It was a couple of days after the scrap with the wizards - a couple of very quiet days indeed for Rachel - when X-COM flew in the group from Sunnydale: Willow, Buffy, Tara, Giles, and Mrs. Summers. Faith would have been there but apparently they hadn't been able to find her in time. No surprise there. Approximately five seconds after the skyranger's back had dropped to allow the people it was transporting to leave, Rachel was almost knocked off her feet by a red-headed blur that slammed into her at something not far short of the speed a car'd manage on a highway and then latched onto her midsection with a vice-like grip.
"Hey, Willow," said Rachel, bending back slightly before she caught her balance. "You'd think you were worried or something."
And that got her a whack on the upper-arm that was actually quite painful. "You need to be more careful," said Willow, her voice slightly muffled.
"I'm careful," protested Rachel. "Not much I can do about it when the entire world goes insane around me."
"Just do it."
"Come on, Willow," said Rachel. "We've took on worse than a few assassins and you never got like this."
"I don't see how."
"You wouldn't," said Willow as she released her grip on Rachel. Rachel barely had time to draw a breath before a blonde-headed blur took Willow's place.
"Ack!" said Rachel. "Slayer strength! Slayer strength! Watch the ribs!"
"Sorry 'bout that," said Buffy, before whacking Rachel on the same spot as Willow had and letting go. "And you really need to stop worrying us all like that."
"I took less hits from the French," grumbled Rachel, rubbing at her now quite sore arm before Giles swooped in with a brief hug of his own.
"I'm not even going to try," he said with a slight, somewhat strained smile. "I know what you're like. Just try and stay in one piece, hmm?"
"Wasn't planning on doing anything else," said Rachel. "I'm kinda attached to my body, you know."
"I imagine you are," he said. "Just keep it in mind."
And then Mrs. Summers was in front of Rachel. "You will be more careful," she said, jabbing her finger at Rachel. "Getting into this sort of mess on your own is bad enough, but when you have Dawn with you?"
"I know," said Rachel. "I know. But sometimes these things just happen and there's nothing you can do about it."
"Well you'll just have to make them not happen then," said Mrs. Summers with a glare.
"Right," said Rachel quickly. "Will do. I'm sure I can find a way to make countries not declare war on each other."
"Good," said Mrs. Summers. "Now where's Dawn? And how is she?"
"She's in the hospital wing," said Rachel. "And she's fine. Really, she is. Now you're here, I'll wake her up. I figured you'd do a better job of dealing with her than me; she's going to be pretty upset."
"Take me to her," commanded Mrs. Summers.
"Well, no time like the present, I suppose," said Rachel. "It's just this way."
Before she turned to lead the group to Dawn, Rachel saw Tara give her a small wave from the back of the group. It was nice to know that one of them was taking things calmly.
Dawn had latched onto Mrs. Summers as soon as Rachel had brought her around and showed no signs of letting go as Giles ushered everyone that didn't have the surname Summers out of the room and into an adjoining waiting area.
"Dawn's going to okay, isn't she?" asked Tara.
"She's strong," said Rachel. "She'll be fine. Just needs time to adapt. When she's calmed down, I'll run her through a crash course in mental shielding and this shouldn't happen again."
"You're sure?" asked Giles. "If it was that easy, why didn't you teach her how to do it before now?"
"It wasn't a priority," said Rachel. "I wasn't expecting anyone to start lighting up cities with nuclear weapons. I don't think anyone was."
"That is true," agreed Giles. "I just hope she can learn these mental shields quickly because I don't expect this war to become any less bloody."
"No," said Rachel. "But the nuclear weapons have been nullified. That means you won't get the sudden hundred thousand deaths that really knock people like Dawn for a loop again."
"What about the wizards?" asked Willow. "I haven't heard anything about them."
"They've been dealt with," said Rachel. "Their leaders are dead or arrested and their military, such as it was, has been smashed. The wizards have lost their independence once and for all; they're subjects of the crown like ever other British person now."
"You're sure of this?" asked Giles, a smile beginning to appear on his face. "They're defeated?"
"Utterly," said Rachel. "They were entirely unprepared for the normal people to be able to strike back at them, and apparently their internal conflicts had weakened them considerably."
