Author: MissKittys Ball O Yarn
Plains People Military station:
Quadrant Rat, Xander Harris plodded down the long concrete hallways that made up the lowest levels of the edifice. His hands steadied him on either side against the slick surface of the walls encasing him. The smell of rust coming from the metal pipes that stuck through the grey-slab walls at odd angles combined with the smell of stagnant water made it difficult to breath deeply. But Xander was used to it--it didn't bother him much anymore. He'd spent most of his life this way; as a Rat for the Plains People Military.
The life of a Rat was a privately noble profession; unacknowledged by most but strangely satisfying to Xander. The Rats were the lowest ranked on the totem and often called Gofers in jest by most of the soldiers because the Rats spent most of their time "going for this" or "going for that" scurrying through the subterranean tunnels on missions to supply clothes, guns, ammunition to soldiers preparing for missions.
Xander had never seen battle himself and had no inclination to go--he'd heard it was bloody. And the sight of blood--namely his own, didn't agree with his senses.
Xander could hear his own footfalls as each step of his unpolished, brown boots echoed the length of the cramped, elongated space.
He wasn't the tallest man in the station, but even he had to hunch his shoulders to walk the hallways of these lower levels.
Built like a fortress PPMS was a virtual safe house; Impenetrable by enemy fire and tested on the largest weapons in circulation. It had withstood, but Xander had doubts about it's ability to continue to withstand as larger and better weapons were invented.
Xander felt his anxiety mount as he neared the port that would lead him to the top level of the station. It wasn't that he was scared exactly, It was more of a pestering sort of petrifaction that usually kept him away. But this day was different, he'd been summoned by the commander in chief, herself. He had to go.
Xander stood with his back against the wall as the laser scanner ran its red eye the length of the perma-tat drawn at the base of his neck. There was an audible click as his identification was accepted followed by a swoosh of the automated entry system. Xander stepped through the doorway out into yet another hallway, where even more concrete walls awaited his arrival.
Buffy sat at the bar while she awaited Xander's arrival. Her promotion to Commander had left little time for socializing with her old comrades and she hadn't seen Xander in weeks. It didn't help, either...that it had taken an official order to get him to traverse the upper levels. She hated acting like a hard-ass, but his hermit-like ways left no her no other recourse.
Sometimes she wondered how Xander managed down below, she would loose her mind before long if she spent all of her time in the dark, damp claustrophobic atmosphere of the lower levels. It was a basement; a cave, a den down there and she was glad to be above all that now... if only she could get her dear friend to change his venue, her world might be perfect.
Buffy clapped her hands three times. The first: a hard beat followed by a moment of silence, then two, closely timed staccato beats. A man of mid-stature appeared at her side. She whispered something into his ear then sent him on his way to check the Xander's location. She was beginning to become impatient...there were pressing matters afoot, and she needed his opinion.
Xander began to hear the faint sounds of protesters as he cleared the last security station on his way to ground level. Xander could feel his insides shake as he listened to the loudening den of protesters just outside The Oxygen Bar. He could tell by the thudding sounds that they were throwing themselves against the walls, trying to get inside. Thoughts of what the mob of people, outside would do to all of them if they had a chance, caused goose-bumps to form on Xander's arm.
"NO MORE WAR!"
The sounds were louder now as the final barrier between him and The Oxygen Bar slipped away. With a swish of air, Xander found himself looking into the infamous place, with it's clear domed roof and see through walls. Xander looked to his right, he could see the whole of the outside world.
Xander's eyes scanned the crowd of soldiers. He spotted Buffy right away and breathed a sigh of relief; he was anxious to get this over with. He forced himself to cross the crowded room slowly, he added a swagger to his walk so as not to appear, in front of these men, as afraid as he felt.
"Hold your ground, they can't get through the shield," Buffy said. She knew Xander was standing beside her even without turning. She'd smelled the familiar scent of rust and water that always permeated his clothing.
