James’s Apartment – Early Morning
Dappled sunlight peeked through a crack beneath the window shade in a smartly decorated bedroom. An alarm began to beep, and the window shade started to rise, bathing the room in light.
James winced as the sunlight hit his face. He raised a hand to his eyes, groaning in annoyance. When that didn’t work, he pulled his pillow over his head. After a few minutes of trying to ignore the constant beeping of the alarm, James finally rolled over and sat up.
“I’m up, I’m up! Jeez.” He slapped the off switch and rubbed his eyes. Then he turned his attention to the window. He raised a finger to point at it. “And you,” he said, glaring, “are getting reprogrammed.”
Pushing back the covers, James climbed out of bed and stumbled toward the bathroom.
James’s Apartment – Moments Later
In the bathroom, James rinsed his mouth out in the sink, then looked at himself in the mirror. He smiled brightly at his reflection.
“It’s gonna be a great day,” he said. The smile faded a bit. “Or at least a good day.” He dropped the smile altogether and sighed. “Mediocre’s fine too.”
James’s Apartment – Morning
James exited the bathroom, rubbing a towel over his head. He tossed the wet towel on a chair as he entered the living area and ran a hand through his wet hair so it wouldn’t stick straight up. The hair stubbornly resisted. As he headed toward the kitchen, he noticed a blinking light on his computer console. He tapped a button as he walked by.
While James opened his cupboard and began pushing aside bottles, the room was suddenly filled with the voice of Sebastian Giles.
“James, this is Giles. I was hoping to meet with you this morning regarding–”
“Save and skip,” James interrupted. He shook his head as he pulled a tin can out of the cupboard and moved over to a very antique coffee machine. “Sorry, Mr. Chairman. Not before my daily caffeine injection.”
The next message started a moment later.
“This is Anya. I’m over at the computer center, and you aren’t here. Why aren’t you here? It’s not a good idea for you to sleep in, James. You know it throws off your daily routine and makes you grumpy. You really should try to get to work earlier. I mean, just look at me. I’ve been here all night, and I feel wonderful!”
James rolled his eyes and glared at the coffee machine, as if willing it to brew faster. “Delete message,” he told the computer. The console beeped once in acknowledgment and continued to the next message.
“James, buddy, it’s Benjamin. Where the heck are ya?”
A grin spread across James’s face. The message continued.
“Listen, a hundred thousand thanks for the tickets, man. ComicCon was so awesome! You shoulda been here. Oh, but you had to work, huh?” Ben chuckled, and a muffled voice could be heard in the background. “Yeah, yeah. Take a pill, honestly,” Ben said to the voice. Then he returned to speaking into the phone. “Hey, James, Kat says hi…and she wants to know if you’re single. Ow! Hey!”
The coffee pot finished filling. James poured himself a mug and moved over to the dining table. He shook his head at the silliness of the message.
“So anyway, just called to say thanks. I might have something for you, too, if I can wheedle the guy out of it. I’ll be back in town on, um, Friday, and we should hang out. But not with Kat. ‘Cause, you know, I’m totally the jealous type. Ow! Holy cats, woman!” There was some muffled complaining in the background, and Ben laughed again. “So um, yeah. I’ll see ya Friday, Jim!”
James set the coffee mug on the table to prevent spilling while he laughed. “You guys…”
He was still chuckling into his coffee when the next message began. At the sound of the feminine voice, James’s head shot up, and he stared at the computer in shock.
“Hey, Jimmy. Don’t answer the phone for your own family anymore, huh?”
“Delete message!” James exclaimed. The computer hummed, momentarily confused by the outburst. Finally, it beeped and skipped to the final message. James let out a relieved sigh and leaned his head against his forearms.
“Hey again. I know you’re just going to erase that message without even listening to it, so I’m giving you another chance.”
James lifted his head and gaped at the computer. “Unbelievable!” he muttered.
“Long story short, I’m coming to Cleveland. I got the lead in the new Slayer Wars, not that you care. I’ll be arriving at the Council tomorrow to start my research. I thought maybe we could…talk.” There was a pause, and the speaker took a deep breath. “Just talk to me, James. I’m your sister. I deserve that much.”
The computer made a series of beeps to indicate the end of the messages. James sat for a long while, staring down at his mug. The coffee was cold by the time he left for work.
Watchers Council – Computer Center – Afternoon
“I still don’t see why you just don’t calibrate the whole thing. It’d certainly be a more effective use of our time.” Anya stood behind him, hands on her hips. She glared down at the back of his head.
James sighed and leaned his forehead against his computer screen, which displayed a colorful game featuring characters wielding hefty weaponry.
“It’d only take a couple of hours, and think how much easier it’ll be in the long run. You’re wasting your youth, James. And mine for that matter!”
James raised his head and opened his mouth to reply, but Anya rushed on.
“And another thing! The Slayer comm system isn’t our responsibility. If it’s on the fritz, let them fix it themselves!”
“Anya!” James gave an exasperated sigh. He swiveled in his chair and looked sternly at the android. “Livia asked me to do it. I’m not gonna say no. Especially not when she can kill me with a data rod in twenty different ways!”
Gaping in astonishment, Anya took a step forward. “Is that why you’ve been on edge all morning? Did that Slayer threaten you?”
Before James had the chance to do more than roll his eyes, the door opened to reveal a haggard, irritated Giles.
