(Author’s Note: Descriptions of the Asgerd-class planetoids, its various capabilities and some areas of the ship are taken almost completely verbatim, without permission from the publisher, from the ‘Fifth Imperium’ trilogy by David Weber.)
HIMS Phoenix Ascendant
In solar orbit around Bia
This had to be the most incredible thing he’d ever done in his life, Xander decided. And that included him participating in the stopping of half a dozen or so apocalypses he’d been involved in over the course of his life. It wasn‘t the most important thing he’d ever done, but it was, by far, the coolest – no contest about that, at all.
After all, how many people from the world he’d grown up in had ever traveled into space and taken a tour of a spaceship that was *literally* larger than the freaking Moon (Earth’s moon, which was really big as moons go) and was doing it as guests of the Royal Family?!
He shifted his attention back to the Scoobies' guide’s narrative of the ship’s designs parameters and silently marveled once more at the accomplishments his species had managed to attain over the course of their climb upward from the caves they had once lived in.
"The Asgerd-class were designed both for the line of battle and for independent, long-term survey and picket deployment, with core crews of two hundred and fifty thousand. Intended optimum deployment time is twenty-five Terran years, with provision for a sixty percent increase in personnel during that period, although maximum deployment time is virtually unlimited, assuming crew expansion is contained,” the dark-haired Russian-ish woman acting as their escort informed them as she led them into the control room.
"In addition to small, two-seat fighters that may be employed in either attack or defense, Asgerd-class ships deploy sublight parasite warships massing up to two hundred thousand tons. Shipboard weaponry centers around hyper-capable missile batteries backed up by direct-fire energy weapons. Weapon payloads range from chemical warheads through fusion, anti-matter, and gravitonic warheads.
“Essentially, people, this ship could vaporize your typical planet," Fleet Commander Susan Ivanova concluded her description of the ship’s capabilities with a matter-of-fact tone not much different than one used to describe one’s newest Tri-D video set.
“So, I’m guessing you don’t let just anyone take one of these babies out for a spin around the solar system any time they want, then, huh?” Xander wisecracked as he glanced around a massive platform that thrust out from one curving wall – a transparent platform, dotted with a score of comfortable, couch-like chairs before what could only be control consoles, though there seemed to be remarkably few read-outs and in-puts. The far side of the chamber was dominated by a tremendous view screen, with a blue-white globe of Bia floating in its center with information overlays noting cities and satellites as they passed though the image. Additionally, each console was occupied by a uniformed crewmember clearly occupied with checking out and ensuring that their equipment conformed to its specifications and operated at the highest-level possible. Overall, the impression any onlooker received was of a smoothly functioning machine.
"That is correct," Ivanova agreed with a small nod of her head. "Although all personnel, not just the Command staff of any of His Majesty's ships are required to undergo periodic evaluation by qualified psychiatrists in order to identify any potential disruptive personality disorders before they can manifest and possibly initiate additional problems.
"And yet, despite that, these so-called experts somehow continue to permit my husband to retain command," a new light and very pleasant-sounding voice chimed in, the teasing note in the voice clearly evident to anyone hearing it.
Turning to face the direction the voice issued from, the combined Scooby and Fang Gangs discovered a cheerful, red-haired beauty approaching them, arm-in-arm with a smiling dark-haired man wearing the insignia of a Senior Fleet Captain.
"Ah, Captain Sheridan. Good to see you, sir," Ivanova immediately saluted her commanding officer upon seeing.
"Good afternoon, Commander,” Sheridan returned the salute, although in a bit more casual manner. “Would I be correct in assuming that these are the special guests the Emperor asked us to give the nickel tour of our baby here?” he asked with a smile, indicating the people accompanying her. He acknowledged Russ’ presence among their party with a simple nod, as Ivanova had earlier, since the tertiary dynast was accompanying them in the role of Dawn Summers’ current escort/boyfriend and Academy second-year midshipman, and not in any official Royal capacity, and thus required no additional notice aside from a simple acknowledgement of his existence by a superior officer.
