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Posted August 24, 2007

Fan Fiction: Uncle John

10: Balancing Priorities

If Riley Finn apologized to her one more time, Buffy was going to strangle him.

"Riley--" she interrupted him irritably, keeping her attention focused on the duffel bag she was trying to re-pack. "I know, okay, I know. You didn't mean for it to happen--"

"There was no way I could have known," Riley said again, remorsefully. "I was on a mission when the thing with Khalek-- when the International Oversight Committee got all stirred up over people with superhuman abilities. I'd never have recommended you get in contact with General O'Neill, if I had. And the General only knew the basics of what happened with the Initiative-- he didn't know there was anyone on the Committee who'd had anything to do with it."

"I know," Buffy repeated, gritting her teeth. "It's nobody's fault that I'm going to have to either leave civilization in a hurry or end up in somebody's scientific experiment just because some small minded politician with authority to burn remembers me from Maggie Walsh's home videos."

She looked up then, taking in the presence of her ex-boyfriend in his uniform, more at home in the concrete box of a VIP room than she ever would be. She never should have emailed him in the first place, asking questions about what her uncle was up to; she never should have agreed to meet with General O'Neill when the wormhole questions issue got brought up and it began to look like the Council would have to get involved whatever she did. All it had taken was one unfortunate meeting with a bureaucrat who recognized her on government turf, and suddenly uniforms of all kinds were either trying to wrap her up in cotton wool for protection or spirit her away to be studied.

She didn't have to go with any of them, of course. The Watcher's Council could probably successfully derail all of the U.S. military's claims to her eventually, and make sure she would never be found when the goons came looking in the meantime. The problem with that idea, however, was that the cat was already out of the bag; the military had been reminded of the existence of "the hok'taur, Buffy Summers," and whatever calm heads had made sure that information stayed buried after the Initiative's collapse didn't seem to be in charge of things anymore. It would take a memory-alteration spell on the order of the one cast by the Order of Dagon to invent Dawn's backstory to make everyone that had seen the Initiative's information on Buffy conveniently forget about her exceptional abilities. At least they didn't seem to have connected it all to supernatural sources; that was a minor blessing. None of them had any clue about the existence of the mini-Slayers.

In the immediate future, however, the little they did know could make Buffy's life pretty difficult. One of the NID guys who'd tried to claim custody of her from General O'Neill had even been throwing around language from the Patriot Act; she'd been informed that using her "unnatural" abilities to resist or evade them could be construed as domestic terrorism, since it would fall under the category of illegal acts "dangerous to human life" which were intended to "influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion". It was pretty sketchy, admittedly, but since when had unscrupulous government groups with even the slightest hope of legal support for their actions bothered to wait for permission rather than forgiveness? Exhibit A: Maggie Walsh's creation of Adam.

And all the while, standing on the sidelines, there was General O'Neill. He made sure she knew about all of the qualified scientists working with her uncle at their "Atlantis" location who could arrange a continuing credits scheme for Buffy and her sister in place of their university studies. He talked about native populations who had never had someone of Buffy's talents to protect them from their local, non-human predators. He promised full access for any friends who were also willing to sign their non-disclosure agreements. He'd even agreed to do his best to bury the NID's inquires regarding "irregularities" in her sister's records. No strings, he said-- as long as they made a decision soon, before someone higher up the food chain interfered with O'Neill's handling of the situation.

It would solve everything, he'd said, if he could just shrug and tell the Committee people he'd already hired the Summers girls and sent them on, and what did they mean they'd sent him a memo?

If he hadn't been the one who'd started this dirty snowball rolling to begin with, Buffy might have actually trusted the guy. He was clever and quippy and kind and did a better dumb façade that she did; it didn't hurt that he looked a little like MacGyver, either. As it was, though, she knew damn well he had his own agenda, and the fact that going along with it had more potentially fruitful future timelines associated with it than resistance didn't mean she had to like the situation.

Riley sighed. "I wish I could go with you," he said unhappily, "but Sam and Graham--"

Buffy sighed, then zipped the duffel up again and sat down next to it on the bed. "It's fine," she said. "Can you at least tell me something about this 'Atlantis' place, though? Everyone's been totally avoid-y on the subject so far, even Uncle John in his letters. And you know, this secret keeping is what got me in trouble in the first place. All I've been told so far is that the government has access to non-human advanced technology, and that once upon a time they accidentally caused what we had to deal with in Cleveland this year, which is why Dr. McKay got suspicious and started asking questions. I didn't even know there were demons that used technology, or that the government was still trying to mess with demon stuff instead of just killing them."

