Ritz-Carlton Cleveland Hotel – Evening
Rayne quietly slipped into the suite and immediately headed for the bar after dropping his leather coat on the couch. He had just taken a sip from his tumbler when Tyrell came in from the bedroom.
“What the hell are you doing back so soon?” the former chairman asked haughtily. “I thought I ordered you follow the slayer?”
Rayne snorted. “Rather hard to follow someone off in space,” he said, looking into his glass. “Unless the fare for a transport to the ISS is included in our budget, I wasn’t about to bother.”
“What are you talking about?” Tyrell asked, his demeanor abruptly switching.
Rayne looked up as if surprised at the tone of fear in Tyrell’s voice. “Miss Allison and that watcher she’s been sniffing after took off for the ISS this morning on a Council shuttle. The spaceport control officer I spoke with indicated that it was just a routine run for the Council, so I assumed they simply went along for the ride.”
“Fool!” Tyrell fumed and headed for the communications unit. He activated a voice-only line and spoke quickly when it opened.
“Tyrell here. The Council has discovered our ISS project sooner than we wanted.”
“Understood,” came the terse reply in a sexless voice, and the line was disconnected.
“What’s going on, Tyrell?” Rayne asked.
Tyrell glared at his underling but said nothing. When Tyrell stomped to the bar and made himself a stiff drink, Rayne looked around at the luxurious suite, his face growing even more fearful.
ISS – Docking Port – Same time
“Let me down, Trent,” Katherine said softly as she tried to squirm away from Darby, obviously not willing to risk hurting him with her superior strength.
After another moment, the captain set her on the deck. “Sorry, baby,” he said. “I just never expected to see you here. I knew the Council was sending a team to help, but I thought you were assigned to New York.”
“Long story,” Katherine said before risking a glance at Jocasta.
The watcher had composed her face from shock to stiff neutrality. Antonia looked at her cousin and then Katherine. Then she just sighed and turned to Trent.
“Captain Darby,” the pilot said as if to distract him from the two women. “Antonia Allister, Council pilot.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Darby said, enthusiastically shaking her hand. “Thanks so much for taking good care of my fiancée.”
“Fiancée?” Jocasta said bleakly, staring at Katherine.
“We’re n-not officially engaged,” Katherine was quick to point out, her nervous stutter painfully obvious.
“Well, technically that’s true,” Darby said. “But now that I’m back from Mars, we can skip the whole engagement thing and get right to the wedding.”
“Not to mention the wedding night,” Hartman chuckled under his breath.
Jocasta’s face blanched white.
Alan Giles cleared his throat and quickly intervened. “I’d like to extend my gratitude for the Council’s quick response to this crisis, Jo. I’ve had quarters assigned, and all the information we have regarding the vampire attacks have been made available to you. Right now I imagine you’d like to rest after your journey.”
Jocasta took a deep breath and finally turned to the administrator. “Yes, thank you, Alan.”
“I’ll be glad to you show you to the VIP quarters,” Darby offered. “That’ll give us a chance to catch up, Katie.”
“Ummm,” Katherine paused, her eyes darting frantically about. “N-not tonight, Trent. I’m not used to s-space travel, and I’ll need my strength to go after those v-vamps.”
“Of course,” Darby said agreeably. Then he leaned in to kiss the slayer. Katherine winced and turned her head sharply so that his kiss landed on her cheek rather than on her lips as he had intended.
Antonia grabbed the bags that were scattered around the deck. “Come on guys,” she said, “I know where the quarters are. Goodnight, Alan. Colonel… Captain…pleased to meet you both.”
The two military men didn’t salute, but their stiffened nods to the trio made it appear they as if they had. Alan looked after the departing women a moment and then headed off in the opposite direction.
ISS – Guest Quarters Corridor – Minutes later
The silence in the richly furnished corridor was as oppressive as the vacuum outside the station as the three women made their way to their quarters. Antonia stopped outside two doors that were directly across the hall from one another.
“You guys are here,” she said, handing them each a data card. Then she pointed further down the corridor. “I’m over there. If you need me, just give a call.”
