Appleton Complex – Rooftop – Resume
Livia groaned and pushed herself up from the gravel, wincing slightly as the small sharp stones bit into the places burned by the wizard’s lightning bugs. She stumbled over to the edge.
“Mira!” she called out as she looked down. She found Mira being helped to her feet by Jocasta and Katherine. Mira looked up.
“Livia!” Mira yelled. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Livia replied. “I’ll be right down.”
Livia glanced across the roof and found a ladder leading down the side wall. She limped over to it and made her way to the ground.
Appleton Complex – Moments Later
Livia walked over to where Mira, Jocasta, and Katherine were waiting. When the three saw her condition, their eyes widened.
“Oh my god, Livia! Are you sure you’re all right?” Katherine asked anxiously.
“Yeah. Damn bastard sicced some kind of burny bugs on me,” Livia reported.
“Where is he?” Mira said angrily as she glanced about for the mage. “I wanna kill that son of a—”
“Don’t bother,” Livia said. “He’s gone.”
“He got away?” Jocasta asked.
“Yes, he got away,” Livia said in annoyed tone, having mistaken Jocasta’s question for an accusation.
Mira moved closer and put a comforting hand on an unburned portion of Livia’s arm. “Hey, it’s okay,” she told her. “So the bad guy got away. We’ll just get him next time.”
“Okay?” Livia shot back, pulling her arm out of Mira’s hand. “I had the bad guy right in my sights, and I freakin’ let him get away! That is not okay!”
Livia dropped her gaze. The others stared at Livia then shared a worried look. Mira moved closer once again.
“He just waved his hand and…” Livia mumbled sarcastically, more to herself than to the others. “I couldn’t even…”
“It’s not your fault,” Mira said, reaching out. She stopped when Livia lifted her eyes and glared harshly.
Livia didn’t say anything. She just clenched her jaw tightly, then turned sharply on her heels and stomped away.
With a stunned and confused expression, Mira watched Livia walk away.
Jocasta’s Apartment – Later That Evening
Jocasta and Katherine sat on opposite ends of the couch, data pads in hand, researching the night’s events. Willowgram was perched atop her mobile emitter on the coffee table.
“So…nothing in the Progenitor File about orange-skinned mages?” Jocasta asked Willow.
“Oh there’re plenty of references on orange-skinned demons and on mages or wizards, just none on the two of them together,” the hologram sadly reported.
“What about those ‘burny bugs’ Livia mentioned?” Katherine asked.
“Now that, I can help you with,” Willowgram said. “It sounds like the incendentes cimices.”
“The what?” Katherine asked.
“A swarm of small light particles that are summoned to burn the skin of the victim,” Willow explained. “They’re not really designed to kill, just to hurt.”
“So incendentes cimices is Latin for…?” Katherine pressed.
“Burny bugs,” Willowgram happily supplied.
Jocasta laughed. “Well, Livia can at least take comfort in the fact that her description of the swarm was accurate.”
Katherine chuckled then sobered. “I don’t think Livia’s going to take comfort in any of this.”
“She’s not handling her magic failure very well, is she?”
“She’s not handling magic very well period,” Katherine said ruefully.
“It’s that bad?” Jocasta asked, very concerned. Willow silently watched.
“No, it’s just…she’s fighting it…every step of the way,” Katherine said. “She’s got talent, real talent, but she just doesn’t seem to want it.”
Jocasta didn’t respond; she just listened sympathetically.
“I wish I could get her to talk about it,” Katherine continued, “but Livia’s pretty tight-lipped when it comes to personal stuff. I just wish she’d get it off her chest, you know?”
Jocasta and Katherine locked eyes for a moment, then both looked quickly away.
“Yeah,” Jocasta agreed nervously. “It’s not good to keep things…bottled up inside.”
“Right, right,” Katherine replied just as nervously. “People should always t-talk things out…clear the air, s-so to speak.”
“Oh definitely,” Jocasta said a little too enthusiastically. “Talking…it’s a good thing. Just…saying what’s on your mind…”
Willowgram watched Jocasta and Katherine with an amused smirk on her holographic face. She rolled her eyes and then cleared her throat.
