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In Their Shadow - War in the Shadows

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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.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Literature > Sci-Fi > Night's Dawn Trilogy, TheSmegheadFR15525,023194,57013 Jan 045 Mar 05No

A Not-So-Quiet Night Out

In Their Shadow - War in the Shadows

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

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.

****

Jonsson's Lair

Sunnydale Dome, Los Angeles arcology

19th June, 2614


As he studied the reports coming in from his minions, Jonsson was reasonably content with the way things were progressing. Yes, there was an ever-increasing number of Confederation and Edenist troops pouring into the arcology - the Sunnydale Dome in particular - they had to cover the entire arcology against attacks he might make. That had to be tying down significant numbers of troops - or would be, except for one fairly consistent thread; the fact that the number of patrols being conducted were increasing exponentially, which indicated that there were few, if any, fixed-point defensive locations being set up.

To call Jonsson merely 'opportunistic' would be an understatement, but the description would be basically correct. And here was an opportunity, waiting to be exploited, and if the timing was not quite perfect, a delay of a day or so would allow the conditions to improve for the tentative plan now forming in his mind. It hadn't been part of the original scheme, but he was willing to allow for modifications - after all, it was impossible to predict peoples' reactions ahead of time.

The question was, would he use some of the new assets and resources that he now had at his command? Compelling arguments could be made both for and against such a course of action. Pro: the surprise value. Plus, the authorities had to suspect something along those lines, given the number of personnel that had simply vanished, 'into the night and fog,' as the ancient saying went. Con: what he was planning, while significant, would hardly be decisive. Unless he caught some massive breaks in his favour, which he was most definitely not counting on. In fact, disruption to his enemies' operations was the intended goal, and anything else would be a bonus.

In the end, he decided to use the newly-acquired resources. It had to happen sometime, so why not now? Also, while he wasn't going to count on getting a lucky break, he certainly wasn't going to complain - or be caught unaware - if one did happen to come his way.

The planning took most of the rest of the day, and would be put into effect tomorrow.

****

'Crimson Dragon' Chinese restaurant, mid-level district

Sunnydale Dome, Los Angeles arcology

19th June, 2614


After the serjeants had formed up and marched off, Xander turned to Cat and Liz, asking, "Now what?"

"Now, we head back," Cat said, as if stating the obvious. "But first, we stop off and get a bite to eat. The stuff they serve up at the station has a tendency to taste like somebody else has already eaten it. All hail the lowest bidder," she added sarcastically.

Xander understood what she meant. From the time that Earth's population had retreated to the arcologies until Joshua had repaired Earth's environment, the vast majority of the planet's food supply had come from artificial sources, usually recycled from things best not thought about. Real, farm-grown food had been a luxury item only the moderately wealthy could afford on anything even remotely approaching a regular basis, and even they ate the artificial stuff most of the time. Sure, some people maintained small private gardens, providing the occasional supply of fresh fruits or vegetables, but space constraints meant that such gardens were too small to allow for a regular supply.

Farms were starting to spring up, but most of the knowledge required for large-scale food production had been lost in all but a theoretical sense - except by the inhabitants of the stage-one colony worlds now sharing Earth's orbit - plus there was the simple fact that there was no way that farming on one planet, no matter how industrialised, could hope to feed forty billion people. Once the Second Dispersal was completed, it would be a different story, but even the most optimistic projections put that at least thirty years away, and people still had to eat in the meantime.

Of course, even though the food itself was artificially produced, the texture was identical to that of 'real' food, and sufficiently talented people could still prepare it in a way that made it nothing short of incredibly appetising, which was why there were still restaurants, catering for a variety of tastes, and dishes hadn't changed all that much since Xander's time, since taste buds still worked in the same way.

All of this was explained to Xander after he'd expressed his surprise at seeing a number of familiar names on the menu, even if the prices were a little steep. "That means that there are fresh ingredients involved," Cat explained when he pointed that out.

"Fair enough," Xander remarked as he adjusted one of the maser carbines strapped to his side in its quick-release holster. "And why the weapons, anyway? I'd say it was just a little paranoid, but then again -"

"But then again, there are people - or vampires, to be precise - out to get us," Cat concluded. "Which makes it not paranoia, but a healthy regard for safety in case something happens. Which it shouldn't, but no point in taking chances, right?"

