Chapter 14 – The Future is Nigh

Oak Cemetery, Sunnydale

Buffy and Faith both rolled onto their backs, side by side, each had a vampire on top of them. Buffy backhand punched her attacker while Faith struggled to get control over hers. Buffy's vampire tried to punch her, but she redirected his arm to hit the ground next to


Giles watched calmly while sitting behind them on a nearby bench. Xander stood nearby in full hunting gear, a displeased expression on his face. Oh, he agreed in theory with this 'review' Giles had suggested. To gauge the two Slayers progress, but it just rubbed him the wrong way to just stand there and not get rid of the two vampires quickly and efficiently.

"They are getting spoiled by the technology we have access to in dealing with the supernatural, there may come a time when that technology cannot avail us, and we may have to fall back onto old methods. If those skills are rusty…then we are in trouble." He had calmly explained.

Buffy was still on her back while her assailant was now standing over her, throwing punches down at her. Faith log rolled away from them, taking her attacker with her. Giles took off his glasses nonchalantly and began to clean them; causing Xander to give him a dirty look at how clinical he was being about this.

Faith managed to roll on top of her vampire. She yanked him by the lapels of his jacket to a standing position, spun half-way around and threw him into a log roll over a stone bench. He hit the ground and kept on rolling.

Buffy is up now, and ducked a half-spinning jumping hook kick from her vampire, and then sidestepped to avoid a punch. Faith jumped up onto the bench and then back down to the ground. Her attacker aimed a punch at her face, but changed his manoeuvre and decided to snap kick her in the gut instead.

Thinking quickly, Faith grabbed his foot and threw it over his head, forcing him to flip over in a back layout. He landed hard on his stomach. Buffy threw a punch at her assailant's face, but he ducked it. She tried for another one, but he blocked it. She then aimed for

his stomach with another punch, but was blocked yet again. The vampire tried to punch her, but she latched onto his arm and yanked him backwards, then forwards, and twisted his arm, sending him flipping onto his back.

Giles calmly took out a notepad and scribbled down something.

Faith by now had managed to get a firm grip on her attacker, and threw his head backward, sending him flying backwards onto a bench. His momentum carried him sliding over it. Faith jumped up onto the bench, and followed him over, ready to attack. Buffy sent her vampire spinning back to the ground with a two-kick combination of a roundhouse followed by a hook kick. She paused for a moment to let him get back up, and then roundhouse kicked him in the gut, followed immediately by a punch to his face as the momentum of her kick carried her around.

Giles picked up his cup of coffee and at that point Xander had had enough and gave the Watcher a solid thump to his back that sent the cup spilling and levelled his own pointed glare. 'It wasn't as if his two Slayers weren't in mortal combat right about now, and he's acting as if he's on a picnic!' thought Xander angrily.

Faith jumped down from the bench and kicked her vampire in the knee, breaking it with a wet snap and sending the demon tumbling to the ground. Buffy roundhouse kicked hers again in the stomach. Faith punched her vampire in the stomach to further take the fight out of him and took aim with her stake. Buffy tripped hers so that he landed next to Faith's, and they ended up side by side on the ground. The Slayers both plunged their stakes into their respective demons simultaneously, causing them both to explode into ashes.

After the dust settled, they gave each other a high-five and headed over to Giles and Xander.

"Synchronized Slaying," boasted Buffy with a grin.

"New Olympic category?" smirked Faith.

"Whadaya think?"

"It certainly shows you have the capability to work as a unit," Giles said.

"It was sloppy."

Xander whirled in an instant and had his UMP aimed square between the eyes of the owner of the new voice. The middle aged woman in his sights gasped and flinched at the rather lethal piece of hardware suddenly pointed at her face. Xander's first impression was she wouldn't have been out of place in a boardroom of some major multinational company. Expensive beige suit top, with matching skirt, and dark blonde hair tied severely into a bun. Her face had lost its supremely confident and condescending expression, and was now nervously looking at Xander.

"Sneaking up on a vampire slaying is not a very smart thing, Ms whoever," Xander said neutrally. "Who are you?"

The woman shook herself and gaining some semblance of herself back, replied, "I'm Gwendolyn Post Mrs. I am Faith's new Watcher." Xander frowned at that having an internal debate, then lowered his weapon. Giles looked at the android pointedly, who shrugged and nodded.

"Very well, we'll discuss this further at the School."


Library, Sunnydale High

Giles leaned against the stair railing, whilst having confirmed that Mrs Post had a current Watcher's Council ID in her possession, and explaining Xander as an independent Demon Hunter and friend of Buffy and Faith. Both Slayers were standing around a table with Xander.

"And just how many demons has Mr Harris accounted for?" Post asked with that distinct posh British accent, adding in her sarcastic scepticism.

"Lady," Xander snorted, "I've got more vampire notches on my gun than most Council managed Slayers have gotten with pointy wooden sticks in their very short lifetimes. At last count…ninety three."

"Xander has rather…advanced technical skills as a munitionist, Mrs Post, and is a crack shot. He can send a three round grouping of wooden slugs from his UMP directly into the heart of a vampire." Giles confirmed. Post looked suitably amazed.

"Fine, now that we've established the Xan-man's skills and his right to be here," Faith said impatiently to Mrs Post. "I'm telling you straight, I don't need a new Watcher. No offence, lady. I just have this problem with authority figures. They end up kind of dead."

Ouch, thought Xander. She really didn't want a repeat of what happened to Professor Dormer. I have to nip this in the bud quickly.

"Duly noted," Post walked past the table, "and fortunately, it's not up to you." She paused at the railing of the upper level, looking at the few stacks that there were in the study area of the library. "Mr Giles, where do you keep the rest of your books?"

"I – I'm sorry," Giles slipped on his glasses. "The rest?"

"Yes, the actual library."

"It's up the stairs and through the French doors," Xander gestured. C'mon, spill so I can get this over with, he groused internally.

"I can assure you, Mrs Post; this is the finest occult reference library…" Giles was interrupted rather rudely by Post at this point.

"…this side of the Atlantic, I'm sure. Do you have Hume's Paranormal Encyclopaedia?"

Giles looked away at this, whilst Xander scowled. The library whilst having an advanced collection of occult reference material was by no means complete or extensive. Giles waged a near constant battle to obtain copies of the books from their sources around the world, the problem being that the school library of a town very few people had heard of didn't rate much clout in getting access or priority delivery. It had gotten a lot better with DWX funding greasing the palms but it was still a problem.

"The Labyrinth Maps of Malta?" Post challenged again. Xander had resist snapping at Post at this point…Oh yeah, Buffy will surely need to know how to get around a maze of magical traps set underground on a puny island in the Mediterranean, he thought sarcastically. Post was practically dressing Giles down as an ineffective Watcher in front of his Slayer. Why?

From Buffy's hopeful look at Giles, Xander thought that it may be working.

"It's on order," Giles was restraining clearly himself; the skin around his eyes had tightened. That was like major emo for the Brit.

