Return to Captain Red and the Denizens of Mars Chapter Twenty

Captain Red and the Denizens of Mars

Author: Alcy
Rating: R for war-related violence, occasional bad language and naughty stuff.
Disclaimer: I don't own the rights to BtVS... nuff said. No spoilers for any season.

Willow felt the extremely unpleasant sensation of sweat trickling down the side of her face, from her hairline, down over her temple and finally dripping off her cheek. She did not even dare dash her forearm across her forehead to mop it up; so tense was the atmosphere as the group of humans made their way into the very bowels of hell itself. It was certainly hot enough to be hell inside the LGF Mothership.

Despite the chaos that was erupting in the world outside the ship, silence reigned inside. The group moved so silently that Willow could hear Barrel's heavy breathing behind her and the slight clink of Buffy's Tommy gun against her webbing as she walked just ahead. Her own breathing was like a deafening storm in her head. She half wished that it would stop and give her room to think.

So far they had seen no other sign of life, nor any sign that their intrusion had been detected, a fact which was making them all dangerously cocky. William and Tad led the group down the corridor. They had very little decision making to do as the only way was forward, there had been no turns or undulations whatsoever in their path. While the leading pair had started out at a bare creep, they had slowly increased the pace to a brisk walk. The others followed their lead, although wary to check each point they passed for any signs of change...anything other than the stark corridor which seemed to go on forever.

Willow had the distinct feeling that if she closed her eyes she would still see the tubes of neon, green lighting her way forward. Leading her forward and straight into hell. Her eyelids refused to shut however, they were frozen open, constantly alert. They had adjusted to the strange lighting and semi darkness to the point where each shadow did not trouble her. She had noted that the corridor seemed to widen as they walked to the point where it was now a good twelve feet across.

"I get the feeling that these guys aren't too big on security," Buffy whispered, turning her head slightly over her shoulder so she spoke in Willow's direction.

Faith's sharp ears picked up the comment and she replied a little louder, "I think given that they are currently blowing our positions to hell that they don't expect any of us to be sneaking in their back door."

Willow made an angry hissing noise in the back of her throat as an indicator for them both to keep their mouths shut. Buffy turned to face forward once again and Faith merely grunted her assent as she readjusted the heavy Bren on her hip.

What happened next put paid to any assumptions that they would be able to stroll through the Mothership undetected. In retrospect, Willow knew it was coming from the moment of her hair-raising entrance into the ship. The atmosphere of dread had built to the point that she was poised, waiting for whatever it was the LGFs would throw at their little group. So when the floor shook beneath them, sending Tad and William sprawling and the rest of them to the walls for a secure handhold, Willow merely cocked her Tommy gun and waited.

"What in blazes?"

Tad picked himself up just as the floor in front of him rent open with an awful grinding and tearing of metal. He found himself staring down into a deep, black chasm. If William had not reached out and yanked him backwards by his backpack them he would have discovered just how deep it was.

The floor tore at irregular intervals, leaving jagged gaps across what had once been a secure walking surface. It became a treacherous maze which they would have to negotiate in order to continue.

Willow padded her way forward and came to a halt just in front of William and Tad. With her toes barely on the edge, she peered into the darkness below and then up at the route that lay before them. While every ounce of good sense within her told her that turning around would be the safest option, she knew it was the wrong choice. There was no way except forward, forward and on towards Tara. Raising her hand she made a slow motion forward for her team to follow her. With her heart continuing to hammer in her head, Willow began negotiating the jagged surface to the other size. With each step she was prepared for the floor to give way beneath her. The further she went, the more she felt as though she were a school child walking a balancing beam in the playground.

She glanced over her shoulder to see Tad following close behind, obviously poised to react if she should fall. His Tommy Gun was slung over his shoulder so both hands were free. Stretching out behind them both, were the other members of the team, a rather nervous looking Alex bringing up the rear. Willow noted approvingly that Faith and Buffy had branched out, choosing different routes across the maze. They each tested the way ahead cautiously before taking a step.

"Kinda makes you feel like a youngster," Tad remarked, echoing Willow's thoughts.

"Just keep your eyes peeled," Willow replied, unable to respond as jovially as she would have in the past.