"There wasn't many hurt, was there?" asked Tara, looking quite concerned.
"A few," said Rachel. "Really, it was only the aurors and hit-wizards who put up a fight. The rest were too surprised to do anything and just got stunned. A few aspirin and they were fine."
"What about the aurors?" asked Giles. "What happened to them?"
"Dead, mostly," said Rachel. "Blasters aren't nice weapons. They get a solid hit on you and you won't be getting back up again."
"So they finally got what they deserved," said Giles with a vicious grin. "I don't suppose they'll ever be able to play with peoples' lives ever again now."
"Not likely," said Rachel. "The government has its own resources to deal with them now if they get uppity."
"I am very glad to hear that," said Giles. "But more importantly, how are you? Really?"
"I'm fine," said Rachel with a slight shrug of her shoulders. "Really, I am."
"Forgive me for being sceptical, but you were in the middle of a warzone," said Giles. "That can't be easy."
"It's not," said Rachel. "But it's nothing new to me either. I think you're forgetting just whose memories I got shoved into my head."
"Still . . . "
"No," said Rachel. "There's no 'still' here. What the French threw at me was absolutely nothing compared to the Mandalorian War. If I was a normal twenty-one year old, then yeah it would have been bad. Good thing that I'm not then, isn't it?"
Giles grimaced. "You just seem so young for that sort of thing."
"At this age, I was a Grand Admiral in the Republic Navy as Revan," said Rachel. "And considering that the British Army is sending teenagers off to war as we speak, well, it doesn't seem that I'm too young to me."
"I can't say I like that practice," said Giles. "At least the Slayer has a greater force, a destiny, behind their work."
Rachel shrugged. "Once they're eighteen, they're old enough to make their own choices," she said. "At least I think so."
"Well, I suppose . . . no, this isn't what I wanted to talk about," said Giles. "Are you quite sure that you're alright?"
"Yes," said Rachel emphatically. "Perfectly fine. I'll be happier when my enemies are all pushing up daisies, but I'll get by."
"That's a little . . . harsh," said Tara.
Rachel shrugged. "The people running this war for the enemy make demons look good by comparison," she said. "If they're not killed in the war, they'll be killed afterwards for war-crimes or treason."
"You want me to do what?" asked Rachel, her voice growing progressively louder as she spoke.
"Give a press conference," said Jones. "You see, we're going to have to tell the world about the wizards sooner or later, but the last thing we need is for it to kick off a shitstorm."
"So you want me to act as a distraction," growled Rachel. "I am a Jedi Knight, not a PR tool."
"Oh, you're both now," said Miller from the video screen. "Look, can you imagine how the public will react to this? We don't need lynch mobs looking for wizards."
"Lynch mobs? In England?" asked Rachel. "Since when?"
"It can happen," said Jones. "Just like anywhere else in the world. Lynching's more an American thing, though; more likely they'd beat them to death or stab them if that sort of thing happened here. Maybe shoot them if criminals were involved with the event."
"Charming," said Rachel. "Absolutely charming."
"That's why we want you to act as a distraction," said Miller. "That way we can slip this little bit of unpleasantness in under the radar and skip most of the backlash."
"That's a short-term solution at best," said Rachel. "You need to have something to make wizards looks less like bastards to the general public. Harry's a start but you'll need more than that considering that his own people pretty much exiled him."
"I have an idea," said Jones. "Those wizards could be useful. I'm no expert but those guys that attacked the base could do some pretty interesting things. A squad of wizard commandos with a record of heroism would make their society's lot a bit easier in the years to come."
"Well, that's not our call to make," said Miller. "Sounds like a good idea to me though."
"What about the rest of the world?" asked Rachel. "You know that Britain isn't the only country with a wizarding world right?"
"It's being dealt with," said Miller. "Mostly, they're just giving up. They see which way the wind is blowing. There just isn't enough to them to make fighting for their independence worth it."
"We have reports on all of this you can read if you're interested," said Jones. "What we need to do now is to prepare you for your press conference."
"Truly, I can think of nothing I would enjoy more."
