The Night of 100 Stars

The Night of 100 Stars

By Robert A. Black

DISCLAIMER: All things Buffy are the creation and property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy Productions, and so forth. All things non-Buffy are the creation and property of many other individuals and corporate entities.

This particular story is the creation of Robert A. Black (that's me). Feel free to drop me a line and let me know what you think of my work. Good or bad, I'd like to hear it.

TIME CONTEXT: This story takes place between the Buffy episodes, "Nightmares" and "Invisible Girl."

Chapter 6 "Rumble in the Bronze"

Buffy was no great tactical mastermind, but even she could tell that their situation was bad. The vampires had her group surrounded. Several of her allies were cut off by the remaining Bronze patrons, who had tried to lay low but were panicking now that an actual fight had started. Worse yet, the vampires had both doors blocked, so there was no place for the noncombatants to go. Many of them were stampeding up the stairs to the Bronze's upper level. Buffy hoped the balconies were strong enough to hold them all.

The fight was already beyond anyone's ability to organize or control. Several of the combatants had already paired off into their own individual battles. Buffy tried to look for a way to protect her friends and her other charges, but there would be no way for her to help them all. And yet, she was the Slayer, so she had to do whatever she could. Readying her stake, she took a deep breath and charged into the fray.

Ahead of her, Buffy could see Garak dodging around one of the tables as Seska chased him. He was still trying to reason with her, apparently hoping he could still appeal to her Cardassian background. It wasn't working.

"Seska, you know who I am. It's me, Garak. One of your instructors when you joined the Obsidian Order."

"I remember you," said Seska. "You're the one who betrayed the Order. I wanted to kill you even before I died."

"Seska, think for a moment," Garak implored. "At this point in time, there's no way to get back to our home world. You'll probably want to have another Cardassian around for companionship."

"Right now," said Seska, "all I want is your Cardassian blood!" With that, she slammed her fists down on her side of the table top. The other end flew up and caught Garak in the face, knocking him down. Seska threw the table top out of the way and lunged for Garak's throat.

Buffy flew into action, knocking Seska away. The Cardassian struck back, knocking Buffy to the ground beside Garak. She was stronger than human vampires, Buffy realized. This fight was not going to be easy.

***

Xander and Kimberly were at the center of the group. The people in front of them kept the vampires away for the moment, but Xander knew it was only a matter of time before the fight came to them. He brought out the cross he was carrying and prepared to wield it.

"Don't worry, Kimberly," he said. "I've dealt with these guys before. I can handle them."

One of the red-shirted vampires charged through the battle, his fangs bared. Xander held up the cross and was bracing himself for the attack, when suddenly Kimberly flew by him in a blur. With a banshee yell, she hurled herself at the creature, knocking him backwards with a quick series of blows and kicks. The vampire quickly recovered and attacked the girl anew, but it was obvious that she wasn't the easy victim he had been hoping for.

Xander could only stand there, his mouth hanging open in surprise. First Buffy, now this girl. He couldn't help wondering what this attraction to women who could beat him up said about his manly self-image.

***

"Come on. Wouldn't this be much easier if you cooperated with my associates and me?"

Morden was not like the other vampires. Even in his demonic state, he kept his composure and his seemingly reasonable demeanor, as clean and pressed as the suit he was wearing. Unfortunately, Kes apparently knew better than to trust appearances.

"Get away from me!" she shouted at him. She was backing away, trying to get to the center of the room, but Morden refused to give up his steady pursuit.

"You really don't understand, do you?" said Morden. "My associates and I aren't going to go away. You may struggle for a while, but will that really change things in the end?"

Kes tried to make a break for the open ground in front of the stage, but Morden caught her by the arms and pulled her to him.

"Let me go!" Kes shouted.

"I don't think so," said Morden. "The Master wants all of you dead. It'll be my pleasure to make you the first victim."

Morden pushed Kes's head aside, exposing the side of her neck. In his eagerness, he didn't notice that Kes was now glaring at him with an intense stare. Suddenly, Morden felt like his entire face was bursting into flame. He let Kes go and grabbed for his eyes, which felt like they were boiling. Through the sudden gush of tears and blood, he could see Kes's gaze grow more fierce. He tried to back away, but she closed in on him, burning her stare through his body.

"LEAVE ME ALONE!" Kes hissed. She kept her voice surprisingly low. It did not need to be loud for Morden to understand her meaning. With his last remaining wits, he turned and ran for the exit. The Master would have to find someone else to take care of this strange young woman.

***

Willow stood her ground, holding her cross out in front of her. She was determined to protect the far less mobile Joe, who had backed up against the stage. The man had revealed himself as a Watcher in his own world. Not exactly like Giles, but close enough. Despite her own fears, Willow thought it was her duty to defend him.

Quinn, Rembrandt and Maggie were battling the three vampires in front of them, but the fight was not going well. The demonic creatures were much stronger than the Sliders expected. They couldn't hold out for long.

Sure enough, things quickly took a turn for the worse. Rickman grabbed Maggie by the shoulders and rammed her head against the stage. The woman went down in a heap. Rickman was on top of her in an instant, ready to drain the blood from her body.

Stepping forward, Willow drew out the vial of holy water and prepared to use it. As she drew close, though, Rickman anticipated her move, lashing out a hand that knocked the vial away. Terror rooted Willow's feet to the floor as the vampire prepared to attack her.

Suddenly, a red-haired blur shot across the room, hitting Rickman with full force. Wade did little more than bounce off Rickman's body and land on the floor, but it was enough to knock the vampire off balance for a moment. Willow regained control of her legs and went to Wade's assistance, trying to drag the Slider away.

Rickman bore down on them again, but by now Quinn had realized their trouble and swung around to face their enemy himself. He had pulled a microphone stand off the stage, and now he was using it to beat Rickman back. Willow helped Wade to her feet, knowing the woman wouldn't be safe on the ground for long. Rembrandt was now facing the two red-shirted vampires by himself, and was weakening quickly.

Just then, a figure in a maroon Sunnydale sweat suit raced into the conflict. Leela was coming to the aid of her "tribal sister," just as she promised. For the first time in the fight, Willow allowed herself to think they might be all right after all.

***

Buffy was battling Seska to a standstill. Garak was back on his feet and had been of some help, but he was still shaky. Next to them, Gabrielle and Marcus were both clubbing Maje Culluh with their staffs, but they weren't having much effect.

At some point, Culluh decided he had toyed with them long enough. He grabbed Gabrielle's staff as she swung it. "I will not be challenged by a female any longer," he snarled. In a flash, he ripped the staff from Gabrielle's hands, swung it backwards in a blow that knocked Marcus off balance, then brought it back squarely across the back of Gabrielle's head. She fell to the ground instantly.

Casting the staff aside, Culluh bent over to pick Gabrielle up. Before he could reach her, a ragged war cry ripped through the air. Joxer had drawn his sword and was coming to Gabrielle's aid. He didn't get far. Culluh lashed out with his hand and knocked the sword away with a single blow. Joxer, suddenly finding himself disarmed, stopped dead in terror. The vampire picked him up and threw him against the stairs leading to the Bronze's upper level. He bounced off the staircase and lay still on the ground.

Buffy knew turning her back on Seska was dangerous, but Gabrielle was in serious trouble and there was no one else to rescue her. Marcus saw her move and stepped over to help Garak against the Cardassian vampire.

Reassured, Buffy reached down and picked up Joxer's fallen sword. Culluh was trying again to pick up Gabrielle and didn't see the Slayer coming until it was too late. Buffy took a single swing and cut the vampire's head off cleanly. Both the head and the body were dust before they hit the ground.

One down, thought Buffy. Who knows how many to go.

She took a quick look around the room. Her friends and allies appeared to be holding their own, but that was all. At this rate, they would all wear themselves out much faster than the vampires would, and then everyone would be in danger.

A second look told Buffy what was wrong. Almost no one in the group had any experience fighting vampires. They were treating the battle as if it was a barroom brawl, not a life-or-death struggle with the undead. Even the people who had taken stakes from her in the library weren't using them.

She spied Xander in the middle of the room, trying to help Kimberly against one of the red-shirted vampires. Kimberly didn't look like she needed the help. Buffy was impressed. The girl's fighting style looked remarkably like her own.

"Xander!" Buffy called as she hurried to his side. "We need stakes! There's enough broken furniture around. Scrounge something up and get people to use it."

Xander got the idea and hurried off. Kimberly turned as he left, taking her attention off her adversary for a moment. The vampire struck her midsection, sending her flying straight into Buffy. The Slayer was still holding Joxer's sword, and she barely jerked it out of Kimberly's way in time.

Kimberly recovered quickly, looked down and saw the sword. "Mind if I borrow this?" she asked.

"Aim for the neck," Buffy advised.

Kimberly took the sword and brought it around in one clean swing. Another vampire crumpled into nothingness.

There was no time to celebrate. In front of them, Seska hit Garak with another piece of furniture and knocked the tuxedo-clad Cardassian down again. There was another loud thud behind them, and Buffy turned just in time to see another red-shirted vampire knock Rembrandt to the ground. He stepped over the unconscious singer and advanced on Willow, Wade and the older guitar player.

Buffy and Kimberly exchanged glances and rushed back into battle, Kimberly going after Seska while Buffy took on the red-shirted vampire. Both knew the night was far from over.

***

Mulder and Scully first heard the commotion inside the Bronze from over a block away. By the time the Agents arrived at the club, its terrified patrons were hanging out of the upper floor windows, desperate to escape.

"Come on," said Mulder. "We've got to get in there!"

"Mulder, are you crazy?" Scully shouted over the panicked voices of the crowd. "There's a full-scale riot going on. We can't just charge in without backup. We'd be more useful helping the people out here."

"Maybe," said Mulder, "but we can't let whoever started this get away. I'm betting they're still inside." He looked the building over quickly.

"With this crowd, that's probably where they're going to stay."

"Unless there's a back door." Mulder looked the building over quickly. "Let's go around and check. If we can't get in, we'll come back out here."

Scully agreed reluctantly, and the two Agents set off around the building. Sure enough, the back door to the club was standing wide open, inviting them to enter. Mulder drew his gun and went in first. Scully followed quickly, pointing her own gun ahead of her as she stepped through the entrance.

There was no way Scully could have been prepared for the sight inside. An all-out brawl was in progress, involving combatants that ranged from teenage girls to unearthly monsters. It was like something out of a nightmare - or a farce. Scully couldn't decide which was more fitting.

"Agent Mulder - I knew we could expect you to arrive," a voice said over the din. "And you as well, Agent Scully."

Scully looked over in the direction of the voice. Her jaw dropped even lower than it already was. Three men stood before them, and even though their faces had all been twisted into monstrous caricatures, she recognized them all. Standing directly before her was Agent Pendrell, still looking as healthy as he was on the day Scully had watched him die. Max Fenig was there as well, his body somehow restored from the burned and broken condition it was left in after a plane crash. And standing between them was...

"You!" shouted Mulder. "What are you doing here? How are you alive? Did they...?"

"No, Agent Mulder," said the bearded black man in the black trench coat. "I know what you're thinking, but the beings you've been trying to uncover were not involved in my resurrection. I was brought back by someone far more powerful."

"But how...?"

"It will all become quite clear to you soon." The man smiled, revealing a pair of long fangs inside his mouth. "In my dying moments, I used my own blood to help you. Now it's time for you to return the favor."

Mulder pointed his gun at the man. "Stay right where you are," he commanded.

"Don't fight it, Agent Mulder," said Max. "It's wonderful! Everything makes sense to me now - and I'm not afraid of being abducted any more."

As Scully watched Mulder trying to hold off Max and their former informant, she suddenly spotted Pendrell out of the corner of her eye. He was trying to creep up and catch her by surprise. Quickly, Scully brought her gun around and trained it on him. "You're not moving either, Pendrell," she ordered.

"You actually remembered my name?" sneered Pendrell. "I can't tell you how that makes me feel. It's ironic, isn't it? I should have known I'd have to be undead before you'd notice me."

"Pendrell, I'm warning you!" shouted Scully.

"Really?" said Pendrell, refusing to back away. "So this time you'll shoot me yourself instead of letting someone else do it for you?"

The former Agent took another step forward, baring fangs of his own. Scully had no choice. She fired, hitting him squarely in the chest. Much to her surprise, Pendrell barely even flinched. She fired her gun repeatedly, hitting Pendrell a total of five times, but the best she could do was knock him to the ground. His clothes were a bullet-riddled mess when he got back to his feet, but he showed no signs of slowing down. He rejoined his two comrades, and together the three men advanced on the helpless Agents.

Suddenly, there was an unearthly noise coming from near the club's stage. Scully turned just in time to see a large man disintegrate into a fine gray powder. The blonde teenage girl he had been fighting didn't seem at all surprised by the sight.

The three men stared at the girl in terror. She glared back at them, sizing them up. Then, in a flash, she was racing toward them, holding a pointed stick in the air. She hit Max with a flying tackle that knocked him into the other two men and sent them all sprawling onto the ground.

The men were too fast, though, and the girl could only keep one of them occupied. Before Scully could decide what to do next, Pendrell lunged for her throat, while Mulder was attacked by the man who once gave him information.

This was not the way Scully had planned to spend her evening.

***

Willow stood with her back to the stage, watching the chaos around her. Buffy had slain one of the red-shirted vampires, but there were still plenty of others left to cause trouble.

On one side of her, Quinn was still fighting off Rickman, but he was beginning to weaken. On the other side, Harry and Riker were hitting Tasha and another red-shirted vampire with everything they could pull off the stage. Elsewhere, almost everyone in her group who could still stand was locked in mortal combat. She stood with Wade and Joe in their small protected pocket of calm, wondering how long it would stay protected.

A sudden series of crashes caught Willow's attention. Over by the back door, two new arrivals, a man and a woman both dressed in trench coats, were being attacked by more vampires. Buffy had come to their rescue, but she couldn't hold all of them off by herself. Things did not look good.

A stray stake rolled past Willow's feet. Panic and indecision gripped her heart as she looked at it. She had seen and done so much during Buffy's struggle with the undead, but she had always avoided the actual slaying part of the job. She had attacked things only a handful of times, and in each case it was because her anger overpowered her fear. This time, Willow felt far too much fear and not nearly enough anger.

And yet, there was Xander, running around grabbing broken chair legs, pool cues, and anything else he could find that would make a serviceable stake. He dashed from fight to fight, trying to get the weapons into the hands of their allies, ignoring the fact that the vampires might suddenly decide to attack him. If he could help in all this confusion, then surely she could, too.

