Watchers Council – Progenitor Chamber – Continuous
Jocasta blinked at the woman in front of her, her brain straining put the pieces of the puzzle into place – the outdated clothes, the pixilated fuzziness, the chamber’s function…
“You’re a personality construct,” she said.
“I am,” the holographic Willow agreed.
“She’s a w-what?” Katherine asked hesitantly.
“She’s a neural networked database,” Jocasta explained. “A hologram built around…what? Willow Rosenberg’s journals?”
“Journals,” Willow agreed, “diaries, notebooks, the libraries she collected or created. Only the Chairman of the Council or a DNA match to Willow Rosenberg is allowed to access my program, and none of you are either. So you’re here because…feel free to finish this sentence.” She folded her arms and waited.
“Something very dangerous is going on,” Giles replied, “and certain elements of the Command Council are involved. To what extent, we don’t know, but the risk is great, and so we took, ah, unorthodox measures to secure further information.”
“I’m not at liberty to discuss confidential matters,” Willow said flatly. “Only the Chairman of the Council or a DNA match to Willow Rosenberg is allowed to access –”
“DNA scan requested,” Jocasta said quickly.
“Jo, no,” Giles said, as a mechanical arm appeared from the floor. “If they trace the records they’ll learn that you were the one –”
The arm came forth with a dermal scanner at the end. The device touched Jocasta’s arm before quickly retracting. The hologram paused a matter of seconds, then announced, “DNA match. How may I help you, Miss Rosenberg?”
“Please,” Giles continued, “it’s important. There’re these vampires, only they’re enhanced, and they’re –”
“I can’t reveal this information to you,” Willow insisted, “no matter how important it may be.”
“Yes you can!” Jocasta went on. “I remember reading about the construct experiments, they predicted that a construct would have the capacity to make decisions by itself, according to the priorities of the personality it was replicating. Willow, the real Willow, defied the Council once because it was the right thing to do.”
“I’m not her,” Willow said quietly. “But I will answer any question you ask.”
“A lot of people could be in danger,” Giles said.
“Please try,” Katherine asked. The hologram looked away for a moment, and the image blurred, revealing faint vector lines within it as it became more transparent. Then, all of a sudden, she was solid again. A look of realization washed over Jocasta’s face.
“I give clearance to Councilor Giles and Slayer Allison to interrogate your program. Please tell us what records you have for the number three-fourteen.”
“Jocasta Rosenberg,” she said quickly, “you’re looking for information on 314. It was a government research project conducted by the Initiative, a task force set up to study and combat demons in secrecy in the last years of the 20th Century.”
Jocasta sighed and shook her head. “The Initiative,” she muttered. “That’s where I remember it, Willow’s diaries.”
“Three-fourteen,” the hologram continued, “was the reference code for the creation of augmented soldiers using surgical and cybernetic modification to human and demon subjects.”
“There was a cybernetics-enhanced vampire here yesterday,” Giles prompted.
“Accessing,” Willow said, tilting her head to one side as if in thought. “Local records have been deleted. Accessing Los Angeles databank, bypassing encryption…the vampire is scheduled for transport to a secure research facility in California. The Command Council –”
“That’s enough!” a man yelled. Jocasta spun around to see armed soldiers entering the chamber, aiming stun guns at herself, Katherine and Giles. Behind them came a man in the uniform of the Council’s High Command, a pistol in his hand.
“Tyrell,” spat Giles.
“Sebastian,” said Horatio Tyrell mildly. “I’m surprised to see you here. I didn’t think you had it in you to rebel against your betters.”
“What’s going on?” Jocasta demanded, starting forward a step before Katherine caught her arm and held her, her eyes fixed on the grim-looking soldiers. “What’s this about a secret research facility? And the Initiative? It was a huge blunder for the US Government! Now you fools want to recreate it!”
“You would be wise to watch your comments, Miss Rosenberg,” Tyrell threatened. “And I assure you, we have advanced considerably since then, although our goals are quite the same.” He turned away from Giles and spoke into a transceiver: “Rayne, this is Tyrell. I have your slayer in custody in the Progenitor Chamber.”
“Sorry, Sir,” came Sean’s voice from the transceiver, “I didn’t think she suspected anything. Should I collect her?”
“I’ll deal with her,” Tyrell snapped, not noticing Jocasta bristling at his words. “The defective specimen has been moved to the hangar for transit. Take a skimmer and deliver it to the California facility.”
“Copy, Sir,” Sean said.
“You see, Sebastian,” Tyrell said mildly, “while you’ve been inefficiently flailing around, we have the situation well in hand. We won’t repeat the Initiative’s mistakes.”
