Ship of the Line - The Death Star Chapter 18

IA top secret memorandum from General Hammond to President Sean Johnson concerning Project Blue Book and Stargate Command…

Due to Goa'uld mentality, since two Ha'tak class cruisers were solidly neutralised by the Death Star-class battlestation uVigilant Watcher/u in its first combat engagement, as well as the detainment of the Goa'uld Klorel, it is surmised that the System Lord Apophis will most assuredly return to Earth with a much larger force for revenge. As many options as possible for the preservation of six billion human beings need to be made available as soon as possible. Recommend declassifying the Stargate Programme and related organisations, concurrent with recommending to the Russian President and as many heads of state as possible that they do the same. Liaison recommended with Grand Admiral Alexander Harris, Tau'ri Star Navy, for bolstering crew complement and to begin shipbuilding programme, emphasising its purpose as a planetary defence force and not a multitude of national starfleets.

The necessary result of this endeavour will be a planetary governing body that can mobilise the planet's population swiftly and concentrate command elements into a unified planetary defence force, headquartered on the uVigilant Watcher/u. With the preliminary steps having been taken by the uWatcher/u and its crew toward establishing the foundation of a galactic economy via the Stargate network and the UWatcher's/u own hyperspace capabilities, the number of technologically advanced allied worlds sympathetic to our cause is expected to increase, opening more inroads for increasingly larger interstellar political alliances. The end result notwithstanding, the ability to wage a larger campaign against the Goa'uld and simultaneously evacuate an imperiled population will eventually be largely increased due to the presence of the uVigilant Watcher/u.

The necessity for colonisation of Stargate seeded worlds has thus become a top priority in the preservation of humankind. We have several worlds selected as possible sites, including our pre-established Alpha Site, for seeding with several small colonies to allow humanity to rebuild and resume normal activities, but a shipbuilding programme and a dedicated starfleet are needed in order for humanity to reach these worlds and more en masse. The uVigilant Watcher/u has facilities to build the first several ships Earth will need, but many more will be needed, and soon, and several shipbuilding facilities will need to be constructed independently of the uWatcher/u in order to accelerate and expedite construction of the needed vessels in order to meet deadline. The crew of the UWatcher/u have volunteered their assistance, with the added caveat that they may be permitted to extend offers of employment and residence on board the station to any of their community who wish to do so.

Projections estimate the next attack to occur in several months' time, which does not give much time to finish the uUSS Prometheus/u and crew her before Apophis returns. The near totality of the burden of combat will be shouldered by the uWatcher/u and its fighter complement, which will be a liability for Earth forces should the Goa'uld execute a planetwide assault…/I

buVigilant Watcher/u, Equatorial Trench, Zone 37, Naval Construction shipyard facility 4, 3 January 1998/b

The drydock and construction facility was well recessed into the primary and secondary hull of the uVigilant Watcher/u, providing excellent protection against the extreme hazards of space. Within the massive complex, mobile scaffolding and myriad construction apparatuses worked as only machines could - tirelessly, dispassionately, dutifully and unceasingly - to build what the station's commander had ordered a month ago. The uWatcher/u had been willed into being with everything it could need for any contingency, the only deficiency being a complete absence of crew. The molecular furnaces in each city sprawl worked to their uttermost capacity, churning out parts and components of a massive vessel, one of what, in the fictions to which it belonged, was once considered the backbone of the Imperial Navy. Over the past month those parts had been in various stages of assembly, as quickly as machines could work, with three weeks remaining until scheduled completion, upon which the Tau'ri Star Navy's first Star Destroyer, the USS uPrometheus/u, was scheduled to receive her crew and equipment, and after a week-long shakedown cruise would deploy to the first of many contested Goa'uld-held worlds.

On the weekends, Xander and his crew came up to the battle station to monitor things, and on more than one occasion they had to deal with one or two nations' spy satellites coming just a little too close for comfort, during which attempt they simply scrambled the satellite's data stream so no one would know what was going on and attempt to exploit such information. There was also the occasional micrometeorite storm to contend with, the occasional bit of space junk that darted past, and even dust clouds that drifted by, during which they simply closed the drydock doors and waited it out, whilst the great work of starship construction proceeded apace. Every system and vital component of the ship was tested and rechecked multiple times, run through simulation studies, and checked again before they were checked off as complete. Stress values for each section of the hull were double and triple checked, sublight drive systems were checked for tolerances at each stage up to full capacity, thrusters were examined to make sure they would function at even the most critical moments. The hyperdrive was checked, and simulations run, to make sure it would keep true to any course the navicomputer might calculate, and also to make sure the motivator wouldn't conk out at the wrong time - who wanted pieces of themselves scattered across three or more systems? Even the toilets and artificial gravity systems were rigorously tested to make sure they wouldn't fail at the same time. Nobody wanted their crap and urine floating around in zero grav to wind up in someone's face…

