Revenge Is A Dish Best Served *BLAM*
Title: In Their Shadow - War in the ShadowsAuthor: Robert Cox (firstname.lastname@example.org)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. ****Vampire Nest, Downtown District
Sunnydale Dome, Los Angeles Arcology
22nd June 2614
Damien lounged in a comfortable chair - he might be, strictly speaking, dead, but there was no reason not to be comfortable - sipping from a blood pack as his neural nanonics monitored the feed from the external security systems. The plan seemed to be going well; judging from the handful of datavises they'd been able to intercept and crack the encryption on, both the LAPD and the Confederation/Edenist forces were being run ragged trying to catch the vampires that had been dispatched on their terrorism missions. The reaction to the attack on the precinct houses seemed to be what Master Henrik had been expecting, as well.
Damien was fairly sure that he knew more about the plan than other of Master Henrik's other minions, being his second-in-command and all, but he was absolutely certain
that there was more to it that he didn't
know. He wasn't complaining, or even overly surprised, since what in just about any other circumstances would be called rampant paranoia was simply common sense. Vampires were notoriously non-cooperative creatures after all, and saw nothing wrong with betraying each other for even a fleeting advantage. Some of them even viewed it as a sort of evolution in action, where the smartest, most cunning, and most paranoid survived while everyone else was dust in the wind.
But there were those that excelled at the brutal Darwinian existence that passed for vampire 'society', and they were the ones who could lay claim to the title of 'Master' without anyone laughing at them. They were the most ruthless; ruthless enough even to terrify other vampires into unquestioning obedience - mainly because of what they did
to anyone who disobeyed.
Then there were those who managed to draw other vampires to themselves because of what they offered, which was usually enough power to satisfy any
vampire's cravings in that regard. These were rarer - much
rarer - and although they tended not to use sheer terror as often to keep minions in line, the times that they did tended to make up for it with sheer ferocity. Damien shuddered, remembering what had happened to the last idiot who had pushed Master Henrik too far; it had been an ingenious contraption, involving carefully timed flashes of sunlight, a variation of the ancient Chinese Water Torture that involved randomly placed and timed drops of holy water, and equally randomly timed exposure to religious icons. The torture had gone on for days, long enough to reduce even a vampire to a gibbering basket case, before said idiot had been staked.
The main reason for Damien's shudder hadn't been about the nastiness of the punishment - as far as he was concerned, the idiot had brought it on himself - but the fact that the other vampires in the nest had been required to spend at least half an hour a day watching the torture, in a sort of 'pour encourager les autres'
It came as something of a relief when a datavised warning came in from the security systems, interrupting his thoughts. Calling up the real-time data, Damien saw a number of trucks pulling up in front of the building that housed the nest, and a company's worth of Confederation Marines piled out.
Although he was curious as to how they'd discovered the location of this particular base, Damien certainly
wasn't about to stick around and ask them. Not only was it somewhat bad for his health - or even un-health - but there were strict orders from Master Henrik on what to do in circumstances like this. Remove anything of importance - especially
anything that could give clues as to the location of the main base - before activating the self-destruct mechanism and evacuating. If you disobey these orders, hope the Marines catch you before Master Henrik does.
Besides, Damien thought as he shepherded the other vampires into the entrance leading into the network of utility tunnels that were under the arcology, it really wasn't that hard to work out how it could have happened. For starters, there were those abduction teams that had failed to report back...****
Alex Matthews wasn't a happy Marine.
Not only had he been ordered to stay topside while most of the rest of the company went in, he'd been detached from his squad as well. As Captain Edgar had told him, "You're our expert on these things, which makes you too valuable to risk on these missions."
In vain did he protest that, thanks to their neural nanonics, the others knew precisely
what he knew; that, thanks to those same nanonics, the same information was freely available to anyone with the appropriate clearances; that it was his squad
going into potential danger and he should be with them...
