"This is a complete waste of time," grumbled Rachel as she fastened the belt on her seat. "It really is."
"You're complaining about a free holiday in Paris," said Dawn. "Need perspective, much?"
"She does have a point you know, Ms. Giles," said Peter. "It won't hurt you to take a week off away from your work."
"I was this close to getting that ion cannon battery working, though," said Rachel holding two of her fingers a few millimetres apart. "I just know someone will botch it by the time I get back."
"Such faith you have in your co-workers," said Peter dryly. "They're hardly unqualified, you know."
"Yeah, yeah," said Rachel. "I just hate being taken away from my projects before they're finished."
"Think of this way," said Peter. "You get to see what the other branches are working on. It might give you some ideas."
"I have plenty of ideas already," said Rachel. "And if I want to see what the other branches are working on I can just read their reports. Would be a lot quicker that way too with the VPN they have set up, just a couple of button clicks and it would be there for me to read."
"But you wouldn't get to go to Paris that way," said Dawn. "I think this way is better."
At that point the noise of the plane taking off cut the conversation off mid-stream. Rachel leaned back into her chair and closed her eyes, letting it all wash over her. That bad feeling she'd been having on and off since the battle with Glory had been growing daily and now she had the distinct feeling that whatever was coming was coming soon. Of course, Miller hadn't listened. Well, he'd listened, and then simply said that a warning as nebulous as that wasn't something he could really act on, though he'd pass the message on up the food-chain. She really missed being the one in command sometimes.
Well anyway, the situation was what it was now. She couldn't change it at this point. She was being sent to a week-long conference of X-COM scientists in Paris with the various people that made up her staff, and she was going to have to deal with that. And if that wasn't a tempting enough target, General Wilson, Supreme Commander of all X-COM forces, was going to be present to evaluate the technologies presented. Foolishness of the highest order in Rachel's book but she wasn't the one making the decisions, and there were political motives apparently. Some issues with funding nations being dissatisfied or something or other.
"So how's this going to work?" asked Dawn. "Will I have to go to the conference with you?"
Rachel frowned. It was times like this she wished that Mrs. Summers wasn't still stuck in Sunnydale trying to find someone to buy her art gallery. "No," she said finally. "That would be counter-productive, but you will be accompanied by either Peter or Casey wherever you go. In fact, I see no reason why this trip should impact on your training. Paris will have gyms you can use, I'm sure."
"But . . . it's Paris," said Dawn looking absolutely scandalised. "I can't spend a week in Paris training!"
"I disagree," said Rachel trading looks with Peter. "I strongly disagree."
"But . . . but . . . " sputtered Dawn.
"It's been a while since I visited Paris," said Peter. "But I remember a few places we could use for training."
"Excellent," said Rachel. "We have to make sure she doesn't get lazy; that would be no good at all."
"Indeed," said Peter. "We can't have her backsliding at this point."
"Very true," said Rachel. "I'm sure you'll find a way to prevent that from happening though."
"Oh I have a few exercises in mind," said Peter. "I remember my training well enough for that."
The look of sheer outrage on Dawn's face was too much for Rachel; she cracked up and burst into a fit of laughter.
"Your face," she wheezed in between her laughter. "You should see it."
"You . . . oh," huffed Dawn, before smacking Rachel on her upper arm. "Damn evil woman."
"That's me alright," snickered Rachel. "Come on. You've been training for what six months now? Even the SAS wouldn't expect a teenager to go that long without a break."
"So you're not going to make me train while we're in Paris?" asked Dawn, her eyes wide and full of hope. "Please?"
"Oh you'll have to maintain your fitness," said Rachel. "But I think I'll be able to find it in myself to let you have a few days off as long as at least keep up with the morning runs."
Dawn was giving her promises before Rachel had even finished speaking. No surprises there.
"But do I really have to have Mr. Gough or Mr. Ryback with me?" she asked.
"That is non-negotiable," said Rachel. "It's either them or HK."
Dawn immediately blanched at the idea of having HK following her around; he was bound to be even more murderous than usual after being shipping cross-continental folded up in a crate after all.
"I'll go with one of them," she said very, very quickly.
"I thought you would," said Rachel. "Just remember to keep your senses open, okay? I know you're still having trouble with them, but I have a feeling that we need to be on the ball."
"I'll do my best."
"No!" said Rachel. "You will do. Remember: there is no try."
"Yes, master," said Dawn. "But I still don't understand."
"And that is why you fail," said Rachel in what she felt was a rather good imitation of Yoda's voice. "All padawans go through this stage, Dawn. It's just a matter of getting your head around it."
After Rachel had given the presentations she had quickly written up - all of ten minutes effort put into each at the most - on the various research topics her teams were covering at the moment - the response to the presentation on fusion power had been incredibly funny in her opinion, she'd never seen so many intelligent people look so utterly gob-smacked at the same time - she had to sit through the other presentations on what various teams were working on. Some were beyond tedious, like the multi-hour talk on plasma weapon technology that was obsolete before it was even finished coming off the production line, but some were quite interesting, like the reports on UFO construction techniques and the alloys used by the aliens.
But it was the talk on the psionic powers that caught Rachel's attention completely.
"As you probably all know, the aliens have demonstrated considerable psionic powers," said the middle-aged woman giving the presentation, a Dr. Jones. "But up till now we've not had any workable theories on where these powers come from or how they work. Well, we've had a breakthrough. A captured Sectoid gave up some information and we've constructed what we feel is a solid theory of psionics.
"The first item of note is that all sentient beings have a field of consciousness," continued the scientist as the rest of the room began to scribble down notes. "The aliens refer to this as a 'conchfield' and we've stuck with that terminology for our work.
"Now this 'conchfield' doesn't exist in isolation," said the scientist. "They seem to exist on a plane of energy known to the aliens as 'conchspace' that's co-existent to our own. I know it all sounds a bit new-age, a bit like Star Wars or something, but this is what the aliens tell us and their psionics are demonstrably functional. I don't think anyone can deny the existence of those powers at this point."
