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 NormalChapter Fourteen
Three days passed, and Buffy was starting to get a bit stir-crazy, not having left the mountain bunker since she was first brought in after her capture. The constant droning of the StarGate as it cycled personnel through to the Alpha site just in case the Earth was conquered was getting on her nerves. They weren’t even insisting she stay at the base. Once she woke up and gave them the results of her nightly dream, she really didn’t have much to do, and everyone else was too busy considering the implications of her vision to entertain her. They seemed satisfied that the dreams were giving them the information they wanted, finding subtleties in slight changes Buffy herself barely even noticed, but so far as she could tell the outcome was always the same. The planet was still getting nuked. It was creeping her out that nothing they did changed the result.
After three days she decided she needed some fresh air, and informed the General she was going into town to spend some money, now that she had actual pay going into an actual bank account. Hammond smiled, and let her know that she didn’t need his permission, but he would appreciate it if she carried a cell phone in case they needed to get in touch with her. Showing that he wasn’t as smart as she thought he was, he even let her borrow his car. He didn’t even take it back after Buffy admitted that she was good driver… if you considered Mario Andretti to be a good driver. She tended to drive just a bit fast, but she had Slayer reflexes and could easily handle speeds most people would consider insane. Almost every accident she had ever been in had been the other driver’s fault. All they needed to do was not panic and everything would have been fine. Although he didn’t ask for his keys back, his smile started looking increasingly pained by the time Buffy left the office.
It felt strange to leave the mountain, to realize how much her life had changed in just a few days. She was startled to realize during the short drive down town that she had grown accustomed to the comfort of the jumpsuit-and-running shoes uniform she was still wearing. Although she had originally intended to stock up on clothing, she frowned with the realization that everyone at the SGC wore uniforms of various kinds, even the civilian employees. The most non-standard clothing she saw anyone wearing was jeans, usually worn by scientists on off-world research projects. If she wore anything appropriate to fashion-plate Buffy standards she would stand out from the crowd. That didn’t bother her, but it might bother the crowd, even though the SGC version of your standard military-type-person wasn’t as rigidly indoctrinated as she had originally feared. Even after a few days in their employ she found they usually had pretty good reasons for most of their rules and regulations, and she didn’t want to thumb her nose at them just because she could.
It had astonished her to realize how much they were relying on her. Yeah, she was saving the world. Been there and done that. But all the other times she’d saved the world, ‘the world’ had been a nebulous thing, an abstraction. It had been her and her friends fighting the Big Bad, fighting to save themselves, and the fact that winning also meant they would save the rest of the world was just an added bonus. But this time she had to meet with the military every day, where the actions of thousands of people would be affected by the most subtle aspects of her vision. Because they were treating it so seriously, Buffy treated it seriously, and in turn found that she treated the people listening to her seriously. Quips and pun-ny comments had been dropped, as everyone was reminded time and again how many lives depended on the decisions they reached.
Perhaps if she was in a better mood she wouldn’t have given a damn about their feelings and just continued being her usual smart-assed self. But she was still in a bit of a funk over the realization she had arrived at while resting after her capture. It wasn’t like the deep, suicidal depression she had been in after Willow brought her back to life, but neither was she all ‘sweetness and light.’ Which probably suited her new colleagues just fine. They needed her badly enough that they would have accommodated almost any behavior from her… but they wouldn’t have respected her, and she found that she wanted their respect. Because, increasingly, they were earning hers.
They didn’t realize her sober, if not cold temperament and behavior was not normal for her. They hadn’t seen her behave any other way. But enough comments had been made concerning the actions of others, behavior Buffy thought amusing, for her to understand that they found it to be at best unprofessional, if not a sign of immaturity, to act inappropriately when there was serious work to be done. She realized that they joked among themselves, indulged in not-so-professional behavior when no one else was looking, but all of them seemed to feel there was a time and place for such activity. Buffy was uncomfortably aware that had things been different, she would have been considered an immature brat, a resource to be used, but not someone thought capable of being left unattended with matches.
As she parked and left the vehicle, Buffy was pondering how far she was willing to modify her own behavior to fit in with the group. ‘Group dynamics’ was another area of psychological behavior she wanted to study, to get the opinion of others in order to help her reach her own conclusions. Given her state of mind it didn’t seem likely she was going to be going back to ‘happy fluffy puppy’ Buffy behavior any time soon, but she didn’t want to act a certain way just to ‘fit in.’ Neither did she want to act contrary to the group norm just to demonstrate her own independence, when all it was likely to do was disrupt the group and have them dismiss her as a child. It wasn’t like she was the only person who had ever felt confused about fitting in with a new social grouping. Pretty much everyone who got a new job went through a similar process. It was just another checkpoint on leaving the cocoon of childhood and assuming adult responsibilities.