It wasn't that he didn't trust the lance-corporal who was his second-in-command - it was the fact that he'd led that squad for almost a year now, and he really should
be going in with them.
Denied that, all he could do was pace restlessly inside the security perimeter that had been set up around the company headquarters - which wasn't entering the target building, either.
"Will you just relax
?" Lucy Matheson, whose squad had been selected to provide security, asked. "All that pacing is starting to get on my nerves. Here, have some coffee," she added, holding out a steaming mug. Alex stared at the mug for a moment, before accepting it and slumping into the chair next to her. "That's better," Lucy continued. "My squad's been kept out of it, too, but do you see me
fretting and pacing?"
"It's not that, Lucy," Alex replied as he took a sip. "At least you
weren't detached from your squad the way I was. I should be in there with them, dammit!"
"There is that," Lucy admitted, taking a sip of her own coffee. "This whole mission is giving me the creeps. We were told to expect resistance, right?" When Alex nodded, she continued, "So where is it? It's been almost half-an-hour and not even one bloodsucker has said so much as 'boo'."
"That's a good question," Alex replied. "In fact-"
He was interrupted when a gout of dust shot from all of the lower-floor entrances, accompanied by a rumbling roar. As they watched in open-mouthed horror, the building began to settle, and more explosive charges two floors up cut more of the structural supports, accelerating the collapse. And two floors above that, and above that, and above that
The self-destruct had been cleverly rigged. In order to maximise the casualties of anyone who stormed the nest, the triggering mechanism had been placed in the very lowest floor of the building. The charges were conventional explosives, as opposed to sub-nuclear devices - of which Jonsson had none, anyway - but they had been carefully placed in order to cause the maximum damage possible. And the triggering mechanism had been clever in its simplicity - once it had been activated, if anything
temperature entered its range, it would set off the explosives.
Most of this would be determined by later investigation, but for now, all Lucy and Alex could do was watch in horror as most of the rest of the company was swallowed up in a series of explosions and a billowing dust cloud. They probably would have continued to stand there, ignoring little things like the billowing cloud of dust and small pieces of debris headed their way and the risk of larger pieces of debris falling if Captain Edgar hadn't grabbed each of them by the arm and physically hauled them away. "Come on
!" he shouted. "There's nothing we can do for them right now!"
Reluctantly, Alex and Lucy let themselves be dragged away - but only for now. As soon as it was safe, they'd be the first to go back in order to rescue anyone that could be rescued... or to retrieve bodies.****Los Angeles Police Department Precinct Headquarters
Sunnydale Dome, Los Angeles Arcology
22nd June 2614
Amanda blinked as she disengaged her link to the precinct house's computers, seeing Alex enter the room. He looked terrible, haggard and covered in dust, with pieces of epithelium membrane and medical nanonics covering numerous minor injuries, his uniform jumpsuit ripped in several places, not to mention the fact that he was limping slightly.
Thanks to the link with the computers, she knew about the raid that had become disaster. She also knew that in the first hour of rescue operations, nearly forty bodies had been retrieved... and only two horribly-injured survivors, who were unlikely to survive without massive transplants of cloned organs and tissue. Fortunately, zero-tau pods had been available to store the injured until they could reach the specialised medical facilities in the Halo.
Jumping to her feet, she grabbed her brother in a hug, which he listlessly returned, before guiding him to the seat she had just vacated. Several platitudes ran through her mind, but she refused to say any of them, knowing that none of them would help. Instead, she simply maintained the hug.
Just then, Xander, Cat and Liz entered the room, having just completed a training session. "You know, Xander," Cat was saying, "thanks to your pit-fighting experience, you know ways of fighting dirty that I've never even heard
of, and when you combine that with unarmed-combat programs and your AT implants, you should give your 'friends' quite a surprise when you get back, and-"
She saw Alex - or, more accurately, the state he was in - and immediately hurried to his other side, hugging him with such ferocity that he 'oof'ed as the air was driven from his lungs. "Bloody hell, Alex, what happened
?" she demanded.
