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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: ActionjAkLFR1525142,908259674455,46219 Jan 0615 Mar 06Yes
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Chapter 21

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 Twenty One

She wasn’t sure if it was a good sign or a bad one when it was announced that the President himself would take the place of the Vice President in attending a hastily arranged conference at Space Command headquarters. His party showed up in Colorado Springs three days later, accompanied by about a division of news people. The past few days had been surreal; up there in weirdness with the First’s assault on Sunnydale, but without the townsfolk realizing anything was amiss. And when she realized how she had phrased the issue, she decided that she had been watching too many Western flicks on the fancy plasma tv. The owners of the house she had appropriated as her hideout were big into John Wayne, and when she got bored watching the inane speculations on network television, Buffy had relaxed by tossing in a dvd. She was fairly certain General Hammond’s friends wouldn’t mind, and if she survived what would soon happen, she intended to thank them for their unwitting hospitality.

The country –the entire world—knew that something seriously weird was going on, but nobody in the know was talking. Conspiracy theories abounded, the most ridiculous speculating about attacks from outer space. Their math and credentials seemed pretty impressive to Buffy, but they were ridiculed mercilessly, as was anyone who dared challenge the ‘official’ explanation of a terrorist attack. So far as she could see there was an official policy of business as usual, with all the normal promises of ‘hunting down those responsible.’ There was even a quiet notification that Cheyenne Mountain had been closed off to all visitors until the situation stabilized. Naturally the media concentrated their attention on rescue and reconstruction efforts around the Gulf coast and Portland, but other than that, life seemed to be proceeding normally for the vast majority of the population. Yet every evening when Buffy carefully left the temporarily-vacant home she was hiding out in, she couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a State Security agent.

Face scrunching in disgust at the expression –she wondered why anyone would want to swing a dead cat in the first place—Buffy none the less acknowledged that the point was valid. There were huge numbers of Federal agents flooding into Colorado Springs, patrolling the city at night, visible even during the daytime. Only someone with hearing as good as hers could have detected the silenced helicopters orbiting overhead, and without her extraordinary eyes few would have seen the night-vision-equipped observation posts and attendant snipers on top of just about every tall building. They were looking for her, looking real hard, and Buffy was finding it quite a challenge to remain hidden from them, yet accomplish her task of acclimatizing herself to Berklyn’s influence.

With so much security there was no way for her to get close to the billionaire. Her solution to that problem was to concentrate her attention on Denneck. Her father’s old boss was one of about four ‘acolytes’ to the vastly more powerful Berklyn that she had been able to identify, possessing a small fraction of his power, but providing a similar enough example of that power for Buffy to try to get a feel for it. She remembered feeling instinctively repulsed by the man the first time they met, completely immune to the charm her father –may he develop flat feet and ingrown buttock hairs, she silently grumbled to herself —found so enchanting. So she was forced to conclude that their version of the thrall was both variable in strength, and ineffective against certain people. Whether she had a slight innate immunity or simply a far stronger will than the average person was not as important as enhancing whatever it was that provided her ability to resist their influence.

After only a few days following him, Buffy had reached the conclusion that Denneck was even sleazier and more contemptible than she had found him to be on their first meeting. He referred to his minor talent with the thrall as ‘mental dominance,’ and very overtly acted as if his special talent made him ‘better’ than mere mortals. Even when he didn’t have to use his ability he did. It wasn’t enough to simply ask someone to get him something; he had to prove his superiority by making people do things for him. Most were petty, many were illegal, and a lot were disgusting. She observed the other acolytes and found them to be the same way; self-centered, conceited, sociopathic dickheads. Whether they were that way because of the thrall, or the thrall made them that way, she didn’t care. Just watching the way they treated people who couldn’t defend themselves from their unique power made her hair stand on end, left her feeling an instinctive, lethal rage she had to make a deliberate effort to control. But she almost wished for one of Anya’s colleagues to bring down lethal vengeance upon them.