With all the courage she could muster, Willow picked up the stake, then took Wade by the arm and pulled her away from the stage. "We have to help!" she shouted, pointing out the two latest arrivals, who were now in serious trouble. From the way the newcomers acted, Willow guessed the vampires were people from their past. They were always the hardest vampires to fight, and therefore the most dangerous.

"What about Joe?" said Wade. "And Quinn?"

Willow quickly went to Joe and handed the man her cross. "If anyone comes near you..." she began.

"I'll fend them off with one hand," Joe finished for her. Raising his cane, he added, "And hit them with the other."

Willow smiled grimly and went back to Wade's side. By now, the woman had found a stake of her own. With that, the two unlikely warriors charged into battle.

***

From where he stood, Xander thought the battle was finally turning their way. No small thanks to his own efforts, too, if he had to say so himself.

Vampires were falling all over the place. Ace had battered Mike Smith relentlessly until she finally broke the cricket bat over his head. She then took the broken handle and drove it through his heart. No doubt about it, Xander thought, Ace was someone he did not want mad at him.

With Mike out of the way, Ace had turned her attention to a red-shirted vampire who was busy knocking Bashir around the room. The doctor was still on his feet, but he wouldn't be for long. The demon sensed Ace's approach and was ready for her, but he didn't count on Bashir grabbing one of Xander's makeshift stakes and ramming into his back.

With their foe out of the way, Ace and Bashir turned their attention toward Tasha Yar. They were both too exhausted to do anything but hold Tasha to a standstill, but that gave Harry and Riker enough breathing room to finish off yet another of the red-shirted vampires.

The last of the red-shirted vampires was still battling with Leela. The woman insisted on using her knife instead of a stake, which meant that despite the many blows she landed, the vampire was still alive. Xander guessed that if it went on long enough, the vampire would probably stake itself to avoid further misery.

Despite these victories, though, the struggle was far from over. Xander only had to look toward the other end of the room to see that. Marcus had come to Quinn's aid against Rickman, but that left Kimberly alone to fend off Seska. Meanwhile, Wade and - Xander's heart skipped a beat - Willow were helping Buffy and two strangers fight off a trio of vampires.

This was too much. Xander may have thought of no one but Kimberly that evening, but even so, Willow was... well, she was Willow. He had to help her.

Xander had saved one stake for himself. Now was the time to use it. He quickly readied his weapon and charged across the room.

Unfortunately, he only made it halfway. In his rush to join the action, Xander forgot to pay attention to the fight between Marcus, Quinn and Rickman. He ran past them just as Marcus was bringing his staff around to strike the vampire again. Instead, the Ranger caught Xander squarely on the jaw, dropping him to the ground in mid-stride.

From where he lay on the floor, Xander saw the ongoing battle through a surreal haze. The entire room was spinning, while Marcus, Quinn and Rickman were surrounded by brightly colored flashing lights. Xander thought he saw Marcus pin the vampire against the stage with his staff, then he thought he saw Quinn pick up a stake and drive it through Rickman's chest. Then again, he could have imagined it. The three combatants may have started hurling bolts of fire at each other for all Xander's increasingly dazed eyes could tell him.

Then Xander heard the unmistakable sound of a vampire dying. Hooray, he thought wearily, that's one more for our side. No need to thank me for my part in it.

Xander didn't know whether or not he said that last part out loud. He blacked out a moment later, so it didn't matter all that much.

***

Scully gasped for breath. She was barely managing to keep Pendrell off her when unexpected help arrived. A short-haired young woman and a long-haired girl ran up and tackled the vampire Agent from behind.

Unfortunately, Pendrell was more than a match for Scully's rescuers. He threw the girl aside as if she was a cheap Cabbage Patch knockoff, then turned his attention to the short-haired woman. The woman stood her ground as best she could, trying to hold Pendrell off with a wooden stake. Pendrell was less than impressed.

Scully took a step forward, trying to come to the woman's aid, and almost tripped. She looked down and saw a second stake lying on the ground. The long-haired girl must have dropped it. Scully quickly picked it up and held it out in front of her.

"Pendrell! Leave her alone!" she shouted. The former Agent turned around and looked at her.

"Is that supposed to scare me?" Pendrell said mockingly. He advanced on her again. Scully braced herself. She would only get one chance to use the weapon, and if she didn't time things right...

Suddenly, Pendrell tripped and fell forward. He held his arms out to catch himself, giving Scully a perfect shot at his chest. She brought the stake up abruptly and rammed it home. The former Agent crumbled before her eyes.

"Phew! Yuck!" shouted a voice. Scully looked down and saw the long-haired girl lying on the floor. She was still stretched out from reaching to trip Pendrell, and now his dust was raining down on her.

There was another unearthly sound nearby. Scully looked up and saw the blonde girl dispatch Max with a quick blow to the chest. All around the room, the various battles appeared to be winding down. Unfortunately, one match that showed no sign of ending was Mulder's struggle against their former informant. Worse yet, Mulder appeared to be losing.

Scully was trying to choose how she could best help Mulder when a new arrival appeared at the back door. Scully took one look at him and lost all thoughts of anything else.

The newcomer's huge frame filled the doorway. Scully recognized him immediately, and as he approached, she remembered his every feature with a clarity that was almost painful.

He looked the same as he did that first night Scully had seen him. The same gray suit, the same short haircut, the same cold-blooded expression on his face. In every way, he looked the same as that night Scully watched him come to murder Jeremiah Smith, the night he had taken Scully captive and forced her to find a fugitive Mulder's whereabouts.

Mulder claimed he was an alien. All Scully knew for sure was that he was a killer. And now he was here in the Bronze with them.

***

Buffy was in The Zone. The scraggly-haired vampire was her fourth slaying of the night, and she was ready for more. The heat of battle sent adrenaline surging through her body, and it made her feel invincible. Anything with fangs had better beware.

She turned to survey the room, and was almost disappointed by how quiet it had become. Only a handful of vampires were still standing, and they seemed to be well-contained.

Then she saw him enter through the back door.

His hair was shorter, his clothes were nicer, and for the moment, his face had no vampire features, but Buffy recognized him anyway. It was Luke, the Master's Vessel, who had come to the Bronze once before and tried to suck it dry so the Master could escape from the Hellmouth. She had killed him then. It didn't seem fair that he got to come back for another try. Then again, the dead were coming back for everyone else that night, so Buffy guessed it was simply her turn.

Behind Luke, the battle between the man in the trench coat and the vampire in the trench coat paused momentarily. The vampire recovered first, pinning the man against the wall. He closed in for the kill, but Wade and the woman in the trench coat came to the man's rescue. Wade handed the man a stake, which he quickly used to slay the vampire. Good, Buffy thought. Now they wouldn't distract her while she was taking on Vessel-boy.

Buffy brought out the last of her stakes and waved in front of her, almost inviting Luke to attack. "So, couldn't resist coming back for seconds, could you?" she said. "Well, go ahead. I'm ready for you."

Luke looked at her curiously. "Do I know you?" he asked.

"How quickly they forget. Or are you even more of a moron now than you were before?"

"I did not come here to play with children," said Luke. "In fact, I am not supposed to be here at all."

"There's a lot of that going around," said Buffy. "Too bad you won't survive it."

She closed in for the kill. Luke simply stood there, doing nothing. It was almost as if he was inviting her to slay him again.

Behind Luke, the man in the trench coat and the woman in the trench coat were both shouting.

"Don't do that!" warned the man.

"No! Stop!" added the woman.

Buffy ignored them. Her mind was consumed by the thrill of the fight and the opportunity to slay another vampire. If her mind had been clearer, she might have wondered why Luke was making it so easy. His face hadn't even changed yet.

But Buffy was in full Slayer mode. She didn't stop to answer the questions her mind was asking. Luke's chest provided an extra-large target, and she rushed forward and plunged her stake directly into it.

And then, something weird happened. Luke didn't vanish into dust. He barely even reacted to the blow at all. Instead, he simply pulled the stake out and tossed it aside.

Suddenly, a strange hissing sound came from Luke's body. A stream of noxious fumes caught Buffy in the face. Suddenly, her eyes were on fire and she couldn't breathe. With every ounce of strength she had, Buffy threw herself away from him. She landed on the floor with a thud. As she struggled to stay conscious, Buffy heard the sounds of people panicking as the fumes spread.

Maybe that wasn't Luke after all, Buffy thought. Then darkness overwhelmed her.

Readers' Guide

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

Kimberly's fighting style is similar to Buffy's - A reference to the fact that Sarah Michelle Gellar's stunt double on Buffy the Vampire Slayer used to be Amy Jo Johnson's stunt double on Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Her name is Sophia Crawford.

Agent Pendrell (49) - A young FBI Agent who had an unrequited crush on Dana Scully. He was killed in the X‑Files fourth season episode "Max" when he got shot by an assassin trying to kill Scully and a witness she was protecting.

Mr. X (50) - He was never referred to as "Mr. X" on screen during any of his X-Files appearances. Actually, he was never referred to by any name at all. In keeping with that practice, he is left unnamed in this story. Mr. X, or whatever his name really was, appeared several times to give Mulder and Scully information or to manipulate them into doing his bidding. He was killed in the opening episode of the fourth season, "Herrenvolk." In his dying moments, Mr. X used his own spilled blood to scrawl a final message for Mulder. He was played by Steven Williams.

The alien bounty hunter (51) - He first appeared in the X-Files second season episode "Colony" and has reappeared from time to time since then. Something in the biochemistry of his species, whatever that is, produces toxic fumes (from a human perspective, anyway) when his body is punctured.

Luke - The vampire Luke doesn't appear in this story, because Buffy killed him in the episode "The Harvest." However, Luke was played by the same actor who plays the alien bounty hunter, Brian Thompson, which explains Buffy's confusion.

Chapter 7 "Expanding Horizons"

In all the years they had spent training him to be a Watcher, Giles's father and grandmother never prepared him for something like this.

He had learned all about the strange creatures who walked the Earth, but never about the ones who walked on other planets. Tonight, there were several of the latter in his library.

At least two of the aliens were being civilized. Lennier sat in a corner, where he appeared to be meditating. Zathras, meanwhile, was doing his best to be helpful. He was even willing to retrieve the various books Giles needed from the stacks.

Unfortunately, Giles's more human-looking guests were being somewhat less cooperative. The three men calling themselves "The Doctor" - whichever versions they might be - had been quarreling among themselves and with Professor Arturo ever since Buffy and the others left for the Bronze. They hurled technical jargon at each other faster than Giles could follow.

"It's obvious that whoever caused this phenomenon has somehow overcome the Blinovitch Limitation Effect."

"Well, of course it's obvious, but what good does that do us? Blinovitch factors have nothing to do with the cyclic burst ratio."

"You're both forgetting to account for Podowski embolisms in the space-time vortex!"

"Of course we are, because Podowski embolisms aren't relevant. What if we reversed the polarity of the neutron flow?"

"That's your answer to everything, isn't it? You don't even know which neutron flow you want to reverse."

"In all the time-space phenomena we encountered on Voyager, we were always careful to record the level of vertron particles in our subspace field."

"That's lovely, but you won't find vertron particles within three planetary diameters of a gravity well this size."

Giles wished his books had been more useful. If he found some answers, maybe this incomprehensible banter would stop. The books, however, stubbornly refused to yield any secrets. He closed the last one in frustration. This exercise was going nowhere, and it was taking his mind with it.

Through all the noise and commotion, Lennier continued to remain calm. Giles watched the alien for a moment, wondering what his secret was. Apparently, Lennier sensed Giles's attention, because after a few seconds he opened his eyes and stared back at the librarian.

"I'm not disturbing you, am I?" Giles asked.

"You are," said Lennier, "but it is not important. You appear to be troubled by these events. Is there some way I can be of assistance?"

"Just tell me how you manage to sit there and not look bothered."

"We are taught much about patience in Temple," Lennier said. "The Universe does not give up its riddles easily - and this is an especially large riddle. We cannot expect the answer to be simple and quick. We can only wait and hope that we are where we should be when the answer arrives."

Giles was still considering Lennier's reply when Zathras returned from the stacks, interrupting all of them.

"Not good," Zathras was muttering to himself. "Others will not be pleased. Will say Zathras has gone quite mad, they will. Quite mad."

"Zathras, what's going on?" asked Giles as the alien arrived. "Where are those books I asked you to find?"

"Much apologizings," said Zathras. "Zathras still learning Dewey Decimal System. Most complicated."

"You don't need to learn the Dewey Decimal System," said Giles. "I told you exactly where the books were."

"Yes, yes, Zathras understands. You say books are on this shelf. Zathras goes to this shelf. You say books are on that shelf. Zathras goes to that shelf..."

"I get the idea," said Giles. "What are you talking about?"

"Zathras goes to shelf, but shelf is not there. Zathras thinks, perhaps Zathras has become confused. Then Zathras sees there are many more shelves than before. Must learn Dewey Decimal System to discover where correct shelf has gone."

"What do you mean, 'many more shelves than before'?" Giles asked.

"Zathras knew you would be saying that," replied Zathras. "Come and see."

By now the others in the library had taken an interest in the conversation. The entire group hurried up the stairs and into the stacks. The stood there gaping at the sight they found.

The library had expanded to several times its normal size. Where there had previously been a simple set of bookshelves, there was now a cavernous interior, filled with more books than even Giles could read in a lifetime.

"It's incredible," Giles whispered to himself.

"It's impossible," said Arturo.

"It looks like the same effect you'll find on the inside of a TARDIS," said the tall, curly-haired Doctor. He turned to his smaller counterpart and added, "And you said we wouldn't need a magnifactoid eccentricolometer to figure this out."

***

"Buffy? Buffy, can you hear me?"

Willow. That was Willow's voice. She was calling. She sounded worried.

"There, you see? She moved. I think she's waking up."

"Buffy? Can you hear me? If you can hear me, I want you to open your eyes."

Who was that? It was a woman's voice, but Buffy didn't recognize it.

She turned her head toward the woman's voice and slowly opened her eyes. The lights seemed incredibly bright, and Buffy had to blink several times before her eyes adjusted and she could see. Willow was hovering over her, visibly relieved that Buffy was awake. Next to her was a red-haired woman wearing a trench coat. Buffy vaguely remembered her from the fight in the Bronze.

The fight in the Bronze! It was all coming back to her. There was that big guy she thought was Luke the vampire, and those fumes that sprayed out of his body. What was that all about? Maybe someone had found out while she was unconscious.

"Wh... what hit me?" Buffy finally managed to say. Her throat felt like she needed a glass of water - a several-gallon-sized glass of water.

