Xander heard the gunfire and saw the flashes of light indicating some sort of firefight lighting up the night long before his car had reached the town's limits. For most people, that would be a cue to turn right around and head on back to where they coming from. Xander just kept on going. As he got closer, he saw something that made him put the pedal to the metal and drop his lightsabre down from the sheathe into his off-hand: energy weapons fire. Not blasters, or at least not a blaster he'd ever seen before, but definitely energy weapons. And there was no other force on Earth with the knowledge to construct such weapons now that Malak was dead.
If the weapons hadn't came from Xander . . . well, he didn't really want to think about it. Either Malak had shown an abnormal level of foresight and left behind some sort of army with the holocrons, or . . . aliens? It didn't seem possible, really, but there he was accelerating towards Oxnard and seeing energy weapons blazing away and lighting up the night with purple fire. And there were those strange somethings brushing at the edge of his senses that were neither demon nor human as far as he could tell.
God, he wished he hadn't dropped Faith off in LA now. Going into a battlezone on his own with no backup at all possible just wasn't his idea of fun at all. He didn't even have many 'toys' with him, just the new lightsabre he'd constructed using an emerald lifted from a demon lair he'd dealt with alongside Faith back in St. Louis a month back and the one he'd stolen from Malak locked in the boot. He'd used the last of his grenades against the vampire nest they'd took out in LA last week and just hadn't had the time to gather the components and put together the weapons.
And to to top things off, the energy weapon users seemed to be winning. The gunfire was trailing off and the sounds of terrified, agonised screaming - both male and female - could be made out as he passed the half-destroyed 'Welcome to Oxnard' sign. The waves of terror and pain emanating from the people of the town that were hammering against his mental shields left him in no doubt as to what was going on: Invasion.
He took a deep breath and centred himself within the Force before he stepped out of the car and brought his sabre up into a defensive position, ready to be activated at a moment's notice. The area around where he'd parked the car looked like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie. What wasn't riddled with bullet-holes was scorched and singed to the point of collapsing, and the only light available as from the flames of the burned-out cars and buildings that lined the streets. That wasn't the worst of it though. Not even close. What was the worst was the bodies . . . the utterly destroyed, disembowelled, mutilated bodies with those terrorised, agonised looks forever locked on their faces.
Xander had to force down a wave of anger that threatened to sweep through him as he looked upon a girl, couldn't have been more than ten or eleven, and the look on her face, the sheer horror, and then the completely missing lower half of her body. There was just nothing there, blood and gore hanging out from where the waist had been, but no sign of the lower half of her body. He felt the dark abyss opening up within him as he stared at the ruined body, and it tempted him. It sorely tempted him. There was power in that abyss, he knew, power enough to send these . . . things . . . scrabbling for safety.
Swallowing his rage, Xander wrapped himself in the comforting embrace of the Force and allowed his emotions to slip away into nothingness. It was this action that gave him the split-second warning to move before a monstrous creature lunged out of the darkness, slashing with its claws at the space Xander had occupied before he'd leapt away onto the hood of a nearby car.
Xander swallowed slowly as he eyed the creature that had attacked him. Damned if it didn't look like one of the aliens from the Alien series. It hissed and snapped its mandibles at him before leaping at him, its jaws open, but Xander was prepared this time, and in one smooth movement he ignited his lightsabre, stepped aside, and cut the foul creature in two as it overshot him. He stared at it for a long moment as its green blood leaked out onto the tarmac, which promptly began to lightly sizzle as the blood made contact. There was no demon in it as far as he could tell but it sure as hell acted like one.
He felt . . . something approaching him and looked up from the body. A tall, blonde-haired man was shuffling towards him with a vacant look in his eyes. Shock, perhaps?
"Hey," called out Xander. "You okay?"
A short, plump woman stepped out of the shadows and joined the man in shuffling towards Xander. Xander opened his mouth to say something but clamped it shut again when a woman in little more than her underwear also joined the first in shuffling towards Xander.