During her observations she had discovered that there were some people who could resist their power, to varying degrees. Something about the disciplined nature of the military mind made them both the easiest and most difficult people for them to control, depending on the personality of the person they were trying to influence. She wasn’t sure how they maintained that control once those they enthralled left their immediate vicinity and were no longer subject to direct mental manipulation. For the moment she assumed it was something inherent in the power, a way to convince people that they had arrived at the decision themselves. Once reaching that conclusion were understandably reluctant to change their minds. Denneck’s limited power wouldn’t be enough to change the minds of anyone both mentally disciplined and who had already reached a different conclusion they were reluctant to alter; but if he subtly influenced the thought processes of people who were already leaning in the direction he wanted them to go, he was capable of causing even random strangers to perform radically extreme actions. What someone like Berklyn could do given his vastly greater powers terrified her.

It was also apparent they were being careful not to be too blatant in the use of their powers. Behind closed doors they could –and most emphatically did—indulge their perversions. Out in the open, with the possibility of someone they couldn’t influence watching, they tried to be more circumspect. Which she figured was good news. If there were enough of them, they could easily dominate the world. The fact that they hadn’t so far meant they didn’t think they were sufficiently powerful. Yet.

When she considered the implications of their power, her concern over what should be done about it grew. She could almost feel her fear cascade once she let it gain a foothold. When she realized what was happening she was able to gain enough control of herself to sneak away, but it had been a close call. Had Berklyn been around, they would have had her, that easily, that quickly. She had no idea why they would work with fear but not with equivalent emotions such as anger. She recalled being a bit concerned when she was first introduced to the billionaire, worried that if he was able to screw with the minds of someone like O’Neill, he might be able to do the same to her. It was that moment of self-doubt, the tiniest flicker of fear, that Berklyn had used to get inside her head. Not literally; he obviously hadn’t read her mind. If he knew what she was, there’d be a whole lot bigger slayer-hunt going on. But it had been enough to turn her into one of his zombies, until a momentary flash of anger permitted her to regain control of herself.

The whole ‘fear-leads-to-anger-leads-to-Darth Vader’ concept seemed a bit too simplistic, but when she tested it, there was little doubt that the more frightened she was, the more susceptible she was to their power. The angrier she got, the less she could be influenced. Buffy wasn’t sure how that translated over to non-Slayers, but knew what it meant for her. When dealing with… whatever these people were… she was going to have to unleash her Slayer aspect more than she felt comfortable with. The Slayer wasn’t afraid of anything, mostly because it was too dumb to be scared of things that could kill it deader’n hell. It was the human who provided the brains, and Buffy didn’t want to get into a fight where her only weapon was bestial savagery. She’d fought too many things that were stronger than her, defeating them because she out-smarted them, to be comfortable giving up the advantage her experience and intellect conferred.

Three days of planning and observation came to an end as the President and his entourage flew into the Colorado Springs airport. The city airport shared runways with Peterson Air Force Base, which assumed control of the entire facility for the visit. Security was heavy, and Buffy made no attempt to break in, content to watch the event on television. The media were really hyping the visit, promising a major announcement, and Buffy turned up the sound while she grabbed some munchies from the fridge. Until the Pres was ready to make whatever ‘major announcement’ he intended to make, the media were filling in the time reading assorted facts and figures, including stuff she hadn’t known. Like the fact that Peterson AFB was the headquarters for NORAD, not Cheyenne Mountain, like she’d assumed. The Mountain just housed the main Operations Center. And they ran the base at Thule, Greenland out of Peterson, which was kinda cool since it was, y’know, Greenland.

Munching down on baby carrots and broccoli stems, Buffy made herself comfortable, bare feet tucked up under her butt as she relaxed on the couch. Air Force One came in, cameras following it along with the jets escorting the big plane. There was the usual ceremonial rigmarole after it landed, with a herd of local dignitaries and political apparatchiks waiting in line to be recognized and gain their moment in the public eye. Finally the pleasantries were completed, the necessary asses having been kissed, and the President of the United States got behind a lectern, his official seal carefully in place, and smiled as if he was looking at people in the audience rather than into the camera.

