Aliens From The Id.
Crossover:Multiple xover, but mainly, 'Forbidden Planet' and 'Aliens'.
Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar:Written in glorious UK-English (the original and best) which is different to US-English.
Timeline:Alternate reality, part of the ‘After the First Won’ series of stories..
Words:Eleven chapters each of 3000+ words.
Warnings:Don't jump off the roof dad, you'll make a hole in the yard...
Summary: Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Terran Alliance Star Ship Reluctant. Its mission; to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations and nuke them from orbit...it's the only way to be sure.
LA was burning. Looking down on the sea of fire from the top of the Wolfram and Hart building, Faith shook her head in a mixture of sorrow and frustration as the great city was consumed by fire. Flames leapt into the night sky and the light from the fires reflected off the bottom of the low clouds bathing everything in an eerie twilight. They'd lost in Sunnydale and the last words Buffy had spoken to Faith were to tell her to go to LA, find Angel and start the second front against The First's hordes. But, there hadn't been any hordes of monsters appearing from the hellmouth and sweeping across the land, no, the First had been too subtle for that sort of tactic.
Instead of unleashing armies of hell-spawn on an unsuspecting and unprepared humanity, the First had used people's own insecurities, jealousies and hatreds against themselves. The truth was that humanity were doing the First's work for him. But there were still some people working against him, Faith and her sister slayers fought against the monsters that did turn up to slaughter people in ever increasing numbers. Although Willow's spell had worked and had empowered all the potential slayers across the world, it had taken time. Even the potentials closest to Willow when she'd cast her spell had taken ten or fifteen minutes to come into their powers and the further a girl was from Willow the longer it had taken for her to change.
Ten or fifteen minutes didn't sound like a long time, but it was long enough for the Uber-vamps to overrun the slayer's position, kill Buffy and Spike and at least half of the brave girls who'd tried to stop them; Buffy had ordered the survivors to run so they could continue the fight. This was why Faith was in LA and Giles had headed back to England to try and reorganised what remained of the Council of Watchers. Willow was over on the East Coast where she lived with her slayer girlfriend, Kennedy, as they attempted to organise the new slayers and warn people of the First's existence. No one knew exactly where Dawn and Xander where, they'd escaped Sunnydale High but where they'd gone after that Faith didn't know. But, it was an uphill struggle; too many people simply wouldn't believe that something like 'The First Evil' could exist.
Turning away from the burning city, Faith started to walk back to the fire escape stairs that would lead her down into the main part of the building where 'her' girls waited for her. Angel had been killed by a dragon a couple of weeks previously, but before he'd died he'd been able to pass on information about the defences at Wolfram and Hart's headquarters. Using the information given to her by Angel, Faith had led her slayers in an attack on the evil lawyer's lair. They'd caught the lawyers and their hench-things off guard and slaughtered them. Once everyone that the slayers could find were dead they'd searched through the paper files and downloaded thousands of computer files. Faith didn't know how much of it was actually useful, that would be someone else's problem, but now her job here was done, it was time to move on to the next target.
“Faith!” a young slayer appeared in the doorway leading to the fire escape; her face was smudged with smoke stains and dried blood, she looked awfully young to Faith, “its time to go!”
“Yeah I'm coming,” Faith called back; the truth was that Faith couldn't move quite as fast as she once had been able to.
During the fight under Sunnydale High, Faith had been stabbed in the left thigh by an Uber-vamp's sword. The wound had taken a long time to heal and even now it caused her pain when she'd been on her feet too long, it also made her limp.
“Is everyone else outta here?” Faith asked as she got closer to the girl; her name was Doris, Faith reminded herself, she always tried to remember the names of all the girls who worked with her.
“Yep,” Doris nodded, “there's just us and the rearguard in the lobby.”
“Good,” Faith smiled as she looked at the girl and wondered if she'd ever been that young, “now get, I'll be right behind ya...go!”
Pausing, Faith watched the girl head on downstairs as she rubbed the wound in her thigh. The weapon the vamp had used to stab her must have been magical, she told herself for the thousandth time. It had to be to prevent her slayer constitution from dealing with the effects of the injury. Stamping her left foot to get the feeling back into her leg, she resumed her progress towards the stairs. At the threshold she paused once again to take one last look at the burning city, after today they'd be heading for points East, Giles had said something about Texas during his last call.
Heading on down the stairs to the lobby on the top floor, Faith found it deserted. You could say a lot about the young slayers but one thing was for sure, they certainly knew how to obey orders. Faith had told Doris to 'go' and man had she gone. Standing by herself and not looking forward to a long walk down the stairs to reception, Faith pressed the elevator's call button. Waiting impatiently for the elevator to arrive, she limped over to a window to look out at the city which now looked like a sea of flames, but she knew it wasn't. Down there on the streets people fought their neighbours while the police, the National Guard and the Army stood back and did nothing. Once again Faith shook her head in despair knowing it was all part of the First's plan to destroy humanity.
A soft 'ding' from behind her told her that the elevator had arrived. Turning away from the death and destruction, she limped across the lobby and got into the elevator. Pressing the button for the ground floor, Faith let out a long slow breath and leaned her back against the side of the car as it headed towards the ground. Laughing a little bitterly, Faith realised that somehow the 'Muzak' in the car had remained on even after they'd destroyed the computer that controlled the building's environmental systems.
Whatever, Faith shrugged as she glanced at the floor indicator, there was only a couple of floors left to go and she could survive a little mindless, musical pap for a while longer. Eventually the elevator slowed as it arrived at the ground floor. Pushing herself away from the wall, Faith stood in front of the doors and waited for them to open. When they did she took a step outside without really looking to see where she was, if she had she'd have stayed in the elevator; confused Faith turned to find that not only had the elevator vanished but so had the Wolfram and Hart building.
“What the...?” Faith said quietly to herself as she stared at her own reflection in the window of a shop. “What the...!?” she repeated softly as her eyes took in the outfit she was wearing.
Her clothes were so not her usual style, in fact they looked more than a little like the clothes Buffy might have worn when she was sixteen or so; Xander had shown her some photos a while back of 'younger Buffy'. Faith had scoffed at the then teen slayer's fashion sense but now it looked like her scoffing had come back to kick her in the teeth. Looking at her reflection she found herself wearing a red, figure hugging, low cut tank top. Next came a short, navy blue skirt, Faith rarely wore skirts especially very short skirts that had a slit up the left side that almost reached the waistband of the skirt. To finish off this outfit, Faith found high heeled sandals on her feet and a large courier type bag on her hip with the strap going across her body and between her breasts making them even more prominent.
Apart from her clothes, Faith told herself, there was something desperately wrong here, not only did she appear to have been transported somewhere that wasn't the LA she knew, it was also daylight...plus, of course, she was wearing clothes she wouldn't have worn to a nightclub. Faith was by no means a prude, she knew guys found her hot and she knew how to dress for best effect, but this...? Words sort of failed her for a moment, well, several moments. Slowly recovering from her initial shock, she found herself looking into the eyes of the young woman on the other side of the shop's window. Turning away quickly, Faith saw that she was in a small, sunlit plaza or town square. There were shady trees, lawns, flower beds, a fountain and benches to sit on. Deciding that it might be a good idea to find out what the hell was going on, she headed for an unoccupied bench. Perhaps there was something in her bag that would tell her who she was supposed to be and where the hell she was. As she walked towards a bench, Faith realised that she wasn't limping any-more, glancing down at her exposed thigh she saw that the scar left by the Uber-vamp's sword had completely disappeared.
“Cool,” she smiled, as she let her eyes roam around the plaza, at least things weren't all bad.
The square was surrounded on four sides by low rise building, office blocks by the looks of them with a few shops at ground level. It was all very concrete, steel and glass, but nothing really unusual. However, what was unusual was that no matter how hard she listened she couldn't hear any traffic noise. Okay, this was obviously a city or big town, so why no cars? Right, she told herself as she sat down, she knew places that didn't allow cars, so again, nothing really that unusual. Glancing around to make sure no one was paying her any special attention, she moved her bag onto her lap and was just about to open it when something slightly more unusual than suddenly finding herself in a strange place struck her. Pausing for a moment she looked around at the people who were walking through the plaza. From where she sat, Faith could see maybe two hundred people; she guessed that perhaps a quarter of them were kids, the rest were made up of the usual mixture of age groups. But there was one thing they all had in common, one-hundred percent of the people she could see were female...as far as she could tell there wasn't a guy to be seen anywhere.
“Okay,” Faith told herself with a shrug, “no guys...I can probably live with that.”
While Faith preferred guys she could 'appreciate' a pretty girl, at one point she would have happily 'appreciated' the hell out of Buffy, but it had never worked out between them (what with all the murder and mayhem). Looking around, Faith started to notice that the couples were holding hands or were walking arm in arm as they moved slowly around the plaza.
“Right,” Faith added with a big sigh, “so I've like landed in lesbian central...” she frowned as her eyes fell on a couple of little girls who were laughing and giggling as they chased each other between the flower beds, “...okay, so where do all the kids come for?”
Before Faith could figure this pretty important question out, the peace of the plaza was shattered by a long, high pitched scream full of fear and terror. Forgetting all her questions about how come so many lesbians could have so many children, her head whipped around to find the origin of all the noise. It didn't take her long, no more than fifty yards away a teenage girl was being dragged towards an alley by a bald, naked man who had the biggest erection that Faith had ever seen and she'd been the cause of quite a few in her time. It was pretty evident what the pervert was planning to do with the girl. Pulling off her bag as she stood up, Faith heard the screams and cries of alarm as the women in the plaza reacted to the pervert's presence.
Ignoring the women around her, Faith set off at a dead run towards where the man was attacking the girl. It seemed to take her no time at all to reach the man as he struggled with the teenager. Grabbing hold of the girl's arm, Faith yanked her from her would-be attacker's grip. Now she had the girl clear she could deal with the rapist. Growling like some sort of wild animal the rapist launched himself at Faith, scratching at her eyes with his claw-like fingers and trying to bite her with his yellowed teeth.
Sweeping away the attack aimed at her eyes with her left forearm, Faith used her right fist to punch the guy in the throat, this had the rapist forget about chowing down on her neck and saw him stumble away from her clutching at his throat and gasping for breath. Following up her first attack, Faith kicked out with a sandalled foot her kick landing in the rapist's genital area which sent him gasping and crying to the ground as he clasped between his legs with both hands and rolled from side to side in agony, Faith was just about to finish off her target when the cops arrived.
“Okay, Miz,” called the taller of the two heavy set women in police uniforms as she pushed their way passed Faith, “we'll take it from here!”
Drawing what looked like a gun the first cop pointed it at the rapist and fired; there was a loud 'CRACK!' accompanied by a strong smell of ozone and burnt skin. The unsuccessful rapist lay on the ground and sort of vibrated for a moment or two before he became very still, knocked out by whatever the cop had used; Faith guessed that the cop had used some sort of fancy taser on the guy. While the second cop went and comforted the victim and called for the medics. The cop with the gun advanced cautiously on the perp before kneeling down next to him and cuffing his hands behind his back and calling for back up.
“He escaped from the fertility clinic on twenty-second street,” the cop said conversationally as she glanced over her shoulder at Faith, “me an' my partner've been chasing him all morning.”
“Yeah, right,” Faith agreed not really knowing what anyone was talking about or what was going on.
“That was pretty brave of you,” the cop stood up and came to stand in front of Faith and seemed to be studying her closely.
For a moment Faith considered bolting, she was still wanted for breaking out of prison, however she didn't know what the range was on the cop's fancy taser so she held herself in place.
“You okay?” the cop asked with genuine concern.
“I'm fine,” Faith reassured her, “I've had worse...
“You're a slayer, right?” the cop smiled as she glanced from the downed perp and back to Faith again, “Not our boys day, right?” the cop's grin got wider as she held out her hand to Faith, “It's an honour and a privilege to meet you Miz...?”
“Lehane,” Faith replied more than a little stunned by the cop's reaction, “Faith Lehane...”
From that moment on the cops couldn't do enough for Faith. After the perp had been taken away in a police car that floated a foot above the pavement and the girl had been driven away in a floating ambulance, the cops took Faith's statement and asked if there was anything they could do for her. Unused to cops being quite this helpful and understanding, Faith only asked them where she could go to find a library or some other source of information.
The cops suggested that she'd couldn't do worse than try the 'Alliance Building' and gave her directions before answering a call on their radios (very small radios, smaller than Faith had ever seen before) and headed off out of the plaza. Watching the cops leave, Faith took a deep breath, wherever she'd turned up, slayers were obviously the flavour of the month. Setting off to find this 'Alliance' building Faith smiled to herself, perhaps for once in her life being a slayer would actually work for her instead of against her.
It was a ten minute walk to get to the Alliance Building. As she walked through the town, Faith saw more floating vehicles, people on bicycles and a hell of a lot of women and girls, there were simply no guys around and Faith's mind went back to the rapist. When she'd got up close to him after the fight, she'd noticed that he wasn't 'bald', his head had in fact been shaved and there was what looked like a bar-code tattooed on the back of his head. Perhaps, she wondered, all guys were kept in prison. Whatever was going on here it would have to wait until after she found this Alliance Building and did a little research; she wasn't much for doing research but it looked like there was no other way of finding out what the hell was going on here.
After a ten or fifteen minute walk Faith looked up to find herself standing on a wide path that led up to the tallest building that she'd seen so far. The building was surrounded by gardens and there were lots of people, once again all women, walking around and in and out of the building. Seeing a large notice board, Faith walked over to see what she could find out from it. There was a map of what appeared to be called 'Alliance Plaza'. A few typed and printed notices that meant nothing to her although they did all seem to be printed in English. But, what really caught Faith's eye was a big full colour poster.
The Terran Alliance needs YOU! proclaimed the poster in large bold letters over the picture of a serious looking young woman dressed in what Faith assumed was a business suit. Looking just to the right of the picture of the woman, she saw some more printing; Ask at your local Alliance Building for details of careers in any one of the hundreds of Alliance Services, serving a term of Terran Alliance Service guarantees full citizenship. The thing about 'full citizenship' rang some vague bells at the back of Faith's mind. However, she didn't try to over think it, she had more important things on her mind like; who the hell were the 'Terran Alliance' and more importantly, did they have a job for a lost and out of work slayer?
As it turned out, they did.
Miami Space Port, 3513 CE.
“This is so weird,” Willow told herself for about the millionth time as she watched out of the window of the capsule; she might have been in this world of the future for just over six years but it still didn't feel 'real' to her..
Below her, Miami Space Port got smaller and smaller as the 'Bean Stork' took her up into orbit and onto Gateway Station where she would join the Terran Alliance Star Ship Reluctant. In the distance she could see Miami itself, the city was so much smaller now than it had been in her own time and further to the north she could just see the channel that now joined the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic; some time in the last one thousand years the middle of Florida had been washed away by wind and water.
The last thing Willow could remember about her old life was...
Watching out of the window of the cab, Willow smiled as she saw Kennedy burst out of the front door and run to meet the taxi.
“Willow!” Kennedy cried happily as she pulled open the passenger door, “You should've called, I'd have sent a car for you.”
“Couldn't wait,” Willow replied as she climbed from the cab and was grabbed by her over excited girlfriend.
“Couldn't wait?” Kennedy frowned as she left off hugging and kissing Willow for a moment.
“Totally,” Willow grinned as she luxuriated in the touch and scent of the girl she loved, “if I'd called you to send a car I'd have had to wait for it to arrive at the airport. So, I got a cab, that way I'd be home quicker.”
For the next few moments Willow couldn't say anything because Kennedy was stuck to her lips like she was glued there, eventually she let go; even slayers had to breath.
“How was London?” Kennedy asked suddenly serious again; Willow had been in London for the last couple of weeks helping with the investigation into Giles' mysterious disappearance the previous spring.
“London's fine,” Willow replied, “other stuff, not so much.”
“Still nothing on what happened to Mr Giles?”
“Not a thing,” Willow replied sadly; it seemed to her that all her friends were disappearing one by one.
First Buffy had died under Sunnydale High when the 'calling' spell didn't work out quite like everyone had expected. They'd all run that day, at least everyone who'd still been capable of running had done so. If it hadn't been for Kennedy carrying her out of the school, Willow knew she'd have been numbered amongst the dead. Dawn and Xander had escaped, but the car they'd been driving north in had been found with its bonnet buried in the side of a sink-hole that had cut the road leading to the small town of Santa Maria. A couple of months later Angel had been killed, then a couple of weeks after that Faith had vanished when LA had gone up in flames. Finally Giles had disappeared while he was out in The New Forest in southern England. He'd been checking out an ancient stone circle one moment and nowhere to be found the next. His slayer bodyguard, a young woman called Tracy had searched and searched before calling in more help but it was like Giles had simply stepped off the planet.
The reason Willow had gone over to England was to review the actions taken by the local slayers and watchers, she had to decide whether it was worth while continuing the search. Regretfully she'd decided that there was no point in searching any more. Giles was gone, he'd probably either been killed or taken by The First or its agents. Although it had broken her heart to say it, there really wasn't any point in using the New Councils limited resources on what would ultimately be a fruitless search.
“Jackie,” Kennedy called to a young blonde slayer who was standing near the door to the mansion, “pay off the cab and get Miz Rosenberg's things, please.”
“Sure,” smiled the girl as she moved towards the cab, “how are you Miz Rosenberg?”
“I'm fine sweetie,” Willow smiled, “glad to be home...AAGH!”
Screaming in shock, Willow clutched at Kennedy as Jackie's head exploded in a bright splash of red, half a second later she heard the gun shot.
“DOWN!” Kennedy dragged Willow into the cover of the cab as someone sprayed the area with automatic fire, killing the cab driver and riddling the taxi with a multitude of bullet holes.
“What the...!?” Willow gasped as she crouched in the poor protection of the cab.
Pulling an automatic pistol from the back of her jeans, Kennedy fired off half a dozen rounds in the general direction of whoever was shooting at them.
“MOVE!” she called as she grabbed hold of Willow's arm and dragged her towards the door of the house.
Stumbling after Kennedy, Willow could feel bullets cutting through the air next to her head.
“Thicken,” Willow held up her hand and immediately the air behind her grew 'thicker' slowing down the bullets enough so she could actually see them; there did seem to be an awful lot of them, like angry wasps swarming around her head.
Finally getting into the safety of the house, Willow found herself pushed roughly to one side and into the more substantial cover of the house’s wall as Kennedy fired at the unseen assailants outside.
“W-what's goin' on?” Willow wailed as windows broke as bullets smashed through them to impact the interior walls of the house and raining down lumps of plaster and dust onto her head.
“The First!” Kennedy replied as she continued to fire, suddenly her pistol stopped working, “Damn-it, I'm out!”
“Ma'am!” one of Kennedy's non-slayer guards, a man called Stefan, appeared from deeper inside the house and tossed her an assault rifle.
Snatching the weapon out of the air, Kennedy was soon firing at whoever was outside, Stefan had his own weapon firing as Willow curled up into a small ball on the floor as broken glass and hot cartridge cases fell all around her.
“What's going on?” Kennedy demanded, echoing Willow's previous question.
“We're being attacked from all directions, Ma'am,” Stefan told her as he changed magazines.
“Numbers?” Kennedy asked after sending a long burst of fire at their assailants before ducking back into cover.
“At least twenty, maybe more,” Stefan replied, “all with military type weapons, whoever they are there's too many of them for us to stop.”
“Too many?” Kennedy asked as she did a quick head count in her head, “Casualties?”
“Looks like there's just you an' me out front Ma'am,” Stefan explained, “Sarah is over in the west wing and Mike and John are covering the back, its only a matter of time before they overrun us...” the guard took a deep breath, “...you better get Miz Rosenberg outta here, she's too important to us to let the First kill or capture her.”
“But...” it was obvious that Kennedy wanted to stay and fight whatever the odds.
“Ma'am...go!” Stefan ordered, “We'll cover your backs.”
“Damn-it!” Tears of anger and frustration appeared in Kennedy's eyes, she hated the thought of running out on her people, but Willow was too important to be allowed to fall into the First's hands, “Come on Will it's time for us to go!”
After firing off another burst through the open door, Kennedy ran over to where Willow crouched and pulled her to her feet.
“Hold them for five minutes then get out,” Kennedy ordered.
“Will do, Ma'am,” Stefan replied as he fired single shots at the men outside.
“We'll meet up again at the Brooklyn safe house, okay?” Kennedy said.
“On it!” Stefan turned and smiled at her, “Time to go Ma'am, an' good luck.”
“Yeah,” Kennedy nodded knowing she'd never see any of her friends again, “good luck and thanks...” she turned to Willow, “...come on honey we've got to move.”
“Sure, okay,” Willow gasped, “but wait...” she muttered some words of power while she made a magical gesture, “that'll make you harder to spot,” she told Stefan, “and thanks...”
“Move it sister!” Kennedy said as she dragged Willow towards the back of the house.
Pausing at what looked like a normal cloakroom but was in fact the armoury, Kennedy pushed body armour into Willow's arms and told her to put it on as she fastened up her own. Grabbing a load of spare magazines for her rifle she stuffed them into the pouches on the front of her armour before holding out an automatic pistol to Willow.
“Take it,” Kennedy ordered.
“You now I'm no good with these things,” Willow reluctantly took the weapon from Kennedy's hand along with a handful of spare magazines.
“Yeah, yeah,” Kennedy replied as she helped Willow stow her spare ammunition, “I've heard it all before...'guns evil'.”
“A gun killed Tara and almost killed Buffy.”
“I hate to tell you this honey,” Kennedy explained as she pulled Willow out into the hallway again, “guns don't kill people, people kill people...people were killing each other long before guns were around.”
“Yeah I know, but...” whatever Willow had been about to say was lost when a loud burst of fire ripped into the house followed by several even louder explosions.
“They're in the house,” Kennedy said as the dust started to settle, “we've got to get to the garage, stay behind me and whatever happens do as I tell you, okay?”
“Okay,” Willow swallowed the big lump that had appeared in her throat.
“Love you,” Kennedy grinned.
“Love you more,” Willow replied her own smile faltering a little.
“Lets go,” Kennedy moved off through the house with Willow close behind her.
Bursting into the kitchen, Kennedy's eyes took in the scene in an instant. John, one of her guards lay in a pool of his own blood over by the stove. The back door was blow off its hinges and two men in black 'commando' gear were coming in from the garden. Two short bursts of fire cut down both the intruders sending them spinning back outside. No sooner had the commandos gone than some of their buddies threw more grenades into the kitchen.
“DOWN!” Kennedy yelled as she pushed Willow to the floor and lay on top of her. The little green balls exploded with two sharp cracks and Willow felt some shrapnel rip into her left leg.
“OWWW!” Willow wailed as Kennedy rolled off her and shot down more commandos who were following up on the grenades.
“Will, get out!” Kennedy sobbed as she sat up and placed her back against the wall so she could cover the door and window.
