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Far Beyond Normal

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This story is No. 1 in the series "The Normal-verse Series". You may wish to read the series introduction first.

Summary: Buffy did not survive her confrontation with the First. Fortunately, Buffy has never been one to let death stand in her way...

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Stargate > Buffy-Centered > Theme: ActionjAkLFR1525142,908258674455,21419 Jan 0615 Mar 06Yes
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Chapter 11

Disclaimer: I do not own any characters relating to either Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Stargate SG-1. This story is intended for entertainment purposes only and does not provide any financial compensation.

Far Beyond Normal

Chapter Eleven

Consciousness returned slowly, in stages, nightmare-filled dreams gradually focusing to comprehend grim reality. She was awake, in a hospital bed, arms and legs both shackled securely to the metal frame. There was no way to hide the fact that she was awake after she instinctively tested the strength of the restraints binding her to the bed. King Kong might have been able to break the chains, but Buffy quickly figured out she couldn’t. A flashback to awakening in the NID detention center had her almost quaking in fear, and she couldn’t prevent herself from flinching when someone gently touched her neck, checking for a pulse.

“Please be calm. I’m a doctor.” The voice was professionally soothing, timbre controlled, words enunciated precisely. The voice of someone who knew just what her patient was going through and doing her best to reassure her that things were under control. When Buffy slowly opened her eyes she met them directly, her expression careful to display neither condescension nor judgment. “You are in a hospital. You are not injured. You were knocked out with a very safe sedative that so far as I can determine has had absolutely no adverse effects on you. At the moment I am performing a routine physical examination; the same examination given to everyone who works at this facility. It will include x-rays, gas-trace and blood analysis, the removal of a small tissue sample for DNA examination, as well as the standard EEG, EKG, and other tests. None will be either invasive or abusive. You will feel no pain.

“So far as I have been able to determine, medically speaking, you’re fine. Human too, and there was some question about that. You could probably stand to gain a few pounds, but other than that I haven’t found anything wrong with you.” The doctor was a very attractive red-head in her late thirties or early forties, with a no-nonsense, professional air about her very different that that of her colleagues Buffy remembered dealing with at the NID facility. “Understand me, Miss Summers. I… am… a… doctor. Period. I will examine you. I will treat you if you are sick. I will in no way, shape, or form participate in, or condone, the use of torture on one of my patients. Once you leave this room, well, that is beyond my control. But when you are under my care you are my patient. Nothing more, and nothing less.”

She met Buffy’s eyes steadily, without flinching, her calm expression conveying a ‘no-nonsense’ air that instantly put her in the top percentile of all the doctors Buffy had ever met. Just to test her limits, she twisted her wrist a bit, just to bring attention to the padded leather shackles. Her already-high opinion of the doctor went up another notch when the woman got the hint, and met it face-on without embarrassment or prevarication. “The restraints are for my protection. In the other ward are 27 very tough and very dangerous men who had the misfortune of trying to prevent you from leaving somewhere you didn’t want to be. Since you likely don’t want to be here either, and I am neither very tough nor particularly dangerous, I would rather not join them in that ward after attempting to stop you from trying to leave. So the restraints stay.”

Under the circumstances even Buffy had to admit privately that it was a pretty reasonable precaution, so she settled from quietly mumbling how ludicrous it was for the doctor not to consider herself ‘tough.’ She had no doubt that every one of those commandoes regarded the doctor with far more terror than they did her. She then spent the next hour whining, bitching, and generally being an even worse patient than she usually was as the doctor poked, prodded, and jabbed her delicate body with random instruments of torture. The doctor –Janet Fraser, she introduced herself during one of the few breaks in Buffy’s tirade—offered to explain the purpose of each tool, each examination, but Buffy was far more interested in complaining than learning. Given her present circumstances and recent experiences, she was terrified, and overcompensated by being just plain bitchy. To her considerable surprise the doctor took her tantrum in stride, was neither insulted nor intimidated, and even occasionally snuck in a quick, subtlety insulting retort that Buffy usually missed until a few minutes later when it was too late for a suitable come-back.

