Ok, I'm sorry! Most of this chapter was written before Christmas. Then I started a new job (Yay!) and all of a sudden I had no time at all to myself. I'm effectively in charge of an insurance website, plus I'm writing a bunch of brochures. There have been times when I';ve stared at the keyboard, groaned, shaken my head and gone out for a walk instead. So. here's the latest chapter. It's a bit short, but I know where the rest is. Disclaimer - I do not own any of these characters. (edit - Gah! Lilah not Darla at the end! Sorry!)
General George Hammond was sitting at his desk and glaring at the latest directive to emerge from the Pentagon when the phone successfully diverted him from it by ringing. “God-damn red tape,” he muttered before picking it up. “Hammond.”
“Good morning sir,” came a cheerful voice. “Greetings from the land of singing, surprisingly good beer and not quite constant rain.”
Hammond chuckled a little. “And good morning to you Colonel O’Neill. How’s it going at the excavation?”
“It’s proving to be an odd one, sir” replied Jack O’Neill in a more business-like tone of voice. “We definitely have two spacecraft here. We finally have some dating for the largest one – it’s an Ancient vessel that seems to have landed here about 10,000 years ago.”
“That seems to fit in with our knowledge of the last time the Ancients were recorded on Earth,” Hammond mused.
“Yes, sir,” Jack agreed. “The ship’s in reasonably good condition we think, but she’ll never fly again – mostly because she’s been under a hill for thousands of years.”
Hammond smothered a smile at the longing in Jack’s voice. Oh how that man would love his very own spacecraft, preferably with his beloved ‘big honking space guns’. “Does Major Carter think that any of the technology onboard can be accessed?”
“She’s still looking into that sir,” Jack sighed. “She thinks so, but the onboard power sources have long since been exhausted and we’re using portable generators. Which reminds me sir, the Brits have a lot of people here from the RAF. Anything we take we’re going to have to share – in turn they’ve said that they’ll share what they find with us.”
“The White House and Ten Downing Street are working something out now Jack. I’ll keep you updated. What about the smaller craft?”
Jack hesitated. “That’s the weird part sir. It’s a small scout craft – seems to have had a two man crew, one pilot and what looks like an electronic warfare post. The thing is, it’s a hell of a lot older than the big spacecraft.”
“How much older?”
“Carter says that the doohickies they have here gives an approximate age – via Carbon-14 and so on – of about 150,000 years.”
Hammond leant back in his chair. “Interesting,” he said, but Jack wasn’t finished.
“And the thing is, sir, it’s not an Ancient spacecraft.”
Hammond came back upright in his chair with a thud. “It’s not Ancient?”
“No sir. Carter says that the technology isn’t on the same level as the Ancients.”
“Then who built it?”
“We don’t know sir – but we did find a body inside it. The chief Daniel here – sorry, the chief archaeologist – called in an expert and he’s confirmed that the body was human. It was also wearing synthetic materials of some kind, so there’s a definite link to the craft. It’s going off to some top lab somewhere to be analysed by some more experts so that they can squeeze the last bits of information out of it.”
“Did the craft crash, killing the pilot perhaps?”
“I asked that, but apparently not. It didn’t seem to have crashed. If anything the archaeologists seem to think that the craft was deliberately buried with this guy – it’s male by the way – inside it. Oh and someone seems to have wrapped him in some kind of oiled cloth. Patterson says that it looks like a burial of some kind. That kind of thinking is above my pay grade sir.”
There goes Jack, thought Hammond wryly, doing himself down again. Well, if it meant that more people like Kinsey underestimated him as a result that was their problem. “Has Major Carter been able to look at the craft’s propulsion systems?”
“She’s cast an eye over them and is writing up a report even as I speak to you, sir. She says that there’s a small reactor in it, which has long since used up its fuel, and that both the engines and the reactor have been severely corroded by time and geology down to so many degraded spare parts, but she has been able to get a rough idea of how they worked. Seems rather impressed. There’s a computer as well, but that’s long since given up the ghost and it would take a time machine just to retrieve scraps of information from it, let alone get it working again. Which reminds me sir, Carter is busy charring the candle at both ends again on this project and I’m going to order her to take a 24-hour break at some point today before she falls over from lack of sleep and insufficient food.”
