Yes, my posting for Sunday.
Here is an illustration of why people who don't put a little research into their fics gets a thumbs down from me. It's also the reason why I get annoyed off when these same writers get pissy when well-meaning people correct factual errors and point them to reasources.
All real-life information on Africa in this story is as factual as I can reasonably check for it. While I can't claim 100% accuracy, I can at least claim reasonable accuracy.
Note that all sources, with the exception of The World's Most Dangerous Places, is online, free, and available without a password. Furthermore, you can pick up a used copy of this edition of World's Most Dangerous Places for $8. It's an invaluable resource that can get you started on writing any fic set in a war zone. Admittedly, it's not my primary motivation for buying it. It's a great backgrounder if you follow international news, too.
Ummm, sorry. I've tripped over a peeve. Please ignore my semi-pissy rant. You don't want to know how much re-writing went into this part to reflect the facts in as much as I could check them. Then I had to re-write it again when I remembered that this fic takes place in mid-2004. Don't ask.
And people wonder why I've stalled on writing liner notes from my Africander soundtrack. I'm a little too obsessive with the research for my own good.
All previous parts can be found here.
Continued from Part 7. (Posted Saturday morning.)
What do you mean you don’t have any more information?
Xander sat on the couch in Buffy’s apartment and stared at the Coptic Cross as it dangled from his fingers. Even though the lights were off, there was enough light coming through the windows from the nightlife outside that the heavy silver pendant seemed to glow from within.
We found out what he was planning from one his human agents before the guy committed suicide. Do you know what he’s planning? Do you?
The memory of his murderously furious voice screaming at Giles for refusing to put more pressure on his source was an exquisite kind of torture. He didn’t know then what he was asking. Maybe he would’ve been more understanding if Giles had said something about where the initial burst of information came from. Instead, he blew a gasket when Giles failed to come through. He said some pretty ugly things, starting with, “If I were Willow, you’d go through hell and high water to get me what I needed.”
It was the first and only time he had hinted to Giles that he knew Giles saw him as the lesser Scoob, instead of someone who deserved and needed as much help as Willow.
While Giles prevaricated under the assault, Xander had ranted and raved just how much of a threat the Immortal, aka The Phoenix, aka Michael Romano posed to West Africa.
If you won’t do it to help me, then at least do it to prevent a lot of people from dying. Jesus, Giles. If he succeeds, it’s going to make the Hutu rampage that happened in Rwanda back the 90s look like a kindergarten dust-up and there’ll be shit-all we can do about it!
It’s good to see that you’re finally learning your world history. Didn’t you flunk that subject in high school?
This isn’t a fucking joke, Giles!
I’m sorry. You’re right. You simply took me by surprise.
How the hell long have I been in Africa? Don’t know if you noticed, but I’m not stupid! I’ve still got one eye and I know how to read.
He’d heard the ‘Phoenix’ handle before. Kazzy remembered reports about The Phoenix’s organization from his ambassador days. Some of the ex-mercenaries and former revolutionaries that had joined Xander’s network in their quest for redemption from their past sins knew the name very well and would only discuss The Phoenix in hushed tones.
The Phoenix’s fingers were in the numerous unique “business opportunities” that existed in West Africa. He ran weapons, smuggled diamonds and drugs, and laundered money for any number of insurgency groups and kleptocracies. He was especially active during the nearly decade-long, 9-country rumble in West Africa that killed anywhere from 2.5 million to 5 million people and shattered god knows how many millions more. However, The Phoenix had been operating in the background in Africa since colonial times, which led everyone to believe that the shadowy Phoenix was the nom de guerre of multiple people, possibly even a name that had been passed down from father to son.
Giles’s warning changed all those assumptions. When Giles called him at the end of February, he warned Xander that the Phoenix planned to shatter the fragile peace in West Africa, if the continued cross border raids and activities of violent insurgencies could be called “peace.”
The Immortal was apparently concerned that the famously corrupt Kabila dictatorship in the mineral-rich treasure chest that is the Democratic Republic of Congo would actually hold up its end of the Sun City Agreement and begin shepherding the vast African nation into a more respectable governmental era, a situation that could cut into the significant money flow into his coffers. To prevent it, The Phoenix planned to overthrow Joseph Kabila’s government and then take advantage of the chaos that resulted as various insurgency groups vied to become the top dog by resuming his smuggling and laundering operations in earnest.
Then Giles dropped the bomb and explained about the man, singular, behind The Phoenix: the one and only Immortal. According to Giles, the Immortal was moving his demon minions, people, and weapons into place. Xander and his people were the only thing that stood between the Immortal and his immediate goal. It was up to Xander’s network to stop it before it started.