"First thing, you're keeping your rank," said Jones. "You've been formally commissioned as a Brigadier in the British Army, 2nd Green Jackets, The King's Royal Rifle Corps. And your first assignment will be to the DARPA facility in the United States of America to act as the head of research for NATO allied forces.?h
"So basically the same job I was doing before," said Rachel. "Only difference I can see is that I'll have a uniform."
"Pretty much," said Miller. "Having you in the Army makes for good propaganda, but you're far more useful producing all these neat new toys than you are fighting."
"That's nice," said Rachel. "But you people are aware that I'm not really British, right? That's a piece of legal fiction. I'm not sure if my documentation will even stand up to much scrutiny."
Jones waved that off. "Dealt with," he said. "The Queen herself has taken a great interest in you. The truth of your origins is being classified as highly as it gets."
"And no-one's bothered by this?" asked Rachel. "It sounds like I'm about to be held up as some sort of great British hero, but I'm not British! I'm American!"
"Needs must," said Jones with a shrug. "And you do sound the part."
Rachel pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration. "Fine," she said. "I suppose a Coruscant accent sounds much like an English one. What else do I need to know?"
Rachel had known that something wasn't quite right when she saw the Jedi robes that had been laid out in her room for the press conference. They were just far too flashy for a simple press conference. The materials they were made from . . . they had to be worth an absolute fortune. She was no expect in how much various sorts of silk and velvet cost, but she could tell just by looking at these robes that it was a lot, and she'd never wear the robes for normal use; they just wouldn't take her lifestyle.
Well, there wasn't a great deal she could do about it. Chances were it was just some silly PR stunt and it would accomplish little to nothing to resist it, and doing so would just make her look foolish. For now, she would go along with it. As much as it displeased her to be used in such a way, she could understand the necessity of it. There would be words exchanged about informing her beforehand though. She was not a tool to be used at will by politicians and they would have that drummed into them whether they liked it or not.
The robes were comfortably - far more comfortable than the coarse materials of normal Jedi robes would allow for - but that was hardly unexpected. There had obviously been no expense spared in constructing them and it would hardly be expected for such expensive, luxurious clothing to be uncomfortable. Hell, it looked and felt like it had been tailored exactly to her dimensions, which made her wonder where they'd got those measurements from because she couldn't remember being measured so exactly. Curious. Not exactly important but curious.
Of course, fancy robes and PR stunt or not, she still armed herself. She would not leave her rooms without a lightsabre clipped to her belt and a dagger in an ankle sheath just in case. A gathering for a PR stunt would make an excellent target for assassins and the like after all. It went without saying that she took HK along with her. As insane as the robot was, there was no-one she'd rather have by her side in a battle.
Her suspicions that something was going on were just confirmed when she left the interior of the base and found Giles waiting by a limousine wearing clothing that was far more expensive and formal looking than anything she'd seen him wearing before. A raised eyebrow said it all and Giles's expression was rather sheepish indeed and he opened the car door and ushered her in.
"What's going on?" asked Rachel abruptly as she settled into the back of the limousine with Giles and HK. "I don't appreciate being railroaded."
"Neither do I," said Giles. "They caught me rather by surprise and I wasn't given the opportunity to object. There should be . . . ah, yes, here it is. Read this. It'll tell you everything, I expect."
"Wonderful," said Rachel taking the slim cardboard file from Giles. "HK, keep an eye out. I expect we make a very tempting target for our enemies at the moment."
"Statement: of course, master. I am eager for some unadulterated violence to break the monotony."
"Did you have to make that robot so violent?" asked Giles. "It's somewhat disturbing, and I doubt that I'm the only one who feels that way."
"Had to be true to the original," said Rachel, as she flicked through the file she'd been handed. "Well, this looks to be absolutely ridiculous. I appreciate the need for a morale-boost but this . . . "
"What are they doing, exactly?" inquired Giles. "I don't know much more than you at this stage."
"Victoria Cross," said Rachel. "Not sure how they're wangling that considering I was never really commissioned in the British Army. Oh, and a knighthood. I'm being awarded a GBE. Quite an impressive one that, isn't it?"
"Quite," said Giles. "It's one of the lower orders of merit, but on this short notice it's unlikely they could find anything higher."
