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Original: August 24, 2006
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Series: Reap the Whirlwind
Title: Handle ID Slayer
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not. I claim nothing but the plot.
Summary: B:tVS, DOOM. "RRTS Special Ops Clearance Verified," the computerized voice called out. "Handle ID, Slayer." 10,000 words.
Spoilers: B:tVS way post-"Chosen"; DOOM (2005)
Notes: Movieverse AU. Originally written as a series of twenty-one 400-word promptfic in August 2006 for TwistedShorts; reworked in January 2010 into a more coherent, continuous tale, with ~1600 new words.
"RRTS Special Ops Clearance Verified," the heavy gun announced as the big man plucked it from its resting place. "Handle ID, Sarge."
In the forty years since Buffy Summers had first discovered her own immortality-- a side-effect of the interaction between her Willow induced 'cellular sunburn' and the mystical forces unleashed during the battle against the First Evil-- she hadn't changed her opinion on guns one bit. When the slime hit the fan, the stupid things were never useful. Still, it was a basic requirement of her current job, and she wasn't ready to thumb her nose at her temporary boss just yet. She reached for her own weapon, then smirked at its announcement.
"RRTS Special Ops Clearance Verified," the computerized voice called out. "Handle ID, Slayer."
On the other side of the transport, the youngest member of the team scowled at her callsign. "How come she gets to be 'Slayer', and I get to be 'The Kid'? She's as new to the unit as I am!"
Buffy raised an eyebrow at the green recruit, then exchanged smirks with Sergeant Mahonin and settled back to wait out the ride. She knew what she looked like; blonde, tiny, maybe ninety pounds soaking wet. But her body language spoke predator to those who knew what to look for in a way the kid's never would.
Of course, that might have something to do with the 24th chromosome the Watchers had recently discovered attached to Slayer DNA, a magically activated mutation that mysteriously matched recent discoveries at the Olduvai archaeological dig. No-one was quite sure yet what it meant; the Council sure wasn't sharing with UAC personnel, and their informant inside UAC, an unactivated Potential named Dr. Samantha Grimm, didn't have access to either the Council's most up-to-date data nor the uppermost levels of research at the facility.
It had really chapped Robin Wood's hide twenty years ago when he'd realized why the Council's detection rituals kept pointing somewhere out past the moon, and Samantha's mother-- a Slayer herself-- had told him where he could shove it. He had contacted Sam again after her parents' unfortunate deaths, but the former Scoobies had been outvoted when they'd advised she be told the full truth. That decision was costing her now; she could have really used more detailed intel on their destination.
Whatever was going on up there, recent Slayer dreams had suggested it was going to be bad, but access was so tightly controlled they'd only been able to insert one Slayer into the most likely reaction force, and she'd insisted it be her. Buffy's official goals were to rescue the doctor and recover the research-- and, now that she'd met her new teammates, to make sure Sam's brother John also survived the mission.
She'd spent the better part of the last thirty years guarding the children and grandchildren of other Scoobies; she wasn't about to fall down on the job now. Xander would have been proud of Sam and Reaper. She only wished he'd lived to meet them.
Handle ID: Slayer
Buffy paced warily around the edges of the infirmary, all her senses straining for the slightest sign of another creature approaching those gathered behind its sheltering nanowall. She'd had more than four decades to perfect her extrasensory perception since the Sunnydale Hellmouth's collapse, and she'd never met anything like them. They weren't demonic, but there was something familiar about them that unsettled her on an instinctive level.
Whatever was up with them, though, it had to have something to do with the extra chromosome Slayers possessed; it was the only thing that made sense, given that Olduvai was the only other place it had ever been discovered. The creatures were definitely stronger and faster than human beings... and Reaper was out there with them. For all that he was 28 years old and a veteran Special Ops soldier, he was still as fragile as any other member of the species. Why couldn't Sarge have sent him back to stay with his sister, instead of Duke? Buffy didn't know the younger soldier well, had no idea if she could trust him to have her back, and in the meantime Xander's son was out there in harm's way without her.
Not that Xander hadn't been exactly the same way, Buffy thought wryly. It was how he'd died at age 37, rushing into battle without his 26-year-old Slayer and girlfriend, who'd stayed at home to protect the children growing in her womb. Another Watcher had married the young woman afterward, given the children his name to help protect them from those that would seek vengeance in Xander's name and took her to Mars to work on a dig far away from anything supernatural, but it was Xander who'd made it possible for his charge to get her PhD while Slaying, and it was Xander who'd given her the twins, leaving a legacy that the scholarly Dr. Grimm could never quite live up to.
Reaper just might, though, Buffy thought, freezing in place as the dark-eyed Marine's voice carried over her radio, reporting contact.
"We found another one of the scientists," he said, voice gruff with discomfort. "Some weird shit going on here, Sarge."
No shit, Buffy thought, eyes turning toward the one occupied exam table as Sarge asked Reaper for an identification. The only scientist they'd managed to rescue so far, a Dr. Carmack, was starting to set off her senses the same way the creatures did. He might have survived the initial attack, but something was seriously wrong with him.
"We got a Dr. Olson," Reaper said. "He rushed us crazy, just like Carmack."
"Is he dead?" Sarge asked.
"Yeah. Very," Reaper replied, managing to convey a whole wealth of disgust with just the two words. "Should we bag him and tag him?"
Buffy's imagination could easily filled in the rest of the scene from her own long experience, and she frowned, hoping Sarge would agree. It would make what she considered the most important part of her job simpler-- bringing both Grimms home safe.
Of course, her idea of duty and his weren't exactly identical. "Negative," Sarge replied. "Continue your search."
Buffy ground her teeth and resumed pacing, wishing they'd had time to get at least one other Slayer assigned to the squad-- Mia Lehane preferably, or one of her other highly-trained mentees, but any would have done. Just the one of her might not be enough, especially facing the kind of thing they looked to be up against, judging by the fat black specks floating in the blood the doctor had tried to draw from Dr. Carmack.
"What's happening to him?" Sam asked, voice tight with worry.
