The mess was mostly packed out as Sarah and Rachel had their lunch. Mostly packed out except for the table they were sat on. Apparently creepy mind-control powers had put most of the men off her and then chucking the next one that got pushy clean across the mess hall - something which had left the commander in hysterics - had persuaded the rest to leave her alone from that day onwards. It was nice to not be pestered by over-amorous grunts but she hadn't really been shooting to isolate herself from them entirely. Ah well. Couldn't have everything, she supposed, and being hit on would have got tiresome very, very quickly.
"The pistol prototypes are working out real well in testing now," said Sarah in between bites of her meal. "I think they'll be ready to go into production soon."
"That's excellent," replied Rachel from her seat across from Sarah. "How are the power cells holding up?"
"Well enough," said Sarah with a small smile. "They'll need some refinement before we can use them in anything more powerful than a pistol though."
"That's to be expected, I suppose," said Rachel. "Even the pistol cells are way beyond anything else being used nowadays. You'll get it though."
"I hope so," said Sarah. "Anyway, how's your work going?"
"Slowly," said Rachel. "I think I might be being a bit over-ambitious with the amount of flexibility I'm shooting for in the robotics."
"They wouldn't be much use if they weren't flexible enough," said Sarah. "You'd probably get more done if Denver would stop nit-picking, though, huh?"
"I probably shouldn't talk about that," said Rachel. "I'm supposed to be his superior officer or something."
And in all honesty, he sometimes did raise some good points. He was an ass but he was a competent ass. He knew his stuff and was pretty good at picking out slight errors in equations and the like that would have thrown the entire thing off. He sure wasn't letting go of the idea that her paper couldn't possibly be right any time soon though. He'd already tried every trick in the book to debunk it and now he was coming up with new ones in his spare time.
"Pfft," said Sarah, waving her off. "Like we're really military or anything."
"The fact that we're conducting weapons research for the military would kinda argue with that," pointed out Rachel, gesturing with her knife as she did so.
"Yeah, but they're not exactly expecting us to jump up and lick their boots every time they ask for anything like they do the normal soldiers," said Sarah. "Anyway, did you hear about the new batch of soldiers that've arrived? Poor bastards probably don't have a clue what they've let themselves in for. Anyway, have you seen them yet? I've heard that there's a few real hotties in that group. Maybe we'll find your elusive type amongst them, huh?"
And all that without pause to allow Rachel time for reply. It was like Willow-babble without the incoherency and lack of breathing. And then what Sarah had said actually clicked in Rachel's mind and she blanched.
"As opposed to trying them all?" asked Rachel, in a bitingly sarcastic tone of voice.
"Look, that's some of them coming in now, I think," said Sarah, pointing over at the mess hall entrance.
In a detached part of her mind, Rachel noted that several of the men probably would be regarded as attractive by someone who was attracted to men as she looked them over. Then again, she wasn't the best judge of such things. One of them caught her eye, though, even if it wasn't because he was attractive. Messy black hair, thick glasses, and green eyes. It was Harry bloody Potter. What the buggering hell was he doing here of all places?
"You're staring," teased Sarah. "I think we've found your type."
"What?" asked Rachel, her head snapping around to face Sarah. "No! I know that guy. I'd never have expected to see him here."
"Uh-huh," said Sarah. "So you'll be calling him over to talk to him then?"
"Why?" asked Rachel. "It's not like we're best buddies or something. I was just damn surprised to see him. Anyway, we've got work to get back to."
Sarah made some glib comment but Rachel wasn't paying much attention. If the magical world got involved . . . well, she wasn't sure if that would be a good or bad thing really. They had the power to be useful, but the way Giles had reacted to finding out she'd had contact with them . . . that couldn't be a good sign.
"How's it going, John?" asked Rachel as she walked back into the main lab their team was assigned to followed closely by Sarah.
"I'm making some progress on those new alloys you wanted me to work on," he said. "Might even get some results this side of the apocalypse if we get some new staff in to help. A faster computer for the calculations would be nice too."
"You actually know how to use a PC?"asked Sarah with feigned shock.
"Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up," said John. "I'd do them by hand if it didn't take so damn long."
"Sorry, John," said Rachel. "But you know what they're like. It takes ages to get anyone new in."
John mumbled a rather vile statement about bureaucrats under his breath before going back to his work. He had quite the range of profanity that man. Rachel just shook her head in amusement and headed off to her office to catch up with some paperwork before she went back to working on the robotics with Denver. She managed to sit down, just, before the phone went off. Pinching the bridge of her nose in annoyance, she picked the phone up.
"Giles speaking," she said.
"This is Miller," said the voice on the other end of the line sounding very serious indeed. "I need you in my office yesterday."
"What's the problem?" asked Rachel, frowning as she wondered what the problem was.
"We'll talk about it when you get here," he said, and then the line went dead.
