Watchers Council – Conference Room – Moments Later
Rowena, Buffy, Willow, Faith, Jim, Kennedy, Robin, Andrew and Xander entered the candle-lit conference room and took their seats around the table.
Gwen stood by the large glass window, rubber-clad arms folded, gazing over the surrounding blacked-out portion of the city.
“Sorry about the cloak and dagger affair. Had to black out a plausible area of the city to make it look genuine,” she said as she turned to the group.
“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” Andrew belted across the table, gripping the arms of his chair. “Because of you, I’m gonna miss SG-1!” Instead of a collective sigh, there was a collective rolling of eyes. Andrew sheepishly sat back in his seat.
“Well, from saving the galaxy on TV to saving the real world…” Gwen made a ‘moving on’ gesture with her hands.
“I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I’m siding with Andrew on this one,” Buffy said, receiving some stunned looks from the others around the table. She frowned uneasily. “Well…sorta.” She batted the comment away and shook her head. “I don’t know everything about computers, but I do know that this seems like the kinda thing that really messes them up. I’m just thankful you chose after hours to pay us a visit, so our losses wouldn’t be too…oh what’s the word? Tragic. Severe. Uber-bad. You catch my drift.”
“Yeah, and not to mention a bucket-load of other electrical equipment that presumably we’re gonna have to foot the bill for,” Xander chipped in. “And I’m gonna have to replace.”
“If you’re worried about the expenses, I’ve got more than enough tucked away in various offshore accounts. Like I said, I am sorry, but it’s not like I could have called ahead, hence the cloak and daggers,” Gwen responded. “I’ll personally get your computers up and running again, but so long as I’m not supposed to be here, my control chip is switched off, and I’m using my powers to emit a localized EMP field so that no surveillance devices can watch and listen in.”
“You think we’re bugged?” Kennedy asked.
“That’s impossible,” Robin added. “We’ve recently gone through everything and –”
“Anything’s possible. I scanned your building before I switched the grid off, and all I could detect was your own surveillance, but that’s not to say that there aren’t bugs out in the streets or teams parked in vans across from the building. I had to be sure I could come to you in secret. You used to be bigwigs in the keeping secrets department, right? So I’m sure that somewhere under the bravado and pretense you can appreciate where I’m coming from,” Gwen replied, crossing her arms.
Buffy glanced at Rowena and shrugged her shoulders. “Okay Gwen, start from the beginning.”
“Thank you.” She cleared her throat and remained standing at the other end of the table. “Two days ago I was contacted at my home in Tahiti by an organization called Bureau Nine.”
“Oh, one sec,” Willow interrupted. She opened a folder, dragging a candle closer so that she could read. “It says in what little record we have on you that your base of operations is in L.A.”
“It was, up until a couple of years ago when the lights went out. Between that, the rain of fire and general other unpleasantness, I decided to relocate to my vacation home permanently. That, and I wanted a year-round tan. Go figure, I only turn shades of Porky Pig instead of the golden sheen of Burt Reynolds or George Hamilton.” Gwen sighed.
“What else does the file say?” Robin asked.
“Not much else. Gwen only became an affiliate of ours back when we sent out the distress call for our operation in Vor,” Willow answered. “And that wasn’t the time to draft up a full file on her.”
“Actually, we go way back,” Gwen revealed with a nod.
Willow looked skeptical. “Really? But the file…” She pointed to the page.
“Okay, maybe not me and you guys, but me and The Old Guard,” Gwen elaborated.
“Sorry? I had never heard of you before Vor, and there was nothing about you in the Old Guard’s records.” Rowena wore a perplexed look.
“And I would have to agree with Rowena,” Jim said.
Rowena did a double take at this, but said nothing.
“It wouldn’t be on record. I did strictly the hush-hush jobs. The kind of jobs that they didn’t want to put their name to – not because they were bad jobs, just sensitive. That’s why I showed up when you guys put out the distress call. Past ties and all.” Gwen smiled.
“So what, you’re an honorable thief?” Kennedy scoffed.
Gwen stifled a smirk and leaned forward, placing the palms of her silk gloves on the table and making everyone sit back in their chairs. “I will do any job that pays the right price, but I have ethics and morals. And there is one thing that I will not do, and that is sell out my allies and those I consider friends.” She stood back up and placed her hands on her hips. “I’ve done jobs for one client where I’ve stolen something from someone, and then that someone hires me to go steal it back. So you see, I have double-crossed people, and I don’t care, so long as I get my money. But when a reputable organization that I have worked for in the past, and that just happens to save the world on what seems a weekly basis, is targeted by a potential client, I just won’t take the job. So you see, chica, there is honor amongst thieves.”
“But you took Bureau Nine’s job, though, didn’t you?” Faith leaned back in her chair. “See, in my very large book of ethics, which I gotta admit I only recently acquired…that ain’t being honorable.”
