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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, TheSmegheadFR15525,023194,59013 Jan 045 Mar 05No

And So It Begins

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.

****

It wasn't often that Cat saw William rendered almost completely speechless, but now was one of those times.

And to think it had been caused by a fairly innocent question, too...

Xander looked from person to person, taking in their expressions. "Why do I get the feeling that that wasn't a good question to ask?"

William rallied in time to answer that question. "It's not so much that, as..." his voice trailed off, due to his uncertainty as to how to proceed.

"I'm guessing the reason you're hesitating is that Glorificus - whatever that is - is something that happens during my lifetime, right?" Xander asked, cutting to the chase.

"It's not that we don't want to answer," Amanda contributed, "as we don't know what the consequences will be. Yes, Glorificus is something that happens during your lifetime. But that's all I'm going to say on the subject."

Xander opened his mouth to protest, but shut it again when Cat reached around behind Liz and lightly smacked the back of his head. "Don't bother trying, Xander," she told him. "Amanda can be pretty damned stubborn when she gets in the mood."

"So can I," Xander replied, but he decided to let the matter drop. It wasn't as if they didn't already have enough to worry about.

It's a good thing you decided not to press the matter, William thought. Yes, we knew that you'd disappeared for quite a while - but not where you'd gone - and we also knew pretty much to the hour when you returned to Sunnydale. But we can't tell you any of this, for fear of causing irreparable damage to the time line. In fact, gross damage must have been avoided, since we know that you make it home safely, and we exist... and that there is a history beyond your lifetime. Or something.

It was William's first serious foray into temporal mechanics, and it was giving him a monstrous headache.

"What other information did you pry from the vampire before you dusted him?" Alex asked, bringing everyone back to the topic at hand.

"What? Oh, yes," William started, brief confusion at the sudden topic shift dissipating. "There was really only one other piece of useful information - the location of Jonsson's base."

"Well, I'd call that pretty damned useful," Cat remarked. "So, why haven't you reported it to the guys in charge yet?"

"Settle down, Catherine," William cautioned with a slight smile as the energetic Slayer seemed ready to leap to her feet and dash off to the operations room. "For one thing, it's been less than five minutes since we... received it. And for another," he continued, his smile blossoming into a full-fledged grin, "I have already passed the information on. Neural nanonics are useful things, are they not?"

Cat slumped back into the couch. "Fine," she grumped. "But don't think that I'm not going to get you back for that, William Goldsmith," she added in a warning tone.

"I await the event with trepidation," William replied as everyone else chuckled lightly. "Back to the subject at hand, though, there was one piece of warning advice that I felt compelled to add to the information."

"That we don't know if that base is Jonsson's main base or not," Alex said in realisation.

"Precisely. After all, we already know of at least one occasion when Jonsson has shifted his base of operations. The fact that he did so without being detected seems to indicate that the location he moved to was already prepared for his use, which would seem to indicate that he has other alternate locations to operate from."

"That, and he used the utility tunnels to move at least some of his equipment," Amanda pointed out. "After his last headquarters was raided by the Light Bringers, the CSI guys went over the place, and found a booby-trapped hatch leading into the utility tunnels, along with signs that it had been used." She shrugged before continuing, "Probably not overly relevant to the situation, but something to keep in mind, as well."

"So what are we going to do?" Xander asked.

"About Jonsson's base? The military authorities will be sending in a reconnaissance mission as soon as an appropriate force can be prepared," William replied. "In fact, I have received a request for one of us to accompany the raid. Alex, I believe you would be best suited for that task," he continued.

"Sure," Alex agreed. "It'll give me something to do."

"Amanda and myself will continue to assist in the analysis of the information gathered by the patrols, and answer any questions that might arise. Xander, I believe the inhibitions on your AT implants will be lifted shortly?"

Xander nodded. "Within the next few hours, according to my nanonics."

"Excellent," William replied with a nod. "In that case, I believe you should commence training with Catherine and Elizabeth once that happens."

