Rachel honestly didn't think she'd ever felt so relieved as she did when she saw the base that DARPA had been relocated to. She was just so tired of playing the all-conquering hero for the masses. The whole press conference and loading her down with British medals had just been the start of it. As soon as she'd gotten back into America, they'd put her through the whole rigmarole over again with a whole load of American journalists who'd been allowed to keep the questioning up a whole lot longer than the British ones had been.
And when that was done, when Rachel had thought she was free and clear, she'd been told that she couldn't assume her position at DARPA till the facility had been relocated to a hardened facility at a classified location that was being built to specifications provided by X-COM on what would be needed to withstand an alien bombardment. Suffice to say, those specifications were not easily fulfilled and the base was taking some take time to construct, which meant that Rachel was free for a whistle-stop tour of the US giving speeches and press conferences.
Personally, Rachel thought that it was all a bit too convenient. She knew that she made a good little propaganda tool and the last thing the American government, what was left of it anyway, wanted was for people to pay too much attention to the death toll and the fact that they'd been caught with their pants down. There had to be half-a-dozen X-COM bases built in various parts of North America that could have been easily, relatively so anyway, renovated to do what was needed. And she didn't really think she was any safer rattling around the country from place to place than she would be in a slightly less than finished military base. Transport vehicles were easier destroyed than any military base after all. Air Force One had went down just like that when the aliens went for it.
Quite frankly, the whole thing tired her. She wanted to be doing something useful to the war effort not flashing the medals and pressing the flesh with politicians. The people were already motivated, already full of piss and vinegar ready to fight, so what did they need her to do? The only vaguely good thing to come out of it was that she'd managed to meet up with Faith on the way. And that had been one fun conversation.
"What the fuck've you been up to?" she'd asked. "I was out in the boonies hunting down this fuckin' horrible demon and when I came back everyone was just staring at me. I thought I had demon blood on my face or something. Turns out I'm famous or something."
"It's hardly my fault . . . "
"You could at least've took me with you!" she'd said before Rachel could reply. "I could've been out causing chaos instead of hunting some fuckin' demon that grabs girls and eats their ovaries after pulling their eggs out of 'em and using them as a starter. Kept 'em alive and awake the whole time too."
"Faith, that's foul," Rachel'd said, noticing several of the soldiers that followed her everywhere looking distinctly green around the gills.
And it had went from there. From that point on, Rachel'd had Faith tagging along on the tour, which made it a little less tedious. Nothing stayed quiet and as planned when Faith was around. It was pretty much a law of nature. Rachel wasn't quite sure that it was what the politicians had been shooting for having Faith stir everything up and actually make people have some fun on the trip but, hell, she wasn't complaining. Having Faith around made the nights more interesting if nothing else.
But that was all past now. The jeep she was on had the base in site and she had no more damned speeches left to give, thank all that was good and holy in the world. Revan might not have minded the whole politicking thing but Rachel had came to the conclusion that she very much did mind having to deal with that sort of nonsense. Now she was just looking forward to getting back to work, and she'd never, ever thought she'd be looking forward to working as a scientist.
"We'll be entering the base in a few minutes now, ma'am," said the soldier driving the jeep, Jiro. Well, Major Sato as he was more properly known these days. Same Jiro that Wilson'd had her spar with back when she first started with X-COM strangely enough. Anyway, he'd been put in part of her security detail for the tour, and he'd be picking up an assignment at the base now.
"And thank God for that," said Rachel.
"Wouldn't know anything about that, ma'am," said Jiro, though she could see a slight smile on his face.
"Yeah, yeah," she said before kicking Faith in the shin to wake her up, and more importantly to make her stop snoring. "Oi. Wake up."
"Wha?" said Faith, before rubbing her eyes and then stretching in a positively indecent way. "What's up, Darth?"
"We're nearly there," said Rachel. "It's done. Finally."
"Oh great," said Faith with a distinct lack of enthusiasm in her voice. "You get to be locked up on a military base again. Yay?"
"No more speeches," said Rachel. "That's what I'm looking at."
"I didn't think it was all that bad," said Dawn, lounging back in her seat.
"You wouldn't," said Rachel. "All you had to do was smile, wave, and visit the malls of America. Such a hard job."
Dawn just shrugged.
"You're just weird like that," said Faith. "Better out giving speeches than cooped up with a bunch of army boys and eggheads, I say."
Rachel just shrugged her shoulders. "I guess you won't be sticking around then?" she asked.
"Nah," said Faith. "Well, maybe a little while. You know what it's like, people to see, place to go, demons to slay. I'd be crawling up the walls if I had to stay in one of these place for long."
"I remember," said Rachel dryly. She wasn't surprised one damn bit. Faith wasn't a sticking around type.