“But risking my ass coming to give you guys the head’s-up is,” Gwen bit back. “The head honcho, Mr. Felix, was the one I spoke with at their HQ.” Rowena sat up and glanced at Buffy. “And, might I add, it looks like a solid operation they’ve got going.”
“I know,” Rowena spoke up. “I visited their offices about a month ago.”
“Really? Which one? The public top-side one, or the subterranean bat-cave one?” Gwen asked.
“Lori mentioned that there was a lot underground,” Rowena said.
“Girl’s right, whoever she is. There’s a hell of lot down there…it’s practically another building. Their top-side offices are where I’m guessing they do the day work. Below…” Gwen shrugged. “I don’t know what they do down there, but it has more than a whiff of fish to it. Mr. Felix called upon my talents to steal an artifact that you’ve got tucked away in your vault. I’m guessing either they’re too chicken to come in and get it themselves, or they’re pulling an Old Guard and don’t want to get their hands dirty. From what I’ve seen and learned about them, I’m guessing the latter.”
“What exactly do we know about Bureau Nine, besides the fact that they’re the supposed bearer of the annual Big Bad title?” Xander put forward.
“No supposed about it, Xander,” Rowena looked down to her hands and then back up to the group. “I think it’s safe to say that Bureau Nine isn’t exactly a shining beacon of legitimacy. The information Gwen has provided proves that we are indeed playing a game. They have their pieces already and want to take one of ours, and we’re more than two turns behind.”
“I may have something useful, though.” Gwen turned to the windowsill and took a see-through folder from a leather portfolio. She held it up in front of the group. “I did some snooping after they contacted me, just to see who I was meeting. Boy was I surprised when I typed ‘Bureau Nine’ into Google. I never take anything at face value, and the fact that they seemed to check all the boxes labeled ‘goodies’ put me off a little. So I dug a little deeper, and I have to say that there wasn’t much more to find. Well, not in the way of anything incriminating. However, I did manage to unearth at least a few interesting tidbits for your bedtime reading.” She passed the folder to Xander.
“Sorry, wrong end of the table. Watchers and book types at the other end.” Xander thumbed up behind him.
Instead, Gwen nodded at Robin and slid the folder to him.
“What am I looking at?” Robin asked as he opened the folder.
“Wire transfer orders from numerous bank accounts from across the globe. All deposited into one account in Zurich and then split into various other accounts, each with an individual numeric prefix, but all under the name of Honor Novem – roughly translated as ‘Public Office Nine.’ Sound familiar?” Gwen cocked her head to the side.
“That’s certainly far too many zeros for my liking,” Robin said, passing the folder along to Jim, “unless of course that was my bank balance.”
Jim scanned the page. “It would appear that Bureau Nine certainly has its fingers in many, and some very large, pies.”
“Anyone else feel like the game we’re in is Risk?” Willow chipped in.
“We knew that they had corporate sponsors,” Faith said, motioning for Jim to pass her the folder. “But we had no idea that they were making this much moola over at the good Bureau.”
“You’re talking about the sponsors on the website?” Gwen asked. Faith shot a glance to Rowena, who nodded. “Well, they are actually pumping money into the company, but what you see in the file are investments from a select few of the world’s leading bad-boy corporations that don’t want to be linked to on Bureau Nine’s website: Weyland Yutani, Blue Sun, Torchwood, The Pegasus Group, Global Dynamics, The Syndicate, The Trust.” When Gwen finished counting on her hands, she added, “To name a few.”
“To name a few,” Kennedy repeated, snickering as she looked at Buffy.
“My spidey sense started to tingle when Mr. Felix told me what the gig was,” Gwen continued. “If they’re claiming to be the good guys, then why do they want to steal from the other good guys? It doesn’t add up, not for me.”
“What artifact are they after?” Willow wondered aloud.
“Possibly the most boring artifact ever made.” Gwen turned around, picked up a second folder from the windowsill and slid it across the table.
The folder stopped just short of Willow and Rowena. Both pulled it in and examined the contents.
“Have we even got this?” Willow asked.
Rowena lifted a nearby candle and brought light to the page. “Yeah, I think we do. Can’t say what it is, though. It’s categorized under miscellaneous.”
“You mean you guys don’t even know what it is?” Gwen said, taken aback.
“Seriously, we have nothing on it,” Rowena replied. “Is this all that Bureau Nine has?”
Gwen shook her head. “Nuh-uh. I asked Mr. Felix what it was, and all he told me was that it’s like a cog, in something much grander.”
“That could explain the markings on the sphere, though they could be decorative,” Willow supplied, though clearly unsure.
“Well, if the sphere’s vital to whatever they have in mind, shouldn’t we like, throw it in a volcano, take a hammer to it, or something?” Buffy asked.