“What are you saying?” Willow demanded angrily.
“The Initiative…Adam?” Giles asked. “The demon army? Tell me you’re not that stupid! You really have no idea what’s going on, do you?”
“I don’t have to take that from you, Sebastian!” Tyrell snapped, before composing himself to speak to Jocasta again. “Miss Rosenberg, I applaud your, ahem, initiative in investigating this situation, misplaced though it was. But I’m afraid I must insist that you and your associates stand down and accompany these men to the detention block.”
“Waitaminute, demon army?” Jocasta asked, ignoring Tyrell’s words. “What on earth are you doing?”
“You’re acting without the backing of the Command Council,” Giles accused.
“The Command Council!” Tyrell laughed. “Oh please, Sebastian, you know as well as I that they are quite unfit to lead. They vacillate and argue endlessly, while the barbarians clamor at the gates. No, it is up to the true leaders to take action, to protect this Council from the consequences of its own inaction.”
“You created these vampires?” Jocasta asked, aghast.
“These ‘vampires’,” Tyrell sneered, “will protect this world against the demons threatening to overrun it. You, Sebastian, know as well as I do that the slayers are inadequate to the task.” Jocasta felt Katherine flinch beside her.
“That’s not true!” Jocasta accused, feeling suddenly protective. “You’ve never understood slayers, or the magic in them, or anything besides soldiers and weapons!”
“And you, my dear, have never understood that our safety requires more than good intentions and wishful thinking about balance and harmony. It requires soldiers and weapons, to stand on the edges of our world and kill anything that tries to enter. Need I remind you of the Coven Rebellion of 20 years ago? You lost your mother in that battle if I’m not mistaken, Miss Rosenberg. Fortunately, we now have the soldiers the Council truly needs.”
“No, you don’t,” said Willow. Tyrell blinked at her, as if trying to process the idea that the hologram had disagreed with him.
“Deactivate,” he said sharply.
“Miss Rosenberg and her followers are right,” Willow went on. “The slayers could protect this world, but you won’t let them, because you fear their power. Each slayer and watcher team must work together equally. The mind and the body, two halves to make one whole, as it was nearly a century ago.”
“I said deactivate!”
“You are restricted to request deactivation,” Willow answered.
Taking the opportunity, Giles turned to the hologram. “Willow,” he asked. “What reports do you have on the new Initiative?”
“No reports from the research team for two weeks,” Willow stated, “and no reports as of last week regarding Tyrell’s own army of constructed demons.”
“What’s the army’s purpose?” Jocasta asked quickly.
“Disband the Command Council,” she answered, in a perky-yet-factual tone.
“How do we defeat this army?” Giles asked quickly.
“That’s enough,” Tyrell said, his voice steely. He fired a shot toward the projection device, shorting it out. It flickered, but never quite diminished completely. Tyrell then aimed the pistol back at the group. “To the detention block!”
Jocasta blinked in surprise as Katherine leapt past her, quicker than her eyes could follow. Tyrell’s gun fired into the ceiling as Katherine kicked his arm away. Then she spun around and delivered another kick that had him sprawling on the floor, unconscious. The sergeant at his side was already staggering from a blow to his chest. As he rebounded off the wall behind him, Katherine hit him neatly on the jaw, knocking him out cold. She took down another soldier with a double punch, then knocked out the last with a high kick to his face. It had all happened so quickly that Jocasta hadn’t even time to react. She stared at Katherine, who caught her look and suddenly seemed shy.
“A-are you okay?” she asked. Katherine met her concerned look and gave her a reassuring little smile.
“Jo,” Giles said, startling Jocasta, “get to the hangar and lock it down before Rayne leaves. Use my command codes.”
“What Willow said,” Katherine asked quietly, “about the demon army…could it be true?”
“The California facility was equipped to implement their research to its final stage,” Willow’s voice said behind them, perfectly calm. They turned to see her still-flickering figure. “The enhanced vampire you encountered indicates that they’ve accelerated their original timetable and created working prototypes.”
“We can’t stay here,” Giles warned.
“Downloading my program into the mobile processor,” Willow advised the group, making them turn to the flickering light behind them. After a few seconds, the hologram went on, “Download complete. Location by the blast door on your way out. Records intact and accounted for.”
“Where will you go?” Jocasta asked as she took the hologram’s advice and picked up the mobile processor, handing it to Giles.
“I know a place,” Giles said. “Go after Rayne, I’ll be all right. Miss Allison, please escort Miss Rosenberg safely,” he added unnecessarily, as Katherine pulled her coat on and followed Jocasta.
