Disclaimer -- see first chapterStargate Command, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado”PROXIMITY ALERT! GENERAL HAMMOND TO THE GATE ROOM!”
The rumbling started without warning, and Air Force Master Sergeant Walter Harriman panicked at the sheer number of alerts his terminal was receiving. NASA had begun tracking an object that had suddenly appeared over southern California, and now the US Geological Survey was reporting low-level tectonic disturbances all over the North American continent. The tracking satellites had suddenly been flung out of orbit by some massive gravitational force, and stargazers all across the country were phoning in about some massive spherical thing in the sky that had blocked out their view of the starscape.
It took less than a minute for Major General George Hammond to leave his office and storm across the gate room to Harriman’s console.
“What are we looking at, son?” he inquired.
The technician was pale-faced as he made his report. “Sir, this object simply appeared over southern California less than a minute ago. NASA’s been tracking it, but their satellites were somehow flung off course by some massive gravitational disturbance, and the US Geological Survey is reporting low-level tectonic activity all over the North American continent. I think we can get a visual of this thing with the few satellites we have left…”
“Put it on the main monitor.”
Hammond strode over to the screen as best he was able given the rumbling that was still going on, and he saw something that made him blink repeatedly and rapidly. A vast expanse of gray unmoving static completely blanketed the picture.
“There something wrong with the satellite feed, Master Sergeant?”
Walter looked over his console and reported back, “No sir, everything checks out on diagnostics. Maybe if I…”
He pressed several contacts and then waited. Finally after a minute, the screenshot changed, and there was no more static, just a vast field of differing shades of gray. Around the edges, faintly, there was a blurring that suggested the object in question had a roughly spherical shape.
“Impossible!” cried out Walter in astonishment. “General, if the range from the satellite to the object is accurate, this thing’s the size of our moon! It has a gravitational pull all its own due its sheer mass and volume. And only one depression above the centerline; it’s too perfect a circle to be caused naturally…sir, this thing’s not a moon, it’s some sort of construct!”
“You’re saying it’s artificial?!”
“That’s exactly it, sir,” replied Walter. “And it just appeared without any sort of warning or notice; no indication of any cloaking activity, no deceleration, one minute there’s nothing and the next it’s just there!
After a moment Hammond responded. “Contact NASA and tell them to send whatever satellites they have left to track this thing and have them set it to record at this range and half again. I want a complete picture of this thing. Any word on SG-1?”
“No, sir, they’re still listed as missing.”
The technician said they were missing, and that was the official report to the Pentagon, but Hammond knew the truth. He had sanctioned SG-1’s mission to find and bring back Daniel Jackson from what he claimed was a Ha’Tak en route to Earth with none other than the System Lord Apophis on board. Implicitly, that meant that SG-1 was also tasked with stopping Apophis from attacking Earth by any means necessary. With no word on their progress so far, he had to admit he feared the worst for their mission.
The half hour that passed seemed like forever with the unceasing shaking of the earth beneath their feet, never mind that the entire SGC complex was buried half a mile deep inside a mountain. All of a sudden the rumbling stopped, and General Hammond called out, “Report!”
“The construct is moving away from the planet, General. Continental tectonic activity has ceased.”
“Say again, Harriman?”
Walter looked disbelievingly at his console, confirming his readings. “That is correct, sir, the artificial planetoid has begun to move away. Gravitational influence is now zero. “
Hammond moved over to stand over Walter’s shoulder and looked at what his senior technician already knew. “Thank God,” he breathed. “Contact NASA and get us an update on the satellite’s position and range to the object.”
Just then a telltale blinked on Walter’s console. “Sir, already getting a positive feed from the satellite. Getting an image now….sir,” he now said slowly, “you might wanna look at this yourself.”
Hammond moved closer to Harriman's console as the technician moved aside to give him room. Hammond did a double-take at the image in question. “You’ve gotta be kidding me…”
“No sir, I’m not, and neither is that satellite. Do I say it, sir?”
“If everything that satellite is giving us is right, you might as well, son. It ain’t Goa’uld, that’s for sure.”
“Sir, that’s no moon…it’s a space station!”Sunnydale, California
Wilhuff Tarkin blinked his eyes as he took in his new surroundings. One minute he was watching the main screen as the seconds ticked away, the moon of Yavin IV coming into range of the Death Star’s primary weapon, and the next…he was here, wherever “here” was. It appeared to be a primitive settlement of an unknown world. He looked around to get his bearings and find the center of government for this place, and hopefully get some answers out of the local constabulary or someone else in the know. If they were smart, and they were smart to fear the might of the Empire, they would do well to give him his answers at once.
His thoughts were interrupted by a sudden terrible rumbling of the surface of this planet. He looked around for some sort of shelter, and then he ran for the nearest building. As he moved, he noted the passing of strange beings of varying sizes and species types. This was obviously a settlement in the path of civilization, if they catered to slave races as they apparently did, but the chaotic activity around him indicated nothing less than civil disturbance. Had he a legion of Stormtroopers with him, it would be quite easy to quell this bothersome unrest and restore order in the name of the Emperor. If he got lucky, he might even find a Rebel cell operating in the area, as they were known for causing such disturbances on Imperial worlds. The Emperor would reward him handsomely in such a case.
Tarkin looked around, taking in all angles to find the source of the tectonic disturbance, when he cast his gaze upward to the heavens. There, far closer to the surface of the planet than was called for, was the Death Star.
