On Shovel Speeches and Rescue Plans...
Author's Note -- Have replaced all instances of "Al'Kesh" in this story with "Tel'tak", after having done some proper research on the Stargate Wiki and learned the difference between the two...sorry for any confusion before; just thought I'd make that change before anyone decides to mention it. On approach to Cleveland Memorial Hospital
The Tel'tak flew in cloaked; the idea was to drop down onto the roof and work downward, moving quickly and silently until the rescue team made their way to the floor where the recovery ward was located. Buffy had managed to find a cell phone stashed on one of the Council Recovery blokes and called ahead to ask for Mary An. She had not wanted to call in a favor from her favorite nurse so soon, but the circumstances precluded waiting for the proper time. As it was, though, Mary Ann was more than happy to help the Slayer to get her family out of there, and she was also more than a little forthcoming about the recent interview, as she had termed it, with the Homeland Security Agent and several clone soldiers. That disappointed Buffy severely, but what thoroughly incensed her was the arrogant and threatening way in which this Special Agent Osbourne had treated her mother and Dawn. It was pretty clear from that bit of info that the rebels were expected, but what drove the point home for her was Giles’ insight into the matter.
He called it a disturbance in the Force, like a black, roiling thunderstorm and a pit of magma at once. For him, only one sort of person would put out that kind of vibe in the Force, and that was a Lord of the Sith. They personified terrible, awesome power driven and fueled by hateful, deadly intent. This would be his first real challenge as a Jedi Knight, and he was harboring no illusions as to the difficulty of such an encounter. They had already proven that they could manage a platoon or two of Stormtroopers as a team; though they were fanatically loyal to the new regime, and especially to Lord Mortalis, they still operated as a unit of military personnel. A Sith Lord alone could and would be far more willing to do much more damage in far less time than it took for the rebel group to take down even one platoon of clones, and a Sith would enjoy it far more. Though he would be skilled in the use of firearms and bladed weapons, to include the lightsaber, the primary weapon of choice for a Sith was the Dark Side of the Force, which was far more dangerous by any stretch of the imagination than any weapon made my men. This challenge was for Giles alone; no one else could hope to prevail against that kind of enemy, and since he was the world’s first and only real Jedi Knight, and indeed it was Xander Harris he expected to face, then the sad duty was his to confront him. He looked to the Slayer and sent a question into the Force.
The feeling he got back from the Force was not particularly welcome news. There was
a Sith in the hospital; the problem was that it was not
Harris, and that concerned Giles greatly, for if Harris had able to acquire and train an apprentice, then the prospects for humanity’s future were bleak indeed. There had been enough damage done to human freedoms across the country, and if Selmak was correct, then US clone forces had already wiped out several countries’ armies and were more than capable of doing the same thing again. And if the Rule of Two was being observed in this world outside the netherworld of the Force, then the potential of the Sith to do greater damage had just increased exponentially.
Giles felt that humanity had a hope as long as he had the time to put into action his plan, one that he had formed upon discovering something wonderful; when he had first arrived in Cleveland with Jenny, he had been able to get a sense in the Force of the Slayer, Buffy Summers, and Isobel’s Potential ward, Faith Lehane, and he had discovered something startling.The Force was strong in both of them…
It occurred to him that in order to defeat the Sith and restore hope and peace to Earth and the worlds beyond that even now were being threatened by US forces under the command of the Sith, Giles would have to find and train new Jedi. There simply was no other way to look at it – one Jedi alone would be no match for two Sith Lords. Giles wondered whether he would be a match for even Mortalis by himself, as he was not sure how powerful Mortalis truly was. But if there was any truth to Yoda’s and Skywalker’s teachings, one gained the measure of the master by confronting and defeating the apprentice.
