Watchers Council – Computer Center – Late Morning
James looked up from his work as his computer began to beep. He reached over to check the incoming call and smiled before answering.
“Jimmy!” The excited face of his sister, Jessica, filled the screen. “Did you see it? What’d ya think? Too cheesy? Be honest now. I’m trained to smile and look classy when being criticized, you know.”
James chuckled. “It wasn’t cheesy at all. It was awesome!”
“Really? You’re not just saying that because I know kung fu and can hurt you?” Though her expression was skeptical, Jessica’s eyes shone with amusement.
“The movie was great, Jess. Really great. And um, you…you were good too.” Before his sister could respond, James rushed on. “I mean, the special effects alone will probably win it a dozen awards. That’s some pretty high-tech computer imaging.”
“Yeah, well, I’m just glad Slayer Wars premiered so soon after the HDT battle. Not that I like piggybacking off someone else’s success, but ever since Livia kicked the crap out of Hubris, the public opinion polls have been through the roof. People really love to see slayers win.”
Nodding, James opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off by the exaggerated clearing of a throat somewhere behind him. He glanced back to see Anya glaring down at him with her hands on her hips.
“Don’t you have something more important to be doing on company time, James?” the android snapped. “Like, oh I don’t know, working? What happened to that new work ethic, mister? Chop chop, time’s a-wastin’!”
Sighing, James turned back to the screen and shrugged at Jessica. “Duty calls.” His expression softened as he asked seriously, “Talk to you later?”
Jessica smiled. “You betcha.”
Hubris, Inc. – Dr. So’s Lab – Same Time
Horatio Tyrell stood behind Dr. Martin So and watched as the doctor checked the vital signs of a female patient who was lying on an examination table. The woman’s skin was a pale gray with occasional rough patches of black, which made it difficult to discern her exact age. Her eyes were frozen open, and she struggled to breathe. As they watched, a small spasm rippled through her body.
“As you can see, by stage three of the virus, the victim’s condition has become apparent in her physical features. She is conscious but essentially paralyzed. Before long, she will enter a coma and become basically non-responsive. Her brain functions will continue, however, until the virus plays itself out. The entire process can take anywhere from two to four days, depending on the strength of the victim’s immune system,” Dr. So said.
“Impressive. What are the early symptoms?” Tyrell asked.
“If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you,” Dr. So said.
He led Tyrell across the small laboratory to another table, where a lab technician was examining a male patient. His skin color was pale but not yet gray, and he was sweating profusely.
“The virus manifests itself first with symptoms similar to those of the flu: fever, chills, body aches, nausea, general malaise. This patient is suffering from these indicators as well as congestion and headaches. Soon these symptoms will worsen, and he will enter stage two,” Dr. So explained.
The patient began to cough violently, and the lab tech quickly handed him a tissue. When the patient’s coughing had subsided, the lab tech took the tissue from him. He looked at the tissue then showed it to Dr. So. The tissue was covered with a thick, dark mucus that was an unnatural gray color.
“Ah, stage two,” Dr. So said in a pleased voice.
A short expression of disgust filled Tyrell’s eyes before his eyes went cold again. He turned from the table and began walking away. Dr. So followed right beside him.
“What’s your progress on the contagion level?” Tyrell asked.
“In its current incarnation, the virus is contractible only via injection directly into the bloodstream,” Dr. So answered.
“And the vaccine and antidote?”
“We do have a fully functioning vaccine and antidote. The vaccination will prevent infection, should one be accidentally exposed, and the antidote will kill all strains of the virus, active or inactive, within the body. However, the antidote will not undo any damage caused by the virus.”
“You’ve done very well, Martin,” Tyrell complimented. “Infection via injection will suit my purposes for now, but I will need a more contagious version for my future projects. Possible?”
“Oh, most certainly.”
“I trust you have sufficient volunteers at your disposal?”
Dr. So flashed a smile. “Cloning…it’s a good thing,” he replied.