“You know what? I’m gonna go,” Willow announced. “I kinda got this…thing I need to do.”
“What?” Jocasta asked, confused.
Willowgram just smiled and waved. “Bye now!” Then she blipped away.
Jocasta huffed and looked over at Katherine, who was blushing a little but grinning.
“Did you see that?” Jocasta complained, pointing at Willowgram’s now empty mobile emitter. “She ditched us!”
Katherine laughed. “Sweetie, I think she was just picking up on our vibes.”
“Our we-need-to-talk vibes.”
“Oh. Those vibes.”
Despite being given the opportunity, neither Katherine nor Jocasta said anything right away. They made awkward glances at each other, then perused the walls and ceilings, then stared at their hands and feet.
“I wanted to talk about the move,” they both said at exactly the same time. After a stunned pause, they laughed at their identical statement.
Jocasta put her hand on her chest and said, “Me first.”
Katherine’s expression grew serious, and she nodded in acquiescence.
“Actually, that’s a good way to put it,” Jocasta confessed. ” ‘Me first’. I asked you to move in with me, but I’ve been nothing but selfish since you got here. So worried about how your stuff was going to impact my stuff and my space and my apartment. I’ve been a total nitpick a-and…I’m sorry.”
Katherine’s face lightened, and she smiled fondly at Jocasta before taking the redhead’s hand in her own. “It’s okay,” she said. “I understand. It’s hard to adjust to someone invading your space and all.”
“But it’s not an invasion,” Jocasta said. “It’s an invitation…to you…to make a home here with me. And I haven’t been particularly inviting, and I’m sorry about that.”
“Well, I haven’t been very sensitive myself,” Katherine admitted. “I mean, I really should have asked about the weapons rack first.”
Jocasta forced a smile and nodded repeatedly, clenching her teeth, clearly trying not to comment on that issue.
Katherine rolled her eyes. “It’s okay, you can say it.”
“Yes, yes,” Jocasta blurted, “you should have asked.” Jocasta let out the breath she had been holding and then sighed in relief.
Katherine laughed heartily. Then she crawled across the couch and planted a big kiss on Jocasta’s lips. “God, I love you,” she said.
Jocasta smiled happily. “I love you, too,” she answered before returning the slayer’s kiss.
Lex’s Apartment – Same Time
Lex paced angrily back and forth in front of his coffee table, a slight limp to his gait. He looked again at the reply from flight command on the screen of the data pad he held.
“I can’t believe this!” he grumbled. “How could she do that? Just-just leave on an overnighter without calling me? Well, fine. Go ahead!”
Lex yelled in frustration and flung the data pad into the wall. A stab of pain shot through Lex’s torso, making him stop in place and nearly double over. He panted hard for several seconds before straightening up. Then he gingerly made his way over to his computer. He sat down in the chair and tried to regain his breath. He took a deep breath and let it out, then wiped the sweat from his brow. He lifted shaking hands over the keyboard and logged on to the Council network.
He went directly to the Council Infirmary and accessed the root directory where he attempted to hack into the patient database. Once, then twice, then a third time, he was denied access. He took a different approach, and once again he was blocked multiple times. With one more attempt, he found himself booted off the network, the screen blinking “Account Suspended.”
Lex slammed his fists on the keyboard and looked around his apartment with desperation in his eyes.
Storage Facility – Outside The Makeshift Lab – Same Time
As Eris Pantelles stood nearby, Sean Rayne spoke with Enzo, the orange-skinned mage that Livia and Mira had encountered earlier that evening.
“You’re causing quite a stir at Slayer Command,” Rayne said in a pleased voice. “Good.”
Enzo merely nodded in acknowledgement.
“You haven’t managed to kill many of them,” Eris said, walking over.
Enzo glared at the former corporate executive. She didn’t flinch. Enzo turned back to Rayne. “As you have requested, the slayers will be weakened and distracted at the appropriate time.”
Rayne returned the nod.
