The Last Slayerette
(BtVS/Sailor Moon/Star Trek/Highlander, Xander/Ami)
Summary: Three hundred and eighty years after the events of "The Sailor/Slayer Drabbles", Xander is an Immortal working as a black ops agent for Starfleet Intelligence. When a remote Federation outpost is attacked by NegaVamps, Xander has to team up with an old friend to eliminate the threat and uncover the conspiracy behind it. Can Xander learn to deal with his painful past without giving in to his desire for vengeance?
Author's note: This story is a quadruple crossover, and a sequel to a series of NC17 drabbles that I never completed. So for those of you who read that sentence and are still here, welcome, and thank you for putting up with my nonsense.
Outpost 612 (AKA Hardcross Station)
Planet Sigma Epsilon IV
Lt. Chris Paulson stifled another yawn and tried to pay attention to his console as he monitored comm traffic between the station and the cargo freighter in orbit. He hated working gamma shift, but since he was the lowest ranked command officer on board, the duty often fell to him. And since the station has such a small command staff, he was usually alone. Even on rare nights like this one where a ship actually visited the outpost, it was all so routine that he had a hard time staying awake. Make contact, verify their command codes, receive the cargo, the whole thing took less than five minutes.
"SS Budapest to Hardcross Station, transport complete. Please confirm receipt of cargo."
Paulson confirmed the transporter logs and compared it to the cargo manifest that they had transferred. Everything looked fine, as usual. He found himself again wondering if this is why he had joined Starfleet, to become a glorified night watchman. What he wouldn't give for a little excitement once in a while. "Receipt confirmed, Budapest. See you next month, safe travels."
"Affirmative, Budapest out."
Paulson watched the sensor readout as the freighter broke orbit and went to warp. He let out a yawn and stretched his arms over his head. Four more hours in his shift, better get some coffee. He stood and made his way to the replicator. Just another exciting night out in the final frontier, he thought to himself. "Coffee, cream, double sweet." The replicator hummed as the beverage appeared. He took the mug and blew the steam from the top of it as he walked back to his station.
A few minutes passed as Paulson busied himself with a few mundane tasks, when a comm channel opened at his station and he heard a terrified voice.
"Intruder alert, main cargo bay! Security team to the main cargo bay immediately!"
Paulson nearly spit out his coffee. He immediately sat up straighter as his hands flew over the console, bringing up the visual feed from the cargo bay. What he saw nearly made him sick as he silently regretting having wished for some excitement only moments before. The intruder was humanoid, slightly larger than a human, and extremely strong judging by the way he was throwing crewman around like ragdolls. He had sharp teeth and a distended brow, but he didn't seem to belong to any species that Paulson recognized. He watched as Chief Muldoon, the station's quartermaster, rushed at the creature, but the blows had no effect. The thing then grabbed the Chief's head, bent it back and sank his teeth into his neck. After a moment the thing let go and Muldoon crumpled to the deck. The security team arrived and opened fire on the intruder, but the phasers had no effect. Paulson was stunned. "That's not possible," he muttered to himself. He watched as several of the security personnel increased the settings on their phasers, but the thing still didn't react to the shots. It quickly cut through the security team without trouble, biting them the same way it had done to Muldoon. Paulson realized that this was quickly escalating out of control. He tapped a few commands on his console and opened a station-wide channel.
"Station alert, general quarters, general quarters," he spoke quickly, trying to keep his voice level. "All non-essential personnel please secure your locations and remain where you are. All available security personnel report to main cargo bay. Threat level alpha. Repeat, threat level alpha!"
He closed the channel and continued working as fast as he could. He was scared, but he Starfleet training took over as he went through the standard procedures for an intruder alert. He took the transporters offline and locked down the runabout pads in the shuttlebay to make sure that whatever this thing was, it couldn't escape. He locked down Deck 16, where the cargo bay was located so that no one but security personnel could go in or out of the area. He also locked down the habitat levels, just to make sure that the crew would be safe, as well as the command center. The next thing he had to do was contact the station administrator to inform him of the situation. He reached up and tapped his combadge.
"Paulson to Hardcross."
A moment later an exasperated voice answered the call. "Hardcross here, what the hell is going on Lieutenant?"
"Doctor, there's an intruder in the main cargo bay. It's already killed at least three people. I don't understand how Sir, but it's impossibly strong and it seems resistant to phaser fire."
"Oh my god! All right, I'm on my way."
The channel closed and Paulson turned his attention back to the visual feed from the cargo bay. What he saw defied logic and understanding. It was Chief Muldoon and the two security guards that he had seen the creature kill, they were alive. Their faces were deformed in the same way as the creature, and they were attacking the second security team. Again, they seemed immune to phasers, and they were taking the security team down with little trouble. His shock turned to horror when he realized that the original creature that had started this all was nowhere to be seen. The station did not have a large compliment of security, and they were quickly running short.
Paulson quickly turned his attention back to the comm station and opened all hailing frequencies. "Mayday, mayday! This is Federation Outpost 612 and we are under attack, I repeat we are under attack! We have been boarded by an unknown entity which has attacked members of our crew and…infected them somehow! We require immediate assistance from any and all ships that are receiving this transmission, mayday, mayday!" A loud bang caused Paulson to jump. There was something outside of the Command Center. It wasn't possible, the thing couldn't have made it that far so fast. And yet he knew what it had to be.
The creature forced the door open easily and strode into the Command Center. Paulson's heart was pounding in his chest like a jackhammer. Close up the creature was even more intimidating. Large, muscled, it's teeth still dripping blood, it's eyes blazing yellow. "No, please," Paulson begged. But it was too late for that. The last thing transmitted with the distress call before it was cut off was a blood curdling scream.
Xander Harris sat at the helm of a cloaked runabout, traveling at warp two through an area of space known as the Kosst Corridor, a major shipping lane that ran throughout several sectors. Reports of recent pirate activity in the area had peaked his interest. Very few items of value were stolen, but the loss of life in each attack was high, and it was always human. It smelled like blood pirates to him. Vampires who left Earth looking for greener pastures, usually some backwater human colony where they think hunting will be easier. Inevitably they resort to piracy to feed during their journey, which made them easy to find if you knew what to look for. Currently the runabout's computer was scanning the local comm traffic, looking for distress calls with certain key words that would indicate vampires. And every ship that came within range was being scanned for a lack of lifesigns, or highly localized human lifesigns which could indicate that the crew was being held captive. This left Xander with little to do himself but wait. Currently he had his feet up on the console and his head tucked into his shoulder, catching a few z's.
Life as a Starfleet Intelligence operative wasn't glamorous, but it could be fulfilling. Pretty much since the Federation had been founded, SI had been keeping tabs on vampires and other demons that posed a threat to the Earth. When Xander joined up and they found out that he had experience fighting the undead, they were eager to utilize him. Being a 400-year old Immortal, he had considerably more experience then even they knew about.
An indicator sounded on his console, waking Xander from his nap. He yawned and scratched his chin, running his nails through several days worth of beard growth. He sat up and typed a few commands into the computer to see what it had found. It was a freighter, orbiting a nearby planetoid. Sensors indicated 62 human lifesigns, all located in what appeared to be one of the ship's cargo holds. Considering that the ship was operational, someone had to be on the bridge, and since there were no lifesigns coming from the bridge, vampires seemed like a safe assumption. Xander took the ship out of warp and plotted an intercept course. Sensors indicated transporter activity. There appeared to be a small mining operation on the planetoid and the freighter was beaming up large quantities of ore. Even blood pirates were still pirates, if they came across something of value they would steal it. Xander knew that he could use the opportunity while the freighter's shields were down to get aboard, but if he beamed aboard he would likely be detected.
He piloted the runabout in closer, lining up his ship's dorsal docking port with one of the freighter's auxiliary ventral ports. Subversively docking a cloaked ship was a risky prospect, the freighter could change position at any moment and cause a collision. Xander's hands remained steady as he maneuvered the ship closer and closer until he could initiate a hard dock. He heard a soft bang as the hulls touched and a green indicator light on his console told him that he had been successful. He allowed himself a small smile and he stood from the helm and moved to the aft cabin of his ship to suit up for his mission.
He clipped a hand phaser to his belt, knowing that any setting on the weapon short of maximum was likely to do little other than piss off a vampire. A few plasma grenades were the only other modern weapons that he carried. Taking care of vampires was still better done the old fashioned way in his opinion. He strapped a pair of bracers to his forearms, studded with throwing knives, and slipped on his trenchcoat. Some Immortal traditions never died, trenchcoats remained the easiest way to carry a concealed sword. He kept hidden in the coat several other weapons as well. Growing up in Sunnydale, he believed in being prepared for anything. Xander drew his katana from the hidden scabbard in the lining of the coat and checked the edge. He took excellent care of his weapons, and the sword was as sharp as the day he had gotten it, taken from another Immortal that he had killed in battle. Xander wasn't fond of the game, killing for killings sake, but he played it when he had to.
Xander moved to the docking hatch in the center of the ship, opening it and climbing up the narrow access ladder that extended down. Once inside the docking sleeve the hatch closed behind him. He tapped a few commands into a small control panel to activate the perpendicular gravity plating in the sleeve, switching the orientation to match the freighter. The gravity shifted and Xander thudded softly against the side of the sleeve as he suddenly found himself lying on his belly. He crawled forward to the freighter's hatch and activated the control on the outside. A small sensor in the hatch detected the hard dock and slid open, giving him access to the ship.
Xander poked his head out into the corridor to make sure that the coast was clear. Determining that the corridor was empty, he dropped out of the hatch and onto the floor. He quickly closed the hatch behind him and made his way down the hall. He had studied the ship's layout from the sensor scans on the runabout, so he knew the way to the bridge. He should be able to take the vampires there by surprise and use the ship's instruments to find out where any other vampires on the ship might be located.
He silently made his way to the ship's command center, managing to not be detected along the way. Blood pirates usually travelled in small groups, the less mouths there were to feed the easier it was to survive. Xander didn't expect any more than a half a dozen, a few on the bridge and a few in the engine room most likely. The freighter was designed long and thin with a few central corridors that ran the entire length, with the bridge as an open area located at the front of one of those corridors. Xander hid behind a bulkhead at the back of the bridge and listened so that he could determine how many vamps he was dealing with. Almost immediately he heard raised voices.
"I told you Roscoe, you're not turning her! I don't care how pretty she is, she's food, they're all food! There's already eight of us, and in this rust bucket it's going to take us six months to get to Turkana IV and we have no idea what we'll be able to pick up along the way."
"Transport complete, all of the ore is aboard. We should get out of here before we're detected."
"Where the hell are we going to be able to move six tons of magnasite ore?"
"We've got time, we'll find a buyer. Besides, it's not like we're hurting for space."
"J.D., go down to the cargo hold and bring us up a snack, would you?"
There were at least four different voices, and one of them was coming his way. He had to act quickly. He took a plasma grenade from his belt, set the timer and rolled it down the corridor into the bridge. A few seconds later, it exploded.
Smoke filled the bridge from all of the consoles that had overloaded, showering sparks down on everyone. "What the hell was that?" someone screamed. Xander drew his sword and moved quickly while they were distracted. He stepped onto the bridge and quickly determined that there were actually five vampires present, one sitting in the command chair, one at the helm, and the other three were at the aft stations putting out the flaming consoles. Xander knew things would go smoother if he eliminated the leader first. The vampire turned and saw Xander a half second before the sword separated his head from his neck, turning him into ash. The helmsman saw him too and stood up, moving toward him. Xander caught him with a boot to the stomach, doubling him over just long enough to swing his sword again and decapitate his second vampire in as many seconds. Now he stood at the front of the smoky bridge, facing the three vampires at the back of the room. Their game faces came on as they snarled and rushed him. They had the numbers and Xander's element of surprise was gone. Not enough time or room for the sword, Xander dropped it and pulled out his phaser. Having previously set it to maximum, he fired at the closest vampire, disintegrating him in an instant. He turned the weapon on the second one but didn't have enough time as the demon tackled him to the ground. Xander rolled backward and planted his foot in the creature's stomach, using his momentum to flip him back over the helm console. Before he could move though the last vampire was on top of him, his hands around his throat, his fetid breath hot on Xander's neck as he moved in for the kill. Xander managed to get a hand free and pull a throwing knife from one of his sleeves. He reached up and jammed it into the vampire's throat. Blood spurted from the wound as the vampire's growls turned into gurgles. Its hands left Xander's neck and sought out his own, pulling the knife free. Xander took the opportunity to draw two more knives and thrust them into the vampire's eyes. The demon screamed in pain as it fell backwards against the deck. Xander pulled out another grenade, quickly set it and shoved it into the downed vampire's shirt. He dove for cover behind a nearby console just as the grenade went off, taking the vampire with it and sending the captain's chair flying back where it slammed against the aft consoles. Xander rolled over and was about to sit up when a huge weight slammed into him, sending him back to the deck. He felt an intense pain in his shoulder and looked up to see the vampire that he had flipped earlier lying on top of him, holding a wicked looking bowie knife that was now sticking out of Xander's upper chest.
"Got any more tricks in that coat, bloodbag," it snarled at him.
Xander gritted his teeth against the pain and managed a grin. "Just one," he said, looking down. The vampire followed his gaze down to Xander's open coat, where it saw the business end of a shotgun pointed at him.
"Oh, sh…" The vampire didn't get a change to finish his thought as Xander pulled the trigger and the scatter gun separated the demon's upper torso from the rest of his body.
Xander's ears were ringing as the sound of the blast in such a confined area blew out his ear drums. He looked down to see that some of the pellets had struck his legs and lower torso and he was bleeding badly. He reached up and pulled the bowie knife out of his shoulder, wincing as the sharp pain ripped through his body. He was losing blood fast and there wasn't much that he could do about it. His last thought before he 'died' was that there were still three more vampires somewhere aboard the freighter.
When he woke up again he had no idea how much time had passed, but he was still alone on the half destroyed bridge. His wounds were healed, but he was still covered in blood and his clothes were ripped. Looking down at himself he sighed. "Well, this is certainly a little messier than I was shooting for," he muttered to himself. He pushed himself up to his feet, picking up the fallen shotgun and returning it to the hidden pocket at the back of his coat. Sometimes the old methods were still the best, he thought to himself. He found his katana and his phaser on the deck and returned them to his person as well as he tried to find a working console on the bridge. He lucked out, two of the aft consoles on the port side were still working, and one of them already had an engineering display up on it. He was hoping that the vampires were carrying communicators to keep in touch with each other aboard the stolen ship, it would make tracking down the remaining three a lot easier. He accessed the internal sensors and confirmed three separate signals, two in engineering and one in the cargo hold where the human lifesigns were all gathered. He accessed the transporters and locked onto the three signals, beaming them into space. It was true that sometimes the old methods were the best, but some of the new methods were pretty handy on occasion too. He nodded to himself with a grim sense of satisfaction as he left the bridge and made his way down to the cargo area.
He found his way to one of the smaller cargo bays where he had detected the human lifesigns, disengaged the security lock and walked in through a large set of doors as they slid open. He found what was left of the freighter's original crew there. They were mostly huddled in small groups. They looked dirty, malnourished, and scared. A few had injuries that Xander guessed were from the initial assault on the ship that had gone untreated. It looked like they had been confined there for weeks. Xander silently cursed himself for not being able to find them sooner, and he wondered how many of them had already been killed. Some looked at him in fear, others with curiosity. They knew that he wasn't one of their captures, but his bloody appearance didn't exactly make him look like a rescue party either. "Who's in charge here?" he asked.
An older man with thinning gray hair stepped forward, his expression guarded. "I'm the captain of the Indiana," he said. "Who are you?"
"Those things that took your ship are gone now," Xander said, evading the question. "Do you have a medical staff that can tend to your injured?"
The captain looked to be in shock, it took him a moment to answer. Xander guessed that they had given up hope for any kind of rescue. He turned to look at his crew, gathering his thoughts. "I…yes, we have medics on board," he finally said.
"You should set a course for the nearest starbase," Xander said. "Sending a distress call from here could attract unwanted attention."
Again, it took the captain a moment to answer. "We'll do that," he finally said. He turned and started issuing orders to his crew to get the injured to the medical bay and to get the ship underway again. Xander turned and left, heading back toward the docking port where his ship was. A few seconds later the captain came out into the corridor after him. "Wait!" he called. Xander stopped and turned. "Who are you?"
Xander shook his head. "I'm nobody," he said. "And I was never here."
The captain nodded. He seemed to understand now. "Thank you," he said. "Thank you so much."
Xander nodded. "Look after your crew, Captain. Safe journey." He turned to go and then thought of something else. "Oh, and I'm sorry about the bridge." He turned and left before the captain could ask any more questions.
Xander returned to his ship and undocked from the freighter before it went to warp. He couldn't stop thinking about the looks on their faces. The crew of that cargo freighter would never fully understand what happened to them, but they would never forget it either. He knew that he should be pleased that he had saved them, but all he could think about were the ones that he didn't save. He suddenly felt like a stiff drink. He was about to stand and walk to the replicator when he saw a blinking indicator light on his console that indicated a waiting subspace message. Like all messages sent to him from his superiors, it was encoded and text only. It was from the current Director of Starfleet Intelligence, Admiral William Colgate.
'Request immediate return to Gamma Location for further orders, priority one'.