Hubris, Inc. – Office Inside Dr. So’s Lab – Moments Later
Tyrell exited the lab and entered an office. There, he took a seat behind the desk, activated the computer’s vid screen, and punched in a number. A few seconds later, Morgan Travers appeared on the screen.
“Everything on schedule?” Travers asked.
“Yes,” Tyrell replied. “When you get the signal, proceed as discussed.”
“Are you certain the motion will pass?”
“Quite certain,” Tyrell answered confidently. “My contacts in Black Sector have assured me of their cooperation. All Councilors likely to reject my reinstatement will be given no choice in the matter. With their family members infected, they will vote accordingly, or their loved ones will die.” Tyrell looked away as if thinking deeply. “I will be returned to my proper place as Chairman, and Sebastian will be crucified.”
Hubris, Inc. – Hallway Outside Dr. So’s Lab – Moments Later
When Tyrell exited Dr. So’s lab, he found Eris Pantelles standing there, her arms crossed and her eyes angry.
“What is going on in there?” she demanded, pointing inside the door. “I will not tolerate being locked out of my own laboratories!”
Tyrell didn’t answer. He merely sealed the door firmly then turned to face Eris. He crossed his arms but remained silent.
“I don’t appreciate being kept in the dark,” Eris said coldly.
“You’ll be enlightened when and if I decide you are worthy of such enlightenment,” Tyrell said snidely. “And given your performance in Waxahachie, I don’t think that will be any time soon.” Tyrell stepped around Eris and began walking away. Then he called over his shoulder, “When I need your services, I’ll call you.”
Eris’s face reddened, and her eyes narrowed into tight slits as she glared furiously at Tyrell’s retreating figure. Then she stomped off in the opposite direction.
Lex’s Apartment – Same Time
Antonia entered the darkened bedroom carrying a tray. She set it gently on the nightstand next to bed where a lumpy blob lay hidden under several blankets. She stood and watched the figure for a moment then sighed.
“Right then!” she said cheerily and hit the control panel built in to the nightstand. “Time to get up.” The opaque windows cleared, allowing the bright Cleveland sunlight to flood the room.
The figure groaned. “Not tonight, honey,” Lex grumbled. “I have a headache.”
“I said ‘get up,’ dear,” she laughed. “I require no more of you than getting some liquid into that dehydrated carcass of yours.”
Lex rolled over and stared bleary-eyed at his favorite pilot. “I can’t keep anything down,” he complained.
“This will help,” Antonia said, sitting next to him and picking up a heavy mug from the tray. “Grammy’s cure for whatever ails ya. Passed down by our ancestors from time immemorial.”
“It’s Willow Rosenberg’s chicken soup recipe,” Lex said as he rolled his eyes.
“Jewish penicillin,” Antonia nodded. “Just the thing for your flu. Now drink up. I strained the broth for you. It’s all your stomach can handle right now.”
Lex looked at her over the rim of the steaming mug as he cautiously sipped. “Mmmm,” he grunted almost reluctantly. “Thanks, sweetheart. You take good care of me.”
“Of course I expect the same treatment if I’m ever sick,” she said, glaring at him and wagging her finger.
“I promise,” he said. “Providing I survive this damn flu.”
“You will,” she said. “That I can guarantee. Willow’s cure has never failed us yet.” A small beeping noise emitted from the small data pad clipped to her belt. “It’s time for the panel discussion that Jo, Giles, and Velika are doing with those senators,” she said, turning the device off. “Want to watch it with me, or shall I go into the living room?”
“No, no…sit,” he said, waving an arm to indicate the space on the bed next to him. “If you want to risk getting this, then by all means join me.”
Antonia laughed as she worked the control panel again. The holographic video turned on, and she moved around to the other side of the bed. “It’s been said that ‘love makes you do the wacky.’ So risking a case of the flu is child’s play.”
Lex grunted in agreement and sipped his soup.
World News Net – Studio – Shortly After Noon
Sitting in the center of a semicircle table, WNN Anchor Daniel Rice watched his director as he waited for the cue that they were back from commercial. To his right sat Giles, Jocasta, and Velika, representing the Watchers Council. To his left sat three senators from Congress: Paul Curtis of California, Demarie Angelique of Ohio, and Samuel Watters of New York.