Buffy's pace picked up. Her best guess-- not that they'd believe her if she told them-- was that the whatever-it-was that had attacked him had been something similar to a werewolf: a creature that started out human, was forcibly transformed into something else, and was now spreading its transformation to other people as an infection. Of course, its changes seemed to have taken effect within hours, and it showed no sign of being able to turn back, which didn't bode well. The Council hadn't known about it, either-- which meant that either UAC had kept the creatures' origins from Sam, much as the Council had presented only their non-supernatural face to the scientist, or else Sam was a brilliant actress. The latter didn't seem likely; there was too much Xander in her, transparent emotions and all.
Buffy shuddered at the thought, then tilted her head as voices broke over the radio again, punctuated by gunfire and harsh breathing.
"Reaper, what have you got?" Sarge barked, straining with impatience.
"We're chasing something!" John replied at the top of his lungs-- some thing, confirming Buffy's fears. She frowned, then looked back over her shoulder at Sam, who had gone white with worry.
"What do you mean, something?" Sarge demanded.
"Something big. Not human!" John answered, volume still cranked to the level of Duh.
Sarge swore. "God damn it! Give me confirmation on what you see!"
His demand went unanswered as Goat's voice broke in over his, announcing the creature's movement into the sewer; Reaper spoke next, ordering all units to the southwest corridor near the med lab.
Oh yeah, Buffy thought bleakly. There's our infectious agent. Good thing it can't get to us in here… but maybe it doesn't think it has to...? Following the prodding of her instincts, she paced back toward the medical bed, sidling into a shadow where Dr. Carmack couldn't see her. Sam had turned away, urging Dr. Willets to go to her daughter, and Duke was watching them, which left Carmack virtually unattended; he could easily take the opportunity to make like a tree if he thought no one would stop him.
Behind her, the lab's computer beeped; the sound of sneakered footsteps crossed the lab, followed by Sam's wary voice. "What's going on?"
Buffy ignored her-- and whatever Duke had said in reply-- as Carmack played up to her suspicions, bolting off the bed. He shucked his med coat as he went, and-- ugh, was she really going to have to tackle that? His torn ear was practically the only thing about him still recognizable.
Oh, suck it up, she thought, and pounced. No way was she going to be the one who failed this mission. She yelled for Duke as she leaped; small as she was, she knew she'd need some help to subdue it. The creature was at least as strong as she was now, which meant that trying to keep it muzzled and pinned to the floor would be nearly impossible.
After several long seconds that felt like as many hours Duke pitched in, adding his weight to the struggle. Unfortunately, the thing that used to be Carmack was ready for it and struck out, knocking him backward. Buffy knew it was only a matter of time before the situation got completely out of hand; unless she wanted to let it escape to kill or infect others, there was only one thing she could do.
It wasn't Dr. Carmack any more, she reminded herself; it was a predatory demon, not someone she could save. She timed her moment carefully, letting go just as the creature arched up off the floor, its momentum acting as a catapult. As she flew upward, she brought her weapon around from its resting position over her shoulder, aimed, and fired. The shot threw its head backward; by the time Buffy landed again, balancing on the balls of her feet, it had already stopped moving.
In the stunned silence that fell afterward, Buffy could hear the whispered voice of Goat over the radio, complaining that his light was down. It wasn't the first comment someone had made during the struggle, but it was the first one she'd been paying enough attention to hear.
She sighed and looked up to meet Sam's shocked, horrified eyes. It was obvious that the young woman had never had even a fraction of the training all potential slayers got in that day and age; she kept glancing between the body and Buffy, as though unable to reconcile what she'd just seen.
Buffy didn't regret it-- either the action of the lesson-- but knew she should say something. "I'm sorry, Dr. Grimm. There are enough of these things out there already."
"Don't move, I'm on my way!" Reaper said in her ear, responding to Goat's call.
"Things?" Sam blurted, dropping her gaze to the deformed creature that had once been the base's chief scientist. "But-- that's Dr. Carmack--"
"Not any more, it's not." Duke spoke up, frowning down at the body.
In the background, Goat and the technician manning the surveillance system kept talking, increasing the air of tension plucking at her nerves; neither Goat nor Pinky could see anything, but it was clear that both were as nervous as hell, and that Reaper hadn't reached the stranded soldier yet.
Buffy clenched her fists, hoping Reaper found their teammate before anything else did. "Dr. Grimm-- Sam-- You have to tell me. Did you find anything like this-- mutated, or worse-- at the dig?"
"No," Sam said, shaking her head in denial.
"Any human genetic experiments going on in the labs?" Buffy pressed her.
"No, nothing like that!"
The radio erupted suddenly with screams, giving the lie to her words. "I think there was," Buffy replied, her pulse racing with adrenaline. "And you're gonna help us figure it out before anyone else gets killed."
Sam swallowed, then nodded. "All right."
It was a long, strained few moments until the screams and gunshots stopped, and Reaper reported in that he was still alive and whole. Goat hadn't been so lucky, though; the team was bringing him back to be treated, and from the way Sam's and Duke's eyes instantly darted to Carmack's body at the news, she knew they were thinking the same thing she was. The problem of what had happened to Carmack-- and if they might be able to stop it from happening to someone else-- had just become a lot more urgent.
The samples they had of the transformative contagion in Carmack's blood had gone inert with his death; there wasn't enough time to pick them apart properly, to see exactly how it did what it did. But a scan of Carmack's new cellular structure showed them what it was, much to Sam's dismay, and confirmed what Buffy had feared. It had its own copy of Chromosome 24. But if the extra genetic structure had made the ancient Martians-- and certain young modern women, afflicted by a millennia-old curse-- super strong, super fit, and able to heal more swiftly and thoroughly than an average member of their race, how could the same thing also create ravening monsters?
From the looks of the wound on Goat's neck when Sarge and Reaper brought him in, arms draped over his teammates' shoulders for support, Buffy suspected they were about to have another test case. "You don't shield a baby from time," John had said in their initial exploration of the base, looking warily at the humanoid skeletons recovered from the dig. She had agreed with him-- and still did, more now than ever. The Martians had made a mistake, one that Carmack must have reawakened somehow. But-- par for the course when dealing with mad scientists-- he wasn't the only one paying for it.