Gamma Location was code for Earth Station McKinley. Xander frowned. The high priority level probably indicated a particularly important or dangerous mission. "No rest for the weary," he muttered to himself as he laid in a course.
It only took a few hours at high warp for Xander to arrive at McKinley Station, enough time for him to get some sleep. Once he gave his security code to station operations, they let him dock without asking any questions. There weren't very many people below the rank of admiral who had a clearance level as high as him. Whenever the admiral used the docking facility as a meeting place he always used the same small conference room on one of the stations engineering decks, so Xander headed there straight away. There were two members of the admiral's personal security force standing outside of the conference room when he got there, a dour looking Vulcan and a big Bolian. They both recognized Xander and nodded to him, indicating that he should enter. The door slid open and Xander entered. Colgate was seated at the head of the conference table, a pile a PADDs spread out in front of him. He had one of them in his hand and was studying it closely. William Colgate was a stern looking man, with thinning gray hair and a close cropped goatee beard. He had piercing blue eyes that felt like they were drilling through you whenever he focused them on someone. To most people, he was an intimidating figure. But Xander was not most people, and he found very little intimidating these days.
Colgate looked up when he heard the door. "Xander, thank you for coming so quickly," he said, motioning for him to take a seat. "I'm sorry for cutting your current operation short, but this just got dumped in our laps and I need my best people on it."
Xander nodded and took a seat. "Actually, the situation in the Kosst Corridor has been taken care of," Xander answered.
"Good, good," Colgate said, looking down at his PADDs again. "My men have already swept this room for listening devices and there's a level six jamming field in place, so feel free to speak openly."
Xander arched an eyebrow. Whatever this was about, they were taking serious precautions. "What's this about, Admiral?"
"Sixteen hours ago Starfleet Command received a distress call from a remote outpost in the Sigma Epsilon system. The station had been boarded and was under attack. All subsequent attempts to contact the outpost have failed. From the…nature of the distress call, we have to assume that most if not all of the personnel aboard the station have already been lost."
"I don't understand," Xander said. "An attack on an outpost in the middle of nowhere, why is this such a high priority?"
"It isn't the location that has us concerned, it's the nature of the threat. Here, you'd better just take a look at this," he said, sliding a PADD across the table.
Xander took the PADD and played the file on it.
'Mayday, mayday! This is Federation Outpost 612 and we are under attack…' The message continued like that for a few seconds, the young Lieutenant on the screen looking clearly scared. Then there was a sound off camera and the man turned his head. 'No, please…' His attacker was inhumanly fast as he grabbed him and slammed him against one of the aft consoles opposite the comm station that he was using to transmit the distress call. Xander rolled his eyes. Vampires. He was really becoming sick of vampires. But then something happened that he hadn't expected, something that nearly made him drop the PADD. The thing attacking the lieutenant dropped his body to the deck and then turned to face the camera. Its face wasn't that of an ordinary vampire. It was bigger, its features exaggerated. "No, it can't be," Xander muttered to himself. The last time he had seen anything like it was 380 years ago, in another lifetime. It was the summer that a tear in the NegaVerse had opened in Sunnydale, causing the dark energies to mingle with the Hellmouth. Every vampire that rose in Sunnydale while the tear was opened looked like this creature, a NegaVamp. Giles had called in some specialists from Japan, the Sailor Scouts. That summer was one of Xander's most treasured memories from his old life. It was the summer that he fell in love. But they closed the tear, the NegaVamps were all dead. How could this be?
"You see why I called you in on this," Colgate said.
"These aren't ordinary vampires," Xander said. "This is something far more dangerous."
"I may not have your expertise in these matters, but I was able to ascertain as much. I've been consulting with my top scientific advisor, she's a bit of an expert with weird phenomenon. She recognized these creatures as well. In fact, her reaction was very much like yours."
Xander shook his head. "Impossible," he said. "There's no one else alive who has ever seen these things. It's been…a very long time."
"She knows her stuff, so if she says she knows something about this I'm inclined to believe her," Colgate said. "She's the captain of a science vessel, the Discovery. In addition to the ship's regular duties they investigate a lot of strange phenomenon for Starfleet Intelligence." Just then the admiral's combadge chirped. He tapped it. "Colgate here."
"Admiral, the Captain is here to see you," the Vulcan security officer spoke.
"Speak of the devil," he said. "Good, send her in." He looked back to Xander. "You can talk to her yourself, I want you together on this."
Xander was about to object when the door to the conference room opened. He turned and received his second shock in as many minutes. Standing there wearing a blue Starfleet uniform with Captain's pips was a woman that Xander hadn't seen in nearly 400 years. She had a slight frame, short blue hair, and those same stunning big blue almond shaped eyes that Xander remembered staring into for hours on end. Those eyes were currently looking at him with the same shock that he was feeling. Xander stood from his chair to face her. For a long moment they just stared at each other in silence, trying to comprehend how it was possible for them to be seeing what they were seeing.
"Xander," she finally said, breaking the silence.
"Ami," Xander said, the same amazement in his voice.
"You two have met?" Colgate asked.
"Yes," Ami said. "A very long time ago."
"In another life," Xander added.
"Xander, how…" Ami paused, she couldn't wrap her head around all the questions she had.
"I was just about to ask you the same thing," Xander said.
"My powers, they…it's this whole destiny thing," she finished with a slight smile. Xander didn't know how much the admiral knew about what Ami was, he guessed that she was keeping it vague for his benefit. He vaguely remembered something about the Sailor Scouts having a destiny in the 30th Century, he never realized that that meant they were immortal.
Xander reached into his coat to scratch his side, in doing so the hilt of his katana poked out. He hoped that Ami would see it and know what it meant it. If she really had been alive as long as he had, she was sure to have some knowledge about Immortals. Ami saw it and nodded, she understood.
"Well, this should make things easier then," Colgate said. "With the two of you working together and all." He could tell that there was some kind of tension between the two of them, but like any good intelligence man, he knew when a secret should remain a secret and he didn't ask any questions.
Xander nodded uneasily. "Right, easier," he said. Xander turned back to the admiral, breaking eye contact with Ami for the first time since she entered the room. "I'll need time to make preperations."
"Understood," Colgate said. "All of your briefing material is on that PADD," he said, indicating the one that he had handed to Xander earlier. "We need to move fast on this though, we don't know how much time we'll have."
Xander nodded. "You know where to find me." He looked at Ami again. He had so many conflicting emotions, feelings that he hadn't felt in centuries. It was just too much to deal with all at once. He looked away and then walked out of the conference room. Back to his runabout, and then back to Earth.
The initial assault on Outpost 612, from the time the creature had been beamed aboard to when he had taken over the Command Center, had taken only a few minutes. He now stood at the situation table, three of his newly turned minions standing before him, awaiting his orders. Their increased size caused their Starfleet uniforms to stretch and tear at the seams, their demonic faces looked at him expectantly. They were monsters now, newly awakened and ready to wreak havoc.
"This station is ours now," the creature spoke. "And you will answer to me, is that understood?" They nodded. "Good. You two, start with the crew quarters, turn the Starfleet personnel and explain to them the situation. The civilians are food, feed on them if you have to, but take no more than you need. Kill the rest bloodlessly and store the bodies in the medical bay. Once all of the crewmembers have been turned, you will begin searching the station. We must retrieve the device. Do you understand?" Again, the two former security officers nodded. He turned to the communications officer who had been on duty when he took over the command center. "You will remain here with me."
All three of them nodded and the two security officers started toward the turbolift. "One more thing," the creature spoke. His minions stopped and turned. "Bring me Stephen Hardcross. I want him alive."
Ami materialized in a small transporter alcove off the main foyer of the house. As she stepped out of it she was at once struck by the size and the opulence of the room. The décor was a mix of styles, most of them old. Priceless works of art hung on the walls next to a collection of swords, both from a variety of styles and cultures. Suits of armor stood guard up and down the main hall, interspaced with beautiful pieces of antique furniture, upon which sat arrangements of fresh flowers along with a collection of antique lamps, casting a soft glow throughout the space. It was at once homey, and intimidating. Opposite the hallway, across the foyer, there stood an enormous, elaborately carved wooden door. If she had to guess, Ami would say that it had never been opened. The brass handle and hinges were largely ceremonial. Ultimately it served the same purpose as the walls and forcefields, to keep out the harsh climate of the Himalayas, along with any uninvited guests. Not that any would-be intruders had a chance in hell of ever making it as far as the door. The high altitude, the bitter cold wind, the hidden location of this compound, built halfway into the mountainside. Not to mention the heavy shields, the regular sensor sweeps of the house's security system, and the transporter scramblers that prevented any unauthorized beam-ins. Without the passcode to the house's internal transporter system, the home of Xander Harris was impenetrable. Luckily, Ami's sources within Starfleet Intelligence were almost as extensive as his.
She made her way down the hall, admiring the paintings as she walked. Just like the rest of the décor, the paintings ranged in style and age. Most were from Earth, but she did spot one work that she was sure was from the famous Vulcan abstract expressionist, Keduuk. She felt a deep sense of irony as she ventured further into the house. Most of Xander's associates and enemies these days knew him only as a cold and calculated man. Practical, methodical, certainly not subject to sentimentality. If any of them were to ever gain access to his sanctum sanctorum they would be at a loss for words. Of course, few of them knew of Xander immortality or his true age. One did not live for four centuries without becoming enamored with what became lost to time. A certain amount of nostalgia and sentimentality was to be expected. Ami understood that better than almost anyone.
Further down the hall she passed a staircase, with a set of stairs going up and another going down. Past that she found a formal living room, a study, a dining room with kitchen attached, and a library. Xander wasn't to be found in any of the rooms. She briefly considered calling out to him, but considering how paranoid he was about intruders that might not be such a good idea. She pulled her tricorder off of her belt and flipped it open. Scanning for life signs, she found his almost immediately, and followed as the tricorder led her back down the hall and down the stairs. She descended two flights of stairs before coming to a large doorway which led into an enormous gymnasium. There was workout equipment of every type. Weights, bikes, treadmills, along with martial arts equipment and practice dummies. Once again there were weapons on the walls, but these were not show pieces. They were tarnished and well worn. These weapons were used, and frequently.
Venturing further into the gym she saw that past the equipment there was a large open area, and that was where she found Xander. He stood shirtless and blindfolded, moving slowly and purposefully through a kata. On his forearms he wore a pair of bracers that were studded with throwing knives, and positioned around him and varying distances were a selection of practice dummies. Soon the kata sped up, the movements becoming quicker and more deliberate. He crossed his arms in front of himself and drew two knives from his bracers in a single fluid motion before striking a defensive stance with the knives held out. Then he spun around and the knives flew out in two different directions, each striking a separate dummy. He drew two more and continued, a flurry of flesh and steel until every dummy that surrounded him had a blade sticking out of it. When he was finished he had only two knives left, which he held out in front of him as though expecting an attack. His breathing was deep but controlled, and he was covered in a fine sheen of sweat. Ami was so taken by the sight of him that for a moment she didn't realize that his head had turned toward her. One of his arms raised as the other pulled his blindfold free. He was a quarter of a second from releasing the knife when he saw her.
"Jesus, Ami! You almost bought one between the eyes, you know that?" Whether he was upset with her for sneaking up on him or himself for almost throwing the knife was unclear. "How did you get in here?"
"Admiral Colgate gave me the passcode," Ami replied.
"That's only supposed to be for emergencies," he said, sounding only slightly annoyed now.
"I can be very persuasive when I want to be," Ami answered. That got a smile from him. He started making his way around the practice dummies, retrieving his knives and replacing them on his bracers. "I didn't realize that you were so proficient with throwing knives."
Xander shrugged. "It's a good secondary weapon to have. Easy to conceal, hard to counter. So what brings you to my humble secret compound?"
"I thought we should talk. I mean, we're going to be working together on this. I don't want things to be…awkward."
Xander nodded as he seemed to consider that. "Fair enough." He picked a tee-shirt up off a nearby bench and slipped it on. Ami noticed that he didn't bother to take off the bracers. "Why don't we go upstairs, I need to feed Scooby anyway."
Ami nodded and followed him back through the gym and up the stairs. She hadn't recalled seeing or hearing a dog when she came in. Then again, with the size of the house, Xander could have a zoo on one of the upper floors and she wouldn't be surprised. Xander stopped in the hallway and called up the stairs to the upper floors. "Scooby, dinner!"
Ami heard something large running across the floor upstairs, then she heard it padding down the steps. When Scooby rounded the corner and came into view, her eyes widened. Scooby was a large jungle cat, deep purple with black stripes, piercing yellow eyes, and on the top of his head sat a pair of swept back horns. The cat licked his chops and Ami backed up a step. "She's cool, Scoob," Xander said, reaching out to pet the animal's head. Scooby rubbed against Xander's leg and all at once he seemed to transform from dangerous predator to oversized house cat.
"Is that a…"
"El-Aurian razor cat," Xander answered. "Official pets to the El-Aurian aristocracy for the past six millennia. Good temperament, easy to train, loyal for life, vicious defenders, and an average lifespan of 200 years. The perfect pet for an El-Aurian."
"Or an Immortal," Ami added. "Aren't they endangered?"
Xander nodded. "A hundred years ago when El-Auria joined the Federation, they became status symbols for the rich and powerful throughout the quadrant. In most cases they outlived their owners and the next of kin didn't have the will or the knowledge to take care of them. And of course, most of the razor cats still on the homeworld didn't survive the Borg assault. It's sad really, they're such majestic creatures." Xander scratched Scooby under his neck and the cat purred.
"They're also illegal to transport off of New El-Auria now, if I recall," Ami said.
"Special dispensation for El-Aurians who live off-world, it's all perfectly legal."
"Except you're not an El-Aurian," Ami pointed out.
Xander just smiled wryly. "It's a good cover, a lot of Immortals use it. It beats having to create a new identity for yourself every thirty years." Xander turned and pointed to the back of his head. "A small implant here, at the base of my brainstem, it fools most sensor scans."
"So Starfleet Intelligence doesn't know what you really are?"
Xander shrugged. "Common perception is that our existence is still a secret, but it wouldn't surprise me if they knew. They are, after all, in the business of secrets."
Xander made his way down the hall and through the dining room into the kitchen, Scooby and Ami followed. Xander stopped at the replicator. "Porterhouse steak, inch and a half thick, raw." The steak materialized a moment later. Xander picked it up and tossed it into the air. Scooby snatched it with his jaws and carried it to the corner of the kitchen where he laid down and began to devour it.
Xander turned back to the replicator. "Tea service for two, Darjeeling." A tray materialized with a pot of tea, two empty teacups, a bowl of sugar cubes and a bear-shaped squeezie bottle of honey. Xander picked up the tray and set it on the counter. He pulled up a stool and motioned for Ami to do the same. "We can move to the dining room or the library if you like," he said when he noticed her hesitation. "I'm just afraid that Scooby would follow us and I'd rather he didn't track blood on the carpet."
Ami cast a glance back at the large cat. The steak was almost gone already, and Scooby was licking blood from the tile floor. "No, this is fine," she said, taking a seat.
Xander picked up the teapot and poured two cups. "So, is there anything specific you wanted to talk about?"
Ami hesitated again as she thought about that. "Are you angry with me?" she asked simply. Xander looked puzzled for a moment. "You seemed…agitated when you saw me. Have I done something to upset you? I had no idea that you were still alive until I saw you yesterday, if I had I would have…"
Xander shook his head. "It isn't that," he said. He suddenly looked very sad as he stared down into his teacup. "I'm not angry with you, and I apologize for the way I behaved yesterday. My past is something that I haven't thought about in a long time and seeing you again was…a shock to say the least. It brought up a lot of memories that I just wasn't ready to deal with." Now it was Ami's turn to look puzzled. Her own memories of the time she spent with Xander were nothing but fond. "Nothing related to you specifically," Xander clarified. "Just…memories of a happier time, of my life in Sunnydale before it was all so cruelly ripped away from me."
Ami reached across the counter and put her hand on top of Xander's. "What happened?"
Xander took a sip from his tea. "I died."
The Magic Box
It all happened so fast. One moment everything was perfectly normal. Dawn was doing her homework. Tara was helping her. Anya was standing behind the counter, counting the till. Giles was standing next to her, thumbing through a demonology text while Buffy stood on the other side of the counter, describing the demon that she had seen the night before. Willow and Xander were sitting at the table across from Tara and Dawn, Willow skimming through a herbology book, looking for ingredients for a spell, and Xander sitting next to her talking casually. The next moment, gunfire erupted.
Some long dormant remnant of the soldier memories screamed in Xander's brain, 'Down!' He hit the floor, pulling Willow down with him and upending the table to use for cover. The bullets tore through the wood like tissue paper, peppering him and his friends. There was a lot of blood, and somebody was screaming. He felt the bullets piercing his chest like hot knives, felt blood spattering against his face. He looked around the table and saw Buffy lying on the floor in a pool of blood. He also saw a tall man with a back hat and a long coat holding an assault rifle. And then everything went dark.