"Well, I suppose you have Sir Robert Kane's Twilight Compendium?"

"I do," Giles pulled the book in question out and showed it to her, but Post was clearly unimpressed.

"Of course you do," she began to pace past him, a serious expression on her face. "I have been sent by the council for a very important reason. Faith needs a Watcher. I am to act in that capacity and report back."

Oh boy, Xander did so not want a battle with the Council. He knew who would win if it came down to blows between DWX and them. But it would be a loss for the good guys all around.

"Excuse me, Mary Poppins, but you don't seem to be listening…" Faith leaned forward in her chair, giving an aggravated look to Mrs Post.

"Faith," Giles interrupted hurriedly, thankfully seeing the huge oncoming train wreck and side stepping it, "if the Council feels that you need closer observation, then…we will all, of course, cooperate."

Faith leaned back when Xander subtly shook his head at her and scratched a nonexistent itch on his right leg. Faith's eyes widened then her expression became blank, nonchalantly surveying Mrs Post, ready to jump to action in an instant and Xander felt a momentary glow of satisfaction that she had taken to her lesson in nonverbal cues in combat so well.

"The Council also wishes me to report on the entire situation here, including you," Post gave a pointed glance to Giles who looked entirely nonplussed. "The fact is…there is talk in the Council that you have become a bit too…American."

"Me?" Giles was taken aback, putting a hand against his chest.

"Him?" Buffy was surprised.

"A demon named Lagos is coming here to the hellmouth," Post abruptly got down to business, catching nearly everyone by surprise. Finally, thought Xander. "Mr Giles an illustration of Lagos, if you please." Her tone was distinctly condescending.

"Oh, uh…" Giles turned to his books on the table, flustered and picking among them, "yes, uh…" He sat at the table and began to page through one of the books.

"Perhaps later," Mrs Post said wryly. This was finally enough to break through Giles' legendary restraint and he began to visibly seethe. Damn, talk about being a bitch; she could give Cordelia some pointers in emasculation. But Xander still stopped short of doing anything. "Lagos seeks the Glove of Myhnegon. No record of this glove's full power exists, but we do know it is highly dangerous and must not fall into the hands of a demon. Lagos must be stopped."

Giles folded his hands over his books, and looked at her seriously. "What do you propose?"

"Well, if it's not too radical a suggestion, I thought we might kill him." Post said dryly. Giles turned away from her and began cleaning his glasses. Red Alert, Ripper emergence imminent, Xander grinned inwardly. "I suggest two Slayers at full strength for a coordinated hunt." And there it was, the Council attitude of how to treat the Slayer, a disposable tool, never mind that she's a teenage girl. "We believe the Glove is buried in a tomb somewhere, so Lagos will be headed for the cemetery."

"There is more than one in Sunnydale," Giles explained flatly, as Xander began to casually amble closer to Post, looking bored.

"I see, how many?"

"Twelve, within the city limits."

Mrs Post sighed in frustration. "Well, we'll just have to take them one at a time." Giles put his glasses back on and began looking through his books. "Anything in your books that would pinpoint the exact location of the tomb will be useful, but then, we cannot ask for miracles."

"Yes we can," Xander spoke up suddenly, from his position next to Mrs Post, and with little fanfare, neck pinched her into unconsciousness, and she slumped to the floor like a puppet whose strings had been cut.

"What in blazes are you doing?!" cried Giles, standing abruptly. "When she wakes up…"

"Relax, G-Man," Xander grabbed Post under her arms and put her into a more comfortable position. Not that she deserved it. "I was waiting for her to reveal all her information before acting. You see…she's not a Watcher any longer."

"What do you mean? Oh, the Watcher database…" Giles said in realization.

"Yes, I have an automated hack in their system which downloads any new data they have, and then onto a secure DWX server. But this is old data; Gwendolyn Post hasn't been a Watcher for two years. She was kicked out for misuses of dark power."

"There should've been a blasted memo! I would distinctly remember any Field Watcher getting tarred and feathered in such a manner," raged Giles. "Not to mention where did she get a current Watcher ID? They are magically created and cannot be forged."

"Perhaps when she knew she was about to get booted out, she made a few post dated ones while she still had access to those resources," Xander posited, channelling Data's adaptive logic programs that he had created for his Sherlock Holmes holonovels. "What should we do with her?"

"We're taking her straight to the Council," Giles said firmly. "She won't just rate a sacking for this. Impersonating a Watcher with the intent of subverting a Slayer for her own ends. Not to mention she was obviously after this Glove of Myhnegon, and was hoping to use us to get it for her, and kill Lagos in the process. This will end with her doing rather restricted, unpleasant community service and a lengthy time in a Council sponsored Asylum."

"Uh, do we even want to know?" Buffy asked uncertainly.

"No, you do not," Giles said darkly and with finality.

"So this chick is off the reservation," Faith sighed in relief, "thank goodness. I was just starting to warm up to the X-man as my sort- of-Watcher."

Xander shuddered theatrically. "Please, Faith, not below the belt."

"I will get on the line with the Council, could you see to her delivery, Xander," Giles asked heading into his office.

"Yes, sir, US Marshall, at your service," Xander saluted mockingly, using the voice of Tommy Lee Jones. But grabbed Mrs Post anyway and slung her over his shoulder, vanishing in a sparkling blue cascade of energy soon afterward.


With Mrs Post safely in Council custody, the search began for the tomb that contained the Glove sought after by Lagos. It took a whole day of reference in the library, as Xander confirmed that he could not locate anything in his Occult database…meaning it was probably located in the books he had not yet scanned, which was an ongoing process, as they had to be careful that another Moloch incident did not occur. (Xander really didn't want a demon bound transcendentally within a book to pop into his memory circuits or even worse in the DWX computer core)

Finally, Giles stumbled upon the relevant book. "The probable location of the Glove is in the Von Hauptman family crypt."

"Oh yeah, that's the large one in Restfield Cemetery," Xander said with an air of realization. "I'll inform Buffy and Faith…" He reached towards the combadge under his trenchcoat.

"It's a probable location Xander, not confirmed, I could be wrong, let them continue with their sweep," advised Giles.

"Fine," Xander sighed, "I'll grab Dawn and we can check it out, she's been fretting about seeing some action lately."

"Be careful," Giles picked up another book as Xander headed out the library.


Restfield Cemetery

Xander and Dawn in their midnight black hunting outfits, advanced through the cemetery's various gravestones, UMP and Phaser Rifle in ready to fire positions, as they advanced towards the crypt identified as contained the Glove. They both paused on either side of it and peered down into the entrance, that was half set in the earth, with stairs leading down. Dawn drew her Tricorder and after consulting it, gave the all clear sign. Xander led the way down, and found their path blocked by a heavy stone door that had to be rolled out of the way either by heavy machinery or in this case, by extreme android strength.

He slung his UMP away and standing to one side for maximum leverage, easily pushed the crypt open. They advanced into the darkness, Dawn stealing a kiss as she passed him cheekily; he smacked her lightly on her shapely derriere before she could get out of range in retaliation.

