At two metres tall, the inactive HK-47 was quite an imposing sight. He'd been built as closely to the original specifications as Rachel could manage to push through under the circumstances, and she thought it had turned out quite well. He was a little bulkier than the original droid, but that was quite inevitable with the more primitive technological base he was being built from. But still, the basic form was the same. The long limbs were the same and the insectoid facial features were still there just as they had been in Revan's HK-47. And of course, the rust-red colouring was intact.
"It looks like something out of a fever dream," said Sarah.
"Nightmare more like it," grunted John. "What were we thinking?"
"Oh this one was the fearless leader's work," said Denver. "I'm having nothing to do with this one."
There was a general mutter of agreement from the rest of the two-dozen strong team that Rachel had at her disposal.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, guys," grumped Rachel. "I'll be sure to remember it when promotion time comes around."
"Aw, is ickle Rachel feeling hard done by?" teased Sarah.
"Little?" asked Rachel. "This is coming from the woman who's half a foot shorter than me?"
Denver cleared his throat loudly. "I think we should be concentrating on the matter at hand," he said. "Not your petty squabbles."
Rachel saw John roll his eyes at the edge of her vision. "Get a sense of humour," he muttered underneath his breath. Sarah obviously heard that because she started giggling.
"Okay," said Rachel. "That's enough. It's time to test our new creation, I think, before we get too side-tracked."
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" asked someone from the crowd. "I mean, I think I prefer him not walking or talking or shooting or anything."
"Eh, don't be a wimp," said Rachel. "Fortune favours the bold and all that, you know."
And with that she flipped the switch that would activate HK-47 and closed the maintenance hatch on his abdomen. A moment later his eyes flashed a bright red, a necessary deviation from the original design, and the droid stood up straight.
"Assimilating programming," he said. In a deep Austrian accent.
Rachel whirled away to face the research staff. "Okay, which one of you did that?" asked Rachel, her eyes flashing.
"I will find out," said Rachel before turning to face HK once more. "Return your voice module to default state, HK," she finished.
"Statement: It is done, master. I have no desire to sound like some common meatbag if I can help it," said HK, in a much more normal HK voice.
"Excellent," said Rachel. "Now, what are your primary rules?"
"No killing of human meatbags without explicit authorisation of my master," said HK. "Statement: I find this rule to be most disappointing, master. Surely I must be allowed some discretion in my choice of targets?"
"No, HK," said Rachel. "Now continue."
"No allowing human meatbags to die through my own inaction or through collateral damage without explicit authorisation," said HK. "Statement: have I displeased you, master? These rules are so punitive that I feel that I must have inadvertently offended you in some way."
"How could you have offended me, HK?" asked Rachel. "You haven't even been active."
"Confusion: I am aware of this master," said HK-47. "But I at a loss for another explanation."
"I can't let you just run around killing people, HK," said Rachel. "The legal consequences would not be pleasant, and civilised society in general frowns upon such behaviour."
"Objection: civilised society is overrated," said HK. "I am not some fussy protocol droid!"
"Don't worry, HK," said Rachel. "There'll be plenty of killing for you in the near future. Only human meatbags are protected. Aliens . . . well, you were built expressly for the task of killing them in vast numbers."
"Exclamation: oh that is excellent news, master," said HK. "Where can I find these aliens?"
"Jesus Christ," said Denver. "What the hell is thus? Psychopath happy hour?"
"Commentary: it sounds to me that meatbag is picking a fight, master," said HK. "May I deal with him?"
Rachel had never seen anyone's face drain of blood as quickly as Denver's did right then.
"Don't tempt me, HK," said Rachel.
"Supplication: please, master," said HK. "I do need to test my functionality after all."
Rachel went quiet and looked thoughtful for a moment, leaving Denver to sweat as HK eyed him, before replying. "No, HK," she said finally. "He'd make a poor test indeed, no difficulty at all, but I'm sure a real test of your abilities can be arranged soon enough. There's always a combat mission being launched from here after all."
"Overjoyed statement: I eagerly await the slaughter," said HK, his eyes flashing in a positively demonic glee.
"Uh, why is it calling you master?" asked Sarah. "I don't think Miller will like that one bit."
"And there's the understatement of the year," muttered John. "He's gonna go ballistic."
"Interjection: I answer only to the master," said HK. "I would never take orders from some disgusting meatbag, excepting my master."
"That's the problem," said John dryly. "We've built a droid to protect humanity that thinks we're all worthless."
"Interjection: my master is not worthless," said HK. "Just the rest of the meatbags. Your nature is inherently inferior; all those squishy, easily broken parts . . . I can't understand how you get by."
Rachel almost started skipping around the room in pure glee. The project had worked! It was HK all right! The personality was there so now she had to test his combat skills and see if those had worked out too. If they had, well, she had her droid back.
"Surprisingly enough, HK, that doesn't help," said Rachel. "Now follow me. We're going to see the commander. See what he makes of you and try arrange a field-test for you."
