Chapter One: Orbit
"The only thing you can count on is that every day unexpected things happen, and it's a true surprise when you have a day where it doesn't." – Joan Rivers
The being known to Humans during the Roman period as Janus (it was only one of its names, of course; immortal, higher beings tended to collect names like Humans collected little packets of soy sauce from Chinese restaurants) yawned – or rather, he did the closest thing an ethereal godlike being could do to yawning. What he did was not a true yawn, as that was an activity that only mortal beings took part in. But it was the moral equivalent. He stretched – which also wasn't a stretch, of course – and wondered for a moment what it was that was poking at him. It was almost like something was trying to get his attention.
Some unimportant mortal sorcerer was casting a spell and wanted Janus to lend him some power to make it work. It was a standard thing, these days. All the temples where Humans used to worship him as a god were gone, but still the Sorcerers…
Hold the fucking phone… That wasn't actually what Janus said to himself, of course. The concept of a "phone" was utterly irrelevant when talking about an immortal godlike being. What Janus actually said was spoken – well, not spoken as such, but you get the idea – in a manner and in a language that Humans were not physically capable of grasping. But the idea was the same. Something about the spell wasn't right. Janus took another look, a deep, deep look, into the structure of the spell. Oh, for fuck's sake. Again? What does a god have to do around here…?
Janus was tired of this bullshit. Assholes calling on him night and day to work some feat of magic – and again, these were not the concepts the being used when thinking to itself, but are the closest convenient concepts Humans are capable of understanding – night and day, thinking that somehow Janus was a trickster god who reveled in the chaos. No, that was Discordia, who oversaw strife, disruption, and, well, chaos for crying out loud. Or maybe even Bacchus, though he was more into practical jokes and parties. I'm the fucking god of transitions. Doorways. Constructive change. Making improvements. Beginnings and endings. I'm not some jumped up….
Janus sighed. He counted to infinity, twice, all the while taking what the silly humans with their silly assumptions would call a long, deep breath. Okay, he didn't actually… well, you get the idea by now. Janus sighed, and contemplated what the Sorcerer wanted. This didn't take any time at all, of course. The gods operated on a time scale that Humans would label "Planck Time", so Janus could – and sometimes did – take as long as he liked to think about things. It was really beginning to wear on him how often this sort of thing happened. Someone wanted to cause some trouble, and they invoked Janus's name. Usually, he'd turn down the request, but he was required by Ancient Compact to consider it regardless.
The god examined the spell and the specific request. That is, what the spell was supposed to accomplish. This putz wants to change everyone into whatever they costume they are wearing during a celebration of Samhain. Why isn't he calling on Saitada… or maybe Madb? He looked closer at the spell. It did technically fall under his purview, since it was all about changing things from one into another. And technically this would be a beginning, as many mortal lives would be changed to the point of being utterly different afterward…
And it's going to affect several of the champions who'd been chosen by those arrogant wankers who dared to call themselves 'the Powers that Be' as if they were the only divine beings in the omniverse. Who wouldn't want to stick it to those douche-nozzles?
Giving what on a Human would be a dangerously smirking grin, Janus reached out and grasped the spell in one hand. Stared at it for a moment. Then the god nodded to himself and muddled around with the spell. Just a little, mind you. Just some basic alterations to the parameters. Oh, this is going to be great. A complete Rogering of those arrogant pricks' 'Great Plan.' Let's see them whine about their precious balance now! Powers-That-Fucking-Need-a-Good-Kick, that's what they are!
In Earth Orbit, 58,000 km Above the Southern Coast of California
November 1, 1997
Other than the ever-present background hum of electronics and far-away engines, there was no response.
"Captain Samson." A bit more forcefully, more determined, but not a yell. Definitely a statement, though. Still no response.
"BROCK!" This time the voice was yelling. This time there was a response. A physical one. Xander Harris jerked, his eyes coming open. They were still blurry and all he could see was a white ceiling above him. He felt… "mushy" was the best way to describe it, though even that odd choice of words wasn't totally correct. Someone was talking to him. A polite someone, with a soft, kind-sounding voice. Whoever it was, it was a girl. She sounded young. You could tell this was the type of girl who smiled a lot, just from the sound of her voice. A very pleasant voice.
Xander lifted a hand to his face and vaguely rubbed at his eyes. It took more of an effort to do this than it normally did.
"Captain Samson, there is an emergency and I need you."
The voice was calm again, but insistent. Xander had no idea who this Captain Samson was that the voice was talking to, but there was a nagging something in the back of his head telling him to say something. "Mmyah?" was all he managed. He sat up in his chair and blinked, slightly more coherent. But only slightly. "Whaas?"
"Captain, you must respond. We are on a collision course with the planet below us, and most of the crew has vanished into thin air. I can move us into a safe orbit, but I am still on standard operational lock-out. I need your authorization to take control of the ship, or we're all going to die."
Confused now, Xander looked around. He was sitting in the center of an oval-shaped room that was so clean it almost sparkled. There were fancy, futuristic consoles in the walls, two more in front of him separated from his position by a pair of chairs that seemed bolted to the floor. One of those chairs was inhabited by a figure slumped over their console.
Other people? There are other people here? Alex looked around. There were three other people he could see, and they were all unconscious – or maybe dead, but he was hoping for unconscious. The first was the person in the seat in front of him. Xander couldn't see the person's face, but from the back, he thought the person was female. And tall, very tall, judged from how much of the console she covered while slumped over. Her arms seemed longer than they should be, but he quickly realized that this was a trick of her height. She was still in proportion, for someone who was over seven feet tall. The woman's pale white hair - about all he could see of her other than her back - was long and had been looped up closer to her head in looping braids, situated in a rather exotic style. And she was wearing a uniform.
He looked down at himself, bringing one of his hands up to touch his chest. He, too, was wearing a uniform, and it was mostly the same design and color as the seated woman was wearing. But there was something wrong about what he was seeing. Xander blinked, wondering what it was. He felt off. His entire body felt wrong, somehow.
There was another woman slumped over in the chair next to the one he was sitting in. She was…
"Captain Samson, I hate to nag you, sir, but can I have your authorization?" The voice was insistent and caused Xander to look around him in confusion.