When Xander's eyes opened again, he heard himself gasp and felt his lungs fill with air. When his eyes focused he found himself looking up at the ceiling of the Magic Box. He slowly sat up and looked around. The carnage that lay around him made the bile rise in his throat. Dawn was dead. Tara was dead. Willow…dead. His chest felt hollow, empty. His brain felt like it was under water. Why wasn't he dead? He had been shot, he felt it. He looked down and saw blood on his shirt. He touched his chest but couldn't detect any wounds there. Was this just some kind of horrible nightmare? He pulled himself to his feet. Buffy was dead. Giles lay slumped over the counter, dead. Anya…dead. And sitting on the counter, the assault rifle lying across his lap, was their killer. He was wearing a black cowboy hat and a long, tan duster. On his face there was a week's worth of beard growth, and as he brought his hand up to his mouth to pull out the thin cigar that he held between his lips, Xander so the ring on his finger. The Order of Taraka.
"About time you woke up," he said in a thick drawl.
Xander wanted to scream, he wanted to cry. He felt like his heart was going to explode. After what seemed like an eternity but was probably closer to thirty seconds, he was able to get his brain and mouth to work in conjunction. "Who are you?"
"Name's John Dallas, but everybody these days just calls me Ol' Tex," the man said, hopping down off the counter. He kept one hand on his gun and the other on his cigar.
Xander's brain was working overtime, trying to sort through everything that had happened. Finally it summed up everything in the next word that crossed his lips. "Why?"
The cowboy shrugged. "It's just a job kid, nothing personal," he said. "Try not to feel bad. I've been scouting y'all for weeks, learning your routines, gauging your reaction times. I knew I'd have to get you all together, 'cause if any of you saw it coming I wouldn't have a chance. I knew I'd have to take out the slayer first, that's a no-brainer. What I was worried about were them two witches over there. What I didn't see coming was this little hitch. If they would have told me that one of the targets was a pre-Immortal, I would have told the order to find somebody else. I reckon they didn't know. Never got close enough to feel it myself until today."
Xander hadn't thought it possible but he was even more confused now. "What?"
"I ain't no headhunter kid, bad sport. I know it might not seem like it right now, but I do got scruples." At Xander's puzzled expression Dallas let out a strained sigh. "I hate havin' to explain this shit," he mumbled. "You just took six bullets to the chest and now you're up and walking around, don't you wonder why that is?"
"This isn't really happening," Xander said.
"Oh, it's happenin' all right. You're an Immortal, you can't die unless somebody cuts off your head." Dallas reached into his coat and pulled out a nasty looking hatchet. "Which I coulda done had I been so inclined, but like I said, scruples. It ain't exactly fair playing the game with someone when they don't know the rules."
"Game? Fair? You call gunning down a room full of innocent people fair? You call killing a child fair?" Xander shouted, pointing at Dawn.
"I call it business. And like I said, it ain't personal." Dallas replaced the hatchet in his coat and slid the gun around to his back before starting for the door. "I said my peace," he said. "Have a nice life, kid."
"You're going to pay for this," Xander said. "I'll find you, and I'll kill you!"
"Yeah, good luck with that. If I was you, I'd clear out of here before the cops show up and try to pin this all on you. See you around, kid." The bell over the door rang as Dallas stepped out and disappeared.
"You bet your ass you will," Xander growled.
"The hit was ordered by a guy named Warren Meers. It didn't take long to track him down. I'm not proud of what I did to him, but given the opportunity I wouldn't change what happened. He got what he deserved, and I made sure that he could never hurt anyone else ever again. I scared his buddies so bad that the fled the country. I took everything of value that I could find from their lair and used it to start a new life. I learned about what I was, about the game. I got a sword and learned how to use it.
"I did some research and found out everything I could about John "Ol' Tex" Dallas. He was a Texas outlaw in the late 1860's, a gambler, a bank robber and a deadly gunfighter. He killed eleven men before he finally caught a bullet in the back and died his first death. He doesn't hold much interest in the game, he doesn't even carry a sword. But he's proficient in every type of firearm there is, and an excellent shot. The few Immortals that he's killed he did by shooting them and then hacking off their head with that hatchet he showed me before they have a chance to wake up. He mostly kills for fun or profit. I tracked him for over eighty years before I finally gave up. Came close a few times, but he always managed to slip between my fingers. The Order collapsed after World War III, I'm not sure what happened to him after that."
Ami looked positively aghast. The hand that she had laid on top of Xander's was now squeezing it. "Xander, I'm so sorry," she said.
Xander shook his head. "That was…another life. One that I put behind me a long time ago."
"Even so, it was your life," Ami said. "I know what it's like, to live so long that the past feels almost like a dream, and the person that you were seems like a stranger. But those experiences are as much a part of you as what happened to you yesterday, and you can't ignore that. Nobody can completely escape their past, not even us."
Xander nodded solemnly. "I guess not."
"So what made you join Starfleet Intelligence?" Ami asked.
"Seemed like a good way to put my skills to good use," Xander said. He paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. "And a good place to disappear. Nobody asks too many questions about your past."
"Is that why you built this place, to disappear?"
"I've made a lot of enemies over the centuries," he said. "A good place to hide is never a bad idea in my line of work." He paused again. "And I guess the idea of having a home again appealed to me. I had been running for so long, never staying anywhere long enough to let grass grow. Having a place that was mine, a place where I don't have to pretend to be anything I'm not, there's something to be said for that."
"It sounds terribly lonely. I always thought of home as wherever my friends are, wherever I feel loved."
Xander cleared his throat. "I guess I've grown to appreciate the solitude," he said, clearly uncomfortable with the subject. "Besides, I always have Scooby. So, what made you join Starfleet?" he asked, changing the subject.
"The chance to explore the galaxy, to study scientific phenomena close up that I could only dream of before. The opportunity was just too good to pass up."
"How did you end up consulting with Starfleet Intelligence?"
"Seventy years ago I was serving on a science ship that detected a tear between normal space and the NegaVerse. I was able to determine what it was and devise a way to seal the tear. When Intelligence caught wind of it, they realized who I was and approached me. Somewhere along the way they learned about the Sailor Scouts and decided that the NegaVerse was a threat that they needed to be concerned with. They made sure that whenever nega-energy was detected, my ship would be assigned to investigate, and I shared my findings with them, along with any information I had about the NegaVerse."
"That's almost exactly what happened when they realized that I knew about vampires," Xander said. "Now anytime something weird shows up somewhere and bites somebody, they call me."
"So naturally when something weird from the NegaVerse showed up and bit somebody, they called both of us," Ami said with a smile.
"You've seen the reports, what do you think?" Xander asked. "Could these really be NegaVamps?"
"Considering that there hasn't been a tear detected on Earth in over 300 years, and that vampires rarely travel off world, it doesn't seem very likely. But the evidence is hard to refute. The creature in the recording I saw definitely looked like a NegaVamp."
Xander nodded. "There's one other possibility. If a vampire who was already a NegaVamp turned a human, whether there was a tear in the vicinity or not, the human would become a NegaVamp."
"You're saying that these creatures could have been sired from a NegaVamp who has survived all this time, from that summer in Sunnydale?"
"It's a possibility that we have to consider. Of course any vampire that old, especially a NegaVamp…"
"Will be extremely powerful," Ami finished.
"So when are we leaving?"
"Tomorrow morning, if your schedule permits. Admiral Colgate indicated that you may want to bring some other operatives with you."
"There's only one other person that I would trust with this, besides you of course," Xander said. "We'll be ready by tomorrow morning."
Xander pressed the door signal for the third time, before striking the door with a closed fist. "Open the door, Tyk!" he called out. After their conversation earlier that day, Ami had beamed back to the Discovery and Xander beamed to San Francisco, where he now stood in the corridor of an apartment building beating on a door and waking up the neighbors. Finally the door slid open to reveal a very tired looking Trill. His sandy blonde hair was unkempt as he peered up at Xander through bleary green eyes.
"You of all people should know what a horribly bad idea it is to be pounding on the door of a professional killer in the middle of the night."
"It's five o'clock in the afternoon," Xander said.
"I just got back from an op offworld, for me it's still the middle of the night. So come back in eight hours and I'll kill you then, goodbye." The Trill tried to close the door but Xander blocked it with his arm.
"If you had answered my comm I wouldn't be pounding on your door," Xander said, pushing his way inside. "Besides, you can sleep when you're dead." Xander walked across the living room and took a seat on the couch.
"The more time I spend with you the likelier that becomes," Tyk said, taking a seat on the chair across from him and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. Romin Tyk was the fifteenth host to the Tyk symbiont, a fairly high number considering the symbiont's age. But when considering the average lifespan of a Starfleet Intelligence field operative, the number made sense. Romin was Tyk's fourth host to serve as an operative, and Xander had been a friend to all four. And over the hundred or so years that the two of them had known each other, Xander had earned a reputation for getting Tyk's hosts killed. Tyk didn't blame him as much as he liked to joke that he did, Xander did manage to save the symbiont each time one of the hosts died.
"So to what do I owe the displeasure," Tyk asked.
"We have a mission," Xander said. "We leave tomorrow morning at 0800."
"I just got back! SI would never assign me to another mission so soon…" Tyk trailed off, a troubled look crossing his face. "Oh no. This isn't another one of your little side missions, is it? The kind where things always become 'complicated'," he said, making air quotes with his fingers.
Xander's favorite answer to any question that he didn't want to or couldn't answer was always 'It's complicated.' 'Hey Xander, how did you survive that rockslide?' 'It's complicated.' 'Hey Xander, why did you cut that guy's head off?' 'It's complicated.' 'Hey Xander, how have you managed to survive being a field operative for Starfleet Intelligence for over a century without so much as one serious injury?' 'It's complicated.' Tyk had known Xander long enough to know that he wasn't entirely what he seemed. But he also knew that almost everyone who worked for Starfleet Intelligence had their own share of secrets, so he respected Xander enough to not ask too many questions.
"The mission is sanctioned," Xander said. "Colgate said that I could take whoever I wanted, so naturally I thought of you."
"Oh boy, don't I feel special," Tyk said. "What's the quickest way I can say no and get you out of my apartment?"
"Come on, Tyk. Wasn't I there for you on Galorndon III, when Jobar was killed?" Xander asked, referring to one of Tyk's former hosts. "I cut you out of him with nothing more than a sharpened stick and kept you alive in your portable stasis unit with the power cell from a tricorder for nineteen days until we were rescued."
"That was forty years and two hosts ago! How long are you going to keep using that to get me to do whatever you want?"
Xander seemed to consider it. "Probably until one of us dies for real," he answered.
Tyk sighed. "It wouldn't bother me so much if it didn't work *every* time," he muttered. "Fine, what's the op? Brief me, and I do mean brief."
"A remote Starfleet outpost was attacked by…an unusual creature, a kind that hasn't been thought to exist for a very long time. One of the crew managed to get out a distress call before he was killed. The transmission showed a visual on the thing."
"So this is just a standard sweep and clear?"
"Not so standard," Xander clarified. "We also need to determine where the thing came from, and how many more, if any, still exist. We're catching a ride on a science ship, the Discovery. The captain is an old friend of mine, and she has a special expertise when it comes to this creature. I can brief you in more detail once we're aboard the Discovery."
Tyk nodded as he stood, ushering Xander toward the door. "Fine," he said.
"So you'll be packed and ready by 0800?" Xander asked.
"And make sure you bring your portable stasis unit. You know, just in case."
Tyk just shook his head as he shoved Xander out the door. "God, I hate you," he mumbled as the door closed.
"Sweet dreams!" Xander called through the closed door.
The next morning Ami stood in the transporter room aboard the Discovery. Her first officer, Commander Jamir Poz, stood at the transporter console. Given the sensitive nature of their guests, Ami had dismissed the Ensign on duty and asked Poz to operate the transporter.
The pad lit up as the familiar hum of the equipment signaled that the process was under way. "Initiating transport," Poz said. An alarm sounded from the console, startling Poz. Ami glanced over. "My apologies Captain, I neglected to deactivate the weapons filter." A safety feature among Starfleet transporter systems detected any active weapon signature within the confinement beam. Poz glanced at the readout before shutting off the alarm. His eyes widened slightly. Their guests were certainly bringing a lot of firepower on board. "Scanning bio-signs, reading one El-Aurian and one Trill, verifying against SI database. Identities confirmed, security clearance verified."
A moment later, two humanoid shapes materialized, along with a standard Starfleet cargo container and another piece of equipment sitting on top of it. They were both dressed similarly, in dark colored clothes, boots, and long coats which concealed a multitude of weapons. Xander's coat was black while Tyk's was brown. It gave them both the intimidating appearance of Western outlaws, as though any moment either of them might push their coat aside and draw a six shooter from their hip.
Xander gave Ami a smile as he stepped off the pad. "Captain Mizuno," he said. "This is my colleague, Romin Tyk."
Tyk shook Ami's hand with a smile. "Captain," he said in greeting. Having slept, his demeanor was severely improved from the day before.
"Allow me to present my first officer, Commander Jamir Poz," Ami said, indicating the man wearing command red standing behind the transporter console. Poz was a tall man, with olive skin and a bald head. On his face there was a neatly trimmed goatee beard, along with a series of brown spots which met at the top of his head and ran down the sides of his face and down his neck before disappearing under his collar.
"Gentlemen," Poz said in greeting as he walked around the console. He shared a look with Tyk, acknowledging the fellow Trill with a nod.
"Commander Poz has sufficient security clearance for this mission, so feel free to speak freely," Ami said.
"How long will it take us to reach the outpost?" Xander asked.
"Starfleet has authorized us to use our new quantum slipstream drive," Ami answered. "So it should only take us a couple of days."
"A science vessel with a quantum slipstream drive?" Tyk asked with a raised eyebrow. "And a captain who wears science blue while the first officer wears command red, isn't it usually the other way around?"
"We're not an ordinary science vessel," Poz replied enigmatically.
"I'm beginning to see that," Tyk said.
Something over Tyk's shoulder caught Poz's eye and he frowned. "Is that a symbiont stasis chamber?" he asked, indicating the piece of equipment sitting on top of the cargo container on the transporter pad.
Tyk frowned as well, glancing at Xander. "It is," he confirmed. "An unfortunate necessity for a joined Trill in my line of work."
Something about the device was clearly making Poz uncomfortable. He cleared his throat and changed the subject. "I must say, I thought that Starfleet Intelligence would have sent more than two operatives for this type of threat."
"Well Commander, we're not ordinary intelligence operatives," Tyk answered.
"I'm beginning to see that," Poz said.
"Commander, if you would, transport our guests' cargo to their quarters," Ami said. "We should adjourn to the conference room for our briefing."
Poz nodded. "Aye, Captain."
The four of them sat gathered in the Discovery's conference room as Commander Poz began his report. "Outpost 612 is also known as the Hardcross Station, named for its chief administrator, Dr. Stephen Hardcross. It functions as part scientific research facility, part listening post, and part subspace relay station. It was built forty years ago on the planet Sigma Epsilon IV, which at the time was located close to the Cardassian border. The border has since been redrawn, but the station is still close enough to Cardassian space to pick up comm traffic. The station compliment included twenty-seven Starfleet personnel, including an engineering team that maintained the subspace relay, an SI team which staffed the listening post, and an administration staff. There were also fifty-three civilian scientists living aboard the station, along with their families. All are presumed dead."
"Or turned," Xander muttered to himself. "What kind of scientific research were they conducting?" he asked.
"Stellar phenomenon and subspace anomalies," Poz answered. "The planet is only a few light years from a stellar nursery."
"Is it possible that they could have detected a tear into the NegaVerse and were investigating it?" Xander asked.
"Unlikely," Ami answered. "If they reported their findings through the proper channels then word would have gotten back to us about it."
"A tear in the what now?" Tyk asked.
Ami looked from Tyk to Xander. "There wasn't time to brief him fully," Xander replied to the unasked question.
"The NegaVerse is a parallel dimension, filled with hostile life-forms," Ami answered. "Occasionally, tears can form between our universe and theirs."
"Ami is Starfleet's leading expert on the NegaVerse," Xander said. "That's why she was chosen for this mission."
"So, this creature that attacked the outpost is a being from this NegaVerse."
"Not exactly," Ami said. "The tears that open now aren't large enough for those life forms to come through anymore. However the energy from a tear can have effects on our universe. One of those effects is something that was observed almost 400 years ago on Earth, when energies from a NegaVerse tear mixed with energies from another dimensional anomaly known as a hellmouth, and caused all the newly turned vampires in the region to rise as a new hybrid creature that were dubbed NegaVamps."
Tyk snorted a laugh. "I wonder what genius came up with that name." Ami tried to hide her smile while Xander cleared his throat sheepishly.
Tyk had worked with Xander long enough to be briefed on the existence of vampires. The expression on Poz's face however indicated that he was ignorant on the subject. Tyk decided to fill him in. "Vampires are creatures from ancient human folklore, the risen dead who drink the blood of the living. Most humans believe them to by a myth. Essentially, they are corpses that have been animated by extra-dimensional life forms, with the ability to infect other humans with a bite. Also, being that they are already dead, they are notoriously hard to kill."
"And NegaVamps are bigger, stronger, and tougher," Xander added. "And we can't ignore the possibility that some of the station personnel may have been turned. We could be dealing with dozens of creatures."
"I don't suppose that we can just destroy the station from orbit?" Tyk asked.
Xander shook his head. "We need to gather intelligence on where they came from and why they attacked Hardcross Station. And we need to make sure that the threat is completely neutralized, that none of them get off the planet." He turned to Commander Poz. "Were there any ships permanently assigned to the station?"
Poz consulted the PADD in front of him. "Two runabouts," he answered. "The Delaware and the Mississippi. We've received telemetry from the Carson Long Range Sensor Platform in the A'Kila sector. After Starfleet received the distress call they turned the platform to scan the Sigma Epsilon system. No starship activity has been detected since the incident."
