This here little story is set during Season 5 of BUFFY after the episode ‘Family’ but before the episode ‘Fool for love’. Season 5 introduced Dawn to the show and pitted Buffy against Glory. It was also the season in which Buffy’s mom died.
At the time this story takes place, Buffy & Riley are still together (just barely). Only Giles & Buffy know what Dawn really is. Spike hasn’t admitted he loves Buffy. And Joyce doesn’t know what is wrong with her yet.
This was written before the release of STAR TREK: NEMESIS, and Worf did not return to Starfleet as in the films.
Most of the characters in this story belong to their owners. All of which are NOT me. The story and its plot, on the other hand, ARE mine. Owned by me. There is no profit in this for me, so I borrow all characters on good faith.
STAR TREK is a Registered Trademark of Paramount Pictures.
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER is a Registered Trademark of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
- Prologue -
‘In a time before myths and legends began, such a fierce evil did walk the Earth. And monstrous armies did it command, of tortured souls and the things of Hell. Lands fell to Darkness and many a man died in such terrible ways that their souls were lost in the mists of malice and their hearts swam in rivers of blood.
There came, out of the entire Earth, one man who had mind to defy the evil. One in all the world with the means to try. The ancestor of the great Wizard Merlin and of Wicca and of all things magic. A child of Gods that had long since fallen from grace.
The First Sorcerer, bound by the laws of his magic, had neither the power nor the will to see the evil destroyed. It could not be defeated; the armies of the Darkness were strong and many. Far beyond the abilities of mortal man to conquer.
Yet it could be contained. Though all containers must have a way of opening and of closing. The reality of this was not lost on the Sorcerer. And so he did construct his device; a box made from the most honourable of woods, borrowed from the eldest of the great trees of the land. And he did divide it into two parts. One of Spirit and one of Mastery. He fought with powers no man could conceive and he bid the evil: BE CONTAINED! And it was contained. He then bid the device: BE SEALED! And sealed it was.
For the wise Sorcerer did bind this seal within the very words of the device. He then did command:
That No Man Born Of Earth Or Hell,
No God That Walks Within Man’s Shell.
No Foreign Soul Nor Outlandish Breed,
Shall Ever Read This Ungodly Screed!
With that, the device formed a language that neither Man, God, Beast nor Otherworldly thing would ever breathe.
To Hell, the Mastery was sent. And, on Earth, the Spirit was kept hidden; in time buried beneath the new Lands of man.
And herein was the first spell cast!'
Earth, 2000 AD:
Rupert Giles closed the heavy cloth-bound book in a gesture of finality and looked to his audience, expecting a reaction of awe-struck wonder and disbelief. Instead, Buffy the Vampire Slayer shot him a numb glance.
"So..." She looked back at the ornamental box sat amongst a pile of heavily sifted-through volumes and chronicles and repeated her initial question, "...What is it?"
Rolling his eyes and with a deep sigh, Giles sat himself down in defeat. She may well have been the ‘chosen one’, but she had the attention span of a small goldfish.
Willow drifted out of her thoughts. "Wow. I mean...that was like...the very first time a spell was used. Ever. The beginning of magic...of witchcraft! That’s pretty deep."
Xander, waking up, said, "Yeah. Kinda like the coma I’ve been in for the past half hour."
"In actual fact, it’s more than likely a profusion of utter twaddle," said Giles matter-of-factly.
Xander frowned. "A what?...Of who?"
"He means nonsense...I think," said Willow. "You do mean nonsense, right?"
"Indeed," Giles agreed.
Willow was awash with self-appreciation. "I speak Brit!"
"Yep," said Buffy, giving her a close examination. "I can see that upper-lip stiffening; as upper-lips so often do in the land of Brit. You might wanna get an ointment for that."
Xander nodded in agreement. "I hear the stiffness spreads to your-"
The magic shop door opened with a ring. In walked Dawn followed closely by Anya.
Giles got up from his seat. "Yes, yes. Very droll," he said to his three tormentors as he moved to take another close look at his newly acquired ‘device’.
"How’s Mom?" Buffy asked of Dawn.
"She’s okay. A little tired, though. She went to bed when Anya picked me up." There was concern in her voice. Buffy knew because she heard the same thing in her own voice every time she had to say her Mom was okay. A quick change of subject was needed.