Rachel just stared at the phone's handset and wondered what the hell was going on. This was not normal by any stretch of the imagination. Miller did not get this wound up. Ever. He could face down an army of aliens and not get that tetchy. It just didn't bode well at all for what awaited her. Well, whatever. She'd find out soon enough.
"A state of emergency has been declared in Sunnydale," said the commander as soon as Rachel entered his office, grabbing her attention immediately.
"What the hell happened?" asked Rachel.
"Apparently some US army unit decided to play God," said the commander, looking utterly disgusted. "They must have got their hands onto some alien DNA or something because they've made a real Frankenstein's monster. Government's having a hell of a time keeping a lid on this one."
Rachel slumped down into a chair. "I knew there was some sort of black ops group there, but I had no idea anything like that was going on."
"Yeah, well, it looks like the only people who knew what was going on were the people running the op," said the commander. "Ain't no-one else owning up to this one anyway. What a mess."
"I . . . I have to go," said Rachel. "I have to help my friends. And if this is as bad as it sounds, it needs to be fixed."
The commander scowled at that. "Well, this is your lucky day then," he said. "I've got orders here saying that you're to be temporarily transferred from science to army with full rank and placed in command of a mission to Sunnydale."
"Huh?" said Rachel dumbly. "But I'm not military. The soldiers will never listen to me!"
The commander shrugged. "You have rank," he said. "They'll follow your orders if they know what's good for them. I'll nail their balls to the wall if they don't. And I'll eat my hat if you can't keep a bunch of grunts in line."
"Uh, right," said Rachel, not really knowing what to say to that.
"Well, Major, it's time for you to get to work," said the commander. "Report to the quartermaster to pick up your BDUs and weapons. Your commandawaits you at the Skyranger."
"Yes, sir," said Rachel with a quick salute.
Rachel ran her eyes over the dozen soldiers that had been placed under her command before she gave the order to take-off. They didn't look at all happy but that was only to be expected really. She was, in their eyes, a civilian, and no soldier was ever going to be happy with going into battle under the command of a civilian.
"The briefing you are about to receive is classified at the highest levels," said Rachel. "You are not to speak of it or what happens on this mission to anyone. Not your friends back home, not your buddies here, not the civilians you talk into your beds, not your commanding officers, no-one."
"Aw, come on," said one of them, a private Williams. "It can't be any worse than the aliens."
Rachel fixed him with cold glare that had him squirming in his seat before she spoke again. "I did not make this decision," she said. "The existence of these creatures that you will be facing has always been top-secret. And while we are on this mission I am your commanding officer whether you like it or not and you will remember that, soldier. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Ma'am," he replied sullenly. Rachel didn't even bother to dignify that with a response of any kind. It was pathetic.
"Most of the enemies you are likely to face are clearly non-human and easy to distinguish," said Rachel. "The vampires are not. The only way to distinguish them from normal humans as a rule is by their lack of body temperature. Use the thermal goggles you've been issued for this mission."
"Vampires?" asked another soldier near the back of the transport. "Are you shitting us?"
"The enemies you will face are demons," said Rachel, causing an uproar that only ended when she slammed her hand down against one of the plane's walls. "Enough!" she barked. "If you can believe in aliens, you can damn well believe in demons. You'll have proof soon enough anyway."
"Sorry, ma'am," drawled another one of the soldiers. "But it's a little hard to believe. All the science types said that aliens had to exist somewhere, but demons?"
Rachel was about to bite the soldier's head off when another spoke up.
"I've ran into demons before," he said. Rachel quickly looked and saw that it was Harry speaking. "She's not bullshitting us."
"Thank you, soldier," said Rachel sarcastically. "Now how about you all shut up and let me finish the briefing?"
The transport fell completely silent at that.
"Excellent," she said. "Not the key thing to remember when you're fighting demons is that they're tricky little bastards. Never assume they're dead as long as the body's still there and in one piece. You can be reasonably sure they're dead if you take their heads off but otherwise it's best to assume they're playing possum. Fortunately, a lot of demons dissolve or disappear or whatever when they're really dead. Some stick around but most don't. Makes clean-up real easy.
"One distinctive enemy that you will likely face in considerable numbers is the vampire," she continued. "Vampires look human for the most part. It's only when they're feeding or when they lose control of their emotions that their true, demonic face will come out for all to see. Do not rely on looks to distinguish them from civilians or you get yourself killed. They're not very powerful compared to most aliens, but they are faster and stronger than any normal human and they are quite hard to kill outside of a few specific weaknesses. Sunlight, wooden stakes to the heart, decapitation, fire, and holy items are the usual methods of attack against vampires. For you, I recommend shooting them down and then taking their heads off before they can heal their wounds."
"How much damage will it take to put them down, ma'am?" asked one of the soldiers. "And how long will stay down?"