She'd been promised full disclosure soon from General O'Neill, of course. And she'd picked up several clues that added up to a spectacular sum. But she wanted Riley's assessment of the situation before anyone got around to "officially" filling her in; she trusted her ability to read him far more than she trusted her ability to pry the full truth out of the crafty older officer before he wanted to give it.

Riley looked away, a sheepish expression on his face. "It's not-- it's not exactly demons. It's more--" He trailed off, jerking a thumb in the direction of the sky.

"What?" Buffy objected, raising her eyebrows as her theory was confirmed. Andrew would explode if he ever found out. "Aliens? Little green men from outer space, aliens? I've signed the stupid confidentiality agreement and done the blood tests the General asked for, and so has Dawn. Why hasn't anyone else told us about this yet?"

"Little gray men, actually," Riley said, with a half teasing, half guilty expression. "Look, it's just, the quicker you're out of here the better, and there hasn't really been time to do the official introductory lecture since you got here. They're sending you to the Alpha Site in a few hours to wait for your transport, and once it gets here it'll be a three week trip; there'll be plenty of time to explain everything on the way."

"A three week trip," Buffy repeated, narrowing her eyes as she calculated the logistics. "A three week trip-- but it's not to some third world country where they've never heard of malls, is it? We're talking about three weeks in outer space. We're going to end up on some other planet?"

In the back of her mind, the entire time this whirlwind, half-assed plan had fallen into place she'd been holding on to two things: the promise of her uncle's presence at the other end, and the certainty that Willow could bail them out if things went utterly wrong. All throughout calling Dawn and asking her to pack for an emergency trip, sending instructions to Andrew about the apartment, asking Willow to deal with Dawn's and Buffy's enrollment at the university, and traveling out to Colorado with an annoyingly inquisitive Major named Paul Davis, she'd reminded herself that she'd been to other dimensions before, and that nothing the government could throw at her could possibly measure up to that. Sooner or later Giles would negotiate a clear way out of the mess, and send Willow to bring Buffy and Dawn home. But if they were off-planet altogether, out of Willow's easy reach—

Well, there were contingency plans for that, but they'd require a little finesse beforehand. Good thing she'd pried the information out of Riley early. Otherwise this could have got messy. She'd hate to have to fight her way back out through all those levels of government offices and employees.

"Calm down," Riley said placatingly. "Please, Buffy. Trust me. You're going to love it once you're out there. They even have space vampires; when you get bored, there'll be plenty to keep you busy. And there are enough research and science labs in the city to keep Dawn occupied for ages. You've been saying you needed a break from Slayer General duties, right? Take my word for it; it's like nothing you ever dreamed of."

Buffy scowled at him. Now he sounded like a salesman; so much for prying the info out of him secretly. Wily old general! "They sent you in here to break the news to me gently, didn't they? Because I know you. So I wouldn't kill the messenger."

His expression was answer enough.

She sighed and shook her head. "Has anyone told Dawn yet?"

Riley opened his mouth to answer, but before he could say anything Buffy's sharp hearing picked up a high-pitched shriek that could only belong to her sister. "Get out!" she heard Dawn exclaiming, incredulously.

"Nevermind," Buffy said, ruefully.

Dawn quietened down enough that Buffy couldn't distinguish the rest of her conversation with whoever had been chosen to enlighten her about the nature of their destination. Probably that linguist guy, Daniel; Dawn had taken to him instantly, babbling about some kind of cross-cultural contamination theory thingy she'd found in some journal or other. Moments later, however, the heavy thud of hasty teenaged feet in tennis shoes approached Buffy's door.

"Ohmygosh canyoubelieveit?" Dawn gushed as she threw the door open.

Behind her, Dr. Jackson raised his eyebrows at Riley; Buffy saw Riley shrug in return, then slink out into the corridor as Dawn continued to exclaim.

"We're going to the real Atlantis! And it's in outer space!" Dawn squealed. "I wish we could take Willow with us! She's going to be so jealous!"

Buffy shook her head and smiled affectionately. At least her sister was taking it well; the trip would have been a nightmare if she'd reacted more like the Dawnie of five years ago. "You do realize it's going to be more than three weeks until we get there, right? Maybe even more than a month, depending on how long it takes our transport to come."

"I know!" Dawn said. "Dr. Jackson told me. We're going to travel on a real spaceship! With an alien! I'm going to miss Andrew, and my friends in Rome, but this is so cool."

"I'm glad you have your priorities straight," Buffy teased her, and smiled.


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