Out of the Frying Pan...
Disclaimer -- I own nothing, though I wouldn't mind. Description of the Death Star Overbridge comes from the relevant Wookieepedia entry. All else belongs to their respective copyright owners. Please do not sue me, ye almighty copyright owners...?Out of the frying pan…
“Oooohhhhh….did anyone see the freight train that hit me?”
“Already left the station, my dear boy,” replied a familiar voice. “Quite odd that the station’s still here…””Station?!”
Xander woke with a start. His eyes took a moment to focus, taking in the details of the holding cell.
The holding cell on the Death Star…So that’s what he meant.
Xander took a moment to let it all sink in. It was not rational; they should be floating dead in space right now. “We’re still on the Death Star, aren’t we?”
“Astute observation, dear boy,” said the voice that woke him. Xander turned in its direction and found Ethan Rayne sitting on the horizontal slab of metal that formed part of the wall and served as a sleeping space for prisoners. “As to why, I couldn’t tell you except to say that the spell must have had some…unintended consequences.”
Xander looked Rayne in the eyes, his momentary confusion now turning to an icy, patient anger. “That’s an understatement if I ever heard one. You tricked us, you bastard.”
“Please do try and restrain yourself, young man. We still don’t know the full effects of the spell’s lingering influence, so a word to the wise? Leave well enough alone until you know more about what the spell did, before you go gallivanting around trying to find the most novel means of disposing of me. I never meant to hurt anyone,” Rayne groused.
“I should have figured you were behind this from the beginning,” said a voice from the floor of the cell. Apparently Giles had been knocked out by the blast when the bust of Janus exploded. He looked better than he must have felt, surprisingly, other than a couple of small lacerations from a few flying stone fragments.
“Ah, Ripper, awake at last, are we?” queried Rayne. “Are you well?”
“Just fine, Ethan, you pillock, no thanks to you. You’ve managed to get yourself in quite a bit of trouble with Janus, I believe, as we’re still on a battle station that by rights should no longer exist,” the Watcher growled. “Have you anything to say for yourself that might mitigate the situation with us at least?”
A somewhat genuinely puzzled and apologetic expression found itself on Ethan’s face, if “genuine” could even be a term that described him. As a Chaos mage and worshipper, he was prone to habitual mischief making, Giles remembered from their younger days. His reply was more genuine, though.
“Just that I had no idea that Janus would channel such an astounding amount of power as would create this, even if it were for his own amusement. The fact that we’re sitting here on this station, talking and breathing, indicates to me that this is a fully functioning construct. I must say that I was genuinely taken aback when I noticed it was still here and we were still on it. And did anyone notice that one of our red-haired friends has gone missing?”
“One of…?” Xander piped in confusedly. He looked around and saw Dawn on the floor, still unconscious but resting by the way she squirmed on the cold floor of the cell. Amazingly, her hair had not returned to its normal chocolate brown hue. Then it hit him. “Willow!”
“If I do recall, she costumed as a ghost with an outfit from my shop…”
Suddenly Xander’s eyes were filed with flame. He practically leapt at Rayne, snarling. “If she’s not still alive when I get down there and find her, you son of a bitch….”
“I don’t know. Shoot you out of an airlock, land a starship on you, something…”
Rayne’s eyes widened in amusement and interest, and his lips stretched into a rictus of curious delight. “Ahhh,” he stage whispered, “the show’s not over yet, is it…? Tarkin lives within you still, I see.”Within me?
Xander wondered suddenly at his words, and then he noticed something frightening in his own mind.
Tarkin’s life, his personality, every thought the Imperial Moff had ever had in his mind, every memory was there, in Xander’s mind, as if they were his own. He had stood by with Darth Vader and Princess Leia as he gave the order to destroy Alderaan. He had ordered the crew of a starship to land on a group of beings protesting Imperial taxation policy, crushing them beneath its bulk and killing them all instantly. He had consulted with Vader to capture the Wookiee population of Kachirho on Kashyyyk and use them as slave labor to construct the Death Star.