Xander had to agree with the point she was making. Most of the arcology never saw direct sunlight, which allowed vampires to operate twenty-four hours a day, with the weakness of the human host bodies the only limitation. "On another subject, erm... about paying for this meal..."

"Don't worry about it, Xander; we'll cover you," Cat interrupted. "I somehow doubt that you'll have anything that can be used for legal tender," she added, smiling gently to take any possible sting out of her words.

"I wouldn't be so sure about that," Xander commented, pulling his Jovian Bank credit disc from his pocket. The purple-and-silver markings were recognisable anywhere in the Confederation, and there was only one currency that was ever loaded on one - fuesodollars. The expressions on Cat and Liz's faces were truly something to behold, and he had to struggle not to laugh, although he couldn't help smiling.

Liz was the first to recover the power of speech. "Who gave that to you?" she asked incredulously. "And how much is on there?"

"Ione, and five million fuesodollars," Xander replied, answering her questions in the same order that they'd been asked.

Liz still looked suitably awestruck, which was hardly surprising when the fact that fuesodollars were the closest thing the Confederation had to a common currency was taken into account. Backed by the Edenist energy monopoly, the fuesodollar was the hardest currency in the Confederation, and accepted anywhere, without any questions whatsoever. The smallish disc in Xander's hand was, by any standards, a not-so-small fortune.

Cat's expression was also one of amazement. "Liz, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"That it's Xander's treat?"

"That's what I thought you were thinking."

****

The group of vampires approaching the restaurant paused for a last-minute equipment check while their leader, Steven, considered his options in the light of the orders he was operating under. They were simple, and allowed him considerable leeway, once the main points were accounted for.

Cause terror and disruption, with the intention of making the police and military react. Bring back as many people for turning as possible. But do not run unnecessary risks. Simple, direct orders. An important task, probably intended to assess his judgement and command abilities, preparing the way for him to move up within Jonsson's hierarchy. For someone who'd been turned less than six months ago, his rise had been somewhat rapid, and this was his opportunity to prove himself worthy of greater power - and greater responsibility. Frankly, he was also somewhat relieved that he was able to get away from, even if only temporarily, the ambush missions. While they were generally successful, the casualty rate was high, and he'd already survived two close calls.

If he was successful in this, he would be directing operations in a section of the Dome, and not be required to accompany those missions himself. With that in mind, he drew his weapons - a TIP pistol and a cortical jammer - and nodded to the vampires under his command, who prepared their own weapons. Two of them hefted gaussguns and fired a barrage of sense-overload ordnance at their chosen target; a restaurant by the name of 'Crimson Dragon'.

****

Xander had agreed with good grace to pay for the meal, and had resolved to enjoy the evening - which he had, of course. After all, he was in the company of two attractive young women, and there had been more than one covert glance directed his way from people who were probably slightly envious of his good fortune.

It wasn't just the company he was enjoying, of course. Throughout the meal, they'd been trading stories - Xander expanding on the details that the debrief nanonics had missed, or that hadn't translated well to the bitek storage media or describing his week on Norfolk, while Cat and Liz told 'Slayer stories'.

"- so one day, Joshua decides to take me out horse riding. When I expressed my not unreasonable doubts, he simply grinned at me and said, 'It's not all that hard.' Fine for him to say - he probably had a horse-riding program or two tucked away in his neural nanonics, and he definitely had a lot more practice at it," Xander was saying. "But he completely ignored me and dragged me off to the stable, where he unceremoniously dumped me on the biggest damn horse I've ever seen. To start off with, it wasn't too bad - until I started getting cocky.

"Picture this - I'm galloping around the fields with Joshua, and we come to a fence. Joshua, of course, simply points his horse at the fence and clears it easily. I go, 'Right. I can do that, too,' and point my horse at the same fence. Of course, at the critical moment, the horse stops dead and I go sailing over the fence without the horse and land in a huge mud puddle on the other side. Naturally, Joshua found the situation incredibly amusing, and so did Louise when he told her about it."

Joshua and Louise weren't the only ones who found that funny, apparently, since both Cat and Liz started snickering pretty much as soon as he finished the story. Despite the indignant front he put up - it wouldn't do to let them get away with it, after all - he was feeling better than he had in a long time. This was something he'd used to do with Buffy and Willow, before they decided that he shouldn't be taking part in the Slayage, and he'd enjoyed the time he spent with his friends, talking about everything but Hellmouth-related stuff.

