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 Nineteen
O’Neill was having a hard time believing the Asgard. Not just because he wasn’t following a lot of what it was saying, but because he couldn’t believe that Buffy
was the only one who could save the whole friggin’ universe.
Just the sound of it strained credibility; Buffy, Savior of the Universe. Granted, so far the kid had demonstrated some pretty awesome talents, but the idea that she could take on some powerful God even the Asgard were crapping their drawers over seemed ridiculous. He didn’t even have to say anything for Sif to notice he wasn’t buying it. But she wasn’t speaking to him. He wasn’t the one she needed to convince.
“The transition from All-That-Was to All-That-Is occurred at the onset of a period you call Inflation, a period of sudden and dramatic expansion in the size of the very early universe. You consider it to be the result of a ‘phase shift,’ somewhat analogous to ice melting or water boiling. However so far your theoreticians do not postulate what caused
this change of state. They only know that it did
happen, that things did
change on a truly fundamental level. Our own belief is that this transition occurred due to the creation and appearance of something known as the Key.
“The Key’s effect was analogous to a catalyst in a chemical reaction. Simply by existing, it caused a fundamental, powerful change. In the case of the Key, the changes were profound and dramatic: dimensional stability, an arrow to time, macroscopic order whereas previously there had been only quantum-scale disorder. Uncountable trillions of isolated, separate universes resulted from the appearance of the Key. They exist, today, because the Key still exists. Merely by existing, the Key ensures that we can exist. Were the Key not to exist, we would very quickly cease to exist, as dimensional barriers would collapse, and the fundamental underpinnings of our natural laws would no longer hold true.
“The Elder Gods knew that the creation of the Key meant the end of their dominion. They tried to stop it, but could not. Simply by existing, the change the Key brought about became inevitable. Once it existed, the inevitable, by definition, could not be prevented. However, like its chemical equivalent, the Key was not affected by the transition it catalyzed. It will remain even today a component of the universe of All-That-Was, unaffected by time, or space, or energy. It can exist anywhere in all the trillions of isolated universes, at any point in time, and it is the most powerful entity in all of Creation. It is even more powerful than the Old Gods. It has been hidden for eons. Legends have built around it. Religions are based on it.
“Buffy Summers knows where it is.”
After awhile, pictures of spires and buildings become boring, even if they were alien spires and buildings. They didn’t really turn off the laptop, but gradually got more involved in their gossip as Buffy questioned Willow on her plans now that she was employed by the SGC. The ‘quarters’ Buffy had been assigned could more accurately be called a cell, a small room dug into the rock of the mountain, and while it was adequate for a place to sleep occasionally, she had no desire to live there permanently. When Willow let her know that Tara was out house-hunting, Buffy almost casually mentioned that she’d like to be able to rent a room from them, as it had worked out fairly well when they had rented a room from her back in Sunnydale.
Buffy had another reason for making the offer as well. “You know this is one of the most homophobic cities in America, right? Sort of ‘Riyadh in the Rockies’.”
Willow nodded, well aware of the conservative philosophical bent of the town. “We talked it over before we decided to come here. It will be something we’ll have to adjust to, but things can’t be any worse here than they were in Boston since the Attack. And, well, we kinda hoped you might want to stay with us. I assumed that our new employers would be keeping you so busy you wouldn’t need a home of your own, since you’d be there so rarely, but thought it would be nice to have a place to stay, you know…”
Smiling, Buffy reached over and hugged her friend quickly. “Sounds like a good plan. Only, uh… when I’m there… uh, kinda be a bit less…. uh, frisky
, in the kitchen. Okay?”
Bending her head, a blushing Willow giggled, but inwardly sighed just a bit. There went one of her fantasies. But then she smiled evilly in remembrance of some of the things she and Tara had already done. It wasn’t like she didn’t have a whole lot of other
fantasies. Even a few that didn’t involve the kitchen.
After explaining that Buffy had refused to tell them what the Key was, or where it was located, the alien made it clear the Asgard nonetheless had no doubt that she was telling the truth. “It cannot be a coincidence that someone changed the fundamental nature of space and time in our universe to permit a being like the Slayer to exist, just when the First has gained corporeality. It would make no sense to go to such immense effort unless Buffy Summers either possesses, or has access to, a weapon sufficiently powerful to defeat a being so awesomely powerful in itself.”
Hammond was frowning. “Why don’t the Ancients, or those ‘Powers That Be’ creatures, fight the First themselves? They must know everything Buffy knows. This girl has been through a lot. Maybe too much. She’s doing well, but she’s as close to combat fatigue as anyone I have ever seen. If it were up to me I’d order her to take a six month vacation in Tahiti. Why make her fight their battles when they are so much more powerful?”