Xander Harris saw each and every one of those horrible moments play themselves out through his own eyes, and suddenly his heart palpitated, and his breath caught in his throat. The memories of Wihuff Tarkin of Eriadu were so vivid, that it was no wonder Xander had to fight to remember that they were not his memories. That was not his life. But the memories would not fade. And what frightened him most was that a small part of him insisted that it was for the greater good that these things, these horrible crimes perpetrated by the aristocratic Tarkin were necessary to preserve order in the galaxy, even required. These were not the defining traits of Xander Harris, though. He was not
Something else made its presence felt then in Xander’s mind…a nightmare of the Hellmouth opening. It was odd, that. Xander had made his peace with nightmares since he first learned of the Hellmouth’s existence, had accepted that nightmares would be a part of his life from that moment on. This particular nightmare, though, struck a particular nerve in Xander’s psyche, and he found himself wondering whether it was a dream or a premonition…Standing alone in the firing room of the Death Star…
The battle station’s superlaser aiming at a particular world…
The horrible, powerful beam lancing out from the energy cone formed by the tributary lasers, and touching the planet below…
The planet Earth blowing apart into red-hot, glowing fragments from the blast…
Xander paled and broke out into a cold sweat from the mere remembrance of it. Nightmares about dying on the Hellmouth, getting gouged or bitten by a vamp and drained, sure, he could handle those. He expected to meet his end any number of ways, so dying didn’t bother him. Becoming a monster didn’t bother him so much either; he knew a couple of monsters who were some pretty cool guys. Even Deadboy, for all his being a vampire, was on the level, he had to admit. It was killing everyone he ever knew or didn’t know, annihilating the whole of humanity, that caused him fear. The idea, the possibility, that he would or even could pull the trigger on seven billion people had been unthinkable…until now. He could hear the voice of Tarkin in his mind now as if it was his own. How the man was even able to rationalize genocide on such a total and massive scale…
But he had
done it before. Tarkin was a monster, Xander was sure. He purged all thought of Tarkin from his conscious mind then with a visible shudder, and he looked at Rayne with no small measure of disgust.
“Yes, you do
you have his memories. And now we
have the Death Star right here
in orbit of our planet.” Rayne was positively bubbling with glee now. “I wonder how far the functionality of this station goes…would its primary weapon work, I wonder? Such a prize….whatever are we to do with it?”
As Xander listened to Rayne go on and on, obviously pleased with the prospects of their newfound possession, or with the sound of his own voice…or both, Xander was sure, he slowly shook his head.
“You. Are. Insane. You are positively insane, and I will not use that planet buster if it was the only thing that could save us.” He turned to Giles, who was regarding Rayne with an equal measure of loathing, and he spoke.
“We need to get home. We need to find Willow and see if she’s alright.” Xander turned back to fix the Chaos mage now with an icy stare. He spoke slowly, softly now, so Rayne heard the message loud and clear. “And if I find out that she’s not in absolutely perfect health…Mr. Rayne…you and I
will have unfinished business. I’m sure you can appreciate that, being a man of business
“We need to hide this battle station, Xander.”
He turned to Giles now, unsure of what he just heard. “Giles, what…how can anyone hide something the size of a Class IV moon?”
“We can move it further away from Earth, Xander, beyond the Moon’s orbit. Mars orbit, preferably, but as long as it’s out of everyone’s eyesight, then we’ll have done the job.”
“We need to find out what’s on this station first, Giles. What good’s moving it out of visual range going to do us if we can’t get off this damn thing?”
Just then they heard a moan from the floor. Two moans, actually. The three conversationalists looked down at the floor now and saw the Summers sisters moving around, getting on their hands and knees now as they returned to consciousness.
“Ooohh…Oh, what happened?” said the first of them. Dawn then looked around and saw the others looking down at her with relief in their expressions. She regarded Xander first and said “Hey, Xan, how ya doing?”
Xander smiled and replied, “Hey, Dawn Patrol, how ya feeling?”
Dawn reached up with one hand to rub the back of her neck. “Like I got run over by a clone turbo tank, but other than that, I’m a hundred percent.” She then grabbed a good handful of red hair and pulled.
“OW!” She then grabbed two handfuls of hair by the tips and held them up to her face. “What happened to that red wig? WHAT’S HAPPENED TO MY HAIR?!”