"What’s that you’ve got there?" she said, pointing to what was clearly an ice-cream in Dawn’s hand.
"Oh – Anya bought me an ice-cream," she bubbled.
"I make a good babysitter," Anya stated as she went to sit with her Xander. "How was your day, Snooky-lumps? Did you enjoy work?"
Holding her hand in his, Xander replied, "Anya. I work on a construction site. I construct. The hours are long, the work is hard and the pay is low. It’s a thankless job."
"But you enjoyed it?" she asked him again.
Taking on the manner of an excitable child, he admitted, "Yeah! I built my first wall! With bricks! And there’s this whole mortar thing that you guys wouldn’t understand. I tell ya, it had the craftsmanship of Da Vinci! The foreman said he’d never seen it done so fast at that high standard. Said I was one of the best guys he’d worked with and if I seem to be grinning like a proud idiot, that’s because I’m grinning like a proud idiot."
"You know, Xander," said Willow, "I don’t think Da Vinci ever worked on a construction site. Oh, and he never actually built anything-"
"Please don’t spoil my moment."
"Did he give you an award?" Anya asked. "'Cos you should get an award!"
"Nooo..." he answered. "...But I did get blisters. Lots and lots of blisters."
Cradling his hands and kissing his wounds, Anya whispered I love you’s and I’m so proud’s in his ear. Xander gratefully received them.
"What’s that?" Dawn asked, pointing to where Giles stood with the box.
"Oh," Buffy said, "it’s just some ancient relic created at the dawn of time yadda, yadda, blaa, blaa. Nothing remotely interesting."
Giles shot her a look.
"No," Dawn said, smiling. "I meant that box next to him."
Everyone turned to Giles, unsure whether to laugh or not.
"Actually..." Giles began before making a double-take. "I beg your pardon? I believe I shall ignore that remark, young lady!"
And he began to tell the story, in layman’s terms this time, of how he had come into possession of the ‘device’ and of it’s supposed history. But Dawn didn’t notice. In fact, she didn’t hear much of what he said after that.
(She did notice the box, though. And, in its way, it noticed her.)
Giles explained how it had been discovered on an early Antarctic expedition. Buried for long ages deep in caves of ice and then handed to museum after museum around the world before being bought privately by a wealthy collector of rare antiquities. An old, old friend of Giles’ and a man who had been at times almost like a father to him.
Until he died. But he did leave him a nice box. With a note:
‘If anyone can learn to understand its meaning, it would be Rupert. My dear friend.'
(The box itself looked to Dawn to be hand-calved and non-too carefully either, she noticed. Very oldie-looking. And dark. Oh... and it hummed.)
So, Giles had set about his research, finding only myth and vague accounts. Nothing conclusive.
(She wondered why the others didn’t seem to hear it. It wasn’t loud, but the others were closer. She would swear she heard it hum. And hum it did. It hummed a song for her and it was beautiful.)
Buffy had been listening to Giles and understanding more of what he said this time. It was the ‘Director’s cut’ - with explanatory voiceover. She noticed that Dawn was still standing at the far end of the counter. She seemed lost in thought – distant – and her ice-cream was making a run-for-it; melting its way down her hand; heading for the floor.
"Dawn?" she whispered, trying not to disturb the gang.
Her little sis’ head jerked up and she gave Buffy such a look. As if she was surprised to even see her there.
Am I okay? Dawn thought, wondering what Buffy meant. Well, my hand feels cold... She looked down. Oops! I have ice-cream hand!
Buffy watched Dawn throw what was left of the cone in a ‘Magic Box’ carrier bag and shook her head as little sis wiped her sticky hand on the leg of her jeans.
Buffy made a face as though she was still waiting for an answer.
(‘Course I’m fine. Just got distracted is all...by that thing. The shape of it reminded her of an egg timer. A big wooden egg timer. With markings.)
And Giles told them the myth of the box and how it was meant to hold part of an evil entity, bound by a language that held no meaning to anyone who read it.
(No, not markings...words!)
It was dark when Giles finally finished his tale and much time had passed. In that time, Tara had been and gone, and Riley had been, stayed and promptly fallen asleep. It took a brief moment for them to realise the story was over, then Xander gave him applause. "Bravo."