"Hey," said Faith. "You wouldn't even let me play with your toys last time. What do you expect?"
"You nearly destroyed my damn lab," said Rachel. "And I'm not even sure how you managed it. The damn thing was a flight mechanism, not a weapon."
"Hey, I only picked it up and moved it around so I could look at it," said Faith. "I didn't actually do anything."
Rachel just looked at her.
"Well, I might have pressed a button . . . "
Rachel shook her head as Dawn giggled in the back seat. Incorrigible, that was the word for Faith.
They were cleared to enter the base quickly, and Rachel promptly sent her people off to see the base quartermaster and personnel officer to get their digs and assignments sorted out. She headed off to find the base commander and report for duty. And that was a bizarre feeling. She really, really wasn't used to having to report to anyone. As Revan, she'd been one people reported to; as Rachel, she'd been a civilian worker up till now. But she was wearing the uniform so she had to observe the niceties and live up to it.
The commander's secretary waved her through as soon as she showed her face. The benefits of fame, she supposed. There had to be some. A quick knock on the office door and a grunted 'come in' and she entered the commander's office.
"Brigadier Giles reporting for . . . " said Rachel when she entered before trailing off as she saw who the base commander was. "Miller?"
"That's me," he said. "You were saying?"
"I thought you'd be sent to Alaska or somewhere," said Rachel. "You know, the old blame game."
Miller grimaced. "Well, you're not that far off," he said. "It's still the blame game but with a dose of the 'promote him to somewhere he can't do any damage' game to go with it."
Rachel wasn't quite sure what to say to that.
Then he shrugged his shoulders. "Nothing to be done about it," he said. "I have a job to do here and it's important, I suppose. Just boring."
"Well they're bound to try and kill me now," said Rachel, trying to be encouraging. "So you might see some action yet."
Miller just stared at her. "Yes, because the idea of our enemies trying to kill one of our biggest assets really will cheer me up," he said. "I feel better already."
"Right, well," said Rachel. "So how are things going to work here? I know I'm supposed to be supervising the scientists, but will I have any other duties?"
"Technically, you're second in command," said Miller. "The only person on the base who outranks you is me. In reality, you'll have nothing but token duties outside of working with the scientists and training your apprentice. Those are just too important to have you wasting time supervising some grunts patrolling the perimeter or whatever."
"So it really is just my old job with a new title," said Rachel. "Well, I can deal with that. How were things running before I got here?"
"Doctor Baker has been running things in your stead," said Miller. "I expect that she'll be most relieved that you're here to relieve her."
"Sarah's been running things," said Rachel. "Well, that works. What about Peter and Casey?"
"They arrived a few days ahead of you," said Miller. "They've been getting things ready in your quarters, checking security out, that sort of thing. Oh, and Gough's been helping our Dr. Baker."
Rachel nodded. "She never was the best for dealing with troublesome staff," she said. "What is security like here, anyway?"
Miller's smile was not a pleasant one. "Anything that gets past our defences deserves to beat us," he said. "Every single soldier assigned to this base is X-COM quality. Every last one. Over two hundred men and every single one of them is SAS, SBS, Delta Force, SEALS, Spetsnaz, or . . . well, you get the idea. And that's not even talking about the fixed defence emplacements and the robots."
"How did you get so many men like that?"
"It's amazing how many men are willing to base here when you promise to move them to the front of the line for limb replacements," said Miller. "Quite amazing. And we do have quite a few rookies as well. A core of limb-replacement veterans with the rest being rookies."
"Not bad considering it's not exactly the front-lines," said Rachel.
"Exactly," said Miller. "No enemy army has managed to hit the continental US since the British torched the Whitehouse back in 1812 barring alien terror raids."
It was at that point that Miller's secretary came tearing into the office clutching a piece of paper in a white-knuckled grip and her aura positively pulsing with excitement. "Sir, you have to read this," she said as she slammed it down onto the table in front of him.
Miller raised an eyebrow but did so. And then both eyebrows were raised. And then he started chuckling. "Well, it looks like the Potter boy's really come good," he said. "You can leave now, Elizabeth, and thank you for bringing this to my attention. This is just what I needed to brighten up my day."
His secretary left, her aura still radiating excitement, and Rachel couldn't help but ask, "what?"
"They got him," said Miller. "They got the bastard. Magic's good for something after all."
"Who?" asked Rachel. "Is it . . . "
"Yup," said Miller. "Osama Bin Laden. Potter brought him in a few minutes ago. Turns out that using legilimancy on terrorists gives up some interesting information. Oh, this has made my week. He'll be executed at dawn tomorrow, apparently."