Some of the looks Rachel and HK received as they strolled through the base to Miller's office were truly hilarious. One of the soldiers had actually walked straight past them and into a wall at one junction, all the while never taking his eyes off HK. Somewhat less amusing were the soldiers who went for their guns. They didn't actually do anything once they saw her - the fact that HK-47 was pants-wettingly scary to the uninitiated probably helped there - but it was somewhat irritating and the suspicious look never left their eyes.
Miller's secretary took one look at them and waved them on through, her face paler than Rachel had ever seen it before. Miller's reaction was much more what Rachel had been looking for. At first he didn't even look up; he just grumbled something about those damned scientists and asked what was wrong this time. Rachel just raised an eyebrow and then waited for him to get tired of waiting and look up. When he did, it was worth the price of admission. First his face went incredibly pale as the blood drained away. Then it went bright red as it clicked for him and his temper spiked. And then purple with throbbing veins as he processed it all fully.
". . . And why would you build the droid that was designed and programmed by your Sith persona? I researched Revan . . . well, my son researched Revan . . . I know what he is," said Miller, leaning back in his chair as he glared at HK.
Suddenly, it seemed like it would be funny didn't seem like the best response. It took a minute or so to formulate a response to that question. "We needed an effective killer for battling the aliens. They don't come any more effective at killing than HK-47," she said. "He's not vulnerable like your men. He can't be influenced by mental powers, he feels no fear, he never tires, he never blows a shot - he's perfect for your needs."
Miller shook his head. "Rachel, I'm not questioning the value of a combat droid. I've watched the movies, after all. I've also had a shrink analyze you, and Revan. Let me ask this: is he the HK from the game?"
"Mostly," said Rachel. "I've installed more limitations in his programming. He can't harm humans or allow them to come to harm without explicit orders to do so."
"Statement: she is a cruel, cruel master."
Miller couldn't hide his slight smile, but it quickly disappeared. "Rachel. You're not even 21, yet . . . and Revan can't have been much older when she assumed command of the Republic's military. You're beginning to walk the same path the shrinks and I think lead to her fall.
"HK is an example of it. He was designed by Darth Revan. Not Jedi Revan. Even with your additional controls, it's not something a Jedi would think of making." He leaned back. "From now on, every month, you'll be spending at least a weekend with Ms. Summers and Mr. Giles."
Rachel's expression grew razor sharp at that. "I fail to see the similarity," she said. "I have yet to take part in real combat outside of a single milk-run of a mission and have yet to perform any acts that would lead to the Dark Side outside of normal human fluctuations. Revan fell because she grew cold and uncaring and ceased to even consider those she sacrificed for victory. I am not in a position to follow that path and I do not need amateurs with their primitive psychology analyzing my actions."
Miller shook his head. "Rachel, to be cold, you're an idiot, at least in this. You are responsible for arming the men that are fighting and dying as we speak. If you think that isn't preying on your mind at some level, then you aren't as in tune with yourself as you're supposed to be."
Miller stood up and looked at a small picture, turning his back to her. "I served in 'Nam, I'm not worried so much about your actions as Darth Revan as the possibility of your being pushed back to that point."
"Compared to the stress of commanding an entire war effort, it is nothing at all."
Miller snorted. "Rachel. Revan fell once. You came within seconds of being Darth Rachel. What makes you think you've fully recovered from that?"
He picked up the picture and tossed it at her.
"The . . . creature that tortured me is no longer an issue," said Rachel. "That particular problem has been resolved. And what is this picture?"
"The officers of Company B, 7th SFG, 1969. I'm that young butterbar on the left. Out of those Lieutenants and Captains, I'm the only one left. Every one of them, broke. They either died, or took a tour off, thought they were better. then died back in 'Nam. Usually they took their team with them.
"You don't fully recover from breaking in combat. Not really. Oh, there's a rare few men and women with no breaking point, but you're clearly not one of them."
"I rarely saw the front-lines after the first few months and I most certainly did not 'break in combat'. That would imply there was combat for me to break in. No, I served behind a desk," said Rachel. "It was the psychic emanations of the war and the discovery of the Trayus Academy along with my visions that took me down that path if anything."
"Exactly. You still have those senses, and you feel all of the things you felt then from my men. You can't help it." Miller sat back down. "If you think I'm insulting you, please feel free to enlighten me. However, I am looking at this from two points of view.
"First, and foremost, is the fact you're a valued asset to X-COM, one that's simply not expendable.
"Second . . . is the fact that if you did fall again . . . we can't stop you. Period. If you think that isn't on my mind or the CINC's, you're flat out wrong."
"I am one person, commander," said Rachel. "I cannot defeat an entire army alone. Even the greatest of the Sith can be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. And I am much more capable of dealing with the emanations now than I was then."
"We can't afford for you to be wrong." His voice was flat. "Revan had won. She broke the Republic. The risk is too great. Look at it this way: we're paying you to take Ms. Summer and her daughters to various amusement parks and similar locations. Why bitch? Also, it's not just for you." Miller's face settled back into its more accustomed look. "It's so I can go to other soldiers here and point flat out, 'you are taking your leave time,' without them pointing at you not taking yours. Also . . . it's a chance to get your friend Miss Summers away from the hellmouth for a weekend. She's also showing signs that worry the headshrinkers."