“But...” Willow clutched at her leg as she looked up to see the blood on Kennedy's face, arms and legs, “...KENNIE!” she cried as she moved to help her lover her own injury forgotten.
“No, leave me!” Kennedy gasped as her blood oozed from her many wounds, “It's too late for me, you've gotta get out!”
“No, sweetie,” Willow sobbed as she saw just how seriously Kennedy had been hit, she must have taken the full force of one of the grenades, “I'll get you to the car and we'll go to hospital, I can call for...”
“NO!” Kennedy replied as she gave Willow a weak, sad smile, “I'm finished, its only the body armour that's holding me together...” she laughed causing blood to trickle from her lips, “...I love you Will, just do this one last thing for me...please?”
“Oh baby,” Willow sobbed as another of her girlfriends started to slip away in her arms.
“Please go,” Kennedy pushed Willow's hands away.
Standing up, Willow looked for the last time at her friend and lover, her kite string and anchor, before limping to the door that would lead her down stairs into the garage.
“Come on you bastards,” she muttered in a low voice, “come and see how a slayer can die...”
Dragging herself across the floor of the garage, Willow made it to the Land Rover Discovery, Kennedy had recently bought. Reaching up he managed to open the door before taking a deep breath and hauling herself into the driver's seat. Sitting there for a moment as the pain in her leg subsided a little, Willow breathed deeply, she was almost out of this. The keys were already in the ignition; not bothering to shut the door, Willow turned the key and started the engine before putting the Rover into gear and taking off the handbrake. Holding on to the steering wheel, she pressed down on the accelerator with her good foot and found herself being pressed back into her seat as the vehicle leapt forward. The Rover smashed through the garage doors and she found herself out in the bright sunshine of an early Fall afternoon.
Turning the wheel, Willow continued to press down on the accelerator as the SUV's tyres squealed on the drive way. Straightening out on the wheel, she drove up the slope of the drive and towards the road in front of the house. Almost free and clear, she didn't notice the little group of commandos waiting at the top of the drive just in case someone tried to escape that way. Willow's eyes went wide as she caught a glimpse of the black clad commandos, she screamed as the first bullets ripped into the car. Heaving the wheel over to the left she tried to evade the commando's fire, but the bullets followed the car and worked their way towards where she sat. Feeling the first rounds smash into her body, Willow cried out in pain and fear, she knew she was going to die. Even as the pain faded and the darkness overtook her she wondered if all those stories about an after life were true.
Looking up from where she'd been getting her gear stowed away, Faith turned to see Chief Petty Officer Zaria Quinn standing in the hatch way to her small cabin.
“Yo, Cots?” Faith smiled as Zaria, who was the Chief of the Ship and the most senior enlisted crew woman aboard, waited in the hatchway.
“Got a job for you,” Zaria's grin got wider as she took a half step into Faith's cabin; she couldn't take a full step because the cabin really was that small and Faith and her belongings were filling up most of it.
“Yeah?” Faith looked at her friend suspiciously, Faith was the second most senior enlisted woman aboard and had known Zaria for what must be about six or seven years now.
“Yep,” Zaria leaned against the bulkhead and crossed her arms under her breasts. “Little 'meet an' greet' job for you.”
“Can't ya send someone else?” Faith pleaded; she wanted to get her gear squared away before she checked on the members of her watch and checked out what the dock crew had done to her duty station.
“Sorry,” Zaria shrugged, “y'know all that new equipment that's been shoehorned onto the bridge?”
“Yeah, well its all science stuff,” Zaria shrugged, “looks like the brass went through with that 'science appropriation' thing an’ now we rate a Science Officer.”
“A what?” Faith groaned.
“You heard,” Zaria smirked, “we've drawn a Lieutenant Rosenberg and she's due aboard any minute now.”
“Crap,” Faith muttered under her breath and didn't really take much notice of the new officer's name, after all there were a lot of people called 'Rosenberg'.
“You ain't heard the best yet,” by now the smirk on Zaria's face had grown to epic proportions, “I want you to keep an eye on her, she's not a flight or combat officer, although she's been in the service for about five or six years, so it'll be your job to get her up to speed, okay?”
“Do I have a choice?” Faith asked all the time knowing the answer.
“No,” Zaria chuckled as she shook her head slowly, “but think about it like this...next cruise you'll be Chief of the Ship and it'll be your job to hand out the crappy assignments.”
“Gee thanks, Cots,” Faith replied with heavy sarcasm.
“Hey,” Zaria pushed herself upright and away from the bulkhead, “I knew you'd appreciate it. But seriously, Faith, the Captain wants this Rosenberg woman hammered into shape asap.”
“Will do,” Faith replied, “when's she due?”
“About...” Zaria looked at her mobile device which she’d just taken from her belt pouch, “...five minutes ago.”
“Okay, I'll deal,” Faith checked her uniform in the small mirror on the bulkhead.
“I knew you would and...” Zaria gave Faith Faith a helpless look, “...I hate to do this to you, but its the Captain's orders.”
“Whatever,” Faith replied with a shrug as she watched her shipmate leave and walk off down the companionway no doubt to make someone else’s life a misery; but that was the COTs' job and in a few more months it would be her job.
“Hi Shizuku,” Faith greeted the Marine on duty; Shizuku was the most junior of the four marines aboard, so she drew a lot of boring guard duties, “New officer coming aboard so be on ya toes, okay?”
“No problemo, Chief,” the young marine nodded as she checked her own uniform and cast an eye over the compartment; satisfied that everything was in place she stood 'at ease' against the bulkhead wall next to the airlock controls.
As there was a 'hard link' to Gateway Station both airlock hatches were wide open and Faith was able to see the new Science Officer on the CCTV as she made a her way towards the Reluctant. Faith frowned as she looked at the young red-headed woman as she walked towards the airlock her gear on a floating trolley following on behind her. No, Faith told herself it couldn't be...but it sure looked as if it was. By now the officer was walking up the ramp to the outer airlock door, she wouldn't be able to see Faith until she was actually on board and looked around.
“Permission to come aboard?” Willow called.
Faith shook her head in amazement as she got a clear view of the new officer, she'd not though that anything was odd when she'd heard the name Rosenberg but now she knew different. The universe came up with the strangest things
“Permission granted,” Shizuku called as Willow stepped aboard.
“Lieutenant Rosenberg reporting,” Willow held out her ID card.
Taking the card Shizuku put it in her reader before snapping to attention and saluting, “Welcome aboard Lieutenant Rosenberg.”
“Thank-you,” Willow smiled as she returned the Marine's salute, “where do I...”
“Welcome aboard, Ma'am,” Faith stepped forward so Willow could see her and saluted, “I've been assigned to look after you while you settle in...”
“And you are...?” Willow's return salute sort of petered out before it was completed; she frowned as she looked at the thirty-something non-com, “Oh my Goddess...F-Faith?”
TASS Reluctant, Gateway Station, Earth Orbit.
“Jeez, Ma'am,” Faith gasped as she opened the hatch to Willow's quarters and took a look inside, “this place looks even smaller than mine. Ya know the Reluctant was designed with a crew of twenty-four in mind? They musta converted a utility closet to squeeze ya in.”
“Erm, totally,” Willow frowned as she looked passed Faith and into the 'closet' that'd be her home for the next six months.
Watching Faith as she helped move her kit into the tiny cabin, Willow couldn't help but think that Faith was acting a little strangely, almost as if she was pretending that they didn't know each other.
“Hey, Faith, it's me, Willow,” Willow said in what she hoped was a friendly voice, “I know we were never bestest buds an'all but...y'know...” Willow shrugged, “...we've been like, through stuff, like, y'know...Sunnydale...time travel?”
Looking up and down the companion way, Faith saw no one watching or within earshot, so she stepped into Willow's cabin and closed the hatch behind her.
“Look, Miz Rosenberg,” Faith said urgently, “I've been here awhile now....”
“Don't take this wrong,” Willow interrupted, “but you do look older than I remember you, you're still hot an'all but...”
“That's what I'm trying to say, I've been here more than ten years now,” Faith pointed out, “I've got a good life here, I'm doing something useful, I've even got someone waiting for me back home in Boston, I don't want this screwed up by someone turning up from my past...”
“No!” Willow cried as she stepped towards Faith only to realise how small her cabin was when their breasts squeezed together.
“Erm, Ma'am,” Faith tried to avoid Willow's eyes but it was almost impossible to ignore someone who's breasts were squeezed so tightly against your own, “there's regulations about 'fraternisation' between officers and enlisted personnel.”
“What?” Willow stepped back as far as she could, which wasn't really far enough in her opinion, “Fraternisation?” Suddenly Willow realised what Faith was saying, “Oh yeah, right, sorry.”
Looking into Willow's eyes, Faith realised that she'd said something to upset the redhead, she signed heavily before trying to put the witch at her ease.
“Hey, look, Ma'am...”
“You used to call me 'Red'...”
“That's what I mean...erm...'Red', this isn't Sunnydale...
“Tell me about it...” Willow sulked.
“That world's gone, Ma'am and ya better remember that,” Faith explained, “we lost against the First then, but, the human race won out in the end, well at least half of it did, yeah there's still demons an' things out there, but that's not all of what we do now.”
During the years of war against The First and his followers most of the male half of the population had been wiped out by a plague. Those the plague didn't kill it had turned into mindless animals used only for breeding by the surviving women.
“I know,” Willow admitted with a shrug, “it's just seeing you again that...well it brought it all back...the memories...do you know if anyone else we knew lives here in the future?”
“You're the first I've met,” Faith admitted with a shrug, “and this isn't 'the future' its the 'here and now' an' ya better try an' remember that too coz there's no going back.”
“There's no way I'd want to go back,” Willow replied quietly.
“No,” Willow shook her head, “I died in the past...what about you?”
“I never shoulda got in that elevator...” Faith chuckled.
“Yeah,” Faith smiled at the memory, “we'd just taken out Wolfram an' Hart, LA was going up in flames and my leg was hurting so instead of using the stairs I went down in the elevator. When I got out again about a thousand years had gone by...you?”
“The First sent commandos to attack Kennie's house,” Willow explained sadly, “they killed everyone including me.”
“Harsh,” Faith sympathised, “even Kennedy?”
“Yeah even Kennie,” Willow still found the memory of that day extremely painful.
“Hey, I'm sorry Will,” Faith placed her hand on Willow's arm and wondered how she'd feel if Cindy, her partner, was killed or if one of their kids were hurt, “You really loved Kennedy didn't you?”
“Yeah...” Willow tried to not cry but some tears still burnt her eyes despite her best efforts, “...sorry,” she searched in her uniform handbag for something to wipe her eyes with.”
“Here,” Faith took a paper towel from the dispenser on the wall and handed it to Willow, “I know I didn't have much to do with her, but the couple of times we spoke I kinda liked her, she mighta been a spoilt, little-rich-kid, but she was cool too.”
“She liked you too, I think you were her hero,” Willow explained as she dabbed at her eyes.
“Hero? Me?” Faith sniggered before changing the subject to one less painful for Willow, “So, how long have ya been here?”
“Just over six years...”
“Jeez, Red!” Faith gasped, “An' ya made it to Lieutenant already? Buffy always said you were a genius but I never really believed it...”
“Yeah,” Willow screwed up the paper towel and tossed it into the cabin's small reclamation unit, “I woke up an' had to find something to do,” she shrugged as she showed off her smart black uniform with its shiny, silver badges and buttons, “so I joined Star Force as a science officer, I got promoted pretty quick, like...”
“Jeez,” Faith breathed, “lucky you, I had to do somethin' like that, but the slayer stuff helped. Ya know being here is the only time bein' a slayer's really worked out for me, y'know with a normal life an'all.”
“That's nice,” Willow nodded, “you enjoy it here?”
“Like I say there's no going back,” Faith shrugged, “so ya better make the best of it. Unless something really weird happens this is your life now...” Faith gave one of her knowing smirks, “...anyway I'd have thought you'd think you were in lesbian heaven here.”
“Yeah,” Willow forced a smile, being reminded of Kennedy's death had sort of spoilt her day, “that's cool...you said you've got someone here.”
“Yeah,” Faith went for a pocket in her utility belt and pulled out a photograph and showed it to Willow, “That's Cindy an' the kids, that's Maggie she's seven,” she pointed to the older of the two blonde girls, “an' that's Claire, she's only three...”
“Wow!” Willow gasped as she looked from the photo back to Faith, “That's something I never thought I'd see, Faith Lehane the dotting parent...”
“Yeah,” Faith admitted, “once I realised I wasn't gonna die anytime soon I sorta wanted to get with the normal, y'know?”
“Buffy woulda loved this place, what with the mega amounts of 'normal' goin' 'round,” Willow replied quietly.
“Yeah,” Faith didn't want to go down the 'Buffy' road so instead she said, “You got someone waiting for ya?”
“No,” Willow shook her head, “I've had a couple of girlfriends but no one really serious.”
“Hey,” Faith smiled, “I thought you'd have found someone pretty quick with those new boobs!”
“You like 'em?” Willow perked up a little, “I always wanted bigger boobs...not huge y'know, then when I found how easy it was...couple of injections and hey-presto, I'm bigger!”
“They're cool, Will, they suit ya.”
“Thanks...” Willow gave Faith a genuine smile, “...except in here,” she placed her hand on her heart, “I'm not so sure.”
“Erm, yeah,” Faith nodded, “look ya better put on ya shipboard uniform and get everything squared away.”
“Do I have to?” Willow eyed Faith's silver and red uniform with distaste.
“Sorry, regs,” Faith explained with a shrug, “I know it looks pretty retro, but it doubles as an emergency hazardous environment suit...”
“It does?” Willow didn't sound convinced, “Where's the helmet?”
“In here,” Faith tapped the little box on the front left of her utility belt, “its like putting a plastic bag over ya head but it'll keep you alive for about fifteen or twenty minutes. As soon as the suit senses vacuum or whatever, it sorta goes airtight to stop ya exploding or freezing or something, unfortunately it doesn't cover ya hands, the gloves are stored in with ya helmet. Anyway ya better make it to a survival pod real quick if the crap ever hits the fan.” Faith shrugged, “But the chances are that if we get that badly breached ya gonna die anyway so I wouldn't worry about it too much.”
“Sounds...great, really reassuring!” Willow gave Faith a thin lipped smile, “And just how likely are we to get, like, 'breached'?”
“Not so much,” Faith replied reassuringly, “not with me working the battle computers...but there's some big bad pirates out there an' a few demons.”
“Demons in space?”
“Yeah,” Faith shrugged resignedly, “whatever...look, I'll leave you to square away ya kit, get changed y'know all that good stuff. Then when ya finished beep me an' I'll give ya the grand tour...which isn't very grand.”
“Yeah,” Faith nodded, “the ship's got an AI we use her for internal communications, like this....” Faith looked up at the ceiling bulkhead, “Tara?”
“Hello Chief,” came a calm, soft female voice out of thin air.
“Tara?” Willow gasped softly.
“Yeah hi,” Faith replied, “gotta new crew member for ya to meet...”
“Yes I detected her as she came aboard,” Tara explained, “Welcome aboard the Reluctant, Lieutenant Rosenberg, I see you are to be our first science officer?”
For a moment Willow was struck dumb, the AI's voice was so like that of her first dead girlfriend yet so unlike hers at the same time, there was no warmth in it.
“Say something,” Faith encouraged, “Tara sorta sulks if ya don't talk to her...”
“I do not sulk,” interrupted the AI.
“Ya do an' ya pouting right now, I can tell,” Faith laughed.
“Hi...Tara,” Willow called.
“Good day Lieutenant,” Tara said her voice having returned to its normal tone after her little snit with Faith when she'd sounded like a teenager, “I have added your voice print to my records you now have full access to all the ship's systems except those that require command authorisation.”
“Look I'll get gone, but don't forget to beep me when ya finished,” Faith turned around in the confined space and opened the hatch to the corridor.
“Faith...” Willow caught hold of Faith's arm before she could leave, “...I hope we can be friends...”
“I don't see why not,” Faith replied as she turned so she was looking at Willow again, “but when we're in public its 'Chief', okay Ma'am?”
“Of course...Chief,” Willow nodded, “an' thanks.”
“...an' now we're back in the mess hall...” Faith gestured for Willow to take a seat.
“Wow...” Willow walked over to a free table and sat down; the mess hall was about the largest compartment she'd seen aboard the Reluctant that wasn't full of equipment or machinery. “it's like a reverse Tardis...”
“Say what?” Faith sat down across the table from Willow.
“Like, so much smaller on the inside than on the outside!”
“Yeah, it's hard to believe that she's got a volume of over seven-million-cubic-feet,” Faith pointed out, “but ya get used to it...tea, coffee something else?”
“Tea with lemon would be nice.”
“Hold on,” getting up Faith went over to what Willow recognised as a food processor, moments later she came back with Willow's tea and a mug of black coffee for herself, “Drink of choice aboard the Reluctant,” she explained indicating her mug.
“So why is everything so cramped,” Willow grimaced a little as she sipped her tea, “I mean the ship's so big on the outside.”
“Okay,” Faith put down her mug, “there's so much gear that needed to be fitted inside her, there wasn't much space left over for the crew.”
“Twenty-four...I suppose twenty-five now including me, that doesn't seem a lot for the crew of a star ship.”
“Star Force policy is to keep crew numbers to a minimum, having an AI means you can automate most of the ship's systems.” Faith shrugged, “Also if we do get zapped not too many people get killed.”
“Oh I see,” Willow sipped her tea again and thought that maybe she'd try the coffee next time.
“But we've got two multiple missile launchers, four 30mm Gatlings an' eight point defence 7mm Gatlings an' me on the battle computers that say we won't get zapped...” Faith frowned at Willow, “...excuse me L-t but you don't seem to know very much about starships.”
“I don't,” Willow admitted, “for most of my time here I've been at various Earth-side science stations, my last posting was at the South Pole...”
“Amongst other things, like there's this portal thing at the South Pole that I'm not supposed to talk about...” Willow shrugged, “...it was pretty interesting even with all the snow and sub-zero temperatures. Then out of the blue I was assigned here. I mean I've done my basic survival and safety courses but I've not even had time to read up on star drives or starships in general.”
“Talk about thrown in at the deep end,” Faith chuckled.
“Darn tootin',” Willow agreed with a firm nod.
“Okay,” Faith grinned evilly, “here starts the first lesson, Star Ship 101.”
“Why do I get the feeling that I'm not going to enjoy this?”
“Okay, one of the reasons there's so little room is that the 'Sludge Vats' take up so much space.”
“Sludge Vats?” Willow asked while at the same time fearing the answer.
“Yeah,” Faith nodded, “everything aboard has to be recycled...”
“Everything?” Willow tried to swallow the feeling of nausea that had suddenly come over her.
“...so every piece of waste goes into the reclamation units an' turned into 'sludge' which is stored in the...”
“Sludge vats...” Willow interrupted, “...yeah I get it...but I wish I didn't...”
“So, the processors turn 'Sludge' into anything ya want...anything from a self-sealing stem bolt to a cup of tea.”
“Like that explains a lot,” Willow muttered looking with distaste at her tea with lemon, “so, you mean that everything we eat and drink is...?”
“Not everything,” Faith admitted with a grin, “but there's only so much fresh food we can carry, after that's gone its all processed stuff.”
“Is there still time to get a transfer outta here?” Willow wanted to know, but Faith just kept grinning at her.
“Hey its not so bad,” Faith took another swing from her coffee mug, “but my advice is, when we're on processed food go for the option with the strongest flavours, y'know curry, chilli stuff like that.”
“Okay...” Willow said warily.
“Of course when we stop off at a colony or something, we restock with fresh food so its not so bad...we've even got a real live, human cook.”
“We have?” Willow asked with renewed hope.
“Yeah, Leading Crew Woman Natalie Young, she's pretty good too,” Faith smirked, “at least she's not poisoned anyone yet.”
“You get shot for desertion, right?”
“Only in war time,” Faith sniggered, “in peace its ten years in jail and a dishonourable discharge.”
“What's the food like in jail?”
“Boring,” Faith smiled at Willow, “but, its not so bad here, at least there's real water showers an' artificial gravity, y'know the CL-Fifty-Sevens were the first ships fitted with Artificial-Gee as standard, plus there's the inertial dampeners so ya don't end up like strawberry jelly on the bulkhead if the pilot gets the acceleration wrong.”
“Tell me why I don't feel reassured, Faith...sorry, Chief?”
“Look, L-t, its not so bad an' we're normally only out for six months, maybe a year tops, the time'll just fly by.”
“I'll take your word for it,” Willow replied morosely.
“Come on,” Faith tried to jolly Willow along, “it'll be fun...tell ya what when we get home again I'll take ya to meet my wife and the kids.”
“Thanks,” Willow forced a smile, “so, what are the other officers like?”
“The Captain, Jay-Jay Adams, is good, I mean I've shipped out with her five times now an' I'm still alive.”
“You're a slayer it takes a lot to kill you,” Willow pointed out.
“Doc Ostow'll try an' tell ya she's just an old country saw-bones but she's about the best ship's doc in the service even if she likes it if you call her 'Bones'.”
“Oh goddess,” Willow sighed as she wondered how she'd managed to fall into an episode of Star Trek.
“Its the First Officer, Jerri Farr, ya need to look out for.”
“Well, she thinks she's 'The Goddesses' gift to women,” Faith explained in a low whisper, “if ya not careful she'll have ya flat on ya back in her bunk...unless ya inta that sorta thing.”
“No, I'm not looking for any kind of relationship just now.”
“Okay, just let her know ya not interested an' after a week or two she'll back off...so that leaves Ensign Dollie Mountshaft.”
“Unfortunate name,” Willow sniggered.
“What?” Faith thought for a moment before she too sniggered quietly, “Yeah I see what ya mean...Dollie.”
Both women shared a moment of amusement and the last few barriers between them came tumbling down.
“Anyway she's new, first time out from what I've heard, I don't know anything about her that isn't in the official records...which I'd advise ya to look up asap, Tara will give 'em to ya.”
“Who's the Chief of the Ship?” Willow watched the surprise in Faith's eyes, “See I do know some stuff.”
“CPO Zaria Quinn,” Faith announced, “she's coming up for her twenty-five at the end of this cruise so she'll be leaving to spend her last few months in the service counting pencils or something; she's been a good friend to me, I'll miss her when she's gone. I'll introduce you once you've met the Captain.”
“Oh crap!” Willow gasped, “I almost forgot!”
“No problemo,” Faith said, “ya still got half an hour or so.”
“And you know this how?”
“A good Chief knows everything, an' I'm good, I mean really, really good!”
“She'll shape up,” Faith replied, “but she'll need to be checked out on ships systems, she was just dumped on us with only her basic safety training.”
“Can you train her so she doesn't get us all killed or something?” Zaria asked, “You seem to get on okay.”
“Yeah, I kinda know her from way back.”