Even worse, Fraser asked a lot of questions, some so insightful Buffy was momentarily struck speechless, and occasionally even tempted to answer just to get feedback from someone so intellectually formidable on her own physical capabilities. But she reminded herself that she was a prisoner, she was not among friends, and for all she knew she could be in for a repeat of her experiences while a ‘guest’ of the NID, only this time conducted by more competent people. Just to drive that point home she casually brought it up a few times, comparing the light tapping of a reflex test to the way the NID had used hammers to break her legs to see how long they took to heal, or a gently-offered glass of water to the waterboarding process, an experience she went on to describe in nauseating detail. Fraser’s mouth tightened during those moments. Even Buffy knew it was unfair to compare her thoroughly professional examination to that of the NID sadists, but she was scared stiff and worried about her future and lashed out with the only weapon she had left; her mouth.

Once more surprising Buffy, the doctor brought over her charts once the exam was completed and went though a few of the results, explaining discrepancies she uncovered and her guesstimates as to their meaning. It was a sneaky and evil thing to do, because she provided so much information about the physical and chemical processes going on within her body Buffy felt compelled to respond to some of the results that confused the woman. Frasier was fascinated when Buffy confirmed that her height did vary by an inch or two, her legs growing a bit longer one year, shorter the next. Her hair and eyes also changed color, again over the course of a year or more, so gradually few people even noticed unless they hadn’t seen her in awhile. Frasier showed her x-rays of her skull, showing the secondary teeth buried behind her primaries, ready to drop and replace any tooth she lost during a fight. Nearly a dozen of those replacement teeth were gone, having dropped to take the place of the teeth smashed by NID interrogators, and she said that if she lost one of them it would take about six weeks for a new replacement to grow. Buffy also admitted that she seemed to be immune to all bacterial infections, but reacted to viruses the same way everyone else did.

Telling herself she wasn’t giving away any secrets because the NID would have already had similar results from their far more painful tests, Buffy figured that at worst she was diverting an obviously-fascinated Frasier from torturing her by answering, and had the added benefit of learning a bit about herself from an expert. But all good things must come to an end, and Frasier was diverted from the conversation she would obviously have been glad to continue all day when one of the guards cleared her throat. There were three of them, all more-or-less female, all heavily armored, all so still as to be unobtrusive. None of them had said a word during the entire exam, and didn’t then, one of them simply deliberately pointing to her watch.

Frasier’s eyes hardened in anger at the interruption, knowing she had finally been able to break through the girl’s defensive walls, but then sighed, acknowledging that, like everyone else at the SGC, she was subject to orders, and her time with the amazing girl was up. She politely excused herself and left the examination room.

Some time passed before the doctor returned. Buffy rested, still feeling the effects of the drugs in her system. She didn’t want to talk to the guards and they were likely under orders not to talk to her. Only when Frasier came back and nodded to them did two of them approach the bed, the third remaining as far away as possible, her hand held over an alarm trigger. The two who came over to the bed were incredibly professional in the way they released her. Before any limb was released from the bed it was first secured by a second chain. She was ordered, in a no-nonsense tone which tolerated no opposition, to twist her arms and legs into various contortions as each was released, shackles attached, but freed from the bed.

They had to help her to her feet, but were very careful to be both dispassionate and constantly on their guard when they did so. One of them even went so far as to ensure that the hospital gown was securely fastened and nothing embarrassing was showing. It was far from the treatment she had received at the hands of the NID. Only when she was presentable was the door opened –from the outside; it couldn’t be opened from within, Buffy noticed—and another guard entered. This one was armed, carrying a dart gun, and he gestured for her to precede him out through the door. Outside was an oval shaped, concrete lined corridor, where five additional armed and armored guards awaited. The three female-ish guards from the examination room picked up weapons from their colleagues and took their positions behind her, the new guards deployed ahead of her.

It looked ridiculous. They were all more than six feet tall and with all their equipment looked like Battletech droids. Buffy had put on ten pounds and grown an inch since escaping the NID, but still barely topped five feet tall, and hadn’t gotten up to the hundred pound mark yet. She was wearing a hospital gown and socks, plus chains extending from a metal collar around her neck, to another around her waist, extending down to padded leather shackles on her ankles. Another chain going between her ankles ensured that she couldn’t separate her legs by more than about eight inches. Her wrists were similarly shackled, a metal bar holding them six inches apart, chains from the waist-band ensuring she couldn’t move her arms more than a few inches in any direction. Two guards preceded her, one was on either side holding an arm, three more were behind, all wearing full battle gear. Two others had gone off ahead of the procession to block anyone from entering the tunnel at any intersection. Buffy had a mental image of the FBI bringing in Hannibal Lector during ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and grinned at the ridiculous image.