Rachel just about fell out of her seat as the scientist spoke. That sounded far too much like the Force for comfort. It was either the Force or a damn ingenious workaround. She'd never really considered the idea that the Ethereals were actual Force-users before; she'd always dismissed them as some sort of hokey psychics, and to see them as Force-users would make a much greater threat.
"Anyway, normally these patterns of energy that make up the 'conchfield' are an individual thing," she said. "They rise and fall in accordance with the electrical field changes we can read in the human brain, and don't appear to have anything else influencing them during normal activity. Each of these fields is entirely unique as far as we've been able to determine, possibly linked to genetics in some way. That's a subject for further research.
"Where it gets interesting is when you bring the psionic powers into things," said the scientist. "Two 'conchfields' cannot superimpose on each other because they are tied to separate entities, but some energy can be exchanged, and that is where psionic powers come from.
"The first thing to note is that once enough energy has been exchanged over a long enough period of time the fields will start to synchronise to a certain extent," said the scientist. "And it is through this effect that much of the alien technology works. The mind probe, for example, forcibly synchronises the fields to a point where they are almost identical and then records the information taken from that.
"The pieces of technology that most think of when they think of psionic technology are the various attacks used by the Sectoids and Ethereals," said the scientist. "These attacks work by creating a feedback loop between the attacker and the target and through that loop they send and receive information that allows for the various effects. We're still not exactly sure how that works but we know enough to replicate the effects and have had considerably success with training soldiers to use a psionic amplifier that replicates the abilities granted by the implants we've located in the corpses of psionically gifted aliens during dissections.
"But the most interesting aspect of this research is that further analysis of alien technology has revealed that virtually all of the appliances outside of their weapons use this psionic technology for interaction," said the scientist. "Even the Mutons have an implant, albeit of much lower sophistication than the ones seen in Ethereals or high-ranking Sectoids. And analysis of what remains of the various technological terror units we have recovered shows that they are remotely operated using this technology."
Rachel's hand was immediately in the air at that, and when the scientist nodded in her direction she spoke up. "Now that we know of this," said Rachel, "couldn't we disrupt the transmissions? Simply make their technology useless?"
"We've been looking into that," said the scientist. "But much of their more important systems, such as UFO navigation, require some sort of physical contact and cannot be disrupted from a distance because of that. And we have yet to find a way to break the feedback loop externally."
Rachel nodded at that and pondered what she had heard. It sounded an awful lot like a primitive version of the technology used by the Rakatans to her. And that was saying something considering how utterly backwards some of their technology really was when looked at objectively no matter how long it had lasted. The implants were an obvious disadvantage when you were up against a real Force-user, but, as a substitute for a species that couldn't touch the Force naturally, they were an ingenious invention. Whoever had created that piece of technology must have been absolutely brilliant, no doubt.
It did raise some questions though. Was it actually the Force these implants allowed access to? Rachel didn't think so after hearing the full lecture, but then the Force had never really been scientifically quantified by the Republic. She didn't really like the idea of facing an empire of pseudo-Sith, so she hoped not. The implants were obviously less flexible than what she could do, thankfully, but they had a serious numbers advantage and the ability to grow more numbers at will when needed.
But the most important question, regardless of whether it was the Force or not, was where had they gotten the idea for this? You don't just up and create an implant to enable this sort of thing without some sort of inspiration. The possibility of real Force-users existing somewhere in the galaxy seemed much more likely than it had before. Much more likely indeed.
Rachel had never been quite as thankful for the end of a day as she was when the first day of the conference came to an end. The entire thing really did feel like a gigantic waste of time and money to her. The presentation on psionics had been interesting, but it could have worked just as well as a report, and it would have wasted a lot less time and energy that way. And the less said about the rest of the presentations the better really. Some had been mildly interesting, but she'd learned nothing terribly useful for what she had her teams working on.
"So, did you guys get anything useful out of this?" asked Rachel as she travelled back to the hotel in an X-COM chartered taxi with Sarah and John.
"Well, I got a few hours sleep," said John.
"I'm just tired of people gaping at me as if I was some sort of freak or something," said Sarah. "We're not that far ahead of everyone else."
Rachel had to disagree with that. She'd exposed brilliant people to the theoretical underpinnings of the technology used by a society that was probably at least a hundred thousand years ahead of Earth before X-COM and the aliens had started changing things. The results of that were quite predictable really.
"Some of our work is," said John. "Remember that paper the boss came up with the first day? I bet they still haven't gotten over that."
"There's no point in false modesty," said Rachel. "We kick ass. There's no arguing it. We do have a bit of an unfair advantage but we still kick ass."
"The other groups still do plenty of good work," said Sarah. "It's not like we're some sort of freakish group that're the only ones getting anything done. That group in Germany has done some really good work on UFO construction; we haven't even touched on that."
"But look at what we've produced," said John. "The weapons used in the field are all our group's work, the droids, the power storage and production techniques - fusion power! They probably think we're all modern-day Einsteins and it's not like we can tell them the truth about Rachel."
"They wouldn't believe it anyway," interjected Rachel. "You're going to have to learn to deal with it, Sarah. We're all going to be famous when this is over, at least amongst scientists."
"Rich too," said John. "They're giving us a share of the patents on these things, and that'll be some serious money when all's said and done."
Rachel was jerked out of her sleep rather abruptly that night as her Force senses ran wild with horrifying pain and death being suffered on a massive scale. She immediately blinked the sleep out of her eyes and threw her covers off as she reinforced her mental shields to reduce the pounding of the death screams to a light whimper in the back of her mind. Without the experiences of Revan's life she'd probably have been curled up in the foetal position; as it was, she was far from comfortable to have these sensations battering at her mind. The first time experiencing a large-scale battle was always nasty for a Jedi; the echoes left behind by that much death . . . well, it could be crippling.
After Rachel tightened her shields she took stock of her surroundings. The room's lights were off and the curtains were closed but the room was still periodically lit up with massive pulses of light glowing through the curtains every few seconds. She would have investigated that but she was distracted by the light whimpering of Dawn from the bed across the room from hers.