Buffy put two and two together, and she came to one frightening conclusion. This Special Agent Osbourne, whoever he was, was the Sith Lord whose presence Giles had felt from the hospital. She looked at Faith, and she saw the same conclusion, and the same fear, reflected in her Slay-sister’s eyes. She looked around for her Watcher, her Daddy Wesley, then at the Air Force squad that called itself SG-1. O’Neill was looking around as well, checking his team members’ equipment and weapons. They had practically exhausted their supply of grenades, both fragmentation and concussion types having been expended in the previous firefight with the clones while escaping from Wesley’s apartment, so a different approach had to be implemented. An interesting mix of anxiety and determination was present in each of the Air Force soldiers’ eyes, except for Teal’c, perhaps; the big black man with the gold tattoo on his forehead always appeared inscrutable, stoic, as though nothing in the world could change his mood in any aspect. That inscrutable face of his could have been carved from stone, and it inspired feelings of curiosity and dread in the Slayer’s heart of hearts. The Council Recovery boys, all six of them, had they ever been strangers to compassion and concern for their quarry, now found it an intimate partner. They each caught Buffy’s gaze and returned it tenfold, which comforted her somewhat, whereas before would have put her off balance. They had been checking and rechecking their weapons and equipment even before Buffy’s alarming insistence that they turn back and head for the hospital, and for the first time now Buffy noticed the curious absence of the tranquilizer guns that they had meant to use on her, and that two of them had actually used. The blasters in their hands now gave them an air of quiet, professional dangerousness, and Buffy had no doubt now that if any clones got between them and her family that the former mercenaries would not hesitate to cut them down.
“You stare too hard and your eyes are gonna pop outta your skull, kiddo.”
Buffy turned in the direction of the voice and saw Colonel O’Neill looking back at her. He nodded to her, a silent message that she would be alright, that they would get through this in one piece and get her mom and her sister back in short order. She certainly hoped so, but the look in the colonel’s eyes made her feel just a little bit better.
“Just wanna be sure we’re gonna get through this ok, Colonel,” Buffy replied, “I’d rather not get shot trying to keep my family from getting shot too, but I’d rather it be me than them. You get me?”
“Yeah, I do,” said O’Neill. “I had a son once, and I would have done anything for him; hell, I’d have died for him, but he died first. Accidental shooting,” he added when Buffy gasped in pity. “No father should have to go through that, to outlive his own son, so yeah, I absolutely get you, kid.”
The Slayer felt a kinship with the Colonel then that she had not previously known, and so she felt that she could trust him with the truth of what happened to her father. “Lost a father once, he was killed by vampires looking for a meal. I slew them and every other vampire in town with extreme prejudice for a long time after that, until my Daddy Wesley here,” and she pointed then with one open hand to her Watcher, who smiled at the mention, “managed to calm me down and face my grief, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. I think he has a thing for my Mom; if he ever decides to propose to her, we’ll have ourselves a nice wedding, then a lovely reception complete with cake and champagne, right before the shovel speech.”
“Shovel speech?” O’Neill asked with some understandable confusion. “Sounds like something I wouldn’t wanna be a part of.”
“Nah, not talking about anything of the evil here; it’s sort of our way of saying ‘welcome to the family.’ Someone new comes into the group and hooks up with one of us, in a good way and without the whole sex thing, at least not right away, and did I mention, ewww? Well, we like to think we’re good people, so if one of us gets hurt or fucked over, then suffice it to say our vengeance is swift, sweet and unique. That’s what we tell them, that’s the shovel speech. It’s never really serious..unless it becomes serious. Hurt one of us, and we make with the buryage...”
“Nice welcome…” he replied with his eyebrows raised. “Sounds like you’re a pretty tight unit, uh…family.”
“Same thing, way I look at it, except without the whole combat thing for my mom and Dawn.”
“Speaking of which, Carter?”
“We’re ready, Colonel, but we are short a few flashbangs so we might have to make do with Mr. Giles and the Force.”
A smile crossed his features. “You know, Sam, I like the way you think. How about you, Summers? How are you with a blaster?”
“I’m alright with a pistol, but firearms aren’t really my thing; I like to get in close and mix it up. It works with vamps and regular demons when they aren’t keen on making with the nice, if you get me,” she shrugged, which got a groan from Carter.
“Um, Buffy, is it?” Upon her nod, O’Neill continued, “I wouldn’t talk so much about the supernatural around Carter here. She still has to get used to the idea that vampires and demons actually exist. So why don’t we see about putting a zat gun in your hands? It’s smaller than a blaster, so it should suit you fine.” He pulled out one of those lightning guns that was supposed to kill something when one fired it twice at a target. Before he could put it in her hands, though, a Jaffa walked past her up to the cockpit where Selmak AKA General Carter was sitting, doing his best to pilot the ship back into the atmosphere and struggling to keep the shields balanced against the extreme heat of reentry. Buffy’s eyes then perked up at the staff weapon he was carrying.
