Disclaimers, etc., in prologue
Xander bit into a turkey leg, and the juice dribbled down his chin. “This is delicious. Do you guys eat like this after every fight?”
Buffy shook her head and swallowed a bite of mashed sweet potatoes. “About every two weeks,” she said. “There’s a small group of magic adepts outside of Caracas, and they teleport us in some food twice a month.”
“Why only twice a month?” Jayne asked through a mouthful of peas.
“There’s a lot of people to resupply,” Buffy said. “And Venezuela only has so much food. And… they’re not that strong. They can only send out shipments about every four days, and preservatives other than salt aren’t really available.”
“Why not use other methods of shipping?” Mal asked.
“They aren’t available to us,” said Buffy, shrugging. “Demons in the water will take out ships, and we don’t have the gas or expertise to fly. And over land really isn’t an option in the Northern Hemisphere.”
“Well that shuttle we brought down appears to have power,” Xander said.
“Probably a fusion engine,” Book said. “According to my histories, they were fairly ubiquitous around the time the fleet left Earth.”
“Fleet?” Buffy asked through a mouthful of mashed potatoes.
“The fleet that took people out into the stars,” Book said.
Buffy looked confused.
“It’s a whole thing,” Xander said, “we can explain it later.”
Buffy nodded. “Fair enough. So how long have you guys been in this um… dimension?”
“About three weeks,” Willow said. “It took us some time to figure out how money worked, and to trade enough stuff from Earth to get passage on a ship.”
Buffy looked at Mal. “So you agreed to fly them out here for money?”
“Not exactly,” he said. “I was a little shanghaied in my own boat.”
“That’s hardly fair, Mal,” Inara said. “You were promised compensation.”
“Sure, for the chance at disappearing forever.”
“We’re here, though,” Jayne said. “Ain’t nothin’ disappeared about us.”
“Disappearing?” Buffy asked.
“Earth was lost,” Xander explained. “And most people who went to find it either disappeared or came back broke. Like the Bermuda Triangle or something.”
Buffy nodded in understanding.
“So what did you promise them?” she asked.
“All the expensive stuff we brought with us from home,” he said. “And some old stuff from here.”
Buffy snorted. “We can do better than that.”
“We can?” Xander asked.
“You can?” Mal asked.
“There are a lot of things here that we can’t use,” Buffy said. “At all. Because we don’t have the infrastructure.”
“Like what things?” Mal asked.
Buffy shrugged. “All sorts of technical stuff. Over at Johns Hopkins, there are rooms full of computers that nobody can use. Cars that don’t run. Hell, if your ship has room, there’s a bunch of trains downtown that don’t run anymore.”
“Trains,” Mal said. “Think that might be a bit big for us. A car or two, maybe…”
“Oh,” said Buffy. “And let’s not forget the toys.”
Xander raised an eyebrow. “Toys?”
* * * * *
The lights didn’t work, but the crew from Serenity had brought their own flashlights. They roamed the aisles haphazardly, looking at anything that caught their eye. Jayne found the GI Joes and toy guns, Book found games like Scrabble, Pictionary and Risk. Inara, initially drawn to the Barbie dolls, discarded them and instead found some bicycles to ride around on.
Zoë and Mal spent their time looking at the various video game consoles and the games that went along with them, but it was River who found the gold mine.
“I don’t get it,” Jayne said, looking at the stacks and stacks of faded boxes. “They’re just little blocks?”
“Little blocks that connect to each other,” Mal said, looking over the… whatever it was that River was putting together. “Can you imagine how much this stuff would sell for? Kids could pay with this for hours. Hell, *adults* could play with this for hours. You buy this stuff, you can build your dreams out of little plastic blocks,” he said. He bent down and picked up a small Lego man. “With little plastic people to live in them.”
Mal turned to Geoffrey, the man with an eerily long neck who Buffy had sent with them. “We can take anything we want?”