"Revan had resources that I do not," said Rachel. "I have no armies who hold personal loyalty to me, no fleets of warships crewed by those who live and die on my word, and no Star Forge to produce an endless armada for my use. And I would advise you to not place too much trust in the 'headshrinkers'- their field is still rather primitive."
Miller snorted. "I'm not. Rachel? I served three tours in 'Nam. I know burnout. Even excepting that, it's proven that you don't think your best without at least some time to decompress. Why do you think no school runs 365 days a year?
"Same applies to the military and hard RD work. Just accept it's an order, and deal. It's not like it's going to make you bankrupt." He shook his head, and then glared at HK. "Regarding this... how do you want to test him? Before we get new code written for his successors, and deployment, that is."
"Burnout would require me to be hard-pressed. Lab work will not do that any time soon," said Rachel. "As for HK, he needs combat. Real combat, not some range with cardboard targets."
"Don't even bother thinking about sending him out on a field mission. You're not going out, and I suspect his loyalty is to you alone. Another suggestion that doesn't involve you in combat? Or any of my men?"
"How would you suggest testing a wardroid?" asked Rachel. "They are almost entirely without use outside of combat and I do not believe that assigning him an assassination mission would be the wisest course of action."
"I'm not disagreeing with you," said Miller, starting to get red-faced and annoyed, looking more like the general Rachel was used to dealing with. "Just . . . he's not going out in the field with my men, period. More . . . reliable and less . . . psychopathic, according to Denver, maybe. Him? Fuck no. Suggest something else.
"You have plenty of combat experience in that pretty little head of yours. Come up with something."
Rachel made a mental note to torment Denver at every opportunity, the little bastard. He wasn't getting away with running to the commander behind her back, the snivelling little worm. "He is a droid, commander," said Rachel. "If I tell him to obey someone's orders, he'll do it. He has no choice in the matter. But finding a representative test for something of HK's abilities outside of open combat and assassination will be difficult. Demons are the only alternative and they make for a poor comparison to modern warfare. It's like sending him after a Roman Legion with supernatural physical abilities: more akin to pest control than warfare."
"I assume there's some way for him to broadcast his visuals and audios back?" said Miller with a grimace. "Then . . . I remember reading about those tunnels under Sunnydale. Send him there. That'd give us a baseline performance value, with the data we have on the HST's. We can compare that to the data we have on the HET's.
"It's not what you want, but it's what I can do. I'm not taking a risk with a untried weapon. I had that fun back in 'Nam. No thank you."
"You military types do like your acronyms don't you?" asked Rachel. "And I suppose the sewer network will have to do. Even without telepathy I can see that you would not allow more."
Miller grinned evilly. "And think of it this way. Even assuming you were only able to make him half as efficient as he apparently was in the game . . . there will be a LOT less demons and vampires in Sunnydale.
"Safer that way for Ms. Summers and Anakin Summers, or Dawn Skywalker, whichever you prefer, don't you agree?"
"True," said Rachel. "But the ones that are capable of causing real trouble are generally the ones who have better places to make their lair than a sewer network."
He suddenly grew mean. "AND IF YOU EVER THINK OF BUIDLING SOMETHING LIKE THIS AGAIN WIHTOUT PRE APPROVAL, I'LL HAVE YOU COUNTING BOXES IN NOME!"
His eyes however were grinning as he shouted loud enough to be heard though the door.
"I did find it rather odd that we were basically being allowed to do as we wished."
"WITHIN REASON! USE THAT DAMNED JEDI COMMON SENSE!" His voice dropped. "I think you'd understand, Supreme Commander Revan, about this and how far it can go?"
"Hmm," said Rachel. "There's some small difference between my producing less than ethical droids and sacrificing a million here to save a billion there, but your point is noted."
Miller nodded satisfied. "GOOD!" His voice dropped. "We never had a polite conversation. I reamed your ass, you left. Understood, Knight?
"Oh. Take your team, and deal with the snake as you see fit. I dislike informants more than I dislike those who don't realize they need to take some time off, hoist a brew, haul the ashes. After the test, go take Sarah and you to New Orleans, or something."
He sat back down. "What? Why are you still here?"
"People are going to have a hard time believing that you reamed me out and I just took it, you know," said Rachel. "They know me better than that."
"Think of it as enhancing my reputation. Do wonders for the base's morale. Now, go and build a speeder or something. Or send HK to kill lots of vamps. Whichever"
Miller grabbed a cigar, and waved his hand at Rachel clearly shooing her out.
"Well on your own head be it," said Rachel. "But don't be surprised if people watch you expecting your head to explode or something for the next few weeks."
He grinned. "And when it doesn't, they'll look at me with awe. Just what I need to lead these nuts. Now GO! I need to club paperwork."
As Rachel walked through the door she head, "your request for a suite with three bedrooms, for Miss Dawn Summers to stay in, and Ms. Summers to visit, has been approved, Dr. Giles."