"Dawn, you need to block it out," she said as she strode over to where the girl was shuddering on her bed. "Focus on my voice. What you're feeling is not yours. It's other people. You have to put it aside."
"Can't," said Dawn from between clenched teeth finally. "Too much."
Rachel shook her head as she lowered herself to a kneeling position next to Dawn's bed. "You don't have a choice," she said. "You need to block this if you ever want it to go away."
"I. Just. Can't. Do. It," bit out Dawn.
"You damn well can," said Rachel sharply. "You've been training for months now and you sure as hell know enough to shield your mind, so do it."
Well, she'd never been particularly good at whole nurturing sympathetic thing. A short, sharp shock worked better in her experience anyway.
"Focus on my voice," said Rachel. "Focus on what is here and in front you, what you can physically feel, not what is being pressed into your mind. Focus on me, focus on the room, focus on the feel of the blankets and clothes rubbing against your skin. Distract yourself from the sensations and then use the distance to build your shields."
"I . . . "
"Do it," said Rachel sternly. "Without those shields, you will not be able to function."
"I . . . damn," said Dawn, screwing her face up in concentration. "It hurts."
"Yes," said Rachel. "It hurts. That's why you need to shield your mind. Come on, Dawn; focus. I know you can do it."
The look of concentration on Dawn's face deepened and Rachel felt the Force pulse erratically but powerfully around her padawan as she unconsciously drew upon it to strengthen her resolve and help build her defences. This process continued for several minutes before the Force abruptly stilled - or as close as still as it ever got - around Dawn.
"It's done," she said, looking more tired than Rachel had ever seen Dawn look. "I can still feel it, but it's dulled. What's happening, master?"
"I don't know," admitted Rachel. "Nothing good, though, that's for sure."
"Well what are we going to do about it then?" asked Dawn.
"That remains to be seen," said Rachel, rising to a standing position and summoning her lightsabre to her hand with a gesture. "Arm yourself. I can't see us staying out of this for too long."
And with that said Rachel strode out of the bedroom of the hotel suite she'd been stationed in to find both Casey and Peter in the living room of the suite along with HK-47. Peter somehow looked immaculate despite being roused from his bed in the middle of the night.
"HK, situation report," said Rachel.
"Statement: the alien meatbags appear to be making an attempt to slaughter human meatbags," said HK. "Judging by the number of explosions I have detected in orbital positions they appear to be experiencing rather limited success in their efforts, but that's what happens when amateurish meatbags try to do a droid's work."
"You don't have any more detailed information than that?"
"Declaration: my access to X-COM communication networks is restricted without your encryption keys, master."
"And he's sure been whining about that enough," said Casey. "Why'd you program a robot to whine anyway?"
"Objection: I do not whine, over-the-hill meatbag."
"Enough," said Rachel. "You can provoke people into fights when we're not in the middle of a war, HK."
"Reluctant acquiescence: yes, master."
"What can you tell me?" asked Rachel. "Give me a quick overview."
"Summary: massive UFO incursions are occurring worldwide as we speak," said HK. "Many are being destroyed or badly damaged through the use of the large-scale artillery guns that have been deployed at major X-COM bases, but successful UFO incursions are being reported worldwide. There are also numerous reports of human on human war activity taking place in the Middle East and Asia."
"Traitors," said Rachel flatly. "Wonderful."
"So what's the plan now?" asked Peter. "We have a hotel full of civilians here; important civilians at that. If the aliens are invading, we will be a target."
"Indeed," said Rachel. "But the local base should be throwing up enough fire to keep the aliens away. In theory anyway. And X-COM soldiers should arrive soon to begin the evacuation if the plans are being followed."
"So we just sit and wait then?" asked Casey.
"It's about all we can do," said Rachel. "Anything else and we'd just be getting in the way."
It was at that point that Rachel heard something that strained at the edges of even her lycanthropy-enhanced hearing . . . something that she couldn't quite place but had a very bad feeling about. And then she heard the distinctive sound of Wilson's old-fashioned and over-powered handgun firing once before falling silent.
"Okay, scratch that," said Rachel. "HK, use your sensors. Give me an overview of movement in the hotel."
"Summary: large numbers of meatbags have entered the lobby area of the hotel," said HK. "Initial scans indicate a strong possibility of their being armed. I recommend initiating defensive manoeuvres."
"What about the scientists?" asked Peter.
"Statement: Unknown," said HK. "However, the number of meatbags in the corridor and social areas would indicate that they have left their rooms."
"Disengage safeties," said Rachel. "All armed units in the building not recognised by facial scan are to be terminated."
"Peter, you're to stay with Dawn here and make sure she doesn't get herself killed," said Rachel. "Casey, it's time to put all that training of yours to use. Anyone shooting at one of ours dies."
"You're not ready for combat, Dawn," said Rachel. "No arguments."
"She's right," said Peter. "I'm too old for this sort of nonsense and fifteen's no age to start killing; you'll be best off staying here with me."
Rachel managed about three steps towards the door before a mental hammer-blow almost took her off her feet; as it was, she stumbled and had to catch herself on the back of a chair. Dawn just folded and would have collapsed to the ground if Peter hadn't caught her.
"What the hell just happened?" asked Casey.
"Someone . . . someone just used nuclear weapons," said Rachel. "I felt . . . hundreds of thousands of people . . . they just died. Just like that and they were gone."
"You . . . you're sure of this?" asked Peter. "Someone used nuclear weapons?"
Rachel forcibly shunted it aside and stood up straight, radiating power despite her rather undignified attire of shorts and a tank-top. "Oh yes," she said. "Multiple nuclear missiles in multiple locations. They knew what they were doing with this."
The use of actual nuclear weapons managed to perturb even the canny old SAS veteran. It wasn't much but she felt the change in his aura and saw the slight widening of his eyes.
"Hundreds of thousands?" asked Casey. "The US launched?"
"I don't know," said Rachel. "HK?"
"Statement: they have," said HK. "Missile strikes have been launched against Tehran, Damascus, and Baghdad by both the United States of America and Israel in response to chemical weapons being used against Israeli cities. Also, data feed indicates that Israel have used cannon-fired weapons as well as gravity bombs against forces in the field."