"Indeed, they are, sir. And good afternoon to you, too, Dr. Sheridan,” Ivanova agreed, then introduced all of the involuntary immigrants to her boss and his wife.
“How're you doing, Susan? And how many times do I have to remind you that my name is Anna?" the other woman asked with a smile.
"At least one more, I would suppose, ma'am," Ivanova immediately replied with a suspiciously straight face.
“Hey, that’s my line when you complain about me calling you ‘G-Man,’” Xander protested sotto voce to his companions as the Scooby Pack (as Xander had taken to referring to their new combined group) all grinned at the Commander’s dry wit
"So, Dr. Giles, I understand your primary specialty is Ancient Cultures with a secondary specialization in Ancient Languages," Anna said as she turned to address the group and took the former Watcher’s hand in a firm grip.
"That is correct, Mrs. Sheridan," Giles agreed as he smiled down at her.
The woman was both charming and petite, a bare smidgeon larger than Buffy and for some reason, most likely because of the sheer vitality she seemed to radiate, she reminded him quite strongly of his missing Slayer. Now, though, several months after that god-forsaken tragedy, the memories conjured of his absent surrogate daughter were pleasant and enjoyable, and didn't make his heart ache quite so terribly from her loss.
"And I also understand that your specialty is in Ancient Languages with a secondary in Ancient Cultures, Dr. Wyndam-Price," Anna went on, not noticing Giles' momentary distraction as she turned and offered her hand to Wesley.
"Yet again you are correct, Mrs. Sheridan," Wesley also smiled at her greeting, and he, too, was reminded of a missing Scooby. Although in Wesley's case, the woman's fiery red tresses struck a chord that brought memories of Willow uppermost in his mind, the shade of her hair appearing to him to be an exact match to that of the cruelly-slaughtered witch.
"Gentlemen, please, call me Anna. Hearing someone calling for Mrs. Sheridan makes me look over my shoulder for John’s mother," she laughed. “And I can’t tell you how delighted I am to meet you. My own degree is in Archaeology, and it seems like it’s ages since I’ve been able to discuss anything relating to my work with John and his colleagues in any aspect other than how it either directly applies to, or can be adapted to, weapons development
"If you ever have a few minutes free to talk and don't mind rehashing shop talk, I'd love to get together and discuss the validation, methodology and analysis techniques you might have used when you evaluated any samples brought to you. From what I’ve been able to gather from John about your backgrounds, I'm sure that there are probably significant differences in the style and techniques you’re familiar with when compared to those we've developed here," she stated as she looked up at the two of them with interest.
"I'd be delighted to provide you with any texts or standards you might be interested in reviewing and I'd be honored to introduce you to my colleagues if you should decide you want to get re-involved in your previous lines of work," she offered.
"His Majesty provided us with a somewhat concise briefing concerning your background and how all of you ended up on Bia here. It's not currently general knowledge and from what I understand, it isn't intended to be," she noted, glancing around to make sure that none of the crew were close enough to overhear their conversation. "Unless, of course, you’d prefer otherwise."
"No, that's not a problem, at all – Anna," Giles stated as he shook his head in disagreement. "We are all of us quite satisfied with the manner in which Admiral MacMahon and her group are handling the matter. And please, my friends call me Rupert.
“Well, the majority of them do,” he noted with a wry grin as he glanced over at the younger members of the group.
“And as far as arranging a mutually convenient time in which we can discuss methodology and other matters concerned with our former fields, I would be delighted to do so,” he added with a smile. “Since I currently have no officially scheduled obligations that would require my presence at specific times, why don’t you determine a time and location most convenient for yourself and I will make a point of being there.”
“As will I – Anna,” Wesley promptly agreed. “And my friends call me either Wesley or Wes. I, too, am in the same situation as Rupert, with no pressing obligations requiring my presence at any specific times, so you simply need indicate whichever times are most expedient for you, and we shall endeavor to accommodate you. Should you desire to have any of your colleagues accompany you, we would be delighted to meet them as well.”