“Ooh, how about one of those staff gun thingies? I could shoot and
pound a target with it…?” She immediately started hopping up and down as she sat, looking for all the world like a kid in a candy store who had just encountered her favorite treat on sale. Without waiting for a response, she immediately went to Stage Two of the Begging Slayer…the Sad Puppy Dog Face. “Pleease? Pretty pretty please? Momma want…” Clasping her hands together in supplication, and batting her eyes whittled the Colonel down, and the quivering lower lip finally sent him over the edge.
He sighed in frustration. “Alright, fine, you got yourself a staff weapon. Can you figure out how to use it quickly enough?” O’Neill looked skeptical at the young Ohio girl who looked deceptively like a staff weapon would break her in half in one swipe, yet he had seen her fight in a melee; a staff weapon would be good enough for her as a bludgeon. She just needed to comprehend how to shoot it as well, and she’d be nigh unstoppable.********
Giles looked at Faith, then at Isobel. He had immediately seen the strength of the Force in the young Potential, but looking at Isobel left him a little confused. There was some power flowing through her. Giles suspected it was some lesser sensitivity to the Force, which explained why she was able to work the magicks she had used to heal Faith’s blaster wound. It also explained why Giles had to help it a bit in order to expedite the spell and close up the charred, gaping hole in the girl’s back. Horry, as Faith was used to calling her, was looking at her back once again, after having removed the bandage and spread a salve of herbs over it. The charring was no longer there, and the shiny new pink skin that had replaced it was rapidly fading as it shrunk almost visibly to the unaided eye. Within only a few hours’ time the newness of it would fade altogether, leaving an expanse of skin that looked as though it had never been harmed. Giles opened himself to the Force a bit, and then he saw something in Faith that made him do a double take.
Faith’s healing abilities, even with the assistance of Miss Horrocks’ magicks, should have taken longer to heal her wound even this much. There was only one explanation…
Faith was unconsciously using the Force to heal her injuries. Giles could feel its energies flowing through her and within her at a rate that frankly astounded him. Even as a Potential Slayer, Faith Lehane was possibly stronger with the Force than he was, and that concerned him somewhat as to his knowledge, there were no Jedi on Earth other than he who could resist the lure of the Dark Side. She would have to be trained if she were ever to avoid becoming like Xander Harris, or like the Sith waiting for them at the hospital. Of that he was sure; he could feel it in the Force.
There was another anomaly to consider. Buffy Summers was the current Slayer, more powerful than Faith, definitely more powerful than he. Giles would have to get the two of them together and persuade them to willingly train as Jedi. If humanity were to ever have a future that included a lasting peace, then it needed Jedi.
Did that make him arrogant? Was he conceited in that regard, that he was the only one on the planet that could make that sort of judgment call? His confusion at the moment, Giles supposed, was sort of a good thing, as any sort of certainty now, before any proof of experience could be brought to bear, would be an answer in the resounding yes, and he would be treading the fine line between the darkness and the light. To fall to the Dark Side now would be a betrayal of everything he had ever been taught over the course of forty years in that non-place where the Jedi Masters had found him. He considered then, that if he had been in a real place, then the universe where the Jedi and Sith had fought their ancient, unending feud was as real as the Force was, as this place most certainly was. Giles’ Force-driven insight then suddenly reassured him that even if he felt alone in the world, even if right now he was the world’s only real, living Jedi Knight, he was never truly alone, for he could meditate and call upon the wisdom and the spirits of the Jedi Masters in the Force, and they would come and be with him.No
, Giles thought, I am certainly not arrogant or conceited, and I am not alone. But I alone am not enough to defeat the Sith. I must train Faith and Buffy, if they’ll have me.
The choice is theirs alone…********
Maugrim strode through the nearly-deserted hallways of Cleveland Memorial, still in his guise of the Homeland Security agent, though now his steps were more measured, more careful. Something was setting off alarms in the Force, something that told him he needed to be there, that someone was coming.
Someone against whom he could finally test his mettle and his strength with the Dark Side of the Force. It was just the sort of moment that he lived for, that and the moment when that blasted chip in his head could be removed at last, and he could unleash his full fury against his master.
He checked his mental wanderings with a visible shudder, shaking himself very much like a dog that shakes the water from its fur. And after all, he was more wolf than man, so for him this was natural. It felt good, like the raw, unfocused fury of the Dark Side felt good to him. Maugrim savored the icy torrent of dark power in his veins, in his very flesh, the power that gave him control over the beast and gifted him with the power to unleash that beast or to hold it at bay as needed.