Amanda remained silent; this was Alex's story to tell... if he wanted to.
"The company had entered the building," Alex replied in a monotone. "I - along with Lucy's squad, who were on perimeter security - had been held back at company headquarters. We were curious about the lack of resistance, but before too long our questions were answered; the vampires had abandoned the building, but not before rigging it to blow. Which it did... while most of the company were still inside."
Cat felt tears start to well up in her eyes. In the fortnight since Alex's company had arrived in Los Angeles, the Slayerettes had spent a fair amount of time with them, making several friends in the process. To hear that they'd been ambushed in such a brutal manner was a hammer blow - and a hammer that was wielded by a Slayer, at that. On the other side, Amanda said quietly, "So far, only two survivors have been rescued."
Cat hadn't thought it was possible, but Alex's expression crumpled even further. Tightening her hug, she was about to say something reassuring - which probably wouldn't have worked - when Xander exploded behind her.
!" he shouted, driving a fist into the nearest available wall. Even with his increased strength, he wasn't able to put a hole in it - although he did
manage to inflict quite a dent. "Ow! Fucking hell!" he snarled, before turning and stalking from the room, obviously in search of medical nanonics to treat his equally-obviously broken knuckles. He was probably also going to draw weapons and armour with the intention of taking out his anger on any vampire he ran in to. Liz stood frozen for a moment, her face twisted in agonised indecision, before trotting out after Xander, obviously deciding that Alex had all the help he needed for the moment.
Amanda and Cat exchanged looks. In Xander's current state of mind, they could almost
feel sorry for any vampire that he ran in to. Almost... but not quite.****
Liz was waiting outside, leaning against the wall opposite the door for Xander as he was leaving the medical area, a bright green medical nanonic adorning the knuckles of his right hand. "I don't want to hear it, Liz," he snapped, seeing her.
"Who said I was going to try to stop you?" she snapped back, revealing the slow simmer of fury that was boiling away in her as opposed to the flare of anger that had erupted in Xander. "In fact, I'm going with you."
That declaration stopped Xander in his tracks. He briefly considered asking if she was sure, then he saw the determination on her face, much like Willow's 'Resolve Face'. In fact, if she was anything like Willow, the only way to stop her from coming along would be to knock her out - and not only did Slayers take a lot
of knocking out, they tended to hold a grudge against people who did things like that, for some reason.
"All right," he said more calmly and nodded to her before turning on his heel and heading towards the armoury.
Caught off-balance by his sudden agreement - she'd been prepared to argue more - she stood still for a moment before following him. What she hadn't said - hadn't had a chance
to say - was, that in his current frame of mind, Xander would probably be in more danger than he normally would. Not because of any supposed 'weakness', but because he wouldn't be thinking clearly.
And she couldn't let that
happen. Apart from anything else, the other Slayerettes would be royally pissed
When Xander reached the armoury, Liz hard on his heels, he saw a small crowd of off-duty police and Marines, all of them drawing weapons and armour. The armourer, who, under normal circumstances, would have been checking for mission orders and weapons-issue authorisation, was simply handing out weapons when requested, without saying a word.
As Xander and Liz entered, everyone stopped what they were doing and turned towards the door. Xander, who had been riding his anger this far, now found himself in a position where he had to lead this disparate team. He didn't hesitate, however.
"You obviously know what's just happened," he said, to accompanying nods and low growls. "Well, I'm not going to simply take that; I'm going to go out and bust a few vampire heads, to send them a message: if you fuck with us, we're going to fuck with you right back, and harder. Anyone who wants to come along is more than welcome."
With his impromptu speech given, he made his way to the armourer, and collected two maser carbines, along with an equipment harness containing energy cell reloads and a number of stakes. Turning to face the heavily-armed crowd behind him while Liz collected her own weapons, he simply nodded and said, "Let's go."****
After Xander and Liz had left, Amanda asked Cat, "Do you think we should tell someone about this?"