“Are you absolutely certain?” Eris demanded of the wizard. “They’re using magic. More than a few have used that to their advantage.”
Enzo scoffed haughtily. “Their magicks are nothing.”
Rayne smiled and looked over at Eris, who simply folded her arms. “They’d better be,” she said.
Watchers Council – Jocasta’s Office – The Next Morning
Jocasta took a big swig of her double mocha and made an exaggerated “ahhh” before sighing contentedly. She set down her mug and returned to tackling her email, seemingly undaunted by an inbox count of over three hundred emails.
When she heard a knock, she looked up and found Antonia, still in her flight suit, peeking her head around the door.
“Hey Cuz,” Antonia said amiably. “What’s up?”
“Hey Toni! Come on in,” Jocasta replied cheerily. “I’m just chippin’ away at my emails as usual.” As the pilot came in and sat down, Jocasta said, “You just now getting in?”
“Yeah, I ummm…I took a last-minute overnighter to Melbourne.”
Antonia shifted nervously in her chair and didn’t maintain eye contact. Jocasta instantly noticed.
“What’s wrong, Toni?” Jocasta asked.
“Nothing,” Antonia denied. “Everything’s fine.”
“Hello? This is me you’re talking to,” Jocasta chided. “Best friend and all. She who knows you best. So don’t tell me nothing’s wrong.”
Antonia gave her cousin a mock glare and then looked away.
“Is it Lex?” Jocasta asked.
Antonia dropped her gaze to her hands. She thought for a moment and then sighed. “We kinda had a fight,” she admitted. “He lost his temper, and I lost my temper, and I…I just walked out.”
“Why didn’t you say something? We could’ve made a cheesecake run and had a warm and fuzzy best-friend talk.”
“I didn’t want to put you in an awkward spot,” Antonia explained. “Lex is your best friend, too. I don’t want you stuck in the middle every time we have a disagreement.”
“Why don’t you let me worry about being stuck in the middle?” Jocasta said. “I love you and Lex, and I’m more than capable of being a friend to both of you at the same time. I happen to be an excellent multi-tasker.”
Antonia laughed at Jocasta’s high spirits and then said, “Okay.”
“Good!” Jocasta replied. “Now…tell me what happened between you and Lex.” Jocasta took another sip of her double mocha and looked at her cousin expectantly.
Antonia laughed again and started talking.
Watchers Council – Computer Center – Same Time
The pile of machinery on the floor was slowly beginning to resemble an android when Giles walked into the computer center. He spotted James sitting in the middle of the pile and shook his head.
James looked up and forced a smile. “Giles. What can I do for you?”
“I didn’t receive the quarterly report from you yesterday. I thought perhaps you’d…forgotten.” He stared pointedly at James’s current project.
James looked around. “Oh. Right. Well, if you’ll just give me an hour or, umm, two, I’ll get that to you—”
“James,” Giles interrupted. “I realize that Anya is important to you, but I think you should consider that this project is interfering with your work.”
“Project?” James sputtered. “She isn’t just some project. This is Anya we’re talking about. I’m not going to leave her in pieces just because you need some report done!”
Giles looked shocked as James struggled to his feet. “Now just a minute, James. I understand that you’re upset, but the Council isn’t paying you to—”
“To what? To reactivate my personal assistant? The assistant who is indispensable and can do ten times the work of anyone else around here?” He waved a hand at the scattered technicians in the room, who were studiously pretending not to listen. “The assistant that you had sent away and chopped up into bits and pieces?”
“That’s enough!” Giles glared coldly at James. “I’ll expect that report no later than noon.” He turned and walked briskly out of the room.
James took a deep breath and looked down at Anya. He picked up a couple of tools and put them back his toolbox. Then he slowly and methodically put Anya and her pieces back into her crate.
When he had packed up Anya and the rest of his tools, James logged himself out and pushed the grav-lift toward the front entrance, without a word to his workers. Two of his assistants looked helplessly at each other and then went back to work.
Watchers Council – Slayer Command Auditorium – Later That Morning
The auditorium was full of slayers, and an air of uneasiness hung about the room. As Velika took the stage, the murmuring crowd of slayers quieted.
