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 12 "Gathering Storms"

"It's the Hellmouth."

The group gathered at the edge of the balcony looked at Giles as if he had just told them the world was walrus-shaped. He held up the book that contained the information he'd been looking for. "Look, it's all right here," he told them. "The Hellmouth is a center of mystical convergence, a gateway between our world and the world of the demons. We should have guessed it would have some things in common with the Einstein-Rosen-Podowski Bridge between parallel worlds."

"So what you're saying," said Wade, "is that if we jump into that thing, we'll go to some kind of demon world that's on the other side."

"I believe so, yes," Giles answered.

"But I thought you said the Hellmouth was blocked by an ancient vampire," said Kes. "What's happened to him?"

"And if he's gone," said Arturo, "what's keeping the demons from coming through to our side of the portal?"

"Perhaps the same entity is responsible for both," The holographic Doctor suggested. "If someone wanted to control the Hellmouth, they'd naturally want to get the vampire out of the way first."

"But use the Hellmouth for what?" Quinn asked. "I doubt they're planning to set up a tourist business on the other side."

"Well, for starters," said the Fourth Doctor, looking up from his work, "it would be a rather original thing to bring up at parties."

Giles frowned at him. "I think the answer's a little more involved than that," he said.

"You never know," the Fourth Doctor replied. "A sense of a accomplishment can do wonders for a person's self-esteem, which in turn gives that person a tremendous source of personal power..." His sentence trailed off as a thought struck him. "Of course! That's it!"

"What?" said Duncan. "You've figured out how to break into the pop psychology market?"

"The Hellmouth," the Fourth Doctor replied. "Capping it off creates an enormous energy source. It's kind of like damming a river. Whoever controls the portal's energy can use it for all sorts of purposes."

"But that's impossible," said Quinn. "The amount of energy you need to cap off the portal is almost as big as what you'd get out of doing it. The total net gain isn't worth the effort."

"Maybe using your technology," said the Seventh Doctor. "But there are other ways that are much more efficient."

"And better still," the Fourth Doctor added, "those other ways can be tracked. If you know how, of course."

He promptly turned to his small robot. "K9," he told it, "get your nose warmed up. We need you to do some sniffing."

"Request illogical, Master," K9 replied. "My sensors have been properly calibrated to function accurately regardless of ambient temperature."

"K9," said the Fourth Doctor, "sometimes you really know how to take the fun out of things."

***

The dark-haired man in black stared at Buffy with a cold and cruel look. Buffy stared straight back at him.

"You can't be the Master," she told him. "I know what the Master looks like. You aren't him."

"If you're referring to that dough-faced, bald-headed amateur," said the man, "I've placed him in an trans-dimensional hyper-envelope for the time being."

"Now why'd you go and do something like that?" asked Buffy.

"If it concerns you," the Master replied, "I can guarantee that he'll leave the hyper-envelope completely unharmed - assuming I ever decide to let him out."

"Oh, I don't mind," said Buffy, "since the Master wanted to destroy the world and all - but why go to so much trouble?"

"The Master - this Master, I mean - is a Time Lord," said Ace. "Just like the Doctor."

"You mean there are more of him running around, just like the Doctor?" asked Xander.

The Master laughed. "Unlike that bumbling fool, I make it a point never to cross paths with my former selves," he said.

"Why?" said Buffy. "Afraid one of them might bump you off?"

"I'm too concerned with my future to waste time on nostalgia for the past."

"The Master ran out of regenerations a long time ago," Ace explained. "Since then, he's been trying to find other ways to stay alive. The last time I saw him..." She hesitated for a moment, as if the memory was painful to her. "He'd gotten himself stuck on the planet of the Cheetah People."

"They actually have a place called that?" Xander asked in disbelief.

"Not any more," Ace replied with more than a hint of sadness.

"It hardly matters," said the Master. "Your very own Sunnydale, California, has given me what no other place could. A means to extend my life indefinitely!"

"By becoming a vampire," Buffy finished for him.

"I would never stop at something that simple," the Master corrected her. "With the power of the Hellmouth at my disposal, combined with my own abilities as a Time Lord, I can reach across the stars and take whatever I want. I can raise up a vampire army from a billion worlds throughout the cosmos. The entire universe can be mine!"

"And I thought the other Master had delusions of grandeur," Buffy remarked.

"You honestly believe that anyone can stop me?"

"Well, I don't know how things are on your planet," Buffy said, "but around here, any vampire with an ego problem has to spend some quality time with me." She drew out the meanest-looking stake she was carrying and waved it at the Time Lord. "I'm the Slayer," she said as menacingly as she could.

The Master laughed again - a long, low and chilling laugh. Buffy tried not to let anyone see how much he was wigging her out. As if on cue, more vampires began filing into the chamber through the same door the Master had used. Seska, Morden and Tasha Yar were joined by three other vampires. The newcomers were all dressed identically to the five red-shirted vampires from the Bronze, except that their shirts were gold.

"Before we have our own personal encounter," the Master said, "I believe I'll have you spend some more time with my assistants. You already know three of them, of course." Indicating the gold-shirted vampires, he added, "Allow me to introduce Lieutenants Lang, Latimer and Galloway. And there's one more person I'm sure you'll be very interested to see."

Buffy looked puzzled for a moment, wondering what he meant. Then she saw another figure enter the chamber and she understood.

"You can't imagine how disappointed I was to find out you're the Slayer," said Principal Bob Flutie. "You were one of my students the whole time, and you couldn't save me from a pack of hyena-possessed teenagers. I'd say that calls for some disciplinary action."

The Master smiled as he watched Buffy recoil in horror. "Once I found out who was opposing me," he explained, "I went back into your own past to find a suitable ally."

"You could have done a lot better than him," Buffy shot back. "What's he going to do, give me detention?"

"He will keep you occupied," the Master replied. "That is all I need."

Buffy's companions stepped forward, smoothly arranging themselves into a defensive position and preparing for the vampires to attack. Buffy looked at the Master confidently. "They still won't be enough," she declared.

"Perhaps you're right," the Master admitted. "Which is why I saved one extra surprise for just such an occasion."

Now it was the Master's turn to give Buffy a confident look. At the same time, Buffy saw Ace suddenly look alarmed.

"Buffy," said Ace, "I just remembered something very important."

"And that would be?" asked Buffy.

"Well," Ace continued, "it's something the Doctor once told me about Adric. He's dead."

Now it was Buffy's turn to be alarmed. She tried her best not to show it, though. "Well," she said, "maybe he was still alive when he was brought here to Sunnydale."

"I don't think so."

Ace stepped aside, revealing Adric standing next to her. His face had already changed to reveal his demonic nature. With inhuman speed - or non-Alzarian speed, as the case may be - he lashed out and struck Harry Kim with a series of blows. Caught off guard, Harry took the full force of the impacts and fell unconscious on the spot.

This was definitely not the way Buffy liked her battles to start.

***

"...and so hitting you really looked like the right thing to do at the time. You can understand that, can't you?"

Willow looked at the three faces gathered around the table in the starship's Briefing Room. All of them, Kirk, Spock and a doctor named McCoy, were staring back unsympathetically. Willow began to understand how Buffy felt when she had to sit in Principal Snyder's office.

Kirk turned to his two colleagues. "Opinions, gentlemen?" he asked.

"I'm a Doctor, Jim, not a guidance counselor," said McCoy. "Her story sounds pretty fantastic, but I think she believes it. Besides, who would make something like that up?"

"There is also the fact," added Spock, "that Miss Rosenberg knew the names of our dead security officers."

"Which she easily could have obtained by searching the ship's log," Kirk countered.

"Except I didn't do that," Willow insisted. "I saw those guys. A couple of them tried to kill me."

"Miss Rosenberg," said Kirk, "you must understand that the time-space phenomenon you've described is far more complex than anything Starfleet has ever encountered. It's only natural that we'd try to look for a simpler explanation."

"Like accusing me of lying?" said Willow.

"Not lying, necessarily," said Kirk. "But there's the possibility that you've imagined some of your story, or that your memories have been altered somehow."

"I know what I've been through," Willow insisted. "I know that we don't have starships where I come from, or guys with pointy ears. And I know that no matter what you say, you still can't find another way to explain how I got on your ship in the first place."

Kirk considered her argument for a moment. "All right," he said, "let's start with how you got here." He turned to the monitor screen that was attached to the table and pressed a button near it. "Computer," he ordered, "scan the female human sitting in front of me, and report the time and location of her first appearance on the ship's internal sensors."

"The requested procedure will require approximately four minutes, thirty-seven seconds to complete," the computer said in a seductive female voice. After a momentary pause, it added, "- dear."

Kirk rolled his eyes at the machine. "Begin processing," he ordered with a weary sigh.

The computer whirred and clicked into operation. Willow found herself grinning. "You know, there are a lot of guys in my computer class who would kill for that voice synthesizer," she said. "They, uh, don't go on very many dates."

"Mister Spock, I thought we had already taken care of this little... problem," said Kirk.

"Evidently, the personality routine that was installed at Cygnet Twelve is more entrenched than we originally thought," Spock replied.

"I could take a look at it if you want," Willow volunteered. She was still looking for a way to get on the Captain's good side so he would help her get home instead of remembering that she hit him.

Kirk simply gave her a patronizing smile. "If you're really from the twentieth century, as you claim," he said, "I strongly doubt you would understand our computer technology."

"You may have a different operating system," Willow replied, "but a computer's the same no matter what language it uses. The logic doesn't change. The machine just does what you tell it to do."

"Fascinating," said Spock. "A most enlightened attitude."

Willow blushed, despite her best efforts not to.

"We'll discuss your computer skills later," Kirk insisted. "Right now, I want to find out..."

He was interrupted by a voice on the intercom. "Bridge to Keptin Kirk!" the voice said in a thick Russian accent.

Kirk stabbed at a button on the console. The monitor screen lit up and displayed the image of a young man with an unruly mop of brown hair on the top of his head. "Kirk here, Mister Chekov," Kirk said. "What's going on?"

"Sir," Chekov reported, "sensors are picking up a number of wessels approaching us."

"Can you identify them?" Kirk asked.

"No, sir," said Chekov. "Only one of them is transmitting a Starfleet identification signal. It's the starship..." He looked down at his instruments for a second, then looked up in alarm. "Keptin, it's impossible! The other ship is identifying itself as the Enterprise!"

"Switch me to the forward viewscreen," Kirk ordered. "Let me see it."

On the monitor, Willow could see Chekov punching buttons on his console. The picture obediently shifted to a view of deep space. Spaceships of various shapes and sizes filled the frame.

Spock and McCoy moved alongside Kirk and looked at the screen as well. "Dear God!" said McCoy. "Where did they all come from?"

"Um, excuse me," said Willow, trying to get the men's attention again. "Would anyone be interested in hearing my story one more time?"

Readers' Guide

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

The planet of the Cheetah People - Ace is referring to the Doctor Who episode "Survival." The planet of the Cheetah People was destroyed in the episode, but not before Ace had bonded with it and its inhabitants.

Lieutenant Lang (90), Lieutenant Latimer (91) and Lieutenant Galloway (92) - Three more Starfleet Officers killed in the line of duty in the original Star Trek series.

Bob Flutie (93) - Principal of Sunnydale High School before Principal Snyder. Flutie was killed by a group of hyena-possessed students in the episode "The Pack."

Adric's death - Adric was killed in the Doctor Who episode "Earthshock," when he was trapped on a spaceship that crashed into the Earth and blew up.

Leonard McCoy (94) - Chief Medical Officer in the original Star Trek series. He was played by DeForest Kelley.

The Enterprise computer - In the Star Trek episode "Tomorrow is Yesterday," the ship's computer was said to have been overhauled at the female-dominated planet Cygnet Twelve. Reportedly the women of Cygnet thought they were giving the computer a better personality.

Pavel Chekov (95) - Russian-born navigator in the original Star Trek series. He was played by Walter Koenig.

Chapter 13 "Match and Rematch"

The elevator - or turbolift, as Bashir called it - arrived at the Bridge just as Mulder was getting used to the way it moved. The doors opened onto a large room with a giant viewscreen at the front. Uniformed men, women and other beings were hard at work at their various posts.

Bashir strode confidently through the doors and onto the Bridge. Mulder and Marcus followed a bit more hesitantly.

A bald older man sat in a chair at the center of the room's activity, barking orders in a proper British accent. As Mulder approached, he could hear the man saying, "Keep us steady, Ensign. Don't make any moves that appear threatening."