As everyone began to talk amongst themselves and Giles moved to tidy his shop before closing time, Dawn found herself moving closer to the box.
(It had writing on its surface in some strange way. Too small to see from far away and something in what she vaguely heard Giles saying made her curious. Curious enough to set aside her disinterest and go to it. But it wasn’t really her decision to make anymore; it was calling her closer.
The words seemed to form in Dawn’s mind much clearer than her eyes could see them. With a fiery intensity that burned at her brain, desperately trying to get out. But what she read made little sense to her. Some of the words were ‘Way too Giles-like’. And the song it sang for her really was enchanting. Though she didn’t really want to, and felt somehow that she really ought not; Dawn could not fight the pressing need to speak the inscription aloud...)
"Take Heed Thee Now; These Words Of Malice...?"
Everyone turned to see Dawn bent down at the table, her face inches from the box and scrunched up like she was trying to make sense of what she was saying.
"Burned About Thy Wooden Palace..."
Most of the Scoobies thought she was foolin’ around, but Giles felt a sudden rush of terror. Could it be...? Is it even possible...?
Buffy saw the horror in his eyes.
"Bound By Magic, Bound By Script..."
Giles removed his reading-glasses and stepped closer.
Buffy saw this and readied herself.
"Bound Within Thy Timeless Crypt..."
A shadow seemed to fall upon them.
"Hark! Dark ‘Spirit’, Thine Release Is Spoken..."
Giles’ horror took on new horror. He opened his mouth.
Buffy saw this and leapt from her chair at Dawn.
"STOP!" Giles cried out, panic-stricken.
Before he finished, Buffy was already with her sister; a hand over her mouth.
Dawn pushed her away. "What are you doing!? Are you crazy!? Do you even wash your hands!? I could catch...some freakish Demon disease! You can’t go around manhandling people just ‘cos you’re the Slayer, you know. People have rights. I’m tellin’ Mom that you-"
"Quiet!" Buffy ordered. "Giles?"
The ex-Watcher started to pace; hand on head. "I...I don’t understand how..." he said to himself.
I didn’t even do anything...I don’t think, Dawn considered. Or did I? They all hate me now.
Then Giles looked right at her. "Dawn!" He came over, held her shoulders and looked at her intensely. "You mustn’t read from the device, do you understand?"
She wriggled out of his grasp. "Whatever. God. You people really creep me out."
Jeez! Borderline psychos much?
Buffy said to her: "Dawn, it’s alright. We’re sorry. Giles is just worried, that’s all." She stroked her little sister’s hair gently to reassure her. "Right now it’s really important that you not read what’s on that box. Okay?"
Dawn rolled her eyes and nodded.
"Giles - talk-time." Buffy turned to the gang. "Let’s re-group in the back."
With that, they covered the box under Willow’s coat and went. Buffy stopped at the training room door. "Stay away from It." Then she disappeared through to the back.
Dawn was alone. With the box. And Riley. So, she began to hum a beautiful song.
Buffy was on Giles’ back the instant they were out of Dawn’s view.
"But how can Dawn read it, Giles? In your crusty old book it said ‘NO-ONE shall ever read’. EVER!"
Willow stepped in, "That’s not what it said, Buffy."
Giles nodded. "No Man Born Of Earth Or Hell, No God That Walks Within Man’s shell,
No Foreign Soul Nor Outlandish Breed, Shall Ever Read This Ungodly Screed," he recited.
"But, still, that doesn’t explain how Dawn-" Willow began.
Buffy and Giles were exchanging a look of sudden realisation.
"We have to tell them, Giles," said Buffy.
So, after a reluctant hesitation, Giles explained to the gang what they knew about Dawn.
Firstly, they were shocked that they hadn’t been told already.
Then they were shocked that all their memories of Dawn weren’t even real.
Then, for a while after that, they were just shocked.
"So..." said Xander at last, "as far as we know she’s none of those."
"Obviously not," agreed Giles.
"We know she’s a key. But not the key to this, surely!" Buffy declared in a whispered shout.
"MACBETH!" cried Willow.
Most of them looked around as if there might be someone else in the room, then back at Willow. It was Xander that spoke. "Eh?"
"It’s like Macbeth," she expanded.
Giles removed his spectacles and rubbed at his eyes. He knew Macbeth, but he had to think. This could be very serious.