The room went silent at that. "I think that I shall pray," said Peter finally. "It seems appropriate."
"Well I'll just be hoping that there's someone listening," said Rachel, as the sound of screaming and bodies hitting the ground reached her ears. "Come on, Casey, HK, let's move. We have work to do."
Rachel then threw the door open with a flex of her power and ignited her lightsabre as she stepped over the threshold. A squad of soldiers that had been moving down the corridor stopped dead in their tracks and went to aim their weapons at Rachel but she simply reached out scattered them with a burst of telekinetic energy before they were cut down in a hail of blaster fire from HK's heavy repeater.
"Go," ordered Rachel. "Dispose of this trash. I have work to do here."
HK immediately faded out of view as he engaged his stealth field and moved to go slaughter some enemies. Casey looked somewhat more reluctant to leave Rachel, but after a moment's indecision his expression went blank and he left. Rachel then crossed the hallway and kneeled next to a young soldier whose life-force was still present, though fading. He was disturbingly young looking to Rachel's eyes. She might not look like she'd passed her teenage years herself, but that was a result of magic; this boy was just young, young and boiling over with dark emotions.
"I will tell you nothing," snarled the soldier in French in-between gasping breaths as he tried to breath around the massive wound that had been burned into his abdomen.
"Your speech is not required," said Rachel coldly before smashing through his mental defences and sifting through his memories as he screamed bloody murder, stopping only when she had found what she was looking for and not a moment sooner.
"So this is a government-sanctioned operation," said Rachel as the soldier stared blankly at her. "And you all went along with massacring civilians like good little automaton soldiers. Charming."
Rachel rose to her feet and turned away. She had no time to waste. Over a hundred soldiers from the French Special Forces had been sent in here and if they were stymied then it would not go unnoticed. Then again, human soldiers armed with silenced sub-machine guns stood absolutely no chance whatsoever against HK-47 - their deaths were inevitable. It was just a matter of how much damage they managed to inflict before they were slaughtered.
Before she could move far, a group of soldiers came barrelling around a near-by corner in the corridor and immediately opened fire. Rachel wasn't entirely sure what would happen if she tried to deflect Earth-style bullets with a lightsabre, so she simply dodged them. While it was rather close to physically impossible to dodge a bullet, it became a lot more feasible when you could see who was going to fire and where their fire would go before it actually happened. The look of consternation on the soldiers' faces as Rachel twisted her body at ridiculous angles and moved at impossible speeds really was something to see.
Of course, dodging bullets isn't really a situation you want to find yourself in, because even the slightest slip will lead to your taking a hit and once you've took one hit you'll take more and that'll be all she wrote for you. With that in mind, Rachel quickly went onto the offensive, dropping down underneath a volley of bullets and then throwing her lightsabre along an arcing path that cut through all four of the soldiers who had been firing on her.
Rachel then summoned the sabre back to her hand and jogged away, paying no heed to the corpses that now littered the hallway, the sound of blaster fire now apparent as HK began his work.
Rachel encountered several more groups of soldiers as she made her way to the lobby area of the hotel to secure the main entrance to the place. None of them lasted any longer than the first batch she had cut down. It was quite pitiful really to see them relentlessly try to gun her down when they had to know that their chances of success were absolutely non-existent. Good little automatons one and all really; none of them seemed to be paying much heed to just what they were doing for some reason, they just did it.
And that was about the most damning indictment of the soldiers in the building; they were just following the orders in much the same way as the SS just followed orders in the death camps, killing all these civilians without hesitation because their superiors had issued the order. They disgusted Rachel. At least when she had done evil she had been doing it by her own choice and not because someone else had told her to. It was scum like this that enabled people like Hitler and Stalin.
As she entered the corridor that led to the lobby area she ran into a blood-spattered HK who had several noticeable dings in his body armour. If it was possible for a droid to strut, she'd have sworn that HK was.
"Status report," ordered Rachel.
"Report: I have suffered only cosmetic damage," reported HK. "Fifty-seven meatbags have died at my hands. It has been a most satisfying day, almost making up for the indignities visited upon me in transport."
"What about the civilians?" asked Rachel.
"Report: I have observed numerous civilian corpses," stated HK. "I did not evaluate the areas I cleansed thoroughly enough to offer an accurate count."
Rachel swallowed her anger. "Anyone I would know?"
"Statement: I have not seen either the old meatbag or the blonde meatbag."
"Well, I'm sure they'll turn up," said Rachel. "Ready for some more killing?"
Because that wasn't a redundant question ask HK, of course. Rachel almost rolled her eyes at her own stupidity as she led the way down the corridor to the lobby. Sensing approximately thirty presences in the lobby, all full of aggression, she stopped her advance several metres away from the door that would take her into the lobby. And then, after taking a moment to centre herself, she leapt forward with all her Force-enhanced strength and smashed through the lightweight doors into the room beyond.
The room immediately erupted into a storm of gunfire, all aimed at Rachel, but she was quite prepared for that. The two soldiers nearest to her suddenly found themselves floating through the air around Rachel acting as shields from the enemy attacks for her, and they screamed bloody murder about it for the few seconds that they were capable of doing so before there wasn't enough left of their internals for them to scream.
With those two acting as shields for the enemy bullets, Rachel split her focus and threw a stasis field over a group of half-a-dozen soldiers that were using the reception desk as cover while shooting her. She then hurled her lightsabre out on an arcing path that carried it through all of those now frozen soldiers while leaping out of the line of fire as her body shields were overwhelmed and then summoning the lightsabre back to her grip as she landed.
A wave of bullets was heading for her as soon as she landed, but Rachel simply unleashed a corkscrewing wave of telekinetic energy that scattered the bullets around the room and safely away from her. And at that point HK caught up with her and immediately opened fire with his triple-barrelled repeating cannon, unleashing a wave of crimson death that quickly wiped out the remaining soldiers.
"Good work, HK," said Rachel.
"Pleased statement: thank you, master."