“Many reasons. First of all, this is what she does. She is a Slayer
. From what we are given to know, she may be the greatest Slayer who has ever lived, and if you knew how great some of them have been you were understand just what a compliment that truly is.” For a second the alien paused, before continuing. “Secondly, just knowing where the Key is located would not be enough to defeat the First. The Key is a creature of All-That-Was; it is composed of not-space, not-time, not-energy. It is, in the technical sense, alive, in that it is aware of its own existence. But it would have no conception of time as we understand it. A nuclear explosion on top of it might, barely, get its attention; but it might take ten thousand of our years for it to realize that the bomb was an attempt to gain its notice. Buffy Summers believes she may be able to communicate with it in the time available. If this is true, so far as we know she is the only one in all of Creation who can make such a claim.”
Once again the alien paused, which was not normal behavior for the Asgard. It wasn’t until she spoke again that the humans understood why. “And the third reason they won’t fight is the most simple of all.
“They are afraid.”
It had taken some time for Buffy to work up the courage, but she’d finally told Willow what had happened on the Asgard homeworld. Told her that she was, technically, Elizabeth Summers. That someone had gone to great lengths to bring her back in such a way that the First wouldn’t know about it. And that everyone was expecting her to fight the First. “I want to do it, Wil. I need
to do it! But I have never been so afraid of anything in my entire life. You cannot believe
how powerful this thing is. The last time I tried to fight it, I was so outclassed I never stood a chance. And not much has changed since then.”
Moving over to sit on the bed beside her friend, Willow carefully chose her words before speaking. She knew this was important. In fact, she suspected this was the real reason the SGC had hired her. She was the Slayer’s friend, her confidant, the person Buffy could talk to when she couldn’t trust anyone else. But she wasn’t really the friend Buffy remembered, she wasn’t used to acting as a sound-board for concerned friends, and the last thing she wanted to do was offer bad advice. “Then why are you thinking about doing it?”
“Because it has my sister! And if I don’t fight it, who will? This thing is dangerous, and it has to be stopped. I hate
losing! I especially hate losing like that, like I was nothing
, something so pathetic that it didn’t even have to work at it to beat me.” She looked up finally, meeting Willow’s eyes. “But mostly because it has Dawn. For all her annoyance and whininess, Dawn is my sister
, and the thought of that bitch
messing with her head, pretending to be me and using that to hurt her, makes me want to kill the fucking thing with my bare hands.”
Sitting utterly still, Willow’s blood turned cold at the rage in the Slayer’s eyes. Ever since arriving at the Mountain she’d heard nothing but stories about Buffy. Stories about how pretty she was, the amazing things she could do, the incredible fight to capture her, the way she had quite literally saved the world from an invading Goa’uld fleet, the competency she had displayed in dealing with the Goa’uld infiltrators. Willow suddenly realized that none of them knew the real Buffy. They didn’t know she was afraid. They didn’t know the price she had paid to save them. Or the price she suspected she would have to pay to save them again. Only Willow would know that, because Buffy wouldn’t trust anyone else enough to let them know. “Do you have any idea what you’re going to do? I mean, I totally understand you wanting to protect your sister, but just wanting
to do it doesn’t mean you can
. If this First thing is as dangerous as you say, you’re going to need a real good plan to have a chance of defeating it.”
Nodding almost spastically, Buffy looked down at her entwined fingers. “I know. But I have no idea how to beat it.” Suddenly she looked up to meet Willow’s eyes. “But everyone else is expecting me to. Because none of them know how to beat it either.”
After Hammond’s quick glare silenced the tirade coming from some of his underlings concerning the gutless Ancients, he found himself glaring equally angrily at the Asgard, and needed to make a deliberate effort to get a grip on his temper. “You’re using
that girl, Sif. All of you. Treating her like a tool
, a disposable weapon you’ve programmed to do your dirty work.”
The Asgard merely nodded, accepting the rebuke. “We have no choice. She is
a tool. The Slayer was created for a specific purpose. She has been genetically programmed for this function. It is what the Slayer was meant for. It –she
—is quite simply incapable of not performing this action. No matter the cost.”
Jackson had had enough. Leaping to his feet, he glared at the Asgard. “Now just a minute! That is completely unacceptable! If you think we are going…” His words cut off abruptly, his throat paralyzed. There was no pain, but he couldn’t move a muscle. He had a sudden flash to Darth Vader Force-choking some random ‘red shirted’ Admiral, and until then never would have pictured the Asgard as a Sith. Which had way too many cultural references, he frantically thought, wondering what the hell had just happened.