"Captain Picard!" Bashir said. The bald man was on his feet instantly, as were several others on the Bridge. One of them, a large and horrifying alien who stood directly behind the command chair, drew a weapon of some sort and aimed it at them.

"Who are you?" Picard demanded. "What do you want?"

"He would have to ask those questions, wouldn't he?" Marcus muttered under his breath. Mulder had no idea what the Ranger meant.

"Don't be alarmed, Captain," Bashir said as reassuringly as he could. "We're not hostile. In fact, I'm a Starfleet officer."

"You do not look like a Starfleet officer," growled the large alien.

Bashir gave the beast a curious look. "You don't know me, Mister Worf?"

Worf simply glared back at the doctor. "Should I?" he asked.

Bashir considered the question. "No, if you're here, then I suppose you wouldn't." Turning back to Picard, he said, "Captain, I'm Doctor Julian Bashir. I'm the Chief Medical Officer for space station Deep Space Nine, located near Bajor."

"Bajor?" said Picard. "You do realize that planet is under Cardassian occupation."

"We're that far back, are we?" said Bashir. "Listen, this may be difficult to believe, but my companions and I have been affected by large amounts of spatial and temporal displacement. I believe this ship may have been affected, too." He looked around the room, then apparently saw what he had been searching for. "You're missing someone, aren't you?" he asked. "Commander Riker's not here."

A brunette woman who wore a snug one-piece outfit instead of the crew's uniform turned toward them. "You know where Commander Riker is?" she asked.

"The last time we saw him, he was in a nightclub in twentieth century California," Mulder replied.

The woman smiled, despite the gravity of the situation.

"You find that amusing, Counselor Troi?" Bashir asked, apparently still trying to convince the crew that he knew them - or would know them. Mulder began to think time travel was a confusing business.

"That sounds like just the place Will would end up," Troi replied.

A young woman at one of the forward consoles turned around to face the group. "Lefler's Law number sixty-two," she said. "Some people get all the breaks."

The man at the other forward console turned to face the woman. Mulder saw the man's white skin, yellow eyes and slightly mechanical mannerisms and guessed that he was another robot, similar to Thelma but much more sophisticated.

"Ensign Lefler," the robot man said, "I have noticed that you seem most fond of quoting these aphorisms during a crisis. Are they an attempt to distract those around you from stressful situations?"

"If that's the case, Mister Data, let's not allow her to succeed," Picard remarked. "What's your opinion of our three visitors?"

"I have run a complete bioscan on Doctor Bashir," Data reported. "It is almost identical to the record of a Starfleet Medical student with the same name. I believe we can conclude that he is the same person, displaced in time. The existence of a temporal displacement anomaly would also explain some of our recent sensor readings, as well as the appearance of the alien ships in this sector."

"What alien ships?" asked Marcus.

Data looked to Picard for instructions. The Captain nodded, and Data replied, "We have detected a large number of vessels approaching this position. Almost all of them have unfamiliar configurations."

"Captain," said Worf, "the closest ship is hailing us."

Mulder looked to the viewscreen. As far as he could tell, the closest ship was one that looked like an enormous clamshell. It was nothing like the spaceships he had ever expected to encounter.

"On screen," Picard ordered.

The viewscreen promptly changed to display an alien command center of some kind. In the center of the frame, an older man sat on a throne-sized command chair. A robe-clad robot stood next to him, its computerized brain flashing in a chaotic sequence of lights that were visible through its transparent skull casing. Mulder could see other robots working in the background. They looked like large metallic soldiers, each with a single red eye that moved back and forth across a mask-like face.

The robed robot began to speak. At least Mulder guessed it was speaking. It had no mouth, but a mouth-shaped set of lights began flashing in time with the voice they heard. "By order of the Imperious Leader through his Commander Baltar, you will surrender your vessel to the Cylon Empire. If you do not comply within ten centons, we will attack and destroy you."

"Within ten what?" Bashir exclaimed.

Picard walked forward to address the screen. "Commander Baltar," he said as diplomatically as possible. "I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise. Perhaps we can come to some sort of understanding before we begin shooting at each other."

The man on the Cylon ship - Baltar, Mulder presumed - stood up from his chair. "The only thing I want you to understand, Captain," he said in a sinister tone, "is that the Cylon Empire opposes all human activity outside of their control. As you can see from my own situation, cooperation can be rewarded. But resistance will prove deadly."

"Captain," said Data, "the Cylon ship is launching small fighter craft. They are taking up an attack formation."

"Shields up," Picard ordered. Turning around, he asked, "Mister Worf, can their weapons penetrate our defenses?"

"Unknown, Captain," Worf reported. "But sir, there is something else. That man, Baltar. I am certain I know him from somewhere."

"Where is that?" asked Picard.

"I do not know where," Worf admitted. "But he is definitely familiar to me."

"We'll explore that mystery later," said Picard. "Right now, we need to..."

Worf's console beeped. He checked it, then said, "Another message coming in, Captain! This one is from a ship off the port quarter."

"Don't you hate it when people break in on your private conversations?" Mulder said under his breath to Marcus and Bashir.

"Put the signal through," Picard ordered.

The viewscreen split into two views. The new participants were a severe-looking Cardassian and another alien that Mulder didn't recognize.

"I am Gul Dukat of the Cardassian Empire," the Cardassian announced.

"And I am Weyoun, representative of the Dominion," the other alien chimed in.

"Both of your ships will now surrender to our forces or be destroyed," Dukat finished.

"Gul Dukat?" said Picard. "I wasn't aware that there were hostile relations between our worlds, let alone with something called the Dominion..."

"This is preposterous!" Baltar shouted, cutting Picard off. "I have no intention of surrendering to you or to anyone else."

At that point, Worf's console beeped again, several times. "Captain," he reported, "a number of other vessels are now approaching. All of them are hailing us and each other."

As Worf spoke, various images began flashing across the viewscreen. Mulder couldn't resist inching his way forward, almost to where the Captain was standing. Here was what he had always dreamed of, a universe full of many different life forms. The fact that they were all bent on destroying each other didn't seem important for the moment.

Dukat, Weyoun, Baltar and the Cylons were all promptly replaced by a sinister looking reptile-man with a large scar slashing down half his face. "This is Warlord Shank of the Spung Empire!" he bellowed. "You will ssssurrender to me or my Killcruisers will atomize you!"

"Warlord Shank, is it?" said Picard. "As I've explained to the others here, my position..."

"I know all about your Federation delaying tacticssss, Captain!" Warlord Shank bellowed. "They won't work on me!"

Before Picard could reply, the screen changed again, revealing a group of approaching ships that looked to Mulder like giant disco balls. After a moment, another alien signaled from the newly arrived squadron. He was a bulky creature with an oversized dome-shaped head and no neck.

"This is Group Marshal Stike of the Ninth Sontaran Battle Group," the alien announced.

"Let me guess," Bashir muttered. "They have us surrounded and we must surrender immediately."

"We have you surrounded," said Stike, "and you must surrender immediately."

Before anyone could reply, still another voice rang across the Bridge. "You have all made a most foo-lish mis-take!" it squawked. The viewscreen changed one more time and revealed an ancient and withered alien being sitting in what Mulder guessed was a high-tech wheelchair. "The Daleks are the su-preme beings in the u-ni-verse!" the alien continued. "And I, Dav-ros, am their cre-a-tor and Su-preme Com-man-der! You will sur-rend-er to us or be ex-ter-mi-nated!"

By now, Mulder had come far enough forward to be standing next to Picard. "I'll bet you never knew you were so popular," he said to the Captain.

Picard gave Mulder a brief grim smile, then turned to his crew. "What's our tactical situation?" he asked.

"The surrounding ships are all powering their weapons, Captain," Worf reported. "However, they seem uncertain of where to target them."

"I sense great confusion among them all," Counselor Troi added. "I don't think any of them expected to find the others here."

"Ensign Lefler, stand by to engage the impulse engines," Picard continued. "If they all continue to hesitate, we may be able to slip away."

"Provided nothing else happens to get their attention," Marcus offered.

As if on cue, Worf's console beeped again. "Captain, I think you should hear this," he said.

Picard nodded. A new and menacing voice boomed across the Bridge. "We are the Borg," it said. "Resistance is futile. You will all be assimilated."

Mulder had no idea what the message meant, but he didn't like the sound of it. He could tell that the Enterprise crew didn't like it, either.

"Lefler's Law number thirty-three," said Lefler. "If you think things can't get any worse, they will."

***

Buffy was having trouble telling her Lieutenants apart. Probably because all three of the gold-shirted vampires were equally determined to kill her.

Once she knew Adric was a vampire, Buffy's first thought had been to take him out quickly before he could do any more damage and before the rest of the battle could gather any momentum. The three Lieutenants had other ideas. Some vampiric sense told them she was the Slayer, and they quickly converged on her in a murderous frenzy.

That left Ace to fight Adric alone, which appeared to be just fine with her. She stepped over Harry's unconscious form and swung at the Alzarian with her sharpened cricket bat handle, apparently intending to club him into submission before staking him. Unfortunately, Adric had a stake of his own, and he fought back with equal determination.

Buffy didn't have time to see how the rest of the group was doing. Stopping to look for Xander, Kimberly or anyone else while busy with three vampires would be a fatal mistake, even for a Slayer. Hard as it was, she pushed the thoughts of the others to the back of her mind and concentrated on hitting whatever gold shirt was coming at her next.

***

"Seska," said Garak, "if any part of your former self is left, I just want you to know that I won't enjoy what I have to do."

"That makes one of us," snarled Seska. Her face shifted into its full vampiric state as she launched herself at him. Garak blocked her as best as he could, even using some of the more underhanded techniques he had learned over the years. His efforts met with only limited success.

After several rounds of blows, Seska lunged forward and knocked Garak to the ground. She landed on top of him, and Garak felt one of his ribs give way with a sharp crack. His head hit the floor and just barely missed being kicked by one of the Lieutenants who were fighting Buffy.

Garak was dazed and in pain, but he still had enough wits about him to know when Seska began clawing for his neck. Her teeth were less than an inch away from finding their target when Garak heaved with his last bits of strength and pushed her away. She rolled directly into the path of Lieutenant Lang, who tripped and fell over her.

Buffy took advantage of the distraction immediately. A quick punch momentarily knocked Lieutenant Latimer senseless. While he was recovering, she turned her full attention to Lieutenant Galloway. The gold-shirted vampire didn't have a chance. By the time Lang and Latimer returned to the fight, they were missing one of their comrades.

Well, at least that counts as an assist, thought Garak. He didn't have time for self-congratulation, though, as Seska was already back on her feet. He got himself back up as best he could, but all he could manage was a kneeling position on one knee.

"How many times must I knock you down before you stay down?" Seska shouted. Garak knew the answer to her question, and it was no longer a very large number. His only remaining chance was that Seska's rage and bloodlust would make her careless.

Garak offered no resistance as Seska fell upon him again. As he had hoped, she left her midsection completely unguarded. With his last remaining strength, Garak pulled a stake from the ruin of his tuxedo sleeve and rammed it into Seska's chest. She disintegrated with a howl of rage, showering dust all over him.

Garak gave himself a mental pat on the back. The force of the blow was enough to knock him unconscious.

***

When Tasha Yar was alive, Will Riker had spent a lot of time sparring with her during their off-duty time on the Enterprise. Since he was the First Officer and she was the Security Chief, they both needed to keep their skills in top condition. Each was also among the few individuals who could provide a good contest for the other.

Now that Tasha Yar was an undead vampire, things were different. As a vampire, Tasha had gained superhuman strength and lost her concern for Riker's safety. A match Riker used to regard as enjoyable competition was now a life-and-death struggle.

Just as they had done in the Bronze, Riker and Tasha were battling to a standstill. Riker knew it wouldn't last, though. A night full of fighting was finally taking its toll. He had no idea how long vampires could fight before they wore out, but he guessed that Tasha would probably outlast him.

Riker was so intent on surviving Tasha's onslaught that he didn't notice the other battle that was about to collide with him. Ace and Adric were locked in a fierce struggle, weaving their way around the chamber as they dodged each other's blows. As they approached, Ace was backing up against Adric's advance, but she took one step too many and landed on Riker's ankle. Riker felt a sharp pain through his leg as he collapsed with Ace on top of him.

Tasha seized the advantage and lunged in to deliver a killing blow. At the same time, though, Adric was still swinging his stake at the spot where Ace had been. The blow flew through empty air instead, and Adric's follow-through carried the stake directly into Tasha's chest. She disintegrated instantly.