“Thanks, Toni,” Katherine said, not looking at the pilot, her gaze instead fixed on her lover.
“Night, Cuz,” Jocasta said, the pain in her eyes clearly obvious as she tried to look anywhere except at Katherine.
Antonia quickly entered her quarters, leaving the two women alone.
“We n-need to talk, Jo,” Katherine said, her voice cracking. “I need to explain.”
“Explain what?” Jocasta said, finally looking at the slayer, anger blazing in her eyes. “Explain that the whole time we’ve been together you just forgot to mention you had a fiancée?”
“We’re not engaged,” Katherine said lamely.
“Oh, excuse me for not adhering to technicalities!” Jocasta moved to insert her data card into the key slot, but Katherine stopped her.
“Jo, listen,” she said desperately. “Three years ago, Trent left for Mars on a deep space assignment. The plan was that when he returned and received a promotion, then we’d start talking about getting married.”
“We’ve been together for months now, Katie,” Jocasta pointed out again, hurt in her voice.
“I know I should have told you,” Katherine said. “I wanted to, and I tried, but I thought I had time before this became an issue with Trent.”
“Well, you just ran out of time, didn’t you?” Jocasta said. “Why didn’t you tell him after we met?”
“Communication with military personnel on Mars is sparse at best, and I haven’t spoken with him for a long time. And when you and I met, he was already en-route back to Earth, and I’m sorry, but sending a ‘Dear John’ communiqué to someone in space is not the way I was raised.” Katherine’s own voice, although regretful, was tinged with a touch of anger.
“Well, you better get writing,” Jocasta fumed, “because your ‘John‘ is already picking out china patterns.”
Katherine took a deep breath as if to calm herself and said, “I will. I promise. Can we just go inside and talk this through, please?”
Jocasta looked around as if realizing they were standing in a public hallway. “Not tonight,” she declared as she activated the keypad. “I’m tired, and we do have a mission to accomplish. Good night.”
Jocasta awkwardly fumbled her bags through the door, and Katherine sighed as the watcher closed her door without even looking back.
Watchers Council – Morgan Travers’ Office – Next day
Sebastian Giles stood looking out the window at the Cleveland city skyline. He appeared alert, but seemed almost resigned to what the man sitting behind the desk was ranting about.
“As head of this investigation,” Travers was saying, “I demand full cooperation from your office, Giles. And that means being allowed to interview all parties involved, including Rayne’s slayer.”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible, Morgan,” Giles replied, his gaze remaining fixed out the window. “She is out of town on assignment.”
Travers’ eyes flashed angrily. “Is that wise?” he asked. “For all we know, she was the one who facilitated his escape. He was her watcher, after all.”
“It was not a close association, I assure you,” Giles replied. “Katherine had nothing to do with Rayne’s escape, and you’ve got a dozen witnesses to back that up.”
“Be that as it may, she remains one of my top suspects. Especially given the rumors I’ve been hearing regarding her relationship with Colonel Rosenberg.”
“What of it?” Giles asked, finally turning from the window to glare at Travers.
“The Council has always discouraged relationships between slayers and watchers,” Travers sneered. “Or have you forgotten that along with most of your common sense?”
“Jo and Katie’s relationship is none of your business, Morgan,” Giles said. “Do anything outside the scope of your investigation, and I assure you, I will take action.” Giles turned to leave the office.
“You’re also under suspicion, Mr. Chairman,” Travers called out, making Giles pause. “And I assure you…I’m watching you just as closely.”
The chairman’s eyes narrowed for only a second before his expression crinkled into a smirk. “A voyeur now?” he said. “I always knew there was a bit of kink in you, Morgan.”
Giles left the office before Travers could sputter his protest.
Watchers Council – Red Sector R&D Lab – Same time
The bulky Seraphim suit prototype was suspended between Lex Harris and James Wells, various panels opened to reveal circuit panels and gears. Mira was quietly working on a computer terminal off to the side while the Anyabot sat before the large display of technical diagrams on the holographic imager.
