Bureau Nine – Hallway – Later That Night
Confidently, Gwen strode out of the elevator onto the floor of the main sub-basement of Bureau Nine carrying the string cloth bag. Two security escorts trailed behind her.They passed several workstations, receiving the occasional quick glance from the hard-working employees as they continued past them toward the stairs.
At the top of the stairs stood Mr. Felix. He had his hands clasped and wore an extremely proud smile. Standing beside him was another man in a suit whose eyes were transfixed on the bag.
Gwen ascended the small set of the stairs and stood before Mr. Felix. She brought the bag up in front of her and offered it to him. “I think this belongs to you,” she said, a grin beginning to curl on her pert red lips.
Mr. Felix nodded. “Well done.” He relieved Gwen of the bag. “Take the Sphere down to Research and give it to Mr. Murray directly,” he told the man next to him, to whom he handed over the bag. The man quickly left along the balcony hallway and disappeared into an elevator. Mr. Felix turned back to Gwen and motioned to his office. “Please.”
Bureau Nine – Mr. Felix’s Office – Moments Later
Gwen walked into Mr. Felix’s office and took a seat in front of his desk.
“I must admit, I didn’t expect you to be back so soon,” Mr. Felix said as he closed the door behind them. Privacy was not an issue, considering his office was made of glass. It was just a force of habit. “I take it everything went according to plan?” he continued as he sat down behind his desk
“Maybe it’s just ’cause I’m that good, but breaking and entering into the Watchers Council was easier than sneaking into Fort Knox,” she said coolly. She folded her legs and sat forward, her curls falling over her shoulder.
He grinned at her. “Just…outstanding. I can’t begin to tell you how grateful Bureau Nine is and, for that matter, how grateful I am.”
“All in a day’s work, and a day’s work that I get paid for.” She softly grinned,
Mr. Felix chuckled. “Of course.” Then he held up his finger and said, “Excuse me.”
He slid his chair back and rose to his feet, wandering over to a cabinet on the back wall of his office. As he opened the doors, his Bluetooth earpiece beeped once. He pressed the earpiece while entering a combination into the safe inside the cabinet. The safe clicked, and from inside, he pulled out a briefcase. As he did, the smile on his face began to fade.
“Yes, understood. Send them in,” Mr. Felix replied through his teeth.
Gwen looked over. “Is everything okay?” she asked, carefully watching him.
Mr. Felix ran his hands over the briefcase and closed the safe and the cabinet doors. “Fine, everything’s fine.” He turned to her and walked back over to the desk. Standing over his chair, he laid the briefcase down, “It’s just some unfortunate news that has come to my attention.”
“Really?” Gwen pried, staring back at him unwaveringly.
He reciprocated the stare, his face devoid of emotion. The sound of the door opening behind her made Gwen cast a glance over her shoulder. Two large, burly men entered the office.
Gwen couldn’t help the sarcastic smile that adorned her face as she looked at the two men. The smile stayed as she turned back to Mr. Felix.
“What is this?” she asked dryly.
“I think you know, Miss Raiden, and I have to say that I’m…surprised, if not disappointed,” Mr. Felix replied calmly.
“Oh, I know what this is,” she said as she waved her hands around her. “I just can’t believe these are the goons you sent to stop me.”
“I don’t want trouble, Miss Raiden. All I want is to talk, nothing else, and if you would please go with these two gentlemen, we can sort this out amicably.”
Gwen shook her head and stood up. “You see, I just don’t see that working out.”
With that, she spun round and kicked the chair up in the air, and within a blink of an eye, she delivered a powerful roundhouse kick to the seat in mid-air, launching it into the two heavies at the door.
Mr. Felix sharply backed away from the desk and slammed the button on his earpiece. “Security, to my office immediately!”
Gwen ripped her gloves off and deactivated the chip on the small of her back. She looked at Mr. Felix with a snicker. “First rule of this game, never trust a thief.” With this, she began to walk out of the office.
“First rule of my game, never play a player,” he responded.
One of the security guards was up again and swung at the back of Gwen’s head, but she didn’t miss a beat and slammed the heel of her boot up behind her into his groin. He fell to his knees, and Gwen elbowed him in the face, still facing Mr. Felix.
The door on the other side of the office burst open. She turned and thrust out her left hand, sending bolts of electricity across the office to lash against the metal door frame. She intentionally missed the guards, but they took the warning shot and stumbled back onto the balcony.
Gwen looked back at Mr. Felix and advanced on him, slipping one glove back on. He pressed his back against the wall, and with her protected hand, she grabbed him by the collar. She raised her bare palm up toward him, mere inches from his face.
“Consider yourself my –” Gwen’s eyes went wide, her pupils instantly dilating. She sluggishly let go of Mr. Felix and reached around with her gloved hand to the back of her neck. She winced as she pulled something out and brought her hand around to reveal a dart with a long thick needle. Her eyelids began to grow heavier. “What did…? You bastard.”