He reached into his coat for quite possibly the third time since he had begun wandering the halls of the hospital with naught but the Force to guide his steps, feeling for and finding the lightsaber in its shoulder holster where an actual, normal field agent would have an issued sidearm. Letting his hand drift downward then toward his pants pocket, he found and closed his fingers around the comlink he kept with him at all times. He pulled it out and keyed in the frequency that allowed him to speak to his clone troops.
“Commander, report all contacts,” he spoke into the microphone.
“No contact as yet, my lord, but that could change momentarily. We’ll keep you posted,” replied the clone commander.
“Thank you, Cody. You and your men keep your eyes open out there,” he said, then he clicked off the comlink.
Suddenly Maugrim felt ill at ease. Whatever was coming, it was closer now, and suddenly he felt compelled to return to the recovery ward where the Summers women were resting. If the clones couldn’t check the advance of whatever was coming, he was sure now (the Force was telling him as much), then he would be the last obstacle between them and his prize. Upon reaching the door, he pulled out his comlink again and checked up on the patrols in the hospital. He wasn’t about to make it easy for the raiders to get this close. But if they did, then he would prove himself a more formidable foe, and more frightening, than even the clones were capable of being. If they tried to get past him, they were dead. It was as simple as that.********
Buffy hefted the staff weapon for the sixth time, getting a feel for the weight of the thing in her hands. At one end the bulb was designed to split open at the press of a button, revealing the naqadah blaster muzzle inside like a blossoming flower of death. At the other end was a fan-shaped club which was clearly made for striking or slicing, whichever the situation called for. The staff weapon was surprisingly well-balanced, so either end of the weapon could serve in a melee fight and was easy to wield.
Teal’c was showing her now how to aim the weapon for firing in various situations. For precise aim, one balanced the shaft of the weapon on the shoulder and opened the bulb to expose the muzzle. Then one peered down the shaft between the “petals”, and as it was an energy weapon, the energy pulse would travel in a straight line, so all one needed to do was to adjust visually and make small corrections as needed. The most common situation that called for firing the weapon was close range battle, and for that one simply held the weapon beside the hip and pointed in the target’s general direction, fired, and corrected visually as needed. Easy enough, even if one wasn’t a Slayer or a Jaffa…
She looked around at the assembled strike team as they went about their final weapons and equipment checks. She figured since the bulk of the ordnance had been expended in that firefight in the streets near Wesley’s apartment, that they would have to rely upon stealth and good use of cover. Problem was, her Spidey-senses were tingling. She had a distinct impression that if there were no clones trying to make their job difficult, then it would be way too easy. She stole a quick glance over at her Slay-sister, the look in whose eyes basically confirmed what Buffy had suspected. She also caught a glance from that other Watcher, Giles, and she could have sworn he was looking straight into her thoughts. The idea unnerved her and yet at the same time comforted her; how could one so dedicated to easing the suffering of the downtrodden throughout the world have any ulterior interest in her thoughts? Besides, rude much.
“You know, if you wanted to know what I was thinking, Mister Giles, then all you had to do was, like, ask?”
The bespectacled Jedi merely smiled at her and replied, “I shall certainly take you up on that as soon as we retrieve your family and we’ve retreated to a more secure location. Besides, it’s not in my nature to infringe on others’ mental privacy without their express consent, young Buffy.”