"What, right away?" Xander asked in surprise. "Come on, not even Giles made us train right after being in a fight. And besdies," he added, stifling a yawn, "I'm too tired, thanks to that wonderful implant of mine. I guess that's what the technician meant when he warned me about overusing it."

William nodded. "I understand, Xander. In fact, I didn't mean for you to start training right away. Tomorrow morning, once the medical packages have been removed, I suggest you start with a light workout."

"With two Slayers? Your definition of 'light' obviously differs from mine, then."

"Don't worry, Xander," Cat said with a smile. "We'll go easy on you."

"Why am I not reassured by that?"

****

Jonsson's Lair

Sunnydale Dome, Los Angeles arcology

20th June, 2614


The pieces were in place, and the plan was about to be put into motion.

Not the plan, but something that would at least increase his chances of pulling it off; the preliminary attacks to draw off any local reaction forces, and then the main strikes - against the four precinct headquarters covering the area of the Hellmouth. Even if they all failed, the Govcentral and Confederation authorities would have no choice but to increase the amount of forces covering their own headquarters, which would leave less to conduct patrols and react when the main event started. And once that happened, the unimaginable power of the being he would have shackled to his service...

Short of plastering the area with antimatter planetbusters, there would be no way of stopping it.

The fact that no-one had known the exact location of the Hellmouth until he had rediscovered it was somewhat puzzling, though. Surely, that sort of information should have been kept closely held; by the Council of Watchers, if no-one else?

Not that it mattered now. With a single thought, he set the plan into motion.

{Begin.}

****

Los Angeles Police Department Precinct Headquarters

Sunnydale Dome, Los Angeles arcology

20th June, 2614


The medic datavised another disengagement order, and Xander felt a slight tingle in his arm as the last of the medical packages disengaged itself and was lifted from the unmarked flesh below. Dressed in shorts and a t-shirt - both to allow easy access to the nanonic packages, and because he was about to start training - he watched the process with interest.

"You know," the medic commented as she placed the rubbery green nanonic onto a tray, "you could have done this yourself."

"What, and miss out on having the pleasure of your company?" Xander replied with a grin.

"Cute. Now the less fun bit - testing. Can I have nerve channel access to your arms and legs?"

"Is this the bit where you say, 'Trust me, I'm a doctor?'" Xander asked, slightly warily. "And just what does that mean?"

"Well, I'm not a doctor, so I can't say that," the medic replied with a grin of her own. "And I'm asking for... control, basically, of your arms and legs so I can run diagnostics on your new implants." When she saw the expression on Xander's face, she chuckled and added, "Don't worry, I won't make you do anything embarrassing. Besides," she continued with a glance at Cat and Liz, who were watching the process with some interest of their own, "I don't think your friends would let me do anything like that."

"Oh. Okay, then," Xander said after a few seconds' thought. "How do I do that?"

The process was easy enough to demonstrate and, a few seconds later, Xander was watching in bemusement as, for the first time in his life, his limbs were moving under someone else's control. After a few minutes of that, the medic announced her satisfaction, and closed off her control. "I suggest you carry out a program of light exercise for the next few days until you've adjusted to your new implants."

"I think I've got that covered," Xander said lightly.

"I'd say you have, too," the medic replied. Anything else she might have said was interrupted by a priority datavise. {Heavy vampire attack in our AO. Reaction force, deploy immediately, to the following location...}

"Things could get ugly," Liz commented worriedly.

"The reaction force will be able to handle it, or call in reinforcements if they can't," the medic commented as she packed away her equipment.

"There is that," Xander replied, "but I've got a bad feeling about this. What if it's a ploy to draw off the reaction force so Jonsson can hit another target? Such as... well, here?"

"Don't say things like that, Xander!" Cat exclaimed mock-dramatically, giving his arm a light swat. "Do you want to jinx us or something?"

"Of course not," Xander replied with a grin, "but your reaction was worth it, though."

"Ooo, you're going to so pay for that," Cat growled. "What do you think, Liz?"

