Title: Emerald Transitions (1/1)
Feedback: Please be gentle.
Distribution: Gimme credit and a link.
Rating: Just a little bad language.
Spoilers: Anything and everything.
Disclaimer: The characters depicted herein belong to other people. I'm just borrowing them for a while.
Summary: A curse. A meeting. A test flight. Each of these leads to a moment of transition. Part four of Emerald Flame.
Author's Note: I had a dickens of a time trying to figure out an appropriate title for this.
"No threshold shall protect her,
Nor those who offer her shelter;
In her hands, no stake shall slay,
Nor fire shall burn;
The symbols of faith shall fail her;
Let her wander and die alone,
So long as the fires of heaven touch the sky."
The power humming in the air faded as the curse took hold. Through her dark bangs, the exhausted Romany witch's eyes glittered furiously at her elders. "It is done," she spat, shifting from Latin to her native tongue. "Janna-"
"Janna is no more, child."
"Jenny," she corrected, "is now under the Curse of the Clanless."
"Then vengeance is served."
"Vengeance"? she thought darkly. More like ego.
She hadn't wanted to do this, but she had had little choice. Two others had turned the elders away, with dire consequences.
Dr. Margaret Walsh strode through the CDC with a confidence that cleared a path for her, as almost everyone stepped out of her way. Almost. She cocked an eyebrow.
"Stanley Goodspeed," he introduced himself. "FBI. Are you lost, ma'am? Because you're headed for Level Five Containment, and, uh, trust me, you really don't want to go there."
Her piercing gaze pinned the FBI chemical weapons specialist in place.
"I'm well aware of where I'm going, Mister Goodspeed."
"'Doctor Goodspeed,' actually. Unless you prefer 'Special Agent Goodspeed.'"
She bit back a growl and flashed her pass. "Doctor Goodspeed, would you please kindly get out of my way?"
"All right, Doctor Walsh," he said after reading her pass, stepping aside. "Have fun."
Walsh dismissed the agent from her thoughts as she finally reached the secure meeting. She glanced at the other two scientists and nodded a perfunctory greeting to each of them. "Sandeman. Halsey."
"Walsh," they replied, nodding back coolly.
The room, already cold, seemed to drop another ten degrees.
Secretary of Defense Walter Dean shook his head - for a bunch of genius egghead scientists, they were as territorial as wolverines - then cleared his throat, drawing the three scientists' attention.
"Gentleman, ladies," he said. "We're here to discuss the future of the DOD's bio-enhancement projects. Doctor Sandeman, the Army's giving you a green light for Project Manticore."
Sandeman nodded. "And my liaison?"
"Approved," the SecDef said. "Lydecker's orders have already been cut." He turned to Walsh and said, "Doctor Walsh, the Navy is interested in continued pursuit of Project Spartan. However, they have decided to move on to phase two."
Walsh frowned. "'Phase two'?"
"Phase two," Dean confirmed. "Doctor Halsey's proposal has been approved. The Navy will no longer require your services, Doctor Walsh, but there is an Army project that we believe is... better suited to your expertise."
You sure about this, E? Xander asked worriedly.
For the last time, Alexander, yes, came the irritated response. The disguise field is the same as that used by the Sailor Senshi, and you've seen first-hand how effective it is.
Xander had to admit that the Senshi's disguise field _was_ effective. He couldn't shake the feeling he should have been able to figure out who at least one of the other Senshi was - something about Dr. Mizuno or her daughter, but he couldn't quite pin it down - but the only Senshi whose identity he knew was Sailor Pluto's.
Well, he thought, here goes nothing.
"Hello, Mister President," he said, stepping into the room.
President James Marshall looked up in surprise and shot to his feet, stepping between the intruder and his daughter. "Who the hell are you?"
"Hal," Xander said, pulsing ring energy through his eyes. "Major Davis said you wanted to meet with me."