She held back from the crowd around the med table as John worked furiously to save his wounded teammate, watching the recon marine's face instead of his busy hands. She'd seen Xander's physical strength in him, earlier, honed into a weapon she'd be glad to have at her side; now she saw the other side of him too, the side that had made Xander the heart of the Scoobies. John wasn't the Reaper at all in this context; he was fighting to preserve life rather than taking it, raging against the wound killing his teammate as though it were his own. She respected that in him; she'd lost the capability to connect that deeply herself, years ago. The pain would have flattened her if she hadn't.
The heart monitor set up next to Goat began to shrill, reporting a flatline, and Buffy flinched on John's behalf. He kept moving, charging and applying the de-fib paddles to Goat's limp form, but the rest of the team seemed to know what was coming. It was written on all their faces-- even Sarge, who'd begun pacing the lab like a caged lion.
"Where the hell's Carmack?" he demanded, fixing on a distraction as Goat's pulse continued to hover between barely- and non-existent.
Buffy followed his gaze to Carmack's discarded labcoat, which she'd forgotten to grab when she carried him to the morgue section, and bit her lip. Sarge's mood was already touchy; she hadn't wanted to be the one to explain this to him. "He's dead," she said, deciding to start with the basics.
"He was turning into one of them," she replied, gesturing toward the wrapped, man-shaped object the other Marines had dropped at the door.
He'd been determinedly oblivious to such hints earlier, but he was starting to lose his capacity for denial. Along with his temper-- if he'd ever had a firm grip on that. "You mean those things out there--"
"Used to be people."
Behind them, John applied the de-fib paddles again. "C'mon, you sonofabitch," he growled.
The rest of the team paused to hold their breaths for a reaction-- and Buffy held hers, watching Sarge instead. She still wasn't sure just when the bizarre op was destined to turn into the complete bloodbath from the Slayers' visions, but she wouldn't be surprised if this situation-- this revelation was part of the trigger for that brutal endgame.
"You're sure about this?" he demanded, looming large in Buffy's personal space.
"We're sure," she replied, refusing to budge or look away despite the activity in the rest of the lab. She couldn't do anything about Goat's death or Reaper's fury, but Sarge still had a key part to play in events.
Sarge's gaze moved over her shoulder, dismissing her to focus on Sam instead. "What were you people working on up here?" he snarled.
"I-- as far as I knew, we were analyzing bones and artifacts," Sam replied.
"As far as you knew?" Sarge responded, eyebrows raised in incredulity.
The scientist stuttered in her reply, even shakier than she'd been when Buffy had questioned her earlier. "He, he has C24 in his cells-- but we were never going to do human studies--"
"C24?" Reaper spoke up then, hoarse with emotion. "You mentioned that in the genetics lab-- what were you downloading, Sam? What were you sent to protect?"
"The research data!" she replied, voice thick with tears.
"But-- research into what?" Buffy had to ask.
"Wait, wait," Portman interrupted, moving away from Goat's quiescent body to kick at the wrapped corpse of his attacker. "You're telling me the scientists made these fuckin' things?"
"Shut up, Portman," Sarge ordered him. "So where's the data now, Dr. Grimm?"
She stared at him, then produced a chip-disc from a pocket with a trembling hand and moved to her computer to let it speak for itself. Those of the team still standing gathered around her to view it-- Buffy carefully taking a position behind Sarge-- then stared, transfixed with horror, at the sight of Dr. Carmack injecting a convicted criminal named Stahl with a mysterious clear substance. Several minutes' worth of video had been saved to the disc, documenting his monitoring and reporting on the onset of the man's mutations.
"Genesis, chapter one," Reaper commented as Sam finally closed the file.
"Was this everything?" Sarge asked, glaring at Reaper, then Sam.
"I have three more downloads," Sam told him.
"Then do it," Sarge decided. "Slayer, Duke, with her. Reaper, Kid, pairs; cover formation, sweep the corridors. We have two scientists left unaccounted for, plus Stahl. Destroyer, you and Portman go to the airlock; arm Pinky. Nothing gets back through the Ark."
Reaper looked like he wanted to argue, but it was Destroyer who spoke. "Where you goin'?"
"I'm going to the armory," Sarge answered, a foreign gleam in his eyes.
Buffy watched warily as he left. They knew what they were facing now, but would it be enough? Buffy had no way of knowing, bar another Slayer dream, and that wasn't good enough. As soon as Sam was finished here, she was going to move her-- orders or no.
The others followed Sarge out, and shortly only three of them remained in the lab, the two in soldier's gear hovering around the scientist at her station. Buffy stayed near the door, all senses on alert, but Duke drifted closer and closer to Sam as the moments passed.
"So," he finally drawled, leaning over Sam's shoulder as she accessed the computer network. "A little tension 'tween you and Reaper."
Buffy had noticed that herself; she'd seen the ghosts in his eyes, and remembered the reports about what had happened to their mother and stepfather. Being at Olduvai at all was treading painful ground for Reaper; he'd chosen to deal with his grief back then by running back to Earth and fighting, while Sam had decided to follow in her parents' footsteps. It had been easy for the Council to get her to send them reports, just by claiming to be one of the investors that funded the original dig, but Reaper had been harder to keep tabs on-- and not just for the Council, from what Buffy was picking up in Sam's reactions.
Sam shrugged, removing a chip-disc from the terminal's reader and inserting a fresh one. "We just went our separate ways," she said, choosing her words carefully.
"So what was he like before?" Duke pressed, eyes roaming up and down Sam's profile and figure.
"Who, John?" she asked, with a flash of wry smile. "Empathetic, sensitive..."
Duke snorted. "It's kinda hard for me to imagine Reaper as sensitive."
Buffy rolled her eyes. This was not the time to be flirting with their protectee, completely aside from the fact that she had higher standards for Xander's daughter. "Whether or not he's sensitive won't matter much if we don't hurry up and get this done," she said. "How much longer, Dr. Grimm?"