Sif just stared at him, before looking around the room when the others protested what was happening to their resident linguist. “Although I do understand your concern for your friend, I find your anger to be somewhat misplaced. We
are not the ones who tortured her, Dr. Jackson. We
did not abuse her or create the emotional stresses and fatigue she presently endures. Under the circumstances, you are in no position to suggest that we are responsible for her condition. This battle needs to be fought. Circumstances have dictated that Buffy Summers has been chosen to fight it. It is a destiny she can not avoid, and would not even want to avoid had she actually been given any choice in the matter. Granted she might have been better prepared to meet her destiny had you not physically and mentally brutalized her to the point where she may not be capable of handling what she must soon face. But this was not our fault.”
Whatever had frozen Jackson in place abruptly released, and he was free to move. He didn’t, however, clenching his fists and glaring at the Asgard. “We didn’t…”
Normally, the grey aliens were too polite to interrupt when someone else was speaking. Not this one. Not this time. It was only then that it dawned on Hammond that the alien wasn’t just annoyed; by Asgard standards it was furious. “Yes, you
. Do not try to deflect this, Dr. Jackson. What happened was committed by your
kind, approved by your own government. No one has been punished for it. No one in authority has disavowed the action. So, yes, you
are responsible for it. All of you. So I must filter your expressions of horror and shock over our plans for the Slayer through the prism of your own actions, and find myself with somewhat less than full belief at your sudden avowal of concern. This is what she wants
. This is what she does
. If she fails, the consequences will be nothing short of catastrophic on a scale you cannot even imagine. Nothing we are asking of her will cause anything like the physical pain you
caused her, and you did it for reasons which fall somewhat short by comparison. So if you wish to express concern over our plans or proposed actions, I am going to have to insist that it be of a somewhat more constructive nature than ‘You’re being mean to her’ when it is, in fact, your
actions which have been nothing short of disgraceful.”
Hammond swallowed on a suddenly dry throat. It wasn’t like Buffy hadn’t warned him. It wasn’t like he hadn’t warned the Pentagon, the White House, hell, everyone who would listen. When you act like barbarians, your allies look at you different. Your friends look at you different. The Asgard were both, and by sending someone so close to the pinnacle of their power structure, they were stating loud and clear that the Asgard were looking at Earth differently, and not liking what they were seeing. The implications were not pleasant. Knowing what was at stake, Hammond decided that this time he was going to try a different tactic, because a simple apology wasn’t going to cut it. “I’m becoming a bit concerned about that myself, Sif. Even by the standards of the NID what happened to Buffy seemed to be an immensely stupid thing to do. Even the NID isn’t usually crazy enough to do something like this unless the potential reward is justifies the risks they were prepared to accept.
“The risks they ran were in no way commensurate with the rewards they anticipated. Strangely enough, I’m seeing that a lot lately. Ordinary people, doing immensely stupid things, acting out with anger completely disproportionate to the cause. Something is happening on this world, something affecting people. I don’t know if it’s something we’re doing to ourselves, or something someone else is doing to us, but either way we’re not acting like ourselves.
“And yes, I do understand that this could be construed as an attempt to deflect blame, to suggest that we are not responsible for our own actions. But I look at things like what happened to Buffy, and the strange events tearing my country apart, and I can’t help but wonder why we are suddenly acting so out of character. This isn’t like us. I realize that we have been acting… strangely
… ever since the 9/11 attacks, but this seems rather extreme, even given our recent behavior. I am wondering if it is, perhaps, more than a completely natural
The Asgard tended to blink when they were surprised. As well as when they needed to moisten their eyes, of course. From Sif’s reaction, Hammond figured the former was the case in this instance. He’d managed to surprise the alien. Long seconds of silence passed while it considered its words, before responding. “Although the First, as one of the Old Gods, exists in all dimensions, can manifest in all isolated universes despite dimensional barriers, it has achieved corporeality in only one universe. Buffy Summers’ universe. Although it threatens everything, only one universe is specifically
at risk at the present time. In order to permit their Champion to survive, to hide, to regain her powers before resuming her attack on the First, the Powers That Be needed to make a fundamental change to this universe. Normally such a change would have been forbidden by those ascended races which evolved here. Even under the threat represented by the First, those races would not subject themselves to the difficulty of adapting themselves to the change unless they were offered something in return. Something that made it worth their while.
“We believe that the price they demanded involves your world. An invasion of your world. Perhaps even the destruction of your world. Part of the behavior you are describing might involve preliminary actions by the invaders.”
Willow tried to be reassuring, but she was working in uncharted territory. Despite the few days they had been together in Boston, she really didn’t know Buffy all that well. Not nearly as much as the Slayer knew her
. But she figured the best thing she could do for her friend was to offer the best advice she knew. “If I don’t know how to do something, what I normally do is ask an expert. Even if I don’t do what they suggest, they can usually give you a good starting point. To, you know, research your options, to plan your own method of attacking the problem. I mean, I’m a computer scientist, not a Slayer, but really it’s not too
different. You have a problem. You need an expert to help you solve it. I can’t help but notice that the SGC has more experts in the art of fighting aliens on site than anywhere else on Earth. I just thought I’d, you know, point that out.”
