Well, a new chapter is finally out. Sorry for the delay, but a combination of RL, lack of inspiration and general laziness pretty much killed any passion for writing for a while. Not sure if things continue in this trend, but RL is looking much better at this time and I hope it will help me with my writing as well.

Chapter 44

"The cult was wiped out? I thought it would have been harder to root them out completely, even for the Imperials." Ba'al frowned after hearing the report from the Chaos Sorcerer.

"The Inquisitor they sent was good. Well trained and she used her psyker abilities surprisingly well, something I've been unable to counter so far. I am tempted to pull off a few plots and see how well she handles them." Akhor Menet chuckled softly. "This galaxy's lack of psykers is a real challenge. I haven't faced this level of difficulty since the time of the Great Crusade."

"Still, the failure of the cult will hurt our long-term plans. Their success would have delayed the Imperials significantly in that region." Ba'al complained.

"It was a risky gamble either way. We lost little in the plot." The Sorcerer shrugged.

"True enough. How go the plans for our new fleet?" Ba'al asked.

"On schedule. We expect we'll be ready to enact our plans within the year." The Sorcerer replied.

"Good. Next time the Imperium won't stop us." Ba'al grinned evilly. Soon, his plans would come to fruition, and he'd be able to rid himself of the Chaos servants and crush the Imperium as well.

Back in Atlantis, Novak was practically bouncing as her mechadendrites carefully examined the strange insect that had managed to latch onto Major Sheppard on their last mission.

"Amazing. The insect shows a clear genetic relation to the Wraith. See how it taps into his bloodstream? It has actually become a part of his cardiovascular system." Novak commented absently as one of her assistants wrote down her words while two others stood by a cart loaded with surgical instruments ready to assist her in her work.

"That's fascinating Archmagos, but how do we get it off him?" Weir asked with a sigh. Dealing with the Mechanicus was if possible even more frustrating than dealing with the Inquisition. At least she knew where she stood with the Inquisitor, namely a bug to be crushed underfoot when she decided she was no longer useful or amusing. With the cyborgs, she had no idea if she'd get shot, dissected or worse.

"Get it off?" Novak blinked. "I could get tons of valuable data by observing the feeding process to completion."

"Get it off, Archmagos. I'm sure you'll get plenty of data when you dissect the thing. No need to sacrifice Sheppard." Cassandra gave a grin to Weir. "Yet."

"Very well, but I do so under protest, Inquisitor." Novak complained before she jabbed a needle in Sheppard's neck, which caused him to convulse for a few seconds before going still.

"What did you do?" Weir screamed in shock as they watched the creature detach itself before Novak's assistants scooped it up in a secure container.

"The creature only feeds on living beings. Killing Sheppard was the quickest way to remove it. And reviving him is a simple process." Novak jabbed another needle in the man's chest before a second mechadendrite pressed against his chest. A moment later Sheppard convulsed and gasped for air as his heart was restarted.

"Excuse me, I have a specimen to examine." Novak walked past them, trailed by her attendants.

"How do you feel, Sheppard?" Weir turned to her subordinate.

"Like death warmed over." The man wheezed in a pain filled tone.

"Sounds about right. To the Mechanicus restarting a heart is no different than jumpstarting an engine." Cassandra commented.

"You sound like you speak from experience." Weir frowned, noticing how Cassandra acted when she said that.

"Happened to me once during psyker training. I was working on astral projection, and went too deep and died. Buffy was pissed at me after she managed to pull my soul back. She lectured me for two hours, then told…" Cassandra paused for a moment as she recalled the incident. "She told mom. Excuse me."

"The SGC really dropped the ball with her." Sheppard commented once he had recovered enough.

"Yeah. While I agree with the reasons for their decisions, how they were executed was just sloppy. She could have been on our side. Instead, she's an angry young woman with a huge axe to grind against us." Weir sighed. To her it seemed Washington DC was full of arrogant, self-serving and usually incompetent morons with far too much power and too little common sense.

"I'm telling you, there has to be a spy. Someone is selling us out to the Wraith." Sumner declared to the people in the room who had gathered to discuss their recent string of ambushes by the Wraith, most of which were met by Sheppard's team, but a few other teams have had encounters as well.