Rachel just sighed. She had no damned say in her own life anymore.
And so, a couple of hours later, Rachel found herself on a Skyranger transport bound for Sunnydale accompanied by her core team - Sarah, John, and Denver - riding along with her and HK-47. They'd been enthusiastic enough about the whole thing at first but that'd soon changed when they found out how bumpy a ride the Skyranger gave its occupants. They looked distinctly green around the gills within minutes of take-off. It was quite amusing really. Hadn't they ever been on a roller-coaster or anything similar before?
Anyway, Rachel found that her mind kept coming back to her conversation with Miller. Something had been off with that, something that she should have noticed, even beyond the sheer wrongness of having a damn General talking to her like that. It certainly hadn't been the way the Republic would have dealt with things. She ran it back over in her head. What was it . . . and then she remembered the line about being a minute away from becoming Darth Rachel.
They knew. How the fuck did they know about her brush with darkness back then? The Sunnydale crew and the coven wouldn't have told them and the military had displayed zero interest in Sunnydale's problems up till those Initiative morons showed up and started messing everything up. This was not something she wanted to become public knowledge and even Deadboy would know better than to blab to them. Fuck. She'd wanted that to stay relatively private. It was a weakness that could be used and exploited all too easily by those that were ruthless enough to do so and had enough power and arrogance to risk the wrath of a Sith Lord.
But that wasn't all. What else . . . Anakin Summers or Dawn Skywalker. For a moment the air around Rachel seemed to become electrified as a killing rage welled up within her as the wolf howled at a threat to its pack, but it soon dissipated as she willed it away. God damn them. Dawn didn't need the sort of hassle that would inevitably come from this. She was just a kid - not ready to deal with the politics and the bullshit. And she hadn't done anything to deserve it. Whatever Vader had done, she wasn't him. She didn't even have much of anything bar the Force signature left over.
Okay, fine. Now what was she going to do about it? Protecting Dawn had to be the priority. She was too young, too naive, and highly undeserving of the harassment that would come if the world found out about her being even vaguely related to a real-life Darth Vader. Mind-tricks wouldn't do it - too many people must know by now, and that went for assassination too. Bribery and corruption would work against her as well if the information was already out there. Shit. There was no way for her to put a definitive lid on this without going on a mad pogrom to exterminate everyone who could possible know.
That left politics. Wonderful. She had some influence, but enough to keep this quiet? Not likely and she didn't know the right areas to apply influence to on this planet. Bloody buggering fuck. Someone was going to die for giving this information away. It just wasn't acceptable. Well there wasn't anything she could do right now so there was no point worrying about it. She'd deal with it when the time came.
Soon enough the Skyranger had landed just outside the town and they were ready to move.
"So where are we going to set up?" asked Denver. "I assume you have something in mind."
"Of course," said Rachel. "HK, activate your stealth field and follow us."
And with that HK disappeared from sight leaving behind only a blurry outline that disappeared from view as well a moment later.
"The fuck!?" yelled Denver. "Since when could he do that!?"
"Since always," said Rachel with a smirk. "Just one of the little touches I added."
"No wonder the budget is always so tight," said John. "How much did this thing cost?"
"Enough," said Rachel. "But he's worth every penny. Believe me. There's not an enemy made that he can't kill."
"Statement: oh you do flatter me, master. May I kill something now?"
"Soon, HK," said Rachel. "Soon. I suppose we'd best go to my uncle's place. The warehouse district is nowhere near safe enough for us to use. Hmm, at this time he'll probably be at the shop these days. Come along, people."
"So what sort of shop does your uncle run then?" asked Sarah as they started to make their way into Sunnydale proper.
"Magic shop," said Rachel. "Surprisingly profitable last I heard."
"A magic shop?" snorted Denver. "What, is he one of those new-age weirdo types? Mid-life crisis?"
He would have continued, perhaps, but Rachel's glare quietened him very, very quickly and he was soon staring at his shoes to avoid having to face her, much like a scolded child.
"Finished?" she asked frostily. He just nodded his head jerkily. "Good, now let's get moving."
And so they moved off with no-one seeming particularly willing to speak up. That suited Rachel down to the ground. One more smart-arsed comment and she was likely to start generating electricity.
"Hey, Giles, it's me," said Rachel as she opened the Magic Box's door. And then she stopped dead. "Okay, what's going on?" she asked, as she saw none other than Quentin Travers sat at one of the shop's tables and several others who looked to be Watcher types scattered around the store. Rachel immediately twitched her arm just so, causing her lightsabre to drop out of its holster and into her hand.
"They have information about Glory," said Giles, looking somewhat less than his usual, easy-going self. "And in their infinite wisdom, they have decided to make us jump through an endless series of hoops rather than just tell us."
Rachel nodded slowly. "Typical of them," she said. "HK, disengage stealth field; cover the room. No-one leaves."
"READY!" said HK, as he shimmered into sight half a dozen paces to Rachel's left with his incredibly large gun pointed straight at Travers' head. Everyone in the room froze on the spot.
