liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,
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Africander Fic: Facing the Heart In Darkness; Part 5/?

Right. I'm too much coffee girl. Wheeeeeee! I'm so awake right now that my eyes are pinned open.

First...Ice Skating...Whoo-Hooo! Spangly Costumes and Cute Male Asses!

Spent a lovely day watching ice skaters in spangly costumes with ponders_life, szandara , and some non-LJ folks. Naturally, alcohol and Chinese food was involved. However, being the paranoid girl I am, I laid off the alcohol fairly early (after getting pleasantly buzzed) and spent the next four hours flushing with water and coffee.

Johnny Weir is a pretty little boy, but my heart belongs to Stephanie Rosenthal. She did her thing to Herbie Hancock. In a robot costume. I think I spent all day calling her "robot girl." I feel love just watching her.

And how can you not FLove Jamie Silverstein and Ryan O'Meara? I mean, seriously. Anyone that thrilled to get to the Olympics that they start jumping up and down and hugging each other because they're so shocked they made the cut makes you just wanna give 'em a medal. Awwwwwwww.

 

Goin' to WriterCon!

In other news, thanks to roomie arrangements with ponders_life and a good yearly review, looks like I'm a-makin' it to writercon! Yay!

 

Oh, right. You wanted more story.

Apologies in advance for not getting to comments. I'm busily polishing up the last of the pages for this little monster, as well as checking my French and another unnamed language and double-checking my facts for everything. Then there's the whole RL thing. Laundry, housework, and food shopping doesn't do itself, you know!

Plus, it was an emergency today. There were spangly costumes that needed to be mocked! Fine male asses to be drooled over! Booze! Chinese food!

I'm allowed a life, damnit!

[Gotta cut back on the coffee, man. I'm in hypersville right now.]

Poor Miss Swithin. *sniff* I almost feel bad for her. "Almost" being the operative word here.

For the Scatterlings and Orphanges Africander Fiction Challenge by ludditerobot .

For all previous parts, go here.
Continued from Part 4.

I decided that there was no point in reviewing the material right away. I had the basics already. I could peruse the rest at a later time. I still had a week before my departure, as well as plenty of travel time during which I could familiarize myself more intimately with Mr. Harris.

Despite my good intentions, I did not revisit the files on Mr. Harris. My mind was too filled with goodbyes and arrangements. I was tangled up in tying off loose ends so my successor could smoothly step into my shoes. I scrambled to put my belongings in storage so I could turn the keys to my flat over to the Council in a timely manner. My peers insisted on taking me out for goodbye drinks and dinners, even though they knew I was a strict teetotaler.

Strangely enough, I had not received any personnel files on Mr. Harris or his mission profile from Mr. Giles’s office, despite the fact that I was in daily communication with Mr. Wells, who had returned to his foolish, fluttering ways. Most of our conversations involved making sure the Ts were crossed and the Is dotted, but nothing more than that.

To be honest, I utterly failed to mention to Mr. Wells that Mr. Giles’s office had not provided me with anything in-depth on Mr. Harris. It was an uncharacteristic mental lapse on my part. Since I supposedly didn’t know anything about the man or his mission I should’ve asked, if only to cover up that I knew anything at all.

No, I never was very good at being a double agent. No matter what you may think of my checkered career, or me, I still tend to bumble when I’m forced to play that role. Being a confidence man had never been my strong suit, so I suppose it’s a good thing for me that I tended to fall in with individuals who excelled at conning people in the name of a good cause. I generally let them do all the talking while I did all the nodding and smiling. Trust me dear reader, that sort of arrangement was much safer for everyone concerned.

Yes, I know it seems such an extraordinary thing that all my waking hours in my final weeks as Head Archivist and Statistician of the Sunnydale Project was consumed by minutiae and the mundane. I had been abroad before, but had remained safely within the confines of the Continent. This trip to Africa was something I had never dreamed I’d do, nor had I wanted to. I was about to traverse into wholly unfamiliar territory and navigate my way through an alien culture. I was about to engage a wily and dangerous human enemy and what I believed to be his army of adoring and brainwashed Slayers who’d follow his every command, even if it meant taking a human life. What’s more, no matter what the outcome, my life was to be forever changed by the experience, although how much changed I didn’t know.