James’s eyes widened as if he’d just remembered something important. He winced and got to his feet. “Mr. Giles! I was just on my way to see you–”
“Oh really?” Giles said, crossing his arms. “I expected you to contact me this morning. Did meeting with me not fit into your schedule of–” He glanced down at James’s screen, and his jaw clenched. “Messing around? Really, James, it’s not like you to shirk your responsibilities.”
James started to speak, but was again interrupted.
“I’ve been reprimanding him all day, Councilor,” Anya interjected. “We know how difficult it’s been for you to function in your new position as Chairman when high-ranking members of the Council are against you and some of your supporters have been sent to detainment camp and will probably never speak to you again. But don’t you worry! Everything will be ship-shape in no time.” She smiled pleasantly, oblivious to James’s embarrassed expression.
Giles seemed momentarily taken-aback. He opened his mouth to respond, closed it, then started again. “Yes, well. Thank you, Anya.” He shook his head, turning his attention back to James. “Regardless, I expected more of you, James.”
When James struggled to find a suitable response, Giles sighed and shook his head. “I’ll be too busy today, but I’d like to meet with you tomorrow if you can manage to fit it into your schedule.”
Anya bounced a little as James nodded his agreement. She smiled brightly at Giles. “Can I come?”
“No,” Giles responded curtly as he turned and walked out the door.
Anya’s face fell, but she shrugged it off quickly and resumed her position beside James. “Now then, what was I saying? Oh, yes! If that Slayer is giving you trouble, just say the word and I’ll–”
“Anya, please!” James exclaimed, giving her a wounded expression. “Can’t you see I’m having a bad day?”
Getting up from his chair, James crossed the room and began gathering a small pile of data pads. Anya cocked her head to the side and watched him curiously for a moment. Finally, she frowned and walked over to him. She placed a hand on his arm and mechanically patted it a couple of times.
“There, there. Don’t be so upset. I’m your friend, and therefore I am here to help. Tell me your problems.”
James shrugged off Anya’s attempt at comfort. “I’m fine. I just…I get so frustrated sometimes. Here I am, doing my job to the best of my ability, and does anyone even notice? Does anyone ever say, ‘Hey thanks for getting those reports in on time, James!’ or ‘Good job cracking that security, James?’ ”
“Colonel Rosenberg appreciates your efforts,” Anya replied. Then her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “She even kissed you.”
Shrugging, James leaned back against the wall. “Yeah, but those were special circumstances. I mean, I work hard here! This place would probably fall apart if I wasn’t around. Doesn’t anybody appreciate that?”
“The work stopped being hard a long time ago, James,” Anya said. “You just haven’t kept up. If you want to be appreciated, you need to ask for more responsibility. Or better yet, take some initiative! Get out there and show them what you’re capable of. That way you’ll earn appreciation and respect!”
She slapped James heartily on the shoulder, causing him to wince at her enthusiasm. He nodded, his expression far away as he considered Anya’s suggestion. “Show them what I can do, huh?” he muttered to himself.
Dayson Laboratory – Underground Research Lab – Night
Alarms blared, echoing off the walls of the darkened room. The room was filled with computers and medical equipment, most of which appeared to be broken and scattered around. An eerie green smoke drifted out of a row of large tubes lined against a wall, spreading out across the floor like morning mist. In the distance, a deep voice shouted. More shouting began as the alarms blared on. The noise drowned out the dull thud of feet on the floor.
A dark figure moved awkwardly across the room, stepping carefully over broken glass. The figure leaned down and gently patted the front of a man lying unconscious on the floor. After searching the pockets of the lab coat for several seconds, the figure finally pulled out a data rod and a security card.
The shouting grew closer, and the figure moved quickly to a nearby door. He slid the key card slid across the security panel and the door opened easily. The figure glanced back at the room, then quickly ducked into the hallway. Guards burst into the laboratory moments later, a few immediately running to help the fallen doctor. The lead guard stood back and narrowed his eyes at the prone man, then glanced up at the back door to the lab.
“Noxin!” the Major barked.
One of the younger security officers jumped away from a computer and stood at attention. “Sir!”
His superior walked toward the door that the dark figure had slipped through. “Take the doctor to the medical wing. Have the staff notify me as soon as he’s conscious. And find out what the hell is missing! Johnson, Fury, you’re with me!”
Noxin watched the guards disappear through the back door. He swallowed hard and looked down at the doctor. Straightening his shoulders, he waved the two remaining guards over. “You heard the Major! Tear this room apart! If there’s a pencil out of place, I want to know about it! Move!”
The guards immediately followed out his instructions. One of them gave him a questioning look as he examined the man-sized tubes along the wall. Noxin shrugged and activated his comm.
“Noxin here. Medical team to Lab 5. Man down. I repeat, man down.”
Dayson Laboratory – Hallway – Moments later
The dark figure skidded around a corner, slipping on the smooth tile. Looking around wildly, the figure spotted a utility closet off to the side and quickly ducked through the door.
A few moments later, the guards rounded the corner and began inching forward, peering into each lab with guns raised in anticipation. Finding nothing, they continued to move down the hallway. The Major eyed the utility closet suspiciously. He strode forward and yanked on the door handle. The door refused to open. The Major huffed angrily and motioned for the group to continue moving.
As the guards disappeared down the hall, the closet door opened slightly, and the wanted man poked his head out. He looked both ways, then chuckled softly at the empty hallway. An emergency light on the wall flickered on, casting a pale, yellow glow on the face of the figure.
“Wicked cool,” he said as he headed for the elevator.
End of Teaser