Title: In Their Shadow - War in the ShadowsAuthor: Robert Cox (email@example.com)Rating: MA-15+ (Australian system) for violence and naughty language.Disclaimer: There's stuff in here that doesn't belong to me, especially the setting. That belongs to Peter F. Hamilton. Everything else that is not mine belongs to the people who brought us Buffy, undeserving though they might be.Summary: Sequel to both 'In Their Shadow' and 'City of Shadows'. Xander finds himself pitched into the front lines of a brewing war, but this time, the decision to participate is being left up to him. Of course, he decides to do what he can.Pairing(s): Dunno yet - although I'm inclining towards there being at least one.Feedback: I'm starting to become a feedback junkie, desperately in need of a fix :)AN: Many thanks to Grossclout, who braved the slings and arrows of outrageous fic-writing to beta this... or something like that, anyway.****Council of Watchers Headquarters
Westminster Dome, London arcology
19th June, 2614
The Inner Council of Directors was in session again, something they'd been doing at least once a day as the situation in Los Angeles started to deteriorate. Currently, the director of the Research/Intelligence sub-directorate had the floor. "According to our sources within the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Municipal Authority, the situation within the Sunnydale Dome is the most delicately poised, although the situation across the rest of the arcology is hardly better. This has led my analysts to believe that this is, indeed, where Jonsson has based his operations. However, the size of the Sunnydale Dome, combined with the fact that Jonsson seems to be displaying an extraordinary level of ability, means that pinpointing his location is next to impossible."
Director-General Michelson posed the question that more than one person had wanted to ask, but his position allowed him to ask first. "Are there any signs of the situation stabilising any time soon?"
Research/Intelligence shook her head. "No, Director-General. According to LAPD sources, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. In their estimation - and after perusal of the available data, I happen to agree with them - the probability of a favourable outcome is low, unless something happens to radically alter the situation."
The next question was directed to the Security/Operations sub-director. "Are the Shadow Striker teams available for deployment?"
"No, Director-General," Security/Operations replied. "Their numbers are still well below operational status, and it will be a minimum of seven weeks before they are ready for large-scale deployments."
The Shadow Striker teams were the sword arm of the Council of Watchers. First raised not long after the formation of the Council itself, they were originally the bravest warriors in the region where a Slayer lived, and were a combination of bodyguard and elite light infantry unit. Over the millennia, their role was expanded to provide backup during a Slayer's Cruciamentum if required.
As the years went by, and humanity began to congregate in cities, the Shadow Strikers became mercenaries retained by the Council, and after the radical changes in Council policy during the mid-sixteenth century, they began to be recruited from military sources. Longbowmen, Riflemen, paratroopers, ex-SS, Special Forces and, most recently, Confederation Marines, had all served in the Striker teams, whose role was now to act in the Council's interests, as defined by the Inner Council, of course.
During the possession crisis, the Strikers had been deployed into the London arcology in an attempt to prevent Quinn Dexter from taking over. Although they had caused significant losses among Dexter's followers, they had caused little delay, and had taken brutal losses in the process. In fact, they'd been all but annihilated.
"Besides, Director-General," Security/Operations continued, "if the information from Intelligence regarding the number of Confederation, Govcentral and Edenist troops being deployed to Los Angeles are correct, to be honest, I can't really see how the Strikers are going to make that much of a difference." Research/Intelligence looked mildly affronted that her information was being doubted, and he shrugged apologetically. The doubt had come from a professional requirement to treat all intelligence information as suspect until correlated by another source, not any form of personal or professional animosity. In fact, along with Security/Counter-intelligence, the two of them had formed temporary alliances during their respective tenures as members of the Inner Council. That was only logical, given the overlap between their respective areas of responsibility.
Research/Intelligence looked somewhat mollified. Ignoring the by-play, Michelson continued, "And what of Harris? Has his arrival had any significant impact on events?"
"Not as yet, Director-General," Research/Intelligence replied. "Which is hardly surprising, given that his knowledge of demons and vampires is at least
duplicated, if not surpassed, from... other sources." She refused to name the Slayerettes, but everyone present made the connection. One aspect of Travers' report that had disturbed her somewhat was the fact that the Slayerettes had more complete information regarding the situation than anything she'd had access to up until recently.
She'd been a good intelligence operative, and she was a good intelligence head. Essentially, that meant that she managed not to let personal feeling influence her professional duties. To her, the fact that her sources hadn't reported the full scope of the situation meant one of two things. The first was that they were being fed disinformation, although the fact that they'd come through with a more detailed report indicated against that. Also, a disinformation campaign would have required that they'd been uncovered by the LAPD counter-intelligence types, and all the available evidence said that that had not happened. Of course, lack of evidence was not evidence of lack, but it was all she had to go on in the first place.