It’s perfectly acceptable for you to laugh at my overheated prose. Rest assured, I’m chuckling with you. I am merely relating to you what I thought at the time.

Yet, for all that impending sense of danger, I still devoted most of my energies to accomplishing a ‘to-do list,’ instead of preparing for what I thought would be an epic battle of wills where my opponent had the homefield advantage and was holding the entire deck of marked cards. I still can’t explain my behavior in that final week and to this day I don’t know why I acted the way I did. Perhaps some small part of me thought the whole thing would be called off and I would ultimately be able to stay in London.

The truly ironic thing was that I was right, just not in the way I thought. Mr. Harris and I were about to engage in a battle of wills, and yes, he really was holding the entire deck of marked cards. And when he showed me his winning hand in a darkened mud hut in the Mali Sahel while the last of the rainy season spent itself on the thatch roof, all I could do was gracefully concede defeat, accept that my life was now subject to his whims, and place my very fate in his hands.

You have to understand, Mr. Harris didn’t just skillfully play Mr. Wyndham-Pryce and myself. He also managed to outmaneuver Mr. Giles, his putative guardian angel. It didn’t matter whether any of us agreed to it or liked it. He left all of us metaphorically sputtering in the African rains because not one of us, not even Mr. Giles, had the power to tell him he couldn’t have his way.

I feel I must warn you dear reader: stubbornness remains Mr. Harris’s most Janus-like trait. It is his most irritating fault and one of his greatest strengths, especially when he feels that he’s been backed into a corner. More than once I’ve had to control the urge to strangle him when he’d dig in his heels and insist that he was in the right; but then again, it has saved my life more than once and in more than one sense through the years.

Looking back on the fateful night in question, I concede that Mr. Harris did, in fact, save my life. At the time, however, I felt like he was taking it away from me.

But that’s the end of the end this particular story. We are still engaged with taking the journey.

On the appointed day, I was at deGaulle International and waiting on queue to exchange my pounds for CFAs and Euros as I wanted at least some ready cash when I landed in Bamako’s Senou International Airport. I was mulling taking an advance on the Council’s credit card, just to have a little extra tucked away in case of an emergency, when I heard my name being called. I turned and saw a young girl speeding her way through the crowd. I sucked in my breath in absolute horror at the spectacle she made of herself. She wove her body between the hurrying people, sometimes skidding on one foot or the other to navigate through the frantic daytime pace. I swear she hopped over baggage and small children in her mad dash to get to me. To anyone else, she must’ve looked like a blur of motion instead of something human.

The dark-haired girl skidded to a halt in front of me and held out a large, stuffed manila envelope. “Miss Swithin?” she asked. She didn’t even have the decency to act out of breath.

I angrily snatched the envelope from her outstretched hand. “This is not a zoo and you are not a wild animal,” I hissed.

A frown line appeared between her eyebrows, bisecting the tiny Bindi that marked her third eye.

I leaned close and lowered my voice. “It is one thing to hurry through an airport to catch someone, it is another matter entirely to put your considerable gifts to such use. What if you drew attention to yourself?”

He nostrils flared in exasperation. “I was afraid I was going to miss you,” she said in accented English that marked her as being from India.

“That’s no excuse.” I was firm with her. “One must take care when one is in public.”

One was trapped in a traffic jam. Then one’s cab got lost. I’ve had a hell of a day. It began with me running through sewer muck and will end with me running through more sewer muck,” the girl said with a tight jaw. “Just be grateful you didn’t smell me before you saw me.”

“That is no excuse to act like a soccer hooligan,” I stated.

She released a sharp breath through her nose. “Right. I’m off. Try not to get eaten by a zebra.”

“Ah, ah, ah, ah.” I reached out and grabbed her shoulder. She gave a good tug, but I held fast. She frowned as she looked up at me and I quickly let go. I didn’t realize that I had gasped her that hard.