The dark interior was easily visible to both and five stone coffins stood out of the marble floor.

"Okay, which one?" Xander whispered.

"If this thing is here its not radiating q-flux, at least nothing I can detect over the ambient energy of the hellmouth."

"Try scanning for metals."

Dawn nodded and her eyebrows arched in surprise. "Got it, a few kilograms of tempered steel in the fourth coffin, how did you know?'

"Just a feeling, most of these things were made in ancient times, meaning swords, armour, hence, iron, steel and so on," he shrugged and swiftly lifted off the heavy stone lid to reveal the remains of Ludwig von Hauptman, the head of the family. On his right hand was a rather sinister looking glove, made of leather, chain mail and plate mail. Small spikes ran along the plates that covered the back of the hand and the forearm. Ringed round the opening were ten hinged claws that looked something like crab legs, but made of steel and very sharp.

"Glove of Myhnegon, that's got to be it," Xander nodded.

"That's one ugly fashion accessory." Dawn grimaced in distaste.

He carefully ripped a trouser leg off Von Hauptman's remains, using it to prevent contact between him and Glove as he pried it away from the skeletal hand. Not touching any occult artefact as unknown as this one was one of the first rules of handling a Watcher learned…the same applied to exo-archaeology, you never knew what traps might be waiting to zap you.

When he had it covered properly he handed it over to Dawn, after which he resealed the coffin and crypt behind them. They were both about to leave when the com activated.

'Faith to X…wheeze…Xander, I've found…Lagos…Shady Hill…'

She sounded completely winded and her words were underscored with pain.

"On my way," he slapped his combadge and gave a meaningful glance to Dawn.

"Yeah, yeah, I'll get this safely to the library, you go rescue the dark damsel in distress," Dawn nodded.

"Thanks, and you're my damsel by the way," he grinned, while tapping on his tricorder and triggering the site-to-site transport.

The world faded around him in a wash of blue, and when everything returned to normal, he was standing next to a recumbent Faith looking rather worse for wear. Retreating from the scene was an ugly ass, rather large demon, that had armoured skin that he scanned would be too dense to penetrated by normal bullets, let alone wooden ones. His Phaser Rifle came up and a single lance of orange nadion energy slammed into what he assumed was Lagos hastily retreating back. There was a flash, and the big demon simply vaporized, leaving the grass under its feet scorched.

"That was rather painful," moaned Faith with a wince. "It was like hitting a tank, and getting hit by truck."

Xander hovered a Tricorder over her. "You've got some bruising in your throat, the back of your head and a slight concussion, your Healing will take care of it, but I'd rather you be under the Doc's supervision, nevertheless."

"I could do with a nap," Faith mumbled. Xander promptly slapped her on the cheek. "Hey!"

"You don't fall asleep with a concussion," he remonstrated, and quickly tapped on his Tricorder. Faith swore up a storm as she vanished with sparkles of blue twinkly lights.

It was at that moment that his cellphone rang, making him give a brief start of surprise before taking it out. "When it rains it pours."


DC General Hospital, Washington DC

Xander, Dawn and Doc Howser walked down one of the bustling corridors of one of the larger public medical facilities in the American capital. It was something of an obstacle course for the three of them, dodging patients ambling around with IV drips, nurses, doctors, family members visiting relatives and so on. All three kept a sharp lookout for their targets, who they finally found talking to each other just outside one of the Surgery Wards.

"Agents Mulder, Scully," Xander nodded at both in greeting, he noted that Scully was dressed in burgundy surgical scrubs, she seemingly had taken up her old profession again, if briefly, considering the patient she was working on.

"Good to see you," nodded Mulder, they shook hands and the FBI agent eyed Dawn.

"Oh, this is Ms D," Xander explained. Dawn had donned a holographic disguise that made her look about Agent Scully's age, with long black hair, dark eyes, an Asian face, it made Xander think of a tall Admiral Hoshi Sato. "After your description of your friend's condition, I realized that she is the best person to help."

"And just what is her qualification?" Agent Scully asked, eyeing Dawn – who just returned the stare with an arched eyebrow.

"I specialize in the type of technology that is infesting your friend's body," Dawn replied simply; she even completed her disguise by adding a Japanese lilt to her inflections and pronunciations.

"And just what is it?" Mulder frowned.

Dawn lowered her voice to a near whisper, "Nanotechnology, Agent Mulder, machines working at a nanoscopic level to effect change in cellular and atomic structures."

"That's amazing," Scully shook her head as if to clear it, "that we are already capable of it… but of course these…bastards," he tone was laced with venom that could eat through the concrete floor, 'would see and use it as a weapon. I mean it's the next big breakthrough in medical science, right up there with penicillin. Do you have any idea how many lives could be saved…"

"I know Agent Scully," Dawn raised her hand to stall the indignant FBI agent. "But this situation clearly demonstrates why the technology can't be released yet. The potential scale of harm it can do in the wrong hands is incomprehensible."

"What's his condition?" Dr H nodded in agreement but changed the subject since time was not on their side.

"He's stable, but it's not good, Doctor. He's got extreme vascular trauma and distension. His... his blood has become a weapon against his body."

"What treatments are you attempting?"

"The best that we can do is keep lasering his arteries open. But it's only going to be a matter of time before we lose. I mean, it's-it's building walls in his vessels faster than we can tear them down, and... and we just don't have the technology to combat it."

"Which is where I come in," Dawn said astutely. "This is a mechanical technology, and as such, one must think more like an engineer than a doctor in combating it."

"What do you suggest?"

"There are two approaches, depending on my own analysis of the nanites and their resistance to damage," Dawn explained. "We'd need to expose him to a form of radiation therapy or inject him with nanites manufactured by my own organization which will go on a seek and destroy mission inside his body…think of it as a physical anti-virus program."

"That's…that's…both will likely end up killing him," Scully stuttered out. "The strain on his body of that kind of battle…not to mention the effect of the type of radiation that will be required on his organic cells…"

"The damage can be mitigated, but in the end he will still be alive, which is not going to be for much longer," Xander explained grimly.

"I also found something else," Mulder took out a folder, Xander noted the name on it printed in large bold letters 'Senator Matheson'. "I found this with Skinner's morning mail. He was doing a security check on a Senate bill for violation of trade laws involving sensitive technology."

"Yeah, but this is just a routine procedure, Mulder. The FBI does dozens of these a year." Scully pointed out.

"No. This bill was going to vote in the Senate. All it was waiting on was Skinner's review and an analysis by Dr. Kenneth Orgel."

"You're saying that Dr. Orgel infected Skinner with nanites of all things, just to cover up his analysis?"

"No. Orgel didn't infect anybody. Orgel came to the FBI to tell Skinner what he knew-- that there was a gross violation of export laws involving new technology."

"Nanites," Scully said flatly. The ringing of a mobile phone interrupted the conversation and almost everyone began to reflexively check their pockets, only to find that their phones weren't ringing. A nurse emerged from the surgery ward with a vibrating, ringing phone in question a few moments later and handed it Mulder.