He wasn’t anyone Buffy recognized, the ex-Governor of a southern State she hadn’t paid any attention to back home, but she doubted this guy had much to do with inventing the internet, which was about all she remembered about the President back home. She was more interested in the faces in the background of the televised picture, and soon she made out Berklyn, Denneck, and about a dozen of the guests from West’s ill-fated party. West himself sat in the picture frame, naturally wearing his full dress uniform, and from the expression on his face Buffy got the impression Berklyn was keeping a pretty tight leash on the general. It wasn’t hard to figure out why, when the President began his speech by acknowledging that the recent explosions over the Caribbean, Gulf, and Pacific had been caused by shots fired from an alien spacecraft.

The silence from the gathered throng was deafening. Even watching on television, Buffy was stunned into silence. She was fairly certain that governments didn’t usually just blurt out secrets of such magnitude without carefully preparing the population with controlled leaks, hints as to what might be in store. As if that wasn’t enough, he went on to talk about the SGC, its function, and the Goa’uld threat. It was a pretty good speech, filled with examples of ‘derring-do’ without minimizing the danger the Snakes represented, but Buffy still amazed that, after years of secrecy, they were just dropping the whole mess into the public arena in one fell swoop. Given Berklyn’s presence, it was obvious that his group had a lot to do with the decision to do so.

Conveniently enough, the President provided an explanation for the change in policy soon after going over the problem. “Despite the devastating losses suffered by our nation and our planet during the Goa’uld attack last week, it has led to an extraordinarily fortunate result. Our ability to defend ourselves from an invasion by one of the galaxy’s most powerful races has captured the attention of other races which have been resisting the Goa’uld onslaught. One of these races has offered us the opportunity to form an alliance, and as a demonstration of their good faith they are prepared to grant us substantial technological advancements which will enable us to defend the planet even more successfully going forward. This is an absolutely critical opportunity, which my administration feels cannot be delayed, particularly as we will be receiving considerable technical assistance even before terms of the alliance have been finalized.

“Some of you might be wondering what the Jar’en –our new allies refer to themselves as the Jar’en—some might be wondering why they are willing to offer us so much desperately needed assistance without any guarantees of receiving anything from us in return. This is easy to explain. Having a powerful ally such as ourselves will divert Goa’uld resources, automatically easing the burden which until now had been faced by the Jar’en alone. It is true that by increasing our technological capabilities our own planet becomes more of a threat to the Goa’uld, and will therefore almost certainly result in our becoming the target of ever increasing efforts by those monsters to enslave us. However, my advisors are unanimous in believing that this was inevitable, regardless of our alliance with the Jar’en. We were able to force them off last week, but only at a terribly high cost, and only by exerting our own defensive technologies to their absolute limit. Should the Goa’uld resume their attack, the outcome next time might not be so successful.

“Under the circumstances I have accepted the Jar’en offer to send an ambassador to Earth for further consultation and negotiations on a military alliance in an effort to oppose Goa’uld aggression. I can inform you that the leaders of other nations on Earth have already been made aware of the Goa’uld threat, and they will be welcome to attend these negotiations. Our entire planet is at risk: it is only reasonable that other nations have a voice in determining how we will defend it. However, given our familiarity with the situation, and our preponderance of military resources, it will most assuredly be the United States which takes the lead in this effort. As such, the ambassador has consented to come to the United States for preliminary negotiations before we open the door to input from other nations. These preliminary negotiations are merely to provide a framework, an opportunity for us to get a general consensus on the nature of our respective obligations, an idea of what each side is prepared to offer the alliance. These preliminary negotiations will begin today, right here in fact, just as soon as the Jar’en ambassador arrives. Which should be… oh, right about now, actually.”

The television screen switched from the President to show a small black dot high in the sky, slowly increasing in size as it approached, obviously coming in for a landing. Sighing, Buffy turned it off, straightened up the slight mess she had made while camping out in someone else’s basement, before picking up the phone and dialing a number she had been saving for just this moment. Fortunately it was picked up quickly, despite the person at the other end not expecting the call. “Hi, Mark. It’s Buffy Summers. I need a favor…” Suspecting that vast government surveillance resources would be devoted to monitoring every phone call for her voice, she kept the call short, then grabbed her backpack and left the house. It would take her about twenty minutes to reach the airport. She’d timed it, preparing for just this moment.

