"Dr. Maclay, it's just so weird... I'm mean, it's obviously not Ancient Egyptian... or maybe it is and we just haven't seen anything like it before... oh... oh-oh! This could be one of the finds of the century!" Kathy Rogers said in a very out of breath voice as she scurried to keep up with the other woman's longer legs.
"Kathy, slow down or you'll burst a blood vessel," Diana Maclay said with a smile as she wiped her dusty and sweaty brow with her handkerchief.
Diana stood still for one moment, her blue eyes surveying the general area where whatever it was had lain at rest under the sands, probably for more than a millennia. She was a fairly tall woman, her long, lithe body clad in a khaki shirt and shorts. Her blonde hair was barely visible from where it had been tucked up under a wide brimmed hat. She was a beautiful woman, only faint smile lines around her eyes and the corner of her mouth indicated that she was actually in her thirties.
"Do you think I'll get the credit for it... it is on my dig site," Kathy continued to speak in a hopeful tone.
Diana gave Kathy a 'look' that said she was getting a little carried away. It was followed very quickly by small, warm smile to which Kathy responded with a sheepish grin.
"So, how's your family?" Kathy asked as they walked over the rocky ground.
"Just fine when I left them thank you... although Robert has probably been driven crazy looking after the farm and the kids by himself and we brought Donny a sled for Christmas so I sincerely hope there are no broken limbs waiting for me when I get home," Diana chuckled.
"And you have a little girl as well don't you?"
"Tara... she begged and begged to be allowed to come with me this trip but with school and everything... I told her she might be able to come for the summer."
"That'll be great," although as she said it Kathy wasn't too thrilled at the idea of having a child running around the site.
"I hate leaving them... they try and put on such brave faces whenever I go away, they're both such wonderful, bright children..." Diana looked at Kathy and smiled apologetically, "Sorry... I could gush about them for hours."
"That's alright Dr Maclay... ah, here we are."
Diana paced out the last few steps to the site which had been cordoned off with ropes. She frowned and tried to puzzle out what it was that she was seeing. When the call from the site had come through to the museum in Cairo, Diana had listened to Kathy's breathless tones with a patience that only someone who had small children could possess. She had agreed to make the trip out to the dig site but had fully expected to find a World War One relic or some other piece of rubbish. However, as she knelt down beside the smooth metallic surface of what had been uncovered so far she was beginning to think that it was indeed a find of significance. Unknown significance of course because Diana had no more idea of what it was than Kathy did. It did very much look like the wing of strange plane...
"You think it's some sort of flying... thingee?" Kathy asked standing just behind her, echoing her thoughts.
"I'm not sure... I know a fair bit about aircraft, having an eleven year old son who just can't get enough of them would turn anyone into an expert. Though this just seems to be... unworldly, is that even a word?" Diana pictured her son's bedroom and the model aircraft hanging from the ceiling, this was quite unlike any of them.
Diana reached out towards it and held her hand just above the surface. It was a strange thought but she could have sworn that the air around it suddenly became warmer. A low pitched hum filled her ears, buzzing, getting inside her head. She felt as though an insect had flown in her ear.
"Can you hear that?" she asked, looking over her shoulder at Kathy.
"Hear what?" Kathy asked with a frown.
Diana shook her head to say 'don't worry' and lowered her hand slowly, the buzzing and the warmth increased. She reached out a single hand to touch the surface but when she came within inches of contact he hand felt as though it were magnetised. Her skin slammed down on the surface and it was burning with an intense heat.
"Was it hot when you touched it?"
"No, just felt like it had been buried in the desert, all sandy and stuff... smooth beneath that though... that's about it," Kathy shifted from one foot to the other, she hated not knowing what she was talking about.
Diana nodded and tried to pull her hand away but found it stuck fast... as though it were glued. Her brow furrowed at first in bewilderment and then in fear when the metal began to glow even warmer. In mere seconds it was glowing red hot, Diana felt her skin begin to burn painfully and a small whimper escaped her throat. She was about to tell Kathy to go and fetch some help when the buzzing suddenly culminated in a piercing whistle. She clapped her free hand over her ear but it did nothing to block the sound out, it was actually inside her head.