“As I’m sure you’ve heard, the recent attacks appear to be escalating,” Velika announced. “Many of them have targeted slayers specifically, while others have been directed toward populated areas. The locations of these attacks seem to be random, with no discernible pattern. But what we do know is that this is the man responsible.”
Velika turned to the screen behind her and pointed at the sketch that was being projected. It featured a close likeness to orange-skinned Enzo.
“We don’t know who or what he is,” Velika continued. “We just know that he’s a very powerful mage.”
“What does he want?” someone from the crowd asked.
“I’m afraid we don’t know,” Velika replied. “It could be a personal vendetta against the Council and its slayers. It might even be a diversion of some kind, but again, we simply don’t know.”
“Well let’s find this S.O.B. and take him out!” another slayer called out. The crowd began murmuring their assent.
“That is the plan,” Velika said. “Just as soon as we can find him. For the time being, all slayers are on overtime status. We will be blanketing the city with full mobilization of all active slayers. When he makes his next appearance, we’ll be ready.”
“Can’t we use magic to locate him?” another slayer asked. “You know, find him before he finds us?”
“Allison, Hansen, and Fitzgerald are working with Colonel Rosenberg on that right now,” the slayer commander answered. “As soon as they’ve got a location for us, we’re gonna hit him and hit him hard.” Excitement and anticipation rolled through the audience. “Any more questions?” Velika asked. When no one replied, she said, “All right then, get your assignments and hit the streets!”
The crowd of slayers cheered.
Watchers Council – Gray Sector Lab – Same Time
As Livia and Mira and Willowgram observed, Katherine and Jocasta made their final preparations for the locator spell. They went back over their notes and double-checked the items they had laid upon the altar on the floor. A few yards away, Livia scratched absently at the burns on her arm until Mira smacked her hand. Livia glared and then stuffed her hands into her pockets.
“Are we ready?” Jocasta asked.
“Ready,” Katherine replied.
After Jocasata dimmed the lights, the two of them sat on the floor next to each other. The altar before them consisted of four blue candles forming a square; all of the candles had been carved with runic symbols. In the center of the square sat a bowl of water, a sprig of evergreen, a cup of wine with herbs added, and a necklace made of wooden runes and raven’s feathers held together by a leather string.
Katherine picked up the sprig, dipped it into the water bowl, and sprinkled the altar with water. She set down the sprig and dipped her fingertip into the bowl. She made a rune sign on her forehead.
“I am reidh, the sojourner,” she said before turning to Jocasta. She wet her finger once again and traced a rune on Jocasta’s forehead. “You are sol, my signal-fire, to lead me home,” Katherine said to Jocasta. They smiled at one another, and then Katherine turned back to face the altar.
“Odhinn, Rune-Lord, Father of Mysteries, I come seeking knowledge…” she intoned as she held her arms out with palms up.
Jocasta handed her a lighter, and Katherine began lighting the four candles, their flames casting eerie shadows on the floor.
“Light my way and guide my path…”
After setting down the lighter, she picked up the cup and took a drink of the wine-based potion within it.
“Fill me with the power of sight…”
Katherine put down the cup and then picked up the necklace. She held it over the altar.
“Master of Galdor, lend me your eyes!” Katherine put on the necklace.
As soon as she removed her hands from the necklace, Katherine was hit by the spell’s power. She made several violent jerks, making Jocasta jump and nearly intervene. But then they stopped, and Jocasta relaxed and watched. Katherine’s eyelids were closed, but her eyes were moving rapidly behind them.
“Is it working?” Jocasta asked softly. “What do you see?”
“The city…from a distance…” Katherine replied in awed voice. “I’m in the air, like a bird.”
“Where’s the mage? Do you see him?”
“I’m coming in closer…spiraling down…moving over the city.”
“What part? Can you be more specific?”
As Jocasta and the others waited for Katherine’s reply, a dark and shimmering form suddenly coalesced from the shadows cast by the candles. The shape reached out for Katherine.