"Their physiology is human," said Rachel. "A wound that will cripple a human will cripple a vampire. They can ignore or heal from minor wounds very quickly but if you damage their spine that's it. That doesn't heal much faster for them than it does for one of us.
"Anyway, the objective of this mission is quite simple," said Rachel. "A US Army operation has made a rather terrible mistake and we have to clean up the mess. The details aren't entirely clear at this point, but it seems that they attempted to create some sort of super-soldier from pieces of human and demon and it went bad. We'll learn more when we link up with what's left of the local forces. Any questions?"
"What vulnerabilities do the other demons have, ma'am?"
"Every demon has different specific vulnerabilities," said Rachel. "But as a rule, head and eyes make for good targets. Some of the more powerful demons can survive decapitation - for those, just blow them to bits with a thermal detonator.
"I think I should make something clear," she said. "You are equipped with far more firepower than the average demon can match. They are physical fighters, fast and strong, but, against the laser rifles you carry, they have little chance of victory.
Any more questions?"
And there were none raised. Rachel nodded in acknowledgement of that and then headed for the cockpit.
"We're ready to go," she said. "When we're off the transport at Sunnydale, you seal the doors and keep the engines hot. If anyone approaches the Skyranger without explicit communication from me, you take-off and don't come back without authorisation."
And then they were off. The sheer amount of noise made by the plane's engines was quite staggering and completely prevented any sort of conversation from happening so Rachel just found a free seat and slipped into a meditative state.
When they landed just outside of Sunnydale, night had broken. Rachel couldn't help but sigh. Darkness meant vampires everywhere. Wonderful. The place felt even saturated by death and darkness than normal too.
"Move out," she ordered. "Form a defensive perimeter and secure the LZ."
"Yes, ma'am" came the chorus of reply before the soldiers began to filter out. As they left she heard someone mutter, "well, at least she knows the basics. Might not be a total cluster fuck after all," as they left, something she wouldn't have picked up without the whole werewolf thing.
Rachel waited till she was alone and then she pulled her newly acquired mobile phone out and keyed in Giles' number.
"Rupert Giles speaking," came the eventual answer.
"Okay, Giles," said Rachel, "what the fuck is going on that it would be bad enough to get X-COM troops deployed to Sunnydale."
The silence that followed that little bombshell was palpable.
"Ah," he stammered. "Well . . . "
"Just tell me, Giles," said Rachel. "I'm involved anyway now. There's no point in worrying about distracting me from my other work."
"You're here?" he asked, sounding almost happy, though still somewhat strained.
"Yes," said Rachel. "I'm now Major Rachel Giles leading a unit of X-COM soldiers on a mission to contain whatever it is the local black ops group fucked up."
"You're a Major?" asked Giles sounding rather stunned.
"Yes," she said. "But it's only temporary. Not like anyone else in X-COM is qualified to lead this mission. Now what's going on?"
"That's something best discussed in person, I think," said Giles. "I don't have the complete story myself but the others should be able to fill the holes in."
"Fine," said Rachel. "Where do you want to meet? And where are the remaining soldiers holed up."
"I don't suppose my apartment would be suitable?" asked Giles.
"Definitely not," said Rachel. "That place really isn't big enough. How about wherever the soldiers are holed up?"
"Yes, that should work," said Giles. He then rattled off an address in the warehouse district of all places. "They may be a bit jumpy after what happened. I recommend that you approach with caution."
"Will do," said Rachel. "Last thing I want to happen is for all the army boys to get gunned down because they got too twitchy. I need them alive to find out what the hell they were playing at."
"That's somewhat callous, Rachel," chided Giles.
"Maybe," she said. "But I'm not the one who decided to play God with demon DNA. They're going to have to do some fast-talking to not got locked away in a cell somewhere for the rest of their lives, Giles."
And with that she hung-up and activated her communications headset. "All units, make your way to the warehouse district." And then she rattled off the address. "Is your destination, but to do not enter the building. And watch your six. Local intelligence Indicates that this is a more hostile environment than usual."
"Yes, ma'am," came the chorus of replies.
Rachel kept her distance and observed as the soldiers stealthily moved through Sunnydale towards their destination. She couldn't keep an eye on all of them at once but they seemed to know what they were doing, advancing in small increments with units covering each other as they moved and using various bits of terrain as cover. They didn't seem to be quite as good as some of the units she'd had under her command in the past but they were up there. Anyway, working like this she could keep them relatively safe if they got into trouble while still getting a good idea of how they would cope with demons.
"What the FUCK is that?"
"Jesus, it's giant fucking spider . . . thing. It's coming right at us!"
"That's a Grimslaw Demon," said Rachel into her headset. "Kill it quickly."
"Open fire! Open fire!"
"I think I got it," said Harry. "It's not moving anyway and there's a big hole in it."