Unfortunately for her, the escort commander, walking separately from the guards, noticed the wry smile and misinterpreted it. He lifted his dark face shield to meet her eyes with a hard glare. But like everyone else she had met so far, he didn’t lose his cool or his professionalism. “We were all there last night. We know what you can do. I would not advise you to try anything. You will obey all of my instructions without hesitation. If you struggle, if you resist, if you do anything except instantly follow every order given to you, you will instantly be rendered unconscious. Am I clear?”

Despite her normal instinct to refuse orders, Buffy swallowed on a suddenly dry throat and muttered a quiet “Yes, sir.” There was something intimidating about their dispassionate professionalism. Where the leering and sadistic brutality of the NID goons had enraged her, the unemotional way these people simply treated her as a dangerous threat which might be temporarily neutralized left her feeling a bit intimidated. To the NID she had been an object to be crushed; these guys thought she was a bomb ready to go off at the slightest touch. In their own way, they were afraid of her. But these were people who knew how to deal with things they feared.

It really sucked. Given that they were scared of her, she should have been able to follow Dr. Lector’s example and show some badd-ass attitude, able to send out waves of psychic intimidation, terrifying everyone who saw her with the thought that she was just one tiny mistake away from getting loose, ripping out their livers, eating it raw, and chasing it down with a nice bottle of Chianti. Instead she was tied down, completely under their control, and she knew it. And she was sulking about it! She just knew her bottom lip was jutting forward in a frustrated pout. So much for being intimidating.

Once they got moving Buffy had to shuffle forward in tiny eight-inch increments, and be careful of her balance given the weight of all the chains on the front of her body, throwing off her center of mass. The guards didn’t force her to go too fast, but neither did they allow her to walk needlessly slow. Curious onlookers watched her at each tunnel intersection, held back by one of the forward guards. Again, they displayed none of the leering she recalled seeing in the eyes of the workers at the NID facility, nor did anyone talk to her at all, let alone make sneering comments like she also remembered. That thought alone was enough to stop her sulking, and she had to damp down her fury. The open curiosity and interested speculation on the expressions of these people showed once again they were a far cry from their NID counterparts, and perhaps didn’t deserve to be tarred with the same brush.

Eventually they reached a short corridor where a large steel door barred their way, the SGC crest affixed to it. Her escort dropped away as the door was opened from the inside, and only the two guards holding her arms entered with her, helping her climb a short flight of steps since the chain prevented her feet from reaching the step above. Finally they entered a meeting room; big table, nice chairs all around it, plasma display units on three walls. Cheap bookshelves lined one of the walls, the rest we bare concrete painted an ugly green. At one end of the table sat a portly bald man, his uniform bearing two gold stars on each shoulder. Along the sides of the table were the members of SG-1, Fraser, and several men in battledress uniform whom she didn’t recognize. She was silently guided to the chair at the end of the table opposite the general and helped into it. The seat was too high for someone of her stature; her feet didn’t touch the ground once the guards lifted her into it. Nobody offered to adjust it. She felt like a schoolgirl called into the Principal’s office.

The two guards who had lifted her then left the room, leaving only the guard detail leader, who moved over to a corner of the room behind her chair and stood silently, never taking his eyes off her. The General ignored him, as did everyone else, their full and undivided attention on their prisoner. If they expected the silent treatment to bother her they were doomed to disappointment. Like so many other things, Buffy’s babbling days were long behind her.

To his credit, the General realized that fact pretty quickly. “Do you know who I am, Miss Summers?”

Buffy nodded, remembering his face not only from her dreams, but also from the files Willow had uncovered. “Major General George Hammond. You’re in charge of the SGC.”

“I’d really like to know how you come by that knowledge.”

She smiled prettily, but it never reached her eyes. “I had a dream about you.”

O’Neill snorted at that. “You seem to have a lot of dreams.”

Buffy looked over at him and just shrugged, the chains jingling musically. “Not really.” She didn’t bother explaining that it was always the same dream. One good thing about being a prisoner was that you didn’t have to be polite.

The General clued into that fact as well pretty quickly. Buffy was starting to get the idea that the portly guy didn’t take long to clue into most things. “Was this the dream you discussed with Major Carter?”