"You want to get this? It was in his pants pocket." The young nurse explained before promptly heading back into the theatre where Xander could briefly see the rather startling sight of Assistant Director Walter Skinner – Mulder and Scully's former direct supervisor and their somewhat distant friend. He was a tall man, with almost completely bald head and broad shoulders. He would've looked formidable if he hadn't been laid flat on his back; his pale skin a virtual map of the veins in his body, due to miscolored blood of the nanites infecting his body.

Mulder put the phone to his ear, and Xander easily listened to the voice on the other end.

"Might…as well…give up." The voice was dull…stilted…electronic.

"Who is it?" Scully frowned.

"It's a computer synth voice."

"You…can't…stop it."

"Somebody must know that he's here." Mulder deduced. Xander engaged his internal sensors and began a signal trace immediately.

"Walter Skinner…your time…"

"The caller is on this floor," Xander pretended to look at his Tricorder. He and Mulder shared a look and both burst into action, sprinting down the corridor, away from the surgery ward. They were barely down the corridor when Xander spotted the origin of the signal, as if they needed any more confirmation, the very roughly bearded individual with the rather advanced looking Palm Pilot in his hands would've been a dead give away. The culprit was also dressed in worn, thick clothing and had a cap low over his face, that obscured his eyes.

The culprit also spotted them coming and began running, immediately vanishing into an emergency stairwell that he had kept himself close to. Xander and Mulder burst into the stairwell barely five seconds behind and charged downstairs, jumping multiple steps at a time.

They heard the emergency door on the next floor slam open. Mulder drew his weapon and they both carefully emerged onto what was the parking deck of DC General.

Mulder spotted the bearded man as he sprinted away down the lane of parked cars.

"Federal agent! Stop right there!"

The culprit just dodged suddenly to the side to use a car as a shield and vanished from view. Xander could still track the guy's lifesign as he kept advancing and used the cars as cover…he was quite good, but it didn't matter. Xander just walked perpendicularly to the next line of cars and reached into his pocket for his Tricorder. He didn't really need it to do this, but since he was with Mulder and in a secured parking lot. It limited his actions

The bearded man's car screamed out of its parking spot and directly towards Xander. His tricorder sent a wide invisible laser beam that, with the aid of a bit of technomagic, suddenly caused the car to lose all electrical power – the engine stopped as there was no spark to cause combustion in the fuel – but the car still had its momentum.

The bearded man, clearly desperate now, swerved the car in an attempt to hit Xander.

He clearly hadn't counted on Xander running full on towards him, jumping onto his bonnet, denting it severely, grabbing a firm hand hold on the edge of the bonnet where it met the windscreen. The bearded man swerved the car left, and crashed it into a Ford.

Luckily, the crash happened at less than forty five kilometres an hour, and Xander easily kept his grip, despite the sudden deceleration. Mr Bearded man had not had his seatbelt on, and had bumped his head rather badly on the steering wheel. The guy was recovering though and Xander didn't want to give him a chance to gather his wits.

Xander vaulted off the bonnet to the driver side door and almost ripped the door off, but stopped himself. He grabbed a fistful of the bearded man's jacket and slammed him back into his seat, and applied a neck pinch quickly, as an impressed looking Mulder was running over with his pistol up and ready.

"You can relax, Mulder, he's unconscious."

"You sure?"

Xander promptly gave an open handed slap to the culprit that failed to rouse the guy.

"Ah." Mulder nodded and holstered his weapon as Xander began to search the bearded man's pockets. The first thing found was a wallet which he gave over to Mulder, who opened it… "Paul Adams…Washington address…" The FBI Agent frowned and pulled out the ID card and felt it carefully. "Fake. Well made, but still fake." Xander next carefully handed over a Glock pistol. "Serial numbers filed off, and since our perp is wearing gloves will make any fingerprints on it useless."

Xander then found the Palm Pilot and began to examine it, flipping it open, and switching it on, he noticed the touchscreen was defaulted on a number of programs. "Rather nice piece of tech, that."

"Indeed it is, they're barely on the market yet." Xander trailed off as he tapped into the device with his internal scanners and channelling some technomagic, began to probe its' secrets, easily breaking the laughingly simple encryption. "Well, I've just found the key to saving AD Skinner."

"What? How will a palm pilot do that?" Mulder was confused.

"The nanites inside Skinner aren't mindless machines, they have to be programmed, Agent Mulder. And like any computer can be controlled via modem or wireless RF," Xander held up the device to the Agent. On the screen was a program labelled 'Skinner' and a cone like graphic that was half filled, and various other buttons and functions. Xander pulled it back and tapped on the cone and dragged his finger so that the cone graph was completely empty. He tapped a few other commands and flipped the Palm Pilot closed and pocketed it.

"I'll hold onto it for now. I've already sent the signal for the nanites to stop what they're doing…combined with the treatment Ms D can give, AD Skinner should recover fully."

"Let's see who our guy is," Mulder suggested next.

Xander nodded and pulled off the cap, and immediately the long brown hair shifted, clearly showing that it was a wig. He pulled it off revealing short dark blonde hair. The beard appeared to be the real thing though. Xander threw the wig away and gazed at the youngish face. The man seemed to be in the same age range as Mulder.

The FBI Agent bent over and squinted at bearded man, putting a hand to cover the beard, and opening an eye. Mulder gasped in apparent recognition and Xander saw pure hatred entering the man's eyes, with his hands compressed into fists.

"Krycek!" Mulder hissed.

"Who?" Xander frowned. Mulder hands seemed to be gravitating to his weapon, but the FBI Agent took a deep breath and shook his head.

"I'll explain later, we need to get this rat out of sight, he's a high profile and dangerous MIB. Security will be here soon."

Xander nodded in understanding, pulled Krycek out of the car and slung him over his shoulder easily. They headed off with the MIB and back into the stairwell, where Xander used his Tricorder to freeze the feed from the security camera before it could come back around to sweep the stairwell landing. He dumped Krycek directly in the corner of the landing, letting his body lean against the wall.

"Okay, why are you itching to drill a bullet into this guy?" Xander asked promptly.

"He killed my father, that's why," spat Mulder, glaring at the insensate Krycek. "He also was responsible for killing Scully's sister, and abducting Scully so they could perform medical experiments on her. And that's only the tip of the iceberg; he's capable of stooping to any level and is only loyal to himself at the end of the day."

Xander noticed the false left arm of Krycek next and pointed it out. "What's with the arm?"

"I'm not sure of the exact details but he lost the arm in Russia, sometime after he and I escaped from a gulag – where they conducting experiments with the Colonist viral essence, by infecting the prisoners."

"You were infected as well?" Xander asked with a sudden weariness, scanning Mulder again, just to be sure…no infection.

"Yeah, but the essence left me soon afterward, it didn't gestate or control me."

"So why would 'Ratboy' here then infect Skinner with nanites? What's the purpose?"