"Just relax, Buffy," said the woman. "I'm a doctor."

"You may be a doctor, but you're not the Doctor," said Buffy, as the phrase from earlier in the evening popped into her head.

The woman looked confused. Willow couldn't help smiling. "Buffy, this is Dana Scully," said Willow. "She's an FBI Agent as well as a doctor."

"So am I sick or just under arrest?" Buffy asked.

"Actually, neither," said Scully. "I don't understand it. The fumes you were exposed to have killed people before. For some reason, they've hardly affected you at all. You're a very lucky girl."

Buffy could hear Giles in her head, saying "If you were anyone but the Slayer..." She decided it was probably best not to explain that fact about herself to the FBI. "How's everyone else?" she asked, trying to change the subject.

"We're still finding out," Scully replied.

"And the vampires?"

Scully seemed uncomfortable with the question. Willow answered instead. "Some of them got away."

It wasn't the answer Buffy was hoping for. If vampires were still on the loose, it meant the night wasn't over yet. "I have to go after them," she said, trying to sit up.

"Now, wait just a minute," Scully objected. "Even if you aren't hurt, a girl like you has no business chasing dangerous fugitives. You're better off leaving it to the authorities."

"When it comes to these guys," Buffy replied, "I am 'the authorities.'"

"Buffy! Are you all right?"

Xander hurried over to join the group, with Kimberly right behind him. Buffy instantly noticed a dark purple bruise across Xander's jaw.

"I'm fine," she said. "What happened to you?"

"What, this?" Xander said. "It's nothing. I just forgot to duck." Trying to be nonchalant and macho at the same time, he added, "I guess it just goes with the territory when you're fighting the forces of darkness." He stole a sidelong glance at Kimberly. Probably to see how impressed she was, Buffy thought.

"I'd better see how the rest of the group is doing," Willow said, suddenly in a hurry to get up.

"I'll come with you," said Buffy. She knew her friend needed her, and she wanted to check on everyone anyway.

The Bronze was a wreck. Every piece of furniture was broken. Even the stage and the walls showed signs of damage. Fixing the place was going to take days. It was enough to make Buffy wish she had stayed unconscious.

As if the damage to the Bronze wasn't bad enough, Buffy also had to face the fact that several members of their group were hurt. Rembrandt, Maggie, Joxer and Garak had all been moved to one central spot, where Gabrielle, Kes and Bashir tended to them. Only Garak looked like he would be back on his feet any time soon.

Gabrielle hovered over Joxer the most, clearly anxious about him. Bashir came over to check on them both.

"He won't wake up," Gabrielle told the doctor. "I've only seen this kind of injury a few times. You can't tell if he'll ever wake up."

"You can with a bit of training," said Bashir as he examined the injured man. "I'd say he's going to be just fine. Even the limited facilities of this time period should be able to care for him."

Gabrielle relaxed visibly, but the tone of her voice grew harsh. "It figures Joxer would do this to me," she said. "We're carried off to the gods know where, and he goes and gets himself hurt so I have to take care of him. I'll bet he planned it this way."

"Well, if it'll make you feel better," said Bashir. "I'll never let him know how worried you are."

Buffy and Willow approached, and Bashir stood to meet them. "We need to send some of these people to your town's hospital," he told the girls. "Fortunately, there are no serious injuries - just some broken bones and a concussion or two. If I had my medkit, I could take care of them right here. As it is, we'll have to rely on what you think of as 'modern medicine.'"

"Don't worry," said Buffy. "We'll tell them to go easy on the beads and rattles."

Willow looked over to where Garak was sitting. "What about him?" she asked. "I don't think they take Cardassians at our hospital."

"Luckily for me, I won't be needing their assistance," said Garak. "I should be able to rejoin the group by the time you're ready to leave."

"Who said the group was going anywhere?" said Buffy.

"Well, I assumed that since some of our opponents got away, we would be setting out to find them."

"I'll be setting out to find them," Buffy insisted. "We already tried the gang-slaying thing. Just look around if you want to see how it went. I'm going after the rest of them by myself."

"You can't face them alone," said Bashir. "If they have more reinforcements, they'll be too much for you."

"Besides," added Garak, "I doubt you'll be able to convince many of these people to stay behind."

Buffy looked around the room at the rest of the group. Garak was right. Whoever these people were that had dropped into Sunnydale's lap that night, they were perfectly willing to see a fight through to the end. Several of them were busy equipping themselves to battle the undead. Ace was even using Leela's knife to sharpen the broken handle of her cricket bat into a better stake.

The Slayer's duty is to protect people from vampires, Buffy reminded herself. If she was going to do that, she would have to act quickly - and before anyone else noticed.

***

"Mulder, you're as crazy as that girl is!"

Unable to convince Buffy to stay put, Scully had gone to see what her partner was doing. For some reason, she had hoped Mulder would help her keep the situation under some semblance of control. She should have known better.

"You recognized him, Scully," Mulder was saying. "It was the same assassin we've seen before. If he's here, you can bet this is all tied up with the conspiracy we've been trying to uncover since you were first assigned to the X‑Files. We've got to go after him."

"Mulder, I was hoping you'd help me stop these people from chasing after the... the..." She hesitated, unwilling to use the word the girls had used for their recent adversaries.

"The vampires?" Mulder said for her. "We've got to find them, too. They went out a different way, so we'll have to split up."

"Split up? Mulder, wait just a minute..."

Before Scully could argue the point further, the bearded Englishman - Marcus, if she remembered correctly - walked up and joined the discussion. "We've all talked it over," he said. "Several in the group have volunteered to stay behind and wait for medical assistance to arrive. When it does, Joe Dawson will accompany the wounded to the hospital, while the rest will head over to the high school."

"What's at the high school?" Mulder asked.

"A number of our friends, all trying to figure out how we got here in the first place."

"Got here from where?" Scully asked. She had been too busy looking after Buffy to hear that information before.

"All over the cosmos, apparently," Marcus replied. "Different times, different planets, different universes. I'm not much of a scientist myself, so I didn't stick around for the full explanation."

It was time for Scully to draw the line. "Mulder, can I see you for a moment?" she demanded, pulling him aside.

For his part, Mulder was as excited by the night's events as Scully was dubious about them. "Scully, do you realize what this means?" he said.

"Better than you do," Scully retorted. "It means that if we're not careful, we'll end up in adjoining rooms at whatever mental hospital these people escaped from."

"Look, I'll admit they're story is a little fantastic..."

"A little?" Scully exclaimed. "Mulder, what these people are suggesting is beyond even the most extreme possibilities."

"Then how do you explain what we've seen?" Mulder shot back. "What's your explanation for Max Fenig and Agent Pendrell attacking us when we both know they're dead, and how is it that a stake through the heart made them turn to dust? And if these are mental patients, then how do you explain that one guy who looks like he belongs on 'Wild World of Reptiles'?"

Scully was at a loss for words. "I can't - yet," she replied at last. "But that doesn't mean I'm just going to take these people's word for what's going on."

"I'm not saying you should," Mulder replied. "In fact, it sounds like they could use another person with a logical, scientific mind. Maybe you should join the group at the high school."

Before Scully could reply, Mulder turned back to Marcus. "As I was suggesting to my partner," he said, "we'll probably have to split up if we want to catch both the assassin and the vampires."

"Right," said Marcus. "The trouble is, we don't know where any of them went. You appear to know something about our noxious fume friend. I was hoping you had some idea where we could find him."

"I don't know if I have any ideas," Mulder replied, "but I always seem to run into the guy without even trying."

"Well, maybe you'll get lucky again," said Marcus. "We can always hope. And as for the vampires, it's obvious that our local expert is..."

"Buffy!"

Willow ran up to them, looking panicked. "Buffy's gone!" she cried. "She said she had to go to the bathroom, but she slipped out instead. I think she's gone to fight the vampires by herself."

"Why would she do something like that?" asked Scully.

"You don't know Buffy," Willow replied. "She feels responsible for us, since she's the Slayer and all. I should have watched her more carefully."

"Well," said Marcus, "at least now we don't have to worry about finding the vampires."

"We don't?" said Scully.

"No," said Marcus. "All we have to do is find Buffy. She'll find the vampires for us."

Readers' Guide

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

Blinovitch Limitation Effect - One of the Laws of Time invented over the course of the Doctor Who series. It's supposed to prevent time travelers from encountering themselves during their journeys.

"Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow" - According to Doctor Who mythology, this was the line Jon Pertwee (the actor who played the Third Doctor) substituted for any technobabble he didn't understand, couldn't pronounce or just plain forgot.

The TARDIS interior - The TARDIS is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, just like the library has become.

Magnifactoid eccentricolometer - A device mentioned in the Doctor Who episode "The Pirate Planet," which was written by Douglas Adams before he hit the big time with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Nothing particularly special about the device, but it does sound especially Adams-like, doesn't it?

Chapter 8 "Separate Ways"

"Xander, this feels just like when we used to choose sides for kickball."

"Oh, come on, Will, it's not the same at all. For one thing, I'll bet that Garak guy can't kick worth a darn."

Willow tried to laugh, but the sound stuck in her throat. She was trying not to let fear get the better of her, but this was about as dangerous a situation as she had ever faced. Worse than venturing into the basement when the nightmare world overran the town. Worse than venturing into the Bronze on the night of the Harvest. Even worse than doing that scene in the school talent show.

The paramedics had finally arrived to pick up Joxer, Rembrandt and Maggie. Joe, Mulder and Scully told them they were in charge, but Willow and Xander, as the only Sunnydale residents around, had to do a lot of the talking. Next, Kes had taken Scully, Quinn and Wade back to the library, where they could help with the research and still check in with the hospital from time to time.

The remaining people were dividing into two groups so they could look for Buffy, the vampires, and that big guy who shot poison gas out of his chest. Again, since Willow and Xander were the only locals, they would be leading the groups around town.

Fortunately, choosing sides was not as difficult as it had been in the old kickball days. Willow would take Mulder, Marcus, Bashir, Gabrielle and Leela with her, while Xander would take Ace, Kimberly, Harry, Garak and Riker with him.

Willow looked over her charges and wanted to pass out. She was supposed to lead them? She reminded herself that she was only the guide, and that she had already been told to get behind everyone else if fighting broke out, but that didn't help. What was she supposed to do when these people looked to her for guidance, asked her opinion on where they should go, and trusted her judgment in a life-or-death situation? That was the scariest thing about the entire night. Willow almost wished she could face the vampires instead.

Leela sensed Willow's anxiety. "Come along, sister!" she said encouragingly. "We will find these demons again. Then we will fight for the honor of your tribe, and the great horned swine beast you serve."

"Yeah, sure," said Willow. There was no doubt about it - the vampires looked more appealing all the time.

She watched as Xander led his group out the Bronze's back door. He remained as brave has he had been during the fight, but now he was making a bigger show of it. Probably to impress that Kimberly girl, Willow thought. She never liked watching Xander go through his many infatuations, so she quickly turned away and prepared to assemble her own team. As she did, her foot crunched on something in the debris left over from the fight.

Willow looked down and spied something pink half-buried by broken pieces of furniture. She shoved the debris aside and picked the object up. It looked like a wristwatch, but Willow couldn't find any hands or numbers on it. She wondered how anyone was supposed to tell time with the thing.

Obviously, someone had dropped the watch, or whatever it was, during the fight. Since Willow had never seen a watch like this one before, she guessed it came from one of their visitors - but there was no way to tell which of them was its owner.

There was no time for her to investigate at the moment, anyway, and most of the visitors had already gone. She shoved the watch into her pocket and prepared to lead her group into the night. There would be plenty of time later to unravel this small mystery.

***

Kes had experienced many adventures during the three years of her life, but this one was remarkable in many ways - not the least of which was the rapid pace at which things were happening.

She had barely even had time to take a good look at the planet Earth. Barring another unforeseen time-space phenomenon (which were actually more common than people thought), this would probably be her only chance to see the planet most of her shipmates called home.

Now, with the fight over and the injured delivered to the hospital, Kes was leading Scully, Quinn and Wade back to Sunnydale high school. She had the route memorized from their journey to the Bronze, of course, so on the way back, she was able to concentrate less on the road and more on the surroundings. It was indeed a beautiful planet, completely unlike the desert world where she grew up. No wonder her friends were so eager to return to it.

Kes finally reached the library door and led the others inside. The Doctor - not her Doctor, but the tall one with the scarf - was the only one in the main room. He was busily working on some kind of robot that sat on the table. The robot had "K9" written on its side in large characters.

"Doctor," said Kes, "where did everybody go?"

"They're back in the stacks," the Doctor said, "having their horizons expanded, if I'm not mistaken. I thought I'd be more useful out here, putting some more brain power to work on our problem."

"That's a neat toy," said Wade, admiring the robot.

The Doctor looked hurt. "This is not a toy!" he insisted. "This is my dog, and he's very clever. Aren't you, K9?"

"Affirmative, Master," chirped the robot.

"How does it work?" Wade asked, growing more curious by the minute.

"Oh, it's rather complicated, I'm afraid," said the Doctor. "A bit beyond the science of this time period. There's just one problem. I can't seem to get him connected to the local computer network."

"What's wrong?" Wade asked.

"Well, in all the centuries of computer evolution I've seen," the Doctor replied, "I don't think the human race has ever figured out how to make its interface configurations any simpler."

"Having trouble with the IRQ settings, aren't you?" said Wade as she sat down in front of the computer terminal. "Let me take a look."

Satisfied that one of her charges was now gainfully occupied, Kes turned to lead Quinn and Scully to the stacks. Before she could take a single step, though, Professor Arturo appeared in the doorway.

"Quinn Mallory!" Arturo shouted. "As I live and breathe..." He bounded down the steps and rushed to embrace Quinn, momentarily oblivious to the way Quinn was looking at him.

"You have no idea how long I've been searching for you!" cried Arturo. "Ever since we got separated on..."

"Wait just a minute!" Quinn barked, pushing Arturo back. "They told me you were here, but I didn't believe it. Which... which Professor Arturo are you?"

Arturo was taken aback for a moment, but recovered quickly. "Yes, of course," he said, somewhat subdued. "I should have realized... I take it from your reaction that my double is..."

"Dead," Quinn finished for him.

"I see. Well, you certainly have my condolences."

"You're him, aren't you?" said Quinn. "The Arturo from the world we thought was our home? You tried to make us think you were our Professor, right up to the very moment we slid. And you're still trying, aren't you?"

"Quinn, let it go!" said Wade, finally looking up from the computer after trying to bury her head in it.

