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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: ActionjAkLFR1525142,908260673451,99919 Jan 0615 Mar 06Yes
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Chapter 17

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 Seventeen

Three days later Buffy still hadn’t left the mountain, those in command wanting her to stick around until they were certain the enemy wasn’t coming back. It seemed that everyone was working hard except her; yet she was treated like the Veriest of Very Important People by everyone she met. Only the SGC and the few dozen people who had been in the War Room at the time of the attack knew what she had done; but everyone knew she had immediate, unrestricted access to the most powerful Generals in the facility, and had heard the story of Kerrigan being willing to offend State Security rather than anger her. Between her assumed clout and obvious attractiveness she was the subject of considerable speculation throughout all five military bases around Colorado Springs.

That interest was reason enough for her not to leave the mountain. Nobody outside a privileged few knew what had happened, who had attacked them, or how, but speculation was rampant. After the terrorist attacks four years earlier people were nervous, frightened, and out for blood. The media hadn’t been informed of the speculation going on within military ranks concerning Buffy’s possible connection to the event, but given the amount of ‘noise’ on the subject it was only a matter of time. Her employers were agreeably surprised when Buffy accepted their suggestion to temporarily lie low until the rumors settled down.

Since most of the people on the SGC levels knew who and what she was, Buffy wasn’t treated any different there than she had been since signing up. She watched a lot of television, and some of the civilian experts working on the project passed along documents and reports concerning the situation they thought she might find of interest. It was only when she went up to the NORAD levels, where most of the people knew her only as a ‘civilian consultant,’ that she realized how intense was the speculation surrounding her presence. Not just among the military either. One of the reports she was given made it clear that the NID was even more interested in her than was the population at large. Given that there was a Presidential order forbidding them from entering the Mountain they couldn’t touch her directly; but there was round-the-clock surveillance placed on her mother, and a massive effort being put into discovering exactly how the SGC had managed to get their hands on a copy of her interrogation dossier.

It was the latter issue which concerned Buffy the most. She was certain that nobody in their right mind was going to mess with her mom; even the NID had to know that if they touched her, the gloves came off, and Buffy went nuclear. But they had every legal right to investigate a security breach within their own domain. They could claim it was irrelevant that what the document described was illegal and a disgrace; the release of any secure documents from their secure archive was a breach of national security. When a concerned Buffy brought up the subject with Hammond, he had Carter look into it during her non-existent spare time, and her quick lecture frightened Buffy even more.

They were in the older woman’s lab when Carter punched up a few documents on her monitor. “I’m not a hacker. It takes a different mind-set, an attitude I don’t possess to become good at breaking into protected systems. If I was asked to investigate who was able to penetrate the NID database I’d first compile a list of all the people who had the technical skill, and then ignore those who didn’t have the aptitude.” On the monitor, a long list of names abruptly grew much shorter. “Then I’d get rid of those who didn’t have the resources to do it.” Three quarters of the remaining names disappeared. “The NID doesn’t use Unix on their mainframe. They use a highly-modified version of ADA as their programming language, for security purposes. Not many people are familiar with it…” more names were deleted “…and only those with expertise in scripting in that language need to be considered, since it would take a lot more than basic familiarity to pull off something like this.” After she clicked a few more buttons, obviously having long since investigated the break-in, only a half dozen names remained. Willow’s was prominent among them.

Not even watching the monitor, Carter manipulated buttons without taking her eyes from Buffy. “I know two of these people didn’t do it, simply because they have tried to penetrate those computers for us in the past, and failed.” Their names dropped off the screen. “One is in jail.” Only three names remained. “And two of them are big-mouthed, egotistical pains in the ass who would publish anything they uncovered on the Smoking Gun website if they ever managed to pull something like this off.” At that point only Willow’s name was left on the screen. Buffy gulped on a dry throat as Carter looked at her with eyes notably lacking in sympathy. “I could use a different set of assumptions and reach a similar conclusion. This is a very specialized field, and there wouldn’t have been too many options available to you. Even discounting other considerations, Miss Rosenberg’s name would stick out like a sore thumb.”

After a few long minutes of silence, Buffy met her eyes. “Any suggestions?”

Carter shrugged. “Breaking into government computers is a federal offence.”

That wasn’t what Buffy wanted to hear, and irritation quickly overcame concern. “I’ve noticed that a lot in your world. It’s okay-fine to do something sleazy. The real punishment is reserved for anyone who lets people know when something sleazy is being done.”