"Yeah," Marshall answered, relaxing slightly. "Alice, why don't you finish watching the game in your room?"
"Go on, hon."
The First Daughter looked at Xander suspiciously and scrambled out of the room. Xander's eyes softened as he watched her leave.
"She's got a lot of potential, Mister President," he said after the door clicked shut. "More than you can imagine."
Xander shook his head and murmured, "No, you really don't."
And if I have anything to say about it, he added silently, you never will.
The President's expression darkened. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing," Xander said, shaking his head clear of the bloody memories that had resurfaced. "Nothing at all, Mister President."
Marshall studied him for a long moment. Jesus, he thought. He's just a kid.
"So," he said, sitting back on the couch, "what's your story, 'Hal'?"
"The Corps is real, Mister President," he said. "It's been around longer than you can imagine, but the last of their number was imprisoned about two thousand years ago."
"We're coming back," Xander said. "There aren't enough of us - there never are - but we're coming back."
Major General Mitchell Gant, United States Air Force, stood in the control tower and pinned a hard-eyed gaze on the gull-winged fighter taxiing across the tarmac of Edwards Air Force Base. Edwards was part of Gant's command, the Air Force Flight Test Center, and proving ground for every aircraft in the United States Air Force's inventory.
The fighter he was glaring at was the X-301 Interceptor prototype, and despite its graceful lines and impressive performance on previous test flights, Gant didn't trust it. They didn't know how the innards of that fighter worked, and that made him uneasy. It reminded him all too much of the stealth fighter he had stolen all those years ago.
The MiG-31 Firefox had helped the USAF's own stealth project, but in all other respects, the captured prototype had been useless. While they were able to duplicate the thought control system's hardware and could copy the software, adapting the software to run anything besides an exact copy of the Firefox had proven futile. The Firefox's other systems had fallen behind the technology curve, and they couldn't update the damned thing and still use that prized piece of technology which was its centerpiece.
And they knew even less about the X-301's drive systems than they did about the MiG-31's thought control system.
In the cockpit of the prototype, Major Matthew "Cobra" Cooper performed a final systems check, musing silently over his current position. It wasn't his first flight on the X-301, but he still couldn't over the fact that he was flying an honest to God space fighter.
And here I thought recreating the Trench Run with the Russians was as close as I was going to get to Star Wars. He shook his head and called over his shoulder, "All right, everything checks out up front. How are things back there, sir?"
"All systems green, Cobra." While Lieutenant Colonel Riley "Arrow" Hale was senior to Cooper, his skill set and bomber experience made him better suited for the gunnery position.
Cooper nodded and clicked on his radio. "Edwards, Digger One, all systems are go."
"Digger One, Edwards Actual," Gant's gravelly voice sounded over the radio, "you have a go."
Giles suddenly jerked awake as someone pounded on the door to his apartment. Drawing a crossbow, he stalked out. The knocking became more urgent, and he opened the door, allowing a terrified Jenny Calendar to barrel in. He turned in surprise and took a step after her, then spun back around when he heard a growl behind him.
The crossbow bolt was on target, dusting the first vampire, even as the second charged into the apartment, much to the Watcher's shock and disbelief. He dove to the side and pulled out a sword, decapitating the vampire with an economical slice.
He looked at the Romany woman. "Jenny? What's going on?"
"Uhh, Edwards, Digger One, we appear to have a control malfunction. All flight controls are non-responsive."
"Damn it," Gant muttered. He considered what resources they had available. Unfortunately, they were already breaking atmosphere, which severely limited his options. He simply didn't have anything on-base that could reach them at that altitude, and they were too high to eject safely. But they had installed emergency cut-offs, so they could probably hit the cut-offs, then ride in until they were low enough to punch out. It was going to be rough, but...
"Emergency cut-offs also non-responsive," Cobra added a moment later.
"Get me the SecDef."
"You seriously want to see it?"