"Grimslaws die pretty easy," said Rachel. "If you got a good hit on it, it should be dead. Better to be safe than sorry though."
"Hartman, Morris, finish it off."
For a few moments the sound of laser fire filled Rachel's ears.
"Well if it wasn't dead before it sure as hell is now."
"Continue towards target location," ordered Rachel.
There were several more encounters like that - all with vampires - before they arrived at the warehouse. The soldiers acquitted themselves well, though it took them a little too long before they identified the first vampire, and Rachel didn't need to intervene and save their arses at any point. Encountering so many demons wasn't entirely abnormal in Sunnydale, but not running into any civilians certainly was, and it worried Rachel.
Anyway, soon enough they were at the warehouse. Rachel stood in front of the door with one squad to each side of the door ready to enter and one squad behind her to cover her entry. Overkill really. She smacked her fist against the door three times and then waited. As soon as the door opened, both units that had waiting to the sides charged in and had every occupant of the building under their guns.
It was a pitifully small group in the building really. Half a dozen soldiers in varying states of the walking wounded, and Buffy. Rachel had really expected more to be left. They must have screwed things up real bad.
"Disarm them," she ordered. One of the soldiers, a tall guy with a clean-cut sort of look about him, bristled and looked ready to resist. Rachel drew her laser pistol and pointed it at him. "Resistors will be shot," she said flatly. "I do not have time to waste right now."
"What are you doing?" asked Buffy, looking shocked.
"Disarming everyone who was a part of the group that was responsible for this mess," said Rachel. "They don't get to go armed till I have reason to trust them."
"It's not their fault, Rachel," said Buffy. "It was all Walsh and Angleman."
"Sorry, Buffy, but that's just not enough," said Rachel. "I'm going to need more than your word to let these people loose with weapons."
"They're disarmed, major," said one of the sergeants.
"Company should be arriving soon," said Rachel. "Be on the lookout for a middle-aged man wearing glasses or a red-haired girl in her late teens, possibly with company. They are to be allowed entry unmolested."
"Yes, ma'am," said the sergeant before heading off to deliver the instructions to the soldiers on guard duty.
"We need to talk, Buffy," said Rachel. "In private, preferably."
"There's an office just over there," said Buffy. "We can talk in there with Riley."
"Riley?" asked Rachel. "Oh, the soldier boy you've been dating? No, not interested. I want to talk to people I trust about this and he just isn't one of them."
"Hey!" barked the tall soldier who'd looked ready to resist. She guessed that was Riley.
"Calm down, Riley," said Buffy. "This is . . . actually pretty mild by her standards. You should have seen what she did to Angel."
"Yeah, well he probably deserved it."
"He did," said Rachel. "And it remains to be seen what you'll deserve so I suggest you shut up."
"Sir, we have a blond vampire approaching the warehouse," came in the voice over her headset.
"Blond?" she asked. "Is he wearing a long, leather coat?"
"Kill him," she said. "He's a dangerous one. Don't let him get close if you can help it."
The sound of laser fire and screamed obscenities filled her hearing before they were abruptly cut off.
"Got him, ma'am."
"Excellent work, soldier."
"Well, Buffy," said Rachel. "Spike just got took out by one of my men. Care to explain why he's wandering around Sunnydale?"
"Spike?" said Buffy. "Uh, that's a really long story. Part of what I've got to tell you about. Lots of weird stuff has been happening the last few months."
"Please, please, please don't tell me he had a soul," said Rachel.
"Ma'am, we have people matching your description approaching. They have a blonde girl in her late teens accompanying them."
Rachel deactivated the headset. "Buffy, do you know a blonde girl who would come here with Giles and Willow?" asked Rachel.
"Oh, that's Tara," said Buffy. "She's a witch."
Suffice to say, a seemingly random declaration of witchiness got some very strange looks from the X-COM soldiers.
"Let them on through," said Rachel after reactivating the headset. "They're safe."
"So what's going on, guys?" asked Rachel. "It can't be good to get me sent here."
"The US Army deployed a group of soldiers and scientists here to study and combat the demon threat," said Giles. "The operation was, as far as we know, placed under the command of Professor Walsh."
"Why would an army operation be placed under the command of a scientists?" asked Rachel. "That doesn't make much sense to me."
"The operation seems to have been more about the research than the fighting," said Giles. "Initially, this group seemed to be good thing, though I never liked Walsh, but they turned out to be rather less, ah, on the side of the angels than we believed."
"They tried to have me killed," said Buffy. "They sent me after a demon with a faulty weapon and then locked me in with it. Only reason I survived is because they didn't really have a clue what a Slayer was capable of."
"What happened to this Professor Walsh?" asked Rachel, scowling.
"She's dead," said Giles. "Killed by her own creation, it seems. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. It turned out that Walsh's goal was to create some sort of super-soldier using pieces of demons and robotics. As part of the experiments leading up to that, she installed some sort of computer chip in Spike that wouldn't allow him to attack humans."