Receiving his cue, Daniel Rice focused on the camera and said, “Welcome back.” Then he turned to his left. “Senator Angelique, I believe you had a question for Chairman Giles.”
Angelique gave a nod then faced Giles. “If Congress renews the Council’s contract for the Human Defense Treaty, what are you going to do to address the public’s concerns about how the demonic threat has been dealt with in the past? In other words, what are you going to be doing differently to ensure that humanity is safe from demons?”
Giles smiled confidently. “An excellent question, Senator. The most important change I intend to implement is to restore the three-part structure which organized the Council in the past.”
“You mean, you intend to reinstate the Coven branch of the Council?” Rice asked for clarification.
“That is correct,” Giles replied.
When the senators began whispering among themselves, Jocasta interrupted. “A functioning coven can deal with magical threats. We can’t expect evil to abide by the anti-magic legislation, so we’d better be ready to fight fire with fire.” This statement earned a few nods from the senators.
“We have also moved the Seraphim armor into full production,” Giles continued. “Our goal is to equip each slayer battalion with at least one battle suit before the year is out.”
“In addition, each battalion will have a team of slayers who have been specially trained to use the Seraphim armor,” Velika added.
“Why don’t you outfit the entire slayer army with the battle suits? Shouldn’t they be using the armor all the time?” Senator Watters asked.
“Our long-term plan is merely to train all slayers with the armor. Outfitting the entire slayer army is unnecessary and potentially dangerous,” Giles replied. “The day-to-day operations simply don’t require the Seraphim’s firepower. Using the suit on a daily basis could put civilians at risk. It would be like using a missile to kill a fly on the wall. You’d kill the fly all right, but you’d destroy the wall in the process and possibly hurt innocent bystanders.”
“And as we saw in the contest at Waxahachie, a slayer doesn’t need the armor to get the job done,” Velika interjected. “As Chairman Giles has said many times, the strength of the Council is its slayers. We need to play to that strength.”
“Of course, we’ll be pouring more resources into the portal project as well,” Giles said.
“Yes, finding a way to close the hellmouths for good and to prevent other dimensional portals from being opened is our best bet for a permanent solution to the demonic threat,” Jocasta added.
“Good point,” Senator Curtis commented.
“Well, I’m afraid we’re almost out of time,” Daniel Rice interjected as he got a wave from his director. He turned to the senators. “Any final comments?”
The three senators looked at one another and made a few whispers, then Angelique turned to address Rice.
Hubris, Inc. – Eris Pantelles’s Office – Same Time
Eris and Sean Rayne stood in front of the large monitor on the office wall as Angelique’s image filled the screen.
“Although we still have reservations,” Senator Angelique’s image said, “we must admit that we were very impressed with the Council’s performance in the recent contest. We are also pleased with many of your ideas for reformation within the Council. Continue to impress us, and the likelihood of your retaining the HDT contract will be even higher.”
As the senator finished her comment, Eris suddenly roared in frustration. She picked up a heavy marble paper weight and hurled it at the monitor, smashing the vid screen. Rayne wisely stepped a few feet away.
Eris pointed a her finger at the screen. “I am so sick of hearing about that stupid contest!” She turned to Rayne. “We should’ve won! They should be talking to me right now, about Hubris taking over the HDT, not the damned Council!”
Rayne merely nodded his agreement.
“And Tyrell is no help at all,” Eris complained. “Always biding his time, keeping his little secrets.”
Eris cast an angry glance in Rayne’s direction. Rayne held up his hands in a defensive gesture.
“Hey, don’t look at me,” Rayne insisted. “He’s cut me out of the picture, too.”
Eris straightened and held her head high. “Well, I’m tired of waiting. It’s time for me to take charge. Time to play my final card.”
“What card is that?” Rayne asked.
“Death,” Eris replied grimly.
Then she smiled deviously, and Rayne answered with a similar smile of his own.
End of Teaser