Like probably most of the planet, she watched the dropship come in, looking about as aerodynamic as a brick, but just sufficiently sci-fi-ish to satisfy the geeks in the audience. Seeing it live was probably less impressive than watching it on tv would have been, since she didn’t get the benefit of close-ups or multiple angles. And, naturally, buildings and other assorted impediments blocked the line of sight, so she wasn’t able to see the ship land, the dramatic opening of the hatch, the first public viewing of an alien being setting foot on the planet earth. Which was probably just as well, since she had done something similar recently, so wouldn’t have been nearly as impressed as most of the rapturous audience.

She’d debated the idea of arriving at the airfield before the ship arrived, while it arrived, or after it had landed and the festivities concluded, and still wasn’t sure if she’d reached the proper conclusion. It was another thing she’d have liked to have been able to talk over with an expert, but there was no way she would risk using a telephone when they probably had some serious hardware tapped into every communications system in existence, looking for her. She wasn’t even willing to carry a cell phone, knowing how they could be triangulated even when turned off using the built-in GPS chip. Which made things inconvenient when she knew some of the best military minds in the country, but couldn’t risk talking to any of them. So she’d thought things through carefully, considered the options for each alternative, and finally reached a decision to wait until things had settled down before putting in her appearance. Which is precisely what she would have done if she hadn’t bothered to game out her plan of action, and had just gone with her gut instinct. The truth was, she really did prefer to make a Big Entrance, and was pleased that she’d been able to justify talking herself into making one.

Listening to a local radio station as she approached the airport, she wasn’t surprised to hear the banal greetings and pretentious ceremonies she had expected to mark the occasion. Hopefully, it would be long enough and boring enough to let Berklyn’s people settle in, and not pay as much attention to her attempt to gain entrance as they might have otherwise. That was the plan anyway, which Buffy put to the test as she calmly walked up to the entrance gate where heavily armed soldiers were handling the challenge of ensuring that nobody was allowed in who might be out to harm the President, but permitting entrance to approved guests and media. She was betting that Berklyn’s group had monitored the traffic pretty closely earlier, but by this point would be concentrating their efforts elsewhere. So instead of dealing with people under the thrall, she’d simply be dealing with Special Forces troops and Secret Service agents out to protect the President.

Piece of cake.

Walking up to one of the heavily-armed guards standing in front of the closed chain-link gate, she gestured to the pink ID card hanging on a chain around her neck. “Hi. I’m Buffy Summers. I believe Congressman Kessleton is expecting me.”

There were at least a dozen guards, and the seriousness of the situation could be accurately judged by the fact that they were all looking at the metal hammer she carried hanging from a shoulder strap, rather than her leather-covered ass. She was almost indignant about that. Not to mention slightly concerned that her spectacular butt, once fully capable of diverting the attention of any red-blooded male no matter the distraction offered by relatively trivial issues such as the safety of The Leader of The Free World, might be losing its effectiveness, or even, horror of horrors, becoming fat. Before she could get too panicked about the possibility, her line of thought was diverted when one of the guards brought up a communications device and called over a senior officer.

He ran over quickly. “I’m sorry ma’am, but we’ve been instructed to temporarily deny you entrance.”

“I’m sure that was a mistake on someone’s part, Major. Perhaps you could ask the congressman.” She was hoping that with Berklyn’s attention now diverted, they might be persuaded to let her in, especially with a U.S. congressman standing right there, demanding that she be granted entrance. It was fortunate the major knew who she was, or at least had heard of her, and when the Secret Service agent at the gate shrugged, indicating she wasn’t on his watch list, they let her through.

The congressman was an older, fitter version of his son, who shook her hand with a politicians’ calibrated enthusiasm, but looked her over with a father’s eyes. Buffy tried to ignore it. She had never been very sexually promiscuous, so this was the first time she’d ever been in a situation where she had come into contact with the parent of someone she’d slept with. It was rather uncomfortable to be looked at as ‘the bimbo who took my son’s virginity’ instead of the way men had always looked at her in the past. “Thank you for agreeing to meet me, Congressman.”

He smiled at her, and few people would have even noticed that his eyes were coolly assessing. But father or not, this was still a politician. “The name is Dan. I owe you, Miss Summers. I owe you more than I can ever repay. Even so, I would really appreciate some assurance that I’m not going to regret this.”