"Dr Maclay?" Kathy asked when she suddenly noticed a strange look on the other woman's face... not to mention her strange behaviour.
Diana didn't reply, she just looked as though she were in pain. All of a sudden her head snapped back and her eyes glazed over as she stared upwards.
"Dr Maclay?" Kathy tried to place a hand on the older woman's shoulder and break her from this strange trance but she was flung backwards by an unknown energy that radiated from her.
Kathy scrambled backwards using her hands, all the while watching in terror as Diana started to shake uncontrollably. Her lips moved as though she were trying to say something but no words would form. The energy crackled and sizzled in the air, glowing first a faint green before becoming an intense red. So intense Kathy felt the heat radiating from it.
"No, you can't!" Diana suddenly screamed, "We won't give it to you without a fight!"
There was a huge flash, Kathy had to advert her eyes for a few seconds. When she turned back the glow was gone and everything returned to normal. Diana Maclay was lying facedown across the metal, unmoving. Kathy scrambled to her feet and ran to her side. She felt desperately for a pulse.
"Someone help me!" she yelled at the top of her lungs.
Oh please God no, Kathy kept repeating in her head as she waited for help to arrive, "Someone help!"
Tara sat poised on her brother's shiny new red sled at the top of a snow covered hill. Her breath came in quick gulps, her breath freezing in front of her face. It seemed so steep as she looked down it, stretching on for ages and they were sure to go very fast indeed. She wasn't so sure if this was such a good idea anymore...
"You ready?" Donny asked from behind her.
"Y-yes... I t-think so, slowly Donny please... slow..." she gripped the rails at the side a little more tightly.
He brother laughed, "You'll love it Tare!" and with that he pushed the shed over the rise, jumping on the sled just as it began sliding downwards. The runners on the sled were smooth being brand new and they gathered speed very quickly as it raced down the slope. Tara felt the cold winter air biting her cheeks but her mouth quickly spread into a huge grin. It was fantastic, shooting down the slope as though at any second they might take off and up into the sky.
"Woo hoo!" Donny was yelling from behind her.
Tara laughed happily, soon joining her brother in his exuberant shouts. Where there had previously been fear at the thought of sliding down the slope all too fast... there was nothing but exhilaration...
Someone was crying in pain... a scream, a sob...
Tara's eyes widened and her grin vanished as she heard the sounds of someone in pain in her mind. She felt hot all of a sudden, even though she had previously been quite cold in the snow. Images, thoughts rushed through her head... she saw pictures in her mind of places she had never been. Yet they were familiar... sand... mountains, strangely shaped rocks. Tara remembered the postcard they had received from her mother in Egypt the day before, the pictures in her mind were the same... only real. Her mother was the one crying...
"Donny... Tara... I love you both so much..."
"Mama?" Tara said it aloud without intending to.
"What was that Tara?" Donny asked her between loud yells of excitement.
She heard her mother scream again inside her head, something was hurting her... no something was killing her... There was something else in Tara's mind with the thoughts of her mother... a shadow she couldn't make out... but she knew that whatever it was it was hurting her mother and it terrified her.
"Mama!" Tara felt something tear into her mind, she felt the pain, "Ow!"
She lost her grip on the sled and before she could stop herself, tumbled from the fast moving platform. Tara hit the soft snow hard, sending showers of it up around her as she rolled down the slope. She couldn't stop herself, over and over she rolled until she was dizzy. Finally she came to a sliding halt at the bottom, she lay on her back staring up at the sky and feeling very scared. She heard someone yelling for her, the sound of boots hurrying through the snow. Seconds later Donny came to kneel beside her, a scared look on his face as well.
"Tara, are you killed?" he asked, awkwardly brushing snow from her face with a mitten covered hand, "Please don't be killed... I-I'll be in trouble if you are."
No... she was still alive and yet she had a terrible feeling in her gut. It hurt so much she started crying. Her brother looked down at her with the expression of one who was totally out of their league. He kept patting her cheek as though that would somehow help.
Tara was eventually able to sit up with her brothers assistance, she felt cold tears on her cheeks, almost frozen in the winter air. For some reason she couldn't stop blubbering feeling much younger than her nine years. Her brother was flustered, he kept trying to sooth her with awkward sounds. As he helped her to her feet he patted her back.
