"Commander Miller wants to speak to you, ma'am," said the soldier on gate duty when Rachel turned up back at the base.
"Wonder what I've done this time," said Rachel. "Well, thank you, soldier. I appreciate the heads-up."
"Just doing my job, ma'am."
"Right," said Rachel. "Come on, Dawn. Best not keep the commander waiting, I think."
It proved to be a fairly quick journey from the entrance of the base to the commander's office when the base's staff compliment was still depleted from the attack and the amount of people sent on leave afterwards. Rachel was waved on through to see the commander as soon as she entered the reception area of his office, and after gesturing for Dawn to wait outside she did so.
"You wanted to see me, commander?" asked Rachel.
"Yes," said Miller. "Sit down. Make yourself comfortable. We have quite a bit to talk about, I think."
"Sounds ominous," said Rachel as she perched herself on one of the chairs Miller had in front of his desk.
"Well, I'm not particularly happy with some of your decisions," said Miller. "You should have told me about Potter. That's not the sort of secret that should be kept by a soldier, and you know better than to let it slide."
"True," admitted Rachel. "But I had other things on my mind at the time as you'll recall. X-COM was far from my thoughts."
"And afterwards?" asked Miller. "You should have told us. Hell, you should have told us he was a wizard right back at the beginning when he first showed up here. I'm still not entirely sure how he even got recruited with his paperwork."
"My guess?" asked Rachel. "Magic. Or bribery."
"Probably," said Miller. "I'd rather not think about it. If I did, I might have to get rid of him, and he's a fine soldier. But why didn't you give me a heads up on the wizard thing, Giles? That's really not something that you should have kept to yourself."
"There are laws about that," said Rachel. "As bizarre as the situation with those wizards is, I still thought it best to leave it to Harry."
"Hmm," said Miller. "Well, you should have told us. Abilities like he has might have come in useful in the past, you know. Just knowing that he can protect himself against the Ethereals would have been damn useful. We're chronically short of psychics and have been from the start."
"Then I apologise," said Rachel.
"Well I suppose that's as good as I'll get from a civilian," said Miller. "Anyway, that's not really why I wanted to see you. Got some things to talk about with your job."
"Really?" asked Rachel. "Like what? You've got them to put me in a combat unit like you wanted at the beginning?"
"I wish," said Miller with a tight smile. "No, you won't be getting out of the lab anytime soon. You've been promoted again."
Rachel blinked. "Well, that was quick," she said. "I didn't think I had enough time in service for OF-5."
"You wouldn't normally," said Miller. "But you're not really military so that's not so important. And you're not being promoted to OF-5. You're being promoted to OF-6 and placed in overall charge of the base's research facilities. Lot of responsibility that."
"I think I can handle it," said Rachel dryly.
"Yeah," said Miller. "That's not really an issue here with your past. If you can command fleets and armies, you can deal with a bunch of egg-heads. I just wanted to inform you in person and give you the paperwork."
"Oh thank you," said Rachel. "More paperwork. Just what I always wanted."
"That's life when you have rank," said Miller. "I see you brought the Summers girl back with you. You're training her now?"
"Yes," said Rachel. "She is my padawan learner."
"Well, that's good," said Miller. "We're much more comfortable with her if she's being trained as a Jedi. Less risky that way, we figure."
"I agree with that," said Rachel. "But it presents some problems. I can't properly train and educate Dawn while devoting my full attention to my work here."
"Well someone of your rank should really have a staff," said Miller. "Bring in some people who can take the load off."
Rachel cocked her head. "Not a bad idea," she said. "And who would I talk to about such a thing?"
"Major Thomas deals with personnel these days," said Miller. "And see the quartermaster about getting some larger accommodations before you start bringing staff in."
"Ah, there was something else," said Rachel. "I've had contact from the supernatural world; apparently, your reaction to Glory's attack has stirred things up. Some of the demons aren't warlike apparently and they want peace."
"They what?" barked Miller. "They're demons. Since when do demons sue for peace?"
Rachel shrugged. "It's a new one on me too," she said. "But they seem to be genuine. I think it's worth a look."
"Well, I suppose we can send negotiators," said Miller. "See how it plays out."