The second possibility, that her sources - and the rest of the LAPD with them - simply had not managed to uncover the necessary information meant that Jonsson had managed to keep an extremely low profile while drawing up his plans. That was the truly disturbing thing, as it indicated that his planning ability was excellent, and that further nasty surprises were likely. Of course, an intelligence analyst had to remain objective, and not to fall in love with her own theories. After all, it would only take one inconvenient fact to shoot down even the most elegantly crafted theory.
Picking up from where she'd left off, Research/Intelligence continued, "But the main value of Harris would probably be as a rallying point. It is likely that whoever ends up in command in Los Angeles - whether LAPD, Govcentral, Confederation or Edenist - will use the fact that Harris survived for five years as a vampire hunter on the Hellmouth - longer than most Slayers, in fact - without any form of enhancement, and using primitive weapons, to point out to their troops that they should do at least
as well, with implants, enhancements and modern weaponry."
Michelson nodded to show that he understood the point and agreed with it. "And of the situation itself?"
"As I noted earlier, Director-General, the situation is likely to deteriorate further before any tactical or strategic improvement is seen. With that in mind, the next few days will prove to be critical."****Los Angeles Vac-Train Terminus
Hollywood Dome, Los Angeles arcology
19th June, 2614
It was been curiosity that was the cause of Xander's second visit to the vac-train station. Another thousand serjeants were arriving in a few minutes, and he wanted to get a better look - under better circumstances - than the first time he'd seen one. In hindsight, it does seem somewhat silly that I thought it was a demon
, Xander mused. But then again, in all fairness to myself, I
had just been yanked over six hundred years into the future, and was probably in shock from the broken leg I suffered on landing
. That thought caused him to chuckle softly.
"What's up, Xander?" Liz, who was closest, asked.
"Just thinking," Xander replied. "You ever hear of the saying, 'A good landing is one you walk away from'?"
"Yes," Liz replied, wondering where this was going.
"That was one of the things I was thinking about," Xander continued. "When I arrived, it wasn't a good landing - I didn't walk away from it. Oh, and the fact that the first time I saw a serjeant, I thought it was a demon."
Liz snickered softly. "Laugh it up, future-girl," Xander said mock-severely. "I bet you find this incredibly amusing."
"Sure," Liz agreed equitably. "Probably because it didn't happen to me."
"You are a cruel, cruel person, Elizabeth Baker," Xander said sternly, "and if there is any justice in the universe, you will be called to account for your misdeeds."
"If thinking that makes you feel better, Xander," Liz replied with a grin, "you just go on thinking that." Still smiling, she patted his face gently.
Xander was mildly surprised by that. During the course of the day, Alex, Amanda and William had been kept busy providing information to the authorities, briefing them on the sort of things their troops were likely to encounter. That had left himself, Cat and Liz pretty much to their own devices, and the two Slayers had used that time to fill him on some of the things he
was likely to encounter that didn't involve vampires. There hadn't been too many unexpected things, as Joshua and Louise had been most thorough in preparing him for Earth.
They'd missed one thing, though - the Light Bringer sects that threatened to turn this into a three-cornered war. Even though they'd been lying low since their ill-fated attack on Jonsson nearly three weeks ago, it was extremely unlikely that they'd given up. In fact, it was more probable that they were simply biding their time, and although expectations were that the sect members would attack the vampires to extract a measure of revenge, it was also possible that they'd simply lash out at whatever was available.
That was a matter probably best left for another time, Xander decided. With some time on their hands, the three of them had decided to go down to the vac-train station to watch as the latest batch of serjeant reinforcements arrived. Naturally, they weren't alone, since word of their arrival had spread fairly quickly, and there was a moderate-sized crowd on hand. Of course, 'moderate' by the standards of the arcology still meant tens of thousands, filling every vantage point with even a semi-decent view. More than one person was running a sensevise link to the local media outlet, and tens of millions more were watching from the comfort of their own homes, wondering what this meant. After all, bitek was still illegal on Earth, wasn't it?
Most of those present, like Xander, Liz and Cat, were simply curious, wanting to see for themselves the bitek 'abominations' that all religions still railed against. But even though that accounted for four-fifths of the crowd, that still left thousands of people who were present for other reasons.
Protesters, angry that their arcology was being 'sullied by the touch of the godless, soulless abominations of a degenerate society', as one placard quoting the words of Pope Elanor V read.
A single line of police, backed up by crowd-control mechanoids, stood between the arriving serjeants and the protesters. The recent influx of Confederation and Edenist reinforcements had been what had allowed them to be withdrawn from vampire-hunting duty, which most of them had greeted with relief.