It was Buffy’s turn to snort derisively. ‘Discuss’ was an interesting way of putting it. “Pretty much. It’s always the same dream, but sometimes the point of view changes a bit. The outcome is always the same though. People are calling your name, tossing out info on the invasion fleet that by then is pretty useless. You already know you’re screwed. You’re only listening to Carter at that point.”

Taking that as a queue, Carter spoke up. “You suggested I was telling the General that the Xerxes system was compromised, that it was deliberately missing targets, and refused to relinquish command authority to the NORAD protocols?”

Feeling herself blush, Buffy fidgeted slightly in her seat. “Right. Xerxes. Which is probably some kind of military acronym, which would make a whole lot more sense than letting a company that makes copiers defend the planet. Soooooo. Ahem, moving right along; you were saying it was sabotaged. You were really freaking out about it because none of the diagnostics were showing anything wrong, but the… Avenger cannons, or something like that, were missing their targets by like twenty feet, every time. The NORAD computers couldn’t take over targeting because Xerxes was saying their targeting calculations were wrong, and wouldn’t accept any override codes telling it to shut down or relinquish control of the cannons. You were really pissed off about it; it was your own code that was screwing up.

“The old guy,” she nodded towards O’Neill, smiling when he scowled, offended by the deliberate insult “was trying to pull the plug using the manual cutoffs, but the system kept routing around it. It wouldn’t accept any overrides. You might have figured out what the problem was if you had the time, but by then the big pyramid/saucer/spaceship thing was landing right on top of Cheyenne Mountain. Nukes going off all around Colorado Springs. It got pretty intense towards the end.”

She could tell that Carter was devoting monumental effort to not give a lecture explaining why her story was unpossible, that it could never happen, that the protections built into the system could never be broached in such a manner. But she had probably mentioned that fact once or twice after her first encounter with Buffy and was under orders not to bring it up yet again until they heard her out. O’Neill, apparently was not, and couldn’t prevent himself from jumping in. “What a load of crap! They simulated that exact scenario and it simply doesn’t happen. Xerxes will pass on command authority when ordered, and the manual cutout’s all work. I know the idea here is to see if there is anything to this, but it’s just a friggin’ dream! We’re supposed to shut down the most sophisticated, most advanced, most expensive weapons system in the history of the world because some loony chick had a bad dream?! If she gave us a single fact, a single testable hint of what might go wrong it would be one thing; but she’s given us squat! We cannot justify reverting to the old system when we know it had exploitable weaknesses, all of which Xerxes addresses and none of which have ever been shown to be subject to failure.”

Buffy just shrugged, and the General sighed, evidently hoping she would have more to offer. When she didn’t, he spoke up. “I’m inclined to agree. Nothing you have offered suggests there is an actual catastrophic failure within the Xerxes system. I am not sanguine about dismissing the warnings of anyone with your proven capabilities, but we have modeled the exact scenario you have just outlined and there has never been the sort of computer malfunction you describe.”

Not having expected much, Buffy wasn’t overly surprised they would react the way they did, but sighed anyway. “Hence Carter freaking out in my vision. And just so you know; when I get a prophetic dream, it always happens, unless I do something to stop it. I believe I already told you that she said something about there being a hidden trigger, something not tripped in the simulations, which only came into play when the Goold fleet arrived.”

Teal’c calmly said “Goa’uld.” Buffy looked at him, frowning. “That’s what I said; Goold.”

Her professionalism being challenged, Carter could no longer maintain her silence. “That scenario is impossible! The system will not respond to remote codes! We programmed it that way, and every line of code has been verified by multiple independent teams. Sabotage along those lines is… it’s… it’s not possible!”

Buffy just looked at her. “To almost quote someone famous, ’And yet, it still happens.’” She looked up with a frown, thinking. “Darwin?” Carter muttered “Galileo” under her breath, and Buffy nodded.

Her calm certainty irritated the Colonel. “Look, Elizabeth…”

Buffy interrupted before he could get another word in. “Buffy.”

Looking confused, O’Neill pointed down at the file on the table in front of him. “It says Elizabeth here…”

“So? What does it say on your file, Jack?”

Muttering just loud enough so everyone could overhear, Jackson verbalized what they were all thinking. “Two points for the little lady!”

That earned him a glare from the Colonel. “Well then, what the hell do you expect from us, Buffy? Do you really think we can arbitrarily change the entire defensive posture of the whole world just because you had a bad dream?”