The Jaffa had volunteered to train as Stormtroopers, and very quickly they discarded the chain mail and blast lances that were the symbols of the false gods' domination of countless worlds, taking up the white plastoid and E-11 blaster rifles of Imperial troops. They elected not to wear helmets, as a Jaffa preferred to see the faces of his brothers and comrades, and instead wore simple headsets with eyepieces that linked to the sights on their weapons. The stormtrooper training manual was heavily altered, as Jaffa were sick of standing shoulder-to-shoulder in close ranks, firing volley after volley from their horribly inaccurate blast lances in hoping to terrify their enemy into submission. Instead, fire and maneuver from concealed positions would be the new Stormtrooper doctrine, and the Jaffa focussed their training toward that goal.

What few Jaffa that didn't volunteer to become the new Stormtrooper Corps volunteered instead to become combat pilots, and thus they began their training on TIE craft. It was assured that newer, better TIE models would go into production, ones that could be piloted by Jaffa and Tau'ri both, and they awaited completion of the first manned fighters with great relish. Until then they trained in the simulators, with data constantly being sent to both the SGC and the Overbridge for Admiral Harris to peruse and process as needed. General Hammond, in turn, relayed that data to Master Bra'tac who then sent as many Jaffa as he could spare to train as part of Xander's growing force. They arrived in tel'taks and al'kesh bombers to bolster the fighter complement until the Star Destroyers and TIE fighters could be completed.

Getting Stargate Command to release the data from the Abydos cartouche was another matter. The effort would be partly political, as any request for Stargate data and galactic map coordinates and coordinate systems would have to be cleared not only by General Hammond, but also by the Joint Chiefs and the President. With Kinsey chairing the Senate Appropriations and Select Arms Services Committees, such an effort would be problematic at best. If the data could not be released and uploaded to the uWatcher's/u systems, Xander knew, he'd have to practically map the galaxy himself, and that meant sending probes out to every corner of the Milky Way.

He'd found himself discussing that particular point to Hammond in conference one fine Saturday afternoon, the weekend after New Year's being a stressful reminder of the deadline in question…

"I can't just unilaterally release the data from the Abydos cartouche to parties who are not cleared for it. It's classified on a need-to-know basis, and I could be tried and convicted of treason if I did," Hammond repeated, for what Xander had guessed was the fifth time, over the new long-range holographic communications system they'd recently installed in Cheyenne Mountain.

The Ha'Tak from which the comms tech had been reverse-engineered was now in pieces, stored in Area 51 except for the Stargate that had been found in orbit near the wreckage, and which was now stored in one of the Vigilant Watcher's hangar bays. Scientists and engineers the world over who had been read onto the Stargate Programme were gleefully poring over every inch of the two downed ships and the destroyed Death Gliders like children that had been gifted with fabulous new toys. The knowledge gleaned from the remains of the First Battle of Earth, as the recent conflict was now being called, proved invaluable.

None of that information would matter, Xander knew, when Apophis returned with the vast majority of his battle fleet, and he expressed as much to Hammond.

"Apophis is coming back, General, you and I both know this. He won't settle for enslavement of our people this time, not when he knows how thoroughly we humiliated him in our first major battle."

"That may not be all that much of a problem, given the latest intelligence we received about a week ago," countered Hammond. "A rebel group of Goa'uld who we've come to a somewhat stable agreement and trust, who call themselves the Tok'Ra, have contacted us concerning the latest chain of events unfolding within the ranks of the System Lords. Apophis, apparently, lost a very large portion of his attack strength when he faced off against you. Since then a number of the more powerful System Lords, namely Cronus, Nirrti, Sokar, and Lord Yu, have parceled out pieces of his territory and claimed them for themselves. Sokar especially has claimed a vast portion of Apophis's former empire and absorbed the remainder of his forces into his own domain. His base of operations is on the moon Netu, orbiting his throneworld Delmak. We don't yet have a designation for it, but from what I've heard, if you're looking to go vacationing on another planet, don't go there. Sokar has terraformed Netu to resemble, well, Hell."