"No trial?" asked Rachel. She just couldn't believe it. Just like that? She'd expected him to be somehow . . . more than that.
"Military tribunal," said Miller. "And considering that Potter fed him something that had the bastard confessing to everything from looking at his childhood teachers in inappropriate ways on up, that'll last, oh, as long as it takes to say 'guilty as charged'."
"Just like that," said Rachel. "Couldn't he have done it before? That way he could done the damn PR."
"Ah, stop complaining," said Miller. "This is a day of celebration. I might even break out that bottle of thirty year old single malt I've been saving. The bastard's going to swing. About time we got some good news."
"It'll be a morale boost," said Rachel with a nod. "Should dissuade any more of that ilk from pulling any more stunts like 9/11."
"Better than that," said Miller. "The bastard's spilling everything. Everything! We're dismantling the whole damn group. Al'Qaeda is done. Or at least as done as a group like that ever gets."
"I wouldn't have minded a crack at him either," said Rachel. "Not much point to that now, really."
"I'm sure that would have been entertaining," said Miller in a wistful tone of voice. "But there's no need now. We've got him. What a day."
"What a day," echoed Rachel.
"I need to go announce this," said Miller. "It'll do the men a world of good to know that we've got this creature."
Watching the faces of the base staff as Miller announced that Bin Laden had been captured was quite an experience. The Americans, well, their faces lit up like a kid on Christmas day. It was like a huge weight had been lifted off their shoulders and Rachel saw their auras lighten a shade or two almost immediately. The non-Americans among the group looked happy enough with the news too, but the difference was obvious. It just wasn't as personal for them and that showed in the responses. It was the difference between 'well, that's good news' and 'thank fucking God, that bastard's going to get what's coming to him'.
After the announcement was done, Rachel caught up quickly with Sarah and walked to her office with her. She looked considerably better than the last time had Rachel had seen her, much more together, more herself.
"Hey, Rachel," said Sarah when she saw Rachel. "Finished with the tour now?"
"Wild horses couldn't drag me back to it," said Rachel.
Sarah laughed. "It can't have been that bad," she said. "Better than being in the middle of a battlefield, at least."
"I think I'd prefer the battle," said Rachel with a shrug of her shoulders. "At least I wouldn't be bored."
"Statement: I most wholeheartedly agree," said HK. "I believe that the last month may have caused my intellectual circuits to begin rotting."
"It could have been worse," said Rachel. "I'm not sure how, but it could have been."
"Disbelieving statement: if you say so, master."
"You really are weird," said Sarah. "Anyway, I guess you're ready to take charge now? You are, right?"
"Yeah, I am," said Rachel. "Soon anyway. Was it really so bad?"
"I'm a scientist, not a manager," said Sarah. "I hated every second of it. And people just didn't listen to me."
"But Peter helped you, didn't he?"
"Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to have to get someone old enough to be your granddad fight your battles for you?"
"Point," said Rachel. The conversation paused there as Sarah fished around in her pocket for her keys before unlocking her office and ushering Rachel in. To say that the office was chaotic would have been somewhat akin to saying the Mandalorians were perhaps a little overaggressive. "Nice office."
"Yeah," said Sarah absent-mindedly as she rifled through the contents of her desk for a few minutes before pulling out a paper file and handing it over to Rachel. "Here it is. Latest batch of progress reports."
"Thanks," said Rachel. "Don't suppose you have a summary?"
"It's all work on making the stuff we've already done mass-producible right now," said Sarah. "Didn't want to start any major projects without your approval."
"Well, I appreciate that," said Rachel, leafing through the file. "Hmm. Well, at least they're making progress."
"They've got a prototype automated factory coming online in Ohio now," said Sarah. "Going to be putting out about twenty-five thousand blaster carbines a day if it works out."
"Sounds good," said Rachel absently. "Any news on HK factories?"
"Not yet," said Sarah. "Those things are just too expensive right now. They're using pre-war stocks and the X-COM facilities to make more, but no massive production lines just yet."
"Shame," said Rachel. "So how's your work on the elerium-based compounds coming along?"
"Slowly," said Sarah. "It's been hard to find the time. Have I mentioned that I hate management yet? Because I really do."
"Just a few times," said Rachel. "Things will be back to normal now. I'll be the one dealing with the management."
"You'll need to get a new second," said Sarah. "I can't do that alone, not here. There're just too many teams."
"That'll take a while," said Rachel. "I don't know anyone else I'd trust enough for that job now that's actually qualified. Don't worry, though, I'll pick up the slack. I won't need to be hands-on with the research here so I'll have the time."
Sarah looked at Rachel as if she'd grown a second head. "You're going to give up research for management?" she asked. "WHY!?"