“When she was a kid?”
“Something like that,” Faith shrugged, “like we were never best buds, but we knew each other, shared some stuff, y'know?”
“I guess I do,” Zaria nodded, “now if we can get our minds off cute, red-haired, science officers for just a moment and back to things that really mater.”
“Sure thing Cots,” Faith replied becoming the senior non-com again.
“Looks like they made some alterations to your battle computers while they were adding the science station, you better check it out, do some simulations.”
“Roger that,” Faith nodded.
“An' a word to the wise...”
“If you see PO Grey, watch out,” Zaria grinned, “they've slaved most of her sensor array to the science station so her nose has been bent outta shape a little, she's taking it as a personnel insult.”
“I thought they'd given her more ECM an' physical countermeasures to play with.”
“They have, but you know Lorna.”
“Sure do, Cots.”
“Okay,” Zaria led the way to the hatch out of the mess hall, “we've got five days to get this old hulk Shipshape-an'-Bristol-Fashion, so we better hustle!”
Lt/Cmd Jane (Jay-Jay) J Adams (Ship's Captain).
Lt Jerri Farr (First Officer).
Lt Emma 'Bones' Ostrow (Ships Doctor).
Lt Willow Rosenberg (Science Officer).
Ensign Dollie Mountshaft (Second Officer).
Chief Petty Officer, Zaria Quinn (Chief of the Ship).
Chief Petty Officer, Faith Lehane (Ship's Slayer/Gunnery/Mistress at Arms).
Petty Officer: Julie Belle (FTL Drives).
Petty Officer: Lorna Grey (Sensors/ECM).
Leading Crew Woman: Marie Youngerford (Communications)
Leading Crew Woman: Natalie Young (Cook).
Leading Crew Woman: Savanna Strong (Environment)
Leading Crew Woman: Ellie Randall (Engineering).
Crew Woman: Alison Lindstrom.
Crew Woman: Stephany Moran.
Crew Woman: Mikayla Nichols.
Crew Woman: 'Long' Joan Silver.
Crew Woman: Carolyn O'Shea.
Crew Woman: Susan Schick.
Crew Woman: Barbara Good.
Crew Woman: Moyra Fraser.
L/Cpl, Yurika Himesaki.
Marine, Chiharu Misaki.
Marine, Kana Anzai.
Marine, Shizuku Mano.
Weight: 281 Kg.
Length: 6.06 m entire system, 2.85m gun only.
Barrel Length: 2.3 m.
Cartridge: 30 x 173 mm, caseless; Armour Piercing, Armour Piercing Special Effects, HE, HE Fragmentation.
Action: Electrically controlled and driven rotary breach.
Rate of Fire: 4200 rpm, variable.
Muzzle Velocity: 1070 m/s.
Effective Range: 4000 m, in space range is effectively limitless.
Feed System: Linkless/beltless feed system.
Sights: Depends on mounting type.
Weight: 81 Kg.
Length: 802 mm.
Barrel Length: 559 mm.
Cartridge: 7x40mm, caseless; Armour Piercing or Anti-personnel.
Action: Electrically driven rotary breach.
Rate of Fire: 6000 rpm, variable.
Muzzle Velocity: 860 m/s.
Effective Range: 3000 m, in space range is effectively limitless.
Feed System: Linkless/beltless feed system.
Sights: Depends on mounting type.
The TASS Reluctant, about a month later.
“Transit to normal space in three minutes, Captain,” First Officer Farr called from the astrogator's position next to the helmswoman.
“All hands brace for transition into normal space,” Captain Adams spoke into the ship’s intercom.
Sitting at their stations just above and behind the captain's chair, Faith and Willow secured their safety harness' as the rest of the bridge crew strapped themselves into their seats. The Captain sat in her chair, more or less in the middle of the bridge with the helm and navigation stations positioned in front of her. The rest of the bridge's workstations were arranged in a semi-circle around the captain's position. Right in front of the helm/navigation station was 'the tank', a large sphere holding a three dimensional representation of the space around the Reluctant; at the moment it showed the stark nothingness of FTL space.
“What I want to know,” Willow asked Faith quietly as she adjusted her harness, “is why it took twenty years for a distress call to be answered.”
“Radio messages still only travel at the speed of light,” Faith replied as she checked her 'battle board', “maybe it took twenty years to reach someone who could hear it.”
“You're right,” Willow agreed as she too ran her fingers across the controls in front of her; at the moment her read outs showed the same nothingness as the tank did, “I know all this stuff, but it still isn't 'real' to me.”
“One minute to transit,” called the First Officer.
“Brace, brace, brace!” ordered Captain Adams as Cots Quinn repeated the order to the rest of the ship.
Just over a week after the Reluctant had left Sol System she'd arrived at the Terran Alliance Station in the Alpha Centauri system. Here she was given new orders to investigate a distress call that had arrived the previous week from an exploration ship that had disappeared more than twenty years before. The 'Bellerophon' had, apparently, crash landed on the planet, Altair IV, and the Reluctant was belatedly being sent to search for possible survivors and to investigate the reasons behind the crash. Checking the historical data base, Willow discovered that the Bellerophon had a crew of thirty scientists and flight crew, she'd been tasked with surveying the Altair system plus three other systems in the same area of space. Their orders had been to seek out new life forms and search for any traces of alien civilisations, past or present. Failing that they were to report the presence of any useful natural resources in each system and their suitability for colonisation.
As she'd checked the records, Willow found that the Altair system she'd been reading about wasn't the same Altair that she knew about. Obviously, she'd told herself, in the thousand and more years since The First had almost destroyed the world, one of the things that had changed was that most of the stars had been renamed or that old names had been misplaced onto new stars. The Altair that they were even now approaching was very distant from where the Altair she remembered had been positioned. It was also beyond the area of space that the Terran Alliance claimed as its sphere of influence.
“Entering normal space,” announced the First Officer as all the external sensors suddenly came back on line and started to feed information to the ship's crew and its AI, “All systems show green...”
Placing her fingers on her control board, Faith once again felt herself become one with the battle computer. All slayers knew instinctively how to use any weapon they touched, afterwards they only needed a little practice to perfect their fighting skills with that weapon. The same was true of a ship's defence systems, to the mind of a slayer the battle computers and through them the ship itself was just one big weapon that she could wield with consummate skill. Faith could actually feel the missile launchers deploy from their silo’s as she could the secondary and point defence armament. Her targeting scanners enabled her to 'see' for hundreds of thousands of miles in all directions.
“Weapons live and tracking, nothing on the threat board,” Faith reported crisply.
“No unusual phenomenon, in range,” Willow added, “launching sensor bugs.”
The 'sensor bugs' were small self propelled satellites which took up position around the Reluctant about a light second (around 186,000 miles) out from the ship and helped improve its sensor coverage of nearby space.
“Miz Rosenberg,” ordered the Captain, “prepare a probe and aim it at Altair IV, launch when ready.”
“Aye, aye, Ma'am,” Willow replied as her fingers danced over her control panel, “Launching probe...now!”
There was a muffled 'thud' as the probe launched itself from one of the tubes that was normally used for launching counter measure packages.
“Probe on the way, ETA Altair IV, sixty-three minutes,” Willow reported.
“Helm, compute a best course and speed to bring us into a standard orbit around Altair IV, if you please,” the Captain ordered.
“Computing,” replied the First Officer as she worked on her astrogation computer, a moment later she reported back to the captain, “Best course and speed laid in, we'll reach orbit of Altair IV in ninety-seven minutes...”
“Make it so, Number One.”
“Aye, aye, Ma'am.”
“Well that was a real anti climax,” Willow commented as she continued to study her read outs.
“You'd prefer for us to be shot at?” Faith asked with a smile.
“Not my first choice,” Willow shrugged, “but so far space travel seems to be...y'know...totally boring! Yeah, okay there's all the stars and pretty nebulas an' stuff but I always thought there'd be more, y'know...Wow!”
“Yeah, 'wow'.” Willow repeated, “An' we spend most of the time in FTL space so there's not even anything to look at”
“Yeah, I get what you mean,” Faith agreed with a nod, “my first cruise I thought it would be all alien civilisations and fighting pirates and demons but...”
“Not a thing,” Faith replied, “it wasn't 'til my third cruise that I saw my first pirate ship...”
“We blew it outta space five minutes after we spotted it,” Faith explained, “the Alliance has a zero tolerance attitude to pirates.”
“Eww,” Willow replied quietly, “an' what about aliens?”
“All over the place,” Faith informed her with a shrug, “but nothing you could hold a conversation with.”
“Ruins of ancient civilizations?”
“Nothing,” Faith shrugged again, “not even a discarded alien gum wrapper.”
“That's not fair,” Willow pointed out.
“I know what ya mean,” Faith nodded, “so, in the absence of hordes of alien starships heading towards us, I'm gonna get a coffee, ya want something?”
“Please, I'll have a coffee too.”
“Report,” Captain Adams ordered as she sat in her command chair looking just about as bored as the rest of the bridge crew; it was hard to keep a suitable level of interest when nothing happened for hours on end.
“Okay,” Willow studied her readouts carefully, “sizeable ice caps at both poles but other than that no sign of large bodies of standing water. I might be missing some individual structures but I see no, towns or cities, no roads, canals or air traffic, no electronic emissions. There's no sign of pollution in the atmosphere, nothing artificial in close orbit or on either of the moons...I'd say that Altair IV is one dead planet...odd...”
“What's odd, Miz Rosenberg?” the captain turned her chair so she was looking up at Willow, “Please tell me something that'll break the monotony.”
“Well that's just it, Ma'am...” Willow hesitated because she didn't really believe what she was seeing.
“Just what is 'it', Miz Rosenberg,” the Captain said with just a hint of sarcasm.
“Its the planet's surface, Captain,” Willow explained, “its almost uniformly flat.”
“Yes, ma'am flat.”
“That's it I can't,” Willow looked up from her readouts and directly at the captain, “apart from a lot of what looks like some sort of rocky outcrops or mesas and a few low ridges, the planet has no mountains or even proper hills.”
“Erosion?” the captain asked.
“If it is it must have taken a long, long time with no tectonic activity throwing up new mountains.”
“Hmm,” the captain stroked her chin, “odd...”
“Darn tootin' it's odd,” Willow agreed causing Captain Adams to smile a little.
“It'll be something for you to look into when we land...”
“Captain...” Faith called urgently, “...we're being scanned by a very powerful radar scanner.”
“Where-away?” the captain asked as everyone on the bridge became much more alert.
“Target area locked into the targeting scanners,” Faith replied; after doing something urgent with her work station a three dimensional picture of the target area appeared in the tank.
“Sensors indicate a large underground structure of exactly eight-thousand cubic miles,” Faith reported.
“Any weapons?” Captain Adams wanted to know.
“None that I've been able to detect,” Faith called back, “but this looks like it could be an advanced alien, underground structure, there may be offensive systems that our sensors don't recognise.”
“Understood, Chief,” Captain Adams watched the image in the 'tank' intently as if she was trying to see through the planet to the subsurface structure, “Reload one launcher for a maximum yield nuclear strike and keep all weapons systems on high alert.”
“Aye, aye,” Faith's fingers once again flew across her control panel.
“We're not going to blow whoever it is up without finding out what they want and who they are first, are we?” Willow whispered urgently.
“Better them than us,” Faith replied as one of the Reluctant's two missile launchers sank back into the hull of the ship only to reappear a couple of minutes later after its standard HE fragmentation missiles having been replaced with nuclear tipped ones.
“Receiving communications from the planet surface, Ma'am,” Leading Crew Woman Younger called from her communications station.
“Put it on speakers, Younger,” ordered the captain as she swung her chair so she was looking at the comms operator.
“...Space ship, identify yourself, you are being tracked,” said a human voice from the dead planet below.
“This is the Terrain Alliance Star Ship Reluctant, Lieutenant Commander J J Adams commanding,” the captain announced after pressing the comms button on the arm of her chair, “to whom am I speaking?”
“Morbius of the Bellerophon,” came the answer after only a short delay.
“I'm sorry, who?” the Captain asked to give Willow a chance to check the Bellerophon's crew roster.
“Doctor Edna Morbius,” the voice repeated.
“Got it Captain,” Willow reported, “Morbius, E. Ph-D, Lit-D...expedition philologist.”
“What do you want here Reluctant?” Morbius asked from the planetary surface.
“Erm...” the Captain gave a wry smile, “...you don't understand, Ma'am, we're your relief...we're very glad to find you alive.”
“I, of course, appreciate your concern,” Morbius replied, “but absolutely no assistance of any sort is required.”
“Dr Morbius,” Captain Adams frowned at her voice pick-up, “my orders are to ascertain the situation on Altair-4 and...”
“Let me repeat,” Morbius was beginning to sound a little annoyed, “I'm in no sort of difficulty here. Your best course of action would be to turn back at once without landing.”
“I'm sorry, Doctor Morbius, but I can't do that,” Captain Adams replied levelly.
“Captain,” Morbius spoke again, “if you set down on this planet, I warn you that I cannot be answerable for the safety of your ship and crew.”
Captain Adams turned to Faith and raised an eyebrow.
“Still no obvious offensive capability visible, Ma'am,” Faith reported before adding, “I can turn the entire area to radio-active slag in about five minutes if you want...”
“Thank-you Miz Lehane,” Captain Adams acknowledged, “but I don't think that'll be necessary just yet.” Adams spoke to the planet's only inhabitant again, “If you'd just supply me with landing coordinates, Doctor Morbius,” the Captain asked tersely; there was a long silence before Adams spoke again, “Doctor Morbius, I require landing coordinates.”
“No we don't,” Willow whispered to Faith.
“Captain's just trying to be polite,” Faith pointed out.
“Oh,” Willow nodded her understanding.
“Very well,” the sigh was clearly audible in Morbius' voice, “but I wash my hands of all responsibility...you have charts?”
“No, but if you send local navigation data we can work it out from there,” Captain Adams replied.
“Very well then...” Morbius said.
“Receiving navigational data from the planet now,” Younger reported.
“...you may land at 83-17-04, North,” Morbius instructed, “14-80-21 West.”
“Thank-you,” Adams replied before looking at first Officer Farr and receiving confirmation that the coordinates were valid.
“Captain, I strongly urge you to reconsider, please permit me to recommend...” Captain Adams cut off Morbius' voice before she'd had a chance to recommend anything.
“I wonder what she's trying to hide?” the Captain asked no one in particular.
“Captain,” Willow called as she studied the information she was receiving from the probe and the ship's sensors.
“You have something for me?”
“Yes, Ma'am, in the tank,” Willow pressed a few buttons and the picture in the tank changed to one showing a live feed of the planet's surface. “If you look here,” Willow highlighted a section of the image to show a small house surrounded by what looked like gardens, “this appears to be the only surface structure on the planet.”
“Looks like it, Ma'am,” Willow agreed, before altering the view to show a very low rise covered in what looked like graves, “The Bellerophon's crew?”
“Could be,” agreed Adams, “any sign of the Bellerophon herself?”
“None that I've detected so far.”
“Keep looking,” Adams instructed, “now where's this landing zone?”
“About five miles south-east of the structure, Ma'am,” Lt Farr reported.
“Morbius obviously doesn't want us landing too close to her house,” Adams mused before turning to look at Faith, “Miz Lehane, once we're down have the Marines set up a standard security perimeter. Secure the missile launchers and the secondary armament but deploy the point defence to cover the area around the ship.”
“Aye, aye, Captain,” Faith replied as she retracted the ship's armament into its bays prior to entry into the planet's atmosphere and landing.
“Once we're down, I'll want Miz Rosenberg, Miz Lehane and Doctor Ostrow to form an away team under the First Officer to contact this Morbius woman.”
“Aye, aye, Captain,” Lt Farr nodded as she and the helmswoman made preparations for landing the ship.
“Here you forgot this,” Faith held out a holstered M10 standard issue sidearm and a pouch of spare magazines to Willow.
“I didn't actually 'forget' it,” Willow admitted, “I was sorta hoping that I wouldn't have to carry it.”
“Come on Ma'am,” Faith urged, “standing orders...its better to have it an' not need it than...”
“I know, I know,” Willow sighed as she took the weapon and attached it to her utility belt along with the spare ammunition, “I also know that when you start with the 'Ma'am' thing there's no arguing with you.”
“Whatever,” Faith replied with a shrug.
“You do know I'm a powerful witch, right?” Willow asked.
“Yeah,” Faith replied unimpressed, “so what? What if ya magic doesn't work here?”
Willow stared at a small rock that was lying about three yards away, it rose into the air to float about a foot off the ground.
“There,” Willow smiled smugly as she let the stone fall back to the ground, “magic works, so...”
“You still have to carry a sidearm, Ma'am,” Faith replied pointedly, “look,” she turned to gesture towards the ship's doctor who was talking to the First Officer on the other side of the landing zone, “even the doc's carrying.”
“Okay, okay,” Willow replied defeated, “you've made your point.”
“I'm only thinkin' about ya safety, y'know?” Faith pointed out.
“Yeah,” Willow took a deep breath, “sorry for being a total pain,” looking out over the flat, barren landscape she asked, “are all planets as boring as this one.”
“Nah,” Faith shook her head, “this must be the crappiest planet I've been on...I mean I've seen airless moons that were more interesting.”
The planet's surface was indeed just as boring as it had seemed from orbit. The ground was basically flat, sandy gravel with only very minor undulations. The only plant life appeared to be a sort of yellow-ish-green lichen that grew in the shadows cast by the tall piles of strangely shaped rocks that stuck up into the air at random points; they were the only things that broke the monotony of the flat plain they stood on. Above them hung Altair itself which gave off an orangey-red light from a red tinted blue sky.
“Hey, Chief,” Willow indicated one to the closer piles of rock that stuck up into the air like a broken tooth.
“L-t?” Faith replied as she followed the direction of Willow's pointing finger.
“Y'know what that reminds me of?”
“It reminds me of what a very tall tower might look like if you left it for thousands of years.”
“Ya think?” Faith didn't sound so certain.
“Sorta,” Willow nodded, “either that or I'm trying to make this dump more interesting than it actually is...remind me again why we're just standing around instead of going to see this Morbius woman an' getting like outta here?”
“Gotta wait for engineering to build an aircar.”
“Look, instead of carrying a load of equipment we might never use,” Faith explained, “we have small industrial processors...”
“Oh, yeah, totally,” Willow nodded, “so they use sludge to make the stuff we need.”
“Only problem is we only have a couple of relatively small processors so engineering has to make the parts then fit 'em together.”
“Then when we don't want it any more we just feed it back into the reclamation units...” Willow grinned, “...very environmentally friendly.”
“While we're here we'll probably stock up on some minerals and stuff to top up the vats...” Faith was just about to add something else when she saw a cloud of dust heading at high speed towards the Reluctant, “...look what's that?” Even before Willow had turned to look, Faith was yelling out orders, “STAND TO!”
Following Faith as she ran back towards the ship, Willow saw crew-women running to positions within the security cordon. Further out she noticed other clouds of dust from the Marine's jet-packs as they moved to cover the approaching object. Skidding to a halt near the access ramp leading up into the Reluctant, Faith took the remote control unit for the ship's weapons systems from a crew woman who then ran off to take cover behind the half built aircar.
“What have you got, Chief?” Lt Farr asked as she ran over, gun in hand to join Faith.
“Looks like an older model aircar, Ma'am,” Faith replied after studying the small view plate on her battle board, “I've got two Gatlings locked on it, I can shred it in about half a second if you give the order.”
“You just won't be happy 'til you’ve blown something up, will you Chief?” Farr grinned at Faith.
“It's the way I was made, Lieutenant,” Faith explained with a shrug.
“Okay, lets not blast anything just yet,” Farr said, “lets see who it is first...”
“Then can I blast 'em?” Faith asked hopefully.
“Chief...I...” Lt Farr didn't get a chance to finish what she was going to say because the aircar came fully into view, “Whoever's driving that thing must be a maniac.”
The aircar did indeed look like a model that was a good twenty years out of date, but it was moving at a speed far in excess of its original design specs. It floated about two feet off the ground as a great cloud of dust flew up into the air behind it.
“No life forms,” Willow reported as she pointed her hand held scanner unit at the vehicle.
As the car got within about two hundred yards of the security perimeter it started to slow down until it was moving at a sedate ten mph.
“Let it through,” ordered Farr while the car was tracked by multiple personnel weapons and at least two Gatling guns from the ship itself.
As the car came to a stop, the four ship's Marines jumped into position to cover the car and any thing it might be carrying.
“Y'know it might be a bomb,” Faith whispered to Farr.
“You're not very trusting are you, Chief?”
“Better safe than dead.”
“Whatever...” Farr was just about to advance on the car as it came to a halt, but was halted in mid-stride as the driver's door slowly opened to reveal a humanoid figure which climbed out and looked around in interest.
“Hi,” called the short, blonde driver, “I'm Buffy.”
Barrel Length: 154mm.
Cartridge: 7mm x 20mm, caseless, anti-personnel only.
Action: Straight blow back.
Rate of Fire: Semi-auto, five or ten round burst or full auto (650 rpm)
Muzzle Velocity: 715 m/s.
Effective Range: 75m.
Feed System: 10, 25 or 50 round detachable box magazine.
Sights: Iron, optical and electronic sights available.
“Hi,” called the short, blonde driver as she climbed from the air-car, “I'm Buffy.”
“She's not real,” Faith and Willow said almost simultaneously.
Faith knew that this Buffy wasn't the real Buffy instinctively, Willow knew because she was scanning the faux Buffy with her hand scanner and also because when she'd reached out with her mind she'd found no one at home. This Buffy was dressed in a black, open neck, dress-like tunic that was so short, Willow had caught a glimpse of the black panties as the fake Buffy had climbed from the car. On her feet the counterfeit Buffy wore what looked like painfully high, black high heeled shoes and on her head she wore a black chauffeur's cap set at a jaunty angle.
“She looks real to me,” Jerri Farr commented as she lowered her sidearm a little.
“Yeah, she might look totally real,” Willow replied, “but she's not...she is in fact living flesh over a hyper-alloy chassis, I'd imagine she even has to eat and drink a little to maintain her cosmetic appearance.” Willow glanced at her scanner's readout screen, “If these readings are correct she'll be warm to the touch and she'll have pulses in all the right places, she'll even breath, it probably helps to cool her processors...but she's not real, she's just a very advanced robot.”
“Attractive too,” Jerri sighed sadly.
“What do you want?” Faith asked not letting her sidearm drift off target for a second, to her mind anyone who built robots that looked like one of her long dead sister slayers was probably evil as was the robot itself.
“I've come to welcome you to Altair Four, ladies,” the Buffy-bot turned a one-million candle power smile on the three women, “and then take you to meet Doctor Morbius.”
“You totally know you're like a robot, right?” Willow asked.
“Yes,” the Buffy-bot nodded as she turned the full force of her smile on Willow, “Doctor Morbius built me.”