"Hmm," said Rachel. "Oh, an Order of Merit for services to science too. They're really not holding back on this, are they? I'm going to have a stupidly long name if they keep this up."
"Rachel, this is an honour," said Giles. "Very, very few people warrant those kind of rewards."
"And I'm not one of them," said Rachel. "If a normal person had done the things I've done? Sure. But I'm not normal. It's like cheating, really. Anyone normal that tried to do the the things I do would just get themselves killed."
"You still do them," countered Giles. "There's nothing forcing you to go out there and fight the good fight, but you still do it. That's worthy of respect no matter how you slice it. And the statutes make no allowance for supernatural powers."
"Still feels like cheating," said Rachel with a shrug. "The science thing definitely is. I'm far from stupid, but I wouldn't be half as good at what I do as I am without Revan's memories being shoved into my head."
"We all have to work with what gifts we have," said Giles. "Some people get genius or beauty, you got memories - knowledge. And it's not like those memories came without a price. I remember your nightmares."
"Yes," said Rachel distantly. "So do I. Anyway, Buckingham Palace. I don't think I've ever been in a real palace before. Should be interesting."
"I can't say I've ever been there before," said Giles, accepting the change of subject gracefully. "But it is reputed to be rather impressive."
"I imagine so," said Rachel before trailing off and staring at the page she had been reading.
"What?" asked Giles, sounding worried. "Rachel, what is it?"
"I . . . I'm going to be awarded the Medal of Honour," she said. "Whoa. That's just . . . wow."
"You were perfectly calm about being awarded the Victoria Cross and being Knighted," said Giles. "But you go ga-ga over the Medal of Honour?"
"Hey," said Rachel. "I'm American. This is a big deal. Medal of Honour winners are the heroes you hear about when you're growing up in America."
"Just remember that you're supposed to be English," said Giles with a sigh. "You can't go ga-ga over American medals and be blase about British ones, not in public."
"I'm not stupid," said Rachel. "Anyway, I'm not getting the Medal of Honour till I get back to America. They want to do their own PR work with that apparently. Lucky me."
"Something to look forward to then," said Giles.
"Well, it has side-benefits," said Rachel. "Travers was neutralised temporarily before, but he won't be able to do dick to us now no matter how much things change. Medal of Honour winners do not get deported and neither do their uncles."
"Well, that's nice to hear," said Giles. "As much as I miss home, I don't have much here to come back to these days."
"You're the only Giles left these days, aren't you?" asked Rachel. "I can't remember you ever mentioning any living family and that would be kind of important."
"No," said Giles. "They're all dead now. There's just us."
Rachel looked up sharply at that.
"I am very proud to be able to call you my niece, Rachel," said Giles with a fond smile. "At first, it was a matter of necessity, but it has become truth for me. You are an exceptional person, Rachel, and I could wish for no better as family."
"I . . . thank you," said Rachel "That means a lot to me."
And it really did. If there was one thing she'd never had any luck with, it was family. Revan simply hadn't had any and Xander . . . well, the less said about the Harris family the better, in her opinion. The best side-effect of what had happened to her had to be getting away from those people.
"Statement: we are approaching the palace now."
"Best prepare yourself now," said Giles. "This is going to be a circus."
"Nothing I haven't dealt with before as Revan," said Rachel. "If anything, I'm less of a public figure here and now."
"That's hard to imagine."
Rachel just shrugged her shoulders. It was true after all. Revan had saved a galaxy-spanning state from invaders; that was bound to garner some serious media attention. The car came to a halt soon after. "Well, come on, uncle," said Rachel. "Best to get this over with, I think. Where are the others anyway?"
"They were taken in separately," said Giles. "I'm only with you because I am legally your family and they needed someone to drop it on you."
"How nice of them," commented Rachel.
The flash of the cameras as Rachel entered the room in which the press conference was taking place was positively blinding. It took all her willpower not to stop in her tracks and start blinking her eyes to try and restore her vision. Sometimes the enhanced senses that came with her lycanthropy really were a disadvantage. It wasn't quite as bad as the sense of smell sometimes got but it was getting there. The whispering that had started as soon as she entered the room came to a crashing halt as she reached the microphone with HK looming behind her. The room was deathly silent as she started to speak.
