CHAPTER FIFTEEN:
A Change in Plans

"We don't have access nor can we make the weapons from my universe to give us an advantage in battle. Adriana and I have looked at the different weapons we can use. We've tested and measured their effectiveness. From field tests, we have found for firearms that a mix of AP, HE and incendiary ammo is effective in taking out vampires. We– Yes? You have a question?"

"What's AP?" asked an extremely confused looking Potential.

Michael sighed, closing his eyes, and counting to ten, God… if I had a Spartan team we could dust every last vampire bastard! Hell, I could do it with an ODST team or even a Marine squad! Those vampires are strong and dangerous, but they're one dimensional and you can kill them if you know what you're doing! You don't have to worry about plasma grenades, needlers, Wraiths, Phantoms or having the planet glassed underneath you...

Michael opened his eyes, "AP stands for Armor-piercing," he answered. He immediately saw more puzzled looks in the group of Potentials assembled before him. Another sigh followed.

"That means that the bullet can go through metal."

oOoOo

With the briefing ending, Buffy, Giles and Faith approached Michael. They observed his briefing, but had kept their questions and concerns to themselves until he was finished. They didn't want to air any differences in public. As they approached the Spartan, the look of frustration on his face was painfully obvious. They were all worried how he would take their concerns.

Giles didn't waste any time to start off, "Michael, I understand what you are trying to do, but is this the right approach for them? You want to wage a conventional war against The First and its followers…! Is that even possible? You're a professional soldier while these Potentials are only girls… young women. They're not professional soldiers, and you may expect too much from them… from us."

Buffy nodded in agreement while quickly adding, "Giles is right. We have to prepare, but is giving guns to these girls to fight The First the answer?"

Michael considered Giles and Buffy and then looked at Faith, "You agree with them too?"

Faith felt herself being torn in two directions. She didn't want to go against Michael, but she recognized, deep down, Giles and Buffy had valid points. If he loved her he would respect her opinion and her right to voice it, "Giles and Buffy both make some good points. These girls aren't soldiers and giving machine guns to them could be a bad mistake."

Michael took a moment to compose his response as he considered the points raised. A part of him was happy that Faith felt she could express her honest opinion to him, but it still troubled him in their inability to grasp they were in a war. This first session with the Potentials had been hard and frustrating for him. Now he was being questioned over tactics, weapons and the training he wanted to conduct.

This was a new situation for him. For Michael, it wasn't about ego or his feelings being hurt. Doubts and questions had never been expressed when Spartans gave advice or orders. Spartans were considered the best soldiers... period. It was a change and challenge to have to explain everything he wanted to do and why.

"The enemy will come at you in waves..." Michael began, "They will use their numbers to overwhelm and kill you. Within their arm's length, they're almost unstoppable. The key is to kill them before they get close. We channel them into killing zones, bringing massive superior firepower to bear, killing them from range. If we don't stop them, then all the Potentials… all of you will die. You will lose… the human race will lose."

They others had stunned looks, but they still didn't seem convinced, "I started my training and learning how to fight when I was six years old. By the time I was ten, I'd learned how to work with others to take out bigger and stronger adversaries. I have fought against beings whose only goal… a fanatical goal… is the complete extermination of the human race."

He let what he'd said sink in, "Given a choice between facing a Covenant battle group or a horde of those Turok-Hans. I would choose vampires every time. My odds of surviving are much better. I don't expect these girls to be Spartans or even full-fledged marines, but they're here and they're now our first line of defense whether they like it or not. Besides… any war I fight won't be conventional."

Giles took a moment to consider the Spartan's words, "I can appreciate your experience and knowledge, but we don't have years to prepare these Potentials."

Michael grimaced because he understood how important training was to survival and ensuring the success of the mission. He also realized that Giles also had a valid point… time was not on their side. He would have to take all this into consideration, "The training and tactics are to help everyone stay alive in combat and kill the enemy. I hear you and I'll try to take all this into account, but I will not compromise or jeopardize the mission. I'll go it alone if I have too, but I'd rather have all of you by my side as that increases our odds. But understand this... nothing gets in the way of the mission! Do you understand me?"

Buffy, Faith and Giles had no response. They could only watch in stunned amazement as Michael walked away.

oOoOo

Later on, behind closed doors in their quarters, Faith and Michael rehashed the same argument.

Faith still wasn't convinced with the direction Michael wanted to go. She (and others) was having difficulties grasping how he wanted to wage this war. For her and Buffy, they had always fought in a certain way and style. Michael was talking about killing zones, fields of fire and channeling the enemy. A part of her found his way of war, so detached and antiseptic. She knew he had a lot of fighting experience, but his ideas of fighting seemed so completely at odds with her Slayer instincts. Despite her reservations, she was trying to keep an open mind.

"Aren't you asking too much of them... and yourself?" she asked.

"You understand what's at stake…! This is a battle of survival for the species, there are no second place awards," Michael replied, arguing his point. To him there was no real debate over how to wage war. From his experience the one that brought the most firepower along with the ability and will to use it, usually won.