“She did?” Jerri Farr asked, “Captain, are you getting all this?”
“I am Number One,” Captain Adams' voice came over the comms units that they were all carrying, unlike her First Officer, Captain Adams was still safely aboard the ship, where captain’s were supposed to be.
“What do you want us to do?” Farr asked.
“Stick with the plan, Number One,” Captain Adams replied after a short pause, “go with the robot to Morbius' home and check out the situation. I'll launch a drone to keep an eye on you, if there's any trouble I'll have the Marines at your location in a hot minute.”
“Roger that,” Jerri replied before turning to Faith and Willow, “You heard that?”
Willow and Faith nodded as they put away their sidearms, everyone seemed to think that the robot was harmless...except Faith who was still thought she might be evil. However, the ship's Marines still kept their weapons trained on the Buffy-bot, Marines were well known for their suspicious minds...they were just like Faith in fact.
“Okay we better get started then,” Jerri said before turning and calling to Doctor Ostrow, “Hey, Doc grab your medical kit its time to go.”
“On my way,” replied the doctor as she stooped to pick up her medical kit and jogged over to join the others by the car, “hey!” she cried out in surprise as she got her first close look at Buffy, “y'know she's a robot right?”
“Unfortunately yes,” Jerri Farr sighed, before turning to look at the robot in question, “Okay, we're ready to go.”
“Good,” the Buffy-bot dialled back on her smile a little, “if you'd like to take your seats...” the rear doors of the air-car opened to reveal the luxurious interior of the vehicle, “...I'll drive you to the residence.”
Willow watched as the Buffy-bot climbed back behind the controls of the car, as she did so the 'bot' showed a lot of smooth leg and just a little of her panties, Willow heard Jerri Farr give a sigh of longing before they all climbed into the spacious back seats.
“She might look like Buffy,” Willow observed in a whisper as she sat down next to Faith, “but she doesn't sound like Buffy.”
“Ya not wrong,” Faith agreed, “I wonder where this Morbius chick got the plans?”
“What's that?” Emma Ostrow asked, “You sound like you've seen this Buffy-bot thing before.”
After exchanging looks, Willow tried for a cover story.
“As you know,” Willow began after gathering her thoughts for a moment, “on Earth robots, even human-form robots aren't that advanced, this 'Buffy-bot' appears to be a lot more capable...”
“I think what Emma is trying to ask,” Jerri interrupted, “is how come you appear to be familiar with this machine.”
“Oh, yeah,” Willow hesitated for a moment before an idea popped into her brain, “like, you know I totally worked at one of the Antarctic research bases?”
Jerri and Emma nodded their heads.
“Well, we had an experimental 'companion' human-form robot there for evaluation...”
“Get your head out of the gutter, Jerri,” Emma told the First Officer.
“...and this robot,” Willow gestured to where the Buffy-bot was driving the car, “looks surprisingly similar to the one I worked with...it was called 'Buffy' too...erm a Cyberdine Systems, Buffy-bot, series, sixty-nine to be precise...I expect it's all like a total coincidence.”
“Yeah,” agreed the doctor after a moment's more thought.
“I wonder if she's fully functional,” Jerri mused quietly.
The trip to Morbius' residence only took about five minutes, so there wasn't much time to discuss the Buffy-bot's capabilities in any greater detail. The car came to a halt and grounded in front of a building that appeared to have been built into the side of one of the jagged columns of rock that littered the surface of the planet. Around the residence were gardens with lawns, trees and flowering bushes. As the starfarers climbed from the car they could hear water splashing into a large pool from a fountain somewhere nearby.
“Nice,” observed Jerri as the Buffy-bot drove the car away.
Now they were all standing in front of the house the four space-women took a moment to look around and take in the beauty of the scenery. Looking towards the residence they saw a line of tall windows, like French windows, separating the interior of the house from the garden. Through the glass they could see some comfortable looking furniture but little else.
“Hey...” Faith warned as her hand went to the grip of her sidearm, “...look.”
Moving towards an open window was the figure of a woman. Dressed in a black blouse and trousers with matching shoes, the woman appeared to be only a couple of inches short of six foot tall. Her hair was almost jet black, but there was also some grey at the temples, generally she looked to be in her late forties or early fifties. Her features were still attractive and she had the look of someone who worked-out regularly. Seeing her visitors she halted in the doorway to watch them for a moment.
“Is she real?” Jerri Farr asked under her breath.
“Yeah, as near as I can tell without doing a scan,” Willow replied quietly.
“I'm Doctor Morbius,” the tall figure introduced herself as she crossed her arms under her breasts.
“I'm Lieutenant Farr, First Officer of the Star Ship Reluctant,” Jerri introduced the other members of her team, “this is Doctor Ostrow our ship's doctor,” she gestured towards Willow, “Lieutenant Rosenberg, ship's science officer and lastly, Chief Lehane, our ship's chief of security.”
“How ironic,” Morbius announced as she took a step out into the garden, “that a simple scholar with no great ambition beyond a modest measure of seclusion should, out of a clear sky find herself besieged by an army of her sister creatures...”
“Hardly an army,” Jerri pointed out.
“...and all grimly determined to be of service to her.”
“I'm sorry, ma'am, if we're not welcome,” Jerri replied almost completely keeping the tone of annoyance from her voice, “but we do have our orders.”
“But of course you must stay for lunch ladies,” Morbius gestured towards the interior of her home, “and do forgive the ill manners of an old recluse,” she led the way into the building, “Won't you please come in?”
“Whatever that lunch was it was certainly delicious,” Jerri pushed her plate away and sat back in her seat.
The meal had consisted of various vegetable and meat-like substances, none of which Willow recognised. Having surreptitiously scanned them she'd found they weren't poisonous and were fit for human consumption.
“Simply some of Buffy's synthetics,” Morbius gestured to the Buffy-bot who was waiting with a patient smile for someone to tell her to do something.”
“She's your cook too?” Jerri asked.
“She even manufactures the raw materials,” Morbius explained, “Come round here Buffy, I want to show you off to our guests.”
Watching as Morbius stood up, Willow found she didn't like the way she ordered the Buffy-bot about, which was of course stupid because the Buffy-bot was just a machine.
“Open your mouth, Buffy,” Morbius ordered, the Buffy-bot obeyed and Morbius pointed to the robot's mouth, “if we were to place a sample of food or drink into Buffy's mouth, she'd appear to 'chew' and swallow it. As Miss Rosenberg has probably suspected, Buffy needs to ingest bio-matter to maintain her appearance and repair damage to her other layer of skin and flesh. However her stomach, for want of a better word, also contains a small chemical laboratory where she analyses anything put into it. Later she can download this information to a normal food processor, she can then reproduce identical food or drink in any quantities required.”
“I see,” Willow observed dryly, “a home-maker's dream...”
“Plus, absolute, selfless obedience,” Morbius announced proudly, seeing the doubt on her guest's faces, Morbius told the Buffy-bot to activate the reclamation unit; turning the Buffy-bot took a couple of steps towards the wall and touched a control, a small section of wall slide aside to expose a normal looking household reclamation unit.
“Watch,” Morbius smiled evilly as she picked up a round orange fruit from a bowl on the table; she threw it into the reclamation unit and everyone watched as it was reduced to its component atoms.
“Okay, so ya reclamation unit works,” Faith observed unimpressed.
“Buffy, put your arm into the disposal unit,” Morbius ordered.
The Buffy-bot took another step towards the unit and lifted her arm to put it in the opening.
“No!” gasped Willow as she found her hand moving towards her sidearm.
“Order cancelled!” Morbius called at the very last moment; Buffy stopped, lowered her arm and then turned to face Morbius a mindless smile still on her face. “Don't attribute any feelings to her, Miz Rosenberg,” Morbius looked directly at Willow, “Buffy is simply a machine. Tremendously strong of course,” this last sounded like a threat, “Buffy could quite easily destroy this house all by herself and without using anything more than her bare hands.”
“In the wrong hands,” Jerri said, “mightn't Buffy or machines like her be used as weapons?”
“No, Miz Farr,” Morbius laughed, “even if I was a mad scientist from fiction, there is a built in safe guard...let me demonstrate.”
Willow frowned, if Morbius was a mad scientist bent on galactic domination using an army of short, blonde, super strong robots; wouldn't she remove any safe guards before starting her program of universal subjugation; after all mad scientist weren't completely stupid, just mad.
“Lieutenant, may I borrow that formidable looking sidearm of yours?”
Reluctantly Jerri handed her weapon over to Morbius. Next to her, Willow could feel Faith tense as she too reached for her weapon. Taking the weapon from Jerri's hand Morbius handed it to Buffy.
“Buffy,” Morbius ordered, “point that weapon at that Althaea frutex on the terrace there...now fire!”
Doing as she was told the Buffy-bot turned towards the garden, lifted the weapon and fired. A burst of five, seven millimetre rounds hit the shrub shredding its foliage and neatly cutting its stem in two.
“Do you understand the mechanism?” Morbius wanted to know.
“Yes Doctor Morbius,” Buffy replied as she lowered the weapon, “a simple firearm using expanding gasses to propel a solid projectile.”
“Alright,” Morbius moved to one side, “turn around and point it at Lieutenant Farr...”
This time Faith did draw her weapon, first she pointed it at the Buffy-bot before reconsidering and pointing it at Morbius.
“Don't worry, Miz Lehane,” Morbius smirked, “your Lieutenant is quite safe.”
Faith glanced at Willow unsure of what she should do, she relaxed a fraction as Willow shook her head at her.
“Aim right between her eyes, Buffy,” Morbius ordered and the Buffy-bot moved the weapon so it was pointing at Jerri Farr's head, “now, fire!”
Nothing happened except that the Buffy-bot lost her usual smile and stood in confused silence unsure what to do, Morbius sneered wickedly.
“See,” she chuckled, “she's helpless, locked in a fed-back loop, an electronic dilemma between my direct orders and her basic inhibitions against harming womankind...” Morbius took the sidearm from the Buffy-bot's numbed hand, “...cancel.”
In just a couple of moments the Buffy-bot was back to her normal, happy self.
“I can't help thinking that a mad scientist would show us just such a demonstration,” Willow said, “simply to prove how safe the Buffy-bot was before going out and removing any inhibiting programming.”
“Indeed, Miz Rosenberg,” Morbius frowned at Willow, “very true, but I'm not a Mad Scientist.”
“Doctor,” Willow continued, “how did you come by such a mechanism? I've had some experience with robotics back on Earth and I've got to say that your Buffy-bot is far in advance of anything I've seen back home.”
“Oh, I didn't 'come' by her,” Morbius replied airily, “I tinkered her together during my first few months on planet...”
“The coffee is ready, Doctor Morbius,” while Willow had been speaking the Buffy-bot had left the room only to reappear moments later carrying a tray with a coffee pot and several cups and saucers on it.
“Ladies,” Morbius gestured to where the Buffy-bot had placed the tray.
“You mean you made this?” Doctor Ostrow asked as she gestured at the Buffy-bot who was now standing against the wall so she was out of the way of the humans.
“A useful enough toy, Doctor,” Morbius replied, “but nowadays I have little time for such things.”
“Doctor Morbius,” Jerri said as they moved to a more homely part of the living area; in the background the Buffy-bot started to clear away the lunch things, “you're a philologist...an expert in words and languages, their origins and meaning. Yet this robot of yours surpasses anything we have on Earth.”
“My dear Lieutenant,” Morbius smiled condescendingly down at Jerri Farr who'd taken a seat on the sofa in front of a coffee table, “maybe you over estimate both Buffy and myself. Ladies let me show you another piece of 'magic'.”
Willow, who'd never appreciated being treated like some sort of simple savage, watched as Morbius put down her coffee cup and moved towards a table next to one of the windows. By shifting in her seat slightly Willow could see some sort of control panel set into the desk's surface. Pressing a large red button, Morbius caused heavy, metal, shutters to suddenly cover the windows. By the time the shutters had closed off the house from the outside world, Morbius found herself looking down the barrels of four M10 sidearms.
“Forgive me,” Morbius said with false regret, “I didn't mean to alarm you. Ladies, put down your weapons you're quite safe. I had Buffy install these titanium shutters before I realised how all together safe I am here.”
Morbius pressed the button again and the shutters rapidly folded themselves away.
“Well, ladies,” Morbius said in a tone of voice that said the visit was now at an end, “this has been very pleasant. You've seen how comfortable I am here, no hardships no special difficulties,” once again Morbius smiled insincerely, “and no need for military assistance. Now, I dare say you're impatient to return to your shipmates and get on with more important work.”
“Of course,” Jerri nodded, “and so we will the moment we've interviewed the other survivors from the Bellerophon's crew.”
“Other's...” Morbius appeared to be taken aback by this request, “...but, there are no others. Before the first year was out, they had all died, every woman had succumbed to a...to a sort of planetary force. Some dark, terrible, incomprehensible force.”
“Strange how our probes and scanners didn't pick up anything like that,” Willow observed.
“Whatever your scanners did or did not find, Lieutenant, rest assured that its out there somewhere, only my wife and I appeared to be immune.”
“And just how do you account for your immunity, Doctor?” Doctor Ostrow wanted to know.
“My wife and I differed only from the rest of the crew in our love for this world,” Morbius explained, “In our boundless longing to make a home here, far from the scurry and strife of womankind.” Morbius sighed sadly, “I remember how when the vote was taken to continue with our mission, she and I were utterly heartbroken,” Morbius shrugged, “How could we have foreseen the total extinction of so many crew-mates and friends.”
“Jerri,” Willow checked the crew manifest on her hand held computer, “there is no record of Doctor Morbius' wife aboard the Bellerophon.”
“Oh, Miz Rosenberg,” Morbius laughed, “look under biochemistry. Doctor Julia Martin, she and I were joined by the Captain on the voyage here...I still have the certificate.”
“It checks out,” Willow replied with a certain amount of disappointment, “I'm betting Doctor Martin isn't at home today?”
“My dear wife died a few months after all the others,” Morbius replied with every sign of regret, “only in her case it was of natural causes.”
“We're sorry for your loss,” Jerri said for everyone.
“Doctor Morbius, just what were the symptoms of all these deaths?” Emma Ostrow wanted to know, if she was going to have to fight an outbreak of some unknown sickness she needed to find out as much as she could about it before it struck.
“The symptoms were striking,” Morbius began, “One by one, in spite of every safeguard my friends could devise, they were torn, limb from limb by some unseen force.”
“By what?” Faith demanded realising that this was now a security issue and not a medical one.
“By some demonic force that never showed itself!”
“And the Bellerophon?” Faith pressed.
“Vaporised as the last survivors tried to take off...”
“Yet in all these nineteen years you've never been attacked,” Faith asked not believing a word of Morbius' explanation.
“Only in my nightmares,” Morbius admitted slowly, “in my mind I always get the feeling that this creature or creatures are lurking somewhere close by only waiting to be reawakened.”
Everyone turned to see a young woman enter the room through a door which obviously led to another part of the house.
“Now she is real...as far as I can tell,” Willow whispered into Jerri Farr's ear.
'Reluctant' Base, Altair IV.
“So, what do you think?” Willow asked the next day as she walked the perimeter of 'Reluctant Base' with Faith.
“About Morbius?” Faith asked as she checked the positioning of part of the electronic fence that now surrounded the starship.
“Uh-huh,” Willow nodded, “and what about that Buffy-Bot?”
“Morbius? Evil-mad-scientist-woman,” Faith turned to her friend and shrugged, “she'll have to die.”
“The Buffy-bot?” Willow asked, “I mean how did she know what Buffy looks like?”
“Probably looked in a history book,” Faith replied with a shrug, “she's pretty famous in some places, ya know?”
“Yeah, maybe, but what about her daughter, Altaira?” Willow wanted to know; the girl had appeared while everyone was drinking coffee after lunch.
Morbius' daughter was about eighteen, blonde and very pretty, she'd been wearing a short, tunic-like dress and a smile, she also looked nothing like her 'mother'. It was very obvious from the way Doctor Morbius had reacted that she hadn't wanted anyone to know of her daughter's existence let alone actually meet her.
“Probably another robot,” Faith suggested, “a more advanced version of Buffy.”
“What makes you say that,” Willow paused to scan a patch of lichen with her hand scanner, “about Altaira being another robot, I mean?”
“Okay,” Faith replied after a moment's thought, “who's the father? Those old survey ships didn't have the space to carry a man or have anywhere to secure him.”
“Not a problem,” Willow countered, “the Reluctant has ten-thousand shots of semen in stasis aboard just in case we're stranded somewhere and have to start a colony.”
“Okay, she's probably real,” Faith admitted with a shrug as the two women walked on, “but those animals weren't, I bet ya if we cut 'em open we'll just find all that hyper-alloy stuff an' silicone.”
“Yeah totally,” Willow agreed, “I mean like who was Morbius trying to kid? Two deer and one tiger, no way were they real.”
“Ya didn't scan 'em?”
“Couldn't, not without being seriously obvious about it,” Willow admitted, “and I didn't think it was like a good idea to annoy our host, I mean who knows what else she might've 'tinkered' together.”
“I reckon, Morbius practiced by making the animals first,” Faith mused, “then built the Buffy-bot...so what's so unusual about this Buffy machine?”
“Well...” Willow thought for a moment before expressing her thoughts, “...she's unlike the bots that we have on Earth which are really just cleverly programmed machines, they can't think for themselves.”
“But we've got AIs, like Tara,” Faith pointed out.
“True,” agreed Willow, “but the AIs we have are too physically big to put in something like a human form robot, which is why you only find AIs like Tara on ships or in permanent installations. I betting that Morbius' Buffy-bot is much more advanced in most ways than the original Buffy-bot I mean the original Buffy-bot had a lot of magic elements built into her, this one dosn’t.”
“You think Morbius has been using her as a sex-toy?”
“Uh-huh,” Willow nodded as she stopped to look at another patch of yellow-ish-green lichen, “I know its stupid coz this Buffy-bot is just a machine an'all, but...”
“But...I don't like the way Morbius talks to her, I mean it,” Willow corrected herself, “and the way she has it dress...I mean, 'icky' or what?”
“I get where ya coming from, Red,” Faith sympathised, “the robot looks just like ya best-friend from Sunny-D, so ya gonna have problems dealing with it.”
“That's very insightful of you,” Willow smiled.
“Yeah, like I've had ten years an' a lot of spare time with nothing to do but read,” Faith admitted with a self deprecating laugh.
“Have you finished whatever it is you're doing?” Willow asked as they arrived at the point they'd started from fifteen minutes earlier.
“Ya wanna go some place else?” Faith gestured to the desolate landscape around them, “The Mall maybe?”
“Yeah,” Willow gestured to one of the nearby outcrops of rock, “I'd like to take a look over there and I guessing you won't let me go by myself.”
“What, an' get our shiny, new, science officer eaten by a bunch of lichen or something?” Faith chuckled, “No way, not on my watch...” Faith took her comms unit from her utility belt, “...Cots, it's Faith, over.”
“What-cha-want, Faithie, over,” came Quinn's voice from the comms unit a moment later.
“Look, L-t Rosenberg wants to go outside the perimeter,” Faith explain, “okay if I go with her, over?”
“Not a problem, Faith,” Quinn replied, “I'll task a drone to keep an eye on you, over.”
“Thanks, Cots, out,” Faith changed channel then continued to speak into her comms, “Corporal Himesaki?”
“Himesaki receiving, Chief.”
“Look, Yurika I've just checked the perimeter and I want you to beef it up a little with some directional mines,” Faith said, “but, leave 'em inactive for now, I don't want any of the crew blowing themselves up, okay?”
“Roger that,” replied the Marine corporal, “shall I place them to protect the fence posts, over?”
“Sounds good,” Faith agreed, “I'm going outside the fence, I'll probably be about an hour...” Faith glanced at Willow and got a confirming nod, “...yeah about an hour, beep me if there's a problem, over.”
“Roger,” confirmed Yurika before Faith signed off.
“Got everything?” Faith asked Willow, “Gun, spare bullets, science do-dads?”
“Yeah!” Willow laughed, “But I forgot the picnic basket.”
“I'll make sure we're home for lunch,” Faith said as she led the way towards the nearest outcrop of rock.
“Good morning, Miz Altaira,” Jerri Farr had seen the girl arrive and had run over to join her, “how are you today?”
“Very well, thank-you and please call me Alta,” Alta replied with an innocent smile, “I know you must be used to all this,” she gestured at all the activity going on around them, “but you've got to realise I've never seen so many people before and its just a little overwhelming.”
“Hey,” Jerri smiled knowingly, “why don't we go over here aways,” she pointed to a jumble of rocks about fifty yards away, “we can observe from there without being bothered by all the company.”
“Oh!” smiled the girl guilelessly, “What a good idea...would you like to come with me, perhaps explain what's happening?”
“It would be my pleasure, Alta,” Jerri grinned as he led the girl towards the rocks.
“Wow!” Natalie gasped, “Now there's something you don't see everyday.”
Okay, she knew that the girl was just a robot, but rumour had it she was a pretty 'special' robot. Pushing all ideas of checking out what the ship's scuttlebutt told her was a 'sex-bot', Natalie got to thinking about some of the other rumours she'd heard about the robot girl, like the rumour that she could manufacture anything you wanted; particularly anything you couldn't get the ship's processors to make without getting into trouble with COTs or Chief Lehane. Walking over to the cargo vehicle, Natalie caught the eye of the robot girl and smiled.
“Hey!” Natalie called in a friendly tone, “Thanks for all the fruit and veg.”
“You are welcome,” the Buffy-bot replied with one of her signature smiles, “I am programmed to please.”
“I bet you are,” Natalie muttered under her breath, “Yeah about that,” she put her arm around the robot's shoulder and started to guide her away from the ship, “I wonder if you can help me with something...”
“Is that all there is to it?” Alta sounded puzzled and maybe just a little disappointed; she'd been expecting so much more from her first romantic kiss.
“Well,” Jerri frowned, “you've got to work at it a little.”
Once again Jerri moved towards the girl, this time wrapping her in a tight embrace, on this attempt the kiss lasted for just over a minute. Stepping away from the girl again, she watched Alta for her reaction. Much to her surprise the girl, once again, looked a little let down by the experience.
“Just once more,” Alta said, “do you mind?”
“No, not at all,” Jerri smiled.
This time when they kissed, Jerri moved her hand so it rested on one of the Alta's breasts. When they eventually parted Alta still looked a little disappointed.
“There must be something seriously wrong with me,” Alta explained, “because, honestly, I haven't noticed the least bit of stimulation.”
“Okay,” Jerri signed, her pride was hurt by her seeming inability to get some sort of positive response out of the girl, “lets do this properly...now where…?”
Taking hold of Alta's arms she stepped towards the girl again and placed Alta's arms around her own waist while she placed one arm around Alta’s shoulders and her other hand on the girl's breast again. This time when they kissed, Alta kissed back.