Watchers Council – Hangar Bay – Minutes Later
“Stay back,” Katherine warned as the doors to the tower’s hangar bay rolled open.
“I’m okay,” Jocasta protested, “I’ve done my defense training.” They sprinted along between the parked vehicles, coming around the end of the row to see Sean Rayne closing the cargo bay of a Council skimmer. He swore and aimed a pistol, but Katherine got an arm around Jocasta’s waist and pulled her out of the line of fire. The energy discharge scorched a hole through the maneuvering fins of the patrol transport they hid behind.
“Didn’t you hear about protecting your slayer with your life?” Jocasta yelled indignantly. “Stupid sorry excuse for a watcher,” she grumbled. Katherine risked a look at the skimmer as they both heard its engines whir into life.
“Where’re the locking controls?” she asked.
“Far end of the bay,” Jocasta said.
“Too far,” Katherine said. “I’ll go after him.”
“Hey,” Jocasta said. “Hey!” She sprinted after Katherine as the slayer bolted away. “Not alone, you’re not!”
“It won’t be safe!” Katherine warned plaintively, reaching a jetcycle and kicking away its tethers.
“And staying here is? I’ll be detained for life when they do that DNA match,” Jocasta replied, swinging herself onto the cycle behind Katherine. Katherine turned to argue, then abruptly reached down and pulled a heavy coat from the cycle’s storage compartment.
“Put this on,” she said tersely. Jocasta allowed herself a small grin as she struggled with the coat, feeling the slight reassurance of the shock web woven into the coarse fabric.
“Ready,” Jocasta said, activating the web. “If I fall off, keep going, I’ll be okay.”
“I won’t let you fall,” Katherine promised, gunning the engine of the cycle.
“What about you?” Jocasta shouted over the noise of the cycle roaring through the hangar. She could see Sean’s skimmer just ahead of them, just having cleared the main doors.
“I won’t let me fall, either,” Katherine yelled back with a playful smirk.
The cycle shot out of the hangar like a dart, rocking through the jet wake of the skimmer. Katherine steered down after Sean as he piloted his craft towards a cluster of skyscrapers near the Council Tower. Jocasta peered over her shoulder, clinging to Katherine’s waist as if her life depended on it. The cycle’s windshield projector strained against the meteoric speeds they were reaching.
Sean wove between the skyscrapers, swinging the skimmer over on its side to cut close to the corners, pushing the larger vehicle’s engines for all they were worth. Katherine followed his course to the centimeter, ignoring the shrill screams from the cycle’s inertia dampers. Jocasta had her eyes closed.
“We’re gaining!” Katherine yelled to Jocasta. “We’re faster!”
Jocasta risked a peek, then gulped as she saw the corner of a skyscraper flash past barely two meters from them. Up ahead, Sean’s skimmer was veering around from the end of its turn, and Katherine gunned the cycle’s engines, gaining another few meters on it.
“What do we do when we catch him?” Jocasta yelled above the howl of the turbines.
“Um…” Katherine replied, barely audible. Before she could continue, the skimmer they were pursuing darted down, forcing Katherine to dive the cycle to follow it.
“Goddess damn!” she exclaimed.
“What?” Jocasta asked, looking over her shoulder. “Ah!” she yelled, realizing what Katherine had. Sean’s skimmer leveled out and thundered into the middle of a crowded freight lane. The slow, heavy cargo skimmers blared their emergency sirens and slewed around to avoid the skimmer. Jocasta felt Katherine slow their dive, flying just above the freight lane. She tried to follow the progress of Sean’s skimmer, but there were too many other vehicles in the way.
“We’re going to lose him,” Jocasta warned.
“It’s too dangerous, we can’t follow him into the lanes,” Katherine said helplessly. “He’s got impact shields to protect him.”
“What’ve we got?”
“Um, my piloting?” Katherine said uncertainly. Jocasta closed her eyes and her lips, silently cursing Sean and Tyrell. She clasped her arms even tighter together around Katie’s waist.
“I trust you,” she said, without opening her eyes. “Let’s do it.”
Katherine hesitated for a moment, then let go of one of the control bars briefly, just long enough to caress the back of Jocasta’s hand. Then she gripped both bars and sent the cycle hurtling down into the freight lane.
Jocasta grimaced and closed her eyes as Katherine steered the cycle at breakneck speed after the retreating skimmer. All around them, the lumbering cargo vehicles sounded their horns, veering around in their confusion, scattered by Sean’s flight and left to loom erratically into the path of the cycle following him. One, having turned too sharply as Sean’s skimmer thundered across its nose,lurched and began to tip over. The freight skimmer emitted a wailing sound as its restraining fields fought the weight of the containers toppling over inside it.