Xander looked blankly at Willow. "I say again – eh?"
"See, Macbeth," she explained, "he was told that ‘no man born of a woman’ could kill him. So, he thought he was invincible. Then along came Macduff. Or Macgruff, maybe. Anyway, his mother didn't give birth to him!"
Buffy considered this for a short time. "He was delivered by a stork?"
"No! She had a Caesarean. He was cut out of her womb."
"Ew!" said Buffy. "They could do that back then?"
Xander shook his head. "Barbarians. But, hey, Will... what happened to this Macbeth guy?"
Panicking, Anya clutched tightly onto Xander’s arm. "Are we going to die?" She attracted their stares. "Because of the...y'know...Macbeth thing?" she said, realising how ridiculous she sounded.
Giles stepped back into the group, slipping his spectacles back on. "I don’t see how. If this is the ‘device’ kept on Earth, then the other is in Hell. Or one of the Demon realms. If so, nothing in that dimension can unlock it."
"And if the other one isn't in Hell?" Buffy asked.
The ex-Watcher thought it over. "There shouldn’t be any cause for concern. Even if it did find its way into our reality, what happened with Dawn is certainly a singular event."
They all gradually came to the same conclusion and gave Giles many approving nods.
"So what do we do now?" Willow asked Giles.
"We make certain Dawn doesn’t finish the incantation..."
"And we hide the box where it can never be found," added Buffy. "Right, Giles?"
"My thoughts exactly. As long as no one can ever translate the other ‘device’, there shouldn’t be any need to panic."
"We’re doomed," said Xander.
Space, 2376 AD:
'Captain’s log, supplemental:
After making a brief stop at the Federation outpost on Sal Fusia-Six,
we are resuming our course to Starfleet Headquarters with the Klingon delegation.
Morale onboard is high, as many of the crew are eager to see their loved ones
on our return to Earth.'
Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the Enterprise-E, saved his log entry and swivelled his seat around to view the strange new artefact on his desk. Across from him, his first officer Commander William T. Riker sat straddling the guest chair. Both men wore a curious expression.
"So, Captain...what exactly are we looking at here?"
"That, Number One, is the very mystery the Federation Archaeological Council hopes to unravel."
They were in Picard’s readyroom. The stars flickering by through the single window being the only indication they were on a starship travelling faster than the speed of light. On Picard’s desk sat an old wooden box.
"I hear that the scientists on Sal Fusia-Six couldn’t determine what the markings mean," Riker commented.
Picard allowed himself a brief chuckle. "Will, they couldn’t even agree if the markings are some form of language or just simply decorative. More importantly, how are the delegates settling in?"
"Ambassador Worf seems quite content. Apparently he was complaining that the beds are ‘far too comfortable’."
"It didn’t take him long to get back to his roots."
"Between the bloodwine and battle-song, his groups’ nocturnal activities have been keeping half the ship awake most nights."
"Klingons will have their ways." Picard got up and made his way out to the bridge. "Well, I must officially greet our guests in person. If I can leave the ship in your capable hands, Will?"
"Certainly, Captain." Riker also made his way out. "Try not to get too drunk, sir."
Earth, 2000 AD:
The Magic Box door swung open and Spike strode in.
Odd. The place was practically deserted. Except for little Dawn and the Slayer’s washed-up grunt of a boyfriend spark-out in a chair. The neutered Vamp went over to the table where Dawn sat preoccupied with some dirty old block of wood. "Whassup, Peaches? Where’s that twattin’ sister of yours She lurkin’ about?"
No response. O…kay.
"I got some information, see. Real juicy stuff. She might be interested..." he trailed off. Still no reply. She just sat there, running her delicate fingertips over the wood’s surface like she was reading Braille. And ‘Action-Man’ was still out-to-lunch. Right... "Look, if you see her, tell her I got some fresh Demon action goin’ on. The big, nasty, droolin’ kind she likes." He was just turning to go when he noticed she was humming faintly to herself. "You feelin’ alright, Niblet?"
"It’s beautiful, isn’t it?" she said, startling Spike a little.
"What’s that, Pet?"
"The song it plays." She spoke so softly that he strained to hear her. "The others don’t hear...but I do. They can’t see it either. They’re blind."
"That’s nice. Say, have you been smokin’ pot? You know...if the Slayer finds out you’ve been on the silly-stuff...well, she’d probably blame me, but-"
"Would you like to hear a song?"