"They want me."
"Well, I'm just reporting what they wanted," said Rachel. "I've already arranged for Buffy and Faith to go with me and I have no intention of leaving till HK is ready as well."
Miller just looked at her. "You're far too important to send off on some insane mission like this," he said. "This is a job for people we can afford to lose."
"People you can afford to lose don't have my infamy in the demon world," said Rachel. "Demons are pretty backwards; they respect someone like me who's killed a whole load of them like me, but not a normal diplomatic envoy."
"Seems to me that we'd be better off burning them with the rest than risking you," said Miller.
"I disagree," said Rachel. "For a start, they'd have a hard time disposing of me, and secondly I sense no deception."
"I don't like this one bit," said Miller. "I wouldn't even consider this if we didn't already have too many damn enemies."
"And there's the problem," said Rachel. "Demons might not be much of a match for you these days, but they're a distraction that can't be afforded. You've already scattered the real bad ones anyway."
"You're taking a detachment of troops with you," said Miller. "At least three teams."
"I can live with that."
"I'll get you a framework for what can be negotiated within the week. That's it, I hope? No more worlds to turn upside down today?"
As they left the offices, Rachel noticed a very perturbed look on Dawn's face.
"What is it, Dawn?"
"I feel like someone just walked over my grave, master" she said.
The meeting with Major Thomas proved to be exceptionally short. She'd barely had the time to get her requirements across before he booted her out of his office. Apparently the man was rather tetchy at being lumbered with a desk job after the last incumbent got himself killed. Times like that Rachel wished her rank was real military and not more about pay-scale than anything because she'd have made sure that the guy would never dare be so rude again given her rank as a real military commission.
The quartermaster, an old Warrant Officer, was much less of a pain to deal with. He asked a few questions, took the answers down, and said he'd have something arranged in a couple of days. He even apologised for the slowness of it but said it was inevitable with the sheer amount of personnel changes the base was going through after the attack.
With that lot dealt with, Rachel dropped Dawn off in her current quarters and headed off to the lab.
"John, Sarah, in my office," she said immediately as she entered her department.
"I hear congratulations are in order," said John as he settled down into one of the battered chairs Rachel kept in her office.
"Yeah, promoted again," said Sarah. "You're a real high-flier these days."
"Yeah, that's me," said Rachel. "A real high-flier. What have you two heard anyway?"
"Just that you've been promoted again," said Sarah. "Guess that means more newbies in the department to break in."
"Pretty much the same," he said. "Rumour mill's been a bit slow recently what with half the base being dead and most of the rest going on leave."
"Well, you're right, I've been promoted," said Rachel. "But it's a bit more than another number on my file. I've been promoted to OF-6, O-7, Brigadier-General, whatever you want to call it. I've been put in charge of the whole research facility."
"That's . . . that's big," said Sarah. "That means the only person you'll be answering to now is Miller. Hey, you're the same rank as him now!"
"I don't think it quite works that way," said Rachel dryly. "But I suppose I would be if I was actually military."
Sarah smiled for just a moment before it fell away. "Wait a minute," she said. "That means you won't be working with us anymore, doesn't it?"
"It could," admitted Rachel. "But I don't want it to. I'm going to need seconds to run the entire facility. And that's where I want you two to come in. You're both competent, I trust you, and we get on. Perfect."
"That's quite the promotion," said John. But before he could say anything else he was cut off.
"This wouldn't take me away from my work on elerium compounds, would it?" asked Sarah.
Rachel shook her head emphatically. "No," she said. "That work is important. It's about the only chance we have of finding a tibanna gas substitute that we can actually use."
"Oh," said Sarah. "Well, as long as I can keep working on that sure! I'll work for you as your second. No problem."
"And what about you, John?"
John shrugged. "Why not?" he asked. "Working with you is where the action is these days. The other teams working on reverse engineering the alien stuff get left in your dust."
"That's one way to look at it I suppose," said Rachel, her mouth twitching.
"And I wouldn't be able to watch you torment Denver if I wasn't working with you," said John. "That would make my working days so much less entertaining."
"You wouldn't get that compulsive need to soothe the insanity away with shots of whiskey so often either," pointed out Rachel.