“What do you remember, Dawn?” asked Giles.
“Remember? Giles, wha—“ Dawn suddenly realized something. “Daala. Her life, her memories. Mine too.” She looked around then, as if seeing for the first time where she was. “Giles….” She asked slowly, “where the hell are we?”
“Aaaugh, mon Dieu…*” Buffy swore in French. “Je le jure, je vais trouver celui qui conduisait le camion qui m'a frappé .. *“ She then looked around at everyone; blinking repeatedly to be sure she wasn’t seeing things. “And…” she then started rambling, more to herself than to anyone else, “why was I speaking French just now? How am I speaking French all of a sudden…I don’t speak French…what the hell just happened?” Buffy then looked at each one in turn. “Where are we?”
“You’ve gone over the rainbow, Buffster,” said Xander then. “We’re on the frickin’ Death Star…”
The Slayer leaned toward Xander with her head, and at the same time Dawn did a double take. The sisters then spoke as one.
“You’re shitting me…”********Death Star Overbridge
It had taken quite some time to get here; the battle station indeed was that big. To the rear was a pit where crew would attend to their various duties; behind those was an array of viewscreens displaying multiple streams of information. Ahead of those , on the short centerline of the overbridge, or control room, was the battle station operations chief; this was the one post that Xander found himself in his nightmares, where he fired the superlaser that would penetrate the Earth’s solid inner core and vaporize it in an instant, creating the impossible pressure that would blow the planet apart. To either side was a duty station where the Army and Navy chiefs of operations for the Galactic Empire would sit and attend to their particular work while aboard the station. The Death Star was Xander’s now; he saw no need for these, as he figured since he was no political or military leader, he would never have any need to command an army or a navy. Ahead of those was the seat belonging to Grand Moff Tarkin, or whoever would have been governor in his place. Xander figured now since he possessed Tarkin’s memories and, in a small dark corner of his mind, his personality, he should have been drawn to that chair. Ironically, the idea of sitting there repulsed him almost as much as sitting in the chair belonging to the Death Star’s trigger man. He suppressed an internal chuckle at that.
On either side were chairs belonging to the Admiral of the Imperial Navy and the General of the Imperial Army. As with the chairs for the chiefs of naval and army operations, Xander saw these chairs as superfluous and unnecessary. Throughout the room were various duty posts where attendees would stand for the duration of their shift, accomplishing whatever their jobs demanded of them on a particular day. Xander had managed to find a console somewhere just off the detention level that showed a layout of the overbridge, so he knew that one of these was the security post; from here he could determine what the Death Star contained as far as a means of transport through space. It only took a few minutes to find it, and from there he started entering commands to view each hangar bay. He also pulled up a vehicle roster on one other screen to compare it with what he would see in each hangar bay. To say the list was extensive was the understatement of the millennium. From Tarkin’s memories he knew that there were supposed to be literally thousands of flight-capable vehicles here, including TIE fighters, bombers and possibly Interceptors, including designs for more advanced craft like the Defender and other TIEs; nearly a thousand other shuttlecraft were supposedly berthed in the Death Star’s hangar bays also, but Xander was looking for one in particular, which had berthed in the station no less than two hours ago. The only trouble was navigating the convoluted user interface system, which was as decentralized as the core systems on the station itself, which Xander had discovered after finding the location of the overbridge. There would have to be some changes made to the operating system in the central computer core.
Only five minutes had passed until he had found the shuttle that carried them aboard the Death Star, thanks to his memories of Tarkin’s access codes; without them he would have to have searched system after system, roster after roster, which might have taken hours. He looked up at Giles and the others with a triumphant grin.
“Alright,” he said, “let’s get this death machine hidden. Dawn, can you find the navigational controls and set us a course toward the asteroid belt?”
“Asteroids?” asked Dawn skeptically. She looked at Xander as though he had lost his mind for a moment, and then the memories of Admiral Daala informed her that it was not exactly necessary to enter the asteroid belt. “Oh, right. On it, Xan…”
In just a minute then, Dawn had the battle station moving away from Earth, having set a course that would take them past Mars and its moons, Phobos and Deimos, to a point just inside the asteroid belt’s inner perimeter, and just far enough away to be safe from any serious impact but close enough that the asteroids’ magnetic profiles would confuse any sensors.