Rachel reached out with her senses before she spoke again, trying to get an idea of the situation in the hotel. "Well, that's it, HK," she said finally. "There are only a couple of them left now and Casey will have them soon enough."
"Resignation: it as you say, master. The enemy meatbags appear to have been exterminated."
Rachel sent a telepathic message to Casey and Peter to bring them up to date on the situation and to summon them to the lobby before eyeing the devastation around her. It was quite an impressive little killing field. There were dozens of bodies scattered around the room and much of the furniture had been reduced to matchwood by the fighting. Rachel grimaced, though, as she noticed the civilian bodies spread out across the room as well as the military. She obviously hadn't gotten here quickly enough. The soldiers had been rather efficient about it too; there were no survivors here.
"Hey," said Casey as he walked into the lobby carrying a liberated sub-machine gun. "Neat trick you have there with talking in my head. Don't do it again."
"I know it's a bit uncomfortable," said Rachel. "But needs must."
"Whatever," said Casey. "Just don't do it again, please."
"Not unless there's a real need," said Rachel. "I can't offer more than that."
"Right," said Casey and then he frowned for a moment before continuing. "I saw something in the hotel bar; it was John. He's dead."
Rachel closed her eyes and felt an all-too familiar rage well up inside at her at hearing that news.
"Looked like he'd took a few bullets in the chest," said Casey. "It would have been quick."
The rage grew into a towering inferno at that. Gunned down by a bunch of government-sanctioned assassins for no good reason; he'd deserved much, much better than an end like that. Rachel took a deep breath and wrestled the rage down, stuffing it away till later. She could not afford have her judgement clouded now. But still, this could not go unanswered.
"There will be a reckoning for this," said Rachel. "HK, activate assassination protocols. Verbal authorisation R546GH7TYGH89J."
Sometimes a Force-enhanced memory does come in very useful indeed.
Rachel then reeled off a list of names as Casey watched on in disbelief. "That is the chain down which the command for this atrocity was passed. Wipe them out," she said. "All of them."
"Is this really a good idea?" asked Casey as HK faded from view. "I mean, you just went to war with France."
"They went to war with me first," said Rachel. "I am simply returning their actions in kind."
"I think that General Miller might object to you acting so individualistically," said Peter from his position at the lobby doors, carrying the still unconscious Dawn in his arms. "It's not generally regarded as a good idea for people to order a head of state assassinated off their own bat like that."
"France has gone over to the aliens," said Rachel. "And we don't have time to debate this. Gather the surviving scientists somewhere relatively unmolested. We must evacuate before reinforcements arrive."
"The gym looked pretty much clear," said Casey.
"Gather them there then," said Rachel. "Go! We have little time to spare. Leave Dawn with me, Peter; you can't be slowed."
It was only after they'd left that Rachel allowed her grief to show. You can't display weakness in public, that was something that she would never be able to forget. She allowed herself a moment and then she shunted it aside to join her rage in the things that would be dealt with later as she summoned her cell phone out of the inter-dimensional pocket she kept some of her belongings in that she couldn't afford to lose but didn't need urgent access to.
"Giles!" barked Miller after she dialled his number. "You didn't tell me that your damn robot was an assassin!"
"You never asked," said Rachel. "And how the hell did you find that out?"
"Damn," said Miller, "you must be really off your game if you didn't notice the TV camera that's been transmitting everything happening in that lobby."
"Oh bollocks," said Rachel flatly looking around the room for the camera, eventually finding it fallen sideways on a high table surrounded by bodies and was pointing at the door, leaving her out of sight at the moment.. "Everything?"
"Well, the picture's pretty much useless," said Miller. "But the sound works. Odd thing is, most satellites have been blown out of the sky or EMPed. You must just be lucky."
"Yeah, lucky," said Rachel as she reached out with the Force and flicked the camera's power off. "So what's the situation? I have a load of scientists here that need evacuation."
"We know," said Miller. "And I'm sorry to hear about John. Problem is, the local X-COM base isn't responding to our signals. Until we have a clear route in from abroad, there's no help coming. And what's Wilson's status?"
"Dead," said Rachel feeling the truth of it as she spoke. "He was the first target. I think he took one of the bastards with him though."
"I'd expect no less of him," said Miller after a long pause. "Okay, I'm commissioning you. We need someone on the ground and you're it just like that mission to Sunnydale. Welcome to the army, Brigadier-General Giles. We need you to go check out the local base; if they've gone traitor, destroy them. We simply can't afford for that equipment to fall into alien hands."
"Yes, sir," said Rachel. "And what about evacuation for the civilians?"
"Not for a while," said Miller. "You'll have to protect them with what resources you have for now. The air space is too thick with UFO activity at the moment. I have to go now, Giles. Do what you can, but whatever you do don't get killed, okay?"
"I'll try to avoid that."
And with that the conversation was over. Now she just had to talk a bunch of likely hysterical scientists into calming down and send them and Dawn away with Casey and Peter while she went off to fight. That'd go down well. She didn't even want to think about what the world had seen of her on TV; that was just too much to deal with right now.
"Who goes there?" barked the soldier on gate duty in French as Rachel approached.
"Brigadier-General Rachel Giles, X-COM," replied Rachel steadily in the same language, her hand on the hilt of her lightsabre at her waist. She'd raided a local clothing shop for supplies before starting her work, and was now clad in a rather non-descript pair of blue jeans that her lightsabre was clipped to.
The soldier looked at her for a moment before replying. "Wait there one moment," he said, before heading into the gatehouse. He reappeared a moment later and said, "someone will be out soon to escort you to the commander's office."
Rachel nodded and waited. Soon enough a slightly frazzled looking young man in X-COM issue BDUs approached her and she followed him back into the base. It did not take long for Rachel to realise that something was amiss. Even without supernatural senses, she knew she was being lead around the long way - every X-COM base was built according to pre-defined schematics, they were literally drop in and go - and this was not the normal route to the commander's office. But her senses . . . the echoes of death were everywhere, and those echoes hummed with shocked betrayal.