She concentrated on putting one foot after the other, trying to look both where she was placing her feet and at the way ahead. Even though she was almost safely across the jagged portion of the floor, she could not relax.

"Hey..." Tad began in a low voice.

Willow glanced over her shoulder to find him staring intently down into the depths below them.

"There's something moving down there," he continued.

With calculated care, Tad began to slowly unsling his weapon. For a split second Willow was torn as to whether to order everyone through as fast as possible or freeze and prepare to fire. It was an obvious choice, they were defenceless with limited footing, she was about to bark the order when a foreign shape shot up out of the darkness. It moved at such a pace, Willow could not make out what it was until it shot through Tad's back and protruded hideously from his stomach. Willow found herself staring at a thick cylindrical shape with a tapered end, much like a tentacle. Embedded in the very end was what appeared to be an eye of sorts. It regarded Willow coldly and she shivered. The tentacle undulated grotesquely as though it were alive and yet it's materials indicated that it was mechanical. It was made of some sort of transparent material though which Willow could see the now familiar green liquid pulsing as well as any number of what appeared to be wires and tubes. The bright red blood which was splattered over the eye facing her, drew Willow back down to earth. She glanced up from the tentacle to Tad's face, it was ashen and slack as he stared back at her.

Behind her, the rest of her team members had opened fire as more of the sinister tentacles arose from the chasms beneath their feet. Combined with the threat which they now faced, they still had to contend with the fact they were dancing on narrow ledges themselves. Alex had managed to retreat back to the secure footing at the start but the others were all playing a dangerous balancing game. A wrong foot would send them down into the depths, no doubt to the origin of the monster-machine they now faced.

Meanwhile, Willow could not draw her eyes away from the look of surprise on Tad's face as he was forced to confront his mortality. Quickly slinging her weapon, she reached out across the gap that separated them and took both his hands in hers. Suddenly the tentacle that held him dropped and he fell along with it. With a strangled cry, Willow dropped to her knees. She would have been dragged down along with Tad had not the tentacle become entrapped on a piece of jagged metal. Tad hung downwards, only the tentacle in his stomach and Willow's desperate grip preventing him from falling. His grip on her hands grew slacker with each passing second. She dragged her eyes away from Tad's to search out Faith in the chaos and found her in the midst of hacking off one of the tentacles with her knife. Half severed, the writhing tentacle was still trying to wrap itself around her chest. With one last guttural cry, Faith hacked it free and it fell harmless to the ground. Searching for her next target, her eyes met Willow's and before her gaze fell upon Tad, she knew. With a bound, she leapt the short chasm that separated them and fell to her knees in front of him. She took his hands from Willow who immediately leapt to her feet to defend her friends as they spent precious last moments together as Tad's wound was clearly fatal.

Tad's eyes misted over at the sight of his lover. He gripped her hands with all his remaining strength even as he felt the life drain out of him.

"Tad..." Faith whispered in a broken voice.

A tentacle screamed towards her. Faith calmly raised her head for a moment and let go of one of Tad's hands. In one fluid movement, she swiftly drew her pistol and emptied the magazine into its eye. It exploded in a shower of hot, green slime.

The tentacle impaled in Tad's stomach writhed momentarily, tearing at the already gaping wound. Stark white from blood loss, Tad couldn't feel a thing. Blood bubbled from the corner of his mouth as he tried to speak his last. His mouth opened and closed, teeth stained with blood. With a brutal tug, the tentacle wrenched itself out of Tad's stomach accompanied by the sickening sound of collapsing flesh. Faith had to scramble to hold onto him, flinging her pistol away to hold him securely with both hands.

Behind her, Willow fired her Tommy Gun into the blood-spattered tentacle as it tried to renew its attack on the couple. She gained no amount of satisfaction from seeing the bullets tear into its skin as it fell backwards into the pit. There was no time to dwell on anything as more emerged to take it place. She was frantically trying to keep Faith and Tad clear from attack.

Her hands slick with blood, Faith was loosing her grip on Tad. The tendons on her arms bulged as she fought to pull him back up. In one awful moment, it appeared as though she was going to let herself get dragged down with him.

"!" Tad choked, with nearly more blood coming out of his mouth than words.

"I can't!" Faith replied desperately, as though that would be killing him herself.