"I think of Hell, General, and the name Mustafar springs to mind. I hate to say it, but if these System Lords hated Apophis as much as they did, how much more will they fear us for having kicked his ass as hard as we did? As far as I can see, we've obviously made a strong case for them to come after us - we're a threat to their dominion of the galaxy. Wouldn't you agree?" Xander clasped his hands over his waistline and waited for Hammond's response.

Hammond nodded. "While I do agree in principle with that assessment, there's more. The Tok'Ra aren't the only enemies of the Goa'uld. We came across a world called Cimmeria, where the natives worship the Norse gods. Apparently, from SG-1's findings, these Norse gods are really an advanced race called the Asgard, and they've appeared to the Cimmerians in holographic form as the Norse deities, while declaring Cimmeria off limits to the Goa'uld under what they call the Protected Planets Treaty."

Xander nodded in reply, "And you want to get the Asgard to negotiate with the Goa'uld to place Earth under this treaty, I take it. Smart move, it'll take the heat off of Earth for awhile, give us enough time to finish building the fleet. Which, by the way, uPrometheus/u should be completed and ready to start a shakedown cruise in three weeks' time."

"Have you submitted your request for crew to the UN?"

Xander tilted his head and affected a smirk. "Need you ask? The Security Council has already offered several candidates for positions in her command hierarchy, and I've been going through them with a fine-toothed comb. Needless to say, I've had to throw out a few because they just gave me the impression of being too loyal to their country to put on a uniform like mine."

"Obviously you're not planning on calling it the Imperial Navy, are you?" queried the General.

"Tau'ri Star Navy. Makes a statement to the rest of the galaxy that we're not a multinational force but the first line of defence for the human race as a whole against any aggressors, and also says the same to our own people. If you love your country more than your world, don't put on this uniform is all I say." Another sideways head tilt drove Xander's point home.

"Returning to the issue at hand, however," Xander continued, "uploading the Abydos cartouche to the iWatcher's/i database would make mapping the galaxy much easier, so that when we finally start trying to locate and map hyperspace routes we're not doing it in the blind. Sending out probe droids would do the same job but take a hell of a lot longer, but the added advantage of dispatching probe droids would be that we can fit them with holographic communications relays, and you wouldn't have to depend on the Stargate to communicate with any units you send out."

Hammond crossed his arms, allowing one hand to reach his chin, thumb and forefinger stroking it contemplatively. "That's an interesting proposal," he conceded, "but sending the probes out through space would take too much time, even with the uPrometheus/u loaded up with them to spread them out. Sending the probe droids with the commo relays through the Stargate would take far less time, and it would help cut down on the time needed to send actionable intelligence back here to the SGC once the relays are in place and operational. Can you give me a schedule of when the first batch of probe droids can be ready to send down here?"

Xander smiled. "No problemo, give me a week to get my crew back up here, and then they and my Free Jaffa volunteers will equip the droids for dispatch. I think we can put about ten on a cargo shuttle and send them down once they're ready. I'm going to need an estimate of how many droids will be sent through at a time so I know how many shuttles to send down. The fewer the better, I say, so they don't raise any more suspicion than absolutely necessary."

Hammond nodded, "Alright, you'll have our estimate by the time you're ready to send down the first shuttle. SGC out."

The general's image derezzed as the connection was broken, and Xander reached for his comlink, a determined expression on his face. "Rupert, this is Xander. Come in, over?"

A few seconds passed before the comlink crackled to life. "Ah, yes, Xander, I'm here? Though I swear I didn't think I'd have to use this infernal device quite so soon. Ah, over?" he added, almost as an afterthought.

"Better get used to it. I just got off the comm with General Hammond, and we've got ourselves a job to do. I need everyone back up here next weekend to get some equipment ready to send down to the Mountain, how copy, over?"

Giles paused before answering, "Yes, erm, good copy. Buffy will have to be able to come back down to patrol so we can keep the demon population in check, but as long as she has a blaster and some appreciable armour she should be able to keep the patrols short. Erm, over."

Xander nodded. "Good call, Rupert. She'll need every advantage. In fact, I think I can rustle up some very nifty gear for her to use against the nightlife. How do a vibrosword and some concussion grenades sound?"

"Concussion grenades, Xander?"