Shrugging to show she wasn’t interested in arguing the matter, Carter simply pointed out that regardless of her motives, the law was the law. Had things been different she would have been happy to discuss the issue, but Carter knew the girl was still extremely bitter over what had happened to her at the hands of the NID. The last thing she wanted was to become a target for that barely-leashed anger. Especially when she would have to be the one arguing in favor of abiding by rules which had somehow been twisted to permit Buffy to be tortured. Sam wasn’t sure if it was wise to wait until the Slayer indicated she was willing to talk about the issue rather than simply venting her rage whenever it was brought up. But the psychiatrists were looking for a way to get the girl to deal with what had happened, and hopefully to move beyond it, but until they saw some sign that she was willing to do so their orders were clear.

Annoyed by the prim statement, not to mention the fact that she wasn’t going to get a chance to vent, Buffy looked around the lab while considering her options. She didn’t like Carter’s lab… it was too neat, too obsessively regimented for her taste. Even the papers on her desk were neatly stacked and itemized. Granted that a workaholic like Sam would need a system to keep her many and varied interests separated, but Buffy herself preferred the casual messiness of Dr. Jackson’s office, with its stacks of books and paper-strewn surfaces. It reminded her of Giles… which wasn’t something she wanted to think too much about, missing her mentor so much it hurt. Especially at times like this. But right now he was the last person she wanted to see, given her state of mind and the non-trivial fact that he didn’t even know her in this universe. But Willow knew her, and there was no damned way she would let anyone threaten Willow. “Do you think you can get me the plans to the prison they’ll take her to, so it’ll be easier for me to break her out?”

She smiled, enjoying the older woman’s frown, sort of pretending she was joking, both knowing she meant every word of the threat. Carter was trying to be sympathetic, but she was getting a bit irritated with her attitude. “You can’t ignore the law when you find it inconvenient, Buffy. Isn’t that your main complaint concerning our government? If you do the same thing, it makes you a bit of a hypocrite.”

The accusation struck home, and Buffy dropped her smile. As well as her dumb blonde act. It didn’t work on Carter anyway. “I’m not going to play by the rules if no one else does. What was it your psych profile on me said? I’ve got ‘an almost pathological need to protect my friends and family.’ If you think I’m going to let Willow get burned for helping me, then you don’t know me at all.”

Carter gave the small girl a hard look, but Buffy met it without the slightest hint of budging. Not that Sam had expected there would be. There had been considerable discussion on their new employees’ penchant for ignoring the rules when it suited her, for assuming she was a law unto herself. Given her Slayer background it was understandable. For much of her life she literally had been the law, one far more effective and essential than the police department, if her claims were anywhere close to being true. But her attitude had the potential to cause considerable difficulty in the structured environment of the SGC, especially as she came to understand just how critical her cooperation was becoming to their future plans. The SGC was a team, but Buffy had been operating as a lone wolf for a long time. There had been some discussion as to how they could make her feel welcome, and part of their team, without allowing her to run roughshod over the regulations and discipline which the organization required to function effectively. But they also had to be careful not to smother her in a straight-jacket of rules she found so confining she would one day quit just to escape.

No one doubted for an instant that she would just walk away if she felt unappreciated or needlessly restrained. Hammond had instinctively known what a dozen psychologists had taken hundred-page reports to declare; Buffy considered herself to be a hero, and wanted to be treated as one. More importantly, she would act like one under most circumstances. But she was also a young, spoiled girl, used to getting her own way, who would instinctively rebel against military discipline. She had been quite happy to tell them about the Watcher Council, her contempt for them obvious, her pride in firing them an object lesson which the SGC had been very careful to factor into all their calculations when dealing with their new asset. There were officers who acted just like their counterparts on the Watchers Council in order to maintain control over particularly troublesome underlings with special talents. Opinion was universal that attempting to use such methods to control Buffy was not just doomed to failure, but almost certain to lead to a disastrous confrontation.

Carter was concerned that the NID would fail to take that last point into account when dealing with Buffy, and might attempt to use her mother as a hostage to her good behavior. She had no doubt they would fail were they ever to make the attempt. Despite her youth, the girl had effectively been under continuous combat operations since she was fifteen years old, and would know what to do given a hostage situation. The probable consequences should any harm befall such a hostage boggled the mind. Even at the best of times the Slayer was extraordinarily dangerous. What she was capable of doing while in a murderous rage was not something Carter wanted to witness. And given her emotional state, it would take very little to push the girl into doing things which could not be undone.