Gwen’s eyes fluttered, and then she fell back onto Mr. Felix’s desk. Standing in the doorway were four guards, one of them holding a dart gun that was still aimed at where she had just been standing.
Mr. Felix stepped forward, straightened his suit and sorted out his collar and tie. He looked down at the slumbering Gwen, inspecting her carefully.
“Be careful, her powers are active. Turn her on her back and re-activate her chip, then get her down to holding immediately. I want to talk to her when she wakes up,” he said coldly.
Watchers Council – Computer Lab – Moments Later
Willow and Andrew sat side by side at two computer terminals, with Rowena, Robin and Jim standing behind them.
Their fingers furiously struck the keys, and multiple windows opened and closed on both of their monitors. At the bottom of the screen on both their terminals, a download bar crawled along at a snail’s pace.
As they typed, they were caught unaware by a dialogue box that popped up, the message reading: “Download terminated.”
“Willow? Andrew?” Rowena said worriedly. She stood with one arm wrapped around her waist and her other hand resting under her chin.
“I…I…” Willow stuttered, “Andrew, try the other frequencies. We’ve got to re-establish the connection now.”
“On it,” Andrew said, as he concentrated on typing a command into a DOS-like sub menu. “Nothing on one.”
“Nothing on two,” Willow sharply added.
“Can someone please tell us what’s going on?” Jim asked in an annoyed tone.
“We’ve lost the connection…the download’s been terminated,” Willow supplied, without looking up from her work.
“How?” Robin asked, deep concern in his tone.
“I doubt that they have transmitter dampeners that could cut our transmission, the port-hacking software would have taken care of that. Besides, we were already into their database, so it’s gotta be something else,” Andrew replied hastily.
“And not in Star Trek speak, please?” Jim barked, frustrated.
Willow turned her head to the side a little. “Basically, it’s not us – the code and the hardware were perfect and triple-checked by the three of us. And it’s not Bureau Nine’s hardware and software, because we would’ve spotted that earlier. The only thing it could be is that they found Gwen out, realized that the artifact was a fake and physically destroyed it and the hardware inside.”
“This isn’t good,” Rowena stated the obvious. “What do we do?”
“We can’t leave her there. We have to go in,” Willow said.
Rowena shook her head. “We may be able to get to the front door, but their sub-levels?”
“She put her butt on the line coming to us. I trust her,” Willow defended.
“I do too. I believe she’s sincere, but I don’t know how we’re going to get in,” Rowena answered.
“Well, we’ve got to do something. Send in the Black Ops and a squad of slayers to retrieve her, nothing more, nothing less,” Robin proposed.
“I agree,” Jim said, “What about schematics? I don’t suppose they were in the files you pulled off their servers?”
Willow shook her head negatively, but then her face lit up. “Marissa!”
“Just what I was thinking,” Robin agreed. “I’ll go speak to her.”
“Right. I’ll run the plan past Buffy and then you go get Faith and Kennedy and prep the squad,” Jim told Robin, as both of them headed to the door.
“Do you think she’s okay?” Andrew asked hopefully.
Willow sighed and looked back to her computer. “We can only imagine what Bureau Nine is capable of.”
Bureau Nine – Holding Room – Night
Gwen slumped in a chair in the middle of the room, head hanging down and hair curtaining her face. Her bare wrists were shackled down by her sides.
She began to groan as she came around. Groggily, she raised her head, blinking away the clouds in front of her eyes.
“Whoa, that was some cocktail.” She cracked her neck to the side, then tried to raise her hand and discovered herself shackled to the chair. She shook the shackles and looked to see the chains locked onto clips on either side of her on the floor.
She looked down at her bare wrists and clenched her fists. Nothing.
“Your control chip is active,” Mr. Felix came around from behind her and leaned against the wall directly in front of Gwen. “And as a precaution against you re-activating the chip, we’ve lined the shackles with rubber, so you can’t melt the metal.”
Gwen threw her arms down and gave up. “And here I thought we’d be having a civilized chat over tea.”
“That was my intention – save the tea – but you waived that option by attacking my guards, and the self-defense card can’t be played, by the way.”
Gwen rolled her eyes. “Thanks Colombo, the clues were there.” She gave him a sarcastic smile.
“But I still want to talk,” he said, pushing off the wall and taking a step forward. “I want you to know, Miss Raiden, that I am not an interrogator, and I’m not about to spring Jack Bauer on you, nor am I going to get someone else in here to interrogate you. I’m not that kind of man. I am not sadistic, I have a conscience and I’m not in the business of harming other human beings. I won’t stand for it, and it is not how I run Bureau Nine.”
“Well, that’s good to know, ’cause for a minute there I was getting worried,” she scoffed.