"She put a leash on Spike?" asked Rachel in sheer disbelief. "Oh, I wish I could have seen that. Not enough to let him live, but a little."
"He was harmless," said Willow. "He could only hurt demons."
"Till he slipped his leash," said Rachel with a dismissive shrug of her shoulders. "I'm not gonna lose any sleep over ordering him killed. He was only a vampire. Now I want to know more about what Walsh was getting up to."
"Indeed," said Giles. "Well, from what information we have, she constructed her super-soldier from various pieces of demons and robotics that she grafted onto a human frame. The resulting creature is an extremely powerful combatant, but, unfortunately for Walsh, she lost control of him, if she ever had it, and now he is acting in much the same manner as the demons he was built from."
"Right," said Rachel. "So what sort of abilities does he have? What sort of resources does he command? Where's he holed up?"
"He's extremely fast and strong," said Giles. "Much faster and much stronger than any other humanoid demon we've ever ran into."
"He has a big gun in his arm," said Buffy. "I saw him kill a whole load of soldiers with it."
"He has loads of demons and vampires," said Willow. "An army, really. He got them to let themselves by captured by the Initiative and then shut off the power so they could all escape at once."
"He's holed up in the Initiative's base," said Giles. "We have the blueprints."
Rachel rubbed at her temples. "Okay, so he's got an army of demons and he's holed up in a military base," she said. "This just gets better and better. What's the general situations? How much damage has he done?"
"Lot of dead people," said Buffy. "He sent his demons out to slaughter as many humans as they could manage after he took over the Initiative. Think he was a little pissed that his plans didn't quite work out."
"Wonderful," said Rachel. "Well I suppose it isn't the soldier boys' fault. Go call that Riley character in. I want to talk to him."
Buffy immediately went to get him. Willow opened her mouth and looked ready to start peppering Rachel with questions but Rachel shook her head and gestured not to. It just wasn't the time. Soon enough Buffy was back with Riley.
"Okay, soldier," said Rachel. "How are your men? Are they healthy enough to fight?"
"Yeah, they are," said Riley. "The ones who got too badly hurt didn't make it out of the base alive. I don't know what you expect us to do, though. The demons pretty much laughed at our weapons when we tried to stop them before and I won't send what's left of the operation back there to die."
Rachel narrowed her eyes at him. "You forget your place, soldier," she said, her voice low and dangerous. "When a superior officer tells you to jump, you ask how high. You do not question them."
"But you're not a real officer . . . "
"Rachel!" cried Buffy, who was completely ignored.
"See this rank insignia?" asked Rachel. "What does that tell you?"
"That you hold the rank of major," said Riley. "But - "
"No buts," said Rachel. "Right now my rank means as much as it does for any other officer. I give orders, you obey them. End of story."
"Well, ma'am," said Riley, pronouncing the ma'am as if it was a dirty word, "I hope you have a good plan, because those demons kicked our asses last time."
"I'll need to see the base's blueprints before I come up with any plans," said Rachel. "If the base is well-designed, I might just call in air support and blow it to hell rather than risk an assault."
"Why don't you just do that anyway?" asked Buffy.
"Because blowing two black ops groups wouldn't go down well with my bosses," said Rachel. "And we're armed well enough that your average demon won't be a problem."
"Guns don't work against demons," said Buffy reflexively.
"These guns do," said Rachel. "They're not exactly off-the-shelf models, you know. Much more advanced than that. Anyway, where are the blueprints?"
"I have them on my laptop," said Willow. "Give me a minute and I'll have them up."
For a minute the only sound in the room was that of Willow tapping away at her laptop PC before she announced that she was done and pushed the laptop over to Rachel for her to look at. She spent several minutes scanning the plans before she spoke.
"Okay, I hope you know of a back-door, because that single entrance just screams bottleneck," she said. "I'd be leading my men into a slaughter. A single, cramped lift to take an entire assault team into an underground military base? It's not working for me at all."
"You can enter the base though the cave complex if you know where the hidden door is," said Buffy. "We could find it again."
"Excellent," said Rachel. "A diversionary attack at the main entrance followed up by an all-out assault on on the back-door should work. I'd like more detailed information on the composition of their forces though."
"You could always try leaning on the owner of the local demon bar," said Buffy. "The new guy's got all the backbone of a jellyfish."
"Potter, Hartman, cover the entrance," ordered Rachel. "No-one in. No-one out."
Hartman took up a place on the outside of the bar and Potter took up a place just inside the entrance as Rachel strolled on inside nonchalantly. The bar went absolutely dead silent as the demons took notice of her presence. She could feel the fear rising of them as they realised who she was. It was quite amusing really as she had no intention of attacking anyone unless they attacked first. Doing so against demons wouldn't be strictly dark, but it wasn't like they were out raising hell, was it?