Arturo turned and looked at the woman. "My dear Miss Welles! I didn't see you there at first. Is Mister Brown here as well?"

"Professor," said Wade, looking pained, "right now I don't care which Professor you are. The man I thought of as Professor Arturo is dead. Let's just leave it at that until we've taken care of the mess we're all in. Okay?"

The Professor looked cowed. Obviously he had met some version of Wade in the past and had cared about her. "Of course," he said. "Well, then, shall I take you back into the stacks? There are some fascinating trans-dimensional phenomena going on back there..."

Wade relaxed as Arturo returned up the library steps. Quinn, on the other hand, continued to glower suspiciously at the Professor.

"Quinn!" Wade hissed at him. "I said drop it!"

Quinn turned to Wade and began to object, but Wade's glare silenced him instantly.

Satisfied that the matter was settled, at least for the moment, Kes took Quinn and Scully and hurried to catch up to the Professor and the others. She couldn't help hoping that whatever personal problems were going on would soon be overshadowed by the more cosmic events of the evening.

***

The vampires' trail was still warm. As warm as a trail left by the undead could be, at any rate.

Buffy didn't enjoy ditching everyone back at the Bronze, but there were times when a Slayer had to do what a Slayer had to do. They had been lucky during the fight. The only deaths had been of the vampire variety, and the injuries had been few. Buffy did not want to press that luck any further. She hoped the others would understand.

She crept through the darkness alone, her senses telling her that the vampires had passed these very same places recently. As she had suspected, they were heading for the graveyard. That was one good thing about vampires. Even the aliens among the undead were predictable.

Buffy was busy surveying the terrain when she heard footsteps behind her. Maybe the alien vampires weren't so predictable after all. She didn't sense their approach, but as in the Bronze, her senses were somewhat confused by all the non-humans in town.

The footsteps grew closer, and more numerous. Some of them were better concealed than others, but Buffy guessed there were about a half-dozen individuals approaching. She quickly found a hiding spot and waited.

When the footsteps were almost on top of her, Buffy drew her stake and charged out of hiding - straight into Xander's face. He screamed and fell over backwards.

"Xander! Are you all right?" Kimberly cried. Buffy noticed that the girl was still carrying Joxer's sword.

"Me?" said Xander. "Of course. I was just, uh, shouting out my war cry, then getting out of the way so you could dispose of our enemy... who isn't really an enemy after all, so it's a good thing you didn't dispose of her. Right?"

"Xander, what are you doing here?" Buffy cried. "What are any of you doing here?"

"We came to help," said Harry.

"Right," added Ace. "Besides, we've got scores to settle with those vampires, too."

Buffy looked around and saw Garak and Riker bringing up the rear of the group. "So who are they supposed to be? Chaperones?"

"In case you didn't notice," said Riker, "we used to know a couple of the vampires you're chasing. We'd like to catch up with them ourselves."

"You don't know them any more," Buffy replied. "They may look like your friends, but they're not. Your friends are dead."

"All the more reason to catch those creatures," Garak answered. "If our friends are dead, they should be laid to rest."

Buffy knew there would be no winning this argument. What was it about sidekicks that kept them from listening to reason? Why couldn't they just stay put like they were supposed to?

"Okay," Buffy relented, "but stay together. I know where the vampires are heading, and it's not far."

She turned back the way she was going before, pressing on toward the graveyard. She tried to pull out a little ahead of the group, but not too far in case trouble came up behind them. All the while, she found herself hoping this wasn't an enormous mistake.

"It's tough, isn't it? Being the Slayer, I mean."

Buffy had been so focused that she didn't notice when Kimberly came up beside her. The two girls walked together, still slightly ahead of the others.

"How much did Xander tell you?" Buffy asked.

"He gave me the details, but I'd already figured things out in general. Back where I come from, I kind of have a job like yours."

"Let me guess," said Buffy. "Rampaging hordes of evil, you're the only one who can stop them, nobody else can know about it, blah blah blah...?"

"Well," said Kimberly, "I'm part of a team, not a solo act like you. But otherwise, yeah, you've pretty much got the idea."

"Did you ever wonder what they were thinking when they put the safety of the world in the hands of kids like us?"

Kimberly smiled and laughed softly. "All the time," she replied.

***

Willow had decided to take her group through Weatherly Park and then back toward the school. Things had been quiet so far. The only excitement came when Marcus took out the strange metallic staff he carried with him. When he carried it in his clothes, it was only a few inches long, but at the touch of a button, it telescoped out to the same size as Gabrielle's staff.

"You've got to tell me where I can get one of those," Gabrielle told the Ranger.

"This is a Minbari fighting pike," Marcus replied. "They're extremely rare, even where I come from."

"Minbari?" Gabrielle repeated. "Is that anywhere near Corinth?"

Willow continued listening to the chatter until a sight suddenly stopped her in her tracks. A large stone building was sitting among the trees, about halfway through the park. It had a round core, with what looked like a large round chimney in front. A larger but thinner section wrapped around the rear of the building, extending out from the core on both sides. The structure vaguely reminded Willow of an elephant's head, with its trunk sticking up into the air. She had never seen the place before.

"Guys," she told her group, "I swear that wasn't here this afternoon."

"Well, if something - or someone - is bringing people to Sunnydale," said Marcus, "I suppose they could do the same thing to buildings."

"Or maybe whoever is behind all this has brought their headquarters along with them," suggested Bashir.

"We must attack at once!" shouted Leela.

"Or not," suggested Mulder. "In this part of the universe, we try to find out who we're attacking before we attack them."

"Right," said Marcus. He turned to Willow and told her, "Why don't you stay here? We'll just have a quick look around and be right back."

Willow nodded her agreement. Marcus turned and led Mulder, Bashir and Leela toward the building. Only Gabrielle lingered behind.

"Are you doing okay?" Willow asked the young woman.

Gabrielle turned to face Willow. "I've been on a lot of adventures before," she said. "And I've seen a lot of things. But the wonders you have in this world, the things you think are so ordinary... my world doesn't have anything like them." She smiled a bit and added, "I have this friend who's a great warrior, and I always try to be brave when she's around. It's a good thing she can't see me now."

"Join the club," said Willow.

A strange chirping noise interrupted the conversation. Oddly enough, it seemed to be coming from Willow's pocket. She remembered the strange wristwatch she had found in the Bronze. Maybe its owner had set an alarm or something.

Willow quickly pulled the watch out of her pocket. It was definitely the source of the chirping noise, but Willow still couldn't see what time the watch read or what the alarm was supposed to be for. She began poking at the various buttons on the side of the watch experimentally. One of them had to do something useful.

Suddenly, there was a brilliant flash of light that seemed to come from nowhere. It swallowed Willow whole before she could react. She felt her feet leave the ground, but she couldn't see what was happening. There was a moment of disorientation, and then she was standing on a solid surface again. The only problem was that the solid surface was in an entirely different and unfamiliar place.

Willow looked around and found herself and the rest of her group standing in a large round chamber. The walls were black except for a set of small lights arranged to look like a star field. Several banks of computers sat in the middle of the chamber, arranged in a circle around a central platform. Next to them stood several metallic columns and a large white globe mounted on some sort of pedestal. Willow didn't recognize the hardware. She couldn't help being amazed at how it managed to look incredibly sophisticated and incredibly cheesy at the same time.

"What just happened?" asked Bashir.

"I didn't mean to do anything," said Willow. Holding up the watch, she added, "I was just trying to make this thing stop beeping, and all of a sudden - foom!"

"Where did you get that?" asked Mulder, hurrying to look at the watch.

"I found it at the Bronze," Willow told him. "What do you think it is?"

"Based on what just happened," said Bashir as he joined them, "I'd say it's a homing device for some sort of transporter system. All the more reason to believe these are the people who brought us here."

"I don't know about you guys," said Gabrielle, "but there was no flashing light the first time I came here. I would have remembered it."

"I agree," said Marcus. "This time was completely different."

"Where do you suppose we are?" said Willow.

"My best guess is we're inside that building we saw," said Mulder. "The size of the room looks about right."

"Then let's have a look around," said Marcus. "We were just going to do that anyway."

The group divided again to explore the chamber. Willow lost track of their progress as she became engrossed in the banks of computers. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't figure out what they were all supposed to do. Several of the panels didn't look like they were doing anything but flashing lights in attractive patterns. A number of the consoles weren't even labeled.

Willow turned around and found Gabrielle standing behind her, bedazzled at the sight of the unfamiliar technology. She gripped her staff as if it was the only thing keeping her upright.

"It's all right," Willow said, trying to be reassuring. "They're just computers."

"I've never seen one before," Gabrielle replied.

"Well, they don't bite," said Willow. "As long as they don't have demons in them, that is."

"Demons?" Gabrielle said, growing more pale.

"Uh, just a figure of speech," Willow said, quickly realizing that her joke had been a bad idea. She beckoned for Gabrielle to join her, then turned and reached out to the nearest console. "See?" she told the young woman, "Computers are totally harmless."

As Willow held her hand out, her fingertip accidentally touched one of the controls. Suddenly, a loud wailing siren sounded. Two pyramid-shaped objects on the consoles began flashing like police car lights. Willow vowed then and there never to touch anything unfamiliar again.

The rest of the group hurried to Willow's side, trying to see what was happening. As they gathered, a bright column of blue light formed in the space just outside the ring of computer consoles. The group watched in amazement as the image of an enormous disembodied head formed inside the column.

"Rangers, what is the matter?" asked the head.

"There's only one Ranger here," said Marcus, stepping forward. "What do you want?"

"What are you doing here?" asked the head. "How did you get into the Command Center?"

"We were hoping you could tell us that," said Mulder.

Before the head could reply, there were several more flashes of light, in a number of different colors. The group turned just in time to see five new arrivals materialize. They all wore tight-fitting spandex outfits, with stylized helmets that covered their entire heads. They seemed to be color-coded, too. One person wore red, another yellow, another blue, another black and the last one green.

"Zordon, we got your signal!" said the newcomer in red. Every word he spoke seemed to have the utmost urgency attached to it. He stopped as he saw Willow and her group. "Who are these people?" he asked. "What are they doing here?"

Bashir turned to the newcomers, trying to look as inoffensive as possible. "I'm Julian Bashir," he began, "and we were all just walking along when..."

"Rangers," boomed Zordon, interrupting Bashir, "I have determined that these intruders used the Pink Ranger's communicator to infiltrate the Command Center. We must act at once."

"What are you talking about?" said Marcus.

The green-clad stranger - Willow supposed he thought of himself as the Green Ranger - stepped forward. "What have you done with her?" he demanded.

"Done with who?" asked Mulder.

"Look, if it's a fight you want, it's a fight you'll get!" the Green Ranger bellowed in the same tone his red counterpart used. "And we'll make sure you're sorry you ever came here!"

I already am, Willow thought to herself.

The multi-colored Rangers all took up fighting stances. In response, Leela drew her knife and Marcus brought out his fighting pike. Things were about to get wildly out of control.

Suddenly, Gabrielle stepped forward. Mustering all her courage, she said, "Wait! This is ridiculous! There doesn't have to be a fight here. We can talk out our differences instead."

The chamber grew silent for a moment. Unfortunately, it didn't last. A new voice, high-pitched and reedy-sounding, broke the calm. "Ayyyiii yii yii!" it shouted. "Zordon, what's happening?"

A small humanoid robot burst into the chamber, bumping into Gabrielle from behind as it ran past her. The surprise was too much for the young woman. She gave a startled shout and swung her staff around, scoring a direct hit on the robot and knocking it backwards. It tumbled back the way it had come.

Chaos broke out in an instant as the Rangers charged into battle. Willow ducked as the rest of her group met the attack head-on. She knew she was only doing what she had been told to do, but she still felt guilty about it. If only there was some way for her to help.

The watch! It occurred to Willow that if the mysterious wristwatch, or whatever Zordon called it, had brought them to this place, it might be able to take them away from it as well. The only problem was that Mulder had taken the device from her. What had he done with it?

As the fight raged on, Willow spied the watch lying on the floor. Mulder must have dropped it. She carefully reached out, trying to grab the watch before someone stepped on her hand. The fight had taken a bizarre turn, with the multi-colored Rangers flipping and cartwheeling through the air almost as much as they delivered kicks or punches. Willow wondered if they were supposed to be a fighting force or a circus act.

Finally, she reached the watch and snatched it away, just as Mulder fell backwards onto the spot where it had been. Trying to keep her concentration as the battle raged on, Willow looked over the watch and tried to find the buttons she had pressed before.

"Guys!" Willow called. "Everybody hang on!" She closed her eyes, gritted her teeth, and pressed the buttons again.

Much to Willow's relief, the flash of light reappeared and enveloped them again. Willow felt the floor disappear under her, and the chamber was gone. She hoped they had left their rainbow of adversaries far behind.

Readers' Guide

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

K9 (52) - A dog-shaped robot companion of the Fourth Doctor. There were actually three versions of K9. The one in this story is the original, who joined the Doctor and Leela in the episode "The Invisible Enemy" and remained with Leela on the Doctor's home planet Gallifrey after the episode "The Invasion of Time." John Leeson provided this K9's voice.

Zordon (53) - A being who appears in the form of a giant disembodied head to advise the Power Rangers on The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. There's supposedly some Power Rangers lore that explains who Zordon is and why he appears that way, but I'm not going to go look it up. Are you?

The Red Ranger (54), the Green Ranger (55), the Yellow Ranger (56), the Blue Ranger (57) and the Black Ranger (58) - as well as the Pink Ranger, who is busy elsewhere - formed the original line-up for The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.

Alpha (59) - A small robot on The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Alpha's primary job apparently was to scurry around the Power Rangers' command center fretting about all the doom and destruction that was coming their way.

Chapter 9 "Strange Interludes"

Kes's patience was beginning to wear thin.

She had left Agent Scully with the Doctor - the short one with the hat - and was now trying to get Professor Arturo and Quinn Mallory to resume the search for clues through the now-cavernous interior of the library. The two of them seemed more interested in arguing than anything else.

"Okay," said Quinn, "if you're really the Professor, then tell me who the Forty-Niners beat in Super Bowl Nineteen."

"Mister Mallory," replied Arturo, "you know perfectly well that I don't follow what you Americans call 'football.' I wouldn't know a Forty-Niner from a common street hoodlum, if there's any difference at all. You know, I'm beginning to wonder why I ever followed you into the vortex."

Kes felt her latent mental abilities simmering in the back of her mind. The Hellmouth that lay beneath Sunnydale was intensifying her powers. She had already used them once on the vampire Morden, and the experience had been such a thrill that it now frightened her. If Arturo and Quinn didn't settle their differences soon, she could very well become too tempted to end their bickering with those very same abilities.

