The Night of 100 Stars

The Night of 100 Stars

By Robert A. Black

Prologue: Disclaimers, Legal Mumbo-Jumbo and Other Fun Stuff

It was a strange little set. A shin-high octagon-shaped platform, with a shin-high arc-shaped second level around the rear half, sat on an orange floor. A light blue backdrop with small white lights shining through it rose behind a set of white monkey bars arranged in a half-dome shape surrounding the platform. Several tinted transparent plastic balls hung from the catwalks above to complete the tableau.

Buffy, Willow and Xander stepped onto the platform, looking around curiously. None of them had expected to be anywhere like this. Actually, none of them were sure what kind of place it was.

"Are you sure we didn't make a wrong turn?" asked Buffy.

"Nope," said Willow. "This is the spot. Bob was very specific."

"There's something familiar about all this," said Xander. "I'm not sure what it is yet, but..."

"All right, you kids, let's get this show on the road," said a whiny, nasal-sounding voice with a New York accent. The three teenagers turned to see a tired-looking older man walk up to them. He wore a red and black plaid shirt and vest, with a tool belt around the waist of his jeans. A dilapidated headset was perched around his ears.

"Who are you?" Buffy demanded.

"The name's Ewidge. Ross Ewidge. I'm the guy they sent to keep you kids in line," the man said. "It's bad enough I gotta come out of retirement, and we gotta haul all this stuff out of mothballs. Let's just do this bit so we can all go home."

He said something into the mouthpiece of his headset and walked off into the darkness that surrounded the platform. The teenagers could make out a set of TV cameras just outside the lighted area. After a moment, Ross came back and stood next to the center camera. He listened to something on his headset, then pointed at Buffy. "And CUE!" he said.

"Cue?" said Buffy. "What, I'm supposed to talk to that camera? Why do I have to do that when this is a written story?"

"Just say your lines," Ross ordered. "We ain't got all day."

Buffy looked at Willow and Xander. Both shrugged.

"Okay," said Buffy. She cleared her throat, then began. "Um, the story you're reading, The Night of 100 Stars, is the sole creation of Robert A. Black."

"Who's that?" asked Xander.

"That's Bob," said Willow. "You know, the guy who wrote the story? The guy we're working with?"

"Oh, yeah," said Xander. "Nobody ever calls him that, so I kind of got confused."

"He says his name looks better in print that way," Willow explained.

"Excuse me," said Buffy, "can I get on with my part?"

Willow and Xander yielded the floor to the Slayer again.

"Anyway, as I was saying," Buffy continued, "there are a lot of guest characters in this story..."

"Boy, I'll say," said Willow. Buffy glared at her. "But I won't right now," Willow added meekly.

Undaunted, Buffy went on. "Despite the large guest cast, this is still supposed to be a Buffy the Vampire Slayer story, and that means the main characters and the primary setting..."

"That's us," Xander chipped in.

"The main characters and the primary setting," Buffy said through clenched teeth, determined to go on, "are the creation and property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy Productions, 20th Century Fox and the WB Network."

Buffy fell silent and turned to Xander. He stood there looking at her for a moment.

"What?" said Buffy. "You interrupt me every five seconds, and now that it's your turn you become silence boy?"

"Oh, sorry," said Xander. Turning to face the cameras, he recited, "As Buffy said, there are a lot of guest characters in this story. They're the creation and property of other people and organizations, including..."

Xander stopped for a moment, trying to remember what to say next. Ross cleared his throat, trying to get Xander's attention. Xander looked over and saw an enormous cue card, with dozens of names written on it in barely readable text.

"I've got to read all that?" Xander exclaimed. "You're kidding me! Why did you write them so small?"

"Hey!" said Ross. "Don't tell me how to write a cue card. Do I tell you how to do your job?"

"Well, yeah. Actually, you do," Xander replied, "since you're a director and all."

"Then why aren't you listening?" Ross demanded. "Just read the lines!"

"I'll bet half of those people are dead anyway," said Xander. "Who's going to care?"

"The people may be dead," said Willow, "but lawyers are forever."

Xander turned back to the camera. "Look," he said, "let's just say there are a lot of people out there who can claim these characters and leave it at that. Okay? I mean, Bob's not doing this for money anyway, so what difference does it make? Let's just enjoy the story and have a good laugh about the whole thing."

"Well, that was a bit unorthodox," said Buffy, "but I think they'll buy it." She turned to Willow. "Okay, Will. Your turn next."

"Oh, yeah," said Willow. "Right. Me."

Trying not to let stage fright get the better of her, she turned to the camera and said, "If you'd like to know more about all these characters and where they came from, Bob says he's going to provide a Readers' Guide that'll explain everything, complete with a running count of the characters who appear. Look for it at the end of each chapter."

"That was it?" said Xander. "How come Willow just got that little part and I was supposed to read out all those names?"

"Bob said something about not wanting me to throw up all over the Link Set," Willow replied.

"The what?" Buffy asked.

"Of course!" Xander exclaimed. "Now I know what this place is. It's the Link Set from that old TV show, You Can't Do That On Television. I remember Bob saying he used to write for them."

"Well, there's one mystery solved," said Buffy.

"Hey, guys," Xander went on. "As long as we're here, you've got to be careful that you don't say 'I don't know,' because if you do..."

Suddenly, a large mass of green glop rained down on Xander from the catwalks. He was completely covered within seconds.

"Yeah," said Xander, spitting green slime as he talked. "That's what happens all right."

"Xander, are you okay?" asked Willow.

"No problem," Xander replied. "If Alanis Morissette could take it, so can I."

"Okay, that's it!" said Ross. "You kids are finished here. It's bad enough I had to do this bit. Now I gotta clean up as well. Go on, get out! And believe me, it's gonna be even longer before we ever do something like this again!"

And now, on to our story...

Readers' Guide

(Numbers in parentheses indicate the running count of characters for the entire story.)

Buffy Summers (1), Willow Rosenberg (2) and Alexander "Xander" Harris (3) - The three principle characters on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy is the Slayer (of course), while Willow and Xander are her two best friends.

Ross Ewidge (4) - The fictitious Studio Director for the Nickelodeon series, You Can't Do That On Television. Like all the other adult male characters in the series (and a few of the female ones, too), he was played by the very talented actor Les Lye.

"If Alanis Morissette could take it, so can I." - Rock star Alanis Morissette was a You Can't Do That On Television cast member for five episodes in 1986, when she was 11 to 12 years old. She got hit with the show's trademark "Green Slime" exactly once - in the "Music" episode, which was written by yours truly.

Chapter 1 "Arrivals"

It was not a dark and stormy night. There's no such thing in a town named Sunnydale. It was dark, but the air was calm and still, just like almost any other spring night - or almost any summer, fall or winter night as well.

At Sunnydale High School, things were quiet. It was not yet time for the crowning of the May Queen and other associated spring activities. The entire student body seemed to be gathering its strength for the whirlwind of events that would accompany the end of the school year.

As a result, no one was around when the tranquillity of the night was broken by a mysterious wheezing and groaning sound that seemed to come from nowhere. A bright blue flashing light appeared in midair at the front entrance to Sunnydale High. Within seconds, a large blue box materialized beneath the light. The box was slightly larger than a telephone booth, with double doors on one side. The words "POLICE PUBLIC CALL BOX" were written across the top of all four sides. After a few moments, the wheezing and groaning sound stopped, and the light on top of the box went out. The mysterious box stood alone in front of the school.

The doors opened, and a young woman stepped out. She was rather small, with short blonde hair and strangely shaped ears that gave her a distinctly elfin appearance. She seemed rather uncomfortable with her clothing, pink striped overalls and a red long-sleeved T-shirt, as if they weren't her usual attire. She also seemed confused by the sight of her surroundings. Glancing back into the box, she called, "Doctor? Aren't you coming?"

A tall bald man stepped out of the box and joined her. He wore a garishly multi-colored jacket over baggy checked trousers and a white shirt that had question marks on the collars. A stalk of celery was pinned to the jacket's lapel, and a long maroon scarf was wrapped around the man's neck. "Kes," he asked, "are you sure about all this? I look ridiculous!"

"I researched the historical database quite thoroughly," Kes replied. "I never expected Earth's literature to have a nameless character who was a Doctor, so when I accidentally found one, I tried to learn everything I could about him."

"And so this holonovel is supposed to be a recreation of this nameless Doctor's adventures."

"I thought you might like having a literary figure you could relate to," said Kes.

"All right, then," said the Doctor. "What am I supposed to do?"

"I'm not sure," Kes replied. "This doesn't look like the setting for any of the stories I researched. Usually the Doctor and his companions landed on an alien planet that looked remarkably like a rock quarry in someplace called Great Britain."

"We obviously aren't in a place like that," said the Doctor, looking around. "Perhaps the program is malfunctioning."

"Maybe," admitted Kes. "Then again, the Doctor's ship was supposed to be unpredictable. Maybe the program just has a random scenario generation subroutine."

The Doctor considered the possibility. "Well," he said with a shrug, "if that's the case, then I suppose it wouldn't hurt to look around." He glanced over and saw the school. "My guess is that we should explore this building first. The start of our adventure is probably waiting inside."

"You're the Doctor," said Kes with a smile. She stepped aside and allowed the Doctor to pass, falling in behind him as they went to seek out whatever dangers awaited them.

***

"I can't believe you actually wanted to come along."

The halls of Sunnydale High may have been quiet, but they weren't totally deserted. In fact, in addition to the occasional janitor busily preparing the building for the next day, there were two sophomore girls, Buffy Summers and her friend Willow Rosenberg, walking purposefully toward the school library.

"I mean, I had to come tonight," Buffy continued. "You must have better things to do."

"I already finished my homework," replied Willow. "And Xander can't make it to the Bronze until later. I figured you'd be finished by then and we could go together."

"You mean you don't want to spend some quality time with Xander on your own?" Buffy asked.

Willow hesitated before replying. Her long-unrequited affection for their friend Xander Harris was well known - to Buffy, anyway. What Buffy didn't realize was that these days, any "quality time" Willow spent alone with Xander would probably be filled with Xander asking how much longer he had to wait for Buffy to arrive.

"I'd, uh, rather see what you and Giles are up to," Willow said at last. "It sounded interesting."

"If you say so," Buffy replied. "I don't see what's so interesting about some weird kind of meditation technique. Giles says developing a spirit of tranquillity will help me 'hone my talents.' Do you think I can learn tranquillity in half an hour?"

Willow smiled to herself. Rupert Giles, the school librarian, was also Buffy's "Watcher," a mentor who helped Buffy develop the skills that came with her birthright as the Slayer, the one girl of her generation with the strength and skill to hunt vampires. Unfortunately, the Watcher and the Slayer did not always see eye to eye on the best way to develop those skills.

"Let me put it this way," said Willow. "If I get bored, I'm sure I'll have plenty of time to debug the new catalog search program that Giles refuses to go near."