"Come on, we'll get you back to the house... you can walk alright can't you," he looked at her legs to check that she was standing and that nothing looked broken.
Tara allowed herself to be half led, half pushed back up the hill and towards home. She stumbled along in a blind daze, not knowing or being able to understand what had just happened. The only thing she knew was that it had something to do with her mother... something terrible had happened...
a few days later...
Tara sat eating her porridge before school. As she spooned it into her mouth, Donny was on the other side of the table making silly faces in an effort to cheer her up. He was still very disgruntled that she had ruined a whole weekend of sledding by refusing to go out again with him after her spill.
There was a knock at the front door and Tara and Donny both looked up. Their father came from the kitchen, wiping his hands on a towel. The look on his face said he was obviously wondering who could be stopping by this early in the morning and for what reason. He moved out into the porch and opened the door, Tara and Donny both hurriedly got out of their chairs and hid at the kitchen doorway... curious as to who it could be. The door opened to reveal two uniformed police officers who removed their hats when they said hello. Donny and Tara frowned at each other before looking back to the door.
"Mr Robert Maclay?" one of them asked in a solemn voice.
"Yes officer, how can I help?" there was a note of suspicion in Robert Maclays voice.
"We've come about your wife... Diana Maclay..."
"She's not here," Robert replied quickly, defensively, "Diana is in Egypt working on a dig... she's an archaeologist you see..."
"We're very sorry Mr Maclay..." one of them began in a sombre tone.
"Has something happened to Diana? Please tell me... what has happened to Diana?"
"There was some sort of accident, we don't have very many details..."
"Accident? Is she alright? She isn't..." Robert's voice rose slightly in pitch, an urgency to it that indicated how scared he was.
"We're sorry Mr Maclay... your wife died..."
Tara felt her brother's hand shoot out and grab her shoulder, fingers digging in a little hard and yet she didn't even notice that it hurt. She reached her own hand up to cover his, feeling it shake uncontrollably. Tara didn't hear what the rest of the two police officers had to say, she was too busy watching her Daddy's face as it became progressively sadder to the point where she knew he was about to cry. She had never seen him cry before... not ever and that scared her, really made her believe that what the policemen had said was true.
Robert closed the door in a daze, he turned around and saw two faces peering at him from around the kitchen doorway. He tried so very hard to keep his emotions in check... not wanting the children to see him break down. Yet before he knew it a sob burst from his throat, he pressed his hand to his mouth firmly. Tara and Donny both looked so scared... so young... he held out his arms weakly and they needed no further invitation. Both Donny and Tara crossed the short distance in a great hurry and threw themselves into their father's arms as sobs racked both their bodies.
Tara buried her face in her fathers strong chest as the tears kept coming, her fingers gripping his shirt until her knuckles were white. It hurt so much, even as he stroked her back soothingly and whispered that everything would be alright in a hollow voice. Tara knew everything was not alright as she choked on her tears. She was terrified because she had felt it happen. She had felt her mother die.
Biggin Hill Air Command base, 1936
The day the sky fell dawned bright in comparison to the day before which had been a typical English winters day...dark and raining. Now the winter sun shone down on the green landscape. It was still fairly chilly but at last it felt as though it should be warm. Indeed, Corporal Greg Farnham felt warmer than he had in days as he whistled while he made his way towards the number two hanger. Greg was repairing a Draken that some numbskull pilot had come in to land with its undercarriage still up. The damage wasn't too bad, it was mostly the bent prop which would need replacing completely. He paused once he reached the hanger and pulled out the cigarette that he had earlier tucked behind his ear. Checking to see that his sergeant wasn't anywhere in the vicinity he lit it up and glanced around at the still waking air base. A line up of Drakens sat on the edge of the field waiting for their pilots to take them up for an early morning exercise. In the field just beyond the airstrip Greg could see a farmer mustering his dairy herd. A perfect morning...
On any other similar morning, Greg's musings would have been completely correct. What he didn't know as he stubbed out the butt of his cigarette, was that this was the day that they course of history was destined to change. Greg hadn't even started work as he walked into the hanger and already he was counting down until his morning tea break.