It was obviously a trap, and she was walking right on into it. Well, she wasn't terribly worried about it. The Force responded strongly to even the slightest call she made and these fools had no idea what they were up against. It was time for a show of force, time to teach these traitors a lesson they would never forget.
And so she found herself in an office with the regional commander of X-COM, forces, a French Army General, and half-a-dozen soldiers distributed around the edges of the room.
"I'm sure you understand that I must have security present with what's happening," said the general as Rachel sat down.
"Oh of course," said Rachel, in a falsely sweet voice.
"Where are the others?" asked the general. "I assume there were other survivors?"
"Oh, they're safe," said Rachel. "No need to worry about them."
"I must insist that you inform me of their location," said the general. "Command has ordered me to see to their safety."
"That's odd," said Rachel. "Command told me that you weren't responding to orders and that I was to investigate."
The general stiffened just a little in his seat before relaxing again. "Ah," he said. "Well, there was a fault in our communications system. It's fixed now."
"Ah, now that's a lie," said Rachel, her voice losing its falseness and growing very cold indeed. "I tire of this, traitor. Surrender or die; your decision."
A second later, Rachel was sat with half-a-dozen blaster carbines aimed at her head and the general looking at her as if she was completely insane.
"You cannot possibly believe that will leave here alive," said the general with an incredulous look on his face. "Even you cannot defeat six of my best men from a seated position."
"I really must be slipping if you think you can kill me with a mere six soldiers," said Rachel. "Either that or you're a blithering idiot. Personally, I'm learning towards the second choice."
When absolutely nothing happened the general twisted his head around and what he saw made all the blood drain from his face. All six of his men were backed against the wall with their carbines floating in the air in front of them aimed at their heads.
"Do you understand now?" asked Rachel. "You are not the one in control here; I am."
"Arrogant bitch," snarled the general. "I have an entire base full of soldiers here under my command and you dare dictate to me?"
"That base full of soldiers will be a base full of corpses soon enough unless you surrender, general," said Rachel. "You cannot win."
The general's response was to go for the sidearm he had holstered at his waist. Before he could actually aim it, Rachel had him slammed up against the wall with one hand wrapped around his throat and the other holding his gun arm harmlessly pointed to the side. His soldiers? They were cooling on the ground with their brains decorating the walls - they really shouldn't have tried to attack while Rachel was dealing with their commander.
"That was a bad idea," said Rachel to the now trembling general as she stared into his eyes. "A very bad idea indeed."
"You won't make it out of here alive," choked out the general around Rachel's grip.
"I beg to differ," said Rachel. "Now, you have sufficient rank to know what's going on."
"I'll tell you nothing, bitch."
"And like the last one, your speech is not required," said Rachel.
What came next was much like the last soldier she interrogated but with a little more strength to the resistance. He screamed and thrashed and made a whole lot of fuss, but he was by no stretch of the imagination strong enough to resist her powers. What was different was that he was still somewhat with it when she'd finished extracting information and dropped him to the ground.
"Monster," he gasped.
"You call me a monster?" sneered Rachel. "You're the one collaborating with the aliens. I wonder, does it run in the family? Did your ancestors follow along with Petain and collaborate with the Nazis?"
The general's aura exploded with rage at that and he went for his gun once more. This time Rachel allowed him to fire and simply backhanded the blaster bolt back into the man's face. The last expression he would ever wear would be one of abject shock.
"Idiot," she muttered as she turned away from the general and drew her sabre ready for the slaughter to come.
It didn't take particularly long for Rachel to work her through the base's compliment of soldiers. They were quite simply out of their league against her; if Revan cut through the Star-Forge's soldiers, droids, and Dark Jedi, then what chance did Earth soldiers stand against her when they were already wearied from dealing with the other soldiers who had refused to go traitor. Really the only challenge had been keeping the will to kill strong, and that hadn't been particularly difficult after the stunt they'd pulled.
And so Rachel found herself taking cover behind some bushes several miles away from the base, watching and waiting for reinforcements to arrive through Force-enhanced eyes. It took several hours but eventually a convoy of jeeps and trucks came barrelling up the road to the base. Troops began disembarking from the vehicles as soon as the first truck entered the base grounds and the troops scattered around the ground-level base to secure the grounds.
That process did not take long - securing a base full of nothing but corpses does not take long - and then the rest of the soldiers disembarked and made their way to the access lift. Rachel waited long enough for the base lift to do its work, and then she triggered the jury-rigged bombs she'd left scattered around the base as well as the much larger device she'd constructed from thermal detonators that had been left in a crate in the base's garage.
The explosion made for a very nice mushroom cloud.
After the local X-COM base was reduced to a very large crater, Rachel headed back to Paris proper. She might have dealt with one branch of traitors, but now it was time to deal with the root cause of all of this carnage, the creature that had been manipulating the whole thing behind the scenes: an Ethereal Commander that had taken up residence in Paris during a UFO incursion and had wrought incredible damage since.
By the time Rachel was entering the city, the sun had risen, and the streets were packed with disbelieving Frenchmen. Some seemed quite arrogant about the whole thing, believing that they were going to teach the Americans a lesson, but most were just gob-smacked by what had happened and had sank into a sort of numb disbelief that their government would do such a thing. And then there was the uniform 'what the fuck?' reaction seeing Rachel putting on a damn good demonstration of Jedi powers in front of a TV camera. It all came together to lend a very surreal air to things.
Finding the Ethereal didn't take particularly long. A void of darkness in the middle of a crowd of normal, psychically-incapable humans stood out rather blatantly, after all, and Rachel had some quite well-refined abilities in the field. If it had been trying to conceal itself, then finding it might have been more difficult, but it wasn't. In the end, Rachel followed the creature's presence to a small office building not far from the Luxembourg Palace.
Rachel dropped the illusion that obscured her features and made her appear to be nobody special as soon as she entered the building. Absolute chaos followed as virtually everyone present stampeded for the door. Rachel let them be. Chances were most of them were guilty of nothing more than working in the wrong place and those that weren't, well, they were hardly important. When the stampede was over, Rachel was alone in the lobby barring two tall, athletically built men in black suits that reeked of alien despite their rather mundane appearance.