“Not yet, I’m—” Katherine’s words were choked off as the dark form wrapped cold fingers around her neck.
“Katie!” Jocasta cried, reaching for Katherine.
“Holy crap!” Mira exclaimed as she and Livia rushed over.
Katherine fought back uselessly as the shadow figure slowly strangled her. When the others tried to attack the dark form, their hands merely passed through it, as if it had no substance at all.
“What do we do?” Livia called desperately to Jocasta.
“Disrupt the spell!” Jocasta ordered.
As Livia and Mira scattered the items on the altar, Jocasta reached through shimmering attacker and ripped the necklace from Katherine’s neck.
The shadow figure immediately dispersed, and Katherine fell forward, gasping for air. With Livia and Mira hovering nearby, Jocasta eased Katherine into a prone position.
“Katie, are you okay?” Jocasta asked.
Katherine gasped and coughed but finally managed a nod in the affirmative.
“I’m alerting the Infirmary,” Willowgram announced.
Katherine instantly shot up and shook her head at Willowgram and then at Jocasta. She swallowed hard several times. “No,” she croaked. “I’m fine, no doctor.”
Livia ran over to the counter and got a glass of water and brought it back to Katherine. The blonde took it gratefully and made a few careful sips.
“What the hell was that thing?” Mira asked.
“The mage,” Katherine whispered hoarsely. “Or his spectral self, anyway.”
“He took exception to your snooping, I presume?” Jocasta asked.
“Oh yeah,” Katherine said ruefully.
“Were you able to find out anything? A general location?” Livia inquired.
Katherine shook her head. “I just didn’t have time,” she said sadly. “Sorry.”
“Hey, no sweat,” Mira said. “That jerk’s bound to show up sooner or later, and we’ll be ready for him, right Liv?”
“Yeah…right,” Livia said flatly.
Jocasta clapped her hands once and then took Katherine’s hand. “All right, you,” she said, “time to go see your favorite doctor.”
“Jo…” Katherine whined.
Jocasta looked Katherine in the eye. “There’s no use arguing with me. Do you see my resolve face? You’ve seen it before. You know what it means.”
Jocasta pointed firmly at herself. “Resolve face”
Katherine rolled her eyes and sighed. “Fine.”
Watchers Council – Afternoon
Eris walked up to the front entrance of the Council’s headquarters and looked back nervously as Rayne joined her.
“Are you sure nobody can see us?” she whispered.
“Positive,” Rayne said.
To prove his point, he waited until a man passed nearby then stuck his foot right into the man’s path. The man instantly stumbled, stopped, and looked back behind himself. The man, of course, saw nothing, so he just shook his head and went on his way.
“Satisfied?” Rayne asked.
“But they can still hear us?” she asked for clarification.
“Yes, so keep it down,” he replied.
After a shared smile, the two of them headed for the large doors.
Watchers Council – The Lobby – Moments Later
Eris and Rayne made their way to the elevators. They waited until no one was around, then Rayne pushed the down button. When the door opened, they went inside the car. Rayne swiped a key card, entered a code, and then pressed the appropriate floor button. The door slowly began to shut.
“Hold the elevator!” they heard a voice call out. They froze and moved to the back of the car.
Right when the door was about to close, an arm inserted itself in the gap and stopped the door from shutting.
“God, didn’t you hear me say hold the damn—” The woman stopped when she realized that no one was in the car. “Oh. Never mind.”
She punched the button for her floor and sighed as the door closed.
Eris was clearly holding her breath, but Rayne was grinning mischievously. He leaned closer to the woman’s back. Eris grabbed his arm to get his attention.
“What are you doing?” she mouthed angrily.
“Having fun,” he mouthed back.
He pulled away from Eris’s grasp and returned to the woman’s back. He softly blew a stream of air into her ear. She gasped and whipped around, but didn’t see anything. She patted her hair near her ear and turned back around. Rayne repeated his breath tickle with her other ear, earning the same response from the woman.
She began fidgeting in place and turning around to look behind herself. She watched the descending numbers anxiously. Meanwhile, Rayne laughed silently while Eris glared.