The conversation with Giles had left Xander unsettled. His network was designed to be the “find me information” type and tended toward the young side, as in a lot of his people were even younger than he was in terms of physical age. In terms of experience with violence, Xander had no doubt he was the wet-behind-the-ears newbie. Besides, Kazzy had been the guy instrumental in getting Xander’s network organized. Kazzy didn’t just know people; he knew people who knew people. Xander swore the guy had a mental Rolodex of every questionable character that lived in every questionable place on the continent. Kazzy would set up the meetings, advised Xander behind the scenes on how he should behave and what he should say, and then would bring Xander in to seal whatever bargain had been struck.
He had to admit, Kazzy’s schemes and the network that resulted was effective. Xander’s people could track down rumors of Slayers across the northern half of Africa. Xander’s people paved the way to placing the hidden training camp for Slayers in Cameroon. Xander’s people managed to convince teachers and medical personnel to leave their NGO jobs and help with education and health care in the camp. Xander’s people pulsed information to him more efficiently than any Internet connection or phone calls to the Council in London.
Except it wasn’t really his network. He was the red shirt that ended up in charge because, for whatever reason, the Egyptian version of Mr. Spock decided to become his sidekick and was intent on turning him into, if not Captain Kirk, than at least Captain Sisko. Kazzy stuffed African history and key phrases in French, Arabic, Amharic, Spanish, and Swahili into his head. Kazzy taught Xander how to look for subtle nonverbal clues during negotiations, even when the people involved were speaking a language he didn’t understand. Kazzy made sure that Xander got a rundown of local threats, culture, history, and the big players of whatever region they walked into.
Even though he had Slayers and a lot of ex-bush fighters in his network, Xander had been careful to keep everyone working on peaceful-ish activities as opposed to fighting demons, primarily because a lot of his non-Slayer people who knew how to use weapons were younger than he was. The Slayers had to fight the demons, but he was damned if he was going to send some kid into a fight armed with only a gun without making sure that kid knew what the hell he was getting into.
Giles’s warning changed everything. He and Kazzy couldn’t to it alone. He could maybe survive a one-on-one fight, but a 75-to-1 fight was just not in his favor. Kazzy was a brain, but he wasn’t a soldier. So, Xander reluctantly sent out an S.O.S. for fighters and grabbed the Slayers he thought were ready to rumble from the training camp.
When Xander and his motley collection marched on the Kikwit, the staging area for the Immortal’s people to strike at the capital of Kinshasa, the odds were 3-to-1, in the demons’ favor. Xander’s people won, probably because they had the element of surprise and Slayers. The people and demons working for the Immortal that didn’t die fled under the assault.
The whole operation didn’t come without cost. While Kazzy and the battle-hardened veterans of any number of African bush wars slapped each other on the back, Xander kept listing the dead in his head. It had to be done, yeah, but was a bitter pill to swallow. He was smart enough not to appear too broken up about it. God knows, Kazzy taught him better than that. Although some of loss he felt still bled through, which, in some weird way, seemed to make the people around him more eager to make sure the dead didn’t die in vain.
His network fanned out and within days his people presented him the “gift” of a captive, one of the humans who knew the Immortal’s real plan. The guy spilled everything he knew, and then he committed suicide rather than face the Immortal’s punishment for betrayal.
The real plan was a hell of a lot worse than anyone even suspected.
Securing a never-ending source of income was just one of the Immortal’s goals. The secondary goal came down to personal safety. The Immortal was more worried about staying on top in a world full of Slayers. Although the Slayers couldn’t kill him, they could kill his minions. By taking over DR Congo, he would have a country with vast mineral wealth that could serve as a safe haven. If he made it demon-friendly, he could also gain powerful allies that would protect him if the Council, Slayers, and Xander’s network attempted to root him out.
Even though they stopped him in DR Congo, the Immortal was prepared to try again. There were plenty of mineral-rich countries in Africa. All the Immortal had to do was bide his time, pick a county either too weak or too chaotic to fight back, move more carefully in building up his resources for an attack, and then strike when no one was looking.
While Kazzy and some of his more Africa-wise advisors gamed out potential targets and scenarios, Xander immediately got on the phone to tell Giles the news and push for more information.
Then Xander waited and waited and waited some more for Giles to get back to him on the Immortal situation. After two weeks of getting the runaround, Xander exploded during his regular check-in. The list of the dead and wounded—which included one Slayer and some boys as young as 14 that had learned to fire a gun at the age of 8 when they’d been press-ganged into becoming cannon fodder for local warlords—was still clear in his head. Fueled by their loss and frustration that Giles just didn’t seem to get it, he said some pretty ugly words and threatened to do some downright evil things if Giles didn’t start putting pressure on his source.
