Chapter One of this story is here.
Buffy has hunted demons before. She's seen her share of killing and death. But when she crosses through a portal to confront her nightmare, she discovers that this time, it's not just another big bad to fight. Not just a battle. This time, it's war.
Rating R. This chapter: 2878 words.
The Only Way To Be Sure
As they leave the atmosphere and match orbits with the starship Sulaco, Buffy is as excited as a four year old in a toyshop at Christmas. She's in space! Her nose is practically pressed to the window as she stares out at the countless stars, burning so steadily, and the curve of the planet beneath them. Newt watches her with amused tolerance, and in response to Buffy's gentle probing shyly admits that she's been in space once before when she was very small, but she doesn't remember much because she was asleep most of the time.
Ripley joins in the conversation now, and Buffy discovers - through careful questioning to hide her ignorance - that they'll all have to go into some sort of hibernation for the journey back to Earth. That sounds good, actually; she was wondering how she could arrange to slip away without rousing too much awkwardness, but she also doesn't want to miss anything. With the big bad demon queen blasted to nuclear oblivion, she deserves a holiday, surely? A holiday in space. Once the others go into cold sleep she can activate the portal to go back home, but until then she's going to see as much as possible.
The dropship passes through the airlock, and Buffy waits impatiently for the inner doors to open. She understands the reason why they have to do this, but it seems to take forever for the huge chamber to fill up with air. At last the process is complete, though, and Bishop hovers the ship down to a gentle touchdown on the steel deck of the landing bay.
Space was, of course, huge; but somehow this internal space feels even bigger: perhaps because it's man-made. Buffy has to be dragged away from the window - she's just spotted a rack of enormous, vicious-looking missiles stacked in one corner of the room, and is speculating on how many vampires she could kill with one of them if they were obliging enough to all stand shoulder-to-shoulder in a circle. But Ripley and Bishop are discussing getting stretchers to take the casualties up to Sickbay, and Buffy feels guilty then, and decides to help.
Besides, maybe Sickbay will have even more cool stuff to see, like cryogenic tubes or surgical robots, or one of those holographic scanner thingies like the cute doctor guy used in that episode of 'Firefly'. (Unfortunately, she's gathered that there won't be an actual cute doctor guy there in person. According to Ripley the ship is mostly automated... they're the only living things on board.)
Or so she thinks, until she's walking down the ramp of the dropship and notices something wet dripping down from above and landing on the deck with a hiss.
And melting its way into the steel.
She opens her mouth to call a warning... and something huge and black and shiny bursts out of Bishop's chest. It's sharp and jagged. Like a harpoon. White fluid bursts from the wound. More of it bubbles out of his silently working mouth. Something in the back of Buffy's mind is going "Huh? He's not human?" He's rising into the air. Arms and legs flailing madly. Buffy's hand moves automatically to the Scythe slung on her back. Ripley and Newt are staring in shock. She can see now that it's a demon tail impaling him...
And then Bishop is torn in half in a flash of claws, and white blood and body parts fly in all direction, and a vast, vengeful shape is squeezing her bulk out of the landing leg bay where she's stowed away, and Buffy is shouting "Get out of here" to the other two, and she's bracing herself to attack, but in her mind she's thinking that this thing already survived a whole bunch of grenades being fired at it, and she doesn't know how to kill it. She doesn't know how to kill it.
Feet clatter on the metal grating. The queen's head whips around instantly at the noise, sees Newt and Ripley fleeing for safety. She hisses hungrily, and Buffy knows she has to distract her - and quickly. So she may not know how to kill it yet... but she'll find out.
Violence often works. Violence and witty quips work together even better.
"Hey! Hey, you! Evil bitch-monster of death!" The queen turns back to regard the small, blonde human who dares to stand before her. Buffy puts her hands on her hips, tilts her head to one side. "You know, this 'unkillable enemy that comes back five times in the final act' thing is getting pretty old. I don't think the forces of Evil are really trying anymore. You need to get a new scriptwriter."
The huge demon returns her gaze, tail lashing from side to side in perplexity... but her brain is designed to reach only one conclusion. She lunges suddenly straight at Buffy, claws extended to smash and tear. But the Slayer anticipates the move, diving under the queen's blow and rolling between her legs, swinging the Scythe around with all her strength.
It scrapes off the queen's armour in a shower of sparks, leaving nothing but a blurry scrape mark across the black chitin.
That's not good. The queen moves around ponderously, without the lightning-fast reflexes of her smaller children, but the strength of her blows when she strikes the deck - just where Buffy was lying an eyeblink earlier - is hard enough to crumple steel. Keep moving, she tells herself; one hit and you're dead. As for killing it herself: still very much a work in progress. Slow progress. She needs better weapons.