Adric howled in rage and turned on Riker and Ace, who were both still on the ground. Riker reached for his stake to defend himself, but it had flown out of his hand in the collision and was now beyond his grasp. He pushed Ace aside to protect her from Adric's impending attack, and the remains of the cricket bat dropped from her hand. In desperation, Riker grabbed the bat and held it upright just as Adric charged. The vampire boy neatly impaled himself and vanished in another cloud of dust.

With the immediate danger past, the pain in Riker's ankle began to assert itself. There would be no way for him to fight if more vampires showed up. Riker looked over at Ace, who was just regaining her bearings. The expression on his face was all she needed to know what had happened.

"Sorry," she said. "Nobody's perfect, Commander."

***

"Principal Flutie, can't we discuss this like two human beings?"

Xander circled around the chamber, holding a cross in front of him. Once he had faced a vampire who used to be his best friend. That was nothing compared to facing a vampire who used to be his High School Principal.

"I'm afraid that isn't possible," Flutie replied. "As you can plainly see, I'm not a human being any more. And you - well, I think the way I met my death says it all. You teenagers aren't human beings, either. The Master showed me what your new Principal thinks of you kids. If you ask me, he's got the right idea."

"Whatever happened to all that touchy-feely relating nonsense?" Xander asked.

"Put that cross down," said Flutie, "and I'll give you plenty to touch, feel and relate to."

Xander was running out of both room and ideas. He looked over at Kimberly and saw she wasn't having any more luck. Morden had grabbed one of the chamber's tall candle stands and was using it to fend off her attempts to behead him with her sword.

"I've already been beheaded once," Xander heard Morden say. "I have no desire to let you do it again."

A sudden inspiration flashed through Xander's mind. He began circling around toward Morden, with Flutie following him all the way. Xander looked at Kimberly intently, hoping she would catch on to his idea. If she didn't, he would be in serious trouble.

At the last second, Kimberly finally looked over and saw what Xander was doing. Xander felt a surge of hope and - well, other things - when she nodded to show her understanding. It was still going to be a close call, though.

Xander continued to move away from Flutie until Morden was at his back, then he quickly turned and rammed his cross into Morden's face. Smoke burst from the vampire's skin as the cross did its work. Morden roared in pain and fell back. At the same time, Flutie rushed directly at Xander - and was met by the sharp edge of Kimberly's sword. He dissolved instantly.

What a woman, thought Xander. He couldn't help noticing what a great team they made. No doubt about it - he would definitely have to find out what Kimberly was doing after this night was over.

***

Buffy kicked dust into the air as she leaped over Lieutenant Latimer's head and landed behind him. The dust was all that remained of Lieutenant Lang, who had fallen to the Slayer in a single careless moment.

As she prepared to attack, Buffy heard the clank of a falling candle stand and the scream of a vampire who had gotten too close to a cross. She glanced over just in time to see Kimberly return Principal Flutie to the realm of the dead. She would definitely owe Kimberly for that one.

Lieutenant Latimer had heard the noises, too, and instead of turning to face the Slayer, he had stopped to watch. Buffy's opportunity was almost too easy. A sharp thrust into the vampire's back was all Buffy needed to vanquish the last of the three Lieutenants.

That left Morden as the only one of the Master's vampires still alive. He staggered back to the Master's side, hoping to make another escape. Buffy moved to cut him off, but before she could take a step, the Master himself drew out a small weapon and fired it. Morden screamed as a ball of light enveloped him. When the light faded, there was nothing left of the vampire but a doll-sized shriveled body.

Buffy looked at the Master, aghast. "You had that thing the whole time, and you let your stooges fight us instead?"

"The Tissue Compression Eliminator is an effective tool," the Master replied, "but it can interfere with the needs of my new lifestyle."

"Right," said Buffy. "I guess there's not much blood in Barbie and Ken dolls."

"Fortunately," the Master said, "I've found other uses for my technical expertise."

At the Master's cue, another man entered the chamber. He had yellow eyes and white skin that had a strange metallic sheen to it.

Buffy had never seen anything like the man before, but Riker obviously had. "Data!" he cried from his position on the floor. "What are you doing here?"

"I really wish you'd stop doing that, Commander," said the man. "Being mistaken for my brother every time I run into you is really getting tiresome."

"Lore?" said Riker. "What are you doing here?"

"The Master found my parts after you disassembled me," Lore replied. "You probably don't remember that, since for you it hasn't happened yet. But I remember, and I'm grateful to the Master for putting me back together. Not to mention the various improvements he gave me."

With that, Lore shifted his face into its demonic appearance. Buffy readied her stake and prepared to attack. Behind her, she heard Riker call out a warning.

"Buffy!" Riker cried, "That's no ordinary vampire! He's an android!"

Buffy had no idea what Riker was talking about, and she didn't really care. It was her job to slay vampires, no matter what kind they were. She launched herself at Lore, who seemed to be offering no resistance.

Like the last of the Lieutenants, this was almost too easy. Her stake found its mark, rammed right into Lore's chest - and bounced off. The ricochet spun Buffy around, and she landed in an undignified heap on the floor.

"What the...?" said Buffy. Her stake was a mass of splinters in her hand. Lore appeared completely undamaged.

"You should have listened to Riker," said Lore. "For once, he knew what he was talking about."

Buffy could hear the Master laughing behind her. She looked up in terror as Lore bore down on her, his metallic fangs poised for the kill.

Readers' Guide

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

Jean-Luc Picard (96) - The English-accented but nevertheless French Captain of the Enterprise-D in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He is played by Patrick Stewart.

"He would have to ask those questions, wouldn't he?" - On Babylon 5, there was a major war fought between one side known for asking "Who are you?" and another side known for asking "What do you want?"

Worf (97) - A Klingon raised by humans who became Security Chief on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He later went on to join Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which is how Bashir knows him. He is played by Michael Dorn.

Bajor - The planet nearest space station Deep Space Nine. It was being occupied by the Cardassians until just before the Deep Space Nine series started.

Deanna Troi (98) - Ship's Counselor on Star Trek: The Next Generation. The fact that she's not in uniform indicates that, from the Enterprise-D point of view, the time is before the episode "Chain of Command." Troi is played by Marina Sirtis.

Robin Lefler (99) - An Ensign who appeared twice on Star Trek: The Next Generation and has since reappeared in Peter David's Star Trek: New Frontier books. She was played by Ashley Judd.

Data (100) - The android Operations Officer on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He is played by Brent Spiner.

Lucifer (101) and Baltar (102) - Two of the recurring villains on the series Battlestar Galactica. Baltar sold out the human race to their arch-enemies, the Cylons. Lucifer is his liaison to the Cylon high command.

centons - Units of time measurement on Battlestar Galactica. Roughly equivalent to minutes, I think.

"He is definitely familiar to me." - John Colicos, who played Baltar, also played a Klingon named Kor on both the original Star Trek and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Of course, at this point in his life, Worf hasn't met Kor yet, but Kor is supposed to be such a legendary figure that Worf must have seen statues or pictures of him at some point.

Gul Dukat (103) and Weyoun (104) - Recurring villain characters on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Dukat was in charge of Cardassia's occupation of Bajor and has had a roller-coaster life since then. Weyoun represents the Dominion, which has allied itself with Cardassia.

Warlord Shank (105) - A recurring villain character on Space Cases. He is played by George Takei.

"I know all about your Federation delaying tacticsss." - George Takei also played Mister Sulu, helmsman of the original starship Enterprise.

Group Marshal Stike (106) - A character from the Doctor Who episode "The Two Doctors." The Sontarans are a warlike species dedicated primarily to defeating their arch-enemies, the Rutans - but that doesn't mean they pass up a good fight if they see one.

Davros (107) - A recurring villain character from Doctor Who. Davros created the Daleks, the "creatures who hate the entire universe," as Ace described them.

The Borg - A cyborg species that functions as a collective mind, roaming the galaxy looking for new species to assimilate. The Borg have been recurring villains on both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager.

Lore (108) - Data's android "older brother," who made several appearances on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He was "killed" in the episode "Descent, Part 2." Like Data, Lore was played by Brent Spiner.

Chapter 14 "Big Bangs"

It was the greatest space battle the universe had never seen. At least, that's how it looked to a twentieth century Earthling named Fox Mulder.

On the Bridge of the Enterprise-D, crew members and visitors alike listened as the various space fleet commanders continued to bluster and argue over exactly who was going to conquer whom. No one seemed interested in doing any actual shooting to find out the answer for certain.

"My Base Stars were here first," Baltar was saying. "And my fighters have taken up the optimum tactical position. This area of space is clearly mine!"

"The Ninth Sontaran Battle Group yields to no one," Group Marshal Stike proclaimed. "You are the ones who must withdraw before I destroy you."

"This debate is completely pointless," said Gul Dukat. "If you don't all stop talking, I'm going to silence you permanently."

"You'll be the one who is sssssilenced once my Killcruisers have atomized you," hissed Warlord Shank.

"You will not be a-to-mi-zing a-ny-bo-dy," squawked Davros. "The Daleks are the su-preme beings in this u-ni-verse or a‑ny oth-er. We will ex-ter-mi-nate you!"

"Your arguments are irrelevant," intoned the Borg. "Assimilation is inevitable. Your technologies will adapt to service us."

"You said the same thing ten minutes ago," said Gul Dukat. "In fact, you've all been saying the same things over and over again."

"And you haven't?" retorted Baltar.

From his command chair on the Enterprise Bridge, Captain Picard turned away from the viewscreen. "Turn off that damn noise, Mister Worf," he ordered. "I've given up on thinking we'll hear anything useful."

"Aye, sir," Worf replied gratefully.

"Captain," Data reported, "the alien fleets are taking up positions around the Borg cube. They appear to have lost interest in us."

"Good," said Picard. "Ensign Lefler, bring us around slowly. Set a new course of..."

Alarms sounded from several points on the Bridge, interrupting Picard. "Captain!" Worf called from his console. "Several new vessels have arrived. They appeared from out of nowhere!"

"Cloaked ships?" Picard asked.

"No sir," Worf replied. "Their technology is completely unknown to us."

"On screen," Picard ordered.

Mulder turned to the viewscreen just in time to see the newly arrived ships. They were like nothing else in the area - black, spindly vessels with glistening surfaces. They shimmered into existence from nothing and moved with unmatched agility. And unlike the other hostile forces that had gathered, these ships had no intention of waiting for their opponents to shoot first. Red beams of energy surged from several of the black vessels at once, slicing through everything in their paths.

Counselor Troi screamed and fell to the deck, grasping her head in pain. Bashir ran to her side.

"Darkness!" Troi shouted. "Blackness. Coldness. Deliberately calculated cruelty. That's all I can sense. It's all around us!"

Marcus went to Troi's side as well. "You're a telepath?" he asked her. "Do you hear the ships screaming in your head?"

The Counselor managed to nod weakly.

"Try to concentrate on making the noise go away," Marcus instructed. "Believe it or not, that will give the whole ship some degree of protection."

Troi nodded again and did as the Ranger advised. Marcus stood up and found Picard watching him closely.

"They're Shadow vessels," Marcus explained. "I should have known they'd be here. The Shadows love starting fights between various alien races. They figure it's their way of advancing evolution."

"Well, if that's how they get their kicks," said Mulder, "then maybe they're the ones who brought us all together in the first place."

"Not even the Shadows have ever manipulated time and space as thoroughly as what we've seen," said Marcus, "but if they did figure out how to do it, you'd better believe they would."

Mulder looked to the viewscreen again. By now, a giant space battle was in full swing. The Shadows had done their job. Every ship from every different fleet was now shooting at anything else in range.

Unfortunately, their targets included the Enterprise. As Mulder watched, a damaged Cylon fighter came tumbling through space. Mulder flinched as the ship slammed into some kind of energy barrier and exploded. The deck rocked beneath his feet.

"Shields are at ninety-four percent, Captain." Worf reported.

"We can't stay here, Captain," Marcus advised.

"I agree," said Picard. "Ensign Lefler, increase speed to full impulse. It's time we were leaving."

The deck shook again as another stray energy bolt hit the ship. Lefler's hands flew over her console as she tried to control the ship. "That might take some doing, Captain," she said grimly.

All Mulder could do was watch helplessly. He had always wanted to contact alien life, but this was carrying things a bit too far.