"It's possible that the crew was able to lock the ships down or destroy them before they were…incapacitated," Ami said. "To prevent their attackers from escaping."
"Or whatever business these NegaVamps have on the station is still keeping them there, and they've decided not to leave yet," Xander speculated.
"You think it could be a trap?" Tyk asked.
"It's possible. But either way, this was a deliberate attack, and I don't believe that this outpost was chosen randomly," Xander said.
"I agree," Ami said. "These creatures have been in hiding for nearly four centuries. To come out and make a move this bold, they're after something."
Deep within the bowels of Outpost 612, in a secret bunker known to exist only by a select few, Stephen Hardcross sat at a comm station. His thick, unruly mane of curly red hair jutted from his head at several odd angles. In his current state of agitation, it gave him a look of insanity. On a better day, he would tell you that the odd style was a symbol of whimsy and eccentricity, afforded only to the incredibly brilliant. At the moment however, it felt hot and obtrusive. Had he had access to shears, he would have cut it all off without a second thought. After the third unsuccessful attempt to reach his party via subspace, he checked to make sure that the station's communications array wasn't malfunctioning. When he confirmed that it wasn't, he settled on recording a message to send.
"Hardcross station has been compromised. I believe that I am the only survivor. I am unharmed, and the item is secure, but I don't know how much longer that will remain to be true. I think one of the Starfleet crew got a message off before the command center was taken, which means they're probably sending somebody even as I speak. I fear that that may be exactly what these creatures want. They searched the station and now it appears that they are waiting for something.
"I repeat, the item is secure, but I need your help, Tex. I need you to get me off of this station before they find me. Everything that we've worked for is at stake. Please."
When he finished recording the message, Hardcross encrypted it and sent it. He tried to disguise the transmission as subspace interference, in case any of the creatures were monitoring communications. After that, there was nothing for him to do but wait. On the console next to him sat a rapier, still in its sheath. The hand guard was silver, and beautifully intricate. From the pommel there hung a silk tassel. It was an elegant weapon, and he normally took pride in it. Staring at it now, the clown-haired man felt only dread. He picked up the sword and clutched it to himself closely. Nothing to do now but wait, and pray.
Commander Poz sat alone in the Discovery's mess hall, eating his dinner. He was facing the fore windows, watching the stars streak by. The effect was different at slipstream than it was at normal warp. You could actually see space rippling around the edges of the warp field, like a stone being thrown into a pond. It also put out a series of soft colors, undulating like an aurora. They reminded him of the bioluminescent night fish that used to swim off the coast of the small island continent where he had grown up on Trill. He had been thinking about his home planet a lot lately.
Poz felt someone standing behind him. At first he thought it was just another crewman enjoying the view, but something told him that he was the one who was being watched. His posture stiffened but he resisted the urge to turn and look. A moment later, the figure walked around the table and stood in front of the first officer. It was Romin Tyk, holding a blue drink in a tall glass.
"Do you mind if I join you?" Tyk asked.
Poz shrugged noncommittally and indicated the chair across from him. If Tyk was put off by the vague invitation, he gave no sign of it. He took a seat, setting his drink down on the table and offering the other Trill a friendly smile. "Is that roast kami?" he asked, indicated the plate sitting in front of Poz. Kami was a water fowl native to Trill, found only near the oceans. It was a popular dish among the coastal regions of the planet. Poz only nodded. "The replicator never seems to do it justice, don't you find?"
Poz shrugged again. "It's passable," he said. The truth was that it wasn't very good at all, but Poz didn't feel like admitting that at the moment. "And it reminds me of home."
Tyk nodded. "I know what you mean," he said, indicating the drink that sat in front of him. "It's nice to have something from home way out here."
Poz furrowed his brow. "How does a Warp Core Breach remind you of Trill?" he asked, referring to the drink.
Tyk looked down at the glass and smiled fondly. "There was a Starfleet bar in Kelver City that I used to go to when I was an initiat, The Spacefarers' Guild it was called. I drank more than my fair share of these back then, listening to the 'fleeters tell their stories about starships and incredible alien places, it always seemed so exciting. I was so naïve then, and the galaxy beyond Trill just seemed like a grand adventure."
"I see," Poz said curtly.
"This may come as a surprise to you, but I am trained to observe others, and I think that there's something bothering you," Tyk said.
Poz grimaced, like he was biting back some angry retort that was about to leap to his lips. "What's bothering me is none of your concern," Poz said through tight lips. "It has no effect on the mission at hand. Just because we are both Trill and we are both far from home, it doesn't make us friends, and it doesn't mean that we have anything in common."
Tyk nodded. Whatever the reason for Poz's anger, he was clearly the source. "Does it have something to do with my symbiont stasis chamber?" Tyk asked. The first officer had clearly had a reaction to the device in the transporter room.
Poz's fork clattered to his plate. He fixed a glare on Tyk so fierce that for a moment he thought that he might take a swing at him. Then something changed in his eyes, like a thought had occurred or a decision had been made. A decision to focus his ire on the other Trill.
"The last time I saw a container like that I was seven years old," Poz started. "My mother was dead, and they were wheeling it out of her hospital room. And my father told me that it was okay, because my mother wasn't really dead. That she would live on inside that tiny little creature that had lived in her abdomen. Her memories, her experiences, her love for me, would all become part of another life. The words all sounded nice, and for a while they made me feel better. I thought that they would implant the symbiont into another woman, and then my mother would come home. And so I waited, and I waited, until my father finally told me that no, she was never coming home. My mother would live on, just as he had told me, but she would never be able to be a part of my life again. I kept asking why. Didn't she love me anymore? Had I done something wrong?
"My mother's death was devastating. But the knowledge that she lived on somewhere, in the memories of some stranger whom I could never meet, the thought that that person got to have my mother when I didn't, it destroyed me. We're taught when we're young that joined Trills revere memories and life experiences, that their hosts get to live on forever in the memories of the symbiont. Well my mother didn't get to live forever, she's dead. And her memories and life experiences were stolen from her by that *parasite* that lived in her body and given to somebody else, somebody who never even knew her! It isn't an honor, it's an injustice!"
Poz stood from the table. "So you see, it isn't the stasis unit that 'bothers me', it's you. It's the disrespect that you show to the lives of your hosts, past and present, by being so cavalier about discarding them whenever it suits your needs, like they're a worn pair of shoes."
Tyk just stared at the man, not sure what to say. He wanted to defend himself, tell him that he cared about the lives of his previous hosts as much as he cared about his own life. But the words just sounded hollow. Finally, Poz broke the silence. "If you'll excuse me Mr. Tyk, I'm no longer hungry." And with that, he turned and walked out of the room.
George Watson had lived in Sunnydale his entire life. He knew that it was a dangerous town, though at the time he didn't know particularly why. Had he been a family man, he would have had the sense to move. But as a confirmed bachelor, George cared more about his thriving insurance business than he did his own personal safety. That is, right up until the night that he was killed.
When he awoke, he had an innate sense of what he was. The strength, the speed, the thirst for blood, it was all pretty obvious. He wasn't even that shocked to learn that vampires were real, and that Sunnydale was overrun with them. He was more surprised with himself that he hadn't figured it out sooner. But George also knew that he wasn't a normal vampire. He had grown in size for one thing. In life he had been a modest five foot ten inches, but in death he was somewhere closer to seven feet. His fangs, which never seemed to go away no matter how hard he tried, were bigger than those of the 'normal' vampires that he met. He was stronger than them, faster too, and he seemed to be able to go longer without blood than they could. He saw others of his kind as well, and learned from the word on the street that all of the newly risen were like him now due to some strange phenomenon that was affecting the hellmouth. The local whitehats were putting them down though, with help from some oddly dressed out-of-towners with some amazing abilities of their own. The difference between George and his brethren was that George had the forethought to hide, and the good fortune to find a hiding spot that also contained a food source. The sewer under a slaughterhouse. The run-off from the killing floor wasn't appetizing, but it kept him alive.
A month or so after he was turned, he felt something change within himself. He couldn't explain how, but he knew that the anomaly that had led to his existence was no more. He had been linked to it somehow, drawing strength from it. His abilities didn't seem to diminish at all, but still he felt an emptiness inside himself, like something was missing. The few times that he ventured out of his hiding place, he learned that there were no more like him left. The whitehats had killed them all, except for him. He kept an eye on the whitehats after that, learning their habits and movements, trying to figure out the best way to get out of Sunnydale undetected. It was during that time that he met the Boss.
The Boss wasn't a vampire, but he wasn't human either. He offered George a way out of town, and a job. The Boss was in the business of killing, and business was good. George had no moral objection to killing, as long as he was on the dispensing end and not the receiving end. George was a creature of great interest to the Boss, useful, and one of a kind. At least, he used to be. After 380 years of being the only one of his kind, the Boss had ordered George to make more. This would be an important job, he had told George. Maybe the most important job ever. The Boss had two thorns in his side and he was going to get rid of them both with one masterstroke. George had no idea what was so important about Hardcross Station, but it wasn't his job to know. He only had to follow the Boss's orders, and he would be justly rewarded. The Starfleeters had been taken by surprise, and he turned them all easily enough. After that he ordered them to kill the rest of the civilians, drain their blood, and store it. He didn't know how long this job would take and he wanted to be prepared.
"Sir, incoming transmission on the frequency that you asked me to monitor," The former communications officer, Lt. Paulson, reported from one of the consoles in the station's command center. The newly turned NegaVamp slurred his words as he talked around his new fangs.
"On screen," George ordered.
The Boss's face appeared on the main viewer. "Report."
"We've searched the entire station from top to bottom, there is no sign of the primary target," George said.
"Then search harder!" The Boss commanded. "The target is there. Tune the internal sensors to look for hidden rooms or blind spots, start with the lower decks."
"Yes, Boss," George replied. "Any word on the secondary target?"
The Boss smiled. "He's on his way. Tell your men to be careful, he is more dangerous than he appears."
"We will not fail you, Boss."
"See that you don't, George. I am on the verge of godhood, and I will not let loose ends deny me what I have worked so hard for. Serve your god well, and you will be rewarded."
This time, George smiled. "Yes, Boss."
Xander sat brooding on the couch in Ami's ready room aboard the Discovery. Ami crossed the room from the replicator, handing Xander a cup of tea as she sat down. "Thank you," he said absently.
"What's on your mind?" Ami asked.
Xander took a long sip from the cup, gathering his thoughts. "This mission, it doesn't feel right. There are still too many unknowns for me to feel comfortable walking into this. Why Hardcross Station? There's nothing of value there."
"If this is a trap, maybe they just want to lure us somewhere remote, where help isn't easily reachable," Ami postulated.
Xander nodded. "I think that thought concerns me even more. It implies that a NegaVamp survived that summer in Sunnydale, that it managed to survive undetected for the last 380 years, and that it knows enough about us to know that we're still alive, that we're working for Starfleet, and that we would be the first called for a situation like this."
Ami took a sip from her own cup. "I see your point. So how do you want to play it?"
"Easy. If it is a trap I want to see it coming before it's sprung. Hide our approach, sneak aboard the station with a small team."
"We can use the stellar nursery to hide the Discovery from the station's sensors. Come in by shuttlecraft, it has a lower sensor profile, we should be able to use some tricks to remain undetected," Ami said. "How big of a team are you thinking?"
"Four. Tyk and myself, of course. I'd like you to come as well, if you're up for it. Your knowledge and experience with the NegaVerse will be extremely valuable. And with the possible exception of Tyk, there's no one else alive that I'd trust more to watch my back."
Ami smiled. "I'm up for it," she said.
"Any suggestions for a fourth?" Xander asked.
"Commander Poz," Ami answered. "He was my tactical officer until he was promoted last year, he has the skills and experience. He's also the only other person on board with a high enough security clearance to be fully briefed on what we're facing here. And with the possible exception of you and the other Sailor Scouts, there's no one else that I'd trust more to watch my back."
"He knows about you, what you are and what you can do?"
"Then he's the perfect choice. I'll start putting together a mission profile."
Ami nodded. "And I'll have my Chief Engineer prep a shuttle for us. That is, if she can spare a moment while she's trying to make sure that our new slipstream drive gets us to our destination in one piece."
"What is our ETA?"
"Assuming no delays, twenty-six hours. You should get some sleep."
Xander nodded absently as he set his cup down. "I will," he said. He seemed distracted all of a sudden, like there was something on his mind.
"What is it?" Ami asked.
For a long moment, Xander wouldn't meet her eyes. When he finally looked up again he spoke hauntingly. "I've been having dreams, about that day when my friends were murdered. They've been…disturbing. What you said yesterday, about not being able to escape from our past, it made me realize that that is exactly what I've been trying to do. Pretending that it was another life, that it didn't matter anymore, that I wasn't that person anymore. But it was all a lie. And when I saw you again, that lie fell apart. I feel like…I'm defenseless now, against the assault of my own memories."
Ami moved next to Xander on the couch and put her hand on his knee. "Your past is a part of you, but that doesn't mean that you have to let it consume you."
"I chased after Dallas for so long, my entire life became about vengeance. I had to let it go, to survive."
Ami paused. "I think that you let yourself get swept away by your hatred so you wouldn't have to feel your grief. And by the time you finally let go of Dallas, you didn't know how to grieve anymore, so you let go of all of it, your friends, your entire life. You became another person, and you closed yourself off from feeling any of those things again, so you couldn't get hurt again. But you can't bury your feelings forever, no matter how many centuries go by. They'll always be there, waiting for you to deal with them."
"Then I guess it's time," Xander said. "They deserve to be remembered. It's the least that I can do for them."
"And you don't have to go through it alone. There are still people who care about you. People in this room even," she said with a smile.
Xander smiled back and pulled her into a hug. "I'm glad I found you again, Ami. Thank you."
"The fates guided us back to each other, Xander," she said. "They're smiling on us right now."
"Let's just hope that continues through this mission," Xander said. "I'll take all the help I can get."
The Discovery was a few hours from arriving at the stellar nursery. The shuttlecraft Curie had been prepped for their use, and Xander and Tyk were in the shuttle bay, checking their equipment. They both wore stealth suits, formfitting black bodysuits that were resistant to most scanners. Xander was also wearing a pair of bracers loaded with throwing knives, and a katana sat in a sheath on his back. Tyk was sitting in the back of the shuttle, calibrating the phaser rifles while Xander sat in the cockpit.
"Tyk, come here for a second," Xander asked. Tyk moved to the front of the shuttle and looked down at the console in front of Xander. "I figure if we stay on this trajectory, the radiation from the nursery should hide our approach. At warp one, it should take us about an hour to get to the planet." Xander hit a button and the image changed to an overheard view of the planet. "We can touch down in this valley and hike to the station from there. As long as we keep the shuttle operating on minimum power, they shouldn't detect it even if we were right next to them."
"Sounds good," Tyk said, sounding a little distracted.
"You're a better pilot than I am," Xander continued. "So I think you should take us in. That okay with you?"
Xander could tell that there was something bothering his friend, but he also knew that if he just came out and asked him, the Trill would deny that there was anything wrong. Xander thought that if he could get him talking, it might come out naturally. "Do you remember that time in the neutral zone, we were scouting ahead that Romulan listening post that we were going to destroy and Vrelan crashed the shuttle?" Xander asked with a smile, referring to another one of Tyk's previous hosts. "We were so worried that the Romulans detected us that we hiked six klicks through dense jungle and destroyed the listening post ourselves, just the two of us, with nothing but hand phasers and a couple of plasma grenades."
Tyk didn't look to be in a nostalgic mood. "The helm console overloaded and blew up in my face when we crashed, Vrelan lost an eye."
Xander's smile fell, the anecdote suddenly seeming a lot less jovial. "She got a bio-synthetic implant when we got back," he said weakly.
"God, I…she hated that thing." Pronouns were always tricky with a joined Trill. "It itched like crazy, felt like a nest of maggots trying to chew their way out of my skull." Tyk sat down next to Xander and looked down at his hands, like he was gathering his thoughts. "She died about a year after that mission."
Xander wasn't quite sure how to respond to that. "Yeah," he said simply.
"Did you grieve for her?"
Xander was taken aback by the question. "Of course I did."
"Really? Because it was a week later when I was implanted and we were onto our next mission. I don't remember much grieving."
"We don't get bereavement leave when the fate of the quadrant is at stake, you know that. We all deal however we can," Xander said, getting defensive.
"Do you consider me a friend?"
"Tyk, of course I do. I've known you for nearly ninety years."
"No, not Tyk. Me, Romin, am I your friend?"
Xander paused. "Yes, Romin, you're my friend. You're probably my only friend. Where is this coming from?"
Tyk's tone softened as he looked down at his hands again. "I've just been thinking. Do you think that with what we do, that we've become too…accustomed to death, that we're blasé about it? I mean, do you think that it's disrespectful?" He wasn't accusing anymore, he was asking. His eyes were begging for Xander to assuage his newfound guilt.
Xander understood what his friend was wrestling with now. He often felt the same way, like he was taking his immortality for granted. He worried that because he knew that he would experience the deaths of those around him, that when they happened he would feel nothing but resigned acceptance. Had he lived through so much, seen so much death, that he lost the ability to grieve? Just last night, Ami had told him that he had been suppressing his grief for his friends from Sunnydale. Was he doing the same thing to the people in his life now?