"Impossible, Colonel. After the third ambush, I've had Archmagos Carter encrypt the deployment data. No one but me and her knew where the teams would be sent until they were already on their way. Unless you're insinuating that one of us is informing the Wraith?" Cassandra countered his argument.

"I suppose that removes the possibility of a spy. How are they ambushing us then?" Weir cut in before the two could butt heads again. She kept wondering about the Colonel's chances to retire considering he kept pissing off the woman that could peel him like a grape with her mind.

"We're not sure yet. I have constructed this device. It will scan the team members during their off-world operations and will hopefully detect the source. Fortunately for us, Atlantis has a very powerful jamming system for every form of communications not used by the Ancients, so whatever it is they're using, they won't be able to use it to track this location." Carter explained.

"Don't the Wraith already know that Atlantis is here?" Weir pointed out.

"But they don't know we're here. The Wraith Queen we captured managed to tell the others to awaken, but nothing else. Between myself, Lord Barachiel and the dampening field, I can assure you she sent nothing else before Novak tore her apart." Cassandra grinned inwardly at the queasy looks of the expedition members. Novak was quickly gaining a reputation among them. Not completely undeserved, considering the woman saw flesh as merely material and organisms a system to be examined, studied and improved.

"There's also another matter I wanted to talk about. Our food supplies while significant are also limited. We always planned to supplement them from local sources but we didn't know this world was mostly water when we planned it. I spoke to Teyla and she said she could introduce us to some people that could sell us some produce." Weir told them.

"Good idea. We are also using some land for farms and we're fishing the ocean of course, but like you we are dependent on what supplies we brought. Of course, unlike Earth, New Cadia and Tollana have the power capacity to resupply us." Cassandra grinned. "Naturally, we'd be happy to provide supplies for you as well, at a minor cost."

"What kind of cost?" Weir asked.

"Since you're not Imperial citizens, that means that we have to sell you the food, and for the same reason, it will have to be at full price, using Earth average market values. Oh, and we can't forget to add the 100% markup for trading with governments hostile to the Imperium, the 100% markup for trading with a government with known xeno affiliations, and the 200% markup for trading with heretics. Oh and the markups are compound." Cassandra gave Weir a surprisingly friendly smile that made Weir that much more compelled to smash her teeth in.

"That's the most blatant extortion attempt I've heard in my life. If you think I'd agree to pay over ten times the actual cost for anything you're insane." Weir growled at the far too amused teenager. "I'd rather we try and work out a deal with some the locals. And besides, we're nowhere near that desperate."

"Very well, Dr. Weir. The offer is there if you change your mind." Cassandra gave her a last smile before her face turned serious again.

"So I have permission to make contact?" Weir asked.

"Yes. I'll be taking the Spear of Tollana on a survey of the system. We merely flagged some anomalies when we first arrived, and I want to ensure there aren't any unpleasant surprises left somewhere out there." Cassandra stood up and teleported away leaving the rest to walk out.

Back on Earth in Sunnydale, Joyce Summers was lounging in her living room, enjoying the weekend and trying to decide whether to make something for lunch or order out when the doorbell rang. Curious she went to the door and was surprised when she saw her daughter Buffy standing on the porch.

"Buffy! Now this is a pleasant surprise." Joyce rushed to hug her daughter and pulled her inside.

"I had a little free time and decided to come visit you." Buffy smiled as she sat across her mother. It really had been far too long since she had seen her.

"How are things going for you? Is Dawn doing alright?" Joyce asked.

"Yeah, the little munchkin is doing great. I would have brought her too, but she's on a mission right now and I couldn't pull her away. As for me, the biggest reason I actually came to visit is this." Buffy raised her left hand and Joyce noticed a large and tasteful diamond ring that caused her to gasp in shock.

"Tara proposed to me a few days ago." Buffy exclaimed happily, causing her mother to jump up and hug her tightly.

"My little girl is all grown up. Oh I'm so happy for you, sweetie." It took a few minutes for the excited mother to compose herself from the news. "Why didn't you bring Tara with you?"

"Well, she's my right hand. We can't both be absent since there's a lot of things only I and her have the authority to see. The wheels of government never stop turning I'm afraid." Buffy sighed. "But I'm grateful to her for helping me find the time to come and talk to you in person. I'm here to invite you and the rest of my friends and family to the wedding."