***

Willow watched the space battle with morbid fascination. She had to keep reminding herself that it was not a movie or a video game, that beings of some sort were being hurt and killed out there, and that she herself might suffer the same fate if any of the ships ever noticed the Enterprise lurking on the edge of the battle zone.

Kirk had allowed Willow to join the crew on the Bridge, and Spock had let her sit in his chair at the science station. The Vulcan - that's what Spock called himself - was standing next to her, looking into some kind of viewer. Willow couldn't help wondering what it showed him.

"Can you locate the other Federation ship?" Kirk asked.

"I believe so, Captain," Spock replied. "It is attempting to withdraw from the battle. Unfortunately, several other ships appear to be targeting it."

"We have to help them," said Kirk.

"How are we going to do that?" cried Willow. "Do you have guns big enough to stop all those ships?"

Kirk merely turned and scowled at her. Willow quickly shrank into her chair. "I'll be quiet now," she promised.

"Despite the emotional nature of her outburst, Miss Rosenberg does raise a valid point," said Spock. "We lack the necessary armament to successfully engage in this conflict. I believe our logical course of action is to find a way of reversing the time-space anomalies that brought us all here in the first place."

Suddenly, the light from a nearby explosion flashed across the viewscreen. The deck lurched, and half the people on the Bridge fell out of their chairs. Willow wished she had a seat belt or something.

"Captain!" called a red-shirted man with a Scottish accent. "We canna take many hits like that! The ship will blow apart!"

"I'll keep that in mind, Mister Scott," Kirk replied. He looked over at Spock again. "Mister Spock, if you've got something in mind, I suggest you get started on it."

Spock went to Willow's side. "There is a way to accelerate our search for an answer," he told her, "but to use it, I must make contact with your mind."

"O... Okay," Willow said hesitantly. She didn't know if she liked Spock's idea, but this was no time to be picky.

"I do regret the intrusion, but time is of the essence," Spock said. He then put his hand to Willow's face and stared into her eyes. His gaze burned straight through her, opening her mind in ways she had never known before.

"Our minds are growing closer," she heard Spock say. "Our minds are becoming one. I will provide your mental abilities with the assistance they require. Think back to the events that brought you here. Remember every detail, no matter how insignificant it may seem."

Willow did as she was told, and thought back to the beginning of the evening. The memories came to her with amazing clarity, and she could feel Spock watching them through her eyes.

The deck shuddered beneath her again, but this time Willow remained calm. Somehow, Spock's mind was giving her some of his emotional control. He was helping her to stay focused, but at the same time, he couldn't help reminding her how urgent their situation was.

As Spock watched, Willow cleared her mind and concentrated on the memories again. She didn't know exactly what the Vulcan was looking for in her mind, but she was determined that he would find it.

***

Buffy tossed the remaining shards of her stake aside. She had others with her, naturally, but they were useless against the creature that was poised to attack her.

She had fought vampires before, and she had fought robots before, but she had never fought a robot vampire. Despite her predicament, Buffy found herself wondering what Giles would think if he knew what was going on.

Buffy was still struggling to get back on her feet when she heard a warrior's yelp slice through the air from behind Lore. The android turned around just as Kimberly stepped forward and swung one of the candle stands at him. Her blow connected solidly, but did almost no damage. It did, however, give Xander a chance to dash past Lore and come to Buffy's aid.

"Xander, what are you doing?" cried Buffy.

"Rescuing you," said Xander. "It's my turn, remember?"

Xander helped Buffy to her feet, and the two teenagers hurried away. Kimberly continued to hold Lore back, but she was losing ground fast.

Over near Riker, Ace was busy rummaging through her rucksack. "This guy's going to take some more serious hardware," she said as Buffy reached her. "Keep him busy while I get it ready."

Buffy didn't know what Ace had up her sleeve, but at this point, anything was worth a try. She turned and grabbed another of the candle stands, then hurried to join Kimberly in the fight.

By now, Kimberly's own candle stand was mutilated beyond any usefulness. The girl was trying to keep Lore at bay with kicks and punches, but she was hurting herself more than she was hurting him. Buffy attacked with her own candle stand, but didn't have much more luck.

At this rate, the fight was not going to last much longer. Buffy worriedly glanced over to see what Ace was doing. It looked like she had pulled several old-fashioned deodorant cans out of her bag. What was she planning to do? Kill Lore by destroying his ozone layer?

Ace grabbed the cans and began creeping forward. Buffy saw her approach and circled around Lore in an attempt to face him in the opposite direction. Kimberly picked up on the move and tried to do the same, but Lore lashed out and knocked her senseless with a single blow. Buffy swung her candle stand and broke it against Lore's body. The android didn't even flinch, but he did turn to face the Slayer with a murderous fury in his eye.

That was all the opportunity Ace needed. She stepped forward, pulled pins out of the tops of two cans and stuffed them down Lore's shirt. The android swung around and knocked Ace back several feet, but the cans stayed put.

"Get away from him!" Ace screamed.

Buffy didn't need to be told twice. Xander had come forward to help Kimberly, but Buffy grabbed them both and dragged them as far as she could. Lore was still struggling with the cans and let the teenagers go.

Seconds later, the android disappeared in a tremendous explosion. The blast knocked everyone else in the chamber to the ground. Debris rained down on them from the ceiling.

Buffy found herself lying on the floor next to Ace. The girl was looking at her handiwork with a gleam in her eye. "Wicked," she said.

"You carry that stuff around all the time?" Buffy asked.

"Comes in handy when you travel with the Professor," Ace replied.

"We've still got the Master to deal with," Buffy said as she stood and brushed herself off.

"That might not be so easy," said Xander.

Buffy looked over at her friend, then followed his gaze to the back of the chamber. As the dust cleared, Buffy could see that they were alone. The Master had slipped away during the explosion.

***

It had been hours since Dana Scully quit trying to describe the evening's events in a way that wouldn't convince anyone who read her FBI field report that she belonged in a mental hospital. Now she was simply trying to convince herself that she didn't belong in a mental hospital.

As she watched, the strange assortment of people continued to connect the library's computer to the Fourth Doctor's robot dog. Below them, the "Hellmouth" continued to swirl in the middle of the impossibly huge library. If Scully had seen those two items alone on anyone else's report, she would have thought someone was playing a joke on her. And she hadn't even started thinking about the parallel universes, vampires and alien assistants.

The librarian, Rupert Giles, saw her standing there and came over to join her. "In all the confusion, I don't believe we ever got the chance to meet," he said.

"Kes told me who you were, Mister Giles," Scully replied. "I'm Dana Scully, Special Agent with the FBI."

"Surely you're not the Dana Scully, are you?"

"I don't know," said Scully. "Am I?"

"Well, are you the one who works in the X-Files division?" the librarian asked. "Fox Mulder's partner?"

"That's me," Scully confirmed.


"How fortunate," said Giles. "I read your partner's field report on vampire cults in the Los Angeles area. It was a bit naive in places, but mostly quite illuminating."

"Really?" said Scully, eyeing Giles suspiciously. "I was... somewhere else... when Mulder handled that case. How did a high school librarian get a copy of his report?"

"How?" Giles stammered, suddenly aware that he had given away too much information about himself. "Well, you know... this being the Hellmouth and all, I've done my best to keep up with... er, shall we see how they're doing with the computer over there?"

Scully was about to object, but the crowd at the computer came to Giles's rescue. A cheer went up from the group as the robot dog's ears began to wiggle back and forth.

"I think we have a winner!" Wade shouted. "We're getting data from all the input ports, and there are no error messages."

"All input/output parameters are within acceptable tolerance limits," K9 reported.

"Good dog, K9," said the Fourth Doctor, patting the robot on the head.

"Please refrain from generating excess background oscillations on my instrument platform, Master," said K9.

"Sorry," said the Fourth Doctor, lowering his voice as if that would help the robot do its job.

"So now that we have these machines talking to each other," said Giles, "what exactly are they saying?"

"Quite a lot, actually," said Arturo, staring intently at the computer screen. "The Podowski variables are in a range I've never seen before." He pointed to a string of numbers that made no sense to Scully, but obviously meant a lot to him. "Look at this, Mister Mallory. There's no force in nature that could generate this amount of distortion."

"I thought you'd already established that we weren't dealing with a force from nature," Giles pointed out.

"Yes, we had," said the Fourth Doctor, "but it's always nice to know when you're right."

"Check this out, Professor," said Quinn. "There are two sets of distortion fields. There's a smaller one that looks like its riding piggyback on top of a larger original."

"You mean someone originally created the phenomenon that brought us here," said the holographic Doctor, "and someone else is using it to bring other people here?"

The Seventh Doctor pushed his way through the crowd and looked at the screen for himself. "That's exactly what they mean," he replied after a moment. "What's more, the smaller distortion field was generated using Time Lord technology."

"You mean it's one of us?" said the Fourth Doctor.

"Or worse," the Seventh Doctor replied ominously.

"What about tracking the fields to their source?" asked Giles. "Do you still think that's possible?"

"Give us a few minutes and we'll let you know," Quinn replied.

Scully stepped away from the group for a moment. Things were about to start happening very rapidly, and she wanted to know where Mulder was while she still had the chance. If he was close by, he could probably reach the library before things got too interesting.

She reached into her coat, pulled out her cellphone and punched in her partner's number.

***

The Enterprise-D lurched again, caught in the crossfire as the Spung and the Daleks traded energy bolts. Or maybe it was the Borg and the Cylons. Mulder had lost track.

One thing was certain. The ship was in serious trouble.

"Shields are at fifty-seven percent," Worf reported. "Secondary power couplings on deck twelve are off line."

"Target the ships directly in front of us," ordered Picard. "Fire all weapons on my command. We'll try to punch our way out of this."

The Bridge crew scrambled to their tasks. All Mulder could do was watch and feel helpless. He was busy contemplating just how helpless he felt when an unexpected noise interrupted him.

His cellphone was ringing.

"What's that noise?" asked Marcus.

Mulder reached into his pocket and pulled out the phone. It continued to ring, completely ignoring the fact that it was both several solar systems and several centuries away from the nearest calling zone.

"I think it's for me," Mulder said, holding up the phone. He flipped it open and pushed the activation button. "Mulder," he spoke tentatively into the mouthpiece.

"Mulder, it's me," came a familiar voice.

"Scully?" Mulder said in disbelief. "Where are you?"

"I'm at the Sunnydale high school library. How soon can you get here?"

"Not for a while, I think," Mulder replied. "You know, we should tell the Bureau what a bargain they're getting with these phones. The range on them is incredible."

Ensign Lefler looked up at Mulder from her console. "Lefler's Law number one-hundred-three. A couple of light years can't keep good friends apart."

Mulder was about to reply, but before he could say anything, the Enterprise took another hit. Lefler's console erupted in a blast of sparks and debris, throwing her to the deck. Mulder rushed to her aid. Bashir arrived seconds later.

"Moderate head trauma," Bashir reported as he checked the Ensign over. "Some minor burns, too. Nothing we can't handle, but we've got to get her off the Bridge."

"Too bad there's no Lefler's Law about watching out for exploding consoles," Mulder remarked.

At that point, Mulder was no longer sure he wanted to make contact with alien beings after all.


Readers' Guide

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

The Shadows - An ancient species from the series Babylon 5. The Shadows and the Vorlons were the last of the older species who stayed behind to look after humans, Minbari, and the rest of the younger species in their region of space, but they constantly disagreed over the best way to help evolution. Their feud eventually led to the Shadow War, at the end of which they both left for the region of space "Beyond the Rim."

Montgomery Scott (109) - Chief Engineer in the original Star Trek series. He was played by James Doohan.

"This guy's going to take some more serious hardware." - Ace's explosive of choice is called "nitro-nine." She mixes it up herself to make bombs out of old deodorant cans.

"I read your partner's report on vampire cults in the Los Angeles area." - Giles is referring to the events in the X-Files episode "3." Scully was missing at the time after being abducted by forces unknown.

Chapter 15 "Contact"

"You're where?"

Scully was almost shouting into her cellphone. Giles tore himself away from the group gathered around the computer and went to see what was going on.

"Mulder, I can barely hear you," Scully said as Giles reached her side. "What's all that noise in the background?" Her eyes opened wide as she listened to Mulder's answer.

"Is your partner in some sort of trouble?" Giles asked.

"He says he's standing on the Bridge of a starship that's in the middle of a giant space battle," Scully replied.

Giles gulped audibly. "Well," he said at last, "I'd say that qualifies as trouble."