Cat nodded. "In his current state, Xander is almost as dangerous to himself as to any vampire he encounters," she replied. "Liz is good, but I don't know if she can protect Xander as well as herself, especially if he just charges blindly into the first group of vampires they run in to."
Alex blinked and nodded. "Yeah," he said slowly. "I've lost enough friends today. I don't want to lose any more."
Deciding that time was of the essence, they set about tracking down Captain Henderson. He wasn't hard to find; in fact, he was in the first place they looked - his office - along with Captain Edgar as they discussed what had happened. When the Slayerettes burst into the room without knocking or requesting permission to enter, both Captains looked up. "What is it, Matthews?" Henderson asked, the fact that he'd used Amanda's last name by itself an indication of how displeased he was.
"Which one?" Cat asked, slightly confused.
"Either one," Edgar replied. "This had better be important," he added.
"I think it is," Amanda said. "I think Xander's gone to the armoury, intending to draw weapons and prowl the Dome, killing any vampires he runs in to. Liz has gone with him, but..." she trailed off, before shrugging helplessly.
"Shit," Henderson said succinctly as he accessed the feed from the security sensors in the armoury. "I hope we're not too late to... Shit!"
"What is it, Matt?" Edgar asked, clearly concerned.
"It's not just Xander - there's a whole bunch down there, drawing weapons and armour. Not just my officers, but your Marines as well. And the armourer's just handing them out like they were toys, instead of following procedure." He sighed before adding, "Shit."
"And you're not ordering them to stop... why?" Cat asked.
"First rule of command," Edgar replied. "Never give an order that you know
won't be obeyed. It tends to weaken your authority," he explained.
"And there's no way we can get down there in person in time to stop them," Henderson added. "Which is probably the only way we'd have a chance of talking them out of it, since datavises don't carry the same weight as a personal appearance."
"So, you're not going to do anything," Amanda said, more in summary than anything else.
"There's not a whole lot we can
do," Henderson agreed. "Not right now, anyway."****Downtown District
Sunnydale Dome, Los Angeles Arcology
22nd June 2614
It was daylight outside - so what? There were large parts of the arcology that never saw direct sunlight, which meant that vampires could - and did - operate twenty-four hours a day. It was simply a matter of checking the LAPD computers to find the area with the highest reported number of vampire attacks and leading the group of police and Marines who'd decided to follow him there.
They hadn't encountered too many vampires while on their self-imposed mission of vengeance - there were simply too many of them, and they were too heavily armed, for any but the most stupid and suicidal vampires to even consider attacking them.
There had been a few said suicidally stupid vampires, though, and those had been swiftly dealt with.
On the other hand, they'd run into a few groups of more intelligent vampires who simply hadn't had the chance to escape. Once they realised that, they threw themselves into the attack with the desperation of those who had no other choice, and were determined to take down as many enemies as possible with them.
Not that they were being given much of a chance, Xander reflected as he burned down a vampire that was desperately charging him while, behind him, Liz did the same to another vampire that was attacking from her side. As the ashes of the vampire were drifting to the ground, both of his maser carbines bleep
ed to indicate the their energy cells had been depleted - and another vampire was attacking him.
Without pausing, he kicked the vampire in the crotch, and swiftly plugged in two new power cells while it was clutching its ruined testicles and whimpering. He knew that before too long, it would get up as the demon over-rode the pain signals coming through the host body's nervous system, but he didn't give it that chance as he dropped one of the maser carbines and drew a stake.
At that point, it was almost a mercy staking.
Looking around, he saw that that had been the last of the vampires. He also knew that his group was running dangerously low on power cells, not to mention the casualties they'd taken. It was time to head back and face the music.