"True," said John. "But I think it balances."
"So I suppose this means you'll be getting a new office," said Sarah. "No more closet-sized office for you. Lucky."
Rachel blinked. "What?" she said. "I don't want a new office. I'm quite happy here."
"Oh no, no, no," said John. "This is a department head's office. You're the facility head now.
Rachel looked around at her nice worn-in office, the chairs that had been broken in, the desk that she'd picked out herself, the shelves that were sagging under the weight of the dog-eared physics texts she'd bought, and all the rest of it.
"Well, bugger," she said. "I've gotten quite comfortable here. Anyway, is the fabricator finished?"
"It's been built according to your blueprints," said John. "Whether it'll work or not is an open question."
It was several days later as Rachel finished up the repairs on HK when one of the administrative staff dropped off a stack of personal files with a note saying that most of them were classified. Rachel couldn't help but roll her eyes. Of course the files were classified! It seemed like everyone who worked or was a candidate to work for X-COM had a file at least an inch thick full of classified material. Normal people weren't exactly the sort the organisation went for.
She tossed the files onto her desk and after quickly tidying up HK so he could be safely left alone, she started to leaf through the files. Most were utterly devoid of usefulness for her. Marines, rangers, whatever - they might be really good at what they did - would have to be to get X-COM attention - but she had no use for them whatsoever. She needed people who could handle Dawn's education and physical training. Men in their twenties whose only real qualifications were being real damn good fighters weren't going to cut it for that. She doubted they'd be overly enthused with the assignment anyway. And then there were the random newbies straight out of boot camp. Honestly, what use would they be to her?
Eventually the pile was whittled down to a much thinner selection and she then began to go through them in more detail. One file in particular stood out just for the sheer size of it: Casey Ryback's. She had to admit that she was impressed as she read it. Guy had more medals than was strictly healthy for any one person to earn, a whole list of martial arts masteries, and a seriously impressive operational record as a SEAL.
Of course, there were downsides. His security clearance had been revoked and the black mark on his record for beating the ever-living shit out of his commanding officer wasn't terribly promising. But really that paled into comparison next to that last citation in his file from the tail end of his military career. He'd almost single-handedly defeating a small army of mercenaries and traitors to bring a battleship back under control, and then proceeding to save an estimated one million lives by playing a key role in preventing a nuclear missile strike on Hawaii. Not an achievement to be sniffed at.
Well, he was definitely a potential. Rachel put his file to one side for an in-depth read later and went back to the rest that had made it past the first cut. Most of the others were good but she just didn't get the right feel from skimming their file. She was almost at the end of the pile when she reached another file that caught her eye. This time it was a former SAS man called Peter Gough, who, while well past the normal age for combat operations, was possessed of considerably academic qualifications and a teaching certificate.
"Perfect," said Rachel with a relieved smile. "That's the one."
Now it was just a matter of arranging to interview them and making sure they lived up to their files.
"We're going to be doing something a little different in training today," said Rachel as she reached the mats in the centre of the base's gym with Dawn.
"What's that?" asked Dawn, looking genuinely curious, and somewhat relieved.
Rachel pulled a cylindrical object seemingly out of nowhere and tossed it over to Dawn, who caught it instinctively. "We're going to start on lightsabre training," said Rachel. "I figure it's about time."
Dawn was absolutely entranced by the weapon in her hands as she ignited the white blade and predictably took a few test swings. "Where did you get this?" she asked.
"I made it of course," said Rachel. "Where else would I get it?"
"But I thought the crystals . . . "
"The Sith use artificial crystals," said Rachel. "It was not difficult to adapt that for my use. That sabre has an artificial diamond in it; absolutely indistinguishable from the real thing."
"Eventually you will make your own weapon," said Rachel. "And then you will select the colour of your choice for the blade. For now, you will use that."
"I kinda like it," said Dawn. "It's pretty."
Rachel just looked at Dawn as if she completely round the twist for a moment before shaking her head. "Whatever," she said. "It's you that'll be using the thing, not me. Now, defend yourself!"