“That’s what she said,” Geoffrey told him.
“I don’t suppose you’ll help carry?” Mal asked.
Geoffrey stared at him for a moment, then walked away. He came back about two minutes later pushing a big plastic basket on wheels. Mal stared at the thing for a moment, then looked back at Geoffrey.
“There more of these things?”
* * * * *
Willow, Xander and Buffy lay on the top of the building that housed Buffy’s ‘command center,’ and stared up at the stars.
“What’s it like up there?” Buffy asked. She was lying between her two best friends, her arms looped through theirs, holding them close as if they would disappear if she let go.
“Surprisingly boring, at first,” Xander said. “Space travel is so normal for them. It took us a while to realize how… incredible it was. But when we did…”
“We just stood there,” Willow said. “Looking at the stars. Would have stood there longer, but we had things to do. But it was… amazing.”
Buffy sighed. “I want to do that someday. Go out in the stars. Go on adventures with you guys.”
“You don’t get adventures here?” Xander asked.
Buffy shrugged. “It’s not the same. I’m not going anywhere. I fell out of the sky in New York, and I’ve been fighting ever since. You guys got to fly around the galaxy in a spaceship. That’s the kind of adventuring I want to do. The kind where you’re not always fighting.”
“Maybe when we get home,” Willow said. “We can all go on a road trip or something. Take a break.”
“Hey, yeah,” said Xander. “I think I’ve still got all my maps. Maybe we’ll even make it past Oxnard.”
“And if we don’t, we can call for ride, so we don’t stay a few hours away for months without anybody knowing,” Willow said.
“Fair enough,” said Xander.
Buffy stayed silent, but held their arms tighter. Willow and Xander glanced at each other.
“What?” Willow asked.
Buffy shook her head. “Nothing. It’s not important right now. I just want to be with you guys. I’ve missed you so much.”
Willow and Xander inched closer to her, and she took comfort in their warmth and their presence. They lay there for hours, as Willow and Xander caught her up on all the news from back home; Dawn was okay, but acting out a little, largely because, they thought, they couldn’t spend a lot of time with her; Giles was doing well, research and training as always, and spending more time keeping up with the Magic Box; Anya was earning money and making wedding plans; Tara pretty much tried to keep everyone sane.
The big news, of course, was Faith’s release from prison, and just how that had come about. As much as Buffy didn’t like – really, really didn’t like Faith, Sunnydale needed a Slayer. And when a God told you to get one, well… there wasn’t a lot of room for argument.
Then it was Buffy’s turn.
“Well, like I said, I fell out of the sky into New York, which looks nothing like I imagined it looking,” she said.
“Five hundred years will do that, I imagine,” said Xander.
Buffy nodded. “It was not pretty. Skyscrapers had fallen, the roads were torn up, bridges falling down. Not good. Lucky me, I managed to fall out of the sky right near a group of people patrolling from a resistance base in the Central Park Zoo. They picked me up, tied me up and held me hostage until they realized that I was actually human, or at the very least on their side.”
“How’d they figure that out?” Willow asked.
“I didn’t die from sunlight or holy water, and when they were raided by demons I escaped from my ‘cell’ and killed them. The demons, not the people.”
“Good choice,” said Xander.
“Thank you. Anyway, they figured I could be trusted after that, and I kind of… took over the fighting side of things pretty quickly. They had already started to push back, to gain some ground here on the East coast. I got shipped down here to Baltimore, where I’ve been for… a couple months, I guess.”
“And how’s that been going?” Willow asked.
“Not great by my standards,” she said. “But by the standards of everyone involved here, it’s been going swimmingly.”
“Did you ever wonder how the term swimmingly came around?” Xander asked. “I mean, it’s like smoothly, or really well, right? So did somebody just… really like swimming? I mean, there are a lot of hazards involved with swimming. Drowning. Stomach aches. Cramps.”
“Shark attacks,” said Buffy.
“Frogs,” said Willow.