"Been a while, boys," she said, fingering the hilt of her lightsabre, an action that went unnoticed by absolutely no-one. "Now are you going to tell me what I want to know or do I have to get unpleasant?"
"No! No need for that," babbled the morbidly obese and luridly coloured demon behind the bar. "We'll tell you whatever you want."
"Excellent," said Rachel, perching herself on a bar-stool and crossing her legs. "Today's topic is ADAM and his lackeys. Feel free to tell to me everything you know, and I will know if you hold back on me."
If anything the bartender demon seemed to become even more scared at the mention of ADAM. She'd never seen green skin go pale like that before, it was quite a sight.
"Come on," he said, sweating profusely. "You're not asking me to get caught between you and ADAM are you?"
"ADAM won't be an issue soon enough," said Rachel lightly. "And if you help me out here, then he'll be gone even quicker. Hell, I bet having someone like that around's real bad for business, right? Well, just tell me what he's got working for him and you'll be rid of him in no time."
"Look, people who mess with that guy have a nasty habit of disappearing," said the bartender. "I don't wanna get mixed up in this."
Rachel's eyes hardened and all joviality drained from her expression. "You don't have a choice," she said. "Thousands lay dead because of that creature and I will have his head for that. And whether you like it or not, you are going to help me."
"I . . . "
"Let me make it easy for you," she said. "If you tell me, he might kill you. If you don't tell me, I will kill you. You must have heard about what happened to Willy, and he was human."
"Okay, okay," said the demon, gesturing wildly with his hands. "I'll tell you, okay? Just quit it with the threats."
"I'm listening," said Rachel.
"Look, he has a whole lot of demons down there in that base with him," said the bartender. "Just about all the local hotheads are down there, all the ones who'd look to mix it with people like you and the Slayers. He's got it all from vampires on up too. I reckon maybe fifty demons all told looking at the ones who haven't shown up here since he started up."
"Anything notable?" asked Rachel.
"Not really," said the bartender. "The ones powerful enough to trouble you wouldn't be caught dead working with a freak like ADAM."
"The ones powerful enough to trouble me tend to be smarter than to do so," said Rachel dryly. "But I do appreciate the information."
She uncrossed her legs and rose to her feet in one smooth motion.
"Now, boys," she said to the bar at large. "I recommend you keep out of this and not get any smart ideas about warning ADAM or taking a little revenge out of the bartender's hide for talking to me. Wouldn't want me to start killing the peaceable types, too, would you? No, just stay here with your drinks. Much safer that way."
She gestured to Potter and then she left the bar, followed by the two soldiers who'd been watching the entrance. As she left the bar she heard one of the demons say, "I told that idiot that they'd call the Jedi if he made too much trouble, but did he listen? No. It wasn't in his files so it didn't matter."
"You know, I never thought I'd see an entire bar full of demons wet themselves at the sight of one human," said Harry dryly as they walked away.
"What can I say?" asked Rachel with a shrug of her shoulders. "They know their place in the food-chain."
"Alpha unit, you will mount a diversionary attack here at the main entrance to the base with three of the remaining Initiative soldiers as back-up," said Rachel to the gathered X-COM, Initiative, and Scoobies. "With the entrance being what it is, I recommend that you draw the enemies out rather than go down there yourselves, but I'll leave the specifics of what you'll do to the man on the scene. Beta, Gamma units, you will spearhead the main assault through the cave complex with all other native units. I will lead that assault personally."
"Ma'am, is it really a good idea to take civilians into this place with us?" asked one of the soldiers.
"They may not be soldiers," said Rachel. "But they are specialists in this field. We may need their help depending on what we run into."
"What exactly do you want me and my men to do?" asked Alpha unit's sergeant, a tough-looking fellow with a blonde crew-cut.
"Draw as many demons out as you can and then fade away," said Rachel. "Kill them if you can but don't worry too much about it. They are not out primary target, ADAM is. ADAM . . . well, we don't have any images to show you but he won't be hard to spot being that he's part human, part demon, and part cyborg. He is to be regarded as extremely dangerous. Numerous soldiers have already fallen to him. Think muton but tougher and stronger with more conventional weaponry."
That got the X-COM soldiers going and the general consensus seemed to be, 'oh, fucking wonderful.'
"I recommend caution in dealing with him," said Rachel. "There's no guarantee that we've seen the limits of his abilities yet and he has already shown himself to be highly dangerous."
"What about you, ma'am?" asked another one of the soldiers. "You're not even wearing armour."
"I can protect myself well enough, soldier," said Rachel. "You'll see soon enough. Any more questions?"
"What if this ADAM shows up at the diversion?" asked the sergeant.
"Retreat," said Rachel immediately. "Call for backup. At that point the entire plan would have to change. The main attack force would have to leave the cave system and circle back around to ambush him. Any other questions?"