“We can’t without knowing what it is,” Jim said.
“But isn’t knowing that Bureau Nine wants it reason enough?” Kennedy argued.
“Yeah, I’m siding with B and Ken on this one. Throw it in Mount Doom and finish it,” Faith threw in.
Andrew grinned silently.
“I hear you, all of you, but how can we destroy something that we know nothing about? For all we know, destroying this artifact could cause more harm than good. We just don’t know what it is,” Jim retorted. “Miss Raiden is proof that Bureau Nine wants the artifact, but is too afraid of coming in and retrieving it themselves. She’s a pawn in their game. No offense.”
“None taken,” Gwen said flatly.
“If they wanted it so badly, they would have sent a strike team and gone all out,” Jim said, “but they haven’t, which means we hold power over them. We have a piece that they want, and I for one would like to keep it that way.”
“All I’m saying is…wouldn’t we eliminate the threat by destroying it? Essentially end the game now?” Kennedy continued.
“I think the point Jim is trying to make,” Rowena said with a sigh, “is that with the artifact, we have more control than we would without it.
“Right,” Willow added. “After all, it’s not going anywhere in our new state-of-the-art vault.”
“Exactly. Thank you, Willow.” Jim shared a small smirk. Rowena squirmed in her seat. “All I’m saying is that we should research the artifact, find out exactly what it is and what it does. Once we have a definite answer, then we can destroy it, but only if it poses a threat.”
Buffy listened attentively to Jim’s argument, and when he had finished, she clasped her hands in front of her. “Okay, sounds like a plan. Like Will said, it’s in our vault, and it’s not going nowhere.”
“Which leads nicely into my plan,” Gwen said, bringing the focus back to her.
“What do you mean?” Rowena posed.
“I can’t just go back to my paradise home without doing the gig. Bureau Nine would hunt me down – not that they’d be able to find me. But it would be a pain in the ass to have to continually fend them off, and I have a business to run. Clients who want discreet transactions are going to be put off by the very large and very powerful organization on my tail.”
“What do you propose?” Jim asked.
“I propose a fake heist,” she said. “I break into the Council, sneak into your vault undetected, retrieve the ‘artifact,’ and get the hell out and back to Bureau Nine with the swag. But I’ll need your help.”
“How do we fit in?” Xander spoke up.
“Funny you should ask,” she said, pointing at Xander. “You’ll have to create a fake sphere that is the exact replica of the original. I fake the heist all for the illusion that everything’s genuine, so if you are being monitored, nothing’s suspected. I take the fake sphere back to Bureau Nine and go on my merry with my money.”
“And in it for us is…?” Buffy wore an incredulous look on her face.
“Well, aside from getting one up on them, you get a hacker’s buffet of delights from their database,” Gwen replied.
“I’m going with what Xander said…huh?” Willow said.
“That’s where you and Luke come in,” she said, casting a glance at Andrew. “You two are the techies of the group, right?”
“And level sixty warrior mages on World of Warcraft,” Andrew added quickly, before receiving a “shut up” glare from Willow.
Gwen grinned. “Okay then. You two work with me to finish the coding and hardware for my wi-fi worm application. When it’s done, we place the receiver and transmitter inside the bogus sphere, and you guys get full remote access to Bureau Nine’s database.”
“Question,” Andrew put his hand up. “With you emitting your very cool, X-Men-esque powers, how are we supposed to work? Seeing as you’re not meant to…be here and all.” He whispered the latter, covering one side of his mouth with the cup of his hand.
“We go down to your vault, lock ourselves inside with a couple of laptops and the other necessaries, and I switch my control chip back on. Sound good?”
“Well, you’ve certainly put some thought into our plan,” Willow said dryly.
“Fair’s fair. I mean, Bureau Nine hacked into our systems. Seems only right we get to do the same. We are in playing this game, aren’t we?” Kennedy said.
“I say we play,” Xander added.
“Me three,” Buffy agreed. She looked around the table, receiving nods from the others.
Bureau Nine – Office – Evening
Ethan pushed the reading glasses back up his nose again and held them in place as he squinted at the tiny print in the book he was reading. “Bloody…” A knock at the door interrupted him. “…hell.”
He pulled the glasses off and got up to answer it. A lithe twenty-year-old with high, rosy cheeks and short brown hair stood looking at him like a lost puppy. Ethan smiled in earnest at the boy.
“Zachary. What a nice surprise. Please…” He stood aside, gazing down at the top of Zachary Kreswell’s cropped hair as the boy entered Ethan’s room. Ethan smoothed his own hair back. “To what do I owe the unexpected pleasure of –”
“Ethan –” Zachary blurted, turning sharply toward him.
Ethan could see that the boy was edgy and uncertain. He raised both eyebrows and gave Zachary a close-mouthed smile.