"If the nanites are controlled as you say," Mulder mused. "Then Krycek was probably going to blackmail Skinner into cooperating with him. The AD still oversees the X-Files."

"That makes sense," Xander nodded. "I also noticed another Nanite control program on the Palm Pilot, it was called 'Orgel'."

"He must have Doctor Orgel, the one who had worked on the technology stashed somewhere, and infected him as well," Mulder scowled at Krycek.

"Krycek can't be working on his own, the Syndicate must be behind this in some fashion, which makes AD Skinner in for some difficult times ahead." Xander sighed sadly.

"What do you mean?"

"If we thwart their control over Skinner what's to stop them from simply killing him, or simply infecting him with nanites again."

"You mean you're not going to 'cure' him anymore?!"

"No, no, Agent Mulder, I wasn't suggesting letting Krycek have his way, but merely creating the appearance of it. We will cure AD Skinner, but I will modify this Palm Pilot to make it give false return signals of the nanites – so it will convince Krycek that the nanites are still there."

"You're effectively turning Skinner into a double-agent."

"Exactly, that way, assuming he agrees, which I have no doubt he will…self-preservation from the Syndicate and all that…he can control the information he gives to Krycek and work to your benefit."

"And what of Krycek and Orgel?" hissed Mulder suddenly.

"Well, Agent Mulder, you must ask yourself what is more important to you, personal revenge, or the life of your friend? And as for Orgel…we have no idea where he is."

Mulder sighed and looked troubled for a few moments before nodding. Xander pulled out the Palm Pilot and interfaced his Tricorder with it. Loading a program that would accomplish what they needed, and promptly stuffed the Palmtop back into Krycek's jacket. It was another few minutes work to restore Krycek to his previous condition, including a quick trip to the car by Mulder to garner the wig, where he had to flash his FBI ID to get access, as the building security had arrived on the scene.


Krycek would wake up a few hours later totally startled at his change of location, but as he found all his possessions with him, his plan to get SR819 withdrawn was still seemingly on track. The Palmtop reported Skinner's nanites were still building up and slowly killing him…he was concerned though about the fact that Mulder and that other guy had seemingly captured him…but yet here he was in the stairwell of the hospital, free.

It would be childplay to find out what happened though, since Mulder would undoubtedly tell Skinner, and then blackmailing it out of the AD. Oh well, still have a pesky scientist to get rid of and a Senator to warn off.


Sunnydale High School

The school bell rang throughout the corridors and students came pouring out in a virtual stream to escape the various classes for their next bouts of academic torture. Buffy, Xander and Willow threaded their way through the throng and stopped at their various lockers in one of the main hallways.

"And then he just bailed. He didn't say anything. He just took off. It was so weird." Buffy explained. She had apparently had a run in with Angel whilst doing some last minute Christmas shopping in the evening.

"He's hardly touched base at DWX at all lately," Xander said. "He'll come to occasionally have his various swords and assorted pointy instruments repaired and sharpened. He also dropped off a few mystical artefacts he pulled from his undead kills. But other than that…"

"Do you think something's wrong? Maybe you should tell Giles," Willow suggested.

All of them opened their lockers to get their various books they needed for next few classes.

"No. I don't wanna bug Giles. He's still kinda twitchy when it comes to the subject of Angel." Buffy winced.

"I agree," nodded Xander meaningfully. "The G-man's pulse goes through the roof whenever Angel visits, or even when I discuss how to coordinate patrols with Angel."

With all their books and stuff gathered they zipped their bags and started down the hall.

"Maybe Angel just has the holiday blues. Everybody gets 'em. Especially when they're alone."

"It's just so frustrating. Just when I think I've put it behind me, moving on with Scott, and then boom, there Angel is. I just want a nice, quiet Christmas vacation." Buffy shook her head in visible frustration with herself.

"So, you guys doing anything special?" Xander enquired next, trying to steer the subject more to the impending Christmas.

"Tree. Nog. Roast. Just me, Mom and Dawn and hopefully an excess of gifts. What are you doing for Christmas?"

"Being Jewish. Remember, people? Not everybody worships Santa." Willow chuckled at them both.

"I just meant for vacation."

"Mm. Oz and I are just going to contentedly snuggle it away in the," she lowered her voice, "holodeck. We're going to give the Risa program a try."

"Me, Faith, T'Jen and Gibson, being the rather emancipated individuals we are," Xander grinned. "Are going to take the Alpha Flyer out for a spin around Sol. Then off to Africa it is."

They entered the student lounge and immediately grabbed one of the couches for themselves. Buffy hefted her duffel and began placing cans of food in the annual Holiday Food Drive collection box that was always in the lounge during the holiday season. Xander gazed sadly at it, wishing he could just give in to his heart and just dump the plans for a Protein Re-sequencer on the Internet. In the Trek Universe it had taken less than a generation to wipe out hunger on Earth. First Contact with the Vulcans, combined with the devastation of WW3, had forced humanity to come together in the face of the great big Galaxy out there.

But as usual his head forced the logic of the situation; that it would cause more harm than good at the moment. Eliminating hunger using a technological substitute for agriculture… Xander couldn't even begin to anticipate the unintended consequences for all those employed in the food industry, agricultural sectors and the politics that went with it. Sure, there were still farms on Earth in the 24th Century, for those who preferred food by 'nature's hand', rather than Replicators, but they were not as numerous as they were in the 20th …farms were often passed down in families, like Captain Picard's vineyard.

"What about Cordelia?" Xander looked over to the still reigning Queen C. She was unusually alone and none of the Cordettes were in court. Cordy herself, well, she looked very…fidgety and distracted, not to mention casting nervous glances occasionally between her romance novel and the three Scoobies.

"She said she was going to Aspen with her folks, skiing," Buffy shrugged.

"Her lack of Cordettes is surprising," Willow noted. "Though her recent string of bad luck with guys is even worse…"

"If she would try to date someone other than a hormonal jock, then she'd fare better…T'Jen says she's really applying herself in our mini-Starfleet Academy. And when you learn stuff like that…well, John the Jock seems rather small fry in comparison."


Interplanetary Space, Sol System

The phase cloaked Alpha Flyer cruised on its course at a leisurely one quarter impulse. Its mission was a simple flyby of each planet in the system, a Christmas gift to Gibson and Faith – it would be their first time in space. Both were understandably overwhelmed by the views of, first Earth, then Mercury, Venus, and finally Mars, which the Flyer was currently in orbit over.

To T'Jen, sitting at the Flyer's science station, it was of course, not a holiday at all, but a chance to engage in high resolution short range scans of the terrestrial planets. Of course, Sol had been completely charted by United Earth in the Trek Universe, but this wasn't that Universe. As a result, she was compiling a survey for comparison of the two Sols.

Xander was content to pilot the Flyer and give a guided tour to the two 'Earthlubbers'. He put the Flyer into a low orbit, and rotated its axis to give a proper view of something every tourist to Mars either saw or tried to climb in the Trek Universe.