"Where's that signal coming from?" Quinn called from over by the computer.

Scully held up her cellphone. "Do you mean this?" she asked. "I've got my partner on the line, but I'm not exactly sure where he is."

Quinn and the Fourth Doctor hurried to Scully's side. Quinn grabbed the cellphone and looked it over. "This is amazing," he said.

"Do you realize what you've done?" the Fourth Doctor asked Scully. Before Scully could answer, he took the cellphone from Quinn and spoke into it.

"You there," said the Fourth Doctor, "whatever you do, keep this line open for as long as you can. All right? Good man." He handed the phone to Scully and stalked back to the computer. Quinn followed him.

Still unsure of what was happening, Giles set off after the two men. Scully began to follow, but stopped to talk to her partner again.

"Who was that? I'm afraid that'll take some explaining... Yes, I know. We do have the time, but I need to see what's going on first..."

Once Giles reached the computer terminal, it wasn't hard for him to see why everyone was so excited. The signal from Scully's phone appeared on the screen as an unmistakably clear path through the distortion fields. The path was twisted in an impossible number of directions, but it was unbroken from beginning to end.

"As long as that signal remains intact," Arturo was saying, "we can lock onto its coordinates with one of our timers and slide there."

"We'd need a lot more power to cut through the distortion fields," Quinn countered.

"We could use the Hellmouth," suggested the holographic Doctor.

"We don't know how to do that," Arturo admitted. "I wouldn't even know where to begin."

"But I would," said the Seventh Doctor. "Given our limited resources, I can't do much, but I think I can improvise something that will allow us to make one slide."

"Then let's do it," said Quinn.

"Hold on a minute," said Giles as he stepped into the conversation. "If we can only make one slide, we have to be sure it's the right one." He turned to Scully and asked, "Is the entire group from the Bronze with your partner right now? Is Buffy with him?"

Scully relayed the questions to Mulder, then listened as he answered. "They separated hours ago," she finally replied. "Right now, Mulder only has two other people from the Bronze with him."

Giles looked at the group. "We have to find the rest of them," he insisted. "Someone may be closer to whoever is causing all this."

"The others could be anywhere," said Quinn. "How do we find them all?"

Kes pushed her way into the crowd. "We can start by using the Starfleet communicators," she suggested. Turning to the holographic Doctor, she said, "Harry Kim was part of the group at the Bronze. See if you can contact him."

The holographic Doctor touched the badge on his chest. "This is the Doctor, calling Ensign Kim," he spoke into midair. "Are you receiving me?"

The only reply was silence. "Ensign Kim," the Doctor repeated, "if you're receiving my transmission, please respond."

They were again met by silence for several long moments. Finally, a voice spoke from the Doctor's badge.

"Hello? How do you turn this thing on?" It was definitely not Ensign Kim.

"Buffy!" called Giles. He hurried to the Doctor's side.

"Giles?" came Buffy's voice. "Where are you? How are you talking over this guy's pin?"

"Never mind that right now," said Giles. "Where are you? Is everyone with you all right?"

"We've had a couple of run-ins with some vampires," came Buffy's reply. "Some of us got a little banged up while we were chasing this Master guy."

"The Master?" Giles repeated in horror. "Surely you haven't faced..."

"Not that Master. A different one. Ace says the Doctor knows..."

"Buffy," said the Seventh Doctor, suddenly jumping in, "we're trying to find everyone who was at the Bronze with you. Is there anyone else there with some kind of communication device?"

There was a brief pause, presumably while Buffy was looking around. "Just Commander Riker, from the Enterprise," came her reply.

"The Enterprise?" said Scully. "That's where Mulder says he is."

"Splendid," said the Fourth Doctor. "I do so love a convenient coincidence. Don't you?"

***

"Riker to Enterprise. Are you receiving?"

Things had calmed down a bit on the Enterprise-D Bridge. With a bit of persuasion, Marcus had convinced Picard to let him take the helm controls, and he had successfully steered the ship clear of the most intense battle zone. By the time Riker's call came through, almost everyone had returned to their normal seats and stations.

"Loud and clear, Commander," said Picard. "It's good to hear from you again."

"We're trying to link up my comm signal with the one coming from the Sunnydale library," Riker reported. "The group there believes that will help them get a fix on the source of the distortion fields."

"Acknowledged," said Picard. "We'll be listening."

As if on cue, another voice came through the Bridge speakers. "Enterprise, this is the Doctor calling," it said. "Well, one of them, anyway. The only one connected with Starfleet."

"We read you as well, Doctor," Picard replied.

Another voice promptly replaced the Doctor's. "This is Rupert Giles. We're still trying to locate everyone who was at the Bronze this evening. Agent Mulder said there were only three of you on the ship. Who's still missing?"

"We haven't seen Willow, Leela or Gabrielle since we landed on the Enterprise," Mulder replied. "They could be anywhere."

***

"What's that he said? Willow's missing?"

Xander had been helping Kimberly return to reality, but when he heard of Willow's absence, he raced to Riker's side to find out what was going on. Kimberly shook the last of the fuzziness from her head and followed him.

"Have you scanned the ship to see if they're onboard?" Riker was asking.

"I'm afraid we've been a bit preoccupied," came a British-accented voice that Xander didn't recognize. "I'll have Mister Data do it now."

There was a pause, then another voice came over Riker's badge. "The internal sensors do not detect any anomalous life signs," it said. Xander was momentarily startled, as were Buffy, Ace and Kimberly. The voice sounded exactly like the robotic vampire they had just fought. No wonder Riker had gotten them confused.

"I am attempting to scan the surrounding ships," Data continued, "but debris and radiation from the battle are obscuring our sensors. I cannot obtain any accurate readings."

"That's bad, right?" Xander asked. Riker nodded grimly.

"We've been able to locate everyone else through their communications devices," the holographic Doctor said from wherever he was. "Perhaps the missing individuals are carrying something we could use to lock onto them."

"I don't think Leela and Gabrielle have anything like that," Buffy spoke into the badge she had taken from Harry. "And Willow doesn't even carry a beeper."

"Wait a minute," came Mulder's voice. "Willow did have something with her. It looked like a pink wristwatch. She said she found it in the Bronze. That's what got us in this mess to begin with."

"Oh my gosh!" cried Kimberly. "My communicator!" She checked her wrist and realized it was bare. "I must have lost it during the fight."

"Do you know the frequency at which the device operates?" asked the holographic Doctor.

"I think so," Kimberly replied.

"Then stand by," the Doctor advised. "We think we have a plan."

***

"There's no question about it," said Giles. "We have to make our slide to Buffy's location."

"That would make the most sense," agreed Quinn. "According to the computer, she's closer to the focal point of the distortion fields."

"She also has some injured people we'll need to treat," said the holographic Doctor.

"And we can work from there to find a way of contacting Willow," Giles reminded them.

"At that distance, we'll have enough power for six people to go," said the Seventh Doctor. "Is anyone willing to step forward?"

"I'm going," Giles insisted. "I'm Buffy's Watcher. I need to be there for her."

"I'll go, too," said Quinn, "just in case something goes wrong with the slide."

"You'll need a medical expert," said the holographic Doctor.

"Sorry, Doctor, but you're the only one who can maintain our communication lines," countered Arturo. "You need to stay."

"I'll go instead," offered Scully.

"And I'll go, too," said Kes. "You might need some help with the non-humans."

"Well, all right," the holographic Doctor conceded. "I suppose that will have to do."

"And if I go," said the Fourth Doctor, "that leaves room for one more."

"I would suggest," said the Seventh Doctor, "that we give the final place to Mister Lennier."

Giles had almost forgotten about Lennier. He suspected most of the others had as well. The Minbari was sitting quietly against the end of a bookshelf, apparently meditating once again. Giles didn't know how long he had been that way. At the mention of his name, though, Lennier stood and looked at the Seventh Doctor curiously.

"Why do you say that, Doctor?" Lennier asked.

"Because," the Seventh Doctor replied, "you look like someone who's waiting for the answers of the Universe to arrive. You should be there when some of them do."

Lennier formed his hands into a pyramid shape and held them in front of himself as he bowed. "As you wish," he said.

"I'll have the coordinates in a minute," said Wade. "You'd better get ready."

"I have some more weapons back in my office," said Giles. "We can go and get them if you think they'll be useful."

Giles looked over at the Doctors, expecting at least one of them to reply. Instead, he found them staring at each other intently.

Finally, the Fourth Doctor broke the other's gaze. "What's that?" he asked. "Weapons, oh yes. Nasty things, really. I don't use them myself, but you're welcome to bring some along. I... I need to look at the Hellmouth for a moment."

With that, the Fourth Doctor stepped away and went to the balcony overlooking the vortex. Giles looked around for the Seventh Doctor, and discovered that the little man had slipped away.

There was no time to wonder what the Doctors were up to. Taking Quinn with him, Giles hurried back into the overgrown stacks, on the way to his office.

***

"You wanted to see me alone? Here I am."

The Fourth Doctor watched as his older counterpart approached him. The Seventh Doctor had a way of coming and going without anyone else noticing him. The Fourth Doctor wondered when he would learn that trick.

"I want to propose a slight change in plans," the Seventh Doctor said with his Scottish burr. "I don't think you should make the slide with the others. I think I should go instead."

"Do you?"

"Yes," said the little man. "It's just a feeling I have."

"Really," said the Fourth Doctor, knowing better than to take his counterpart's answer at face value.

"Trust me on this one."

"All right," said the taller man. "Just tell me one thing. This 'feeling' of yours. It's not exactly cricket, is it?"

"No," the Seventh Doctor replied. "I doubt Rassilon would approve."

The Fourth Doctor smiled one of his trademark smiles. "Good," he said. "I've been afraid of becoming a fuddy-duddy in my old age."

"That may happen eventually," the Seventh Doctor replied, "but not today."

***

Willow Rosenberg's brain had been given an overdrive chip.

That's what it seemed like to her, anyway. Spock's assistance had enabled Willow's mind to work with a speed and clarity that she had never known before. Her fingers sped across the starship's science console as she hunted through the computer for the information Spock needed. No matter what strange futuristic concept he asked her to look up, she ready for the task.

Willow thought she should feel something more about her transformation, but her emotions were strangely muted. She could still feel them, but it was as if they were coming to her from a long way away. Spock had said it was a side effect of his contact with her mind, one that would help her with the job at hand and would fade away later. She wanted to worry about whether or not he was right, but worrying at this point was hardly logical.

Their research was progressing well. Spock had gone through almost all the ship's information on interdimensional anomalies and was now concentrating on temporal anomalies. There was also something about a "Halkan incident" that interested him, but Willow didn't know what that was, yet.

Willow was just preparing to begin a new search when she heard someone calling her name.

"Willow? Willow Rosenberg? Can you hear me? If you can hear me, please answer."

Captain Kirk spun around in his chair. "Where's that signal coming from?" he asked. "Uhura, can you track it?"

"It's not coming over the normal ship's channels," replied Uhura, a black woman who sat at the next console over from Willow.

"Come on, Willow! It's us! Aren't you there?"

Xander? How did his voice get all the way out here into space? It wasn't logical. Unless...

Willow immediately remembered the strange wristwatch that had started her entire journey. She was still carrying it. Without hesitation, she reached into her pocket and pulled the device out. Sure enough, the voices were coming from it. Xander and Kimberly were calling to her.

"Fascinating," said Spock. "May I see that?"

"Just be careful," said Willow. "Press the wrong button, and you could end up a long way from here."

"Someone obviously wants to hear from you," said Kirk. "Do you know how to answer them?"

Willow shook her head. "This thing isn't mine," she explained. "I just found it tonight."

Spock handed the watch back to her. Indicating a button on the side, he said, "I believe you should try pressing here."

Willow took the watch and pressed the button Spock showed her. "Hello?" she spoke into the watch face. "Xander? Is that you?"

"Willow!" came the frantic reply. "Where are you? What's happening? Are you all right?"

"It is gratifying to hear your voice, Xander," Willow said evenly, "but there's no need for such emotionalism."

"Huh?" said Xander. "This is Willow, isn't it?"

"Sorry," said Willow, catching herself. "It's a long story. I'll explain later."

"Oh. All right, I guess," Xander replied. "Listen, Will, we've got everybody else hooked up through these communicator things. The gang back at the library figures that if we all put our heads together, we can think of a way to get everybody home."

"I'm already working on that," Willow told him. "I, uh, found some help."