"Absolutely," Liz replied, and both young women each grabbed an arm and started hauling Xander off towards the training room.

"Is this where I say something along the lines of 'I regret that I have but one life to lay down for my country'?"

****

The ex-Confederation Marine surveyed the positions the vampires under his command had taken up and nodded in satisfaction. Getting so close to the precinct house without being detected had been tricky, but the results were worth it. Six hundred vampires - what he persisted in calling a 'short battalion' - with combat armour and heavy weapons were in position to attack.

He contemplated how to make the first move. He could just march a force up to the doors, trusting that the fact that they were dressed in Confederation Marine-issue armour and were carrying Confederation Marine-issue weapons to fool the police and soldiers still there that they had friendly forces approaching and using them to force an entry. Of course, the automatic sensors would detect their complete lack of body temperature pretty quickly, which would cost them the elements of surprise.

The option he eventually decided on was the simplest - superior fire-power. A volley of light armour-piercing missiles with electron-explosive warheads seemed about right.

{Fire.}

****

Xander had just completed a series of light warm-up exercises - well, light for a Slayer, but he'd had no real difficulties. "Hey, this is pretty neat," he said, taking a small sip of water. "I never used to be able to do stuff like that."

"Yeah, AT implants can be pretty useful," Cat remarked. "For a while, Will and myself were discussing whether it'd be worth me getting some, but we decided against it in the end. Not only is the process hideously expensive, but the Slayer enhancements are probably equivalent to a pretty high level of enhancement by itself, and there's no way of telling what'd happen if AT implants were added to the mix. In fact-"

Whatever the 'in fact' was, it would go forever unsaid as the building rocked to a series of stunning impacts. Even though the training room was buried almost at the heart of the tower, the three of them still managed to hear the muffled explosions.

"Were those what I thought they were?" Liz asked in concern.

"Depends," Xander replied. "If you think they were light electron-explosive warheads, then yes, they were what they thought you were. We're under attack," he added, somewhat unnecessarily. "Damn, I hate being right like this."

Just then, they all received an emergency datavise. {Condition Red. We are under heavy attack by a battalion-sized group of bloodsuckers. All personnel; collect weapons and report to your emergency duty stations. I repeat-}

"Well, we don't have assigned emergency locations," Liz pointed out as they headed towards the secure room that had been turned over to the Slayerettes as an equipment storage room. "So, where do we go?"

"I think we'll be more effective as a roving group," Xander replied as they ran at a brisk jog that would be a sprint for someone without AT implants or Slayer enhancements. "One with heavy weapons, to boot."

****

Surprise may have been total, but the Confederation Marine commanders had thought about contingency plans for a lot of scenarios - even the ones considered to be almost rampant paranoia by the LAPD. One of those, of course, covered the possibility of the precinct houses being attacked by vampires, and steps had been taken to cover that eventuality.

Since there hadn't been much time since the plans had been developed and implemented, not all of the automated weapons positions had been put into place. If they had been, the only possible way to take the LAPD out of the picture would have been to destroy the precinct houses with stand-off fire, which was an option that had been carefully considered, but discarded. The odds of reinforcements arriving were something approaching certainty, which meant that any disruption caused would be only of a temporary nature.

Needless to say, the fact that that was all Jonsson was expecting had not been passed on to the assault commanders, which made them, in effect, expendable shock troops whose loss wouldn't be regretted for too long. After all, there were more where they came from.

Hence, the use of stand-off fire to beat down any exterior defences, followed by a storm of the building to kill any survivors. Although that meant that casualties would be heavy, the assault commander viewed that as a worthy price to pay for a successful outcome.

When he judged that the suppressive fire had done its job, he sent out the next datavised order. {Stage Two. Go.} Hefting an X-ray laser rifle, he leapt out from the building he'd been using as a command post...

... and was nearly vaporised by an incendiary grenade. Immediately shifting into a duck-and-weave run intended to throw off the aim of any surviving gunners - human or AI - he considered the fact that this might not end up being as easy as he'd first thought.