That would be a disaster in more ways than one. It was obvious to them all they needed the girl a lot more than she needed them. But that was true with a lot of the people who worked for the SGC, including Carter herself. Many of them could be induced to stay for reasons of patriotism, but thanks to the never-sufficiently-damned NID, that option was not available when it came to the Slayer. Others could be bribed the old fashioned way; by being paid a lot of money. They tried that one with Buffy as well, hoping she’d become accustomed to having plenty of cash so reluctant to quit a job which provided it. They had unfortunately noted that during her one shopping expedition she hadn’t over-indulged. She hadn’t been exactly frugal, but had come across as someone who understood the value of money. A third option was the one they used on Carter. Sam knew that everyone would be much happier if she didn’t risk herself going on off-world missions. But that was what she wanted to do, so to keep her happy they indulged her adventuresome spirit, and probably crossed their fingers every time she stepped through the ‘Gate. The Command Team was desperately hoping things would calm down and permit them to give Buffy a few trips off-world, to see if that would capture her interest.

In the meantime, there were other ways of dealing with people who considered themselves heroes. To a hero, a ‘bribe’ did not necessarily mean money. Sometimes it meant being able to take care of their friends. “I could talk to the General about offering her a job at the SGC, I suppose.” The offer was made casually, tentatively, as if they had not been watching Willow Rosenberg for years, had held off bringing her in earlier only because their contacts as MIT had been concerned that her overwhelming shyness would make her too easily pushed around by some of the more opinionated staff on the project. Only a few week before they had been informed that the girl had suddenly, unexpectedly grown a backbone, had appeared to come into her own both personally and professionally. It was only when the SGC’s psychological team had put two and two together that they realized how much the Slayer had played a part in Rosenberg’s flowering.

Seeing the smile suddenly blossom on Buffy’s face at the offer, Carter realized they had come up with the proper strategy to deal with her. During her interviews and psychological evaluation Buffy had never brought up the names of the people who worked with her in the alternate universe she originally came from. But it was now pretty obvious who at least one of her compatriots had been. Choosing someone of Rosenberg’s credentials indicated pretty smart personnel selection on her part. Having her working at the SGC would also bind Buffy further to them, which was crucial even if Rosenberg hadn’t been useful in her own right. Carter had been having some problems with a few of the senior IT people. Having someone with Rosenberg’s demonstrated talents available would certainly come in handy if she wanted to work around their obstinate roadblocks. It would be even better if she really had grown a backbone, like the reports were suggesting. But even if she hadn’t, being able to call on a Slayer to resolve any issues with less competent but ‘pushier’ colleagues would certainly come in handy.

Imaging a scene with Buffy coming to the aid of her friend when she was being belittled by a particularly loathsome IT manager was bringing a secret smile to Carter’s face when her daydream was interrupted by the claxon indicating an incoming wormhole. Knowing the alarm wouldn’t have sounded if it was a scheduled inbound team, both she and Buffy immediately rushed to the Gate control room, careful to stay out of the way of the armed troops rushing into the Gateroom itself. Hammond was already there, ordering the iris shut, but Sergeant Harriman was unable to comply with the order. “I’m getting a remote override! The iris will not respond! No incoming GDO signal… but… Sir, this seems to be an Asgard protocol!”

The troops didn’t stand down, but everyone relaxed slightly. It was well known that the Asgard were so technologically advanced they could make any merely-human device stand up and whistle, if that was what they wanted it to do. Fortunately, they were allies. And they didn’t need no stinkin’ GDO to open the damned Gate if they wanted to visit. The familiar wormhole formed in the ‘Gate –a giggling Buffy noted again that it looked like a toilet flushing sideways, as if she was the first person ever to note the resemblance—and everyone stood down as Thor’s familiar presence walked through and the wormhole dissolved. Buffy stared in open-mouthed astonishment at the tiny, big-eyed, grey-skinned alien, never having seen one of the Asgard before, and wishing Xander were around to witness the visitation.

She remained in the control room as the General and his closest advisors went down to welcome their guest. Since the speakers were on, she was able to listen in as they welcomed Thor to Earth. The small alien’s voice was surprisingly deep, very precise, and even though they didn’t sound anything like each other, it reminded Buffy of Dr. Jackson for some reason. He even held out his hand to be shaken in a gesture obviously copied from humanity. “It is good to be here again, General Hammond. It is particularly satisfying to see that the recent Goa’uld invasion attempt was unsuccessful. I extend the condolences of the Asgard to those victims who did not survive the attack, and wish there were some way we might have been able to respond earlier. However our struggle with the Replicators leaves us desperately short of resources, and unable to offer the protections once expected of us. Fortunately, in this case it appears that you have managed to not just survive this potential calamity, but to stave off a powerful Goa’uld invasion fleet. An extraordinarily impressive achievement.”