"Stun grenades, basically. Make a very bright flash and a loud bang. Vamps and various other demonic species have uber-sensitive vision and hearing at night, so they'll be completely blind and deaf when Buffy makes with the dusty. A vibrosword is basically what it sounds like, a long blade with a power source to make it vibrate at various settings to cut through various materials. A low power buzz will have it cut through bone and flesh, the high powered settings can make it cut through anything from reinforced concrete to solid steel. The cutting edge is only a few molecules thick, and doesn't need to be sharpened. Demon hides won't stand a chance against such a weapon."

"Hmm, that sounds very excellent. But the armour? Does it exist in her size?"

Xander smiled. "Yes, there were females in the Stormtrooper Corps, though they were few and rarely seen. None of them ever qualified for the Death Trooper units, they're like the Navy Seal equivalent of Stormtroopers and the training pipeline was so brutal nine out of ten candidates died in training."

"They died in training?" Giles responded incredulously.

"Correctamundo, Rupes. Imperial outlook, a trooper's life wasn't worth as much to the Empire as we would have it. Most stormtrooper units were trained to attack in waves. You know, the old saw about quantity being a quality all its own? The Death Troopers were like the Navy Seals or the Russian Spetsnaz, they were intelligence gathering units, deep recon, espionage, black ops stuff. The Empire invested a great deal of credits into establishing and refining the training course to be as brutal as possible, and only the strongest and most capable candidates ever qualified for selection. A Death Trooper could qualify for service as one of the Emperor's personal guard if he or she earned a sufficiently ambitious and ruthless reputation both during training and on deployments. Just like their officers - the Emperor made it a point for the Imperial Academies to graduate only those officers with a propensity for evil and cruelty. But that's neither here nor there. Point is, Giles, I think I might be able to use one of the molecular furnaces to custom design a full suit of Death Trooper armour for Buffy to wear on patrols, but I know she won't wear the helmet, so I'll have to fashion some sort of headset for her to wear for comms. Say, about three days to gather her physical specs and synthesise a body glove and armour attachments from that? I'll need her up here on the station for the first day to get those measurements programmed into the molecular furnace, then we just let it work, and in 48 hours she comes back to pick up her armour and try it on."

"Hmm," replied Giles, "three days sounds good. You may also wish to have her vibrosword and a full set of magazines for her blaster ready for her to acquire after she gets scanned in, in case she finds herself wanting for munitions."

"Very good," Xander contemplated as he pondered the possibilities. I think I might forward this to the SGC as well as the Free Jaffa, see what Teal'c and Bra'tac think of switching out their chain mail for plastoid. That's the stuff stormtrooper armour's made from. Feels like plastic, just as light, but about ten times harder than Kevlar and can diffuse most energy weapons fire, except a straight shot."

"I'm rather surprised you haven't already offered plastoid armour to the SGC for their operatives. Surely against the Goa'uld they would appreciate such an advantage in protective equipment," Giles remarked chidingly.

"I'll get on that eventually, and at the same time I'll need to really look through the database in the uWatcher/u's computers and see just what sort of nasty surprises the Empire had a mind to use. How much would you bet that they had nukes bigger that anything we'd ever make?"

"Just so, Xander, although I expect we couldn't imagine anything bigger than Tsar Bomba…"

Xander sighed then, sounding very much like the youth he was, albeit a youth with the weight of a galaxy on his shoulders.

"Xander, are you alright?" Giles said, with more than a degree of concern in his voice for his young protegé, as if reading his thoughts.

"Yeah. I'm just suddenly remembering how old I am, and that I shouldn't have all this responsibility, and that, by rights, I should be down on Earth with my so-called parents instead of here on a battle station that shouldn't exist, and I shouldn't have been put in a situation where I ended up commanding a rescue operation for Air Force soldiers that should be far better trained than anyone I know. But I do, and I'm here, and if I hadn't given the order to open fire on those two pyramid ship thingies we'd be facing an alien invasion right now, possibly occupation and enslavement."

"Sounds rather like you've grown up, Xander Harris," admonished Giles over the comlink, even as Xander, having slumped down in his command chair a minute previously, had worried about Tarkin's influence on his mind and personality. "You've already proved yourself a most capable leader on several occasions, and the fact that you're admitting your concerns about the circumstances only shows how much you've matured. Don't doubt yourself, Xander - from what I've seen you'd do well to trust your instincts, even if you don't trust who or where they come from."

"Speaking of instincts, Rupert, I don't think we've heard the last from that scum Kinsey."

"Beg pardon?" replied Giles worryingly.