He probably had more to say, but Buffy interrupted, her eyebrows raised in surprise. “I don’t expect anything from you! You kidnapped me, remember? I figured I’d pass on the warning to Carter here, and she might or might not look into it. That’s your call. I’ve had the glorious experience of working with the military before, and figured there was about a 99% chance that the entire exercise was a waste of time and oxygen. But I had to try! The warning is all you get. That’s all there is. I know you want it written out in triplicate, step by step instructions countersigned by all relevant authorities up the chain of command, but this is what a vision gives you. I knew you wouldn’t believe it, and that’s why I had my little tussle with Teal’c here. Once you morons go down in flames I’m going to be spending what little remains of my life fighting the damned snakes. Assuming I survive your spectacular flame out, of course.”

When she saw their offended scowls, Buffy sneered, a gesture Jackson thought far too cynical and old for someone so young. But then he saw her eyes, sad, ancient eyes, and wondered what could have happened to a girl so young to give her eyes so old. And she wasn’t finished with her tirade. “Oh, don’t give me that ‘We’re heroes; we save the world every Friday and party-hardy all through Saturday’ crap! The warning contains enough information to solve the problem; it always does. Don’t blame me because you can’t figure it out. I’m not the fucking Oracle! I’m just the messenger. Maybe it might help if you brought in some people who could think outside your nice tight military box in here, but that would involve telling the rest of the world that they were about to be invaded and enslaved by aliens, and we couldn’t have that! It would upset the nice little private war you’re running here if outsiders had a voice you had to listen to, and we couldn’t have that now, could we?”

She wasn’t winning herself any friends or any credibility with comments like that, and her attitude was really starting to get on O’Neill’s nerves. “We’re at war. Wars are generally fought by the military. Who do you think should handle it; the UN?! Oh, yeah, that would work out well, given how effective they are running anything else. I would think that as an American…”

Buffy lost it. If it hadn’t been for the restraints she might had attacked him. As it was, she suddenly smashed her hands into the table, thirty or so pounds of chain and steel gouging huge cuts into its once-pristine surface. “Don’t you dare question my patriotism, you son of a bitch! Have you seen what it’s really like outside of this mountain, Colonel? What’s happening out there? This isn’t my country! This isn’t anything like my country! I was thrown into prison without trial, tortured, and it was all done legally! You’re the idiots turning my country into a fucking police state, and you have the gall to question my patriotism?! If it wasn’t for the poor innocent bastards they’d be taking down along with you, I’d be happy to sit back and watch the Goold do to you what you did to me!”

O’Neill was furious. Everyone had been stunned by her tirade, the loud bang on the table bringing guards running. The military members of the group were too disciplined to respond until those guards were signaled to leave, leaving an opening for Jackson to innocently fill. “What are you talking about? We don’t torture people.” When he saw the abrupt changes of expression on the part of his companions, anger suddenly changing to embarrassment, he frowned. “We don’t torture people… right?”

When nobody else felt like answering, O’Neill muttered “We’re at war.” His response didn’t go over too well with the girl, who simply snorted in contempt, but didn’t say anything. He glared at her. “Look, I know it sucked, but mistakes happen. You survived and it’s not like you have a bunch of scars or anything…” he trailed off, knowing that it was a pretty weak response when even Carter was glaring at him.

The doctor spoke up. “There aren’t any scars on her, period. Not from all the darts that hit her last night. Not even from my needles when I took blood samples. Her body regenerates so quickly and efficiently that even quite severe wounds would heal within hours or days. So no matter what they did, any ‘scarring’ on her would be mental, Colonel. I’m sure you’re aware of that aspect.” She hadn’t seen the video file, but she had been warned by the general that the girl had been treated ‘badly’ by the NID. Since it was relevant to her treatment program for her patient, they had no choice but to tell her. She was having a lot of trouble coming to terms with her suspicions as to what hadn’t been said, however, since she had a fairly good idea just how ‘badly’ the NID was capable of acting.

When he saw how furious O’Neill was, Hammond put a ruthless clamp on his own emotions and cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention, and restore order. “We are not the NID, Miss Summers. We’re had quite a few problems with them ourselves.” He sighed, before meeting her eyes steadily. “What happened to you was illegal. It was wrong. It should not have happened. But it did. These are desperate times. The NID offers politicians quick and dirty solutions without regard to their long-term consequences. The ‘global war on terror’ is real, but it is also provides cover for the far more important war against the Goa’uld.