“That sounds like an excellent suggestion Jack,” chuckled Hammond. “What’s the plan with both craft now?”
“Well sir, the smaller one is in such bad shape that if we pulled it out of the ground and flew it to Area 51 then unless it was packed up incredibly well all they’d get would be even more of a wreck than it is now, so we’re going to be carefully taking it apart and letting the RAF guys take lots of pictures and detailed notes. As for the big one, I’d love to be able to fly it over, but firstly I think that even the doziest members of the UK media would notice if a hill vanished and secondly she’ll never fly again as I mentioned. I think we’ll have to pick her apart and preserve as much as possible.”
“I understand, Jack,” Hammond muttered. “A shame, but at least we have access to them both. How long do you expect to remain there?”
“At least another three days, sir,” Jack said assessingly. “There’s a lot to do here.”
“Take as much time as you feel you need Jack,” Hammond ordered. “And if you need me to formally order Major Carter to rest, just say the word and I’ll send her something that will have her saluting in her sleep.”
“Much obliged sir,” Jack said. “We’ll be sending the first set of results over later today. I think Carter wants to make McKay jealous about what she’s doing or something. O’Neill out.”
“Thank you Jack,” Hammond chuckled again and then replaced the receiver and then returned his gaze to the latest red-tape-infused memo. Well, back to the boring part of life.
Darla surfaced from a confused welter of dreams that were halfway between fever-visions and the darkest of nightmares. She was… on a bed? Something flat and relatively soft, certainly. She slowly opened her eyes, with each eyelid feeling as if someone had attached a lead weight to it, and then blinked.
She was indeed on a bed, in a room that she didn’t recognise. She could see a beam of sunlight coming through a curtained window to one side. She could also a see a man, quite a young one, sitting in a chair next to the bed. He had spikey brown hair and he had lines of utter exhaustion written into his face, which would explain the fact that he was heavily asleep.
She must have made some kind of noise however, because all of a sudden the young man was awake and looking at her. “Ah,” he muttered, “Good. You’re awake.”
“Who… who are you? Where… am I?” she croaked through a very dry mouth.
The man reached out and poured some water into a large glass, before handing it over to her carefully. “Here, drink this. Sounds like you need it.”
She reached out with trembling hands to take the glass and then lifted it to her lips. It tasted like the best water she’d ever had in her life and she gulped it down thirstily. “Thank you,” she panted eventually. To her surprise she felt hungry for the first time in a very long time. And less tired than before.
“My name is Oz, Darla,” the man said softly. “Angel brought you here. You’ve been very ill, but you’re getting better now.”
Darla looked at him with wide eyes, before smiling and shaking her head. “I’m dying,” she told him sadly. “You can’t stop it. No-one can.”
He looked back at her and then quirked a corner of his mouth into a half-smile. “Dying, eh? Well – you were. Dying that is. But not anymore. Do you feel hungry?”
She nodded slowly.
“I’ll bring you some food. Soup I think – something you can keep down easily. Your body’s been through a tremendous shock. Healing takes up a lot of energy, so you’ll need rest and food.”
She stared at him, feeling confused. “Healing? I’m not dying?”
“Not anymore, like I said,” he smiled as he stood up and tiredly walked to the door.
“How’s that possible?”
“I’m a Jedi,” Oz said as he walked through the door. “We frequently do the impossible.”
Jedi? She lay there on the bed and frowned in confusion. Well, on the bright side she was alive. On the negative side Angel had left her with someone who seemed to think that a fictional group of people were real. Then the frown changed slightly. She had to admit that she felt a lot better. In fact she felt, well, as if she wasn’t dying as badly as she had been, if that made any sense at all. The room was wobbling a bit so she closed her eyes for just a moment, and fell asleep instantly.