Bringing his mind away from the past - in more ways than one - was something of an effort, but he managed it in time to hear Cat saying, "- so I just looked at him and said, 'Why?' I even gave him a couple of minutes to try to answer that before I staked him. Idiot."

Xander gathered that she'd been talking about a vampire that she'd staked; one that had pleaded not to be staked, and he chuckled appreciatively at the thought of a vampire with enough intelligence to try to talk rather than simply charge. As it found out, however, that course of action didn't work, either.

It was then that he noticed that Liz wasn't telling many stories. "What's up, Liz?"

She started slightly, obviously deep in thought about something. "N-nothing."

"Why aren't you joining in the story-telling?"

"I... don't really have any to tell," she admitted quietly. "After my parents died, I didn't really have any friends, and..." Her voice trailed off, uncertain as to how to continue.

"That bastard Travers," Cat growled. "I'm beginning to really hate him."

"How many reasons have you got to kill him now, Cat?" Xander asked lightly.

"Five thousand, seven hundred and forty-one," Cat replied. "Of course, the more I hear about him, the more that number increases."

"I guess it's a good thing that he'll probably never come back to LA, then," Xander commented lightly, causing Liz to smile slightly.

"I just want to say 'thank you'," Liz said softly. "For, you know..."

Xander reached across the table and squeezed her hand softly. "Hey, it's no big thing," he replied. "In fact, -"

Anything Xander had been about to say was drowned out as the salvo of sense-overload ordnance punched through the windows and began detonating in dazzling flashes of light and mind-scrambling bursts of noise. Two things saved them from being incapacitated; the first was that they were tucked into a back corner of the restaurant, with the other patrons absorbing the brunt of the effects.

The second was that Xander's neural nanonics were military-grade, with the enhanced filter programs that came with it - which Xander managed to put into primary mode instinctively. The two Slayers didn't have that advantage, but the enhanced constitutions that were part and parcel of the Slayer Gift were sufficient to cope with the residual effects of the sense-overload ordnance.

Any questions as to who was responsible for this were quickly answered as vampires began to pour through the doors and windows. Even if the Slayers hadn't been able to detect that they were vampires, it would have been immediately obvious - they had their 'game faces' on, as part of their orders to spread terror.

"What now?" Cat asked, as the three of them took cover behind the table.

"It's obvious, isn't it?" Xander replied as he tipped over the table to form a crude defensive position. "We kill the vampires," he added as Liz took up position on the other side of him. The table was large, but not that large, and in order to properly benefit from the cover it provided, they were pretty close. "I always wanted to be the meat in a Slayer sandwich," Xander muttered as he drew his maser carbines.

Muttered, but not quietly enough. The enhanced hearing of the Slayers - even without neural nanonic programs in primary mode - was good enough to let them hear his muttered comment. As one, they both rolled their eyes. Also as one, they lightly swatted him on the back of the head. "Ow! What was that for?" he protested as he finally found the tactical program he was after and put it in primary mode, linking it with the tactical programs already running in the Slayers' neural nanonics.

****

Steven was satisfied with the way things were progressing. The initial salvo had done what he had intended it to do - sow fear and confusion - and now all that remained was the mopping-up, which shouldn't take too...

The crash of a table being tipped over interrupted his thoughts, and he turned his head towards the corner the noise had come from to see three people - two women and a man - huddling behind an overturned table as if it would provide protection. The idea was so ludicrous that he almost started laughing, but something was nagging away in the back of his mind. In fact, the two women looked vaguely familiar...

Then he remembered where he'd seen them before, and the urge to laugh died a quick death. There were images of the two women in prominent locations throughout Master Jonsson's headquarters, in the way one would keep pictures of one's deadliest threat around in order to serve as a reminder of what to keep focused on. And with good reason, too - both women were Slayers. The man was unfamiliar to him, but Steven wasn't about to make any assumptions.

A notion that was only reinforced when all three drew a pair of maser carbines each with quick, efficient motions and opened fire. Suddenly, the focus of the mission shifted from 'snatch-and-grab' to 'survive', and the best way to do that was to take out the opposition. The fact that that involved killing both of the Slayers active in Los Angeles was simply a pleasant bonus.

It was simple enough to issue orders to that effect - most of the vampires under his command had already recognised the threat, and were making their way towards the corner, liberal use of the cortical jammers speeding their way through the milling panicked restaurant customers. Some of the victims would undoubtedly die of suffocation, the muscles that controlled their breathing paralysed, but the majority simply became prisoners in their own bodies, unable to move.

