By Marcus L. Rowland
"What's wrong with this picture?" Xander asked a couple of hours later. He and Willow had turned up a few minutes after we got to Dad's office, I guess Rona and Harriet were somewhere outside. Every now and again I noticed Vi, but the spell was stiill screwing that up a little.
"I don't understand," said Dad.
"Me neither," said Willow.
"Who thinks that Cordelia left everything to chance?" asked Xander, "That Veronica just happened to see Spike in LA? That this was really the only detective agency she could contact?" Nobody raised a hand.
"If Cordelia is a.. a higher being," I asked, "couldn't she just change things to be the way she wants?"
"It's a very good point," said Willow, giving me the odd appraising look I'd noticed once or twice before, from her and Xander. Of course in both cases I had to separate it from the 'checking out the pretty girl' look I'd noticed a couple of times. "What you have to remember is that the Powers that Be, the guys Cordelia seems to be working for now, aren't big on helping humans directly. They seem to think that we ought to be able to handle things on our own, with the help of the champions they give us. What makes it really difficult is that Angel is supposed to be one of their champions, and a really major player."
"I got that," I said. They'd mentioned it enough times the previous night. "So if the stakes are that high, couldn't they bend the rules a little more to bail him out of his mess... wait a minute, I'm being stupid."
"Why?" asked Dad. "It was making sense to me."
"We've all been assuming that things have gone wrong in LA, that Cordelia wanted them different. But she never actually said that. She said that things were going sour, and that she had to 'hit Angel with a clue hammer.' To me that implies that they wanted him to do something then, something that would put things back on track. Then she said that things went sour again when 'Giles messed things up,' presumably that was more recent?"
"A few days after Cordelia died," said Willow. "Only we didn't even know she was dead then, nobody bothered to tell us. Maybe if we'd known Giles would have taken things more seriously."
"What exactly happened?" asked Dad.
"He told Giles that Fred was infected with some sort of demonic disease, wanted my help, but I wasn't there and Giles couldn't reach me without using some serious mojo. We never heard anything more about it, so I guess she recovered without our help."
"We don't know that for sure," said Vi.
"Okay," I said, deciding not to ask why 'Fred' was a 'She'. "So Angel was still working for Wolfram and Hart then, and Cordelia had him going the way she wanted, until this disease business came up. So he's still on course, still working towards bringing them down, except that he doesn't have all of the help he needs, which is where you guys come in. So I'm guessing that now he's still trying to do it, and Cordelia has you in place to help him. Except that you're all here, not in Los Angeles. Why would she do that?"
Before anyone could answer I heard something that jogged a memory. A helicopter, flying low overhead. There was a crash, and something came in through the window, a black thing that burst open and filled the room with choking gas. My last thought was "Gas grenade."
I was at a party with Lilly, Logan and Duncan, dancing to a slow beat. It was hot, and there were fans overhead. Someone walked across the floor, a woman in a long white dress. Cordelia. She tapped Duncan on the shoulder and said "Mind if I cut in?"
I said "Hi, Cordy," and let her take his place. She was a good dancer, and we waltzed for a while before she said anything.
Eventually she said "You know this is a dream, don't you?"
"When you wake up things are gonna be bad."
"Don't worry, I got you and your dad into this, you'll get out okay."
"Yes, him too. But you've got to be ready to make your move."
"You'll know when the time comes," said Cordelia. "So will he."
"But.." I tried to ask another question but the fans were making a weird noise, a 'thwop-thwop-thwop' beat that seemed to fill the room. Then for a while there was nothing but the noise, and the pounding of my head.