“What’s this about, then?” she asked suspiciously. One hand reached up to absently rub her shoulder as her eyes scanned me up and down.

I fought to maintain my equilibrium and my sense of propriety. The beginning of my journey was not inspiring confidence in myself. “First off, zebras don’t eat people. Secondly, you obviously know where I’m going.”

“Yah. Off to see the mysterious Mr. Harris in Mali, right?” There was a trace of grudging respect in her voice. “Those documents are from Mr. Giles’s office. Told my Watcher that they forgot to pass them on to you before you left. Said everything you needed should be there.”

“So they sent you,” I said.

She rolled her eyes. “Fastest runner in all of Paris. Doesn’t help me any if my cab has the slowest driver in all of Paris, but there you go. You’ve got what you need. Now I need to get some sleep. I’ve got muck to deal with after sunset.”

A little graciousness wouldn’t hurt, I thought, especially given the earlier physical confrontation. “Thank you for your efforts. I apologize for snapping at you. I’m rather nervous about this trip.”

The girl flashed me a cheeky grin. “Don’t blame you there. Took a butchers at his picture and hubba-hubba. Very Indiana Jones man of action, accent on man. I’d throw a leg over that in a heartbeat.”

“Mr. Harris?” I squeaked with surprise.

She snorted. “Not talking about the old men in London.”

“Not all the men in London are old,” I said in an effort to loyally defend Jonathan.

“Even if they weren’t, they don’t have that look about them, yeah? Not like that one.” She had apparently decided to give me a pass on my earlier rudeness, as she now believed me to be her sort. “Don’t care how fine-looking the London boys might be, can’t hold a candle to catching a piece of that in the wild.”

I pinched the bridge of nose in frustration. Her silly hormone-fueled prattling over man she didn’t even know was quickly grating my nerves. “Please tell me you didn’t see anything of a sensitive nature in this packet.”

She shrugged it off. “Got bored in the cab and I was curious about what was so important. Didn’t read anything. Seemed like mostly boring paperwork to me. Spent most of the time enjoying the pictures.”

And no doubt she would later be enjoying the memory of them in the privacy of her own room, if her silly appreciation for Mr. Harris’s imagined physical attributes were anything to go by. Still, it appeared that no harm was done, so I decided to let it slide. “Thank you for delivering these documents. I have to get through security, so I must bid you good day.”

She gave me a nod. As I turned to step back in queue, she said, “Be careful. And while you’re there, don’t get eaten by a water buffalo!”

I made a mental note that when I got back to London, the first thing I’d do was draw up a proposal for improving the education of our new Slayers.

***

The flight from Paris to Bamako was not as terrible as I feared. Due to some minor delays and inclement weather in Bamako, I was in the air for 5-and-a-half-hours, rather than the usual 3 or 4 hours the flight usually took. I will not bore you with details of my flight, and will instead focus on the additional papers that were given to me by my airport Slayer.

As the plane taxied down the runway to take off, my nerves began to fail me. I was uncertain that I had packed the correct items, although I had consulted many travel guides in an effort to make sure I had the right clothes, comforts, and emergency medicines. I highly doubted I’d need the medicines as I did not easily fall ill, but I couldn’t afford to take the chance. Mali was an unfamiliar environment and would challenge my sturdy immune system. Furthermore, it would look rather odd if I didn’t pack such basics as water purification tablets, diarrhea medication, and malarial prophylaxis drugs.

While my physical preparations were of concern, I was more worried about facing Mr. Harris. Now that reality was upon me, I was too well aware that I was still woefully unprepared to assess the man. As I said, I had not gone through all of the documents Mr. Wyndham-Pryce had given me. Since I didn’t feel like retrieving those papers from my new backpack stored in the overhead, I opted instead to review the files sent to me by Mr. Giles’s office. If nothing else, it might give me an alternative impression of the man.

Although given his past intimate association with Anyanka, I suspected that glowing reports from his allies would not much move me from my dark view of the man.