"Yeah, I know," Faith said, "But these Potentials aren't you! You've got to at least try to be a little more understanding when dealing with them. They're being hunted and they're scared! Hell, everyone's scared about the big bad that says it's going to devour them! You've got to be patient with them… give them time to get used to your ideas and how you do things."

Michael sighed, conceding Faith, and the others had a point. These people weren't UNSC military, and other than Xander's exposure at Halloween and their encounters with The Initiative they had no military background or experience. He'd already been considering where he could make adjustments and allowances in his tactics and training plans, "It's hard Faith. I'm not use to dealing with non-military types, but I'll try if you'll help me," he said, giving her a small smile.

Faith added her own sigh of relief seeing that he would honestly try to meet them on this issue. She sensed that Michael could be stubborn, but was thankful he didn't have a huge ego or pride that would stop him from being reasonable. She returned his smile, "I'll always be there for you," she said, leaning in to kiss him.

oOoOo

Everything was quiet, and the lights had dimmed as Michael wandered alone through the building. Faith was asleep in their bed as he needed time to think about what he needed to do, and how he had to proceed. The goal was still the same… get everyone ready for the confrontation. It was how to get there that he was having problems wrapping his head around. He had to relate to these girls to train them to fight and survive. It was figuring out how he would present it to them, so they would accept what he knew was necessary for them to win. If not, then he would probably have to restore to last ditch scorched-earth measures, which considerably lowered everyone's chance of survival.

He debated whether he should mention he had planned for such a contingency. He decided against it because he didn't want to get into another debate about his tactics. When the time called for such drastic action, he would make the decision and execute the plan. He alone would bear the burden of responsibility for it.

He continued walking through the quiet and dark building… a Spartan alone in his thoughts.

oOoOo

After breakfast, Michael had everyone gather in the common area. With yesterday's frustrating briefing session still in mind, he made his way to the front of the gathered group. Despite the hard edge he presented, he was uncomfortable speaking in front of large groups. Spartans weren't known for their ability to give speeches. Out of reflex, he glanced towards Faith, and found himself rewarded with a smile and wink from her. He couldn't help himself as he flashed a quick smile back. Noting that everyone had settled down he took a deep breath before beginning.

"Before we go any farther, I want to make sure all of you understand who and what I am and where I come from. You all know I come from an alternate future universe… I was selected and trained for combat since I was six years old…"

The gathered crowd murmured among themselves. Ignoring them, Michael continued, "Where I come from, my human race has been fighting a war against a group of alien species, called the Covenant. For over twenty years we have been fighting this war. Most of our colony worlds are gone, and we have lost over twenty billion people…" he ignored the gasps of shock, continuing, "Yes, that's right…! Twenty billion dead with a capital B! My human race has been fighting and losing against an enemy that wants nothing less than our total extermination!"

His voice took on a harder edge which silenced the murmuring, "Do not doubt, for one second, my resolve and determination. I will stop at nothing to protect the human race whether it is in my universe or this one."

He let what he said sink in, "I have plans and ideas on how we should fight this war. I know some of you have expressed reservations, but I want every one of you to realize that we are in a war. We will use this time to discuss the training and tactics we need to win and survive. Whatever we agree upon after today there will be no second guessing each other. We will fight, and we kill the Turok-Hans and anything else that comes out of the Hellmouth… is that understood?"

Michael glanced around the room, meeting each person's gaze. He saw the uncertainty and the fear there as they either nodded or mumbled their understanding.

"Everyone here brings a different level and scope of knowledge and experience to what we will face, so it is important that we work together as a team. Training will cover different areas. Individual training… working on building up strength and endurance. Group training… all of you will assigned to work in teams. Your teams will learn to work by themselves and with other teams to achieve objectives."

He noted the questioning and puzzled expressions, That's a good sign, at least no one is arguing...

He continued, "There will be a lot of hands-on training that will push your limits, but as with all training there will also be classroom training to learn as the saying goes, 'knowing is half the battle'."

A huge groan filled the room at the mention of classroom training. Michael noticed that Faith and Buffy weren't too thrilled at the mention of that aspect of training.

"The training will be hard, but ask yourselves this? Would you rather be alive to complain about sore muscles or dead? Everyone will take part in training and everyone will contribute. There will be no exceptions. I will now open the floor to discussions. Questions… comments?"

Hands quickly went up…

oOoOo

A small sense of accomplishment flowed through Michael, noting the people gathered around the conference room table. The previous meeting with everyone had gone better than expected, granted there were still several people expressing concerns and doubts. He could deal with that in time. His main goal was to bring in a command structure for their group to help organize and guide them in their efforts.

With what he referred to as inner core now gathered in the conference room, Michael explained he wanted to form a command team and structure to oversee their group. Again, the tendrils of doubt inched among the people's faces. He took a deep breath, recalling Faith's advice, and patiently explained the benefits of being organized would give them over The First and its forces. With teamwork and communication they could coordinate their strength, plus this would be the last thing The First would expect.