"You have all received briefing documents pertaining to the war that was started last week," said Rachel. "These briefings encompass the aliens, the existence of magic, the general existence of the supernatural world, and press releases on the current events regarding various battles.
"I am here to clarify some points you may have difficulty understanding," continued Rachel. "I know, from personal experience, that these things are not easy to swallow the first time you hear them. No-one wants to believe that this world we live on was once the home for monsters straight out of our worst nightmares, but it is true. However, this is not the real issue here. The threat of the demons is an old one that humanity has been fighting since before the start of recorded history. Private organisations already have that issue well in hand.
"The real threat to the continuing existence of the human race lies with the aliens," said Rachel. "Humanity as a whole has been involved in a secret war with them for over three years now and several nations have been tracking their meddling in human affairs since the end of the last World War. Their actions to date show their intentions quite clearly: the extermination of all human life once they have extracted whatever it is that they have been attempting to find with their abductions.
"The atrocities at Oxnard and Orvieto would show the true nature of the aliens even without the monstrous acts that have been carried out by their human allies in recent days," continued Rachel. "The sheer idiocy of the French government, displayed when they claimed that the intentions of the aliens were benign, is beyond compare. The French people are now paying the price for their government's folly, with the Cryssalid infestation appearing in Marseilles.
"They seek to destroy us," continued Rachel. "They seek to destroy us and to take the resources of our world and claim them as their own. Their allies will be destroyed in turn once they are finished with us should the unimaginable happen. This is, of course, unacceptable and we will fight them. We will all fight them. And we will defeat them. Any other end is not acceptable. This is a fight for our very existence and we will not lose it. It is not in us as a species to lose a war like this.
"Any questions?" asked Rachel. Multiple hands popped up into the air immediately. A much more disciplined affair than Rachel had expected. She pointed at one female reported. "You."
"Deborah Jones, Los Angeles Times," said the reporter. "My question is, are there more Jedi on Earth?"
"Yes," said Rachel. "My apprentice. She is young and raw, but she is a Jedi. You have another question?"
"Yes," said the reporter. "Where did you learn to be a Jedi?"
"I am self-taught," said Rachel shortly. "That is all?"
"Yes," said the reporter, seating herself a moment later.
Rachel cast her eyes over the crowd once more before pointing at a male reporter. "Yes?"
"Samuel Jones, CNN," said the man. "We have received footage of you in battle with a man wielding a red lightsabre; was he a Sith?"
"Where did you get that footage?" asked Rachel, her voice and expression suddenly sharp.
"We received it anonymously several hours ago," said the reporter. "I hardly had time to watch it before this conference. There was no return address and no indication of its origins, as determined by the NSA. Please, answer the question."
"Yes, that man was a Sith," said Rachel. "The Dark Lord himself, in fact."
"One more question," said the reporter. "You yourself were also wielding a red blade in that battle. What does that mean?"
"It means that I couldn't get my hands on a Jedi blade," said Rachel. "Do you have any idea how expensive crystals of that size and quality are? They're not cheap."
"So you acquired a Sith blade?" asked the reporter. "One of his?"
"Needs must," said Rachel with a slight shrug of her shoulders. "I could neither afford nor locate a crystal quickly enough to use to construct my own weapon at that time. What are you going to do with that footage?"
"We intend to air it after this conference," said the reporter.
"I must ask that you do not," said Rachel. "That was a battle for my life, one I almost lost, and that man was not always a monster. Leave it be, please."
"I'm afraid that's not my decision to make, ma'am," said the reporter. "One last question, where did the Sith come from?"
"I can't answer that," said Rachel. "The only man who knows the answer to that is long dead now, destroyed by his own hubris."
"That's all," said the reporter. "Thank you."
Rachel cast her eyes over the crowd and this time picked out another female reporter.
"Ah, Emily Jones, Times," she said. "The Aliens are the threat, you say? What about the demons and magic users?"
"They are known quantities," said Rachel. "They've been kept in check by various organisations since the dawn of time and that won't change now. You didn't need to worry about them before and you don't need to worry about them now."