"Fifteen or twenty minutes," Sam said. "Why the rush? We're relatively safe behind the nanowall, and John knows how to take care of himself. As long as they don't infect him..."
"What if one breaks quarantine instead?" Buffy asked, jerking her chin toward the nearest speaker as the base computer announced that all personnel had been evacuated. "Sarge's orders say contain and neutralize, and if he thinks they've carried this infection back to the scientists on Earth..." She shook her head.
Duke sucked in a breath, catching her point. "He'd kill 'em all if he thought it was necessary."
Sam paled, looking up from her keyboard as she switched discs again. "But he can't-- We don't even know if it would turn everyone into monsters, or if some would become superhuman, or not get infected at all--"
"So hurry up," Buffy urged. "The sooner we have what UAC wants, the quicker we can get out of here."
Sam nodded, and the pace of her typing picked up. Several minutes later she finally sat back and ejected one last disc from the computer's drive.
"That's the last one?" Buffy asked, nodding at the offending bit of plastic and circuitry.
Sam stowed it in a pocket with all the others she'd filled. "Yes. That's everything they asked for, all the encrypted data UAC couldn't download through the satellite links."
"Good," Buffy said, shouldering her weapon and pacing over to the controls for the nano-wall. "It's about time we got out of here, then."
"What? Why?" Sam asked. "Shouldn't we wait for the others?"
"You mean wait for one of those things to break through the airlock?" Buffy raised her eyebrows. Sam was coming with her one way or another, but willing would be easier on all concerned.
"I don't know, man." Duke frowned at her. "Sarge said to stay here."
"Sarge still doesn't get it," Buffy said, rounding on him. She knew she probably shouldn't be pushing so hard, but her nerves were absolutely crawling. "Not completely. This isn't just some thing we're fighting. You saw-- it used to be human! It can think as well as we can, it's stronger than us, and it's evil. You think it's going to be content playing hide and seek until we're ready to kill it? It's going to go for the Ark, and I want Sam out of here before that happens."
"Yeah, and how come you get it, then?" Duke asked suspiciously, slipping his own weapon into a ready position. "How'd you hold Carmack down when he was turning? He threw me off like I was nothing, but you... How'd you do that, man?"
Buffy winced. She'd been hoping he hadn't noticed that. "Look, it's complicated," she said. "Just trust me. We have to get out of here."
Sam shook her head, opening her mouth to comment further, then abruptly froze in horror, staring at the window separating med lab from morgue. Something struck the glass hard, and she screamed as though she'd seen her own death.
Buffy turned to look and felt her own blood run cold. How had she not picked up on that development before Sam did? No, she could already guess the answer to that, and kicked herself for not realizing it earlier; she was so seldom the One and Only in any situation requiring a Slayer any more, her senses had started automatically identifying anyone carrying C24 as a friendly. Damn it! She automatically aimed her gun at the apparition, but was reluctant to shatter the glass that held it back; instead, she watched in sick dismay as the thing that used to be Goat beat its own head into a pulp. Every impact startled another shriek out of Sam, until it finally slumped and slid down the wall out of sight.
"Oh, shit," Duke said, reverently.
"Okay," Sam breathed. "I trust you. Let's get the hell out of here."
They moved quickly after that, Buffy taking point as they exited the infirmary, Sam just behind her and Duke falling in on their six. Sam slipped a few mystery vials into a pocket as they left, but Buffy didn't try to stop her; anything extra Sam liberated would just be more for the Council scientists to study. Some good was going to come out of this, the UAC be damned.
They didn't have far to go; the infirmary's exit was fairly close to the airlock. Buffy kept her weapon shouldered and her senses wary as they made their way toward Destroyer and Portman's position, but all continued clear until they were nearly to the airlock door. Then their luck ran out.
"We're in pursuit, moving fast out of the dig!" Reaper announced harshly.
Sarge's voice reached them next, his words accompanied by the rapid ring of boots on metal flooring. "Pinky, what do you see!"
"It's big. Very big. Moving fast, headed toward the lab complex."
"Oh, not even," Buffy hissed, then made a quick decision. "Duke, get her through the Ark. I'm going back."
"I thought you said--" Sam objected.
"I know what I said." Buffy threw Sam a quick frown as she paced past her to switch places with Duke. "But I'm not leaving anyone to get eaten if I can help it. Now go!"
Sam looked like she had more to say, but Duke took her arm and began tugging her away. He met gazes with Buffy in acknowledgement, then turned away, hurrying them both down the corridor.
Buffy took a deep breath and put them out of her thoughts. She could hear the rapid pop of gunfire approaching; so if she could set up a crossfire--
"Damn, it's fast," Kid panted over the comms, his weapon falling silent before she could work out where best to set up. She waited a moment longer, frustrated, then gave up and approached his and Reaper's position directly. She reached them just as Sarge rejoined the team, a ridiculously large weapon cradled in his arms.
Reaper met Buffy's gaze with a hint of reproach in his expression for leaving Sam; Buffy returned it with a defiant stare, until Sarge's demand for a report drew his attention away.
"We found Clay and Thurman at the dig," Reaper told them. "Dead. Then it showed up and we gave chase."
"Did either one have neck wounds?" Buffy asked, thinking of Goat. "'Cause death? Not so final with these things after all."
"Fuck," Sarge growled, summing up the feelings of all concerned. "Explain."
A briefly as she could, Buffy laid out the situation for Sarge: what they'd seen in the med lab and what it implied about what they were facing. It wasn't just the original victim, Stahl, they had to worry about anymore; any of the fallen scientists who hadn't been headshot were a potential threat, too.
The computer system on the other side of the Ark had been set to lock the facility down for a six-hour quarantine, and not even five hours had passed since the RRTS squad came through to Mars. If more than one of the superhumanly strong monsters converged on the Marines guarding the Ark, the odds were they'd get past them-- and the scientists back in Nevada would not be able to escape. Buffy knew what that would mean-- the demons and Sarge between them would kill everyone, and the Slayers' nightmares would come true. She had no intention of letting that happen.