"I think that's a question that we all have to answer for ourselves," Xander finally said after a moment. "Doing what we do, you can't help but become desensitized to death. What you have to ask yourself is 'Is it worth it?' The sacrifice, the price we pay to keep the people of the Federation safe. We *save* lives, too. We may never be noticed for it, because we work behind the scenes, in the shadows. But there's a reason that we do what we do, and at the end of the day I think it helps to think of that. We do what we do because we can, so the people who can't don't have to. We serve, and there's always honor in that."
Tyk nodded. "I understand what you're saying," he said. "And I know that there's a purpose to what we do, and I believe in that. I guess…I'm just not sure that it *is* worth the price anymore. I've lost three hosts to this life, sacrificed for the cause. Three lives with meaning. Just because I have their memories, it doesn't make them any less dead. Maybe…that's enough."
Xander reached out and clasped Tyk on the shoulder. "What do you say when this is all over we take some leave, you and me. We'll head to Risa, think things over for a while. Hang out on the beach, get drunk, get laid, not kill anyone for a couple weeks. It'll be fun."
Tyk smiled sadly. Xander got the feeling from his expression that two weeks on Risa weren't going to make much of a difference. "Sure thing." Tyk said. "Thanks, Xander."
"Any time. Now come on, we're not on Risa yet. We still have work to do."
Tyk piloted the shuttle deftly to the planet, keeping it hidden from the station's sensors. The flight was mostly quiet. The group held an impromptu briefing in the shuttlebay before they left to hammer out all the mission parameters. They were all focused on their jobs now, there was very little to say. Tyk was thankful for that. The shuttle touched down in the valley just west of the station. As long as the shuttle's power levels were kept to minimum, they wouldn't be detected. This meant that they had to travel the distance between the shuttle and the station on foot, because using the transporter would cause a power spike that could be detected. And so the quartet hoisted their field packs and made their way to the station perimeter.
They made their entry point at a service hatchway, which lead down to the lower engineering decks of the station. Poz took point with his tricorder, scanning for unfriendlies. Vampires gave off no life signs, and NegaVamps were no different. But thankfully they discovered that the Starfleet personnel who had been turned still wore their combadges, which the tricorder could detect. From their scans it appeared that the NegaVamps were moving from room to room, from the lower decks up, like they were searching for something. Or someone.
The group found an empty room that the NegaVamps had already searched and emerged from the maintenance hatchway. "There aren't any left on this deck," Poz said, looking at his tricorder. "They've moved up to the habitat level." Poz frowned. "I'm also reading a large group of dead bodies, fifty or so, from the Infirmary. From the number of active combadges that I'm reading, it looks like only the Starfleet personnel were turned, and the civilians were killed. But what are they keeping the bodies for?"
"Food," Xander answered. "They must be planning on being here a while. Clearly they're looking for something and they haven't found it yet."
"Is there a chance that we were detected?" Ami asked. "Could they be looking for us?"
Poz shook his head. "I don't see how, Captain. We've taken every precaution."
"Unless they already knew we were coming," Xander said, looking around the room. He just couldn't shake the feeling that they were walking into a trap. He was moving through the room when he came to a sudden stop, a familiar feeling tingled up his spine and his hand immediately went to his sword. "Poz, are you detecting any other lifesigns on this deck besides us?"
Poz consulted his tricorder again. "None," he answered.
"Any sensor voids or unusual patterns of interference?"
Ami was growing concerned. She stepped closer to her friend. "Xander, what is it?"
"There's another Immortal here," Xander answered in a low voice. "And close."
"That's good news," Ami said. "It means we have a survivor who may be able to tell us what exactly happened here."
Xander nodded, though he didn't share the Sailor Scout's optimism. If this was a trap designed to lure Xander, another Immortal was likely to be behind it.
"I am picking up something strange," Poz said. "A sensor void, like you said. It looks like it's located outside of the station's internal sensor grid." He looked up and met Xander's eyes. "How did you know?"
"Call it a hunch. Where?"
"Forty-five meters east of here."
Xander briefly debated with himself between the phaser rifle slung over his back or his sword. Considering what they were likely to be dealing with he settled on the katana, and drew the blade from its sheath on his back, leading the way to the door. The other three readied their rifles and quickly followed Xander out, Ami close behind him followed by Poz, and Tyk bringing up the rear. Xander didn't need a tricorder to tell him that he was heading in the right direction as he moved through the corridor. The sixth sense that all Immortals possessed that allowed them to detect each other led him. Of course, it worked both ways. Whoever this other Immortal was, he could certainly detect Xander as well. So if this was a trap, it was likely about to be sprung.
The corridors were empty and dimly lit. The only noise was the low thrum of machinery and the air circulators. The first thing that Xander saw when he rounded the corner was the sword. A rapier with an ornate handguard, raised in a defensive position. Instinct made him raise his own sword and prepare to strike before he even looked at the man in front of him.
Ami laid a hand on Xander's arm. "Wait! Stop!"
Both Immortals froze, staring at each other, their swords still raised. The other Immortal looked to be in his fifties, wearing a white lab coat and a head of clownish red hair that would have been comical in another situation. Something about that hair was familiar to Xander, but he couldn't remember where he had seen it before.
"Dr. Hardcross," Ami said. That's when Xander remembered. The station's personnel files that they had reviewed as part of the briefing, that's where he'd seen him before. It was the station's administrator, Stephen Hardcross. "We're from Starfleet, Sir," Ami continued. "We're here to rescue you."
Xander and Hardcross eyed each other a moment longer. Most Immortals in the 24th Century considered themselves to be civilized men and women, they no longer killed each other at the drop of a hat. But thousands of years of instinct was a hard thing to fight sometimes. Eventually, both men lowered their weapons.
"I…I'm sorry. I thought that you were one of those…things," Hardcross stammered. Xander knew that that was a lie, but he just nodded.
"Are there any other survivors?" Ami asked.
"I don't think so. I was in my quarters when I got the call that we were under attack, that there were intruders in the station. I was trying to get to the command center when I saw them in the corridor. Horrible creatures with deformed faces. One of them threw a security officer against a bulkhead like he was a ragdoll. So I…ran and hid here in the lower decks. I found an old comm room and sealed myself inside. I tried to get a message out but I think they disabled communications."
"What happened here, Doctor?" Xander asked. "Where did they come from?"
"I think initially there was only one. The first report I heard was that there was something in the cargo bay, that it had come out of some kind of stasis chamber and attacked the crew down there and that they were…infected somehow. We receive supplies every two months from Deep Space Five. The freighter had just left when I got the call. Whatever it was, it must have beamed down with the supplies."
Xander considered that. It made sense. The only way a vampire, even a NegaVamp, could survive that long without feeding would have to be in stasis. It also meant that this NegaVamp wasn't acting alone. Someone had to make sure that the stasis chamber was mixed in with the cargo bound for Hardcross Station after the NegaVamp was already inside. That still left two important questions. Why Hardcross Station? And what were they looking for?
"Doctor, can you think of any reason why anyone would want to target Hardcross Station for this kind of attack?" Xander asked.
"We do scientific research here, nothing worth killing over. There's the listening post, but I can't imagine that the Cardassians would do this. If they wanted to destroy the station there are far more efficient ways to go about it."
Xander agreed, he didn't think the Cardassians could be involved, even if they had somehow gotten a hold of a NegaVamp. This kind of attack just wasn't their style. He had a feeling that Hardcross was hiding something, but he just couldn't put his finger on it. It seemed too much of a coincidence that the station's administrator was an Immortal.
"The creature that you saw in the corridor, had you ever seen anything like it before?" Xander asked. "Maybe something from the past." Xander tried to convey with his eyes what he was really asking. 'Does this attack have anything to do with your being Immortal?'
Hardcross seemed to catch his meaning, but still he shook his head. "No, never."
It was possible. Not every Immortal knew about vampires and the like. Still, Xander had a feeling that the station administrator knew more than he was letting on.
"We need to determine what their goal here is," Ami said. "And if any of them have left the station. I think the best way to do that it is to access the station's computer. We may even be able to get a visual feed from the command center."
"I tried several consoles down here on this level before I hid," Hardcross said. "They were locked out. Not even my override worked." He paused. "But there may be a way. The workstation in my quarters has special security measures that protect it from outside access. I have sensitive research material there. It should still be functional even if they lockdown every console on the station, we should be able to access what you need from there."
Xander didn't bother to ask what kind of research materials could warrant such security, he knew he wouldn't get a straight answer.
Poz pulled out his tricorder. "The habitat level is still crawling with unfriendlies. The doctor isn't wearing a stealth suit, so the station's internal sensors would detect him. Recommend that the doctor remain here in the sensor void."
"You won't be able to access my workstation without me, I'm afraid. It's keyed to my voiceprint and bio-signature," Hardcross said.
"So what do we do now?" Tyk asked. "I don't suppose anyone has a spare stealth suit in their pack." Nobody answered. For a moment, no one spoke at all as they tried to figure out what their next move should be.
"Wait a minute," Tyk spoke up again. "Can't we disable the internal sensors from down here somewhere?"
"Yes, of course," Hardcross said. "The computer core is on this level. All we would need to do is destroy the conduits between it and the internal sensor nodes."
Xander nodded. "Tyk, you and Poz go and destroy the necessary conduits. Ami and I will stay here and keep an eye on the doctor."
The two Trill eyed each other uncomfortably but said nothing. Poz consulted his tricorder and made his way toward the computer core. Tyk once again brought up the rear.
Poz and Tyk made their way to the station's computer core in silence. Once they entered the large room Poz consulted his tricorder again, confirming that they were alone. He nodded his head toward Tyk to indicate that the room was empty. The tricky part now was locating the correct conduits to destroy to disable the internal sensors. If they did too much damage, it might raise suspicions and attract unwanted attention from whoever currently held control of the command center. The pair began searching the room in opposite directions.
"Do you know what you're looking for?" Poz asked after a moment.
"Just because I'm in Intelligence doesn't mean I can't tell a data line from a power conduit," Tyk bit back.
"Just wanted to make sure that you aren't going to accidentally blow yourself up over there."
Tyk rolled his eyes. "Whatever you may think of me Commander, I don't have a death wish, and I'm more than competent at my job."
"I'm sure that you are," Poz replied dryly.
The pair had almost completely circled the room by that point, meeting again by the far wall. Tyk had finally had enough. "I risk my life for the same reason that you do, for the same reason that every man and woman in Starfleet does, to serve the Federation the best way that I know how. And I do so no more recklessly than you do because of what I am, on the contrary! I am acutely aware of the risk of death for the simple fact that I have experienced it more than a dozen times already, in all its painful glory! I know what it feels like to feel your life slipping away and to know that there's nothing you can do to stop it. It's terrifying, to be sure, but I will tell you this. There is a comfort in knowing that my life will continue in a way, as part of a new life. My symbiont has brought that comfort to all of my previous hosts, and I honor them all be making sure that their memories live on. Joined Trills don't just revere memories and experiences, we revere life! We are living monuments to it!
"I'm sorry about what you lost, I truly am. But the symbiont that your mother carried is not responsible for that, and neither am I! So if all you're looking for is someone to blame, then please, leave me out of it!"
Tyk turned toward the wall and lifted his phaser rifle to his shoulder. He took quick but careful aim at the data conduit running up the wall and fired. The red beam lanced out and melted the conduit into slag. Satisfied that the line was destroyed, Tyk lowered the weapon and turned to leave the room, not even glancing at Poz.
Poz remained for a moment alone before turning and leaving the room himself.
The group made their way to the habitat level without incident. Hardcross led them to his quarters. They entered and the station administrator engaged the privacy lock behind them. Poz consulted his tricorder again. "From their movements it looks like they've already searched this area," he said. "They shouldn't be coming back this way."
Hardcross made his way to his computer console and began powering it up, Ami followed close behind him. Xander and Tyk did a quick sweep of the quarters to make sure that they were alone before engaging the privacy shades on the windows. Poz stayed by the door and kept one eye on his tricorder.
"Computer, authorize voiceprint," Hardcross said. A small scanner mounted on the console scanned Hardcross and the console activated. "Initiate link with station computer."
"Thank you Doctor, I'll take it from here," Ami said, sliding into the chair in front of the computer as Hardcross stood.
"Yes, of course," he said nervously. Xander again made a mental note of his odd behavior, but said nothing.
Ami's hands flew over the controls as she brought the station logs for the last forty-eight hours. "Both runabout pads have been locked down. It looks like it was done before the NegaVamps took control of the command center. There haven't been any attempts to unlock the pads since the takeover."
"So they have no intention of leaving," Xander said.
"At least not yet," Ami said. "They've accessed the station's library computer as well as the science database. I see searches here for 'The Item', 'The Device', and 'The Vessel'. As near as I can tell they haven't found whatever it is that they're searching for."
Hardcross licked his lips nervously, resting his hand on the hilt of his sword which he was still wearing on his belt. Xander eyed him suspiciously. "Do you have any idea what that could be, Dr. Hardcross?" he asked.
"No," the clown-haired man answered a little too quickly. "No, I'm afraid I don't."
"What about the comm logs?" Xander asked Ami. "Have they contacted anyone outside the station since the takeover?"
Ami tapped in a few more commands into the console. "The logs show an incoming transmission twenty-seven hours ago, but it looks like the record was deleted. Let me see if I can recover it." Her hands flew over the console too fast for Xander to follow what she was doing. "The visual feed is too badly degraded, but I should be able to restore the audio. Here goes."
A moment later a burst of static erupted from the speakers in the console, followed by two voices. Xander listened as the NegaVamp in the command center conversed with his boss. They spoke of a primary target, something or someone on the station, and a secondary target, which from context was a person who at the time of the transmission was on their way to the station. The secondary target had to be one of them. The voice of the boss sounded familiar to Xander, but he couldn't quite place it. Hardcross seemed to recognize the voice however. He turned white as a sheet as he listened to the message, still clutching the hilt of his sword. At the end of the message the boss made reference to attaining godhood.
Ami looked up at Xander as the transmission ended. Xander shook his head. "Too vague," he said, partly to her and partly to himself. "Could be someone attempting ascension, but it's hard to tell. Godhood means different things to different people."
"The reference to a secondary target," Ami said.
"Has to be us," Xander said. He refrained from being more specific than that even though he was sure that it was him. If Hardcross was involved in this in some way, he didn't want to tip his hand. "What about you, Doctor? Did you recognize either of those voices?"
Hardcross' head spun so fast Xander thought he might give himself whiplash. "No," he said, shaking his head and trying too hard to make it look casual. Xander held his gaze for a moment, making it clear to the other Immortal that he was judging his reaction. Hardcross swallowed hard, his forehead beaded with sweat. If the two of them had been playing poker, Xander would have been a very rich man. He turned his gaze back to Ami.
"Can you get a visual on the command center?" he asked.
Ami went back to work at the console and a moment later an image of the command center appeared. Seated at the central operations table was the NegaVamp that Xander assumed to be George. There were three other NegaVamps in the command center with him, all wearing Starfleet gold. One was seated at the communications station, two others were working feverishly on the sensor console, presumably trying to get the internal sensors back up.
"He doesn't look very happy," Tyk commented. "How long before they figure out that the sensors were sabotaged?"
"It looks like they're running diagnostics right now," Ami said. "After that they'll try rerouting the signal and realize that none of the conduits work, I'd say thirty minutes, tops."
"We need to retake the command center," Xander said. "And we need to determine who this boss is, what he's after, and how many if any more NegaVamps he has under his control. Which means, we need to take that one alive," he said, indicating George. "So to speak."
While the others discussed a plan for taking back the command center, unnoticed by any of them, Dr. Hardcross typed a few commands into his console.
Poz took point as the group left Hardcross' quarters. Even though his tricorder told him that there were no unfriendlies on this deck, he kept a watchful eye as he scanned the corridor, his phaser rifle at the ready. Looking left and then right, he confirmed that the corridor was empty before waving the others through. What he didn't see was that above him, a NegaVamp was poised, holding himself up between the walls, ready to strike. The creature dropped to the floor behind Poz just as Tyk was coming through the door.
"Look out!" Tyk shouted, pushing Poz aside just as one of the creature's large clawed hands took a swipe at where his neck used to be. The creature snarled. It stood at least seven feet tall, which judging by the ripped lab coat and pants that it wore was considerable larger than it had been when it was alive. Its ruddy face was deformed with a large protruding brow and long fangs. It was more animal than any other vampire that Tyk had encountered before, and it now stood focused entirely on the joined Trill. Tyk raised his phaser rifle but the NegaVamp knocked it out of his hand. It wrapped its hand around Tyk's neck and lifted him off the ground. He could feel his windpipe being crushed as blackness began to creep into the edges of his vision. He heard a phaser shot and felt the creature wince.
Their phaser rifles were set to heavy stun. Poz got a shot off and struck the NegaVamp in the side. The creature growled in pain but still didn't release Tyk. Poz increased the setting on his phaser and fired again. The creature's knees buckled but it still didn't go down. Wrenching its arm back, it tossed Tyk across the corridor like a rag doll. He struck the bulkhead and slumped to the floor, not moving.
The creature turned to face Ami and Xander who were standing in the corridor now. It was about to attack again when it suddenly felt something impact its chest. It looked down to see two throwing knives sticking out of his torso. A third knife struck him in the throat. When it looked up again, all it saw was the glint of the light reflecting from Xander's sword as it came down and separated its head from its neck. The three throwing knives clattered to the ground and the NegaVamp's body disintegrated into dust.