Everyone smiled. Impressing the Asgard wasn’t easy, and was high on the list of SGC priorities. They were Earth’s most powerful ally, and if humanity wanted to be taken as a serious player, the Asgard needed to know they could rely on Earth to stand on its own, and not just be a defenseless victim needing to be constantly rescued. Soon the group left the room, heading off towards the conference room where they could go over recent events in detail. Buffy didn’t wander far from the control room, figuring she’d be called in sooner or later, but it turned out to be more later than sooner as more than forty minutes passed before an airman came up and requested her presence. Even though she knew an alien wouldn’t care, Buffy instinctively checked her hair and makeup before knocking on the door and entering.

The small alien studied her from the moment she walked in. Its dark eyes were extraordinarily huge; Buffy wondered if it was nocturnal, or lived underground. Its movements were surprisingly graceful considering how thin its arms were, that fact alone arguing against subterranean evolution. Push came to shove, Buffy figured she could take it. She didn’t necessarily intend to fight it; that was the way Buffy assessed almost everyone she met for the first time. From the way its eyes blinked, she figured the alien knew exactly what she was thinking, so Buffy was careful to stay back and not crowd it, making no threatening moves when she was introduced. Most people wouldn’t have understood, but the soldiers in the room knew what was happening, and O’Neill spoke up to reassure his alien friend. “Its okay, Thor. She doesn’t bite. We’ve even got her potty trained.” Which, as intended, got him a hard glare from the Slayer, causing him to smile and make a triumphant ‘2-points!’ gesture.

Despite what they all were assuming, Thor hadn’t been afraid. He was astonished. His kind had built rockets before humanity’s ancestors left the trees, and had evolved senses the younger race hadn’t dreamed of. He knew he was looking at something impossible. “I bid you greetings, Buffy Summers. I apologize for my reaction. You are not what I expected. Although your abilities were mentioned by my friends O’Neill and Carter, I found it difficult to believe they spoke the truth. Not because they have ever lied to me, but because I could not understand how such things were possible. I would beg your indulgence, and ask that you tell me the story of how you came to be here, in our universe, in your own words. This is very important. I would ask that you leave nothing out.”

After getting not-so-subtle signals from Hammond to do anything the alien asked, Buffy explained what had happened to her. The alien demanded more details than she had provided the SGC, forcing her to explain the nature of Slayers and the First. In the end she told it everything except Dawn’s true nature, which she did not intend to tell anyone, ever. When it ran out of questions the alien brought up a black oval-shaped object cupped in its palm –the grey dude was naked and hadn’t been carrying anything, so she had no idea where it got the thing—and it glowed from within as he waved it around her. With no facial muscles there was no way to tell from its expression what the black glowy-thing was telling it, but he waved it around for quite awhile before he lowered his hand, and it wasn’t there when she next saw his palm.

“This is very unusual. Very unexpected. General Hammond, Miss Summers, I would request that you accompany me back to the Asgard homeworld for further tests.” Buffy looked over at the portly general, who was doing everything but tap-dance in his effort to silently plead with her to accept the invitation. She was surprised. They were well aware of her feelings for the government, and she had assumed they would want to keep her from expressing her opinion of them to the Asgard. But apparently there was more going on behind the scenes in their dealings with the little aliens than she knew about. Which was fortunate, because she really wanted to go with it. She was getting a bit stir-crazy sitting in the mountain, but she hadn’t wanted to raise her already-too-high profile by running into town and being recognized.

Just in case she wasn’t getting the hint, O’Neill spoke to his alien buddy. “It might help if you offered her a present. Chocolate maybe. Or something pretty. She likes pretty things.”