"That's Olympus Mons," he said, pointing. "It's the highest mountain in Sol. Twenty six kilometres high; it's actually a dormant shield volcano. For comparison; it's three times the height of Mount Everest."

"That's one wicked high mountain," Faith shook her head in amazement.

"That's not the only amazing feature Mars has," Xander continued, and again manoeuvred the Flyer into a new orbit. "See that…"

"It's a canyon," Gibson squinted, and then blinked shaking its head. "It's gigantic! Is that Valles Marineris?"

"Yeah," nodded Xander mildly. "A length of four thousand kilometres and with a depth of up to seven at some points, it's equivalent to the length of Europe and extends across one-fifth the circumference of Mars."

"If I could interrupt your tour, Xander, I believe we have a situation," T'Jen suddenly announced. Her holographic console was flashing and beeping at her. Xander focused on his own sensors.

"What is it?" Faith asked.

"I'm detecting a single cloaked Antarctic Class mothership, it's moving past Mars on a general trajectory for Earth," T'Jen reported.

"Are those pear-heads springing more troops on the ground?"

"No, I'm not scanning the presence of the virus on board – this is most likely a Reticulan crewed ship then."

"Good guys?"

"Well, it's safe to say they're not coming to Earth for tea and cookies with the Skrit Na," Xander reasoned.

"If you get us closer I can perhaps read their surface thoughts, I can find out their intentions?" Gibson offered.

"And they won't know you're doing it, G?" Faith enquired pointedly.

"No, as long as I only do it for brief moments at a time."

"What do you think, T'Jen?" Xander asked thoughtfully.

"It is well within Gibson's capabilities, he is still a relative novitiate but his skill is great."

"We'll do it, then, do you need a visual idea of where they are?"

"Not really, but it will help narrow my focus," Gibson explained.

The Flyer broke orbit and Xander sped up to three quarter impulse, swiftly guiding them on an intercept vector to the Reticulan mothership. Ten million kilometers later, Xander matched velocities with the mothership, and came to a relative stop twenty five kilometers behind the cruising craft. He overlaid a holoscreen on the viewports and a computer enhanced image of the black hulled mothership with its eerie inner green lights appeared.

"Close enough?" Gibson shook his head. Xander pushed the Flyer harder until only ten kilometers separated the two ships. "Now?" Gibson didn't answer, his eyes closed and brow pinched in concentration. The young boy was bracing himself against the back of the pilot seat.

Finally, he opened his eyes. "We have to get back to Earth."


"Because they're here to eradicate the Syndicate."


When the Alpha Flyer was back at DWX…an honest to goodness miracle occurred.

During Xander, T'Jen, Faith and Gibson's absence an unexpected crises had been averted. Namely, Angel nearly killing himself by going to watch a sunrise. He had apparently been haunted by visions of all those he had killed. Buffy, Giles and Dawn pieced the puzzle together though. The visions were actually the First Evil. A personification of all the hate and negativity in the Universe – it wasn't a demon, it was something even the darkness feared. It was an agent of corruption, the yang to the ying.

It was also not something that could be fought conventionally, it was incorporeal, though thankfully Buffy and Dawn had slayed all of the Firsts' priests – known as Bringers, who were responsible for allowing the First to manifest its 'avatar'.

Buffy had rushed to find the suicidal Angel before he could see his last sunrise. She had attempted to pin a combadge on him and transport him to safety in doors, but he would have none of it. He crushed it in his hand before Dawn could activate it.

"Angel, you just have to trust me. That thing that was haunting you..."

"It wasn't haunting me. It was showing me." Angel interrupted her.

"Showing you?" Buffy frowned in confusion.

"What I am."

"Were," she retorted insistently.

"And ever shall be."

"You don't know that. Some great evil just shows up and spins truth within lies, and you let it manipulate you like a puppet?!"

"I can't do it again, Buffy. I can't become a killer," Angel retorted harshly.

"Then fight it. We didn't bring you back just to watch you off yourself!"

"It's too hard." He shook his head determinedly.

"Angel, please, you have to get inside. I don't have another combadge," she pleaded desperately.

"It told me to kill you. You were in the dream. You know. It told me to lose my soul in you and become a monster again."

"I know what it told you." Buffy had been sharing Angel's dreams, through the Slayer's prophecy ability. "What does it matter?"

"Because I wanted to! Because I want you so badly! I want to take comfort in you, and I know it'll cost me my soul, and a part of me doesn't care."

Angel began to visibly cry. Buffy was at a loss for words.

"Look, I'm weak. I've never been anything else. It's not the demon in me that needs killing, Buffy. It's the man."

"You're weak. Everybody is. Everybody fails. This evil needs you, it wants you to do this, it wants you to stop protecting people, to stop all the good you've been doing lately," Buffy said grimly. "But that means that you can hurt it…by staying alive…by keeping up the fight."

Angel looked at her, but the expression on his face clearly showed he doesn't want to believe her.

Buffy continued in a near pleadingly voice, "Angel, you have the power to do real good, to make amends. But if you die now, then all that you ever were was a monster." The sky began to lighten. "Angel, please, the sun is coming up!"

"Just go." He folded his arms and turned away.

"I won't!"

"What, do you think this is simple? You think there's an easy answer? You can never understand what I've done! Now go!"

"You are not staying here." Buffy closed the distance and grabbed his arm. "I won't let you!"

"I said LEAVE!"

He jerked his arm free of her grasp. In anger and desperation Buffy punched him. He reacted by shoving her away from him roughly, she fell face forward, hard to the ground.

"Oh, my God..." Angel whispered to himself, aghast at what he had done.

He walked to her and crouched over her, grabbing her by the shoulders and turned her around to face him.

"No! No!" She clearly feared his intentions – that he was doing what the First wanted.

He grabbed her roughly by the arms and held her firmly.

"Am I a thing worth saving, huh?" He shook her. "Am I a righteous man? The world wants me gone!"

Buffy with tears in her eyes asked, "What about me? I still love you so much..."

She shoved him off of her and got up.

"And I hate it! I hate that it's so hard... and that you can hurt me so much." Her voice turned harsh despite her crying. "I know everything that you did, because you did it to me. Oh, God! I wish that I wished you dead. I don't. I can't."

Angel got up now, too. "Buffy, please. Just this once... let me be strong."

"Strong is fighting!" she retorted. "It's hard, and it's painful, and it's every day. It's what we have to do. And we can do it together."

Angel struggled with himself, knowing she was right.

"But if you're too much of a coward for that, then burn. If I can't convince you that you belong in this world, then I don't know what can. But do not expect me to watch. And don't expect me to mourn for you, because...

She stopped because it had inexplicably begun to snow. She and Angel both look up at it coming down, lightly at first and gradually heavier. The snowflakes swirling around them in the gentle morning breeze, and the ground around them starting to become white.

The sun was completely obscured.

Later in DWX, Xander had watched the local newsfeed…

"And while most of Southern California is enjoying a balmy Christmas, an extreme cold front has sprung up out of nowhere around Sunnydale, where they are reporting heavy snowfall for the first time in, well, ever."