“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, Miss Raiden, and I don’t care for it, but I can appreciate why you use it.”
She sat forward in her chair. The chains went taut, preventing her from moving too far forward. “We can skirt around with this light-hearted banter, or we can just jump straight into it, ’cause I’m telling you, I don’t have the time for this.”
“Yes, I’m sure you don’t. Neither do I. I can’t tell you just how disappointed I am in you,” he said.
“Not looking for your respect, buddy.”
“I thought you were a woman of honor…”
“You couldn’t be more wrong,” she interjected.
“…and yet you do something like this,” Mr. Felix finished. “Why?”
“Why would you double-cross us and give us a phony Sphere?”
“‘Phony Sphere’…bet ya can’t say that ten times fast,” she said with a laugh.
Felix ignored her jibe. “Why would you bug us? Is this all some elaborate plan of yours to swindle more money out of us?”
Gwen just grinned. “Mayyybe.”
Mr. Felix shook his head. “Please, Miss Raiden.”
“Whatcha gonna do? Torture me?” Her grin broadened into a large, mocking smile.
“If it’s more money you want, then it’s more money you’ll get. I…we need that sphere, Miss Raiden.”
“I’m sure you do, but you’re not going about the right way to get it.” She shook her shackles pointedly.
“I may be naïve, but I am not stupid. And if I am to entrust my faith in your promise that you are in fact an honorable woman, then I need to be convinced that you are not going to use your powers to –” Mr. Felix stopped mid-sentence, his mouth poised in the position of forming another word. He looked at Gwen and frowned. “Umm…excuse me.”
Gwen’s forehead knit as she watched Mr. Felix stride toward the door. He placed his palm on the scanner pad on the wall beside the door, and it clicked open.
The door shut, leaving Gwen alone in the gun-metal gray room. She struggled against her restraints, even pulling her arms forward in an attempt to snap the chains using sheer strength.
Her face went red and she held her breath, but she collapsed back in the chair without success. She was stuck in there. She looked down at her shackled wrists, letting them swing freely.
Bureau Nine – Mr. Felix’s Office – Night
Mr. Felix swirled his red Rooibos tea in his cup, as though the act would help re-warm the tepid drink. He frowned slightly at the imposing volume before him on his desk. A sudden knock made him look up sharply.
“Yes, come, come!” he called. “Ethan! Good, I’m glad you got my message. Please come here.”
Ethan only half-smirked at Felix’s welcome. He entered and took a seat without a word, eyeing the Codex on Felix’s desk.
“Yes,” Felix said, “well, I may not be very good at translating these things, but I’m better than the ‘underling’ assigned to it. Made a real mess of it, didn’t he? So, I decided to give it a go myself.”
Ethan reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a cigarette and lighter.
“Those things are rather unhealthy…” Felix said disapprovingly. Ethan’s quick look made him blush, but then a smile was back on his face. “At any rate, I think what’s needed is a power source to activate the Sphere – and it’s right here under our noses! I really can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before, but then, this really isn’t my ‘sphere’ of expertise, is it?” He chuckled.
Ethan, head tilted and cigarette smoldering, blinked once at Felix’s exuberance, but said nothing.
“Right, well…things have strangely worked to our benefit, even if we don’t have the Sphere – at least not yet. But I need your help.”
Ethan smirked. “So then I am here for a reason…” he said.
“Oh my, yes!” Felix said. “I absolutely need to confer with you and to ask you to help me clear a few things up. One, for instance, is this power source. If I’ve read correctly, it needs to be tremendous, something quite unfathomable, in order to activate the Sphere. I think the power that is needed might be something other than –”
Felix stopped in mid-sentence. Ethan, cigarette pinched between his fingers, was staring absently at a bottle of good scotch that sat off to one side on the liquor cabinet. Three shot glasses were turned upside down around it. He looked up suddenly, locking eyes with Felix.
Ethan smiled at Bureau Nine’s leader and casually asked, “Got any scotch?”
Los Angeles – Wesley’s Apartment – Evening
April 23, 2002
Wesley Wyndham-Pryce sat back wearily in his wooden desk chair, the legs creaking as his weight shifted. The top of the chair back dug into his shoulder blades. He let a small groan of fatigue escape him as he brought his hands up and rubbed his tired, bloodshot eyes.
“Bugger all,” he muttered, leaning forward quickly and causing the chair to rock once.
He reached for the bottle of rotgut scotch and the chipped shot glass that sat on his disorganized desk, on a tabletop strewn with various open books and pieces of paper, and poured himself another drink.
Staring vacantly into space, he absently brought the glass up to his lips. He curled his lip at the smell of the cheap liquor. Then he began downing it.
A sudden hard knocking at his front door startled him, and he half-choked. “Dammit…” he swore as he stood up.
