by Marcus L. Rowland
Dad was probably going to say something but the 'phone interrupted him. "Xander, is that you?"
Xander looked at it the way you might look at a dangerous snake. "Uh.. yeah. Who's this?"
"Don't tell me my voice has changed that much, Xander. It's me, Cordy."
"Um, aren't you supposed to be dead?"
"Phttt. Like you've never talked to a dead person before."
I thought "Huh?"
"That's what's bothering me," said Xander. "What are you these days? A vampire? The First?"
"First what?" I asked. Xander made a 'shhh' gesture.
"C'mon, Xander, you know me better than that. You really think I'm gonna let someone turn me and start drinking blood slurpies? You think Angel was going to let someone do that to me?"
"If this is some sort of sick joke..." Dad began, Xander gestured for silence again, and somehow got it.
"Xander," said the 'phone, "you bought me my prom dress after my dad lost his money. Now I never told anyone that, so unless you did I think it oughta be kinda convincing."
Willow looked at him, a little startled, and he nodded. I was beginning to feel a little freaked out. "Okay," said Xander. "The trouble is that The First knew stuff like that too."
"Well yeah, but could it phone you? Kinda technophobic from what I've heard."
"Okaaay," said Xander. "So. You're not a vampire, and you're not The First Evil. You're.. what.. a ghost?"
"Try 'Higher Being.'" I could hear the capitals, somehow.
"Higher being?" Willow said incredulously.
"That Willow?" said the 'phone. "Thought you might be around."
"If you're a 'Higher Being' how come you don't know?" said Willow, making little quote marks with her hands as she said 'Higher Being.'
"Higher, Willow, not the highest. Not omnipotent, or I wouldn't have to use the goddamned phone."
Dad was going to say something, I think, but somehow Harriet was by his side, holding two fingers to his lips. I hadn't even seen her move. He reached up to brush her hand away, but somehow couldn't move it. And he was trying pretty hard. I said "let him go!" and jumped to my feet, Xander tried to stop me, and things got a little confused until we all heard Cordelia shouting "Guys! Knock it off!" I didn't know the phone could go that loud. Xander let go of me and said something to Harriet, who let go of Dad.
"Okay," said Cordelia. "That's better. Xander, Willow, apologise to Veronica and her dad. They don't know this stuff, and it's a kinda steep learning curve."
"Okay," said Xander. "Sorry." Willow mumbled something.
Dad said "I think it might be better if everyone shut up and sat down. This is my office, and Miss Chase is my client."
"I'm sorry," said Willow. "But..."
"I'd like to talk to my client," said Dad, "and you're interrupting." Sometimes I forget how intimidating Dad can be when he puts on his 'Sheriff' personality. Willow looked at him, and for a second her eyes seemed to darken, then she shrugged and sat down. Xander moved a chair out and gave it to Harriet, then sat on another.
"Miss Chase," said Dad, in his best 'humour her' tones, "Let me see if I understand you correctly. You're claiming to be... what.. a higher being? An angel, or something of the sort?"
Cordelia said "Yeah, sort of. It's kinda complicated."
"Okay... the Cliff's Notes version is that the world is a lot weirder than most people think. Supernatural stuff exists. You've got a lot of the bad stuff out of legend out there, including demons. Then you've got people fighting them, Xander and Willow and their friends, and the guys I used to work for."
"Angel Investigations?" asked Dad. I uneasily remembered all of the occult links from their web site.
"Yeah. We were kinda supernatural specialists. And I was their link to the Higher Powers, the girl who got the visions that told them what they needed to do."
"Visions?" I asked.
"Yeah. Prophetic visions in sensurround, with stereo sound, smell, and crippling pain to go with them."
"Go on," said Dad.
"About three years ago I learned that the visions were killing me." Xander gave a start and I think he was going to say something, but Willow gestured for him to be quiet. "Every time I had one it took out a chunk of my brain, kinda like mad cow disease."