"Heya Danny boy," he waved greeting to another mechanic as he turned to enter the hanger.
"How's that Draken looking?" Danny asked him with a wink.
"Fine no thanks to the moron who was flying..."
Suddenly there was a huge crash and Greg and Danny both spun around to see an explosion erupt on the far side of the field. As Greg stared in surprise he wondered for a moment if the munitions dump had gone up. Someone's going to be singed around the edges for smoking too close to the ammo! The two men stared in confusion until there was a second explosion, closer this time. A steady whine filled the air as the air raid siren was activated and it was quickly followed by men running from the hanger towards the nearest air raid dugout. Greg joined them, sprinting for the low, sandbagged trench that seemed to be miles away. He threw himself in and landed on top of another man.
"Steady on chum!" his squashed victim picked himself back up, "Anyone would think it was the end of the world.
Greg looked upwards as a high-pitched drone filled the air overhead. It made everyone look up to see the same sight. A single black shape banked over the airfield... at first Greg thought it was a very large, black bird. Then he realised it was some sort of plane, although it was unlike anything he had seen before. It was a dark shape that seemed to swallow the blue sky around it, Greg felt a chill run down his spine just from looking at it. The aircraft expert in him wondered how it could possibly stay in the air. It was more of a flying wing than the sort of plane used by Air Command. He couldn't see a propeller or a tailplane or flaps or anything else that even made it look like it should be able to fly.
He had no time to muse over it further. He was forced to duck his head when more explosions erupted closer than the first. The lone high-pitched drone was joined by others and Greg realised in fright that there were dozens of them screaming through the air. He risked another quick glance to see one sweep low over the field, blue lights burst from the wingtips and strafed the field. When the lights hit the parked Drakens, the planes went up quickly in balls of flame. Greg's eyes widened as he realised they were bullets of some sort... heading this way, fuck! He ducked just as they smacked into the sandbags above his head, showering him in dirt and sand.
He looked straight up as the black bird shape flew right above the trench. A coldness crept over his entire body as he watched it continued on towards the hangers. In a sickening crash of twisted metal and exploding glass, the blue bullets ripped the nearest structure to pieces.
"What are they?" Danny gasped, "What the fuck are they?"
"Something the krauts cooked up!" another cowering mechanic yelled over the din.
"I don't know but for some reason I don't think they're German..." Greg said as he huddled against the wall of earth that made up the side of the trench.
He gathered his knees to his chest to stop them shaking and wrapped his arms around them. All of a sudden it was so very cold again even though the sun was still shining brightly. Another explosion burst meters from their trench and Greg slammed his hands over his ears after the noise almost blew out his eardrums. Showers of dirt rained down on them and clouds of smoke obscured his vision, blocking out the sun. Greg buried his head in his arms and whimpered as the sun stopped shining.
Willow glanced around at the other pilots assembled in the tiny briefing room and wondered why they had all been called at this hour of the morning. The way everyone was rushing around it was almost as though there was a war on. Willow's eyes widened and a shiver ran down her spine... Holy crap... war...
She found herself a seat near the back of the room and sat forward like an eager child. Boone was pacing up and down the small space at the front of the room, waiting for everyone to be seated. He glanced out at the gathering of pilots and Willow saw for the first time a complete lack of disdain on his face and the familiar sardonic grin that Boone usually wore had disappeared completely. They were replaced by a look that was strictly serious business, he had suddenly ceased being an arrogant prick to become the Commander of a naval vessel. He cleared his throat once and this was very quickly followed by an immediate cessation of all other sounds in the room. Everyone turned their gaze to Boone, all wearing the same expectant but wary look that Willow knew was on her own face.
He began to pace again, leaving them all in a painful silence. Willow saw Tara sitting on the opposite side of the room, for some reason her eyes always sought out the blonde wherever she was. Willow found Tara staring down at her lap, her hair obscuring most of her face but from the small patch of cheek that Willow could see was even paler than usual. She wore a thick woollen hat and her arms were wrapped tightly around herself as though she were trying desperately to retain heat. It was cold... but not that cold.