Ethan Rayne turned in the hallway, putting his back to the unanswered door, as the door to one of the apartments on the opposite side of the hall opened. He watched, fascinated, as a willowy youth with spiked blue and green hair, red leather hot pants and a fishnet tank top exited the apartment and walked toward him.
He ogled shamelessly as the young boy stomped along in thigh-high black leather boots, and even grinned lewdly at him as he walked by. The boy seemed not to notice, then gave Ethan the finger just as he passed.
Ethan’s eyebrows shot up, and his grin widened. He opened his mouth to say something to the retreating youth’s shapely rear, but the door behind him suddenly opened up, making Ethan’s coat hem sway.
Ethan only half-turned, continuing to watch the boy as the youth neared the stairway. “Thought there was no one at home,” he said, not looking at Wesley.
Wesley stared unemotionally at him. “Mr. Rayne?”
“You were expecting maybe Rupert Giles?”
Wesley didn’t offer his hand. He merely stared at Ethan’s profile. “I’m –”
“Wesley Wyndam-Pryce,” Ethan said, turning his head and smirking. “I know.” Looking Wesley up and down, he added, “You have the look.” Then he walked past him into the apartment.
Los Angeles – Wesley’s Apartment – Moments Later
Ethan stood in the center of the unkempt room, surveying it while Wesley shut the door.
“What do you mean, the –”
“That look of constipated anxiety and,” Ethan turned to him, his mouth curled in a patronizing grin, “complete and utter ruin. The look of someone far older than,” he hesitated, then shrugged, “you actually are.” Ethan began to unfasten his overcoat. “All the best watchers develop it,” he continued, coyly. “But only the really bad ones develop it as early in life as you.”
Wesley stared balefully at him. “Don’t bother to remove your coat, Mr. Rayne. You won’t be around long.”
Ethan stopped tugging at his coat sleeve and met the hard gaze dead on. “From the look of it,” he crooned softly, “neither will you.” He smiled blandly.
The ex-watcher’s expression remained unchanged, but Ethan saw Wesley’s shoulders tighten and his fingers curl slowly up into his palm.
Then Wesley just smirked. “Yes, well…” he said, motioning to the couch, “enough pleasantries. I have something that –”
“That I’m very interested in. Or I wouldn’t be here,” Ethan said directly, still standing. “The question, Wesley, is what are you interested in?”
“I said in my message that I would give you the Asurian Anthologies if you agreed to take the job – no questions asked and no backing out.”
“And all I said was that I agreed to take the Anthologies.”
“If you don’t want them –”
“Oh, I want them. Very much. But I’ve lived this long without them and managed to do quite well for myself.” He looked around the living room again, then back at Wesley with a smirk. “Better than you, I’d say. But then, for all I know,” he glanced from side to side at the untidy apartment, “this is poorhouse chic.”
“I don’t have to deal with thi –”
“You do if you want my help,” Ethan interrupted silkily. “If you want…what you want. All I want, besides the Asurian Anthologies, is to know what it is you want.”
Wesley stared darkly at the mage. Ethan smiled back, closed-mouthed, and then, flourishing his coat out behind him, he sat down easily in one of the armchairs. Elegantly crossing his legs, he looked at the liquor bottle and shot glass on the desk, then up at the ex-watcher coyly. “Got any scotch?” he asked casually.
Wesley walked over to his desk and picked up the bottle and shot glass. He dumped his own half-drunk measure into the wastebasket, poured a fresh drink and held it out to Ethan. Ethan’s eyes, never leaving Wesley’s face, twinkled in the gloom as he took the glass.
“I need you to open a portal,” Wesley said, turning from his visitor.
Ethan said nothing and took a delicate sip of scotch. He grimaced and looked down at the glass.
“I need you to open a portal to another dimension long enough for me to get in and retrieve something. Something I…lost.” Wesley turned and faced him again. “I need enough time to get in and get out, but then the portal must be closed as soon as I’m back through. There will be…someone…on my heels.”
“Well, if she’s attractive enough, why not let her through? Or maybe you don’t find the ladies attractive…?”
Wesley waited a beat. “Get out.”
“I said get out. You’re wasting my time. Tom Hillary said you’d be the best man for the job, but that I’d have to put up with your cheek. Sorry, but I’m fresh out of patience for cheek these days.”
Ethan saw the change, not in Wesley’s face, but in his eyes: a dangerous, forbidding look. Ethan’s smile faded, and his eyes narrowed at the ex-watcher. “I’ll do it. But only – only – on one condition. You tell me what this lost item is. You needn’t tell me how you lost it or why it’s so bloody important to you. All I want to know is what. And then I’ll do the job.”
Wesley stared back silently.
Ethan sighed and downed the rest of his scotch in a single swallow. “Tom Hillary was wrong,” Ethan said, standing. “I’m not the best man for the job. I’m the only one.” He held the shot glass out in front of Wesley and let it go. Wesley caught it blithely. “Cheers,” Ethan said with a smile. He turned, and Wesley watched him gather his coat about him and head for the front door. Ethan opened the door and was moving across the threshold.