"On a hunch, I had the Stargate from Apophis's ship tractored in to one of the holding bays here on the uWatcher/u, and stored inert. Doctor Jackson explained how the Stargates connect to each other, and so I put two and two together and figured that if you try to have two or more active Stargates at the same point of origin, then you're gonna have a whole boatload of problems. I'll get to the nuts and bolts on Stargate mechanics at a later time, but suffice it to say that if the good Senator gets his slimy hands on our Stargate then he can circumvent the SGC completely and have only his people running ops around the galaxy."

"He'd be in a prime position to push his agenda for the Stargate programme through the Senate and cut the military out of the operation entirely," Giles noted, "plus he'd eventually be able to assemble enough assets to seize the uVigilant Watcher/u by force if he needed to."

"Two birds with one stone," Xander confirmed. "He could shut down the SGC permanently and set up offworld operations that he could use to assemble a sizeable force to take over the station. From there, who knows, but I'd bet you a hundred Gold Imperials that he'd use the station against America's enemies. Any nation that didn't kowtow to his demands would find themselves vapourised the next hour, and Kinsey would call it 'God's vengeance against the unrighteous' or some such spin like that. There'd be a massive outcry like nobody has ever witnessed, with people taking sides left and right. After that would come anarchy, martial law, breakdown of social order planetwide…the conspiracy nuts would have a field day."

After a pensive moment, Xander added, "I shudder to think of the likes of Kinsey uttering the words 'commence primary ignition.' I just hope I've got all my bases covered. Tarkin was a genius at politics and military stuff, but he also had years of experience with this. Compared to him, I'm what? A scared teenager who's just as afraid of pissing off a US Senator as I am of using the planet-buster on anything."

Xander must have imagined that Giles was polishing his glasses again. He was down on Earth, not up here on the station, so he couldn't get caught wearing his uniform, but if he could, Xander figured the tweed-clad Watcher would find a way to hide a hanky in it. At length Giles' voice issued from the comlink again.

"I can't tell you that you need to banish your fear, nor would I try. The fact that you've been able to express your fears about this rather singular situation is proof to me, though, that you're as mature as the rest of us 'grown folk', to use the vernacular. But all you need to do is accept that fear and let it pass, and think your way around it. Look for the good in every alternative, and you'll always make the right decision, Xander. You've shown great courage already as a man at war against the supernatural. What's a megalomaniacal politician compared to that?" Giles chuckled.

"Ugh," Xander cringed, "don't get me started on the Emperor. I could tell you some stories from Tarkin's point of view that would make you terrified to go to bed at night."

"Really?"

"Yes, really. The films don't even tell half the story of Sheev Palpatine. I've stood in front of that...man, I've looked into his eyes. I felt it, Giles. The hate, the malevolence, the cruelty. I swear, he's the only person I've ever known who I might say was born evil. There was never an ounce of goodness in that monster, from the moment he was born to the last moments when Vader threw him down that reactor shaft on the second Death Star. Never."

"I humbly apologise, Xander. I never understood just how potent his memories were in your mind."

"Well, now you know," Xander stated. "But we don't have a whole lot of time. I still need everyone up here to get those probe droids prepped and ready to deploy through the SGC Stargate. We need a Holonet to advance our plans against the Goa'uld, and I want to at least get this started before the uPrometheus/u is finished."

"How's your search for crew coming along?"

Xander thought back to all those reports he'd read, and it filled him with woe.

"It's almost a non-starter, Giles," he sighed. "I'm starting to think the only people we'll be able to put aboard her will be Jaffa and US personnel. Everyone else has some sort of agenda for their country that puts them in direct conflict with my ideals."

"Have you thought about allowing each nation to have their own Starfleet, but with the caveat that in a planetary emergency their fleets will be suborned to the Tau'ri Star Navy?"

Xander laughed, "I'd still have to be able to convince them that such an emergency is not only possible but likely, and we still can't very well tell them that the Goa'uld are out there, can we?" His tone turned more serious as he continued. "We gotta figure out something else, but in the meantime, the ships we build will just have to be US assets."

"Agreed," said Giles. "Look, Xander, I have to sign off for a faculty meeting, but let's do keep in touch. Cheers."

The comlink switched off with a muted beep, and Xander was left to contemplate the events of the immediate future. He had a war to wage against an alien enemy, he had a Senator to keep at bay, and he possibly had to ensure that humanity could either avert or otherwise survive an impending demonic invasion and cataclysm. But even the first of those events would take place no earlier than six months or so down the road, and Xander had more pressing matters to attend to.