"Authorization?" Xander asked. His gaze fell on the big wall-to-ceiling window at the front of the room. No, it wasn't a window, it was a holographic projection. Whatever it was, it was curved, like the wall, perhaps fifteen feet wide, and at least nine feet tall. And there, in the center of the window, approaching more rapidly than Xander thought comfortable, was the Earth. The words rapidly approaching bounced around his head for a moment, and he began to feel the first inklings of panic.
"What the hell?!" Xander sat up abruptly, in shock. He stared at the Earth – a large, bright, white-and-blue view of the Earth that was looming threateningly close. Are we crashing into the Earth? How? Why? Huh?
"Captain, there's no time! I need your authorization." The voice was still soft and polite, but still carried the tones of urgency. "I need you to authorize full automated navigational control and I need you to do it right now. We're about to hit the atmosphere and without active piloting control, that would be very bad." that polite smiling girl's voice – stayed pleasant all the while foretelling doom.
Right. Get the answers later. Issue the authorization now, Xander!he thought to himself. The voice wanted to take control of the ship and stop them from crashing into the Earth. Right. Xander didn't know if any of this was real, but he was from Sunnydale, a town in which 'better safe than sorry' was a survival tactic. He straightened in his seat.
Xander jumped to his feet. "Authorization 90242 Samson Beta 44 Unshackle!" Xander said, blurting out the words and numbers as quickly as he could. What in the actual fuck? Where the fuck did that come from? Xander had no idea where it came from, but he knew just what to say. Like the rest of the situation, he had no clue what was going on. Am I on a spaceship? How did I get on a spaceship? Where's Willow and Buffy?
Trying to remember the events that led him to being here caused Xander's brain to explode. His thoughts were suddenly filled with scenes of ray guns and monsters, and a starship captain gathering his crew together to transport them up to the ship. Mostly what he was remembering was a lot of confusion. Not being sure of what was happening. But there were other things in his mind now, too. Mathematical equations, and physics, command codes and languages, astronomical phenomena and star charts. Esoteric knowledge he'd never even dreamed of. Minor details he'd never imagined he'd take for granted.
The Earth was already moving out of center on the screen and was receding slightly. "Course corrected. Set for high orbit, propulsion set at Mark 2. All non-essential power routed to shields. We're going to brush the atmosphere, but we're not going to nosedive into it." The girl's voice said. Xander looked around, realizing that the voice seemed to be coming from the walls.
Not a girl. An artificial intelligence named Dawn. The AI for the ICS Far Traveler. His command. His ship. He was the captain.
"Wait… what?" Xander asked himself. He had no idea how he knew any of this. The knowledge just sort of sat there in his memory until needed, and only then popped into the front of his head where he could access it.
"Captain? Did you have a question, sir?"
"Sorry, Dawn. Talking to myself. It's nothing."
"Very well, sir."
A muffled groan brought his attention back to the other people in the room. The person at the control console sat up, holding her head in her hands. Xander stood, wanting to help them, when he was stopped by a snorting inhale from the woman in the chair he had just left. She sat up, blinking as she looked at him. The third person in the room, a man, lying on his back near a side console, rolled over onto his hands and knees. Xander finally got a look at his face. It was Jonathan Levinson – a pretty good guy and a fantastic DM on the odd occasions he and Willow and Jessie would join Jono's game.
"Xander?" At the sound of her voice, Xander realized that the woman who had been in the chair next to his was Buffy Summers, but different. Buffy' skin was a tawny gold, and her hair was longer and fell down her back like a waterfall. It showed no signs of dark roots, as was normal for Buffy. The sides of her head here bare, as if shaved clean, and instead of hair there were a series of markings, like a leopard's spots, that covered her scalp and her neck. Buffy's face had black lines moving around her nose and eyes like a tiger's contrasting with the tawny color of her skin. "Xander, what's going on? Where are we?"
Buffy slowly, and slightly unsteadily, climbed to her feet, revealing what might be the strangest changes in the young woman that Xander could see. First off, she was suddenly taller than he was, by maybe a foot. But the second change… He couldn't help it. He stared at her. His eyes locked onto her chest and would not move away. "Is something wrong? Xander, you're staring. Why are you staring at my boobs?" Buffy looked down, where Xander's eyes were locked, and immediately stopped talking. Her mouth dropped open in shock.
Xander forced himself to tear his gaze away from her boobs and tried to meet her eyes but couldn't as she herself was staring at her breasts. All four of them. They were visibly larger than her usual rack, and they were doubled, with one pair positioned lower on her torso than the first.
"What!?" Buffy shouted. "Where the hell did I get extra boobs? Xander!" She finally had looked at him. "Why are you so short! When did you get all… wall-like!?"
Xander looked down at himself and finally noticed that was what was different. Not only was he about a foot shorter than Buffy – who was suddenly close to six feet tall, he estimated – but he was at least three feet wide. He met her gaze again, only to goggle at something he hadn't noticed before. "Buffy, your eyes… they're… they're white!"
"What? What about my eyes?" Buffy put a hand up to her face, only to recoil when she noticed the striped markings on the back of it.
"You... uh... the pupils are still there, but the rest of your eye is pure white... its like the color part gave up." Xander was still staring, shocked.
"Ugh…. Guys, can we be less shouty?" The tall white-haired woman in the command console seat turned – the chair itself rotating completely around. She still had a hand to her forehead. "I've got a killer headache and all the noise isn't helping."
"WILLOW?" Xander shouted in alarm. His best friend's skin, once the typical pale peach of all redheads, was now almost milk-white, and her eyes were pink. His exclamation was met by Buffy's own shout.
Willow stood, slowly, staring at her hands, which were as pale as the rest of her. "Guys, what's happening? What happened to us?" They all stared at her, or more specifically stared up at her. Willow Rosenberg was now somewhere near seven feet tall.
"You're all different," a voice intruded. It was Jonathan, finally entering the conversation. The trio turned toward him, watching as the young man stared down at himself, looking at his hands and then patting himself down as if searching for a weapon. "I think I'm still myself. I mean, no changes I can tell. Can you guys see anything?"
It was Xander who finally spoke. "Uh, well, you look… uh… a couple of years older, Jono." They all did. Not only was Willow a giant albino, Xander a dwarf-sized linebacker, and Buffy covered in tiger stripes (and Xander avoided thinking about the extra boobage the Slayer now possessed) but they all look like they'd aged at least ten years.