Entering a clothing store and going over the selection, Buffy passed by a number of items she would once have purchased without a second thought. She still liked them, still would have liked to have been able to wear them, but they didn’t fit in, would not have been practical in the sort of environment where she now worked. She scowled at the thought of being ‘practical.’ In fact she almost bought a particularly beautiful silk blouse simply because she had immediately dismissed it as im
practical, not something anyone with a lick of sense would wear either within the mountain or off-world. They were paying her big bucks, so why not buy the damned thing just on the off-chance she had reason to wear it some day? Because she suddenly remembered almost losing her house because she didn’t have enough money to pay the bills, would have lost it if Giles hadn’t come through with some cash at the last minute; yet even knowing her financial situation, she had splurged on expensive clothes she never wore more than once. Looking back, she couldn’t believe how foolish she had been. Another harsh lesson in growing up. Blowing your money on luxuries you didn’t need wasn’t cute, or mature, or very damned smart.
Holding the blouse up in front of herself, and looking at the image in the mirror, Buffy scowled even more at the image she could see of herself walking into the SGC in such clothing. It was fine for a party, or to impress other girls in school, but it would be ludicrous in the SGC. Clothing had always provided her solace, giving her a comfort level others got from their cars or their studies or their achievements. Buffy and her closest friends knew that she had quite literally saved the entire world on more than one occasion, but most people didn’t realize it, so clothing had provided a mechanism for her to demonstrate her self-worth, her attractiveness and confidence. But it wouldn’t work that way within the SGC. It would be seen differently, judged differently. She
would be judged differently.
Reluctantly placing the blouse back on its hanger, Buffy settled for purchasing some more practical clothes, coveralls more tailored to her form, work shoes with just a bit more heel than was standard. When she tried on one of the outfits she finally broke into a genuine smile, liking what she saw. It was possible to stand out even when trying to fit in… if you knew something about cut and style. Feeling much better about herself, Buffy wore her new clothes out of the mall, enjoying the looks she received from men, surreptitious and just-slightly-less-than-blatant looks of approval. Her mood improved on the spot. It was the clothes that did it. With Buffy, it was always the clothes which soothed the savage breast.
It wasn’t until she was fitting the key into the General’s car that she noticed it. A strange ‘scent,’ not quite smelled but sensed, felt on a barely conscious level. The tingling sensation wasn’t too dissimilar to the way she had once known a vampire was hiding nearby. Fainter though, barely at the threshold of awareness. But she was almost certain she was catching the trace of a Goold. The undetectable kind, like the one who tried to kill Carter. Dropping off her packages, she crossed the street, barely missing being hit as a car swerved around her, ignoring the shouted appraisal of her likely intelligence as she concentrated on locating the source of the trace ‘scent’ even she could barely detect.
What she was feeling wasn’t like her other senses, was more of a vague impression rather than a tangible awareness. As she returned to the car –this time being sure to look both ways before crossing the street—Buffy frowned in concentration, finally deciding that the source was stronger towards the west than to the east. She drove slowly, following the sensation, heading north when it seemed stronger than south. The trace was fading now, to the point where she wouldn’t have noticed it had she not been concentrating so hard on finding it. Other drivers were honking their horns at her, annoyed by her slow driving, but Buffy ignored them until she realized she was traveling on the main road leading towards the Air Force Academy.
Security wasn’t especially tight at the school, but it was government property and people weren’t admitted unless they had either proper credentials or a valid reason for being there. A guard shack stood in the middle of the road, uniformed air force personnel verifying id’s. A remote boom arm blocked the road, and could be remotely raised to let cars enter the base. Frowning, Buffy waited her turn, looking around at what could be seen of the campus from her location to determine if she could narrow down the source of the trace, until she was interrupted by a guard. Reaching into her pocket, she brought out the uniquely pink id tag the SGC had provided, which had her picture and almost nothing else except a bar code and a hidden embedded chip. “Will this let me in here?”
The young man frowned at the card and pulled it through the slot in his window, running it through a machine she couldn’t see. Evidently the answer was yes however, as he returned the card with a polite smile and the boom arm blocking the road was raised. Buffy drove into the campus, slowing traveling along the neat streets, taking her time to get a sense of what it was she was following, finally distracted about ten minutes after entering the campus when her phone rang. Absently answering, she turned down another side street, coming across some cadets, passing them by when none of them tripped her spider sense. “Hello?”