That CYA statement brought a wry smile to her face. “I’m pretty sure you’ve read my file. So it probably won’t come as much of a surprise when I say that the chances of you regretting it will probably be about 100%.”

He chuckled, not pretending he didn’t understand what she was implying. “I saw you at General West’s party. I was going to introduce myself, before the… unpleasantness. To thank you for saving my son. I have read your file, Miss Summers, and know I should thank you for much more than just my own personal reasons. But that’s political. I wanted to thank you, as a father. I don’t know what you intend on doing here, but I expect it will be something appropriately spectacular. Or inappropriately spectacular, as the case may be. But whatever happens, none of it matters a damn compared to the most important words I can ever say; thank you for saving my son.”

There wasn’t much Buffy could say to that, so she simply nodded, and sat in silence as his chauffeur drove them from the gate to the reviewing stand. She noticed one of the television cameras following them as they approached, and waited until the chauffeur opened the door before getting out of the vehicle. Secret Service agents surrounded her when they saw the hammer. The activity didn’t go unnoticed, and the President broke off his prepared speech when he saw who had arrived. To her amazement, he seemed genuinely happy to see her.

“Ah, Miss Summers! I am delighted to see you were able to make it back from your trip to the Asgard Homeworld in time for the ceremonies. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to introduce you to Buffy Summers. Buffy was instrumental in our ability to withstand the recent Goa’uld invasion attempt. Make no mistake about it; all of us here today are alive only because of Miss Summers’ unique talents. Billions of people survived the attack only because she was able to help us last week. And this wasn’t the first time she has quite literally saved the world. For many reasons her work has until now been kept secret, but in order to fully describe the most recent attack, and how we were able to defeat it, there is no way we could possibly keep Miss Summers’ contribution from coming to the forefront. Since it will come out anyway, I am proud to use this opportunity to finally give her the recognition she has more than earned, and the public accolades long past due. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Miss Buffy Summers. You will be hearing a great deal about her in the near future.”

Buffy stood there while the movers and shakers dutifully applauded, feeling like an idiot. She remembered the spontaneous, and far more genuine, time when she was awarded a tacky, hand-made trophy as ‘Class Protector,’ and knew which she preferred. Especially since she wasn’t certain what the point was of making her the center of attention, when Berklyn had to know why she was putting in an appearance. The only thing she could think of was that the new alien ambassador had wanted to see her, because she had less than no doubt that he and the industrialist were working together. Having seen Berklyn in his true form, she couldn’t help but notice how much the ambassador resembled him.

His skin was almost vampire-pale, but his hair still retained a brownish tint. He didn’t smile, and his eyes had the focused intensity of a hunting eagle, or a religious fanatic. Despite the pasty-white skin he was a very handsome man; firm jaw, good bone structure, very tall, an in-your-face toughness that was probably backed up by fanatical intensity. He wore a long, slimming cloak-like garment, sort of like Neo wore in the Matrix sequels, except he also was decked out in a fancy gold necklace with some kind of fancy pendant hanging from it. He was studying her, but there was no indication of the mental domination efforts Buffy could feel coming from Berklyn and his coterie of less powerful sycophants. The President was saying something, but neither Buffy, Berklyn, nor the ambassador paid him the slightest heed. Only seconds passed before the stalemate was broken as the ambassador tapped his staff on the concrete runway several times, the President’s speech quickly silenced as the glowing blue crystal atop his staff began to shine ever brighter, the light extending towards Buffy like a diffuse blue flashlight.

That light never reached her. It got close, but seemed to fade a few feet away, the bright intensity of the light beginning to disperse in glowing tendrils, as if seeking a way to penetrate the bubble of insubstantial force preventing the light from reaching Buffy. His glare turned into an expression of offended rage at the indignity of the failure. Ignoring the confused glances coming from the President, he addressed Buffy, noticing that she had drawn the hammer from its sling and was holding it tightly in her hand by the handle. “The hammer is Asgard?”

Buffy nodded. “That it is. Thor’s hammer. It even has a name. They called it ‘Moldy-near’ or something like that.”

He glanced over at Berklyn, but snapped his eyes away quickly, before anyone except Buffy noticed. “I was not aware that Asgard technology had progressed so far.”