Glaring at him, Buffy countered with a different idea. “Can I take a camera?” She wanted pictures to show Xander, but the way the others in the room practically salivated at hearing the request –one they would never have made, it being a diplomatic faux-pas only she would have been able to get away with—made it pretty clear any pictures she brought back would be classified and never again be seen by merely mortal men. When Thor agreed to the request a digital camera was produced from somewhere, and Buffy suddenly realized the trip was to begin immediately, not at some nebulous time in the future. It was only then that it finally dawned on her what she had agreed to. She would be leaving, traveling to another planet, for who knew how long, without extra clothes, shoes, hairdryers, toilet paper –she didn’t see any plumbing on the alien’s body which would require his race to have toilet paper on hand—not to mention a stake or two. She had a firm policy of never going anywhere without a least a stake. Not that she expected to run into a bunch of little grey alien vampires, but better safe than sorry.

It appeared, however, that she wasn’t being given much say in the matter. Thor wanted to return home immediately, so someone ran down and filled a backpack with whatever was in Buffy’s locker, which along with the camera was her entire luggage when she entered the gateroom and the small alien did something to engage the StarGate. She had been casually informed that Thor’s homeworld was actually in another galaxy, and their on-site nuclear reactor didn’t produce enough energy to engage a ‘Gate so far away. Somehow Thor was able to do it, with practically no drain on the Earth-side power supply. Carter was practically gnashing her teeth in frustration at her inability to figure out how they did it.

Buffy herself was a bit nervous that her first trip through the Gate would be one so far. Intellectually she understood that the distances involved in any trip through the Gate were so vast the human mind could barely comprehend. Going any further was simply more zeroes added to a number already so huge there was no basis for comparison on a human scale. As she followed the small alien Buffy contemplated the distance she would be traveling, muttering to herself “How many zeroes are there in a Brazilian?” Normally ‘dumb blonde’ jokes irritated the hell out of her, and being irritated was far preferable to being absolutely terrified at the thought of stepping into a shimmering mercury-like pool, allowing her molecules to be ripped apart, and hopefully put back together again on the other side of the universe. Just before stepping into the Gate she had a sudden thought that the Slayer part of her wouldn’t be recognized by whatever mechanism operated the transfer process, that her demon half would be left behind as she passed through…

By the time she processed the thought it was too late. She was inside the wormhole, somehow ‘aware’ of what was happening despite not having a body to be aware of anything with, almost whip-lashed by the speed and wildly gyrating path her consciousness was traveling through space, stars and vast gas clouds whipping by almost too quickly to be seen. Finally, after a wild roller-coaster ride that seemed to last minutes –but she couldn’t have said how many minutes—she walked out on the other side of the ‘Gate, feeling light-headed and exhilarated, senses overwhelmed with the confused certainty that she was on an alien world. Everything was different from what her phenomenally accurate senses considered ‘normal.’ Gravity was slightly low. Air pressure high. Oxygen content high. Smells confusing, some unrecognizable. Inner ear popping. North was in the 'wrong' direction.

She was still a Slayer, and the Slayer part of her knew something fundamental was wrong.

Fortunately, the Asgard had suspected she might react that way, more like a frightened predator than a human, so only a few were present, and they were very careful to remain well away from her and not make any threatening gestures. Within a few seconds Buffy had gained control, and was equally careful to be just as non-threatening when she was introduced. The human part of her knew damned well that a race as advanced as the Asgard would have many protective devices in place that her senses could never detect, knew that a merely physical threat would have been doomed to failure. They had never been in any danger from her, but they had respected her enough not to force her to find out that fact the hard way. She wanted them to know that while she understood their concern, she controlled the slayer, not the reverse. Unfortunately their lack of facial expression made it difficult to tell if she succeeded.

They shook hands in the human way, even spoke to her in English. But she knew they were doing more than she could see. Remembering her own experience with telepathy made her absolutely certain they were discussing vastly more amongst the four of them in ways she couldn’t perceive. For a few seconds she wondered if their version of telepathy was natural or a technical innovation, like an ultra-sophisticated version of a cell phone, before she realized there was nothing preventing her from just asking. So she did. As she had expected, and not the way she feared, they were not offended. One of the greeters answered. “Both. It is a natural faculty we have extensively modified to be both more secure and more controllable.”

With that out of the way she was invited to leave their version of a Gate room. Soon they were walking along a corridor near the base of a huge multi-storied building, the enclosed space between adjoining buildings filled with greenery, water, and thousands of aliens. Well, Asgard, Buffy admitted, since she would be the ‘alien’ given that it was their planet. The roof, hundreds of meters above, was transparent like glass, sunlight shining through at what she considered normal brightness. “This isn’t your original home world then?” When one of the little grey creatures –they all looked pretty much the same to her, and she couldn’t tell if it was a he or a she, although she wasn’t so impolite as to say so—asked her how she had come to that conclusion, Buffy indicated their eyes. “It’s a little bright for people who evolved with those eyes. I figure you see more into the infrared, less towards the violet than me. I’ve hunted demons like that; tunnel-dwellers, a real pain to…” Abruptly recalling that she was trying to not come across as threatening, she dropped the topic. Too late, of course.