"You did?" There was silence for a moment, then Xander continued. "The others want to know if you can put your friends on."

Kirk turned back to Uhura. "Lieutenant," he said, "can you get a fix on that frequency?"

"I'm getting it now, sir," Uhura replied. "We should be able to hail them in another minute."

This is most fortunate, thought Willow. Once they had pooled their resources with the others, their search for a way to fix everything would probably go much faster. It was a rational conclusion.

Then there was the matter of Xander. Willow thought she should be happier to hear from him, or upset that he and Kimberly had obviously been together through all the night's events. Yet neither reaction seemed logical. She would have to devote some of her new mental skills to this little dilemma. Maybe she could make sense of it that way.

***

Giles watched as Buffy led the way down the tunnel. Ace followed close behind the Slayer. The Seventh Doctor was walking along next to Giles, keeping as close a watch over his charge as Giles was keeping over Buffy. Behind them, Quinn and Lennier brought up the rear of the group.

The slide had been like nothing Giles ever experienced. The sensation of flying through the multicolored vortex was exhilarating. By the time he landed in the Master's underground chamber, he found himself wishing the journey could have lasted longer. But this was no time for joyriding, not when they were so close to solving the mystery that had affected them all.

Buffy was eager to start the chase as soon as they arrived. She and Ace had cared for the injured as best they could, and Xander and Kimberly were busy trying to contact Willow. The minute Kes and Scully got to work, Buffy's thoughts turned to picking up the Master's trail before it grew cold.

They reached a branch in the tunnel and Buffy paused, trying to focus her senses. "This way," she said at last, indicating the branch. "Get ready."

Giles looked down the smaller, darker tunnel Buffy was leading them through. He could see nothing ahead of them, but he thought he heard machinery of some sort.

"Are you sure?" Quinn asked. "No offense, you being the Slayer and all, but maybe we should cover both passages."

Buffy shrugged. "Okay, smart guy," she said. "If you don't trust me, or if you just want to miss out on the action, that's fine by me. Don't worry about dividing our forces or anything."

"I can assure you," said Lennier, "that if we are needed, the universe will arrange for us to be there."

As Quinn and Lennier went off down the main passage, Giles, the Doctor and Ace followed Buffy down the side tunnel. It soon opened into another wide chamber. The walls and floor near the entrance were still in their natural, rough-hewn state, but the far side had clearly been fashioned by artificial means. A bank of computers stood against the back wall, and a man dressed entirely in black stood there working on them.

Giles saw Buffy's entire body tense. Obviously, the man in black was their quarry, the Master. As Giles watched, the Slayer crept forward, a new stake Giles had brought for her drawn and ready. If the Master knew she was coming, he gave no indication of it.

Something was wrong. This was far too easy. Giles glanced over at the Seventh Doctor and saw a look of alarm on the little man's face. He quickly turned back towards Buffy, who by now had almost reached the Master and was preparing to strike.

"Buffy!" Giles called. "Wait!"

The Master heard his cry and turned, just as Buffy pounced. She buried the stake in the Master's chest. He cried out in pain and fell back against the computers.

Buffy whirled around to face Giles. "Why the hell did you do that?" she cried. "You call yourself a Watcher? You're supposed to protect me, not get me killed!"

Giles started to protest, but something caught his eye. The Master's body had not yet turned to dust. In fact, the vampire had pushed himself off the bank of computers and was bearing down on the unsuspecting Slayer.

"Look out!" Giles shouted, but it was too late. The Master hit Buffy with a chop to the neck. The Slayer collapsed on the chamber floor.

"There's one thing you should know," said the Master. "Time Lords - even Time Lord vampires - have two hearts." He looked over at the Seventh Doctor. "You didn't bother to tell her that?" he sneered. "It's not like you to be so careless."

Ace took a few steps forward. "Buffy got the job half-done," she said, brandishing a new stake of her own. "I'll just have to finish it for her."

Much to Giles's surprise, the Seventh Doctor stepped forward and held Ace back. "Not this time, Ace," he said. "The Master is my problem, and I'll be the one to handle him."

With that, the Seventh Doctor stepped past his companion and advanced across the chamber. Ace followed close behind him, and Giles fell in beside her. Even if the Doctor insisted on facing the Master himself, at least he and Ace might pull Buffy to safety.

"I didn't expect to see this version of you again," the Master said to the Seventh Doctor. "Isn't there another one of you around somewhere?"

"I left him back where he'd be safe," the Seventh Doctor replied. "There are enough laws of time being broken right now. He doesn't need to see you yet."

The Master laughed a laugh that sent a chill through Giles's body. By now the Time Lords had met in the center of the chamber. Buffy was left unattended, and Giles quickly motioned for Ace to help him retrieve her.

"You are truly amazing, Doctor," the Master was saying. "Constantly flouting the laws of time yourself, yet acting like their staunch defender when it suits you. I know perfectly well which other version of you is here. If he sees me now, it would warn him of the time when we meet in his future. He might change the course of his life - of your life. We couldn't have that, could we?"

"What do you want me to say?"

"I simply want you to admit that you and I are of the same breed," said the Master. "Meddling our way across the universe for our own self-interest. Nothing more."

"You're going to have to wait a long time before you hear that," the Seventh Doctor replied. "I'm nothing like you. For one thing, my ambition hasn't blinded me to something that's perfectly obvious."

The Master looked puzzled for a moment. "What are you talking about?" he asked.

"This night," said the Seventh Doctor. "All of it. People from different times, places and even universes brought to one place." Indicating the computers, he added, "You think all these machines will control it. But you're wrong."

"We'll see, Doctor. I've already used these machines to bring a large number of beings here. I can do it again, as often as I like. I've harnessed the power of the vortex."

"You may have tapped into the power of the vortex, but you haven't harnessed it," the Seventh Doctor retorted. "That was done before you arrived. There's another intelligence at work here. One you won't be able to ignore forever."

"Save your scare tactics for the less intelligent," the Master scoffed. "I have more important things to do."

The Master turned back toward his computers. Giles gasped. Buffy was still on the cavern floor, and they were all between the vampire and his equipment. As the Master approached, Giles and Ace grabbed Buffy's arms and pulled her to her feet. The Slayer groaned as they tried to push her out of harm's way. The Master walked straight past them, no longer interested.

"Despite the feeble attempt your companions made to stop me," the Master boasted, "I've managed to increase the capacity of my dimensional power grid tenfold. That will be more than enough to project a distortion field anywhere I choose."

The Seventh Doctor had a horrified look on his face - a bit too horrified, Giles thought. "You can't use that!" the Seventh Doctor cried. "It's madness!"

"We'll see, Doctor!" shouted the Master. He stepped over to the bank of computers and pressed several keys. The machines whirred to life - for all of ten seconds. Then they promptly exploded in bursts of smoke and sparks.

The Master tried to shut his apparatus down before it self-destructed completely, but without warning, he found himself rooted to the floor. A shimmering haze began to envelop his body. He turned to the Seventh Doctor. "What have you done?" he cried.

"I've done nothing," the Seventh Doctor replied. "You've done it all to yourself. You've finally gained the attention of the intelligence that brought us all here. And I don't think it's very happy to see you."

The Master's body suddenly elongated until it became a glowing thread that reached to the ceiling. Giles could still hear the Time Lord screaming for help as the beam shot through the top of the cavern and was gone.

"What the...?" Buffy was beginning to stir again. "What's going on?" she asked. "Where's the Master?"

"Taken care of," Giles assured her.

"Well, at least that's one guy we don't have to worry about," said Buffy.

"Yes," said the Seventh Doctor as he joined them. "But I believe our real problems are just starting."

As they all watched, a glowing portal appeared in the chamber wall. Three figures stepped through it. A small boy with red hair and freckles led two nervous-looking adults, a man and a woman, into the chamber. They all wore clothes that even Giles thought looked out of date.

Buffy had now regained enough strength to stand on her own. She approached the three new arrivals cautiously.

"How did you do that?" she asked the trio.

"Do what?" said the small boy. "You mean how did we get here? I wished it, of course. That's how I do everything."

"And a really good wish it was, too," said the man. Turning to the woman, he asked, "Wasn't it a good wish, dear?"

"Absolutely," said the woman. "One of the best wishes he's made all day."

Giles could hardly believe what he was seeing and hearing. He had even more trouble believing the conclusions that his mind had drawn from what he saw and heard. Still, he felt he must step forward and test his theory. "Did you just say you can... 'wish'... for anything you want?" he asked.

"That's what I said, isn't it?"

"Of course it is," said the man. "And you did a good job of saying it, too."

"Real good," added the woman.

"This is amazing," said Giles. "Just who are you?"

"My name is Anthony," said the small boy. "Anthony Fremont. I brought you all here, because I want you all to play with me. Forever."

Readers' Guide

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

The Halkan Incident - Better known to Star Trek fans as the episode "Mirror, Mirror."

Uhura (110) - Communications officer in the original Star Trek series. She was played by Nichelle Nichols.

Anthony Fremont (111) - By far the most well-known of Bill Mumy's three appearances in the original Twilight Zone series. Anthony Fremont was a little boy in the episode "It's a Good Life" who could do anything he wanted to do by wishing for it. He wished his home town of Peaksville, Ohio into its own little universe and proceeded to torment and terrorize everyone and everything he took with it. When he got angry or bored with someone, he would wish them "into the cornfield."

Mr. Fremont (112) and Mrs. Fremont (113) - Anthony's terrorized parents in the original Twilight Zone episode, "It's a Good Life." John Larch played Mr. Fremont and Cloris Leachman played Mrs. Fremont.

Chapter 16 "The Circle Closes"

Buffy almost didn't want it to be true. After all they had been through that night - all the strange visitors, all the fighting, all the bruises - was she really supposed to believe that this freckle-faced little brat was behind it?

"Let me get this straight," she said. "You brought all these people to Sunnydale, from all over the universe? From all over several universes?"

"I sure did," Anthony replied, looking way too pleased with himself. "I'm glad, too. I was getting really bored in Peaksville. There was nothing left to do. And then I found your Hellmouth." The boy giggled, and an evil glint shone in his eye. "My folks don't like me to say words like that," he explained.

"Oh, we don't mind, Anthony!" the man spoke up immediately. "You can say whatever words you want!"

"Yes," the woman added, "and you say them so well, too."

The two adults, presumably Anthony's parents, creeped Buffy out worse than the boy did. "What is your deal?" she asked them hotly.

"They're afraid," Anthony said for them. "They don't want me to wish them into the cornfield."

"Cornfield?" asked Giles. "What cornfield is that?"

"We were there," Ace told him. "Didn't seem like such a bad place."

"That's because you went there by yourselves," said Anthony. "If I wished you there, it would be different. Just ask your friend with all the fancy machines."

"That's where you sent the Master?" Buffy asked.

"He won't think it's so bad," Anthony remarked casually. "Until the sun comes up tomorrow."

"So now that you've found the Hellmouth and brought everyone here," said Giles, "what do you want with us?"

"I told you," Anthony replied. "You're all here to play with me. The people in Peaksville were boring. Everyone was the same. But you're all different. We can have lots of fun."

"Doing what?" Buffy asked, not sure she wanted to hear the answer.

"Anything I want," Anthony replied. "Maybe I'll make you fight some more monsters. I like watching you do that. But I'll have to make it harder for you next time. Maybe I'll bring down some of the monsters from those rocket ships I found, if they don't all blow each other up."

"My God," said Giles. "You mean that giant space battle - the one Willow and the others are caught in - that's something you made happen as well?"

"Of course," said Anthony. "It was really keen. We could watch some of it on television. Would you like that?"

"Oh, that sounds like a wonderful idea!" said Anthony's mother.

"Yeah, son. A real good one," Anthony's father chimed in.

"I don't think it's so good," said Buffy. She drew out another of her stakes and pointed it at the boy. She wasn't sure she could actually use it on a kid, even a brat like this one, but maybe she could scare him. "I have a better idea. Why don't you send everybody home - including yourself? Otherwise..."

Buffy never got the chance to say what "otherwise" she had in mind, as her windpipe was abruptly choked off. The boy was glowering at her, jutting his chin out defiantly. "You're a bad girl!" he shouted at her. "A very bad girl!"

"Buffy!" cried Giles. He started running to her side, but was stopped dead in his tracks, doubling over in pain instead.

"I know what you're all thinking," Anthony declared. "You're all bad! You want to stop me. But you won't!"