Sarge listened to the explanation with narrowed eyes, an occasional flicker of something hard and indecipherable in their depths, then nodded. "All right," he said. "Reaper, back to the dig, make sure those dead scientists are really dead. Slayer, I want you follow his lead; no more creative interpretation of orders, is that clear?"
"Clear," she agreed. It was a good thing she wasn't really RRTS; otherwise the post-mission debriefing would be-- unpleasant. Her orders came from a higher authority than Sarge's, but that did her no good if she couldn't explain that to him. For the moment, however, her clearest duty dovetailed close enough to his plan to make further rebellion pointless; Sam and the data were safe, and she'd be at Reaper's side as they hunted down more of the demons. She didn't really care about anything else.
Sarge nodded again, emphatically. "Good. Meet up at the airlock when you're done. Kid, on me." With that he turned and left, still toting that strange, oversized weapon.
Buffy shook her head, then tabled her worries for the time being and fell in behind John. She might not be an actual Marine, and she might hate guns in principle, but she'd worked with military enough over the years to be able to read his hand-signals. They made their way quietly and swiftly to the archaeological site, covering each other carefully as they went.
Unfortunately, they arrived at the dig too late. Dr. Thurman's body was still there, but Dr. Clay's was gone, up and roaming who knew where with mayhem on his transformed mind. Reaper put a bullet into Thurman's skull and reported in-- but uncharacteristically, Sarge failed to answer.
The hair stood up on the back of Buffy's neck. She and Reaper exchanged glances as the radio silence continued, then turned almost as one and bolted toward the airlock. She could easily have outdistanced him, but she wasn't even tempted to do so in their headlong rush; she continued covering him as they went, checking down side passages and around corners for either of the two monsters they knew for sure were now roaming the base, and he did the same.
The airlock came into view just in time for them to catch Sarge raising the experimental weapon, aiming at a Hell-beast carrying some kind of cutting tool in its clawed hands. Portman was down just in front of the lock, bleeding profusely from the neck, and Destroyer had been thrown halfway down the corridor where he lay sprawled like a broken doll. Neither one looked like he'd be getting up again anytime soon.
Reaper dropped into a crouch as he passed the dark-skinned Marine and pressed two fingers to his throat; then he nodded to Buffy, confirming that the man was still alive, and they hurried forward, firing at the monster while trying to make sure the other beast wasn't approaching from a blind spot.
Sarge pulled the trigger before they were close enough to make him aware of their presence, and a globe of what looked like liquid blue fire erupted from the strangely shaped barrel of the weapon. It flew directly at the monster, but it was slower than a bullet; the beast had time to duck, roaring as it skittered away from the lock, and the glowing projectile struck metal instead. Buffy watched in shock as a hole began expanding outward from the point of impact, corrupting and melting the surrounding structure as though it had been splashed with incandescent acid.
"Awwww, shit," Sarge swore, eyes wide as he took in the damage. Then he cursed again as the monster scrabbled back to its feet and rushed the airlock, this time with company-- the second monster had converged on their position, too. Buffy and Reaper poured as much lead into both beasts as they could, but didn't hit either in the skull, and the demons made it through the now-open airlock before Sarge could fire another of the destructive rounds.
Silence fell. And then, in the background, the Ark computer could be heard activating.
"They got through," Buffy whispered, horrified.
Sarge clenched his jaw, and spoke the order she'd hoped to prevent. "The quarantine cordon has been breached," he said, staring at Reaper. "This mission is no longer containment."
Buffy winced. With Sarge in charge, there'd be no stopping to check whether the injured had been bitten on the throat, or sparing of unharmed scientists hiding in corners. He'd kill them all without mercy just to be one hundred percent sure the infection had been eradicated; that was the way the system worked. And he'd get praised for it, too.
There was no way she was going to let that happen.
She glanced over at Reaper and found him wide-eyed with conflicting emotions; his sister was doubly in danger now, but he was still a Marine, legally bound to follow a superior officer's orders, and all of his training over the last decade would encourage obedience.
Buffy wasn't going to force him to make that decision, either, not with lives hanging in the balance.
She made a face at him, trying to convey both apology and reassurance, then bolted for the Ark, not holding her speed back this time around. She pounded down the halls in a flash and dove through the transport bubble before the lack of blood in the Ark chamber had a chance to really register; as the transit took hold, she realized the rear guard must have gone through just as the Hell-beasts had broken in. Something must have kept Mac from lighting off an ST grenade to seal the connection behind them.
She didn't have time to wonder what that something was, however; a blink of an eye later, Buffy crashed into the floor of the Nevada Ark chamber, green with nausea after having been broken down, compressed, and flung millions of miles through the vacuum of space. There was no time to recover, either; the smaller monster that had probably been Dr. Clay was still there, crouched over a console, breaking the active link between the two chambers. It was a good thing she'd come through when she did-- it would take at least five minutes for the Olduvai Ark to reboot the connection.
Buffy rose to her feet quickly, swinging her weapon to ready, but the thing's reaction time had already increased substantially. It roared and charged, and only reflex kept her facing the monster and firing as she fell back before its advance. She put several bullets into center mass, trying to slow it down, then braced herself and fired high between the eyes, aiming for a kill-shot.
It collapsed at her feet just as her back made contact with the wall of the chamber.
"One down, one to go," she muttered, taking a second to catch her breath, then got up and began looking for a trail to follow.
It didn't take long to find a sign-- a trail of blood drops led right out of the Ark chamber. Buffy almost wished for a vampire's senses as she followed it, so she could tell whose it had been. If Duke had any sense he'd have taken Sam through the Ark as soon as she'd asked him to instead of hanging around to wait with Mac and Pinky, which would mean the trail was too fresh to belong to Xander's daughter, but Buffy had no way to be sure.
Aside from the drops of blood, however, there was surprisingly little damage to the facility. She'd been half-expecting to see dead bodies strewn around like there'd been in the visions, gore spattered on broken equipment, and staggering people with throat wounds that she'd have to kill before they turned into demons. She wasn't quite as hung up about killing humans as she used to be, but the thought of killing innocent, still-souled victims who'd done nothing but stray into a monster's path still had the power to turn her stomach.