After all, they knew what the casualty rate was much higher than it had been during the possession crisis, and that had been bad enough. The collective attitude of the LAPD - the street cops, at least - could best be described as, 'let them handle it, they've got the weapons and training to do so'. It wasn't that they were willing to stand back and let others bear the brunt of the danger, more like wanting to wait until more heavy equipment was available to augment the AT stocks.
"You know," Xander said, "even after Joshua and Louise told me about the way bitek was banned on Earth, it's still something that really has to be seen to be believed."
Cat snorted gently. "Religious types tend to have a fairly narrow range of thinking, and they also tend not to question dogma too much," she said. "Once Elanor and the other religious leaders proscribed bitek, that was the end of bitek on Earth. Since then, the anti-bitek feeling's had over five centuries to firmly entrench itself. Personally, I think bitek would be useful - say, for instance, a few serjeants - but most people know next to nothing about bitek in general." She paused and rubbed the back of her head thoughtfully. "Come to think of it, I
don't know a great deal about bitek or Edenism, either."
"Me, either," Liz agreed.
Xander briefly thought about repeating Louise's story about B7, and how they'd engineered the backlash against bitek in order to try to keep it for themselves. But he decided against it - Cat and Liz probably wouldn't believe him, anyway. And the 'shadow group manipulating events for their own benefit' story was an old one. He'd never been a big believer in conspiracy theories - his reality
was strange enough as it was - but B7 sounded a lot like the Illuminati, or Majestic-12, or the Masons, or any one of a number of groups.
"Yeah," Xander agreed. "My time on Tranquillity wasn't exactly a holiday, and although Syrinx was nice enough to take me on a short visit to Romulus, the visit was too, well, short
to form any lasting impressions."
Of course, Xander made that last comment in his usual off-handed manner, so the reactions of the Slayers came as a complete surprise.
"Syrinx? Captain of the Oenone
, and accompanied Joshua Calvert on his mission to the Sleeping God?"
"Romulus? You actually visited a habitat?"
Cat shook her head ruefully. "Y'know," she said to Liz, "I should stop being surprised by anything Xander says about who he's met. Ione Saldana, Joshua Calvert and now Syrinx. Are you feeling just a tad humbled?"
Liz could only nod in mute agreement, while Xander looked on in some confusion. "Never mind, Xander," Cat continued. "So, what does the inside of a habitat look like? Are they as beautiful as they're said to be?"
"Like I said, I didn't spend a lot of time in Romulus to form a definite impression, but what I did see was-"
Just then, the first platoon of serjeants emerged from the station, and the protesters, who hadn't exactly been quiet before, jacked up the amount of noise they were making to the point where audio-discrimination programs had to be put into primary mode in order to be able to understand each other. If the noise level rose much further, conversation would be completely impossible, and they would have to resort to datavising.
With a slight effort of will, Xander shut out the noise, and concentrated on the serjeants. They were pretty much the same as the ones he'd seen on Tranquillity, but with a few differences. Tranquillity serjeants' only item of clothing was their equipment harnesses, as light exoskeleton armour and organo-metallic thermal dissipation layer - essentially a secondary nervous system with a ludicrously high metal content - was built right into their genome, a fact which made any other items of clothing or equipment quite redundant. These
serjeants were wearing heavier armour and weapons heavier than their standard laser pistol and cortical jammer were slung over their shoulders.
Additionally, the handful of serjeants he'd seen on Tranquillity had been identical in every respect, essentially clones bred from the same DNA template. These serjeants had unique and identifiable facial features, which were wearing expressions of curiosity as they saw the arcology for the first time. For most, it was the first time they'd ever been to Earth. The handful of Edenists accompanying them - easily identifiable by their height and their smooth, confident carriage - were wearing similar expressions.
This was Earth, cradle of humanity, the planet from which the colonists of the Great Dispersal had left in order to seek a better life... and the planet from which their ancestors had been effectively exiled for their stubborn refusal to stop using bitek after Elanor's proclamation. While Eden may be the closest thing Edenism had to a spiritual home - most Edenists visited Eden at least once in their lives, in much the same way as a Christian would make a trip to the Vatican Dome of the Rome arcology or a Muslim to the Mecca arcology; although Edenists would hotly deny that it was in any way a pilgrimage, more a show of respect for the entity that have given birth to their culture - Earth still held a place in their hearts. Xander was willing to bet that the affinity band was ringing with silent conversation as the new arrivals took in their first view of the arcology.