Willow was about to continue her commentary on the librarian's computer phobia when she realized that Buffy was no longer listening. In fact, Buffy was no longer walking, either, and Willow had to stop short to avoid running into her.

"What is it?" Willow asked.

"There's something here," Buffy replied in a hushed tone.

"Vampires?" Willow asked, her eyes growing large.

Buffy shook her head. "It's something different. I can't tell what, but it's not normal."

Willow wished this was happening after Buffy's lesson of the evening, not before it. Buffy might have a better sense of what was wrong that way. As it was, both girls had to look around the hallway, trying to find something amiss.

Willow saw it first. "Buffy," she said, growing alarmed, "don't look now, but there's a puddle following us."

Buffy turned and saw it as well. A large puddle of silvery liquid was oozing its way down the hall, following the girls. As they turned, it seemed to notice them. To their great amazement, the puddle abruptly stopped and went back the way it came, disappearing around a corner.

"What was that?" Willow cried. Buffy didn't wait to reply. She charged after the puddle, and Willow had to hurry to keep up.

The girls ran around the corner and stopped abruptly. Two other teenage girls stood in their path, looking around the hallway in confusion. They both startled as Buffy and Willow ran up to them. Willow let out a startled yelp of her own.

"Wha... who are you?" demanded Buffy. Willow thought Buffy might have said it a bit too harshly. There was nothing about the girls that looked too unusual, except for the fact that the younger girl was wearing a thick stocking cap despite the warm California weather.

The younger girl spoke up. "I... I'm Alex Mack," she stammered. "This is my sister Annie. We didn't mean to scare you. We just... uh, we just got lost."

"Yeah," said Annie. "We were looking for the chemistry lab, but I guess we made a wrong turn."

"I'll say," agreed Alex. "This doesn't even look like Paradise Valley High."

"Paradise Valley?" Willow exclaimed. "That's clear on the other side of LA. You're in Sunnydale."

"Sunnydale?" the Mack sisters cried together.

"I don't even know where that is," Alex added.

"How did you get here?" Buffy asked.

The sisters looked at each other for a moment, deciding which one would answer. "It's a really long story," Annie finally said. "You'd probably be bored by it."

Buffy shrugged. "Well, if you need help getting home, I'm sure we can find someone to..."

"No, no, that's okay," Annie assured them. "We, uh, we have a ride."

"All right," said Buffy. "By the way, you two didn't happen to see a puddle of..." She stopped herself, not quite sure how to describe the puddle they had been chasing without sounding out of her mind.

"A puddle of what?" asked Alex, looking suspiciously innocent.

"Nothing," said Buffy. "Never mind. I hope you get home all right."

Buffy turned back to Willow, and the two girls resumed their walk to the library. Behind them, the Mack sisters turned and went the other way. Willow could have sworn she heard them talking about sewer systems and wrong turns through pumping stations.

***

Giles gave the girls one of his sternest looks as they entered the library. "I suppose you have a reason for being late," he said to Buffy.

"Believe me," said Buffy, "when you hear about what we saw, you're not going to care about training tonight."

Naturally, Giles suspected that Buffy was merely trying to distract him. A quick recounting of the girls' encounter soon changed his mind. "A living puddle," he said, contemplating the possibilities as Buffy and Willow finished their story.

"It had to be alive," said Buffy. "It knew when we saw it."

"And these two girls from north of Los Angeles just happened to be in the very place where you expected to find the puddle," said Giles, wanting to be sure he had the story straight.

"That's right," Willow confirmed. "You don't suppose they had anything to do with it, do you?"

"Right now, I don't know what to think," Giles admitted. "I suppose one of my books might offer some clues..."

Before Giles could go to his books, though, the library doors opened and two new strangers, a bald man and a young woman, entered the room. Buffy took one look at the way they were dressed and decided that tonight was definitely some kind of freak season. Giles would have to warn her the next time one of those was due to come up.

"Ah," said the bald man, "you must be the people who are in need of my heroic assistance." Indicating the woman, he added, "This is my friend Kes, and I - "

Buffy could have sworn the man was making a dramatic pause.

" - am the Doctor."

"I beg your pardon?" said Giles.

***

"Okay," Buffy said to the Doctor, "let me see if I've got this straight. You and your little elf-friend are travelers from another planet, and you've come here to help us solve the mystery of the smart silver puddle."

"That about sums it up," the Doctor replied.

"I thought beings from another planet wouldn't look like us," said Willow. "I always read that they'd look really strange." She considered the Doctor's appearance, then quickly corrected herself. "Well, stranger, anyway."

The Doctor turned to Kes and took her aside. "They don't seem very receptive to our presence," he told her. "Are you sure this program's running correctly?"

"The people the Doctor encountered didn't always believe him right away," Kes assured him. "Maybe if you help find out what this puddle they saw was..."

"I've been thinking about that. It definitely sounds like a Changeling to me."

"Doctor, the holonovel wouldn't use a species that was known to Starfleet," Kes reminded him.

Behind them, Giles was returning from the stacks, carrying several books. "I'm afraid we'll have to do a bit of digging," he said. "There's nothing in my books of lore that pertains directly to intelligent liquids, but there might be something in the ancient texts on..."

"Excuse me," snapped the Doctor, a bit irritated, "but I think you're wasting your time looking in those books. I'm obviously more qualified to handle the situation. Your best course of action would be for me to go out and find this being myself."

Now it was Giles's turn to be irritated. "And just what makes you believe you could do any better than we could?"

"Because," the Doctor insisted, "I'm the Doctor."

"You may be a Doctor," said a new voice, deep and resonant with a British accent, "but I'm the Doctor. The genuine article, you might say."

Everyone in the library turned toward the entrance and saw two new arrivals, another man and another woman, standing in the doorway. The man was very tall and had bulging eyes and a tangled mop of curly brown hair. He wore a large overcoat and a multi-colored scarf the same length as the Doctor's. The woman was dressed only in a skimpy outfit made of animal skins.

"Doctor, that man has a scarf just like yours," said the woman. The Doctor didn't know why the woman would be addressing him. He was surprised to discover that she was speaking to the tall man instead.

"Yes," said the tall man as he walked up to the Doctor. "He's obviously been researching my taste in clothing, more or less..." Turning to Kes, he added, "and his friend seems to have gotten some fashion tips from an old acquaintance of mine." He turned back to the Doctor and looked him straight in the eye. "But clothes don't necessarily make the man - or, in this case, the Time Lord."

"This has gone far enough!" the Doctor exclaimed. Speaking to the air around him, he shouted, "Computer, freeze program!"

There was a long pause, during which everyone around the Doctor began to give him dubious looks. Even more frustrated, the Doctor shouted, "End program!" The library stubbornly remained unchanged.

"Um, is something supposed to be happening?" asked Buffy. "Because the only thing I see is you losing your mind really fast."

The Doctor turned to Kes in exasperation. "What's going on?" he asked her. "Is this some sort of malfunction?"

"I'm afraid it's even more serious than that," said yet another new voice, this one with a Scottish burr.

"Now what?" cried Willow. The group turned back to the entrance and saw yet another pair of new arrivals - a little man who wore a Panama hat and carried an umbrella with a question-mark shaped handle, and a teenage girl who carried a canvas rucksack and wore a black bomber jacket that was covered with a variety of patches and badges.

"Hey, Professor," said the girl, also with some kind of British accent, "why is there an elf here dressed like Andy Pandy?"

"That, my dear girl," replied the tall, curly-haired man, "is exactly what I was trying to find out." He walked over to the shorter man, seeming to recognize him. "You probably already know I'm the third regeneration," he said. "Which one are you?"

"Sixth," the little man answered.

"Ah, so there are seven of me now."

"At least," said the little man. Eyeing the Doctor, he added, "but I don't think he's one of us."

"This has gone far enough," cried Giles. "It's long past time all of you told me who you were."

The tall man turned back to face the group. "It's quite simple, really," he said. "I'm the Doctor - the fourth one, to be precise." Introducing his companion, he added, "This is my friend Leela."

"And I," said the little man, "am also the Doctor - the seventh one." Indicating the girl, he added, "And this is my friend Ace."

"This is impossible," said the Doctor. "You can't be the Doctor. I'm the Doctor."

"Gee, and I thought I'd gotten too old to play 'Which of these things is not like the others?'" quipped Willow.

"Doctor," said Kes, "I know it sounds incredible, but both these men really are the Doctor - the characters I saw during my research."

"How is that possible?" the Doctor asked. "Are you suggesting the holodeck has added these characters to the program by itself?"

"That would be a reasonable explanation," said the Seventh Doctor, "if you were still on a holodeck. Unfortunately, you're not. I can assure you this is all very real."

"It can't be," the Doctor insisted. "If we're not on a holodeck, then I shouldn't be able to exist."

"It's obviously a side-effect of the multiversal interface that's happening around us," said the Seventh Doctor.

"The multi-what?" asked Buffy.

"A multiversal interface?" the Fourth Doctor repeated. "Are you sure?"

"Not yet," said the Seventh Doctor, "but all the signs point to it."

"Point to what?" Buffy asked again, growing annoyed.

"A convergence point," said the Fourth Doctor. "One where different alternative time-streams collide. Unfortunately, they almost always have an unnatural cause."

"You mean somebody brought you all here on purpose?" asked Willow.

"Exactly," said the Seventh Doctor. "And whoever it is, we have to find them and stop them before it's too late."


Readers' Guide

(Numbers in parentheses indicate the running count of characters for the entire story.)

The Doctor (5) - Chief Medical Officer in the series Star Trek: Voyager. He's some kind of holographic projection, not a human being, and he doesn't have a name. He is played by Robert Picardo.

Kes (6) - The medical assistant and best friend of the Doctor during the first three seasons of Star Trek: Voyager. She was played by Jennifer Lien. The fact that Kes's hair is short indicates that, from their point of view, the time is before the episode "Before and After."

The Doctor and Kes believe that they are acting out a holographic adventure based on the TV series Doctor Who. Kes is dressed like the character Sarah Jane Smith in the episode "The Hand of Fear." The Doctor's outfit is a hodgepodge of items worn by the seven actors who played the title character during the run of the series. The blue Police Box represents the TARDIS, the time-space ship that was used throughout the series.

Alex Mack (7) and Annie Mack (8) - Two characters from the Nickelodeon series, The Secret World of Alex Mack. Alex was accidentally contaminated with a secret chemical that gives her a number of amazing powers, including the ability to "morph" herself and the people or things touching her into a liquid form. Annie is Alex's older sister. She's also a chemistry genius. Alex is played by Larisa Oleynik, while Annie is played by Meredith Bishop.

Rupert Giles (9) - The Sunnydale High librarian and Buffy's "Watcher."

The Fourth Doctor (10) - As is mentioned above, there were seven actors who played the title role in the BBC series, Doctor Who. The Doctor is a Time Lord, which means he can "regenerate" through a total of thirteen lifetimes. The one with the curly brown hair and the scarf was the Fourth Doctor. He was played by Tom Baker from 1974 to 1981.