Despite her faux-pas, her hosts weren’t upset. “You are correct. The planet we originally evolved upon has been overrun by the Replicators. The main star of that system was both smaller and redder than your own sun. We settled this particular planet many thousands of your years ago, however, so it would be somewhat imprecise to call it merely a ‘colony.’” Buffy continued walking, excited and enjoying herself immensely. She had come to the conclusion that the Asgard weren’t going to be offended if she said something stupid, and since she knew it was a virtual certainty she would sooner or later say something stupid it was nice not to have to worry about getting shot for it.

Once they left the building the architecture grew even more amazing. The Asgard were into spires in a big way; most of their structures were conical, rising to points, but interrupted frequently by protrusions and balconies. Buffy had seen enough of her father’s drawings –may the miserable bastard rot in hell, she silently grumbled to herself—to recognize the technical brilliance and engineering talent that went into them, but in a way she was… well, disappointed. The Asgard were many thousands of years ahead of Earth, technologically speaking, but the city, despite its creativity and beauty, wasn’t that much more sophisticated than her people could build. Hoping she wasn’t going to offend, Buffy tried to express her impression of their city. “It’s beautiful, but somehow I expected, I don’t know, more. You guys have anti-gravity, super-strong materials, unlimited energy, even weather control. If we had all that, well, I dunno what we’d do with it, but I kinda think with some real imagination, we could…”

She let the statement hang, and knew the four guys –girls?- in her escort were ‘saying’ whole lot she wasn’t able to hear, so she let them discuss it silently while she took a few pictures of the gorgeous view. It really was spectacular, but given similar resources, her father –may his gonads turn black and rot off, she silently grumbled to herself—could have designed something better in his sleep. After letting her take a few shots, one of the group spoke. “Most of what you see is very old. It was built several thousand of your years ago, for a much larger population than currently inhabits the city. However the infrastructure is intact and fully functional. Our own, contemporary improvements cannot be seen with your human senses. Like our version of telepathy, we have incorporated sensory enhancements which permit us to ‘see’ and otherwise appreciate non-functional artistic displays your own senses cannot perceive.”

It pointed towards an open park, multi-colored flowers growing in neat arrangements among pools of flowing water, brilliant vines flowing down from surrounding buildings. “You have already noted the absence of monuments, or decorative artworks…” Buffy had noticed that, in fact. As the daughter of an architect, even one who was a bastard –may he develop AIDS, cancer, and toe fungus, she silently grumbled to herself—she was genetically incapable of not noticing such features. Or their absence. But the Asgard was continuing his explanation. “Such things are actually present, only they are designed in such a manner as to be beyond your sensory perception. We see patterns of energy, gravitational vortexes, structured shifts in light and space everywhere we look, some thousands of meters tall, the work of artistic genius extending back a hundred generations. It is unfortunate you cannot witness what we see, and comprehend the true beauty of our city.”

Looking around with more-than-human senses, Buffy saw nothing of what he described. She figured if there was a ‘gravitational vortex’ nearby, she’d notice it. But nothing. Confused, she looked at the aliens, who were observing her with their usual impassive expressions. “Are they ‘real,’ or kind of ‘virtual’ creations psychically projected into your brains?”

It was a good question, but the answer wasn’t nearly so clear. “Both. Neither. Your perception of reality is somewhat limited, Buffy Summers. As a Slayer you are aware of worlds and realities others of your kind cannot or will not comprehend. Our ‘art’ is a similar manifestation of an extended reality.”

Scowling at him –it?—in confusion, Buffy wondered if this was a test. Probably. It usually was with the smart ones. “People can see the reality I deal with once it’s pointed out. Mostly they just don’t want to see it. I’m looking real hard here, and I don’t see squat.”