"So our technology is equal to their challenge?" asked the reporter.
"More than equal," said Rachel. "And their numbers simply aren't sufficient to wage a serious war against the normal world. The US Army has almost as many soldier as there are wizards on this planet. That speaks for itself."
"Thank you," said the English reporter before she sat down.
Rachel then picked out a male reporter.
"John Simpson, BBC," said the reporter. "Why didn't you go public before, Brigadier Giles?"
"Would anyone have believed it?" asked Rachel. "And I had a job that made that sort of attention inappropriate X-COM were a secret group and my coming out as a Jedi Knight would not have helped maintain that. No, best for all concerned that I continued to work in private."
Rachel then alternated again and picked out a female reporter.
"Katherine Demopoulos, Guardian," said the reporter. "The briefing we received on demons wasn't entirely clear on one point: are they all evil?"
Rachel gave the reporter a tight smile. "I'm not the best person to ask about that," she said. "The demons I normally deal with are the worst sorts, the ones who get their jollies from murder and torture or just plain old want to suck the world into Hell. I've ran into some who seemed decent enough, but that was rare."
"So they're not all evil then?" asked the reporter.
"No," said Rachel. "Not all of them. It's something you need to be careful with. Some breeds of demon truly are hopelessly evil; some aren't. Approach with caution at all times is a good rule of thumb."
As Rachel scanned the room for another reporter to pick out a stir picked up in the back of the room and then she heard the announcement, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Queen!"
As Rachel waited for the Queen to come into her sight, she got the sudden feeling of a very large weight being poised over her head ready to fall. It wasn't something she appreciated. As Rachel felt that weight descend upon her head, she saw the Queen come into sight and executed a quick bow before stepping back and allowing two men to move the podium aside. It was then that she noticed that the Queen was not alone but accompanied by several men who she immediately recognised both by their face and their attire as important religious figures from various faiths. Also, there was an older man in military uniform, a General if she read the rank insignia correctly.
As the Queen approached, Rachel remembered the peerage that ran in the Giles family - a barony, not that she could remember where it was of off-hand - and quickly kneeled as was the custom for peers. While she had little interest in these formalities herself, it would be rather counter-productive to the PR stunt if she failed to follow the customs of these people.
The Queen's movements as she approached Rachel were stiff and slow, a product of her injuries Rachel supposed, but there was no sign of pain in her facial expression whatsoever.
"Rise, Lady Giles, your service to Us has been more than We had hoped," said the Queen as she reached Rachel. Rachel immediately nodded and did so. The Queen turned to face the crowd. "This award is not one that One gets the opportunity to award very often and it makes One very happy and very proud to get the opportunity to do so here today."
"Brigadier Giles carried out multiple acts of great heroism when trapped behind enemy lines in France. These actions led directly to many lives, both British and non-British, being saved," said the General that had accompanied the Queen to the stage as he stood at the podium.
"All of these actions were performed in the direct face of the enemy and under fire at great risk to her own life," continued the General. "It is only through the grace of God and her tremendous skill at combat that she escaped these situations without sustaining grievous wounds.
"Her valour is worthy of the highest recognition.
"In December 2001, Brigadier Giles was attending a scientific conference in the city of Paris," said the General. "In the early hours of the 8th December 2001, she was awoken from her sleep by the sound of gunfire. Upon analysis of the situation she became aware of the treachery of the French government and their complicity in a plot to assassinate the world's most foremost scientific minds in an effort to bring a halt to humanity's effort to emulate and exceed the technological capacity of the alien invaders.
"She could have escaped the assassination attempt herself with ease," continued the General. "But instead she immediately dispatched the staff officers under her command to secure the civilian scientists as best they could and then moved personally to engage the French military unit that had invaded the hotel building in an effort to stop them before they could slaughter the civilians.
"Part of what happened next was transmitted on the remaining television satellites to the watching world but that footage does not do the true scope of her efforts justice," continued the General. "Through her actions, and those of the men under her command, hundreds of lives were directly saved as the French military found itself unequal to the task of confronting a Jedi Knight.