What followed that was an hour of Rachel relentlessly exploiting every hole she could find in Dawn's defences while restricting herself to the basic Shii-Cho form. Not a terribly difficult task at this stage of Dawn's training, really, but a necessary thing. The girl did display some potential with the sabre thankfully but it was still so very raw and far from being useful. By the end of the hour Dawn looked about ready to drop down and fall asleep right there on the spot.
"I've seen worse," said Rachel. "Not by much, but I've still seen worse."
"Would it kill you to just say 'well done'?"
"Possibly," said Rachel. "I think that'll be enough duelling practice for today. Now we'll start with some deflection."
And then half a dozen small spherical drones popped into existence around Rachel. Damn but she loved that inter-dimensional pocket trick she'd got from one of the books Giles had left with her. "Have fun," said Rachel with a devilish smirk as the drones floated across the room and began to fling their little stinging beams at Dawn.
"Ow! Hey," whined Dawn. "Can't I at least have a little time to rest?"
"Let me think . . . no," said Rachel. "Our enemies won't give you time to rest up so neither will I."
Dawn was too busy with her lightsabre to respond to that beyond the mental equivalent of sticking her tongue out. Brat. Rachel watched for a moment and then turned away to make use of one of the gym's treadmills while she was waiting to end the exercise. No sense in wasting time lazing around watching Dawn sweat after all. She had her own fitness to maintain and little time to do it as a rule.
Half-an-hour into her own exercise, and deriving some slight amusement from the expression of utter consternation on Dawn's face as she attempted to defend herself from the remotes, Rachel was distracted from her own work by the arrival of Harry on the next treadmill to hers, though she didn't so much as miss a step.
"Hello, Harry," she said as he set his machine to work. "Having fun with the officers?"
"Oh it's absolutely smashing," said Harry. "Nothing quite like being made to jump through hoops by a bunch of magic-ignorant muggles who want to see everything you can do to make a day."
Rachel couldn't help but laugh. "I suppose I got off lucky," she said. "They just had to watch some films and read some books to know what I can do."
"Yeah, lucky you," said Harry. "I suppose I could just let them at my library . . . no, scratch that. Some of that stuff would give them ideas that would be bad for everyone involved."
"They've been pretty reasonable in my experience," said Rachel.
"I'd be so lucky," grumbled Harry. "I'd have probably been better off telling them from the start. Silly me trying to obey the law."
"This is coming from the person who's pretty much in exile anyway because he's pissed the government off," said Rachel. "How much worse could you make it?"
"I could piss off a few more governments," said Harry. "Way I'm going I'd probably end up having to live somewhere like San Marino that's too damn small to have a magical community."
"Point," said Rachel. "But not all countries have the same laws; checking would have been a good idea."
"Why take the risk?" asked Harry. "I was fine as I was. Would have stayed fine too if that bloody thing hadn't showed up."
"Well at least this way it's out in the open," said Rachel. "You'll be able to help your team-mates using your powers without worrying."
"Yeah," said Harry. "That's good, I suppose. Still gotta be careful, though, or I'll bring the Ministry down on me. I can take 'em on well enough but aurors aren't all that bothered about muggles getting in the way of their curses."
"Giles warned me about that," said Rachel. "Are they really so bad?"
"A lot are," said Harry. "The old wanker's right. You should be careful with them if you run across them. Take 'em out quick if you think they're going to start something. It's just easier that way."
"I'll keep that in mind," said Rachel.
Rachel eyed the slumped figure of HK-47. Well, she thought he was fixed now so it was time to flick the switch and see what happened. A quick application of Force energy to his internal power switch and HK immediately straightened up, his eyes glowing red.
"Statement: I am functional."
"Yes," said Rachel. "Status report."
"Declaration: all systems are functioning within normal parameters," said HK. "Query: has the shrill meatbag designated Glorificus been disposed of?"
"She has," said Rachel.
"Resignation: and I was so looking forward to extracting revenge for my humiliating defeat."
"You'd have to join the queue, HK," said Rachel. "
"Hey, boss," said John, poking his head into Rachel's new, larger office. "You've got a couple guys here to see you."
Rachel looked up from the report she was reading. "Send Casey Ryback in and ask Peter Gough if he could wait just a minute, would you?"