Leela (11) - One of the Doctor's many companions. She had been a member of a primitive warrior tribe on a planet the Doctor visited, but she decided to go traveling in the TARDIS instead. She was played by Louise Jameson.

The Seventh Doctor (12) - The Doctor with the Panama hat and the umbrella was the Seventh Doctor. He was played by Sylvester McCoy from 1987 to 1989, and again in the 1996 FOX TV movie.

Ace (13) - Another of the Doctor's companions. Her real name is Dorothy. She was a troubled English teen from Perivale until a time storm swept her to the planet Svartos. That's where she met the Doctor and decided to travel with him. She was played by Sophie Aldred.

Chapter 2 "All Roads Lead to Sunnydale"

The streets of Sunnydale were rarely busy. There weren't that many places for people to go, and most of the places were so close together that people didn't bother driving between them. Thus it was no surprise to anyone, if anyone had been watching, that the rental car pulling into town was all alone on the road.

The car pulled over to the curb, and its driver rolled down the window to get a better look at the town. The driver's all-American looks and drab sense of fashion immediately gave away the fact that he was a government employee. An FBI Agent, to be precise.

"This is it," he said to the red-haired woman sitting in the passenger seat. "Not very impressive for a center of mystical convergence. You'd think they'd have at least put up some signs."

"I did warn you, Mulder," the woman said. "Maybe next time you won't pay so much attention to anonymous e-mails."

"It wasn't just the e-mail," Fox Mulder insisted. "You saw the articles that came with it, Scully. Cheerleaders bursting into flames. Principals being eaten. Mysterious creatures being killed on-stage at a talent show. How do you explain events like that?"

"Mulder, those were articles from the high school paper," Dana Scully pointed out. "Teenagers are notorious for exaggerating facts, and that's when they don't just make things up outright. You should have seen some of the stories I wrote for my high school paper."

"Why, Scully, you little devil."

Scully arched an eyebrow at her partner, but said nothing. Mulder opened the car door and stepped out onto the street. "As long as we're here, we might as well take a look around," he said. "We'll probably even have time to take in the sights. All two of them."

Scully rolled her eyes and got out of the car. As she followed Mulder down the street, she couldn't help wishing that just once she had let her partner go on one of his wild goose chases alone.

***

Several hundred miles away, another car sped down an equally deserted road. Another man and another woman rode inside.

At least, they used to be a man and a woman.

Driving across the Great Plains was no job for any intelligent vampire, Spike thought grimly. The flat terrain offered no protection from the daytime sun. The sparse population offered too few places to stop, and too few hitchhikers to snack on. Only a foolish vampire would try to make such a journey.

A foolish vampire, or a vampire on a quest.

"Spike?" came the small, weak voice from beside him. Spike glanced over at his paramour, Drusilla, who was looking out the car window as she spoke to him. "Do you think the cows would answer us if we stopped to talk with them? Would they sing to us in their low, soft voices?" She turned her head as if to follow one cow in particular as it receded into the distance. "Mooooo," she said quietly.

Spike shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Drusilla had been mad since before she became a vampire. After the nasty business in Prague, she had become dangerously weak as well. That was his quest - to find some way of restoring her to health. Sometimes he thought he had do it before she drove him mad as well.

"Darling, I don't think any of the cows will answer," Spike told her. "After all, they're not very smart, are they?"

"Perhaps the cows aren't what they seem," Drusilla replied. "Maybe they're visitors from other worlds, like the people who've come to Sunnydale."

Spike slammed on his brakes and brought the car to a halt. Drusilla was a seer. He'd made use of her visions on many occasions. The trouble was, her madness made the visions unpredictable. He never knew when she would have another one. "Sunnywhere?" he asked her.

"Sunnydale. People from all over are gathering at the Mouth of Hell. It'll be quite a party. Ever so fancy."

The Mouth of Hell. Spike had heard of it. It was a source of great power, but it was also a great danger. The last vampire who had tried to tap its energy hadn't been heard from in decades. But if something was happening there, perhaps there would be enough power left over to suit his needs. And if there wasn't enough left over - well, Spike had ways of making sure that there was.

"Sunnydale, you say, love?" he said to Drusilla. She nodded vacantly but said nothing. "Well, then," Spike continued, "we'll just have to join the fun. You know I wouldn't want you to miss out."

With that, Spike started the car again and drove off. He would have to find out exactly where Sunnydale was, of course. Probably quite a distance. But if it was as powerful as he believed, the trip would be worth it.

***

"This is well weird."

The girl who called herself Ace - she even had the name stitched in large letters on the back of her jacket, just in case anyone forgot - joined Buffy near the library computer terminal. Buffy may not have been familiar with the girl's way of talking, but she certainly shared the sentiment.

After several minutes of confusion, the library's many visitors were finally sorting themselves out. The Fourth and Seventh Doctors had explained that they were actually two different incarnations of the same being's thirteen-life span existence. Buffy didn't really understand that explanation, but if it made them happy, she wasn't going to worry about it.

Meanwhile, Willow had agreed to take the woman Leela off to find some more normal-looking clothes. Buffy was glad Xander hadn't been around to see Leela's jungle-girl garb. The boy wouldn't have been able to stop drooling, at least until Leela cut his tongue off with that large knife she was carrying.

As for the rest of the group, they were gathered around Giles as he pored over one of his books, looking for some explanation for the night's strange events.

"This town," Giles explained, "sits on a center of mystical convergence, a point where our Earth intersects the realm of the demons. I knew it had an effect on the local area, but I didn't think it extended to other worlds and other times."

"That doesn't explain how the Doctors can be here," said Kes. Looking at the Fourth and Seventh Doctors, she continued, "You're fictional characters in our world. I read about you in our ship's database. How can you exist in reality?"

"That's simply an example of the Heinlein effect," the Fourth Doctor replied. "If you assume that there are an infinite number of universes - or quite a lot of them, anyway - it only stands to reason that people who are fictional in some timelines are completely real in others."

"But that doesn't explain how I can exist here," objected the Doctor - the bald Doctor, that is, or the holographic one, as he had referred to himself. Buffy thought of him as the Doctor, despite what anyone else said, since he hadn't given himself a number. The man had somehow managed to change his clothes without anyone noticing. He now wore a black jumpsuit with blue shoulders instead of the bizarre outfit he was wearing when he arrived.

"I'm simply a projection of energy inside a magnetic containment field," the Doctor was saying. "A projection can't exist without some kind of projector around, and I left my portable emitter back on the ship."

"And yet you're still intact," noted the Seventh Doctor. "Clearly, whoever is responsible for our being here has a great deal of power."

"We've seen the Hellmouth cause a number of remarkable events," said Giles. "Perhaps the Master has found a way to - "

"The Master?" the Fourth and Seventh Doctors said simultaneously.

"Yes," Giles replied. "A very old and powerful vampire who's trapped in the Hellmouth. I was going to suggest that he was behind all this."

The Fourth and Seventh Doctors both appeared to relax, although Buffy didn't understand how the news that there was a vampire nearby could be so comforting.

"I rather think our culprit isn't from around here," said the Seventh Doctor. "Somehow I doubt a trapped vampire would be able to reach so far beyond your world."

"When you say 'not from around here,'" said Buffy, "you mean really not from around here." She pointed toward the ceiling. "As in, 'out there.'"

"'Out there' isn't such a bad place, really," said the Fourth Doctor. "Oh, it's dull in spots, but it's got a lot of bits that are quite interesting."

"I'm sure it does," said Giles, "but that doesn't help with our current problem. We need to find out what's happening before it happens again. I don't know how many more universes this library can handle."

"I hope we haven't arrived too late," said a new voice from the library entrance.

"Not again!" cried Buffy. She turned to see the new visitors - and suddenly stopped dead. The man who had spoken looked like an average person, from somewhere in the Middle East, she guessed. His companion, however, was definitely from someplace a lot farther away. The creature's skin was covered with scales, and his neck made him look like a large snake. Both the man and the creature were wearing tuxedos.

Concerned that snake-man was actually a demon, Buffy hurried over to the newcomers, prepared for battle. Much to her surprise, the snake-man's friend greeted her warmly. "My dear girl," he said, "I was hoping I'd find you here."

As Buffy looked at him in confusion, the man took her by the hand. "You're a bit younger than I expected - but I'm sure we'll get along famously anyway." He held her hand to his lips and kissed it, all the while giving her a look that made it very clear just how "famously" he expected them to get along.

This was simply too much. Buffy jerked her hand down quickly, then brought it back up, right into the man's nose. As he staggered backwards, she grabbed him by the arm and flipped him. His reptilian companion looked shocked, but somehow mildly amused, as the man tumbled to the floor.

Buffy turned to faced the snake-man, quickly taking a fighting stance. "Don't even think about getting your turn," she warned him.

"Ow!" said the man, still lying on the floor. "Computer, freeze program!"

"What did you say?" said Giles.

"Do all you people talk like that?" asked Buffy.

"Computer, end program!" shouted the man as he sat up.

"Doctor," said the snake-man, "I don't think that's going to work."

"Don't tell me he's a Doctor, too," said Buffy.

By now, the holographic Doctor had come to the man's assistance. A look of recognition spread across his face. "Doctor Julian Bashir?" he asked. "It is you, isn't it? I've read your paper on subconscious mental activity in artificial life forms. It was most illuminating."

Bashir looked up and seemed to recognize the Doctor as well. "Doctor Zimmerman?" he asked.

"I'm afraid not," said the Doctor. "I'm one of his Emergency Medical Holographic Programs. The one assigned to the starship Voyager, to be precise."

"Voyager?" Bashir exclaimed. "She's been missing for years."

"Yes, well that's a bit of a complicated story..."

"But if you're here," Bashir went on, "then we're still on a holodeck, aren't we?"

"Well, no," said the Doctor. "That's also a complicated story."

Bashir turned to look at Buffy as he stood up. Realization was dawning on his face. "Then you're a... a real person."

"What did you think I was?" Buffy asked.

Bashir suddenly looked tremendously embarrassed. "Oh, my God," he stammered. "I am so sorry. I... I don't really act like that, you know. It was just a game, you see. I was role-playing, acting as... as..." His face flushed, as if he wasn't expecting his explanation to get him out of trouble. "I was pretending to be a Secret Agent."

"A role Doctor Bashir still has much to learn about," said the snake-man. "I wish I had some advice to give him, but I really don't engage in such interesting activities."

"And you are?" Buffy asked, still eyeing him suspiciously.

"My name is Garak," the snake-man answered. "I'm Doctor Bashir's tailor."

"So you're not a demon?" Buffy said, pressing the issue.

"He's a Cardassian," the Doctor replied. "Although there are some people who would say that's the same thing."

"This is most peculiar," said Giles, joining the discussion. "You mean you all know each other?"