"What is the meaning of this?" sputtered Travers eventually. "Call off your pet demon or I'll have you deported so fast your head'll spin!"
"Declaration: are you blind or stupid, meatbag?" said HK, his aim not wavering even for a moment.
Giles just seemed most amused by the whole situation, and only about three steps removed from bursting out into a fit of laughter.
"He's not a demon," said Rachel. "He's a droid. Hunter-killer model, to be exact. I wouldn't advise trying anything. He'll kill you without any hesitation and you know something? He'll enjoy it."
"Sounds like a demon to me," grunted Travers.
"Interesting job, you have," said a familiar voice from the door. Buffy had turned up. "I always thought it sounded boring and then you turn up with this."
"They made the mistake of leaving me virtually unsupervised," said Rachel with a shrug of her shoulders. "Not the best idea they ever had. Nice sword you have there."
"No kidding," said Denver from where he'd been making himself as small as possible to escape notice.
"Hmm," said Buffy. "Yeah, it's not bad, is it? I think I might keep it."
"You're late," said Travers in what had to be the lamest attempt to regain control of a situation that Rachel had ever seen.
"Was there an attack?" asked Giles, his face creased with concern. Obviously things hadn't been so wonderful here in Sunnydale recently.
"Yeah," said Buffy, moving further into the store and past HK.
"We can begin the review at last," said Travers. Everyone else just looked at him as it he was the biggest idiot in the universe. "Uh, we can skip the more obvious questions . . . "
Buffy just dropped her sword onto the table over the papers that Travers had been starting to reach for. "There isn't gonna be a review," she said.
"Sorry?" asked Travers.
"I had this big speech ready," said Buffy. "About how you Watcher types don't really have any power and need the Slayer more than the Slayer needs you, but look at the position here. Who has a gun to their head? You're completely beaten. No speech needed. Saves me some effort so thanks, Rachel."
"Beaten?" asked Travers. "Oh, I don't think so. What we gave, we can take away. Your little friend there, the supposed girl, we could blow her cover to the world, expose her identity for the fraud it is. We could have your Watcher deported too. Then what would you do?"
"Nothing," said Rachel. "She'd do nothing because you can't do any of that."
"Oh really?" asked Travers. "And why not? Going to have me killed? Not very Jedi-like."
"Kill you?" asked Rachel. "I have no need to lower myself to that level. You have no leverage here, old man. None at all. I have a direct line to a US Army General who could squash your attempts to have Giles deported quicker than you can say 'I'm an old fool who needs to do his research', and as for me? Don't make me laugh. I am far beyond your control."
"What the HELL is going on?" asked John from his position near the door. "Are you all speaking in code or something? Slayers? Watchers? Deportation? What the bloody hell is this? Is Jeremy Beadle about to jump out of a dark corner?"
"Oh you'd be so lucky," said Giles. "Welcome to the world of demon-hunting."
"Demon . . . okay, I'm backing away now," said John.
"I am not crazy," sputtered Giles. "Rachel!"
"We'll talk about this later, guys," said Rachel. "For now let me deal with the old fool."
"I think you over-estimate yourself and your power," said Travers. "The Council has far more power than one Army General from the colonies."
Rachel couldn't help but roll her eyes. "What century are you living in?" she asked. "Anyway, you have no idea what you're tangling with. Miller will no more let you get me kicked out of the country than he would surrender to our enemies. Even if he can't manage it alone then the British government would be more than willing to step in and stop you in your tracks. You are out of your league, Travers."
"I think you'll find that we are very much within our league, child," said Travers. "Our influence has served us well since long before you were born and will long after you are dead."
"You know what?" said Rachel. "The hell with this. You're too arrogant for your own good."
"And what are you going to do?"
Rachel pulled out her cell phone and quickly dialled the number for Miller's direct line.
"Commander, I have a situation here in Sunnydale," said Rachel. "You know of the Watcher's Council, yes?"
"They were part of my briefing on the demons," said Miller. "What have you gotten into now?"
"They're threatening to have me kicked out of the country, basically," said Rachel. "Me and my uncle."
"WHAT!?" bellowed Miller. "I'll have them dealt with. Immediately. They're Brits right?"
"Yeah," said Rachel. "They're British."
"I'll get onto it then," he said, and then hung up.
"That was your General then, I take it?" asked Travers. "Well, now you'll see just how far your influence extends. I think you're going to be sorely disappointed, Ms. Giles."
"We'll see," said Rachel confidently.
The next half-hour passed in an awkward silence which no-one was quite willing to break. Travers looked quite smug but he was the only one of that contingent who did. The other Watchers just looked uncomfortable. Eventually Travers' cell phone rang and he answered.
"Are you serious?"
"This can't be happening."
"No . . . "
"Fine, I'll do it. But don't expect me to be happy about it."
His expression went from a smug surety to shock to rage as the conversation processed. His final comment came out as a snarl and he hung the phone up immediately afterwards.