In three weeks' time the Tau'ri Star Destroyer uPrometheus/u would be ready for her shakedown cruise. Xander just hoped the Jaffa that signed on with him would prove to be as good a crew for her as they'd been so far on the uWatcher/u...

B15 January 1998, Sunnydale City Hall/b

"Allan? Would you step into my office, please?"

Allan Finch could tell that his boss, Mayor Richard Wilkins the Third, was not happy. The cold feeling in his blood that usually indicated Wilkins's displeasure had returned with a vengeance. Cautiously he approached the double doors that separated the Mayor's office from the rest of City Hall, fearful of whatever novel means of torment might greet him, not that he'd ever suffered his boss's displeasure before. But there was always a first time for everything. Allan hesitantly reached upward with his fist to knock, and the door opened just a microsecond before his knuckles made contact.

His first instinct was to turn and run, as the face that greeted him was that of James MacTaggart, Wilkins's vampire bodyguard. He quickly suppressed it, however, by mentally reciting the Lord's Prayer, and MacTaggart stepped politely aside as Finch stepped through, stopping in front of Wilkins's modestly appointed desk.

"You wanted to see me, Richard?" Finch queried, keeping the nervousness at being in such close proximity to his boss from showing in his face through long and practised effort.

The Mayor was reading a document on his desk. Without looking up, he responded, "I'm unhappy, Allan. Oh, not with you, though, not with you." He quickly amended, seeing the nervousness in his deputy's face kick up another notch. At Allan's relieved sigh, he said, "It's the latest city budget proposal. We're not seeing the growth rate we expected last quarter. In fact, it's been declining ever since November. Care to give me a guess as to why?"

"Perhaps the demon population has finally started to make their big push?" Allan submitted.

"Doesn't explain these figures," Wilkins opined, seeing through Allan's deception. "For one thing, the human mortality rate has declined very swiftly since November." He held up a hand to forestall his deputy's next supposition before he could start. "I know, it's always been at record lows since the Summers girl arrived last year to start her sophomore term, but that doesn't explain the record increase in the demon mortality rate, nor does it explain the recently consistent method of their demise. People are actually coming into Sunnydale to settle in, but they don't take jobs here in town. It's that Harris kid and that darned Death Star that are taking our people away from the Hellmouth." As he spoke, Wilkins became increasingly livid. "He's ruining my plans for my Ascension, and he's going to turn this fine community of ours into a ghost town by year's end. Does that sit well with you? Because with me, it does not." Wilkins paused for a moment to calm down, and at length he continued. "Well, my mother always said that it was never good to let your feelings run away with you. Dear sweet Mom...when she passed on, I made sure to thank her for all her sound advice. She breathed her last before I could finish eviscerating her, but then, them's the breaks."

Allan knew how to disguise his revulsion well, having had long years of practice. He noiselessly swallowed his bile and spread his hands, evincing ignorance. "Then we need to either make sure we can get some of the demon population onto the station or else we cut off the flow of human traffic to the battle station. The question is, how do we do it?"

Wilkins smiled at that question. "That's a good question, Allan, and I'm glad you asked because I happen to have a possible solution. A good friend of mine that happens to be serving in our great Senate has dropped one or two hints that the Death Star's chief of security might just happen to be the teenage daughter of one of his foremost campaign contributors. Does the name Gregory Chase ring a bell to you?"

"I believe it does. Isn't he one of the more influential members of the school board?" opined Finch.

"Indeed he is. I think I remember nominating him for that position myself, as a matter of fact," said the Mayor, with a reflective tilt of the head. "A little favour to him as a reward for contributing to my own reelection campaign was due him, I felt. And so now I believe it's time to call in a favour of my own."

A light dawned on Allan Finch's face, a light that nearly betrayed the horror he felt. But until the time was right, Allan mused, he would have to play the part of the dutiful Deputy Mayor. He schooled his features, permitting not one ounce of emotion to show on his face.

"You want to put pressure on Mr Chase to get his daughter off the Death Star?"

"A bit bluntly put, Allan, but yes, if we exert enough financial leverage, say through the IRS, it might cause Mr Chase to cave in and 'request' that his daughter resign her post as Chief of Security and return to her hometown, and right back in the lap of luxury where she belongs. The simplicity lends a certain elegance to that plan, don't you agree?"