Oh well, if the authorities had set contingency plans into plans, he had plans of his own. {Delta-Four. Execute!}

****

More than half of the weapons emplacements that had been actually put into operation had been taken out by the opening support fire, but that still left quite a few, and under the control of their AI and human supervisors, the turret-mounted heavy masers and gaussguns swivelled in two dimensions, locked onto their targets assigned by pre-programmed parameters, and opened fire.

Targeting lasers sought out individual vampires, and close behind were powerful bursts of focused microwave radiation - enough to immolate a vampire with less than a second of sustained fire - while the gaussguns pumped out incendiary grenades that tore huge holes in the attacking force. Dozens of vampires were reduced to dust, but there were still hundreds left.

And even as they were being decimated, they were still getting closer to the embattled precinct house. Then their contingency plan kicked in. Vampires toting gaussguns and their heavy ammunition backpacks selected firing positions and started hurling armour-piercing rounds back at the weapons positions, methodically taking them out one by one, before switching their fire to the handful of defensive positions that had been occupied, silencing them as well.

By the time the last of those had been silenced, the vampire assault force had been reduced by almost half. But that still left three hundred vampires to force entry into the building with their EE breaching charges. A few more fell; picked off by snipers, but since each shot made by one of the snipers was answered by a deluge of fire, that soon stopped.

The EE charges made short work of the doors and a few carefully selected places in the walls, and the vampires poured into the building, the lead ranks firing from the hip as they charged, in order to first, suppress and then kill, any surviving defender at the entry points. More vampires were dusted, but for every one eliminated, there was over a dozen close behind. Swarming like particularly pissed-off insects, they quickly spread out, intending to kill anything that wasn't them.

And ran into the hard core of the defences.

Inquiring minds had turned their attention to what other sorts of weaponry would be effective against vampires. One result of such research was about to get an unexpected and very thorough field-testing. A newly-designed round for a gaussgun, it was basically a hollow cylinder packed with ball-bearings and a bursting charge.

Canister ammunition had made a comeback.

It was sophisticated canister, though. A customised fire-control subroutine in the weapon-control program of the wielder analysed the range and target density and adjusted the distance at which the bursting charge detonated so as to have the most optimal spread of the ball-bearings. At close range, this was often as soon as the round left the barrel.

The Confederation Navy Intelligence Service had also contributed one of their lesser-known pieces of equipment. A microscopic lump of nanonic circuitry, when fired at its target, it immediately sought of the nearest major nerve cluster and, to put it simply, overwhelmed the nervous system with electrical energy. There had been doubts about its effectiveness, but when the fact that vampires felt pain, and thus, must have had some sort of functional nervous system, the doubters were silenced. Besides, it was worth a shot, wasn't it?

When these were added to the more conventional weapons already available, the hard-point defensive locations set up within the precinct house became a lot more effective.

Which meant that instead of being a one-sided slaughter, the battle was much more level.

But not completely level.

****

Xander swore as the vampire he was pouring fire at from both maser carbines kept coming, despite the thermal dissipation grid on its combat suit glowing first red, then white as it tried to dump the massive thermal load he was dumping into it. Finally, it overloaded and the vampire was immolated. "Finally!" he exclaimed in irritation as he dropped the carbines to dangle from the slings in order to check the remains of the defensive location for any survivors. Judging by the devastation - the marks left by heavy explosives and energy weapons fire were quite distinctive - he doubted there would be any, but he had to check.

"Alex, Amanda. Cover us, please," he ordered absently as he gestured for Cat and Liz to assist him with the search. In his preoccupation, he missed the looks and shrugs the Slayerettes exchanged before the complied. Through the detachment imparted by nausea-control and tranquilliser programs, he noted that the defenders had fought hard before being dragged down. It definitely wasn't a pretty sight.