"Please..." he urged, his voice was a mere whisper.

Faith had her legs wrapped around the beam of metal upon which she sat but even that was not leverage enough to retain her hold on Tad. Her grip continued to falter. He slipped further downwards, his eyes pleading with her to let him go.

"I love you," Faith whispered, her mouth set with grim determination.

Tad's lips curled up in a grotesque but genuine smile, neither of them ever expected to hear those words coming from her lips. Rather than let Tad slide out of her grasp, Faith let him go suddenly as though that were the only way she could do it.

Willow stood over Faith, watching her out of the corner of her gaze. For a moment she though the brunette might throw herself down into the darkness below along with her lover's body. However, she realised just how little she knew the woman when she suddenly sprang back into action as though the past few tragic moments had never occurred. The only indicator that they had was an even more determined set to her expression. As soon as she was on her feet, she deftly dodged a spearing thrust made by a tentacle. Spinning around it she grabbed it from side on and held fast.

"Knife!" she barked urgently in Willow's direction, having lost her own in her scramble to reach Tad's side.

"Here!" Willow responded quickly despite her amazement at the speed of Faith's movements, withdrawing her own sheathed knife and tossing it to Faith.

Faith snatched it out of the air by its handle and plunged it downwards into the writhing tentacle. Gushes of green slime sprayed upwards, covering her head and shoulders. Willow watched her pare the tentacle like a vegetable. Eventually, the end flopped lifelessly to the ground even as the now headless stub continued to thrash around. It threatened to knock both of them of their feet.

All around them their fight against the huge, all-consuming creature seemed to be in dire straits. It was clear that no matter how many tentacles they succeeded in removing, more surfaced to replace them. Several grenades thrown into the pit had little effect, other than to threaten to bring the roof down on their heads.

Faith glanced across to Willow desperately.

"We've got to give you enough room to get out of here...we're here to find Tara, not..." Faith stopped talking momentarily to wallop a tentacle with her fist and slash at it wildly. She continued talking, "...get slaughtered by these things!"

Willow looked helplessly at the path ahead, she could she no road through the writhing mass. She then looked to her friends, she also hated to leave them alone facing it, if it weren't for her, none of them would even be here.

No, but they'd still be out fighting...still probably be getting killed. Willow thought of the swarms of LGFs outside and reasoned that perhaps they did stand more chance in here.

"Everyone, concentrate all your fire, everything you've got! We've got to make a path through for Will!" Faith yelled, her voice barely resonating over the sounds of the struggle, she also signalled out Buffy as the next closest person, "Buff, you're going with her."

Buffy, covered from head to toe in the green goop secreted by dying tentacles, nodded her assent and leaped to join Willow in a position to make a sprint through the path created. As the remaining members of the team gathered around Faith, Willow could see it was going to be suicide for them. To concentrate their efforts on one area, would leave them exposed to all others. They would be able to create a path for bare moments, and then would most probably be cut to ribbons.

"We'll be right behind you Will," Alex said over his shoulder as he pumped yet another magazine into the nearest tentacle, they were all running dangerously low on ammo.

Willow detached her remaining magazine from her Tommy gun and tucked it in Alex's webbing. She slapped him fiercely on the back in thanks and for luck. She threw her now empty machine gun to the ground, knowing she had only her handgun remaining for self-defence.

"Now!" Faith barked.

Willow and Buffy watched as their friends threw themselves against one side of the mass of tentacles leaving an almost clear run for the two of them down the other side. Neither wasted a moment in making for it, otherwise their friend's sacrifices would have been in vain. Willow ran first, Buffy close on her heels.

Willow was forced to duck urgently as a rouge tentacle went flying over her head. She felt it brush the hair on her head as it was carried by its momentum straight into the wall beside her. Without time to think, she leapt the last open space between her and the corridor ahead. For anyone it would have been an impressive and difficult jump. Exhausted and wounded in several places, Willow barely made it. Her toes caught the edge of the ledge and for a few dangerous seconds she windmilled her arms in an effort to fall forward. However it was Buffy crashing through behind her that eventually knocked her forward. She fell flat on her face, incredibly relieved.

Buffy grabbed her upper arm in a vice-like grip, "Up Will!"