It was Hammond’s secretary, gently reminding her that she was scheduled for a meeting with the interrogators who had been questioning McGregor. The official reason for the meeting was to determine if she could provide any ‘insight’ into the information they had uncovered during their session. But the real reason was to show that they were using standard, even quite harsh interrogation methods which did not cross over the line into torture. It was just Hammond’s way of demonstrating that he was keeping his word. Buffy told the man she wouldn’t be able to make it, and when she could hear the amusement in his voice when he asked if she was enjoying her shopping, she casually mentioned that she had been forced to cut the trip short when she sensed another Goold like McGregor. That certainly got the man’s attention.
He wanted a lot more information, but Buffy simply told him she was on the Academy campus trying to locate the guy, he was distracting her spider-sense, and she would call back when she had anything new to add.
Although Buffy was starting to realize how important she was becoming to the SGC, she could not have imagined what sort of an anthill her casual remark would soon kick over. The secretary immediately interrupted a mission briefing session to inform the General. Hammond in turn contacted the Air Force Academy security office and on his authority had them lock down the entire base. He ordered them to dispatch an armed squad to find Buffy. “Inform your team that they are to let her know they are there. But they are not, under any circumstances, to bother her or interfere in any way unless she asks them to.”
After that he called the base commander, who outranked him by quite a bit, and informed him of his actions. Fortunately he and General Kerrigan were old friends, and having already been appraised of Buffy’s identity and abilities he had no objections to placing virtually his entire command at her disposal. They wasted a few minutes wondering what a Goa’uld infiltrator would be doing at a school, but realized that was a question better left for when they had the spy in custody. Kerrigan soon left to ensure his troops were properly deployed to lock down the academy grounds, while Hammond informed his command team at the SGC that Buffy had located another of the previously undetectable Goa’uld.
Buffy noticed the Hummvee following her, and at first wondered if she was about to be arrested. When they simply shadowed her, and once even waved away an armed sentry who had suddenly appeared in an intersection, she quickly figured they were there to help so gave them no more thought. All of her concentration was focused on the vague sensation that her quarry was nearby, that she was finally getting a good bead on the vague trail she was following. It led her to one of the larger buildings on campus, one that had classrooms and labs as well as offices for the academic staff. She parked in front of it, ignoring the ‘No Parking’ signs, and entered the building, paying no attention to her three armed shadows who silently gestured when any of the students in the hall looked like they were thinking about bothering her. Eventually she took the stairs to the lowest level of the building, not a basement, but laboratories off-limits to any but authorized personnel. Once again, her magic pink card got her through the security lock with a simple swipe.
Her spider sense was really starting to tingle. Holding the door open for the three men shadowing her, she noted how serious they were, armed and grimly determined, probably with no clue what was happening but prepared to do whatever was necessary to assist her. She was starting to understand how useful soldiers could be. All three were young, one even younger than her, all were black, big, and moved like they knew what they were doing. Buffy had been around the military long enough to recognize that one was an officer, so nodded to him. “He’s here.”
He nodded, and spoke into a headset microphone. “Target verified at this location. Evacuate the building. Quietly.”
Buffy turned away and started walking down the hallway, not making any particular effort to be silent, not hurrying. She couldn’t see Kerrigan’s heavily armed troops suddenly rush into the building and begin evacuating students, but knew that was exactly what was happening above them. She wanted to give them time to get the kids out before doing anything, because the Goold had demonstrated a willingness to commit suicide by using rather large bombs when trapped. Plus she wanted to be absolutely certain she was after the right guy and not get someone innocent killed.
After turning down a short corridor at ninety degrees off the main hallway Buffy knew she had found what she was looking for. The door was painted a dull red, made of metal, secured with a card key mechanism. When he saw her expression, the officer quietly whispered that there were armed troops available if she wanted them. Buffy frowned, thinking it over, considering how Hammond would want it handled. “I don’t think anyone should come down here if they don’t have Top Secret security clearance. We’ll have to do this ourselves.”
There was no argument. Not even any questions. Buffy was starting to think maybe there was something to be said for working with the military. Someone had obviously told these men to do whatever she said, and that was exactly what they were going to do. The officer passed along her instructions to whomever was on the other end of the radio, and then his eyes went wide when someone apparently far up the chain of command came on to repeat and reinforce the order. Not paying attention to him, Buffy missed his reaction, too busy concentrating on the door and the office beyond. Slayer senses were pretty good, hearing included, and she soon determined the basics of what she needed to know. “There’s three people inside. Two men on the left; one on the right. The one I want is on the right. The other two may not be involved in this. They’re talking to my boy, asking him about something… gambling or bets of some kind. I think they think he’s just running some kind of numbers game. You two…” she pointed to the two enlisted men “…take them. No guns.”