"We're from the same time period, and the same universe," said the Doctor, "but my ship is lost on the other side of the galaxy from where they are."

"And over here," Giles continued, turning back to the Fourth and Seventh Doctors, "we have two incarnations of the same person. I'm beginning to believe that whatever force brought you all here isn't random."

"But why would anyone want to bring us all together?" asked Kes. "Who would even be powerful enough to know we all existed, in all our different universes and time periods?"

"I don't know," said Giles, "but we're going to need to use that same kind of power if we want to get you all home. I doubt some of you will be able to remain in our world for long without drawing attention."

"MISTER GILES!" shouted yet another new voice. Unlike the evening's other arrivals, though, this one was all too familiar.

Giles winced as Principal Snyder walked into the library. He charged straight past the motley crew of visitors, apparently oblivious to the fact that there were alien beings in the group.

"Is there something I can do for you, sir?" Giles asked, trying to look as innocent as possible under the circumstances.

"I see we're having a small after-hours get-together this evening," Synder said accusingly. "It wouldn't have been too much trouble to notify me in advance, would it?"

"Well, sir, I'm afraid things happened, um, rather at the last minute."

"I don't like surprises in my school," Snyder retorted. "The children are already undisciplined and unpredictable enough without the faculty joining in. I don't want to see this kind of thing happening again."

"Believe me, sir," Giles replied, "neither do I."

"Keep it that way," Synder ordered. "And if you are going to have any pre-arranged visitors, make sure they know the proper rules of conduct on school grounds. On my way here, I ran into some big, ugly person who wouldn't stop talking. He kept asking me where the local bar was, as if I would know something like that."

"Morn!" cried Bashir. "I was wondering where he'd gone."

Snyder turned toward Bashir. "He's your friend?"

"He, uh, came here with us," Bashir replied.

"He did?" said Garak, obviously surprised.

"Well, with Chief O'Brien on Bajor, I needed someone else to play Falcon..."

"Excuse me," said Snyder. "Let's stick to my original point. If he's your friend, I expect you to keep him in line."

"Certainly, sir," Bashir promised. He looked Snyder in the eye for the first time, and suddenly looked puzzled. "By the way," he said, "this may seem like a strange question, but do I know you?"

"Don't be ridiculous," scoffed Snyder. He turned to leave, but Giles stopped him.

"One more thing, sir, if you don't mind," said Giles. "You don't seem particularly alarmed by the, uh... rather interesting looking people who are here tonight. I was wondering..."

"Mister Giles," Snyder replied, "even though I've only been the Principal for a short time, by now there's nothing I can see here that would alarm me."

He turned and left. Garak watched him go, then turned to Giles. "And you were saying something about our drawing attention?" he quipped.


Readers' Guide

(Numbers in parentheses indicate the running count of characters for the entire story.)

Fox Mulder (14) and Dana Scully (15) - The two lead characters from the FOX series, The X-Files. They're FBI Agents who investigate unusual phenomena. Mulder is played by David Duchovny, and Scully is played by Gillian Anderson.

Spike (16) and Drusilla (17) - Two of Buffy's enemies in the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Since this story takes place at the end of the first season, they haven't reached Sunnydale yet.

The holographic Doctor's clothes - Since the Doctor is a hologram, he can wear whatever he wants whenever he wants. He has therefore made the very prudent decision to wear his Starfleet uniform instead of the Doctor Who apparel.

Julian Bashir (18) and Elim Garak (19) - Two characters from the series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Bashir is the Chief Medical Officer. Garak is a Cardassian who used to belong to his government's ultra-secret "Obsidian Order," but has since been exiled. Bashir is played by Alexander Siddig (formerly Siddig el Fadil), while Garak is played by Andrew Robinson.

Like the Doctor and Kes before them, Bashir and Garak arrive thinking they're in the middle of a holodeck adventure. In their case, they're playing a Secret Agent game based on the James Bond adventures of the 1960's.

"Doctor Zimmerman?" - Bashir has mistaken the Doctor for his creator, Louis Zimmerman. The two men met in the Deep Space Nine episode, "Doctor Bashir, I Presume?"

Principal Snyder (20) - The man in charge at Sunnydale High.

Morn - A large, ugly alien who hangs around on the Deep Space Nine station without saying or doing much of anything. Apparently Bashir and Garak recruited him to substitute for their friend Miles O'Brien in their game, and now he's wandering around Sunnydale.

"Do I know you?" - Principal Snyder is played by Armin Shimmerman, who also plays a Ferengi bartender named Quark on Deep Space Nine.

Chapter 3 "Many Meetings"

Willow was late.

Any ordinary teenager stuck waiting for his best friend might be annoyed, or might simply go on and have a good time on his own. But Xander Harris knew what being late could mean when you lived on the Hellmouth, and when your friend lived on the Hellmouth, and when you knew that your friend knew that both of you lived on the Hellmouth. And so while Xander was a bit annoyed, and did think about going on and having a good time on his own, he couldn't help wondering and worrying about what might be holding Willow up.

From where Xander waited outside the Bronze, things certainly seemed normal. The usual crowd of Sunnydale youth was inside, enjoying the evening. There didn't appear to be any undead beasts roaming near the building. Maybe there was no reason to worry, Xander thought. Willow was probably wrapped up in a long on-line conversation, or waiting for Buffy to finish whatever Giles was making her do.

Xander's ruminations were suddenly interrupted by sounds of a scuffle. Someone, or something, was involved in a fight behind the club.

Any ordinary teenager who heard a fight break out near him would probably try not to get involved, especially when that teenager knew, as Xander knew, what sort of unearthly beings you could be fighting when you lived on the Hellmouth. But Xander was a friend of Sunnydale's best defender against whatever the Hellmouth had to throw at them. At the very least, it was his job to find out what was going on so that he could summon help if it was needed.

Xander crept around the corner of the building, careful to avoid being seen. Sure enough, two figures were involved in a fierce struggle. Xander drew closer, trying to see if he recognized either one. Much to his surprise, he did. One of the figures was Angel, a supposedly "good" vampire who had helped Buffy in the past - and, much to Xander's dismay, was also the object of Buffy's affection.

Angel's face showed its full vampirish nature. The battle must be a fierce one, Xander thought as he drew still closer. Even more amazing was the fact that Angel appeared to be losing. Xander couldn't help wondering who - or what - was capable of beating someone like him. The streetlights were few and far apart, making it difficult for Xander to see Angel's opponent.

Finally, the unknown figure stepped out of the shadows. He wasn't a large man, and he wore strange loose-fitting clothes, almost like robes. The figure's head was strangest of all. The man, if he was a man, was completely bald, and his ears where shrunken and shoved down low on the sides of his head, apparently so they wouldn't be covered by a bizarre bone-like shell that covered the back of his head and crested in a series of points at the top.

Xander gasped, unable to contain his surprise at the sight of Angel's adversary. The vampire heard him and turned away from the fight, just for a moment. It was all his attacker needed. With incredible speed, the strange figure dealt Angel a series of blows that knocked the vampire to the ground for good.

Realizing that it was no longer a good time to stick around, Xander turned and tried to return to the front of the Bronze. He only made it a few steps when he found himself pinned to the wall of the building. Another man had appeared from nowhere, catching him off guard.

"Going somewhere, are we?" said the man. He spoke with a British accent, and in the dim light he at least appeared to be human. As Xander's eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see that the man had long black hair and a full beard. His clothes were similar in style to the ones the bone-headed man wore, but they were charcoal colored. The man wore an odd-shaped pin on his chest.

"Me?" Xander gasped. "I wasn't really going anywhere. Just inside the club, here. Nothing to worry about. I'm just an average, everyday teenager, looking to have some fun."

"You're not one of them, are you?" said the man, indicating Angel's unconscious form.

"Them? No, of course not. Just look at his face. No resemblance here."

The bone-headed man joined them. "The others have gone for now, Marcus," he said. "But I can't help thinking they may return."

"Others?" Xander asked, despite himself. "There are more vampires out tonight?"

"Vampires? What do you know about vampires?" demanded Marcus, pressing Xander against the wall even harder.

"Look, I could tell you a lot more if you put me down," Xander said in a strangled voice.

Marcus considered the idea, then relented and relaxed his grip. "All right," he said, "you can start by telling us where we are. Then you can move on to the vampires."

"I'm easy," said Xander. "Where you are is Sunnydale, California."

"Sunnydale, California, as in planet Earth?" Marcus asked.

Xander started to make a witty remark, then caught himself when he remembered how hard the wall of the building was. "Um, yeah," was all he said. He figured it was safest.

"It can't be!" Marcus exclaimed. "We were dozens of light years away when..."

"...when we encountered the unknown hyperspace phenomenon," the bone-headed man interjected. "I suggest that we simply accept what this young man has told us, for the moment. Sometimes the universe does not yield explanations very readily."

"All right," said Marcus. "On to the vampires, then."

"What do you want me to say? They're vampires. This town's a real magnet for them. If they're out tonight, I've got to tell some people about it. I guess you could say I'm in kind of a vampire watchdog group." A thought struck him. "Hey, you know something - if you're confused about how you got here, I know a guy who might be able to help you out."

Marcus looked at Xander suspiciously, but the bone-headed man seemed interested in the offer. "That would be most generous," he said.

Another thought crossed Xander's mind. "Um, before I take you to my friends," he said " - well, don't take this the wrong way, but would you mind telling me who you people are?" Looking at the bone-headed man, he added, "Or what you are?"

"My name is Marcus Cole," said Marcus, "and my friend here is named Lennier. He's a Minbari."

"A Minbari," Xander repeated. "Okay, that explains a lot." He hoped Giles would be able to offer a bit more of an explanation. Maybe these Minbaris were a kind of horned sprite from ancient lore or something.

"There's one more in our group," said Marcus. "He ran off when that vampire attacked us."

"Yeah, about that vampire," said Xander. "He doesn't normally attack people. My guess is he thought he was protecting us from you."

"That doesn't sound like particularly vampirish behavior," said Marcus.

"Well, I don't really trust him much myself, but I've got a friend who really likes him a lot. You didn't do any permanent damage in that fight, did you?"

"He will recover," said Lennier. "Eventually."

Xander was relieved, despite himself. "Okay," he said, "then let's find your friend and get going. What does he look like?"

Even as he spoke, a new figure stepped out of the darkness. Xander did a double-take at the sight of the newcomer. He had a face like a werewolf, with hairy hands and a hunchback. His clothes looked like they were made from animal pelts.

"Much apologizings," said the newcomer. "Zathras not used to attacks from strange fanged creatures. Zathras trained for fixing things, not for fighting things. Makes for very limited career opportunities, but Zathras has come to like it."

Xander forced his jaw to stop dropping and to start working again. "This... would be your friend?" he asked.

"Zathras very pleased to be meeting you," said Zathras.

"Yeah," said Xander. "Okay, fine. Xander, uh, is me. Very pleased to be meeting you, too."