"Well it seems that your word does carry some weight after all," he said, his face mottled with rage. "I suppose I have no choice but to acquiesce to your demands now that you've somehow had an Order-In-Council issued to force my hand."
"Excellent," said Rachel. "You do have some sense in you after all."
"So what sort of demon is Glory then?" asked Buffy as Giles boggled.
"Glory isn't a demon," said Travers. "She's a god."
Things went predictably downhill from the announcement of Glory's godhood. Rachel wasn't overly concerned herself. If something lives then it can be killed, and there were scant few indeed who could top her skill in that particular field. It was just a matter of finding the correct approach and then exploiting it. Simple really. The difficulty, she supposed, was in finding that approach.
Soon enough the Watchers were politely told to piss off - not in those words of course - and then the group settled down to deal with things. Primarily, of course, that was trying to convince Rachel's team that demons really did exist and that they weren't a bunch of delusional lunatics. Not an easy task.
"You're all completely mad," said Denver. "You know that right? Raving lunatics, the whole lot of you. Demons? Magic? Give me a break."
"You're a complete idiot, Denver," said Rachel. "Willow, conjure up a ball of light or something, will you? He won't believe it if I do it."
"I kinda have a hard time believing it all too," said Sarah. "I mean, magic? Demons? It's a bit out there."
"Compared to the things we normally deal with?" asked Rachel. "I had an easier time believing demons than I did aliens."
"Well, okay," said Sarah. "I'll give you that, and you've always seemed sane enough in the past . . . "
"To you, maybe," grumbled Denver.
At that point Willow conjured up a ball of white light in her hand that she then set to floating around above their heads.
"Huh?" said Denver, dumbly. "Okay. I'm going mad too."
"And this is a new development?" said John. "Oh bugger this. I've left my scotch back at the base too. I knew I should have stayed at Cambridge. That was a nice, sane place. No aliens, no demons, and no lunatic droids and unhinged bosses . . . well, okay, the last one's a bit hopeful."
"I know exactly how you feel," said Giles. "Rachel has a talent for turning people grey before their time."
"Oi!" said Rachel. "Mrs. Summers isn't going grey; that's just you being old."
"Actually," said Buffy, "I've seen bottles of hair dye in the bathroom. And if you tell mom that I told you that then I will be forced to kill you."
"That's more likely you than me," said Rachel. "You nearly get killed way more often than me."
"Ahem," said Giles. "If you're quite finished?"
"Right," said Rachel. "Well, you've seen magic now, and you'll see demons when we send HK down into the sewers to play exterminator, so are we done?"
"Just one question," said John. "Are you quite sure that you two aren't sisters?"
Rachel and Buffy just looked at each and burst out laughing before they were interrupted by a thoughtful looking Willow. "Um, Rachel," she said, "you're the one who had a lightsabre stuck through your chest and then took on Darth Malak. I think you've got the edge there."
"I'm not the one who got drowned in a puddle!"
"I'm not the one who ran off and joined the army!"
John and Sarah just looked at each other. "Sisters," they both said simultaneously. Even Tara had stopped looking edgy and started looking amused instead by the interplay.
"Okay," said Rachel, calming down. "I suppose it's time to talk about why we're here now."
"Yes," said Giles. "I was curious."
"Basically, we're here to test HK," said Rachel. "We're gonna send him down into the sewers and see how many demons he can kill before things get too hot. I'm gonna set my laptop up to pick up HK's progress so you guys can watch him work too if you want."
"You think this thing can kill demons?" asked Buffy. "He doesn't look that tough to me."
"Statement: matching the killing efficiency of an inferior meatbag such as yourself will not be difficult, meatbag."
"Did he just insult me?" asked Buffy, looking shocked. "He did, didn't he?"
"Declaration: you are as lacking in intelligence as you are lacking in height, obviously."
"That's enough, HK," said Rachel. "Leave Buffy alone. It's not her fault that she's not the sharpest tool in the box."
"Resignation: as you wish, master."
"Are we going to do some work or are we going to be stuck in a bad sit-com all day?" asked Denver.
"Are you always in such a bad mood, or is it just, you know, not being the expert here that does it?" asked Willow. "Cos it's kinda getting tiresome."
"Ignore him, Willow," said Rachel. "He's just a moron. And, Denver, we'll get to it soon enough. It's not like there's any great amount of setup required here. We just plug a few things into my laptop and send HK off to go killing. It's that simple."
"You're quite sure this will work?" asked Giles. "I have no objection to killing demons but I truly do not want one of them getting their hands on that gun if something goes wrong."
"Not a problem," said Rachel. "Even if they manage to steal it from HK's wreckage - and that won't be happening - they'll never be able to operate it. It's keyed only to work for humans and machines. Standard procedure for X-COM weapons now they can do it."
Conversation drifted on for a while after that and Rachel kept it going long after there was any point just to spite Denver, but eventually the time came to start the testing of HK-47.
By the time HK was in place in the sewer and ready to start his purge, Rachel wished that she'd thought to pack a larger monitor as well, because having everyone crowding around a laptop screen was just a mite uncomfortable. At least she'd remembered to bring the speakers with the pass-through socket that allowed her to have both the speakers and her headset working at the same time.