The sound of footsteps in a nearby aisle caught Kes's attention. Grateful to have something else to listen to, she stopped and tried to find the source of the noise.

Kes didn't have to look for long. Within a few seconds, a tall thin man stepped around the corner. He was carrying something on his shoulder and pointing it in all directions. Kes recognized it from her historical research as some type of recording device. A "video camera," if she remembered correctly - which she usually did. The man wore a small headset and was busy speaking into its microphone.

"This is Edison Carter reporting live and direct," said the man. "I don't know if you can still hear me, but I'm now well inside the secret book depository. I believe this footage should provide more than enough proof that the TV networks have conspired to hide all reading materials from the public in order to make them watch more television."

Another man hurried around the corner, close behind Edison. He was older, and looked much more weathered. His clothing was ragged and torn, and his head was completely shaved except for a single strip of long hair that ran down the middle. Kes thought it was odd that a human would want to copy Talaxian hairstyles.

The older man looked around and saw Kes watching them. "Edison, look!" he shouted in a strange accent that Kes didn't recognize. "'Ere's one of 'em now!"

Edison hurried over and joined his companion. Pointing the video camera in Kes's face, he said, "Miss, my name is Edison Carter, and I'm with Network 23. Are you some kind of librarian or custodian?"

"No," Kes replied, "I'm an Ocampa."

"Miss," said the older man, "My name's Reg, and I'm with Big Time TV. Can I ask where you got those ears done?"

Kes looked at the man in confusion. "They were like this when I was born," she said.

"Oh," said Reg. "Pity. I'm looking for a way to enhance my image, and those beauties would be perfect."

"Look," said Kes, trying to change the subject, "I don't think you fully understand where you are, or what's going on..."

Edison finally pulled the video camera away from his face. "We were investigating a story," he said. "Reg said he'd heard about a secret plot by the TV networks. We followed his lead and came straight here."

"This may look like the place you were going to," said Kes, "but it's not. I don't even think you're in the same universe any more."

"Not the same universe?" Reg exclaimed. "Bloody networks! They'll do anything to boost their ratings, won't they?"

Edison was raising his video camera again. "This could be even more interesting than our original angle," he said. "Could you tell me more about this 'different universe' idea of yours?"

Kes looked straight into the camera, but said nothing for a moment. If more people were appearing inside the library, it could be a sign that whatever had brought them all to Sunnydale was getting worse. She had to find the others, especially the various Doctors. There was no time for distractions.

Quinn and Arturo came to Kes's rescue, still bickering as they rounded the corner behind her. She turned and pointed them out to Edison and Reg. "These gentlemen would be happy to explain it all to you," she said. "They know much more about the theory than I do."

Edison quickly thanked her as he and Reg rushed over to interview Quinn and Arturo. Relieved of her burdens, Kes hurried off, eager to find someone she could warn about their worsening situation.

***

Rupert Giles wearily looked down the next aisle of books. Even he was beginning to tire of them all. The number of shelves appeared to be infinite, and still growing.

Lennier and the holographic Doctor had gone a few aisles ahead, still helping him look for his missing books on the properties of the Hellmouth. Giles held out hope that the volumes might contain some clues to what was going on. He admitted to himself that it was a slim hope, but it was all he had to work with.

Giles was so focused on his task that he didn't notice several stacks of books that were in the middle of the aisle. He tripped over them and fell headlong to the floor.

"I'm terribly sorry. Are you all right?"

Giles looked up and found himself staring into the face of a little man who was sitting in the middle of the aisle. He had pulled a number of books off the shelves and stacked them up around him, making the aisle almost completely impassable. Giles tried to feel angry, but there was something about the man that made him feel pity instead.

"I'm fine," said Giles. "How did you get here? I don't recall seeing you enter the library."

"Oh, I... I'm not sure how I got here," said the little man, pushing a pair of thick glasses back from the tip of his nose. "I was on my way down to the bank vault... I'm a bank teller, you see. It was my lunch hour, and I wanted to find a quiet place to read. The next thing I knew, I was here."

"And you didn't think that was odd, Mister...?"

"Bemis," said the little man. "Henry Bemis. Well, I suppose it was kind of odd... but there were so many books, I couldn't think of anything else."

"Yes," said Giles. "Speaking of books, I happen to have lost a few..."

"I just grabbed the first ones I could find and started reading," said Bemis, not hearing a word Giles said. "These stacks alone are enough to last for several days, don't you think?"

"Well, yes, at least that," said Giles. "But these books that I'm missing, they're all on the subject of... of..." His voice trailed off when he looked up and saw Bemis totally engrossed in another large volume. It was obvious that it would take something on the order of a nuclear explosion to get the little man's attention.

Giles did his own quick check of the various stacks of books in the aisle. Satisfied that his missing volumes were not among them, he got up and left Bemis to his reading. If this strange night was going to bring someone unexpected joys, Giles certainly wasn't about to interfere.

***

Dana Scully's world was turning upside down.

First, the dead had come back and tried to kill her. Then a teenage girl survived a supposedly lethal exposure to a mysterious chemical toxin, and a young woman who looked like an elf led her to a library that was bigger on the inside than it was on the outside. Now, a creature even she would have trouble not classifying as alien was leading her through a seemingly endless series of bookshelves. And the night was still young.

"Not quite sure how to take all this, are you?"

Scully looked over at the little man with the question-mark umbrella. Kes had called him the Doctor - "the seventh one," whatever that meant. He seemed completely at ease with everything that was going on.

"Actually," Scully replied, trying at least to put up an appearance of skepticism, "I'm trying to count the number of genetic mutations it would take to make someone like our guide."

"Quite a lot, I'd imagine," said the Doctor. "I'm not sure exactly where Zathras comes from. I haven't run across his planet in my universe."

For a moment, Scully didn't know how to react to such a ridiculous statement. The Doctor leaped upon her silence instantly. "That bothers you, doesn't it?" he asked. "People talking about beings from other worlds?"

"You'd think I'd be used to it by now," Scully finally said. "My partner's been trying to prove the existence of extraterrestrials for years. It's his obsession."

"One you don't share," the Doctor finished for her.

"No, I don't," Scully admitted.

"And yet you continue to work with him," the Doctor continued. "You must have a certain interest in the subject. An interest in proving him wrong, perhaps?"

"My interest is in finding the truth," Scully said hotly. Why did this little man seem so interested in provoking her? "Just because I expect to find a different truth than my partner, that doesn't mean I'm less interested in it."

"Even if that truth upsets your view of the universe?" said the Doctor. "Quite frankly, Agent Scully, I'm not sure you'd let yourself recognize an extraterrestrial, even if you were having a conversation with one." Much to Scully's surprise, she noted a twinkle in the Doctor's eye that she couldn't explain.

Before she could reply, Scully heard the sounds of other people approaching. She turned and saw two men walking together through the stacks. One was a middle-aged man who was dressed as a cook from some kind of old-fashioned diner. The other was a well-dressed older man. Scully blinked hard, several times, as the men drew closer and she got a better look at them. By all appearances, the cook had three eyes, and the older man had three arms.

"Good day, gentlemen," said the Doctor, raising his hat to the men as they passed.

"If you say so," said the older man. "I most certainly do not."

"You'll have to forgive Mister Ross," said the man with three eyes. "It's not every day that his planet's colonization fleet is overwhelmed by superior forces."

"And you'll have to forgive Mister Haley's gloating," said Ross. "Especially since now that we're stuck in this library, we won't be able to find out whose fleet actually won."

"As if a Martian fleet would ever have a chance against a Venusian one," Haley shot back.

"I should have sent you into the river with the humans," said Ross, dismissing Haley with a wave of all three arms.

"You never would have had the chance," Haley retorted. "I had my eyes on you all along."

"Gentlemen, please!" shouted the Doctor. "I can see you're engaged in a highly stimulating discussion, but I'd like to bother you for just a moment. Exactly how long ago did you get 'stuck' in this library?"

"It's hard to tell," said Haley with a shrug. "Half an hour, maybe." Indicating Ross, he added, "Seems like longer with this guy around."

"I see," said the Doctor, frowning to himself. "Well, thank you, but we must be going now." He took Scully by the arm and hurried away.

"Surely you're not going to tell me that was an encounter with extraterrestrials," said Scully, once they were at a safe distance. "I've seen better makeup effects in low-budget horror movies."

"They certainly weren't from any place I've visited," said the Doctor. "For one thing, in my universe, the Martians are green."

Scully glared at the Doctor, but said nothing.

"Anyway, it's not important right now," said the Doctor after a moment. "What is important is the fact that people are still being brought here. Whoever is behind all this has been busy. It's almost as if they're using Time Scoop technology, but at a far more advanced level than anything my people have..."

The Doctor's discourse was suddenly interrupted by the sound of laughter coming from around the next bookshelf. They turned the corner and caught up to Zathras, who was watching something Scully couldn't yet see. He seemed to find it highly amusing, whatever it was.

"Zathras, what's going on?" said the Doctor as they arrived.

"Zathras hoped you would come," said Zathras. "Look!" he added, pointing.

Scully looked and saw two more impossible creatures standing in a reading alcove. One had a humanoid shape, but his skin was a strange color and his head was covered by an odd assortment of bumps and ridges. The other wore some kind of strange apparatus that covered its entire body. She could see nothing of whatever was behind the flashing chest panel, beneath the large collar or inside the elongated helmet. She couldn't even see any features in the light that shone from the single opening in the helmet's front face.

"Darmok, his ears filled with the rushing of waters," said the humanoid.

"A tree planted in the hour of scampering bears fruit only for the scavenger," the other being spoke in an unearthly voice that was accompanied by eerie musical tones.

The humanoid chuckled slightly. "Temba on the plains of sorrow and splendor," he said.

"Yes," said the other being.

The humanoid roared with laughter. Scully looked over at Zathras and saw that he was laughing, too. "What's so funny?" she asked him.

Zathras had to take several deep breaths before he could speak. "Vorlons have best sense of humor in the universe," he replied. "Zathras always laughs for days after hearing their conversations."

"What are Vorlons?" Scully asked, not sure she wanted to hear the answer.

"If that equipment is any indication," said the Doctor, "they're a very old and advanced species. Another sign that whoever is bringing everyone here is very powerful indeed."

He turned and started down the aisle again. "Come along," he said, "we haven't a moment to lose."

Scully hurried to keep up, wondering what sort of improbable situation she would be thrust into next. Behind her, Zathras was still laughing and muttering to himself. "'Trees planted in hour of scampering'! Ha ha!"

One thing was certain, Scully thought. After tonight, she would never look at sewer monsters and genetic mutants in the same way again. From now on, she would welcome cases as simple as those.

***

"Doctor! Mister Giles! Over here!"

Lennier was standing by yet another bookshelf, looking down the aisle. "We have more arrivals," he said as Giles and the holographic Doctor arrived.

Giles looked and saw two more people, a young man and a young woman, looking through the books on the shelves. He did a quick check of the shelves himself and discovered they were in the computer science section. It was hardly the place where Giles would find the books he was looking for. In fact, he only went to that section when it was absolutely necessary. Still, everyone in the library was currently in the same predicament, and as the librarian, Giles felt he should try to be hospitable toward them. Taking the Doctor with him, Giles went down the aisle and approached the pair.

As he drew closer, Giles realized that the newcomers looked familiar to him. The woman was tall and slender, with long blonde hair. She wore jeans and a T-shirt under a flannel shirt and a vest that had "TEL CAL" written on it. The man looked like he hadn't shaved in a while, or cut his dark brown hair, either. His clothes looked equally ragged. Giles couldn't place their faces, but he was sure he knew them from somewhere.

The woman looked up from the book she was reading. "Are you the librarian?" she asked.

"Yes," Giles stammered, momentarily caught off guard. Either the woman was good at guessing, or she really did know him. "Yes I am. Pardon me for asking, but have we met somewhere before?"

The woman looked at him blankly. "I don't think so," she said.

"I know it may sound strange," said Giles, "but I could have sworn that we had."

"He could be right, Syd," said the man. "Maybe he represents some kind of repressed memory, or an amalgamation of various Jungian archetypes."

"Duncan, what's that supposed to mean?" asked Syd.

"Beats me," said Duncan, "but it sounded good."

"Look, I don't represent anything," said Giles. "My name is Rupert Giles, and I could have sworn we knew each other from somewhere."

"Sorry, I'm afraid not," said Syd. She looked past Giles and her eyes opened wider. "But you..." she said, looking at the Doctor. "You I remember."

"Me?" said the Doctor. "I can assure you, Miss, that we've never met before. It's quite impossible."

"No," Syd insisted, "we have. You're an expert in virtual reality, aren't you?"

"Virtual reality?" the Doctor repeated. He considered the term for a moment. "I suppose you could say I have some involvement with that field, but in a highly advanced form."

"Then you do remember!" Syd exclaimed. "I'm Sydney Bloom, Joseph Bloom's daughter. I came to your lab a few months ago. You were the one who sent me to Doctor Morgan."

"You must be mistaken," said the Doctor.

By now Sydney was at the Doctor's side, growing more insistent. "How did we get here?" she demanded. "It's obvious that we're in VR, but who put us here and how did they do it?"

"Miss Bloom," said Giles, cutting in, "apparently we have several cases of mistaken identity here. I apologize for mine. This isn't virtual reality, and it isn't a dream. I can assure you it's all quite real. There are a number of people here tonight who shouldn't be. We're trying to find out how they got here and how we can send them all home. You two are welcome to join us."

Sydney regarded Giles carefully, then turned back to Duncan for his reaction. Duncan merely shrugged, saying, "It beats standing here reading outdated computer books." To Giles, he added, "You really should keep up with the times, you know. Even I can see that."

"So I've been told," said Giles. "It'll have to wait for some other occasion, though." Like right after the Master makes a deposit at the local blood bank, he added silently. "Right now, we must resume our search for some answers."

Giles turned and started back toward Lennier, with the Doctor and the two familiar-yet-unfamiliar visitors in tow. The Minbari was waiting for them patiently, as Giles had already come to expect. The librarian knew he would need Lennier's tranquillity more than once again before the night was through.

***

There was definitely something in the library other than books. Kes had only suspected it at first, but now she was certain. Thanks to her telepathic skills, she was homing in on it as easily as if she had a sensor lock from Voyager to guide her.

She was so focused in her task that the voice she suddenly heard startled her. When she realized who the voice belonged to, though, she wasn't the least bit surprised.

"Thou speakest aright;

I am that merry Wanderer of the Night.