But that would have to wait until the Slayers - and their companion - were dealt with. Already, they had eliminated half-a-dozen of his followers.

****

{PRIMARY MODE: Weapon-control program - maser carbine}

{PRIMARY MODE: Tactical program - small-arms engagement}

{PRIMARY MODE: Fire-control program - track-while-scan}

{PRIMARY MODE: Fire-control program - target selection}

{PRIMARY MODE: Medical monitor program - autonomous function control}

{PRIMARY MODE: Infra-red scanning module}

{DATA LINKAGE TESTED AND ESTABLISHED}

Bright green neuroiconic graphics floated at the bottom of Xander's vision, displaying a status report that he pretty much ignored. Up until now, he'd never really used the full capacity of the neural nanonics that had been implanted in the O'Neill Halo - he hadn't had to - and he suspected that he still wasn't using the full capacity, or even anything close to it. Of course, the latest neuroiconic message was something of an unsubtle hint.

{CAPACITY IN USE: 7.642%}

Most of his vision was overlaid with a targeting grid - heavy enough to be seen, but light enough not to obstruct his vision - with bright red outlines around the vampires who were currently rampaging in his direction. The data coming in from Cat and Liz was mainly for co-ordinating their fire, suggested tactics and status reports. He briefly wondered if they'd done what he'd done - turned over control to the fire-control programs, which meant that pretty much all he had to do was pick a target, and even that was assisted by the small data block tagged to each threat marker.

That one. A vampire screamed briefly as it was immolated by the focused microwaves.

That one. That vampire didn't even have a chance to scream.

That one. A precise shot, perfectly splitting the gap between two screaming, panicking people, which reduced the vampire to dust before it could realise that its human shield had moved without him.

"I know this is probably a dumb question, but has anyone called for help?" Xander called out above the sounds of combat.

"Yeah," Cat called back. "And don't worry - it's not a dumb question. I just hope help arrives pretty damned quickly, though."

Xander couldn't help but agree with that sentiment. The vampires were closing faster than they could burn them down, and it was inevitable that some would survive to reach their position.

****

Los Angeles Police Department Precinct Headquarters

Sunnydale Dome, Los Angeles arcology

19th June, 2614


The communications technician on duty jerked upright as the emergency signal blared - datavise and audio-visual both. Silencing the alarm, he scanned the massage.

{Under attack by a large group of leeches - estimated strength, two dozen plus. Immediate assistance required. Come quickly, or don't bother showing up at all.}

The identification code attached to the massage was unfamiliar, but it was the work of a fraction of a second to run it through his neural nanonics and identify it, and when he did, his eyes widened in amazement. *Both* Slayers, along with Alexander Harris, were being attacked by a large group of vampires in a restaurant. Calling up the template for an 'officer in distress' message, he inserted the location and sent it as a general broadcast, highest priority, which meant that any unit in the vicinity not in immediate danger themselves was obligated to respond with all possible speed.

Acknowledgements began to come in, and he noticed that the nearest unit was a Marine patrol about three minutes away. He hoped they would arrive in time as he relayed that fact to the Slayers.

****

'Crimson Dragon' Chinese restaurant, mid-level district

Sunnydale Dome, Los Angeles arcology

19th June, 2614


"Help's on the way!" Cat called out as she burned down another vampire.

"I hope it arrives in time," Liz replied, unconsciously echoing the thoughts of the communications technician.

"Three minutes or so," Cat said. "That's all we have to hold out for." She surveyed the wreckage that had once been a restaurant. It was mostly silent - only a few of the other patrons were moaning; the others were unable to - and the vampires had temporarily stopped their attack in order to organise themselves. Attacking unorganised, their numbers had been reduced by a dozen or so - Which still left another dozen or so, Cat thought sourly.

"We can do this," Xander said quietly, causing both Slayers to look at him with some surprise. His expression was still reasonably calm - although both suspected that facial-expression override programs played a major part in that - and his quietly stated confidence was enough to give them hope that they'd survive the situation. Not that they'd been overly pessimistic, of course - but now they were more confident themselves.

"Gaussgunners!" Liz called.

Xander and Cat looked in the direction she was indicating, and Cat began to swear softly before all three poured fire in the direction of the heavy weapons operators, fractionally before they opened fire themselves.