Ethan stopped, his hand still on the doorknob.
“Whose child?” his voice came back, darkly.
Wesley didn’t answer.
He turned and peered at him, smirking. “Hmmm…not yours, I think. And what’s so special about this child that you’d go to, what, Hell for it? There’ve been untold numbers of children taken to hell dimensions. The dead ones are the lucky ones. So what makes this one different? Hm?”
“Do you want the Anthologies or not?”
Ethan’s smile faded then broadened. “You’re not very much fun about all this. Rather a bit too serious, frankly. Sucking the enjoyment out of the whole blasted thing. It’s a wonder you’re not still with the Council – running it, in fact – with that kind of –”
“The child is the son of a…friend. Ex-friend. I was taking care of him when he was stolen, kidnapped from me and taken to…Quor’toth.”
Ethan’s eyes popped open, and his face was taut. “Bloody sodding hell. You’re dealing with Daniel Holtz aren’t you?
“You know –?”
Ethan smirked. “Now what kind of a dark mage would I be if I didn’t know who Holtz is and where he’d got off to? The man’s mere presence causes worlds to collide, or at least quake and burn,” he said, with a hint of admiration in his voice. “And it’s all quite unintended. In fact, he thinks he’s doing the world good! That’s the sheer beauty of –”
“Look! If this goes the way I’ve planned, Holtz won’t be coming back into this world, or any other. Ever. Understand?”
“And if what you’ve planned fails, he’ll be the one on your heels when you return, right?”
Wesley closed his mouth tightly and glared at Ethan.
“Right. I’ll take the job. Oh, don’t look so surprised. I couldn’t care less for the sweet babe you’re after. But to go one-on-one with Holtz, that would be a bit of fun. But it won’t be easy, opening the portal to Quor’toth.” He frowned and thought for a moment. “That will take a bit of doing – a bit of power. More than just one dark mage, even I, can produce.”
Wesley’s shoulders sank. “I can’t afford to hire anyone else.”
“No,” Ethan said emphatically. “But I can. Is Tom Hillary still with the Council?”
“No. He’s fallen out with them. Didn’t care much for the way they ran things.”
“No, he never did…”
“Left the Council about a year ago, under rather ‘unpleasant’ circumstances.”
“I’ll need to speak with him. Can you arrange it?”
“What do you need to spea –”
“Can you arrange it?” Ethan said coldly, done playing.
Wesley’s eyes narrowed at Ethan. Then the ex-watcher turned, went to his nightstand and wrote something down on a piece of paper. He handed it to Ethan.
Ethan took the paper from Wesley and looked down at it. “Oh bloody hell!” he exclaimed, disgusted.
Wesley looked at him puzzled. “What? What is it?”
Ethan rolled his eyes and shook his head. “He’s back living with his mum again,” he said.
Bureau Nine – Main Sub-Basement – Mr. Felix’s Office – Night
Ethan sat in the midst of several reference works. He turned a tissue-thin page in the Codex itself, pushed his glasses back up his nose and re-read the final, troublesome passage. He checked his handwritten notes against it, frowned, tossed the reading glasses on the table and sat back, sighing.
The ashtray on the table next to him was littered with several cigarette butts. He ground the latest in it as he looked up at Felix.
“Well?” Felix asked tentatively.
“Your power source. It needs to be immense and electrical,” Ethan said, rubbing his eyes.
Felix jumped up like a child just given a pony. “Well that’s…” He smiled broadly and breathed out a couple of elated sighs. “That’s just wonderful, truly wonderful news!” He turned, hands clenched in victorious fists, then stopped. Slowly, he turned his head and peered back over his shoulder at Ethan.
Ethan’s eyes were narrowed, scrutinizing him.
“You’re – you’re sure?” Felix asked warily.
“I’m not in the business of guess-work,” Ethan said, his annoyance showing. “If that’s what you want, there’s a world full of second-guessers and charlatans –”
“No, no! Please, Ethan, I meant no offense. It’s just that…well, this is the realization of a-a dream for me, and I – you’ll forgive me if I –”
“What kind of dream?” Ethan asked directly. “Forgive me,” he continued, conciliatorily, “now it’s I who means no offense, but when a man of such accomplishment and stature as yourself begins to speak of his dreams…well, that’s something to sit up and…give a listen to.” He smiled graciously at his employer.
Felix’s smile faded. “I should probably…rephrase,” he said carefully, then turned fully to face the sorcerer. “I meant that I had hopes that we would find the key to activating the sphere, and now…fate seems to have stepped in and provided us with just the thing. I had a hunch that the power we need might be electrical, since so much of it is needed.”