"Okay, something's not right here," he muttered as more and more of the people stepped out of the shadows till there was an even dozen of them, all shuffling towards Xander with vacant looks in their eyes. As they got closer, the hairs on the back of his neck began to stand up. And the feeling of death was unmistakeable. "Zombies! Frigging wonderful," he muttered, before unleashing an overpowered wave of telekinetic energy that scattered the zombies and bounced them off the buildings and cars nearby. The zombies uniformly collapsed to the ground and stopped moving
Xander barely had time to wonder if they really were zombies what with going down that easily when they began to . . . change. Their flesh rippled and their bodies contorted horribly as they thrashed around on the floor, vague sounds of pain coming from their locked-up throats. This was all too familiar to Xander after the episode with the swim team, and he stepped back away from the zombies and ignited his sabre, bringing it up and around into a defensive position. All too soon the zombies stopped writhing and their skin split, revealing an even dozen copies of that alien he'd killed earlier. And they were all glaring at Xander and clicking their claws ominously.
"Oh," said Xander. "Oh fuck."
He, just for a moment, considered standing and fighting, but really . . . there were fights even he didn't want to pick. Those things were fast. With a quick application of Force power, he leapt up onto the roof of a nearby convenience store - which creaked ominously as he landed - and then began to bounce away across the roof-tops, putting a good bit of distance between himself and the ravenous monsters with a grudge. He wasn't sure if they had strong enough leg muscles to follow him but he wasn't taking any chances. Ending up with a chest-buster inside himself was not on his top-ten things to do.
When he was certain that he'd left the creatures well behind he stopped his journey - landing on the roof of a small semi-detached house - and took a moment to take stock of the situation. As far as the eye could see there was destruction, fires and corpses laying in the street and burned out buildings. What this was meant to accomplish was utterly beyond him. It was random destruction without rhyme or reason, the sort of thing that Malak had indulged himself in after he fell to the Dark Side. Nothing was being accomplished here. There was no military value to Oxnard, nothing to be gained, it was just a slaughter of people who could not defend themselves. Whatever defence was being mounted was obviously being entirely overwhelmed.
"I wish HK was here," muttered Xander. "I need a good killing machine on my side right about now."
With that said, Xander stepped off the roof of the building and dropped back down to ground level. As shitty a situation as this was, there were still some people left alive to protect from the attackers, and that was what he would do. It was his duty as a Jedi Knight and as a decent human being. Still, he wished he had some more firepower to back him up.
Actually finding the living to protect them proved to be something that was easier said than done, even for one with Xander's abilities. Supernatural senses are a wonderful thing but they are easily confused, especially in an area as saturated with death and pain as that place was. Places like that are just not Jedi-friendly, not in the slightest. It felt like he was drowning in darkness, and for someone who didn't have as much experience as he did - albeit second-hand through Revan's memories - it would have been horribly disorientating.
It was when he was walking down another non-descript street that he felt the twinge at the edge of his senses that indicated an incoming attack. In a flurry of motion, he activated his lightsabre and brought it into position to block the incoming energy blast. But it didn't work. The blast struck the lightsabre as expected but instead of being deflected it simply split into two smaller blasts along the line of impact and Xander barely had time to twist his body in such a way as to avoid having two large holes blasted in his chest. As it was, the smaller of the two halves splashed along his abdomen before he could fully dodge.
Xander hissed in agony as he felt his skin sear and burn under the power of the attack but he had no time to stop and think about it as he leapt away to the side out of the way of a burst of purple energy that he didn't even want to think about what it would have done to him if he hadn't dodged. Then his attacker moved into the light, giving Xander a better look at him, still firing as Xander dodged frantically. Damned if the thing didn't look a giant snake with body-builder arms and an armoured upper-body.
After a rather brief spate of frantic dodging, the snake-man's gun clicked and the rain of purple fire stopped. Xander took full advantage of the lull and hurled his lightsabre in a spear-throw like move that burned a hole straight through the alien's forehead. It stood there staring dumbly at him in disbelief for a moment before crumpling to the ground quite dead. Xander summoned his sabre back to his hand and then went to examine the corpse and its armament.
The body was entirely unremarkable as far as Xander was concerned. Just another in an endless series of monsters that had tried to kill him over the years, and it was somewhat less bizarre than the giant preying mantis that had tried to seduce him a few years back or the entirely repugnant species known as the Hutts. The weapons on the other hand were a great deal more interesting. The grenades . . . well, using a grenade when you have no idea how the settings work wouldn't be the best idea ever. The gun was something else though. It looked like you could shoot down a battleship with the thing if you had good enough aim, the damn thing was huge! He had no idea how powerful it really was but it sure did enough damage to be getting on with - his scorched abdomen could testify to that.