“Lexington Harris, the torque specifications for the microlite servo is to be no higher than 3.3 kilograms,” Anya said in a know-it-all tone. “If you insist on using the higher setting on your spanner, then I suggest you install the super microlite which is rated at 3.6 kilograms.”
“Listen, you overpriced sexbot,” Lex began as he hefted the spanner in her direction.
James deftly plucked the spanner away from Lex. “I’ll get it, Lex,” he said. He made a small adjustment on the tool then dug back into the panel they were working on.
Lex glared at the robot. “Don’t you have anything better to do?” he asked.
“I am offering you valuable assistance,” Anya replied and indicated the blueprint display. “Someone has to have enough intelligence to decipher these schematics while you and James do the dirty work.”
Lex rolled his eyes and bent back to the panel. “What does ‘ANYA’ stand for anyway?” he mumbled to James. ” ‘Abrasive Nymphomaniac Yucky Artifact?’ Man, sometimes I wish she’d never been built.”
“Oh yeah?” Anya shot back. “Well, I…I wish you had tentacles where your beady eyes should be!”
“Anya!” James exclaimed in alarm as his android insulted his boss. “How could you say that?”
“Really,” Mira agreed. “I hardly think Lex’s cybernetic eye qualifies as ‘beady’.”
“Relax, everyone, I’m handling this,” Lex assured James and Mira before turning to the annoying synthetic. He took a deep breath and said, “You can help by making this a quiet time.”
James glanced nervously at the department head and then made a final adjustment on the servo. “There,” he said. “That should do it.”
Lex nodded at the work, his cybernetic eye scanning the compartment. “Looks great, James. Good job.”
“Thanks,” James beamed and closed the panel.
“Mira,” Lex called over. “Come give this a try.”
“Right,” the slayer said and moved over to don the suit.
As Lex and James waited, the door to the lab slid open, and Colonel John West entered.
“Harris, Wells,” he said in greeting. When Mira popped her head out of the top of the Seraphim suit, he added, “And Slayer Fitzgerald.”
“Hey Colonel,” Mira said quickly before going right back to her task.
Anya frowned at the colonel’s back when it became apparent that he was not going to greet her.
“Colonel,” Lex said with a nod and a smile. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”
“Just making my rounds,” West explained. “Part of my habit on the gamma shift when you all are usually not here. Besides, I like to keep up with everything that’s going on around here.”
“Filling in for Jo while she’s away?” Lex asked, keeping his eyes trained on James as he helped the slayer seal the suit.
“Indeed,” West replied. “More changes to the suit design?”
“Modification requests from the slayers,” Lex said. “After all, they’re the one’s whose lives depend on it.”
“Of course,” West said and then glanced at the Anyabot. The android continued to scan through the blueprints, pointedly ignoring the colonel’s gaze.
James moved over to the monitor displaying the suit’s readouts while Mira began to test the suit’s movements. After watching a few minutes, Colonel West clapped Lex on the back.
“Looks good, Harris,” he complimented. “I’ll let you all continue your work.”
“Later, Colonel,” Lex said absently as he made an adjustment to one of the suit’s controls. “Here Mira, let’s see what happens when we increase the phase variance by two percent.”
Anya’s eyes followed the colonel as he left the room, and then she quietly watched as Lex continued to make adjustments for the slayer to test.
After a while, a flashing light on the android’s console caught her attention.
“James,” she interrupted. “Message for you.”
James put down the spanner and walked over to the workstation. He hit a button, and the image of Sebastian Giles appeared on the display.
“James, I need to see you,” the chairman said.
“Um, okay,” he said. “On my way.”
Anya deactivated the console for him. “Come on,” she said, grabbing his hand. “I’m not staying around here without you, and your meeting with Giles better not last that long. I need you too, you know!”
Lex and Mira watched as the robot literally dragged a dazed James out of the lab. “I’ll say it again…overpriced sexbot,” Lex said, shaking his head.
Watchers Council – Velika Petrova’s Office – Minutes later
The blonde commander opened the door to her office and watched a moment as Livia Hansen paced across the outer office’s floor, much to the obvious discomfort of her assistant.