"Well, then," said Marcus, "now that we've got that taken care of, shall we go?"

"Right this way," said Xander. He led them back to the front of the building and off toward the Sunnydale High library. As they went along, he couldn't help thinking there was no way Buffy would believe what was happening.

***

Buffy looked around the library and thought that when Xander finally caught up to them, there was no way he would believe what was happening.

She and Ace sat around in the library, both feeling bored and left out as Giles discussed what was happening with their many guests. Worse yet, Ace seemed to be going out of her way to annoy Buffy with outrageous stories about her various adventures.

"The Professor and I fought some vampires once, back during World War Two," Ace was saying. "Nasty blue things that came up out of the water. They came out during the day, too. And there was this baby there that I really liked, until I found out she was my Mum."

Mercifully, the library doors opened and Willow returned, bringing Leela with her. Willow had dressed the savage in a Sunnydale High sweat suit. Leela seemed a little uncomfortable, but relatively pleased with her new garb.

"Look, Doctor," she said as the Fourth Doctor walked over to her. "Willow has made me a member of her tribe. Before we leave, I must make a sacrifice to their totem god."

"Totem god?" asked the Fourth Doctor, somewhat amused.

"The great horned swine beast," Leela told him. "There are pictures of it on all the walls."

"That's the Sunnydale Razorback," Willow explained. "I tried telling her that they're, uh, very rare."

"Oh, I'm sure they are," said the Fourth Doctor.

Willow spied Buffy and went to join her. "So, did we miss anything?" she asked.

"Just a lot of dull conversation," Buffy replied. "I don't know if we're any closer to finding out what's going on."

"I guess these things take a while sometimes. You can't just expect an answer to drop out of the sky."

At that moment, there was a strange rushing sound, and an unearthly wind swept through the library. Buffy and Willow looked up in amazement. A bizarre disk of light formed in mid-air, and inside it, there appeared to be a tunnel of bright, multicolored lights. As the entire gathering turned to watch, a portly man appeared in the center of the tunnel. He flew out of the disk, as if the tunnel was ejecting him with tremendous force, and landed squarely on top of the holographic Doctor and Doctor Bashir. The disk closed behind him, and the noise and wind disappeared as suddenly as they arrived.

"This is not my night," muttered Bashir as he lifted the newcomer off of him.

"Terribly sorry about that, my good man," said the new arrival. He was as large as he had looked coming through the disk, with a beard and dark hair that was balding on top but long in the back. Like many of the other visitors, he spoke with a British accent. If Giles was lonely for his homeland, Buffy thought, he wouldn't be any more when this was over.

"Are you all right?" Kes asked the newcomer.

"Nothing to worry about," the man assured her. "Just one of the occupational hazards associated with Sliding."

"Sliding?" said the Seventh Doctor. "Is that what you call traveling through the space-time vortex?"

"It's not exactly a space-time vortex," said the man, somewhat surprised to meet a person who would recognize such a thing. "It's a manifestation of the Einstein-Rosen-Podowski Bridge. I'm Professor Maximilian Arturo. I've been working on ways to travel..."

"...between parallel worlds," the Fourth Doctor finished for him. "I crossed the ERP Bridge once, by accident. Are you saying you can control which world you travel to?"

Arturo shifted anxiously. "Not exactly," he said. "There's a student of mine who knows more about this than I do. I've been trying to find him for months now, but as you know, the cosmos is very large."

"Well, just wait a little while," said Garak. "I'm sure he'll end up in this library with the rest of us."

"In the meantime," said the Fourth Doctor, "why don't you tell us more about this traveling you do. It may help shed some light on our problem."

Arturo began to tell his story, but just then the library doors opened once again. Buffy looked and saw Xander hurry in. Three more strange visitors followed him.

"Buffy, you're not going to believe...," Xander began, but he stopped short when he saw the crowd gathered in the library.

"Xander!" cried Willow, hurrying over to him. "What's going on? Who are these... people?"

"Well, I was going to tell you something weird was happening in town," said Xander, "but it looks like you already know."

"We thought it was just happening here at school," said Buffy. "Are you saying there are strangers showing up all over town?"

"I don't know about the rest of town," said Xander, "but there's definitely something going on at the Bronze. These guys say they've seen vampires around, too."

"Oh, great!" cried Buffy. "As if we didn't have enough problems already."

"What's all this about vampires?" asked Ace, joining the group. "I thought you said they hadn't been around lately."

"They haven't," said Buffy. "Just our luck they'd make a comeback tonight."

"Well, let's go sort them out, then," Ace said enthusiastically.

"Whoa, hold on," Buffy objected. "Dealing with vampires is my job. I've got enough to worry about when Willow and Xander are involved. I don't need to keep track of an entire army."

"Your tribe has given us its hospitality," said Leela. "As long as we're here, it is our duty to help defeat your enemies."

"Besides," added Ace, "we've got to do something while this lot figures out what's going on."

Buffy looked to her friends, then back to the visitors. It was obvious that she wasn't going to win this battle. "All right," she said with a sigh, "but as long as we're all going, let's make sure we take plenty of backup. Ask around and see who else wants to tag along."

One thing was certain, Buffy thought as the others split up. This was one time the vampires weren't going to know what hit them. For better or worse, tonight's encounter would be one that everyone would remember for a long time. Everyone who survived, that is.


Readers' Guide

(Numbers in parentheses indicate the running count of characters for the entire story.)

Angel - Like the story says, Angel is a "good" vampire who helps (and loves) Buffy. At this point in the series, though, he was avoiding Buffy, so we won't see much of him.

Marcus Cole (21) - A character from the series Babylon 5. Marcus is a Ranger, a member of an elite force that keeps the peace and fights against evil in the B5 universe. The fact that he's alive indicates that, from his point of view, the story takes place well before the episode "Endgame." Marcus was played by Jason Carter.

Lennier (22) - Another character from Babylon 5. Lennier is from the planet Minbar, where he belongs to his society's Religious Caste. He's also the assistant to and protege of Delenn, B5's Minbari Ambassador. Lennier is played by veteran SF actor Bill Mumy.

Zathras (23) - Another character from Babylon 5. He is one of ten identical brothers (all named Zathras) who work on the planet Epsilon 3. Zathras is played by Tim Choate.

Ace's vampire adventure - Ace is describing the Doctor Who episode, "The Curse of Fenric."

Professor Maximilian Arturo (24) - A character from the series, Sliders. The original Professor was one of the original cast members, but he died in the episode "The Exodus." The man in the Sunnydale Library is a parallel-world Arturo, or so it would seem. All versions of the Professor, no matter what parallel world they came from, were played by John Rhys-Davies.

"I crossed the ERP Bridge once, by accident." - The Fourth Doctor is recalling one of the Third Doctor's adventures, specifically the Doctor Who episode "Inferno." They didn't call it "sliding," of course, but the Doctor did travel to a parallel world.

Chapter 4 "The Bronze Sings the Blues"

Cheer up, Slayer, Buffy told herself. For the first time in your life, you've got an entire strike force behind you. What could go wrong?

She looked around at the group that had volunteered to come along on her trip to the Bronze. Xander and Willow were there, of course. Their loyalty was beyond question, a fact that made Buffy anxious at times. The last thing she ever wanted was for their friendship to be rewarded with pain and suffering - or worse - at the hands of the undead.

Fortunately, her friends seemed to have picked up some reliable allies. Leela stuck close to Willow's side, her knife already drawn, while Marcus Cole walked along next to Xander. Both the savage and the "Ranger" (as Marcus called himself) had obviously faced danger before. Buffy hoped that having the two of them at her friends' backs would allow her to concentrate on other matters if things got too intense.

The rest of the group didn't inspire Buffy's confidence nearly as much. Bashir and Garak both seemed capable of looking after themselves, but their tuxedos made them look like a pair of mismatched penguins. Ace also seemed able to take care of herself, but Buffy couldn't help wondering if the girl was a little too eager for action. The large wooden object sticking out of Ace's rucksack - Ace called it a "cricket bat," although Buffy thought it was much too large to use on crickets - made her intentions perfectly clear. If Ace decided to go off and play Danger Girl, she could get them all into trouble.

And then there was Kes, bringing up the rear. Buffy didn't know what to make of her. Between her elfin appearance and her ridiculous pink striped overalls, she looked to be one of the most non-threatening creatures on the planet - whatever planet it was that she came from. Then again, Buffy reminded herself, looks could be deceiving. After all, more than one vampire had met its end by not recognizing the Slayer for what she was.

The group approached the Bronze without incident, and the club itself looked peaceful enough when they arrived. Even the Bouncer at the door looked bored.

"Maybe the vampires called it an early night," Willow suggested.

Buffy's instincts told her not to think they were that lucky. Too many strange things had already happened. "Let's split up and look around," she suggested.

The group divided and began to check the area around the club. Things still seemed quiet as Buffy led Bashir, Garak and Ace down the side of the building where Marcus said he had seen the vampires before. She thought she saw a figure lying on the ground ahead. Perhaps the vampires were on the hunt, and this was one of their victims. If she could just get closer...

THWACK!!!

The sound came from behind her. Buffy turned just in time to see Bashir take a second blow from an unidentified assailant. She hurried over to help - then stopped short when she saw they were not being attacked by a vampire, but by a young woman wielding a quarterstaff. The woman's clothes - a rust-brown skirt and a short green top - looked crudely made, as if they had come from a more primitive era. The woman wasn't much larger or much older than Buffy herself, and Buffy could tell from the look in her eyes that she was terrified.

Ace drew the cricket bat out of her bag and used it to face off against the woman. "Come on, then!" she shouted. "I'm not afraid of that overgrown toothpick you've got."

"Hold it!" cried Buffy, stepping into the fray. The woman, becoming more frightened by the second, brought her staff around again, but Buffy caught it in mid-swing. "It's all right," she said, as much for Ace's benefit as for the woman's. "We don't want to hurt you."

Everything was tense for a moment. Then, just as Buffy began to think things would turn out all right, a new voice rang out from the darkness.

"Don't worry, Gabrielle! I'll save you!"

Buffy looked up just in time to see a man running toward them. He was dressed in leather armor, complete with an absurd looking hat. Buffy would have burst out laughing if the man hadn't been waving a sword in the air as he charged.

Any threat of a fight breaking out was short-lived, though. Garak turned to face the man as he ran in. The man took one look at the Cardassian's face and jumped back, screaming in terror. Instead of rescuing the woman - Gabrielle, presumably - he ran around behind her and tried to hide there.

More shouts caught Buffy's attention. She looked and saw the rest of her group hurrying to join them from behind the building. As she saw them approach, she noticed that the figure she had seen lying on the ground before was gone. Maybe she had just imagined it. There was no time to investigate now.

Turning back to Gabrielle and her erstwhile rescuer, she said, "All right, let's everybody calm down."