"With this done, she could have easily slipped into the night and no-one would have thought any less of her for it," said the General. "Instead, she made contact with the US Army General whose command she was operating under and then acting under his instructions she moved to a multi-national military base that had been established just outside of the Paris city limits to evaluate the situation there after sending the surviving scientists to a safe location with her staff.
"The situation at that base was grimmer than anyone had imagined," continued the General. "The French soldiers staffing the base, a strong majority, had turned on their comrades and gunned them down before taking control of the advanced technology present there and using it to co-ordinate the French military in their imperialistic ambitions.
"Brigadier Giles faced an entire base full of well-trained, well-equipped, and hostile soldiers," continued the General. "She could have retreated, no-one would have thought less of her, but instead she stood her ground and in the finest traditions of the British Army she defeated an overwhelming foe before utterly destroying the base and rendering it unusable for our enemies. The resulting loss of both morale and co-ordination by the French forces saved countless soldiers who were fighting against the French treachery.
"With that done, she had discharged any duty anyone could have expected her to fulfil," said the General. "But instead of slipping away and blending in till she could be retrieved, she hunted down the alien mind that had led the French to that point and she destroyed it utterly. With that act, the alien forces acting within the nation lost their co-ordination in much the same way as the French forces had, saving yet more lives.
"Her next action was to observe a protest against the actions of the French government by the French people," continued the General. "When alien terror weapons appeared and started slaughtering the people, she stopped them. None would have thought less of a woman who failed to act to save enemy citizens in the face of the danger of that situation and the exhaustion she must have felt, but still she acted.
"Brigadier Giles displayed repeated extreme gallantry and unquestioned valour in the face of a numerically overwhelming foe and not once did she allow herself to be bowed despite the terrible danger she was in the whole time."
"While We are quite aware of the ceremony and due process, the pressures of the war does not allow for the proper proceedings in this case, for you are sorely needed elsewhere," said the Queen. "Therefore, We award you for your actions the Victoria Cross."
The Queen then proceeded to pin the Victoria Cross over the right breast of Rachel's inner robes.
"We are also aware of your services to science and the way your work has allowed Us to arm Our soldiers equally as well, if not greater, than the enemies which seek to destroy us," said the Queen. "For this, We award you the Order of Merit for services to science."
The Queen then turned to an elderly gentleman that had accompanied her to the stage and then, after retrieving it from the box the man was carrying, proceeded to pin the Order of Merit next to the Victoria cross over Rachel's breast.
The Queen then smiled. "Please kneel," she said. Rachel did so. The Queen then turned to the General that had accompanied her to the stage and took the sword that he handed to her. As he opened a box and held it out to her, the Queen spoke, "We dub thee, Dame Brigadier Rachel Giles, Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire," she said, as she tapped the sword lightly first on the left and then on the right shoulder.
"Please rise," said the Queen. As Rachel rose, she pinned the star of the Order next to the other medals. The Queen nodded. "Now, Lord Giles, step forward."
It took a moment for Giles to do so and when he did Rachel could feel the confusion pulsing off him in waves as he kneeled.
"You may rise," said the Queen, who waited the moment it took for Giles to get back his feet before continuing. "We are pleased with both your tireless dedication to the war against the creatures of the night and with your raising of your niece into a strong warrior for the forces of good."
Rachel had never, ever seen Giles look so off-balance as he did at that moment and she doubted that she ever would again.
"In recognition of your works, with the advice and consent of what remains of Our parliament, We have decided to create you as the Duke of Calais, a title which will pass through your family for all time."
"Ah, yes, Sire," managed Giles. "I shall endeavour not to disappoint you with my execution of these new responsibilities."
"We know that you shall not," said the Queen. "Now One believes that these gentleman representing the faiths of the world have something to say to you, Brigadier Giles."
With that, she stepped to the side slightly, and the various religious figures took centre-stage.
"Thank you, Your Majesty" said the Papal Nuncio who had apparently been elected as spokesman for the group. "On behalf of our respective churches and leaders, we were instructed to inform you of the approval by His Holiness, the Dali Lama, and the Emperor of Japan, in his role as spiritual head of the Japanese of the formation of the Order of the Jedi Knights on Earth."