The fact that they survived the next few seconds could be attributed to the way the gaussgunners flinched slightly before opening fire, sending their first few rounds off-target. That, and the fact that they didn't survive to fire more than those first few rounds. Xander and the Slayers didn't escape unscathed, though.

A fragmentation round detonated in front of the table, and only its robust construction prevented it from being blown to splinters instantly. Liz yelped - more in surprise than pain - as a carbotanium fragment scored across the side of her face, leaving a nasty-looking but superficial cut, and a second, smaller, fragment buried itself in her right shoulder, causing her to drop the maser carbine held in that hand.

"Liz!" Xander shouted, his voice betraying his concern.

"I'm all right," she replied, the pain easing as her neural nanonics erected axon blocks across the nerves involved, and reported back to her. Somewhat clumsily, she recovered the maser carbine she'd dropped - thanking God that it had no recoil - and turned to thank Xander for his concern. What she saw... "Xander!" she exclaimed, horrified.

He was a mess, blood trickling down the side of his neck, his left arm and the right side of his chest.

"Nah, I'm fine," he assured her. "These are just scratches," he added with a lopsided grin.

Liz felt a sudden rush of warmth run through her body, but before she could even think about it, Cat called, "Guys! I hate to interrupt, but we've got a more pressing concern at the moment!"

Almost as if that was a signal, the surviving vampires hurled themselves from behind their cover and at the trio of vampire hunters, who immediately began firing with metronomic precision.

That one. That one. That one.

Despite the short distance they had to cover, eight of them were still burned down in the seconds it took to cover that distance. Of course, that still left six able to crash into their improvised defensive position.

{PRIMARY MODE: Unarmed-combat program}

{WEAPON IMPLANT ACTIVATED}

{WARNING: AT enhancement implants off-line. Adjusting to compensate}

****

As he lunged at the blonde Slayer, Steven still found time to wonder where it all went wrong. What should have been a fairly simple abduction mission had been thrown into chaos by the presence of the Slayers at his chosen target. Even the man with them had proven to be not much less lethal, which lead Steven to believe that he was a Confederation Marine, given the prowess he showed with the weapons he carried.

It was apparent that the Slayer was injured - the blood running down her face and the fact that her right arm didn't seem to be operating to well were obvious - but the stake held in her left hand was rammed into the other vampire who'd joined him in attacking her, reducing her to dust. He batted aside the stake she thrust at him with her right hand, and drove an overhand right into her jaw, the impact sending her flying into a wall where she slumped obviously unconscious. Decisions as to her fate - whether he should return her to the headquarters for interrogation and turning, or simply kill her - could wait until the other two had been dealt with. He turned towards the Marine-

Just in time to hear an anguished shout of, "LIZ!" as the Marine shoved his palm at Steven's chest. He had a brief moment to wonder as to the purpose of that action, and then his world dissolved into pain, and he dimly felt his body fly through the air before slamming into the same wall he'd sent the Slayer - Liz - flying into a second before.

****

The two vampires that charged Xander were big, and exceptionally stupid. All he had to do was draw the two stakes from his pockets and hold them straight out, point-first, and momentum did the rest.

As the two clouds of dust settled to the ground, he turned towards Liz - not understanding the impulse that drove him to turn to her aid, as opposed to Cat's - just in time to see her stake one of the vampires attacking her. The other parried the thrust she aimed in his direction neatly, but the blow that sent Liz sprawling wasn't as neat.

Unthinking rage flooded Xander's mind at the vampire turned to face him. A Slayer had been hurt on his watch, and ignoring the recommendations of his tactical programs, he shoved an open palm at the vampire, connecting with its chest. The vampire had just long enough for its expression to become curious before Xander activated the weapon implant. Electricity flowed through the cells implanted in his arm, and out through the wart-like organic conductors implanted in his fingers and palm. There was a sharp *CRACK*, and the smell of burnt flesh arose briefly before the vampire was slammed into the nearest wall.

Cat, of course, had already dealt with the two vampires attacking her - the benefit of her longer experience as a Slayer, combined with the fact that the injuries she'd sustained from the gaussgun round were less severe - and she grabbed his arm and restrained him. "XANDER!"

"Let me go, Cat," Xander said flatly, not taking his eyes from the dazed vampire.

"No, Xander! We need to question this guy before we stake him," Cat insisted, tightening her grip. "Don't you think it'd be a good idea to find out what this bunch were up to?" She felt relieved as Xander's unthinking anger began to dissipate. She really didn't want to have to forcibly restrain him, Slayer strength or not.