"Song...? Uh...sure." This is just a little too weird.
Yet Spike listened as she sang him a quiet song:
"Take Heed Thee Now; These Words Of Malice,
Burned About Thy Wooden Palace.
Bound By Magic, Bound By Script,
Bound Within Thy Timeless Crypt.
Hark! Dark ‘Spirit’, Thine Release Is Spoken,
LET MAGIC DIE AND OLD WOOD BE BROKEN!"
She spat out the last line savagely, which stirred Riley from his sleep.
"Hey, I know this!" said Spike. "It’s Pink Floyd, right?"
Space, 2376 AD:
The U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-E cut through the fabric of space at warp 5. Onboard, a delegation of Klingon high ranking officials were en route to Starfleet HQ for an important strategic meeting of Federation and allied forces. As Ambassador Worf was often fond of saying: ‘For armies who fight as one mind, the battle is already won.’ Among his assembly was his good friend, and Klingon leader, Chancellor Martok.
Also onboard was a strange artefact. A wooden box with decorative markings the likes of which had never been seen.
The Sal Fusian science team had been studying a region of space highly susceptible to random wormhole manifestations, and it was during one of their many high-level sensor sweeps that an ‘anomaly’ had occurred. First there had been a massive power drain to their systems then, for little more than an instant, space tore open. A ‘wormhole’ they decided – although it had not registered on their sensor records – had opened and from it came this strange new object. But that was all they had been able to determine. And now it was on the Enterprise. Heading for Earth.
"Have you ever seen anything like it, Data?" asked Picard from his readyroom desk.
Lieutenant Commander Data examined the object closely. "No, sir, I most definitely have not. It appears to be very old."
"Yes, there’s nothing like it on any of our records." He got up and walked to Data. "The archaeologist in me can’t help but wonder who made it, where it came from and what it was for. That’s why I want you to work with the science and cultural analysis departments to see what you can uncover."
"Captain, I was under the impression that it was to be examined by a team at Starfleet headquarters."
"True, Data. But where’s the harm in humouring an old explorer?"
Data rotated the object in his pale hands a few times. "Intriguing."
"Do you see something, Data?" Picard felt a rush of jealousy. If there was something to be found, he should have seen it himself before now. But the android was better equipped to see small details.
"This is most interesting, Captain...It appears to have an inscription."
Picard looked over his science officer’s shoulder at the artefact yet still couldn’t see any text. "It must be very small, Data. I can’t-"
Data pointed to the deep markings on its surface. "It is quite clear, sir."
The markings! Picard realised. "You can read this?"
Amazing! "What language is it?"
Data looked back at Picard as if he thought his captain had suddenly gone mad. "Earth standard, sir. It really is quite legible." He held it in front of Picard’s face. "See?"
He looked. Hard. Yet still saw only markings. "That’s just it, Data. ...I can’t."
They were in the turbolift heading for the science lab on deck 4, when Data discovered something new. Picard watched his second officer lift the object up to his ear and frown. "You’ve noticed something else?"
The android looked over the artefact again. "Most unusual." He turned to face Picard. "I take it, Captain, that you cannot hear it."
It appeared to Data to be emitting some kind of low-level audio frequency. A soft purr. Studying the object, he also realised that looking at it made him feel...pleasure. No, it was more like...euphoria!
"I...feel..." Unbelievably, he wasn’t all that sure what to say.
"Data? Are you alright?" Picard asked in concern.
The android decided to de-activate his emotion chip. That would be better. But a nano-second later, the oddest thing happened. The emotion chip switched itself back on.
"Strange," he said aloud.
A little worried, Captain Picard contacted the one person who knew the android’s inner workings better than anyone else onboard – Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge.
"Meet us in science lab one, Geordi." He turned back to Data. "Will you be alright until we get there?"
Data nodded. "Yes, Captain. I seem to have a slight malfunction. Perhaps you should take this." He reluctantly handed the puzzling artefact over to his captain.
When Geordi arrived at the lab, Data was already hooked up to a diagnostic terminal - running a systems check. La Forge examined his positronic ‘brain’ and then his emotion chip sub-routines and found no flaws.
"You say your chip wouldn’t stay switched off?" asked Geordi.