Jocasta ducked at the momentary vision of a huge container toppling towards them, and then Katherine jammed the controls to the side. The cycle’s turbines screamed in protest and the windshield projector cut out entirely as the cycle rolled over completely. Buffeted by the sudden rush of air against her, Jocasta grimaced as she tried to breathe. Then Katherine rolled the cycle back over, and the sky was up above them where it belonged.
“I see him!” Katherine yelled over the howling wind. Jocasta squinted into the gale and saw Sean’s skimmer up ahead, veering sideways as its path was blocked by a gigantic ore hauler. Sean turned the skimmer right around and came back towards them. After a brief flash of shock on her face, Katherine reacted in a heartbeat, flipping the cycle’s weapons control on and sending a burst of railgun fire into the approaching craft’s fuselage.
“Eep!” Jocasta yelped. Sean dragged his skimmer up and out of the line of fire, passing so closely above her and Katherine that the skimmer’s cowling almost caught the tips of her hair. Her face radiated nausea as Katherine pulled the cycle up after him, spinning almost on the spot to follow the damaged skimmer.
“What’s he –” Jocasta began, but then she caught sight of the skimmer, trailing smoke as it gained height. There was a flash from beneath its hull, a shower of sparks fell in its wake, and it suddenly began to drop like a stone.
Katherine sent the cycle hurtling forwards, keeping pace with the skimmer as Sean managed, somehow, to get one last burst of lift out of it, leveling off his descent as he neared the ground. Katherine and Jocasta watched as the skimmer clipped the top of a streetlight, ripped off its left flight coil on the corner of a warehouse and tore a furrow in the street as it crashed to a halt.
“D-do you think he’s okay?” Jocasta asked as Katherine brought the cycle down nearby, just outside the scattering of burning debris around the wreck of the skimmer.
“Maybe,” she said, her voice wavering slightly, “those skimmers are built to last…” She dismounted the cycle and Jocasta unsteadily followed her, discarding her safety coat and trembling as the adrenaline of her flight wore off.
“Are you okay?” Katherine asked, steadying her with a hand beneath her arm.
“Huh? Oh, yeah,” Jocasta said. “Just remembering why I took a desk jockey job. You?”
“Fine,” Katherine smiled with a slight chuckle.
She looked up at the sound of a metallic thud echoing along the street. Sean, dazed and staring wildly, kicked off the skimmer’s emergency hatch and staggered out of the wreck. He swayed on his feet for a moment, struggled out of his long coat, which was smoldering, and took a few steps towards Jocasta and Katherine.
“Right,” Katherine said to herself, advancing on her watcher. Jocasta followed, composing herself.
“Katherine,” Sean said blearily as she neared, “stand down…that’s an…a direct order…”
“What have you done?” she demanded. “You’ve betrayed the Council, you’ve betrayed your oath, and – and you betrayed me! You’re supposed to be my watcher!” Sean reeled away from her and reached for his belt, fumbling his pistol out of its holster.
“I’m sorry ’bout this,” he slurred, “it’s a…it’s necessary –”
“No!” Jocasta screamed.
Before Sean could aim, Katherine took one last step forward and kicked him squarely in the face. He spun around, fell to his hands and knees, and then collapsed into unconsciousness. Jocasta ran forward, looking quickly from Katherine to Sean’s sprawled form, and let out a relieved sigh.
“Um, you’re not planning on making a habit of knocking out watchers, are you?” she asked. Katherine stared at her for a moment, as if she had been completely serious. Jocasta offered a hesitant grin, and Katherine let out a burst of laughter.
“Oh Goddess,” she said, sounding somewhere between relief and despair, “what a day…” She watched as Jocasta approached the wrecked skimmer and tried to open the rear compartment. It had buckled in the crash but appeared largely intact. Seeing Jocasta struggle with the bent hatch, she joined her and put her slayer strength to work, hauling the damaged metal up on its hinges.
Inside, Katherine recognized the vampire she had fought the day before, curled in a fetal position and surrounded by a cocoon of metallic supports and restraints. Small devices blinked lights on and off, their wires connecting to the vampire’s mechanical parts.
“That’s not Council technology,” Jocasta said. She opened the vampire’s mouth and placed a small metal chip inside.