As the group gathered up their casualties, and gave them what first aid they could prior to moving them, Liz moved up behind Xander. "You know that some people aren't going to be what you could call overjoyed at you," she said conversationally.
"Yep," Xander replied casually.
"And that I'm going to be one of them."
"More than likely."
"You're going to be read the riot act when we get back."
"Quite frankly, I'd be disappointed if someone didn't."
"Of cour- What?"
"Ah, so you are
paying attention," Liz said with a slight hint of acid and a large hint of worry. "Maybe there's hope for you yet. I'm not going to go into too much detail right now - I'm saving it for back at the station - but I'm going to ask if you know how stupid you've been for the last couple of hours."
Xander bristled slightly before his shoulders slumped. "Yeah," he said quietly. "I've just figured it out now," he added as two Marines walked past, carrying the body of one of the - thankfully - few people who'd been killed on this little jaunt.
Liz saw his expression and slapped him lightly on the back of the head. "Don't," she said curtly.
"Ow!" he complained, rubbing the sore spot. "Don't what?"
"But they- Ow!" He was interrupted by another light slap - light by Slayer standards, that is.
"They were going to go out whether you showed up or not," Liz retorted. "You just happened to show up when they were looking for someone to lead them," she added. "And they
"Yeah, but that means- Ow! Would you cut that out already?" he said as he was slapped for a third time.
"No," Liz replied. "Not until you stop trying to blame yourself, anyway."
"All right, I get the hint, already," Xander grumbled. "Sheesh."
Liz grinned for a second before her expression turned serious. "Do you think it was worth it?"
Xander sighed. "I don't know," he replied. "I'd like to think so, but I could be wrong."****
The Terakan assassin scowled. For most of the last three hours, he'd been tracking one of the targets specified in his contract, but he'd never really had a clean shot at her. Every time he thought he did, someone would step into his line of fire. He could have taken the shot anyway, burning down the obstruction first, but that would have been sloppy and unprofessional.
Not to mention the fact that his target would have certainly found cover by the time the obstruction was cleared - Slayers could move quickly, after all. Then there was the fact that the other people in the group would be returning fire. Even if they had no real chance of determining his actual location, sheer weight of fire would significantly increase the chances of him getting hit... and the Order of Teraka would have kept the fee if he'd died in the course of completing a contract.
Of course, there were
two other targets to be taken out first, making his death in the course of taking out this one target even more
pointless. After all, all he would have been doing would be to make it easier for his fellow assassins/competitors.
As they prepared to return to their base of operations, the assassin was about to give up and try again later. Even after the vampire attack, the precinct houses were still too well-guarded to make trying to infiltrate one anything but a quick way to commit suicide.
Then he finally
got a clear shot. He decided to take it, since the police and Marines accompanying the Slayer weren't quite as alert as they could have been - which was to be expected, really, since they were policing up their dead and wounded in the traditional post-battle ritual carried out by military forces since the dawn of time.
Of course, said militaries have known about that tendency to slack off, and have been trained against it, with some success, which was true in this case. But even though the police and Marines were looking alertly around, no-one was paying any real attention to the windows of the buildings above and around them. Even if they were
, one person is an awfully small target to spot, especially if said person if wearing a chameleon suit.
The assassin carefully sighted his long-barreled maser variant - almost a maser rifle
, and with a telescopic sight replacing the targeting laser - and pulled the trigger carefully, so as not to move his aiming point.****
Xander would never know what prompted him to shove Liz to the ground while taking a step to the right so that he was standing where she was. Maybe it was the half-imagined flicker or movement that he saw in one of the windows above them.