“Hmmm…. I wonder if we need a new copy of this…” Giles muttered as he ran a long finger down the spine of the book. It had been opened repeatedly by students to the point where the leather was now severely cracked. Odd that a copy of the third volume of Oman’s History of the Peninsular War was so popular, but the fact that Ms Hughes, the guest lecturer, was “something of a hottie” as Riley had admitted, just before a Slayer-powered elbow had almost fractured one of his ribs. There were times when Buffy really needed to be more careful.
“Hey Giles,” said a voice to one side and he looked up to see Xander walking down the corridor. He looked far better than he had the last time that Giles had seen him, back in the hospital.
“Xander my boy, how are you?”
“I’m ok,” he said with a smile. “I’ve got an interesting scar, but hopefully the doctors weren’t too suspicious about how fast I healed. Came at a terrible price though.”
Giles looked at him. “A price?”
“Do you have any idea how awful daytime TV is?”
The Watcher chuckled to himself. “Yes, I realise how bad it can be. I saw some last month when I had that bad cold. Luckily Olivia had a supply of books for me, as otherwise I’d have done something violent to the television with a battleaxe.”
Xander smiled and then sobered. “I need to talk to you and Buffy. I just had a call from Oz. He said that Angel arrived late last night at… my place in the temple, although I just almost called it the Jedi Temple. Anyway he wasn’t alone. He had Darla with him.”
The older man stared at him for a long moment, before he removed a pencil from his pocket and then jiggled the point in both his ears carefully. After replacing it he looked back at Xander. “I’m sorry, would you mind repeating that? It sounded as if you said that Angel had turned up with Darla.”
“Do you mean that’s what it sounded like, or was that actually what you said?”
“Darla the vampire.”
“But she’s dead.”
“I guess that she got better.”
The Jedi spread his hands. “Giles, that was my reaction as well. It seems that Wolfram & Hart have been up to something in LA. I’ve scheduled a conference call in half an hour in your office, so we need to find Buffy.”
“Too bloody right we need to find her,” Giles muttered as he pulled his cellphone out and then stalked off through the bookshelves in search of a place with better reception.
Forty-five minutes later an incredulous group of people were huddled around Giles’ desk as they all stared at the phone, which had been placed on its speaker setting.
“So what you’re telling us,” Giles said eventually as he polished his glasses distractedly, “Is that Wolfram & Hart expended an obscene amount of magic to bring back to life Darla, the vampire that sired you Angel, but who was killed by Buffy when she first came to Sunnydale.”
“Yes, Giles,” Angel’s voice confirmed with a certain amount of grim weariness from the grill of the speaker. “That’s right.”
“And they did all this to subvert you?”
“I guess so. I thought I was going crazy after I caught my first few glimpses of her.”
“But they brought her back as a human, not a vampire, although she still had her memories of being a vampire.”
“Yes,” Angel sighed.
“And she was dying of syphilis.”
“For the third time, yes.”
Giles put his glasses back on, drummed his fingers rapidly on the desk and then looked around at the faces of Xander, Buffy, Riley and Willow. “That has to be,” he said eventually, “The stupidest plan I’ve heard of since I heard about that tosh about the Frisian Option in the Second World War.”
“I’ve heard stupider,” Lindsey’s voice drawled from the phone. “This is Wolfram & Hart we’re talking about. They don’t care how much magic they throw around, they can afford it. Practicalities don’t necessarily occur to them. This ‘plan’ has Holland Manners written all over it. Ambitious but impractical.”
“Yes, it does have their sticky and inefficient fingers all over it, doesn’t it?” Giles mused quietly. “Too clever for their own good or flawed by basic misunderstandings of reality.” He pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Did they make any effort to stop you from leaving Los Angeles?”
“That’s the odd thing,” Angel said in a puzzled voice. “I know that they were following us at one point, but then they stopped. I’ve no idea why.”
“I think I do,” Xander said musingly. “You were on the road to Sunnydale right?”
“Yes,” Angel admitted.
“They thought that you were coming here. And ever since Adam destroyed their office here, Wolfram & Hart have tended to leave us alone here.”
“I wish that they’d leave us alone,” Angel growled. “They’ve tried to kill or capture Faith twice now, and Doyle’s had at least three visions that led to trouble far too close to home.”
Xander was frowning, which was an expression that Giles had come to dread more than a bit because it tended to be quite rare.