"It'll just be more effective," said Rachel. "We have more than enough scientists here, and a lot of them better at it than I'll ever be, so I'm just needed to provide direction and nudge things along the right paths."
"I think you underestimate yourself," said Sarah. "And that'll be one boring, boring job."
Rachel shrugged. "I have other projects I need to work on," she said. "Dawn needs training and I need to take steps to ensure that if I die the Jedi will live on. Management will fit in with those. Extensive research won't."
"Well, it's your funeral," said Sarah dubiously.
Rachel eyed the group attending the meeting she had called. Six of the best and brightest scientists in the world were arrayed around that oval table and all of them had their attention completely fixed on Rachel and an air of pure eagerness around them. There was none of the scepticism she'd faced from Denver here; they'd seen her published works and they wanted a piece of the action. This was what they lived for.
"Everyone's here, all the department heads?" she asked. "Good. Let's get started then. I've read the reports you've all filed recently. The work seems to be good. What I'm not happy about is the attitude you've displayed. I know you're not terribly happy about the way that DARPA has been re-organised, I understand it even, but that does not excuse your childish disregard for the instructions of my second.
"An instruction from her is an instruction from me," continued Rachel, her voice quiet but carrying to all at the meeting with no trouble whatsoever. "And I expect my instructions to be followed. I will listen to reasoned arguments on why things should be done differently and you will have considerably latitude in your approach to problems, but I will not brook blatant disobedience. This is wartime and we must be disciplined in our work. Remember, the results we achieve here will have a direct impact on who wins this war, and hence the survival of the human race. So no pressure, really."
That drew a nervous laugh out of the scientists and seemed to break the tension that had been mounting through Rachel's little speech. Some looked defiant, still, but most looked to be contrite enough. Being scolded by a newly-minted war-hero would have that effect, Rachel supposed.
"Now, I am satisfied by the progress made on most fronts," said Rachel. "But simplifying and reducing costs of already existing technology will only get us far. If we want to win this war, we'll have to take major strides forward past our enemies. The first step in that process is breaking the oil dependency. We all know what the problems with oil are here. To get away from those problems, we're going to attain viable fusion power."
" What?" barked one of the scientists, a Dr. Vasilyev. "That's just . . . it's not . . . it's far beyond our science."
"It's far beyond our current science," said Rachel. "It's our job to advance past that. If I'd talked to you five years ago, I bet you'd have said that charged particle weapons were as good as impossible, too, but we have them now. Don't worry, I've furnished you all with a short paper documenting a starting point for this research in the files you all have in front of you."
The sound of rustling paper quickly filled the room as the scientists went to the files in front of them.
"Dr. Smith, I believe that you and your team are most qualified for this particular field," said Rachel. "Do you concur?"
"I . . . yes, I suppose so," said Dr. Smith, a small British woman. "This project will take some time though."
"I expect so," said Rachel. "This is the project for the moment so be sure to requisition any extra resources you need. Moving on from that, our next priority has to be refitting our combat vehicles with advanced weapons. That shouldn't be too difficult for most cases, I don't think. Dr. Moore, this will be a task for your team. You'll have to work closely with the various armed forces for this one, so I'll see about getting you a liaison."
Moore just nodded curtly. This wasn't a particularly interesting task for the people here but he couldn't really turn it down.
"Also, I want you to look into the feasibility of using alien alloys in our vehicles for better armour. Next on the list we have ion engines," said Rachel. "Dr. Vasilyev, that's a task for you and your team, I think. You'll find the paper I've included in your file enlightening, I think."
"I . . . hmm," said Dr. Vasilyev. "This is absolutely nothing like the ion engines I've seen before. "
"I know," said Rachel. "That's something rather more advanced. You've seen the films, haven't you? That's the drive technology used for those ships."
"This is insane," said Dr. Vasilyev. "But I will go along with it. The results are there."
"Good to hear," said Rachel. "Sarah, you'll be working on power cell technology as well as your current work. Fusion power's all well and good, but it will be some time before we can put a fusion power plant in a tank."
"I'll get right on it, boss."
" Good," said Rachel. "Dr. Schrader, you will be working on new vehicles based on our new technology. I believe the military has requested a better way to transport troops than the helicopters they're using now as a starting point."
"And Dr. Stewart, you will be working on personal armour," said Rachel. "The paper I've included for you details several ideas I've come up with for standard, non-powered armour as well as something on powered armour. You'll be somewhat restrained in this field, however, until the power cell research is complete. There's nothing that can be done about that."
"Sounds like fun."
"I believe that's all for this first meeting," said Rachel. "Any comments? Questions?"
"Yeah," said Dr. Stewart. "Do we have, you know, deadlines on this?"
"Nothing hard," said Rachel. "But every day we delay is a day they don't have this technology in the field. I'm sure you all know what that means."