"That is correct," Data answered, while checking his power management system through the opening in his forearm.
La Forge shrugged. "I can’t find any problem here. You're working fine, far as I can tell." He decided he’d need to examine him more thoroughly back in engineering.
Chief Lab Technician Rhannon Hallar - a tall, male, blue-skinned Bolian - approached Data and indicated to the box on the central exam table. "Commander, we just ran a quick analysis of... it. Are you sure you can read it?"
"I am certain."
Picard went to his second officer. "Data, I want you to go with Geordi and let him take a good look at you. But before you go, can you tell us what the inscription is? It will give them something to work with until you are feeling ready to return to duty."
The android decided, unclear why, that it would probably be best not to tell them. Perhaps they were not meant to know. A small noise sounded at the terminal Data was still connected to. La Forge checked the console and turned to Picard. "His chip’s back online, Captain."
However, Data considered, it would feel much better if I did. His lips parted to speak, but he paused. Again, the terminal sounded an alarm. It indicated that some of his personality protocols had been bypassed. So much better...
And the more Data read, the more he reminded them of his brother Lore...
"Take Heed These Words That Strength Doth Rest,
Burned Upon Thy Wooden Chest.
Bound By Scripture, Cursed To Hell,
Bound Within Thy Crafted Shell.
Hark! Dark ‘Mastery’, Herein Is Writ,
LET BINDING LIFT AND OLD WOOD SPLIT!"
Riley opened his eyes with a start and made a quick visual sweep of the room.
The Magic Box... Hostile 17... Dawn... weird box... No Scooby Gang... Hostile 17?
"What’s...? Where’d everybody go?"
Spike started to say he’d been wondering the same thing when Buffy and the others came in from the back. They froze. The ‘device’ was uncovered and Dawn was right in front of it.
Buffy panicked. "Dawn! Tell me you didn’t-"
But it was too late. The air turned cold.
Chaos struck the science lab as an icy chill hit the room.
The artefact started to vibrate hard on the table. Its surface cracked around the markings upon it, emitting bright shafts of light.
La Forge and Rhannon reacted quickly.
The box gave off an intense light throughout the shop. Everyone backed away – even Dawn. The light was warm and bright but not too bright to see through.
Buffy saw the ‘device’ begin to flash rapidly, Like 'now-you-see-it / now-you-don’t'. "What’s happening, Giles?"
Dawn looked at her sister. "It’s searching."
"Captain, the artefact is phasing in and out of our space-time continuum!" La Forge announced.
The lights dimmed and some of the wall panels began to flicker and shut down.
"Sir!" cried Rhannon. "It’s opening some kind of subspace vortex – our systems are being drained! ...We’re losing power, Captain! At this rate-" BANG! An overhead oxygen conduit ripped open.
Picard stepped over to Geordi. "Can we contain the vortex? Keep it from effecting our systems?"
"I’m setting up a subspace isolation field around the artefact."
Rhannon moved to another console. "It’s not working! We’re losing life-support!"
On the bridge, Riker ordered red alert.
"I’ll try to re-configure the isolation field using an adaptive phase modulation."
Picard saw as the box was enveloped in a white aura, which then began to expand. "When you’re ready, Chief..."
"There!" A faint bubble appeared around the disturbance.
The computer terminals and lighting came back online.
"Life support is stabilising! Systems are returning to normal." Rhannon breathed a deep sigh of ease. Working the old science lab wasn’t usually so nerve-racking. "That was quite-"
With a loud splintering sound, the box split apart inside the containment field. Picard and La Forge jumped to the nearest sensor terminal.
"There’s some kind of energy attacking the containment field from the inside!" said Picard. "Will it hold, Geordi?"
La Forge checked the readings. "I think so. It should."
The captain worked the console. "I’m setting up a secondary force field – just to be sure."
"Dawn, get away from there!" Buffy couldn’t get to her. The light seemed to burn hottest at its core. She looked to Riley – he was near Dawn. He could help her.
Riley understood by her look what she wanted him to do, so he made a move for the littler Summers. But the pain hit suddenly. They all fell to their knees. The agony crippled every part of them from head to toe like hot lava bubbling through their veins.