“Guys,” the Jedi said eventually, “If they realise that you didn’t end up in Sunnydale then there’s a good chance that they might go after you again. If they’ve put so much effort into this plan involving Darla, then even if you go to Sunnydale they’ll try and grab her the minute you leave.”
An uncomfortable silence fell. “What would they do with her?” Riley asked in a subdued voice.
“Interrogate her for more information about Angel perhaps. Or, even more dangerously, turn her again. She was The Master’s right hand for more than a century, and she, Angelus, Drusilla and Spike cut a path of terror through Europe for decades. Sorry Angel, but you know dangerous she was,” Giles mused.
“I know,” Angel said angrily. “I have those memories of what he did. What they did. How can we protect her though? She’s human. She wants nothing to do with them.”
“She’s under our protection for the time being,” Oz said in a voice like iron. “We have four Jedi here.”
“It’ll be five by the end of the day,” Xander broke in. “I’m coming straight out there with you. Oz you sound absolutely shattered, you need to sleep.”
“Bit tired,” Oz conceded.
“Sweetie, you sound like you need to sleep for a week,” Willow said.
“Well, you don’t do that kind of healing every day,” he replied with an audible yawn at the end.
Xander and Buffy exchanged a long-suffering look accompanied by a roll of the eyes.
“Well, you need to be here for the next stage of the training anyway,” Lindsey said over the speaker. “How’s your shoulder?”
“Fully healed. A proper Jedi healing trance finished it all off without any doctors or nurses getting suspicious. I’ll be good to help train, and to stand guard.”
“You really think they might try and get her back?” Buffy said, startled.
Giles drummed his fingers briefly on the table and then looked at Xander with no small degree of respect. “I concur,” he said. “We can’t take any chance and I really think that Wolfram & Hart might be bold enough and stupid enough to try it. Yes, they might realise that you haven’t gone to Sunnydale and therefore you’re not under the protection of Buffy and the rest of us, and so might mount a raid to get Darla back. The question is, will they wonder why you didn’t go to Sunnydale and then draw the correct conclusion from the fact that you diverted?”
“I wouldn’t bet any money on them being smart,” Lindsey said grimly. “I’ll have a scout around the compound now. I’ll see you soon Master.” There was the sound of a door opening and closing.
“Ok, Lindsey’s worrying. It’s been a while since he called me that,” mused Xander. “Angel, check on Darla. Oz, get some sleep. Have Rebecca and Daniel run some training exercises. Speaking of them, how are they doing?”
“Doing well,” Oz said wearily. “They’re almost ready for the next stage, like Lindsey said.”
“Joy, a trip to that tunnel with the gems in it again. I keep feeling as if I’m stuck in a bad movie down there.” Xander shook his head and then looked around at the others in the room with him. “Anything else to add, guys?”
“Just that our new commanding officer turns up tomorrow,” Riley said with a sigh. “I don’t know who he or she is, but I just hope that they break the Initiative’s curse.”
“I wouldn’t describe it as a curse,” Giles replied carefully as he cleaned his glasses. “More as… an unfortunate combination of circumstances.”
“Giles, Walsh was building demon-robot-human hybrid, Finch was an undercover whatever the hell he was for the Government and Lam was a member of a secret society whose uniform consisted of chainmail. I know that the Initiative isn’t exactly an ordinary, orthodox part of the U.S. Armed Forces, but so far we’ve been setting the unorthodox bar pretty high.”
“You, ah, might have a point there,” Giles conceded as he slipped his glasses back on.
“They’re where?” Lilah asked incredulously as she stared at the speakerphone. “And how sure are you about this?”
“Ms Morgan, I am 100% sure that they’re in a building on the edge of the desert, about two hours away from LA and about an hour from Sunnydale. The place is a bit remote – I'm sending you the GPS co-ordinates right now.” The voice of Grant, Lilah’s mole on what Holland so quaintly thought was his devoted and 100% loyal team of former Navy SEALs, drawled from the phone.
Now this was interesting. It was typical of that worm Manners to take his eye off the ball like that. Or to seem to have, anyway. “You’re obviously not with the others then.”