Fortunately for her peace of mind, someone had managed to clear the facility and hide the scientists away-- and that meant she'd already changed what would come to pass. A slight hope remained: if she could track down what used to be Stahl before the Ark became active again and Sarge got involved, she might still be able to prevent a total charlie-foxtrot, to use Andrew's terminology.
A burst of gunfire echoed through the corridors then, sudden and loud; Buffy abandoned her tracking and zeroed in on the sound instead. She triggered her radio as she ran-- she'd been maintaining silence just in case the Marines were hiding-- and called out to them. "Duke? Mac?"
"Slayer?" one of them began to reply, but was immediately cut off by a strangled shout.
Buffy swore and picked up speed again, tearing around a dark corner just in time to see a huge, stooped shape bending over the sprawled form of Mac. She fired at it, baring her teeth in a snarl as it roared in return, but it moved too quickly, escaping around another corner faster than she could correct her aim. She wasn't in a position to follow it, either; she'd have to deal with Mac first. The Marine private was bleeding from several deep, parallel scratches across his upper chest and throat, as though it had barely missed tearing his head off, and he needed urgent medical care that she couldn't provide.
"Duke?" she called again. "Duke, where are you? Answer me, damn it!"
After several anxious seconds, Duke's welcome voice finally came over Buffy's earpiece. He'd apparently rounded up everyone he could find and holed up only a few corridors away from her position; Mac had been en route to their refuge when he'd been attacked. He still had Sam with him, and neither they, nor any of the people with them had any idea what had happened to Pinky.
Buffy told him what had happened since they'd parted ways as she bound Mac's wounds with strips torn from his undershirt, then lifted the injured man as carefully as she could. He was half out of it, moaning and thrashing as she moved, and his size made him an awkward burden; it took most of her concentration not to drop him as she rushed toward Duke's hidey-hole. She knew there was a risk that that Stahl would track her to them, but Duke agreed they'd just have to cross that bridge if they came to it.
It didn't take her long to find the correct door, a heavy steel construction leading to a large storage space. She was relieved to see a clearly unharmed Sam open it; the blonde archaeologist helped her ease Mac to the floor inside as Duke wedged the door shut again, and Dr. Willets pushed out of the crowd of frightened scientists to patch him up.
Buffy backed away as the woman went to work, reminded of the other-- former-- Dr. Willets, Steve, who had attacked the Marines in the sewers at Olduvai. She doubted Duke had said anything to her about his fate yet, and hoped she wasn't still expecting his return. UAC would never willingly give the doc her husband's body back for a funeral, and the government wouldn't be any help either-- Buffy knew from pits of hell, and the kinds of cover-ups the Men in Charge always used to make them go away.
Dr. Willets was still threading a needle to begin stitching Mac up when the intercom activated, announcing that Buffy's five minutes were up and that the Ark was back online. She groaned as she heard it, remembering her intent to get Stahl squared away before anyone else came through, and exchanged a worried glance with Duke. There might still be time, if she hurried.
"It's going to go for the Ark, try to catch the others off guard as they come through," she said. "We have to stop it, now, before anyone else gets hurt."
Duke nodded, then turned to the crowd of civilians, measuring them up with a soldier's eye. "Any of you have military experience?"
An older man in a lab coat stepped forward; Duke nodded, then picked up Mac's weapon and thrust it into the scientist's hands. "Guard them until we come back," Duke told him.
The man nodded solemnly, then took a few steps forward, planting himself conspicuously near the door. Duke cracked it carefully, peering through, then opened it just wide enough to step out and waved Buffy after him. She followed, then closed it behind her-- right in the face of an intent-looking, quiet Sam. The woman's expression made Buffy uneasy, but there was no time for her to worry about it.
Together, Buffy and Duke ran back toward the Ark.
They moved with all the speed they could safely muster, hoping to reach the entry chamber before the demon did, or at least to catch it there and prevent it from going any further. The people in the storeroom, and the Marines coming through the Ark, were the only possible remaining victims, provided Duke hadn't missed anyone in his search; it would probably come for the Marines' group first, as the more accessible target.
She didn't see or hear any sign of its passage as they headed for the Ark, but that didn't necessarily mean anything; it had been several minutes since its attack on Mac, and it could have reached almost any room in the facility in that amount of time. She did catch a glimpse in passing of an overturned wheelchair through a partially opened door-- probably Pinky's, and the endpoint of the blood trail she'd been tracking earlier-- and made a mental note to come back for him sometime in the next half-hour, in case he'd been infected. She also noted the location of the controls for the nanowall protecting the main hall, and the angle at which she'd have to throw a stake to trigger it at a run. That knowledge might save her life if things went all to hell again.
As they approached the Ark chamber, she heard someone commenting about the frozen computers and the disabled comm lines and recognized the voice as the Kid's; he'd made it through the battle on Mars after all. He wasn't the only one talking, either; Buffy could hear Reaper, too, speaking in an undertone to Sarge, and she sighed with relief.
"...don't have to kill all of them," he was saying, as she and Duke slowed to enter the chamber. "Not everyone will be infected."
"We have orders to contain this threat by any means necessary," Sarge replied, as angry as ever.
If she had anything to say about it, she would be the only means necessary, Buffy thought to herself, and took a deep breath. "Sarge!" she called out, interrupting the conversation as she and Duke approached the Ark.
Both men turned toward her immediately, weapons half-raised; Destroyer was with them too, conscious and mobile again, though Portman was notably absent. Buffy skidded to a stop, weapon lifted against her shoulder, and gave an abbreviated report, emphasizing that only one monster still lived, plus two wounded, one possibly infected. They could still potentially walk out of this without a bloodbath.
Sarge's jaw tightened as he began to reply-- but then his eyes widened, staring over Buffy's shoulder.
"Oops," she muttered, spinning around as the demon roared.
It took precious seconds-- seconds Buffy didn't have-- to bring her weapon to bear. She was too close to the demon, and the others couldn't fire either without fear of hitting her instead. There was nothing slowing it down, however, and it swung a vast, clawed hand, knocking her solidly into a wall. It was even stronger than she was; the blow dazed her, and before she could get up it batted Destroyer aside and charged her again. It grabbed her, lifting her as she struggled upright, then threw her a second time; she sailed through the air for what felt like forever before impacting with the sharp edge of something sturdy.