“Giles? Can you find Com-Scan and see if anybody’s still looking at us? Chances are the answer will be a big yes, but I wanna know who they are in case we run into trouble when we get home,” Xander asked.
“Sensible policy,” replied the Watcher. “I’ll start monitoring Earth communications and see who’s listening.” He then got to work finding the communications console in the crew pit. It took some time to decipher the strange alphabet, but Giles managed to decipher the Imperial writing system, and within a minute after that he was calibrating the Death Star’s passive sensors to pick up Earth signals, and before long he was tracking several beacons trained on the Death Star from several US government installations, including Johnson Space Center in Houston and one coming from somewhere near Colorado Springs. Problem was, aside from his anxiety with working with strange and unusual technology, he couldn’t identify the installation in Colorado.
“Xander, will you come down here? I think I have something…”
Within a second, while everybody was busy with other things, Xander came down to Com-Scan and stood over Giles’ shoulder. “So…what’s the what, G-man?”
Giles huffed in typical British fashion. “I do wish you would refrain from using that infernal nickname, Xander. As for my findings -- which I must admit took a toll on me; if I ever see another computer again, it’ll be quite too soon -- merely look at this. A tracking beacon is locked onto us from an unknown source in the Colorado Rockies. The closest settlement is Colorado Springs…”
“The Air Force Academy?” asked Xander as he turned to look at the librarian.
“The same. There’s also an unusual energy signature showing on this other console to my right, a type I think no one has heretofore encountered.”
“Giles, no one has ever encountered this station heretofore. What’s so different about this energy signature?”
“It doesn’t correspond to any electromagnetic medium on the planet, and the Death Star’s computer has no records of such an energy signature anywhere. Nothing we have, unless you count the Death Star primary weapon, could harness that much power in such a small space. Also, it’s about a mile underground –“
“Yes, Xander, buried inside a mountain, in fact. If you listen half as well in your classes as you are doing now, I daresay your grades would improve by a rather large order of magnitude.”
For a moment, Xander was pensive. “Huh, I suppose I have Moff Tarkin to thank for that…remind me to drop a note to Ethan in his cell…hey, what’s that flashing?”
Giles looked at the thing that had Xander’s attention. A red light was flashing on Giles’ console, next to a group of text lines that flashed in time with the light. The Watcher, despite his consternation at implementing yet another “infernal” machine, entered a command to display whatever it was, and then the text lines changed to display more information. “I don’t know what I’m looking at. We have yet to decipher this language, but I think what we’re looking at is an incoming transmission. I’ll see what I can do to clarify this, but don’t expect much for the first few minutes, Xander, yes?”
“It’s Aurebesh, the alphabet of the Empire. It’s still English, surprisingly, but they just use another alphabet. Alright, Giles. I’ll leave this in your expert hands.” That got another stern look from the librarian and history expert, to which Xander replied with a sheepish upturn of one corner of his lip and a sheepish shrug. Xander then walked over to Dawn’s station at Navigation in the crew pit. “Hey Dawn Patrol, all stop, ok?”
“What’s going on?” The younger Summers sister looked up at Xander, still fiddling nervously with her flaming tresses.
“Somebody back home wants to talk to us. I’m guessing military or government, so we’d better figure out something fast if we don’t want to get nuked on our maiden voyage, ok?” Xander explained.
“If I can figure out what all this means, I think I can help with that one,” said Buffy suddenly. She looked at her console at Tactical and started sending her fingers flying over the controls. At length she said, “Ok, I don’t know the first thing of what I’m looking at here, but I think I just raised the shields and activated point defense systems. If any of those uncultured swine shoot first, then we should be able to blow up anything that comes our way. We might even be able to shoot back, incredible as the thought seems to me.”
Suddenly Xander had a chilling notion. Could Buffy have armed the planet buster by mistake? By her own admission, she didn’t know what she had done or was doing, so Xander looked over her console for the terrible switch that was the source of his nightmares. His breath came in shallow gasps as he cast his gaze over every inch of the instrumentation twice, then thrice before he was satisfied.