And then the cargo bay door opens and Ripley strides out clad in half a ton of steel and hydraulics, and Buffy stares open-mouthed in shock and delight. So that must be what she meant by a 'power loader'. Buffy decides that contrary to initial impressions, she approves of Ripley. Far from running off to hide, she's come back to help with a better weapon.
The queen forgets about the annoying small human beneath her feet, more eager to challenge an opponent closer to her own size. Buffy doesn't care; she's got a ringside seat as Ripley manoeuvres the power loader closer then swipes at the demon with its huge steel claws, sending the monster flying into a pile of crates. It scrambles to its feet, but Buffy cheers as its head is caught in the loader's hydraulic grip, squeezed tight. But then the queen's tail lashes around, slamming into the cockpit and almost knocking the huge machine off its feet. Ripley struggles for balance and the demon wriggles free of her grip.
Buffy sees the tail flex, sees a stinger at its tip the size of a swordblade, and shouts a warning as the queen lunges forward with it, striking through the bars protecting Ripley's seat. She twists her head frantically to the side and the vicious weapon misses; but the queen is withdrawing it ready for another blow. She might not be so lucky next time.
Then the giant demon feels her tail snag on something. Buffy's got back into the game. Ripley needs her help, and she's got a plan. She waits for her moment, waits until the queen's lashing tail swings closer to the deck, waits... then leaps and swings. The Scythe slams down on the tail, pinning it to the deck; but even now she's barely notched the armour. The queen shrills in anger, yanks her tail upwards...
...Just as Buffy presses down on the Scythe with all the strength and determination she possesses. Demon and Slayer muscles combine together, and the mystical edge of the Scythe carves through the demonic armour and cleaves the tail clean off. It twitches wildly, the stinger leaking poison, and a great jet of yellow blood sprays out, catching Buffy on the side as she hastily rolls aside. Her gasp of agony is lost in the queen's desperate squeals of protest; the demon is thrashing around in pain, and Ripley takes the opportunity to grab her in the power loader's claws once again.
The motors of the loader howl with strain, but the queen's armour resists the pressure. Buffy's crying tears of pain as she hastily strips off her jacket, her body awash in a sea of fire from armpit to hip. She's got to get back into the fight, Ripley needs her help... she doesn't recognise the noise behind her and almost falls down the opening shaft. There's a remote control on the power loader, and Ripley's opened the inner airlock door. She shuffles over towards it in a clumsy dance, demon and machine locked in a deadly embrace, and tries to throw her into the pit.
The queen's flailing claw clamps onto the loader's leg, and pulls it down with her. Buffy tries to stand, but her legs tremble and collapse under her, and so she drags herself over to the edge. Shiny black limbs and yellow steel are a tangled mess at the bottom, and Ripley is urgently unstrapping herself and trying to climb the ladder out.
Then the queen whips out her tail and tries to wrap it about Ripley's foot... but the mangled stump hits the wall a metre below her, and Ripley drags herself over the lip of the pit with a gasp of relief. Pushes the button to close the inner door, then grins viciously as she poises her hand over the other button.
"Screw you, bitch."
Her hand slams down. The heavy steel blocks out most of the sound, but there's a faint inhuman scream of anger and protest... then nothing.
Buffy uses the Scythe to prop herself up as she struggles to her feet. Gives Ripley a wan smile of triumph, waves off her concern. "We were on our way to Sickbay anyway, weren't we?"
Half an hour later, the survivors of the expedition are all gathered in the ship's living quarters, patched up and as healthy as modern medicine can get them. (Or modern robotics technology, in the case of Bishop. Buffy's still kicking herself she didn't realise he was an android; after all, she's had enough practice spotting them by now. Though he's not nearly as pretty as her robot double was.) She's just about to ask for a guided tour when she frowns in thought. A nasty thought, which has just hit her...
"Um, this is a warship, isn't it? An armed spaceship?"
"That's right, Miss. She's a Conestoga-class rapid response military transport, with--"
"Okay, I get the picture." She's rapidly discovering that Lieutenant Gorman can be both pompous and long-winded, although he's still quite subdued after the almost-massacre of his command. "So it has weapons, right? Laser beams, or, I don't know, photon torpedoes, or whatever?"
"What sort of target were you planning to hit?" Hicks sounds amused, but Buffy isn't joking.
"What do you think? The big momma demon is out there floating somewhere."
"Screw her. She's dead."
Buffy looks Vasquez in the eye, then sweeps her gaze around all of them.
"You sure of that? You sure being in space will kill her?"
There's a long moment of silence. When it breaks, Ripley's voice is almost as cold as space itself.
"We'll do it. Now."