Buffy was right to urge her forward, even as Willow struggled to her feet tentacles came crashing after them. Willow could sense them straining at her heels as she ran full tilt down the corridor in front of her. Both pilots running as fast as they possibly could, trying desperately to block out their friends screams that echoed from behind them.

When Tara managed to open her eyes, she was surprised to be able to do so. She thought perhaps they would have frozen shut with the temperature in the cell. As her eyes grew adjusted to what little light filtered into her cell, she realised that her eyelids were about the only thing she could still move. It felt as though she had no limbs, she was just a detached consciousness floating in a tiny room.

So when the door to her cell was slammed open and heavy booted feet crashed into it, Tara was barely aware of it. It was not until cruel fingers wrapped themselves around her frozen flesh that she actually felt something. It was as though their flesh was burning her own, permanently branding her skin. With one on either side, they dragged her upwards. A weak, barely audible cry tore from her lips. Had she had the strength, it would have been a full throated scream. Tara half expected to find her legs had been ripped off at the hip as they jerked her into a standing position. Her feet hit the floor and immediately could not support her own weight. Her legs simply crumpled beneath her. The Juthungi barely paused and resorted to dragging her out of the room.

Tara's frozen feet felt as though they were being scraped raw. However, despite the pain of feeling returning to her limbs and her rough handling, Tara refused to make a further sound. After being dragged longer than she could stand it, she gritted her teeth and made her feet work. It felt strange at first, as though she were not the one doing the walking. Eventually, she was stumbling along between the two Juthungi. Each step felt as though she was walking on knives, but she was heartened slightly by the fact that her strength had not deserted her altogether. For she knew exactly where she was going...and that she would need to draw upon all the reserves of strength she could muster.

When she finally saw it, Tara was surprised to find that she was no longer scared of it. It seemed that the machine had haunted her dreams for so long that it was becoming as familiar to her as her own bed. When the Juthungi roughly shoved her back against its surface she did not gasp in shock...for she knew exactly how it would feel. As they manoeuvred her limbs about to tie the straps, Tara felt as though the contraption had been constructed with her body in mind. Every surface moulded to her flesh perfectly.

They were none to gentle strapping her in, each one threatened to cut of circulation as Tara tested them experimentally. She did not want to seem overly willing for them to carry out their plan with her despite the fact that it was exactly what she wanted them to do. The look of terror on her face however, was very real.

Tara regarded each of the four Juthungi in the room as she waited for them to begin. There was nothing to separate them, each was dressed identically with no rank insignia of any kind. She could no more tell what they were thinking than she could a rock. Each moved about their duties without so much as a signal or any form of communication with one another. It was only when all but one of them left the room that Tara guessed they were about to begin.

As Tara stood in silence, awaiting her fate she closed her eyes in an effort to a place from which she could draw strength. Although all she did was lower her eyelids over her eyes, she effectively sealed herself off from reality, disconnecting the rest of her emotions as well. It was a technique she had learned to master during her most difficult periods of adolescence. This time however, it was slightly different. Never before had she held the same amount of strength within herself and it was for one reason...Willow. It took a few moments for her raging heartbeat to slow, to forget the cold that enveloped her entire body but eventually she found the place inside of her where Willow lived. Tara let the love that dwelt there fill her body. The cold fled and was replaced by the love that Tara cherished more than anything else in her life. Willow was her life. She loved the redhead for just who she was, the daredevil pilot, the leader and the wonderfully talented lover who never failed to send her over the edge.

Suddenly there was pain!

Tara's eyes flew open as the calm that she had built around herself was torn down in the most violent manner possible. All over her body she felt an intense burning fire consuming her. Her eyes opened even wider when she saw what had caused her pain. Dozens of tubes had emerged from the machine which held her and pierced her flesh. They entered in her legs, her arms, chest and even, as Tara accidentally tugged one of them, in her face. Each one carried the same green essence that pumped throughout the entire vessel into her veins. Tara stared in horror at the tubes in her arm, she could see a green colour spreading through each of her veins where there ought to have been the faint blue of her own blood. She could feel it as it entered her body and it was the most awful feeling Tara could imagine. It was as though there was another entity inside of her, invading her body. Her vision clouded over and she realised she was seeing everything through a green filter. Her heart thudded fiercely once more as her previous state of calm fled. Tara lost the picture of Willow in her mind. All she had left was her name.