“Ethan…” Camden looked away and then suddenly back at him. “Etha –”
“Yes, I am Ethan,” the man said slowly, fighting a smile. “And you are Zacha –”
“Ethan, I have to speak with you!” Zachary turned quickly away and bumped into the dresser, toppling Ethan’s three-legged mortar and pestle. Ethan reached out to help the boy right the object, and their hands brushed.
Zachary turned bright red and pulled his hands back quickly. “Sorry!” he said, and turned, head down. For a moment there was an uncomfortable silence, and then he heard Ethan step out of the room. He waited for another long moment and then decided to leave. Just as he began to move, Ethan returned.
A shot glass full of golden liquid appeared under Zachary’s nose.
“Here,” Ethan said, no longer trying to hide his amusement. “This will help with…whatever it is.”
The boy hesitated a beat, then took the glass and downed the scotch at once. Ethan waited for the kick, but the boy merely heaved a breath and handed the glass back to the astonished mage. Ethan took the shot glass and stared at it.
“Ethan, I-I have to speak with you. Please. I know it’s late, but I need – I want to – there’s something that –”
“Here now, slow down.” Ethan steered him toward an easy chair. “The faster you go, the less you seem to say. Sit.”
The boy obeyed immediately. Ethan let out a laugh. “Nearly as good as Rupert,” he said to himself.
“Oh, nothing…” Ethan waved him off. He took a seat opposite the boy.
“What’s on your mind then, eh?”
Zachary sighed and launched headlong into his issue. “There’s been a lot of…talk around here. The whole Bureau’s been buzzing with it. And I-I don’t want to insult you, you understand, but I have to know if it’s true. Because if it is, then you’re –”
“Yes,” Ethan almost growled at him, suddenly angry. “It’s true. I’m the over-the-sodding-hill, can’t-get-any-work-cause-he’s-far-too-old, life’s-passed-him-by, darkest of old dark mages to walk the hallowed halls of this bloody organiza –”
The boy’s dumbfounded look stopped Ethan in mid-tirade. Zachary half-smiled. “Everybody knows that,” he said offhandedly. “Oh! Not the ‘old’ parts! The dark mage part…But that’s not what people are talking about. They’re talking about…well, you know…you…that is…you like, or rather…um, prefer…you have a certain predisposition for…uhhh…”
Ethan rolled his eyes, and his mouth quirked at one corner. “If you are referring to the fact that I am decidedly not heterosexual, that’s yesterday’s news.” He frowned and added glumly, “Or in my case, last century’s…As for what people are saying about it all, I haven’t the slightest clue, but I can assure you it’s all true. Or probably should be.”
Zachary blinked at him, breathing shallowly. “Then…then you…you do…”
Ethan waited, trying not to smile at the youth’s discomfort. “Well,” he said, as the boy struggled for words, “if I don’t, it’s probably because it’s physically impossible.”
“…understand,” Zachary finished.
“Ethan. Please. Promise me you won’t speak to Mother about what I’m about to tell you. Do you promise?”
Ethan looked up at the ceiling. “Cross my heart and hope to lie.”
“Ethan, I – there’s something I need to say.”
“No, there isn’t. You don’t have to say it. The only good that might come from saying it is that you mightn’t be so bloody well tied in a knot all the time.”
“Y-you know what I’m trying to say?”
Ethan looked at the boy out of the tops of his eyes and sighed. “Let’s see, how can I put this…If I weren’t here, then everyone would be saying these things about you.” He smiled pointedly.
Zachary’s face turned deep red, and the boy scowled. “Is it that obvious?”
“It’s so obvious even your mother’s gotten it,” Ethan waved his hand. The boy’s scowl turned into horror, and Ethan laughed out loud. “What are you so on about? So what? It’s nothing unusual and nothing new. But I will say this: it’s the one thing around here that will get you scorned more quickly than being a sorcerer or a witch could.”
“Yes!” Zachary’s head shot up, relief on his face. “I thought there was no one who could understand until you came here and – I’ve never been able to talk to anyone about it…”
“Until now,” Ethan sighed, resignedly.
“Ethan…what was it like? For you, I mean. Were you ever…was there ever anyone that you really-really…”
“Only one that I ‘really-really’.” Ethan raised his eyes slowly to meet the boy’s, and Zachary blinked at him. “I wasn’t much older than you…” He stopped and looked sharply at the boy. “Here now…have you got someone?” he teased. “Someone you’d like to…’really-really’?”
“Yes,” Zachary said. “But…I’ve never…it would be my…my first…time. I want it to be special. To mean something. To last. Forever.”
Ethan smiled slightly. “Well, if the first one is the one that lasts forever, that rather eliminates all the fun you could have in between. Doesn’t it?”