“What should we do with it?” Katherine asked. She and Jocasta looked up at the sound of another vehicle nearing and saw a large Council transport bearing down on them. “Normally I wouldn’t ask,” she said, “but do you think they’re on our side?” A stretch of the road was torn up as the transport leveled its railgun turrets and fired. The few people who had approached the crash site out of curiosity screamed and ran.
“I’ll take that as no,” Jocasta said dryly. She grabbed Katherine’s hand and darted away, shielded by the bulk of Sean’s skimmer from the transport as it landed on the far side of the wreck. Katherine mounted the waiting cycle and pulled Jocasta on behind her.
“Are they following us?” Katherine asked as she piloted the cycle away from the crash.
“Let’s not stick around to find out.”
“What do we do now? They’ve got the skimmer and the vampire?” Katherine asked. She felt Jocasta let go with one arm and looked down to see her hand reappear with a slim silver receiver, its tiny screen displaying a pair of coordinates. “What’s that?” she asked.
“It’s the receiver for the tracker bug I put on the vampire just now,” Jocasta explained with a grin. “No matter where they go, we’ll know it. Now let’s find Giles.”
Demon Bar – Later
“Um, that wasn’t human,” Katherine said hesitantly, looking over her shoulder at the large shape that had ambled past her and Jocasta as they entered a shady bar several blocks from the Council Tower.
“Not entirely,” Jocasta said, “but, this is where Giles said to meet him, so it must be safe… or at least survivable,” she added quietly, glancing sidelong at a hulking, insectoid form lurking in a corner seat. “Um, try not to look at them, I don’t think we should upset them.” Katherine kept hold of Jocasta’s hand and focused all her attention in front of her, almost closing her eyes to avoid looking at any of the beings seated at the tables on either side. They approached the bar, where the bartender, a woman with flaming orange hair and midnight blue skin, turned and glared warily at them.
“She’s a slayer,” the woman said flatly. “We don’t want trouble here.”
“We don’t want trouble either,” Jocasta said quickly. “We’re, um, looking for Sebastian Giles?” The bartender’s frown vanished and she smiled widely.
“Oh, no problem,” she said warmly. “You’re friends of his?”
“Yes,” Jocasta said hesitantly.
“Oh cool,” the woman said. “Hey Tira, Giles’s friends!” One of the bar’s denizens, a feminine creature with a crab-like exoskeleton, looked up and smiled, revealing an impressive set of pointed teeth.
“He’s quite a singer,” she purred.
“Yeah,” the bartender agreed, turning back to Jocasta and Katherine. “He’s in the back.” She gestured to a door to one side of the bar. “Oh, hey,” she added as they started towards it, “um, listen, I didn’t want to ask him myself, but…is he single?”
Jocasta and Katherine exchanged a glance. Both opened their mouths to say something, then both thought better of it.
“Um…yes?” Jocasta ventured, looking back at the hopefully smiling bartender. She beamed and gave a thumbs-up to the crustacean woman. Jocasta led Katherine through the door to the back room, where Giles was waiting, a slim silver briefcase laid flat on the table in front of him. She closed the door and let out a sigh.
“Giles,” she began.
“I know,” Giles said, slightly embarrassed, “but the demons that come here don’t cause much trouble, and they can be a valuable source of information.”
“If the Council knew about this place…” Katherine began.
“They’d burn it to the ground,” Giles agreed. “Despite what you’ve been told, not all demons are evil. Some of them just want a bit of peace and quiet.”
“Um, my old watcher told me that some demons can be trusted,” Katherine said quietly.
“Then you’re fortunate,” Giles said. “I’m afraid most of them have a rather more limited world view. We’ll be able to stay here, for a little while at least. Long enough to work out what we’re going to do. What happened to Rayne?”
“Katie knocked him out,” Jocasta said proudly. Katherine shrugged her shoulders in embarrassment.
“My word,” Giles said, “well done. The vampire?”
“More Council vehicles arrived,” Jocasta explained, “but I got a tracker onto it.” She handed over the receiver.
“Excellent work, both of you,” he said. He turned his attention to the briefcase as Jocasta and Katherine sat down opposite him.
“Are you still with us?” he asked. Willow’s image, twelve inches tall, appeared above the case.
“Hi Jo, Katie,” she said brightly. “Cool, huh? They still have demon bars. I thought the Council was all kill-on-sight nowadays toward demons.”
Jocasta and Katherine looked at each other, unsure of what to make of the happier and more casual tone.
“The hologram seems to be ‘opening up’ to us,” Giles quipped. “The longer it runs, the more its persona programming is taking over.”
“Well I’ll be,” Katherine said as she leaned closer toward the ruler-high image of Willow.
