Better than having to have read it," came the reply, along with a small chuckle.

Before Xander could reply, there was a green flash, followed by a prolonged purple flash, the uniformity of the colour only broken by the unique monotone sparkle which a laser leaves on the retina. He thought it had lasted for fifteen seconds, but there was no way to be sure. "Can I have one of these?" he asked eagerly.

"We'll see."

As promised, there were seven more cycles of green/purple flashes before he felt another tingle around his eyes, and the didactic imprinter was removed. "Okay, now what?" he asked, blinking at the sudden reintroduction of normal light.

"Now, you wait until the implantation process has been completed. I'm going to check on the AT implants you're going to receive." There was a brief pause before the medic continued. "Are you sure about this, Xander?"

Unable to nod, Xander said. "You bet. It'll let me face vampires and other nasties on more even terms."

"You won't be totally level with them in terms of strength and speed," he was warned. "Nor will you be equal to a Slayer in strength and speed. These will just give you a better chance, plus the possible benefit of surprise."

"Fair enough," Xander said. "I'll take whatever edge I can get."

There was a brief pause, and then the medic said in a I-know-I'm-going-to-regret-this tone, "While we're on the subject, do you want any weapons implants?"

"Weapons implants? Are they what I think they are?"

"Depends. If you think that they're weapons which are implanted in your body, then yes, they are what you think they are."

"Cool. What are the options available?"

"Too many to go into at the moment. Tell you what - you give me an idea of what you're after, and I'll narrow down the available choices, okay?"

"Sounds fair." He thought for a moment before replying. "Something close-ranged, that'll give me an edge when it gets up close and personal."

"Right. If you'll excuse me for a moment, I'll discuss it with the Intelligence people." There was a brief moment of silence, broken by a soft murmuring, before the medic spoke up again. "The implant that seems to meet your requirements the best is something the Edenists use. What it is, is the cells from an electric eel that... well, make it an electric eel in the first place, implanted into your arms, and discharging through implants in your fingertips. The maximum charge is about two thousand volts. It's powered by your body, so you can't use it too many times in quick succession, or you'll pass out - and bad things will happen then."

Xander considered this. The prospect of crispy-frying any vampire that got too close to him was an appealing one. "I'll take it," he decided.

****

Orbital Station, Supra-Brazil Orbital Tower

O'Neill Halo, Sol System

18th June, 2614


Xander's release from the hospital had coincided with the deployment of another Marine unit into the Los Angeles arcology, so he had been sent with them. The two hours of neural nanonic implantation had been followed by another five hours of surgery as the AT implants and weapons implants were inserted in his arms and legs. There had also been some skeletal augmentation required as well - after all, it'd be damned embarrassing, not to mention painful, if the extra force generated by the artificial muscles caused multiple fractures in his arms and legs.

He had been required to stay in the hospital overnight, to ensure that the implants had been accepted by his body. Even now, he was obliged to wear clothes that were baggier than he would normally wear, so that they would fit over the medical nanonic packages covering his arms and legs to speed up his recovery from the surgery. The doctor who had carried out his pre-release examination had been satisfied with the results, and had sternly admonished him to avoid strenuous physical activity for at least the next few days, to allow the recovery process to proceed normally.

Xander had agreed, and now he was about to finally arrive on Earth - and with style as well, accompanied by a full battalion of Marines. The officers had had any number of questions for him about the situation they were about to head into. He'd been able to answer their questions regarding vampires and demons in general, but he'd been forced to ask them about the situation in Los Angeles.

After some initial surprise, they'd been forthcoming with the information.

Apparently, Jonsson - the Master Vampire causing the trouble - had stepped up his campaign to build up the number of minions under his command, and had started harassing the Marine and LAPD patrols with ambushes and raids. The first serjeants had also started to arrive, and after an initially cool reception - bitek was illegal on Earth, after all, and thanks to five centuries of religious condemnation, not very well perceived - they had proven their worth, and were well on their way to becoming accepted, even the current Pope, Elanor the Fifth, had toned down her rhetoric damning the 'soulless abominations'. Maybe she'd been told what they were fighting.

In the other domes of the arcology, vampire activity had risen as well - speculation was that they'd formed an alliance with Jonsson - which meant that not much in the way of help was available to the Sunnydale Dome. In fact, the level of vampire activity in other arcologies across Earth was starting to pick up as well... or the Govcentral officials had finally recognised it for what it was.

In short, the situation was precariously poised.

Xander was comforted somewhat, however, by the fact that the Marine officers seemed confident - but not unreasonably so - that they had a good chance at containing the situation. He'd been pleased - and a little embarrassed - when one officer had said to him, "You being here gives us confidence. After all, you managed to fight these things and win without the sort of technology we've got available to us.

"No offence or anything, but since we've got better toys to play with, that should give us a better chance against them."

Xander had assured her that no offence was taken, before another officer had pointed out that Jonsson's minions were also using modern weaponry, which had touched off a brief debate on tactics to use against them, to which Xander had listened in attentive silence. His Soldier Boy memories from that Halloween were mostly gone, but enough lingered for him to be able to recognise some of the terminology there were using. The debate ended with an agreement to stick with standard tactics, but to be ready to adopt new methods if required.

As he secured himself to his acceleration couch with the restraint harness, a question rose in Xander's mind. "Um... on a completely different subject, can someone tell me how fast these things go?"

"Normally, about three thousand kilometres per hour, but we're in a bit of a hurry, so the speed's been increased to six thousand."

"Oh." That was fast. Suddenly, a line from a movie he'd seen and enjoyed occurred to him. He tried to resist the temptation, but it was simply too appropriate.

"We're on an express elevator to Hell - go-ing DOWN!"

He had to chuckle at the series of blank expressions that was the only response to his comment.

End of 'In Their Shadow'

The End

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