"So who are you then?" asked Rachel, her hand moving to the hilt of her lightsabre. "More traitors?"
"We are agents of the masters," said one of the men. "You will cease your attack at once."
"And if I don't?" asked Rachel.
"Then you will be exterminated," said the other man.
"I don't have time for this," said Rachel. And then with a wave of her hand she smashed the two men away from the door they guarded and bounced them off the walls with incredible force. Their life-force flickered out of existence moments later.
With the 'agents' out of the way, Rachel threw the doors open with the power of her mind and strode on through. The room she entered was dark; the room's windows had been blacked out and the artificial light-sources were not active. It was, all in all, the stereotypical supervillain's lair with the apparent size of the room.
"We have been expecting you," said the creature in a voice that echoed of something strange and completely alien to Rachel as it stepped out of the shadows. Clad in deep-hooded, voluminous red robes, it was quite an intimidating sight by any normal, objective standard with its height.
"Have you now?" asked Rachel. "Well, then. You know what I'm going to do to you, I assume?"
"You will try to kill me," said the Ethereal. "It is not important."
"You must not like living then," said Rachel. "Because there's no try about it; you won't leave this room alive."
"You would risk your life to defend these creatures," said the alien sounding most surprised. "We do not understand. They are nothing."
"Those creatures are my kin," said Rachel. "They are not nothing."
"They are weak," said the Ethereal. "They have no power and they are easily manipulated or controlled, you have slaughtered them when they turned on you, and yet you defend them. It makes no sense."
"I am a Jedi," said Rachel. "It is my duty; it is what I am."
"You have darkness in you," said the Ethereal. "I can feel it; we can all feel it. You waste your potential. With us, you could rule over everything for all time."
"I would die first," said Rachel. "You have nothing that could tempt me, Ethereal."
"Then you will die," said the Ethereal, and Rachel could feel the darkness gathering as it drew itself up for battle.
"You over-estimate your chances," said Rachel, sinking into the Force and allowing it to permeate her being as she prepared for battle.
The alien's attack came in the form of thousands of dark needles striking against Rachel's mental shields and digging away, trying to break into her mind. Rachel frowned. The attack was not beyond her ability to handle but it was far greater than this creature's presence in the Force should have allowed for. Such a widely dispersed attack wouldn't be defeated by brute force or by simple dodging either; she would have to employ one of her master's techniques.
And with that thought in mind, Rachel began to make herself small in the Force, drawing her presence in and wrapping the energy tightly around herself rather than letting it extend outwards. Soon her presence was absolutely microscopic and the attacks launched by the Ethereal simply passed on by, failing to locate her presence entirely.
That gave the Ethereal pause for just a moment and Rachel took advantage of that; she took a grip upon a wooden chair with her mind and telekinetically hurled it through the air at the alien. The Ethereal managed to block the chair with its own telekinetic powers before it hurt but Rachel had a table hurtling the air before it could shift its focus to another item and the impact smashed the Ethereal down to the ground as the table splintered to pieces.
The alien gathered itself quickly though and this time went on the offensive with a direct application of telekinetic power against Rachel, who met the blast with one of her own that smashed the alien's power to pieces and blasted the alien back down into the ground.
"Pitiful," said Rachel, as she ignited her lightsabre.
"I am but one," managed the Ethereal around its wounds before Rachel's lightsabre cleaved it in two.
With the military base destroyed, the Ethereal dead, and HK working his way through everyone even vaguely associated with what had happened, Rachel couldn't think of much else she could do from her position and slipped away with another illusion concealing her identity. There were other targets she could attack, but she lacked the ability to reach them from this location at this point without going carjacking or something similar and that would leave her in a poor position when it came to remaining undetected.
And so, with that in mind, she simply bought a newspaper with some money that she had acquired along the way and settled down at a table outside one of the local coffee shops with a far too small cup of far too expensive coffee to see what the media was making of it all amidst the hushed conversations of the French. "France at War!" screamed the headline in massive bold print for all the world to see. And with that there was a massive picture of the mushroom cloud she'd created with her explosives at the military base. A late printing, obviously.
The newspaper was filled entirely with articles and editorials about what had happened without a sign of the normal newspaper contents to be seen. Not a surprise really. War was big news after all. The paper was predictably slanted in its viewpoint, obviously running under wartime restrictions, and there were few surprises to be had. "Response to American aggression," seemed to be the overall tone along with "using diplomacy rather than force to deal with the alien visitors". Rachel kinda wished that she had an Internet connection on hand so she could get a wider view of what was going on because the aliens being public knowledge . . . it was big.
It was quite a thing to see how the government had spun the alien attack from the same night as their own treachery. Apparently, it was all the fault of the Americans, who were attempting to exterminate the essentially peaceful aliens who had travelled so far to visit humanity. Utter bollocks through and through, but she had to wonder if people would actually buy it. Americans did have a bit of a cowboy image abroad and France's traditional enmity with the British meant that it would be rather easy for the government to gets its population believing the worst of two of the larger powers behind the X-COM project, at least the ones who didn't look too closely and think too deeply about the whole thing.
One thing that surprised Rachel was the way they tried to minimise her role. Apparently she was some sort of British Special Forces soldier running around blowing things up for kicks or something. There was no mention of supernatural powers and the TV broadcast was being entirely ignored, though in all fairness she had no idea what the quality on that had been like. Finger crossed and maybe her secret hadn't been blown to the entire world. One thing was for sure, though, this newspaper did not like her: "a monster who slew hundreds of Frenchmen without second-thought or compassion" they called her. Well . . . okay, she had pretty much done that.
"I heard that the British are coming through the tunnel," said one of the old men at the next table.
"They wouldn't dare," said the other. "They don't have what it takes to invade France."
"Even with the Germans helping?" asked the first man with a shake of his head. "We're doomed. Face it. No-one's going to come and help us. Aliens? Ha! Who do they think they're kidding?"
"The government wouldn't have gotten us involved if there wasn't something," said the second man. "They're not that stupid."