"So no pressure than," said Dr. Stewart. "Really."
"None at all," said Rachel. "You're smart people. You know how important this is and I have no intention of treating you like school-children. Do your work as quickly as you can without compromising its correctness and we'll all be happy."
The meeting broke up at that point and the scientists quickly filed out, leaving Rachel and Sarah alone in the room.
"Do you think I got the message across?" asked Rachel.
"When you speak, people listen," said Sarah. "It worked."
"So you're finished playing the all-conquering hero then?" asked Peter with a raised eyebrow when Rachel met him along with Casey in her newly assigned rooms. "No more uplifting speeches to give?"
"Not if I have a say in it," said Rachel with a slight grimace. "How are things looking around here?"
"Well, you've been assigned some pretty swanky rooms," said Casey. "And I really mean that. I know you've got rank now and half the alphabet tagged onto your name, but these rooms really are something else."
Rachel shrugged her shoulders. "There are four of us staying here," she said. "I suppose that rates bigger rooms than what I had before."
Casey shrugged. "Maybe if you were general staff," he said. "Maybe I'm just too used to battleship berths."
Rachel looked at Peter who just shook his head. "It is a very large base," he said. "And you are of quite a high rank now, and you do have considerable responsibilities on the civilian side of things as well."
"Well, that was a non-answer if there ever was one," said Rachel. "Not that it matters. Where's Dawn?"
"She said she going to check out the base's gym," said Casey.
Rachel blinked. "Since when was Dawn that well-trained?"
"More likely she's eyeing up some of the young men in the base," said Peter. "I thought it best to leave her to it. She deserves some relaxation."
"As long as it just stays at eyeing them up," said Casey, his expression rather too perfectly neutral.
"She has more sense than to . . . " said Rachel before remembering Buffy and Angel. "Okay, we'd best keep an eye on her. I do not need a Sunnydale 1998 replay here. Mrs. Summers would kill me."
"What happened in Sunnydale 1998?" asked Casey.
"That . .. well, that's a very long and very unpleasant story," said Rachel. "In summary: if a vampire's been cursed with a soul by gypsies for some horrendous act, don't, whatever you do, make them happy. Nothing good ever comes of it."
"Okay, now you got me curious," said Casey. "Vampires can have souls? Feelings?"
"Souls? Not without some seriously nasty bits of magic," said Rachel with a frown on her face. "Feelings? Sure, but they're all twisted up. They're evil, blood-sucking demons; they can't do selfless or at least they don't do it very well when they try and invariably fail miserably."
"Getting away from a version of Coronation Street with vampires and magic, I assume you want to know about the base's security," said Peter. "And it is quite good; all the bases seem to have been covered. I'd prefer a more even level of experience amongst the soldiers though. Maybe a fifth of the base's compliment have a great deal of experience, but the rest . . . they're rookies through and through."
"Well-trained, though," said Casey. "They're not fresh out of basic. The whole lot of them are special forces."
"Statement: it does not matter," said HK, decloaking as he spoke "I will see to the master's safety. Any meatbags that attempt to attack her will be summarily terminated."
"Dammit!" shouted Casey. "Can't you get that droid to at least be visible before he starts speaking?"
"It would be nice," said Rachel. "HK, this habit you have to sneaking around in stealth mode - drop it. Amusing as it sometimes is, it's not very constructive."
"Resignation: if I must, master," said HK.
"You must," said Rachel. "Now, Dawn's training: we need to step it up. She is a far too obvious target right now. She needs to be able to defend herself if she happens to be attacked when we're not there to defend her."
"Well she's already pretty good," said Casey. "Better than any sixteen year old has any right to be, that much is sure, but I don't know if she'll be as good as you want her to be anytime soon."
"Fair enough," said Rachel. "Peter?"
"Her education is well ahead of schedule," he said. "She is remarkably quick-witted once she stops being intellectually lazy even if she has little talent for the sciences. She could pass your high-school equivalency exam within the year, I expect."
"That's excellent news," said Rachel. "Good work. You've brought her on very well indeed if she's reached that point."
"Thank you," said Peter with a small nod. "But it really isn't that difficult. I just had to find her interests and tailor the material to them."
"If it was that easy, most public schools wouldn't be so bad," said Rachel. "Okay, we'll just have to up the intensity. Casey can do physical training in the mornings, Peter can do education in the afternoon, and I'll teach her the ways of the Force in the evening. How does that sound?"
"Like you're going to run her her ragged," said Casey. "Sounds good to me. You don't get good soldiers by cosseting them."
"Indeed," said Peter. "But we must remember that she is a child and not an SAS candidate. Allowances must be made."