“Aquatic demons,” Buffy added.
“And we have a winner,” said Xander. “So what’s the deal with that?”
Buffy and Xander both turned to Willow. She looked offended. “What? I don’t know everything, guys. I’m not Giles.”
They looked back up at the stars. “Do you guys think one of your friends would take me up into space?” Buffy asked after a few minutes.
“Have to ask them,” Xander said. “But honestly, I don’t see why not.”
“In fact,” said Willow, “it couldn’t hurt if we brought down that other shuttle. It sounds like the people here could really use it.”
“We could,” Buffy said. “It would help so much with supplies, safety, even just reconnaissance. Hell, if all we did was use them to evacuate injured people, it could save lives.”
“Well I think we all agree that Earth should be in the hands of humans,” said Xander. “And anything we can do, before we leave, to help these guys take it back is something I’m in favor of.”
“Yeah,” Willow said.
Buffy pulled them closer still. “I love you guys,” she said.
“Me too,” said Willow.
“Yeah,” said Xander. “I love you guys, too.”
* * * * *
“Oh my God, this is like the best thing ever,” Buffy said. She was seated next to Mal on the shuttle, with Xander and Willow standing behind them. She was nearly bouncing, she was so excited. She kept turning back to look at Xander and Willow, grinning like she was nine and had just been given a pony.
“It’s pretty fantastic,” Willow said.
“We should be docking in about five minutes,” Mal said. Buffy was looking away from the station and out into space, looking at the stars.
“You guys have been out there,” she said.
“We have,” said Willow.
Buffy shook her head. “Man. That’s incredible. How come we’re not floating around?”
“Artificial gravity,” Mal said. “Been around for ages.”
“How does it work?” Xander asked.
Mal shook his head. “No idea. But it does, and we are grateful for it.”
A few amusing minutes of Buffy’s excitement later and they docked with the station. They went back into the cabin of the shuttle, where Zoë was waiting for them.
“What’s the situation?” Mal asked.
“Gauge says it’s breathable. Seems the scrubbers worked,” she said.
“That’s… a surprise,” Mal said.
“But a good one,” said Xander.
“Still, best be careful. Gauge could be wrong, though I don’t know why it would be.” He turned to Willow. “If you’ll agree to hold the air in here, I’ll put on a suit and check out the other side of the airlock.”
Willow nodded, and a few minutes later Mal stepped into the space station and walked toward the back of the chamber. He checked his air quality indicator, tapped it twice, then held up a thumb. He raised his hand to his helmet, and opened the seal on his helmet.
Xander jumped as Mal started gasping and clutching at his throat. He and Buffy made to run out and pull him back into the shuttle, but Zoë held up a hand and shook her head.
“But he’s –” Buffy started.
“No,” said Zoë, as Mal fell to the ground, his body stiff and his helmet clanking on the ground. “You’ll only encourage him.”
“We’ll what?” Xander asked. “But he’s –”
Zoë shook her head. “We’re not falling for it, sir,” she yelled into the station. “Nobody thinks that you’re funny.”
Mal remained still. Zoë rolled her eyes and stepped out into the airlock. Nothing happened to her. She walked over to the captain, knelt down and rolled him over.
“You need to laugh more,” he said.
“You need to be funnier.”
Buffy stepped out into the space station, followed closely by Willow and Xander. She looked around. “It smells weird.”
“The air’s been in here for hundreds of years, and just started to get clean yesterday,” Willow said. “It’s amazing we can even breathe it.”
“Okay,” Mal said. Zoë had helped him up off the deck, and he was stripping out of the vacuum suit. “Well, we’re not just here to sightsee. Xander, you and Zoë go get the weapons. Red, you check out the control room, see if there’s anything else here can be used to help out those down on the planet.”
“What about us?” Buffy asked.
“Well,” he said, smiling, “I reckon’ we get to go exploring.”