A further search yielded a couple of ammunition clips and then he was ready to go. A gun's a gun. Clip goes in and you pull the trigger to fire. Hardly rocket science. The fact that they seemed to fire raw plasma that wasn't coherent enough for him to deflect with his sabre made the use of ranged weapons somewhat compulsory too. The masters would probably frown upon it, but then they'd always frowned upon a lot of the things he did for some reason or another. Strange that.
Suitably armed, Xander went back to hunting through the streets, looking for survivors to protect. There wasn't a whole lot of indication of where they were so in the end he headed towards the booming sound of a shotgun being repeatedly fired. It seemed as good a direction as any really and at least there would be something at the end of the journey.
What Xander found was a tall, grey-haired man holding off one of the Alien wannabes with a pump-action shotgun. It wasn't doing all that much damage really but there was enough kinetic energy in a twelve gauge slug to knock the thing on its arse and keep it away from the couple of kids that were cowering behind the old man. It was quite an impressive show of nerve really. Those things were damned nasty and he was just blasting away at it with no fear at all. Old soldier, maybe?
As the alien regained its footing once more and moved to attack again - not a very bright creature really - Xander stepped out from his cover and opened fire with his recently acquired new toy. The first shot sheared its arm off at what passed for an elbow joint, the second one of its legs at the mid-thigh, and the third blew a gaping hole in its chest as it tumbled to the ground screeching. And it was still moving, dragging itself forwards with its one good arm towards the people it had been attacking. The grey-haired man simply put his shotgun against the things head and pulled the trigger, cool as you like. At that range, it was pretty much screwed and the green blood made a nice spatter across the tarmac.
"Might want to step away from that," said Xander. "I think its blood is corrosive."
"Oh bloody typical," snarled the man as his boots started to smoke. He hopped away immediately, looking quite ridiculous. A moment passed as the man regained his calm before he spoke again. "Where did you get that gun?"
"Took it off one of the snake-men things," said Xander.
"They have weapons like that?" asked the man. Xander nodded to the affirmative. "This just keeps getting better. Any sign of reinforcements?"
"Not that I've seen," said Xander.
"Wonderful," said the man with a sigh. "By the time they get troops here we'll all be dead at this rate."
"Oh it gets better," said Xander. "I left a dozen of those things behind a few blocks back and it doesn't look like there's anyone else around to slow them down."
The man blinked and then swore. Loudly. "Kids, time to get moving," he said after a moment's thought.
Xander didn't even have to take a moment to think about it. "Here," he said, holding the gun out to the man. "Take this. It'll give you and those kids a fighting chance."
"And what about you?" asked the man, as he took the gun and the spare clip Xander was carrying.
"I have my ways," said Xander. "Now go. Get those kids to safety."
"I won't forget this," said the man with a respectful nod. And then he was gone, leading the kids away at a good clip.
Xander sighed deeply as the group passed out of sight. Looked like he was going to have to try and fight those things anyway. Wonderful. He drew his lightsabre once more and took a deep breath to centre himself and began to draw the Force to him, calling as much power to his use as he could. How the hell he ended up in situations like this was utterly beyond him. He could feel the monstrous beasts that he'd left behind scurrying closer to him now, moving fast towards his position. It wasn't all of them, thank all that's good and holy, but there was enough.
He ignited his lightsabre and assumed an aggressive posture, awaiting the inevitable battle for his life. He'd expected a lot of things from being a Jedi, but fighting off some sort of alien invasion force . . . well, this was different. It could be worse - they could be Sith - but it was still pretty bad as far as he could tell. This planet just wasn't read to fight such a war. The technology wasn't there and humans were still busily killing each other over stupid squabbles. Religion, territory, old grudges . . . and here there was an alien army in the early processes of invading the Earth. Wonderful.
Xander could see them now, barely. Black creatures in a town lit up only by the burning hulks that were once cars aren't exactly easy to see. Still, sight was unimportant. He could feel them and their intentions. They wanted him, they wanted to make him into one of them. His lip curled into a disdainful smile. It would be a cold day in hell before he allowed himself to be turned into some mindless, ravening beat. If they could understand such things, he would have taunted them with that knowledge, but they lacked the intelligence to understand insults.