"And they will be," said Rachel. "I have no intention of breaking her. Even from a purely uncaring point of view, that would be a deeply stupid thing to do, and I do care."
"So we keep an eye on her then," said Casey. "Make sure she doesn't get too close to the edge. We've all been through some hard training; we know how it goes."
"Remember, we can't afford for her to quit," said Rachel. "She must see the training through."
"We'll manage it," said Peter. "If you're any example of what a Jedi can manage, she'll cope."
The reports on the progress of the war made for some truly unpleasant reading. As if the series of massacres that made up the war on the Far Eastern Front wasn't bad enough, there was the situation in the Middle-East. The reports from the German troops that had moved into Saluq were just grim, and there were pictures to go with those reports. They'd moved on the city expecting to face a serious battle and had instead walked straight on into a mausoleum. They hadn't found a single living creature within the city limits.
Looking at the pictures, it seemed obvious to Rachel that the aliens had used some sort of poison gas to dispose of the city's population, and that was the conclusion that the report had came to. They hadn't been able to find any traces of the gas in the atmosphere as they entered, thankfully, but still. It was pretty damn distressing as it was. People had just keeled over and died where they stood and one of the pictures was of a schoolyard full of children that had just . . . well, it was easier to deal with these things when you were evil. When you were evil, you just didn't care.
And that wasn't the only place that had ended up like that. All the reports from the Middle-East showed little resistance and a whole lot of corpses laying around. At least the Nazis had buried the bodies or burned them, the aliens just seemed to leave them where they fell. It was disgusting. And not every location had gotten a simple gassing. No, the gas had been reserved for cities or well-populated towns. Villages got bombed or simply had aliens march through them shooting everyone they could find. It was from those villages that survivors were being retrieved, traumatised as they were.
It was as Rachel read another report, this time from the Siberian front, that Rachels' phone rang.
"Brigadier Giles speaking," said Rachel after she picked the phone up.
"There's been an incident in Los Angeles," said Miller. "Remember that demon you negotiated a treaty with? Some gang-bangers decided it would be a good idea to shoot up his bar and everyone in it."
"Oh wonderful," said Rachel, feeling the beginnings of a headache. "How bad is it?"
"Not as bad as it could have been," said Miller. "Turns out that some of our boys from X-COM had taken to stopping by the bar when they were in the area. And they were in the area today."
"So . . . on a scale of one to ten, how bad was the carnage?" asked Rachel. "And why on Earth are X-COM soldiers congregating in a demon bar?"
"A five or so," said Miller. "We've got a few bodies, but mostly they were taken alive. They did a sweep to pick up everyone else associated with the gang who wasn't present too. All told, we've got twenty-three gang-bangers in the cells at our LA base and five dead."
"Sounds like it's all dealt with to me," said Rachel. "Why did you phone me?"
"You're assuming that we have even the first idea what to do with these people," said Miller dryly. "And someone needs to smooth things over with the demons so the treaty stays active."
"I don't expect that they got their weapons legally," said Rachel. "Toss 'em in a prison and throw away the key. Easy. No-one's gonna miss them."
"The demons would accept that?" asked Miller, sounding genuinely curious. "I'd've thought they'd want something more violent."
"Eh," said Rachel. "Okay, you might have a point there. Break out the hot pokers and the boiling oil. It's time to get medieval."
"I think I'll pass," said Miller. "I've seen and done some strange things in my time, but boiling oil? I'll pass. We need you to go and talk to them; you understand these creatures better than anyone else we have on staff right now."
"And that's why you need to hire someone else to act as an advisor," said Rachel. "Do you really have no-one else who can deal with this?"
"I'm afraid not," said Miller. "I wouldn't ask you to do this if I had someone else on tap. And for what it's worth, the orders are from higher up in the chain than me."
"Wonderful," said Rachel. "I get to negotiate with demons and deal with gang-bangers. Sure you don't want me to clean the toilets while I'm at it?"
"It's not that bad," said Miller. "They won't dare give you any lip, not if they have any sense."
"They're in a gang," said Rachel. "Sense precludes that. I don't suppose I have a choice in the matter though."
"You'd be so lucky," said Miller. "There's a transport ready and waiting for you in the hangar."
"I'll get going immediately then," said Rachel. "Wait, you still haven't told me why the men where there."
"Beer, karaoke, and the occasional monster they got to kill," said Miller. "What else could they ask for?"
"Sex?" asked Rachel tenatively.
"That green demon guy got them in touch with some succubi,," said Miller. "Ones that don't kill the guys they feed on."
Rachel really couldn't think of anything to say in response to that.
"Situation report, Colonel," ordered Rachel the moment she saw the base's commander, a Colonel who stared at HK for several long moments before returning his attention to her, after disembarking from her transport.