"Well... yeah," Marshall said with a curt nod. "It's not every day I get to meet an honest to God superhero. I want to see the costume, at least." He paused and added, "You know, I could have used your help a couple of years ago."
Xander snorted, recalling the hijacking of Air Force One by Russian ultranationalists in '96. "The ring's a bit of a recent development." He sighed and got up from the chair he'd taken. "All right."
A flash of green light enveloped him, even as the door burst open. Both of them turned in surprise as a Secret Service agent leveled her pistol at Xander.
"Hands in the air!" she ordered.
Xander cocked an eyebrow. "Are you planning on using that?"
"Mister President, are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Kate. What's going on?"
"Your daughter mentioned your 'guest,'" Kate answered tightly. "Except there's no one cleared through security at this time."
"It's okay, Kate," Marshall said. "Put the gun away."
"'It's okay'?" she stared at him in disbelief. "Mister President, some lunatic dressed up as a comic book character penetrated all of Camp David's security, and it's okay?"
Xander scowled. "Hey! I resemble that remark!"
"He was invited, Kate," Marshall said. He shot a sharp glance at Xander and added, "Though I had been expecting you to call first."
Xander shrugged. "The last time I called ahead, I was met with most of a platoon of FPG Royal Marines."
"I'm more worried about how he got past security," Kate said, keeping her pistol aimed at Xander.
Marshall frowned. "Good point." He looked back at Xander and asked, "How did you get in here, anyway?"
Xander shrugged again. "Bodyguards - even the Secret Service - generally don't look up on perimeter patrol."
"I see," Marshall nodded, making a mental note to figure out some way to address that without sounding like a lunatic. He looked back at Kate and said, "Secure that weapon, Kate." She hesitated. "Now, Agent Todd." She relented, safing and holstering the pistol.
"Someone want to explain to me what's going on?" she asked.
Before either man could answer, another voice called from behind Kate. "Jim! Jim, we've got a situation with the X-301..." Secretary of Defense Walter Dean trailed off as he entered the room; right behind him was Thomas Whitmore, the new National Security Advisor who replaced the late Jack Doherty. They looked around, and Dean's eyebrows rose as he looked at Green Lantern. "Well, frak me," he muttered under his breath. His eyes flicked over to the Secret Service agent.
Agent Todd was new to the detail, just recently made Agent, yet here she was, in a room with a young man whose mere existence was classified Top Secret.
"Is she cleared for this?" Whitmore asked.
"It's a bit late for that, Tom," Marshall answered. "What's going on?"
What is it, E?
That man is not human.
The Secretary of Defense? How do you even know that, anyway?
Imagine. All those years of experience, and you never realized the ring's neural interface is two-way?
The rings in that world didn't have that feature!
Excuses, my- the thought broke off as he realized the President was talking to him. "Excuse me, what?"
"The fighter," he repeated. "Can you get them? We can't risk the Serapis; it may have a similar recall function buried in it somewhere."
"Shouldn't be problem," Xander said, "but can I trust that I'll be allowed to leave peacefully afterwards?"
"You have my word," Marshall answered.
"With all due respect, Mister President," Xander said, "that's not good enough. There are certain deniable assets out there that may not necessarily recognize your word, in order to preserve that deniability."
Marshall glowered at the thought and said, "Then I'll see to it personally."
Dean did not look happy.
"Digger One, Edwards Actual, I've been informed that a rescue and recovery operation is under way to recover both you and the fighter. Sit tight, Digger One."
"Copy that, Edwards," Cooper answered.
Hale was switching between readouts on his multi-function display. "Rescue operation," he scoffed. "What the hell are they talking about? No way NASA scared up a shuttle for us, not on this short notice."
"Uh, sir, I think I see what they're talking about."
"Where?" he asked, bringing up the radar again. "I've got nothing on radar."
"Look up, sir."
He did. And stared. The glowing green figure above them waved. Hale waved back weakly.