"I don't know what's more disturbing," Cat commented as she gave up looking for anyone who was still alive. The simplest method was to send out a query-response signal - a 'ping' - which would be automatically returned by any functional set of neural nanonics. Since only death or deliberate destruction made a set of nanonics stop working, the fact that there had been only four answering pings was indicative that there were no survivors. "The fact that Jonsson was able to muster so many vampires for this attack, or that so many of them are former military."

"Well, I guess it answers the question of what happened to all those patrols that disappeared," Xander replied as he also gave up looking for survivors and started collecting heavier weapons. Waste not, want not.

"I suppose so," Liz remarked as she watched him heft a gaussgun with little apparent effort and run a quick diagnostic on it.

"Yeah, but this can't be all of them... can it?" Alex wondered.

"Probably not," Xander replied as he checked the ammunition backpack, noting with a grimace the fact that it was nearly full. According to the load listing, it was a nearly equal mix of fragmentation, canister and incendiary. That last one caused him to raise an eyebrow. Using incendiary rounds inside a building that you were in was generally a bad idea, since it had a tendency to burn the building down around you. But it would explain the hint of smoke in the air.

Shrugging, he slipped on the backpack, and cradled the gaussgun in a tactical carry position, absently noting that he'd added seventy kilograms to his load - thirty kilograms of weapon, and another forty of ammunition - without really noticing it. Datavising the fire-control processor to change the ammunition mix so that the first three rounds of any burst he fired would be canister, with an equal mix of fragmentation and incendiary after that. That should do nicely to take care of any group of vampires they happened to run into.

"So where to next, O Fearless Leader?" Amanda asked.

"Wherever there's trouble," Xander replied with a shrug. "It's not as if it's going to be hard to find."

The next half-hour would always be a blur - without running an active memory search, anyway - of confused fighting, screams and running to the next fight. Before too long, it became necessary to bring audio-discrimination programs on-line to protect their hearing from the concussion of near-constant gaussgun fire. And once, the fighting got to close-quarters, which allowed Xander to make the discovery that at thirty-kilogram weapon makes a fine bludgeon.

But eventually, the vampires started pulling back, although Xander suspected that that was of their own accord, rather than because they were being driven back.

****

As it turned out, he was entirely correct. The assault commander had just received a datavised warning that reinforcements for the beleaguered police station were on the way. Mentally shrugging as he burned down another police officer, he sent the withdrawal command. {Bug-out Boogie. Extraction route Tango-Three.}

As acknowledgements came in, he wondered how Jonsson would take the news. If he'd been expecting too much from the assaults, he'd probably feel... disappointed. And those who disappointed Jonsson tended to come to gruesome ends. The assault commander shrugged again; it wasn't as if there was a great deal he could do about it.

****

As the first units of the relief force arrived, Xander let the gaussgun fall to the floor with a soft 'THUD', and leaned up against the wall behind him as he finally managed to find time to pay attention to what his medical program was reporting. In all, he'd probably been quite lucky; the only injuries he'd suffered were a few minor cuts and some mild surface burns caused by near-misses from masers and TIP weapons, nothing serious.

Cat and Liz also dropped their weapons and leant up against the same wall, coughing lightly in a reaction to the smoke they'd inhaled during the fighting. "What was that all about?" Cat asked in between coughs.

"I'm not sure," Xander replied, his expression contemplative. "But somehow, I get the feeling that this was more of a spoiler raid than anything else. Something intended to reduce the amount of patrols by causing us to increase the number of troops held back in defence." His expression became somewhat bleaker as he surveyed the almost-destroyed lobby, which had become a makeshift field hospital where the walking wounded tended to their more-seriously injured colleagues and friends.

"Possibly," Alex replied, taking in the scene himself. "But he's got to know that we can call in more troops from the Confederation. That means we can pretty much flood the Dome with troops."

"Up until a point, anyway," Liz countered. "But if there's one thing we've learned about Jonsson is that he isn't stupid. All this raid achieved was to confirm that he'd taken Marines and turned them, and we'd suspected that before."

"Time," Xander said suddenly. "He wants us to waste time, which probably means that whatever he's planning is about to happen."