John grumbled something about being a glorified receptionist, but he did what she asked, the cheeky old git. He shouldn't have said anything if he didn't want to get lumbered with telling them to come in. A moment later, a large, ponytailed man entered Rachel's office looking like he was somewhere between baffled and pissed-off.
"Hello, Mr. Ryback," said Rachel. "Take a seat, please. We have a lot to discuss."
"Yeah, we do," he said. "I thought I was done with the military years ago, and then comes this letter recalling me and telling me to report here. And no-one's told me what it's all about."
"They haven't even told you what X-COM does?" asked Rachel with a distinct sinking feeling in her gut.
"Not a damn thing," said Ryback. "Hell, this is the first time anyone actually named the agency so I'd know where I was."
"And it's the same for Mr. Gough, too, I expect?" asked Rachel.
"Yeah," said Ryback. "He's clueless too."
"I'm going to string Thomas up by his balls and leave him for the bloody Chryssalids," growled Rachel.
"You know what, it'll be easier to just show you," said Rachel. "You'll never believe me if I just tell you. HK, disengage stealth field and come with us."
"Statement: yes, master."
"What the hell is that?" said Ryback, instinctively reaching for a gun that wasn't present.
"That's part of what we're working on here in this base," said Rachel. "You'd probably have seen similar units on the way to this lab if they hadn't all been destroyed in a battle."
"What sort of nuthouse is this?"
"Oh you've seen nothing yet," said Rachel. "Come on. You'll probably get a kick out of this, most of the newbies do."
Rachel collected Peter Gough - who was also somewhat less than prepared for HK's appearance - and lead them to the morgue facility that was used for storing alien bodies that weren't going to be used for experiments for one reason or another. It was just your standard dead-body storage room as seen in morgues across the world with a whole load of small metal doors leading to storage spaces for stretchers containing the bodies.
"A morgue?" asked Ryback exchanging dubious looks like Gough. "You're going to show us dead bodies?"
"Statement: I quite agree," said HK. "They're much more entertaining when in the process of dying than afterwards."
And then silence as Ryback and Gough just stared at HK.
"Right," said Rachel with a cough. "And swiftly moving on from that, let's see . . . yeah, start with the classics. Newbies always get a kick out of this one."
Before anyone could say anything, Rachel opened the door she'd been looking for and rolled the stretcher out.
"What sort of . . . "
Whatever Gough was going to say was cut off as Rachel pulled the covering sheet back and showed them the remains of a Sectoid. It was in remarkably good condition actually compared to the average dead alien, only a few small holes in its chest from entry wounds. The back of the body would be a different matter but there you go.
"Isn't that one of the Roswell aliens?" asked Ryback. "Seriously, what the fuck is going on here?"
"Welcome to X-COM," said Rachel. "The eXtra-terrestrial COMbat Agency. We kill aliens."
"And here's me writing it all off as conspiracy theories," said Gough.
"Well a lot of the stuff you see on the web and in magazines is bullshit," said Rachel. "And that makes it real easy to write the rest off."
"So what's the deal?" asked Ryback. "There's got to be more to it than just killing aliens."
"We're not entirely clear on all the details," said Rachel. "Interrogating aliens is not the easiest of tasks. What we do know is that they started sending scouts out around the time of the second world war and they've been slowly stepping their activity up ever since. At first it was innocuous, taking soil samples and animals, and we could afford to sit by and wait to see what happened."
"Didn't stay that way, did it?" asked Ryback, more rhetorically than anything really.
"No," said Rachel. "They got more aggressive; started taking humans too. They even started attacking military facilities in out of the way areas. Countries tried to deal with them alone but they were lucky if they could catch a UFO - alien ship - never mind shoot one of the damn things down. X-COM was the answer to that, a multi-national force that wouldn't have to drop pursuit when it reached international borders."
"Is it working?" asked Gough.
"Mostly," said Rachel with a shrug. "We can't catch everything but we hurt the aliens more than they hurt us these days. Anyway, this particular breed of alien is known as a Sectoid. They're pretty weak physically but they're smarter than just about any of the others, and some of them have decent psychic abilities."
Gough's raised eyebrow was all that really needed to be said about that.