Upon paging through the documents, however, I was very surprised that they didn’t paint a rosy picture of Mr. Harris. If anything, the documents only deepened my confusion over why he was allowed to travel an entire continent on his own and without stricter oversight.

The timeline of Mr. Harris’s involvement was not much more detailed than the one I had already read. There were number of additional notations, but only three items of any real interest. The first addition that caught my eye made note that Mr. Harris and Miss Rosenberg fell in with Miss Summers the day of the her arrival in Sunnydale and, as a result of external circumstances, were very quickly initiated into the world inhabited by the Slayer and Council.

The second item of interest mentioned that Mr. Harris lost his eye to Caleb, an agent of the First Evil, during that last year in Sunnydale. He apparently had been helping Potentials evacuate the area when Caleb captured and assaulted him. He was only spared a complete blinding because Miss Summers and William the Bloody came to his rescue.

However, the notation that perked my interest more than the others claimed that Mr. Harris was instrumental in stopping an apocalypse nearly single-handed in May of 2002. There were no details on how he pulled off this feat, nor was his opponent identified.

I tapped my finger under this extraordinary entry in an effort to puzzle it out. In looking at it, it had all the hallmarks of information that had been vetted and scrubbed before it was released for public consumption. It simply didn’t make any sense. If Mr. Giles and his people were fluffing Mr. Harris’s credentials, why wouldn’t they release more details to the rest of the Council about what he did and how he did it? And if they were trying to hide it, why make mention of it at all? It smacked of a compromise. Clearly Mr. Giles felt this information should be included in the official record to help get Mr. Harris over with some who might doubt his capabilities. The devil was probably in the story’s details. Either someone currently in a position of authority had inadvertently triggered the cataclysm in question, or the others in his social circle were embarrassed by the circumstances that left him to resolve the situation on his own.

Aside from these additions, as well as a few less interesting ones in Mr. Harris’s timeline of involvement, this information told me nothing new about the character or person of Mr. Harris.

In fact, with some startling exceptions, many of the documents from Mr. Giles’s office were duplicates of those I had already received from Mr. Wyndham-Pryce.

Among the new enclosures were two official letters to Mr. Giles, one arguing in favor of Mr. Harris’s appointment to Africa, the other strenuously opposing it. Excuse me. It’s not the letters themselves that were extraordinary, as Mr. Harris’s appointment was still clearly controversial, but rather the identity of the people who sent them.

The first letter was from Miss Summers, forcefully arguing against Mr. Harris’s Africa assignment. Her objections, however, were not based on Mr. Harris’s fitness to serve or on his abilities. Rather, she was expressing concern about his mental and emotional readiness to do so. The letter was somewhat rambling in this regard, but to sum up her points: It was too soon after the final battle with the First Evil for Mr. Harris to accept an official assignment as Mr. Harris was still grappling with the loss of his eye, “Anya,” and his hometown. She felt it best that Mr. Harris remain in the supportive bosom of his friends, rather than be sent on a lonely exile in unfamiliar territory that could be hostile, if not outright deadly.

One passage truly went to the heart of the matter and sent a shiver down my spine: “I know you don’t want to hear this, but I know what it’s like when you think you’ve got nothing to lose. I’m not saying that Xander has said anything to me, not that I can get him to even talk to me right now, but I can see it. Someone really needs to watch him for a while to make sure he’s pulling things together. I’ve been there and let me tell you, the last thing he needs is to be sent out in the middle of nowhere on his own. Giles, you send him to Africa and he won’t be coming back.”

Her letter closed with a plea that Mr. Giles convince Mr. Harris to join her in Rome to allow him time to heal. She promised to keep him there no more than 6 months, or at least until she was satisfied that he had sufficiently recovered from the shattering blow his losses left on his psyche.