A thought occurred to Zachary, and he looked searchingly at Ethan. “Ethan? You say that you were my age, that he was the only one that you really loved? Is that possible?”
“What? That I loved or that he was the only –?”
“That it was so long ago?”
“Oh no, what I meant was, has there been no one since?”
“Why are you so interested in me?” Ethan asked.
Zachary stared back silently at Ethan, barely breathing.
“Please. Take a breath. Your mother will never forgive me if you asphyxiate in front of me.”
“What happened to him?”
“Married. To a wonderful lady,” Ethan answered. “Two beautiful children, a boy and a girl. At least I assume they’re beautiful, never seen them. Their parents are rather handsome so…genetics and such.”
“And what about you?”
“Single. One dog – dead now. Thanks for asking.”
“So…you left him…”
“No…and yes.” Zachary seemed confused by the answer. “We all have choices we make, my dear boy…You see, we spent a lot of time delving into black magicks together. And it…heightens the emotions. For him, the sexual attraction was probably the influence of the magic. For me, it was something deeper. But one day he decided to walk away from the magic. I decided to stay. So the answer is no…and yes.”
“But do you still ‘connect’ with each other?”
“Unfortunately, one of the side effects we were both left with from all that magic-laced intimacy was the ability to sense one another, even when apart. It’s not exactly telepathy, but…it’s hard to explain. Luckily, it’s only intermittent, and usually well below the conscious level. Unless we’re under duress or actually looking for it.”
“Why luckily? That sounds like it might be…I don’t know…comforting.”
Ethan stared hard at Zachary. “It’s no comfort being connected to someone once it’s over,” he said quietly.
“But you really were in love.”
Ethan chuckled quietly. “If you truly love someone you’ll make adjustments, compromises, dare I say personal improvements, to keep them in your life. And as I said, I had a choice.”
Zachary stood, grim faced, and approached Ethan. Ethan watched him close the distance and smiled questioningly. The smile disappeared when the boy knelt down in front of him and laid his hands on Ethan’s knees.
“I…I can help,” Zachary said quietly, swallowing compulsively. “I-I want you to know that…that I don’t think he was right for you. You may have loved him, but you need someone who truly cares, for you and you alone. Even to the exclusion of everything else. You –”
Ethan’s open-mouthed stare cut the boy off. Zachary bowed his head, his face coloring. His hands trembled atop Ethan’s knees.
“Please, Ethan,” his voice rose up, “I know you think I’m just a – a boy. A child, even. I don’t have your years of experience.” He looked back up into Ethan’s blinking eyes. “But maybe…maybe you could use someone who isn’t cynical or jaded or-or so hardened that he can’t return your…your love.”
“Zach!” Ethan’s astonished tone made Zachary catch his breath. He searched Ethan’s face anxiously.
Ethan sat, stunned. “Zach…” he repeated softer and shook his head, at a loss.
Zachary bowed his head again and curled his fingers, scrunching the fabric of Ethan’s dress slacks in them. “Ethan,” he breathed quietly. “Please. Give me a chance. Don’t send me away. I won’t be like he was.”
Ethan exhaled and looked sadly at the boy at his feet. Slowly, he reached out and rested two fingertips gently atop Zachary’s head.
Giles and Becca’s House – Living Room – Same Time
Becca stared at Giles as he rubbed his thumb against his first two fingertips. “Rupert, is something wrong?”
He looked up from where he sat, the newspaper he was reading half-open on his lap. “Oh…no…I-I just had a strange sensation in my fingers…in fact,” he smiled at her, “it’s gone now.”
“Fingers, not your arm, right?”
Giles grinned. “Yes, I think I’ve just done too much writing lately.”
“Well,” she said, yawning, “tell Dr. Miller about it tomorrow, just in case.” She stood and walked over to him and kissed him on the head. “I’m going to bed.”
“I’ll be in very shortly,” he said.
She walked across the room, then turned to him. “Promise me? Dr. Miller? Tomorrow?”
“Yes, I promise. But I’m sure it’s nothing.” He smiled at her again, and she went off to bed. “At least, it had better be, Ethan,” he muttered, rubbing his fingers again and staring out the window into the evening gloom.
Watchers Council – Basement Vault – Night
“I’ve been out of the coding circuit for too long,” Willow whined as she slumped down in her chair, staring aimlessly at a laptop screen displaying lines upon lines of code. “And here I was getting excited about getting my geek back on again. Now all I’m excited about is taking a couple aspirins.”
Andrew sat opposite Willow, the sound of incessant tapping from his keyboard echoing through the large room. “I think this is actually kinda relaxing,” he said with a tiny curve of a smile, his eyes transfixed on the screen.