“Xander?” queried Buffy with some confusion. “Are you alright?” She hardly noticed how much more cultured her speech had become; she was so focused on her friend’s pale face.
“Huh?” Xander looked up at the Slayer, his eyes filled with just-diminishing dread. He shook his head vigorously just before he answered. “Oh, yes, I’m fine, just—looking to see that we didn’t arm the superlaser by mistake…”
“The supe---oh. Oh!” intoned Buffy in sudden alarm. “Um, did we? You know, arm the planet buster?”
“No,” Xander said, the word itself greatly relieving his fear. “No, we didn’t. The safety interlocks are still in place; we’re okay, Buff. And as for the rest of it, my Duchess of Buffonia, you did alright. We have shields up and forward turbolasers armed in zones Six through Twelve North and Twelve through Twenty-four South. You did splendidly, milady.”
A slight nod of the head acknowledged his praise. “Thank you, Xander.”
“Xander?” reported Dawn from her station, “Engines answer all stop, no relative motion.”
“What’s our position?”
“We’re just outside lunar orbit, Xan, and this thing moves like a hippo under sublight drives, so we’d just barely managed to get a tenth of the way to Mars, never mind the asteroid belt.” She brought up a holo of the Earth system and overlaid their flight path, which ended at exactly the spot where Dawn said. Pointing at the area with one index finger, Dawn said, “We’re just about here
“Very good Admiral – uh, I mean Dawn Patrol, awesome. Let’s turn this thing around so we can hear who’s calling, Giles says we’re getting a transmission from Earth. Establish a geosynchronous orbit relative to the source of the transmission.”
“As you wish.” Xander looked over at the main tactical screen dominating the forward wall of the overbridge. He noticed the stars had already begun to move as Dawn worked her magic, graciously supplied by Natasi Daala in her mind. Within two minutes or so, (Damn, this thing is huge
) the horizon of Earth began to present itself. The Death Star’s rotation didn’t stop until the planet was firmly centered on the main tactical screen. Within moments the surrounding screen space began to fill with information about the planet, including a proper firing solution for the superlaser. Xander cursed himself that he was one of the few Americans who fully understood the Aurebesh alphabet.
“God, can someone clear this shit from the screen? I am not
about to look at our home planet through a fucking scope!”
“Xander, mind your tongue!”
“Huh? Oh, sorry Giles…”
Still, within a minute, the tactical overlay disappeared from the screen, giving Xander no small measure of relief; it was bad enough just looking at the Earth through that screen by itself, as he remembered looking at that same screen as Alderaan was blown apart.
He did have a question, though about what to say if whoever was trying to contact them turned out to be from the US government or, worse, the military.
“Giles, who do you think we should tell them we are?”
“I honestly hadn’t given it that much though as yet, Xander,” replied the indomitable librarian, “but I suppose we couldn’t do much worse than tell them the truth. One explanation at this point would be as believable as another, which is to say no rational explanation would be very plausible. There are circumstances where the Council has involved itself in normal government affairs, in which cases the Council has required the use of nondisclosure forms. I imagine the same could be true with whoever we might encounter from the military. At some point we’d have to invite them aboard the station, but not before we insist on such a nondisclosure agreement.” A telltale began to blink on Giles’ console suddenly, distracting him from the issue at hand. “We’re getting the message now. They claim to be a military organization calling itself Stargate Command, and they’re asking us to declare our intentions in regards to Earth. I’m also getting what looks like a voice message…”
“Pipe it through to the speakers, Giles, let’s hear it.”
A male voice then cut in over the overbridge’s ceiling-mounted main speakers. ”Unidentified station, this is Major General George Hammond, United States Air Force. You are in restricted US military space. State your intentions or leave this system at once. Failure to do either will result in your being declared hostile, and we will fire on you. Repeat, unidentified station, this is Major General George Hammond, United States Air Force…”********Sunnydale, California
Willow rose from the porch where she had abruptly lost consciousness. Casting the ghost costume from her body, she took in her surroundings as though with new eyes, wondering if she’d had a very weird dream or one hell of a nightmare. Then she started walking, not remembering for the moment, or even caring at that point, that she was dressed rather daringly for her age. She heard the clomp of her boots as they hit the sidewalk, and the sound reassured her that she was no longer dreaming, that she was, in fact, as wide awake as she had ever remembered being in her lifetime. A rather beat-up green van rolled by at one point, its red-haired driver looking out the window at her and whistling.
girl?” she had heard him say, which caused her to momentarily blush and feel self-conscious at what she now remembered wearing, before she decided Ahh, the hell with it..