The men nodded, not asking how she knew what she was telling them, simply putting away their side-arms and drawing wicked-looking black batons. Turning to face the officer, Buffy studied him a second before continuing. “I’ll be on the one we’re here for. I think he’s armed. I can smell something… oil. We really need him alive. But we absolutely positively
need him to not get away. Don’t shoot him unless you have no choice.” The man nodded, meeting her gaze without flinching, and Buffy decided he wasn’t a cowboy who might fire just for the chance to rack up a kill. Whoever had sent the trio to back her up hadn’t just drawn names at random. They were nervous, but in a good way… prepared, knowing what they might be in for, ready for it.
Buffy brought up her magic card and swiped it in the key slot. She frowned when the door didn’t open. The officer scowled even more. “Your key should open it. That card gives you access to everything
.” While he spoke into his radio Buffy considered the implications of them giving her such access, but soon dismissed it as irrelevant. The officer said there was a manual override they could use, but it would take five minutes to get the door open. Buffy just shook her head.
“They know we’re here. They did something to the lock. I can hear them talking about it, discussing what they should do. I think it’s time to be not subtle.” Moving up to the door, she drew her arm back and drove her fist forward where a latch mechanism should be. There was a loud ‘bang
!’, and the metal bent about four inches, but the door held. Instead of one latch in the middle, the door had two, one at either end of the left side. Buffy ignored the shocked looks from the soldiers, her own expression showing that she was impressed. “That is one tough door! Get ready.” With that she did a quick turn, using her momentum to add to the strength of her leg kick to the center of the door. At full Slayer strength the kick was enough to rip the bolts clear through the steel reinforcing on the other side, smashing the door not just open but right around and into the wall on the other side, reinforced hinges on that side barely holding, the masonry wall cracking.
Not waiting for the door to slam back, Buffy followed it through, moving as fast as she could, ducking and twisting as she ignored everything except her target. He was raising a gun, a standard military issue semi-automatic, and she rolled as he fired, pivoting to kick out and push the desk into him, the angle not quite right to trap him, but enough to hit him just hard enough to distract him and give her time to jump and grab his arm, twist, hearing it snap but not even pausing as she drove her elbow into his face, smashing something else there, knocking him unconscious with the force of the blow. Turning quickly to see how the others were doing she saw the two other men in the room with their hands up, likely saving them from a beating, but not from firm treatment as the soldiers used their hands and batons to get the civilians down on the floor and secure. The whole thing had taken only seconds.
Only then, once it was over, did Buffy hear the moans from the two men on the ground, their pleas as they surrendered, cries that they hadn’t done anything, the echoes from the rounds that had been fired still resonating. She did a quick count. Three shots. He had been fast. She had been faster. A check verified that neither she nor any of the soldiers following her had been hit. One round had come close though; she had felt the compression wave as it passed, and had a sudden and terrifying flashback to Warren shooting her in Sunnydale. The officer was looking at her a bit stunned, his dark eyes huge, when he was snapped back to reality by voices in his head piece demanding an update. “Three bad guys down. No casualties. Situation secure.”
Ignoring him, Buffy let the unconscious Goold drop and moved over to the desk where he had been sitting. She didn’t know what he had been doing, but the numbers flowing by on his computer screen suggested he had known something was happening and was using the time to activate a program to delete his files. Wishing Willow or Carter was around to tell her what to do, Buffy decided that since they weren’t, she’d just have to do what Slayers did, and quickly moved over to the rack beside the desk which held a series of big blinking computer-type boxes. Grabbing the steel rack, she braced herself and pulled, ripping it out from the bolts securing it to the floor, but giving her enough room to reach over and start pulling out every cable she could find. Within seconds the lights went off and the computers looked dead.
The enlisted men had the civilians under control, and were staring at her, at the bolts she had just ripped from the floor, at the eight hundred pound computer rack she had just tossed aside like it was nothing, and then at each other, obviously wanting to ask a million questions but asking none of them. Which was fortunate, because there wasn’t really a lot she could say. Instead she turned away, returning to the desk and started pulling drawers out, not sure why she was doing it until she reached the bottom one. There was a small black cube under the drawer that set her spider senses into overdrive. It wasn’t very big, maybe two by three by perhaps half an inch thick, and at first she thought it might be a bomb. Thin, almost invisible wires leading from it convinced her otherwise. When she touched it she could feel something, not a mechanical vibration but an ultrasonic hum as if a crystal was being compressed. Again Buffy resorted to Slayer tactics, ripping the box from its setting, snapping the tiny cables, eyes squeezed shut in case it was booby trapped.