"If I take you on, you'll get the clearance to read the files on that," said Rachel with a shrug. "Believe it or not, they're psychics. Anyway, these guys aren't all that scary. Now let's see . . . "
Rachel slid the Sectoid back into its container and drifted along the wall looking for something a little more heavy-duty.
"Ah, this'll do," she said, before pulling out another alien and pulling back the sheet to reveal a very large, very muscular purple-skinned creature that'd had most of its head blown off. "This is a Muton. Very tough these guys, but too bright. When they're alive they wear this weird skin-tight green armour."
"Jesus," said Ryback. "Thing looks like it should be in Mr. Universe."
"Yeah," said Rachel. "They're way stronger than humans pound for pound too. Not something you want to get in a fistfight with. Pretty much pointless to shoot them with normal guns too. They gave the soldiers the shits till we got some better weapons for them to use."
"I can imagine," murmured Gough.
"There are more but I reckon you get the picture now," said Rachel sliding the alien back into the container.
"Yeah," said Ryback. "You're fighting aliens. But what do you want with us? You're a scientist, what do you need people like us around for?"
"I'm not just a scientist," said Rachel, drawing and igniting her lightsabre. "Take a guess."
"A . . . no way," said Ryback. "No way. Jedi are not real."
Rachel cocked her head and shot him an amused look before lifting him into the air and slowly spinning him around with a quick burst of mental power. "The Force is with me," she drawled.
"I think you've made your point," said Gough, eyeing the less than impressed looking Ryback.
"Yeah," said Rachel. And then she lowered him back down to the ground.
"So you're a . . . Jedi," said Gough. "What would you need with us? I imagine you're quite capable of defending yourself."
"I have an apprentice," said Rachel. "She is vulnerable and requires attention I cannot give her while living up to my other responsibilities. I would ask you to handle her physical training and her education when I cannot as well as offering protection should it be required. Your other duties will be a cover. I don't really care if you perform them or not."
"I like to cook," said Ryback simply.
"Well, that's good, I suppose," said Rachel. "You'd have to be better than the guys who work the mess and I can burn water."
Ryback just eyed her strangely.
"Well, we had droids for that in Jedi training," said Rachel. "It's not a required skill."
"You . . . what?"
Rachel shrugged. "Droids don't make mistakes," she said. "Not like humans. It works pretty well."
"No spirit! No heart! No soul!" cried Ryback. "Robots cooking, what a terrible idea!"
"Objection: robots are superior to meatbags such as yourself."
"HK, quiet," said Rachel. "We don't need to go through this. So are you two interested in the job?"
"Sure I am," said Ryback. "But what about my security clearance?"
"We can deal with that," said Rachel with a wave of her hand. "We've got a four-star General running this operation after all. I'm sure he can pull a few strings. What about you, Mr. Gough?"
"The last few years have been quite boring," he said in reply. "I imagine that this will be anything but. So yes; I accept your offer."
"Excellent," said Rachel. "We'll just have to clear it with Miller and that'll be that then."
"You know," said Ryback. "You might want to consider joining your apprentice on the morning runs."
"And why do you think that?" asked Rachel.
"You've never had my cooking before," said Ryback.
"We'll see," said Rachel.
She ended up joining the morning runs three days later.
"Are we ready?" asked Rachel.
"Yes, Ma'am!" came the chorus of replies from the detachment of X-COM troops that Miller had immediately insisted on accompanying her when she told him about the whole peaceful demon thing.
"Always up for kicking a little demon ass," said Faith.
"They're not going to know what hit them," said Buffy.
"Statement: affirmative, master."
"I go first," said Rachel. "Then HK, then the Slayers, and then the soldiers."
Rachel then smoothed down the outer cloak of her Jedi robes and swept in through the front door of this demon bar. After descending a small flight of stairs she went through a metal detector that predictably beeped. A large man - a bouncer, she assumed - tried to head her off but she caught him in a stasis field and left him frozen mid-step as she made her way into the bar. It was . . . not what she had come to expect from demon bars. It was, well, a karaoke bar. Karaoke! Demon karaoke!