Pretty colors flashed in front of Buffy's eyes, and the world blurred. It felt like a thick glass bell had been dropped over her head; sights and sounds were muted and distorted, and her balance was completely shot. Nausea churned in her stomach, and she was having trouble connecting one thought to another, hampering her efforts to get up. Immeasurable units of time passed while she lay there, staring dully up at the ceiling, struggling to regain control of her limbs. She might be The Slayer, more formidable than any of her latter-day sisters, but even her accelerated healing took time to work.
When the world finally swam into focus again, the white noise in her ears shifting to merely the roars of the demon, she struggled back up and staggered toward the hideous sounds. Destroyer was still down, clutching at his ribs, but the others had chased the demon out into the hall. Buffy squinted, fumbling a stake from her vest as she tried to gauge where everyone was relative to the nanowall; when she thought she had it, she whipped the stake forward and watched it fly. Unfortunately, she was still more impaired than she'd thought; it clattered against the wall a full foot away from the controls.
She reached for another stake, then jerked and nearly dropped it as a high, feminine voice screamed Reaper's name. It sounded like Sam; that's what had been behind her strange intentness back in the storage room, she'd been planning to sneak out after them. Buffy glanced at Reaper, noticing Sam crouched behind him, then realized why Sam had been screaming; the Kid had gone down, twitching in his death throes, bleeding out in front of her.
"Oh god," Buffy gasped, then took a deep breath and threw again, ignoring the pounding in her skull.
Several things happened simultaneously after that. The wall snapped into being, blocking the demon's escape; a ricochet pinged off the wall; Reaper grunted in pain; and Sarge lifted his big fucking gun again, firing it in the demon's face.
The electric glow of the experimental round lit up the corridor as it impacted with the Hell-beast. Buffy, still suffering the after effects of the blow to her skull, felt her stomach lurch at the assault on her eyes. The scents of charred flesh and dissolving metal blown down the hall made it worse, and she staggered into a wall, then slid down to the floor. She could still hear the others-- their panicked scrabbling to get away from the after-effects of the glowing discharge, Sam's urgent pleading with Reaper not to leave her, the chattering of John's teeth, Sarge's harsh breathing-- but she couldn't bring herself to watch.
God, the Kid had been so young-- and Reaper-- John-- Buffy closed her eyes and leaned against the wall, trying to get a grip on herself. If she'd been quicker through the Ark, if she hadn't taken Mac to safety, if she hadn't focused all her attention on Sarge like an idiot when they knew the monster could be on them at any time…. She'd saved the scientists, but she could hardly call this winning.
"You're sure that was the last one?" an intense, authoritative voice asked, and Buffy opened her eyes again, the guilt clouding her mind washed away by panic. Surely, Sarge wouldn't still insist on killing everything that breathed? They'd got to the infection in time-- if only he'd believe them. She had to get up; she'd promised not to let that happen on her watch.
"We're sure," Duke replied. "It got Pinky, but it never got near the scientists. Slayer got the other one, and nothing else got through. We take care of Pinky, and this thing is over. We're clean."
"I say who's clean and-- what the fuck are you doing?" Sarge blurted. He'd sounded furious at first, but that last bit had an extra helping of outrage: as Buffy staggered back to her feet she saw him looming over Sam, staring at something in her hand.
"It's C24 from Carmack's lab," Sam replied. "It could save him."
"No, Sam, no--" John said. The widening pool of blood beneath his thigh was stealing the strength from his voice; without the C24, he'd be a dead man. "If it turns me into one of those things--"
"You won't," Sam said thickly. "We know it doesn't affect everyone like that, and none of them ever tried to bite you, that has to mean something. You're bleeding to death."
"You are not going to stick him with that thing," Sarge barked at her.
"He's my brother," was Sam's only answer, and she moved, jabbing something against John's thigh. Sarge moved to stop her, but he was too late.
Buffy didn't know whether to cheer, or to cry. For better or worse, Reaper had just been infected.
Faced with an angry Sarge and no clear idea of where the trigger was between his usual dominating nature and the psychotic behavior she'd caught glimpses of in her Dreams, Buffy could think of only one thing left to do. Even if there had been a chance at talking him down before, she knew it would have taken Reaper's support to get through to him, and between the ricocheted bullet and Sam's actions that was no longer an option. So she grabbed the heaviest thing within reach, staggered in Sarge's direction, and clubbed him over the head. He went down like a dropped stone.
The expression on Duke's face, seeing Sarge slumped at her feet, would have been funny if the situation had been any less dire. He'd followed her lead in a pinch on Mars, but his ultimate loyalty was to the Marines; she knew he'd never approve of what she'd just done. Fortunately, that didn't matter. She'd be long gone by the time he had to give his report.
Buffy turned her back on him and knelt next to Sam, wrapping an arm around the weeping Potential as the woman bowed over her brother's body. "Shh," she murmured. "You were right. I have C24, Sam, and so did your mother. If the effect is genetically linked--" and it had to be, after the fuss the Council had made over what this research could mean regarding Buffy's extreme expression of the Slayer traits even before the magical amplification, "--then I'm sure he'll be fine."
"My-- my mother?" Sam stuttered, dragging her gaze away from Reaper to stare at Buffy. "What do you know about my mother?"
"I can bench press a truck, Sam. I'm more than twice your age, and I can heal almost any wound; if I couldn't, this probably would have killed me." She gestured to the sticky mess she could feel clotting in her hair. "I met your mom after she was given C24, and I knew your birth father."
No time to explain now that magic, not science, had activated Sam's mother's abilities, giving her an imperfect copy of that extra chromosome, nor that the Council still had no idea which genetic keys the Slayer spirit latched onto when choosing new Potential Slayers. What it boiled down to was that Slayers rarely went bad unless they had truly damaging upbringings, and the same should hold true for this man, who was both son and brother.
"Have faith in him. John will be fine. But we have to get him out of here before Sarge wakes up."