A source, Giles had finally admitted, that was one of the Immortal’s many, many female conquests.
Giles hemmed and hawed that the Immortal’s paramour had stopped feeding him information and was getting increasingly difficult to reach. Even if she was in regular contact, Giles was hesitant to put pressure on her because she was in a dangerous position.
Xander’s response was to the point:
You tell the Immortal’s little fuck toy that if she doesn’t start cooperating and he manages to set up that demon-backed government in a diamond- or oil-rich country, I will personally hunt her down and drag her ’ho ass back to Africa. Then I’ll gift-wrap her and leave her on the doorstep of whatever demon clan helped get that asshole what he wanted.
Giles, if it happens you can bet your ass I would. Hell, if I’m still in the room when they get busy, I’ll hold their goddamned coats while they have a party.
I’ve got dead people. I’ve got dead kids. And they were armed and knew what they were getting into. What the hell do you think would happen to the humans under a demon-backed government? Hunh?
We’d get another Sunnydale?
Call me crazy, but southern California doesn’t have diamond mine. So, I don’t think the Immortal, or Romano, or whoever the hell he is plans to gentrify the countryside. Do you?
Then get that bitch to talk. I don’t care what you do or how you do it. Threaten her. Bribe her. Become her new sugar daddy. Do whatever. We need information and we need it yesterday.
After he hung up on Giles, he said even uglier and more sadistic things to Kazzy, starting with what he’d do to the Immortal’s little piece of ass if she didn’t start talking. As bad as he was with Kazzy, what he kept locked in his thoughts was even worse.
“I didn’t know,” he said to the cross dangling from his fingers.
Giles’s silence in the face of Xander’s demands suddenly made sense. The situation at this end was not clear-cut. He still had one eye, which was enough to see that Buffy’s sitch really was precarious. Shutting down the Immortal’s plans for DR Congo had to hurt, so Buffy would’ve had to lay low and shut up in case the Immortal started looking at her as the source of his leak.
Giles must’ve been in one hell of a spot. Xander had been popping off about shit he didn’t know on the one hand while Buffy was trying to stay alive in Rome. He wished Giles had at least told him about Buffy, or at least told him enough to shut him up. The fact that Giles didn’t said volumes about the tricky situation Buffy was in. The Immortal could survive a gunshot to the back of the head. Buffy couldn’t.
“Sorry,” he whispered to the cross. Of course, he should be apologizing to Buffy and trying to explain why he needed alone time. But how could he ever explain that he said some downright vicious things about her, the kind of things that could and should kill a friendship?
Maybe it was a good thing he never got a chance to push the issue with Giles. Right after that fight about the Immortal, Xander had started his quest to find the source of his curse. The Immortal’s ultimate plans faded into the background, although the network started listening for rumors about any plans to involve demons in an insurgency or coup.
Sitting in Buffy’s apartment and playing the argument with Giles over and over in his head, he felt so hopeless. No matter what any of them did, things seemed to get progressively worse for himself and everyone he knew and the stakes always seemed to climb higher with each victory. Then again, he knew happy endings were for other people. He learned that lesson when he ran out on Anya on what was supposed to be their wedding day.
“Why do we do this?” he asked. “Why do we even bother?”
The cross didn’t answer, so memory took a crack at it.
He’d been in Africa three months and the Cameroon camp and the network was starting to take shape. Kazzy, as always, had been instrumental in greasing the way. Since the moment Kazzy jumped into his jeep, he had made it his mission to make sure Xander met the “right sort of people,” which was not the same thing as meeting nice people. Kazzy knew whom to pay off, he knew whose ears needed the right word, and he knew the words to say to make sure Xander got who and what he needed.
Xander wasn’t stupid. Kazzy was too good to be true. It was only natural that Xander would question this Kazzy-shaped good fortune.
One day, Xander grabbed Kazzy on the pretext of tracking down a rumor about a Slayer so he could try to figure out the guy’s deal. He even brought a weapon to take the other man out in case he saw or heard something that didn’t seem right.
During that trip, Xander asked the million-dollar question, “Why are you doing this?”
Kazzy waved around him, as if taking in all of the scenery so he could gather it to his chest in a big hug. “This is important. If we don’t do it, who will?”
There was more, of course. Kazzy could be long-winded when he started talking about building a better world. What it boiled down to was this: Kazzy was a dreamer. He wanted to leave the world in better shape than it was when he was born into it. He wanted to leave his daughter a legacy from her old man that she could be proud of. He felt that all he did was hold the line in his time during the Egyptian diplomatic corps. By hooking up with Xander, he hoped to make a difference before he died.