, and waved at him. She was still looking in his general direction as he rolled away when she bumped into a mailbox. She was grateful for the momentary pain, which reminded her that she was once again corporeal, still alive, and happy for it. Suddenly other memories of the nightmare flooded back into her waking mind, and she risked a glance upward, hoping against hope to not see something in the night sky. She saw the moon, still bright, still beautiful, still there.
So was the Death Star, its superlaser dish staring down at the Earth like some baleful demon’s eye, and suddenly Willow felt a chill like nothing else, for if the Death Star was still there, then that meant the events of this night had really happened. Xander had costumed as Moff Tarkin, and he had been possessed by the Imperial governor and commander of the battle station that continued to hang over Sunnydale in geosynchronous orbit. He had not been himself, so Willow couldn’t hold him responsible for the killing of two innocent trick-or-treaters and the wounding of another, but that was not to say others might not hold him to the same accountability. Willow only hoped that the inept Sunnydale police force might overlook the blaster wounds on the two fatalities and the one maimed child the same as they would chalk up a vampire attack to gangs on PCP or barbecue forks to the neck. Since magic had played a role in this, the possibility was very likely. Still, the circumstances would be very bad for Xander if that wounded child ended up in the hospital, Sunnydale Syndrome or not.
She searched for the child, retracing her steps from memory and hoping that he was still there. She had intended to take him home and treat the blaster wound on his leg with what little medical equipment she had in her parents’ first aid locker. Since they were almost never there, she figured her parents wouldn’t mind her bringing in a stranger and helping him until she could get hold of Giles or Xander, assuming they weren’t still aboard the Death Star. Her parents, with the whole not being there and all, weren’t exactly in a position to disagree or disallow it. It wasn’t long before she found him, still in the street and clutching at his leg in obvious agony.
Willow rushed over to him, now regretting the choice of a leather miniskirt since it hampered her movements, and she kneeled down by his prone, writhing form, and removed his mask.
“Carlos!” she exclaimed in obvious surprise and concern. Carlos Traverse was one of the junior high students that she occasionally tutored in math in her spare time, and he and his best friend Kit Holburn were good friends to Willow. “Oh, your leg…” The hole in his thigh was no longer smoking, but the obvious damage would take some time to repair, followed by intensive sessions of physical therapy as the muscle tissue worked to rebuild itself. But he would need a skin graft to replace what had been charred away by the instant third-degree burn caused by the blaster bolt.
“Willow?” he whispered hoarsely; he had obviously been screaming a bit from the agony induced by the wound. “Is that you?”
“Yeah, Carlos, it’s me. Can you stand? I’ve got to get you out of here; you don’t wanna end up in the hospital with that..”
“Ugh,” he moaned, as he tried to rise, “I guess I’m gonna have a tiny problem trying to run out of your tutoring sessions…” It was no mean feat for him though, as half of his thigh had been burned away, so Willow reached down and draped one arm over her shoulders. She picked up her leg until she had her foot on the ground.
“Come on, put your weight on my knee. I’ll help you stand up, okay?” Carlos obliged her by placing his other hand on her knee and pulling his upper body over her leg, and Willow draped her free arm around his waist and then pulled as he pushed up with his good leg, grimacing and gnashing his teeth from the effort. He had not lost much blood since the wound in his leg had been instantly cauterized, but the pain had weakened him to the point where at least once his leg had nearly given out from the strain, and Willow had to struggle to keep his weight on her hip. They still managed, together, to stand Carlos up on his good leg, and Willow supported him as they made their way out of the alley and back to her house.*********Author's Note -- translation from French: "Oh, my God...I swear, I'm gonna find whoever was driving that truck that hit me..."