"Calm down?" cried Gabrielle. "That's easy for you to say. You're the ones who brought us here. How are we supposed to be calm in a place where the torches burn without smoke or fire and the chariots move by themselves?" Her eyes grew large as she thought for a moment, then asked, "This... this isn't Mount Olympus, is it?"

"What's going on?" cried Willow as the rest of the group arrived. "We heard shouting. Is everything all right?"

"Everything's fine," Bashir answered. "We just have some more new arrivals."

"We didn't bring you here," Buffy told Gabrielle. "And you're not on Mount Olympus. You're in Sunnydale."

"Never heard of it," Gabrielle replied. "Is that anywhere near Thebes?"

"Thebes, as in ancient Greece?" asked Marcus.

"It may be getting a bit run down, but I'd hardly call it 'ancient.'"

"Funny, you don't look Greek," said Bashir. "Or sound Greek, either."

"Don't be ridiculous," Gabrielle said. "We're on our way to Thebes right now. A friend of mine is meeting us there."

"It would seem that we're faced with another example of history taking a different course on parallel worlds," said Garak.

"Hey, it's all Greek to me," said Xander. He quickly regretted saying it, though, when it became obvious that no one was amused.

Kes stepped forward, trying to calm the newcomers' fears. "It's all right," she said. "I know this place must seem strange, but we're not going to hurt you."

Kes's appearance seemed to bewilder Gabrielle even more, but after a moment the woman relaxed. The man remained defiantly on his guard, but no one took much notice.

Buffy turned back to the rest of her team. "Okay," she said, "it looks like everything's quiet out here. Maybe the vampires really have turned in early."

"There's still the inside of the building to check," Marcus reminded her.

Buffy grimaced. She knew the Ranger was right, but she didn't enjoy the thought of explaining her guests to the Bronze regulars. This night was becoming more complicated by the minute.

"All right," she said at last, "but you guys are on your own when it comes to the cover charge."

As Willow and Xander led the others back to the Bronze's entrance, Buffy watched the man who had arrived with Gabrielle. "Fine, fine!" he muttered. "Go ahead and ignore me. I'm Joxer the Mighty, you know! You'll rue the day you turned your back on me!"

"Are you going to come in with us?" said Buffy. "Or are you going to stand there all day threatening yourself?"

"Well," said Joxer, "if you put it that way, I guess I'll come in."

"Fine," said Buffy. "Just put that sword away before I hurt you."

"I'd like to see you try, little la-DEEEEE!" Joxer's last syllable stretched into a groan as Buffy delivered a punch to his midsection. It wasn't a hard punch. A vampire would barely have felt it. But it was enough to get Joxer's attention.

"You know," Joxer gasped, "the more things change, the more they stay the same."

***

Buffy knew something was wrong from the moment she entered the Bronze. Things looked all right, and she didn't sense any vampires nearby, but her ears told her that something was definitely amiss.

Willow and Xander knew as well. "I thought there wasn't supposed to be a band playing tonight," said Willow.

"Never mind that," said Xander. "Since when did this place become the House of Blues?"

Sure enough, there was a band on-stage, but the blues tunes they played were like nothing the Bronze had heard in many years. As she drew closer to the stage, Buffy began to understand what was happening. This was no ordinary band playing. In all likelihood, it was made up entirely of more visitors from across the dimensions - a truly cosmic pick-up group.

The lead singer was a fortysomething black man with a voice that made Buffy wonder if he was a big star back wherever he was from. The way he looked at the red-haired young woman playing keyboards suggested that the two knew each other. There were two guitarists. An older bearded man sat playing a complex lead part while a teenage girl not much older than Buffy watched him closely and tried to keep up, with only partial success. Behind them, a large bearded man played trombone, while a young Asian man played clarinet. The two men were dressed in a similar style, with matching pins on their chests.

As Buffy looked closer, she realized that the Asian man was wearing the same kind of black jumpsuit that Kes's Doctor had changed into, but with yellow shoulders. She turned just in time to see Kes's face light up at the sight of him.

"Harry!" cried Kes. "What are you doing here?"

Harry, the Asian man, looked up, saw Kes, and promptly missed his solo entrance. The ensemble, which had only been playing as well as a thrown-together group could be expected to play anyway, abruptly fell apart. The music came to a sudden halt as Harry jumped off the stage and went to Kes's side.

"Kes!" cried Harry. "I'm glad you're all right. We were looking all over the ship for you and the Doctor. During the search, I detected a subspace anomaly. The next thing I knew, I was here."

"We thought there was a holodeck malfunction," said Kes.

"Of course," Bashir commented wryly. "It seems you can't have one without the other."

Garak was looking at the bearded man with the trombone. "Julian," he said to Bashir, "isn't that Commander William Riker, from the Enterprise?"

"It is indeed," said Bashir. Walking over to the man, he said, "Welcome to Sunnydale, Commander."

"If you say so," Riker replied. "Do we know each other?"

Bashir considered the matter, as if for the first time. "Perhaps not - yet," he said. "But rest assured, I am part of Starfleet."

"Really?" said Riker. "I didn't recognize you in your... dress uniform."

Bashir looked at his tuxedo self-consciously. "This?" he said, "This has a, uh, rather simple explanation."

"I'm sure the Commander will find it a most interesting story," Garak remarked.

Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy saw the girl with the guitar leave the stage to join the group. Xander was moving toward her in an instant, his face fixed in an expression that Buffy had come to know only too well.

"Uh, hi," Xander said to the girl.

"Hi," the girl replied.

So far, so good, thought Buffy, who simply couldn't stop herself from listening in.

"So," Xander continued, "do you play around much?"

"What?" said the girl, looking a bit amused.

Buffy couldn't help noticing that at times like this, Xander's brain always heard what his mouth said about five seconds after everyone else did.

"Um, I... uh, I mean...," Xander stammered on. "Do you play with it a lot?" Catching himself, he added, "Your guitar, I mean."

"Oh, yeah. Not as much as I'd like, really. I kind of have this after-school job that keeps me pretty busy. It's nice to get the chance to play tonight. I like getting out every now and then, going to new places..."

"Well, this is one new place you can definitely go," said Xander. "It's not new for me, of course, I go here all the time... and I guess now that you're here, it's not new for you, either... but you could still... go... here..." Realizing that he was beginning to babble, Xander stopped for a moment, then said, "Why don't I just start over? I know, I'll tell you my name. I'm Xander."

"I'm Kimberly. Kimberly Hart."

"So," said Xander, feeling a bit more confident, "where did you come from? How did you end up at the Bronze? Let me tell you, there are people here tonight who have really weird answers to those questions."

Buffy strained to hear Kimberly's answer, but Xander and the girl turned away from her and began walking to a nearby table. As she tried not to look like she was eavesdropping,

Buffy noticed that Willow had also seen Xander with his new friend, and was definitely not pleased with the sight.

"I shouldn't be watching this, should I?" said Willow as Buffy joined her.

"Might be better if you didn't," Buffy agreed.

"I don't suppose she's from some parallel world where the women break out in purple warts after nine o'clock."

Buffy shrugged. "We can hope."

The two friends turned back to the rest of their group. They were a large crowd, even without the usual Bronze patrons, who were slowly filing out at the sight of the guests. The group didn't seem to mind being deserted by the locals. At the moment they were mingling, meeting their fellow visitors, and sharing stories of how they had ended up in Sunnydale. Buffy took Willow and plunged into the middle of it all, hoping to take her friend's mind off other matters.

After a while, the girls happened upon the black man and the red-haired woman who had been part of the makeshift band. "Hey, nice singing," Buffy said to the black man. "Do you do that professionally or something?"

"Does the name Rembrandt Brown mean anything to you?" the black man asked.

"No," said Buffy. "Do you work with him?"

The black man's face fell. He turned to the red-haired woman and said, "I guess you can only be world-famous on so many worlds."

The red-haired woman turned to Buffy and Willow. "You'll have to forgive Remmie," she said. "We just came from someplace where everyone recognized him. I guess he got used to it again."

"We're sorry," said Willow.

"On the other hand," the woman continued, "I already know you won't recognize me. I'm Wade Welles, and I'm not famous anywhere - that I know about."

Buffy and Willow introduced themselves just in time to for two more visitors to approach their group. One of them was a young man Buffy thought was attractive, albeit in a science-nerd sort of way. The other newcomer was a woman wearing clothes that almost screamed "trying too hard" - ridiculously short camouflage shorts and a shirt that was tight enough to be illegal in some states.

"Sorry to interrupt," said the young man, "but we really need to talk to Wade and Remmie for a moment." He reached into his pocket and pulled out some kind of electronic device. "Guys," he said, "I think we may have a problem with the timer."

"They have repair shops in town for that thing if you need one," Buffy offered.

The young man looked up in amazement. "They do?" he asked. "You mean you know what this is?"

"Sure," said Buffy. "You know, they usually work better if you're in the same room as your VCR."

The woman in the camouflage shorts snorted contemptuously. The young man simply seemed amused. "It's not for programming a VCR," he said. "I know this will sound incredible, but it's a device for traveling across an interdimensional vortex. We're really from another world."

"Who isn't, tonight?" said Willow.

The young man focused his full attention on Willow. "What do you know about other worlds?" he asked.

"Just that people are showing up from all kinds of different times and places," Willow replied, suddenly feeling self-conscious. "I thought you would have noticed all the people who were here - and the aliens."

"We've been sliding so long, it's hard to tell what's normal on the worlds we visit," said Rembrandt.

"'Sliding?'" Buffy repeated. "You mean like that Arturo guy?"

"Professor Maximilian Arturo?" gasped Wade.

"Yeah, that's him," said Buffy. "He's back at the high school library."

"It can't be," said Wade.

"It's probably his double," said Rembrandt. He turned to Buffy and Willow and explained, "Sometimes we run into doubles of ourselves along the way. Kind of like seeing how you might have turned out if things were different. That must be who's in your library. You see, the Professor we know is dead."

"Unless," said the young man, "we took the wrong Professor with us that one time. We never did find out for sure, you know."

"That's enough, Q-Ball," said Rembrandt. "Haven't we been through that enough times?"

"Remmie, it fits," Q-Ball retorted. "Maybe the real Professor's been looking for us all this time..."

"He did say he was looking for one of his students," said Willow.

"That would be me," said Q-Ball. "My name's Quinn Mallory, despite what Remmie calls me."

"Look," said Buffy, "if you guys are such experts in this parallel world thing, maybe you should go help out at the library. There are a lot of people trying to figure out how everyone got here. Maybe you could give them a hand."

"We might have to," said Quinn. Holding up the controller, he said, "This device was supposed to tell us when to slide to our next world, but something's interfering with it. If the Professor's at this library..."

"Mallory," said the woman in the camouflage shorts, "I hate to spoil your reunion plans, but we can't afford to go running around on a wild goose chase. If we miss the slide, it'll be twenty-nine years before we can catch up to Rickman, and by then, he'll be old and gray and hardly worth killing."