When the car reached the woman’s floor and the door opened, the woman gave a sigh of relief and started to walk from the car. As she passed over the threshold, Rayne reached over and gave her rear-end a pinch.
“Gotcha!” he cried.
The woman screamed like bloody murder and bolted from the elevator, knocking down the passengers who were waiting. Laughing hysterically, Rayne quickly punched the close-door button, and the two renegades were on their way once again.
“Rayne, you fool!” Eris yelled. “Do you want to alert everyone in the building to our presence?”
“Oh, come on,” Rayne chided. “Wasn’t that fun? Just because we’re about serious business doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun, now does it?”
He sidled up to Eris and pulled her into his arms, nuzzling her neck. She pretended to be angry, but didn’t push him away.
” ’Sides, I think you like a bit o’ danger,” he said, giving her neck a nibble. “Isn’t that right?”
Eris grabbed Rayne by the hair on the back of his head and yanked his face away from her neck. She glared harshly, but her eyes were twinkling. She pulled his mouth to hers for a passionate kiss.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Same Time
As Katherine sat dutifully on the examination table, Jocasta stood watch nearby. Dr. McClelland passed a handheld scanner over Katherine’s neck then paused to peruse the results flashing on the device’s screen.
He set the scanner down and then gently probed every square inch of the slayer’s neck. She winced occasionally when he reached a tender spot.
Finally, he pulled a sterile tongue depressor from his drawer, held it up in front of Katherine, and ordered, “Say ah.”
Katherine opened her mouth, stuck out her tongue, and spoke the requisite sound. Dr. McClelland clicked on his flashlight and examined her throat.
After a few seconds, he clicked off his flashlight, tossed the tongue depressor into the trash, and announced, “You’ll be just fine, Ms. Allison.”
“See, I told you so,” Katherine said teasingly to Jocasta.
“I believe that was the future tense,” Jocasta corrected. ” ‘Will be’, as in ‘are not yet’.” The redhead looked to the doctor for confirmation.
He grinned and nodded his head. “That’s right,” he said. “Go home, relax, and let your slayer healing do the rest.” Dr. McClelland gave Katherine a pat on the shoulder and then left the exam room.
As Katherine hopped off the table, Jocasta reached for her comm link. “I’m gonna call Velika and let her know to call us at home if there’s any sign of the mage.”
Lex’s Apartment – Same Time
Lex sat on his couch, flicking through the television channels on his wall screen, not even bothering to really look at what was on. He finally gave that up and set the remote down.
Restless, he got up and began pacing the room once again. He wrung his hands nervously then suddenly stopped in place as if an idea had just come to him. He picked up his coat and left the apartment.
Watchers Council – Giles’s Office – Same Time
Giles glared at his screen, which currently showed the face of James’s head assistant, Aidan. The young man looked far more frightened than the situation warranted.
“I-I-I’m sorry, Mr. Chairman, but Mr. Wells clocked out about three hours ago. Would you like me to try to reach him at his home?”
“No, that won’t be necessary. I’m just looking for the report I asked him for this morning. You wouldn’t happen to know if he left that behind, would you?” Giles asked.
The assistant looked around nervously. He shook his head. “Ummm, no sir. W-W-Would you like me to…” The assistant left his question hanging.
Giles smiled. “Yes, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“You’ll have it in half an hour, sir,” the assistant promised.
“Thank you, Aidan.” Giles shut off the screen and leaned back in his chair. He rubbed his eyes wearily.
Lex’s Apartment – Later
Antonia walked through the front door, carrying her flight bag. She set it down on the floor and moved into the living room.
“Lex?” she called out, a look of hopeful apprehension on her face.
There was no response. She went into the kitchen and then the bathroom in the hall, but there was no sign of Lex. She quietly eased open the bedroom door, not wanting to wake Lex if he happened to be asleep. When she didn’t see him on the bed, she went inside and looked around.
“Lex?” she called out again, this time going into the master bath.
When she realized that Lex just wasn’t home, her expression became puzzled.