“My,” the redhead smiled engagingly upon hearing their responses, “I haven’t heard anyone agree to anything so readily since my brothers thought they were arranging to go skinny-dipping with a half-dozen of our old high school’s cheerleaders back in their junior year.”
“From the expression on your face, I would gather that they were apparently both unduly hasty and somewhat mistaken as to the exact arrangements they were agreeing to, then?” Wesley asked with a smile.
“They were, indeed,” Anna agreed with a short laugh. ”As it turns out, they were actually agreeing to meet with the current boyfriends of the girls under discussion. None of whom were at all happy about the situation, once they found out about it.”
“Judging by the expression on your face, would I be incorrect in wondering just how it is that you know so much about that particular situation?” Giles asked with a grin.
“Well, it’s possible that I might have made one or two insignificant and *extremely* minor mistakes when I was taking down the messages they thought the girls had left for them,” Anna admitted with a wide smile on her face.
“I’ll endeavor to keep in mind at all times that I should remain on your good side, then, Anna,” Wes replied with a smile.
“And I can see that the two of you are, indeed, just as intelligent as I had heard, gentlemen,” she grinned at him.
“I can see that we’re all going to get along famously.”
“So, from what I understand from what the Commander was telling us, you and your people’s job is going to be exploring the far side of the galaxy. Literally,” Xander commented to Sheridan as the two of them made small talk while Cordy idly listened in on Faith, Angel, Connor and Ivanova discussing the finer aspects of various sword fighting techniques, Ivanova from the viewpoint of an avid hobby enthusiast while the Scoobies’ comments were based on practical experience gathered from fighting beings intent on slaughtering you mercilessly.
Gunn, Vi and Rona were busy staring at the holographic globe of Bia and listening to either Dahak or one of the technicians explain in greater detail some point one of them had commented about, Dawn and Russ were off to one side by themselves involved in the usual adolescent boyfriend-girlfriend flirting/interaction, while Lorne was busy, smiling and talking in a very animated fashion with several of the junior officers from the Biosciences division, who were occupied taking occasional scans of him with some handheld instruments and then adjusting readings on their instrument displays
“Yes, it is,” John nodded, a pleased smile on his face as he considered his ship’s upcoming mission.
“His Majesty has directed us to begin surveying the area occupying the far side of the former Fourth Empire, pretty much directly opposite the projected invasion corridor of the Achuultani Colonization Fleet, something which is expected to occur sometime within the next two to two point seven six centuries, according to our Intelligence people. Both Fleet Command and the Emperor himself want to know what else might be out there, waiting for us to stumble over them, and we all want to avoid the kind of problems Prince Sean and Princess Harriet’s group ran into when they found Pardal,” he said.
“If it turns out there are other relics of the Empire or the Imperium still waiting to be found, or even just other worlds that Humanity and the Narhani can expand out to colonize, or re-colonize, as the case maybe, we want to know about them as soon as we can.
“And if there should be other races as xenophobic as the Achuultani out there, we need to know about them, too,” he concluded.
"The Imperium has more than enough difficulties to deal with at present, thank you," he added with the barest hint of a smile. "We most certainly do NOT need to look over our shoulder one morning and find out that we’ve got a previously unknown race trying to exterminate us the way the Achuultani do.”
“Yeah, definitely gotta agree with you on that point,” Xander nodded vigorously as he considered past times the Scoobies had run up against strange and unfamiliar foes looking to chow down on the unsuspecting populace of the town. “Running up against a Big Bad you’ve never seen before and not knowing what their weak points are usually makes for lots of badness, maybe some fun-filled trips to the ER and, if you’re really lucky, overnight stays in the hospital.
“Although, on the plus side, they do usually have different kinds of Jell-O,” he noted reflectively.
John, in turn, grinned at the younger man’s colorful idioms while considering the background he’d been given regarding all of the interdimensional immigrants – both the official biographies he’d been sent and the various rumors that had quickly begun circulating about them once Security’s official veil of secrecy had been at least partially lowered.