"You've already set a date? When is it going to be? Do you need help with the arrangements?" Joyce asked eagerly. She had always dreamed of planning her daughter's wedding, even if she didn't plan it to be a gay wedding.

"In about three months. And I already have about a hundred people planning the wedding." Buffy sighed.

"Excuse me? A hundred people? Just to plan it?" Joyce was confused.

"Yeah, it's a bit embarrassing, but when word got out Tara proposed, people grew determined to organize a wedding event befitting my stature and position. Considering I'm the de-facto ruler of the New Imperium, it's going to be huge. If there's one thing the Imperium is famous for is its 'go big or go home' mentality." Buffy began to explain.

"How big are we talking?" Joyce asked with a slightly nervous tone.

"Think British royal wedding but turned up to twelve. The wedding dress designs I've seen so far give extravagant a whole new meaning." Buffy shook her head. Her subordinates were simply too enthusiastic, and it seemed the rest of the Imperium was little better. While for most citizens she was some distant, mythic figure raised on a huge pedestal by the missionaries, the news that even such a lofty and legendary figure craved and treasured love and companionship humanized her greatly and made her even greater in the eyes of the common citizen.

A raffle was already being organized to grant one million lucky citizens the chance and means to witness the wedding in person, and Buffy had no illusions on to whether or not every single spot would be filled or not. The people, especially the former Goa'uld worlds loved the Imperium and they loved even more the leaders that gave them their freedom. And added to this number of citizens would be the various officials of all the Imperial worlds that would be present. The current estimates were over three million attendees.

"That's a lot bigger than I ever expected you to have." Joyce admitted after she managed to get her head around her daughter's words.

"I know. It's insane, but I can't say no to the big wedding considering it's been only a few months since we beat the Goa'uld attack and the people need something good to celebrate." Buffy sighed. "Anyway, how about we have some dinner and then head up to the factory? I had one more thing to show you."

After a very tasty meal in one of Sunnydale's better restaurants, the mother and daughter pair headed up to the factory that was once the Imperium's headquarters, but now served as the primary convent for the Order of Our Valiant Sister.

"So, what's the other big surprise?" Joyce asked as they walked through the halls of the now rather impressive building complex.

"This." Buffy led her to a room where one of the walls was hidden by a curtain. She pushed a button on the wall, causing it to open, revealing a large painting that covered almost the whole wall.

"My god. It's beautiful." Joyce gasped in awe at the image portrayed. It showed a large square in some city, full of a vast crowd. On one side stood Harry Maybourne, one hand raised high and leaned forward as if addressing the crowd, and above the crowd hung Faith, radiating a soft golden right. The level of detail was simply incredible. The faces of the crowd could be distinguished even in the most distant people, even the various windows showed a proper reflection. The most detailed work however was the image of Faith. Every line, every detail, every single feather of her wings was perfectly copied.

"A young art student from Langara painted that. She was in the capitol visiting a sick friend when Faith made her appearance. She started painting this that very night and finished it two days ago. She then gifted it to the cardinal of Langara who sent it to New Cadia." Buffy began to explain. "Faith actually cried when she saw it, and Harry was struck speechless when he saw himself. We decided to send it here to serve as inspiration for all current and future Sisters."

"It's perhaps the most incredible painting I've seen in my life. Thank you for showing it to me." Joyce gave her daughter another hug.

"I also wanted to tell you that it inspired me to open an Imperial Art and History museum, to showcase and preserve all the distinctiveness current and future worlds of the New Imperium have from the ravages of time. And I'd like you to be one of the curators." Buffy gave her mother a very unexpected offer.

"I don't know, Buffy. I'm just a small gallery owner. I don't have the experience for something like that." Joyce frowned a bit.

"I'm not asking you to run it yourself. I already have staff lined up for most positions, but when it comes to art, you're far more experienced than most people I've talked to about the position. I'm not just making the offer because you're my mom, you know?" Buffy pressed on.

"You're just going to pester me until I say yes, aren't you?" Joyce sighed.

"Yes. You're welcome to come live with me and Tara, by the way. The mansion on Optrisia is far too large for just the two of us anyway." Buffy told her.