“Oh that's much better,” she breathed as she disentangled herself from Jerri's arms, “I really started to feel some stimulation there...perhaps it would be better if we took off our clothes?”
Cautiously the Buffy-bot joined the cook and stood in front of her, her head cocked attentively to one side.
“You know that I'm only programmed to be fully functional with Doctor Morbius?” the Buffy-bot asked cheerfully.
“Fully functional?” Natalie queried before she realised what the robot meant, “No, I don't want to have sex with you...”
“That's good,” replied the robot, “because although you are a very attractive human and I'm programmed to obey, but as I've explained I can only have sex with Doctor Morbius.”
“Whatever,” Natalie shrugged, the robot appeared to have a one program mind, “never mind all the sex stuff. I'm a stranger on this here planet and I was wondering if...if you could tell a girl where she might find some of the real stuff.”
“Real stuff?” the Buffy-bot frowned.
“For cooking purposes, you understand?” Natalie lied, “I take pride in my duties, you know?”
“I'm sorry, but, stuff?” the Buffy-bot asked once again.
“Oh!” realising that the robot didn't understand what she meant by 'stuff', Natalie took the water bottle off her utility belt and unscrewed the cap, she took a swig and gasped as the fiery liquid burnt its way down into her stomach, “Just about one jolt left,” seeing the confused look on the robot's face she explained a little more, “Genuine, ancient, rocket bourbon.”
The recipe had been passed down down from mother to daughter in Natalie's family for hundreds of years. Unfortunately she'd not been able to set up a still on the Reluctant (Chief Lehane took her Mistress-at-Arms duties way too seriously) and she was down to her last few dregs.
“See here,” Natalie held out the bottle towards the robot only to have it snatched out of her hand, “HEY!” she cried as the robot drank her last swallow. “Why, you low-living contraption,” Natalie cried as she wrestled the now empty bottle from the Buffy-bot's vice-like grip, “I oughta have you deactivated!”
“Quiet please,” the Buffy-bot intoned, “I am analysing...hic! Yes,” the Buffy-bot said slowly a few seconds later, “relatively simple alcohol molecules with traces of fusil oil...would sixty pints be sufficient?”
“What!?” Natalie couldn't believe her ears.
“I could supply as much as one-hundred pints if you wish,” the Buffy-bot replied, “any more would increase production times.”
“Oh, goddess,” Natalie gasped, “yes please!”
“Yeah, I know what ya mean,” Faith didn't like talking about Sunnydale, it hadn't exactly been one of her finest moments.
“So, Chief Faith,” Willow paused for a moment to check her readings, “why'd you join up, I mean I'd never have taken you for the explorer type.”
“Oh, I needed a job,” Faith shrugged.
“Hey, there must be something more to it than that, I mean you coulda joined the army or police,” Willow pointed out, “they all welcome slayers with open arms and I'm guessing that your police an' prison records have been lost somewhere down the line, so fess up.”
“Okay,” Faith sighed heavily, “back on Earth, that's the Earth we came from, I...I used to like watching Star Trek...”
“Star Trek!?” Willow stared a Faith in surprise, “Like, Captain Kirk an' Doctor Spock?”
“That's Mr Spock and I liked Picard more than Kirk,” Faith confessed.
“Wow,” Willow couldn't help giggling, “our very own closet Trekkie...”
“Watch what ya saying,” Faith growled.
“Yeah, sorry,” Willow schooled her face and looked serious again, “so you wanted to boldly go where no slayer had gone before?”
“Something like that,” Faith nodded, “it sounded like I'd be doing something worth while and to be honest I've not been a great success on Earth so I thought I'd try space.”
“Erm,” Willow hesitated, “I don't want to sound like I'm putting you down or something but...”
“Ya wonderin' how someone like me could get into Star Force, right?”
“Uh-huh,” Willow nodded.
“Like ya say,” Faith shrugged, “lots of organisations welcome slayers an' their special abilities with open arms nowadays...also over the last ten years I've done a lot of education courses...like I say, space exploration is totally boring, so ya read a lot.”
“Cool,” Willow smiled, “and not trying to sound too condescending here, but, well done.”
“Y'know,” Faith smiled, “not so long ago I wouldn't have known what 'condescending' meant, but I'd still have thought it was something bad an' hit ya!”
“Good old Faith,” Willow chuckled as she looked at her scanner readouts again, “Hey, these readings look all screwy.”
“Screwy?” Faith smirked, “Is that some sorta new scientific term?”
“Whatever,” Willow frowned at what her scanner was telling her, “like this is all wrong...”
“What's wrong?” Faith moved to where she could look over Willow's shoulder and see the scanner's readouts; they didn't mean much to her but she could tell Willow was more than just a little perplexed by them.
“Look,” Willow pointed to the screen, “this should be telling us that we're standing on fairly ordinary sand, considering we're on an alien world, right?”
“I'll take ya word for it,” Faith agreed.
“But it doesn't, its telling me that we're standing on pulverised concrete and tiny pieces of a glass-like substance. There's also a high metallic content, but its no metal I'm familiar with.”
“So,” Willow paused for a moment as she checked the readings once again, “you know I said about these how these outcrops looked like incredibly old tower blocks...”
“Well, I think we're standing on the ruins of some incredibly ancient alien city.”
“No,” Willow shook her head, “I'd need to collect some samples and do like hundreds of tests before I can prove anything, but...”
“Hey, Will,” Faith put a supportive hand on Willow's shoulder, “I trust your guesses more than most people's facts. So, if ya say we're standing on alien ruins I'm gonna believe ya.”
“Thanks Faith...” Willow frowned as she swung her scanner left to right in front of her, “...what's that?”
“Movement about thirty or forty yards off to our left,” Willow pointed the scanner in the direction of the movement.
“Probably one of the Marines trying to sneak up on us,” Faith replied.
“Do the Marines do that?” Willow wanted to know.
“Yeah they're assholes,” Faith shrugged, “they keep tryin' to get the drop on me...they think it's funny.”
“Erm...” Willow fine tuned her scanner, “...too big for a Marine, maybe its one of Morbius' robot animals.”
“Cool,” Faith grinned as she pulled her M10 from its holster; the standard issue M10 sidearm was either a big pistol or a small sub-machine-gun, it depended how you looked at it, “maybe we can capture it and take it apart.”
“Capture it?” Willow looked pointedly at the gun in Faith's hand.
“Oh, okay, shoot it and then take it apart.”
“Whatever it is its must be over seven-feet tall, nearer eight and its coming right at us,” Willow sounded a little nervous.
“Come on,” Faith pushed Willow towards some boulders that would provide them with cover.
“Hey Faith,” Quinn's voice came over Faith comms unit, “watch out there's something moving...!”
Before Chief of the Ship Quinn could finish what she was saying, something big, black and insect-like but still vaguely human shaped jumped over a large boulder and made its way towards Faith and Willow, its jaws opening and closing in anticipation of ripping into their flesh. The creature had a long, whip-like tail and made a strange screaming sound like a soul in torment. Raising her M10, Faith fired two five round bursts into the monster, the 7mm slugs ripped through the creature's exoskeleton and knocked it onto its back. Just as the monster slumped to the ground two of the Reluctant's Marines arrived in a storm of dust and jet pack exhaust. They landed near the rocks that Faith and Willow were using as cover and sprayed the night-mare horror with fire from their M-TAR-25 combat rifles.
“Okay girls!” Faith yelled over the sound of the firing, “I think its dead!”
Reluctantly the Marines stopped shooting to let Faith and Willow advance on the dead creature and examine it.
“I don't think its a machine,” Willow observed as she stood near the creature's remains.
“Unless its one of these bio-machines people keep talkin' about.”
“You have been reading up on stuff, haven't you?” Willow replied as she knelt down and ran her scanner over the corpse.
“I live to surprise ya,” Faith said before turning to the two Marines, “Sweep the area and make sure there's no more of these things...”
“Hey, Faith,” Willow nudged a piece of dead alien creature with the toe of her silver booted foot, “you know what this looks like?”
“I'd like to say no,” Faith replied as she lifted her weapon again, “but...”
“It's an Alien,” Willow gasped.
“Yeah, like I know it's an alien.”
“No,” Willow looked at the creature closely, “its an Alien, alien, only bigger.”
“Hey! What's all the shooting about...did some one say 'alien'?” Captain Adams appeared at the head of a small force of armed crew women.
“Erm...yeah,” Willow gestured to the dead creature as the Marines whooshed off to start their sweep.
“What in the hellmouth...” Adams stared at the body, her mouth dropping open, “... is that?”
“Not friendly?” Faith suggested.
“I've got some ideas, Captain,” Willow said slowly, “but I'd like to do some tests before I jump to any conclusions.”
“Okay,” Captain Adams nodded, “set up a perimeter around the body, I'm not having that thing any closer to the ship than it is already.”
“I don't think its a zombie, Ma'am?” Willow pointed out, it'd been far too energetic to be a zombie.
“That's what they say in all the cheap horror novels just before the monster comes back to life and eats everyone's brains.”
“We're using cheap horror novels as tactical manuals now?” Willow asked in surprise.
“Miz Rosenberg,” Captain Adams smiled grimly, “I have a sign on my desk that says, 'Better Safe Than Dead',” she pointed at the body, “that thing’s staying right there...now,” the Captain looked around, “where's my First Officer?”
Barrel Length: 340mm.
Cartridge: 7mm x 40mm, Armour Piercing or Anti-personnel.
Action: Gas operated rotating bolt.
Rate of Fire: Semi-auto, three round burst or full auto (750–900 rounds/min).
Muzzle Velocity: 910 m/s.
Effective Range: 600m.
Feed System: 10, 25 or 50 round detachable box magazine.
Sights: Iron, optical and electronic sights available.
'Reluctant' Base, Evening.
“Okay, Miz Rosenberg,” Captain Adams nodded to Willow, “why don't we start by hearing your report?”
Captain Adams, First Officer Farr, Willow, Faith and Cots Quinn were all sitting around a table underneath the Reluctant as night started to fall over this part of the planet. Around them powerful lights were coming on to sweep the area around the landing zone, they backed up the ship's sensors and the crew's eyeballs as they searched the desolate landscape for danger. In the distance the electronic fence surrounding the ship hummed as power was pumped into it, anything touching the fence would be fried by the tremendous energies put into that immaterial barrier.
“Totally, right...” Willow glanced at Faith before she began to explain what she'd found out; somehow she had to explain how she and Faith had been attacked by a monster from out of a pre-First horror movie. “Erm...” Willow pressed a couple of icons on her computer pad before she decided that she really needed to say something, “...the creature that attacked myself and Chief Lehane appears to be a very rare and so far un-named type of demon...”
“A demon?” Captain Adams asked with concern; demons had been found on a number of planets and were a continuing threat to womankind.
“Yeah, its not even in the usual demon data bases,” Willow explained; she and Faith had come up with the demon theory to explain the 'Alien' because if they said that it was just a monster from an ancient movie that would cause questions to be asked that neither woman wanted to, or could answer. “I had to look up some pretty obscure sources to find any information at all on this creature.”
“Where did these sources come from?” Jerri Farr, wanted to know.
“My own library,” Willow replied levelly, “if you check my service records you'll notice I'm a practising Witch so I have access to demon databases not normally open to the general researcher.”
“Okay, Miz Rosenberg,” Captain Adams raised her hand to prevent Jerri Farr from continuing with her line of questioning, “what can you tell us about these creatures, how dangerous are they?”
“If I may, Captain,” Faith interrupted, “Miz Rosenberg showed me her findings an' I've worked up a threat assessment.”
“Okay, Chief,” Adams shrugged, “you have the floor.”
“Close up,” Faith began, “these things are deadly. They're armed with claws, teeth and a tail with a sharp barb on the end, they also have acid for blood...”
“Acid for blood?” Jerri gasped, “How...?”
“However,” Faith didn't give the First Officer time to finish her question, “out in the open they're easy targets because their only real tactic is to attack in large numbers hoping to overwhelm an' opponent...”
“Large numbers?” Adams asked, “You mean there's more of these things?”
“Descriptions of these creatures would suggest that there might well be thousands of them hidden outside the perimeter,” Faith explained. “But, like I say as long as we don't get to close quarters with these things we'll be okay.”
“There's a couple of other things you should know,” Willow added, “these things like to capture people and lay eggs inside them...”
“Don't tell me,” Captain Adams swallowed before continuing, “they hatch an' burst out of your chest?”
“Something like that,” Willow agreed with a nod, “they have four stages, egg, face hunger, hatchling and finally warrior...I've worked up an information sheet that I'll post to your personnel pads. We know for sure that in the egg stage the demons can stay dormant for years, possibly thousands of years but no one knows for certain, no studies have been done on these creatures because they're so rare.”
“So where did these things come from?” Jerri Farr wanted to know.
“Its been theorised that these creatures were some sort of bio-machines developed to be the soldiers for another race,” Willow answered, “this planet might very well be where they come from...they're also probably what killed the crew of the Bellerophon.”
“Which draws a big question mark over Doctor Morbius,” Captain Adams mused, “like, why these creatures haven't attacked her or any of her family.”
“You'd need a pretty advanced civilisation to build bio-machines,” Jerri Farr pointed out, “so where is it?”
“Right under our feet in more ways than one,” Willow replied.
“Explain?” the Captain ordered.
“Right,” Willow took a deep breath, “I can't be sure because I've not finished my tests yet and if we assume that the rest of the planet is like it is here...”
“A fair assumption from what our probes have shown us so far,” Farr interjected.
“At some point in the past the entire surface of the planet was one, enormous city,” Willow gestured to the darkness outside the base's perimeter.
“A city,” Adams gasped, “but that would mean...” she stopped for a moment as she realised what Willow was suggesting, “...that would mean for a city to be reduced to just so much dust that...”
“At least two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand years must have passed, probably a lot longer,” Willow filled in the blanks, “With Chief Lehane's help I've worked up a hypothesise of what might have happened.”
“Go on,” the Captain gestured for Willow to continue.
“The inhabitants of this world,” Willow began to explain, “for reasons of their own, developed these creatures as 'soldiers'.” Being familiar with the 'Aliens' franchise, Willow and Faith had worked up a hypothesise based on the back story for the 'Alien' series of films. “Somehow, one or more of these creatures escaped, began to multiple and in a very short time they had eliminated the planet's population...”
“How short a time?” Jerri Farr wanted to know.
“Maybe as little as a week, perhaps two,” Willow shrugged, “as long as the creatures had victims to lay eggs in there'd be more demons. The demons would probably use the bodies of the creatures they'd laid their eggs in as food, although I couldn't find anything about what these demons eat in the records, however, I'd suggest that eating the bodies of their victims would be logical.”
There was silence around the table as everyone thought about what Willow had said.
“So to recap,” Captain Adams said quietly, “untold centuries ago a highly advanced civilisation bioengineered these creatures to use them as soldier. The 'soldiers' break out and exterminate their makers.”
“That's about it,” Willow agreed, “in a way its a little like what The First tried to do...eventually there'd be a 'tipping point' when the creatures began to outnumber the inhabitants,” Willow paused for a moment, “from that point on the locals were doomed.”
“Could this be the work of The First?” Captain Adams asked.
“I've seen no evidence to suggest that it was,” Willow replied soberly, “but since The First has been around at least as long as the human race, it can't be totally discounted.”
“So why was one of these things active enough to attack you and the Chief?” Jerri asked getting the discussion back to the present situation.
“Again I'm not one-hundred percent sure,” Willow relied with a shrug, “but what little evidence there is suggests that a few warrior creatures remain active or semi-active to guard the eggs and watch for threats or for new food/incubator animals to appear. I'd suggest that the creature that attacked us was one of these scouts.”
“So there's a load of eggs some place around here?” the Captain asked, “How many eggs would you say?”
“Hundreds,” Willow shrugged again, “thousands, maybe even millions.”
“If we found 'em,” Faith suggested, “we could nuke 'em from orbit,” she grinned in anticipation of finishing the quote, “it's the only way to be sure.”
“For once Chief,” Adams looked at Faith, “I think I agree with you...nuke 'em 'til they glow!”
“Unfortunately, Captain,” Willow spoke up again, “there's probably nests all over the planet...can we nuke the world?”
“Okay, but I think we're getting ahead of ourselves,” Jerri Farr pointed out, “we don't even know whether there are any of these 'nests', I don't think we should destroy a world without checking first...even this one.”
“I agree with Jerri,” Captain Adams said, “even a crappy place like this doesn't deserve to be blown up...and what about Morbius and her daughter...were do they fit in? And there's still that underground structure near Morbius' residence,” the Captain paused for a moment as she thought over what was the best course of action. “Okay tomorrow, I want Miz Rosenberg and Chief Lehane to go over to Morbius' home and question her about these demons and the underground structure. She can't have been here nearly twenty years without coming into contact with these creatures.” the Captain looked directly at Faith, “Chief, you have my permission to arrest Doctor Morbius if you think she's hiding something...or if you think she's a threat to the ship and crew.”
“What about Alta?” Jerri asked urgently.
“You better take Miz Altaira into protective custody too,” Captain Adams added.
“Yes Ma'am,” Faith nodded.
“In the mean time,” Adams turned to look at Cots Quinn who'd been sitting quietly next to the Captain recording the meeting, “Cots you'll have to take over Chief Lehane's security duties while she's away. I want the ship on high alert and...”
Before Captain Adams could finish what she was saying a blood curdling scream pierced the night.
Looking around her galley, Ship's Cook, Natalie Young, checked that everything was spick-an'-span before closing up for the night. Because of the fresh produce delivered by the mysterious Doctor's robot there'd been no serious complaints about the food tonight, she'd made a vegetable curry with processed rice and fresh vegetables, even the food processors couldn't screw up rice. Smiling as she locked the door to the galley, Natalie reminded herself that she needed to go and collect the bourbon that the cute robot would be delivering tonight.
Arriving back at her cabin (as the ship’s cook, she was likely to be up at all hours and needed to have somewhere she could sleep without being disturbed), Natalie changed into a clean uniform and put on her utility belt along with her sidearm. Heading out into the corridor she made her way to the loading bay and down the ramp to the planet's surface where she met Crew Woman Good who was guarding the ramp.
“Hi Babs,” Natalie greeted her shipmate.
“Hi Cookie,” Babs Good smiled, “where y'goin'?”
“Thought I'd take a stroll before I turn in,” Natalie explained, “y'know after being cooped up in the galley all day.”
“I get that,” Babs nodded before jerking her chin towards the table where the senior officers and Chiefs were having a meeting, “Y'might wanna head out to the other side of the perimeter.”
“Yeah thanks,” Natalie nodded, “I'll do that.”
“Yeah an' don't let one of them beasties grab ya,” Babs called softly as her shipmate walked off into the night.
“I'll be careful,” Natalie called back with a wave of her hand; the news of the creature attack had swept through the crew like wildfire.
Reaching the perimeter fence, Natalie stopped and looked around, she was fairly sure there were no eyes, either human or electronic on her, so she took a small device from a pouch on her utility belt. Holding it against one of the fence posts she smiled as the section of fence in front of her deactivated. A couple of years ago she'd 'won' the highly illegal key in a game of poker, it allowed her to deactivate sections of security fence and locks without any alarms going off. Stepping outside the perimeter, she reactivated the fence before heading off towards the jumble of rocks where she'd arranged to meet the robot.
The area around the ship was illuminated by the ship's floodlights, however the chances of the security systems alerting the crew to something moving away from the ship were pretty slim. Even something like Tara, the ship's AI, was pretty dumb compared to sneaky womankind. The AI might see her moving but probably wouldn't report it until Natalie moved back towards the ship. This meant that although Natalie was going out to meet the robot, the bourbon would have to wait until tomorrow to be brought aboard the ship when Natalie could use some other task as cover for bringing the illegal hooch aboard the ship.
Walking further away from the ship, Natalie found the darkness closing in on her, checking her sidearm was loose in its holster, she took out a small torch and used it to light her way. Even so she nearly tripped as she walked around a boulder. Stumbling a little she looked down and saw the hundred pint sized canteens neatly stacked up near another rock and standing next to them was the cute robot.
“Oh goddess!” gasped Natalie as she realised that the robot had actually delivered.
“As requested,” the Buffy-bot said as she turned to face Natalie, “one-hundred pints of Rocket Bourbon.”
Rushing over to the pile of canteens, Natalie grabbed one and unscrewed the cap. First she sniffed at the contents, it certainly smelled alright. Shrugging she put the canteen to her lips and drank.
“By the Goddess that's good!” she gasped as the liquid stripped her throat of a layer of cells, she coughed a little, “And smooth too...”
The Buffy-bot said nothing as Natalie picked up a couple of canteens before taking another swig from the already opened one still in her hand.
“This has to be the best yet,” Natalie congratulated as she stepped up to the robot, “look, if there's anything I can do...”
“Wait!” the Buffy-bot held up her hand for quiet.
“What's wrong?” Natalie put down her cargo and let her right hand drift towards her holstered sidearm.
“I am scanning,” the Buffy-bot informed Natalie, “there is a creature approaching from the west, range fifty yards.”
“The west?” Natalie drew her M10, if whatever it was was coming from the west that meant it was moving towards the ship; for a moment Natalie wonder if she shouldn't call it in, but if she did that she'd probably lose all her bourbon when Chief Lehane came to investigate.
“What sort of creature?” Natalie asked the Buffy-bot.
“A hunter,” the Buffy-bot answered enigmatically.
“A hunter?” frowned Natalie, “What sort of hunter...AAAAAAGH!”
Screaming in agony, Natalie felt something rip into her back and through her body. Reaching with frantic fingers for her sidearm she felt herself being lifted off her feet as hands with wickedly sharp talons raked her chest and abdomen. Her weapon fell uselessly from her limp fingers as Ship's Cook Natalie Young died from massive blood loss.
Standing near the pile of canteens the Buffy-bot did nothing to help the human as the warrior tore the woman apart. Her programming told her that if she did nothing the warrior would ignore her, she was a machine and the warrior had no use for her. However, this was in contravention of her programming that she shouldn't let any harm come to a human. However, in the Buffy-bot's world the only two real human creatures on this planet were Doctor Morbius and Miss Altaira. Watching as the warrior collected up the human's remains for later consumption, the Buffy-bot detected multiple life forms moving rapidly towards her location. Turning, the Buffy-bot headed into the night and away from the smell of blood; Doctor Morbius would want to know about the attack as soon as possible.
Now she was near, she could detect movement within five metres of her present location. Stepping around a boulder the first thing she saw was about a hundred issue water bottles stacked up neatly next to a large rock. Only confused for a moment, Kana turned to face a large creature covered in what looked like sinister, black, shiny, armour. The monster must have heard her because it looked up from the roughly butchered body of the cook and stared right at the Marine. Frozen by what she was seeing, Kana exchanged looks with the monster. After only a moment the creature apparently dismissed her from its mind and continued collecting up pieces of the cook which lay on the blood soaked ground.