They must have sprung a leak in their O2 system. He had survived that damned nuke in the desert only to now slowly suffocate to death because some part somewhere made by the lowest bidder had screwed up. It had to be hypoxia. He was seeing things. Then again, Cooper had seen it to, which meant they were seeing the same thing, and therefore, it couldn't be a hallucination.
"Ow! Ow! Ow! Hey! Cut it out!" Xander protested as Willow barraged him with largely ineffectual blows. "What the hell was that for?"
"You ran off."
"Technically, I flew off."
"Xander!" she snarled, resuming her assault.
"Ow! Ow! Hey! Okay! Okay! I'm sorry!" he called out until she stopped again. "I had something to do."
"You always have something to do!" she pouted, arms folded as she glared at him.
He smiled and gathered her up into a hug. The redhead jumped in surprise, and he simply held her close and murmured, "Don't ever change, Will. I mean it."
He heard a mental sigh. You do like living dangerously, don't you, Alexander?
Willow cuddled into his chest for a moment, then stiffened and thumped his chest, growling, "Hey! I'm still angry at you."
"Sure you are, Will," he grinned. He looked around at the others gathered in the library. "So, what's the what?" When he had gotten back to Sunnydale after delivering the prototype fighter to the President, he went looking for the others. It was odd for them to be in the library; there wasn't an apocalypse scheduled, so far as he knew.
"The Curse of the Clanless," Jenny said.
Xander blinked uncomprehendingly. "And that is...?"
"You don't know?" she frowned.
"If I did, would I have asked?"
"You seem to know everything else that happens around here," she shot back. "It's my punishment. I can't ward off vampires with holy symbols, nor kill them except by decapitation. I'm not even safe in my own home or anyone else's."
Xander nodded. "I see. Well, that explains why I didn't know it. You were kinda dead by now, last time around."
A chill filled the room at this comment.
"I was... dead?"
"Yeah," he said, nodding absently as he picked up one of the books and began leafing through it. "Angelus broke your neck and left you in Giles's bed as one of his sick little games. So, all curses have a loophole. We got any idea what the loophole is on this one?" He looked up and frowned as he realized everyone was staring at him. Buffy and Giles, in particular, looked horrified. "What?"
"You go from telling me how I died to looking for a loophole... like it was nothing?" she sputtered finally.
"Well, are you dead now?" he asked, his voice calm and reasonable.
"Is Angelus a threat?"
"Then it's a non-issue," he said, turning back to the book, "hence the loophole-searching."
No one could find a reason to argue with that logic. After a moment, Jenny said, "The wording says it will last 'so long as the fires of heaven touch the sky.'"
Xander lowered the book again and said, "So... what? We're talking a total solar eclipse? Hmm..."
Can we do it?
It depends on how specific it is, Egeria replied. If it just means a total solar eclipse, those occur frequently enough; it would only be a matter of getting her to the right place at the right time.
And if it doesn't?
It would mean engulfing the entire planet in darkness, she answered. The "fires of heaven" could refer as much to the moon and stars as to the sun.
"I don't think a total eclipse would work," Willow piped up. "I mean, even in a total eclipse, the corona's still visible, and that's definitely, you know, fiery-looking. Even though, technically, there's no fire on the sun since there's no oxygen there."
"Why don't we just block the sunlight with our rings?" Faith asked.
He shook his head and said, "The ring constructs are made of light, Faith. They can obscure it, but they can't block it."
Well, there goes that idea, he thought.
So she can't fight, and she can't hide, Egeria pointed out. All that's left is for her to run. She paused, then added, Alexander, vampires only exist on Earth.
I know, he acknowledged, already understanding what she was suggesting. After a long moment, he asked, Are you sure about this?
Of course I am, Alexander, she answered. I would not have suggested it otherwise.
"I... may have another option," he said quietly. "But there's a price."
"What is it?" she asked.
He shrugged. "Your body."
"Xander!" Giles snapped angrily.
"Well," Jenny blushed, "I... umm..."