* * * * *
The emptiness of the space station was creepy, Buffy decided. All of the cabins were empty. As weird as it sounded, it would have been less creepy if they’d found skeletons, or clothes, or a picture, or even a sink with a dish in it. But everything was in its place. There were no indications that anyone had ever been there.
But the truth was, there were trinkets. Keepsakes. Not anything personal, but things that people had used. There were bowls, there were pots and pans, there were linen closets and bathroom soap. Small things, but the fact that they were from ‘Earth-That-Was’ would make the extremely valuable to collectors back out in ‘the ‘Verse,’ as Mal called it.
“So,” Mal said after they’d been at it a while.
“So?” she said.
“You’re not planning to go back with them.”
“What?” she asked, whipping her head around to look at him.
“Well, you’re not,” he said. “Are you?”
She looked away from him. “I can’t abandon these people,” she said. “I have responsibilities here.”
“And you don’t back home with them?” he asked. “The people who travelled through dimensions and were ready to steal a spaceship full o’ armed people, figure out how space travel works and take their best shot at navigating, then take on a planet full of demons to get you back. There’s no responsibilities there?”
Buffy frowned. “I know,” she said. “It’s horrible. I hate it. But I can’t leave.”
“Because they need you.”
“They both need me,” she said. “And as much as being needed sounds nice, being needed by a group of people who are relying on you for their survival, and a group of people who love you, and who you love, and not being able to be with both of them… it’s one of the worst things ever.”
They stepped into a common room between some of the cabins, and he kicked out a chair for her then sat down on one of his own. “So how do you choose?” he asked.
“Instincts,” she said. “Faith.”
Buffy chuckled. “No. Faith is a Slayer.”
“Like you and River?”
“Not like me,” she said immediately. She smiled at him and shook her head. “I mean, yes, technically. But we’re very different people.”
“You don’t like this Faith person.”
“Not even a little. There was a time we were close, but…”
“But?” Mal asked.
“But she tried to kill me and my friends and my lover.”
Mal nodded. “That’ll cause a rift, sure enough.”
“Anyway, she was in prison, but she’s not anymore. And the thing that my friends need more than anything is a Slayer. Faith is a Slayer. The people here don’t have one other than me. So I stay.”
“Simple, yes,” Buffy said. She took a deep breath. “Easy, no.”
“And what about River?” Mal asked. “She’s a Slayer, same as you.”
Buffy smiled. “Captain Reynolds, we both know that’s not true. River may be a Slayer, but she’s also not what you’d call particularly together. She would be – probably will be – a great warrior. But these people need a leader. And she isn’t one.”
“How are you going to tell your friends?”
“I have no idea,” she said. “They’re going to be angry.”
“It happens, I’d say they have a right.”
“I know,” she said, her eyes watering. “They’re going to hate me. They’re going to think I’m a horrible person, and a horrible friend. And I am a bad friend. I have been… for longer than I’d care to admit. But I know my responsibility, and as long as the people here need my help, I have to give it. And unless you’ve got an army hidden in your coat pocket, they’re going to need me here for a long time.”
Mal checked his pocket. “Sorry,” he said. “All out of armies.”
Zoë’s voice came over his comlink. “Captain.”
“Yeah?” Mal asked into the radio.
“We’re just about ready to go here. And about ten minutes until the next shuttle arrives.”
“Okay,” Mal said. “Tell you what, you and whoever wants to go on. We’ll bring this stuff down on the next shuttle, and catch up with you.”
“Yes, sir,” she said. There was a moment of silence. “These two are going to wait.”
“Understood,” Mal said. “Safe flying.”
“You too, sir.”
Mal looked at Buffy. “Need a minute?”
Buffy shook her head. She’d held herself together through harder things. She’d keep it together until she needed to tell her friends that all of their hard work, all that they’d risked; money, jobs, relationships, their very lives… was all for nothing.
She just hoped they wouldn’t hate her.
End Chapter 19