“Yeah, ’cause no pressure. None at all,” Gwen added, looking up from the other end of the table where she stood over a large magnifying glass. Below the lens was a small device with its internal circuit board and wires exposed, roughly about the size of a USB key. “We’re only creating a wi-fi worm with a base code pretty much completely written from the bottom up – and might I add a code that won’t get done unless we cut the chit-chat – to remotely hack into a presumably highly encrypted database of a very powerful organization. So yeah, no pressure.” She curled her lips into a smirk before looking back down at the device.
Andrew swallowed, his mouth becoming instantly dry. “I…umm…need…” He leaned forward and took a sip from his glass of water.
Gwen carefully lowered her index finger over the exposed circuit board and pressed down on the two wires, resulting in a small blue spark under her finger. With the wires fused, she slipped her hand back into her glove and turned to her laptop.
“What does it feel like?” Willow asked, leaning on the table.
“It feels much better, thanks. Doctor Miller prescribed me an anti-inflammatory cream and it’s –” Andrew looked up, knowing that the crickets were chirping. “Yes, work.” He fashioned an embarrassed grin and got back to work.
“You mean, what does it feel like having a constant electrical current coursing through your body with more power than the combined dams in the entire world?” Willow gave a simple nod. “Kinda tingly.” Gwen looked away, back to her laptop. “And cold at times, too.
“Huh?” Willow frowned.
“Yeah, I can imagine.”
“You can’t,” Gwen hastily shot back. She smirked and looked back down at her laptop. “My control chip gives me some normality, and I am grateful that I…stole it and that it does exactly what it said it would on the box, but it still leaves me out in the cold, alone. It’s hard to connect with people at anything beyond conversation. No, it’s a risk. There’s only so much power comforting words have before they become just words that you’ve heard a million times over. Sometimes it’s nice to have that hand on your shoulder , the simplest touch to let you know that everything’s gonna be fine. But for me it’s too much of a risk, even with my control chip, because all that stands between me and the other person is a tiny strip of metal and wires. I guess, underneath it all, it doesn’t feel normal to have something attached to you that makes you not kill people. But then again, I don’t know normal.”
Willow gave Gwen a small comforting smile. “Who does?”
“And I’m…done,” Andrew announced, lifting his fingers off of the keyboard. “I don’t know about you ladies. This code won’t get done with chit-chat going on.” He looked up with a sarcastic gleam in his eye, but both women just stared back at him, nonplussed. Andrew cleared his throat. “I’ve finished the encryption key module. Bureau Nine’s network moderators will think that the database is making a random backup.”
Gwen finished typing herself. “Good work. The universal OS emulator’s done. How’re the drivers coming along?”
Willow turned back to her laptop, “A couple more lines of code and it’ll be done. Chit-chat and all.” She smiled at Andrew. “Then I’ll get to work on the hacking algorithm to access their ports and sockets. Surprisingly, I can do better than program compatibility drivers.”
“Nice. Andrew, can you give me a hand with the wi-fi access point protocols?” Gwen asked.
“Sure, no problem.” He got out of his chair and brought his laptop around to sit next to Gwen.
Watchers Council – Xander’s Workshop – Same Time
“Nah, I don’t buy it. This is too easy,” Grace announced with her arms folded. She stood beside a workbench with the folder from Bureau Nine laid open on top of it.
“You saying you’d rather be down in the vault with the geek troop, creating some Cylon-style virus?” Xander commented, as he fiddled with the controls on a console for a large piece of machinery.
Grace raised her finger. “You see, if you said that to anyone else, they’d just look at you all weird-like. Well, okay, anyone besides Andrew. But knowing him, he’d go off on a geek-gasm about it. Plus the thingy that they’re doing down there isn’t going to invade Bureau Nine’s networked computers and turn their own systems against them and leave them defenseless to nukes, so therefore it’s not exactly like a Cylon virus, but…hey, that would be cool. Can’t they do that instead?”
Xander smiled, his back still to her. “I didn’t know you liked Galactica. You’re missing out on our official sci-fi nights in the rec room.”
“I’m not too big on the whole social thing. I’m kinda having second thoughts about agreeing to play cards with Jackson and the others. I mean there’s conversation, I listen, I throw in my two pennies, there’s awkward silence, then someone talks about something else and I retreat to the corner and end up talking to inanimate objects. They take my snarky comments and are normally willing to listen, if not grateful that someone actually talks to them.” She slowly nodded her head, wistfully staring at the wall.
“Do they talk back to you?” There was a slight snicker laced in Xander’s voice.
She blinked and looked back to Xander, who was still working, “No! That’s just crazy! Plain crazy talk, that’s what it is!” Her eyes darted about the room, and she straightened up. “But umm…yeah I’m a fan. Normally, I hate remakes…”
“Re-imagining,” Xander corrected.
“Yeah, I know! I was about to say that!” Grace sarcastically added with a smirk.