The second letter was from Miss Rosenberg and it argued with equal forcefulness that Mr. Harris should be allowed to go. Her premise was both a mix of logic and emotion. On the logic front, Miss Rosenberg pointed out that Mr. Harris had proven himself more than capable on occasion and that the Council was in desperate need of people with experience and an intimate knowledge of Slayers. This last statement caused a snort of derision from myself. At the time Miss Rosenberg wrote her letter, the Council consisted of Mr. Giles; Mr. Harris; Miss Summers; Miss Lehane and Mr. Robin Wood, both stationed in Cleveland; Mr. Wells, and herself.

On the emotional front, she argued that, more than anything else, Mr. Harris needed “fresh scenery,” the opportunity to get away and “find himself,” and the chance to prove that he would be a “valuable resource with a lot of experience dealing with the wacky and weird” once the full Council was reconstituted.

The heart of her letter said: “Giles, I know you know more than anyone else that sometimes the best thing for someone is to just get away from familiar surroundings and just go somewhere else, be someone else for awhile. And don’t tell me that you don’t understand that because I know you do. Right now, Xander just needs to go. If we make him stay he’ll just get angrier and more depressed. I’ve already got my bags packed for Brazil, Andrew’s got a job as your secretary, and Buffy and Dawn have already rented an apartment in Rome. Meanwhile, he’s just sitting and stewing and stewing and sitting. You asked him what he wanted to do and he told you. Give him a chance, Giles. He’s not looking to get lost, just looking for something else. Buffy’s worrying too much about this and I think she’s projecting just a little.”

Willow closed her letter by promising Mr. Giles that she’d provide Mr. Harris with an enchanted amulet that would afford him some measure of protection against physical harm. In addition, she would give Mr. Harris “a word of power” that he could whisper into the amulet that would teleport her to the epicenter of trouble as soon as it was practically possible for her to do so.

My hands clenched in anger upon reading this emotional reasoning from Miss Rosenberg. She clearly viewed Mr. Harris’s mission as some sort of self-help plan for the man, instead of the serious responsibility that it really was. Mr. Harris was there to find new Slayers, explain their situation, and recruit them into Council service. He was not there to “find himself,” as Miss Rosenberg suggested. The fuzzyheaded logic on display in Miss Rosenberg’s letter was bound to result in someone somewhere getting eaten by things with a nasty set of teeth, in my humble opinion.

I checked the dates on the letters against the official physical and psych workup ordered by Mr. Giles. I noted that both Miss Summers and Miss Rosenberg had submitted their letters before the tests were conducted. Clearly, Mr. Giles had carefully considered both their positions and opted to get an outsider’s view of Mr. Harris’s state of mind and fitness to serve before making a final decision.

While I don’t claim to be a mind reader, I was willing to guess that Mr. Giles probably saw more than a little merit in Miss Summers’s arguments, as he did order the tests. In many ways, Miss Rosenberg’s arguments, although in favor of giving Mr. Harris the Africa assignment, in a roundabout way actually backed up Miss Summers contention that Mr. Harris was not emotionally or mentally fit to serve when he boarded his plane for Cote d’Ivoire.

The other thing that struck me was this: Mr. Harris, Miss Summers, Miss Rosenberg, and Mr. Giles had worked together for years on the Sunnydale Hellmouth. Although the letters expressed a certain amount of familiarity on the part of Miss Summers and Miss Rosenberg, why did Mr. Giles require them to write official statements outlining their arguments? Perhaps he was forcing them to comply with the First Council’s insistence on keeping a paper trail for all decisions made, including personnel decisions. Perhaps he wanted something on the record in case he had to confront Mr. Harris with a decision he wouldn’t like. Or perhaps there was a more sinister reason: he wanted a paper trail in case Mr. Harris turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.

Either way, it seemed odd to me that these letters were generated. A more likely scenario in my mind had Mr. Giles hashing this out in person with Miss Summers and Miss Rosenberg. Writing letters about this matter seemed somewhat cold, for lack of a better word, especially since it concerned their supposed comrade-at-arms, someone whom even they had to admit did not meet even the most basic Council requirements for training, education, or family connection. If certain members of the Council knew that even his closest allies had misgivings about Mr. Harris, they would’ve pushed for greater oversight of the African operations and Mr. Harris himself long before now.