As Willow and Buffy continued into the bowels of the ship, their friends were still with them in spirit if nothing else. For the first time they now found themselves up against turns and corners in their path. A veritable labyrinth of choices presented themselves to the two pilots who had no idea which direction to choose. Both were so used to flying by compass, here they had nothing to guide them save a burning desire to find Tara. Willow found herself choosing pathways at random, knowing in her head it was futile and yet sensing in her heart


Willow stopped dead in her tracks and turned to Buffy with an urgent look on her face, the blonde stared back, her face streaked with blood, dirt and sweat.

"Did you hear that?" Willow cocked her ear, straining to listen even though the first word had been like a shout in her ear.

Buffy frowned, the tension evident on her face, "Nope, what was it?"

She studied the direction to which Willow was listening intently, her Tommy Gun trained ahead with her finger poised over the trigger. Willow cupped her pistol in both hands, holding it in front of her in a cautious manner as she listened. Suddenly she surged forward and quickly broke into a run.

"Hey!" Buffy was helpless to do anything but follow.

She chased after Willow as the redhead seemingly knew exactly which way she was going. Panting, Buffy caught up and tried to slow the redhead down.

"Will, slow'll run us straight into a whole nest of ‘em or something!"

"I can't Buffy!" Willow shrugged off Buffy's restraining arm and quickened her pace, "I know where she is."

Buffy looked at Willow sceptically as they ran, "And how on earth do you know that."

Willow replied as if it were the most natural thing in the world, "Because I can feel her."

Cherry felt the dust that filled the air scorch the back of his throat. He coughed and choked but more flooded into his mouth until he was doubled over with spasms rocking his small frame. Peering through slitted eyes, everywhere he looked, was chaos. Explosions rocked the earth and the skies overhead were black with aircraft, none of them friendly. Cherry felt as though her were drowning, not knowing which way to run. He stood hunched over with men and women swarming around in, running in both directions as though no one knew exactly where to go. Mrs Chippy shivered in her hiding place beneath his coat.

Suddenly his arm was snatched up in a fierce grip. Cherry peered upwards to see a young soldier standing over him. The soldiers face betrayed his youth but the dirt and blood caked upon it said otherwise.

"You can't just stand here kid!" he yelled over the din.

Without a further word he began dragging Cheery along behind him. His confidence and strong frame gave the boy a glimmer of hope.

When Cherry stumbled one too many times as the ground shook beneath his feet, the soldier simply picked him up in both arms. Cherry buried his face in the soldier's greatcoat, keeping both his own arms in a protective shield over Mrs Chippy.

Cherry thought they had run for miles when the soldier finally slowed, although in reality their dash had lasted mere seconds. He found himself set on his own feet quickly yet gently.

"Get under the ledge. As far back as you can and don't come out for anything!" he motioned Cherry beneath an overhang which was so low to the ground only a child could hope to squeeze beneath it.

Cherry didn't need to be told twice, he scrambled beneath the thick concrete of what had once been part of a building's basement. He jammed his body as far back as he possibly could. Not caring that he could just as easily be crushed like a small bug if it were to fall. He peered back out at the soldier who was crouched down to check his charge was safe. As he gave Cherry a quick grin he suddenly disappeared amidst a shower of fire and ash. Cherry heard a scream in his ears and it was not until it stopped that he realised it was his own voice.

When the dust cleared he met the young soldier's gaze once again. He stared back at Cherry through eyes that had seen too much...and now saw nothing at all. Cherry burrowed against the surface behind him. He squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his hands against his ears in a vain effort to block out the sounds of the world ending. He could feel Mrs Chippy's heart thudding along with his own.

Despite the fact that Willow obviously strongly believed they were headed in the right direction, Buffy couldn't help but feel a very palpable dread with each step she ran. It was as though they were getting closer and closer to the centre of hell. With the walls closing in on her, she began to wonder if she would ever see the sky again. She stole a glance across at Willow and the singular look on her face told her everything she needed to know. Willow no longer cared about the sky, or her own life...all she cared about was Tara.