Buffy smiled, but nobody could mistake the hard smile for amusement. “You must have been worried about the possibility though, because you decided to invade earth before tackling the Asgard.” She ignored the murmurs in the background as the crowd heard the accusation. And like the alien, she ignored the President, who seemed confused by the confrontation which had unexpectedly erupted. Had she not been so furious she would have been knocked flat by the intensity of the effort Berklyn was making to control her mind. Since he was concentrating fully on her, he was less able to influence the crowd, and if any of the three people involved in the sudden confrontation had any attention to spare, they would have realized that a whole lot of people were suddenly having second thoughts concerning the whole ceremony. Or forming an alliance with someone who looked as creepy as the ambassador. “Thor used the hammer to disguise himself as a Viking. Like this…” She squeezed the pommel of the hammer, and there was an even louder murmur from the audience as she suddenly appeared as a six foot tall Viking warrior-maiden. Another squeeze and she was back to Buffy. “It also does the reverse. Shows people what’s really hiding behind the disguise.”

Turning to face the dignitaries seated behind the presidential podium, Buffy raised the hammer, pointed it at Berklyn, and let it do its thing. There were shouts from the crowd on the opposite side, behind the cameras, where a mostly-military audience was seated on temporary bleachers, as the industrialist was suddenly revealed in all of his pale, vampire-esque glory. A fraction of a second later the pressure on Buffy’s mind disappeared, and the dignitaries looked around in confusion, once again seeing their old acquaintance as Berklyn used his power to affect their minds. But the camera wasn’t affected, and those viewing at home realized that the ‘Jar’en’ had a spy on earth. Even the most benign allies found it difficult to explain away an attempt to infiltrate the upper reaches of their supposed allies’ society.

Having made her point, Buffy returned her attention to the ambassador. He looked livid, which she was beginning to get the idea was a pretty normal state of affairs when it came to him. “So what’s the real scoop here, Mork? And don’t give me any of this ‘Jar’en’ crap. If the Goold were fighting anyone else, we’d know about it. Aside from the Asgard, Earth is the only powerful external enemy they have faced in centuries. Howcum Berklyn has the power of the thrall and you don’t? And while we’re at it, where the hell does Denneck fit into your plans?”

It never hurt to ask. But –surprise, surprise—the alien did not accommodate her request for information. Despite his anger, and his being an alien, his diction was precise, the accent more British than American. “Preliminary reconnaissance did not indicate the Asgard possessed any technologies capable of resisting the coercive mental abilities of the Priors.”

They were assuming it was the hammer which made her resistant to the thrall, which was a relief, since it was exactly what Buffy wanted them to think. “Priors? Is Berklyn a Prior? Like a religious figure? ‘Cause, y’know, from what I saw, Berklyn ain’t exactly a monk. Reeeal warped dude in the bedroom, from what I overheard. We’re talking major gross-age here.”

The alien ignored her words. “Resistance to the influence of a Prior is forbidden! Young races must be guided along the path to Ascension. Obedience is required. You will cease the use of such technologies immediately.”

After snorting delicately, Buffy glared at him. “Yeah, that’s gonna happen. Since when did we need you to show us how to Ascend? Or even decide if we want to.”

For a second he looked confused that she would actually question his right to make such decisions. “Ascension is the goal of all races. The desirability of disposing of the requirement for a vessel of mortal flesh to become One with the universe is fundamental to the evolution of every race.”

“Not mine. Sorry, dude, but my goal is to fight evil, defeat the forces of darkness, and resist the encroachment of cellulite. But, if I did want to ‘ascend,’ you’re the last person I’d be asking about how to do it. No offence, but the pasty skin, the weird eyes, the bad hair and gruesome scars on your face? Not exactly signs of enlightenment. Or even good hygiene. The Asgard are about a million years more advanced than…”

The alien interrupted her, frowning thunderously, apparently ready to assault her with the sheer overwhelming force of his furrowed brow. “The Asgard are a failed race! They have failed in the goal of attaining Ascension! While other, seemingly lesser, races have evolved and attained Enlightenment, the Asgard have ossified, been left behind, unchanged, an object lesson in failure! Even your pathetic race is greater than the Asgard, given that you at least have the potential to achieve Ascension. They will never do so, condemned to forever remain as they are, static, stunted; evolutionary dead ends. There was some question among the Ori as to how this might be possible… it is the destiny of advanced races to Ascend, or be destroyed in the attempt. For the Asgard to be sentenced to such a state of evolutionary limbo can only be regarded as a sign of the most horrific punishment imposed by those already Ascended.