According to the information ONI had given him, the group of people currently touring Phoenix were not only all refugees from the past and another dimension, but with only a few exceptions, were experienced and battled-hardened veterans of an ongoing war with what had been described as, literally, demonic forces. Sentient beings obsessed with either the enslavement or the total eradication of the human race – much like the Achuultani, the Narhani’s predecessors, Sheridan reflected to himself.
“So, if you don’t mind my asking, how long have you and your friends been involved in this guerrilla resistance movement you were part of?” he ventured, unsure about whether the younger man before him was willing to discuss that aspect of his life.
“Well, in my case, it’s since I was fifteen,” Xander replied readily enough. “I was riding my skateboard through the school quad and was knocked off my feet when I saw one of the most beautiful and entrancing girls in the world coming up the main walkway.
“I mean that quite literally, because I ran into a railing while watching her and not where I was going,” he elaborated with a short laugh, before a sobering expression quickly replaced the grin.
“That girl was Dawn’ older sister, Buffy, and she was the one who’d been Chosen by the Powers That Be,” he said, making a gesture toward the ceiling that the Captain understood to mean a higher power, “as the current Vampire Slayer at that time. And, if you don’t mind my asking, exactly how much have you been briefed on the demon stuff?” he asked, “ ‘cause I’d really prefer not to sound like a raving maniac when I tell you about this stuff.”
“To the best of my knowledge, all Flag level officers have received a full overview briefing on everything you and your companions have told ONI about your general situation and the conditions back on your Earth,” was the response Xander received. “No personal information of any type was provided, except in cases where it might be considered of significant strategic or tactical importance, such as the fact that among your companions, the young women Faith Lehane, Rona Maris and Violet Churchill are empowered Vampire Slayers, the young man identified as Connor Angelo is superhumanly strong and fast and the – person – identified as Angel is apparently a vampire, but the demonic presence that normally controls the possessed body has been displaced and overridden by his soul. None of the rest of your group was noted as having any other extraordinary abilities."
“Okay, cool,” Xander nodded, noting that ‘Hursag and ONI had apparently followed through on their promise to keep Dawn’s portal formation ability under wraps, before he then began providing a very concise rundown on all of the others’ background.
“Well then, as far as the rest of us go, as I noted earlier, Dawn was Buffy’s sister, so she learned about demons and such pretty early on in her life; Cordy got pulled into the weirdness a couple months after I first learned about all the stuff that goes bite in the night; Giles and Wes have known all about the Dark side of life since they’re both from families that were members of the Watchers Council, which started out as an organization providing support for the Slayer, but ended up with the attitude that the Slayer was their property and someone they could use any way they wanted; Faith was Called as the Slayer when she was about fifteen, after her predecessor was killed; Angel was turned about two hundred and fifty years ago, but the soul’s only been in the driver’s seat for less than a hundred years; Connor’s Angel’s pretty much human son, and I’m not about to get into the details of how he got conceived, ‘cause, yechh! – not something I want to think about very much, if at all, thanks; Gunn grew up in one of L.A.’s less affluent neighborhoods and he’s been fighting vamps and demons almost as long as I have; Lorne’s pretty much been a demon all his life, although he only moved to Earth in the last decade or so and started running a nightclub; and Vi and Rona are the only survivors of a group of girls who were Called as Slayers the day we were forced to leave our home because the last Big Bad we faced was smart enough to get things to work out his way and he managed to kill pretty much all of the people capable of stopping him before we could figure out how to do that,” he finished describing their little refugee group.
“Hmm. Quite an – eclectic group you’ve got there,” John replied diplomatically as he began considering what he’d just heard.
When he added the information he’d just learned to that provided by his briefing, he came to the inescapable conclusion these people were, indeed, the stuff heroes were made of.