"They're the government," said the first man. "Just look at what the idiots we've allied ourselves with have done in London and Washington. Look at Taiwan and Korea! This cannot end well; even if it does, do you want to live under the rule of the sort of people who do things like that?"
Rachel frowned at that. What had happened in London and Washington? Taiwan and Korea? Damned if the paper had mentioned anything of substance about that. Looked like she'd bought the wrong paper.
"Point," said the second. "That sort of thing is never a good sign."
"This is the end for the Fifth Republic, my friend," said the first man. "It's been a good run but they've thrown it all away."
"They say you get the government you deserve," said the second man. "I don't see how we could possibly deserve this."
"That's a stupid saying," said the first man. "How were we supposed to know this new President would be a lunatic?"
"Don't ask me," said the second man. "I hear that the students are starting up a protest near the elysee Palace."
"I thought they'd cordoned that area off to keep the devil-woman out?"
"They're not of a mind to listen to the police," said the second man. "But when are they ever? Students, they live to make trouble."
Rachel paid up quickly after hearing that and then headed off in that direction. She had a feeling about that protest; something was going to happen there and she wanted to be there to see what.
The protest was nothing particularly interesting as it turned out, just a whole load of people in their late teens and early twenties chanting slogans and toting placards around with similar messages. Typical student fare really; it hadn't even turned violent. The slogans were fairly uninspired as well, "down with the government," and "say no to fascism" being prominent despite the utter lack of fascism apparent to Rachel in what had happened. Evil, oh yes, but fascism? Not so much.
Well, it wasn't like she had anything better to do, so she perched on the roof of a nearby building and observed. Over the course of the next hour, the numbers involved in the protest grew - and a lot more non-students - began to join and they, as a group, grew more aggressive. And as the protest wore on more Gendarmerie showed up and grew increasingly more aggressive in their attempts to contain the protest - Rachel saw several of the more loud-mouthed students get cracked over the head with a truncheon in the finest riot police tradition which of course drew the ire of the other protestors.
Eventually, inevitably, it all kicked off and the protest turned into a full-scale riot, and the Gendarmerie found themselves on the wrong end of over ten thousand pissed-off protestors. It wasn't a particularly even fight given the difference between a random selection of civilians and a trained military force, but, with the sheer number of people involved and the lack of lethal force in use, it wouldn't be one that would end quickly either.
That conclusion was one that Rachel came to quickly but one that was also dispersed quickly. Minutes later, the Earth itself shook, and Rachel soon spotted half-a-dozen massive, two-legged machine monsters approaching the site of the riot from the direction of the palace. Sectopods, it had to be. Rachel'd never actually seen one herself but these machines fitted the descriptions she'd read. This just couldn't be good.
Everything stopped as people sighted the approaching war-machines, protestor and Gendarmerie alike. And for a moment there was peace. Then the machines opened fire, scything their dual laser cannons through the crowd. The laser beams cut through the people they touched like a hot knife through butter and the protestors immediately began to scream and scatter as the machines cut through them; the Gendarmerie . . . well, they tried to return fire, but normal weapons weren't even going to put a dent in a Sectopod unless they had something like an RPG launcher.
Rachel was more than a little tempted to leave them to their fate all things considered, but her conscience quickly won out. The Gendarmerie were little more than a well-armed police force and could hardly be held responsible for their government's idiocy. Before the robots could fire another murderous volley, Rachel jumped in front of the Gendarmerie that had stood their ground, and then used her magic to erect a shield around the whole lot of them.
The air around them immediately exploded into a kaleidoscope of colour as the Sectopods' laser beams struck against the shield and a sheen of sweat soon appeared on Rachel's brow as she struggled to maintain the protection. Magic was not her speciality and she hadn't developed these powers to anything near the level of her Force talents, and so she struggled to keep the shield up. Times like this, she really wished Willow was there. She could feel her magic reserves draining rapidly as the beams impacted against the shield and it took all her will to keep the shield working as the Sectopods worked against her. As it was, the area covered by the shield was being slowly shrunk as her magic began to run out.
Rachel could feel the growing fear being felt by the Gendarmerie as the shield drew in. Luckily, they were smart enough to pull back away as the shield lost size, or that fear would have been more than justified. Soon, it was all she could do to maintain the shield around the group that were huddling in close around her, and she could feel the energy of the spell begin to physically drain her as the magic ran close to dry and started to feed off her body for energy.
And then the attack stopped. The Sectopods' heat sinks reached their limits quicker than her. She allowed what was left of the shield to drop immediately; she couldn't afford to waste a single joule of energy here. And then she gathered all of her Force powers before attacking. She caught each of the robots in a telekinetic grip and then she squeezed with all of her might. The Sectopods just crumpled under the power of her attack and as she pressed in on vital systems they began to explode one by one.
Soon, it was over, and Rachel was surrounded by nothing more than wreckage, corpses, and Gendarmerie. And those Gendarmerie soon realised that she was not just some random passer-by with supernatural powers. She both saw and felt the realisation that she was the one from the news run through them and soon they all had their weapons aimed at her.
"Must we do this?" she asked. "I just saved your lives and you must realise that you can't win."
"We have our orders," said one, who Rachel assumed must be their commanding officer.
Rachel opened her mouth to try and talk them out of it, but before she could say anything she was almost thrown off her feet as the ground shook under the impact of an absolutely massive explosion coming from the elysee Palace. By the time the Gendarmerie thought to turn back to her, she was gone. HK's flair for the destructive did come in so very handy at times.
After that, there really wasn't anything for Rachel to do but wait for things to play out. Within days it was over. With Spanish, Italian, German, and British forces pressing at them for all directions and with their government being gutted by HK - along with many soldiers simply refusing to fight in the name of a government that'd had anything to do with the massacre at the protest - it soon ended and France was occupied. There was surprisingly little resistance from the country's population, but perhaps that was to be expected given the uniform unpopularity of the war. Rachel still didn't think she'd be very welcome in the country again anytime soon though. And that went double - at least - for HK after his antics.