"Hell, X," Faith snorted, "if you wanted a roll, you just had to ask."
"No, wait," Xander held a hand up, "that came out way wrong." He sighed. "Let me explain."
Xander broke the kiss and smiled. "Now, that wasn't so bad, was it?"
"Not bad at all," Jenny replied huskily.
Xander squeaked, suddenly realizing just how close they were and quite able to picture the murderous look Giles was likely sending his way. She giggled.
"She's right; you are easy."
Faith snorted. "I wish."
"Faith," Xander said, teeth gritted, "word of advice: Never, ever say the W word. Especially not here on the hellmouth. It invokes Murphy and is therefore extremely bad for your health."
Faith held her tongue and nodded, remembering one of the rules from Xander's unwritten Hellmouth Survival Guide: Thou shalt not taunt Murphy.
"Where will you go now?" Giles asked.
"We will be joining the Tok'ra," Jenny said. Her voice altered as Egeria continued, "Exactly as Alexander told you."
"And where are these Tok'ra?"
"That, Rupert Giles, is for not for you to know. Suffice it to say that it is a place where no vampires tread."
"You'll need this," Xander said, presenting her with a new power ring.
"Thank you, Alexander," she said, accepting the ring and slipping it on her finger. "In brightest day, in blackest night..."
Women were evil. It was something he'd known for years, if only because it was fun to think it and then wind them up over it, but given the way Jenny had asked if the uniform looked good on her in front of the others... well, that was just more proof.
He frowned when the expected jolt of pain didn't come. Strange. Their semi-blending had only lasted a few weeks, and yet...
"What's wrong?" she asked. The two of them were hovering in Earth orbit.
He shook his head. "Nothing," he said. "Just missing the voice in my head."
"By the way," she said, "don't go after the clan elders."
"Who, me?" he asked innocently.
She glared at him. "Yes, you. Don't think I don't know what you're planning."
Xander sighed. "Fine. I'll leave them be. But honestly, Janna? They should be glad they're not on the same continent as Giles. When Angelus killed you last time, he went after him with a molotov and baseball bat."
"Not a cricket bat?"
"Presumably, he couldn't get one on such short notice."
As she stepped through the chappa'ai, she looked around with a cool gaze as the Tok'ra leveled weapons at her.
"Hello, old friends," she said, a smile quirking her lips at the quote.
"Who are you?"
She turned and nodded to the one who had spoken. "Hello, Selmak. Has it really been that long?"
Jenny Calendar - Egeria - nodded again.
"I am so proud of you, all of you, for continuing the fight," she said, "but it is not enough to gather information. We must use that information and strike." She held up her hand, power ring pulsing with energy. "And if you will not, then I will. The time for skulking in shadows is past. We will bring light to the darkness."
Ba'al looked out through the window of the pel'tak, hands steepled in front of his face as he studied the symbol carved into the planet's surface. It was a sign of incredible power simply to carve any image on such a scale.
It was a symbol which had not been seen in the galaxy at large in millenia... but it was a symbol that was all too familiar to the System Lords, one which meant death to any who dare wore it in their domain. It was nothing more than a circle flanked by parallel tangent lines, but long ago, it had stood as a symbol of defiance, a mark on all who would oppose tyranny.
Even Ba'al felt a chill crawl up his spine at the sight.
He considered recent events. Ra was dead, slain by the Tauri. Apophis had been betrayed to the Tauri by his own First Prime and was then sent scampering in fear when he sought to punish them. Cronus had clearly met some unfortunate fate as well, as evidenced not only by the planet below but also the fact that Ba'al was here, in Cronus's territory, and remained unchallenged.
He leaned back.
Interesting, he thought. It seems these Tauri are worth watching.
What? You didn't think Egeria was going to stay in his head forever, did you?
As you can see, no real action, but some very important plot threads for the future.
By the way, is anyone else interested in playing in this sandbox? If so, let me know, and we'll see what we can work out.