By Marcus L. Rowland
“Just what the hell is going on here?” asked Dad. “Who are you?”
“You ought to know,” said Willow, “you’ve had people following us for days.”
“C’mon,” said Xander, “give them a break. You know how difficult this stuff is the first time you run into it.”
Willow looked oddly at him for a few seconds then said “I guess. It’s been so long I kinda forget sometimes. Okay, you saw magic. I can show you something else if you like, but it’s not a good idea to use it unnecessarily.”
“I’ll pass,” said Dad, “it was reasonably convincing. So you fight... demons, did she say?”
“Yeah… we kinda fell into It in high school, found out what’s really going on in the world. Once you really know you can pretend it isn’t really there, like most of the people in Sunnydale, but…”
“Why Sunnydale?” interrupted Dad, “Ever since Cordelia hired us we’ve been hearing odd stories about the place.”
“Sunnydale was the Hellmouth. I suppose you could call it a… a weak point,” said Xander, “a place where the barriers between our world and the places demons come from are weak. Magic was more powerful there, a lot of weird things happen and it kinda draws demons in even if they started out somewhere else.”
“What do demons do?” I asked. “Does it have anything to do with the death rate in Sunnydale?”
“That’s right,” said Xander. “Some demons are okay, they look odd but try to get along with people, but most are monsters. Vampires are about the worst, because they can pass for human and spread like a disease, but there are others that are nearly as bad.”
“So what happened there?” asked Dad, “and why is it so important now?”
“I don’t think it is,” said Xander, “I think Cordy was using it as an excuse for watching us.”
“That doesn’t really answer Dad’s question,” I said. “What really destroyed the town?”
Xander gave me an odd appraising look and seemed to think for a second before he said “We did. It wasn’t intentional, it was kinda like lancing a boil. We closed the connection to hell, but for a few minutes it was wide open, and the whole town was sucked into it.”
“If we hadn’t done it… well, the word that’s usually used is apocalypse, and that pretty much describes it. The end of the world, more or less.”
“Are you saying that something like that could happen to Los Angeles?” asked Dad.
“I hope not,” said Xander, “but it’s possible. We need to find out exactly what’s going on, exactly why Cordy wanted us involved.”
“Can’t you warn someone? The government? LAPD?”
“When we know the score, if there’s anything they can do. But Wolfram and Hart will know as soon as we tell anyone, they have connections everywhere. If they’re involved…”
"Why Wolfram and Hart?" I asked. "What makes them so special?"
Xander shrugged and said "They're a front for some of the major demonic entities, their foothold into our world. They subsidise that by being the middle-men for every possible kind of evil operation, human as well as demonic, everything from corporate crime to slave trading. Oh, and a big side-line in politics and influence peddling, which is why we have to be kinda careful who we talk to."
"Xander,” said Willow, “We need to get on here. Whatever this is about, the clock’s ticking. Call Buffy and get her to ask Andrew a few questions. Better yet, get Dawn to talk to him, she's not going to lose her temper quite so easily. Cordy thinks he's important, and I want to know why.”
"Okay," said Xander, pulling out a mobile phone. "Harriet, get Vi and Rona, check out the neighbourhood, make sure we aren't gonna get any unpleasant surprises."
"Okay," said Harriet, "and you owe me ten dollars." She spoke with an odd accent, which I thought was South African. Xander swore.
"Hey!" I said, "I thought you didn't speak English?"
"He's learning Zulu," said Harriet. "He isn't supposed to use English when he talks to me. I bet ten dollars he couldn't keep it up all day." She went out, and I heard voices outside. How many of these people were there?
"Okay," said Willow. "Mr. Mars, Veronica, we need to know everything Cordy said, anything you’ve learned about the situation in LA."
Dad said "Weren't you listening? Miss Chase couldn't have made it much clearer."
"Practically the last thing she said was that Angel was planning a Samson act. To me that means he's planning to destroy something from within, bring it down around him."
"And the only thing he's inside right now," said Xander, with a sudden look of comprehension, "is Wolfram and Hart."
Andrew's big secret turned out to be something I could have told them if I'd been asked; Spike's presence in LA. Apparently he was supposed to be dead, which appears to be an occupational hazard for monster hunters. Or in Spike's case more dead, because he's a vampire, a friendly one. Seems that Xander really had been giving us the Cliff's Notes version, and things aren't always as simple and clear-cut as he'd said. Anyway, he was supposed to have been killed when Sunnydale was destroyed, instead he'd allegedly turned up as a ghost, haunting the offices of Wolfram and Hart in LA, then turned back into a vampire after a couple of months. It was about this point that Dad started wondering out loud if everyone in the room was insane, and I can't say I blame him.