Fortunately, nothing happened. The cube came off, and the feeling disappeared.
Taking a deep breath, Buffy started to come down from the adrenaline high, the excitement over and giving her time to assess the situation. Frightened murmurs were coming from the two civilians who had been doing something on their computers on the other side of the office, and more to get rid of their annoying distraction than anything else Buffy asked the soldiers to take the men out in the hall and have someone take them away. She could hear voices out in the main hallway, although nobody had entered the short corridor where the office was located. When the enlisted men hauled the terrified civilians to their feet, the officer quietly whispered into his radio that two of the captives were being brought out, and they should be kept apart, kept silent, and kept in a secure location until someone told them differently.
Buffy was checking out the rest of the office when they returned, accompanied by two officers. Pretty high ranking ones from the way the lieutenant snapped to attention. She knew the meaning of the bird symbol on the first man’s shoulder because O’Neill had the same one, but even she instantly knew that the four stars on the other guy meant he was someone with serious clout, near the top of the military food chain. He nodded to the lieutenant, who relaxed the merest fraction, and went over to look at the unconscious man on the floor. Blood was starting to pool from his broken nose. The General didn’t get too close, not out of fastidiousness, but because he apparently knew what a Goa’uld could do. “Is it dead?”
Not a big Goold fan, Buffy judged. “He’ll live. Probably need a nose job though. Arm’s broken too. Sorry, but he had a gun.”
The General nodded in satisfaction before looking over towards her. “Any idea what the hell it would be doing on my base?”
Buffy shrugged, before pointing towards the computers and holding up the cube she had pulled from the desk. Quickly explaining what she had seen and done, she handed over the cube when the general politely asked to see it. Apparently he had no more idea what it was or did than she did. “I’m having his records brought over.” He looked away from the cube, staring at Buffy for a second. “We’ll have to call in State Security.”
Scowling, Buffy gestured towards the cube. “This thing isn’t from Earth. Doesn’t that take it out of their jurisdiction?”
The General ignored the sudden indrawn breath from the lieutenant, the wide-eyed shock on the faces of the other soldiers. “This is a school
, Miss Summers. Cadets could have been hurt. Which means they have jurisdiction. They’ll want him taken into custody.”
Tense, frustrated, Buffy turned away from him, muttering. “We had a deal.”
The General apparently knew all about it. He just shrugged. “Inside the Mountain you have a deal. Out here, State Security calls the shots.”
“State Security is going to get
shot if they keep pissing me off.”
The lieutenant looked at the tiny girl, at the smashed metal door, at the steel rack ripped from its mounts, and wondered what the hell he had gotten himself into. But whatever it was, he wouldn’t want to be an agent for State Security who was in the sights of anyone who could do what this chick had done. A girl who talked about things being not from Earth. He would have felt sorry for them if he wasn’t secretly hoping she ripped their balls off. Like most soldiers, he didn’t have a lot of respect for the arrogant bastards in what they called the ‘SS’ after its German prequel.
With the conversation at a dead end, Buffy moved back to the desk where she had removed the cube. She recalled there being more than one thread coming out of it before she had removed it. They were barely visible, but she could see one going down the leg of the desk, over to the computer rack, and although the thread had been broken in several places by her tossing things around, could even see where it connected to one of the computer boxes. Pointing it out to the General, he could just barely make it out, but didn’t doubt her word. He politely moved out of her way when she returned to the desk.
The other wire, however, was harder to find. It went around the desk, down the other leg, off to the wall. She had to pull out the metal covering for the room heaters to follow it along the wall, bending down on her knees because whoever put it in really wanted it to remain hidden, suspecting the men were checking out her butt instead of watching what she was doing. Finally it followed a pipe leading from the heater into the wall and disappeared. Frowning, ignoring the looks she was getting from the others, Buffy reached back and punched the painted masonry block, smashing it easily. She could see the pipe, and, just barely, the wire following the pipe within the hollow cores of the masonry blocks which made up the wall. Hoping she wasn’t making a mistake and demolishing a perfectly good wall for no reason, she used her forearm to smash the blocks leading directly up along the pipe, then used her hand like a zipper to rip out the shattered hunks of masonry.