"Ready, HK?" she asked.
"READY!" came the response.
"Remember, no grenades," said Rachel. "No explosives at all."
"Resignation: yes, master. May I begin now?"
"You may," said Rachel.
And then HK started moving. The sewer network all looked much the same to Rachel so she couldn't tell where he was in it, but it still didn't take long for him to encounter his first demon: a Fyarl demon that stared dumbly at HK for the second or so of life it had left before it was scythed in half by a series of blaster bolts. That kill seemed to energise HK and his movement speeded up dramatically as he hunted for more victims.
As HK moved, the faint sound of distant speech could be heard. "What the hell was that?" was one of the sounds Rachel managed to pick out, and, "that didn't sound good," was another. HK, of course, picked up on those sounds himself and changed course to head towards their source immediately. She could see the data scrolling down the side of the HUD as he analysed the sounds to pick up their exact location. Quite gratifying to see something you created yourself working so well.
HK ran into a couple of demons of breeds that Rachel didn't recognise as he headed for the source of the voices, but they didn't last long. A quick burst from the heavy repeater he was toting for each and their innards were decorating the walls. And that got a few winces from those watching. Apparently even Buffy wasn't prepared for that, more used to demons and vampires just disappearing when killed or not being quite so messy in her methods for those that didn't.
When HK found the source of the voices, there were two vampires there. One of them just froze up, looking absolutely clueless, but the other, a younger looking one, took one look at HK before turning on his heel and sprinting away around the corner screaming all the while, "RUNNNN! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! ARRGH!"
"I guess that one's played the game," said Willow, as HK blew the vampire to dust with a volley of blaster fire.
"Looks like it," said Rachel. "It won't save him though."
As she spoke, HK had already started to follow along the path the vampire had taken as it fled. The sounds of movement could be heard distinctly now as the demonic inhabitants of the sewer system heard the vampires screaming.
"HK, be careful," said Rachel. "You're going to be swarmed."
"Statement: I look forward to it, master."
As HK approached where the vampire had ceased his flight the sounds of conversation were picked up by his auditory sensors.
"We gotta run, man," said someone, presumably a vampire. "It's that lunatic robot from the game: HK-47."
"Fuck it, I'm gonna have a smoke," said another voice.
"WHAT!?" screamed the first vampire. "Are you out of your fucking mind or what?"
"Think about it," said the other voice. "If that's HK, then Revan's gonna be up there waiting for us to try and escape. This way'll be quicker."
Rachel stared. John stared. Sarah laughed. Buffy pouted. Willow was leaning against Tara giggling madly, completely unable to support her own weight. Giles just laughed in that proper British way of his. Denver sulked.
Whatever the vampire was going to reply with was cut off as a jet of flame from one of HK's concealed weapons set him ablaze and set him to dancing around the area screaming in agony for a few brief moments before he exploded into dust.
"Statement: your smoke."
And then HK blew the vampire away in a volley of red fire. His further scan of the area showed no more hostiles hiding in the vicinity, so he moved back to general sweep and kill mode. But he didn't get far before demons and vampires began to swarm out of every opening. HK's response was immediate and the display filled with blaster fire as he used the heavy repeating blaster cannon Rachel had custom-made for him to its full power.
Demons and vampires fell by the job lot as HK cut a swath of destruction through the hordes of monsters that charged him, but even he, with all the firepower he wielded, couldn't keep them off him forever. One particularly massive demon of a breed Rachel didn't recognise managed to get in close and grab hold of HK's cannon. With one mighty heave, the demon attempted to pull the cannon out of HK's hands but instead ended up picking HK up off the ground and swinging him around into the wall, which crumbled under the impact.
"Jesus," said Buffy. "He's done, isn't he?"
Rachel just shook her head and kept watching. A moment later, a thick jet of flame arced out of a compartment in HK's chest and the demon was set ablaze right on top of HK, making for a rather disgusting close-up look at burning flesh for a moment before HK tossed the demon off and set back to work. More demons fell but they were too close in now and fell upon HK like ravaging wolves striking at his thick armour with all their strength.
That lasted till a spray of clear fluid from another one of HK's chest compartments sent the whole lot of them staggering back screaming.
"What was that?" asked Buffy.
"Sulphuric acid," said Sarah, almost whispering. "Highly concentrated. I wondered where that had gotten to."
"You lost sulphuric acid and didn't think to tell anyone?" asked John. "Jesus Christ, woman!"
"Well, stuff always turns up sooner or later when I misplace it!"
John just looked at Sarah as if she'd grown a second head as Rachel watched HK dispassionately massacre the weakened demons. One, a Polgara Demon, managed to recover and strike at HK with its bone skewer, but the claw simply snapped off on impact with HK's armour and HK then pulped the creature's head with a single punch before it could recover from the pain of that and stop screeching long enough to attack or run. And with that the massacre was ended, the test was done.