They got very quiet when Dad told them about Lilah Morgan's visit, and Xander began to fret that Wolfram and Hart might be tapping our phones or bugging the office. Willow did something weird to the phone, it glowed for a few seconds while she was touching it, then told us that there was nothing to worry about; Cordelia hadn't sent her calls through the usual lines. Not surprising, given the circumstances.
It was about eleven-thirty by the time the Sunnydale inquisition left, Dad insisted we finish because I had school the next day, and by then they had a few answers. Starting with a time frame - Cordelia had said that we had to watch her friends until midnight on Wednesday evening, which might mean that something was going to go down that night. They went off to the Sunset Regent, where I suppose they kept on trying to figure things out, we went home to get a late supper, microwaved lasagne and salad.
"You know," Dad said while we were eating, "I can't help wondering what would have happened if we'd asked her about the Kane case, if she knows who killed Lilly."
"Want to try calling her?"
For a minute Dad look tempted, then he said "Even if someone answered, she couldn't tell us anything we could use in court. And even if she could, I'm not sure I'd want to be in her debt."
"Yeah, I see what you mean. Your turn to wash up." Dad stacked the dishes in the washer, I headed for bed.
"You know," said Lilly, "I kinda like this dress." She pirouetted around like a ballerina, and stopped facing me, curtsied, and gave me a big smile. I wondered how she'd got into my bedroom without waking anyone.
"Yeah, I like it too," I said, trying to figure out why it looked familiar. "When did you get it?"
"Oh, I was buried in it."
"Oh yeah. Knew I'd seen it before."
Lilly pouted, and said "Well, I think it makes me look hot, so does Cordelia."
"That's good," I said. "Where is she anyway?"
"Oh, who's worried about her?" said Lilly, sitting next to me, "We've got things to do which are a lot more fun."
Lilly put her arm around my shoulder and turned me to face her. She smiled again, and her teeth seemed to be getting longer as she said "Immortality." She grabbed my other shoulder, pushed my head to one side, and bit into my neck. There was no pain, just a languid, drowsy feeling and something beeping. What..? It was the alarm. I woke, alone, my heart pounding like I'd just run a couple of blocks. I caught myself checking for bite marks when I showered but there weren't any, of course.
School was school, same old same old. At lunch Wallace caught up with me and asked if there'd been any developments. I tried to think what to tell him, and eventually gave him a version of the truth; we'd located Harris, who was back in the USA, but we were still waiting to hear from Cordelia. I wasn't worried about Wallace and Mac comparing notes, so I didn't mention the hacking. Wallace had some theories about what was going on, all of them way wide of the mark though I didn't tell him that. Eventually he asked me what was wrong, and I told him I was just feeling a little tired and cranky, with an unstated 'time of the month' overtone. He got the message and split.
A couple of minutes later someone sat down next to me, and I turned, expecting it to be Wallace again, or maybe Weevil or one of the other guys. Instead it was a stranger, a mousy-looking girl I couldn't remember seeing before, maybe a year or two older than me. I said "Did I say you could sit here?"
"Nope. Why are you so mean to people? Your friend was trying to help you."
"I... how do you know what I said to him?"
"Good hearing. I'm Vi, we didn't quite meet last night."
"Oh..." I thought I remembered the name, one of the people Xander had mentioned when he was giving Harriet her instructions. "What's the problem?"
"No problem. Xander sent me to keep an eye on things, just to be sure that Wolfram and Hart aren't up to anything."
"And if they are?"
"I'll make sure you're safe."
"You'll make sure I'm safe? You look like a breeze could knock you over."
"I'm stronger than I look."
"So what's the deal, you're planning to follow me around all day? Don't you think people might wonder who you are?"
"I was in every class you went to this morning," she said. "Didn't you notice?"
"You were what?" I couldn't recall seeing her at all, and I'm usually pretty good at spotting that sort of thing. But as I said it I had a vague memory of her in history class, sitting at the back and reading a book.
"You must have looked right past me a dozen times, you just didn't notice. It's something Willow came up with. Just have to be careful when I'm crossing the road, drivers don't notice me either."
"Magic," Vi confirmed.
"Okay, so why blow it now? People'll notice me talking to you."
"And in about two minutes they'll forget. Willow's thorough."