Xander wasn't surprised that she had sensed his presence, but he was surprised to see how calm the commander was being. "Has that ever been tested?" Xander laughed nervously. He stood rigidly at the bar; too nervous to sit.
"I'd like to see the man that could bust through Polysolubate composite and still be alive enough to want to fight afterward," Buffy said with a smirk. "One liter please." Buffy held up two fingers then scanned her identification card across the illuminated unit mounted to the bar in front of her. The attendant handed her a long tube filled with amber liquid. "Nectar of the gods." She downed the drink in one gulp then passed the tube back to the attendant for another round.
Xander looked frightened as he watched the mass of protesters smash themselves against the clear shield. A woman's scream echoed from somewhere inside the throng of people and he knew she'd been crushed to death under the protesters stomping feet. The sound of a gun firing outside rang in the air and Xander jumped slightly. He could see armed guards with shields and guns had begun to fight their way into the throng of people, shooting the protestors in order to clear the path as they went. Xander shuddered. He hated death.
"Will you relax...You act as if you've never seen battle."
"I haven't seen battle, I just dress like this for the ladies." Xander lifted an eyebrow at the blonde. He was glad to see Buffy smile at that; it was an inside joke between them, as she was always ribbing him about the state of his attire. "How can I relax. Is it always like this out here?" Xander asked.
Buffy ignored his question, lifting her lips to the drink filled tube instead. The liquid burned on the way down, but she swallowed it anyway, enjoying the warm sensation that traveled from her chest into her stomach.
It was noisier than usual at the bar that night and Buffy had to strain in order to hear Xander over the loud voices of the celebrating men. Most of the soldiers there that night had just returned from a successful mission near the outer flank of WestMore utility base.
WestMore utility base was rumored to have housed massive explosives and chemical detergents that could have been potentially harmful if used during battle. There was a clinking of glasses behind them and shouts from the men attached to them.
"Why am I here?" Xander asked, he was becoming more and more uncomfortable by the minute. He longed to be back in the damp subterranean world he had just come from.
Buffy decided to jump right in "I have reason to believe our very own Willow Rosenberg has been captured by the enemy," She stated with much passion.
Xander waved his hand in the air dismissing Buffy's words. "Willow? Captured...Please..." He wondered if this was the only reason Buffy had brought him all the way up there.
"You're not concerned?" Buffy was confused.
"Should I be?"
"Okay, then I'm concerned.-- for you, 'cause you've lost it," Xander said.
"Don't you even want to know why I'm under such a suspicion?"
"I think you've been drinking one too many of these," Xander said lifting the empty drink tube off the table; he shook it for emphasis..."but for curiosity's sake, I'll play along. Why do you think Willow's been captured by the enemy?"
"I'm not going to tell you now..." Buffy was mildly irritated that her news wasn't met with heavier consideration.
"Oh come on...Look, I'm sorry. There, is that what you wanted to hear?" Xander cajoled, sometimes he forgot how sensitive the woman's psyche could be.
"Well...alright then. I received a transmission from Willow a week ago, but nothing further has come through."
"What do you mean, "so"?"
"Just exactly what it sounded like...so?"
"You're not concerned in the least about her are you?" Buffy stated, more than asked.
"Oh come on Buffy, Willow's a loner. You know that, and I know that. She likes to be off by herself...that's what loners do?" Xander's brows lifted at Buffy.
"You're a big pile of absolutely no help. Do you realize that I can kick your ass?"
"Believe me...the thought is never far from my mind."
"Why didn't you call your boyfriend up here for this?" Xander asked irritated that he'd been dragged up there for something so silly.
"Are you trying to get sent to the stock?" Buffy was only half joking; She had half a mind to do it too...a few days in the ice cold room might do him good. "You know her better than Riley does...I needed your opinion. You're the only one that has ever gotten close to her...you know her best."
"Which is why you should take my advice when I say, leave her alone."