“I now understand how this could happen, how they came to be caught in such a failed state. The ability to resist those who seek to guide them towards enlightenment is the object of their downfall. For them to pass on such as device to you can only be an effort on their part to enable your own inevitable failure. A form of infecting you with their own disease so they need no longer be alone in their miserable, unending, flesh-bound existence. You will give me the hammer. It must be cleansed, its principles studied, its effects neutralized, before your entire race is doomed to suffer the eternal torment of those denied the enlightenment of Ascension.”

Twisting the hammer in circles using wrist action alone, Buffy glared at the alien. “Not going to happen. We don’t need to be ‘saved,’ and we sure as hell don’t need to be saved by the sort of assholes you have chosen to represent your religious tenets. Thor might be a ‘miserable evolutionary failure’ but at least he isn’t a complete dickhead like Denneck. By the way, you still haven’t explained what him and the three other human assholes up there on the podium are doing for you guys. Besides sucking up to Berklyn, I mean. Are they, like, Priors In Training? Because let me tell you, if they are the sort of people your precious Ori are looking to as candidates for the job, it’s not a sign that you’re exactly looking for our best or our brightest.”

A lot was happening in the crowd, but Buffy was too busy to pay much attention to it. Secret Service agents had surrounded the President, but he refused to leave, still held in thrall to Berklyn or his acolytes. There were so many people around they shouldn’t have been able to maintain such control, but most of the audience was afraid, realized they’d been tricked, and as Buffy had leaned, fear made people easier for the Prior’s to control. But away from the VIP area, outside of the range of influence, the audience was getting restless, armed guards were approaching, the on-call Special Forces unit stationed at Peterson AFB already on alert due to the high-level visit and uncertain what was happening or who the enemy might be. They would soon find the answer to that question.

The alien ‘ambassador’ tried to use his staff thing again, and once again whatever effect he hoped it might have was dissipated by the hammer before it could touch her. Obviously pissed off by the failure, he waved the staff in the air, and a large speaker set up to let the audience listen in to the President’s speech was lifted into the air, as if by magic, and suddenly flung with tremendous force directly towards Buffy… only to meet the invisible force field surrounding her and bounce away, its intended target completely unaffected by the impact. He glared at Belynk, who released his influence on the rest of the VIP’s to concentrate his thrall powers on one of the armed guards, who suddenly looked horrified, as if he had seen something too terrible to contemplate, and almost quicker than the eye could see raised his rifle and fired directly at Buffy.

A fraction of a second later he was dead, the bullet ricocheting from the force field, returning on an exact reciprocal with no loss of kinetic energy. The shot stampeded the crowd, the VIP’s leaping for cover, troops suddenly running towards them. Another shot rang out as Berklyn's mental power forced another armed guard to fire, with the exact same results. Realizing that such weapons would be ineffective against the defenses enabled by the hammer, the alien ambassador marched towards her intending a more direct attack. Buffy had been maintaining the function on the hammer which prevented Berklyn's human guise from reasserting itself, wanting the television audience see what he really was. But when the ambassador approached, she moved the hammer towards him without releasing the function, not even thinking about it, not expecting it to reveal anything. The alien already looked like an alien, after all.

But she soon discovered that the humanoid alien guise was as false as Berklyn's human one had been, and Buffy just about wet herself when the real ambassador was revealed to her, and everyone else’s, disbelieving eyes. She’d heard the story from Faith, she’d even warned O’Neill, but she hadn’t really believed it, even with all the hints. Shocked screams from the panicking crowd made it pretty clear she wasn’t the only one seeing something out of a nightmare.