“No, they went back to LA ma’am. I’m in the reserve car and I had a flat tire. As I was changing it I checked out the GPS signal from the tracer we put on the car. It went off the highway and then it stopped about 14 minutes later at its current location. I’m looking at the place now from besides an old barn.”
“Describe it,” she ordered.
“Two buildings in an ‘L’-shape. The older part looks like it has two floors. The newer part – and it looks very new indeed, can’t be more than about three or four months old – looks like it has a gym in it. There’s a wall around it, also very new, and a gate. At least two cars inside. I’ve seen at least four people so far.”
“I see,” Lilah said thoughtfully. She thought very hard and very fast before reaching a conclusion. “Get in touch with your team leader. Tell him that after you replaced your flat tire you turned the tracker back on again and saw that the target wasn’t going to Sunnydale after all. Give your location and then send me updates when you can. I think that Holland Manners will soon become aware of what’s going on.”
“Yes ma’am,” came the crisp response and the phone went dead.
Lilah flipped her phone closed and then leant back in her chair, her eyes narrowed in thought. Then she shrugged and stood up. Time to see what that silly old fool was doing. The best way to get someone at Wolfram & Hart to doom themselves was to feed them plenty of rope and then watch them hang themselves. When it came to Holland Manners she’d even bring popcorn and a lawnchair.
“What the hell’s going on?” Riley asked Forrest as he watched the scurrying agents around him from their vantage point by the main entrance to the Initiative.
“No idea,” his friend replied. “Looks like a panic to me. Question is, a panic about what?”
“At least they’ve repaired the damage to the floor from Xander and Glory’s fight.” Riley observed, before catching sight of the third member of his team. “Hey Graham! What’s going on?”
“New CO arrives in exactly 40 minutes,” Graham told them curtly. “Everyone’s getting the place ready.”
“Shit,” Forrest cursed as they all strode off down the halls. “The armoury was supposed to be getting in a new supply shipment today. I’ll check that everything’s ok there.”
“Thanks Forrest. Graham, check the kitchens. If the new CO is one of those people who always starts by inspecting there, then we need to make sure everything scrubbed down and ready. I’ll check the main supply department. Meet back at the main entrance in 20 minutes. If you need to draft anyone to finish a job, do it. Do we even know the name of the new CO?”
He got two shrugs in response. “Great, looks like someone further up the food chain’s getting cute with us. Let’s go people!”
Holland Manners was drumming his fingers on the table again. Lilah watched him with an attentive look on her face that masked the sneering contempt that she was feeling inside. He really was getting past his sell-by date. The man was considering authorising a simple retrieval raid, not agonising over rocket science. Or something like rocket science anyway.
To the other side Gavin Park was visibly having trouble not opening his mouth and saying something incredibly stupid. Poor Gavin. The man didn’t have much of a future – her vision of the future had shown her a very satisfactory image of his lifeless body – and even if whatever the hell was coming didn’t come, then his impatience, arrogance and stupidity would probably kill him at some point. Holland Manners knew that people were eyeing his chair and wondering what it felt like. His usual response to any machinations was to have people shot, if possible in front of a lot of people as a very messy object lesson.
She idly wondered what Holland was planning for her. It was bound to be sneaky and unpleasant, but that was fine, she could handle him. Her lightsabre was always up her sleeve, just in case.
She returned her attention to Holland and was astonished to see a fine sheen of sweat on his face as he glared at the speakerphone in front of them all. On the other end of the line was an attentive flunkey who obviously knew that repeating his request for more orders would earn him a 9mm bullet between the eyes, or something even worse.
“You’re sure that Harris isn’t in the building?” Holland asked in a slightly strained voice.
“Yes sir,” came the calm response.
“Very well, expedite.”
“Yes sir,” said the flunkey who was standing not too far from the perimeter of the buildings where Darla was. “Sunset in 35 minutes. We’ll launch the retrieval once we get full dark an hour after that.”
This should be fun, Lilah thought maliciously. She was getting an odd vibe in the Force that spoke of trouble ahead. Well… trouble for Holland.