"I'm tall! And white! I'm like, chalk white!" Willow was still staring at her hands.
"Your eyes are pink, too." Buffy noted.
"I'm an albino?" Willow asked, surprised. Then she seemed to settle in on herself. "Of course, I'm an albino. I'm from Barbara's World." She paused, then, "I'm from where?"
"Let me guess," Xander said. "Sudden influx of new knowledge that is slowly filling in the gaps?" Willow nodded, and when Xander looked over at them, so did Buffy and Jonathan. He looked down at his own hands. "I'm Captain Brock Samson." Everyone snorted at the melodramatics of the name. "I'm only five feet tall, but I'm built like a wall. It's because I come from Volkov, where the gravity is 1.62. After a thousand years, humanity has adapted."
He looked to Willow. "Lieutenant Commander Cassiopeia West. Ship's operations officer and second officer. You're from Barbara's World, a planet with only .62 gravity compared to Earth, which explains your height, and where something like 90% of the population are all albinos for some reason lost to history."
He turned to Buffy. "Commander Cooling Breeze on a Summer's Day, generally referred to as 'Commander Summer' by everyone on the crew. My executive officer. You're a Pelkon, a mammalian humanoid alien species native to planet Zoosh in the Mweena system, better known to humans as Gilese 357. Pelkons are evolved from an ambush predator species. Because of common seeding by the P!k Gardeners millions of years ago, Pelkons and humans share close to 50% of their DNA." The facts just sort of popped into his head as he spoke them.
Xander turned to Jonathan. "And you're Lieutenant Dack Brandenberger, helmsman and navigator. You're from earth, right?"
Jonathan nodded. "Apparently I'm from the Great Lakes Metroplex. What used to be Chicago and Gary and a couple of other cities bordering on the Great Lakes. But you know… I'm not. I was born in Sunnydale. And Willow's not from another planet, and Buffy isn't an alien." Jonathan's brow furrowed for a second. "You're not an alien, are you?"
She nodded her head. "You're right! I'm from Los Angeles, not from Planet Woosh! And none of that is who we really are. I'm not Cool Wind Whatever, you're not Dack Bingelbanger, she's not Castanza Something, and Xander isn't Brick Hardcheese. But I remember growing up on Woosh, near a place called Pizarral, in a house on a beach. Why would I remember things that never happened?"
All four shared a giggle at Buffy's utter butchery of the names, but the question remained. "We need to figure out what's going on."
"Yeah," Xander added. "And what we're doing in space."
"Space?" Willow straightened up, which was impressive given her new height. She looked around fitfully, finally spotting the viewscreen. "Wow. That's… that's Earth."
"Captain, should I summon medical personnel? You're all acting very odd. Are you suffering from amnesia?" Dawn's voice interrupted. The girls and Jonathan started once, and then seemed to settle as the knowledge of who and what Dawn was popped into their minds.
"This could be a problem." Willow said.
Xander nodded. "Dawn, Command Override Two Seven Four Alpha Eight Delta, Samson Authorize Delta."
When Dawn spoke again, it was with the flat and artificial voice of a Virtual Intelligence, rather than a true AI. "Awaiting input."
Xander waved to Willow, who cleared her throat before continuing. "Dawn, accept all input regarding alternate identifies for the crew." In addition to the identities you have on record, accept the existence of alternate identities as well. Monitor contextual clues to guide you when it comes to these secondary identities. Confirm."
"Dawn, return to standard operational mode." Xander said.
"Thank you, Captain. The new instructions have been assimilated into my core programming. Should I apply the new directives to the other people onboard?
"Wait… did you just say that there are other people on the ship?" Xander asked. "It's not just us?"
"Captain, my internal sensors tell me that currently there are nine crewman and one civilian onboard. This represents a loss of 99.00025% of the crew. Where the rest of them went, I cannot tell you. But aside from yourself, Commander Summer, Lieutenant Commander West, and Lieutenant Brandenberger, my internal sensors show that Doctors Gibbs and Dunbar are present in the medical bay, Chief Engineer Blaylock is in Engineering, and Lieutenant Polk and Chief Petty Officer Castor are in turbo-lift eleven. While Commander Blaylock hasn't moved, her life signs are stable. The doctors have both awoken, and they are discussing their situation between them. Lieutenant Polk and CPO Castor are only just beginning to wake up from their previously unconscious state."
"And… um… what about the civilian?" Buffy asked.
"A local from the planet below that you rescued from an attacker. Doctor Dunbar was insistent she bring the civilian up to the Far Traveler for treatment. While I do not have full information on her, she gave her name as 'Cordelia' before she was rendered unconscious in preparation for treatment. Doctor Gibbs's records show that she did that because the civilian was 'spouting off crazy talk' no doubt due to the trauma of her attack."
"Cordelia?" Willow said. The four crew present shared a look. Willow hesitated for a moment, then continued. "Xander, if we ended up here, maybe the others are folks from Sunnydale too. We should…"
"Yeah." Xander nodded. "Dawn, please contact all crew members not present. Get them up and moving if they aren't already. We need a meeting of the remaining staff in the conference room in five minutes. And have Cordelia woken up. She needs to sit in on this meeting."
Stargate Program Base, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado
November 1, 1997
Major-General George Hammond heard his executive officer's voice shout, "Ten-shut!" as he entered the room, and both Colonel O'Neill and Captain Carter immediately snapped two. Teal'c rose from his seat, but Dr. Jackson remained seated. Technically, the linguist had a right to, since he was a civilian, but it still sort of irked Hammond. The general wasn't the type of martinet officer who took offense at every little thing, but being acknowledged as Jackson's superior would have been nice, since the man – civilian or not – did work for the military if only as a consultant.
"Carry on." As he strode to the head of the table, his officers relaxed and sat back down, as did the alien Teal'c. Once seated, he took a moment to center himself and asked, "Alright, Captain, what do we have?"
"Sir," Captain Samantha Carter started. "Approximately twenty minutes ago, a large spacecraft of unknown make and origin appeared in orbit over the Pacific Coast of California. It was caught by several of our satellite cameras, as well as by at least one civilian astronomer and photographed." The Captain passed out folders to each member of SG-1 and the general.