When Buffy raised her head, her expression had changed. No longer in a depressed funk, she was obviously considering the suggestion. But she needed convincing. “They’ve never faced anything like the First.”
Shrugging, Willow felt she was on the right track. “Nobody but you ever has, Buffy, and much as I hate to say it, you yourself admitted that the last time you faced it, the First beat you badly. I don’t question your ability or your commitment, but under the circumstances I really think you should consider the possibility that some of the people here might have something to teach you. These are good people, Buffy. Some of the best I’ve ever seen. And I don’t dispute the fact that you’ve saved the world time and again, but so have they
. They might be able to help.”
For a second Buffy was too stunned to react. Some of the people in the mountain, including all of the members of SG1, had tried to invite her to social engagements or parties, but she had declined them all. Somewhere deep inside herself she held them, if not responsible, then at least partially accountable for what had happened to her at the hands of the NID. Intellectually she knew they had nothing to do with it. But they worked for the same people, and they hadn’t prevented it from happening. It wasn’t fair, but she couldn’t seem to stop herself from holding back, holding on to a grudge that she only then realized was preventing her from seeing things that Willow saw so clearly.
She thought of watching Hammond conduct a meeting, how much he had taught her without even trying. She thought of how many times she had failed back in Sunnydale because she had been too proud to ask for help from her friends. She thought of the raw talent and abilities so many of the people she had met in the mountain had demonstrated, the way they worked together to combine those talents to succeed. Without special powers, without supernatural prompting, they got the job done, despite the odds, despite the power of their opponents. For a second Buffy couldn’t believe the answer had been staring her in the face for so long and she’d never seen it, blinded by her own depression and rage and ego. It wouldn’t be easy. But it might be a start
. Meeting Willow’s eyes, for the first time in far too long Buffy smiled, a wide, relieved expression of wonder. “I’m glad you’re here too, Wil. I almost forgot how much I need you. How much I need to listen to you.
“I won’t forget again.”
Hammond’s eyes were hard, and he could see that Jack was barely restraining himself from yelling at the Asgard. “You mean to tell me you knew this was happening, and didn’t tell us? Knew we are being manipulated, are being threatened, and have sat there complaining that our
behavior has been disgraceful?! I would suggest that you take a good look at your own actions before you accuse us of acting inappropriately!”
As usual the alien seemed unperturbed. “Your actions have
been disgraceful, General Hammond. Although we do suspect that those actions have been manipulated by outside forces, it is also true that it has been your people who carried out those actions of their own free will. Who convinced themselves that what they were doing was acceptable. One of the reasons I did not inform you of what might be happening at the start of our conversation is because I suspected you would use it as an excuse, a way to assuage your own guilt with delusions of your own innocence. The enemies I speak of do not create reality out of nothing, General. They work with what is already present. You could
have resisted. Your own laws, your own ethical standards suggest that you should
have resisted. You not only failed; you embraced the delusion and went out of your way to subvert those who pointed out that you were not living up to your own ideals. It would do you well to remember that fact when you attempt to convince yourself that what happened was not your fault, and therefore you do not bear responsibility.”
Meeting the humans eyes without flinching, Sif continued. “We preferred to deal with the SGC rather than an international organization because we found you, and those who worked here, to be honorable; beings who held themselves to a higher ethical standard than many others on your planet. Since you have decided that it is more efficient to no longer strive to meet those standards, our primary motivation for working directly with you is no longer applicable. We are currently reassessing our commitment to maintaining our present relationship in light of this alteration in policy. It is important that you understand this, because it leads me to my final point. In light of Buffy Summers’ importance to the events to come, it is critical that she not be hurt any more than she already has been. I realize that she is safe while under your protection in this facility, but my understanding is that certain agencies of your own government would prefer that she be placed in their control. This is not acceptable to the Asgard.
“I would strongly advise you to inform your government that they not take any actions which might restrain Miss Summers’ freedom of movement in any way, shape, or form. Should they do so, the Asgard will directly punish those responsible. Everyone
responsible. Not just those who commit
any actions against her, or even anyone who authorized
such actions, but including anyone who fails to prevent
such actions. No matter who they might be within your political or judicial hierarchy. No matter what the consequences to our relationship with your government. You have chosen to adopt a policy of ‘the ends justifies the means,’ and ‘might makes right’ in your dealings with others on your own planet. From this moment forward we, too, will adopt these policies in our dealings with you
It met their stunned expressions, and despite not being able to express itself similarly, had no trouble conveying the impression that it was both furious and adamant. “I trust I have made the Asgard position on this matter abundantly clear?”
Nobody answered. Nobody had to.