Moving her rifle, Kana watched as her aiming pipper drifted across the faceplate of her helmet. Laying the pipper on the centre of the observed mass, Kana fired. The clearing was suddenly lit up by the flash of her weapon as her bullets ripped into creature blowing it to pieces. Lumps of monster flew through the air to land with a 'splat' all around the clearing, some of it even splashed onto her armour. Stepping back from the now thoroughly dead monster, Kana looked down to see smoke rise from her armour where the bits of monster had landed on it; it was only then that she remembered the warnings about how the creatures had acid for blood. Watching she saw the monster's bodily fluids burn little craters into her armour before it became inactive. Checking the readouts on her faceplate she noted that her suit's integrity hadn't been compromised.
Jumping straight upwards her jet pack lifted her some seventy-five feet into the air. Hovering on her gravitic generator, Kana used a couple of squirts of 'go-juice' to turn herself though three-hundred-and-sixty degrees as she scanned for the target she'd detected moving away from the clearing. Either the target had good stealth capabilities or it was hiding in a scanner dead-zone, either way the target was gone. Landing back in the bloody clearing, Kana was relieved to find, Corporal Himesaki, Chief Lehane, the First Officer, plus the new science officer and four armed crewers as they burst onto the scene.
“Marine, Anzai!” Corporal Himesaki called over her inter suit comms, “Report!”
“Ya not wrong,” Faith agreed quietly as she replaced her side arm in its holster.
Waiting until the two Marines had flown off into the night to try and find the second intruder and the four crewers had formed a loose cordon around the murder sight, Willow, Faith and Jerri advanced into the clearing.
“One of your warriors?” Jerri asked as she pointed her weapon at the very badly shot up monster.
“Hardly mine,” Willow pointed out, “but, yeah I think that's a warrior, keep back, remember what I said about acid for blood.”
“Erm, Miz Rosenberg,” Faith called, “wasn't there something about the acid becoming inactive when the creature died?”
“Oh! Oh, yeah,” Willow replied as she desperately tried to come to terms with being attacked by a monster from the movies, “that's right.”
“Okay,” Jerri sighed as she too put her sidearm back into its holster, “lets get this investigation on the way...”
“Hey,” Faith called as she found the stack of canteens, she had one in her hand and had taken the cap off the bottle, “where'd all this booze come from?”
The Morbius Residence.
“Wow! That was nifty!” Willow cried happily as she landed on the lawn outside the Morbius Residence.
After the death of Ship's Cook Natalie Young and the creature that had attacked her, Captain Adams had decided to have Doctor Morbius questioned and if necessary arrested. This was why Faith and Willow were now standing on Morbius' lawn taking off their jet packs.
“Enjoy that?” Faith asked as she cut the power to the grav unit that was keeping her airborne and started to unbuckle the straps that held the pack on to her back.
“Yeah,” Willow smiled as she too started to take off her pack, “I did the training an'all, y'know all the simulated stuff...but, this is the first time I've really been able to fly for real, y'know?”
“Uh-huh,” now free of the safety harness, Faith unclipped her M-TAR-25 from the side of her jet pack; she checked the weapon over and slipped a twenty-five round magazine into the weapon's magazine housing. “Y'know one of these days I'm gonna have do some real training with ya, find out exactly what they taught ya back at science officer training school.”
“Sure why not?” Willow replied as she pulled her M10 and checked that it was loaded; she might not like having to carry a firearm, but now she had evidence that it was the sensible thing to do, she might as well check that it worked.
“Hello, Miz Rosenberg, Miz Lehane...”
Turning Faith and Willow saw Altaira Morbius dressed in nothing more than a pair of bikini briefs and a smile, she'd appeared from out of the undergrowth no more than three yards away from the spacers. By the looks of all the vegetation held in her arms, she'd been out cutting flowers to decorate the house.
“Is Jerri...I mean Miz Farr with you?” Alta asked hopefully.
Faith and Willow exchanged glances, Faith indicated that Willow should do the talking.
“I'm sorry but she had to stay on the ship,” Willow informed the girl, “do you like Jerri?”
“Oh yes she's so dreamy,” Alta smiled broadly as she moved closer to Willow.
“Dreamy, huh?” Willow queried.
“Uh-huh,” Alta nodded, “although I've not got much experience in these matters, I think she's a really accomplished kisser and when she put her hand on my...”
“Yeah, right!” Willow said before Alta could go into too much detail about what Jerri Farr and herself had been doing and where Jerri had put her hands, “Erm, we've actually come to see your mother, do you know where she is?”
“She'll be in her lab,” Alta explained, “but, she doesn't like to be disturbed while she's working.”
“I'm sorry but we've got to talk to her,” Willow told the girl, “I'm afraid something has happened that means we'll have to question both you and your mother and maybe take you back to the ship...” Willow paused as she saw the panicked look on Alta's face change to something more calculating, “...it's for your own safety...”
“Will Jerri be at the ship?” Alta asked eagerly.
“Totally,” Willow grinned, knowing exactly what the girl was thinking; a trip to the Reluctant meant more quality time with Jerri Farr.
“But...” Alta looked disappointed and relieved at the same time, “...we're in no danger here. There's Buffy to guard us and I have all my friends...”
As she spoke, Alta gestured with her hand, following the gesture with her eyes, Willow saw the Tiger standing amongst the shrubs at the edge of the lawn.
“Faith!” Willow called.
“Okay, L-t I've got it,” Faith had already activated her weapon's sights and had drawn a bead on the big stripy cat.
“Oh don't be frightened,” Alta laughed, “he's my friend....AAH!”
Crying out in panic as the Tiger burst from the shrubbery, Alta tried to run but tripped and fell. The Tiger moved quickly across the grass ignoring the tempting and struggling prey that was Alta it aimed itself for Willow and Faith. As the animal closed in for the kill it was knocked off its feet when it was hit by a couple of bursts from both Faith and Willow's weapons. Bullets ripped into the creature from two directions bring it to an abrupt halt. Without another sound it toppled over on to its side to lie immobile on the ground.
“Nice shootin',” Faith called over to Willow.
“Thanks,” Willow replied breathlessly as she helped Alta back to her feet, “but you can put it all down to adrenaline an' instinct coz I don't remember even moving.”
“Why would he attack us?” Alta stood over the dead cat, “He's known me since he was a cub...and you’ve never been a threat to it.”
“Yeah, well,” Willow shrugged, she was no expert on big cats and didn't know what to say to explain the animal's aberrant behaviour.
“Erm, L-t,” Faith was now standing over the body studying it closely, “ya might wanna take a look at this...”
“What?” Willow walked over to join Faith, she looked down at the dead cat, “Oh my...that's not right...”
“Yeah,” Faith nodded, “in my experience blood's usually red not white.”
“Totally,” Willow agreed as she unclipped her hand scanner from her utility belt and scanned the cat's body, “its a machine,” she announced after a moment, “a very advanced machine, probably some sorta bio-machine, but its still a machine...just as you suspected.”
Faith and Willow both turned to look at Alta who was standing a little further away from the dead Tiger-machine.
“No, that can't be right,” Alta stared down at the body and shook her head in denial, “I remember him growing from a cub, no machine could do that...could it?”
“Normally I'd agree,” Willow shrugged just before she turned her scanner nonchalantly towards Alta and surreptitiously scanned the girl, lowering her scanner and reattaching it to her belt, she took charge. “I think it best that you and your mother come back to the Reluctant, Miz Alta. Now why don't you go pack a bag and wait inside the house, we'll call for someone to take you somewhere safe.”
“Yes of course,” Alta replied quietly, the death of her Tiger had seriously shaken her world-view.
“But before you go, can you tell us where your mother's lab is?” Willow asked.
“Certainly,” Alta pointed to the house, “its on the other side of her study which is just off the main room.”
“Thanks,” Willow nodded before watching the girl go back inside the house.
“What's up?” Faith asked quietly as she and Willow walked slowly towards the house.
“Alta...” Willow replied.
“Whatta 'bout her?”
“She's a bio-machine too...”
“Wow!” exclaimed; after a moment Faith smirked, “Jerri Farr's in for a big surprise!”
“Darn tootin',” Willow agreed with a her own smirk, “looks like you were right and it explains why those Aliens never attacked her or her mom.”
“It does?” Faith smiled broadly, “Cool...I knew all that reading an' studying would come in useful some day, now what was I right about?”
“Okay,” Willow and Faith were now in the main room of the residence, “lets see if I can fit this all together. The Bellerophon lands, after a while the crew is attacked by the Alien creatures...”
“An' as more crew are killed there's more aliens to attack so even more crew are taken,” Faith pointed out.
“Right, but Morbius finds something and makes the Buffy-bot...or some sorta combat-bot and made Buffy later.”
“Which because its a machine is of no interest to the Aliens, so...” Faith paused as she did some mental arithmetic, “...there were only about thirty scientists an' crew aboard the ship...”
“And from the films we know that the attack usually starts with just the one Alien...”
“So we're talking a maximum of thirty or so warriors...” Faith mused.
“I'm kinda betting that if you gave the Buffy-bot your rifle,” Willow continued, “she could take down thirty beasties that don't see her as a threat until it's too late.”
By now the two women were in the main room looking for Morbius' study, Willow scanned the room and found a void on the other side of an internal wall.
“Office must be through there,” she pointed at the wall.
“So what happens next?” Faith asked as she searched for a lock or control button to open the door.
“We have Morbius and her Buffy-bot, trapped on the planet,” Willow used her scanner to help Faith find a way into the study but they still couldn't find out how to open the door.
“What about her wife?” Faith stood back and looked at the door as she wished she'd brought some explosives.
“We've only got Morbius' word that their so-called partnership agreement even existed,” Willow pointed out as she joined Faith in staring at the wall, “she coulda changed any records later.”
“But why pretend to be married an' why build a daughter?”
“Maybe the partner thing explains the daughter, and perhaps she was lonely,” Willow shrugged, “I mean the Buffy-bot isn't exactly the universe's greatest conversationalist.”
“But there's the sex-bot thing,” Faith smirked.
“Yeah there is that,” Willow agreed.
“Idea...” Faith walked over to the table that had the control panel set into its surface, she studied it for a moment and pressed a button.
“Wait,” Faith looked up just as the Buffy-bot tottered in on her incredibly high heels and dressed in her sexy French maid's outfit.
“You rang, Miz Lehane?” the Buffy-bot asked.
“Erm, yeah, I did...” Faith seemed pre-occupied so Willow jumped in.
“Its really important that we see Doctor Morbius,” Willow explained, “Miz Altaira told us she was in her study but we can't seem to find the door handle or the door bell.”
“Here...” the Buffy-bot walked across the room, each step she took making her breasts bounce provocatively, she pressed a hidden control.
“Thanks,” Willow said as the door slid open and she dragged her eyes away from the Buffy-bot's breasts.
“She's only a machine,” Faith whispered, “an' I didn't think you saw Buffy 'that' way.”
“I know she's a machine...” Willow admitted, “...but she's so cute and maybe I was lying about not seeing Buffy like that way.”
“Whatever,” Faith stepped into Morbius' study and looked cautiously around, “Clear...,” she called, the room was certainly bereft of any possibly evil scientists.
The room was about four or five yards square, it had a large wooden desk behind which was a very good holographic representation of a nebular which made the room look as if it was on a space craft travelling through space. This feeling was further reinforced by the fact that there were no real windows. The walls were lined with bookshelves containing real books and artefacts probably collected during Morbius' exploration of the planet. On the desk was a computer terminal as well as sheets of paper covered in writing, Willow guessed that these were probably Morbius' work notes. However there was no sign of Doctor Morbius and no hint of a door to a lab. Willow used her scanner again but found nothing to suggest a lab behind the walls of the study.
“Maybe the Buffy-bot got it wrong?” Faith suggested, “After all she ain't exactly 'bright'.”.
“Maybe,” Willow agreed as she wandered over to the desk; moving some of the papers so she could read them, she frowned, “Look at this, Faith.”
“Hieroglyphics?” Faith pondered as she too looked at one of the sheets of paper covered in what she assumed was Morbius' writing.
“Maybe...” Willow mused, “...now there's a word I'd never thought I'd hear you say...whatever, it doesn't look like, Egyptian or cuneiform...”
“Or Chinese,” Faith added knowledgibly.
Suddenly a section of wall moved and Doctor Morbius stepped into the room from out of a hidden door.
“You'll find the household silver in the dining room...” she announced haughtily, “...and my daughter's jewellery is on her dressing table.”
“Dr. Morbius...!” Willow gasped at the scientist's sudden appearance; Faith and herself moved away from the desk and pretended not to have been looking at Morbius' notes.
“Last night our cook was killed,” Faith announced having recovered quicker from Morbius' unexpected arrival than had Willow.
“And you suspect me?” Morbius asked showing little surprise, she did however sigh and shake her head in frustration, “Then the time has come for clarification.”
Making herself comfortable, Morbius sat on the edge of her desk and regarded Faith and Willow in much the same way as a teacher might look at a class of five year olds.
“Sit down,” Morbius ordered as she began her lecture, “in times long past this planet was the home of a mighty and noble race of beings who called themselves the Krell.”
“The Krill?” Willow asked imagining that this must have been one of the planets ruled by shrimp.
“No, the Krell,” Morbius pursed her lips as she stared at Willow annoyed that she'd been interrupted, however, she soon recovered the thread of what she'd been about to say and continued with her little 'show and tell'. “Ethically, as well as technologically they were a million years ahead of womankind for in unlocking the mysteries of nature they had conquered even their baser selves and when, in the course of eons, they had abolished sickness and insanity and crime and all injustice...”
“They screwed up big time and wiped themselves out,” Faith suggested only to get an angry look from Morbius, but this didn't deter Faith, “not so clever then, huh?”
“As I was saying...” Morbius continued; if looks could kill, Willow would now be writing a 'deeply regrets' letter to Faith's wife, Cindy, “...they turned, still with high benevolence outward toward space. Long before the dawn of womankind's history, they had walked our Earth...oh, the heights they had reached...” Morbius paused and wiped at her eyes with her hand, “but then, seemingly on the threshold of some supreme accomplishment which was to have crowned their entire history...” Morbius let out a little sob, “...this all but divine race perished in a single night!
“Like I said,” Faith shrugged, “not so clever after all, right?”
“In the centuries since that unexplained catastrophe,” Morbius continued ignoring Faith's interjections, “even their cloud-piercing towers of glass and porcelain...”
“Porcelain!” Willow exclaimed and slapped her forehead, she turned to look at Faith, “That's the element I couldn't identify when I was doing my analysis on those soil samples...stupid me...”
“...and adamantine steel...” once again Morbius tried to ignore the interruptions from the peanut gallery.
“Adamantine steel?” Faith asked.
“Darned if I know,” Willow shrugged, “but, I couldn't even recognise porcelain when it jumped up and bit me on the nose, so what do I know?.
“HAVE...crumbled back into the soil of Altair...” Morbius recovered herself and after taking a deep, calming breath, she continued with her 'little' speech. “...and nothing, absolutely nothing remains above ground.”
“Okay I get that,” Willow said, “but what did they look like?”
“No record of their physical nature has survived...” Morbius replied.
“Weird,” Faith gave her opinion freely.
“Perhaps they were camera shy,” Willow replied knowingly; before she'd got her new breasts she'd not been too keen on having her picture taken.
“Except, perhaps, in the form of this characteristic arch,” Morbius gestured to the open door behind her, it was about six-feet high, roughly triangular in shape and maybe ten-feet wide at its widest point. “I suggest you consider it in comparison to one of our functionally designed human doorways...”
“So by ya logic,” Faith spoke up again, “all people are rectangular?”
“Way to go, Faithie,” Willow sniggered like a little girl.
Ignoring both Willow's and Faith's comments, Morbius stood up turned around and put something about the size of an aspirin into egg-cup shaped object, seconds later strange music filled the room.
“That recording was made by Krell musicians over a half-a-million years ago,” Morbius explained.
“Not much of a beat,” Faith observed as Willow tried to stop herself from laughing out loud, “not something ya could dance to...”
“If you will follow me,” Morbius said through gritted teeth as she gestured to the door, “I will show you some of their other remaining artefacts.”
Turning, Morbius walked through the door and down a long corridor with more of the strange triangular arches. Looking at each other, Faith and Willow shrugged before they too stood up and followed the mysterious doctor. At the far end of the corridor they found Morbius waiting for them at another closed door.
“Krell metal,” Morbius explained as she patted the surface of the door, “try your rifle there, Miz Lehane.”
“Ya sure?” Faith asked, “I mean that door looks pretty solid so the bullets are gonna bounce all over the joint, like someone could get hurt.”
“Have no fear, Miz Lehane,” Morbius said in that infuriatingly superior tone that some scientists use when talking to people they considered beneath them, “we're perfectly safe...”
“Okay if ya insist,” Faith raised her rifle as Willow took cover behind a wall support, she fired a three round burst at the door.
As Faith had suspected the bullets failed to penetrate the door, however she didn't expect the bullets to just stop and fall to the floor instead of bouncing around the chamber.
“Cool,” Faith said as she advanced on the door, there wasn't even a mark where the bullets had hit.
“Not even a dent,” Morbius smiled, “the molecules that form the door simply absorb all energy directed at it...”
“Bit awkward if you lose your key,” Willow observed.
“How so, Miz Rosenberg?” Morbius asked.
“Well, if it absorbs all energy directed at it how are you gonna break the door down in an emergency?”
From the look on Morbius' face it was fairly obvious to Willow that the possibly mad scientist hadn't thought of this. Recovering quickly, Morbius manipulated an odd looking control and the door slid open. Advancing into the new chamber, Willow recognised it as some sort of lab.
“This is just one of the hundreds of Krell laboratories in this facility,” Morbius gestured proudly to all the weird machines that filled the huge chamber, she almost sounded as if she'd built the place herself, “You will notice that much of the equipment is familiar...”
“Like totally not, much,” Willow replied, she was quite familiar with most lab equipment, but none of the objects around her where immediately recognisable
“It is of course designed for non-human technicians,” Morbius pointed out with a superior sneer.
“What's this?” Faith pointed to a blank view screen.
“On this screen may be projected the total scientific knowledge of the Krell...” Morbius leered, “...from its primitive beginning to the day of its annihilation...”
“Like when they screwed up?” Faith asked.
“Yes,” Morbius' teeth could clearly be heard grinding together, “the sheer size of their archives would surpass the contents of many millions of earthly libraries,”
“Yeah right,” Willow looked at the symbols on the screen, “I think you'd be surprised at the advances in data storage while you've been away, Doc.” she pointed at the symbols on the screen, “You're able to read this?”
“A little, it's my profession,” Morbius replied smugly, “twenty years ago, I began here with this page of geometrical theorems. Eventually I was able to deduce most of their huge, logical alphabet...”
“Huge, logical alphabet?” Willow queried, “If it was huge how could it be logical, phooey, I mean hieroglyphics, like who uses those nowadays? Humans can totally put over incredibly complex ideas with just the twenty-six letters in our alphabet...it's the spelling that's weird.”
“Any way I began to learn,” Morbius continued after giving Willow yet another annoyed look, “my first practical result was my robot...”
“So she expects us to believe,” Faith whispered to Willow, “that the first thing she built was a sex-bot that could cook an' keep house...like that's gonna happen.”
The Krell Lab.
“I've come here every day now for two decades,” Morbius explained as she drifted around the lab touching each piece of apparatus with loving fingers, “painfully picking up a few of the least difficult fragments of their knowledge.”
“A thing like this,” Willow gasped as she started to realise what Morbius' discover could mean, “It's too big to evaluate...think what a discovery of this kind would mean to...”
“Dr. Morbius...” Faith interrupted before Willow could say anything else, she pointed to a large device like some sort of computer control panel in front of a tank like the holographic display on the Reluctant's bridge, “...what's this thing for?”
“Ah!” Morbius went over to join Faith next the machine. “As far as I can make out, it's some sort of imaging device,” the scientist sat down on an obviously human designed chair in front of the device, “I often play with it myself for relaxation although working here, I sometimes wish I'd been blessed with multiple arms and legs.” Morbius chuckled to herself as she got comfortable on her seat. “Now, you can see that,” she taped a three pronged device designed to connect the machine to her head, “this headset was designed for something much bulkier than my human cranium.”
“Now, over here you see,” Morbius turned slightly to indicate a large gauge, “this measures the electromagnetic waves of my brain,” the indicator moved slightly as Morbius pressed her head against the alien headset, “and sending that indicator up about halfway, I gather that one of their own young, comparable to a seven-year-old child, was normally expected to send that all the way to the top...” Morbius gave a bitter laugh, “...which by Krell standards classifies me as a low-grade moron.”
“Hey, don't insult morons...” Faith muttered under her breath.
“Yet I have an officially recorded IQ of 183,” Morbius continued obviously not having heard Faith's comment, “Now then,” she shifted in her seat a little, “for the primary function, well, I'll choose a familiar subject to start with, it'll save time.”
Morbius started to stare into the tank and seemed to be concentrating really hard. Gradually something started to appear in the centre of the tank; slowly a one-foot tall, life-like figure of Altaira appeared.
“There now, ladies,” Morbius sighed as she sat back to admire her handiwork.
“Wow,” Willow smiled as she stepped forward to look more closely at the figure, “that's almost as good as the images we can project using the ship's holographic displays...but of course they're recorded images not ones that come straight from your mind but otherwise it's simply a three-dimensional image”
“It moves too,” Faith pointed out.
“It moves because my daughter is alive in my brain from microsecond to microsecond,” Morbius explained before she disconnected herself from the device, sitting back in her chair she massaged her temples, as the figure quickly vanished, “I'm afraid it's something of a strain. The skipper of the Bellerophon tried it and it was instantly fatal to her.”
“Oh, I see,” Willow mused suspiciously, “so, you're immune to this too?”
“On my first attempt at creating an image here,” Morbius explained defensively, “my brain pattern there,” she gestured once again to the weird alien gauge, “was scarcely half of what you see today. After that first attempt I lay unconscious for a day and a night...”
“But ya came back for another try, right?” Faith asked.
“It was a question of science, Miz Lehane,” Morbius replied in a somewhat mocking tone, “But you can imagine my joy when I discovered that the shock had permanently, I repeat, permanently doubled my intellectual capacity,” the scientist shrugged, “Otherwise, my researches here would've come to nothing,” adding insincerely, “as poor as they have been. Recently,” Morbius stood up and started to move around the lab again, “I have turned up some rather puzzling indications that in those final days before their annihilation...”
“Before these genius' committed racial suicide, ya mean?” Faith interjected.
“...the Krell,” once again Morbius ignored Faith's comment, “had been applying their entire racial energies to a new project. One which they actually seemed to hope might somehow free them once and for all from any dependence on physical instrumentalities.”