“How in the name of the Emperor did I come to be here instead of on my station?” he mused aloud. Just then he saw a young human female, an adolescent by her appearance, and apparently unaffected by the groundquake, approach him from a distance along the main thoroughfare. He pulled out his blaster pistol and shouted, “Halt and identify yourself!”
“Xander, it’s me! It’s Willow!” replied the young redhead. She had come closer, and now Tarkin could see that she was dressed rather maturely for her age, the leather skirt and red blouse fitting her tightly like a second skin. Her boots looked stylish and well-made for appearance, but little else. For all the Grand Moff knew, she might have approached him to proposition him for sex, had she not called him by a different name altogether.
“I assure you, young lady, that I am not this Xander you speak of. Now you will tell me what’s going on here at once, or I will be forced to fire on you!” He leveled his blaster at her midsection to bring the point home to her.
“Xander I honestly don’t know. You-you dressed as an Imperial officer and now you are an Imperial officer, and I dressed as a ghost and now I am a ghost and…BEHIND YOU!!!”
Tarkin spun on his heel and held out his blaster, aiming at the two aliens that were rushing at him to attack. He shot them dead without a word.
“Alien scum…” he grumbled as he looked down at their lifeless corpses. He turned back to “Willow”, whoever she was, and was surprised to see her rush at him as well. His surprise was only doubled as he saw her pass straight through
him. He realized in an instant that shooting her would prove useless; if she could pass through solid matter, then a laser blast would likewise prove futile. He holstered his sidearm and stood straight, regarding her with not a small measure of confusion and distrust. “What are you?”
Horrified at having witnessed her bestest friend murder two people in cold blood, she stammered, “Xander, I told you, people are turning into their costumes! You just killed two innocent people! No more shooting aliens!”
Tarkin snorted in disgust. “Those two on the ground were obviously not so innocent as you claim, since they attacked an officer of the Empire. They deserved their fate. And you still haven’t told me what you are…”
“Xander, we don’t have time for this, we need to find Buffy, she’s in trouble right now; she’s….she’s being pursued by Rebels!” Willow realized that Xander clearly wasn’t himself, and if she was to ever get him to help her, then she needed to indulge the masquerade for now.
Tarkin, for his part, decided then that whatever this female was, she deserved at least a chance if she knew there were Rebel agents afoot. And the Rebel Alliance was not to be underestimated, if there was a chance they had managed to infiltrate a settlement such as this and cause civil unrest of this magnitude. He reached behind him for his comlink and keyed in the frequency for the Death Star’s command suite.
“Command station, this is Tarkin. I need a squad of troopers down here on the surface as soon as possible to suppress this mob and another to find and eliminate a possible Rebel cell operating in the area. Do you copy?” His request was met with static. That must have been another clue that there were indeed Rebel fugitives here. He turned to Willow, deciding for now to give her the benefit of the doubt.
“I will accompany you, young Willow, and you will lead me to this Buffy friend of yours. If there are Rebel agents there, then you and I will do our best to apprehend them until I can bring down a garrison of troops from the battle station,” he told her, “and then you will tell me all that is transpiring here.”
“As you wish, sir…wait. Did you say ‘battle station’?”
“Has your incorporeal nature made you doubt your own ears? I did use those two words to describe that
…” Tarkin replied, and he directed her attention with one pointed finger to the Death Star orbiting above.
Willow followed his gaze, and then she saw the Death Star with her own eyes. Had she been corporeal at that moment, the blood would surely have drained from her face as she stood in horrified shock. She could barely manage a whisper. “Oh, God, no…”
“Denial will surely gain you nothing, and we are running out of time. Your god is not here; that station is there, and
it is operational. Now I want those Rebels, and you are stalling for time. Shall I clarify things further for you?” Tarkin stated in a voice that gave Willow little doubt as to his intentions.
This cold, terrible threat from Xander/Tarkin shook Willow out of her despair, and she looked him in the eyes, her resolve face on again as she said, “Fine, but we need to find Buffy first, she’s the key to the Rebels. We find her, we’ll find your Rebel agents, and the Emperor will be greatly pleased with you. Now let’s go!”
Tarkin chanced a glance upward at his prized battle station. He knew it was operational, he knew it would reduce this planet to its component atoms at the press of a button. He also saw that it was far too close to the surface of this planet. No wonder they were experiencing tectonic activity. Tarkin brought his comlink up again and spoke into it.
“Death Star navigation, I need that station moved away from the orbit of this planet. Its proximity to the surface is causing tectonic instability.” More static greeted him in reply. “Is there anyone receiving this transmission? I need the Death Star moved away from the surface of this planet!” he returned, now slightly annoyed that there was no one responding to his order. He then shifted tactics; if no one moved his battle station to a minimum safe distance from the planet’s gravitational field, then he would do it himself.
The planet lurched suddenly, and sparks flew from the settlement’s primitive power distribution lines – unbelievably, they were still using primitive metal wire to conduct electricity – and Tarkin decided to follow his non-corporeal guide to a spot other than where he was at the moment. As he followed, he switched his comlink to a frequency reserved for the station’s central computer core.
“Death Star computer, this is Station Commander Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin with an emergency command directive. Authorization Tarkin Three-Two-Seven-Aurek-Dorn. Move the station to minimum safe distance from the planet’s gravitational field. Execute!” Tarkin then continued pursuing the spirit to her supposed destination, where he hoped he’d find and apprehend the Rebel cell that she had indicated was operating in the area. As he moved, he noticed a slight decrease in the rumbling of the planet’s surface. The shaking continued to diminish over time until about thirty standard minutes later the ground he was walking on felt steady once more. At the same time, a woman screamed.