The Sulaco's fire control centre is an impressive bank of terminals with a large screen in the middle. Buffy takes the seat before anyone can stop her, turns to Gorman for instructions. He guides her through the process - it's mostly automated, anyway - and it's only minutes before the ship's scanners pick up a small unreflective mass in close orbit. Buffy breathes a silent sigh of relief... she'd half expected the demon queen to be clinging to the outer hull, ready to hitch a ride back to Earth.
The computers confirm the target, present a fire control solution. Buffy turns to look at Ripley, smiles grimly. "This time, it's my turn." Then she pushes the button.
Electromagnets buzz to life and a quarter-ton mass of tungsten steel is propelled down a tube at ten times the speed of sound. Milliseconds later it smashes through the floating space object... which abruptly vanishes from the radar screen. It seems almost anticlimactic, and she's just getting up to leave when Ripley says "Wait."
All eyes turn to her.
"You've also got ground attack weapons? You can bombard a planetary target?"
"Buffy, set up a new attack. Coordinates 103.2 north, 265.4 west."
"What? Oh... it's where we landed last time I was here. Where Burke sent those poor damn fools to their deaths. A ruin, a wrecked ship, I don't know - but it's full of eggs. Full of them. So use the biggest damn weapon we've got."
"I can't authorise that--"
"It's where they came from, Gorman. It's the source. We end this now."
He hesitates a moment; then nods in acceptance. "Do it."
Buffy keys in the codes, then looks at the list of weapons available. Her lips curl in innocent joy as she sees what's at the top of the column. She's Slayed with a lot of different weapons in her past, but she's never used one of these before. She pushes the button.
Nothing happens, except for a blinking red light. Huh?
"You need authorisation." Gorman leans over, taps a code into the panel. Then looks over at Hicks "Corporal?"
"Yes, sir." He smiles at Ripley as he walks over to enter his own code. "Never done this before."
"Your first time is always the best."
Buffy's only half-aware of the banter. She's looking at the panel, and the little message that's just appeared on it. 'Nuclear weapons release authorised'. She reaches out her hand again. Hesitates.
"Ripley, perhaps you should do this?"
"You go ahead, honey. You've earned the right."
"No. I want to do it." And all eyes turn to see Newt, who's standing in the door to the chamber looking totally focussed and determined. "We're going to blow them up, right? Destroy them all for ever and ever?"
"That's right, sweetheart." Ripley looks around at the others, sees only agreement. "Come here then."
She picks up the little girl and carries her over to the terminal. Newt's tiny hand covers the button, and after a moment Ripley lays her own on top of hers. And then Buffy puts her hand on the top of the pile, and the three of them exchange a glance, and Newt pipes up "On three. One, two, three..."
There's a distant clunk from somewhere in the ship. A signal appears on the scanners; a number counting down to zero.
And then far below on the planet's surface, a small sun burns with fusion heat, then fades slowly into a radioactive afterglow.
This time, it really is over.
The others are already asleep, the walls of their cryochambers misting slowly as the temperature drops. Ripley looks questioningly at her. "You sure you can manage it by yourself? I can put you under first if you want..."
"No, I'll be fine. You go ahead. I just need to, uh, stretch my legs first. Maybe we'll be able to talk more back on Earth." She wishes it were true. "Pleasant dreams."
"I'm planning not to dream. Finally - and it's thanks to you."
"No problem." Buffy smiles, watching as Ripley's cryochamber closes. She reaches in her pocket for the crystal Willow gave her just before she left, then hesitates.
No. She's being paranoid.
When you've been a Slayer as long as Buffy has, you learn to trust your paranoia. She dashes back to the cargo bay, walks under the dropship, staring up into the landing leg mechanism. It looks safe enough...
She does a standing jump up, grabs the lip of the bay, peers inside.
Darkness. There's nothing there.
Or... wait. Right there at the back, something is catching the light. She needs a flashlight, or something... she remembers. Goes back into the dropship, picks up a handful of those flares Ripley was using earlier, and returns. Lights a flare, tosses it into the dark void.
And rolls her eyes as she sees what it reveals. Two large, lumpy demon eggs nestled side by side at the back of the landing leg bay. The queen must have brought them with her, or laid them in there, or something...
"I knew it! I just knew it!"
The Scythe whistles around, and the eggs shatter. The embryonic demons inside fall to the ground, half-formed and helpless, and Buffy slices them to pieces. Then for good measure kicks and prods the pieces down to the deck, and shovels them into the airlock. She remembers how Ripley operated the controls, and repeats her actions, and they're gone. She gets the feeling she's just averted something terrible.
This time, surely, it's-- no. Don't say it. You'll only jinx things.
She takes out the crystal, places it on the deck, and stamps on it. Jumps back as the portal shoots up from the glittering shards, stretches out into a wavering Slayer-sized tear in the fabric of space.
She takes a last look around, steps through, and goes home.