Slightly above head height another pipe crossed the heating pipe. It was thinner, made of stainless steel, with a thin yellow line painted every few inches. When he saw it the other new officer, the colonel, sucked in his breath audibly. “Ho. Lee. Shit
.” Both Buffy and the General turned to face him, but he didn’t say anything more, just came closer to verify what he suspected. Pointing to the smaller pipe, he looked over at Buffy. “Please tell me whatever you’re seeing isn’t going into this.”
He couldn’t see the thin thread, so Buffy grabbed a Sharpie from the desk and marked it up the pipe and over to a tiny, barely-visible round plug where it was attached to the smaller stainless steel pipe. By then the General had figured out what was making his aide freak out. “Tell me you’re not thinking what I hope you’re not thinking.”
Sighing, the Colonel touched the pipe, careful not to go anywhere near the wire he still couldn’t see. Unfortunately he could just barely make out the plug, so knew that however much he might wish she was seeing things, the thread was real. “It’s the Bottom Line.”
Both their faces were ashen, and from the way he reacted, the lieutenant’s would have been as well had his skin been a different color. Buffy had no idea what they were talking about, and the General didn’t explain. He was glaring at his aide, while simultaneously pulling his cell phone out of his uniform pocket. “I told
you not to tell me that.” It was an old game between friends which under different circumstances might have merited a chuckle. Not this time. He used the speed dial. “George? Bob Kerrigan… She’s fine. Everything you said and more. She got the thing, but she also found something else and things in general are about to get real fugly. Can you get Sam and her crew over right away? We need to figure out what the hell this stuff is, and just how bad it’s going to get. Don’t bother with the helipad, have them land right here. I need them here ten minutes ago… Thanks George.”
Visibly bracing himself, he called another number. “This is General Robert Kerrigan. I am declaring a ‘Bottom Out’ condition.” None of what he said after that made much sense to Buffy. A lot of numbers and code phrases, which she figured was used to verify he was who he claimed to be. Buffy was starting to get a wee bit nervous at the seriousness everyone was treating the situation, so tried to remain unobtrusively quiet. When she noticed some sign of life from their captive she just nodded to the enlisted men, who got the message and quickly left, returning with handcuffs which they used on both his arms and legs. He also brought back the file on their captive, and while Kerrigan was on the phone Buffy quickly looked through the various papers, not really looking for anything but more as a way to pass the time.
Not wanting to be tempted into extreme violence when the State Security goons arrived, Buffy waited until the General was off the phone before suggesting she take a quick trip to the prisoners home to see if she noticed anything weird. Having a pretty good idea why she wanted to go, Kerrigan looked over at the soldiers and ordered them to accompany her. She suggested leaving one of them behind to keep an eye on the prisoner. Kerrigan frowned down at the still, and very securely bound, Goa’uld agent. “You think he might still try something?”
Shrugging, Buffy gently nudged the prone body with her foot. “Who knows. He’s already conscious. Faking it pretty good though.” All of the military men snapped into defensive postures, none having had the slightest idea he was awake, none questioning her statement that he was. She nodded to one of the enlisted men. “You’re biggest. You stay and make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid. Unless its to the State Security assholes. Let him do whatever he wants to them.”
With that she nodded to the Colonel, who was still looking at the small pipe as if he wanted to wish it away, and then left, the lieutenant and his more senior enlisted man accompanying her. They passed through a long line of heavily-armed soldiers in battledress uniforms lining the hallway, people running back and forth who looked at them curiously but said nothing. When they exited the building Buffy was confronted by a sight from a disaster movie; dozens of armed soldiers, hundreds more uniformed cadets being held back out of range, snipers on the rooftops of nearby buildings, the loud ‘whoomp-whoomp
’ noise of a helicopter landing, its backdraft blowing up dust and debris all around. Buffy paused when she saw O’Neill and Carter among the group jumping from the helicopter the second it landed.
The three armed men accompanying them passed her by with polite nods, but the other two stopped when they got over to her. Noise from the helicopter, which was still on the ground but not turning off its engines, forced them to almost shout to be heard even from nearby. O’Neill was smiling. “Good one kid! That’s two for two!”
Buffy just shrugged, and gestured apologetically towards Carter. “I don’t know what I found, but from the way they reacted I think I just caused Sam to have to put in a whole lot of extra overtime.”
Gently gripping the small girl’s arm for positive reinforcement, Carter looked her in the eye before speaking. “Don’t ever
worry about that. These are things we absolutely have to know about, Buffy! I’d much rather put in a few long days now than have to deal with the consequences later. You have no idea how bad they could be.” She paused, then smiled. “Actually you probably do. You keep doing what you’re doing, and let us handle the rest. No matter what it is.”