The small official party waiting to greet them stepped forward to make introductions, carefully ignoring the crowd.****
Xander was right; the affinity band was
ringing with conversation, most of it observations about the population density, which far exceeded that of any habitat, which generally housed less than five million people. Even the Jovian habitats, with their population of nine billion, spread that population throughout four-and-a-quarter thousand habitats, resulting in an average population of just over two million per habitat.
Population density figures were the last thing on Sinon's mind, however. He was paying more attention to the crowd that had gathered, and could tell that while most of those present were simply curious about the new arrivals, there was a significant - and noisy - minority actively protesting.Why are they protesting?
he mused over the affinity band. We are obviously no threat to them, in fact we are here to help them.Maybe they don't know why we are here
, Stephanie Ash replied. After all, fear of the unknown is a fairly large part of the human psyche.That is true
, Sinon conceded, but their protest seems to be geared more to the fact that we are here at all. It shouldn't surprise me, really. After all, all they know about bitek is what they've been told - and religion has gone out of its way to castigate us.You have a point
, Stephanie agreed. But it's one thing to know it, and a completely different thing to experience it for yourself, and... isn't that Alexander Harris?Where?A little to your left, about fifty metres away.
Sinon looked in the indicated direction, and immediately saw a dark-haired young man, flanked by two attractive young women, one to either side of him. Yes, that is indeed Alexander Harris. And I would presume that at least one of the two women with him is a Vampire Slayer.
After a brief affinity conversation with the detachment commander, he stepped forward to the police line.
The young man - Alexander - nodded. "Yeah, that's me."
"My name is Sinon. It is an honour to meet you," Sinon said, extending his hand.
Alexander's face twisted into a grimace, even as he shook the proffered hand. "I've heard that more than once. Dunno why, though - I was nobody special; Normal Guy, the Zeppo."
"I choose not to believe that," Sinon stated. "After all, you survived for five years fighting vampires without any special abilities. That in itself should suggest that you were more than simply the 'Normal Guy'."
Alexander's expression shifted to confusion. "How do you know- Never mind. Athene warned me about this, so I really shouldn't be surprised."
Although the serjeant bodies had been adapted to show the facial features of the human personality that was in charge, the range of facial expressions available was still somewhat limited. But it was enough to allow Sinon to express most
of the surprise he felt at that statement. "Athene?" he asked. "Does she live in the Romulus habitat?"
"Yep, that's her," Alexander confirmed, looking more than a little surprised himself. "Why, do you know her or something?"
"I think that is a safe assumption to make," Sinon replied wryly. "Athene is - or was
, strictly speaking - my wife."
"I took part in the Mortonridge Liberation," Sinon explained. "Volunteers were requested from the various Jovian habitat multiplicity consciousnesses to operate the serjeant bodies."
"You... were dead?"
"Yes," Sinon affirmed. "Of old age, after living for more than a century and a half."
"And you - what was it again? - transferred to the neural structure of your habitat?"
"Wow," Alexander said with a wistful look on his face. "I bet that must be something - being able to see how your descendants get on, and all."
"It has its benefits," Sinon agreed. "But the novelty wears off after a while. Usually it's about ten or fifteen generations."
"That's still a long time, though," Alexander pointed out.
"True," Sinon agreed again. "If I may ask, when did you visit Romulus? After Iasus
' mating flight, she didn't leave the habitat."
"Oh, Syrinx was nice enough to take me for a brief visit, and - let me guess, Syrinx is related to you in some way," Alexander added when he saw Sinon's expression change again.
Sinon nodded. "My daughter," he said simply.
One of the young women - the brunette - snickered and said, "You should do what we do - stop being surprised by the people he meets. You can add Ione Saldana and Joshua Calvert to the list of people he's met in his time here."
One of the facial expressions that Sinon missed was the ability to raise an eyebrow. "Well, I did
just drop into Tranquillity," Alexander said, sounding slightly defensive. "And it was Ione's decision to take me to Norfolk."
The brunette snickered again. "Of course it was, Xander," she said, before turning to Sinon. "I think introductions are in order. I'm Cat Piper, and this is Liz Baker," she added, indicating the young blonde woman. "We're both Slayers."
Yes, Sinon definitely
missed the ability to raise an eyebrow. If he had that ability, he'd probably have raised both eyebrows at that last statement. It was a pretty impressive coincidence, meeting both Slayers so quickly after arriving in Los Angeles. He was about to reply, when an affinity notice alerted him to the fact that the detachment was about to move on to their destination. "I have to go now, but it was a pleasure to meet you," he said. "Perhaps we shall meet again?"
"Given the fact that Xander here seems to meet everyone
important," Cat said, pointing a thumb in Alexander's direction. "I wouldn't bet against it. In fact, I'm surprised he hasn't met the President of Govcentral or something yet."