Hammond immediately leafed through the photos in the folder, ignoring the briefing sheet for now.
"Has that been taken care of?" Hammond asked, referring to the security breach.
"Yes, sir." It was his XO, Colonel Jack O'Neill who answered. "Major Davis's boys got in touch with the astronomer, one Billie – short for Wilhelmina, apparently – Stroud and informed her of the classified nature of the pictures she took. They grabbed her camera, all the film stock, her telescope, everything. Davis told me they paid her off and got her to sign an NDA." O'Neil concluded by muttering, "… had to write her a check for $150,000…" which got everyone around the table grinning. Funny how a payout was the best grease when it came to making military-civilian relations smoother.
Hammond nodded, still staring at the pictures. It was a fuzzy, black and white image of the intruding craft. From the angle of the photograph, the main body of the intruder was a a narrow, arrowhead shape that was pierced by four spheres – three smaller than the forth, and in a triangular shape near the center of the wedge, the fourth nearly twice as large as the other three and placed at the base of the "triangle" formed by them, toward the rear of the craft. There were other structures running along the top and bottom of the wedge, and a symbol and some writing on the largest sphere, but otherwise he didn't recognize anything about it.
"Okay, people… someone tell me something I don't already know." Hammond looked to Teal'c. "Is this ship familiar to you, Teal'c?"
"No, GeneralHammond, it is not. It is unlike any Goa'uld starship I have ever seen. Neither does it match any species the Goa'ald have ever encountered that I know of." Teal'c stared at the photograph for a moment, then looked up to meet the general's eyes. "I do believe this is an entirely new species."
"So, we have a new neighbor who out of the blue decided to come knocking." Colonel O'Neill said. "Do we have any info on it at all other than it looks like someone shoved some tennis balls and a bowling ball through a paper airplane?"
"Well, sir, the alien is currently in a stable hyperbolic orbit a little over 800 kilometers up. As I said, we first spotted it over the Pacific Coast of California, but it has since passed over North America and over the horizon. At its present speed, it'll be over us again in about 30 minutes."
O'Neill whistled quietly. "Going quite the clip."
"Uh, yes sir, it is. Its moving faster than escape velocity for the earth but seems to be slowing." Carter nodded. "We're still working on a deceleration rate on that. Until we have that, we can't be sure of their final positioning in orbit."
"Anything else, Captain?" Hammond picked up the briefing sheet and skimmed it. He preferred getting his briefings verbally than being forced to read everything.
"Sir, from what we can tell, the ship is a little over two kilometers long. The main hull – the wedge, that is, is a hundred meters thick on average. It tapers to only six meters at the prow and is nearly five hundred and fifty-five meters thick at the stern. The smaller spheres are each 270 meters in radius, while the larger sphere is 600 meters radius. This is only speculation, but if this were a ship we constructed, with those proportions, there could possibly be a crew of ten or twelve thousand aboard," Carter concluded.
"Do you think it's a human-made ship, made by our cousins from…" O'Neill pointed upward.
"That's our best guess at this point. I mean, humans are the most numerous form of intelligent life we've found so far, so the boys in imaging are thinking it's from some planet we just haven't met yet."
"Wonder why they're here." O'Neill picked up the primary picture again. "They passed right over North America and didn't start dropping crowbars from orbit, so I guess that's a good sign, right?"
"We're not picking up any signals," Carter continued, "but the craft is leaving a trail of heavy particles in its wake. Like an engine exhaust. But I don't see any exhaust ports. They may not exist, somehow, or they might be placed out of sight of the cameras, or perhaps they're too small to be seen. I don't know. We've spotted what looks like a ring of lights on each of the spheres at about 45 degrees up the ball. They might be windows. Of course, they could just as easily be gun ports. The large sphere has a symbol on its visible side, along with what looks like some lettering."
"Speaking of gun ports, do we…." O'Neill trailed off as Carter was already shaking her head.
"No, sir, there is nothing that gives us any clues regarding the ship's offensive or defensive capabilities, other than perhaps the spectra-analysis results. Apparently, the hull of this vessel is made of trinium alloyed with something we haven't encountered before."
Jack whistled again. "Tough bird."
Carter only nodded. "Yes, sir."
She indicated the last of the photos in the file. The symbol was a light-colored square, with a dark-colored solar disk – rays coming out of the sun at regular intervals. The letters were placed at the base of the symbol. "That might be an ensign of some sort. Like a flag, but you wouldn't fly a flag in space, naturally."
"Right..." O'Neill said. "So they painted it on the hull. Flash, I suppose."
Daniel Jackson had pulled a magnifying glass out of his pocket and was peering closely at the lettering. "Huh. Interesting.' He stared for a moment more, then looked up. "Uh, General…" He stopped speaking, surprised that everyone was already looking at him.
"Yes, Dr. Jackson?"
"Uh, yeah. I'm not sure… I mean, I'd want to see a clearer picture, but… there's something odd about these letters, sir. I think they're part of an artificial language."
"What do you mean, 'artificial language,' Daniel?" O'Neill gave Jackson a puzzled look. "You think it was made up? I thought that applied to all languages."
"Well… uh… yes and no, Jack. Yes, all languages originated somewhere and were made up sounds and then evolved into greater complexity." Daniel explained, as if to a two year old. "What I mean is, I don't think this is its own language. I think its… look…" Daniel paused. "Okay, are you familiar with Aurebesh?"
"Ah." Teal'c brightened up. "You refer to the alphabet used in the Star Wars films. Yes, I am familiar with it. The creators of Star Wars invented a new alphabet for the English language and used it in their films as an indicator that the society we were seeing was not the standard human society."
"Right, exactly. Now, look." He handed Jack his magnifying glass. "The first letter is a leaning slash. That could be anything, but I'm betting it stands for an I. The second letter is a triangle with a crossbar. That's an A. The third letter…"
"Looks a little bit like an S."
"Precisely, and when you look at some of the other letters, I recognize something that's vaguely suggestive of an O, a V, and a couple of L's." Daniel took a deep breath, as he always did before he said something he wasn't sure that the rest of the team would buy. "General, I think this ship was made by humans, and I think when we meet them, they'll be speaking English. As a native language, I mean. It suggests not only a human crew, but a human crew from a planet whose population was taken from Earth by the Goa'uld relatively recently, perhaps in the last five hundred years or so."