Hardcross was standing in the doorway of his quarters, a horrified look on his face. "That…that was Dr. Chen," he breathed. "One of my colleagues."
"He wasn't wearing a combadge," Poz said. "We thought they killed all of the civilians."
Xander ignored both of them as he returned his sword to its sheath and rushed down the corridor to Tyk's side. Ami quickly followed while Poz did another visual sweep of the corridor. Xander kneeled on the floor beside his friend and felt the side of his neck. His pulse was weak, his breathing shallow. His eyes were open but unfocused. Ami already had a medkit out and was scanning him with a medical tricorder.
Tyk slowly turned his head toward Xander. "I can't feel my legs," he said. His voice was raspy and barely audible. Xander looked over to where Ami sat looking at the tricorder's display. Her expression was dismal. She looked up at Xander and slowly shook her head.
Xander squeezed his eyes shut and pushed down the lump he felt in his throat. He certainly didn't feel desensitized to death. He felt the pain now the same as he had that day in the Magic Box nearly 400 years ago. The torment that every Immortal felt, knowing that they would live to see the deaths of everyone that they cared about. Xander took his friend's hand in his own and squeezed it. "It's okay, Romin. You're going to be fine."
Tyk chuckled sadly. "You're a lousy liar, Xander." He thought about the last moments of Jobar and Vrelan's lives, and now the last moments of his own, and they all had one thing in common. Xander had been right there with him.
"Don't you die on me, Jobar! You hear me? Tyk!"
"Vrelan! Wake up, okay, you have to stay awake! You're going to make it!"
"But you're a good friend. I'm sorry that I questioned that."
"It's okay," Xander said.
"I'm sorry, Xander. But it doesn't look like I'm going to make that trip to Risa."
"I'll take a raincheck," Xander said with a weak smile.
Tyk smiled back. "I'll see you in the next life."
"You can count on it."
Tyk's eyes slid closed. A moment later Ami closed her tricorder. "He's gone," she said quietly.
Xander reached up and wiped his face. He let a moment of silence pass for his friend before he turned to deal with the matter at hand. "We have to get him back to the shuttle and get the symbiont in the stasis unit."
"We can't," Poz said. Xander turned and looked at him sharply. "The shuttle is running on reserve power, that isn't enough to transport more than one person. Even if only two beam back, it'll have to bring main power back online and they'll read the power spike. We'll be detected." Xander looked like he was about to argue but Poz cut him off. He squatted down to where Xander was kneeling to talk to him face to face. "I'm sorry about your friend, I really am. I didn't know Tyk for very long, but I don't think he'd want us to compromise the mission for him."
"We can beam the stasis chamber here," Ami said.
"We don't have the medical equipment here to make the transfer and we can't use the infirmary on the station because it's crawling with unfriendlies. Besides, even if we could get him in the stasis unit, we wouldn't be able to beam it back to the shuttle."
"Then we'll stash the unit here until the mission is over," Xander said. "The symbiont can survive in that unit for 72 hours, that's more than enough time."
"But how are you going to make the transfer, all we have is a medkit?" Poz asked.
"I've made do with less. Come on, help me move him into Hardcross' quarters."
Xander and Poz picked up the body and carried it back into the administrator's quarters. They set it down and Xander tapped his combadge. "Harris to Shuttlecraft Curie, transport the contents of cargo block A to this location." The computer beeped in acknowledgment and a moment later the stasis unit materialized. Xander kneeled down next to it and typed a few commands into the control pad on the side. The unit began to power up and the top slid open, revealing a chamber inside filled with a milky white fluid.
Xander turned, taking the medkit from Ami he kneeled down next to Tyk's body. He opened the medkit and took out a laser scalpel. Placing his hand on his friend's abdomen he felt for the symbiont. Once he found it he made a cut with the scalpel below his hand. Hardcross winced and looked away. Xander gently reached in through the incision and pulled out the small slug-like creature that contained the life memories of his friend, then turned and placed it inside the stasis chamber. He closed the lid of the stasis unit and then checked the display on the front to make sure that it was functioning properly before he stood up. He walked to the bedroom at the back of the quarters and came back with a sheet. He then placed the sheet over his friend's body. Hardcross looked like he might object, but then thought better of it.
"We're running out of time," Poz said. Pretty soon the NegaVamps would discover the sabotaged internal sensors and realize that they had company. After that it would become nearly impossible to get to the command center undetected.
Xander walked past Poz, seemingly ignoring him. He walked up to Hardcross and shoved him against the wall, pinning his forearm under the administrator's neck.
"Hey, what are you doing?"
"You want to tell me what that NegaVamp was doing waiting outside your quarters?"
"I have no idea!"
"Your lies are starting to pile up, Hardcross. All this extra security on your computer isn't there to protect your data on cosmic strings! You recognized the voice on that comm log, you know what these things are looking for! Tell me what it is or so help me I'll string you up in that corridor out there and ring the dinner bell!"
"I…I don't know what you're talking about!"
"Xander, that's enough!" Ami said. "We're not going to get anywhere like that."
Xander glowered at Hardcross a moment longer. The clown-haired scientist looked like he was going to wet himself, but said nothing more. Whatever Hardcross was afraid would happen if he revealed the truth had to have been a lot scarier than Xander was at that moment, and that prospect made him nervous. He took his arm off of Hardcross' neck and reached down and took the other man's sword. Regardless of whether or not he was going to get any answers, he certainly wasn't going to leave the other man armed. The look of horror on Hardcross' face when he took the sword was even more pronounced then when he had threatened him. That certainly seemed curious.
"Dr. Hardcross," Ami said. "It's clear that you know more about what's going on here than you're telling us. Considering the danger that we are all in, I think it would benefit all of us if you shared that information."
'Catching more flies with honey, eh Aims?' Xander thought to himself. He kept his back to Hardcross as he took a closer look at the sword that he had taken from the man. It was an odd mix of styles. The ornate hand guard looked European, while the tassel hanging from the pommel was more Asian. He turned the scabbard over in his hands and found two Japanese characters etched into it. He didn't know what they meant, but he was suddenly very curious.
"I swear, I don't know anything!" Hardcross said.
"We don't have time for this!" Poz insisted. "We need to get to the command center before they discover the sabotage and realize that we're onboard."
Xander nodded, clipping the scabbard to his own belt. He turned and looked at Hardcross again. "You're staying with us only because I don't trust you enough to let you out of my sight. If you make one wrong move, I'll take your head myself. Read me?" Hardcross just nodded. "Good. Now let's finish this."
George sat at the situation table in the station's command center. He was drumming his fingers on the table with one hand while the other pinched the bridge of his nose as his head hung down, his eyes closed in thought. The other three NegaVamps in the room remained silent. A layout of the station was displayed on the table, but George wasn't looking at it anymore. It was starting to give him a headache. He broke the silence in the room with a snarl before raising his fist and bringing it down hard on the table. The plastisteel panel cracked and the LCARS display flickered.
"We have searched this entire station top to bottom three times!" George ranted, mostly to himself. "And still no sign of that worm Hardcross. He was on the station when I arrived, correct?" he asked, addressing the NegaVamp who had once been Lt. Paulson, who was seated behind the communications station.
"And he couldn't have left, could he?"
"Both runabout pads are still locked, sir."
"So he still has to be here!" He turned to the two engineers at the sensor console. "When will the internal sensors be back online?"
The engineer who turned to face him looked very nervous. "We've tried rerouting the signal, but the computer still isn't receiving anything. It's as if the conduits between the sensor module and the computer core have been completely destroyed."
George seemed to think about that for a moment. "These conduits, where are they located?"
"Next to the computer core, on the lower decks," the engineer answered.
"Get me a visual and put it on the main viewer," George ordered. A moment later an image of the computer core appeared on the view screen. George ordered the image to pan until he found what he was looking for. A data conduit, blackened with phaser burns and melted into a useless pile of slag. George growled deep in his throat. "Sabotage," he said.
"If Dr. Hardcross had been in that room sir, we would have detected him," the NegaVamp at communications said.
That left only one other possibility. "Harris," George hissed. "Get an engineering team down there to replace that conduit! And alert the search teams, the secondary target is aboard. He is to be destroyed at all costs."
Looking down at the cracked LCARS panel in front of him, George noticed that it was fogged up. He wiped a single finger across the panel, feeling the slightly icy texture of what was collected there as it disappeared under his hand. Frost. Being a vampire, he hadn't noticed the temperature drop until just then, but he realized that the room was growing colder by the second. Had he any body heat, he surely would have been able to see his own breath.
"Check the environmental controls," he ordered one of the engineers.
But before the other NegaVamp had the chance to respond, there was a loud crash from the other end of the command center. George looked over in time to see the maintenance hatch which led to the Jeffries tubes blown off its hinges, a large phaser burn on the inside of it. A moment later a woman stepped out of the hatch. She had a slight build and blue hair, and she was wearing a sailor suit with a blue skirt and a bow in the front. George instantly recognized the outfit from that summer in Sunnydale nearly four centuries ago. He gulped nervously.
"MERCURY ICE STORM BLAST!"
The blast passed by George and struck the two NegaVamps standing at the engineering console, freezing them solid where they stood. From behind the sailor scout, two more figures exited the maintenance hatch. Both wore stealth suits, one carrying a phaser rifle and the other carrying a sword. The NegaVamp communications officer jumped over his console and charged at them, growling and baring his fangs. The man with the sword easily sidestepped the attack, and in spinning around brought his sword down and took the creature's head off. It exploded into dust before the head even hit the deck.
For a moment after that the room was completely silent. The assault had been designed to be hard and fast, to take them by surprise. And it had worked. So why did they stop now?
"You must be George," the one with the sword said as he slipped the blade back into the sheath on his back. "Always nice to put a face with the name."
George snarled. "Xander Harris."
If Xander seemed surprised that the creature knew his name, he didn't show it. He just smiled and nodded his head slightly. "I heard that you might be looking for me. Thought I'd save you the trouble."
"The Boss will be pleased when I bring him your head."
Xander just smiled again and crooked his finger at the NegaVamp, inviting him to attack. George let out a roar that shook the room, raising both of his clawed hands he started toward the Immortal. A phaser burst struck him in the shoulder like a blow from a sledge hammer, causing him to lose his balance and stumble. He felt something strike his hand and when he looked up he saw a knife sticking out of it. George snarled again and made another charge at Xander. The Immortal executed a perfect judo throw, letting the NegaVamp's momentum carry him over him and down onto the deck. When George got back to his feet, Xander and the others were backing away from him slowly.
Something didn't seem right here, George realized. This was a completely different strategy from their initial assault. They were letting George control the pace of the fight. The phaser set to heavy stun and the knife wound to his hand seemed designed to hurt him, to slow him down, but they weren't trying for a killing blow. Harris didn't even have his sword out. George hadn't survived that summer in Sunnydale by being stupid, he knew that he was being played. But to what end? What did they want from him? If they really were holding back, he could use that to his advantage.
They were expecting him to charge Harris again, so instead George lunged toward the man with the phaser rifle. He got a shot off before George reached him, knocking his legs out from under him and sending him down to his hands and knees. The man then cracked George across the face with the butt of the rifle before he could get up. He felt another sharp pain in his shoulder and looked up to see another knife sticking out of his arm. He reached up and pulled the knife out with another growl. This was becoming frustrating. He looked up to see Xander backing away again, on the other side of the room near the small transporter platform that serviced the command center. He felt like a bull in a ring, being softened up before the matador finally struck the killing blow. The thought angered him, that they were treating him as nothing more than a stupid animal. Enraged, he charged again at Xander. This time he would no be stopped by something as minor as a phaser or a throwing knife.
Xander tried the judo throw again but this time George countered it. He flipped Xander onto the transporter platform and slammed him against the wall. He bared his fangs and was inches from sinking them into the Immortal's neck when two more phaser blasts struck him in the back. His knees buckled and Xander took advantage of the moment, shoving him hard and sending him crashing to the deck.
"Ami, now!" Xander shouted.
George was still disoriented when he looked up and saw a force field appear around the transporter platform. He snarled and turned back to Xander just in time to see him disappear in the shimmer of a transporter beam. A moment later he rematerialized a scant ten feet away in front of the situation table. George let out another room shaking roar and threw himself against the force field.
"That's a level ten force field, Georgie," Xander said with a smile as he sauntered up to the transporter platform. "So unless you've got a photon torpedo in your pocket, you're out of luck."
George fumed internally. It seemed so obvious now that they had been herding him toward the transporter platform, one of the few locations aboard a Federation ship or station that's capable of generating a powerful enough force field to contain him. "What do you want from me?" he snarled.
"We just want to have a little chat, Georgie. To get to know you better," Xander said.
"The command center has been sealed off from the rest of the station, including the emergency bulkhead in the Jefferies tube," Sailor Mercury said from the Ops console where she was now seated.
George watched as the bald Trill circled the perimeter of the room, making sure that it was secure. When he made it back to the engineering console he used his phaser rifle to decapitate the two frozen NegaVamps, making sure that they were dead. From the broken maintenance hatch, another figure emerged. The harrowed and disheveled looking Stephen Hardcross. George gritted his teeth. Both of his targets now stood within his grasp, and a few centimeters of charged particles separated him from his quarry. If he had known that there was a sailor scout onboard as well, he might have been able to prepare for that. Perhaps the Boss hadn't known either.
"So who is this Boss of yours?" Xander asked.
"He will be your destroyer, Harris," George said. "And then you will plague him no longer."
"Sounds like he's holding a grudge. Unfortunately that doesn't exactly narrow it down, I've lead a rather long and eventful life, made a lot of enemies. I guess your Boss just isn't special enough to stand out."
"You will remember him soon enough," George snarled.
Xander took a step closed to the force field, his eyes locked with the NegaVamp's, studying him like he was an exhibit in some exotic alien zoo. George could see the wheels turning in his mind. "You're old, aren't you? This attack was well planned and well executed, that suggests experience. Your loyalty to your Boss is strong, so it isn't solely based on fear. You've served him for a long time, and he's provided for you in some way. Guidance maybe, or protection." Xander paused again. "You're from Sunnydale, aren't you?" George must have given away his surprise. Xander smiled. "Were you the last one?" George didn't answer. He didn't have to. "Why are you here? What are you looking for?"
George smiled. "You."
Xander wasn't intimidated, he just shook his head. "No, I'm the secondary target. You said so yourself. The item, the device, the vessel, that's your primary target. What is it?" George let his gaze shift toward Hardcross for a second.
Xander nodded to himself and then turned and walked over to where Sailor Mercury and Poz stood, by the Operations console. He looked over at Hardcross who was still standing next to the blown out maintenance hatch, looking nervous. He made sure that both him and the NegaVamp were out of earshot before he spoke. "He's the last one. Or at least, he was until he turned the crew here."
"How can you be so sure?" Mercury asked.
"Vampires are hard to control, NegaVamps even more so. This Boss doesn't seem like the type to attract unwanted attention to himself. This attack was extremely well calculated. There's something on this station that he wants, Hardcross knows what it is and unlike Georgie over there, he *is* being motivated by fear."
"So what are you suggesting we do?" Poz asked.
"Take Hardcross with us, hand him over to Starfleet Intelligence, let their interrogators have a crack at him. In the meantime, we cut our losses and destroy this station and every NegaVamp onboard."
"Destroy the station?" Poz asked. "Don't you think we should find out what this item is first? If this Boss is willing to go to such lengths to get his hands on it, it could be valuable to the Federation, or it could be dangerous."
"Which is exactly why we can't let it fall into his hands, better that it's destroyed," Xander said. "But more importantly, we need to contain the NegaVamp situation. If even one of them gets off the station and gets to a major population center…"
"We'd have an infestation," Mercury finished.
"The Federation would be overrun within months," Xander added.
The Sailor Scout nodded. "Okay. I'll contact the Discovery and have them rendezvous with us here, we can destroy the station from orbit." She made her way to the communications console, but before she could open a channel she noticed something. "The station is being hailed," she said.
"From who?" Poz asked. "There are no ships in orbit."
"Long range communication, it's being routed through at least a dozen relay stations. I'm trying to trace it further."
"It's the Boss, it has to be," Xander said. "Put it on screen. Maybe we'll be able to get some answers after all."
Mercury nodded and Xander turned to face the main viewscreen. She opened the channel, and an image of a man appeared on the screen. Xander immediately recognized his face, as did Hardcross, but his identity raised more questions than it answered. His hair was cut neatly, and his face was clean-shaven, unlike the last time that Xander has seen him, and he wore a modern looking suit. The Boss smiled when he saw Xander, and the sight gave him a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.
"Xander Harris, as I live and breathe," the Boss said. "It's been a long time."
Xander's fists were clenched so tight that he could feel his fingernails digging into his palms. His accent was gone, but Xander realized that it was the same voice that he had heard from the comm logs. The same voice that he heard in his nightmares. "John Dallas."
Somewhere below, on the habitat level, in Dr. Stephen Hardcross' quarters, the Tyk symbiont floated in a nutrient fluid inside of its portable stasis unit. A small display screen on the side of the unit showed the power levels of the device and the vital signs of the symbiont inside. Six feet away from the stasis unit sat Hardcross' personal computer station, separated from the station's computer system and outfitted with a number of security features to protect the sensitive data inside. But there was one more security feature that the station's administrator hadn't made his rescuers aware of. While the others were hatching their plan for retaking the station, Hardcross was entering the self-destruct sequence into the console, and the timer had been counting down ever since. A small explosive charge sat just under the plastisteel display, directly on top of the memory nodes. And when the timer reached zero, the console exploded, showering the room in sparks and debris from the destroyed computer, destroying all of Hardcross' secrets along with it.