"We're here!" Willow hissed urgently as the two of them rounded one last corner.

Both Willow and Buffy skidded to a rather abrupt halt as they emerged into a small anteroom. It was made all the smaller by the fact there were three massive aliens standing in the centre before a small door.

"Fuck!" Willow yelped, raising her pistol.

"This is all your fault Will!" Buffy said through gritted teeth.

"I'll buy you a drink later!" Willow replied quickly.

In the space of a split second, both of them opened fire at two different targets. Without stopping to think clearly, Buffy pumped the one nearest to her full of hot lead from the Tommy Gun at her hip. She watched as the bullets at first seemed to bounce right off its chest armour before they finally began to tear into its flesh. Worried by the initial ineffectiveness of her attack, Buffy emptied her entire clip into the creature. Rather than falling instantly, it slumped to the floor as though willingly into oblivion.

Meanwhile, Willow fired two shots in rapid succession right into the forehead of an LGF. It dropped like a stone and lay motionless on the floor. She soon realised as she watched her target and Buffy's fall to the ground that they had been surprised by the two humans that appeared in their midst. Not wanting to waste a second of that advantage, Willow moved swiftly to the single standing LGF and pressed her trigger firmly. With a gut-wrenching click, the hammer struck an empty chamber. The second time she pressed the trigger, she met with the same result. She was out of ammunition.

"Get out of my way!" Willow yelled.

She was not about to let an empty clip come between her and Tara...or a three hundred pound monster for that matter. With the angry roar of someone who was incredibly pissed off, Willow charged at the creature.

Buffy stared in horror as Willow leapt on its back, arms encircling its neck. She watched as Willow held on with all her might, even when the creature brought its hands up to try and tear her off. Willow screamed as its taloned fingers dug into her skin. Buffy swiftly drew her knife and rushed to Willow's aid. As the creature was trying to tear Willow off, she drew back her arm and plunged the knife up to the hilt in its chest. The LGF roared, opening its huge mouth beneath the mask of its helmet. Buffy saw rows of tiny teeth, at odds with the image of shark-like fangs she had expected. It wrenched its body sideways and the dagger snapped off at the hilt.

Buffy tossed the useless handle away and looked frantically for something else to use as weapon. She looked to one of the motionless bodies on the floor. At its waist the creature wore a scabbard of sorts with a long handle protruding from it. Willow cried out again as Buffy scrambled over to the body. Her fingers closed around the oddly shaped handle. With a powerful heave and a grinding of metal, she pulled a wickedly curved knife free of the scabbard. Well over a foot long, the weapon looked and felt deadly. Buffy wasn't convinced.

"Why can't they carry guns for gods sake!" Buffy snapped as she brandished it awkwardly.

"Quit your whining and stick it in this guy before he rips my arms off!" Willow yelled, still hanging on for her life.

Without wasting anymore time, Buffy thrust the knife deep into the LGF's stomach. With a cry, she twisted the weapon brutally, causing it to roar once again. Buffy withdrew the sword and was sprayed by a hot gush of green liquid, the same that had erupted from the tentacles they had faced earlier. Buffy grimaced as she spat out some of the foul stuff.

The LGF then let go of Willow and lunged instead for Buffy. The blonde nimbly stepped away from its increasingly sluggish attempts to grab her. Finally, with Willow still on its back, it slumped to its knees. Willow stepped down from its back as it slowly dropped. With no pity whatsoever she gave it a fierce shove in the middle of its back with her boot. It crashed to the floor along with its fellows. Buffy and Willow surveyed the carnage they had created. As they did, Buffy wiped green sludge from her face.

Willow nodded in her direction, "Lookin' good Buff."

"Shut up Willow," Buffy muttered, spitting once more to clear the taste from her mouth.

Willow glanced down at the bloody rents that the LGF's talons had torn in her forearms and winced slightly. Trying to ignore her pain, Willow looked towards the doorway at the back of the room, knowing in her heart that Tara was ever so close. However, as she took a step towards the opening, yet another LGF moved to block her path. He regarded his fallen fellows just once before looking at Buffy and then Willow in turn. Lacking a weapon, Willow backed away cautiously. Buffy moved forward to stand at her side. In her hand she held the knife with a little more familiarity. The LGF continued to regard them calmly as it drew its own weapon. Both women backed off a little further.