Willow had no more time to wonder what was up with the strange blonde because Boone finally began to speak.
"At 0700 hours this morning a synchronised aerial invasion destroyed the Air Command bases at Biggin Hill, Kenly, Manston, Hawkinge, Shoreham..."
Willow's jaw dropped as Boone continued to list the names of almost every major air base in Southern England... an invasion...
"Also other key army and navy bases were hit at the same time. In a single strike the enemy succeeded in rendering useless almost sixty percent of our total military forces..." Boone's voice was tight, there was an anger there that was barely controlled, "We have sketchy reports filtering in from the States, from continental Europe to say the same thing... a single synchronised strike against key military targets throughout the world..."
"The world?" a pilot near the front said incredulously, "Then who..."
"We have no reports as to who it was... strange reports are coming in but as of yet we haven't been able to make an intelligent guess and I can tell you no further information except to say that from now on the fifth fleet is on full alert. We continue into the North Atlantic staying under the net at all times and will wait for further instructions from the suits in power..."
"What if they're all dead?" someone piped up nervously.
"There will be no more questions, the officers mess is closed... we're at war gentlemen... and ladies... Squadron Captains will report to me at 0630 hours tomorrow morning. That will be all until further notice."
He strode purposefully from the room and as soon as the door closed behind him, the room erupted into a tirade of conversations, everyone speaking at once, everyone with a question to ask.
The Devils all turned to Willow as though she knew something more than they did.
"Way to go Boone, a new method to instil confidence in the troops... not tell them anything as to what the fuck is going on! Will, you must know something more?" Alex asked.
"Synchronised strikes worldwide?" Spike's eyebrows raised sky high, "Okay now who the heck can muster the forces to manage that? It's a bloody drill... no, a government conspiracy to try and scare the balls off us!"
"Well, they wouldn't have to scare you very hard now would they cobber?" Charlie knuckled Spike's head.
"Shut up you wanker!"
"Shut up all of you!" Willow jumped up to push Charlie and Spike apart, knocking her chair over, "I don't know a bloody thing... I'll pass on whatever Boone tells me tomorrow... but for now, just hit your bunks, try and get some rest."
"Hah! Like we could!" Alex scoffed. "The world ending and all..."
"The world is not ending," Dennis finally piped up, "We're at war..."
He suddenly paled as he realised the full implications of the 'w' word that had just left his lips. His smooth, terrified face turned to Willow.
"You don't think... the cities, my Mother's in London..."
"I'm sure she'll be fine Dennis," Willow replied, although thoughts of her own parents also in London, crossed her mind, "Now all of you calm down... hit your racks, go play cards if you can't sleep, knit yourself a pair of socks, jack off... whatever. I'll have some more answers for you tomorrow."
Managing to escape from the rest of her squadron, Willow made her way to the fairly empty flight deck. The sky was grey, almost black, making it seem as though it were almost night instead of just midday. Willow looked skywards, wondering how much longer they had until they were sent up there to combat whatever it was that had torn through the pride of the English air force like it were butter.
Willow had always loved the idea of being a fighter pilot but going down in a flaming, glorious death was not exactly on her list of things to do in her life. She had always quite liked the idea of sitting in her armchair at an advanced age with a small horde of grandchildren gathered around her feet as she held them captivated with tales of her flying exploits. Crazy old nana Willow...
"Grandchildren... hah!" Willow said quietly to herself, Having grandchildren would require me to first have children... and that means having a fella, slight problem there Rosenberg. Maybe Alex will let me tell stories to his grandchildren...
"You know..." a voice said from behind Willow, "Talking to yourself is the first sign of lunacy."
Willow whipped around, embarrassed and annoyed that her quiet reflection time had been disturbed, especially by the one person she could least deal with at this point in time... Tara Maclay.
"Yeah, well it's worse to not talk at all!" Willow snapped back all too quickly.
Tara ducked her head and now that she could see her fully and up close, Willow saw the blonde was more than pale. There was almost no colour in her face at all, save for her lips being a faint shade of purple. Even her normally bright blue eyes seemed as though a shadow hung in front of them... dark and grey. Willow looked away, feeling guilty for snapping and yet at the same time feeling something of an entirely different and inappropriate nature. Tara was quiet and weird to say the least but there was something about her that held Willow in thrall. She wanted to know more about her... unravel the mystery that was Tara Maclay. Yet at the same time that was the last thing Willow had time or energy to spend doing... why did she insist on torturing herself?