Everyone was silent for a moment, contemplating Daniel's suggestion. Finally, the linguist cleared his throat. "Are we doing anything to communicate with them?"
The general looked at his wristwatch, then nodded toward Doctor Jackson. "We're scheduled to start transmitting a greeting to them, along with an inquiry regarding their intentions, on a constant loop as soon as they are back in our sky, and we'll keep it going until they get back to us. NASA has been ordered to run an emergency prep on the shuttle, but that's still going to take a week."
"They probably shouldn't bother, sir," Carter said. That got everyone's attention.
"And why is that Captain?"
She looked at the general, then around the room, meeting everyone's gaze. "Well, sir… while I can't tell you specifics about the ship itself, one thing I can tell you right off the bat is nothing we have on earth is capable of matching those velocities. No matter what we send up there it would blow past without really noticing. Unless they are willing to come to us… which is a big if… we might as well wait for them to contact us here on the ground."
The general stewed on that for a moment. "I'll relay that up the chain." He stood, and so did everyone else in the room except Daniel Jackson. "Okay, people, let's get to work."
In Earth Orbit, 846 km Above Ontario
November 1, 1997
The first thing everyone did when they reached the conference room was grab something to eat.
Buffy had started the stampede. Instead of heading to the table like Jonathan, Xander, and Willow had, she immediately strode – that was the only word for it – to a console on the far wall and pushed a button. A slot in the wall about the size of a car's glove compartment opened up in the wall. A neighboring screen lit up with a long bulleted list of items. Buffy scrolled through these rapidly.
"What're ya doin, Buffster?" Xander asked.
"I'm starving. Figured while we tried to figure all of this out, I'd get something to eat." At Buffy's words, everyone looked at everyone else. Jonathan and Willow actually giggled.
"Great idea, Buffy." Willow stood and joined her. "Think they do kosher?" Five minutes later, they were all seated and munching on the various meals they chose. Xander was scandalized that the Far Traveler's food processors had an appalling lack of junk food. No Twinkies. Not even a Hostess fruit pie. He ended up going with a Reuben sandwich and some English-style chips… they were the closest thing he could find to actual potato chips.
When he had a chance, he was definitely going to introduce the food synthesizers to 20th Century American cuisine. Assuming he ever got the chance, that is.
Slowly, the rest of the people onboard drifted in. Xander recognized most of them. Chief Engineer Blaylock turned out to be their High School computer teacher, Ms. Calendar. The two doctors, Gibbs and Dunbar, were his classmates, Amy Madison and Theresa Klusmeyer, respectively. And lastly, Lieutenant Polk and Chief Petty Officer Castor turned out to be the Welles brothers, Tucker and Andrew. Xander felt good about this, as he was friendly with all of them, if not actual friends.
Ten minutes later, with everyone fed and watered, Xander sat back from his plate and thought for a moment. "Andre, could you do us all a favor and collect up the refuse and drop it in the reclaimer, please. And if anyone wants to refresh their drink, go ahead. We need all need to talk some things over and I suspect its going to take a while."
A couple of them, Willow, Ms. Calendar, and Tucker Welles, took him up on it. The others sat where they were.
When everyone was back in their seat, he cleared his throat. "Okay, let's get started. For those of you who haven't figured it out, we're in space on some kind of starship." He tapped twice on the tabletop, bringing up a keyboard display, then punched in a command. The space above the table was filled with a hologram of the earth and the moon, as lifelike as if it was really there. A small white dot, barely visible, showed the current position of the Far Traveler in orbit. "That's Earth, that's Luna, and there's us, in orbit." As they watched the tiny white dot of light passed over the Pacific Ocean on a diagonal orbit that had their ship passing over the Pacific Ocean on a north-by northeasterly course.
"Yeah, but how did we get up here," Ms. Calendar added.
"I checked the log," Jonathan said, swallowing a forkful of what looked like lasagna. "It shows that the Captain and the senior staff were on a diplomatic away mission. When a riot broke out, the ship was contacted and the senior staff were beamed up via the Transmat system."
"We're going to end up calling them transporters. I know it." Amy added. "Way too many possible Star Trek references."
"Yeah, but that's cool because we're, like, living it in real life. It would be cooler if it were Star Wars, but we can't have everything." Andrew Welles was grinning to beat the band. He wasn't bouncing in his seat, which is what Xander thought the ultra-geekazoid would be doing, but he was still clearly excited.
"So… what, we're in a Star Trek episode?" Theresa Klusmeyer's face showed nothing but puzzlement. "How would that be possible?"
"No, its not Star Trek…" Andrew began, only for Buffy to interrupt him.
"Yeah, uh, Theresa, right? Okay, so here's how it goes. Magic exists. So do vampires, werewolves, demons, and pretty much all the monsters you've ever heard of. Except leprechauns, apparently." Buffy shrugged. "It's a thing."
Theresa seemed even more confused. "You're saying magic is real, and that's why we're in a Star Trek episode?"
"ITS NOT STAR TREK!" Andrew couldn't keep it in, and his shout caused everyone to jump. "It's not! Its not Star Wars either. Its Far Traveler! It's different."
"Never heard of it." Xander deadpanned. Though now that Andrew had said something… "Wait… was that a TV movie or something?"
"It was a failed pilot." Andrew said, in his element. "A comic book writer named K. Mitchell Skrzypczynski created it. From what I've heard, it had this enormous backstory about wars between humans and aliens, and elder races, and was all going to be set on this starship that was traveling around the edges of known space. He apparently had this entire developed universe for it."
"So, what happened?" Amy asked. "You said it was a failed pilot?"
"Yeah." Andrew nodded. "Most people who watched it found it a bit derivative of Star Trek. I mean, a crew of intrepid heroes with intrepid hero names flying around fighting evil? That's Trek in a nutshell."
"Uh… okay." Willow said. "Um… that doesn't explain what we are all doing here. In space, I mean. How we got here and why this ship. I mean, I don't remember anyone doing a spell."