"We have eight confirmed and fifteen suspected gang members in custody with five more in the base morgue, ma'am," reported the soldier. "They offered some resistance but they are now secured. Two marines are in the infirmary with minor wounds. The other occupants of the bar have been secured in one of the base's guest rooms. They're not very happy about it, but they're there."
"Good work," said Rachel. "Any injuries amongst the other bar occupants?"
"Several, ma'am," said the soldier. "Two fatalities. None human."
"And the injured?" asked Rachel. "How badly have they been hurt?"
"It's hard to tell, ma'am," said the soldier. "We don't have any experts in non-human physiology available to us and we've never had to deal with these things before. I was rather hoping that you'd be able to help there."
"I know how to kill them," said Rachel. "Never looking into how to heal them. Maybe one of the people from the bar will be able to help you."
"Good idea, ma'am," said the soldier before shaking his head. "I really should have thought of that myself."
"It's been a long night," said Rachel. "Shall we go see these people now and get it dealt with?"
"Of course," said the soldier. "Follow me."
There were some truly odd creatures in the guest room. Rachel honestly couldn't identify several of the demons there as she cast her eyes over the room and she was hardly uneducated in such things.
"Miss Giles?" asked a male voice, attracting Rachel's attention.
"Wesley?" asked Rachel. "What are you doing here? I didn't take you for the demon bar sort."
"Caritas isn't like the smelly dive back in Sunnydale," said Cordelia from her position seated next to Wesley, who seemed strangely unaffected for someone who had been panting after Cordelia from the moment he'd first laid her eyes on her. "It's . . . uh . . . nice. Really."
"Yes," said Wesley. "It's neutral ground, a sanctuary, not like the bar you're used to dealing with."
"I'll take your word for it," said Rachel. "Last I remember, you two were working for the vampire. Where is he?"
"I'm here," said Angel, detaching himself from the shadow he'd been lurking in. "I thought you could sense vampires?"
"You're just one demon amongst many here," said Rachel as the soldiers who'd escorted her and the colonel shifted to bring their weapons to the ready and eyed Angel. "Don't flatter yourself by thinking you stand out to any great degree."
Angel took one look at the soldier who were uniformly eyeing Angel and radiating aggression and backed away holding his hands up. "Hey," he said. "I'm a good vampire; I don't bite."
"I seem to remember differently," said Rachel frostily, fingering the almost entirely faded bitemark on the left side of her neck without thought.
And before Angel could so much as blink he had half a dozen blaster carbines levelled at him.
"Come on," he said with a small nervous laugh. "That was a long time ago. I was a different person then. Literally. And I thought you could heal scars?"
"I can," said Rachel. "I kept this one as a reminder. Taught me to never be caught unprepared."
"You're still holding a grudge over that?" asked Cordelia. "Grow up. It was years ago and it's not like you didn't get revenge."
The room fell silent and everyone just stared at Cordelia as if she was absolutely mad. You could have heard a pin drop. And then Rachel just burst out laughing. "There aren't many who'd dare talk to me like that these days," she said. "But I'd expect no less from you."
"Damn right," said Cordelia with a curt nod of her head.
"Fine," said Rachel. "Hold your fire. But if he so much as twitches in a way you don't like, shoot out his kneecaps. That'll quiet him down; won't it, Angel?"
"Yeah," he said quickly. "That'll work."
"Wesley, you know a lot about demon physiology if I remember correctly," said Rachel. "Can you help the base doctors with the wounded?"
"Yes, of course," said Wesley. "I'd be happy too."
A minute later, Wesley was escorted out by a couple of soldiers and Rachel was back where she started.
"This is nice and all, seeing you crazy kids reunited," said Lorne finally. "But why are we locked up here?"
"Your protection," said Rachel, making it up as she went along. "We had to be sure that you wouldn't be attacked again before the gang that attacked your bar could be rounded up and imprisoned."
Lorne blinked. "Well, that's nice of you," he said. "But can I go home now? I have a date with a bottle of scotch."
"Well I was planning on talking to you about what's to be done about this," said Rachel. "But I don't suppose anyone will have any objections to releasing you and your customers now if you wish."
"Just tie 'em up and chuck 'em out into vampire town with a 'free food' sign on them," growled one of the demons.
"I might just do that," said Rachel dryly. She turned to the base commander and said quietly, "any reason to keep them here? We're lucky they've been so docile for so long, you know; we might be pushing it."
"I don't think we really need them," said the Colonel. "They're just here to keep things contained and it seems to be over and done with now."
"So you don't mind me releasing them then?" asked Rachel.
"You're the one with rank here," said the Colonel.