“Huh?” Willow frowned, “A civilization without instrumentalities? Incredible...” Willow looked around seemingly noticing something for the first time, “Doctor Morbius, everything here is new, not a sign of age or wear on any of it.”
“My dear young lady,” Morbius smiled pityingly at Willow, “all these devices are self-serviced, self-maintained and have stood exactly as you see them for at least two-thousand centuries.”
“Wow,” Willow returned Morbius' pitying look with one of her own, “you mean just like the self-diagnostic and repair systems aboard the Reluctant?” Willow couldn't help but smirk at the look of surprise on Morbius' face, “So, during all this time,” Willow wanted to know, “what was the power source?”
“That's a very good question,” Morbius crossed her arms as she looked down at Willow, she pointed over to one side of the lab where long rows of gauges, which looked as if they'd been taken from an old fashioned power station control room, stretching off into the distance. “May I draw your attention to these gauges all around the chamber? Their calibrations appear to indicate that they are set in decimal series. Each division recording exactly ten times as many amperes as the one preceding it.” Believing that her guests were having trouble working out what this meant Morbius explained further, “Ten times ten, times ten, times ten, times ten, times ten...on and on and on, row after row, gauge after gauge. But there is no direct wiring that I can discover...”
“Just like on the Reluctant,” Faith pointed out.
“However,” Morbius gave Faith another dirty look, “when I activate this machine,” she switched on the strange, incomprehensible machine next to her and one of the low end gauges flickered into life a little, “it registers infinitesimally,” she pointed, “you see, down there in the lower left-hand corner; and then when I activate the image projector here it registers a little more.”
“But this much is like totally negligible,” Willow pointed out, “why, the total potential here must be nothing less than astronomical...much! Where does the power come from?”
“Thousands of nuclear reactors buried deep within the planet,” Morbius replied proudly.
“Nuclear?” Faith queried.
“Nothing less could power all the Krell devices,” Morbius explained excitedly, “The number ten raised almost literally to the power of infinity.”
“What I think Chief Lehane was questioning,” Willow smiled, “was that they still used nuclear power...”
“But of course,” it was Morbius' turn to look puzzled, “what other power source could supply the massive amounts of energy required?”
“Fusion,” Willow replied simply, “or a singularity contained within a magnetic field could probably supply power to a machine like this.”
“Oh...” Morbius looked a little crest fallen.
“Things have moved on a little in the last twenty years, Doctor,” Willow explained gently.
“Oh,” Morbius repeated, “would you care to see some more of the Krell wonders?”
“Yeah, why not,” Willow turned to look at Faith.
“Sure,” Faith shrugged, “its not like we've got anything better to do.”
As she listened to Morbius go on about the birds in spring causing a minor power surge or how ten years ago the machine modified itself, she couldn't help but think that if this 'great machine' had been built by humans it would be a lot smaller and not to put too fine a point on it, more efficient. Eventually the tour came to an end and Morbius led them back up into her office; and not a minute too soon judging by the bored expression on Faith's face.
“Am I under arrest?” Morbius wanted to know.
“Not yet,” Faith replied warningly.
“Then no!” Morbius barked, “Perhaps I do not choose to be dictated to on my own world. You seem to forget that you cannot arrest me without evidence and anyway your authority is in question here because Altair Four isn't part of the Terran Alliance...”
“Dr. Morbius,” Willow stepped in to try to be the voice of reason, “a scientific find of this magnitude has got to be under Terran Alliance supervision, no one woman should monopolize it. Plus you'll be safer aboard the Reluctant.”
“That's what the first officer of the Bellerophon said,” Morbius pointed out.
“With all due respect, Doc,” Faith replied showing little real respect, “the Reluctant's a warship, the Bellerophon was just a survey craft...and what about ya daughter,” Faith gestured to where Alta was standing next to a large pile of luggage (she might be a robot but she was also a real girl).
“For the past two hours,” Morbius said with infinite weariness, “I've been expecting you to make exactly that same asinine argument,” Morbius held up her hand to pre-empt Faith's come back, “Just one moment, Miz Lehane...for close on twenty years now I've been constantly and I hope dispassionately, considering this very problem. And I have come to the unalterable conclusion that womankind is unfit, as yet, to receive such knowledge, such almost limitless power...”
“Whereas Morbius,” Willow interrupted, “with her totally artificially expanded intellect is now like totally suited to administer this power for the entire hufem race?”
“Precisely, Miz Rosenberg.” Morbius sneered, “Such portions of the Krell science, as I may from time to time deem suitable and safe, I shall dispense to Earth. Other portions I shall withhold and in this I shall be answerable exclusively to my own conscience and judgement.”
“Dr. Morbius,” Willow replied all the time wishing she could just zap the supercilious scientist with a good, old fashioned sleeper spell, “in the absence of special instructions you leave me in a very awkward position.”
“Huh?” Faith looked at Willow in surprise, the situation didn't look at all awkward to her; the mad doctor and her robot daughter were coming back to the Reluctant with them, even if she had to drag Morbius kicking and screaming all the way back to the ship.
“Let me warn you, Miz Rosenberg,” Morbius said in a low threatening voice, “I will order Buffy to stop you removing either myself or my daughter from this building.”
As if at some sort of signal the Buffy-bot appeared still dressed in her sexy French maid's outfit but this time carrying an automatic pistol which she pointed in Willow's general direction. Faith shifted to cover the robot with her rifle.
“So,” Willow smiled the sort of smile that had made brave women tremble, “all your fine words about how your robot couldn't possibly be used to harm anyone were all lies, huh?”
“Generally, Buffy is harmless,” Morbius admitted, “but I know her over-ride codes...one word from me and she'll kill you both.”
“Like to see her try,” Faith growled belligerently.
“Well if that's the way you want it,” Willow shrugged, “I can't force you to come with us and as you've pointed out we don't have the authority to arrest you or your daughter.”
“What!?” Faith demanded surprisingly quietly considering her feelings towards the Doctor.
“Come on Chief,” Willow glanced at Faith, “lets leave the Doctor and her daughter to their fate, no one can say we didn't try to warn them.”
Turning her back on Morbius, Willow marched out of the house not stopping until she was standing on the lawn next to where her and Faith's jet packs lay near the remains of the artificial Tiger.
“Willow!” Faith came to a halt facing the witch, “What in the hellmouth are you talking about? No authority?” Faith hefted her rifle, “I've got all the authority I need right here.”
“Calm down...Chief...I mean Faith,” Willow placed her hand on Faith's shoulder, “I needed to get us outta there and Morbius played right into my hands, for a highly advanced bio-robot she's not that bright...”
“Robot?” Faith gasped, “Another one? Is there anything on this crap-hole of a planet that's real?”
“Probably not,” Willow admitted with a shrug, “maybe the plants...”
“So, Morbius is a robot too?” Faith asked, “When did you find that out?”
“During the 'guided tour',” Willow replied, “remember how I fell behind while she was showing us yet another bunch of totally oversized and totally incomprehensible machines?”
“Uh-huh,” Faith nodded.
“I scanned her then,” Willow paused, “I really wish these hand scanners were like those tricorder things on Star Trek,” she sighed wistfully, “they only really give you very basic information.”
“Like whether someone is a robot or not.”
“Something like that,” Willow agreed, “I got a lot of totally weird results when I scanned Morbius, I'd really like to get her into the Doc's body scanner...or failing that take her apart.”
“So, Morbius is a robot, Alta is a robot and the Aliens?”
“Might be robots too,” Willow nodded, “or they could be something to do with what the Krell were trying to do...”
“Yeah, I thought we'd agreed that the Krell things made the Aliens.”
“Now I'm not so sure.”
“Ya not?” Faith signed heavily, sometimes she wished people would just let her kill things; it would be so much easier if they destroyed Morbius and her robot family they could report that the Bellerophon had been lost with all hands twenty years ago, which in a way it had so they wouldn't really be falsifying their reports.
“Like, how would an alien race know about monsters from a human movie made hundreds of centuries after they'd destroyed themselves?”
“Maybe we should be asking the question the other way around?” Faith pointed out, “Like, how come a human movie maker knew about alien monsters centuries after they'd wiped out the Krell?”
“Either way its all very weird,” Willow pointed out, “Whatever, lets get back to the ship, maybe Captain Adams will take off an' nuke the place from orbit...”
“It's the only way to be sure,” Faith agreed hopefully.
“You mean they're all robots!?” Adams exclaimed.
“Even Alta?” Jerri Farr asked sadly; she'd started to feel some real affection for the girl and now she found out that the possible girl of her overheated dreams was a robot, life just wasn't fair.
“Sorry,” Willow replied with a helpless shrug.
“Threat analysis, Chief?”
“As long as we don't press Morbius to come with us,” Faith began, “I don't think she'll do anything aggressive. On a practical level, so far, all the robots we've come across have been vulnerable to standard rounds. If we're attacked I believe we can defend ourselves effectively.”
“What about this 'Great Machine'?” Adams wanted to know.
“Its buried too deeply for even our most powerful nukes to do much damage,” Faith continued, “We'd have to whistle up something equipped with fusion or anti-matter bombs to even make a scratch.”
“Also,” Willow stepped in, “it holds like so much information that we could make huge leaps forward in technology in a relatively short period of time, we should only destroy it if we really have to.”
“Hmm, agreed,” Adams nodded her head, “So, recommendations on how I'm supposed to proceed, Miz Rosenberg?”
“Morbius doesn't react well to threats,” Willow mused, “perhaps if I were to go back an' talk to her one on one she might come 'round to our way of thinking...”
“Or maybe you could switch her off,” Jerri Farr suggested.
“I don't think she's got an on-off switch,” Willow grinned.
“You said that she was willing to tell us about some of this Krell tech,” Adams mused.
“Yeah,” Willow nodded, “I might be able to persuade her to release some stuff to us.”
“Okay,” Adams appeared to have come to a decision, “tomorrow morning Miz Rosenberg will go back to the Morbius Residence and try to convince her that we mean no harm and to release at least some Krell tech to us...”
“Ma'am,” Faith said formally, “as Security Chief I have to warn you that I think it's too dangerous for Miz Rosenberg to go on this mission alone.”
“Noted, Chief,” Adams nodded, “I'll send a couple of our Marines to keep an eye on her, but they'll have orders to stay well out of sight and only act if Miz Rosenberg's life is threatened.”
“Yes, Ma'am,” Faith acknowledged; if she couldn't go with Willow a couple of heavily armed Marines in power armour suits would do.
“Captain,” Cots Quinn's voice came from Adams' comms unit.
“Receiving,” Adams replied.
“Captain, I've got strange readings from all around the perimeter,” Quinn announced.
“What sort of 'strange readings'?” Adams wanted to know.
“Like lots of movement about five hundred yards out.”
Adams and her officers shifted their gaze to the desolate terrain around the ship, nothing appeared strange or out of the ordinary.
“Are you sure this isn't some sort of sensor echo?” Adam nodded her head in the direction of the Reluctant indicating that Faith should go and take over from the Cots.
“Its not an echo, Captain,” Faith's voice came over the Captain's comms unit, she'd made it in record time to her battle station. “I've got indications of large numbers of biologicals in a gully about five-hundred metres to our north west, readings also indicate smaller numbers of biologicals all around us.”
“Numbers?” Jerri Farr asked.
“In the gully no, its just a big mass,” Faith replied, “I'd guess several hundreds maybe even thousands, on the rest of the perimeter perhaps a couple of hundred.”
Lifting her field glasses to her eyes, Captain Adams studied the area Faith had indicated contained the main body of whatever was out there.
“Can't see a thing, Chief.”
“They're out there, Ma'am,” Faith replied.
“I believe you Chief,” Adams lowered her glasses and turned to look at her First Officer, “Activate the defence grid and sound battle stations for ground action, Miz Farr!”
Standing there as people ran about around her, Willow wondered what in the hellmouth she was supposed to do? In space her battle station was at her science station next to Faith's 'battle board', no one had ever mentioned what she was supposed to do during a ground action. Drawing her sidearm, Willow looked around for somewhere to hide until Leading Crew Woman Strong appeared next to her, rifle in hand.
“Ma'am?” Strong looked at Willow with a puzzled frown on her face, “Aren't you supposed to be aboard the ship, Ma'am?”
“I am?” Willow noticed that only herself, the Marines and maybe half a dozen crewers plus Lt Jerri Farr and Cots Quinn were still on the planet surface.
“Yes, Ma'am,” Strong nodded and gestured to the ramp that led back up into the Reluctant.
“Okay...” Willow replaced her sidearm in its holster, “...I better go then...thanks.”
“You're welcome, Ma'am.”
Turning with a relieved sigh, Willow ran up the ramp and into the ship. At the top of the ramp she found two more crewers, Carolyn O'Shea and 'Long' Joan Silver, who stood looking very warlike with their rifles held across their chests guarding the top of the ramp.
“Ma'am!” the two crewers braced to attention as she approached; Willow was still a little embarrassed by the way people jumped to attention at her approach, she supposed she'd get used to it eventually, maybe in another twenty years or so.
“Pretty exciting, huh, guys?” Willow said uncertainly as she approached and gestured to the two women to stop standing at attention, “Why don't you relax an' go on with whatever it was you were doing...please...?”
Yes, in the past Willow had faced monsters and demons with Buffy or Tara by her side, but this was the first time she'd been in a combat situation since she'd arrived in this time; she was embarrassed to discover that she felt scared and unsure at what she was supposed to do. The situation had come on her so suddenly she'd not had time to prepare herself mentally or magically. Thinking it was time for her to take her position on the bridge, Willow left O'Shea and Silver to do whatever it was they'd been doing and hurried on through the ship where she climbed up ladders and walked along corridors until she climbed through the hatch that lead onto the bridge.
“Glad you could join us, Miz Rosenberg,” Captain Adams said as Willow took her seat next to Faith.
“Sorry,” Willow replied quietly, she felt like she was at school again and had been late for class.
“Never mind,” Adams replied, “you're here now...if you know any spells that'll help us win I suggest you cast them now...alternatively you could launch another drone so I can get overhead coverage of these things. Are they moving yet, Chief?”
“No Ma'am,” Faith called as her fingers danced across the controls of her battle board, “but there do seem to be more of them in that gully than they were a couple of minutes ago.”
“Drone away,” Willow called out as a recon drone rose from a hatch on the outer skin of the Reluctant and flew high into the sky. Within seconds Willow was receiving pictures of the demonic horde surrounding the Reluctant, she asked the drone for an estimated count of the creatures in the gully, “Drone counts approximately fifteen hundred hostiles in the gully, Ma'am.” Willow turned slightly to look at Faith, “Couldn't we use one of the missiles to nuke them or something.”
“Wrong sort of missile, L-t.”
“Huh?” Willow said in surprise, “I thought a missile was a missile.”
“These are ship to ship, or orbit to surface bombardment missiles” Faith explained, “we'd need to do some pretty major reprogramming to use them as surface to surface missiles.”
“But you said you could target Morbius' home from orbit,” Willow pointed out.
“Yeah, but that was from orbit,” Faith replied.
“What are you two whispering about?” Captain Adams asked while she was studying the projection of the demonic horde in the tank.
“We're discussing the possibility of using the ship's missiles to bombard the hostiles, Ma'am,” Faith explained.
“Take a lot of reprogramming, ma'am and...oh crap,” Faith glanced up at the tank, “here they come as black as hell an' as thick as ants at a picnic!”
Looking up from her workstation and into the tank ahead and just below her, Willow saw an over head view of the area around the Reluctant coming alive with black, shiny horrors as the Aliens burst from cover. The creatures swarmed towards the space ship like a tide of black about to drown the defenders in a flood of black exoskeletons and blood.
“Open fire with the point defence, Chief,” Captain Adams ordered calmly.
“Aye, aye, Ma'am.”
Faith did something and suddenly Willow could hear what sounded for all the world like a battery of vacuum cleaners starting up outside the ship. Looking up at the tank again she saw the edge of the advancing Alien horde start to melt away as the point defence guns ripped into them.
“Wow,” Willow gasped quietly.
“Yeah,” Faith agreed as almost solid lines of metal reached out to the Aliens and tore them apart, “I've got eight, seven millimetre weapons firing...” she checked a read out on her board, “...three thousand rounds a minute from each gun. I only hope the processors can keep up with demand that's why I'm keeping the rate of fire down to three-thousand rounds a minute.”
“Look we can only carry so much spare ammunition,” Faith explained as she adjusted her controls, “so the processors turn sludge into bullets, but they can only do it a certain rate which is slower than our maximum rate to fire...ya get what I'm saying, right?”
“Yeah I think so...” Willow replied slowly, “...we're like totally in danger of running out of bullets?”
“Its never happened yet,” Faith shut down a couple of guns on sectors that weren't being threatened, while at the same time signalling the defence teams still outside the ship to cover those sectors with their personnel weapons, “but it could happen.”
Looking back into the tank, Willow saw the Aliens continue to rush the Reluctant's defences heedless of their casualties. A wall of dead creatures was growing about two-hundred-and-fifty metres out from the muzzles of the Gatlings. Only a few creatures managed to get as far as the electronic fence and these were either shot down by the external defence teams or disintegrated when they touched the fence. Willow queried the combat system for an estimated count of enemy casualties, the result made her frown.
“What is it Miss Rosenberg,” Captain Adams answered as if there was nothing especially important happening just now.
“This isn't right, Ma'am,” Willow started to explain.
“What isn't right?”
“The battle computer is telling me that we've killed more of these things that we started with...”
“So they must be getting reinforcements from somewhere,” Adams replied.
“That's another thing, Ma'am,” Willow looked up from her work station, “They shouldn't be getting reinforcements....remember what I said, there can only be as many demons as there are victims...”
“But didn't you say these things can hibernate?” Adams looked at Willow in concern.
“Hostile numbers appear to be increasing, Ma'am,” Faith called out, “permission to fire up the secondary armament?”
“Granted,” Adams told Faith before looking back to Willow.
“Yes they can hibernate but none of the stories have ever indicated more than one scout or guard from each nest,” Willow explained, “and I don't think that these creatures are from more than one nest. How could they have made it to this location in the time since we first landed?”
“I see,” Adams nodded, “so what do you suggest, Miz Rosenberg?”
“I'm not sure...” Willow glanced at the tank again to see hundreds more Aliens being blown apart.
Here and there clumps of creatures where splashed to the four winds as a few hundred, thirty millimetre High Explosive Anti-Personnel rounds reduced them to pulp. It seemed Faith was only using the secondary armament to break up concentrations of Aliens before they had a chance to move on the perimeter.
“The new creatures must be coming from somewhere...” Willow mused just before the truth hit her, “...Oh My Goddess!” she gasped as she realised what was happening.
“ALERT!” Faith cried out as her hand went for her side arm.
“What's...?” Captain Adams cried out but was interrupted almost immediately by Faith.
“Hostiles inside the perimeter!” Faith called urgently as she moved cameras to cover the threatened sector.
“Crap!” Willow exclaimed, “That's cheating, I don't remember them doing that before, do you Faith?”
Faith shook her head.
Looking at the repeater screens on her work station panel, Willow saw what looked like hundreds of Aliens boil from a hole in the ground inside the defences. The four Ship's Marines in their powered armour suits were cutting down dozens of Aliens but others just kept on coming. Just as it seemed the Marines were getting on top of the situation another hole opened up and fresh hundreds of Aliens emerged in the battle zone. Because the Marines were still dealing with the first breakout the second breach had to be left to the less well armed crewers. Crying out in anguish, Willow saw Cots Quinn being grabbed by a couple of Aliens and literally torn apart, she saw a couple more crewers dragged down and ripped to bloody shreds by the creatures.
“FAITH!” Willow cried out as she pointed to her screen; several of the Aliens were pulling down the posts that projected the electronic fence surrounding the ship.
“Damn it!” Faith cried as the directional mines she'd had positioned went off as the fence was slowly pulled apart, “I can't get any weapons on target this close to the ship because of the safeties!”
“Everybody back into the ship!” Captain Adams ordered as her thumb mashed down on the button controlling her ship wide comms unit, “Everyone inside and seal the ship...Miz Mountshaft!”
“Ma'am?” replied the young Ensign who was sitting in Jerri Farr's position at astrogation.
“Once we're sealed up I want you to take us into geosynchronous orbit above this spot, understand?”
“Yes, Ma'am, plotting course now!”
Outside the Marines had taken to their jet packs and were now hovering just out of reach of the Aliens as they covered the retreat of the crewers back into the ship. The crewers under Lt Farr retreated back up the ramp and into the ship firing at the Aliens as they went. The Aliens ran into the hail of bullets not caring whether they lived or died they only cared about getting to grips with the women who'd landed on their planet.
“Seal the door Jerri,” Adams said into her comms as calmly as if she was ordering a cup of tea.
“I'm trying Ma'am,” over the pick up you could here the worry in Jerri Farr's voice along with the screams of the Aliens and the almost continual sound of firing, “but there's a demon caught between the ramp and the hull.”
“Forget them,” Adams ordered, “I'm not waiting any longer, we're lifting ship, get your people inside and seal the inner hatch.”
“Aye, aye, Captain,” Jerri replied.
“Engineer Randall?” Captain pressed another comms button as she contacted engineering, “I'll need full power in thirty seconds.”
“But Captain!” replied a disembodied voice, “she nooo can do it! Y'cannee break the laws of physics, the engines are nay warmed up!”
“Damn-it!” Captain Adams muttered, “I'm sure they teach them how to talk like that at engineering school...” she pressed her comms button again, “Damn-it Randall! Screw the laws of physics and just do it!”
“Aye, aye, Captain!” came the voice from engineering.
“I didn't know Randall was Scottish,” Willow whispered.
“She's not,” Faith replied quietly.
“All our Marines aboard?” Captain Adams wanted to know.
“Corporal Himesaki reports all her people are inside the ship, all hatches secure except for the main ramp,” Faith reported crisply.
“Okay, Miz Mountshaft take us to orbit.”
“Aye-aye Ma'am,” Mountshaft's figures flew across her controls and the Reluctant began to lift off.
Pressed back into her seat as the inertial dampeners failed to completely compensate for the acceleration of take off, Willow slipped her arms into her chair's harness.
“Captain,” Willow called out as the Reluctant headed for the safety of orbit, “once we're in actual space you might want to have the Marines do an inspection of the outside of the ship, particularly around the landing struts and the main ramp...”
“Don't tell me,” Captain Adams replied with a world weary sigh, “these things can survive in vacuum?”
“That's it Ma'am,” Willow nodded, “they've managed to get aboard ships by getting in through places you wouldn't have thought it possible for them to fit.”
“Noted,” Captain Adams replied before telling First Officer Farr to search the ship and have the Marines check the hull once they were in orbit. “Chief Lehane,” Adams turned to face Faith, “I wish this was under happier circumstances but you are now Chief of the Ship...congratulations...and another thing,” the ghost of a smile crossed the captain's lips, “the next time you recommend nuking somewhere from orbit I'm seriously going to consider it...how many dead?”