Tucker glanced at his brother. "Last thing I remember clearly before waking up here was heading for Ted Chervin's house. He and Ginger were throwing a Halloween party. Then suddenly, I'm unconscious in an elevator and Dawn's telling us to wake up because we're needed. How about you guys?"
"I was with Jonathan," Andrew said, and Jonathan nodded. "We had taken a break from our all-night D&D game to make a snack run to the local Quick-E-Mart. You know, potato chips, soda, a couple of Snickers bars. Stuff like that. I remember we were about a block away from the store, talking about what the best Wizard spell to use against minotaurs was. Then I was in the elevator with Tucker."
"Yeah," Jonathan confirmed. "Andrew was arguing for the Lightning Bolt spell over the Fireball and then suddenly, I'm on the floor on the bridge. It was scary."
"I was heading to Ginger's party too," Theresa said. "I'd just climbed into my car and turned the key. Then suddenly the medical bay.
"I was escorting a troop of kids, taking them around trick-or-treating." Ms. Calendar said. From the vague look on her face, she was thinking about something and hadn't come to a conclusion yet.
Xander, Willow, and Buffy all nodded. "Us too," Buffy muttered.
"Devon and I were on the way to Rhonda's party, and suddenly he turned all rabid dog on me. Thank God I ran into you dweebs. I thought he was going to bite me or something. As it is he ruined my costume.' Cordelia began. She turned toward Amy and Theresa. "Do you still have it? I'm never going to get my deposit back from Party City..."
"You went to Party City for your costume? We got ours from that new place, Ethan's Party Source." Willow made a sweeping gesture encompassing her, Xander, and Buffy.
The sudden chorus of "Yeah, me too" in variation brought Xander's head up. "Wait… everyone here got their costume from Ethan's except Cordelia?"
"Aha! I think we found our common thread." Ms. Calendar exclaimed. "My costume was labeled 'starship crewman'. And here I am, Chief Engineer on an actual starship. I think I know what happened. Someone put a spell on the costumes, and we became whatever they were. Xander, I bet your costume was the same, right?"
"Yeah," Xander nodded. "That guy who ran the store, Ethan, he said they were on discount. Something about spare costumes from a…" Xander trailed off, then facepalmed.
"Xander?" Willow asked.
"They were spared costumes from a failed science fiction series. He had about a dozen of them." Xander sighed. "That explains what we're doing here. We got turned into the different characters from the show based on which costumes we wore. Its only blind luck that made me the ship's captain, or Ms. Calendar the Chief Engineer, or Amy the Chief Medical Officer."
"If this was a spell, we need to figure out how to reverse it! I can't go to school with four boobs! And look at Willow? She's all stretched out and white now! I mean, really really white for real, like the crayon." Willow dropped her head on the table, hiding her face and Buffy realized what she was saying.
"Sorry, Wills… I don't mean it like that. I just… I want to punish someone!" Buffy said, the anger in her voice clearly evident. "I need to talk to this guy, Ethan. And by 'talk' I mean break some of his bones."
"Right." Xander nodded. "Definitely some punishment needed." He paused. "Dawn, how soon will we be over Sunnydale again?"
"Captain, I have no record of any municipality on Earth named 'Sunnydale.' Could you be more specific?"
"The town we were in when this mess started. How soon will we be back over that town's airspace?" Xander asked. No Sunnydale in the Far Traveler universe. Interesting.
"Eleven minutes, Captain."
"Okay, when we are back where we started I want you to change our orbital vector so we stay above that town, all right? We are going to send an excursion down again." He looked to the other people in the crew. "Once we're over Sunnydale again, we can decide what we're doing to do."
"What do you mean, what we're doing to do?" Theresa said.
"What if we can't reverse the spell? That leaves Buffy as an alien, Willow as an albino giant, and me as a shortened heavy-worlder. How are we supposed to explain the physical changes? It would be better to just stay here."
Theresa nodded. "Okay, but I'm not physically changed like you three are. Neither are Jonathan, or Amy, or Tucker, or Ms. Calendar. I mean, sure I have all sorts of medical knowledge in my head now, but there's no reason why I can't go home. Or any of them, right? And I want to go home."
Xander was quiet for a moment before saying, "Well, we're not going to keep you here if you don't want to stay. Once we're above Sunnydale, we'll send you home. As for me, staying on board the Far Traveler and becoming a starship captain is a better choice than my shitty homelife."
Andrew Welles was almost bouncing up and down in his seat. "Oh, I'm so staying up here. Being a space hero? You better believe I'm staying here."
"Andrew, you're only fifteen. Mom would freak." His brother Tucker said, exasperated.
"Only chronologically. I mean, look at me. Theresa said there were no physical changes, but that's not true. Do I look fifteen? Physically, I'm closer to twenty-four or twenty-five." A quick look around proved that to be true. None of the teenagers looked to be teenagers anymore, even the ones who looked alien now. "So, I'm just going to tell mom and dad that, you know, I'm all grown up now and can make my own decisions."
Buffy looked to Xander, who looked to Willow. The three of them looked to Ms. Calendar, who rolled her eyes. "You should probably still tell your folks that you're alive, at least."
"I'd like to stay, if that's okay." Amy said, a bit hesitantly. "Its just me and my dad right now, and things are really tough. This situation is better for me than down there. And… uh… I was thinking of asking my dad to come up here to live. Full time, I mean."
"What? Why would you want to do that?" Buffy's question was strained, and from her voice she sounded vaguely offended. "Why would you want to drag your dad into all this weirdness."
"Buffy." Xander said, calmly. "Settle down. It's a good idea, when you think about it. In fact, it might be a good idea to have your mom come up here, too. We've got room for a crew of ten thousand, its not like we'll be crowded. Not for a while. We're eventually going to need additional crew, and there's no reason why we can't have our families up here with us. Or at least, you know, the families we want to have up here."
"I doubt my mom and dad would notice me staying up here," Willow muttered. She was answered by Jonathan's quiet agreement. That surprised her. She turned to the man and asked, "Yours ignore you, too?" Jonathan could only nod.
"But we can't just drag our parents into this! They have lives. Normal lives! They deserve to be protected from all the danger and the darkness and the vampi…." Buffy cut herself off as she realized everyone was staring at her.
"Just what darkness do you think will be attacking us up here, Buffster?" Xander asked. "Space vampires?"