“Livia,” she said. “Come on in.”
The slayer ceased her pacing and then moved into the office. Velika indicated a seat on the couch and sat across from her.
“What can I do for you, Liv?” she asked, warmth in her voice.
Livia paused a moment and then said in a rush, “I’d like to file a formal complaint against Chairman Giles.”
Velika’s raised eyebrows were her only indication of surprise. “I see,” she said in the same tone of voice she’d used before. “And what’s the complaint about?”
“He’s playing favoritism,” Livia said. “He assigned a lower-ranked slayer for a mission off-world simply because she’s involved with Colonel Rosenberg.”
“Can you prove that?” Velika inquired.
“Well…” Livia said. “She and Rosenberg are there right now. That’s proof.”
“What’s the mission?”
“I…I don’t know,” Livia said.
“Are you sure it even is a mission?” Velika asked. “Jo Rosenberg is close to the entire Giles family, not only Sebastian. Perhaps she just wanted to visit the administrator?” Livia’s eyes darkened, and Velika continued. “Did you speak with the chairman about this?”
“I did,” she admitted. “He threatened to transfer me to Mongolia.”
“You’re lucky he only threatened,” Velika said, her eyes flashing. “If you had come at me as I’m sure you did at Giles, you would be on your way there right now.”
“Dammit, Velika,” Livia said, bursting off the couch and moving across the office. “Not you, too! I know Giles was your Watcher, but you’re supposed to be on our side now.”
“Our side?” Velika asked, her voice growing harder as she stood up and faced her slayer nose-to-nose. “I was a Slayer for over twenty years. Since my deactivation, I’ve spent every waking moment doing all I can to make sure you girls stay healthy and alive. It’s not a question of us versus them, Livia. It’s a matter of doing what must be done – of defeating evil and protecting the innocent. And let me give you a short lesson in Council politics, Slayer. With Travers and the rest of his cronies on the Command Council ready to pounce on any excuse to get rid of Giles, a formal complaint – even one as insignificant as this – would give them the leverage they need. And then what kind of shape would the Council be in? Hmmm?”
Livia gave a big sigh as if finally accepting defeat. “I don’t like politics,” she mumbled.
“Neither do I,” Velika agreed, her tone softening again. “But it’s a game we all have to play to get the job done. That’s what matters, Liv, not playing any one-up games about which slayer gets a free trip into space.”
“All right,” Livia said, turning and looking out the window at the Cleveland skyline. “I’ll drop it.”
“Good,” Velika said. “And please, Liv…come to me first before going off half-cocked to the Chairman again. Giles accepted a terrible burden when he took the job. And we have to do all we can to make it easier for him, because I truly believe that without him the Council would be in serious trouble.”
“Okay, Velika,” Livia said. “Thanks.”
Velika silently watched as the slayer left the office.
Watchers Council – Giles’s Office – Same time
“Come in, James,” Giles said at the tentative knock on the open door. “Please, have a seat.”
“Um, okay,” he said, moving jerkily to the offered chair in front of the desk.
“I’d like to touch base with you regarding your probe into Tyrell’s financial records,” Giles said.
James fidgeted in his seat. “Um, well…I’ve got spy-bots out tracking all of his personal accounts, but nothing has been touched. Whatever he’s using, it must be a secret account somewhere. Or…”
“Or…?” Giles prompted.
“Or someone is financing him, and he doesn’t need to use his own funds,” James concluded.
Giles sat back and took a deep breath. “That is a possibility,” he said finally. “I’d like you to keep checking, James. Tyrell’s bound to make a mistake sometime, and when he does, we’ll have him.”
James nodded thoughtfully.
Watchers Council – Colonel West’s Office – Same time
John West’s dark eyes watched the projected display of his terminal. His posture was tense and alert. He made a small adjustment to the control panel, and the display panned to reveal a bird’s-eye view of James Wells sitting in Chairman Giles’s office. John eyes narrowed as he leaned forward for a closer look.
End of Act Two