Sam glanced at her brother's commanding officer, eyes wide with grieving panic, then to the Kid's body only feet away. The she turned back to Buffy, her spine stiffening with resolve.
"What do I need to do?"
Buffy blew out a relieved breath and retrieved a set of three medallions from her pocket. Her official, Council-blessed emergency evac plan had only called for one passenger-- according to the current Board, all that mattered was the survival of the so-called "Lost" Potential and the C24 research material-- but the moment she'd found out Sam's twin would also be on the rescue squad, she'd given that order all the respect it deserved: namely, none. She'd gone over the board's heads and arranged for an extra medallion, just in case the juxtaposition of Summers plus Harris plus apocalypse-level event equaled the usual messy fallout. So what if it wasn't either simple or inexpensive to bind a triggerable teleportation spell to a physical object? There were benefits to being the best friend of the current head of the Devon coven, especially where anything concerning the Xander-shaped hole in their lives was involved.
"Put one of these in John's hand," she told Sam, handing her two of the medallions.
Sam did as she asked, swallowing hard as she clasped her brother's slack fingers around the object, then looked back at Buffy. The determined, trusting expression she wore was almost painfully familiar, and made her parentage more obvious. "Now what?" she asked.
"Wait, wait, what are you doing?" Duke objected, looming over them.
Buffy looked up into his earnest face, and regretted for a second what she was about to do. The dark Marine had kind of grown on her, and she hated to stick him with the onus of being responsible for losing the valuable UAC property she was stealing. Still, she was fairly sure he and Destroyer between them could take care of Pinky, guard the Ark, and keep Sarge from turning into a total whack-job in the absence of additional provocation-- as hard as she'd hit him, the quarantine would be over and outside help on its way in before he woke up again-- and they'd all be better off if Buffy and the Grimms weren't still here when that happened.
"Tell them the demony-thing infected us and you had to shoot us with Sarge's gun," she said, smiling sadly at him as she palmed the third medallion. Then she turned back to Sam.
"Repeat after me: there's no place like home."
The warmth of sunlight was a welcome caress on Buffy's skin as she, Sam and Reaper popped into existence on the lawn behind Willow's house in England. The metallic taste of blood in the air was drowned out by the sweet scents of crushed grass and old-fashioned roses, and the peaceful sounds of nature were a pleasant shock after the violent chaos of battle. Buffy breathed out a huge sigh of relief, then sat down heavily, fighting to stay upright as the adrenaline stopped flowing and the energy-drain of quick healing took its toll. She felt kind of like a puppet whose strings had been suddenly cut.
John was still unconscious, but his color was better; Buffy's only other experiences with Chromosome 24 before Olduvai were all magically induced and Slayer-related, so she had no idea what his recovery timeline should be like, but if the mutation rate from the UAC tests was any clue it would probably take at least another half-hour before any change was apparent.
She had to say, though, now that she'd seen the original template? She couldn't imagine how the Shadow Men had got their hands on a "demon" in the first place, never mind how they'd discovered they could use magic to transfer its "gifts" to selected people to create superheroes. Or had they simply located a colony of Martian survivors and somehow bound them to reveal the source of their powers? The shamans' incomplete understanding of the genetics involved had obviously mucked up the results, making C24 only partially effective in most Slayers, but the fact that they'd done it at all was disturbingly impressive. She had to wonder what their failure rate had been like, before they'd had their first success with Sineya.
Sam had gone quiet, a little wild-eyed but mostly focused on her brother. Buffy was grateful for the lack of hysteria; she knew Sam must have all kinds of questions, but comforting and making with the explanations weren't exactly core Buffy skills, especially when she was exhausted and recovering. That was more a Willowy kind of thing these days.
And speaking of which. The tapping sound of a cane on flagstone caught Buffy's attention, and she looked up to see Willow herself coming out to greet them. The witch's hair had gone completely white over the years and her face was marked by hard-won experience, but she was still beautiful.
"Buffy," she called cheerfully. "You're back early-- and mostly in once piece! And I see you've brought..." Her eyes widened dramatically as she took in the Grimms. "Oh, goddess. They really are his, aren't they?"
Buffy replied with a wobbly, bittersweet smile.
One Month Later
Dear Diary, Buffy wrote, her anachronistic ball-point pen scratching over the old-fashioned journal page. She'd got in the habit of tracking her days herself again after Giles' death, unwilling to yield to requests that she accept a new Watcher.
We finally heard back from the Council researchers today. The data and samples Sam brought down from Olduvai have proven their theory about C24 and Slayers; they're pretty sure they can eventually use it to make every future Slayer as tough and effective as me. It might take awhile, since they're still not sure what combination of magic made me the way I am, but they're petitioning Willow for help, so it's going to happen eventually. I'm not sure they realize yet, though, that it means their grip on the Slayer line is going to disappear completely as girls start surviving longer and get more stubborn about choosing their own destinies.
We still haven't told them the truth about Reaper, either. Willow and the coven know, and of course Sam and John and I do, but that's it for now. The Council thinks I'm just being nostalgic about Xander's kids, taking them in so they'll be safe from UAC, teaching them the truth about all three of their parents, and getting them new jobs with Scoobies Inc. I haven't told anyone they're patrolling with me, too.
At least, John is. Sam bowed out after her first graveyard hunt; she said she wants as normal a life as possible, the way I did all those years ago. John kept coming with, though, and we found out pretty quick that he has most of the same abilities I do. (Ix-nay on the prophetic dreams, but I think that's more of a blessing than a failure). The demon community has picked up his call-sign, talking about a new bogeyman traveling with the Queen Slayer; John finds it pretty amusing, but the Council has been agitating about it.
"They'll figure it out eventually, you know," a husky voice said in Buffy's ear, and she dropped the pen, turning in her chair to face its owner.
"I know," Buffy replied, grinning mischievously at him. "But seriously. The longer we can prevent Andrew from waxing ecstatic about 'the world's first mating pair of Slayers', the better."
John chuckled, then leaned in to capture her lips in a kiss.
The diary entry remained unfinished until the next morning.
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