“I know this is no comfort to you, given your experience, but to meet the Goa’uld threat we have no choice but to use extraordinary measures, to do things we otherwise wouldn’t. Your special abilities could have indicated that you were, in fact, a Goa’uld, and given the damage you might have inflicted on this country and the defense of this planet, the most extreme methods were appropriate to contain that threat.”

Even Buffy had been caught by surprise by the depth of her rage, and she was still struggling to control it. This wasn’t the time to get in a pissing contest with the people who were in the best position to defend the Earth from the threat she could still foresee. But that wasn’t the same as being willing to back down. She was all through with backing down to these people. “How hard is it to verify if someone is taken over by a Goold, General? I don’t see how the part where they broke my legs with sledgehammers helped them verify I was snake-free. Or am I missing something, and that is a standard test?”

They all winced, Jackson going wide-eyed in horror. Before he could say anything, however, the general spoke up. “The problem with shortcuts is that you lose oversight, lose accountability. I realize this. I realize that some among the NID, some within the government itself, are using this opportunity for their own purposes, their own agendas. But the situation which precipitated this crisis really did require us to take immediate action, to take a shortcut so we could respond and contain the situation before it got out of hand.

“The Goa’uld were installing a StarGate somewhere in Iraq, with the complicity of the local government. We did not know where it was located. We could not permit such a ‘back-door’ invasion route to become operational. When the terrorist attacks of September 11 occurred we used it as justification for an invasion. There was no choice. And we couldn’t explain the real reason for it without revealing the StarGate program, the Goa’uld, the reality of our place in the universe. It is the position of our present government, and of its predecessor I might add, that the world is not ready for that information. We can not count on the UN to run the program effectively. We have informed key allies of the truth, including the Russians, the British, the Canadians, and even the French. Allies who can actually help in our efforts and not hinder us from accomplishing what we must. Because the fact is, Miss Summers, we must succeed. Our very survival depends on it.

“This does not mean that the Global War on Terror is any less real, or does not need to be fought for its own reasons. Terrorism is a danger which needed to be addressed. But the truth is, the reason behind the war on terror is to provide cover for our own operations against the Goa’uld. I am sorry you got caught up in it, particularly in such an… unfortunate manner. But that doesn’t mean the war doesn’t need to be fought.”

He met the girl’s eyes steadily, and this time she was the first to blink. It was obvious he had given her a lot to think about, that his words had caught her by surprise. The fact that he had explained at all came as quite a shock to his colleagues as well. Hammond was usually a stickler for security, close-mouthed almost to a fault. It wasn’t like him to provide such Top Secret information to a stranger, even one who knew far more about their operations than she should. He was, however, the man in charge, so when O’Neill made a sign of interrupting, Hammond made a tiny, almost imperceptible gesture with one finger, and the colonel, along with everyone else, remained silent.

Buffy caught the signal, but couldn’t figure out what was going on. His revelation had caught her by surprise, and considerably dampened her fury, but she didn’t see where he was going with it. What he had told her didn’t change anything. “I’ll let you in on a secret of my own, General. I don’t give a damn about your war. Seriously. The Goold haven’t done anything to me. They didn’t torture me. They didn’t break my legs, or drown me, or drug me or try to fry my brain with electric shocks. You’re the assholes who did all that! I know, from my dreams, that the Goold are as bad as you say. I know they most definitely aren’t my friends. But guess what? I don’t give a shit! Right now, if they are the ones who can knock you arrogant bastards on your self-righteous asses, then they are more than welcome to try. I’ll just sit back with some popcorn and watch the fireworks.”

O’Neill looked indignant, but the General just smiled. “Then why are you still here, Miss Summers?” When she glanced down at her chains he waved them away as irrelevant. “Don’t play the fool; I get enough of that from my own people. You did what you set out to do, got the information to us, and tested yourself against Teal’c. You could have left anytime. But you stayed. Why?”

Buffy shrugged. “This is where it will happen. I can be blown away by random bombs anywhere. But this is where I know the Goold will be when it all goes down.”

The General smiled, and it was making Buffy nervous. He was an easy man to underestimate, a rolly-polly cuddly bear of a man, but there was a look in his eyes suggesting he was baiting a trap and she was walking right into it. One she still couldn’t see. “So you believe this is the place to stop them. This is the place you might stop them. You don’t believe in us, but you do care, and you are here because, despite everything, you still think the Goa’uld are worse than we are.”