Ethan’s expression reflected bland acceptance of Felix’s words.
“The problem is, we haven’t got the real sphere,” Felix continued. “The one that was procured on our behalf is a fake.”
“So you’re back at square one then? No idea where to find the sphere.”
“Oh, no, we know where it is. The fake was to throw us off the trail. I’m sure that the real one is still at the Council,” Felix said, then added quietly, “the Cleveland Council.”
“Hold on!” Ethan stopped him, stern-faced. “The real sphere is at the Cleveland Council. Meaning you’ve been once and are going back, to take the sphere either by force or by guile?”
“Well…yes, actually…” Felix said hesitantly.
“And what good will it do you once you have it?” Ethan asked smoothly. “Without a power source, I mean.”
Felix stood still, smiling nervously.
Ethan sensed the man’s sudden mistrust. “After all,” he said silkily, helping himself to another shot of scotch, “you yourself said the power needed is immense. And now we’re sure it needs to be electrical. But…” Ethan’s voice trailed off.
“What is it, Ethan?” Felix asked cautiously.
Ethan frowned. “There’s more than one source of electricity in the known universe…” he said softly, his eyes drifting back to the Codex.
Los Angeles – Motel Room – Evening
April 23, 2002
“Y – Yes, Missus. That’s right. Little Ethan.” Ethan rolled his eyes. “Oh yes, Missus, I’m just fine. No, I don’t keep catching that awful cold each winter, thank you…” Ethan pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead in exasperation as the old woman’s voice on the other end of the phone chattered on pleasantly. “Yes, you’re right, Mrs. Hillary, that was quite a while ago. Yes, and I’m all grown up now…but tell me, is Tom there? Tom. Tom, your son. Tommy-Toms!” he nearly shouted. “That’s right. Yes. Thank you, Missus. Goodbye.”
Ethan drew a cigarette out of his shirt pocket and stuck it between his lips. He reached into his pocket again for the lighter and was just lighting up when Thomas Hillary got on the line.
“Tommy-To – uh,” Ethan winced at himself. “Tom! Ethan.” He and Hillary had barely exchanged quick greetings when Ethan said, “Tom, I’ve taken the job with Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. Did you know what portal he wants opened? Quor’toth. Yes! Yes, that’s what I told him. But he has something I can make use of, so…well, we all have our price, don’t we? Now really, Tom, that’s unfair. I do have my standards, you know! Well that’s the rub. It’s going to require some extra special…power. Non-mystical power. I’ve done a little research and a helluva lot of guess-work, to be honest, but I’m going to need a lot more raw power than I can generate alone. Electrical power – current, actually.”
Hillary spoke for a moment, and Ethan shook his head. “No, not possible by machine. This has to be natural, and it has to be bigger than anything even a score of both witches and generators could produce. It’s got to be direct, natural and from a single source. Even if there was a coven that could do it, it still wouldn’t work. There’d be too many energy fluctuations within the circle itself. Hence the need for a single source.”
Ethan pulled the cigarette from his lips. “What’s that? A thief? What on earth would that do? Even if I could steal the ener– What’s that? Wait, give me that name again…”
Los Angeles – Bar – Late Evening
April 27, 2002
Ethan and Wesley stared across at each other as the cocktail waitress set their drinks down on the table in the dark and foul-smelling bar. As she left, Ethan glanced left at the nearly empty room and its somber clientele. No one paid any attention to the two sinister-looking men in the booth. Just to be certain, Ethan smoothly raised his hand in a soft, circular wave, and he and Wesley sat shrouded by a glamour. To the naked eye, they weren’t even in the room.
Paying no attention, Wesley gulped his own drink down. He grimaced as the scotch burned his throat. “And I thought my stuff was bad…”
“It is. But here we at least have the added charm of ambience,” Ethan replied.
Wesley frowned and looked away, disinterested.
“I’ve got all that I need. And a source of energy,” Ethan said directly.
“Not your worry. My assistant and I will handle it.”
“And I’ll be there to help until I step into the portal.”
“No, you won’t. You’ll be in a separate location nearby. I’ll call you when we’re ready for you to –”
“No! The whole plan is that I go into the portal as soon as it opens up. And to do that, I have to be there.”
“Can’t have it. I can’t have you anywhere near when we open the portal. Unless, of course, you want to cause the collapse of this dimension. Then you needn’t worry about bringing back the git, and I won’t really need the Asurian Anthologies, will I? I can’t have you about until after the portal is opened.”
“Why not? It’s not as if I’m uninitiated! I know what I’m doing. Much as I hate admitting it, I was a full-fledged watcher, you know.”
“Were. There’s a reason you’re not anymore. And there’s a reason you ‘lost’ that child and an even bigger reason you want it back. And it all really comes down to just one reason, my scruffy-faced friend! A reason that has nothing to do with your warm, noble intentions or sense of right and wrong.”