“Male Starbuck or female Starbuck?”
“Oh female, definitely,” Grace grinned. “You?”
Xander looked over his shoulder and raised his brow.
“Figures, but she’s so much better than that Benedict guy.” Grace wore a toothy cheeky smile.
“Yeah and hotter too,” Xander backed away from the console and cracked his knuckles.
Grace looked up at him, a smile creeping across her face. “It suits you,” she said. Xander looked puzzled. “Your smile. I’m glad you’re doing better.”
He gave a nod and looked down at his hands, his fingers still locked between each other. “Some days are longer than others but…yeah, I’m getting there.” He clapped his hands and looked back up. “The scanner’s sensors are aligned and calibrated…we’re good to go. Pass over the artifact?”
Grace picked it up. “Umm, didn’t think it would be this light…or this tacky.” She inspected the bronze finish, scratching it with her nails. “Some ancient whoever actually made this? Looks like something crappy toy that Hasbro would make.”
“Ooh, like the Oozinator,” Xander added.
Silently Grace shook her head and handed over the artifact. Xander opened the see-through hatch on the side of the machine and placed the artifact on a stand inside. He closed the hatch and moved over to the console. He entered in a command and pressed down on the touch screen button labeled ‘scan.’
“So let me get this straight. You scan the artifact into this glorified hotbox, and then you press another button, and it abracadabras an exact replica?” Grace said nonchalantly.
“Well it’s a little more complex than that. The 3D modeling machine scans an object into its memory, taking precise measurements on all axes. Then we take the artifact out, as so.” Xander demonstrated, as the machine had finished scanning the item. He took it out and handed it back to her. “Then we go to the console and hit construct.” He did, and a low resonating hum emerged from the machine. “Now begins the construction phase, or as I like to call it, the ‘warm liquid goo’ phase.” He chuckled and then bent down.
“Again, no one else,” Grace replied, with a smirk and raised brow.
Xander tapped on the lower compartment of the machine. “It’s in here that the replica is made using hot wax and various other liquids. It’s then blasted and set, and…this is incredibly boring, I know.”
Grace arched her brow, arms folded once again. “So basically, what I said? Abracadabra?”
“Sand paper?” she asked quizzically.
He shrugged his shoulders. “For that ancient-y effect.”
She nodded. “And while we wait?”
Xander stood up and tapped his fingers on the machine. “Guitar Hero?”
Grace’s face lit up in excitement. “Oh you’re so on, buddy! I’m gonna kick your butt,” she said with a large smile, as the friends made their way out of the workshop.
Watchers Council – Basement Vault – Night
Willow and Andrew stood on either side of Gwen, the three of them staring at the laptop screen as they scrolled down through pages of code.
“It looks like we’re done,” she announced. “Spot anything?”
Willow shook her head. “Nope.”
“Goose egg,” Andrew added.
“Well, we’ve been through it all individually and then together, so we can’t have missed anything. Now all that’s left to do is to upload the code to the hardware.” Gwen leaned over, took the device and plugged it into the laptop via the USB-port. A dialogue window popped up, displaying the rate of transfer of the program to the hardware.
The sound of the vault door churning as it opened up echoed throughout the empty space. The large metal door parted just far enough to allow Xander and Grace to enter.
“We come bearing gifts, and they’re non-returnable,” Xander raised his voice over the sound of the vault door closing behind him.
Gwen moved from the table to meet Xander and Grace halfway. “Let me see.” Xander handed over the fake artifact, which fell under Gwen’s scrutinizing eye, “And the real deal?” She sounded like she was reserving her judgment.
Grace placed the real artifact in Gwen’s other hand. “I gave ’em the once over; they look spiffy to me.”
“I don’t do spiffy. I do accuracy,” Gwen replied, glancing up from the two objects. She held the fake in her left hand and the real in her right. They slipped a little from the silk of her gloves, but she had a hold on them. She turned her wrists to look at the objects at all angles. Eventually, she gave a slight nod. “Good. Bureau Nine’s only seen the artifact on paper, and without having the genuine article to compare the two, they won’t suspect that this,” she bounced the fake one in her hand, “isn’t the real deal.”
She handed the real artifact back to Grace and moved over to the table. Placing the fake down, she pointed to the device attached to the USB-port of the laptop. Andrew checked the screen and then unplugged it, handing it to Gwen.
Xander came over and picked up the fake artifact. He placed one hand on the top of the sphere and the other underneath. Giving a hard twist, the top half and the bottom half went in opposite directions, and Xander parted the two halves to reveal the hollow cavity inside.
Gwen turned the device on its back, applied a thin layer of super glue, then placed the device on the bottom on the inside of the fake artifact.
Xander screwed the two halves together and gave it back to Gwen.
“Which locker is the original kept in?” she asked.