"I remember that episode of Star Trek where there was this vampire-alien-thing that sucked all the… OW!" Andrew glared at his older brother. "Why did you stomp on my foot like that?"
"What are you dweebs going to do about high school? You know, graduating?" Cordelia asked. Her question brought a laugh from Amy.
"I've got the knowledge and skill of a fully trained and credentialed medical doctor in my head," she said. "I really am an MD, at least according to laws and regulations of the ICS. I think High School is a bit over for me."
Naturally, Cordelia zoomed right in on what was important in Amy's statement. "What's the ICS?"
"The Interstellar Coalition of Sentients. The governing body which has authority over Terra, Luna, Mars, Zoosh, Pradesh, Barbara's World, Prager, Disney's Planet, and about a hundred others." Andrew recited, once again bouncing in his seat. "And I'm not going back to school, either. I've got a I've got a doctorate in mechanical engineering."
Ms. Calendar chuckled. "High-energy physics. And from everyone's faces, I assume everyone here except Cordelia was given a little extra educational candy in their stocking with the transformation into their character?"
Everyone nodded. A double doctorate, Xander thought to himself. Law, and Interstellar Relations and Diplomacy. Not sure what good those would do be back on Earth. HE shook himself to clear his head.
"Okay, here's what we'll do. Those of us who want to go can go. Those of us who want to stay can stay as far as I'm concerned. As for other people, we'll talk to people we want to bring up here, and if they say yes, they can come. We're not going to just start randomly beaming people up, because that would be rude." A glance toward Amy. "Okay?" She nodded in response. "Good. By my estimates, we still have a good four or five minutes before we're over Sunnydale. Let's get ready to head back down."
Everyone rose as he came to his feet. Before anyone could get more than a few steps away form the table, though, Dawn spoke up. "Captain, I am being bombarded with modulated electromagnetic radiation. It began the moment we crossed over the Hawaiian Islands. They appear to be radio waves at 384.1 megahertz."
"Radio waves?" Jonathan said. "Someone's trying to talk to us."
"Probably military." Xander said. "Dawn, can you make out what they're trying to say?"
"I am sorry, Captain, but I am having to readjust my sensors." Dawn replied. "While I am capable of picking up radio waves as part of my sensor package, no one in the ICS has used radio as a means of communication in nearly four centuries."
"Right, well, do your best."
"I always do, Captain."
Xander looked to Buffy, Jonathan, and Willow. "Stations. I want to know where that signal is coming from, and what their trying to say." Xander didn't even notice how quickly they responded, as if he really was the captain of the ship. The three didn't hesitate before heading to their assigned workstations.
He turned to the Welles brothers. "Guys, you need to decide what you're going to do. If you're going to stay, I need you to double-check the ship's automated systems. Make sure something isn't going to burn out of us."
"I'll get right on it, boss." Andrew headed for the elevator. Tucker looked at Xander, then back at Andrew, and sighed. "Hold on, Andy, I'm coming with you!"
Xander turned toward the last three women. "Amy?"
"Yes, Captain?" She too responded without hesitation.
"Take Theresa and Cordelia down to the transmat center. I'm sure you remember the familiarization training you received at the academy. When we're over Sunnydale, send her home. Theresa, its been real. Talk to you later on. Who knows, maybe you'll change your mind."
"I doubt it, but who knows. Thanks, Xander." Theresa said. She turned towards Amy, but before she could do more than turn, Cordelia erupted.
"Wait! Who said I wanted to go back? I want to stay up here!"
"What?" Pretty much everyone else's face echoed Xander's shock. "Whah… Huh? Why?" Xander stared at Cordelia, unsure of what she was saying. "You're not part of the crew, you don't have anybody crawling around in your brain, you weren't morphed into an alien! Why would you want to stay here?"
"Weren't you listening to Buffy? Sunnydale is darkness and vampires! I want to stay up here where its safe. I'll explain to my parents that I have this exciting new job opportunity or something. Maybe a scholarship. I mean, this ship has all kinds of futuristic computers, right? You can train me!" Cordelia's eyes got wider as she spoke, until she started sounding downright enthusiastic.
Xander stared at her, but only for a second. "Okay, fine. You're going with Amy and Theresa. Amy?" He shifted his attention to his ship's doctor. "When you're done dropping off Theresa, take Cordy to sick bay and… I dunno… find something for her to help you with. Start her training her in basic first aid or something. We'll figure out where she fits in with the crew later on. Just… keep her out of trouble, all right?"
Cordelia's expression went from enthusiastic to superior as she abruptly "Queen C" mask back on, but Xander had spotted her interest already. Cordelia was excited about the idea of living on a spaceship. Who knew the Queen of Sunnydale High was a closet science fiction geek.
"Thanks, dweeb! You won't regret it." Cordelia, Amy, and Theresa rushed to catch the next elevator car.
"Chief? I mean, Ms. Calendar?" Xander started. Only she interrupted.
"Might as well get used to calling me chief. I'm staying up here. It just sounds like too much fun to ignore. And besides," her gaze fell on Buffy. "I want to make sure you kids don't get into too much trouble. I'll head to engineering, just in case we need to start dodging nuclear missiles or laser satellites or something." She too, followed Andrew and Tucker.
Xander nodded. His crew was responding well, and he had the satisfaction common among captains with competent crews. Oh god, I am taking this role way too seriously, he thought.
He strode over to the communications panel, where Jonathan was busily taping away on an interface. "Okay, Jono, what do we have?"
"This is a military signal for sure, Xander. I checked the historical records, and it turns out 384.1 megahertz was reserved by the government of the United States for Air Force use." Jonathan said without looking up from his screen. "Its being sent from high gain antennas in Hawaii. The modulation repeats in a constant pattern. I'd say someone recorded a message and put it on a loop. The loop will probably end when we respond."
"Can we respond? I mean, our communications array is geared for hyperwave communication, not radio."
Jonathan almost snorted. "I can rig the active sensors to emit modulated radio waves. That's not the problem." He shook his head. "Our biggest headache will be making sure we don't accidentally burn out their receivers when we finally call back. Our active sensors are geared to reach out six or seven AU at a time; that kind of power directed at a Terran radio, even from orbit? I'll be like dropping a bomb on it. I'm dropping the settings to nearly the minimum we have and I still don't know if it'll be low enough to not do damage." He glanced up at Xander. "Any idea how you're going to play this?"