Those last words caused Buffy to arch her eyebrows, and she set the butt of her staff weapon onto the deck of the Tel'tak and leaned against it. Young Buffy, indeed…
Her eyes bored into his intensely, but what she found in there caused her to back off a bit. He clearly had seen more sorrow and heartbreak in many faces than she had a right to know, and the Slayer eventually found herself backing down. Her gaze averted itself toward the viewport alongside, just in time to note that they were finally breaking through the cloud layer. She could see the nighttime lights of Cleveland below as they passed over.********
Jeremy and Eric were looking over their equipment. They had only brought a sidearm each that had any live ammunition, since their primary orders upon deployment to the States had been merely to subdue the Slayer and bring her and her Watcher in for “questioning”; he cursed himself for a fool for being so tight-lipped about their missions in the past, and he swore to himself yet again that in light of recent events he would be more forthcoming and conscientious with the details of any future missions in the service of the Council. The E-11 blaster rifle he held in his hands was a testament to his changed reality, and he looked over at Eric and the others in the Retrieval team as they went over they final pre-combat checks. Somehow he had a feeling they wouldn’t be tranking any Stormtroopers on this op…
There wasn’t much time left. They had just descended below the cloud layer into the Cleveland skyline and would be touching down on the hospital roof in just a few minutes. Frank and Joe were looking over their E-11s, trying hard to rationalize the events of the past hour and to accept that there would likely be more of the same when they went in to retrieve the precious cargo, as Jeremy had put it to them. As far as wetworks went, the job typically never was supposed to involve open combat with hostile forces; it was supposed to be quick, quiet and invisible. No muss, no fuss. In, done, and out of the country before anyone could take a guess as to what happened. That was the job, it was what they were paid to do. Jeremy was just glad that they were all handpicked from the ranks of the British SAS, so they would still be able to adapt rather quickly to fighting the enemy in the open. That last firefight could have been viewed as something of a refresher for him and his men, and Jeremy and Eric were both convinced that they managed to handle themselves well then, even with several civilians in tow and American Special Forces in overall command.
The plan was supposed to be simple. Get in, sneak past the clone patrols in the hospital, grab the valuables from the recovery ward and get back to the roof and load up before the clones knew what had happened. Upon landing, the shuttle was to dust off at once and monitor the goings-on from outside in a holding pattern until the raiding party signaled that they were ready for pickup. Their contacts on the inside would do what they could to facilitate their entry into the building and further on into the oncology wing, but they were medical professionals and civilians at that; they were not soldiers or operators, so not much was expected of them except to be smart enough to get out of the way when the shooting started.
Jeremy had designated Ed and Dave as point for this op. Perhaps they could redeem themselves for their shortsightedness at the flat by scouting out the best cover and concealment on the way to the recovery ward. Failing that, perhaps they could be honorable enough to take the first hits if it ever came to a firefight. And yet he’d seen the Jedi Giles in action. Those two wankers wouldn’t be so lucky if he and that lightsaber had anything to say about it. He looked at the blasters in their hands, and down at the one in his, and Jeremy Young wondered how his life had suddenly taken a turn for the surreal…
Frank and Joe would hang back just a bit and suppress any clones that happened to poke their heads out with well-aimed blaster fire from the flanks, hopefully enabling the raiding team to advance a bit further along their path. The Jedi’s girlfriend had acquitted herself surprisingly well as a designated marksman in the last engagement with the clones, so Jeremy had no qualms about employing her again in the same capacity; he just needed to know where to put her for greatest effect, and she could pick off the ones with the best aim. She needed to stay well clear of the close quarters fighting and make her shots count, one shot, one kill all the way. Shoot, kill, move. In the close confines of the hospital, she didn’t have the luxury of finding the perfect sniping position.
Watcher Horrocks was a fairly competent mage when it came to healing, so he had it in mind to make her the field medic. Even so, most Watchers were fairly good with firearms and martial arts, so Jeremy decided that, healer or not, she needed a weapon. As they were short on firearms at the moment, they’d have to pick one up from one of the Stormtroopers that would end up dead before all was said and done, and Giles would have to do his Jedi thing with them to disable the security interlocks before she could use it. Of course, spells only went so far, so they’d have to strap a few medkits on her for more effective battlefield wound care.
Then there was SG-1. Colonel O’Neill had decided that his team would be the main element in the raid, along with the Slayer and her Watcher, Wyndam-Pryce. Since it was her family they were extracting from the objective, she had a personal stake in the mission, pun intended. All they had to do was stick with the plan and the whole operation should go smoothly. They were short on flashbangs and frags, and the Jaffa had used nearly all of their shock grenades in the last engagement, so they would rely on the Jedi’s particular skills in inflicting mass casualties, not that they wanted that, especially Giles who, as a Watcher and a Jedi Knight, particularly preferred not to use lethal force at all if it could be helped. Unfortunately they all knew the Stormtroopers would not be so accommodating. So Giles would shield them by bouncing back shots with his lightsaber, Buffy would suppress with her staff weapon until she could get in close and mix it up (she’d have to be fast with disabling or killing the clones or else they’d make short work of her and the raid would be for naught), and SG-1 would engage and neutralize any patrols they encountered. It was simple, really. There was only one inherent problem with that, and that was the first rule of warfare…
No plan ever survives first contact with the enemy.