Whatever it was, it certainly saved Liz's life, as in the split-second after he did that, the thermal dissipation grid built into the armour covering his upper chest suddenly went white-hot, burning the skin underneath. He was about to fling himself to the ground, covering Liz, when the armour suddenly cooled as whatever was pouring that energy into it stopped. Acting on instinct, he erected a few axon blocks across the affected nerves - causing the burnt area of his chest to suddenly go numb - and returned fire with his maser carbines. Following his lead, the others opened fire as well, and the area where the shot had come from was flayed by both energy weapons and projectiles from Bradfield rifles.****
The assassin cursed as his target was shoved to the ground just as he pulled the trigger. He released the trigger and rolled away from his position - just in time, as the first return shots came back through the window.
It was time to go, he realised. Abandoning the weapon where it lay - he'd been careful not to leave DNA evidence on it, and even if there was, he knew that it would match nothing in the Govcentral databases. He ran for the door, diving through it as the exterior wall began to crumble under the weight of fire coming in.
time to go.****
"Xander! Are you all right?"
Xander shook off the momentary dizziness and blinked to clear his eyes. As his vision cleared, he saw Liz's concerned features. "Yeah. A little scorched, but fine," he replied. Obviously not believing him entirely, Liz began to remove the armour - complete with partially-melted section - and started to undo his shirt. "Why, Miss Baker," Xander quipped. "Don't you think that this sort of thing should wait until we have some privacy?"
Liz blushed but didn't stop. "Under other circumstances, yes," she shot back, which caused Xander to blink in surprise. "But I'm about to see how badly you're burned. Besides," she continued with a grin, "I think I'd insist on at least dinner and a movie first." Xander flogged his brain for some sort of come-back but failed dismally.
When Liz saw the burned patch - about the size of both her outspread hands, charred at the centre, with the rest red and blistered - she gasped. "A little scorched?" she asked disbelievingly. "More like somewhat cooked!" She had been about to grab some epithelium membrane from the medical supplies she carried, but on seeing the true extent of his injures, she instead went for a medical nanonic.
"Hey, I'm still breathing and moving under my own power, so that's got to count for something," Xander protested as the nanonic bonded with his skin. "Doesn't it?"
"Yep," Liz agreed. "It means that I'm still going to rip you a new one when we get back."****Light Bringer Sect Coven, Downtown District
Sunnydale Dome, Los Angeles Arcology
22nd June 2614
The Magus of the Sunnydale Dome pondered the situation as his remaining acolytes carried out the sect's business. Even with the new recruits, there were still far less of them than there had been at the start of the month.
Even though his main sources of information within the police had been suddenly cut off when the Confederation had been moved to its new location - something that he was still curious about - he still had enough sources of information to have learned something interesting.
The building he had attacked - the fight in which over two-thirds of his acolytes had died - had been a nest of vampires.Real
ones, not simply gang members with AT implants and cosmetic adaptation packages.
Under other circumstances, he might have offered an alliance with them - after all weren't vampires creations of God's Brother? - but since that attack had been prompted by the vampires taking his sect members, there was no way he was going to do that now.
After all, with those abductions, the vampires had offered a declaration of war. He'd passed on the information to the High Magus of the Los Angeles arcology, and she'd agreed with his conclusions. Since then, sect members had been mobilised and sent into the streets with the sect's heavier weapons and orders to eliminate any vampire they encountered.
They were also under strict instructions to avoid both police and Confederation military patrols, but if that was not possible, then they were to attack. If they encountered a fight between the arcology's defenders and vampires, the final decision was left up to the sergeant acolyte in charge of the patrol group. Either way, the sects would come out on top - unless the vampires won in the end, of course, but the Magus doubted that the authorities would allow that to happen. They'd simply pour in more resources - they had the resources of eight hundred and sixty settled worlds to choose from, after all.
And in the worst case, he suspected that SD fire would be called down onto a dome that was overrun by vampires. After all, during the possession crisis, that had been publicly considered seriously as a course of action if the possessed had ended up taking over an entire arcology, or even a dome.
Yes, he decided, it would be better for the sects if they fought their own fight, instead of allying with either the authorities or the vampires.
But the vampires had
to have a goal they were working towards. What was it?