"Sorry," Xander apologised. "It's just that..."

"You were wondering if she's alright," Cat completed. "That's okay," she added. "I just checked her neural nanonics, and apart from being unconscious - which is nothing to be taken lightly, granted - she'll be fine. Although she'll have a headache when she wakes up," she concluded with a small grin. At that moment, she heard a brief spatter of fire from outside the restaurant, before a dozen Marines burst in, armed to the canines and spoiling for a fight. They looked vaguely disappointed when they realised that the fight was over.

****

As a medical nanonic was being applied to the small cut on her face - probably unnecessary, given her enhanced healing - Cat studied the scene being played out less than five metres away. Xander, with medical nanonics adorning all of the injuries he'd sustained, including a leg wound he'd neglected to mention, was hovering protectively over Liz as a Marine medic used a diagnostic block to ascertain the extent of her injuries, before commencing treatment.

It wasn't often that she had to restrain someone else in the throes of anger - normally, she was the one who tended to let her emotions get the better of her, and she found the situation nicely ironic, which caused her to chuckle lightly and mutter, "Note to self: apologise to Will for the grief I've given him."

The Marine, having finished applying the medical nanonic, looked at her with a quizzical expression. "Excuse me?" he asked politely.

"Never mind," Cat replied. "I was talking to myself," she added before returning her gaze to Xander. It was obvious that he was deeply worried, more so than Cat. It wasn't that she was less caring; just more confident that Liz would recover swiftly. Xander wasn't convinced, though, and although he managed not to pester the medic with questions, and even managed to stay out of the medic's way, she could tell that he wanted to.

But why was he acting like this? After all, he'd only met them the previous day, which was too short to form any deep-rooted attachments, unless Xander was able to make snap judgements about people, based on brief acquaintance. There was another possible motivation... either way, it was something that she'd have to talk to Will about. Despite the journals that had survived from the early twenty-first century and the data from his debrief nanonics; she knew that she probably didn't understand the thought processes of one Alexander Harris, founder of the Slayerettes, all that well.

Given that she tended to be more in favour of direct action, leaving the research stuff to Will and Amanda, that was hardly surprising, and Alex - The other Alex, she thought with a small grin, wondering how they were going to tell the two apart, given that they looked fairly similar - tended to be pretty much the same, probably a result of his Marine training. 'Knuckle-dragging Marine,' she'd tease him, to which he would respond, 'Ook,' in imitation of the gorilla they'd seen in the Los Angeles zoo.

Her thoughts were interrupted when Liz's eyes fluttered open. "Are you alright?" Xander asked, voice full of concern, which was a pretty silly question in Cat's opinion.

"I've got the worst headache... no, it's gone now," she added as the painkiller infused into her bloodstream began to take effect. "But thank you for asking," she concluded with a gentle smile that was solely for Xander's benefit, and one that lit up her beautiful face. Cat wasn't that way inclined, but she had to admit that it did wonders. It certainly had an effect on Xander.

"Hey, what are friends for?" he asked, gently touching her uninjured shoulder.

Liz levered herself into a sitting position - ignoring the protests of the medic in the process - and hugged Xander before planting a gentle kiss on his cheek. "Thank you, anyway," she said softly. The resultant expression on Xander's face was one that Cat found quite amusing.

"What do you want us to do with this guy?" the patrol commander asked, interrupting Cat's thoughts once again.

"Bring him along with us," Cat replied. "There are probably some people with some pointed questions for him."

"Probably with pointed implements, too," the corporal said with a chuckle, before going over to the vampire and ensuring that it was unable to struggle by the simplest possible way - kicking it in the head - before shackling its wrists and ankles. "We'll wait for the medical services to arrive, and then we'll be off."

****

Los Angeles Police Department Precinct Headquarters

Sunnydale Dome, Los Angeles arcology

19th June, 2614


Steven returned to full consciousness to find himself secured to something. Quite effectively, too, since his tentative struggles got him precisely nowhere. Any further action on his part was forestalled when he heard a voice announce, "Ah, good. I see you're awake. Now we can get down to business."

The voice had been full of barely restrained anger, and the promise of nasty things in the future. Turning his head - the only part of his body that he was able to move - Steven saw a sandy-haired man glaring at him. Standing a little further back was the brown-haired man that he had assumed was a Marine. While the nearer man's expression was angry - furious would probably be a better way to describe it - the Marine's expression was...