Waves of pain shot through Buffy's body. It felt like her internal organs were playing a game of musical chairs. She tried to cry out, to vent some of her agony into the air, but she couldn't. Through her blurring vision, she could see that Giles and Ace were just as bad off.

Things were not good. If something didn't happen soon, this little kid was going to succeed where an army of vampires had failed. The Slayer was going to be slain.

It wasn't the most dignified way to go - but at the moment, Buffy didn't care about dignity.

***

Willow settled into the large Command Chair. Her emotions had returned, so she was now able to enjoy the feel of being seated where she was. This was the nerve center for the entire giant starship. From here, a person could order the ship to go anywhere among the stars. There was no telling what sort of places the ship could take them to.

I could get used to this, Willow thought to herself.

"Excuse me," said a proper English-accented voice. "I believe that's my chair you're sitting in."

Willow looked up and saw Captain Picard standing over her. She was startled momentarily, then felt overcome by self-consciousness, embarrassed at being caught daydreaming. Okay, so she wasn't glad to have all of her emotions back.

"Sorry," Willow said meekly. "I'll move now." She hurried out of the chair and looked around the Bridge of the Enterprise-D, where she and Spock had gone to join Mulder, Marcus and Bashir. They had brought Leela and Gabrielle along as well. At the moment, Leela was eagerly discussing weapons with Mister Worf, but Gabrielle was standing off by herself. Willow went to the young woman's side.

"Are you all right?" Willow asked. "I know this hasn't been the easiest night for you..."

Gabrielle nodded. "I'm fine," she replied. "I think I'm finally getting used to all the marvels you people have. You know, this is going to make an incredible epic when I get home."

"You're going to tell people about all this?" Willow exclaimed.

"I'm a bard," Gabrielle replied. "It's what I do. And an adventure like this one is a bard's dream."

"But back where you come from, who's going to believe you?"

Gabrielle shrugged. "People love this kind of stuff," she replied, "whether they believe it or not."

"Willow!" Bashir called from across the Bridge. "We're almost ready. You'd better come up here."

Willow left Gabrielle and crossed the Bridge to join the group at the science station. Spock and Data were tapping commands into the computer console. Willow could hear voices coming through the communications link with the Sunnydale library.

"I believe if you cross-link your Bussard collectors with the Heisenberg compensators, you'll be fully synchronized with the Briode nebulizer in my TARDIS," came a voice over the speaker. It sounded like one of the Doctors - the one with the scarf, if Willow remembered correctly.

Data's hands flew over the controls at superhuman speed. "That is confirmed, Doctor," he said. "Synchronization is at ninety-eight point seven percent."

"Ninety-eight point six-four-one percent," Spock corrected him.

"Whatever it is, it'll have to do," came the Doctor's reply.

Bashir turned away from the console, toward the Captain. "We're ready up here, sir."

"Very good, Doctor," Picard replied. Turning to the front of the Bridge, he ordered, "Mister Cole, take us back into the battle at half-impulse."

Willow watched as Marcus worked the ship's controls. She didn't feel any difference, but the viewscreen showed that they were moving. The raging inferno of warring spaceships was getting closer at an alarming rate.

"We are now in range, Captain," Data reported. "Ready to activate the anti-distortion field at your command."

"Make it so, Mister Data!" Picard ordered tersely.

Data and Spock touched several console panels at once. On the viewscreen, the surrounding space was promptly filled with streaks of light flashing in all directions. The streaks shot through and past the other ships, and as they did, the ships immediately began rushing away from each other. Within moments, the Enterprise-D was alone.

"We did it," Willow whispered to herself.

"Our success is only temporary," Spock told her. Apparently those pointed ears of his had been able to hear her. "We can only negate the distortion field for as long as the ship's power lasts. If your friends cannot stop the fields at their source, the other ships will return here."

So, now it was up to Buffy, and all Willow could do was wait and hope. Even on a night as outrageous as this one, Willow thought to herself, some things never seemed to change.

***

Buffy gasped for breath. Her spleen had finally stopped trying to occupy the same space as her lungs, and her liver had stopped trying to move around to where her stomach usually was. That was progress.

She looked up and saw Anthony glaring up toward the ceiling. Fury covered his face.

"That's not fair!" he shouted. "You messed up my big fight! You're bad people!"

Giles crawled over to Buffy's side. "I believe our friends have put their plan into action," he wheezed. "Our only chance may be to stop Anthony while he's distracted."

"By 'stop,' you mean 'kill,' don't you?" said Buffy.

"You've seen what he can do," said Giles. "He may only be a child, but I don't think we have a choice."

"Easy thing for a Watcher to say," Buffy replied. She saw his expression and realized she had been a little too harsh. "It's too bad I don't see another way, either," she admitted to him. "It's just going to take a minute while I convince my feet that they're not supposed to be where my ears are."

Buffy looked over at Anthony again. The boy was still looking at the ceiling, watching a scene that only he could see. It was now or never. Grasping her stake, she slowly worked her way toward him.

***

The Enterprise-D rocked beneath them. Willow wondered how these crews ever got use to being thrown around their ships.

"Structural integrity is failing, Captain," Data reported in an emotionless tone. "Our shields are completely ineffective against the incoming spatial displacement waves."

"Captain, I can sense the mind that's causing these distortions," said Troi. "I sense anger. Tremendous anger."

"I could have told him that," Willow remarked to no one in particular.

"I guess we got someone's attention," said Mulder.

"Maintain our current position," Picard ordered. "Increase power to the Heisenberg compensators."

The shaking lessened a bit, but Willow could tell they were still in danger. For the thousandth time that minute, she silently urged Buffy to hurry.

Just when Willow thought things couldn't get worse, an all-too-familiar set of multi-colored lights flashed across the Bridge. The five spandex-clad Rangers had finally caught up to them. For all Willow knew, they had been sent by whoever was shaking the ship around.

"Ha!" shouted the Red Ranger in his usual aggressive tone. "I bet you thought you had lost us!"

Picard stood up and looked the Ranger straight in the helmet. "What the hell are you doing on my Bridge?" he demanded.

The Ranger responded by striking Picard across the face, knocking the Captain back into his chair. It was not the wisest of moves. In an instant, the Bridge was in a frenzy of combat.

Willow backed up toward the science station, hoping to stay away from the fight. The Blue Ranger saw her and leaped over the Bridge railing to attack. Willow had nowhere to go. Behind her, she heard Spock and Data moving away from the console, ready to defend themselves.

In an instant, Willow realized that taking the scientists away from their work even for a moment could break the ship's fragile hold on the space around them. It was up to her to do something first. She was still trying to figure out what that something was when a memory that was not her own made its way to the front of her mind.

The Blue Ranger charged with a loud warrior's cry. When he was close enough, Willow reached out her hand, found exactly the right spot on the Ranger's shoulder, and squeezed as hard as she could.

The Ranger fell to the deck and was still.

Willow turned and faced Spock and Data, who looked as stunned as two emotionless beings were capable of looking.

"I, uh, guess I picked up a thing or two when our minds were linked," she explained to Spock.

Spock merely raised an eyebrow. "Evidently," he said.

Willow looked out over the Bridge as the two scientists returned to their work. Chaos reigned everywhere. The other multi-colored Rangers were well on the way to being subdued, but other creatures were charging in from all directions. The large man who had appeared at the Bronze was fighting both Mulder and Marcus. A large, awkward-looking robot was rolling around shouting "Danger! Danger!" and bumping into as many people as possible. Other beings even more bizarre were sure to rush onto the Bridge at any moment.

For the two-thousandth time that minute, Willow silently urged Buffy to hurry.

***

Slowly but surely, Buffy's body learned where all its parts were again. The little monster - Buffy refused to let herself think of him as a kid - was still focused on the skies and whatever was happening up there. Willow was up there somewhere, as were several other people she had met that night. Buffy tried not to think about what the little monster might be putting them through.

The little monster's parents looked at her with fear in their eyes. Buffy couldn't help wondering how long they had been forced to survive by sucking up to the most spoiled brat in all creation. No wonder they acted like psycho-loonies. She thought of herself trying to act like that and shuddered. The image spurred her on.

After what seemed like an eternity, Buffy's body finally brought itself upright. She closed in on the little monster, her stake poised and ready. As she prepared to strike, the little monster turned his head toward her. She looked straight into the little monster's eyes, and for a moment, Anthony Fremont looked back.

Buffy hesitated, just for an instant. That was all the little monster needed.

Waves of agony shot through Buffy's body again. She crumpled into a heap at the little monster's feet. She could barely hear him screaming at her.

"What are you doing?" the little monster screeched. "You're a very, very bad girl!"

This was the end, Buffy thought. It was over. Everything was about to be lost to the little monster's whims.

Then, just as suddenly, the agonizing pain stopped.

Buffy raised her head and looked around. Anthony lay on the floor, just a few feet away from her. The stake had been driven straight through his heart. And still holding onto the other end of the stake was Lennier, the Minbari. When had he returned from the other passage?

"You're a very bad man," Anthony gasped weakly. Then, looking at the Minbari as closely as his failing eyes would allow, he asked, "Do I know you from somewhere?"

Lennier never had the chance to answer. Anthony breathed his last. Once the boy was dead, the Minbari looked up and said, "I have no idea why, but I feel as if my life just reached a significant point of closure. I must mediate on it when I return home."

Buffy lowered her head, completely exhausted. Just before she lost consciousness, she heard Anthony's parents as they walked up to Lennier.

"That was a real good thing you just did, Mister," said Anthony's father.

"It certainly was," said Anthony's mother. "Real good."

Readers' Guide

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

The Vulcan neck pinch - A technique frequently used by Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek series. The Vulcan neck pinch allowed Spock to knock his adversaries out for brief periods of time.

The Robot - A character from the series Lost in Space that was frequently seen in the company of the character Will Robinson, who was played by Bill Mumy. Hey, I've told every other Bill Mumy joke there is to tell in this story. I might as well throw this one in, too.

Chapter 17 "All's Well That Ends Murkily"

"Gone. Gone. All of it's gone."

Spike pulled the car over to the side of the road. Drusilla sounded like she was having another of her visions, and he didn't want to miss any important bits.

"What's gone, Poodle?" he asked her.

"Miss Edith's knocked the teapot over," Drusilla replied. "The tea's all run out onto the floor."

Spike turned and looked into the back seat. Drusilla sat with her dolls next to her. She had been trying to have one of her tea parties while the car was still moving, and sure enough, the teapot had tipped over. The spilled tea, of course, was something only Drusilla could see.

Spike growled to himself. The madness that came with Drusilla's gifts could be the most annoying of burdens. He sometimes thought they could even make him angry enough to go out and kill people without enjoying it.

Still, there was no point in venting any of his frustration at Drusilla. It would only upset her, and he didn't need that. Swallowing his anger, he merely said, "Well, don't worry, love. Once we find the power that collected those people you saw before, I'm sure we'll be able to get all the tea you want."

He faced forward and turned the ignition key to start the car again.

"That's all gone, too," Drusilla said quietly.

Spike's foot slipped off the clutch. The car jerked forward violently, then came to a stop as the engine died.

"What did you say?" asked Spike, turning toward the back seat again.

"Someone put a hole in the one who held the power. It's all run down the drain." Drusilla cast a forlorn look down at the floor of the car. "Just like the tea," she added.

"You mean it's all gone?" Spike asked, incredulous.

"Everything is the way it was," Drusilla replied. "Out with the new. In with the old."

Spike snarled. If Drusilla was right, then the two of them were back where they started. Still without a way of restoring her to health.

Fortunately, Drusilla wasn't quite finished. "The Master's in his place again," she said, "but he's about to meet his end."

"Really?" said Spike. "Well, at least that last bit sounds promising." Perhaps things were looking up after all. "Maybe we'll check out this Sunnyhill place after all, once the time is right."

Spike started the car again and drove it down the highway. He would have to wait until Drusilla gave the word before going to Sunnyhill, of course. He had no desire to face the Master and didn't want to arrive in town before he met the fate Drusilla predicted. Still, there was plenty to do before then. Plenty of people to kill, as well. It was going to be a good spring and summer.

"Spike?" said Drusilla.

"Yes, love?"

"Can we stop soon?" Drusilla held up another of her dolls. "Miss Holly wants some Earl Grey."

***

Buffy shifted uncomfortably in her chair. She really had to stop falling asleep in these things, she thought groggily.

It took a few more seconds of waking up to remember that she wasn't in a chair when she was last awake.