“Yes, it’s to do with raw emotion. You’ve got it, and in no small measure. The forces I’m applying are being powered by immense energy. And to keep it all under control and actually get the portal open is going to take all my powers to harness and direct. Now consider adding to it the wildly unstable emotional energy you generate just by being awake and – well, that would be the proverbial monkey wrench in the works, wouldn’t it?”
“I’m there, or the whole thing’s off.”
“Your presence will tip the scales. I don’t know about you – though I’m getting a good idea – but I’d like to survive the opening and closing of the gateway to ‘Toth.”
“I guess you don’t want the Asurian Anthologies then.”
Ethan grabbed the back of Wesley’s wrist and glared hard at the ex-watcher. Then he spoke in a calm whisper. “I don’t want to precipitate a disaster I won’t survive.”
The two men glared at each other as someone approached their booth to sit down. They both turned and looked at the drunken patron, who experienced an unusually unpleasant sensation as soon as he came in contact with the outer edges of the glamour. The man looked as though he felt sick, then turned away and walked to the next booth.
Ethan and Wesley looked back at one another again. Wesley sighed resignedly. “Where will I be, then?”
“I’ll have a location picked out for you. At the right moment, I’ll send you a telepathic communiqué, but you’ll have to move quickly and be sure that you…”
Bureau Nine – Mr. Felix’s Office – Night
“You’re saying it could be something other than electro-magnetic energy?”
Ethan looked over the top of his glasses at Felix, the Codex open in front of him again. “It’s all electro-magnetic,” he said, as though explaining to a schoolboy. “But the source of it –”
“Could be magical,” Felix put in.
“Or,” Ethan said, his finger lying below a single line in the relevant passage, “biological. At least,” he smiled and shrugged, “it says so here.”
He watched as Felix’s face lit up with the same little-boy delight it had earlier, then noted how it fell as Felix caught himself. One corner of Ethan’s mouth quirked up.
“Well, Ethan,” Felix said. “I’m so glad you’ve worked it out.”
“Doesn’t do us much good though, does it?” Ethan offered, sounding disheartened. “Not possible to find it through man-made means…generators and such.” He smiled lightly at Felix, and his reading glasses almost slipped off his nose. He pushed them back up, then sipped at his scotch. “Can’t use witches or sorcerers or spells to produce something of that nature,” he continued conversationally. “Even if you could, say, steal it from somewhere, what could possibly produce that much electrical current? And, come to think of it, why would a little, round ball need such a great, big power source to make it work?”
“Ethan,” Felix cut in quickly, “there is someone we’re holding – well, um, yes, holding. A prisoner. Downstairs. In the holding cells.”
“Sound reasoning,” Ethan deadpanned.
“I wonder if you might have a look in on – that is, whether you could feel this prisoner out. See if she has any innate powers, magical or-or otherwise.”
“Have one of your underlings –”
“They’re not up to it. You saw the mess the last one made of the translation. Please, Ethan, I need your expertise, your talents on this.”
Ethan looked sourly at him. The eyeglasses slid down further, and Ethan pulled them off.
“I need to be certain about her, Ethan. You could provide me with that. My ‘underlings’ would only be guessing.”
Ethan’s eyes sparkled coldly back at him. Felix looked away uncomfortably.
“Well,” Ethan said, standing, “I did say I’m not in the business of guesswork.” His smile was gone. “Have you ever heard an orchestra play?” he asked suddenly.
“Hm? What?” Felix asked, confused.
“An orchestra. You’ve seen one, I’m sure. All the musicians in their places, playing on their instruments…each one bowing, or blowing, or banging away?” Ethan caught himself and smirked at his own words. “Well, you get the idea. And only one conductor. He plays nothing. He just stands in front and waves his arms about and the players do his bidding, without question, without even knowing, perhaps, if they’ll get to the end of the piece…in one piece.”
“I’m not sure I –”
“When I was boy, I used to wonder what would happen if, suddenly, the players refused to play the music the conductor’s way…what could he do, poor man, if the trombonist played a duet with the harpist or the woodwinds and strings refused to play at the same time?” Ethan looked unemotionally at Felix. “I mean, after all,” he continued, his tone disquietingly unpleasant, “without the players, a conductor is merely a madman waving his arms at the world.” He smiled at Felix and laughed a hard, sudden laugh. “Well then, let me go have a look at your prisoner. Maybe she’s a player, too.” With this, he exited the room.
Felix stepped back until he felt the edge of his desk press against the backs of his thighs. Then he leaned back, steadying himself with a hand on the desktop and exhaled.
Bureau Nine – Office – Moments Later
Desk drawers were pulled open, and frantic hands reached and rummaged inside. Ethan stood over his desk, breathlessly muttering, “C’mon” to himself.