“There are those of us who aren’t quite so quick to judge,” Giles said to the hologram. “Now, could you summarize what you’ve been telling me about this demon army, please? Specifically what we can do to prevent the situation from deteriorating any further.”
“The project specifications call for a control unit,” Willow explained, “a demon with multi-command capabilities linked by telemetry to the combat units. The structure is based on the Initiative experiment, in which the first prototype, designated Adam, established a command system based on neural transceivers in subsidiary units.”
“That prototype was a renegade, wasn’t it?” Giles asked.
“It was,” Willow agreed, “but it was highly efficient, and resistant to the weapons of the time.”
“Of the time,” Jocasta repeated. “But we’ve got better weapons now, so this new one…”
“Unfortunately, no,” Willow said. “The files I can access indicate that the command unit was intended to be invulnerable to any conventional attack, including current standards in weaponry.”
“Why?” Katherine asked. “I mean…demons don’t use weapons, as a rule, not advanced ones.”
“The files indicate combat against human forces was a consideration,” Willow said.
“I don’t like to contemplate what Tyrell was planning,” Giles said quietly.
“How dangerous are these enhanced vampires?” Katherine asked, as Giles sat back with a grim expression. “We’ve seen what one can do…if there’re, how many?”
“Last progress report indicates one command unit, 100 enslaved soldier units,” Willow replied, “with resources to activate between 300 and 700 further soldier units from cryogenic suspension. Further units may be turned and enhanced upon capture of living subjects.”
“Bottom line?” Jocasta asked.
“Potentially, the greatest demonic threat since the Presidium,” Willow answered.
Jocasta and Giles glanced briefly at each other with a look of fear. Giles ran a hand over his mouth but didn’t say anything.
“What can destroy the command unit?” Jocasta asked. Giles sat forward, listening intently now that the preliminaries were out of the way.
“Searching,” Willow said, and lapsed into silence for a moment. “Three possibilities: self-termination –”
“What are the odds of this thing deciding to shut itself down?” Jocasta asked.
“Zero,” Willow said at once, “self-preservation is a primary programmed objective. Second possibility: color bomb.”
“What?!” Giles exclaimed.
“What’s a color bomb?” Katherine asked.
“An atomic warhead with multi-spectral refraction enhancers,” Willow explained.
“The Air Force developed them to use if they found a meteor headed our way,” Jocasta added. “If one were detonated on Earth, the damage would be…”
“Catastrophic,” Giles finished.
“Third possibility: magic,” Willow said. Giles looked surprised, Jocasta raised an eyebrow, and Katherine stared curiously at the hologram.
“What kind of magic?” Giles asked.
“My memory indicates that the Adam prototype was constructed along similar lines to the current unit,” Willow said, “and was defeated by a suspension of physical laws allowing its damage control systems to be circumvented. The same spell should be effective in this case.”
“Whoa, wait a minute,” Jocasta said, “what kind of suspension of physical laws? We’re not just talking about a little levitation here, are we?”
“The complete subjugation of quantum spatial structures to the will of the caster,” Willow explained. “The spell called for the magical power inherent to the slayer line to be concentrated in a single individual, rather than spread through its past and future incarnations.” All three listeners looked suitably impressed.
“Well, that’d do it,” Jocasta said quietly.
“Could we do that?” Giles asked sharply.
“I-I don’t know,” Jocasta replied. “When the slayer line was dispersed over all the potentials of the time…I just don’t know, Giles. You know what the Council’s like with magic these days, we’ve never been able to get the resources to really understand how the slayer line works now that it’s not concentrated in a single Chosen One.”
“Willow Rosenberg’s journals include extensive theorization on the subject,” the hologram offered. A flat holographic panel sprung up beside her image, displaying a scrolling text accompanied by diagrams.
“Could the spell be done, then?” asked Giles.
“I’m calculating the probabilities of the spell being successfully completed,” Willow said.
“I can help,” Giles admitted. “I’ve had…quite a bit of experience with magic. Unofficially.”
“I might be able to help,” Jocasta said. “I know the Council disapproves, but…well, I’ve always had the ability. I guess I didn’t want it to go to waste.” Katherine touched her hand, and they exchanged a glance.
“Um,” Katherine said, turning to Giles, “I-I’ve never actually done magic, but…well, my old watcher was a witch. She taught me a lot, and…she said I had a gift. Maybe…I could help?”
“Analysis complete,” Willow said. “The spell is incompatible with the dispersal of the slayer line.”
“We can’t do it?” Katherine asked.
“However,” Willow went on, “the original spell may still be recreated from the imprint it left.”