"Is that how you..." began Dad, then trailed off as the strangeness of the question sank in.
"Died? Not exactly. I died because someone offered me a cure and I believed him. Cut a very long story short, about two years ago my body was taken over by a demon, and my soul was thrown into... well, I guess you'd call it limbo. Eventually the changes to my body put her... well, I suppose you could say me... into a coma, and that's how I eventually died."
"But I saw you in LA much more recently than that," said Willow. "Can't have been much more than a year ago, not long before you were taken ill."
"You saw my body," said Cordelia. "It wasn't my soul in the driving seat. Who did you think was blocking your spell?"
"Spell?" Dad and I said, more or less at the same time.
"Magic's real," said Cordelia. "Willow, show them something or we're gonna be here all night, and we don't have time for that."
Willow seemed to concentrate, and her eyes definitely did darken slightly. The music box on my desk in the outer office opened by itself and began to play, and a pair of scissors and a letter-opened leaped out of the pot on Dad's desk and began to waltz on the blotter.
I said "Holy crap!" and grabbed the scissors, feeling for wires or anything else that could make them do that. There weren't any. They sat in my hand, then somehow bent at the middle and bowed to me, straightened up again, and stopped moving.
"That's... impressive," said Dad. He looked like he'd seen a ghost. Both of us were just starting to believe that we'd been talking to one.
"Okay," said Cordelia. "Magic exists, I'm dead, and nobody's playing games."
There was a long silence, and eventually I said "So why did you hire us? Couldn't you just watch your friends from the afterlife or whatever?"
"Sure, no problem."
"And if you could call us couldn't you call them?"
"Not so much, actually. There are rules and ways of doing things."
"I don't get it."
"Okay, Cliff's Notes version again. You're mortal, and that means you have free will. There are checks and balances, I'm not allowed to do anything that messes with your free will, like calling you or telling you what's happening or what you need to do."
"But you did. You called me and asked us to trace them!"
"Well yeah, but by then you kinda owed me one, and that changes the rules a little. All the times you invoked me, that builds up a little on the debit side."
"Invoked you?" asked Dad. "Veronica, have you been.. invoking people?"
I could see that Willow was trying hard not to laugh. Cordelia said "Okay, I may have bent the rules just a little. You were calling Angel Investigations, you got me."
"How is that possible?" asked Dad.
"Simple. Angel investigations still exists as a company, but everyone else signed contracts with Wolfram and Hart. Officially I was still an employee, the only employee, so if you wanted to talk to Angel Investigations the only way to do it was to talk to me."
"So when I called you," I said, "the call got switched to... to heaven, or limbo or whatever?"
"That's right. So I did you a favour, and a while later you called again and I did you another favour, and... well, at first it was just nice to have someone to talk to that wasn't dead, then when I could see that things were going sour for Angel I worked up a couple of plans. One of them was a one-shot deal; I appeared to him the day I died, hit him with the clue hammer. Trouble was that Giles messed things up when Angel needed help a while back, and that's stopped him from calling in the cavalry when he really needs it for his Samson act."
"And we're your back-up plan?" asked Dad.
"Sure. I must have helped you five or six times, and you never paid for it. That meant that you owed me one, gave me the power to call in a favour."
"But you paid us," I said.
"Sure. Using my own money, which was still sitting in Wolfram and Hart's bank account. Wasn't easy, but I managed it."
"I still don't get it," said Xander. "What was the point?"
"Hello? What part of free will are you having trouble with?"
"I think I get it," said Willow. "You couldn't call us, or ask us to help, but you got our attention."
"Told you so," I said to Dad.
"Jackpot!" said Cordelia, "You got it."
"So what do you want us to do?" asked Xander.
"Free will, Xander. Use it." There was a click and the line went dead.
"Oh poot!" said Willow. "That means we have to do this the hard way."
Probably won't post another chapter until next week, but we'll see how it goes. Comments please before I post to archives.