He squatted down and opened his bottom drawer. Pulling and lifting up papers, files and books, he finally found a silver medallion tucked away at the very back of the drawer, half-hidden under a box of staples.
“Hallo…” He smiled, holding it up in front of him. Then he slammed the drawer shut.
Bureau Nine – Holding Room – Moments Later
An electronic beep echoed through the holding cell as the light on the door flashed green.
Ethan opened the door to find his suspicions confirmed: Gwen Raiden sat shackled to a chair in the middle of the room, her head hung low, her hair covering her face.
Ethan’s eyes fixed on Gwen as he cautiously stepped inside and closed the door behind him. The sound of the door snapping back into its lock made Gwen look up with a start.
The look on her face was the epitome of astonishment. “…Ethan?” she said uncertainly.
Ethan stared back, his mouth hanging open. “Bloody…” His voice trailed off as he stood, staring at the sight of her chained to the chair. “Gwen…?” he breathed. He glanced quickly over his shoulder and saw a security camera above the door and no one behind him.
He hesitated for a long moment, a worried look on his face. He reached into his trouser pocket and produced the silver medallion.
“Dissimulo,” he said, holding the medallion at arm’s length.
The face of the medallion began to glow, and a purple wave of light exploded out from the trinket. Ethan stumbled back against the wall in a sweat, his breathing deep and shallow.
“E-Ethan?” Gwen called anxiously.
Ethan took in some steady breaths as he raised his hand and put the medallion back in his pocket. “I’m…I’m okay. Just took a lot out of me.”
“What was that? A glamour?”
“A very big glamour,” Ethan said. He stood up upright, shaking his head, blinking a couple of times, still obviously disoriented.
“Ethan…” Gwen said, both relieved and perplexed, “…what…what the hell are you doing here?”
“Giving so that others may live,” he joked as he came closer. He stood over her, uncertain what to do. His hand came up and hovered near her shoulder. “Are you all right?”
Gwen closed her eyes and gave a nod, letting out a soft breath. “Yes, I’m fine.” She glanced at his hand and then looked back up at him. “I’m fine,” she emphasized, with a firm look in her eyes.
Ethan sighed and brought his hand down. “Here now,” he said. He pulled his shirtsleeve down over his right hand and dabbed her brow with it.
She smiled and leaned into his gentle hand. “Thanks,” she said sincerely. “You do know you’re ruining another Italian silk shirt,” she smirked, her words lined with a slight laugh.
“I’ll make an exception just this once,” he said, smiling faintly. He raised his other hand and began to lightly touch her hair.
She pulled away and looked up at him, throwing her hair back. Her smile grew thin, and her face wore a look of resolve. “Not that I’m not pleased to see you, but what are you doing here?”
“I– ” Ethan began, then stopped. He huffed out a laugh. “I work for these blokes.”
“You can’t be serious.”
Ethan gave her an indignant look. “When have you ever known me to be serious?!” Then he added, with a mischievous smile, “But yes, I am.”
Gwen slowly shook her head, kissing her teeth in disapproval. “Well, I hope they treat you better than they do their guests. Their rich and dangerous guest, I might add,” she said, with a shake of her shackles.
“Oh, right. Well then,” he began to raise his hand. “This is an easy fix!” he opened his mouth to chant, then stopped. “Oh, Bugger.” Reaching into his pants pocket, he pulled the medallion back out and held it up before him.
He raised his hand again, once more preparing to chant, then stopped. He surveyed the chains that held Gwen to the chair. He slowly lowered the medallion, as a smile spread across his face and a sly look came into his eyes. He looked down at Gwen and raised one eyebrow at her.
Gwen looked at him, bemused, and waved her chains again. Then her eyes widened, and she made an ‘O’ shape with her pert red lips. She arched her brow and bit her bottom lip. She flung her head back, and her hair fell behind the back of the chair, her eyes sparkling as she stared back into his.
Ethan grinned broadly, his own eyes twinkling at her mischievously. He ran one hand along her PVC-clad shoulder as he stepped in front of her. “You know,” he said, whispering seductively, “it’s been years since I’ve done it…with a rubber.”
She lurched up to lock her lips with his, but was pulled back down by her shackles. Gwen pouted and extended her foot, rubbing the inside of his left leg. She wrapped her foot around his calf and nudged him forward. “Well now, aren’t you lucky? Rubber and chains. All very S & M. And what with the added danger of being caught…” She trailed off, staring up at him devilishly.
“The danger’s in not being caught.” He moved forward at her urging, his legs on either side of her, and placed both hands on the back of the chair on either side of her shoulders. He arched down, his face very close to hers. “Hmmm…you’re all charged up. I can smell the ozone oozing off you.”
He continued to look at her, his smile fading. Then his lips were on hers, pressing firmly against her mouth. He held for a moment, savoring the familiar suppleness. The kiss deepened.
End of Act Three