Riley was farthest away and it wasn’t as intense for him, so he bit at his lip and fought with all the power he had to suppress it. Grabbing Dawn by the waist, he launched himself over the counter and landed hard on his back with her held to his chest. His back hurt, and he realised it was the only pain he felt just as the air around them seemed to be sucked out of the room.
Then all fell silent in the magic shop.
In science lab 1, the lights cut out again and control panels flickered.
The Bolian cursed under his breath.
"We have another problem."
"What now, Geordi?"
"We’re experiencing a power-surge."
Rhannon’s terminal sparked and he recoiled just as it exploded outward. Picard protected his face from the heat it sent out as confusion threatened his calm.
"Can someone please tell me what the hell is going on with my ship!?"
"Another vortex is openi-"
There was a dazzling flash and an almighty rush of air that hit them hard, knocking them to the lab floor.
When Riley Finn decided finally that it was safe to move he got up, helped Dawn to her feet and checked her for damage. She was shivering and trying to speak.
They moved around the till and onto the shop floor. It was empty. Riley panned around and saw no one. Dawn pointed at the table where the box had been. HAD been.
She broke into a fit of tears.
"It’s alright," he said holding her. "They probably just took it somewhere. We’ll find them."
She cried more. "I-I’m sorry. I couldn’t...I didn’t..." She looked at him. "It was inside my HEAD!"
They looked outside. No Scooby Gang. They searched all of Sunnydale from Restfield cemetery to Giles’ place and from the campus to the Bronze and back. They were gone.
Tara lay alone in her bed, wondering why Willow hadn’t come. Or called.
Harmony, feeling rejected, wept in her empty crypt.
Riley stayed with Dawn and Joyce.
None of them slept easy that night.
Red beacons flashed through the sullied oxygen mist that filled the lab. The Alert sirens were sounding overhead when Picard got back on his feet. La Forge was already up and moving through the cloud, so the captain helped Rhannon to stand. The technician’s legs were trembling badly.
Geordi’s voice came from the haze, calling his commander: "Captain." He sounded serious. "I think you should come take a look at this."
As Rhannon managed to shut off the leaking conduit, Picard moved into the mist toward the far side of the room. He passed the containment field with the broken artefact still inside and moved on. Soon, he saw Geordi appear through the fog, staring down at the deck.
The air-filtration system came online and the cloud parted to reveal to the captain what looked like the scattered remains of another box – possibly smaller than the first. He glanced back at the lab entrance to see Commander Data unmoving on the floor, still interfaced with the terminal.
Geordi put a hand on his shoulder. "They’re over here, sir," he said, pointing.
Captain Picard turned and, as the last of the mist left the room, they were easy to see. Six of them. Not moving.
"Picard to Doctor Crusher."
"Here. What happe–"
"There’ll be time for explanations later, Beverly. We need a medical team in science lab one."
"How many injured?"
He looked at the bodies on the deck. "Six, Doctor."
"We’re on our way."
The Spirit, free, drifted unseen by the mortals. Its Mastery was near, yet bound again in a new prison. Searching for a resting-place - a vessel - it settled on one that suited its purpose. A powerful energy source of great strength and intelligence, and the speaker of the Sacred Writ.
No-one saw as EVIL took refuge in Commander Data’s ‘mind’.
Dr. Crusher arrived at the scene with a staff of nurses and auxiliaries, going straight to work on her new patients.
"Let’s establish if we can move them safely," she instructed her team.
The medical crew divided themselves between the prone bodies. Crusher took the nearest casualty with nurse Branaghan. A small blonde girl in old-style clothing was lying face down, limp and lifeless. After a preliminary scan, Branaghan loaded a hypospray with a standard 3cc of Cordaline and applied it to the neck.
Crusher continued with a thorough scan, checking all vital systems. "What happened here?"
"I’m hoping they can tell us," replied Picard.
He watched as the medics exchanged solemn glances.
The doctor shook her head. "Crusher to Transporter Chief Warren - urgent transport needed from science lab one to sickbay. Six patients and five medical staff to beam."
"Doctor?" Picard asked anxiously. These people may prove to be the only clue to unravelling this whole bizarre incident.
She looked up from her patient and met his gaze. "I have to get them to sickbay right now, Captain. Most of them are critical. Two are probably already dead."
"What are their chances?"
The transporter stream took effect and, as the medical crew and their patients faded from sight, Crusher answered his question...
"I think we’re too late."