Six feet away sat the stasis unit, a shard of plastisteel from the exploded console now embedded in its side. The power levels on the small display screen started to drop.
Sailor Mercury gasped. John Dallas, the man responsible for the murder of Xander's friends nearly 400 years ago. He was the one responsible for all of this? But why?
Hardcross was the first to speak, walking closer to the viewscreen. "Tex, why would you do this? For God's sake, I'm your partner! I was going to make us Gods!"
Dallas clicked his tongue. "Dear Stephen," he said. "What good is godhood when it has to be shared? Besides, I've grown tired of your failures so I've decided to cut my losses."
"But I'm close to a breakthrough, all I need are a few more quickenings…"
"You've been saying that for the last 140 years!" Dallas shouted. His native Texas accent seemed to slip out a bit when he became agitated, but he quickly reined it in again. "I can no longer trust you Stephen, you've become a liability. I have my spies on Hardcross Station, I know that you've rebuilt the device again so that you can hide it from me. So before you can betray me, I've decided to beat you to the punch."
"What device?" Xander spoke up angrily. "What is this about? What could possibly be worth all this bloodshed?"
Dallas focused on him and smiled again. "Nothing short of omnipotence, I assure you. Why settle for mere immortality, when I can have so much more."
"What are you talking about?" Xander demanded.
"It all started 200 years ago. The war was over, as was my career as an assassin. The Order of Taraka was no more, the world was a very chaotic place back then. I was seeking order, enlightenment if you will. I sought out the wisest men that I could find, but they were all mortals. Their philosophies made little difference to me, and I began to see them all as children, bumbling in the darkness of their own ignorance, grasping at only vague notions of understanding the universe around them. So then I began to seek out other Immortals, philosophers and scientists alike. I wanted to know the nature of what we were, and of what we could become. After all, the easiest way to find order in chaos is to impose it yourself."
Xander was beginning to see where this was going. He had learned enough about Dallas and his past to know that the man was a psychopath and a control freak. He justified his homicidal tendencies by becoming an assassin and telling himself that it was just a job, his own way of bringing order to chaos. So when all of that fell out from under him, he must have had a breakdown. He sought to reinvent himself as a God, to deal with his feelings of powerlessness. Xander remembered what Earth was like after the war, as civilization rebuilt itself. For an Immortal to be witness to the development of that civilization, just to watch it crumble, it was traumatic. But to Xander, the world had always been chaos, and picking up the pieces again was just part of the deal.
Dallas continued. "When I met Hardcross, he was already studying the quickening. He theorized that an Immortal's quickening was a much more powerful version of the mortal soul, so powerful in fact that it would eventually evolve past the need for a body at all. Our goal became to help that process along. And to that end, he constructed a device capable of containing a quickening, storing its power like a battery. I've spent the last century and a half killing Immortals and storing their quickenings in the device, waiting while Hardcross tinkered with it endlessly."
"Why?" Xander asked, though he was pretty sure that he wasn't going to like the answer.
"You know what it feels like, to absorb a quickening," Dallas said. "The power that rushes through you. Well imagine that feeling a thousand fold, absorbing all of those quickenings at once."
"You'd be destroyed," Xander said. He had experienced his share of quickenings. It was a bit like putting your tongue in a light socket. Your whole body feels like it's trying to explode. He couldn't imagine the agony of multiplying that experience by a thousand.
"My body, perhaps," Dallas answered. "But my consciousness will be infused with the power of all of those quickenings, making me omnipotent and immortal. I'll become a living God."
Xander blinked. "You're insane."
"I knew you'd say that. You're becoming quite predictable," Dallas said. "It was really quite easy to arrange for you this front row seat for my penultimate moment of triumph. You'll be present for the final moment as well, or at least your quickening will be."
"What possible reason could you have for including me in this…madness?" Xander asked. "I stopped chasing after you three centuries ago."
"You may have lost track of me after the war, but I never believed for a moment that you gave up on your promise of revenge. I've been keeping tabs on you over the years, as I'm sure you've kept tabs on me, bidding your time and waiting for your perfect moment. I must admit, I was surprised when you joined Starfleet. But I realized that you were seeking out order in your own way. We aren't so different, you and I."
"I don't murder innocent people," Xander growled. "That's the difference."
"Innocence is such an outmoded concept. Everyone is guilty of something, everything else is just justification. And you don't need to justify your actions when you're a God. But you'll learn that soon enough, when your quickening is absorbed with all the others."
"There's just one problem with that, Dallas. You've lost. Your pet NegaVamp is in a cage, the station is under our control, and your device is about to be destroyed."
"No!" Hardcross shouted. Xander was so focused on Dallas that he had almost forgotten that the Immortal scientist was still standing next to him. Hardcross grabbed his sword, which was still attached to Xander's belt, and pulled it free before Xander had a chance to react. He backed away, drawing the sword and dropping the scabbard to the deck. "You're not going to destroy my life's work, I won't let you!"
Dallas smiled again. "My, isn't this an interesting development. You may just work your way back into my good graces yet, Stephen. Take his head and deliver the device to me, and we can finish what we started together."
Hardcross looked back and forth nervously from Dallas to Xander. Whether he believed his former partner or not was unclear, but he kept his sword pointed toward Xander. In the back of the room behind the communications console, Poz raised his phaser rifle. Ami put her hand on his arm and shook her head. She knew enough about Immortals to know that Xander had to handle this himself.
Xander reached up and drew his katana. "Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked.
Hardcross looked anything but sure, but he nodded. "You've left me no choice."
The clown-haired Immortal took up a fencing stance and galloped across the floor, thrusting his sword toward Xander. Xander deflected the blow with his own sword, spun around and stepped inside Hardcross' defenses, bringing his elbow up and slamming it into the other man's nose. Hardcross staggered back, a surprised look on his face. He brought his sword up again and swung it in a high arc toward Xander's head. Xander ducked under the blow, then lashed out with his foot, striking the back of the scientist's leg. His momentum carried him to the deck, hard. He grunted as he pushed himself up. Hardcross' technique was refined, Xander thought, but he lacked any real experience. He came at him again, his sword a flurry of motion, trying to find a way though Xander's defenses. Xander deflected each strike as swiftly as it came, until finally Hardcross managed to slip his blade in. He tried to sidestep it but he was a hair too late. The cold steel sliced through the stealth suit and opened a shallow gash in his side. To everyone's surprise, Hardcross had managed to draw first blood.
Xander ignored the wound. He took his stance and regarded Hardcross, maybe a little more serious than before. He needed to end this quickly. He didn't wait this time, he raised his sword and struck first. Hardcross blocked the blow but didn't manage to deflect it. The two swords remained locked where they met, as Xander forced them down. Hardcross dropped to one knee, and then the other. His face was a mask of sweat, his eyes jutting left and right, looking for a way out. Xander's eyes stayed locked on his. Hardcross finally lost his grip and his sword clattered to the deck. Xander's katana took a slice out of the back of his hand as it finished its arc down. Hardcross yelped in pain and clutched his wounded hand. Xander kicked his sword away.
On the viewscreen, Dallas clapped. "Good show," he said with a broad smile. "My apologies Stephen, but I can't say that I expected a different outcome." Neither of the combatants looked toward the screen, they kept their eyes on each other. "Well then, what are you waiting for? Take his head, save me the trouble."
Hardcross swallowed hard. "Just do it," he finally said. "My life is over either way."
Xander paused for a moment. He took a step next to Hardcross and turned so that he was standing perpendicular to the man and brought his sword up.
Poz looked horrified. "What is he doing?"
Sailor Mercury was about to answer when something on the floor caught her eye. It was the scabbard of Hardcross' sword. On the side there were two Japanese characters. Her eyes widened as she realized what they meant.
But it was too late. Xander brought his sword down in one swift motion and separated Hardcross' head from his neck. The head hit the deck with a thud and the body followed soon after.
The sailor scout swore under her breath. She grabbed the stunned Poz by the front of his stealth suit and pulled him down behind the communications console with her. "Get down!"
An eerie wind seemed to whip up in the command center out of nowhere, carrying with it the smell of ozone. Xander closed his eyes to prepare for what was coming. After a moment he heard the crackling of energy. Hardcross' body was glowing, arcing energy throughout the room like electricity. All of the consoles in the room overloaded, sending up showers of sparks. After a moment, Xander realized that something was wrong. He wasn't feeling anything. When he opened his eyes, he saw that Hardcross' quickening was flowing not into him, but into his sword which was still lying on the deck. The sword began to float off of the floor as the glow around it increased in intensity. A few seconds passed, and then it stopped. The sword clattered back onto the deck, the blade still glowing faintly like a hot poker.
Dallas broke the silence that hung in the air. "The sword," he said. "I should have guessed."
Xander picked the sword up off the deck. It felt warm, but not hot. He felt stunned as he contemplated exactly what it was that he was holding. The collected quickenings, the souls of thousands of Immortals. Sailor Mercury and Poz stood from behind the communications console, the Trill looking supremely confused. Mercury crossed the deck and picked up the scabbard.
"I tried to warn you," she said. "These symbols. The first means 'soul', and the second means 'container' or 'vessel'."
Xander took the scabbard and looked at it. This was why Hardcross had been so protective of the sword. It made perfect sense. What other object could an Immortal keep so close at hand at all times without it seeming suspicious, at least to another Immortal. The device was hiding in plain sight all along. Xander slid the blade back into the scabbard and turned back toward the viewscreen.
"Game over, Dallas," Xander said. "You lose."
"Never send a vampire to do an Immortal's job," Dallas mumbled, almost to himself. George frowned from the transporter platform. "Well then, I suppose I had better cut my losses. While we've been speaking I've uploaded a virus to the station's computer. You have approximately ten minutes before the station self destructs."
Xander's head whipped back to where Poz stood at the comm console. The Trill's fingers flew over the panel, his face looking ashen. "I can't override, I'm locked out."
Xander turned back to Dallas. "You'll destroy the device," he said. "Why go to all this trouble just to blow it up?"
"I admit, it isn't the optimal outcome. But if I can't have it, no one will. I'll just have to accept your death as a consolation prize. Besides, I can always build another. If there's one thing that I have plenty of, it's time." He smiled with a maniacal twinkle in his eye. "Adieu," he said, and with that the signal cut off and his face disappeared from the screen.
Xander gritted his teeth. "We need to get out of here, now. Can we hail the Discovery?"
Poz shook his head. "I'm locked out of all major systems, including communications and transporters."
"Can we beam back to the Curie using the shuttle's transporters?" Mercury asked.
"Negative, Captain. The station's shields are up and it won't let me drop them."
"What about the runabouts?" she asked.
"The pads are still locked down," Poz answered.
"Yes, but they were locked down before the takeover, so the virus may not have affected them."
Poz nodded and checked his console. "You're right, I still have access." A moment later, he smiled. "Docking pads are unlocked."
"Now we just need to make our way down there on foot, with the station still swarming with NegaVamps," Sailor Mercury said.
Xander nodded, hooking the scabbard with Hardcross' sword back to his belt. "We'll take the Jeffries tubes. Ami, you take point, I'll bring up the rear. Let's get moving."
Poz nodded as he followed Sailor Mercury back into the maintenance hatch that they entered from. "Captain, if we make it out of here, promise me one thing?"
"That you'll explain to me what the hell just happened."
Mercury smiled as she made her way down the Jeffries tube. "I'll do my best, Commander."
Somewhere behind them on the transporter pad, George growled. "Hey, what about me!" he shouted, pounding on the forcefield with his fists. "You can't just leave me here!" No one acknowledged him.
The trio climbed down seven decks through the Jeffries tubes until they came to a hatchway that led to the station's shuttlebay. The bay contained the two runabout pads, on which sat the USS Delaware and the USS Mississippi, as well as several other smaller auxiliary craft. And according to their tricorders, which could detect the combadge signals from the station's former crew, it also contained at least a dozen NegaVamps.
"Are any of them in either of the runabouts?" Xander asked.
"Negative," Poz answered.
"Then we make a break for the nearest one and seal the hatch behind us before any of them can get in."
"It's at least twenty meters from the hatch to the runabout pad, in a large open room with hardly any cover. We'll never make it without being spotted and we don't have enough time to fight them all off, this station is going to explode in five minutes. I say we go in behind the Captain, let her ice them all down."
"She might accidently hit the runabout and damage it," Xander protested. "We can't risk it."
Sailor Mercury pushed her way past them toward the hatch. "If all we need is cover," she said. "I can do cover. Just be ready to run." She placed her palms flat on the hatch and closed her eyes in concentration. Instead of shouting the name of the attack the way she normally would to focus her energy, she merely whispered it. "Mercury Aqua Mist."
A moment later the shuttlebay began to fill with a dense mist. The thick fog rolled over the deck and built up thicker and thicker until visibility was down to only a few meters. The Jeffries tube hatch slid open and the three of them quickly made their way to the nearest runabout. There were a few confused shouts from the NegaVamps regarding the fog, but none of them spotted the trio as they boarded the Delaware and closed the hatch behind them.
They quickly made their way to the cockpit at the front of the runabout and Ami took a second to transform back into her normal appearance again. She couldn't arrive back on the Discovery dressed as Sailor Mercury without raising a lot of questions that she had no interest in answering. She pointed to the pilot's console and turned to Poz. "You're about to set a record for the fastest pre-flight ever," she said. Poz just nodded as he sat in the pilot's seat and began powering up the ship's systems.
Xander sat down at one of the aft stations and began entering commands himself, accessing the runabout's transporter system. "We need to get Tyk's stasis pod, don't take off until I have it."
Poz nodded, his hands flying over the console. "All systems are green, powering up the engines." The deck vibrated slightly as the low thrum of the engines filled the cabin. On the outside of the ship, the nacelles began to glow slightly.
"I think we're attracting some unwanted attention," Ami said, looking out one of the side windows. A few of the NegaVamps had noticed them and were firing hand phasers at the runabout.
"We'll be atmo in thirty seconds and this place will be vapor in ninety," Poz answered.
Ami glanced nervously toward Xander. "Got it!" he said after what seemed like an eternity. A moment later the familiar whine of the transporter filled the cockpit as the stasis pod materialized on the deck. Xander turned to look and his face fell. "No."
There was something in his voice when he said that single word that made Ami turn. It wasn't anger so much as despair. She saw the cracked control panel on the front of the pod with a jagged piece of plastisteel sticking out of it. Poz cast a glance back long enough just to confirm the pod was onboard before starting the liftoff procedure. The hanger doors above the runabout opened and the pad started to rise up. A few seconds later the Delaware lifted off and started it's climb through the planet's atmosphere.
Xander left his chair and hit his knees in front of the stasis pod, checking the readout. "It's losing power," he said after a moment. There were scorch marks on the sides of the pod in addition to the cracked screen. "It looks like it was in an explosion." He typed a few commands on the broken control panel and pulled up another display. "The symbiont's vitals are weak, but it's still alive." Xander looked up and locked eyes with Ami. "We need to hurry."
Ami turned around and activated the communications system. "Delaware to Discovery, this is Captain Mizuno, do you copy?"
A moment later the image of the Discovery's tactical officer, Lt. Gibson, appeared on the small screen next to Ami. "Discovery here, we read you Captain."
"We have a medical emergency, alert Sickbay and prepare for emergency transport as soon as we're within range."
Ami could hear Gibson barking orders to the helm to set an intercept course before he turned back to address her. "We're on our way Captain, we'll be in transporter range in five minutes. Prepare for beam out."
Ami ended the transmission and went to the back of the cabin where Xander sat with the stasis pod. She put her hand on his shoulder. "It'll be okay," she said.
"We've been friends for over ninety years," Xander said without looking up. "The only real friend I've had since Sunnydale. He was going to quit after this. I had one last mission and I couldn't keep him alive." Xander clenched his fist and pressed it against his forehead. "It sounds absurd, but I never thought it would end like this. I…I don't know what I thought, just…not like this."
"Nothing is over yet, Xander. You can't give up hope and you can't blame yourself. Tyk said it himself, you were a good friend. You've gotten him out of tougher spots than this and we'll get him out of this one. You just need to have faith."
Xander put his hand on top of Ami's and squeezed it. They stayed like that in silence for a few minutes more until the transporter took hold of them both along with the stasis pod.
Commander Poz piloted the runabout into the Discovery's shuttlebay, and then made his way up to the bridge. He received a report from Lt. Gibson on any activity since the away mission, gave the tactical officer new orders and left him in command as he made his way down to sickbay. He found Xander and the Captain in the corridor. Xander was sitting on the floor, his back to the wall, with a far away look on his face. Ami was pacing back and forth, occasionally glancing through the transparent aluminum windows of the double doors that lead into the ship's medical center. Poz could see a medical team hovering around a biobed, but little else. He approached the Captain, who nodded in greeting.
"Lt. Gibson reports everything nominal in our absence, Captain," he reported. "I've ordered Discovery back to the planet to scan the remains of the base, to make sure that there are no survivors. I've also ordered a full sensor sweep of the entire sector, in case that Dallas fellow is aboard a ship somewhere nearby."