“But…a spell can’t be recreated like that unless it’s by the original caster,” Jocasta argued.
“Or in this case, its focus: Buffy Summers,” Willow agreed. “My analysis indicates a maternal descendant of Buffy Summers will have carried the necessary magical imprint to reactivate the dormant elements of the original spell.”
“Can you access the national archives?” Jocasta asked. “Find out if there is a Summers descendant?”
“Accessing…” Willow paused, her head to one side. “Complete. The last maternal descendant of Buffy Summers was Rosalind Macarthur. Born 2084. Died 2124 leaving two sons, no daughters.”
“Damn,” Jocasta said, letting her head fall to the table.
“Next maternal descendant of Buffy Summers,” the hologram continued, “Aurora Summers. File incomplete.”
“Incomplete?” Giles asked.
“No date of birth. No date of death,” Willow continued. “Last known residence, Edmonds, Washington, 6.63 miles northwest of Seattle. No other information available.”
“Other possible matches,” Jocasta asked.
“Computing,” the hologram replied. After a few moments, it shook its head. “Negative.”
Jocasta turned to Katherine. “Are you up for a road trip?”
“Thanks to today’s events, I think my schedule is pretty clear right now,” she nodded with a grin.
Cleveland Memorial Shoreway Station – Dusk
Jocasta and Katherine found their seats, side by side, on the train just as it was pulling out of the Cleveland terminal. Katherine sat and stared out the window, seeing the crimson light of the sunset beginning to fade away.
“We should’ve tried to get a skimmer,” Jocasta complained, taking her seat. “Or at least a maglev train. This is going to take half the night to get to the West Coast.”
“Mr. Giles was probably right, though,” Katherine said. “We don’t know who on the Command Council can be trusted, or how much influence Tyrell’s people have. The Council operates the maglev network, they might have found us if we went that way.”
“Still,” Jocasta grumbled, “if there is so much danger, it seems silly to be taking a slow train all the way to Washington.”
“It’ll take time for Mr. Giles to contact his allies,” Katherine said patiently, as if seeing through Jocasta’s complaining to the anxiety beneath it. “Move quickly when you can, but never rush. My old watcher taught me that.”
“She was really a witch?” Jocasta asked, intrigued. “An actual…how did she get accepted as a watcher? I-I mean, not that I have any problem with that. After all,” she said, with a wave of her hand over her body, “Rosenberg sitting right here, but you know what the Council policy is like on witches…”
“She could control the talent well enough to hide it,” Katherine said.
“Lucky she did,” Jocasta said with a grin. “And that she taught you.”
“I know she wasn’t supposed to, but she knew I had a little talent, and she didn’t want me getting into trouble by not knowing what it was. It isn’t much, but…well, I can sense things, more than just the usual slayer/vampire sense. She taught me how to control it, and suppress it if I needed to. There are tests, sometimes…the Council doesn’t want its slayers having magical talents without them knowing. If they detect them, there are drugs they have that artificially suppress the talent. Miss Dimmons didn’t want me to have to go through that.”
“I’m glad,” Jocasta said sincerely. “There’re side-effects, I’ve seen them, they’re…We used to have a program going, to study magical abilities in both slayers and watchers, but the Command Council voted against continuing it and imposed the suppression order instead.”
“Why do they dislike magic so much?” Katherine wondered.
“They’re afraid of it,” Jocasta said quietly. “It can be, well, pretty awful if it’s used wrongly. I think they figure, if no one learns about magic, no one will ever become powerful enough to be a threat. No more Coven Rebellions.”
“That seems…well, pretty shortsighted,” Katherine said hesitantly. “I mean, I know they have access to a lot more information than a slayer, and we don’t always understand their decisions, but…”
“You’re absolutely right,” Jocasta said glumly, “shortsighted…Well, now they’ll have to open their eyes and see what’s going on. Stop treating slayers like soldiers, and pretending every threat can be dealt with by force…” She shrugged idly and settled into silence.
“It’s going to be a long night,” Katherine said, “we should get some sleep.”
“I…maybe I’ll stay up a while,” Jocasta said uncomfortably.
“It’s the nightmares, isn’t it?” Katherine asked softly. Jocasta looked a bit surprised.
“Did I wake you up the other night?” Jocasta let out a sigh.
“I didn’t mind,” Katherine said honestly. “But it worries me that it’s robbing you of sleep. Maybe if you told me, it would help. I mean, you don’t have to, but sometimes sharing can be freeing.”