"...taking heavy casualties," someone was shouting. I could barely hear it over the noise of rotor blades. I was lying on something, it felt like a stretcher, but I couldn't move my arms or legs. I felt sick. I blearily opened an eye and saw what I'd half expected, the interior of a big helicopter, the kind they use to transport troops. Indian name... Chinook, I think. It was lit by dim red lights. Something was holding me to the stretcher, plastic straps that looked like extra thick cable ties that held my arms by my side, and a canvas strap around my waist. There were half a dozen guys moving around, dressed like the soldier I'd seen at school in the afternoon, and some more stretchers. Wait a minute... not just guys, one of them was Lilah Morgan, still implausibly wearing a business suit and neck scarf.
"Pull the rest of the men out," she shouted, "We've got Rosenberg and Harris, without them the Slayers will be like chickens with their heads cut off."
"Chopper two's off, three didn't make it," someone shouted from the front of the thing, a couple of minutes later.
"Regrettable," shouted Lilah, "but they were paid to take risks. Keep to the flight plan, we'll be down and off the radar before the Slayers can contact their friends in the military." She looked around the helicopter, and seemed to notice that I was watching her. She came over, and said "Miss Mars, I presume."
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
She smiled and said "It's called a pre-emptive strike."
She grabbed me by the flesh under my chin and pulled my head up. It hurt a hell of a lot. "I suppose you think that this is where the villain explains her fiendish plot and you press the red button that saves the world. Well, the world doesn't work like that. Tell me everything you know, everything you think you know, or I'll have you killed."
"That isn't an answer. Too bad." She dug her nails in harder and forced my head back, and one of the soldiers, or whatever the hell they were, passed her a knife. "We have Rosenberg and Harris sedated, so don't expect them to help you. Now talk, or I start cutting."
"You'll ruin your suit."
Lilah laughed and let go of my chin, and said "You're quite right." She turned to the soldier and said "Open the rear hatch, and bring this little bitch and her father."
He rolled me towards the back, and I could see a line of light where the rear ramp was opening. Things got a lot louder. "Hold them upright," Lilah shouted. Someone tilted the stretcher until I was upright, held on by the straps around my arms and legs, and another around my waist. My feet weren't touching the floor, and my wrists and especially my ankles were hurting. We were out over the sea, flying low. There were lights off to the left, and I guessed we were flying along the coast, somewhere between Neptune and Los Angeles. It wasn't quite dark, so it couldn't have been more than an hour or so since they raided the office. Lilah stood in front of me, casually holding on to a strap near the ramp. They put Dad up beside me on another stretcher. It looked like he was still unconscious.
"So," shouted Lilah, "At this altitude and speed your father will probably split like an egg when he hits the water, if not the weight of the stretcher will drag him under. Would you like to reconsider?"
"I really don't know anything," I shouted. "I think Cordelia was playing us."
She seemed to consider it, then shouted "Not enough. What did she tell you about Angel's plans?"
I spilled my guts. Literally. I was going to say something, maybe give away the part about Wednesday evening, but suddenly everything caught up with me, and I began to throw up. I've heard the expression projectile vomit, but I'd never really seen it until now. And as it was coming up some crazy impulse made me hurl it all towards Lilah. It went everywhere, turning her Armani suit into a disaster area, and the wind caught some of it and threw it into her face. Her expression turned to murderous rage and she came towards me, the knife in her hand, and grabbed my chin again. Beside me Dad suddenly jack-knifed forward, his forehead smashing into hers. She staggered back... but there wasn't much back for her to stagger, and she was wearing heels. They caught in something and she pitched over backwards. Before anyone could do anything she was gone.
"What the hell do we do now?" shouted one of the soldiers holding us upright.
"Get rid of them," shouted another, "then call in for..." There was a gurgling cough and he fell onto the deck, leaving Dad's stretcher teetering on end. I could see blood pouring out from his throat. Then Dad's stretcher wasn't teetering any more.
"Do exactly what I say," said a woman's voice, "and you might get out of this alive. Close the ramp and cut both of them free. Do anything else, try anything else, and you'll be the next one to die."
I craned my head round as far as I could and said "Hi, Vi."
Probably one or two more parts to go.
Comments please before I post to archives.