There were none.
"You have your assignments," said Rachel. "Go. Let's get this done."
"Door's sealed," said one of the soldiers. "We'll have to breach it."
"Leave it for now," said Rachel. "We'll give ourselves away if we start blowing things up."
Rachel was an island of calm in the middle of a sea of hopped up soldiers at that point. The adrenaline was flowing in anticipation of what was to come and no-one else seemed to be inclined to stay still for more than about thirty seconds at a time as they waited for word of the diversion's success to come.
"Beginning attack now," came the voice over Rachel's headset. "Chucking some thermal detonators down the lift shaft should get their attention, I reckon."
The earth shook as the sound of explosions resounded in the distance. Rachel brushed away the dirt that had been shook loose and fallen onto her as she waited.
"Oh yeah, I love those things!" said the sergeant. "Waiting for . . . well, would you look at that! It's like kicking a hornet's nest. Fall back, men! Pick 'em off if you can but fall back! Keep 'em at a distance!"
Rachel ignited her lightsabre and with four precise cuts she made the sealing of the door quite irrelevant. The first corridor they entered was long and empty, leading to another sealed door. This time, she didn't even bother with the lightsabre. She just waved her hands and blasted it off its frame with a surge of telekinetic energy that bounced it off the wall opposite in the room it opened up into. The look of utter shock on the face of the two vampires in that room was absolutely comical for the ten seconds or so that they lived past that point before Rachel's lightsabre cut them down.
"Mother of God," she heard one of the soldiers say. "What is she?"
The next room opened up into a two-way junction. Rachel frowned for just a moment before giving out the orders. "Gamma unit, to the left with Initiative units. Beta unit, civilians, with me to the right."
And then they were off. A large, red-skinned demon that Rachel didn't recognise the breed of seemed to appear out of nowhere but before it could do anything it was peppered with laser fire and fell to the ground quite dead with a shocked look on its face. Probably hadn't been expecting to be killed so easily and quickly by mere humans. They just tramped on past as its body dissolved into a toxic-looking goo.
The next room they entered was massive and there was at least a couple of dozen demons in it. Rachel immediately leapt into the crowd with her sabre, followed closely by the axe-wielding Buffy and they began tearing through the demons in tandem as the X-COM soldiers picked off the demons with precision fire from a distance. It was almost a relief to get back to this after spending months on end stuck in a lab fiddling with bits of technology. As much as she did enjoy playing around with technology, this was more her thing really.
The demons soon fell under that onslaught. Between the choice of getting killed by a lightsabre, an axe, or a laser rifle, they mostly tried for option d - running like hell, which worked out about as well as a black man showing up a Ku Klux Klan meeting. Those ones just got shot in the back instead of the front.
"Impressive," said a deep-voiced man, causing Rachel to spin around to face the source of the sound. "I have no files on one with abilities quite like yours."
"You are one ugly mother-fucker," said a soldier behind Rachel.
It was all Rachel could do to not burst out into fits of laughter. She whole-heartedly agreed with the sentiment. "Okay, ADAM," she said. "Why don't you stand down so we can get this over with?"
"I'm afraid that I cannot do that," said ADAM, his arm shifting structure somehow till it reached the form of a chain-gun. ADAM's change caught the soldiers flat-footed apparently, as they failed to open fire themselves or move to dodge before ADAM unleashed a hail of bullets.
"Shield!" called out Rachel, and the bullets stopped dead, flattening against an invisible wall a bare metre ahead of the group.
"Impossible," said ADAM, his face showing the barest flicker of emotion as his arm shifted form again, this time into a grenade launcher. This time it was Willow who countered the attack, transfiguring the launched grenade into a simple bird that flew away immediately. "Absolutely impossible."
He got to say no more as he was immediately pieced by dozens of laser blasts before one final shot burned through his forehead and killed him once and for all.
"This is Giles to all units," said Rachel into her headset. "Mission accomplished. ADAM has been destroyed. Repeat, mission accomplished."
"We've pretty much burned through our demons too, ma'am," said the sergeant from Alpha unit. "They ain't got shit on these fancy new guns of ours."
"We ain't ran into much at all," said the sergeant from Gamma unit. "Few vampires and that's about it for us, ma'am."
"Sweep the base," ordered Rachel. "I want the place purged of demons before we leave it."
The sweep didn't take long and resulted in lots of very dead demons with a grand sum total of zero casualties for the good guys. Best sort of mission really.
"It's done, sir," said Rachel. "The hybrid created by the Initiative has been eliminated as have over ninety percent of the forces that he had to call upon. I'd say the mission is complete."
"Only ninety percent?" asked the commander over the radio. "What about the rest?"
"Disappeared into the woodwork, sir," said Rachel. "It'll be hard to get them now. This sort of activity is always high in Sunnydale and skipping town wouldn't be difficult for them if they ran further afield."