Allan paused before questioning. "It might be prudent to contact Senator Kinsey, Richard. Gregory Chase has been not only your biggest campaign contributor, but his financial firm has been Kinsey's as well, even if Kinsey isn't a California Senator. If we somehow ''disclose' the fact that Greg Chase has been misreporting his earnings on his tax returns, then that may put us in a position to exert a bit of leverage ourselves. We could push a request through to Sunnydale County for a paternity test to be conducted on Mr and Mrs Chase - he has been known to put his eggs in more than one basket, so to speak. And also, we should contact the Sacramento office of Health and Human Services, in case Mr Chase gets the family lawyer to shut it down in County, and the State can overturn it and formally require the Chases to submit to a paternity test. We then seal them and the IRS records and keep them as leverage to use against them if they don't play ball with us."

A slight chuckle escaped the Mayor's lips. "You are entirely ruthless and Machiavellian, Allan - a man after my own heart. Good thing I don't have one, that is to say. Speaking of which, how goes the search for the Box of Gavrok? Any leads?"

"Well, there may be one or two possible persons who could hold the Box, one demon and one human, but we'll need to circumvent the Watchers' Council's new Slayer from Jamaica, this Kendra…"

"Allan, let me stop you right there," Wilkins interrupted. "In the first place, this Kendra whatever her name is cannot be the Slayer because she's here in Sunnydale. Buffy Summers, remember? In the second, there can never be more than one Slayer at any given time, because one must die for another to be called, correct?"

"Sir, do you remember the Master, and his efforts to bring about the so-called "Harvest"?"

"Yes, the Slayer destroyed him, as I recall. I should probably congratulate her for that, even though the prophecy did state that he would kill her."

"He did kill her, Richard. He bit her, partially drained her and then he left her in a puddle of water to drown. She didn't exactly istay/i dead, though. Turns out the guy who would be Tarkin brought her back with CPR, and lo and behold, we now have two Slayers."

Wilkins sighed. "Ok, now I'm disappointed. We would have been fine with just one Slayer here on the Hellmouth - Miss Summers would have kept the demonic community off my scent while I finished my preparations for Ascension. Two Slayers, Allan, will be far more troublesome. This Kendra - what did you say her last name was?"

"I didn't, Richard, but it's Young. Kendra Young."

Wilkins nodded his head. "Ah, yes. Kendra Young should receive a proper welcome, don't you agree?"

"What about her Watcher?"

"Him too. Invite them to City Hall. A private celebration away from the eyes of the public, guaranteeing their secrecy, thus ensuring that our own Slayer and her Watcher don't send in Stormtroopers or otherwise meddle with us."

"I don't mean to be too bold here, Richard, but -"

"Nonsense, Allan, speak your mind!"

"The Slayer and her people, or at least our Slayer, don't need to send in Stormtroopers - they've been seen carrying blasters, too, so I wouldn't think much of our chances if they decide we're up to no good…"

"And they won't," said Wilkins with a smile, "because we'll show them that we're on the level, and that we have no nefarious intentions, as Mr Giles might say."

Buffy decided that tonight she'd only use her blaster in cases of absolute emergency, as she had been feeling especially antsy with the urge to get in close and grapple with her mortal enemy. The blaster was fine in a pinch, but to her Slayer's mind it could very easily become a crutch. If she lost her edge, it was Bye Bye Captain Summers, and the newly-minted Imperial officer did not want that, no siree. Besides, she wanted to Slay another starship one of these days, preferably by using the big superlaser dish on the uWatcher/u, but she wouldn't have that chance if some fangface got lucky one night because she was too used to shooting them and not Slaying them.

What did give her an edge tonight was not the blaster in her hand, but the headset she was wearing, with a distinctive flat lens that could pivot in front of her eye to filter and display things that gave off heat signatures, as well as a few things that didn't. Tonight she was testing out the infrared wavelengths to get a feel for the device. She knew vamps gave off no body heat, so she wanted to see if the IR filter would still catch them moving, even if it was telling her there was nothing there. And if that didn't work, then she'd switch over to the ultraviolet setting and see if that showed her anything. She was only testing those two filters tonight, but there were others she could try.

Xander had given her the device from the uWatcher/u after digging around in the files, and he had instructed her to meet his shuttle tomorrow evening, to fly up to the battle station to be fitted for her very own customised stormtrooper suit. She had agreed in principle with the idea of wearing personal protection, but as Xander predicted, she had firmly drawn her line in the sand at anything that would give her helmet hair, thus the headset. He had also told her that next weekend he wanted everyone on the station to ferry down some probe droids to the SGC mountain complex - he was finally getting around to building a rudimentary Holonet, right at the same time the first Star Destroyers were to roll off the line. They were stepping up big time, and there was no turning back after the first deployments got underway.