Rachel nodded and turned back to the room at large. "Okay, you can go," she said. "No point in keeping you waiting around. Do try and stay out of trouble."
The demons all looked at her as if she was absolutely insane before they started to troop out accompanied by most of the soldiers that had followed Rachel and the base commander to the guest room.
"So are you going to help Gunn?" asked Cordelia. "This really isn't his fault, you know."
"Gunn?" asked Rachel blankly. "Who's that?"
"Charles Gunn," said the base commander. "Formerly the leader of this little gang of miscreants but now more associated with a group called Angel Investigations apparently. He doesn't appear to have had much to do with the planning of this attack, but I doubt that he didn't have some idea what was going on and that makes him an accessory."
"Gunn wouldn't do something like this," said Cordelia stubbornly. "And he wasn't doing anything wrong getting those people together to fight vampires."
"Maybe not," said Rachel. "But if he was at all involved in this then he will face the same consequences as the rest of the gang."
"Gunn's a good guy," said Angel. "And since when did you of all people punish people for killing demons?"
"Since we signed a peace treaty," said Rachel shortly. "We tend to take that of thing seriously around here."
"We have an interview room ready for your use," said the base commander. "I think it would be best to get this dealt with quickly."
"I agree," said Rachel. "Have this Charles Gunn character escorted to the interview room. I want to talk to him."
"Don't you need lawyers and stuff?" asked Cordelia. "You know, due process?"
"This is wartime," said Rachel. "If thousand of people of Japanese descent could be rounded up in camps, then we can sure as hell make an inner-city gang disappear now."
The interview room really should have been called an interrogation room. It was entirely devoid of any sort of personality and the only furnishings were a small metal table bolted to the floor in the middle of the room with similarly bolted down metal chairs on each side of the table. The only light in the room, which was devoid of windows, came from a single light-bulb suspended from the roof on a short wire. A tall, black man, Charles Gunn she assumed, was sat in one of the chairs with his arms cuffed together at the wrists.
"Charles Gunn," said Rachel as she sat down in the chair opposite him and two burly marines took up positions by the door. "I'm Brigadier Giles."
"Yeah, I know who you are," said Gunn. "Kinda hard not to these days even if I wasn't running with some of your old buds."
"Indeed," said Rachel. "I suppose there's no point in messing around here: did you know what was going on?"
"Nah, I didn't know," said Gunn. A lie. No, partial truth. Interesting. "Not long before they came to Caritas anyway."
"Hmm," said Rachel. "Well, your people are in a very poor position here. We have multiple counts of murder, virtually every gun-crime on the books, breaking and entering, theft, squatting, burglary - hell, if there's a crime on the books, one of your boys has committed it."
"Hey," said Gunn. "None of my boys ever dealt in drugs."
"True," said Rachel. "That's a good thing; we appreciate that. Really, we do. Problem is, your boys fired on military personnel. They even wounded some of them. This is a time of war, Charles. We can't let that slide."
"They didn't know," said Gunn. "Come on, how could they have? You can't hit 'em with treason charges for an accident!"
"We can't?" asked Rachel. "It won't look very accidental to the courts, you know, a gang coming running into a bar and opening fire on military personnel, and this is the wrong time to be pushing your luck."
"Courts are never interested in what we have to say," said Gunn. "We're screwed, ain't we?"
"You are," said Rachel. "There's nowhere for any of you to turn. Even if the court of law finds you innocent, the court of public opinion won't."
"We can look after ourselves," said Gunn.
"And that would just give the police an excuse to crack down on you," said Rachel. "No, your people are finished, Charles. Over and done with."
"So what?" asked Gunn. "You dragged me here to gloat?"
"No, no," said Rachel. "I have better things to do that gloat over something this petty. No, I have an alternative for you if you accept it."
"Oh, right," said Gunn. "Here it comes, the recruiting pitch."
"You would have been drafted anyway in time," said Rachel. "You're young, fit, and male with no family ties. You must be near the front of the list anyway."
"So, you're gonna drag me off to fight this war," said Gunn. "Why are you even offering me a choice?"
"Well, you might prefer a needle," said Rachel. "It's your choice really. Serve or die. It doesn't really affect me either way."
"Some Jedi," grumbled Gunn. "Can I at least join the marines then?"
"I don't see why not," said Rachel. "As long as you satisfy the entrance requirements. Pass the choice onto your people, please. They have the same option: the military or death."
"Will do," said Gunn. "Thanks ever so much for the choice."
"If it makes you feel any better," said Rachel, "Cordelia will be drafted too soon as will Wesley. If Angel had any legal existence, he'd be going too. Our backs are against the wall here."
"I don't know who to feel most sorry for," said Gunn. "Cordelia or the army. Tough one that."