And then they were on him. Claws and teeth snapping, they came, closing to melee range and attacking at blinding speeds. It was all Xander could do to dodge the attacks coming from half a dozen different directions at once while using his lightsabre to keep the other aliens at a distance. They seemed to have learned that the green blade was death, disturbingly enough, so they must have had some intelligence, even if it was restricted to an animal level.
Xander had to reach deep into his reserves of power as he enhanced his speed to levels that would leave him little more than a blur of motion to an ordinary human observer, and even that combined with the usual short-range pre-cognition used by all Jedi in battle was barely keeping him ahead of the monsters attacking him. In the end something had to give and Xander knew it, so he gathered the Force in his legs and leapt away to give himself some room to breathe.
The aliens lunged after him immediately but Xander was quick enough to counter them, grabbing hold of a burned-out car with the Force and hurling it into their midst. Most were quick enough to dodge the vehicle turned missile but two of the aliens reacted just a moment too slowly and were crushed under several tons of twisted metal that had once been a 50s era American-built car. And then the rest were on him and he was back to dodging frantically and using his sabre to hold them off.
One alien lunged forward, claws extended and snapping at Xander, and he immediately reacted by cutting its claws off at what passed for the beast's forearms, but in that he left himself open for just a moment. And in that moment, one of the beasts took advantage. Xander's world turned to pain as he felt a clawed arm pierce his already wounded abdomen and dark spots danced in front of his eyes as he fought to stay conscious. He couldn't help but let out a small cry of pain.
Xander looked up and saw one of the beasts lunging at him jaws first and in a moment of panic, he clenched his fist and unleashed a brutal dose of telekinetic energy that pulped the creature's head and dropped it to the ground twitching as its nervous system. Immediately Xander brought his lightsabre around and bisected the alien that had gored him on its claws and managed to unsteadily leap away to try and buy some time to recover from his injury.
There were only three of the aliens left now, not such a bad number for one of Xander's power to face, but in his weakened state it was going to be difficult he knew. He could feel some sort of poison beginning to work through his system and the basic nature of his wounds meant they were going to slow him down immeasurably on their own. The aliens attacked and Xander was back-pedalling immediately, trying to keep some distance between himself and those bloody claws.
As Xander clumsily rolled out of the way of one slightly over-extended attack, he heard it: The sound of planes and helicopters approaching. Reinforcements were here. With renewed confidence, he brandished his sabre and motioned for the aliens to come get some. They might not have understood the gesture but they attacked anyway. The first alien was neatly decapitated in an effortless manoeuvre but the second got in far too close before Xander bisected it in a last-ditch attack that left his defences wide open. The third alien plunged its claws deep into Xander's left shoulder and he cried out in pain before bringing his lightsabre around and decapitating it just before it could sink its teeth into his neck.
Xander blinked and staggered back as he felt the poison redouble its workings through his body. He tried to focus his powers on purging the toxins from his rapidly weakening body but his control slipped almost immediately. He tried to regain his grip on his powers but it was like trying to hold onto water. He fell to his knees and his breath came in sharp gasps as his strength waned. He would not die like this! No!
"He's coming around!"
"Jesus Christ, are we even sure this guy isn't one of them? Sedate him!"
"Pulse is going crazy here."
"We need some more of the anti-venom from stores. How the fuck is this guy still breathing?"
"He's coming around again."
"Fuck's sake. Sedate him then!"
Xander blinked as he woke up. As sluggish as he felt, the poison seemed to be gone and his breath was coming as easily as it normally did. He'd survived. He tried to sit up and found he couldn't. Okay, he was strapped to the bed . . . that wasn't good.
"Eight Chryssalids, kid," said a voice to his left. Xander turned to face it and saw a tall, older man in military-style fatigues. He didn't recognise the rank markings. "I'm impressed. Most soldiers can't even take one. Then again, they're stuck with normal weapons."
Xander just stared at the man.
"They're going crazy over that fancy doohickey of yours in the labs you know," said the old man. "Well, they're going crazy over the one we found locked in your trunk. I figured it would be best if I didn't let the lab-monkeys trash your weapon."