"Sunnydale residents shouldn't expect to see the sun at all today. That cold front isn't going anywhere. With temperatures in the high thirties, means you better bundle up if you're planning to go outside and enjoy the change in the weather."

Xander pondered the fact someone was clearly looking out for Angel. The First had used every means available to con Angel into killing himself…and then out of nowhere, snow. If there was one thing that the event proved…it was that miracles, even on the hellmouth, can happen. He had never been particularly religious, but that didn't mean he didn't believe.


Potomac Train Yard, Arlington, Virginia

It was an overcast day, with rain threatening to fall at any moment. The yard was near filled to capacity with train boxcars, from brand new ones in use, to rusting hulks still waiting to be cut down for scrap. The hard gravel lining the ground between the rails crunched beneath his feet as he came to a stop a few feet from the yellow police tape that secured the scene of horrific death that had occurred the previous night.

Beyond the tape, were police cars, fire trucks, ambulances; emergency personnel milled about doing their jobs – moving between a van, car and a large silver train car. Xander's eyes found an area off to one side where quite a few black body bags had been laid – all of which had dead occupants inside. One was open and being looked at by a local Medical Examiner – Xander focused his vision and could now see the body as if he was standing right beside it. A quick scan with his internal subspace sensors and he even had a cause of death.

Someone – most likely the Reticulans – had excited the very molecules of the victim's bodies to an extremely critical degree and in a short amount of time – essentially burning them alive, using their own bodies as the fuel source. It was an extremely nasty way to go.

He took his eyes off the gruesome sight and looked to one side, where an ambulance held the only survivor of the massacre. Xander walked along the police perimeter to get a better view, making sure to play the part of a casual bystander – even his clothes were more casual than those he usually wore with his Mr E persona. When he could see the open rear end of the ambulance and the survivor herself - where she was being attended to by paramedics – he linked himself to the DWX computer in Sunnydale, and began a facial recognition search.

A scan of the survivor gave him rather puzzling results…the woman looked in her late fifties, was somewhat skinny…she was a person you would expect to be the dotty old neighbor next door. Her scans told a different story…though he couldn't run a medical level scan, he could tell…she was not human. Her bio-electric potentials were totally wrong for that.

Another car joined the throng at that moment – a Ford that was typical of those the FBI liked to provide their agents.

'That didn't take long,' Xander thought.

Two men got out, one was AD Walter Skinner, the other was Mulder's usurper; Special Agent Jeffrey Spender. He was a skinny man, with stylishly cut curly brown hair and had the kind of face which projected constant boredom in its neutral expression – now however, the Agent was practically bouncing with agitation

"What happened here?" Spender's tone was just shy of demanding. The now, tall and strong form of AD Skinner raised a pointed eyebrow at the Agent…almost as if he was reminding the younger man who outranked who.

"No one knows yet," Skinner eventually replied, "a group of people were burned alive here. Another man's on life support. Only your mother survived."

Aha, thought Xander, as he refined the search and easily matched the survivor's identity. Cassandra Spender – Jeffery Spender's mother and according to the X-File, was presumed missing after being 'abducted'.

"Where is she?" Spender asked desperately.

Skinner only pointed to the ambulance that held Cassandra, and Spender was off like a rocket towards it.

"Mom?" he asked her as he sat next to her. The woman raised her head and her eyes shone, a loving expression broke upon her face. "Mom... It's me, Jeffrey. Mom, what happened to you? You've been gone so long I thought I'd never see you again."

"Oh... Don't cry, honey." Cassandra stroked her son's cheek. It was rather touching.

"Where have you been?" Spender asked wonderingly. Cassandra only sighed in response and a look of resignation, clearly she didn't want to answer. "What did they do to you?"

"I need to talk to someone," was Cassandra's only response, turning to look away.

"You can tell me," insisted Spender.

The mother shook her head. "I need to speak to Agent Mulder." This was the wrong thing to say. Spender grew furious, stood and strode over in long strides towards Skinner and hissed, "I don't want him talking with her."

"Why?" Skinner's tone was knowing – but Spender didn't catch on to it, so wrapped up was he in his own fury.

"He's forbidden from the X-Files. He's to stay out of this."

"She's asking for him." Skinner pointed out reasonably.

"She's my mother."

"What are you afraid of, Agent Spender?"

"Of Agent Mulder filling her head with alien-abduction nonsense."

"Are you afraid of the truth?"

"I want to know who did this to her and why. That's all I want."

"Then why not use every resource available to you?"

Spender frowned at his superior for a few brief moments, clearly considering it, despite himself. The Agent shook his head eventually. "I'll send you a progress report." And abruptly left towards the car. Skinner shook his head in exasperation at the Agent's antics.

Xander decided it was time to make his move.

He confidently approached the policeman manning entry to the site and flipped open his Universal Psychic ID. "I'm with the FBI, I have a message for AD Skinner." The policeman simply nodded after glancing at the badge, and lifted up the tape for Xander.

Once beyond he casually walked over towards the Assistant Director. "AD Skinner."

The tall man stopped and turned narrowing his eyes at Xander. "Yes? Who are you?"

"We have a mutual friend, though he's been feeling really underappreciated recently, doing grunt work meant for a rookie straight out of Quantico, I'm also responsible for saving you from perpetual slavery…"

Skinner just raised his hands to stop him. "Mr E. Mulder said you might drop in, though by all rights I should have you arrested for trespassing on a Federal crime scene."

"That is your choice," Xander shrugged, "though I think you'll find me missing from any jail cell in short order. But is that the reward I have to look forward to for saving your butt?"

Skinner sighed and flatly said, "What do you want?"

"Nothing really, just wanted to touch bases with you; did Mulder give you that mobile phone?"

"Yes," nodded Skinner. "Though I'm not really sure what you hope to accomplish."

"Ratboy will be in touch soon, Agent Skinner, when he does…tell him exactly what he wants, but of course, the instant after you do, call me and Mulder…it's that simple."

"Fine," Skinner said abruptly, "and?"

"Any idea why Cassandra wants to see Mulder?"

"You'd have to ask her," Skinner shrugged, "though I can imagine she has quite the story to tell."

"Then I suggest you try and facilitate a meeting between the two of them as soon as possible. Have a good morning, Assistant Director."

Xander turned and left the scene.


Silver Springs, Maryland

Xander stood on the opposite side of the street from a rather nice two storey mansion house, with lush green front lawn with sprinklers spraying merrily away. It was your average friendly neighbourhood in the small city just north of Washington DC. It hardly looked at all like the place his target would go to. Yet that was seemingly the point.

After all, a full blown member of the Syndicate to organise the planned Skrit Na Invasion of Earth, wouldn't be in his 'secret volcano lair' cackling evilly over his plans. No, such men wore the kind face of your normal every day old man.