Knowing just how busy Carter was dealing with the Xerxes problem, Buffy was happy to know she wasn’t being blamed for adding to the woman’s already overwhelming workload. The problem was that Carter was just so damned smart there weren’t many people who could handle most of the things she did, so it wasn’t a question of being afraid to delegate. So she nodded and smiled towards them and gestured for her security detail to proceed. When they got to the vehicle she was borrowing, Buffy was amazed to see the three men who had landed with her friends come out of the building carrying the prisoner, who had been securely strapped to a hard stretcher. Troops cleared the way for them to take the man to the helicopter, where they quickly got in and took off in a thundering shower of airborne debris.
As he got into the front seat, the lieutenant looked at her quizzically. “You don’t see that too often. Someone taking a prisoner away
from State Security. The General really, really
doesn’t want to be on your bad side.”
Putting the vehicle in gear and slowly pulling away, Buffy waited for soldiers to clear away cadets, who were staring at her curiously. She pondered the lieutenants assessment, but couldn’t think of too many other explanations. It would suit her just fine if she had enough clout to cause aggravation for the NID. If she couldn’t kill them, then she felt she deserved to make their lives at least a little bit more miserable. With that thought in mind her mood improved considerably as they reached the gate blocking the entrance to Academy property. A dozen cars and trucks were parked at the exit, forbidden to leave until the alert was officially cancelled, but Buffy was just waved through, armed soldiers staring at her curiously but nobody interfering.
Outside the gate there was a bit of a media scrum, two trucks with satellite links parked just outside, four reporter and their crews immediately jumping in front of the car. Raising a hand to block her face from the camera, Buffy lowered the window a bit and interrupted the shouted questions with a cry of “No cameras!”
The lieutenant wanted to say something, but knew he couldn’t give her orders, and noticed that her suddenly wide-eyed expression seemed to have lost about 30 IQ points between one second and the next when she opened the car window and spoke to the reporters. “I’ll only talk ‘off the record.’”
One of the reporters, more aggressive than the others, demanded to know why she didn’t want to appear on camera. Giggling like the schoolgirl she suddenly appeared to be, Buffy bent her head a bit and made an obvious attempt to try to blush. “Ma daddy would just freak out
if he saw who I was going out with when I’m supposed to be helping out with the church picnic!” The reporters looked into the car at the two large, stoic, and very black
soldiers, looked at each other, and were trying to come up with something to say when Buffy continued. “If you all are wondering what is going on in there though, I can tell you, but you can’t say it was me telling you to whoever you tell it to when you tell it. Okay?” Her audience was still trying to figure out what the hell she had just said when she babbled on like the airhead she was so effectively pretending to be. “I overheard some of the army boys… “ even the reporters knew it was an Air Force base “… who were saying that one of the teachers had gone crazy; he had a gun and everything. He was a computer geek, so no real surprise; they’re all crazy if you ask me. They evacuated the whole building and some guards went in to arrest him or whatever, and he shot at them, but they took away his gun and everything. Then the helicopter came in with a bomb squad and they’re looking for a bomb just in case the nutty professor guy had a bomb too, and the students are just standing around saying it was all really cool
, the way the army guys came in like a SWAT team, even though nobody actually got shot or anything. Not even the crazy computer guy; they just took his gun away and tied him up. Which kinda sucks because that would have been really cool
‘cause they had ambulances with lights flashing and everything, but it was just one nutty old guy with a gun so not much really exciting happened except it did make it easy for me to leave without daddy seeing me or anything.”
When she paused for air the reporters sort of looked at each other, one muttering a polite ‘thank-you’ before backing away from the car carefully. Smiling brainlessly, Buffy waved to them as she took off towards town. The soldiers in the car just stared at her, silently, not knowing what the hell to say, until the officer sighed, pulled up his cell phone, and called someone to explain the story Buffy had just given the reporters. Buffy’s hearing was good enough to hear the person at the other end of the line say “Okay; we can run with that” before hanging up.
The man in the back, who she finally realized was the lowest level of the sergeant rank, finally spoke up. “May I ask you a question, ma’am?” Looking at him in the mirror, no longer looking anything like the vacuous airhead she had appeared to be only minutes earlier, Buffy nodded. “Are you human?”
She didn’t know if she should be offended or not. “Uh.. yeah. Born and raised in sunny California.”
He nodded. “Good. I was kinda wondering for a bit there. And, well, you’re kinda hot, so it would have really freaked me out if it turned out you were a lizard or something.”