A bit nervously, Buffy sneered. “That’s your standard of behavior now? You’re happy to be ‘not as bad as the Goold?’”

“I can’t speak for the NID, Miss Summers, only for my own command. I’d say our behavior has been far better than any you could expect from the Goa’uld. And as I mentioned before, we are at war. Given the capabilities you so expertly demonstrated last night, you are far more than you appear to be. It was entirely possible that you were, in fact, a Goa’uld agent yourself. Under the circumstances, given the precarious state of our own survival, it was reasonable for the government to investigate and contain you as quickly as possible. I’m not saying what they did after they captured you was acceptable! I’m just saying that when your very survival depends on acting quickly, containing threats before they can carry out their missions, the policy itself is not at fault. We call it the ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario…”

Buffy interrupted him at that point, her normally beautiful face twisted into something bitter and ugly. “I’ve heard of it. I even believe in it, for those one in a million times when there is an actual ticking time bomb involved. But I would never react to every situation as if my enemy was going to nuke the damned Pentagon if I didn’t torture the information out of them. From what I saw, you idiots seem to have a policy to treat every prisoner as guilty of exactly that. Not even ‘until proven innocent;’ just guilty! But guess what, mister? I told them everything they wanted to know the very first day. And even if they still thought I was a Goold, shouldn’t they have brought you people in? You’re supposed to be the experts! The one time that stupid policy might actually provide useful information; they don’t even tell you about it! So not only does it not work, it turns a potential ally into an enemy for life. Real smart. Real smart.”

Wincing internally, Hammond cursed the NID even more than he normally did. “I understand your position, Miss Summers, I really do. But please just try to see it from our perspective. The terrorists who killed over 4000 people on 9/11 did it because they hated us. Hated us so much they would work with the Goa’uld in order to bring about our destruction. They do not consider, or simply don’t care about the consequences of supporting the Goa’uld, so long as it means our destruction. We are having enough problems defending this planet against an overwhelmingly powerful alien opponent. If we also have to worry about human infiltrators the situation rapidly becomes untenable.”

He sighed, and squeezed the bridge between his nose before continuing. “Someone had to make the call, and in our system of government that is why we have a President. In the judgment of him and his closest advisors, the results of this policy justified the price we are paying now –and will likely pay for a long time to come—in terms of our ‘moral authority.’ We are losing the war right now, and if we are defeated it is extremely unlikely our opponent will be impressed with our having maintained a superior ethical standard while losing the war. Really, it came down to a matter of numbers. They knew people who didn’t deserve to be aggressively interrogated –okay, call it by its real name: tortured-- would be in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with limited or no oversight would be treated inappropriately. But the numbers of those who would be mistreated would be a vanishingly small compared to the multitudes who depend on us for their safety.

“Given the relatively limited consequences when compared to the catastrophic results of not acting in time, the decision was made to err on the side of expedience. The people who made this decision were not fools, and did not reach it lightly, or without considerable regret. They knew it would be abused, that mistakes would be made. But given the reality of our war with the Goa’uld, nothing less would have worked. Even knowing what I know now, even after meeting you, I still find myself in essential agreement with the decision.”

Buffy glared at him, abruptly changing her mind about his intelligence. “So you are going to stop terrorists by showing them you’re just as bad as they say you are?! Let me tell you something mister; you sure as hell wouldn’t be thinking that way if you were standing in my shoes.”

He nodded, meeting her eyes without flinching. “That is true. One thing you learn being in my position is that you can make a judgment call and, on paper, in the bottom line where we tally wins and losses, it’s the right call. But that doesn’t make it any easier to face the consequences of making the wrong call. The cost in blood, in despair, in innocence shattered. I think of the implications for American soldiers in future combat where our enemies will use our own standards against us, in the ethical legacy we are bequeathing to the next generation. And mostly, for the past few days, I’ve been thinking about you, and what I would be feeling right now if you happened to be one of my granddaughters.”

From where they rested on the table, his hands clenched into fists, but his tone didn’t change, and he didn’t look away from her eyes. “I know all the reasons for reaching the decision we did, for pursuing the course we are on. I even agree in principle for the necessity of doing so. And I do realize my own hypocrisy in saying I can accept it when the consequences fall on someone else, but would never forgive it should me or mine be subject to the same disgraceful actions that fell on you. If someone hurt my granddaughters the way you were hurt, Miss Summers, I would not be responsible for my actions. To avenge such a betrayal of everything I believe in, I would bring down the wrath of my worst enemies upon those who would do such a thing. I would betray everything, kill everyone, regardless of the consequences. I would do such a thing, Miss Summers, because I am not a hero.”