This Syndicate member had balding dark grey hair with a truly hale and weathered face, slightly stooping in his old age – about in his late sixties. The only reason Xander knew that this man was Syndicate was because he had trailed one of the Reticulans to this location. The Reticulan in question had assumed the shape of one of their victims from the trainyard – a Doctor of some sort that had been working on Cassandra Spender.

Xander did not have to worry about being spotted by the Reticulan – since he was wearing a Phase Isolation Suit that the Federation used to keep its scientists from being observed by pre-warp cultures. It also came with a built in Tricorder – since a device hanging in mid-air would be a pretty good clue that an Invisible man was walking about.

He wouldn't need it though. He had already used his internal scanner and technomagic skills to record a most illuminating discussion of a telephone conversation; by interfacing with the phone lines and breaking the secure encryption.

"Hello," the Syndicate Elder had answered.

"Have you heard the news?" a rough unknown voice spoke.


"The Rebels have struck," the voice spoke gravely.

"Where?" the Elder asked flatly.

"In Virginia. During one of our medical procedures. They killed the project doctors. Burned them."

"All of them?"

"Yes, Dr. Openshaw died in the hyperbaric chamber this evening."

"My God," the Elder was clearly shocked by his tone.

"I've called an emergency meeting of the Syndicate. Only the future rides on our response."

"I'll be on a plane."

Xander watched as the Reticulan rang the doorbell. The Elder took a few moments to answer, clearly still shaken somewhat by the news. He opened the door and looked completely surprised at the identity that the Reticulan had assumed.

"Dr Openshaw?"

"I've come to see you," 'Openshaw' said tonelessly imposing physically into the doorframe, stopping the Elder from closing it. The Elder blanched with fear as he connected the dots – frantically reaching towards the face of the Reticulan and pushing against it, which promptly melted away like rippling clay into a face that had no eyes, no mouth, no nose…yet it was clear to Xander this was not natural…as the gruesome scars at those spots showed.

The Reticulan grabbed the Elder with great strength, lifting him off the floor easily, closing the door.

Screams and crackling of flame heralded the death of the Elder. Xander felt sickened by it as his out-of-phase remote probe showed the scene in all its brutality from an overhead vantage point. He wished he didn't have sit back and allow the Reticulans to murder the Elder, but there was no telling how the aliens would react to offers of an alliance with DWX, and he also needed scans of the Burn weapon – to devise a defence and intelligence on the Reticulans modus operandi.

It was the first example of anti-personnel weaponry the Reticulans used – and if they had it, the Skrit Na would have it too. The looming war for Earth would not be just fought in the skies and the void of space, after all.


It was a darkened room, filled with comfortable armchairs of green leather, all arranged to face in the direction of a flexible screen, which was reflecting the light from a slide projector. It allowed the various men either sitting or standing around the room to look at photographs that were being displayed by a very fit man in his mid thirties, with impeccably cut hair, holding the remote control with his right hand due to his prosthetic left arm.

Krycek was coolly narrating them and delivering a briefing of the slides showing yet more horrific deaths by burning.

"Rebels have attacked and burned project facilities in New Mexico and the Southwest. The medical staff at our Arizona research facility's been slain. The train-car deaths cost us. Work on the human/alien hybrids will suffer the death of Dr. Openshaw."

"What do they want?" asked a heavy set, square jawed man with slightly greying hair, his voice a deep monotone.

"To expose our enterprise-everything we've worked for," explained a skinny man, in his mid fifties, a Morley brand cigarette in his fingers – which he would occasionally take a puff from. His eyes were flat and expressionless as if they held no life in them.

"Well, some hotshot reporter's going to put the pieces together not to mention law enforcement," worried another member of the Syndicate.

"We have our control on the federal agencies. Our new man at the FBI's very capable of diverting attention," Smoking Man dismissed the worry, stamping out his current cigarette and immediately lighting up a new one.

"Why not side with the rebels... join their alien resistance?" asked a very familiar Syndicate member – who should have been dead and in fact, had been killed the very previous day.

"It's an option," conceded another member.

"It's an option you declined long ago. Resistance was futile then. Why would it be any less so now? That's why you voted against it-- against men like Bill Mulder. Collaboration has allowed you to prepare... to stall colonization. I mean, how close are you to developing a human/alien hybrid? That alone ensures your survival," Krycek stated firmly.

"As slave laborers for the aliens," said the supposedly dead Elder.

Smoking Man and Krycek narrowed their eyes in suspicion at the Elder's seemingly pro-rebel statement, but buried them for investigation later.

"What about your vaccine? By collaborating, you bought yourself time to secretly develop a way to combat the aliens-- to fight the future," Krycek said ominously.

"Alex, enough!" Smoking Man snapped to Krycek, and turned to look at the Elder thoughtfully. "For 50 years, we've worked on this project-- 50 years since Roswell. We can't sacrifice ourselves for every new threat, can we now?"

"Computer, pause program. And raise illumination."

The world suddenly froze at Xander's command, and the light was raised; revealing him, Giles, T'Jen, Dawn, Faith, Buffy and finally Gibson, standing off to one side outside of the holodeck recreation of the meeting held in the Syndicate's 46th Street location in New York City.

"This meeting was recorded by my remote drone a few hours ago, who followed the 'Elder'; he's actually a shape shifting Reticulan," Xander explained. "Gibson?"

The young telepath, looking much healthier now, more and more like the boy he was supposed to be, nodded and began to walk around the recreation, staring at each Syndicate member, before coming face to face with Smoking Man.

"This is Cancer Man," Gibson scowled at the holographic visage of the man who had caused so much pain in his life. "He's had so many aliases he can hardly keep them straight in his own head. But he refers to himself as Craig Gregory Bartholomew Spender."

"Spender?" Xander asked suspiciously.

"Yeah, he's actually the father of Jeffrey Spender, the guy who's taken the X-Files from Agent Mulder, and the ex-husband of Cassandra."

"The woman who survived the rebel attack?" Giles queried in astonishment. "She actually married such an utter bastard?"

"She didn't know who he really was at the time," Gibson shrugged. "She quickly figured it out though when he arranged for her to be abducted by the Skrit Na, and handed over to the scientists working on the human alien hybrid project."

"Now that is one amoral SOB," Faith blinked in astonishment.

"It first happened on November 27th, 1973; the exact date that Agent Mulder's sister was also abducted. Mulder's father also worked with CGB Spender in the conspiracy," Gibson explained further. "If Cassandra Spender is free, alive and according to Xander, not entirely human, then she is a successful hybrid. We must find her and protect her from the Skrit Na and the Syndicate…because if a hybrid can be produced…then the aliens will come earlier, before we are ready."

"Mulder should know," Xander posited. "I will go, Faith…I might need an extra hand. Gibson…I'll need your help to convince Cassandra to come."

"Are you sure it's wise to expose Gibson?" Giles worried.

"No, it's not, but like or not, we are in the same position as the Syndicate; the future of everything, not just Earth, rests on Cassandra's very existence."


A/N: Been working on this one for a while, since it's a crux point of the story. Sorry for the delay.