"Not yet. I'm working on it." He patted the top of Jonathan's chair. "Okay, keep working, see what you can see."
Xander stepped up onto the command dais. "Willow, how long until we're at a dead stop in relation to Sunnydale?"
"About ten seconds." Willow's eyes were on the holoscreen. "And mark. We are stationary in relation to Sunnydale. Current altitude… 823 kilometers. I'll tell Amy it's safe to send Theresa down now."
"Great." He turned to the tactical station, where Buffy sat. "So, what do you got, Buff?"
"Other than us and a metric buttload of space junk, the skies are clear. Nobody's launched anything at us, though some of the signals Dawn picked up aren't radio so much as they are radar. It's a pretty good bet someone down there has us in their sites. We're too far east for China or Russia to ping us, but we're being painted not only from land-based US radars, but from a vessel in the middle of the Pacific."
"Okay, keep an eye out. I don't think anyone has anything they can throw at us, but just… be careful.'
Buffy nodded and turned back to her console. "On it, boss."
Buffy calling him 'boss' caught Xander by surprise for a moment, but he shrugged it off. Sitting in the command chair, he tapped on the interface built into the arm and brought up a holo displaying the ship's status. "Buffy, make sure that the counter-battery missiles are locked down. If we are fired on, I want you to shoot down incoming fire, but no counter-attack against the launch points. We don't want to start a war."
Buffy tapped on her command interface, then nodded. "Aye, Captain. Counter-fire batteries are locked down. I also locked down all missile bays and all the primary offensive weapons. We're on defensive batteries only, just in case."
"Good. Very good." Xander was suddenly at a loss for what to do. 'His people' – and he was still getting used to people he knew and considered friends being his crew – were doing their jobs, and while he had the urge to hover over their shoulders, he knew he shouldn't do that. So he sat there, trying not to fidget.
"Captain," Willow began. The sound of her voice nearly made Xander jump in his seat, though luckily no one else on the bridge noticed. "Now that we're stationary over Sunnydale, we're being painted by additional radar. Hawaii can't touch us anymore, but we're getting pinged by installations in Alaska, Oregon, Colorado, South Dakota, and Montana. Several of those are confirmed missile launch sites."
Xander took a deep breath. "Acknowledged. Commander Summers, keep an eye on them." She only nodded in response.
"Commander Madison to the bridge?" Amy's voice came out of nowhere, being broadcast by the room's sound system.
Xander tapped a control on the arm of his chair. "Bridge. Go."
"Captain, Theresa's safe on the ground. I put her in her own bedroom; figured that was safer than dropping her in the street in the middle of the night. Cordelia and I are now in sick bay."
"Okay, cool. Um… keep up the good work."
The amusement in Amy's voice was tangible. "Right… uh... roger. Madison out."
"Welles… uh… Chief Welles to the bridge." Andrew's voice came over the comm. He sounded on the edge of a geek-out to Xander. "Tucker and I are in damage control. We've activated the service droids, so uh… we'll be able to handle things if there's trouble."
"Okay, thanks, Andrew. Anything else?"
"I guess not. This is so cool!"
"Yeah. Okay, bridge out."
Xander thought about contacting engineering and seeing if Ms. Calendar was all set, but before he could, Jonathan spoke up.
"Captain, I've got the signal untangled. It's uh… its originating from Colorado Springs. The transmitter assembly on top of Cheyenne Mountain." Jonathan spun in his seat, toward the command chair. He had a hand to one ear, where his multi-comm implant was located. Jono's eyes were wide as he listened to something only he could hear. "That's where NORAD is location." The young man listened for a bit. "Okay, this is… wow… I don't… I think what we have here is a message being broadcast in three different languages. The first is just English, but the other two…" He tapped a control, then shook his head. "Unable to translate. Weird. They don't appear in our linguistics database."
"Go ahead and play it on the overhead." Xander nodded.
"Right. Here you go." Jonathan tapped on a couple of buttons.
The unknown voice was male and had a vague southern accent that Xander couldn't quite place. "… controlled space uninvited. Any hostile acts on your part will be considered a declaration of war and will be met with lethal force. This…" There was a pause. "… is a second. You know have 600 of them to transmit your intentions or we will assume hostilities and fire on you. Message Repeats."
What followed was another voice speaking in the first unknown language. It also was male, but deeper and with more gravel. When that message was over, a third voice, younger and smoother, spoke in the second unknown language.
Then it began again in English. "Attention alien vessel. This is Major General George Hammond of Stargate Command on behalf of the Planet Earth. You have entered controlled space uninvited. Any hostile acts on your part will be considered a declaration of war and will be met with lethal force. This…" There was a pause. "… is a second. You know have 600 of them to transmit your intentions or we will assume hostilities and fire on you. Message Repeats."
Xander's eyebrows were trying to climb up into his scalp. Buffy and Willow both had confused looks on their faces. Jonathan just looked expectant.
"Huh," Xander said. "You said NORAD?" At Jonathan's nod, Xander just said, "Huh" again. After a thoughtful pause, he asked, "Okay, anyone know what the hell this General Hammond guy means by 'Stargate Command'?"
Author's Note: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the property of Warner Brothers in conjunction with Mutant Enemy Productions. Stargate SG-1 is the property of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in conjunction with Double-Secret Productions, the Gekko Film Group, Sony Pictures Television, and the Showtime Network.
While presented as being created by a poorly disguised fictional version of J. Michael Straczynski, the universe of Far Traveler, the characters, alien species, ships, worlds and creatures found in that universe are wholly the creation of the author as part of his Hundred Worlds series of science fiction novels; no insult is intended to Mr. Straczynski (for whom the author has the greatest of respect) nor his seminal work, Babylon 5 (which remains one of the author's favorite works of television ever).
Author's Note the Second: I know you folks were probably hoping for a new chapter of Origin Story, or perhaps an addition to one of m other uncompleted stories, but like I said, when inspiration hits, you write what it created. For some reason, my brain told me to write an answer to the "Ship of the Line" challenge found on the Twisting the Hellmouth fanfiction archive.
I will be continuing this story as I can, just like the others.