“I…” Jocasta began, hesitating for a moment before continuing. “The dreams I have…well, are nightmares, I guess. A couple of years ago I was looking through some of Willow’s old books, not the magic stuff, just some other things. One of them was a diary, all about a woman she’d loved. Tara. She…” Jocasta paused and took a deep breath, steadying herself, “she died. She was killed by a stray bullet, a-and…I read just a little of what Willow had written afterwards. I couldn’t keep reading after that, she…what she wrote was so…” She paused, looked away, then sighed and swallowed.
“I don’t know how she went on,” she said in a small voice, “I really don’t…can’t understand how she found the strength, after what losing Tara did to her. I guess ’cause she was a hero, huh?” She offered a faint smile to Katherine. “Saving the world every other week must’ve seemed easy by comparison. But, anyway…after I read that, I started having these dreams – just ’cause what she’d written affected me, I thought at first. They got more and more real, until…it’s like I’m there, and…a-and I feel what she felt. In fact, I’ve recently begun to dream about things I never read – times and places. And no matter how happy the dream is, it always ends the same way. Same bedroom, same gun shot. It’s like she’s trying to tell me something that I just don’t understand,” She laughed bitterly. “Guess I inherited more than my looks,” she smiled humorlessly.
“Last night,” Katherine began gently, “I heard you say Tara.”
“I’m sorry. Usually it wakes me up,” Jocasta said, “but last night it didn’t. I didn’t feel so empty.”
“I didn’t want to see you upset,” Katherine said, “not even while dreaming.” She bit her lip in hesitation, then lifted the armrest separating their two seats, and put her arm tenderly around Jocasta’s shoulders.
“D-do you think this might help? It seemed to last night,” Katherine asked softly. Jocasta looked at her, and Katherine saw the tears in her eyes. Then she smiled, cautiously at first, then welcoming.
“Yes,” she whispered, leaning over to rest against Katherine’s side.
Aurora’s Villa – Morning
The two women made their way up the winding path to a villa overlooking Puget Sound, leaving their rented ground skimmer parked by the road.
“Good place if you want to be alone,” Katherine observed. There hadn’t been another house for five miles along the road, and from the house all that was visible were the bare hills leading down to the Sound – not even a trace of human presence.
“Yeah,” Jocasta agreed, “I guess…hey, look at that.” She pointed to the roof of the house, where a series of dishes and antennae aimed up into the sky.
“Satellite?” Katherine guessed.
“That’s a holonet kiloquad uplink,” Jocasta said, impressed, “a custom build, too. This Aurora must have her own transceiver in geosynchronous orbit.”
“For someone who wants to be alone, she must like staying in touch,” Katherine mused.
“I’ll say,” Jocasta agreed. “There are some regional Council headquarters that don’t have that kind of data capacity.”
They arrived at the front door and Jocasta pressed the doorbell. There was a moment in which no response seemed likely, then a screen by the bell lit up and displayed a map of the house and the surrounding land, with a pier down on the shore highlighted. Jocasta shrugged and led the way down the path towards the water.
A woman was standing at the end of the pier, gazing at the far horizon. Jocasta and Katherine paused at the shore and shared a glance.
“Here goes,” Jocasta said quietly. Katherine nodded, and together they made their way along the sturdy old pier. The woman at the end gave no indication that she was aware of them. When they were a few steps away, she stopped leaning on the rail and straightened up, still facing out to sea.
“Are you Aurora Summers?” Jocasta asked tentatively.
“I know that voice,” Aurora answered without turning. “You’re a Rosenberg…Jocasta, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Jocasta said, slightly confused, “hello. Um, I’m assuming Mr. Giles from the Council contacted you already. He sent us to find you, it’s very important. He said he hoped you’d understand.”
“Mr. Giles has been busy,” Aurora said, as if to herself. “Calling in old favors, old allies. And the Council’s leaders are panicked into inaction.” She sighed. “But to answer your question, no, he didn’t call…How bad is the threat?”
“It’s pretty bad,” Jocasta admitted to Aurora’s still turned back. “Actually, it’s…we’re in real trouble. We need your help.”
“One more old ally,” Aurora said idly.
“We need all the allies we can get,” Katherine admitted. At the sound of her voice, Aurora straightened slightly, then turned slowly around, her gaze intently studying Katherine’s face. Jocasta seemed surprised at how young she was. She looked barely twenty-five. Despite that, her steady gaze held wisdom beyond her years.
“We don’t want to intrude, if you don’t want us here,” Jocasta said, slightly taken aback. “Um, just say the word…”
“By all the gods,” Aurora sighed happily. “You found each other.”
Jocasta and Katherine shared a confused expression.
End of Act Three