Oddest of all, why include these letters in this packet and why allow me to see them? Obviously Mr. Wyndham-Pryce didn’t know of their existence. If he had, I would’ve already had copies of these missives in the packet he had entrusted to me. If Mr. Giles was trying to bias my opinion in favor of Mr. Harris, the letters’ inclusion was a ham-handed way to go about it.

As I lacked Mr. Giles’s reply to either woman, or a written record of why he decided to send Mr. Harris to Africa despite the comments in both letters, I could not discern his reasoning. He couldn’t possibly have relied solely on the tests he ordered for Mr. Harris. Other factors had to come into play, although I suspected the dearth of qualified Watchers was a major factor indeed.

The final raft of new documentation did indicate that Mr. Giles’s office maintained some oversight of Mr. Harris’s activities, although nothing gave me any clue how detailed that oversight was. All I had were a series of communiqués between Mr. Harris and Mr. Giles’s office.

The first communiqué from Mr. Harris informed Mr. Giles that he was setting up a permanent base camp just outside of the market town of Djenné. His argument was that Mali was a stable and peaceful country, if somewhat poor, and that he was located in an area where transportation to larger urban centers was not unduly burdensome. As the area was farming country and a center of commerce, getting supplies for the camp would be relatively easy. As a result, or so he said, his proposed base camp would be an excellent staging area for the newly recruited Slayers to get their bearings and acquire some basic training before being sent on to the Devon training facility. This request was duly granted.

The next raft of communiqués seemed to be focused on mundane matters. There were requests for additional funds for various and sundry items, such as digging a well for the camp, dry goods, livestock, foodstuffs, construction materials, and manpower to help build the camp. However, two requests for funds stood out. One sought money for medical supplies while the other sought money for and educational materials. Mr. Harris’s written reasoning for these last two outstanding items seemed sound enough. He stated that some of the Slayers arrived at the camp injured because either demons or humans had attacked them. Other Slayers tended to injure themselves during training as they tested the limits of their power. He thought it best to render basic first aid in these cases, rather than let the wounds remain open and bleeding until Slayer healing could take care of the physical damage. The educational funds, he claimed, were to help prepare the girls for their trips to Europe as many of them had only rudimentary literacy skills, assuming they could read or write at all.

I noted that Mr. Giles did not turn down a single funding request, which could bolster Mr. Wyndham-Pryce’s contention that Mr. Giles was well aware that my stated mission of conducting a resource review of Mr. Harris’s wants and needs was a ruse.

In either case, the funding requests for medical and educational supplies caused a suspicious tickle at the back of my mind. Since I couldn’t quite place why these rather mundane items bothered me on an instinctual level, I turned my attention to the final communiqué in the stack.

This one was dated three months after his initial request to set up a base camp. This time Mr. Harris was seeking a waiver from the requirement that he send the Slayers on to Devon for Council-approved training.

This request was the one that allowed my suspicious tickle to take form. Mr. Harris had been planning to acquire this waiver all along, I thought with horror. By making sure that all the girls’ basic needs were met, he removed a key objection against his proposal to keep them in the ‘temporary’ camp.

The air in the cabin suddenly felt so very cold as the horrible logic descended upon me. The “base camp” proposed by Mr. Harris should have required only the barest of comforts if his original intention was to use it as nothing more than a staging area for transferring Slayers from multiple countries into the hands of the Council. The medical and educational supplies pointed to the fact that he was building a place that could provide a more permanent residence for any Slayer that fell into his grasp.

The most frightening thing about his request for the waiver was that he backed it with an argument that was logical and provided little room for disagreement. Mr. Harris claimed that getting the Slayers out of Mali was proving to be difficult. The Malian government had pledged itself to cracking down on the shadowy world of human trafficking across their borders and the hidden slave-based economy in the farming regions. He noted that he was located in a farming region and there were rumors that young field slaves were in use there, although he had not encountered any definitive proof that this was so. He further pled ignorance that any of this would be an issue when he decided to “put down roots” outside of Djenné.