“Only three,” Faith replied quietly, “Chief Quinn and Crew Women Moran and Schick, the Doctor reports that she's treating two more crew for acid burns and one with serious lacerations, she says they'll all survive.”
“Good,” Adams watched the planet below with dead eyes, “I think three dead is quiet enough for one day.”
The Captain's quarters were slightly larger than anyone else's, so there was enough room for a table and chairs so that Willow, Faith, Jerri Farr and Captain Adams could all sit down.
“Willow,” Captain Adams looked across the table at her science officer, “Before everything went to crap you where saying how the demons were acting in an atypical way.”
“Erm....yes Captain,” Willow was a little taken aback, the Captain had not called her by her first name before, this meant she was now one of 'the crew' now, not just a supernumerary, she'd arrived, she could call all her sister officers by their given name...of course the Captain's given name was always 'Captain'. “Okay....” Willow took a moment to order her thoughts, “...it occurred to me that the demons couldn't possibly be attacking the ship in the numbers that they were unless something pretty radical had changed.”
“You said something about how they couldn't have all hibernated,” Jerri observed.
“Not unless they've evolved,” Willow shrugged, “all the other accounts of attacks by these creatures all seem to confirm; first you get a scout and a supply of eggs. Crew members get impregnated and before anyone realises what's going on the little bastards are bursting out of people's chests an' turning into warriors...”
“And we're talking one human for one of these demons, right?” Jerri asked.
“That's what all the accounts say,” Willow agreed, “but remember there's only been four or five reported attacks by these things but all the accounts have stated that there are never more demons than victims.”
“So if we assume that what Willow says is true,” Captain Adams looked at each of her senior staff in turn, “where did all the extra demons come from?”
“It was something Doctor Morbius said an' showed us, Captain,” Faith explained, “I didn't see it myself until Miz Rosenberg pointed it out to me, but I agree with her hypothesise...”
“Go on, Cots...” Captain Adams encouraged.
“It's our belief,” Faith gestured towards Willow, “that Doctor Morbius is making these things...using the power of her mind.”
“What!?” Captain Adams and Jerri cried out in chorus.
“Let me explain my reasoning,” Willow began, “Twenty years ago the Bellerophon landed. Within days or their arrival they were discovered by one of these demon scouts who started to take crew members to its nest and have them impregnated with one of the chest bursters. As more Warrior Demons became available more crew were taken until the survivors decided to leave...all except Morbius. For whatever reason, Morbius was determined to stay on Altair IV, perhaps she'd discovered the great machine, perhaps she'd found something else. Whatever her reasoning she wanted to stay, I'd also guess she didn't want anyone getting back to Earth with news of them having found the Great Machine. Now this is all speculation but I'd guess that she sabotaged the Bellerophon and caused it to explode on take off.”
“Then taking refuge in the Great Machine,” Willow continued, “she used Krell Tech to built the Buffy-bot or something like her to destroy the demons; she must have realised that the demons would ignore a machine because it was of no use to them and they wouldn't see it as a threat. Once the demons were destroyed, Morbius must have experimented further. First she built the animals we've seen, then she refined the human form robot that we know as the Buffy-bot...and then weirdest of all she built herself a daughter and finally she built a cyborg body for herself. The Krell must have had a method of downloading their consciousness into a small enough computer to fit inside a cyborg.”
“Finally,” Willow said to the astonished looks of the captain and first officer, “she discovered what the Krell had been experimenting on in the years leading up to their destruction. A method of manipulating matter with only the power of their minds, unfortunately they somehow conjured up these demons who destroyed them in a very short period of time, I suspect that they didn't realise what they'd done until it was too late for then to fight back. I think that some of the Krell might have even escaped the planet but took the demons with them by accident and these escapees were later wiped out. This would explain the contacts womankind has had with these things in the past.”
“You agree with Miz Rosenberg?” Captain Adams asked Faith.
“Yes, Ma'am,” Faith nodded, “I know it all sounds pretty fantastic but...”
“You're a slayer and no doubt you've heard stranger tails,” Captain Adams asked.
“Pretty much Ma'am,” Faith agreed with a shrug, the Captain didn't know the truth of Faith and Willow's back stories and hopefully never would.
“Recommendations, Miz Rosenberg?” Captain Adams asked.
“I'd like to be like Chief Lehane here and tell you to nuke the sight from orbit,” Willow explained, “but, like the Chief has already pointed out we haven't got any weapons that would be effective. However we can't leave Morbius in control of the Great Machine there's no telling what she might do.”
“I see,” Jerri Farr nodded, “you're worried that she might take these things out into space and attack our nearby colonies?”
“Something like that,” Willow admitted, “even if she is doing this by accident she's still doing it, we can't just leave her here...”
“We could quarantine the planet,” Captain Adams suggested.
“We can't be sure it'd be effective, Ma'am,” Faith pointed out, “she'd still have access to the Krell-tech and we don't know how effective the Krell stealth systems could be.”
“No Ma'am,” Willow said quietly, “some one is going to have to find Doctor Morbius and...” she shifted in her seat, “...switch her off...permanently...and that someone will have to be me...”
Altair IV, the upper atmosphere.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!” Willow screamed in terror as she plummeted through the thin upper atmosphere of Altair IV.
The wind howled passed the helmet of her hard suit like a soul in torment as the sandy-brown surface of Altair IV came closer and closer at what seemed to her to be an alarming speed. Not wishing to land the Reluctant, but wanting to end any threat poised by Morbius once and for all, Captain Adams had decided to send Willow and the four ship's Marines to 'deal' with Doctor Morbius and bring whatever plans she might have for galactic domination to a swift and probably bloody conclusion. The other part of Willow's mission was to secure any Krell-tech that she could find while the Marines were there to keep her safe.
Daring to risk moving her head a little, Willow saw the four Marines apparently hovering around her like strangely shaped insects. They weren't really, in reality they were heading towards the all too solid surface of the planet at near terminal velocity. Of course Willow had done all this before during her training, completing one High Altitude, Low Opening jump. However, that jump didn't compare to the reality and the actual terror of doing this jump for real with possible hostiles waiting for her when she landed. Letting her attention drift back to the outside world, Willow saw that the planet's surface was now a lot closer than it had been only moments before. It was, however, still a long way below her and it would be several minutes before her parachute deployed.
Having had time to prepare herself before leaping out of the cramped but comforting interior of the Reluctant, Willow had armed herself with a few defensive spells, she didn't really think she needed any offensive ones because she had her M-TAR-25 assault rifle strapped to her right leg, the M-Tar's bullets were guaranteed to stop most things, anyway she wasn't there to fight she had her Marine escorts to do that. It did occur to her that a simpler and much less terrifying method of landing on the planet was available, she could have simply magicked herself to the surface. However, although white magic (and indeed some dark magic) were perfectly legal within the Terran Alliance. Even in this day and age there were still a lot of people who saw any magic what-so-ever as evil and a tool of 'The First'. So, like most magic practitioners, Willow kept her spell casting as something to be done in private. Captain Adams was pretty open to Willow using her powers, however, Ensign Mountshaft came from a colony who'd almost been completely wiped out by an insane magic user, so was not as open to magic as the Captain.
“UUUUGH!” Willow grunted as her chute deployed and parts of her hard suit dug into her flesh in all the wrong places; she just knew she'd be covered in bruises by the time she got back to the Reluctant.
Jerked upright, Willow found herself floating beneath the great, almost transparent, canopy of her chute. Under her parachute harness she wore a jet pack; while the jet pack's grav unit was quite capable of keeping her airborne, it wasn't powerful enough to stop her from making a very large and probably bloody hole in Altair IV's surface without the aid of the chute. Hanging there Willow looked around and caught sight of her escort as they too drifted towards the surface. Looking down she could see the Morbius residence and its gardens, she sighed with relief when she saw there was no sign of any of the 'Aliens' nearby. Maybe she could get in and get out without having to fight her way through hordes of the shiny, black, horrors.
Hearing a muffled 'bang', Willow looked up to see her chute drift away on the breeze after a small explosive charge severed it from harness. Straight away her grav unit kicked in and held her up in the air. Still drifting slowly towards the lawn at the front of the residence, Willow could hear Corporal Himesaki passing on her orders to her Marines. The plan was for the Marines to secure the perimeter of the residence, while Willow went inside and tried to talk Morbius into coming quietly. Looking down as her proximity alert beeped in her ear, Willow saw the lawn drift towards her at a sedate pace. Squeezing the throttle that controlled the thrusters on her jet pack, she came to a halt about two inches above the grass. Cutting the grav unit and steering jets, Willow almost stepped onto the surface of the planet while around her the Marines who'd landed a few seconds earlier were already stripping the harness from their armoured suits and were preparing their weapons for action.
No sooner was she down and safe that Willow felt Marine Misaki start to pull off her harness and unclip the jet pack from the back of her hard suit. The hard suit was a combination of vacuum suit and body armour. It wasn't anywhere near as good as the powered armour suits worn by the Marines, but it would at least give Willow some protection, although she did wonder how effective it would be if one of the Aliens got hold of her.
“I'll keep this safe for you, L-t,” Misaki said as she took the jet pack from Willow, “you better get your M-TAR ready.”
“Right,” Willow nodded as she watched the young Marine trot off with her jet pack and her only method of getting out of trouble if the Aliens decided to interfere.
Reaching down she pulled her rifle from the clips on her right leg, lifting the weapon to where she could see it through her face plate, Willow ran her gloved fingers over the weapon to check it was undamaged before slapping a fifty round magazine into its magazine housing.
“Miz Rosenberg,” Corporal Himesaki's voice echoed around in Willow's helmet, “we'll take up overwatch positions around the house, if you have any problems don't hesitate, just yell an' we'll come a-running, okay?”
“Got it Corporal,” Willow replied as she stood on the lawn and tried to control her rapidly beating heart, “I've like no intention of being a hero...” taking a deep breath she turned towards the house, “...okay, I'm going in.”
“Good luck, Ma'am,” Himesaki called.
“Lets hope I don't need it...” Willow breathed quietly.
Pausing just inside the door to the residence, Willow took off her helmet and armoured gloves. Leaving them on the table next to the door, she looked up to find herself confronted by the Buffy-bot who was standing only a yard or so away from her.
“Hi,” Willow said brightly as she held onto the rifle that hung from a strap around her neck, she didn't think she was going to need it but as the Captain was so fond of saying, better safe than dead.
“Good day Miz Rosenberg,” the smile on the Buffy-bot's face reminded Willow once more of her old friend and it made her heart ache at her loss, “I've been ordered not to let you into the residence, please leave immediately.”
“Make me,” Willow replied with unusual belligerence, she was pretty sure she could hit the bot with a blast of magic that would overload the robot's systems; if that didn't work she still had the rifle. “You can't hurt me, so I'm staying right where I am.”
The Buffy-bot took a faltering half step towards Willow before she stopped as the 'light' went out behind her eyes. Her systems crashed as she tried to resolve the conflict between her orders from Morbius and the stronger prohibition against killing humans.
“Wow!” Willow looked at the disabled robot closely, “That was easier than I thought it was going to be, obviously Morbius forgot to remove her inhibitors.”
Stepping around the inactive machine, Willow walked deeper into the building. Entering Morbius' study she found herself confronted by the woman herself plus her daughter Altaira, the door that lead to the Great Machine was wide open behind them. Obviously Morbius was intent on making her escape down into the bowels of the planet where the Reluctant couldn't harm her. Just as Willow was about to demand Morbius' surrender, Corporal Himesaki's voice came from her comms unit.
“Thought you'd like to know, we've picked up hundreds of those demon things heading in this direction.”
“Okay,” Willow thought for a moment, “get your people out of the way, l think I should be alright in here.”
“You sure, L-t?”
“I'm sure,” Willow broke the connection before turning to look at Morbius who was regarding her with a sardonic stare.
“That will no doubt be you marine escort telling you about the imminent arrival of my constructs, HA!” Morbius let out a bark of laughter, “Soon they'll be here and I'll watch as they tear you limb from limb!”
Looking across the room at Morbius' desk, Willow saw what she wanted. Marching over to the desk she hit the button that activated the armoured shutters on the windows. With a series of loud metallic 'clangs' the shutters closed neatly sealing the building from the creatures outside. Just as the first Alien crashed into the shutters, Willow noticed that her comms were down, the shutters and the walls of the residence must be blocking the signal she told herself.
“What!?” Morbius looked from Willow to the shutters and back again as realisation dawned, “Curses!”
“Okay, Morbius,” Willow drew herself up to her full height and swung her rifle up so it was pointing it at Morbius' midriff, “so what happened, like you did kill everyone on the Bellerophon, right?”
“Yes!” Morbius replied, “That fool of a captain wanted to tell everyone what we'd found here...I'd found the Great Machine and worked out how to use it. Only I realised it's potential, only I could make it work!”
The noise from outside as the Aliens threw themselves against the residence's defences increased as here and there a shutter began to twist and bend out of shape.
“So,” Willow eyed the shutters trying to gauge how long they'd keep the monsters out, “let me see if I've got this right; you worked out that the Great Machine could build...make those things outside just by the power of your mind, right?”
“Correct, Miz Rosenberg,” Morbius sneered, “you're really quite bright. Why don't you join me and we can rule the galaxy together...MAW-HA-HA!”
“Nope,” Willow shook her head and sighed, “I don't think so...I've learnt my lesson. Once upon a time I got addicted to magic and nearly destroyed the world...I got over it. Looks like you got addicted to technology, you need help,” Willow brought her rifle to her shoulder and aimed it at Morbius' head and channelled Faith, “are ya gonna come quietly or are ya gonna totally let me shoot ya?”
“Not so fast, Miz Rosenberg,” Morbius sneered as out in the main room the shutters bent and twisted and black, talon armed limbs insinuated themselves through the gaps between the walls and the misshaped shutters. “You don't believe I didn't plan for this? Those creatures out there are the least of what I can build....MAW-HA-HA!” Morbius sounded more insane by the minute; outside the screaming snarls of the Aliens got louder and louder as they battered their way into the building. “I can make armies and fleets appear at the merest whim of my mind, I have the total resources of a planet at my figure tips...I WILL BE UNSTOPPABLE! I WILL BE A...GODDESS! MAW-HA-HA!”
“Oh, good grief,” Willow sighed tiredly, to be honest once you've seen one megalomaniac you've seen them all.
Morbius turned to her 'daughter' and gestured towards Willow, “Kill her,” she ordered.
“WHAT!?” Willow gasped as the Alta-bot sprang towards her growling and snarling, “You made her growl!?”
Shifting her aim so her rifle was sighted on Alta, Willow fired a ten round burst into the homicidal machine. All the bullets hit the girl-bot in the head or upper body destroying the robot's vital systems as they did so. The Alta-bot fell to the floor at Willow's feet leaking white fluid on to the carpet. Stepping back slightly and trying to reacquire Morbius, Willow caught sight of her running off down the corridor towards the heart of the Great Machine. At the sound of tearing metal, Willow looked over her shoulder to see the first of the Aliens start to climb into the room through the smashed shutters.
Firing at the creatures as they pushed and shoved their way into the building, Willow backed towards the archway that led into the Great Machine. Although her bullets were killing the Aliens, she realised that she'd run out of bullets long before Morbius ran out of monsters. Firing off a last burst or two, she turned and ran towards the arch. Pausing she looked for some way of closing the door to keep the Aliens out. It only took a moment for her to realise that she'd never work out how to close the door before the Aliens got to her. Raising her hand she cast a 'thicken' spell before taking to her heels. Heading off down the corridor Willow chased after Morbius, as the monsters followed her through the arch. It seemed to her that the best thing to do was turn the monsters off at source by killing or otherwise disabling Morbius; just at the moment Willow was leaning more and more towards the 'killing' option.
Glad that her time in Star Force had allowed her to improve her personnel fitness, only a few subjective years ago the Aliens would have been able to run her down and kill her in seconds, Willow ran as fast as she could after the scientist. Turning at the sound of claws on the floor behind her, Willow saw that the monsters had broken through her spell; she emptied her magazine into the creatures before continuing her flight as she slapped a fresh magazine into place. The Aliens almost seemed to explode as her bullets ripped them apart. Acid blood flew in all directions scaring the walls, floor and ceiling. However, they hardly slowed their advance and Willow soon found herself running for her life and wishing she wasn't being slowed down by her hard suit.
Sliding to a halt outside the door to the lab Morbius had shown Faith and herself, Willow saw the door slide closed, Morbius must only be a few seconds ahead of her. More worryingly the Aliens were only a few seconds behind her. Seeing the strange Krell door lock, Willow tried to manipulate it to make it open. Nothing happened, Morbius must have jumbled the combination. Seeing the leading edge of the Alien horde draw ever closer, Willow concentrated on the door.
“OPEN!” she commanded in a voice like doom; after a moment's hesitation the door slid open.
Stepping into the lab, Willow gestured with her hand making the door close and lock securely behind her. The lab was very much as she'd last seen it except that the gauges denoting the power usage of the Great Machine were all swinging wildly backwards and forwards. Turning towards the projection machine she saw Morbius seated before the machine with her forehead pressed against the alien headset, she appeared to be concentrating so hard on something that she hadn't noticed Willow's arrival.
“Okay, Morbius,” Willow called doing her best to sound stern, “switch off the machine and stand up with your hands in the air...”
“Miz Rosenberg!?” Morbius looked up at Willow, “I have to say I'm genuinely surprised to see that you're still alive.”
“It takes more than a few demons to stop me,” Willow informed her, “so why don't you get up and surrender like a good little megalomaniac?”
“Is that what you think I am?” Morbius gave her a hurt look, “I'm no insane dictator, I just want to help people live fruitful lives and not have to worry about death, sickness, poverty and crime, I just want people to be happy...”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, totally heard it all before,” Willow replied tiredly, “those things can't be given they have to earnt or people don't appreciate them. So, are you gonna come quietly or can I shoot ya, huh...like, please?”
“Ha-ha!” Morbius scoffed, “Your pathetic weapons won't work in here!”
Willow pulled the trigger of her rifle, the insane scientist was right the rifle didn't work. The M-Tar fired its cartridges electrically, Morbius must have set up some sort of dampening field in the lab for just such an eventuality.
“Whatever...” Willow sighed as she lashed out with a spell and turned every silicone based processor in Morbius' body into sand, 'killing' her instantly, “...bugger, that wasn't supposed to happen!” she sighed sadly as she stood over the dead bio-bot, “Now I'll never get to know how she found out about the Aliens.”
Commanding the door to open, Willow stepped out into the corridor to find it full of dead Aliens. Obviously when their creator had died they'd died. Walking out into the living quarters, she found the Marines and a small landing party under Lt Farr waiting for her as the Reluctant hovered protectively over the residence.
“Captain thought you might need some help, Willow,” Jerri Farr explained as she went over to look at the body of Alta.
“Sorry about her,” Willow joined Jerri in looking down at the dead machine, “I could probably repair her if you want?”
“No thanks,” Jerri shrugged, “I think I prefer real girls...so what do we do with all this stuff?”
“I'm gonna recommend that we seal the place up...”
“What?” Jerri looked at Willow in surprise.
“But only until a proper expedition can be organised and sent to study everything,” Willow explained, “y'know it'll take years just to scratch the surface of all this Krell-tech,” Willow took a deep breath before letting it out in a long sigh, “in the mean time we'll take a few bits an' pieces to show people what we've found.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Jerri agreed; she looked around at the wrecked rooms, “anything special you want to take?”
“Erm...” Willow found herself looking down to where the Buffy-bot still lay on the floor, “...you could put the Buffy-bot in my lab for me, please.”
“Not a problem,” Jerri nodded, “anything else?”
“Take Morbius' notes her computer and any do-dads you find in her office then seal the door to the Great Machine...now I better go talk to the Captain.”
“Go ahead, I'll clean up here,” Jerri reached out and gave Willow's arm a friendly squeeze, “you did good here today...you helped keep the universe safe for womankind.”
“I hope so...” Willow replied as she turned and walked away.
“Are you sure this'll work?” Captain Adams asked as she looked down at the Buffy-bot where it lay on the sick bay's examination table.
“As sure as I can be, Captain,” Willow replied; if the truth was told Willow had invested a lot of time, energy and magic into her latest project.
It was no use denying it, Willow wanted her best-friend back. To her it only felt like a few years since Buffy had sacrificed herself to save everyone's lives and not the thousand plus years it had actually been. Having lost so many friends and loved ones, Willow wanted her best-friend back. If that meant reprogramming a sex-bot that happened to look a lot like Buffy then so be it.
“Well if you're sure,” Captain Adams was still a little uneasy about the idea of having a living machine on her ship, but if her science officer said it'd be 'okay' then she'd go with Willow's recommendation.
“When she wakes up,” Willow explained as she removed the last few electrodes, drips and pipes from Buffy's body, “she'll be like a real girl, she'll have no memory of being a robot...”
“If you say so, Willow,” Captain Adams sighed a little.
“It'll be fine, Captain,” Willow reassured Adams, “Now, I'm going to have to ask you to leave the compartment, Ma'am. When I wake her up I need to be alone with her to make sure her new programming initialises correctly.”
“Of course,” Captain Adams nodded as she turned to head out the door, “I'll be on the bridge, report to me immediately 'Buffy' is up and running.”
“Will do, Ma'am,” Willow replied as she watched her captain leave the sick bay.
After checking that she was in fact alone, Willow asked Tara to lock the hatch, before turning back to where Buffy lay on the examination table. Slipping her hand under Buffy's head she felt for the micro-switch at the base of the robot's skull. Finding the small protrusion she pressed it and after withdrawing her hand she stepped back half a pace.
“Buffy?” Willow called quietly; the Buffy-bot didn't move, “Buffy?” she called a little louder and the robot began to stir.
Resisting the urge to giggle insanely and shout, 'It's alive! It's alive!', Willow watched as Buffy slowly 'woke up'.
“Willow?” Buffy frowned a little as she blinked open her eyes and stared up at Willow, “Willow?” she smiled sleepily on catching sight of her bestest friend in all the universe.
“Hi Buffy,” Willow smiled down at her.
“Did I fall asleep?” Buffy pushed herself up into a sitting position, she felt a little confused as if she'd forgotten something very important.
“Just for a little while,” Willow explained, “you had a bump on the head but you're alright now...do you trust me?”
“With my life...” Buffy reached out and took hold of Willow's hand.
“Everything's going be alright...” Willow smiled reassuringly.
“...now you're here...” Buffy replied.
United forever in friendship and labour,
Our mighty Alliance will ever endure.
The Terran Alliance will live through the ages.
The dream of her people their fortress secure.
Long live our Terran motherland,
Built by the people's mighty hand.
Long live our people, united and free.
Strong in our friendship tried by fire.
Long may our Terran flag inspire,
Shining in glory for all there to see.