She opened her eyes and found herself in the library. The normal library. No alien beings. No time travelers. No visitors from alternate universes. The place was its usual dark, creepy self.

She was home.

If Buffy was tempted to think she had dreamed the entire night's adventure, the aches throughout her body put a stop to the idea quickly. But clearly something had happened while she'd been out. She stood up, hoping to find someone who could fill her in on the details.

Giles hurried out of his office, clearly delighted to see her. "Buffy!" he called. "I'm so glad you're all right!"

"You know me," said Buffy. "Slayers wobble, but they don't fall down." Looking out the windows, she asked, "What time is it? I'll bet I'm in the major league grounding zone."

"It's quite early, actually - for tomorrow," said Giles.

"So what exactly happened?" Buffy asked. "The last thing I remember was that Lennier guy staking Anthony. How did he do that?"

"We're not exactly sure," Giles replied. "Lennier claims that he was able to reach Anthony by keeping his thoughts tranquil. Since Anthony was busy tormenting you, he didn't notice the danger until it was too late."

"Tranquillity, huh? I'll have to try that sometime," said Buffy. Giles's expression suggested he would believe such a claim when he saw it. Buffy decided to move on to another topic. "So where is he now?" she asked. "Where's anybody now?"

As if on cue, the library doors opened and Xander walked in, with Kimberly close behind him.

"Buffy!" Xander cried. "Welcome back! You're just in time to catch the end of the incredible collapsing interface show."

"The what?" Buffy asked.

"All the different universes are fading out," Xander explained. "One minute, people are there. The next - WOOSH! - they're gone. Back to wherever they came from, I guess. Almost everybody's left by now."

"With a few exceptions," said Buffy glancing over at Kimberly as the girl chatted with Giles.

"Yeah," said Xander. "Ain't life grand?"

The library doors opened again, and the Seventh Doctor entered, followed by Ace.

"Good morning," said the Doctor, tipping his hat. "I trust everything around here is returning to normal."

"We're getting there," Buffy replied.

"Splendid," said the Doctor. "Ace and I have kept ourselves busy, dropping off people here and there while the Podowski resonances were still in our favor. We also picked up a passenger you might be interested in seeing."

With that, the Doctor pushed the library door open with his umbrella. Another small figure stepped through.

"Willow!" cried Xander.

Willow broke into a huge grin as Xander ran over and gave her an economy-sized welcome-home hug. Buffy merely shook her head and smiled to herself. One of these days, Xander would have to stop being clueless boy when it came to the way he felt about his friend.

"You guys have no idea what I've been through tonight," Willow said, once she was able to breathe again.

"Same here," Xander replied. "I guess it's been a night of wackiness for everyone."

Willow spotted Kimberly across the room and, much to Buffy's surprise, walked straight over to the other girl. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a bright pink wristwatch.

"I guess this belongs to you," said Willow, handing Kimberly the watch.

"Thanks," Kimberly replied. She quickly took the watch and strapped it to her wrist. "Well, I guess this means I should be going."

"So soon?" asked Xander.

"Yeah," said Kimberly. Buffy knew from the look on Kimberly's face that the girl wasn't nearly as clueless about Xander's feelings as Xander was. "Like the Doctor said, I really shouldn't miss those Podowski resonances."

"Gee," said Willow. "That's too bad."

"Well, you know how it goes," said Kimberly. "Maybe I'll catch you at the next interface." With that, she pressed a button on the side of the wristwatch. A bright pink flash enveloped her, then shot through the ceiling. She was gone.

***

Not too long after Kimberly's departure, the Seventh Doctor and Ace said their good-byes as well. The eastern sky was just beginning to brighten as the pair left the Sunnydale High School building and made their way to the Doctor's TARDIS.

"Professor," said Ace, "there's something I've been meaning to ask you. What did the Master mean when he talked about changing the course of your other self's life?"

"It's quite simple, really," the Doctor replied. "The Master took his current body back when I was that Doctor. The Master was also the one who ended that particular life of mine. Therefore, I couldn't let myself see him, because if he did I might be changing my own personal history."

"I see," said Ace.

"Do you really?"

"No," Ace admitted. "Hasn't that Doctor's life already been changed just by being here and meeting you? I mean, if you had already gone through this night back when you were him, wouldn't you have remembered it?"

"Who says I didn't?" the Doctor asked cryptically.

It took Ace a moment to grasp what the Doctor told her. When she did, her eyes grew to twice their normal size. "You knew!" she cried. "We went through all that, and you knew what was going to happen the whole time!"

"Not everything that was going to happen," the Doctor replied. "I knew someone had caused a multiversal interface, but I didn't know who. My other self never met Anthony, remember? It took me over a century to find him, then several decades more to figure out how I could lure him to the Hellmouth at this exact moment in time."

"You did that?"

"I had to," the Doctor insisted. "This way, I had some control over the situation. If I'd left Anthony alone, he might not have found the Hellmouth until he was older - and far more dangerous."

"Well devious," said Ace. "I'm glad you're on our side. At least I think you are."

The Doctor reached out and lightly flicked his finger across the tip of Ace's nose. "If I wasn't," he told her, "you'd know."

"So what happens to all the people who live here?" said Ace, hurrying to catch up as the Doctor resumed his quick walk toward the TARDIS. "They've spent the whole night with people from other worlds. Isn't that going to change things a little?"

"Oh, I wouldn't worry, Ace," the Doctor replied. "I suspect that little problem will take care of itself."

***

Giles and the three teenagers were busily recounting their various experiences when the library doors opened yet again. Mulder and Scully entered and quickly approached the group.

"Mister Giles," said Mulder, "I'm Special Agent Fox Mulder. I understand my reputation precedes me."

"It does indeed," Giles replied.

"Then you should already know why we're here," Mulder continued. "I can't begin to tell you how much tonight's events are going to affect our work on the X-Files. We'll need to get sworn statements from all of you."

"Sworn statements?" Buffy repeated. "As in, 'you have to get up in court and say it in front of everybody' type sworn statements?"

"More likely Congress, if this thing has the kind of impact I think it will," said Mulder.

"Congress. Cool," said Xander.

"Giles, we don't have to, do we?" asked Willow.

"Agent Mulder," said Giles, "I will be more than happy to make a statement, but I must insist that you leave these children out of your report, as well as any information about Buffy's... special calling."

"You can't ask me to do that!" Mulder exclaimed.

"I just did," Giles reminded him. "Telling the world that Buffy is the Slayer would place a number of people in grave danger. You should have plenty of evidence without even mentioning her name..."

"I have a responsibility to the truth!" Mulder insisted.

"And I have a responsibility to my Slayer," Giles countered.

"And I have a responsibility to something far greater than either of those," a new voice said quietly.

Everyone in the library turned toward the door, where they saw an older man in a dark suit standing there, watching them. In his hand was a cigarette, which he puffed on as if he was an alien who needed some kind of chemical supplement to breathe the Earth's atmosphere.

"You," said Mulder, his voice suddenly filled with hatred. "I should have known you'd show up."

"Of course," said the cigarette smoking man. "The things you've seen present a serious threat to the public well-being. It's my duty to protect the public against them."

"Even you won't be able to cover everything up this time," said Scully. "There have been too many witnesses, and there's too much physical evidence."

"All of which are already being handled, Agent Scully," the cigarette smoking man replied.

The library doors opened again. Three more people - a young black man, an older white man and a young blonde woman - filed in. They were all dressed in matching black suits. Despite the fact that it was not quite dawn, all three wore matching pairs of sunglasses.

"You have something to report?" asked the cigarette smoking man.

"Yes, sir," said the woman. By some curious coincidence, she sounded almost exactly like Kes. "The construction detail has almost finished restoring the Bronze to its former condition. Our memory reconstruction sweep of the town is nearly finished as well."

"Excellent work," said the cigarette smoking man. "Complete your assignments, then get all units out of here before they're noticed."

The woman nodded, and all three of the black-suited figures left. The cigarette smoking man puffed on his cigarette contentedly, daring someone to say something.

Mulder finally spoke up. "That takes care of the town," he said, "but what about us?"

"You'll be pleased to know, Agent Mulder," the cigarette smoking man replied, "that I have something quite special in mind for you."

The library doors opened once again, admitting another man. Like the trio that had preceded him, the man was dressed entirely in black, even down to a black pair of gloves. His clothes, however, were in an odd style that Giles didn't recognize. The man's left hand seemed to be frozen in the shape of a fist, and an unusual pin bearing the Greek letter Psi stood out on the man's chest.

"Mister Bester," said the cigarette smoking man, "it's good to see that you're still here. I know the Podowski resonances won't last much longer, so I appreciate your staying to complete this little task."

"My pleasure," said Bester. "If it protects the time stream, then it's in my best interest as well as yours."

Willow gave Bester a peculiar look. "Don't I know you from somewhere?" she asked.

"I sincerely doubt it," Bester replied. "And even if you do, you won't for very much longer."

A look of intense concentration crossed Bester's face. Giles suddenly began to feel the room spinning. The effect was similar to being hypnotized, only more extreme. As he fought to keep his balance, Giles looked around and saw that everyone else in the library - except for the cigarette smoking man, oddly enough - was feeling the same sense of disorientation.

"Soon," Bester's voice rang in Giles's mind, "you won't remember that any of this ever happened. It'll be like a bad dream you forget the minute you wake up. But then...

'Is all our Life, then, but a dream

Seen faintly in the golden gleam

Athwart Time's dark resistless stream?'"

No one responded.

"Come on, people!" Bester exclaimed. "Lewis Carroll? Alice in Wonderland? My God, no matter where I go, I'm surrounded by cultural illiterates."

Giles was about to say something, but he abruptly forgot what it was. Then he forgot everything else and faded from the conscious world.

***

"Hey, Buffy, look at this!" Willow cried from her usual place in front of the library's computer terminal.

"What is it, Will?" Buffy asked. She was busy setting up her books for another round of dreaded history studying, and was therefore desperate for anything that would drag her away from them.

"You know that FBI Agent whose files I, uh, accidentally stumbled over a few weeks ago?" said Willow. "The guy who investigates UFO's and monsters and all that weird stuff?"

"Sure," Buffy replied. "How could I forget?"

"Well, he was here!" Willow exclaimed.

"What? In Sunnydale?" Panic flashed across Buffy's mind as she thought of the FBI discovering that she was the Slayer.

"About a week and a half ago," Willow continued. She pointed to the computer screen as Buffy reached her side. Several highly classified-looking government documents filled the frame. "Look, here's his field report. Someone sent him copies of the school paper. You know, stuff about all the weird things that happen around here."

"I don't remember anyone investigating anything," said Buffy. "If he was here, you'd think somebody would have pointed us out to him. Cordelia, if no one else."

Willow shrugged. "The report just says he came out here and didn't find anything. He wrote the whole case off as 'an adolescent prank.'"

"Well, how do you like that?" said Buffy. "It's about time we got a break."

"I'll say," Willow replied.

The two girls looked through the FBI documents for a while. Then, once they were sure they hadn't been discovered, Willow clicked the button on her mouse and returned to her web surfing.

Buffy went back to her books, still dreading the thought of reading through them, but at the same time feeling somewhat relieved to be worrying over something so normal. For once, the routine non-supernatural side of life was taking priority. The upcoming May Queen selection and the Spring Fling were going to fill all their lives with normal things, and Buffy couldn't be happier. For once, the supernatural had passed them by without disturbing them at all.

Readers' Guide

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

The Cigarette Smoking Man (114) - A recurring villain character on The X-Files. The mysterious cigarette smoking man is the most visible member of the conspiracy Mulder and Scully continuously investigate, and he shows up periodically to foil their efforts. He is played by William B. Davis.

Jay (115), Kay (116) and Elle (117) - Three principle characters in the animated Men in Black: The Series. You can tell it's the series and not the movie because Elle is a blonde.

"By some curious coincidence, she sounded almost exactly like Kes." - Probably because the voice of Elle is provided by Jennifer Lien.

Alfred Bester (118) - A recurring villain character in the series Babylon 5. Bester is a Psi Cop, a very powerful telepath whose primary job is to track down other telepaths who are not part of the Psi Corps. He is played by Walter Koenig.

"Don't I know you from somewhere?" - Willow saw Ensign Chekov, who was also played by Walter Koenig, while she was on the original Enterprise.

"No matter where I go, I'm surrounded by cultural illiterates." - In this case, the joke is on Bester. The poem he quotes is by Lewis Carroll, but it's from Sylvie and Bruno, not Alice in Wonderland.