"Gee, you're a lot of fun," Buffy remarked. "Who's this Rickman guy? An old boyfriend?"

"He was my commanding officer," said the woman. "I'm Captain Maggie Beckett, United States Army. Rickman betrayed the troops under his command - among other things."

Buffy gave Maggie a dubious look. "You're supposed to be in the Army?" she said. "When did they start giving out uniforms like that?"

Maggie started to reply, but Wade stepped between her and Buffy before she could. "Uh, Buffy, why don't I introduce you to Harry Kim, the clarinet player?" said Wade. "I know you wanted to meet him."

"I did?" said Buffy. Seconds later, she got the hint. "Oh, yeah. Right," she said as she allowed Wade to drag her away. Willow remained behind, talking with Quinn.

"Sorry to do that," said Wade, "but I've gone up against Maggie a few times myself. You wouldn't enjoy it."

"If you say so," Buffy replied.

***

Willow thought Quinn Mallory seemed like a good person to talk to. He had a brilliant scientific mind, and he didn't treat her like she was just a kid. The only problem was that if he kept smiling at her like that, Willow would soon become flustered, and then she would have to go away.

Fortunately, the older man who had been playing guitar in the blues band came to her rescue. Well, he didn't know he was coming to her rescue, of course, but his interruption rescued her just the same.

"Hey, that was some pretty fine singing you did," the older man said as he walked up to Rembrandt. "If you're ever in Seacouver, you should look me up. I own a blues bar there. You'd be a hit."

"Thanks," said Rembrandt. "I should have known you were a blues man through and through." He turned to Willow, Quinn and Maggie. "Guys, this is Joe Dawson. You may have noticed he can play a little guitar."

As Willow introduced herself, she noticed that Joe walked with a cane. There was something odd about his legs, but she couldn't quite figure out what it was.

"They're not real," Joe said to her.

"Huh?" Willow felt herself blush.

"My legs," Joe replied. "Vietnam took care of the real ones."

"Oh," said Willow. "Sorry, I... I didn't mean to stare."

"It's all right," Joe assured her. "Just means you're observant. I like that in a person."

"Willow says there are a lot more people stuck here like us," Rembrandt told Joe. "A bunch of them are back at some library trying to figure out what's going on."

"Do you think they'll have any luck?" Joe asked.

"I'm sure they'll figure it out sooner or later," Willow replied. "They all seem pretty smart, and Giles, the librarian, has information on just about every kind of weird thing there is. He has to, since he's a Watch - " She stopped herself abruptly.

"A what?" Joe asked, growing intensely curious.

"A watch... a watch collector," Willow lied feebly. "You know how it is when you collect stuff. You've got to be prepared for anything." She squirmed uncomfortably, then added, "I... I have to go away now."

"Wait!" Joe said. "I'd like to talk to you some more. We may have more in common than you know."

Willow felt her ability to talk slipping away, so she merely smiled at the man instead. As he took her aside, Willow found herself wondering what she had gotten into.

***

Harry Kim was still talking to Kes when Buffy and Wade approached. "Kes has been telling me about what's happening," he told Buffy as she reached him. "I'd like to help out if I can."

"Harry's very good with time-space anomalies," Kes explained. "We've run into several of them before."

"Right now, I'm worried about our other problem," said Buffy. "We still haven't seen anything of the vamp... our less-invited guests."

"Maybe Marcus was wrong, and they're really not here," Kes suggested.

"Who's not here?" asked Wade.

"You don't want to know," said Buffy.

At that moment, Buffy heard someone gasp behind her. She turned and saw the trombone player - Will Riker, if she remembered correctly - staring across the room.

"I don't believe it," said Riker

Buffy followed his gaze and saw another new arrival enter the Bronze. This one was a woman with short, blonde hair, dressed in an outfit similar to the one Riker and Harry were wearing, but much more form-fitting.

"Commander?" said the woman, looking perplexed. "What are we doing here? And when did you grow that beard?"

"Tasha Yar," said Riker. "Is it really you?"

"Of course," said Tasha. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"Because," said Riker, "I saw you die."


Readers' Guide

(Numbers in parentheses indicate the running count of characters for the entire story.)

Buffy sees a figure lying on the ground - It's Angel, of course, but Buffy never gets the chance to find that out.

Gabrielle (25) - A character from the series, Xena: Warrior Princess. Gabrielle is Xena's friend and sidekick. She is played by Renee O'Connor.

Joxer (26) - Another character from Xena: Warrior Princess. Joxer is a buffoon-like character who tags along with Xena and Gabrielle from time to time. He is played by Ted Raimi.

"A friend of mine is meeting us there." - Gabrielle is referring to Xena, naturally.

Harry Kim (27) - Operations Officer in the series Star Trek: Voyager. He's been known to play the clarinet from time to time. Harry is played by Garrett Wang.

William Riker (28) - First Officer in the series Star Trek: The Next Generation. He's been known to play jazz trombone from time to time. Riker is played by Jonathan Frakes.

Kimberly Hart (29) - Come on, admit it. There's no need to be ashamed. You already know that Kimberly Hart was the original Pink Ranger in the children's series, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. She was known to play the guitar on occasion. Kimberly was played by Amy Jo Johnson.

The characters from the series Sliders are as follows:

Quinn Mallory (30) - A physics genius who invented "sliding." Quinn is played by Jerry O'Connell.

Wade Welles (31) - Wade is a computer expert and long-time close friend of Quinn. The episode "Stoker" revealed that she can play keyboard instruments and sing. The fact that Wade is still with the group indicates that, from their point of view, the time is before the episode "This Slide of Paradise." Wade was played by Sabrina Lloyd.

Rembrandt Brown (32) - Rembrandt was a singer trying to rebuild his career when he accidentally got drawn into the Sliders' parallel world odyssey. He is played by Cleavant Derricks.

Maggie Beckett (33) - Maggie was an Army Captain who joined the Sliders after her world was destroyed in the episode "The Exodus." She is played by Kari Wuhrer.

"Unless we took the wrong Professor with us that one time." - Quinn is referring to the episode "Post-Traumatic Slide Syndrome," when a duplicate Arturo tried to pass himself off as the Arturo who had arrived with the Sliders. The ending of the episode cast a certain amount of doubt on which Arturo ended up sliding with the group.

"I've gone up against Maggie a few times myself." - Wade and Maggie didn't exactly get along in the first few episodes after "The Exodus." This remark is also a reference to some unfounded rumors that Sabrina Lloyd left Sliders because of conflicts she had with Kari Wuhrer.

Joe Dawson (34) - A character from the series, Highlander. Aside from playing guitar and owning a blues bar, Joe is also a member of a secret organization called "the Watchers." Unlike Rupert Giles, though, Joe and his colleagues record the activities of the Immortals, not vampires. Joe is played by Jim Byrnes.

Tasha Yar (35) - Security Officer during the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. As Riker pointed out, Tasha died in the episode "Skin of Evil." She was played by Denise Crosby.

"When did you grow that beard?" - Riker didn't have a beard until the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. He was clean shaven when Tasha knew him.

Chapter 5 "Sunnydale Standoff"

Buffy watched with alarm as Tasha Yar walked in. Bashir and Garak walked up beside Harry and Kes, watching as the woman approached.

"How can she be here?" wondered Wade. "If Commander Riker saw this woman die, how can she be alive here?"

"If we're all being pulled out of different places and times," said Harry, "then she could have come from an earlier time than the Commander."

"That's one explanation," said Buffy. "There's another one, but you won't like it."

"Commander, I would have remembered dying," said Tasha as she reached Riker. "Before I got here, I was in my quarters on the Enterprise, getting ready for some battle drills. It's the same with the other people I met. None of them can remember how they got here."

"Other people?" asked Riker.

As if on cue, more new arrivals walked into the Bronze. A bearded black man wearing a black trench coat looked around the room with a severe expression on his face, then retreated into the shadows, not wanting to be seen. As he did, two other men - one clean-cut, the other scraggly and unkempt - walked past him.

The unkempt man seemed more disoriented than the others. Wade went to his side. "Are you all right?" she asked.

"I... I think so," said the unkempt man. "My... my name is Max Fenig. Have I been abducted by aliens again?"

Wade looked to Buffy for help, but Buffy could only shrug. "We'll, uh, we'll have to get back to you on that one," Wade told him.

The last man among the newcomers was dressed in orange robes and had a large earring dangling from his right ear. His nose had a set of accordion-like ridges, as if he had fallen once and smashed it against a sidewalk.

"Vedek Bareil," said Bashir, looking at the man. "This is remarkable. I saw him die."

The commotion of the new arrivals brought Ace, Xander and Kimberly over to join the group.

"Hey, nice overalls," Kimberly told Kes.

"What's going on, Buff?" asked Xander. "Who are all these new guys?"

"I don't know yet," said Buffy, "but I'm getting a bad feeling about them."

Bashir was about to go greet Bareil, but Buffy stopped him and pulled him aside for a moment. "You're sure you saw this guy die?" she asked.

"Positive," said Bashir. "You wouldn't believe what I went through trying to save him."

"All right," said Buffy, "tell me something about him. What's with his nose?"

"He's a Bajoran," Bashir replied. "All Bajoran noses are like that."

"But apart from the nose, he's pretty much like a human?"

Bashir shrugged. "More or less. There are some internal differences, of course, but Bajorans have the same basic structure. Why all this sudden interest in alien biology?"

"I'll tell you later," said Buffy. "Maybe we can have a good laugh about it - I hope."

Buffy left Bashir behind and walked up to Bareil herself. "Are you all right?" she asked. All the while, she was silently wishing the presence of so many non-humans hadn't interfered with her instincts.

"The Prophets appear to have guided me to someplace I didn't expect," said Bareil. "Fortunately, I trust them enough to do whatever they expect of me."

He looked up, prepared to give Buffy the reassuring gaze of a man of faith, but his expression suddenly changed as their eyes met.

With that one look, he knew.

With that one look, Buffy knew as well. And she knew that he knew.

The rest happened faster than anyone else in the Bronze could follow. Buffy snapped a stake from its hiding place in her sleeve. It slid into her hand just as Bareil turned to run.

Before Bareil could take a step, Buffy rammed the stake into his chest. Her aim was off, a little low and to the right. For a moment, Buffy thought she had missed. Then Bareil crumbled into dust. She had found his alien heart completely by instinct. Giles would be proud.

Suddenly, Buffy noticed that the entire room had grown quiet. She looked up and found everyone staring at her and the pile of dust on the floor. No one looked happy.

"Oh, boy," said Xander. "This can't be good."

***

Without a doubt, thought Scully, this was one of Mulder's worst ideas.

She wasn't thinking of the idea to come to Sunnydale in the first place, although that still threatened to top the list. She was thinking of Mulder's idea to talk to the dark-haired teenage girl who was now consuming their evening with her vapid gossip about everyday life in the town. Scully hadn't even liked listening to this kind of chatter when she was a teenager herself.