Xander nodded slowly. "For that, I'm grateful."
"Oh you have a lot more than that to be grateful for," said the man. "You wouldn't have had a snowball in hell's chance of surviving if we hadn't found and treated you."
"True," said Xander. "But that's just part of being a decent human being. You don't leave people to die in the streets."
"I'm not paid to be a decent human being, boy," said the man. "I'm paid to kill aliens and win battles."
"Yeah," said the main. "Charming's my middle name. Now I've just got to decide what we're going to do with you."
"And what makes you think I'll go along with whatever you decide?" asked Xander. "I won't be caged easily."
"Maybe not," said the man. "But I can make life very, very difficult for you. What with carrying around so much lethal weaponry, driving around in a car registered to a Rachel Giles, carrying around Rachel Giles's ID, and us not being able to find Rachel Giles . . . well, we have enough to put you away for a very long time, I think. That's not even going into some of the very interesting information I found when I looked into Sunnydale."
"If you go after my friends, I will kill you," said Xander in a matter-of-fact tone of voice.
"Maybe," said the man. "But that's not what I was talking about. I was more interested in those explosives you like playing around with and the mysterious disappearance of one of the mayor's employees. Curious stuff."
"You've done your research," said Xander, and then he reached out with his mind and released the restraints that had been placed upon him. "But I'm not sure you quite understand what you're threatening."
"Was that supposed to impress me, kid?" asked the man. "I've seen the aliens pull far more impressive stunts than that, and you'd never make it out of the base if you tried anything no matter how powerful you are."
Xander found himself stymied. He didn't particularly want to start a battle here, but he didn't much appreciate being threatened either. This man didn't feel evil. Ruthless and aggressive, yes, but he was fighting on the right side. In the end Xander settled for shooting the man a malevolent glare that had in the past reducing grown men to quivering wrecks. Unsurprisingly, it had little effect.
"Now that we've both done our posturing, maybe we can get down to business," said the man. "I'm the Commander In Charge of American Operations, so I have quite a bit of leeway, and I want you on my staff."
"American Operations of what organisation?" asked Xander. "And what exactly do you want me doing?"
"X-COM, of course. The Extraterrestrial Combat Unit," said the man. "I'm Commander Miller. And I want you on the ground as a soldier fighting those bastards. The science and engineering lots want you too but there's no way I'm wasting someone who can take out Chryssalids in melee combat there."
"And who gives you your authority?" asked Xander.
"The UN, I suppose," said Commander Miller. "It's all done on the quiet so I don't really know much beyond the fact that there's a large coalition of nations behind X-COM funding. The Supreme Commander would know more but he's not around here often."
"I can't in good conscience walk away from this," said Xander. "But I'll need time to settle my affairs. I can't just walk away from my life and be done with it."
"That's acceptable," said the commander. "We give all of our recruits a couple of weeks for that before we put them through training."
Xander nodded in acceptance of that. "There are some more things about that you probably need to know," he said, before promptly triggering the transformation and morphing into his female form, into Rachel.
"Huh," said the commander, before falling silent for a moment. "Well, that's definitely new. How much flexibility do you have in that?"
"Male or female," said Rachel before morphing back into Xander. "No control over what the form actually looks like."
"Shame", said the commander. "A shape shifter could have been useful. Anyway, you'd best keep that to yourself. Don't ask, don't tell and all that."
Xander scowled slightly. "I'm not gay."
"Whatever," said the commander. "I don't really care where you dip your wick. X-COM doesn't really care either, to be honest, but the squaddies . . . well, they're the same as any squaddies you'll find. Most wouldn't really care, but the ones that do . . . Best to keep such things to yourself. And they're just going to assume with that trick."
"Then the bigots should be bloody well dealt with," said Xander.
"Ha! We need all the warm bodies we can get," said the commander. "You've seen what it's like out there. You think we can afford to turn away competent soldiers? As long as they don't cross the line, I have use for them."
Xander could see the logic in that. "Fine," he said. "I'll just stay male. I can deal with that."
The commander nodded. "Good," he said, before reaching into a pocket and pulling out Xander's lightsabre and tossing it to him. You go settle your affairs. We'll be in touch soon enough. Just make sure things really are settled because you won't be getting much leave till the war's over."