“You realize there’s no happy ending in this fight, right? And pretty much the only thing we do is hold the line,” Xander had interrupted.
Instead of answering the question, Kazzy asked, “Then why do you do it?”
“Because it’s the only thing I’m good for now.”
The answer seemed to stop Kazzy cold and he stared openly at Xander as if he’d just sprouted a second head. “How old were you when you started fighting?” he asked.
Xander silently cursed. He meant to be ironic, but he forgot that irony was often lost Kazzy. “I’d just turned sixteen. And you still haven’t answered my original question on why you’re helping me out.”
“Boy soldiers,” Kazzy said apropos of nothing. He then stared out at the passing landscape and said, “There are so many boy soldiers here. Children barely strong enough to handle a gun. So many of them die in the fighting. If they don’t die, they are lost. No hope for a better future. Always branded as murderers and rapists, and, make no mistake, most of them are both, in fact and not just in name.” Kazzy looked at him then and added, “They need to see that it doesn’t have to end in the gutter with a boot pressing down on their throats and a gun to their heads.”
“I don’t understand.”
“How many have you killed?”
“What kind of question is that?” Xander had demanded as he slammed on the brakes.
“An important question, I think,” Kazzy said.
“Demons? Vampires? People?” Xander angrily asked.
“You’ve lost count?” Kazzy asked.
Xander looked away. “People have died,” he admitted.
“Boy soldiers,” Kazzy quietly and sadly repeated. “I’ve seen too many. Even boy soldiers deserve a chance to live, don’t you agree?”
Xander threw up his hands. “Hell, if vampires can get a second chance, I don’t see why people shouldn’t if they really want to change.”
“Good,” Kazzy nodded.
“But what do boy soldiers and second chances have to do with anything?” Xander said. “And what does this have to do with my less-than-sparkling history on the demon front?”
Kazzy’s expression bordered on heartbreak. “You honestly don’t know?”
“No. I don’t. I really don’t understand what you’re saying.”
Kazzy blinked. For a second, Xander thought the older man would cry. “And that’s why the world weeps,” he finally said.
Right after that, Kazzy started finding books in English. God knows how, given some of the countries they traveled. Everything from The Art of War to The Prince. There were biographies of Shaka Zulu, Alexander the Great, and Confucius. There were more history books, philosophy books, and books on ethics than Xander cared to count. Kazzy hounded Xander to read them because, according to Kazzy anyway, the books would teach him the art of leadership.
Xander rolled his eye whenever Kazzy would get on his book kick, but the fact is, he ended up reading them if only to shut Kazzy up. Then Kazzy would try to pull Xander into debates about what he read, debates that Xander thought, quite frankly, were way over his head, even if Kazzy seemed pleased by their talks more often than not.
“You know, you never did really give me a straight answer on why you stuck around,” Xander said to the cross.
It merely glowed in response.
“I told you there were no happy endings,” Xander said. “But did you listen?”
The cross seemed to wink at him.
“Yeah, like I was expecting an answer.” He dropped the cross into his left palm and hauled himself off the couch.
Right now he needed sleep more than anything else, not that he expected to really get any.
He dropped the cross on top of a bureau and paused a moment to finger the chain. It was a nice piece of metalwork. It should belong to a good man. Right now, he wasn’t all that sure he qualified.
He turned away and got ready for bed.
Her latest wish granted, Allarek was ready to call it an early night when she suddenly felt it.
Alexander Harris was back on the vengeance radar.
Her breath caught and she looked around her with a growing sense of unease.
When D’Hoffryn had kicked off his get-Harris plan, all the vengeance demons were drilled on what he felt like, just in case he happened to land in their jurisdiction. When his energy simply disappeared more than a year ago, they’d all noticed the absence.
Yet, his energy was blazing at her as if someone had flipped on a light. It wasn’t calling to her, but she felt its presence just the same. It was a testament to D’Hoffryn’s drills more than anything else.
Allarek nervously licked her lips. No one knows what happened to those vengeance demons before they died. She wondered if they suddenly felt his energy before things started going pear-shaped. Maybe it was a sign that she was marked for death.
She gave her head a hard shake and killed the possibility in her mind. If she thought she was going to die, she would die.
And she had no intentions of dying.
Something must’ve happened, something that put his energy back out there where any vengeance demon could find it.
Her mouth dropped open with horror as she silently repeated the thought. Any vengeance demon will be able to find him now! I’m screwed!
So much for her early night. Now she was going to have to stick around Rome and see if anyone else was going to try and steal her quarry away from her.