“Over here,” Willow said, walking over to one of the lockers across the room.
Willow reached into her pocket, took out her ID card and swiped it into the card reader to the right of the locker. As soon as the red light switched to green, she pulled open the empty drawer. Gwen placed the fake artifact in the right-hand corner, then Xander placed the real artifact in the left-hand corner and pushed the drawer shut.
“So, let’s begin,” Gwen said.
Building Roof – Later that Night
Across from the Council, on the roof of another building stood Gwen, clad in a red rubber tank top with her hair held back in a ponytail. She peered through a pair of binoculars, surveying the lay of the Council roof.
Panning around, she focused on a tall lamppost in the street next to the Council building. Her lips curved with a devilish smile, and she holstered her binoculars on her belt.
Gwen walked along the roof and positioned herself in line with the lamppost and the adjacent rooftop. She flexed her muscles and took a few steps back. Then she set off like a whippet, racing towards the edge of the roof.
She vaulted over the edge, her legs still in motion, kicking behind her to further her distance from the roof. Before she could plummet, she threw out the magnetic grapple from her belt and it latched onto the lamppost. Her body jerked forward, and using the forward and downward momentum, she put herself into a swing.
At the peak of her fourth loop, she threw all her weight forward and released the grapple from the lamppost by pressing a button on her belt. She outstretched her arms and narrowly grabbed onto the edge of the Council roof. Acrobatically, Gwen put her legs together and lifted them above her. The magnetic grapple snaked back towards her and snapped back into the housing on her belt. Gwen tightened her fists and then launched herself skyward, her arms crossed against her chest. She elegantly spun in midair and landed feet first on the solid concrete rooftop.
Scanning the rooftop, she made her way to the access door. She shimmied with her back against the wall and peered around the corner to see a security camera above the door. Gwen took her glove off, sparks of electricity crackling from her fingertips. She placed her hand on a metal tube carrying cables up to the camera and flickers light raced up to the surveillance device. It shorted out, leaving the nose of the camera facing the floor, its power light off.
Gwen slipped round the corner and put her palm to the card reader on the door. Blue sparks erupted under her palm, and the door popped open. She went inside and started down the stairs.
Watchers Council – Fourth Floor – Moments Later
After taking the stairs from the roof and past the fifth floor, Gwen stopped at the access entry on the fourth floor. She zapped the lock and carefully opened the door, only about an inch or so. She took her PDA in her other gloved hand and put it through the gap in the door into the hallway. Three lights pulsated on the display, indicating security cameras. Gwen clipped her PDA back on her belt and put her gloveless hand on the light switch on the wall just outside the door. A small plume of smoke seeped through the screw holes as the bulbs in the lights in the hallway shattered.
Protected by the cover of darkness, Gwen stepped out into the hallway and approached the elevator. With her gloved hand, she called the elevator. Once the doors opened, she walked inside, pressed the fifth floor button and walked back into the darkened hall. The doors closed and the elevator departed.
Gwen pried the elevator doors open and threw her magnetic grapple up onto the bottom of the elevator on the above. She gripped the grapple wire and stepped out into the shaft. The wire spun out of the housing on her belt as she fell through the empty shaft at tremendous speed.
As she neared the floor of the shaft, she pressed a button on the housing and stopped her descent with a jolt. Keeping her finger on the button, she pressed it and fell, and then pressed it again and stopped. She continued this until she was safely a few feet off the floor, then pressed another button to release the grapple pad from the bottom of the elevator.
Gwen landed at the bottom of the shaft and went about prying the elevator doors open.
The doors opened just enough for Gwen to see the security camera in the middle of the hallway outside. She reached out her bare hand and an arc of lightning leapt from her fingers and struck the camera. The electricity encased the machine, rendering it inert. Gwen closed her fist, cutting off her attack, and the camera slowly pointed to the floor.
She hopped up from the shaft and walked down the hall. At the cage door, she swiped her hand across the card reader, and the door opened. With the door swung open behind her, she walked over to the computer terminal and pressed her palm on the screen. The terminal overloaded, and the large vault door came to life.
As the vault door crept slowly open, from inside the door one could see a torrent of electricity curl round the large, circular door and split into four arcs; each darted towards their respective security camera.
Not waiting for the vault door to fully open, Gwen marched inside. She headed straight for the locker that housed the artifact. She placed her hand on the card reader and released the lock on the drawer. As soon as she slipped her glove back on, she pulled the drawer open and took the fake artifact from the right-hand corner. With her spare hand, she reached around to the back of her belt and pulled out a folded-up cloth bag.
With the fake in the bag and the pull strings tightened, Gwen reached for a final item from her belt. It was a small card, which she laid on the bottom of the drawer. A handwritten message was written on the card that read: “Done.”
Gwen closed the drawer.
End of Act Two