"Hmm," said the commander. "Point taken. Anyway, the brass have requested that you stay in the area for a few days to keep a lid on things."
"I'm not sure there's a need for that, sir," said Rachel. "The locals should be able to control things at this point."
The commander snorted. "The local national guard unit is down to something like fifteen percent of its usual strength and the police even worse after what happened. They're not gonna want you filling in for police, thank all that's good and holy, but they will want you to keep an eye out for exceptional stuff for a few days till they can arrange relief."
"So how long do we think we'll be here, sir?" asked Rachel.
"Week, tops," said the commander. "Any longer and I'll order you out no matter what they want. We can't spare the units any longer than that. Oh, the Initiative boys are to be offered jobs with us. See to that, will you?"
After setting up her men and the Initiative's remaining forces with accommodations she staggered into Giles's apartment as the sun rose.
"Hey, all," she said, yawning. "Too tired to talk now. See you when I wake up."
She woke up approximately eight hours later feeling, well, not refreshed, but considerably better than she had after going the best part of two days without sleep and expending considerable amounts of energy in the process. What confused her was where she woke up. She didn't remember making it to her bed. And she didn't remember changing into her pyjamas either. Huh. Someone must have changed her and moved her into her bed. That was a new one. Well, it wasn't out of the realms of possibility for Giles to move her to her bed if she fell asleep at the table or whatever, but the rest was new. It sure was a weird feeling to have someone do stuff like that for her though.
Well, she had others things to do than sit around wondering what had happened. She grabbed her BDUs and underwear, which had been left neatly folded on her office chair, and headed off for the shower to prepare for the day. She didn't linger there. Living on a military base had broken her of that habit, there was never a minute to spare there, even if she wasn't a soldier herself.
When she made her way out to the living area of the apartment, the group was sat around the table. Mrs. Summers, Giles, Willow, Buffy, and the new girl, Tara. They were all there, though where Oz was she had no idea.
"Hey," said Rachel as she sat down with them. "I kinda have a couple of questions for you."
"Hmm?" said Giles.
"Who undressed me and who tucked me into bed?" asked Rachel, with a slight smirk.
Mrs. Summers smirked herself as she replied. "I've done it enough times for Buffy, so, when you passed out on Giles' couch, I just took care of it. You need to take better care of yourself."
Rachel just stared. "Bu . . . what?"
Willow giggled at the utterly dumbfounded look on Rachel's face while Buffy looked on sympathetically and Tara smiled nervously.
"Right . . . uh, so where'd the pyjamas come from?" asked Rachel. "All my stuff's back on the base."
"Oh, they're just an old set of Buffy's that she left laying around at home when she left for college," said Mrs. Summers.
"Right," said Rachel. "Why do I have trouble believing that?"
"Honest," said Mrs. Summers with a totally straight face.
"Mrs. Summers, I'm at least half a foot taller than Buffy," said Rachel. "And they fit perfectly."
Mrs. Summers just smiled enigmatically and went back to her meal. She obviously considered the conversation done. Rachel had no idea what had just happened but she decided not to question it. By the look on Buffy's face, it wasn't all that unusual, and the pyjamas had been pretty comfortable if a bit more feminine than her usual apparel. Wll whatever. It wasn't a big deal, really.
"So where's Oz?" asked Rachel a minute later. "Haven't seen him around at all . . . "
All smiles dropped from faces immediately at the mention of Oz. Weird.
"He left town a while back," said Buffy. "Doubt we'll be seeing him again any time soon."
"What happened?" asked Rachel, quietly. This was obviously a sore topic but Oz had been pack sortof so she wanted to know.
"He had trouble with his wolfiness," said Willow. "He left to get control, but it didn't work and everything went weird."
Rachel frowned. "He should have got in touch with me," she said. "I could have taught him how to control it if he'd been willing to work at it."
"Things . . . well, he wouldn't have wanted to go to you," said Buffy. "Trust me."
Rachel narrowed her eyes at that but she pushed it no further. Now right then anyway. But she would have answers. Oz wasn't her favourite person as it was but she had expected better of him than to run out on Willow. Then again, if she was reading things right with that new girl, then maybe it hadn't been him doing the running.
In the end, it turned out that Oz had slept with another werewolf, and that had led to him leaving Sunnydale after he killed that werewolf to protect Willow from her. It was a complete mess and it was one that Rachel's presence would have prevented from occurring entirely. This Verruca would not have dared trifle with OZ and Willow if she had been there. She felt no small measure of guilt at that even if her absence was perfectly justifiable. Anyway, it all turned out well enough in the end, even if she was pissed at Oz, with Tara and Willow getting together. And that produced some pleasant mental images.
Three days later the call came for her to return to base with her men and with the Initiative troops that had signed on. All of them, bar Riley, did so.