"So why talk to me now?"
"I got bored, and you look even bored-er, if that's a real word. And I was wondering if you wanted to swap sandwiches, I've had about as much tuna as I can stand."
"Like some pastrami and rye?" I asked.
"Sure." I gave her a couple of segments of pastrami, and she gave me some tuna salad, from a bag with the Sunset Regent logo. It was okay, but for the kind of money they charge I would have expected a little onion in the mix and better mayonnaise. We chatted for a while, neither of us really saying much, then she went off again, saying she wanted to burn off some carbs before school started. Within a couple of minutes I'd forgotten she'd been there, and I was trying to figure out how I'd ended up with tuna salad when I was sure I'd made pastrami.
Towards the end of lunch I noticed Assistant Principal Van Clemmons and Sheriff Lamb, for once without the usual sniffer dog and handler. With them was a good-looking blond guy in some sort of dark uniform. It looked military, but it wasn't anything I recognised. I was carrying a small camera, as usual, and got a couple of shots that showed his insignia. They were walking towards the football field and I followed, trying to look casual and get close without any of them noticing. They stood there for a while, talking, then turned back. I pretended to be interested in a lizard that was getting some sun on one of the walls, and took a couple of pictures of it. For once Clemmons didn't get on my case, he was too busy listening to military guy. Military guy was saying "... exercise assumes a major terrorist attack on San Diego Naval Base, with casualties airlifted out from improvised landing fields outside the contaminated area..." About then the bell for my next class rang and I had to head in, which meant that I missed anything else they said.
In journalism class I magnified the guy's insignia as much as I could - it was the Presidential seal with what looked like blue waves - and went looking for a match. I found something on the Coast Guard web site that was similar, it turned out to be a specialist's badge for Homeland Security operations. Not quite the same, but similar. That made sense, I suppose. There was a dark rank insignia underneath, I wasn't sure because I couldn't find a picture of a camouflage version but I think it made him a major. Putting them together I guessed at a Marine unit attached to Homeland Security.
There was something about what I'd heard that was bugging me, but I couldn't figure out what it was, apart from the idea that there might be terrorists with biological or chemical weapons somewhere near Neptune. I put it on the back burner while I got the lizard pictures, identified it as a Cope's Leopard Lizard, and wrote it up as a filler article for the school paper. While I was researching it I looked at some maps for the area, and realised what was wrong. We're a few miles down-wind from San Diego Naval Base, and any contamination was going to be blowing in our direction. Maybe Major Blond was confused, or I'd misunderstood what he was saying, but I had a feeling that there was more to it than met the eye.
My last surprise of the day came when I was getting ready to go home, and found that my car had a puncture. For once it didn't look like someone was getting at me, there was a sharp stone stuck between the treads. I was getting the jack out when a stranger came over. She said "Need a hand?" and I remembered that she was Vi.
"Sure. Help me to crank this up."
Vi looked around and said "anyone watching?"
She reached down, put a hand under the fender, and lifted that side until the wheel was off the ground. I said "Holy crap!"
"Get the jack fitted, I can't keep this up forever."
"Oh, right." I released the catch on the jack and pulled up the hook until it was at the right height, then shoved it into the lifting point and cranked until it was taking the weight. Vi relaxed, while I got out the wrench and set to work. "How the hell did you do that?"
"I told you, I'm stronger than I look." I was having trouble with one of the nuts, and she put a hand on the shaft of the wrench and twisted. There was a creak and it started to spin.
"Nobody's that strong."
"I am. Comes in useful sometimes."
"For fighting demons?"
"So how do you get that way?"
"Mystic destiny. You have to be born with the potential, then if you're really unlucky someone like me gets killed and you inherit the power. I don't recommend it."
"How many... um... demon fighters are there?" I asked, tightening the wheel nuts.
"The official term is vampire slayer. A couple of hundred, we think. About fifty we're sure of."
I let down the jack and she put the wheel and tools away. Last time I'd changed a wheel it took nearly half an hour, this time I doubt we'd been ten minutes. I asked "Need a lift?"
"It'll save having to follow you on foot."
"On foot. Riiiight."
"Want to bet I can't beat you?"
"What makes me think it'd be a sucker bet?" Vi smiled at me, and I opened the passenger door and drove us back to Dad's office.
Comments please before I post to archives.
Later: While I remember, I've had an interesting idea for an LoTR crossover for someone else to write. Anyone but me. So if anyone feels like writing something called Battlestar Galadriel please feel free...