So I like the woman... so what? I'll get over it, I'll deal...
Even so, as Willow turned back to look at the pale blonde once more she found herself holding her breath. She found everything about Tara fascinating, her beauty... her vulnerability. She wanted to cross the distance between them and take Tara in her arms, to protect her against whatever it was that was affecting her so visibly.
"I'm sorry," Tara replied simply.
"Huh?" Willow asked, There you go again Rosenberg, showing your mastery of the English language.
Tara looked at her, a liquid gaze that managed to melt everything inside, turn her legs to custard.
What is it with me at the moment? Willow asked herself angrily, Willow, there's a war on, W-A-R which normally means guns and killing and deadness, all the not so good stuff... and god I want to shag her! She clenched her fists tightly, annoyed at the way her hormones were raging at the worst of moments.
"For the way I acted last night, I was rude and I'm sorry..." Tara said quietly, all the while thinking and you scare me! What else was I supposed to do!
"That's fine," Willow replied quietly, "And I'm sorry too... about the way things are between us..."
"How do you mean?" Tara frowned.
"Awkward," Willow said watching the blonde's face closely for a reaction.
"I-I guess..." Awkward is an understatement... torturous would be a far better choice of word... "Things are a little..."
"Why is that?" Willow asked bluntly.
"I don't know... perhaps we started off on the w-wrong foot... I mean, of course we did... you tried to throw me out of your room," there was a hint of humour in Tara's voice.
"More like opposite sides of the deck," Willow grinned quickly to relieve her own tension, "You being in Buffy's squadron and all," Willow saw a flicker of something that might have been acknowledgement pass over the blonde's features.
"I don't know," Tara said softly, "But even if it was, I don't see why that should prevent us from being... friends... on friendly terms at least."
"Me neither," Willow admitted, friends is good we can start from there... friends can engage in fun nocturnal activities like... chinese whispers, midnight snacks... sex... Willow sighed in exasperation at herself.
She crossed to the rail and gripped it tightly, looking out over the dark ocean and the ships sailing upon it. Each one looked menacing, strong... perfect for what was about to happen. That was what Willow had to concentrate on, the all-important task at hand. She couldn't do this with Tara... it wasn't the right time... and very possibly never would be.
"Um... d-do you want to... grab that c-coffee?" Tara asked quietly, ducking her head again.
A chilling wind swept up off the sea, Willow watched as it blew Tara's hair away from her face to reveal her alabaster skin. Willow just wanted to reach out and cup the cheek with her now trembling hand. Friends...
"Um... I'll take a raincheck," Willow replied, "I think I should go and check in on my guys... they'll probably be at bursting point by now and I really don't want any of them to get in trouble... not now..."
"O-oh... of course, you should totally be with your squadron... and I-I should be with mine... I-I'll see you later s-sir..."
Willow gave Tara a 'look' and when the blonde saw it she couldn't help but smile,
"Willow," she added.
They continued to stare at one another for a few moments, Tara's smile was frozen on her face and Willow's eyes were sparkling even in the dull light. Both held their breath and yet neither noticed the other doing so. Finally Willow excused herself, she walked backwards for a few steps so she could keep her eyes on Tara a little longer before turning to walk down the stairs.
As Tara watched Willow go she finally let out the breath that she had been holding and only then because she had been beginning to see spots. She kept watching her back until even her red head disappeared, Tara turned back to the ocean.
She was looking out at churning waves and grey clouds but that wasn't what she was really seeing. In her mind was a picture of a beautiful woman, a strong beautiful woman who was reaching out her arms to embrace her. Tara closed her eyes and imagined folding herself into her mother's arms, a simple comfort she had been missing terribly for the past fourteen years.
"I'm scared Mama," she whispered aloud.
The words sounded strange coming from an ace fighter pilot and yet Tara had good reason to be scared. More than anyone else on the ship, she knew what had happened. Even more terrifyingly... she knew what was to come...