The upshot was simple: the Malian government was actively looking for suspected slavers and traffickers in human flesh. If he started sending young girls to Europe en masse, all with false passports, he would almost certainly draw the attention of the government. As Mali was doing all it could to cement its reputation as a civilized country catering to Europe’s backpackers and adventure travelers, the government would be sure to come after him and his operation. This would not only destroy his network and all his hard work in one fell swoop, but would put the Council in a most difficult situation. As the United Kingdom only had a liaison office in Bamako and that most of the major consular services was handled by the Canadians, this would make the Council’s predicament that much more precarious if the Malian government decided to investigate the sudden flood of unaccompanied pre-teen and teen girls leaving the country for Europe via Senou International.

Mr. Harris did include a half-hearted proposal to relocate his base of operations, but noted that it wasn’t an optimal choice. For a start, Mr. Harris claimed he would be hard-pressed to find a location quite as good as the one already in his possession. Secondly, he would still be faced with the problem of smuggling more than a dozen Slayers without passports or with questionable fakes across the border.

There was more, of course, but this was the gist of the communiqué. It revealed a clever and calculating mind that was very good at anticipating arguments against any proposal he might make or any position he might take. Mr. Harris had made an unthinkable recommendation — a change in his core mission — and then made it sound like that it was not only a logical thing to do, but the only thing to do given the circumstances he found himself in.

I was not surprised to see that Mr. Giles had approved the change.

So this is how Mr. Harris managed to keep the African Slayers under his thumb, I thought. He lured them to his camp, perhaps promising them the moon, and then kept them there until he shaped them into Slayers that would serve him instead of their mission. While no one could argue against the humanitarian reflex in offering medical and educational services to the girls, these could also be used as velvet handcuffs. After all, depending on the circumstances the girls came from they could be much better off with Mr. Harris than in their home villages. And if he let slip that he was somehow responsible for giving them their power, well…

It didn’t take a genius to see that he’d have a fanatically loyal cult fighting for him should the Council decide to forcefully depose Mr. Harris from his throne and attempt to take control of his operations in Mali.

Going by the information Mr. Giles himself gave me, it seemed Mr. Wyndham-Pryce had ample cause to be concerned. The problem was that Mr. Wyndham-Pryce just might have underestimated just how knotty the Harris situation really was.

Mr. Harris, for all intents and purposes, ensured that no one would be able to objectively evaluate the work he’d done in Africa. If the African Slayers had been sent to Devon, the trainers there could evaluate their technique, fighting skills, education level, and emotional and mental fitness. They would be in a position to judge just how well Mr. Harris had prepared the girls and determine whether he had planted any inappropriate thoughts in their heads. As it stood right now, girls under Mr. Harris’s authority were completely cut off from the outside world as well as any Council member, other than Mr. Harris himself. To make matters worse, they were entirely dependent on Mr. Harris if they wished to enjoy his continued protection and their physical safety and comforts.

The most frightening thing about it was that Mr. Harris had skillfully maneuvered Mr. Giles over a period of months into giving him exactly what he wanted: complete autonomy from Council’s general oversight. The documents indicated that, at the moment, Mr. Harris was still answering to Mr. Giles’s authority, but there was no way to know whether Mr. Giles was even aware of all of Mr. Harris’s activities. In addition, it appeared to me that Mr. Giles had been easily manipulated by Mr. Harris’s wiles. So the fact that Mr. Harris appeared to be paying Mr. Giles at least a modicum of respect due a superior was no comfort to me at all.

Although my arrival in Bamako was still an hour or so away by the time I finished reviewing the documents, I closed the file and stared out the airplane window into the darkening sky. The thought that I would be walking into the treacherous snake pit haunted me. I was unable to still the shiver across my skin as I contemplated the fact that I would be under Mr. Harris’s power when I stepped off the plane.

 

Continued in Part 6

Tags: character: ensemble, character: oc, character: xander, fanfiction: 2006, fanfiction: buffy the vampire slayer, fanfiction: facing the heart in darkness, fanfiction: fic-a-thon
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