Hallway Outside James’s Apartment – Same Time
Lex rocked on his heels outside of James’s front door. He rang the buzzer once and waited. He glanced up at the small, black half-sphere sticking out of the ceiling above the door. The corner of Lex’s mouth twisted up as he waved at the little camera. A moment later, the light on the panel beside the door changed from red to green as it unlocked. Lex pushed the door open and stepped inside.
James’s Apartment – Living Room – Same Time
James didn’t look up from his spot on the living room floor when Lex entered. The almost-complete form of Anya lay in front of him. The toolbox beside him was empty because all of the tools were spread in a circle around the android. A laptop sat off to the side with wires snaking out from it, connecting to Anya’s access ports. Lex wiped his forehead as he briefly took in the scene. Then, he began to wander around the apartment.
“So,” he said conversationally. “Heard you took the day off.”
“Yeah,” James replied.
Lex nodded. He wandered into the kitchen and opened a cupboard. It was filled with small bins of coffee. Lex’s fingers tapped a crazy rhythm on the countertop as he closed the cupboard and poked James’s antique coffee maker. He contemplated the odd-looking machine for a moment, then shook his head and went back to the living room. He settled himself on the floor beside James, restlessly tapping his fingers against his knees.
The computer across the room gave a shrill series of beeps. James stared at it for several moments, then sighed and shuffled across the room to see who was calling. He pressed a button, made an irritated noise, and sat back down. The computer beeped a few more times, then was silent.
“Mother?” Lex asked, looking sympathetic.
“Giles,” James said.
Lex smiled. “Ah. Playing hooky. Gotcha.”
The computer gave a different beep to signal that the caller was leaving a message. James didn’t bother to get up and listen to it; instead, he picked up a scanner and turned it on.
Lex shrugged and reached for a pair of pliers. James glanced at Lex’s hands, which shook as he compared two wires and began twisting them together. James regarded Lex questioningly. His eyes trailed up to Lex’s brow, where beads of sweat clung. James pursed his lips and raised an eyebrow.
“Your hands are shaking,” he said quietly.
Lex fumbled the pliers, but recovered quickly. He didn’t look at James and took his time answering. “That virus messed up my motor skills. It’s taking a while to get back to normal.” James started to reply, but Lex shook his head. “I’m fine. It’ll clear up in another week or two. Don’t worry about it.”
James still looked unconvinced, so Lex reached over and took the diagnostic scanner out of his hands.
“I’ll do the math if you make the coffee.”
James smiled. “Deal.”
By the time James returned with two mugs, Lex had finished checking Anya’s neural pathways. He gave a pleased hum as he took a sip of his coffee, then he turned the laptop so that James could see the readouts.
“Circuits are working correctly. Signal’s strong and steady,” James muttered. He typed one-handed as he tipped his mug to his lips.
Lex sat silently for an entire two minutes, drinking his coffee. Finally, he shooed James away from the computer.
“All right, already! She’s done, let’s turn her on!”
James slapped Lex’s hand. “Patience, grasshopper. I want to make sure we don’t blow her pathways or something.”
“Right, because it’s not like we have master’s degrees for this or anything.”
James gave him a look. Lex stuck out his tongue.
“Fine,” James sighed.
He set the laptop aside while Lex moved all of the tools away from Anya. Once all of the access ports that weren’t attached to the laptop were closed, James began typing in the activation commands.
“Here we go,” James whispered as he keyed in the last sequence and hit the enter key.
For a moment, nothing happened. Then, the laptop showed Anya’s neural readouts beginning to spike. Finally, her eyes slowly opened. Lex and James held their breath as they watched her sit up and cock her head to the side. She blinked at them.
“Anya?” James said quietly. “Anya, can you hear me?”
Anya blinked again, her expression displaying no recognition. Finally, she opened her mouth to speak.
“Testing. Registering neural net. Testing. No, I don’t want any crumpets, thank you.” Anya looked at James and smiled. “Hello. I am a Hyperdyne synthetic. I am programmed to assist you. Would you like a fresh towel?”
“Oh no,” James groaned dejectedly.
End of Act Four