Rachel felt much as she imagined Giles had moments ago. This had not been in the script.
"I believe the Queen also agrees with us, and we have the President of the United States' approval as well," said the spokesman. Both the Queen and the US Ambassador nodded.
Rachel blinked. The spokesman smiled. "May you and your Order forever walk in the light," he said before backing away again. Rachel just wondered when her life had span entirely out of her own control.
"That was a bloody circus," said Rachel when she was back in the limousine with Giles and HK headed back to the base. "I'm surprised they didn't ask me to pull a few tricks and dazzle the crowd."
"Please don't give them any more smart ideas," said Giles. "I've had quite enough of that for one lifetime, thank you."
"Good point," said Rachel. "Oh damn it. I have another dose of this to come when I get back to America, don't I?"
"I imagine so," said Giles. "Fortunately, I rather expect that the Americans will be much less interested in me."
"Lucky you," said Rachel. "Hmm, maybe Buffy? Or Faith if they can get their hands on her. Their work as the Slayer might be seen as being worth a bit of PR."
"I'll be sure to warn them then," said Giles. "Though I must admit, the idea of them trying to use Faith for something like this - it's something I'd like to see them do."
"I think I'd like to see that too," said Rachel. "Anyway, Duke of Calais. I wasn't expecting that."
"Neither was I," said Giles. "A nice little thumb in eye to the French, I suppose. It doesn't have much more meaning than that these days."
"It's a bit more than a thumb in the eye," said Rachel. "It's a signal that Britain has no intention of surrendering its holdings in France when the war ends. I'm not sure how that'll play out."
"The Americans and Europeans are unlikely to offer them any support," said Giles. "I can't imagine that they'll be able to offer a great amount of resistance."
"Even taking into account the territory being held by the other European nations, that's a lot of land and people to hold," said Rachel. "And Britain hasn't maintained a large army in peace-time for many years now."
"This isn't peace-time, though."
"This war won't last five years," said Rachel. "And it will be an expensive war, like the first two World Wars. Britain may not be able to afford to hold the territory when all's said and done. The Empire ended in much the same way."
"Well, we'll see," said Giles. "It's not terribly important anyway. They won't do something like this a second time."
"They'd have to be absolutely insane to do so," said Rachel. "But I'd have said the same about doing it the first time."
"If they are allowed independence again then I can't imagine they'll be allowed to maintain a military after this," said Giles. "At best they'd have a constitutional clause like the one Japan has forced upon them."
"True," said Rachel. "But a piece of paper saying 'we won't go to war' amounts to nothing in the end. It's easily ignored."
"Really, there's not much point worrying about it," said Giles. "It's not our decision to make. You'll be back with X-COM soon enough and I'll be back on the hellmouth; this sort of thing is a matter for politicians."
"X-COM's dead," said Rachel matter-of-factly. "We didn't see this coming, didn't do anything to stop it, and we're being dismantled because of that. The people funding us are blaming us. Our resources are being folded back into the normal chain of command as we speak."
"That seems rather harsh," said Giles. "You couldn't possibly have anticipated this sort of move."
"Not easily," said Rachel. "But it was our job. Someone has to take the blame, and this time it's X-COM. Well, us and the various intelligence agencies. I imagine that the CIA, for one, will be getting it in the neck with this and 9/11."
"I doubt that MI-6 will be terribly popular either," said Giles. "But I can't say I find it very fair to blame X-COM for this. As I recall, your organisation's remit did not include espionage."
Rachel shrugged. "Someone has to take the blame and we're the easiest target," she said. "It's people like Miller that'll get it worst. He'll be lucky if he gets assigned to command a base in Alaska."
"I can't imagine him being sidelined," said Giles. "He just doesn't seem the sort to quietly disappear like that."
"I very much doubt he'll be given a choice," said Rachel. "It's a shame because he'd make a fine wartime commander given the chance."
The day after the press conference and award ceremony, Rachel boarded a skyranger transport and was flown back to America. The other had oohed and aahed over the awards she had received appropriately but it had been quite easy to tell that they didn't have the resonance with them that the whole thing'd had with Giles. They just hadn't grown up with those things like he had.