Ami nodded. "Good work, Commander."
"We're not going to find him anywhere around here," Xander said without looking up. "He's too smart for that."
Poz looked at him and then back to the Captain. "How is the symbiont?"
"Dr. T'Lyn and her team are trying to stabilize him now," Ami answered. "They asked us to step out while they work."
A few minutes later the sickbay doors opened and the Vulcan doctor stepped out. Xander rose to his feet and looked at her expectantly. "The symbiont is stable for now, however it is still very weak. I'm afraid that it will not survive much longer unless it is implanted into a new host. I've accessed the Starfleet Medical Database and determined that the nearest candidate is aboard Starbase 103." Starfleet and the Trill homeworld both kept a database with Trill initiates as well as any other Trill willing to be joined in case of an emergency.
Ami tapped her combadge. "Mizuno to bridge."
"Bridge, Lt. Gibson here. What can I do for you, Captain?"
"How long would it take us to reach Starbase 103, maximum warp?" Ami asked.
There was a pause while someone on the bridge calculated the travel time. "Forty-seven hours, twenty minutes," Gibson responded after a moment. Ami looked at Dr. T'Lyn, the older Vulcan just shook her head. Not enough time. "Would you like us to lay in a course, Captain?"
"Negative, Lieutenant. Mizuno out."
There was a moment of silence, as no one in the corridor seemed to know what to say. Xander turned his back on the others, leaning his head against the wall on the opposite side of the corridor. After a moment he let out growl of frustration and punched the bulkhead, breaking three of his fingers in the process. They would heal, the pain was a brief distraction from the hollow feeling in his chest.
After a few minutes, Poz broke the silence. "I'll do it." Three sets of eyes locked onto him in an instant.
"Commander, you are not listed in the candidate database," Dr. T'Lyn said. "We do not know if you are physically able to carry a symbiont."
"My mother had me tested when I was a child," Poz said. "She had hopes that I would become an initiate like her. I am physically able, I requested that I not be listed in the database because I didn't want to be joined."
"This is not a decision to be taken lightly," T'Lyn said. "Becoming joined will change who you are, for the rest of your life."
"Jamir, are you sure?" Ami asked. "I know how you feel about…" she let the rest of her sentence trail off.
"I'm sure," Poz said. "Tyk and I may not have seen eye to eye, but he said some things that made me think. The way he talked about being joined, it reminded me of the way my mother used to talk. She was proud of who she was. I blamed her symbiont for so long for taking her from me, all symbionts, and it wasn't fair. I can't think of a better way to honor both of them than this. Besides, he saved my life. I owe him one."
T'Lyn seemed satisfied with that. "We'll need to prepare you for surgery immediately." Poz nodded.
Xander stepped forward and put his hands on both of Poz's shoulders, looking him in the eye. His face conveyed more emotion then any words ever could. "Thank you," he said simply. Poz just nodded again, before turning and following Dr. T'Lyn into sickbay.
"The procedure will take several hours," T'Lyn said before the doors closed. "I will notify you both as soon as it is complete."
Ami put her hand on Xander's shoulder and looked up at him. He squeezed her hand and smiled back, looking determined about something. "I need to contact Admiral Colgate," he said.
"Xander, the mission debriefing can wait."
"Not about the debriefing. And no, it can't wait. Things are different now, I can't keep hiding in the snow anymore. I have to make sure that Romin didn't die in vain."
Dallas packed what few possessions that he had with him into a shoulder bag before making sure that he left no trace of himself in the room that he now occupied. Things had not gone exactly as planned, but he had been smart enough to foresee that possibility and plan for it. Losing the device was a major setback, but he still had all of Hardcross's research files thanks to the data link that one of his spies had installed into his computer on the station. The device could be rebuilt, but the quickenings stored inside would not be as easy to replace. Still, time was one thing that he has an abundance of. The two biggest threats to his plan, Xander Harris and Stephen Hardcross, were dead. True, so was George, his most loyal minion. But he had others. He had spent centuries cultivating his resources, planning his godhood. And he would not be denied. Not by anyone.
He wiped the computer console that he had been using clean, removing all of the logs of the conversation that he had had with Xander on Hardcross Station. He covered his digital tracks just as expertly as he did his physical ones, being sure to remove any sensor logs from his time in the room from the computer as well. There would be no trace that he had ever been there, no one would be able to associate the explosion of the station back to him. He traveled in secret, with a disguise and an assumed name. He was a phantom, a ghost, able to disappear like a puff of smoke. No one knew that he even existed. But when the time came, they would know. The entire galaxy would know, and nothing would be beyond his power.
He smiled to himself as he hoisted the bag onto his shoulder and walked out of the room. Soon, he thought to himself. Soon.
"Captain's log, stardate 569248.1:
"Our mission to Sigma Epsilon IV has come to a close. Though I'm not sure that it could be called a success, we did meet our objective. The NegaVamp threat has been neutralized, and we've determined with reasonable certainty that there are no other NegaVamps left alive. We've conducted a deep sensor sweep of the entire sector, and there is no indication of any NegaVerse energy sources. We are currently on route back to Earth.
"Unfortunately the cost of our success was the destruction of Outpost 612, with all hands aboard. Starfleet may have gained a powerful enemy today. The full extent of this unknown enemy's motives or abilities remain unseen. I also regret to report the loss of a member of our away team, Commander Romin Tyk of Starfleet Intelligence. The Tyk symbiont has survived, and has been successfully implanted into my first officer, Commander Jamir Poz. Make that Commander Jamir Tyk, I suppose now. The full ramifications of this are still unclear, but I am hopeful that he will choose to remain aboard the Discovery. Jamir has become a valuable officer and friend to me, and I would hate to lose him."
Ami was interrupted as the door to her ready room chimed. "Computer, pause log recording." The computer beeped in response. "Enter."
The door slid open and Xander entered. He wore a Starfleet uniform, command red with three pips on his collar. "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?" he asked.
"No, have a seat, please," Ami said. "That's an interesting look for you," she said with a smile.
Xander returned the smile as he sat down in front of her desk. "It's been a while since I've worn one of these. The replicator had to get my size from my personnel file."
"Has Dr. T'Lyn contacted you? The surgery went well, host and symbiont both are expected to make a full recovery."
Xander nodded. "She told me. I told her that I was adding her to my Christmas card list, she said that that wouldn't be necessary. It's a good thing she didn't tell me in person, I may have hugged her. I know how much Vulcans like to be touched."
Ami laughed. "I'm glad you stopped by, I wanted to show you something." She typed a few commands into the viewer on her desk and turned the display to face Xander. "We managed to get a comm log from one of the relay stations that Dallas used to contact us on the station. I've been reviewing it and I think I've found something that could help us."
Xander looked at the screen, which displayed a still image from the log. It was a tight shot of Dallas' face, not showing much else of the room. Ami pressed a button and the image zoomed in to a portion in the upper right corner, a section of the background. "Do you see that?"
Xander squinted and looked closer. "It looks like a doorway."
"Exactly. Specifically, it's a section of decorative scroll work around the doorway. I ran a visual search in the library computer, and I found out that it's specific to a Bolian architectural style. And that got me thinking, Deep Space Five is located in the Bolian system, and was built by the Bolians."
"The supply run," Xander said with realization. "Dallas must have taken his pet NegaVamp there and somehow got that stasis chamber aboard that cargo freighter. He could still be there."
"I contacted DS5 and sent them the comm logs, they're looking for him now and they're checking their sensor logs and the manifests of every ship in and out for the past week. Even if he's left already, we might be able to get a clue as to where he went or where he came from."
Xander nodded, a grim determination in his eyes. "It's a start."
"Did you make your report to Admiral Colgate?" Ami asked. Xander nodded. "How much did you tell him?"
"I left out the Immortal stuff, but I told him that this was a personal vendetta. The admiral was more concerned about the NegaVamps, I reassured him that the threat had been eliminated. I'll submit a full report when we get back to Earth."
Ami nodded. "So what was so important that you had to contact him right away?"
Xander paused, gathering his thoughts. "I've been thinking a lot about what you said to me, about how we can't run from the past forever. I decided that you're right, I need to start living my life again. Before we went on this mission, Tyk told me that he wasn't sure if what we did was worth the price anymore, all of the death. After losing Romin, I'm not sure if it *is* worth it anymore. I told the admiral that I'm done, I can't live this life anymore. I can't keep acting like life is cheap, I just feel like…I have too much to live for now."
"Xander, that's great," Ami said with a smile, putting her hand on top of his. "I'm happy for you. So, what are you going to do now?"
"Actually, I wanted to talk to you about that. The admiral told me that he's been trying to persuade you to accept an intelligence officer as part of your senior staff, considering the special missions that the Discovery is often sent on, but that you've been reluctant because you didn't want anything to distract you from your primary mission as a science ship. I was wondering if you'd consider me for the position." Ami's eyes widened in surprise. "I promise you that my loyalties will always lie with you and this ship, and that I won't be beholden to Starfleet Intelligence to try to influence your command decisions in any way."
"You want to stay aboard Discovery?"
"The two most important people in my life right now are right here. If I can use my position and my skills to help keep this ship safe, then I can't think of anywhere else that I'd rather be."
Ami smiled. She stood up and extended her hand. Xander stood as well and took it. "Commander Harris, I'd be honored if you would accept the post of Strategic Operations Officer aboard the Discovery," she said, making it official.
Xander smiled back. "The honor would be mine, Captain," he said.
Ami stepped around the desk and enveloped Xander in a hug. "Welcome aboard, Commander. Welcome to your new life."
"Not new," Xander said, breaking the hug. "I'm just picking up where I left the old one, the one that I lost when my friends were all taken from me. I think…I think that this is what they would want me to do."
Ami nodded. "They would all be so proud of you, Xander."
Xander just smiled and hugged her again. When he pulled back, he had a mischievous glint in his eye. "There's just one more request that I have."
"Well, I've been reading the Starfleet regulations on shipboard pets, and it seems there's a weight limit of fifteen kilos. I was wondering if we could make an exception."
Ami's eyes widened again. Xander laughed.
When Xander walked into sickbay, he wasn't sure what to expect. Being friends with the previous five hosts of the Tyk symbiont, he had certainly been through this before, but each time it was different. There's always a period of adjustment for a newly joined Trill, and there's no way of knowing how they will react to the sudden influx of memories and feeling from the symbiont. When Xander entered the recovery ward, he saw Jamir sitting up in his bed, reading from a PADD. When he saw Xander he smiled, and waved him over. The entire time that he had been aboard Discovery, Xander hadn't seen Jamir smile once. He got the impression that it wasn't something the man did very often. Seeing the wide grin on his face now looked strange, but it made Xander feel good, because it reminded him that his friend was still alive. Xander smiled back.
"How are you feeling?"
"Like a new man," Jamir said, smiling at his own joke. "Seriously though, it's a little disorienting. My head is filled with this jumble of thoughts, and I'm not entirely sure which ones are mine."
"They're all yours now," Xander said. "You'll find an equilibrium, it'll just take time."
Jamir nodded. "I know, I remember what it was like for the other hosts. It's a strange feeling, I never thought that the memories would feel so…real. I'm beginning to understand how my mother felt, why she wanted this for me. I just…I wish I could have told her that I understand now."
"Maybe you still can," Xander said.
Jamir understood that he meant that he could try to contact the current host of the symbiont that his mother had carried. "I'll have to think about that."
"I just wanted to say thank you again for doing this. I know that it couldn't have been an easy decision," Xander said.
"I'm the one who should be thanking you. You saved my life, again. Tyk's life, I mean. I want you to know, that what I said before…I mean, what Romin said, I meant it. You really have been a good friend, Xander. He may have had doubts, about what we were doing, but he could always count on you, and he knew that. God, pronouns are hard." They both laughed at that.
Xander reached out and clasped Jamir on the shoulder. "Romin Tyk was my friend, and so were Zerik, and Jobar, and Vrelan. And I hope that I can become friends with Jamir Tyk as well."
Jamir smiled. "I hope so, too," he said. "But, I'm not going back, I can't."
Xander nodded. "I know, it's okay. You have a place here on Discovery, it wouldn't be right to ask you to leave all of that, and I wouldn't do that."
"I hope we can still keep in touch."
Xander smiled. "You're not getting rid of me that easily," he said. He puffed up his chest. "You're looking at Discovery's new Strategic Operations Officer."
The Trill's eyes widened. "You're staying? Xander, I…you're not just doing this for me, are you?"
"I'm doing this for me," Xander said. "What happened to Romin just made me realize that life is too short, and that I need to do what makes me happy. I can't dwell on the past, but I can't ignore it anymore either."
"The captain explained to me about what happened on the station, about what you are," Jamir said. "I can't pretend that I understand all of it, but it does answer a lot of questions."
"I never wanted to lie to you, Tyk. But being an Immortal isn't just my secret, and I couldn't afford for the truth to come out."
"It's okay, I understand. We all have secrets, especially in SI. Speaking of which, how did Colgate take the news?"
"He wasn't happy about losing two of his best operatives in one day, but he understood. You'll need to go through a debriefing process when we get back to Earth, but your security clearance is high enough, so there isn't anything that Tyk knows that you aren't cleared to know, so you should be fine."
Jamir nodded, and then he smiled. "I remember ninety years ago, when Zerik was the Director of SI, when he first recruited you," Tyk said, referring to the first host of his symbiont that Xander knew. "He was eighty-seven years old then, thought I'd seen it all. But you never failed to surprise me. You were so young, or so I thought, full of drive and determination. He respected the hell out of you."
"The feeling was mutual," Xander said. "He was my mentor, taught me everything I knew."
"If someone would have told me then that in a century we'd both be pulling starship duty again, I would have said they were crazy." He stared off into space, fifteen lifetimes of memories swimming around in his head. "It's a hard life, intelligence work, and it takes so much out of you. Too much sometimes."
Xander put his hand on Jamir's arm. "This is a new chapter, my friend. For both of us. We'll see it through together."
Tyk smiled and nodded. "Together."
Xander moved through his new quarters aboard the Discovery, unpacking his belongings. The debriefings on Earth had gone well, and Tyk had been approved to remain as Discovery's first officer. He was adjusting fairly well Xander thought to his new life as a joined Trill. While on Earth Xander had had the difficult task of condensing four centuries worth of belongings into his new home. He couldn't take everything of course, but he did manage a few of his favorite pieces. His favorite arm chair from his study, a collection of books, and some of the more valuable pieces of art from his collection. The rest stayed in his house in the Himalayas, which Starfleet Intelligence would now be using as a safehouse. The standard quarters now looked a little more like home, especially with Scooby curled up on the floor next to the chair. Xander scratched the razor cat's head between his horns and smiled. He had turned quite a few heads when he first brought him aboard. He imagined the ship's gossip mill would be talking about him for weeks. Ami had made a notation in Xander's personnel file next to Scooby's name, 'Special dispensation made for meritorious service'. She made sure that he was assigned family quarters, so that there would be enough room for the both of them. And she also made sure that he was close to a holodeck, in case Scooby ever did start to feel cooped up. The ship's library had a simulation of an El-Aurian jungle that he had already tried and the cat had loved it.
His was unpacking knickknacks and putting them on a shelf when he came across a collection of pictures. Up until the day before when he had packed them, he hadn't looked at them in centuries. It seemed unbelievable to him now, that he had tried to forget about them. The first one he pulled out was of him with Buffy and Willow, lying in the grass together. He always loved that shot. There was a picture of Giles, in the old library at Sunnydale high, shelving books. There was a silver frame with a photo of him and Ami sharing a kiss at the Bronze, Buffy had taken that one. He kept that picture for years after the Sailor Scouts returned to Japan as a memento of that summer they had spent together. There was another shot of the whole gang with the Sailor Scouts, right before they left. There was one of him and Anya, from that Halloween where he had dressed as a pirate and she was one of Charlie's Angels, smiling for the camera from behind the counter at the Magic Box. Another frame held a photo of him and Dawn from that trip to the water park they had taken that last summer that they had all been together, both of them perched on boogie boards in the wave pool. Another photo from that same day showed Willow and Tara, smiling and laughing. Xander displayed the pictures prominently on the shelf, smiling at each one as he remembered what his life was like back then. He still felt sadness and anger over what had happened to them all, but for the first time in a long time, he let himself feel joy too. Joy in the memories he had of each of them, of the time they had had together and how much that it meant to him.
Above the shelf on the wall sat a rack holding two swords. The first was Xander's katana, the sword that he had kept for over a century and had used in battle with other Immortals, along with a fair share of demons and other assorted uglies during his service with Starfleet Intelligence. Below that sat the rapier with the ornate hand guard and the tassel in the pommel that he had taken from Hardcross. The sword that he had come to call Soul Vessel, from the Japanese characters on the scabbard, contained the quickenings of a thousand Immortals. The entire population of Hardcross station had died in Dallas' quest for this sword in his perverse attempt at godhood. Romin had died for it, and that was something that Xander was not likely to soon forget.
Xander took the sword down from the rack and held it in his hand. He turned and looked out of the window at the stars streaking by outside. Somewhere out there Dallas was still alive, still dogged in his pursuit of omnipotence. He would eventually learn that Xander was still alive and that he had the sword, and he would come after him. And when that day came, Xander would be ready.
"I've got something of yours, you murdering son of a bitch," Xander hissed at the stars. "Come and get it."