A weak cry emitted from the next room and Willow's ears perked up at the sound, her face reflecting her desperation. There was no mistaking who it was. She surged forward with no thought as to how she was going to get passed the creature blocking the doorway.


"Will!" Buffy restrained her with a firm hand and a determined look on her face, "He'll slice you to ribbons. I've got a better idea, I'll take care of him and you get in there to Tara."

"That's the stupidest idea you've ever come up with...did you pick up a few samurai skills all of a sudden?"

"I'm not bad with a kitchen knife," Buffy muttered grumpily.

"Should we just stand here and bicker in the hope that he gets bored and leaves us alone?" Willow cocked her head to one side as though in thought.

"How about we take him on together? I'm sure there's another one of these pointy things lying with that guy over there."

"Pointy thing? Seriously Buffy."

Buffy growled angrily and before Willow could stop her she charged at the LGF as though she were a medieval knight. With a resounding ring, her blade met that of the alien. Buffy then traded several frantic blows with it before she was knocked to her knees. Willow lunged forward with the intention of helping her friend.

"Willow piss off!" Buffy waved her away as she jumped swiftly to her feet, "Go get Tara, I've got this guy's number."

"Buffy!" Willow was torn between the desire to help her friend and her lover, both of whom desperately needed her.

"Go get Tara! And then you can think about helping me...if I still need help!"

Showing absolutely no fear whatsoever, Buffy charged once more. As Willow watched for a few moments, she had to agree that Buffy was astoundingly managing to hold her own. She traded blow for blow with the creature who, despite its size and strength, seemed not to be able to gain the immediate upper hand. Each time their blades met, there was a fierce grinding of metal upon metal.

"I'm feeling good Will, now move!" Buffy nimbly stepped to avoid a body on the floor and ducked as the LGF swung his fist in obvious frustration at his inability to kill his prey.

Willow reluctantly but gratefully turned away from Buffy's struggle with the LGF and turned her attention to the door. She moved through it and entered a different chamber. Somehow the entire room felt slimy, as though the very air itself had changed. The now familiar tubing seemed to converge at this point and each one ran straight towards a contraption at the heart of the room. At the heart of the machine...was Tara.

"Oh dear lord," Willow felt the words leave her lips along with her heart.

Her eyes were fixed on Tara. For the life of her she could not tear them away from the sight of her girlfriend strapped into an awful contraption. Clad only in her woollen underwear, each of her limbs were spread and tightly fastened. For those awful moments in which she stared, Willow saw everything magnified tenfold. Tara's skin was chalky white, a stark contrast to the bulging blue veins that pulsed beneath her skin. Her fists were clenched, white knuckled as Tara tried to cope with what must have been immense pain. Her hair hung in sweat soaked strands on either side of her face, her beautiful features were contorted. The mouth Willow loved to caress with her own was open wide, lips drawn back against her teeth in a rictus of pain. Tara's beautiful blue eyes were wide open but completely sightless.

Willow took an urgent step forward with the aim of reaching Tara's side as soon as humanly possible. With a sickening lurch, her boot did not fall on to metal. Willow heard and felt the crunch of gravel beneath her feet. Tara was gone and she was staring out into the dreamscape. Nothing but the pounding of her heart echoed in her ears.

Another beat, she was standing in front of Tara again. Confused, Willow glanced around to find herself back in the chamber she thought she had never left. She took a second step towards Tara...and another...

Crunch...her boot sank into gravel once again. The room and Tara were gone...

Willow stumbled and crashed heavily to her knees. Instead of feeling the sharp bite of gravel beneath her, she slammed heavily into the metal floor. As she looked up through tangled strands of her hair, Tara's sightless eyes stared down at her.

"Will!" Buffy's voice pierced her clouded mind, Willow dumbly listened to the sounds of the urgent struggle that continued in the anteroom behind her, "What the fuck is happening?"

With a flood of realisation, Willow knew exactly who was responsible for sucking both her and Buffy...and god knew how many others, into the dreaded LGF dreamscape.

"It's Tara," Willow whispered.

Continue to Captain Red and the Denizens of Mars Chapter Twenty-Two

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