"You sure you want your meddling old mom living in the same house?" Joyce teased her.

"You know we both love you. I think we can put up with you despite your advancing age." Buffy stuck out her tongue at her with a grin.

While Buffy was catching up with her mother, not far from them, a small red-robed figure made its way to the permanent portal in the building that connected Earth to Pylea.

"Ah, right on time, Techpriest Hailey. I am Techpriest Burkle, aide to Fabricator-General Lee. Please follow me." The small figure was greeted by a woman wearing an identical red robe with the hood down, showing the face of a young woman who had nearly half of her face covered in metal and various devices.

"Do you know why the Fabricator-General has requested my presence?" The smaller figure asked as she pulled her hood down, revealing a young woman with only a few devices showing through the skin of her shaved scalp.

"I will let him tell you that. I don't want to ruin the surprise." Fred gave her a light grin as they walked through the now massively industrialized world.

Massive factories belched thick columns of smoke in the air as huge assembly lines churned out everything the Imperium needed to function from weapons to agricultural equipment. Hordes of demons worked without rest chained to their work posts under the watchful eyes of combat servitors and auto turrets. Hailey noticed one of the demons collapse, clearly too tired to even stand, let alone work. A servitor simply walked up to it, snapped its neck, removed it from the shackle and dragged the corpse away while a second servitor dragged a new demon and chained it to the spot.

"Don't worry about the demon scum. Now that the factories are well established, we're slowly phasing them out of use. We can't allow such vermin to remain on a world sacred to the Omnissiah after all." Fred commented as they walked.

"Of course. It's just the first time I've seen a demon. A lot more docile than I thought they'd be." Hailey replied.

"We've trained them well. Considering how quickly we've been burning through them and replacing them, they've had nearly a dozen generations live under Mechanicus rule." Fred shrugged. Considering Pylea had only been under Imperial rule for a few years, it showed just how hard the Mechanicus was on the native demon population.

"Techpriest Hailey is here, Fabricator-General." Fred spoke once the pair reached one of the tallest offices on the planet.

"Thank you, Winifred. Return to your duties." Lee's voice was completely mechanical, and his massive floating form was very impressive to the young Techpriest.

"You are naturally curious about the reason for your presence here." Lee stated as he turned to face her. Of the man that was once Bill Lee, only a few traces of his face could be seen underneath the metal and hoses that covered his head and face.

"Yes, Fabricator-General." Hailey nodded.

"Follow me." Lee floated towards the door, and Hailey rushed to follow.

"Pylea produces a large number of items, but one of the key functions of the world is research and development of unique technologies that Fabricator-General Rosenberg wants to keep discrete, since access to this world is easy to regulate. One such project is the reason why you're here. I have gone through your record very carefully and I believe you possess both the intelligence and the necessary personality traits my project requires." Lee began to explain.

"How so?" Hailey was surprised that such a lofty figure actually paid so much attention to a minor Techpriest like her. Sure, she knew she was smart, but there were plenty of Techpriests that could match her.

"My project requires individuals with great intelligence, but that's not the most decisive factor. What I require most are people with exceptional willpower and great passion. And you, Jennifer Hailey are perhaps the most important individual in my project." They finally reached a door leading outside which Lee opened, and when they walked through Hailey felt her mind pause for a second at the sight before her. In a large pit crawling with workers and machinery stood three gantries from which hung the skeletons of what she recognized as Titan war machines.

"By the Omnissiah." Hailey gasped in awe.

"They are amazing, even unfinished as they are. The two Reavers are expected to be finished in a year, but the Imperator will need two to complete. Of course, while we can construct the God-Machines, making them move is another matter altogether. Finding a Princeps that can interface and control such a machine is not an easy task, as you can imagine. In the last year, I've tested a number of candidates and I've finally managed to find pilots for the Reavers. You've actually met one of them. My assistant Fred is indeed a remarkable woman." Lee sighed. "I have been unable to find a Princeps for the Imperator however. Until now, I hope."

"You mean?" Hailey gasped in shocked awe.

"Yes. I want you to be the Princeps of the Lux Imperium." Lee's words caused the usually composed young woman to faint from shock.