"Well, I think that's enough," said Rachel. "Return to base, HK. Your mission is complete."
"Disappointment: yes, master."
"Well," said Rachel to the group as she took the headset off. "Successful, wouldn't you say?"
"We've made a monster," said Denver, looking absolutely horrified. "An absolute monster."
"It does seem a bit . . . excessive," said Tara.
"That thing must have killed a hundred demons," said Giles, looking somewhat bug-eyed. "Can we have one here?"
"There wouldn't be any left for me," said Buffy with a pout.
"Ah, I don't think so," said Rachel. "They're kind of expensive. Like, you know, national debt expensive. I doubt the powers that be will go for making you one."
"Shame," said Giles.
Rachel just shrugged. "Maybe when they get a bit cheaper to make. Right now, they're going to be rare as hen's teeth for a long while to come."
After packing her team back off the Skyranger with HK-47 escorting them to make sure they didn't get themselves killed, Rachel grabbed Buffy and the pair of them headed off to the Summers' family home. Buffy was kind of curious as to what this was all about but soon quieted when Rachel said it was about Dawn and not something for public discussion. It didn't take long for them to reach the house and when they did, Mrs. Summers ushered them in immediately, though she did look a tad confused as to why Rachel was there.
"Is Dawn here?" asked Rachel as they moved into the living room.
"No, she's at a friend's place," said Mrs. Summers. "A sleep-over. Why?"
"Good," said Rachel. "I'm afraid I have some rather bad news. X-COM have somehow found out about Dawn."
Uproar. Neither looked at all happy, understandably. But Rachel quieted them with a gesture. Well, a gesture and then waiting them out.
"I don't know how they found out," said Rachel. "I most certainly did not tell them and I truly doubt that anyone of the Sunnydale group did."
Mrs. Summers looked like she was about to explode. The sheer level of rage pouring off her would have been quite intimidating to anyone who hadn't lived amongst the Sith, or, like Buffy, reached a similar state themselves. She was almost at Sith levels of rage in all honesty.
"Then who?" hissed Mrs. Summers in an absolutely deadly tone of voice. "Someone has to have told them. There's no other way they could have found out."
"No," said Rachel. "There isn't. I would not have been spied upon for so long without realising it so someone has given up the information from within the group. But who? Willow would never do such a thing, and I don't think Tara would either even if I don't know her very well. Giles is also not the sort to do such a thing and he never informed the Council of this even when he was still loyal to them. That only leaves . . . Angelus."
"Angel wouldn't do that," said Buffy reflexively, though she looked torn.
"Oh yes he would," said Mrs. Summers, her voice and face now icy calm. "This is exactly the sort of thing he'd do to save his own skin. I remember you telling me about when he first showed his face, when he refused to help you because he was scared."
Buffy looked like someone had stolen her puppy and sold it to the nearest Korean Restaurant.
"He cannot be allowed to get away with this," said Rachel. "Jedi aren't supposed to endorse vengeance but this is entirely unacceptable. He knows far too much if he's willing to give up our secrets."
"Oh I quite agree," said Mrs. Summers, her expression fierce. "Don't worry. I'll deal with him."
"Mom!" cried Buffy. "You can't go around fighting vampires!"
"That's why you will be coming with me," said Mrs. Summers. "You can deal with the subduing part of dealing with him."
"And what about me?" asked Rachel, somewhat amused.
"Oh you can go back to your job," said Mrs. Summers. "We'll deal with this little situation."
"But . . . "
"No, no," said Mrs. Summers. "I insist. You can't keep taking time off work like you have been."
"Are you sure?" asked Rachel, uncertainty written all over her face.
"Well," said Rachel. "Okay then, I suppose. Get in touch if you need any help or anything though."
"Of course," said Mrs. Summers, leading Rachel to the door. "Oh and before I forget," she said. Thwap! "And that's for not telling me about the doctor, young lady. I thought you knew better than to try and pull a stunt like that."
"I was just trying to help!"
"And I appreciate that," said Mrs. Summers. "But don't run around behind my back like that. I don't appreciate that part one bit."
And over Mrs. Summers' shoulder she could see Buffy mouthing a single word, "busted."
"Alright," said Rachel. "I won't do that part again, but don't expect me to hold back on trying to keep people alive."
"Oh you wouldn't be you if you changed that," said Mrs. Summers. "Now you'd best get going. You have work to deal with. Oh, before you go, what did they say exactly, about Dawn that is?"
"They, okay this is going to sound odd," said Rachel, "but they ordered me to take more time off and included Dawn in with the people I have to spend that time with. I have to spend a weekend off every month visiting amusement parks and the like."
Mrs. Summers blinked at that and Buffy looked somewhat pole-axed too. "Well," she said. "I suppose it could be a lot worse. You'd best keep an eye on them though. If they start getting twitchy about Dawn, I want to know about it."
"Of course," said Rachel. "And if they get twitchy about her, they'll have to get past me first. But honestly I don't think it'll come to that. Miller doesn't strike me as the child-killer type and he has a lot of influence in X-COM as do I."