I jest to Oberon, and make him smile,

When I a fat and bean-fed Horse beguile,

Neighing in the likeness of a Filly Foal.

And sometime lurk I in a Gossip's Bowl

In very likeness of a roasted Crab;

And when she drinks, against her Lips I bob,

And on her withered Dewlop pour the Ale."

Kes looked down the nearest aisle and saw him standing there, wearing a Starfleet uniform, as usual, and reading a book he had taken from one of the shelves. He didn't notice her approach until she had almost reached him.

"Hello, Q," she said.

"You know, no matter how hard I try," said Q, "I simply cannot understand what Jean-Luc sees in this Shakespeare fellow. Have you ever heard such nonsense?" He finally looked directly at Kes, and recognition crossed his face. "But you don't even know Jean-Luc, do you? You're from Captain Janeway's crew! The little one who only lives nine years, right?"

"My name is Kes. I should have known I would find you here."

"Moi? Why on Earth would you say that?" said Q. After a moment's thought, he added, "We are on Earth, aren't we?"

"I've seen enough of your antics to recognize what's going on as your work," said Kes. "Who else could bring so many different people here, from so many different places - even from different universes?"

"I'd like to know that myself," Q replied, "since whoever it was brought me here as well."

"What?"

"You heard me," said Q. "Not only is this not my doing, but I'm as much of a victim as anyone else. Watch this." He held his hand in the air and snapped his fingers. Nothing happened. "You see? I'm as powerless to leave as you are."

"That's hardly a convincing demonstration," said Kes. Even as she spoke, though, she again felt the presence of something powerful in the library, and the sensation was definitely not coming from Q.

"You feel it, don't you?" said Q. "Some kind of tremendous power, enough to bend time and space as easily as you can tie a knot. Is that convincing enough?"

"What is it?" Kes asked.

"I don't know," said Q. "But I think someone should go and find out."

"You're not coming, too?" said Kes.

"My dear," Q replied, "when battle is joined, it's not the generals who lead the way. Why should I take the risk, when you yourself have pointed out how many other people are around? I'll still be here when you need me."

With that, Q returned to his reading. Kes felt a flash of anger, but the mysterious presence continued to nag at her mind, distracting her. She decided Q wasn't worth the bother and hurried off to find the source of the disturbance.

She did not need to look for long. The rows of bookshelves finally ran out, and Kes stepped onto a wide balcony that looked over a large, open area. Presumably, some kind of courtyard lay at the bottom, beneath an uncountable number of stories filled with more bookshelves. She couldn't see how far down the shaft extended, because floating in the middle of it was a maelstrom of bright, swirling lights.

"It's incredible!"

Kes turned and saw Giles step onto the balcony from a neighboring aisle. Lennier and her Doctor were with him, along with two other people she didn't recognize. The librarian turned and saw Kes as she approached them.

"It seems my library has grown a lot more than we thought," Giles said. "And I don't remember a vortex being there before."

"That vortex is powered by the same force that brought us all here," said Kes. "I'm sure of it."

"There's something else about the vortex," said the Doctor. "It's almost identical to the one that brought Professor Arturo here. More powerful, of course, but the harmonic frequencies are the same."

"Then perhaps it leads to whoever is responsible for our being here," Lennier suggested.

"One thing's for certain," said Giles. "We need to find the rest of our party and bring them here. Finding my books doesn't seem quite so important any more."

Readers' Guide

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

Edison Carter (60) and Reg (61) - Two characters from the series Max Headroom. They come from a future ("20 minutes into the future") where TV networks have taken over society. Edison is a hot-shot reporter for the most powerful network, while Reg runs a small-time renegade station. The title character, Max Headroom, is Edison's computer-generated alter ego. Edison was played by Matt Frewer, and Reg was played by William Morgan Sheppard.

Henry Bemis (62) - Arguably the best-known character from the best-known episode of the original Twilight Zone series. Henry Bemis was a book loving bank teller in the episode "Time Enough at Last," which was first broadcast in 1959. He was played by Burgess Meredith.

Ross (63) and Haley (64) - Two characters from the Twilight Zone episode "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" which was first broadcast in 1961. Ross is an advance scout for a Martian attack force who tries to hide among a busload of travelers. Haley is an advance scout for a Venusian attack force who runs a small diner to cover his activities. Ross was played by John Hoyt, and Haley was played by Barney Phillips.

"In my universe, the Martians are green." - In the Doctor's universe, Martians are better known as Ice Warriors, and they are, in fact, green.

The Vorlon (65) - A member of a very old and very powerful species found on Babylon 5. Vorlons spend almost all of their time among other species inside their "encounter suits," and they almost always speak in riddles.

The Tamarian (66) - A member of a species that appeared in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, "Darmok." Tamarians speak almost entirely in metaphors, referring to just about everything in terms of just about everything else. The Tamarian Captain in the Next Generation episode was played by Paul Winfield.

Sydney Bloom (67) and Duncan (68) - Two characters from the series VR.5. Sydney is capable of using a computer to project herself and others into a surrealistic virtual reality environment. Duncan is her lifelong friend, who is also shares Sydney's VR abilities, although to a lesser degree. Sydney was played by Lori Singer, while Duncan was played by Michael Easton.

"Pardon me for asking, but have we met somewhere before?" - Anthony Stewart Head, who plays Giles, previously played the similar (but more sinister) role of Oliver Sampson, Sydney's link with "The Committee" on VR.5.

"But you... You I remember." - Robert Picardo, who plays the holographic Doctor, had a very small role as a Virtual Reality specialist in the pilot episode of VR.5.

Q (69) - A mischievous nearly-omnipotent being who has appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. He is played by John DeLancie.

"Thou speakest aright," etc. - Q is reading from Act II, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Specifically, the speech is Robin Goodfellow (aka Puck) describing himself - an apt description for Q as well.

Chapter 10 "Children of the Corn"

"Well, this certainly gives the old place a country touch."

Buffy and her assorted companions had finally reached the graveyard. The only problem was that the graveyard was no longer there. The motley group stood on the path that ran past its edge, looking over the low wall that surrounded it. They could see nothing but row upon row of cornstalks, stretching over the entire field.

"I take it you weren't expecting to harvest crops tonight," said Riker as he stood at Buffy's side.

"Believe me," said Buffy, "the last harvest they tried around here was something completely different."

"This is stupid," said Ace. "Who looks for vampires in the middle of a cornfield?"

"It wasn't a cornfield before," Buffy replied. "Maybe the graveyard's still here. We just can't see the headstones because of the plants."

Kimberly hopped onto the wall. "We'll never know standing here," she said. Looking at Xander, she asked, "Are you coming?"

Buffy turned to look at Xander herself, and noticed that he was a shade paler. He also was standing back from the wall instead of leaping heroically to Kimberly's side. "Sure, sure," he said unconvincingly. "I'll be right there."

Kimberly hopped off the wall and ventured into the field. Ace, Riker, Garak and Harry followed, but Buffy stayed back, watching her friend.

"Something wrong, Xander?" she asked.

"No, nothing," he replied, even less convincingly. "What could be wrong?"

One look from Buffy told Xander she didn't buy a word of what he was saying. "I know this'll sound silly," he said at last, "but... I'm afraid of cornfields, okay?"

"What?" Buffy asked.

"It's an old story," Xander continued. "I had a bad experience in a cornfield once, and now they just really creep me."

"You can face vampires, demons and witches, but not rows of corn?" said Buffy.

"Sure, go on and rub my face in it," said Xander.

"Later," said Buffy. "Right now, we've got other things to do." She held out a hand to him. "Come on. If I can protect you from the undead, I can protect you from vegetation."

Xander looked at her for a moment, then stepped forward and leaped onto the wall. Buffy joined him.

"Just don't tell Kimberly about this, all right?" Xander said.

"My lips are sealed."

They stepped off the wall and went into the graveyard-turned-cornfield together. They hadn't gone very far before they heard a voice ringing through the crops.

"Buffy! Xander!" Kimberly called. "Over here!"

Buffy looked around, trying to figure out where Kimberly's voice was coming from. Xander located her first, which did not surprise Buffy all that much.

They hurried though the cornstalks and found Kimberly crouching beside two children, a boy and a girl who both looked around nine or ten years old. The girl had a tomboyish appearance, sporting a ponytail and wearing a dust-colored shirt and pair of overalls under an oversized dark blue jacket. The curly-haired boy looked slightly younger and much more fragile. He looked around at the cornstalks with a wild-eyed stare that gave Buffy the wiggins.

"Who's this?" said Buffy as she and Xander arrived.

"I don't know," said Kimberly. "I just found them here."

"My name's True Danzinger," said the girl. "This is Uly. Ulysses Adair." She said the name as if they should all recognize it.

Xander knelt beside the boy and put a hand on his shoulder. "Hey, bud," he said. "What are you doing out here? Did you get lost?"

Uly looked at Xander with the same wild-eyed stare he had given the cornstalks. He said nothing, but abruptly opened his mouth and began to make high-pitched trilling sounds. Xander looked at his two companions in confusion.

"He's been doing that ever since I found them," said Kimberly.

"He's looking for the Terrians," said True.

"The who?" asked Kimberly.

"The Terrians," True repeated, as if that explained everything. "The beings who live here. You know, they come up out of the ground. Uly's bonded with them."

"He has?" said Buffy suspiciously. True's description of these beings sounded too familiar for comfort. "These 'Terrians' don't suck people's blood, do they?"

"What?" said True. Uly trilled again. Buffy was really beginning to be annoyed by the sound.

True looked alarmed. "Please, you've got to help us. We can't find the way back to our camp."

"I think getting back is going to be a little harder than you thought," said Buffy.

"Yeah," Xander agreed. "For starters, what planet is this camp on?"

"G-889, of course," said True. "You know, we're part of the Eden project. My Dad was on the crew that got us here."

"Jeepers," said Kimberly. "This may sound really weird, but you're on Earth now."

"Don't be silly," said True. "Earth doesn't look like this place. I've seen it in VR." Uly trilled again, apparently in agreement.

"Well, that's where things get a little complicated," Buffy began. She tried to think of a way to explain a multiversal interface - something she barely understood herself - to a ten-year-old, but True was not willing to wait.

"Please, you've got to help us!" True cried, becoming hysterical. "We have to find our camp!"

"I know! I know!" Buffy shouted back. "Give us a minute, okay?"

True began sobbing, and Kimberly tried to comfort her. Buffy's mind raced as she tried to think of what to do next. Her thoughts were interrupted by more shouting from another part of the cornfield.

"Oi!" cried Ace. "Over this way!"

Buffy hurried toward the sound, with Xander close behind her. Kimberly followed with the two children. They reached Ace and found her surrounded by three teenage boys. Riker arrived as well, and gasped at the sight of one of the boys.

"Wesley?" said Riker. "Wesley Crusher?"

"Hello, Commander," said Wesley. "When did you grow that beard?"

"When did you get young again?" said Riker. "You look like you did right after you came on board the Enterprise."

"I did just come on board the Enterprise," Wesley replied. "How did we get here?"

"It's obvious, really," said another of the boys as he stepped in. "You've been pulled here from different points in time. I've done a lot of time-travel myself, so I understand it pretty well."

"Oh, please," said the third boy, the only blonde-haired one of the three, and apparently the moodiest as well. "Do you want a gold star for that or something?"

The second boy looked puzzled. "I already have one," he said, pointing out a large star-shaped pin attached to his olive, yellow and red outfit. "It's a badge for mathematical excellence. The Doctor always said..."

"The Doctor?" cried Ace. "You know him? Which one?"

"Two of them," the second boy replied. "The one with the scarf and the one with the celery. Is he here?"

"The one with the scarf is," said Ace. "So's my Doctor. I'm Ace."

"I'm Adric," said the boy. "If there are two Doctors here, they must need our help. Where are they?"

"Now, wait just a minute," said Riker. "I think I've had about enough of all these teenagers charging into the thick of things. I've gone along with Buffy and Xander because they live here and seem to know about what's going on, but now I'm drawing the line. Especially for you, Wes. I know what your future is, and I'm not going to jeopardize it."

"But, Commander...," Wesley started to whine.

"That's adults for you," said the third boy. "Just wait a little while, and then they'll need us again. It's like on the SeaQuest. I'm there on the Bridge, minding my own business, when one of the officers comes along and says, 'Lucas, why don't you go...'"

"At least they let you on the Bridge," said Wesley. "They always want me to save the ship from Engineering or someplace like that."

"You can do a lot from Engineering," Lucas replied. "There was this one time when I had to save the ship by..."

Buffy turned away from the conversation at that point. Xander saw her and stepped away from the others as well.

"Something wrong, Buff?" Xander asked.

"This isn't getting us anywhere," Buffy said, her voice tinged with frustration. "We haven't found the vampires, and we haven't found whoever brought all these people here. Besides, something about those boys is bothering me. I don't think one of them's exactly human."

"That would be me," said Adric as he and Ace joined the discussion. "I'm an Alzarian."

"Oh," said Buffy. "I was thinking of that Wesley guy, actually."

Kimberly joined the group as well, bringing True and Uly along with her. "Buffy," she said, "we've got to do something about these kids, before..."

Buffy again heard voices in the distance. She turned away from Kimberly for a moment, then turned back and said, "Before what? Before more show up?"

"Hey, guys! I think I've found something!"

This time it was Harry Kim calling across the rows of cornstalks. Buffy again took off at a run, leaving her rapidly growing band of followers to catch up.

She reached Harry and stopped dead at the sight of what he had found. Five more children were among the cornstalks, walking around in a circle with their hands joined in the middle. They all chanted in unison as they walked.

"Hail, hail, fire and snow.

Call the angel, we must go.

Far to come. Far to see.

Friendly Angel come to me."

"What a charming verse," said Garak as he joined Buffy and Harry. "Does anyone know what it means?"

"Maybe we should ask them," said Buffy. The children had finished their ritual and were now approaching the three vampire hunters. A red-haired boy who was much taller than the others stood out in front.

"Where are we?" he asked. "How did we get here? What did you do to keep our friend from answering us?"

"You're in a cornfield," said Garak. "We don't know how you got here, and we don't even know who your 'friend' is."

"We were going to Marcos Twelve," said an Asian boy in the group. "Our friend wants us to go there."

"Marcos Twelve?" said Harry. "What's so important about there?"

"It's where our friend wants us to go," said a black boy in the group.

"Well, I'm sorry," said Buffy, "but right now we can't help anybody go anywhere."

"You will take us to Marcos Twelve!" shouted the only girl in the group. "You will! You will! You will!"