For his part, Mulder was doing his best to be patient. "I don't doubt how much trouble you had facing stage fright at the school talent show, Miss Chase," he was saying, "but perhaps we could move on to some of the show's more unusual aspects."

"You don't think it's unusual for me to have stage fright?" exclaimed Cordelia Chase. "I'm the center of Sunnydale's universe of popularity. I should be used to having lots of people watching me. It's not like I'm some shy loser, like... like Willow Rosenberg." Her eyes lit up. "Now there's someone you should talk to if you want to know about weirdness."

Mulder jotted the name down on his notepad. "Willow Rosenberg?" he repeated. "I'm not familiar with that name."

"No surprise there," said Cordelia. "She's like, color me self-effacing. But trust me, if something weird's going on in town, she'll be there. Her and her friend Buffy."

"Buffy?" repeated Mulder. "Where would I find them?"

"If they're not at home, then they're probably at the Bronze. They think that by hanging out at the cool spot in town, they can make people think they're cool, too. Like this one time, Buffy went there with Owen, and it was such a pathetic display..."

Scully had finally reached her limit. "I'm sure it's a fascinating story, Miss Chase," she said, "but we really need to continue our investigation. Could you tell us how to find 'the Bronze'?"

"All right," said Cordelia, looking disappointed. "It's only about four blocks down the road, in the bad part of town."

Mulder thanked the girl, and the two FBI Agents set out for the club. "You mean you didn't want to hear about Buffy and Owen at the Bronze?" Mulder asked Scully.

"I'm still coping with the fact that we're looking for someone named Buffy," Scully replied. "Buffy and Willow. I should have known when you said we were going to Southern California."

"And you thought this was a wasted trip," said Mulder. "Come on, Scully. The Bronze awaits."

***

The gathering at the Bronze remained surprisingly still. Buffy wasn't sure how many of them understood what had just happened - and how many of them understood it too well.

She looked around the room anxiously. None of the people who volunteered so eagerly to fight vampires had expected the creatures to show up with familiar faces. If a vampire could look like someone Bashir knew, other vampires could look like anybody. Buffy knew the shock of seeing an old friend appear in demonic form. She didn't need an entire room full of people going through that all at once. And yet that could be exactly what was about to happen.

Buffy suddenly realized that everyone in the room was waiting for her to say or do something. She decided that it was not the time to hide the facts. "The vampires are here," she said. "They may look and act like people you know, but they're not."

"Then how can we tell who they are?" asked Marcus.

"You can't," Buffy replied, "but I can." She was bluffing, at least partially. As Giles often pointed out, her ability to recognize vampires wasn't always accurate. The presence of so many aliens only made things worse. Still, the vampires didn't need to know facts like those. Looking pointedly at Tasha Yar, Buffy added, "Although if there's someone around that you know is dead, I'd be real careful around them."

Riker took the hint and backed away from Tasha slightly.

"Commander, what are you doing?" Tasha asked. "You can't take this girl seriously."

"I don't know what's going on," said Riker. "I don't know how I got here, I don't know why that Vedek just turned into a pile of dust, and I don't know how you're alive when I know you're dead. Let's just say I'm going to play it safe until I find out a few more things."

"A wise decision, Commander," said a new voice.

Everyone in the room whirled around to see two new visitors enter the Bronze. One was a woman with the same reptilian features as Garak. Behind her was one of the ugliest brutes Buffy had ever seen, a large man who looked like an ogre that had gone Rastafarian. If this was his ordinary face, she hated to think what he might look like as a vampire.

"Seska!" cried Harry when he saw the female Cardassian. Looking at her companion, he added, "I see you've still got Maje Culluh with you, too."

"And let me guess," said Buffy. "These guys are both dead, right?"

"We were," said Seska. "But we're much better now, thanks to the Master. He offered us the chance to live forever, and all we had to do was kill you."

"It seemed like an obvious choice," added Maje Culluh. "Especially since some of you were the ones who killed us in the first place."

Ace pushed through the crowd, her cricket bat at the ready. "You don't scare me," she said. "You may be an ugly lot, but there are only two of you."

Seska smiled. "The Master wouldn't send us to do something and not give us enough help to do it. That's why he gave us some friends."

***

Willow stood with Joe, Quinn, Rembrandt and Maggie near the Bronze's stage at the back of the room. She couldn't make out everything that was happening, but what she saw didn't look good.

Buffy had already slain one vampire and was now facing off against a pair of monsters. There might be other vampires around, but no one was sure.

Willow quickly brought out her supplies, a cross and a vial of holy water. She braced herself for whatever might come her way. This was one of those times when things got a bit more exciting than she was comfortable with.

Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a well-dressed, clean-cut young man heading for the back door of the Bronze. Willow vaguely remembered him coming in, but she didn't know who he was. It seemed strange that he wouldn't be paying attention to the potentially deadly face-off that was happening near the front door.

Slipping away from the others, Willow went to see where the young man was going. She had an awful feeling that she wasn't going to like what she discovered.

***

Buffy watched as five more newcomers entered the Bronze. None of them had their vampire faces on at the moment, but Buffy would recognize their demonic nature from a mile away. Things were going to get ugly very fast.

Marcus stepped forward from his place behind the Bronze's pool table. He was now holding a long metallic tube, about the same size as Gabrielle's quarterstaff, but more deadly looking. Buffy didn't know where it had come from.

"Mister Morden," Marcus said to a dark-haired man who had the most sinister smile plastered on his face. "Given all we've seen tonight, I guess I shouldn't be surprised to find

you here. I take it being dead hasn't changed you much?"

"Apart from having a new set of... associates... I suppose it hasn't," Morden replied.

The next three vampires all wore matching outfits - black pants and boots with red velour shirts. The shirts all bore an insignia that looked similar to the pins Riker and Harry were wearing.

"Wow, a matched set," said Buffy. "Were they having a sale at the dead body store?"

"Those are Starfleet security officers," said Harry.

"Yes," said Seska. "We were lucky enough to find a ship that specialized in dead security officers. Allow me to introduce Ensigns Kaplan, Hendorff and Marple."

The last of the vampires came into view, and Ace's reaction was instantaneous. The young man looked perfectly ordinary to Buffy, but Ace was on the verge of flying into a fury at the sight of him.

"And look who else they brought with them," said Ace. "Mike Smith. You've got a lot of nerve showing up here, even if you are dead."

***

Willow heard the Bronze's back door open. She looked just in time to see the clean cut man letting three other men into the building. There was no longer any question whose side the clean cut man was on. The new arrivals already had their vampire faces on.

Willow turned and ran. The others met her as she returned to the stage, then reacted as the three vampires arrived.

Maggie was staring wild-eyed at the leader of the trio. She spoke his name as if she was swearing. "Rickman. I guess we don't have to worry about finding you after all."

"You're not surprised to see me, then?" said Rickman.

"Should we be?" asked Rembrandt.

"I would think so," said Rickman. "You see, I'm dead. You people killed me, in fact. The only reason I'm here now is because the Master brought me back. He introduced me to power beyond my wildest dreams. And believe me, taking blood from a human is much easier than taking brain fluid."

Indicating his two companions, who were dressed identically to three of the vampires at the front door, Rickman added, "And if the job wasn't easy enough for me alone, I happen to have the ample help of Ensigns Rizzo and Harper. So you see, this should all be over rather quickly."

"All this is impossible," Maggie insisted. "How can we have killed you? We haven't been able to catch up with you for weeks."

"Ah, that's where things get interesting," said Rickman. "I've obviously been pulled back in time to a point before my demise. Which leads me to wonder - if I kill you now, will you still be able to kill me then? Or by killing you, will I trap myself in a temporal paradox?" He smiled at them, showing his elongated vampire teeth. "Let's find out, shall we?"

***

"Hello, Ace," said Mike Smith. The Master told me you'd be here."

Buffy turned to find Ace struggling to contain herself. "Who is this guy?" she asked the girl.

"You don't want to know," Ace answered through gritted teeth. "The scumbag sold us out once before, to these creatures who hate the entire universe. I thought I liked him, and he almost got us all killed. Figures he'd be part of this crowd now."

"At least this time I don't have to pretend about which sides the two of us are on," said Mike.

With that, his face changed into its full vampire appearance. Ace screamed an angry war cry and rushed at him with the cricket bat.

Buffy suddenly heard more shouts coming from the opposite side of the building. She turned and saw Maggie attacking another vampire that had apparently sneaked in through the back door.

All around the Bronze, the vampires changed into their full demonic forms - not that it made much difference in some cases. Humans, aliens and vampires launched themselves at each other in a sudden whirlwind of conflict. The battle was on.


Readers' Guide

(Numbers in parentheses indicate the running count of characters for the entire story.)

Max Fenig (36) - A multiple-time UFO abductee who appeared in the X-Files first season episode "Fallen Angel." The fourth season episodes "Tempis Fugit" and "Max" are about a plane crash that killed him.

Vedek Bareil (37) - A Bajoran religious leader on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Bareil died in the third season episode "Life Support," after Doctor Bashir made a number of drastic attempts to save his life.

Cordelia Chase (38) - At this point in the chronology of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cordelia is more enemy than friend to Buffy, Willow and Xander.

Seska (39) - A Cardassian spy on Star Trek: Voyager. She was originally thought to be a Bajoran, but she was unmasked in the episode "State of Flux." She then escaped from the Voyager crew and joined the Kazon. Voyager and Seska crossed paths several more times before Seska was finally killed in the episode "Basics, Part 2." She was played by Martha Hackett.

Maje Culluh (40) - A Kazon warlord on Star Trek: Voyager. He and Seska joined forces against Voyager, and like Seska, he was killed in the episode "Basics, Part 2."

Morden (41) - The human representative of The Shadows, an alien race on Babylon 5. Morden was executed in the episode "Into the Fire." He was played by Ed Wasser.

Ensign Kaplan (42), Ensign Hendorff (43) and Ensign Marple (44) - Three Security Officers killed in the line of duty in the original Star Trek series.

Mike Smith (45) - A British Army Sergeant who appeared in the Doctor Who episode "Remembrance of the Daleks." As Ace says, Mike was secretly working for an organization that had allied itself with the Daleks. He eventually turned on Ace and tried to kill her, but he was killed by a little girl the Daleks were using as their puppet.

Colonel Angus Rickman (46) - Maggie Beckett's commanding officer in the Sliders episode "The Exodus." Rickman had a disease that forced him to steal brain fluid from humans and inject it into himself. He killed Maggie's husband and the original Professor, then escaped with his own timer. The Sliders spent the remainder of their third season chasing him, until he was finally killed in the episode "This Slide of Paradise." Rickman was played by Roger Daltrey in "The Exodus" and by Neil Dickson in later episodes.

Ensign Rizzo (47) and Ensign Harper (48) - Two more Security Officers killed in the line of duty in the original Star Trek series.