So far as she could tell neither offended nor amused, the alien gestured for her to continue walking. “Even our preliminary tests on you demonstrate an unusual aptitude for what we might call ‘awareness,’ a resistance to an imposed ‘artificial’ reality. I would expect you have come across instances where you were unable to see, or saw through, a false imposition of space/time which other humans accepted as genuine.” Remembering her gradual realization that Dawn wasn’t ‘really’ her sister, and Jonathan wasn’t ‘really’ a superhero/spy/actor/surgeon/ etcetera when everyone else thought both were true, Buffy settled for nodding at the alien. It was a human gesture, but one he understood. “Most humans would not see our art either, but for a different reason. Their senses are not designed to process the distortions in reality we create for purposes of artistic expression. You might be able to sense it, but as the Slayer you are limited to a ‘ground truth’ reality so would instinctively dismiss the imposition of a ‘false,’ imposed reality, even when its purpose is benign.”

There was something important going on. Not for the first time, Buffy wished she was smarter, wished she understood some of the things she had to deal with. The Asgard were doing everything except use flashcards to make her understand something, but she just wasn’t getting it. She hated feeling dumb. “If there’s no way for me to sense it, then how can it be real? Yeah, I know the whole ‘If a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it; does it make a sound?’ philosophical debate. It’s one of those things where it depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is. More of a semantic issue than anything…”

For the first time one of the aliens interrupted her. She took that to mean whatever they were trying to get her to understand, it was important. “No. This is not a question of semantics. This is a matter of perception, of your ability to comprehend the nature of the space and time in which you exist. You are able to perceive more than most humans, but less than ourselves. We, in turn, are severely limited in the scope of our perceptions compared to an entity such as the First. At the level of such a being the nature of space and time and ‘reality’ itself is so far beyond our ability to understand that to perception-limited beings such as ourselves, it is as if it does not exist. And yet, just as is the case with our art, despite all your senses might tell you, the art is, nonetheless, real.”

Buffy shot the alien a hard look, which it met with its usual equanimity. Her mind was flashing at warp speed however, finally seeing the point they were trying to make. She had kinda/sorta assumed they were interested in the Slayer. It now appeared that given their own problems, and the fact that the Slayer wasn’t a threat to them, she was actually far down their list of priorities. It was the First they were interested in. “I’ve seen the First. The real First, the reality it sees, the way it perceives the universe. When I was… dying… we somehow connected. It went out of its way to make sure I saw what it was doing, how it had tricked me, how far its ambitions reached. You don’t want to mess with the First.”

“No. We don’t. But someone does, because you are here. And that someone went to considerable effort to ensure that no one would know you were here. Not even the First.”

All of the aliens were looking at her. In fact, Buffy was stunned to realize that all of the Asgard in sight –thousands of them, on hundreds of walkways around the park, on various levels and balconies of the towering spires above them—were all staring at her. Studying her. Not threateningly. But the way a scientist would study a frog that suddenly stood up and sang show tunes. Like they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. “The First thinks I’m dead.”

“The First knows that you are dead. The First devoted enormous resources to ensuring that you were killed. The First’s senses extend across dimensions, throughout space and time, and it used all of those abilities to verify that you were, in fact, truly dead. Like yourself, it would have noticed an imposed, false reality were anyone to resurrect you using the imposition matrix you would call ‘magic.’ All such magic, by its very nature, is an artificial construct on a fundamental underlying reality. Your ‘death’ was a part of that reality. For you to be resurrected without the First noticing had to be similarly ‘real,’ without any imposed --and therefore detectable-- distortion upon the fabric of reality.”

Buffy shivered, even though it wasn’t cold, as she finally understood. “Elizabeth Summers was psychic…”

A different alien took up the lecture when she paused. “Elizabeth Summers is psychic. You are Elizabeth Summers! Buffy Summers is dead. I am surprised you did not notice that the psychiatric hospital where Elizabeth had been confined was located precisely atop the location of the Hellmouth in Buffy Summers’ world. To a psychic of Elizabeth’s power, the connection with Buffy would have been overwhelming. Particularly when Buffy died while physically present within the Hellmouth itself. But the connection would also have been natural. No external, imposed distortion on the natural order was required for you to appear in this space-and-time. All that was required was a connection which already existed. When Buffy died, Elizabeth simply became Buffy. For all her psychic power, Elizabeth would have been unable to withstand Buffy’s vastly superior strength of will, her commitment to her cause, her desire to survive.”

Buffy was horrified at the implications. “I killed her…”

No! What happened was natural, was meant to be. Semantically, in the context you are implying, ‘killing’ her would involve intent. You had no more choice than a snowflake ‘chooses’ to melt in the sun, than a leaf ‘chooses’ to fall from a tree. What is, is. There was no intent. It is problematic who died in any event. In the fundamental reality the First examined so carefully afterwards, it was Buffy Summers who ceased to exist, except to provide a physical host for itself.”