He paused for a second, and the room was deathly quiet. “But you are.”

Buffy felt like she had just been punched in the gut. Her mind instantly flashed back to the last time she had been called a ‘hero,’ by a man who truly merited that title, a man she respected like no one else on Earth. After the battle with Glory, after she was brought back and still in the depths of her depression over being pulled out of heaven, she had gone over that final battle in her own mind. Looking for a project to rescue her from her deep funk, she had considered what should be done about Ben. Obviously Glory hadn’t been about to take over his body, since the world still existed, but just to be on the safe side she felt they should re-enable the spells Glory’s Hell-God brethren had used to bind her to Ben, to suppress her ability to manifest herself. But as she considered the alternatives, she realized that Giles had already done the same thing, had thought it through, had reached the obvious conclusion. Had done so even before they fought that final battle… and done what had to be done.

She had never discussed it with him. Because there was no spell even a witch as powerful as Willow could have enacted that the bitch-goddess could not have overcome. So there really had only been one solution. And Giles had done it himself, quietly, without fanfare, because she, as the ‘hero,’ could not.

After that, she had never thought of herself as a ‘hero’ again.

Hammond wasn’t finished. “Even after what they did to you, you are still here trying to help save the rest of us. Despite everything, you still have it in your heart to protect those who are innocent of any wrong doing. I don’t have the slightest doubt about what you would like to do with the animals who tortured you, but you have been able to put aside your hatred because billions of people who had nothing to do with what happened to you might die if you don’t do everything you can to prevent the disaster you can foresee. That, Miss Summers, takes a hero. So if you tell me that Xerxes is fatally compromised, then I believe you. I believe you because the price you were willing to pay to get the information to us was so high. Nobody who demonstrated the tactical skills you showed us yesterday could fail to realize the likelihood that you might fail, be captured, and returned to the people who tortured you. People who do not in any way deserve or merit the risks you have taken to save them. But you did it anyway.

“So this leaves us with a problem. I believe you… but nobody else will. There is no way on God’s green earth they will let me take down Xerxes just on your unsupported word. Because they’ll see what happened to you and will believe that you are reacting the way they would react, the way I would react. They will believe you are making this story up as a way to get your revenge, to destroy lives instead of saving them. They won’t think like a hero because they most emphatically are not heroes! So I need something more, something to convince people who will not look beneath the surface, who need facts they can touch and see and measure. I need that, Miss Summers, or everything you have done will have been in vain.”

Buffy didn’t know what to say. Everyone was still looking at her, but the way they were seeing her was different than it had been only a few minutes earlier. They were seeing someone else, someone brought to life by the General’s words, by their faith in his judgment. Buffy desperately wanted to be the person they were seeing, but she was no more a ‘hero’ than she was the deluded nutcase in shackles they had been seeing until then. “I wish I could give you something more. But that’s all I’ve got.”

Frowning, Hammond looked at the other people around the table, before returning his attention to the girl. “You can’t, say, call up another dream?”

Shaking her head, Buffy tried to explain. “There’s only one dream. Always the same. Some aspects are more emphasized some nights, but there are no new details. Not since it started.”

“But you say that you have experienced these sort of ‘prophetic dreams’ before, and they always have enough information for you to be able to change the outcome.”

“Actually, sometimes I couldn’t change the outcome. But even then, knowing what is coming can give you a chance to plan ahead, to prepare for the way things turn out even if you can’t change it.”

The General shook his head, scowling thunderously. “No! That is not acceptable. If you are right then we are facing a full-scale Goa’uld invasion of this planet. The end of civilization as we know it. That is not something I am willing to accept. I have no interest in reacting to the nuclear destruction of my world, to the deaths of uncounted people who are trusting in me to protect them! We are going to prevent this from happening, Miss Summers! Nothing else is acceptable.” He looked up at the guard, still silently standing behind Buffy, still in full riot gear. “You can remove the restraints, Sergeant.”

He seemed dumfounded by the request. “Sir?!”

“Her chains. Remove them. Now. If she didn’t want to be here, she wouldn’t be here. We have a lot of work to do, and we may as well be comfortable while we do it.”
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