Faith had called it a Rock Beast. Easily eight feet tall, maybe nine to the tips of two twisted horns growing from its forehead. A deceptively human face and torso atop massive, goat-like legs. Black as obsidian, light reflecting from a million facets of it dark, crystalline skin. Buffy gulped in sudden terror, only the barely-leashed rage of the Slayer preventing her from being enthralled by a watching Berklyn. The Slayer wanted to attack, its usual default tactic, but this time Buffy overrode the instinctive response. She knew Faith had done exactly that, and nearly been killed for the error. Despite its appearance, the Rock Beast could move its massive arms with incredible speed, and possessed even more strength than it size and mass might suggest. Faith had been pretty emphatic that attacking the Beast as if it was merely a bigger, uglier, ‘rock-ier’ vampire was an invitation to suicide.

Carefully backing away, Buffy kept an eye on its huge legs, suspecting it could move them as fast as its arms should the occasion warrant the energy expenditure. Hoping to delay a fight, she tried to talk herself out of the disaster suddenly fallen into her lap. Unlike Faith, if she went down there was no Angelus around to bail her out. “How many other races have you done this to? Bring in a Prior to influence the gullible, searching for people like Denneck who have an innate ability for the thrall, the ability to influence others just with the power of their minds? Suck up to them, make them feel special, better than anyone else, their powers automatically making them superior to other people, their friends and neighbors suddenly toys to be manipulated for their own amusement. Then I’ll bet you give them the full Prior treatment, with the pale skin and weird eyes, and they find out what it’s really like to be in thrall to your lord and master. Who is it? Who do you worship, Beast? Is it Jasmine?”

For the first time she managed to confuse him. The massive creature stopped its inexorable advance, and surprisingly human eyes gazed down at her. “Jasmine? Who is this Jasmine you speak of? I am the Doci, he who speaks the words of the Ori. You would do well to submit, woman. You are as nothing to the power of the Ori. You have no hope. One small hammer will not fend off me, or the Ori, for very long.”

“Maybe not. But I can run real fast. And a hammer isn’t the only weapon the Asgard gave me.”

The Rock Beast –or the Doci, as he had referred to himself—could see her eyes looking around, studying the ground, assessing the tactical layout. Yes, she could retreat. But allowing her to run away wasn’t the will of the Ori. And additional human forces were arriving on the scene, more than the Prior and his acolytes would be able to control. It was time to cease playing with these creatures, to bring them within the benevolent dominion of the Ori. “Enough of this foolishness. My starship is approaching. It possesses more power than is produced by your entire planet, armed with weapons beyond the capacity of your science to understand, the ability of your defenses to resist. Cease this futile resistance. The domination of the Ori is inevitable. It is necessary. It is for your own good.”

Keeping herself out of his range, the hammer held up in front of herself threateningly, Buffy smiled thinly, no longer afraid, barely even noticing Berklyn's efforts to control her now that battle had been joined. “Whenever someone tells me that it’s ‘for my own good’ I pretty much take it as a given that it’s for someone else’s own good. So here’s some advice… for your own good, natch. Don’t bring your ship down. We’re not as dumb and helpless as you think.”

The Doci smirked, unimpressed. “Your defenses are as nothing. Unlike the foolish Goa’uld, we are aware that you, and you alone, were all that prevented them from conquering this planet. However, even your abilities will not save you from our wrath. We know of the failure of Xerxes. We know of the Goa’uld counter measures to the Legion guns. Everything has been considered. You are defenseless against us.”

He stopped speaking when he saw the triumphant light in Buffy’s smile. It was time for her to spring her own surprise, and hope like hell it worked out the way she and the Asgard had planned it. “We know about the problem with the Legion guns too. Did you really think we wouldn’t do anything about it?”

“There is nothing you can do about the flaw…”

Buffy interrupted, smiling, eyes just as hard as the rock forming her opponents’ skin. “We can’t; but the Asgard can. Do your really think I wouldn’t have asked them to?”

For the first time there was something in his eyes beyond fanatical confidence, as he looked up to the sky, where the dim dot of his mighty starship was already visible in the far distance. But, also for the first time, he was suddenly concerned about something else in the far distance, something visible even from their location at the airport. Off to the west, everyone could suddenly see that the top of Cheyenne Mountain was opening.

The Legion gun was deploying, and preparing to take its first shot in anger.
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