“But I am Buffy Summers!”

“You think you are Buffy Summers. You remember being Buffy Summers. All of your senses report that you are Buffy Summers. However, a more valid case could be made that despite your feelings, you are, in fact, Elizabeth Summers. Here we run into the limits on our perception of reality. You are who you are. What happened was a natural consequence of the fundamental underlying nature of space and time, of the inherent abilities of both Buffy and Elizabeth Summers. Given that no one ‘made’ this happen with deliberate intent, you are free to choose your own identity. Either decision you make is equally valid. However, as far as the First is concerned, Buffy Summers is dead.”

None of the thousands of Asgard standing silently moved, observing the events unfold. They weren’t adapting human mannerisms, the way those of their kind who visited Earth normally did. These were aliens; occasionally blinking, unmoving, the sensation of their telepathic communication so overpowering as to be almost palpable. Buffy was creeped out by them, by what she was hearing, by the thought that her entire life was a lie. “I don’t remember Elizabeth…” She stopped there, knowing that it was a lie.

“You remember almost everything that was Elizabeth. The vast majority of her memories are also Buffy’s. Had events continued naturally, once the Hellmouth was closed, Elizabeth would have gradually recovered, would have integrated her own memories into those of the imposed, dominant, ‘Buffy’ personality. She would have considered herself to be Buffy, but over time the memories of her experiences as a Slayer would be suppressed due to the reality of dealing with what would have inevitably been a mundane new life as a normal human being.”

“But I am the Slayer!”

“Yes. As we stated earlier, someone interfered. Someone extraordinarily powerful. Someone who waited until the First had the time to verify that Buffy Summers was, in fact, dead, and only then altered the fundamental reality which permitted you to assume the powers of a Slayer. Recall that in our reality --the mathematical order which underlies the unique physical rules of the universe you now inhabit—a being such as the Slayer is impossible. It is a creature of ‘magic,’ and cannot ordinarily exist unless as a deliberately imposed distortion upon the underlying reality matrix.

“It now appears that someone altered our very perception as to what constitutes fundamental reality, so if the First ever looked again, it would seem the way things are now is the way thing have always been, the way they were meant to be. This change affected not just the natural base reality of this entire universe; it affected everything which measures the natural base reality of this entire universe. The way things are now –a natural order which permits a Slayer to exist in this space and time— has simply become the way things were meant to be. The energy it would have taken to affect this change is almost incalculable. It would have taken more power than a million stars such as your sun produce throughout its entire lifespan to be able to affect such a fundamental change upon such a vast scale.

“It would have taken the power of a God.”

Buffy had already assumed that the Powers That Be had gotten involved, had been the ones to bring her back. The Asgard’s description as to how they’d done it was more complicated than her own assumption –she figured they’d snapped their fingers, and Stuff Happened—but didn’t change the results. “I already knew –well, suspected—that the Powers That Be brought me back to fight the First.”

Thousands of alien eyes blinked almost as one at her statement. She already knew they were a lot smarter than her, and were probably shocked that she wanted a rematch with the First. Being smarter, they were probably even more aware than she was as to how much of a mismatch it was, fighting way above her weight class when contemplating taking on a being so powerful. They just didn’t understand that insignificant as she was, no one else stronger seemed willing to volunteer to step up to the plate.

One of the aliens was impolitic enough to being up an obvious shortcoming in her plans. “I would be very interested in hearing as to how you intend to fight the First. The beings who brought the Slayer to our universe –those you call the Powers That Be—did so furtively, hiding their efforts from the First. Logically, this means they feared its wrath should the First discover their machinations. Therefore, extending our logical assumptions, beings so powerful they can impose changes requiring energies on a cosmic scale, are themselves afraid of the First. Concordantly, it would take energies vastly greater still to actually defeat the First. In the entire universe, there is no such source of power. There is quite simply nothing in existence sufficiently powerful to defeat the First.”

Closing her eyes in pain, knowing that everything in her entire life had been leading to this moment, Buffy silently begged forgiveness, and spoke quietly. “Yes there is.”

All of the Asgard were now watching her. Not just those she could see; all of them, everywhere, psychically connected to this one place and time. But only one of them spoke to her. “I would be very interested in learning of the existence of a power source more powerful than any known to the Asgard, the Ancients, or the Gods themselves.”

Desperately praying she wasn’t making a horrible mistake, Buffy spoke words she had promised herself she would never say. “The Key.”
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