The girl launched herself at Buffy, waving her fists in the air. Buffy caught the girl and held her still. By this time, Xander and the others were arriving on the scene. Buffy looked over at True Danzinger. "Friend of yours?" she asked, indicating the girl in her arms.

The taller boy stepped up and pulled the girl away from Buffy. "Our friend told us to go to Marcos Twelve," he said, "and that's where we're going to go."

The taller boy abruptly glared at them with an evil stare and began shaking his fist in the air, as if he was pounding on some invisible surface. The other four children began doing the same thing. They continued that way for almost a minute before the taller boy stopped them all.

"Well?" he said.

"Well what?" said Buffy. "Are we supposed to be impressed by your coordination?"

"You're supposed to take us to Marcos Twelve," said the last member of the group, a small boy with a face covered in freckles. "If you don't, your own worst fears will force you to obey us."

"We're stuck in a cornfield with some of the most annoying kids in the cosmos," said Xander. "Our worst fears can't get much worse than that."

"This is ridiculous!" cried Buffy. "We're supposed to be looking for vampires. Did they throw all these kids at us just to slow us down?"

"Maybe the vampires didn't come this way after all," Kimberly suggested. "I mean, this doesn't look like a graveyard any more."

"They're probably back underground by now," Buffy said wearily. "If we can't find where they went down, we'll never be able to catch them."

Uly Adair stepped away from Kimberly and took Buffy by the hand. Buffy expected him to start that awful trilling again, but instead he said, "Why didn't you just say so?"

Buffy was so surprised to hear the boy speaking actual words that she didn't have time to react. Uly make an exceptionally loud trilling noise, and suddenly the two of them sank into the ground. To Buffy's amazement, the earth whizzed past her and through her until she found herself standing in an underground tunnel. Better still, her senses told her that vampires had been there recently.

"How... how did you do that?" she asked the boy.

"Didn't you hear what True said?" Uly replied. "The Terrians showed me when I bonded with them."

"Yeah, right," said Buffy. "What about the other people who were with me? Can you bring them down here, too?"

"Are you going to find the people who can send us home?" the boy asked.

"I hope so."

"Then I'll bring your friends down," Uly promised. "This place is okay, but I've got to get back to my Mom. Besides, True's going to drive me crazy if she doesn't shut up."

"I hear you," Buffy replied. Maybe this kid wasn't so bad after all.

***

Willow couldn't tell how long she and her companions spent inside the mysterious light that had whisked them from the Rangers' Command Center. It seemed longer than when the light put them into the Command Center in the first place, but she didn't know how much longer.

Finally, Willow felt a floor beneath her feet again. Her relief was short-lived, though, as she realized they could be arriving anywhere, into any situation. She strained to look around at her surroundings as the light faded.

They were in another Command Center of some sort, but this one was different. The entire room almost seemed alive. The various consoles and controls had an organic look to them, and the walls seemed to pulse with energy. There was something else about the room that seemed odd to Willow, but she couldn't put her finger on what it was.

"Hmm," said Marcus. "This is interesting. Whoever designed this place has seen Vorlon technology before."

"Who's Vorlon?" said Leela. "Is he a kinsman of that giant head we saw?"

"Certainly not," Marcus replied.

"There's something else about this place," said Bashir. "The gravity doesn't feel completely natural, does it?"

"What do you mean?" asked Mulder.

"I mean we may have just traveled a great distance," Bashir replied. "I just wish we had a viewport or a screen that would let us see out."

As if the room had heard Bashir's request, a panel on the wall suddenly transformed itself into a large viewscreen. Willow looked at the display and saw a field of stars, all rushing past them at various speeds. One thing was certain. They were not in Sunnydale any more.

She turned away from the screen, suddenly feeling ill. The room still didn't feel like it was moving, but Willow could swear she was seasick. The enormity of what she had done was almost overwhelming. How would they get home again from the middle of outer space? She found herself wishing she had never picked up the wristwatch in the first place.

A door opened at the back of the room, and Willow looked up just in time to see a tall woman enter. She was dressed entirely in a bronze-colored mesh-like outfit, with a matching helmet. The metallic tint of the woman's skin and the mechanical hitch in her walk told Willow that this was not a human being.

The mechanical woman seemed unaware of their presence for a few moments, until she finally looked up and found Willow staring at her. She stared back curiously, then said, "You seem fascinated by my appearance. Has there been a malfunction in my facial servo motors?"

"What?" said Willow. "No, no - I've just never seen anyone like you before."

"Well, since I have never seen anyone like you either, we would appear to be starting our association on an equal footing." The woman paused for a moment, then, as if the thought was just occurring to her, added, "By the way - exactly who are you?"

"Um, I'm Willow. Willow Rosenberg."

"Hello, Willow Willow Rosenberg," said the woman. "I am Thelma. That stands for Technological Human Emulating Machine."

"You mean you're a robot," said Willow.

"I suppose I am," said Thelma, "but I see no reason to use such insulting language."

"Thelma," said Marcus as the rest of Willow's group joined the conversation. "Would you mind telling us where we are and how we got here?"

Thelma considered the question. "No and yes," she said.

"I beg your pardon?" said Marcus.

"No, I would not mind telling you where you are. You are on the starship Christa. But yes, I would mind telling you how you got here, because I do not know the answer to that question."

Before the group could ask Thelma anything else, there was a commotion over by one of the walls. Several machines began running, and presently three people dropped into the room from a set of tubes that were mounted into the wall.

"Thelma, what's going on?" said a black teenage boy who appeared to be the leader of the trio. "Who are these people?"

"I was attempting to acquire that information when you arrived, Harlan," said Thelma.

"All you had to do was ask," said Bashir. "Thelma already met Willow. I'm Julian Bashir, and these people are Marcus Cole, Fox Mulder, Leela and Gabrielle."

"We're not here to take over your ship or anything," Willow added quickly. "We just showed up by mistake."

"I'm Harlan Band," said Harlan. "Captain Band to you."

The second member of the trio, a teenage boy with long, shaggy hair and oversized ears, stepped forward as well. "Harlan, you know that never works," he said.

Harlan laughed nervously. "You'll have to forgive my First Officer, Mister Radu. He's a bit shy about these things."

"We're really both students here," said Radu. "So's Catalina," he added, pointing out the trio's third member, a young teenage girl whose hair was colored in a rainbow of concentric rings.

"Radu, what are you doing?" said Harlan. "How are we supposed to impress these people if we just come out and tell them we're students? We still don't know if we can trust them."

"I know we can trust them," said Catalina. "That man there," she added, pointing. "Mister Mulder. There's just something about him that tells me he won't hurt us."

"Me?" said Mulder. "What do you know about me?"

"I'm not sure," said Catalina. "It's just a feeling I have. Besides, Suzee says Marcus is cute."

"Who?" asked Marcus.

Before Catalina could reply, she turned to the space next to her and started shouting into thin air. "Well, if you didn't want me to say anything, why did you say something? Just because we can talk across dimensions, that doesn't mean I can read your mind."

As Catalina continued to argue with nothing, two more children emerged from the tubes in the wall. They were younger than Harlan, Radu and Catalina. One was a brown-skinned boy with a wishbone-shaped set of antennae on his forehead. The other was a red-skinned bald girl.

"Are Catalina and Suzee fighting again?" the girl asked.

"Stay out of this, Rosie," said Catalina. "You weren't any help last time, so just leave us alone."

"Does Catalina do this often?" Bashir asked Harlan. "Because if I had my medkit with me, I could probably cure her condition."

"Who are these people?" asked the boy who had just arrived.

"Not now, Bova," said Harlan. "We'll tell you later."

"Fine," said Bova glumly. "I was already coming to tell you that the food dispenser's only giving us fish heads again, and now you're not going to tell me who these weird people are. It's the story of my life."

By now, Willow had retreated from the center of activity a bit. The various consoles fascinated her, although this time she was careful not to touch anything. She was thoroughly absorbed in one of the panels when a multi-colored flash of lights interrupted her. She looked up in horror. The spandex-clad Rangers had found them.

"So!" shouted the Red Ranger in the same fashion as before. "Thought you could get away from us, did you?"

The rest of the group, Willow's companions and Christa crew members alike, turned to face the Rangers. "How did you find us?" Gabrielle asked the Rangers.

"Ha!" shouted the Green Ranger. "Did you think you could use our own communicator to get away? Zordon let you go, so we could follow you back to your Command Post."

"This isn't their Command Post!" Harlan shouted back. "This is our Command Post. And we don't appreciate you interrupting when we're in the middle of something."

"Oh, yeah?" the Black Ranger shouted back. "What are you going to do about it?"

Please, please don't answer that question, Willow thought to herself. It was no use, though. Harlan and the Black Ranger hurled themselves at each other ferociously. The rest of the people in the room followed their lead almost instantly. Battle was joined again.

Willow crouched low to the floor, trying to make her way over to her companions as Rangers somersaulted through the air above her head. With some effort, she managed to reach Gabrielle and Leela, who were busy defending the younger students from any Rangers who might come their way.

"Who are these people?" asked Rosie. "What do they want?"

"We kind of broke into their Command Center before we came here," Willow explained. "They weren't as understanding about it as you guys were."

"We've got to find another way to get out of here," said Gabrielle. "If they can follow that thing you used before, we can't use it again."

"What about the jump tubes?" Bova suggested.

"You mean those things in the wall?" asked Willow. Rosie nodded, so Willow then said, "We need to distract the Rangers long enough for us all to get there."

"I'll take care of that," said Catalina. "Hold your ears!"

She stood and walked over to the ongoing battle. Taking a deep breath, the rainbow-haired girl opened her mouth and began screaming in a high, piercing tone that threatened to make Willow's ears bleed. Soon Willow's teeth began to rattle, and her eyes told her the whole room was shaking.

Catalina's scream went on for an inhumanly long period of time, then finally stopped. Willow looked up and saw that everyone who had been in Catalina's path was now on the floor, out of commission to one degree or another.

"Grab them!" shouted Catalina. "We'll hold those guys off."

Willow, Gabrielle and Leela scrambled into the battle zone, helping Marcus, Mulder and Bashir to their feet. They headed for the jump tubes, just as the Rangers and the Christa crew members began to recover as well.

Catalina met them at the wall and began activating the jump tube controls. Willow looked back and saw that the fight was on again. Even the smaller children were doing their part, with Rosie blasting Rangers with some kind of heat beam while Bova zapped them with electric shocks.

Gabrielle and Leela piled the three men into the jump tubes, then turned to help Willow in as well. Willow didn't need to be helped. She leaped in by herself and slid down the dark tunnel.

As she accelerated away from the Command Post, though, she couldn't help hearing Catalina's voice. "What are you talking about, Suzee?" the girl was saying. "The jump tube controls have never done that before."

This, thought Willow, does not sound good.

Readers' Guide

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

"I had a bad experience in a cornfield once." - Nicholas Brendon, who plays Xander, made his film debut in the movie, Children of the Corn III.

True Danzinger (70) and Ulysses Adair (71) - Two characters from the series Earth 2, a story about an expedition to colonize the planet G-889, a world that was already inhabited by the Terrians, among others. True was the daughter of the starship mechanic, and Uly was the son of the expedition's leader. True was played by J. Madison Wright, while Uly was played by Joey Zimmerman.

Wesley Crusher (72) - The son of the Chief Medical Officer on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Eventually he became an Ensign and the ship's navigator before moving on. Wesley was played by Wil Wheaton.

Adric (73) - A companion of both the Fourth Doctor and the Fifth Doctor on Doctor Who. Adric was a mathematical genius who had a knack for getting himself into trouble. He was played by Matthew Waterhouse.

Lucas Wolenczak (74) - A character from the series SeaQuest DSV (later known as SeaQuest 2032). Lucas was the resident underage computer genius, although he eventually did join the crew officially as an Ensign. He was played by Jonathan Brandis.

In the order that they speak: Tommy Starnes (75), Ray Tsing Tsao (76), Don Linden (77), Mary Janowski (78) and Steve O'Connell (79) - Five children picked up by the starship Enterprise in the Star Trek episode "And the Children Shall Lead." They were the unwitting pawns of a malevolent creature who manipulated people's minds by preying upon their fears.

"Whoever designed his place has seen Vorlon technology before." - The group is now on the starship Christa from the series Space Cases, which was created by Peter David and Bill Mumy, both of whom have connections to Babylon 5.

Thelma (80) - A character from the Nickelodeon series Space Cases. Thelma was an android on the starship Christa. She was played by Anik Matern.

Harlan Band (81), Radu (82) and Catalina (83) - Three more characters from the series Space Cases. All were students at the local space academy until a strange chain of events sent them across the galaxy on the starship Christa. Walter Emmanuel Jones played Harlan. Kristian Ayre played Radu, who was an Andromedan. Jewel Staite played Catalina, who was from Saturn. Catalina, like all her people, have the power to project a "sonic blast" that can stun people or break objects.

"What do you know about me?" - Jewel Staite appeared in the X-Files episode "Oubliette" as a young kidnap victim who was rescued by Mulder and Scully.

Suzee - Catalina's invisible friend from another dimension. In the Space Cases episode "On the Road to Find Out," Catalina and Suzee switched places. Suzee joined the crew of the Christa (and was played by Rebecca Herbst), while Catalina became stranded on Suzee's home world of Yensid.

Rosie Ianni (84) and Bova (85) - The final two student crew members of the starship Christa on Space Cases. Paige Christina played Rosie, who was from Mercury. Rahi Azizi played Bova, who was from Uranus.

"The food dispenser's only giving us fish heads again" - Space Cases co-creator Bill Mumy is also part of a rock duo called Barnes & Barnes, which is best known for a song and accompanying short film called "Fish Heads."

"Oh yeah? What are you going to do about it?" - Walter Jones, who played Harlan, also played the original Black Power Ranger on The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.

Chapter 11 "Divided Enterprise"

Rupert Giles may have been a Watcher, but at the moment, he wanted to do more than just watch.

The visitors to his vastly enlarged library had moved their equipment to the balcony overlooking the mysterious energy vortex they had discovered. Giles could watch them as they worked. Or, if he preferred, he could look over the balcony and watch the swirling lights and patterns in the vortex itself. But those two options were the only ones he had. He felt powerless to do anything else.

If only Zathras or one of the others had found those books, Giles thought to himself.

A crackle and a puff of smoke got Giles's attention. He looked over just in time to see sparks fly from the top of K9, the mechanical dog the Fourth Doctor had brought along. The Seventh Doctor glared at his counterpart in irritation.

"I thought you were reversing the polarity of the neutron flow," said the Seventh Doctor.