Hell, if only half the scuttlebutt concerning this group that was filtered up to him from his various sources among the rank and file were anywhere near correct, then he was half tempted to try to recruit these people for his crew. But while he realized that the Imperium definitely had great need of more people like them, at the same time, he had to acknowledge that their home universe had even more desperate need of them if they were to ever overthrow this demonic invasion force this self-named ‘Scooby Pack’ had been running from when they ended up here. And to tell the whole truth, the idea of six billion humans confined to just a single planet scared him even without throwing the demons in the mix.
With a shrug, he reluctantly dumped his half-thought-out idea to selfishly try and recruit the group in front of him and turned the conversation to the future
“So, what exactly are your plans, Xander?” John asked. “From I hear from some of the science geeks working for me, once the proceeds from the patents on the portal technology you and your friends are responsible for come through, each of you’ll probably be able to buy your own planet.”
“Hmm, hadn’t heard that,” Xander admitted, looking over to stare at the other man in mild surprise. “Giles and Wes had said that Dahak had indicated the tech they were developing might be worth something, but I don’t think anyone thought it would be worth anything like that.
“Although, if that is true, it’ll make our plans go a lot easier,” he commented reflectively.
“What plans are those, if you don’t mind my asking?” John inquired politely after a moment, breaking into Xander’s thoughts.
“Huh? Oh, sorry. Didn’t mean to ignore you, man,” Xander apologized, obviously refocusing on his thoughts from whatever had distracted him. “ I was just – remembering some things,” his voice trailed off for a moment.
Shaking his head as though to dislodge some unpleasant thoughts, he considered John’s question for a moment before beginning his reply.
“Well, normally, I’d make some joke about future plans involving a nice dinner with my girlfriend, some wine, soft music and a lot of privacy, but I’m just not feeling up for joking like that right now,” he said quietly.
“My long term plans involve getting as many mercenaries and as much high-tech equipment together as I can manage and then heading back home and doing my best to wipe every damned bloodsucking vampire and evil demon I can find out of existence and hopefully finding a way to kick the First’s ass off Earth and lock him back inside wherever it is it came from,” he stated, the expression in his eyes as intent and focused as any John had ever seen.
“I don’t know exactly how I’m gonna do that yet, but if it takes me the rest of my life, I’m gonna find some way make sure that the First regrets it ever even thought about screwing with the human race,” he added.
“You do know that the Imperium will, without any doubt, be willing to provide you with at least some form of material support, don’t you?” John asked. “After all, as you’ve probably gathered from discussions with His Majesty, the fate of the human race is of *some* middling concern to us,” he grinned. “No matter where they might be located.”
“Huh,” Xander grunted, clearly surprised by that admission. “I did hear various people saying things along those lines, but I figured that that was mostly just politicians talking. You know, just blowing smoke to make it sound like they were actually doing something.”
“Sorry to shatter your illusions, Xander,” John smiled at him, “but it’s a lot more than just politicians talking. We may not be able to provide a lot in the way of troops initially, since the Ministry has been focused on preparing for the Achuultani for the past thirty-some years and the majority of our troops are already committed elsewhere for the foreseeable future, but I do know there are plans being made to at least provide automated tenders and construction units to go back through the portal with you, in order to begin building local planetoids and facilities.
“Going by typical Imperial protocol, I’m thinking the plans are to start building all of the major assault equipment in the asteroid belt,” he mused, giving the idea some thought. "Meanwhile, you and whatever forces go back with you can be establishing a resistance movement and act as a distraction on Earth until you’re ready to actually start a full-fledged war.”
John looked thoughtful for a second, then added, “And maybe some Terra-forming units for Mars to get some of the eggs out of the basket.”
“Damn.” The smile on the younger man’s face was both joyous and exceedingly bloodthirsty, John decided after a moment’s consideration, and confirmed his earlier thoughts about the quality of the opposition the other Earth’s invasion forces would be facing in the not-too-distant future.
“And here, I thought that only Cordy could give me that kind of happy,” the youth said, cracking a wide grin.
“Aw man, that’s definitely TMI!” John groaned as Xander turned away, laughing.