For Michael it hadn't been much of a stretch to have Buffy, Faith, Giles, Xander, Willow, Spike, Dawn, Anya, and Adriana on his 'command staff'. For years he'd been watching them and studying the psychological profiles Adriana had built. He knew their strengths and weaknesses and what each of them brought. Along with his command team, he'd given considerable thought to the structure of their fighting force. He realized that it would be tough, but there wasn't a lot of time, and this was all they had to work with.

The option of going to the government or even going public to get more support and resources was still available. After the full threat of The First became known and everyone moved to the warehouse, Adriana and Michael spent a lot of time discussing their tactical and strategic options. The main benefit of going to the government was they could bring in the manpower and resources to fight the battle he wanted. The downside was trying to convince anyone outside of Sunnydale about the threat.

Michael experienced enough from dealing with ONI and the UNSC bureaucratic mindset he wasn't naïve as to the can of worms he would open by going public. A full-disclosure would not only require bringing the threat out into the open, but himself. Everyone and their dog would stampede, wanting a piece of an augmented soldier and AI. The Initiative may no longer be in business, but that didn't mean he couldn't still end up in "protective custody". Another factor that prevented them from going to the government was Faith. If they involved the authorities, in their eyes she was still an escaped felon. Either way, precious time would be lost as they tried to sort out the situation, and he wasn't about to watch her get hauled off back to prison.

Michael would have preferred a bigger — and more military-like — force to fight with, but then fighting against horrendous odds was something he was all too familiar with. He would work with what he had. Plus, Adriana and he had already discussed and put in place a contingency plan to deal with any threat that couldn't be contained within Sunnydale.

He observed the people sitting around the table, noting the looks on their faces. He'd seen the same looks many times before, on marines and civilians… the trust and hope they had in him to lead them through and keep them alive.

"I've been thinking about our force structure, and my recommendation is that we form five fireteams made up of the Potentials. Fireteams are small military units designed to optimize fire and movement. Usually fireteams consist of only four soldiers, but to keep our command and control structure simple, we will make the teams larger. Buffy, Faith, Giles, Spike and Xander will be our team leaders. You have all proven yourselves and have the leadership and combat experience. As our training expands, you will take on more responsibility and oversee your team's training. Your teams will learn to work alone, and also how to work with the other teams to support them. I realize this all sounds strange because until now you mostly fought as individuals, but we need to fight as a team rather than individuals."

Michael glanced around the group as he continued, "For Willow, Dawn and Anya, your tasks are to provide support and work with Adriana in our command center. We will need you back here to support our operations in the field. You won't be in the field, but you will still learn all the same combat and fighting techniques as everyone else. I will also assign Potentials to the command center. You will make up our reserve and support force."

Nods of understanding from the group mixed in along with worried looks of self-doubt, which always seemed to be the case when talking about combat and war. Spike raised his hand catching everyone by surprise.

"Yes, Spike?" Michael said, nodding to the vampire.

"Yeah, about all this organization stuff and rigmarole. I'm all game to fight and mix it up with those bastards, but I'm not exactly built to go out in the daylight to train. Unless, your plan is to use my dust to blind the bloody buggers!"

Michael smirked, catching everyone by surprise. He'd already taken Spike into account, "Oh, I'm quite aware of your 'condition' and taken that into account. Since you don't really need to get into shape, you get to sleep in as we conduct the physical exercise and training in the morning…"

A big grin immediately spread across Spike's face at this news. Looks of hate flew in his direction as he leaned back in his chair in a very relaxed and cocksure manner, rubbing in his good fortune. Michael didn't let Spike savor his good luck for long, "The afternoons will be scheduled for classroom training. Since that will be mostly indoors, you will attend. On those days where it is necessary to be outside, I thought we could do some sparring in the training area... you know, to improve your close-in fighting skills."

Laughter erupted as Spike's shit-eating grin disappeared. The look on his face did an about-face as he realized he would go up against the Spartan, "Bugger!" Spike muttered, rolling his eyes skyward.

Michael let the laughter settle before continuing on, "We will conduct field exercises in the early evening when the sun has set… to allow for Spike's participation."

With his hopes for avoiding all this training evaporated, Spike groaned loudly which brought more laughs from the rest of the group.

"We might as well get used to fighting at night. That's when they'll probably make their move against us," Michael added.

His words immediately changed the mood of the room as sober looks settled across everyone's faces as the reality sank in and the threat came back. Michael was all too familiar with the looks on some of the group. He'd seen those same looks hundreds of times before, on the faces of marines. For Buffy, Faith, Giles and Spike, they had different looks as they understood what was being asked and required of them.

Michael tried to change the somber mood, "I have confidence in all of you to do the training and perform the tasks that you need to do. You aren't rookies… you've all fought before and you've prevailed. We're just taking what you've done to a new level, and I'll be working with you and your teams every step of the way."

He took a moment to study their faces. There was still doubt and uncertainty, but he could also see he had them 'buying in' to his plans. He decided it was time to move on to cover off some of the details of the training program, "Let's talk about the training program. We need to start with basic physical fitness and then move to combat techniques. We'll start with hand-to-hand combat and then move on to weapons," as he spoke, a little voice inside kept telling him there wasn't a lot of time to prepare.