"That was before Professor Arturo calculated the Ralph-Katine Oscillation Coefficient," said the Fourth Doctor. "Do try to keep up, man. I'd hate to think I was slowing down in my old age."

"Master," chirped K9, "maximum baud rates have been exceeded on three input ports. Remodulation is required."

"Again?" said Wade Welles, who sat at a computer terminal that had been connected to various points on K9's frame.

"Let me see that," said Sydney Bloom, looking over Wade's shoulder. "What sort of flow control settings did you use?"

"I think I know how to do those," Wade shot back, frustration making her voice a bit edgier than perhaps it should have been.

"Hey, just trying to help," said Sydney. "I have a way of making computers do what they're not supposed to do."

At that point, Quinn, Arturo and the holographic Doctor arrived with more equipment. The discussion turned to more technical matters, so Giles thought it best to excuse himself and watch elsewhere.

He went over to the balcony, where Kes and Duncan were looking down at the vortex. It continued to swirl in a blaze of light and color.

"Pretty cool, isn't it?" said Duncan.

"I suppose you could say so," Giles replied, "although I wouldn't."

"It bothers you, doesn't it?" said Kes.

"What makes you say that?" asked Giles.

"Because it bothers me," Kes replied. "Everyone assumes the vortex leads to whoever brought us all here, but I'm not so sure." She stared deeply into the center of the vortex, as if it had a mind she could read. "It's definitely being controlled by the same force that brought us here, but its nature is too primitive. You could almost call it savage."

"Well, maybe the vortex is simply the power source that our mysterious abductor is using," Giles suggested.

"Maybe," said Kes. "But it's something else, too. I don't know what, yet."

Giles thought the problem through, trying to come up with another suggestion. Before he could reach one, Zathras emerged from the shelves, carrying a stack of books.

"Zathras promises to find books," the alien said. "Much difficulties in looking for them, but Zathras finds!"

"Zathras, that's wonderful," said Giles. He took the books eagerly and set them on the floor. The volume he wanted most was already on top of the stack, so he picked it up and began to thumb through it rapidly.

Zathras, meanwhile, had stepped over to the balcony railing and was looking down at the vortex. "Not good," he muttered under his breath. "Much power needed to contain that kind of vortex. Very dangerous. If power fails, everyone dies."

"You've seen a vortex like that before?" Kes asked.

"Zathras trained in energy configuration control," Zathras replied. "Is necessary to run Great Machine. Many times, Zathras notices when power systems become unstable. Zathras warns, but no one listens to poor Zathras..."

"My God!" gasped Giles. He was becoming absorbed in his book and had started to tune out what Zathras was saying.

"What is it?" asked Duncan.

"The vortex," Giles replied. "I think I know what it is."

***

Willow traveled down the jump tube for a long time, through various twists and turns. Then the dark smooth tunnel abruptly dumped her out into a corridor. She landed on the floor with enough speed to send her into the opposite wall, which she hit with a thud.

A pair of similar thuds told Willow that at least some of her companions had reached the corridor with her. She looked around to see Leela and Gabrielle picking themselves up off the floor. Mulder, Marcus and Bashir were nowhere to be seen. Neither were the jump tubes that had brought them to this place.

Gabrielle leaned on her staff as she stood up, then looked around wearily. "And I thought I really got around back at home," she said. "Where are we this time?"

"I don't know," said Willow. "It looks different from the last place."

"This is another spaceship," said Leela. "You can feel the engines through the floor and the walls."

"How do you know that?" asked Gabrielle.

"The Doctor has taken me to many spaceship corridors," Leela replied. "Most are darker than this one, but I still recognize the way they feel."

"We've got to figure out where the others went," urged Willow. "They could be in trouble."

"I hope they haven't fallen prey to those bulb-headed demons," said Leela. "If they've hurt any of our party, I shall personally cut out their hearts - if they have them."

"Let's not talk about cutting out hearts until after we find everyone," Willow suggested.

Gabrielle was looking down the corridor, but quickly turned back to Willow and Leela. "Someone's coming!" she whispered.

Willow looked, and sure enough, a lone figure was walking toward them. He looked ordinary enough. By all appearances, he was a normal man in his thirties. Only one thing about him gave Willow any cause for alarm. His outfit.

"Look!" Gabrielle exclaimed as the man drew closer. "He's wearing the same kind of clothing as those vampires we fought!"

It was true. The man's shirt was gold instead of red, but it was made from the same velour material and had the same emblem as the shirts worn by five of the vampires at the Bronze. He wore the same kind of black pants and black boots as well.

"Just because he's dressed like them doesn't mean he's one, too," Willow pointed out. "Maybe this is where the vampires came from before they died."

Leela stood by Willow's side, drawing her knife and preparing to use it. "Stand firm, sister," she said. "We will fight together, and if necessary, we will fall together."

"You've never done much motivational speaking, have you?" Willow quipped.

"He's seen us," said Gabrielle. "Get ready."

Sure enough, the man was now looking directly at them as he approached. It may have been her imagination, but Willow could swear the man was walking with an extra swagger in his step, as if he thought his presence alone would be enough to charm them. Definitely a sign of a vampirish nature.

Willow braced herself for whatever fate had in store next.

***

"Did anybody get the number of that air raid siren?"

Fox Mulder's head was slowly clearing as he got up from the floor. The last thing he remembered clearly was fighting those brightly-colored spandex-clad "Rangers." Then there had been a confusing mix of light, sound and motion that had left him here, in an unfamiliar corridor with only Bashir and Marcus near him.

"Whatever all that was," said Marcus, "it obviously allowed someone to get us to safety. The question now is, where exactly did they get us to?"

"My God," said Bashir, looking around. "I know where we are. This is the Enterprise."

"The Enterprise?" Mulder repeated. "It doesn't look like an aircraft carrier to me. Looks more like some kind of high-tech hotel."

"It's the starship Enterprise," Bashir clarified. "Enterprise-D from the looks of it. We're fairly close to my time period - but I don't remember ever hearing about the Enterprise-D encountering a temporal anomaly of this magnitude."

"I don't remember hearing anything about aliens and people from the future visiting the twentieth century," said Marcus. "But we've seen that happen tonight, too."

"We should get to the Bridge and see what's going on," Bashir suggested. "Maybe they can help us find a way to get home."

"We have another problem," said Mulder. "There used to be six of us. What happened to Willow, Leela and Gabrielle?"

"If they're somewhere else on the ship," Bashir replied, "we can find them using the internal sensors."

"And if they're not?" asked Marcus.

"Then our best option is to see if the Enterprise crew can help us find them. Either way, we need to get to the Bridge."

"It's your universe - apparently," said Mulder. "Lead the way. Let's just hope we can find the others before they get into trouble."

***

"Stay right there. Keep your hands up and don't move."

Willow stood with her back to the wall, doing as she was told. The man who was dressed exactly like the vampires from the Bronze - right down to the red color of his shirt - still pointed the gun-shaped object unwaveringly at her. The man had already used it to shoot balls of light at Leela and Gabrielle, and the two women were now lying on the floor, motionless. Willow did not want to join them.

"I... I'm not moving," she stammered. "Do you see me moving?"

Their fight with the man in the gold shirt had barely begun when Willow realized it was a mistake. For one thing, a vampire wouldn't have been knocked down by Gabrielle's staff so easily. Especially since Willow had been the one to swing it.

The brief struggle flashed before her eyes once again. The man had approached, obviously surprised to see them yet still flashing a confident smile. Willow had seen that look before - on Thomas, the first vampire she had ever met. He had caught her attention with that same expression, the one that suggested he could convince her to do anything he wanted. If Buffy hadn't intervened, Thomas would have succeeded, at the cost of Willow's life.

"I don't mean to be inhospitable," the man said as he reached them, "especially to such lovely ladies, but I don't remember you coming aboard. What are you doing on my ship?"

Suddenly all of the fear, stress and tension Willow had experienced through the night boiled to the surface. Before anyone else could act, she snatched the staff from Gabrielle's hands and clubbed the man in the stomach with it. The man reeled back, the wind knocked out of him. That was when Willow began to suspect he wasn't a vampire after all. When his face didn't change and he didn't sprout fangs, Willow was positive. By that time, though, things were already out of control.

The man staggered to a wall panel and called for help, identifying himself as the ship's Captain. Leela pounced on him before he could finish. They struggled fiercely, as the Captain tried to keep Leela's knife away from him. They were still struggling when the man in red showed up.

Gabrielle grabbed her staff back from Willow and prepared to fight off the man in red, but the man was ready for her. There was a bright flash of light from the man's gun, and Gabrielle fell to the floor. Leela saw everything and got up to attack the man, but a second flash of light knocked her to the floor as well.

That was when Willow decided standing motionless against the wall was a good idea.

"That will be all, Ensign Garrovick," said a new voice. Willow looked just in time to see the arrival of another man who made her re-rethink her suspicion that there were vampires nearby. The man looked mostly human, but his eyebrows swept upward at a severe angle, and his ears had sharp points at the tips. He was dressed like Garrovick and the Captain, but with a blue shirt instead of a gold or red one. Like Garrovick, he held one of those mysterious guns in his hand.

The Captain had now picked himself up off the floor and was walking to Willow's side. The pointy-eared man met him there. "I trust you are undamaged, Captain," the pointy-eared man said.

"For the most part, Mister Spock," said the Captain, "despite the efforts of our young friend and her accomplices."

Willow looked away, suddenly embarrassed by her rash act.

"Now then," the Captain continued, looking straight at Willow and speaking much more sternly than before, "let's go back to where we started. Who are you, and what are you doing on my ship?"

Willow's mind raced as she tried to come up with an answer. How could she tell someone from who knows what point in her future that she had hit him because she thought he was a vampire? For that matter, she still didn't know for certain that he wasn't a vampire, or something equally mean-spirited. After all, those guns they carried had cut down her two companions in an instant. For all Willow knew, the two women were dead - or worse.

Fortunately, at that moment Gabrielle began to stir slightly. The Captain waved Garrovick over to tend to her, then looked back just in time to see the relief on Willow's face. Her expression seemed to make it clear that she didn't understand what was going on.

"Your friends will be all right," he assured her. Slipping back into his more charming mode - although not so much that it bothered Willow - he added, "Why don't we start over? My name's Jim Kirk. What's yours?"

"Willow. Willow Rosenberg." Willow hoped that Kirk wouldn't respond in the same way that Thelma had. Fortunately, he didn't.

"Willow, you're on board the starship Enterprise," Kirk continued. "Do you have any idea how you got here?"

"I can tell you," Willow replied, "but I'm not sure you'll believe me. Have you ever heard of a multiversal interface?"

Kirk said nothing, clearly surprised by Willow's answer. He looked over at Spock, but all Spock did was raise one of his eyebrows. "Apparently, we haven't," Kirk said at last, "but it sounds like something you should tell us about."

"Is it ever," Willow agreed.

***

"Okay, guys," said Buffy, "stay together. We're getting close."

"Buff, I don't think we could spread out much in this tunnel," Xander replied. "Even if we wanted to."

Xander had a point. The tunnel was becoming increasingly cramped as they followed it. They had one more person in the group, too, since Ace had insisted on bringing Adric along even after they had convinced the other children in the cornfield to stay behind. All in all, everything was combining to create a very uncomfortable situation.

Still, Buffy pressed on. They were almost on top of something big. She could almost recognize the tunnel walls from her nightmares. She could almost feel the vampires waiting for her around the corner.

They traveled several more yards, and the cramped tunnel abruptly opened up into a wide cavern. Candles burned in several areas of the cavern, revealing a crumbling architecture above them.

And yet, something was wrong. The place didn't feel quite right, and Buffy didn't know why.

"This is more like it," said Ace as she stepped into the cavern. "The vampires must be around here somewhere."

"Don't be too sure," said Buffy, still looking around. "There's something strange going on."

"What are you talking about?" said Xander. "This place has everything an upstanding member of the undead could want. Nice underground location, plenty of crumbly, dripping walls, gloomy atmosphere. It's a vampire's dream."

"That's the problem," Buffy replied. "It may be a vampire's dream, but it's not my dream. I'm the Slayer. I've dreamed about where the Master is trapped. This isn't it."

"Dreams can be funny things," said Kimberly. "Maybe you're just remembering them wrong."

"Not these dreams," Buffy insisted. "Besides, there are things here that don't make any sense." She pointed to a swirling circular pattern that adorned several places along the walls. "Take that mark there," Buffy continued. "I've never seen anything like it."

"I have," said Ace. "Buffy's right. There is something weird going on. That's the Seal of Rassilon. I've seen it lots of times inside the Doctor's TARDIS."

"What's it doing here?" Xander wondered.

"It is there because I put it there," said a deep and menacing voice. "It reminds me of things I've left behind. Old scores that still need to be settled."

The voice belonged to a short man dressed entirely in black. He entered the cavern from the side opposite to where Buffy and her companions were standing. His hair and his eyes were as black as his clothes, and he sported a goatee and mustache that looked almost too evil to be taken seriously.

"So, like, are you supposed to be our charming host?" Buffy asked the man.

"I am much more than that," said the man. He flashed an evil smile, revealing a set of vampire-sized canine teeth.

"I am the Master," he said, "and you will obey me."


Readers' Guide

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

The Enterprise-D - The starship featured in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The letter D signifies that it is the fourth starship in the Star Trek universe to follow after the original Enterprise of the original Star Trek series. Bashir realizes that he is in his own past because from his point of view, the Enterprise-D has already been destroyed (in the movie Star Trek: Generations.) Bashir visited the Enterprise-D at least once, in the Next Generation episode "Birthright, Part 1."

Thomas - A vampire who tried to seduce and kill Willow in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer pilot episode. Buffy arrived in the nick of time and killed Thomas.

Ensign Garrovick (86) - One of the few Starfleet Security Officers on the original Enterprise who did not die in the line of duty. Garrovick appeared in, and survived, the Star Trek episode "Obsession."

Mister Spock (87) - The half-Vulcan, half-human First Officer in the original Star Trek series. He was played by Leonard Nimoy.

James T. Kirk (88) - Captain of the Enterprise in the original Star Trek series. Known throughout the galaxy for his many romantic encounters. He was played by William Shatner.

The Seal of Rassilon - Symbol of the Time Lords. Rassilon was the founder of Time Lord society.

The Master (89) - A recurring villain character in the Doctor Who series. The Master is an evil Time Lord who traveled throughout the galaxy, encountering the Doctor on a regular basis. Just as there were several Doctors, there were also several Masters. Anthony Ainley played the version of the Master who appears in this story.