Buffy caught herself with a jerk - she did not like getting distracted when she needed to focus on what she was doing. She blinked her eyes rapidly to force herself to break her mind away from that wayward track and back to the here and now, and she renewed her scans with eager intensity. Her breathing softened as she focussed her vision through the IR filter. Tiny green specks indicated insects flitting about, but that was it - plants emitted no waste heat, so they didn't register through the eyepiece. Buffy decided she'd get no info here, so she followed her Slayer senses to a freshly-covered grave where something told her someone was due to wake up from their dirtnap. She looked around for a good hiding spot where she could observe the goings-on without being spotted, and she watched carefully through the infrared filter.

Twenty minutes later she caught herself almost humming a little tune, but something else got her attention. Carefully she turned her head this way and that to make sure the headset wasn't malfunctioning and hadn't come loose on her, and satisfied, she watched as the dirt began to move. Slowly at first, but with greater speed and urgency as the minutes wore on, the earth shifted and finally gave way as a pair of hands emerged, followed by a head.

"Nothing anomalous here, and yay me for using a sciencey word," muttered the Imperial Captain quietly as softly as she dared. There was no body heat radiating from the animate corpse, of course, but the shifting in patterns of ambient temperature told her through the eyepiece that there was movement occurring. Her hopes were elevated, and she smiled as she carefully switched the filter to ultraviolet.

Her results were the same with the ultraviolet filter as with the infrared. Gradual shifting in background energy patterns showed movement, but no radiation in that band. Still, her questions were answered for tonight, so she resigned herself to an easy Slaying, but hopefully not too easy. Buffy sighed as she checked the Velcro holster on her back where her blaster was attached, then she tugged lightly on the sling to make sure it was still in place as she scanned the vicinity for any potential problems. Thus far content, she pulled out her stake and waited for Mister or Miss Overbite to finish extracting themselves from their comfy little hole in the ground…

Thirty seconds later, Buffy declared that itch well and fully scratched, and she decided to call it a night. She was reaching for the headset to turn off the eyepiece when a flicker of movement caught her eye. She missed the contact to turn off the device and instead reset the filter to infrared, just as she was turning her head in the direction of movement. A blotch of green light in roughly the shape of a human girl then illuminated the eyepiece with no advance warning.

"Merde!" swore Buffy as she stowed her stake and reached behind her for her blaster. "Hold it right there, whoever you are!" she shouted to her potential opponent. A kick to the small of her back was the only answer she received.

Whoever this person was, they were strong. Vampire strong at the very least. It was clearly not a vampire as it had been giving off body heat, but judging by the attack, not a demon either. That left only one answer, an impossible answer. Buffy then set her blaster to stun and raised it to her shoulder to take aim, turning in a slow circle to locate her target.

Just when she finished half her circle, Buffy felt her weapon get knocked out of her grasp by a powerful and graceful kick from her target, which had approached behind her. Instinctively she took up a fighting stance, and her target revealed herself. It was a young woman with long, straight black hair tied back and a mocha complexion, wearing a brown shirt with long sleeves over a white undershirt and black jeans that looked fashionable and comfortable, if rather outdated. She took up her own stance in answer to Buffy's challenge.

"Ye be no demon, I see," she spoke, in a warm, lilting Carribbean accent. "Them do not use guns and gadgets, so who and what be ye?"

"I be Buffy Summers," replied the Slayer with a quick tilt of her head. "Just a girl who goes out at night and fights the good fight. Who be you?"

The young Caribbean tilted her own head and looked askance at her. "Ye cannot be Buffy Summers. She be drowned and dead many months past."

"Nope," Buffy replied, popping the "p". "Got bit, got drowned, got CPR'd back to life, so very much alive, thank you for asking. Speaking of asking, I'll ask again. iWho/i are iyou/i?"

"I am Kendra," she answered back with a seemingly regal lift of her chin, "de Vampire Slayer."

"Hmm," Buffy considered, taking in this new information, and then coming to a decision. "We need to go see Giles. My Watcher."

"Rupert Giles, ye say?" Kendra queried in disbelief. "Then truly ye be Buffy Summers, but still, ye cannot be de Slayer. Dere can be only one, and I am she."

"Spare me the Highlander cliché," snorted Buffy in derision, "and help me find my blaster. You know, the one you kicked out of my hand?"