That made Buffy laugh louder than she had in longer than she could remember. She didn’t quite lose control of the car, but seeing the wry smiles on the faces of the two men turn to grimaces of fear, she returned attention to her driving, having seen similar expressions on the faces of her passengers on many occasions. The lieutenant directed her to the location of the address that had been on the man’s file, a small rental property, one whose landlord hadn’t spent much on upkeep. Moving around to the back, Buffy simply went up to the door, grabbed the handle and twisted until metal gave way. She entered the single-floor ‘ranch’ style house, followed by two men who by then knew better than to ask any questions.
Their prisoner had been into computers in a big, big way. A bunch of them were in various room, hard drives ‘whir
-ing’ away, even more hard drives mounted on racks between computers, their own power supplies ensuring they were in constant operation. Each rack held dozens of hard drives, and there were dozens of racks in the living room and one bedroom. Other than the electronics there was very little furniture in the place, aside from a small bed, one chair, a few utensils left unwashed in the sink. The officer whistled slowly at the computer equipment. “I think this guy is trying to download the entire internet. It will take years to go through the contents of these hard drives.”
Reaching out with her senses, searching for the Goold signature she was starting to get a better feel for, Buffy felt around until she saw a small basket of colored rocks, holding up a single candle. The rocks were small, only an inch or two across, but she smiled as she picked up one that didn’t look any different than the others. “I think we can leave them for State Security to go through. I hope they enjoy it.” Tossing up the rock, catching it, and putting it in her pocket, Buffy then gestured for the door. “That should be all, gentlemen. Did either of you leave any fingerprints?” They both shook their heads, one mentioning that hers would be on the door handle. Shrugging her shoulders, Buffy didn’t even bother to rub the prints away when she closed the door behind them.
On the way back to the base Buffy glanced over at the lieutenant. “What’s the Bottom Line?”
He sighed. Ordinarily he would never discuss the matter with a civilian, but this was obviously no ordinary civilian. When a four star general went out of his way to be nice, and her id card opened pretty much every door owned by the US government, it was very apparent she had access to anything she wanted in terms of state secrets. Given what she had just done, the abilities she had just demonstrated, he figured she was a state secret, far more so than the Bottom Line. “It’s a special, highly secure data pipe designed to carry only the most top-secret information. The pipe is kept in a vacuum, so any breach should be detected. Inside is a laser beam carrying all the data in an encoded stream. If the laser is blocked or intercepted or interfered with in any way it should be detected. All the data is encoded with the most secure, uncrackable encryption system known to man. The pipe itself doesn’t show up on any plans or documents, and if any part of it is inadvertently uncovered, it is immediately ripped out and secretly replaced somewhere else. Basically, its what the Pentagon and Cheyenne Mountain use when they want to talk about nuclear war, what they use to send launch codes to missiles in North Dakota and bombers in Omaha.”
Realizing the implications, Buffy had one of those ‘Oh shit!’ moments, and finally understood why Kerrigan had reacted the way he had. Carter wouldn’t be the only one working late that night. When they got back to the Academy, the gates were still closed. She pulled off to the side of the road, at the end of a long line of cars waiting to get into the base. When the men looked at her questioningly, Buffy said she was just going to let them off while she returned to the mountain. Both men appeared surprised by her words. The lieutenant needed clarification. “Uh… given everything we’ve seen, aren’t you going to put us into isolation, or security detention, or something?”
After her spectacular flame-out leading the Potentials, Buffy was trying to be more careful when she was put into a position of authority, to think things through before speaking, to consider the implications of her decisions and how they would impact others. Not just the people receiving her orders, but those who would have to deal with the people receiving her orders. Technically speaking, she had no authority to give these men orders in the first place. But it was obvious they had been told she had such authority, and the people who told them did
have the authority to give them orders. It was becoming increasingly apparent that she was being tested, given enough freedom to act on her own initiative, to see how she reacted, testing how much rope she should be given. Buffy strongly suspected Hammond was behind it simply because no one else had the power to do it, or knew her well enough to think it was something worth discovering. She was surprised at how determined she was not to disappoint him. And that gave her a hint how to proceed. “Didn’t you sign an oath when you joined up?”
They both seemed to suddenly sit at attention. “Yes, ma’am. We did.”
Buffy just shrugged. “Then you either meant it or you didn’t.”
She left it at that. For a long few seconds there was silence, both men staring at her, fascinated. When the sergeant in the back seat spoke, his voice was very soft, adamantly proud. “I meant
it, ma’am.” When the lieutenant glanced back and met his eyes, both men reached the same conclusion, a silent understanding. They nodded to her and opened their doors, quietly leaving the vehicle. They stood, almost at attention, not only as she drove away, but until she was completely out of sight, before crossing the road back to the Academy grounds.