Flat. Completely blank, with no life in it at all as if Steven was nothing more than an insect that he had deigned not to crush - for now. The other man continued, in the same angry voice, "You tried to kill two young women I almost regard as my own daughters and a young man who I greatly respect. I've got some questions for you, and if you answer, your end will be quick and painless. If not, it'll be not so quick, and quite painful."

Steven had no trouble imagining what would happen if he didn't cooperate, an impression reinforced when the Marine spoke in a dead, flat tone. "Personally, I don't give a flying fuck which choice you make, since I'm the one who gets to carry out the end result." He paused for a moment before continuing. "Although I'd probably be inclined to hope that you're uncooperative, since I've got some anger issues to work out, and you'll do nicely."

Although Steven was technically dead, and thus, already cold, he felt a chill shiver run down his spine. The chill in the Marine's voice wasn't all that much less - if at all - than could be found in Master Jonsson's voice when he was in a foul mood, and the only reason Steven hadn't been reduced to a pile of dust was that Master Jonsson's ire had been aimed elsewhere. But surely they were bluffing, right? They were the good guys, and one of the things that separated those who wore white hats from the black hats - ancient expressions, the origins of which had been long lost - was that they didn't do the sort of things the black hats routinely indulged in.

Fifteen minutes later, thoroughly disabused of that notion as the Marine applied holy water and crosses to carefully selected parts of his body, Steven was babbling answers to whatever questions were put to him, even though his knowledge was limited to Master Jonsson's immediate tactical objectives, and he knew nothing of the greater design. Not that that mattered much.

When all of his interrogators' questions were answered, it came almost as a relief when the Marine shoved a stake into his chest. In the fraction of a second he had before crumbling into dust, he had time to be grateful that it was over, and he wouldn't have to face the wrath of Master Jonsson for caving in-

****

"What did he have to say?" Amanda asked as Will and Xander returned from the room they'd used to interrogate the vampires. A couple of technological toys had soundproofed the room, so that the vampire's screams while he'd been... stubborn... hadn't leaked out to disturb the rest of the station's occupants. While they mightn't shed any tears over anything that was done to a vampire, ingrained constraints against torture would have left them feeling ambivalent - at best - about the process.

"Not a lot that we didn't already know, or hadn't already worked out for ourselves," Xander replied, brushing dust from his hands. "But we managed to pry one useful piece of information from his neural nanonics."

"Apart from the fact that vampires can use neural nanonics in the first place," Will pointed out.

"There is that, yeah," Xander admitted. "But what I was referring to was this," he continued as an image appeared on one of the wallscreens. "Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Big Bad - Master Henrik Jonsson." The man on the screen was coldly handsome, with narrow features that reminded Xander somewhat of Spike, an impression reinforced by the pale blonde hair and even paler blue eyes. "Steven - the vampire we... oh, what was the phrase again, Will?"

"'Put to the question,' I think it is," Will answered.

"That's the one. Anyway," Xander continued, "he doesn't know a lot about Jonsson, other than that's he's old and, quote, 'scares the shit out of us', unquote, which seems to be a requirement for the job," he concluded, taking a seat next to Liz. Cat was on Liz's other side, ensuring that no complications arose from her brief unconsciousness as instructed by the medic when Liz insisted on not being put under observation overnight.

"It was also obvious," Will continued, picking up the thread, "that he knew nothing of Jonsson's greater designs. However, given that up until now, it is apparent that Jonsson has been working according to a carefully thought-out plan, I have no doubt that whatever the ultimate goal is, it will almost certainly be apocalyptic, if not in the literal sense of the word."

"So, to sum up," Cat put in, "Steven was just a minion who knew nothing more than he had to, and whatever Jonsson's brewing will be a doozy."

"That is, in essence, correct."

"Oh, great," Cat grumped. "The biggest threat since Glorificus, and we've got no fucking idea of what he's planning. I'd make sure my insurance was paid up, but I get the feeling that there won't be too many survivors to collect the payout if things go wrong."

"Excuse me," Xander interrupted Cat's incipient rant on the unfairness of the universe, "but would someone mind telling me who Glorificus was?"

Cat's eyes widened. For a moment, she'd forgotten where - and more importantly, when - Xander was from. "Shit," she said with feeling.

"What you said," Amanda agreed.
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