"This really isn't what I had in mind when I invited you here," said a hook-nosed, green-skinned near-human looking demon with a pair of small red horns sprouting from his forehead.
"You are Lorne?" asked Rachel as the soldiers took up positions around the bar, covering its occupants, who looked uniformly ready to soil themselves as they came under the barrel of a blaster.
"I am," said the demon. "Welcome to Caritas."
Rachel cocked her head. "I sense no hostility," she said. "You were telling the truth when you sent Oz to me?"
"Well, yes," said Lorne. "Do I look like the sort of guy who lures people like you into fights?"
"No deception," said Rachel after measuring Lorne's words and aura as well as the auras of the other demons and humans in the bar. "At ease, men. This is no longer a combat mission."
"Resignation: yes, master."
Buffy and Faith had that distinct pout of a Slayer denied a good fight too. The soldiers just moved into a more relaxed set of positions.
"Oh that's good," said Lorne with a sigh. "Much friendlier."
"I distinctly remember being invited here for a reason," said Rachel. "Could we get to that?"
"You know, you're far too pretty to be so stern," said Lorne. Rachel heard twin snorts of laughter from the two Slayers who were flanking her. "Relax. Smile. It won't hurt."
"I didn't come here for banter," said Rachel. "Isn't there somewhere we can go speak in private and get this done with?"
"Well, I can see you're all business today," said Lorne. "Well, come on. These alcoves are private enough, I think."
Rachel followed him to the alcove and seated herself opposite the demon. "Before we start," he said, "could you reel that aura of yours in a bit? It's giving me a headache."
"I wasn't aware that it was showing," said Rachel, shrinking her presence in the Force till it was microscopic and entirely undetectable.
"I'm anagogic," said Lorne by way of explanation. "And your aura is way too strong for comfort. Not that having it just vanish is much more comfortable."
"Interesting," said Rachel. "You must be more sensitive than the average Jedi to feel my aura so strongly. Now, what terms are these peaceful demons willing to offer for peace?"
"We just want to be left alone," said Lorne. "We're not causing any trouble; we're not out grabbing people so we can drink their blood. That's all we want, to be left to get on with our lives without having to worry about your boys coming in and shooting us up."
"I find the idea of a peaceful demon difficult to believe," said Rachel. "My experiences tell me that there's no such thing."
"Look, I know you were born and raised in Sunnydale," said Lorne. "But we're not all like the demons that hang around that sort of place. That place is like the Beirut of the 80s for demons."
"A charming little analogy," said Rachel. "But I've travelled all over North America and seen little evidence of demons that aren't all for flossing their teeth with my bones."
"You're a Jedi," said Lorne. "And while I personally think having a real, live Jedi sat in front of me is cooler than the Antarctic, most demons of a more violent persuasion see something like that as a challenge. Lotta hot-blooded youngsters are going to try and prove themselves by taking someone like you out, just like with the Slayers."
Rachel looked away for a moment and pondered that. "You may have a point," she said. "But there are limits. Vampires, for one, could never be tolerated. Their very existence is an affront to humanity."
"I figured that," said Lorne with a sigh. "There aren't that many of them that'd care for peace anyway. But what about the rest of us? And you know, not all demons of a breed act in the same way. I'm a charming fellow, but the other Deathwoks . . . they're kinda not."
"That makes life a little more difficult," said Rachel.
"Yeah, it does," said Lorne. "But you can't tell what a human will do just by looking at them either. We all make our own choices in the end."
"True," said Rachel. "So what are you proposing? A ceasefire unless provoked?"
"That's what people want," said Lorne. "Hunt down the trouble-makers if you must but please leave the rest of us alone."
"I'm authorised to say that we would prefer to lessen the scope of our activities," said Rachel. "But we want something in return."
"And what's that?" asked Lorne. "I can't offer much, you know. I'm just a lowly karaoke bar owner."
"Information," said Rachel. "You get wind of anything apocalyptic, or just plain nasty, and you tell us. Withholding that sort of information will be viewed as collaboration and that leads to nasty places."
"Say no more," said Lorne. "I think we can work something out on that front. I like this world too."
"So, why a karaoke bar?" asked Rachel.
"I like music."
"That really doesn't answer the question," said Rachel.