"That's as may be," William said as he entered the room. "But since we have next to no idea of what Jonsson is actually planning, knowing that doesn't actually help us a great deal."

"True," Amanda said thoughtfully, "but it's a place to start. I'll get some questors formatted and let them loose on the information we have, see what turns up."

"Joy. Research party," Xander said warily.

"Nope," Amanda replied. "Questors are search programs, and all of our information is stored in our neural nanonics. We'll just turn them loose and see what happens."

"All of your information is stored in your neural nanonics?" Xander asked. "How much storage space do these things *have*?"

"Mine are a specialist researcher's set," William replied. "I would have to look it up to be certain, but it is something on the order of several hundred terabytes of storage space."

Xander was astounded. Willow had told him about the new hard drive she had bought for her computer. He hadn't fully understood most of it, but one thing he remembered was her talking about 'one hundred gig' of hard drive space, and being impressed by it. To hear that neural nanonics had several thousand times that amount of storage was... awe-inspiring, even for someone as relatively ignorant as himself. "And that's what I've got, right?"

"Something like that, Xander," William agreed.

"And how much would a set of these go for, normally?"

"Depends on the exact model," Alex replied. "What sort have you got?"

"I'm not really sure," Xander said. "The tech implanting them said something like 'Kulu Corporation ANI-5000', or something like that."

If the expression on Amanda's face was anything to go by, she was obviously and deeply impressed. "Those are the most powerful neural nanonics currently available on the market," she said in a suitably awe-stricken tone of voice. "That's the model used by the King of Kulu himself. And a set costs about seventeen thousand fuseodollars."

Xander whistled at that. He still couldn't quite work out how much a fuseodollar was worth in comparison to the American dollar, but seventeen thousand of anything was serious money. And Ione had given that to him as a gift... and the implants, plus five million more fuseodollars.

Well, she was the head of state of an incredibly wealthy nation, so it wasn't as if she couldn't afford it, but to be the recipient of such largesse was somewhat unsettling. With an effort, he dragged his thoughts back to the subject at hand. "Is the raid on that base of Jonsson's still on?"

Alex's expression became semi-vacant for a moment as he datavised a query. "Yep," he replied. "In fact, it's become even more important now."

"Let me guess, as a way of retaliation as well as possible information-gathering?"

****

Jonsson's Lair

Sunnydale Dome, Los Angeles arcology

20th June, 2614


As the reports from the assaults came in, Jonnson smiled. Despite the obvious nervousness of the strike commanders - those that had survived, anyway - he couldn't be more pleased with the results. Heavy losses had been inflicted on his enemies, and though he had suffered losses just as heavy, he could increase his numbers far more easily.

Things really were starting to come together.

And it was time to open the third act of this drama, the last of the preliminaries before the main act.

****

All across the Sunnydale Dome, a lot of things happened.

Over the last week, utility mechanoids and their human supervisors had been seen making repairs and adjustments to the basic infrastructure of the arcology. Since that was a common sight, no-one had paid any attention to them.

It was ludicrously easy for Jonsson to slip some of his minions among them, placing improvised anti-personnel explosive devices in some of the most heavily-trafficked areas of the Dome. And, upon the receipt of the detonation command, the dozens of bombs exploded, sending shrapnel through the crowded areas, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries.

At the same time, small groups of heavily-armed vampires began attacking almost at random. The authorities knew that the intention was to force them to disperse their forces, but they had to respond. They tried to comfort themselves with the fact that the process of sending in more troops had been fully smoothed out, and that thousands more were arriving by the hour, especially serjeants.

It was cold comfort, though, when compared to the reports of civilian deaths flooding in, deaths they could do little to prevent. It seemed that Jonsson had switched from a guerilla campaign to one of pure terrorism, and none of them knew why.

Actually, they were fairly close to the mark when they were thinking that Jonsson was forcing them to disperse their forces even more, and it was a campaign intended to last for seventy-two hours, and end with the culmination of Jonsson's plan, a plan that had been almost a quarter or a century in the making.
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