John West’s House – Late Afternoon The Next Day
John stared at his reflection in the mirror and let out a low yawn. He buttoned up his uniform absently and smiled when he caught Darrin’s reflection in the mirror behind him.
“You work too hard, you know that, right?” the other man asked. He came to stand beside John and cast a loving but worried smile his way.
“That’s why they pay me so well,” John replied, fumbling with the last few buttons on the side of his uniform. He swore quietly as he continued to struggle with them.
“Here,” Darrin offered, pushing John’s hands out of the way. “Let me.”
“Thanks,” he said. “The next time Katie offers me cake, remind me to say ‘no thanks’.”
Darrin pulled his hands away and admired his work. “When will you be home?” he asked.
“Late,” John sighed. “Or, early, I guess.”
“Have I mentioned you work too hard?”
“Never mind.” Darrin reached over and held John’s hand. “I know how important your job is to you.” John nodded and squeezed his husband’s hand.
After a moment had passed, Darrin pulled away and smiled. “Come on,” he said. “Say bye to the kids before you go.”
John smiled. “I’d love to.”
Watchers Council Special Detention Facility – Same Time
Dwarfed by the sprawling gray facility before it, a Council skimmer slowly approached the security gate, where an armed guard waited. Inside the vehicle, Veronica glanced at the guard.
“Somebody new. Great.”
Veronica pressed a button to lower the side window, then reached into her pocket for her identification card. When the grim-faced guard held out his hand, she gave him her I.D.
He examined it closely then asked, “When was this taken?”
“Two or three years ago, I think. At my last evaluation.”
The guard continued to glance from the I.D. card to the skimmer’s pilot. “You look different,” he remarked.
Veronica paused for a moment before answering, “People change.”
After a moment’s hesitation, the guard seemed to accept her explanation and nodded. He scanned her card and handed it back. Then he punched in a code, causing the gate to open.
Veronica murmured a thanks and guided the skimmer into the secure compound.
Watchers Council Special Detention Facility – Moments Later
After exiting the skimmer, Veronica made her way towards the imposing four-story building that dominated the rest of the facility’s landscape. Its dull gray walls and blacked-out windows only served to reinforce the less than welcoming feeling visitors were greeted with.
As she climbed the steps to the second security point, she folded her arms across her chest and let out a deep breath.
“Good afternoon, ma’am,” a tall, balding security guard greeted as she approached.
“Hello, William,” she replied, smiling politely. She walked through the scanner, handing him her I.D. as she passed.
“She’s clean, Billy,” the guard seated behind the scanner reported to his co-worker.
“Here,” William said, handing Veronica back her I.D. as well as a visitor’s badge, which she immediately fastened to the front of her uniform. Then he held up a small, smooth device, decorated with circles of white and blue. “And remember, if you get in trouble, just hit the panic button.”
“I know,” Veronica told the guard, giving him a slightly chiding glance as she took the device from him and slid it into her pocket.
“I know you know,” William said with a grin. “But it’s my job to remind you: these aren’t your run-of-the-mill prisoners. They’re damned dangerous, even if they don’t look it right now. Even your friend.”
Veronica’s expression became serious, and she nodded solemnly at the guard’s warning. Then she thanked him and began walking towards the elevator.
Watchers Council Special Detention Facility – Moments Later
The elevator doors opened with a gentle whoosh, presenting Veronica with yet another guard on duty.
“I.D.?” he grunted.
She dutifully presented the I.D. card she was holding ready in her hand.
“Room 352, please.”
Nodding his assent, the guard set off in the direction of room 352. The sound of his steel-toed boots clicked on the polished floor, echoing around in the otherwise deserted hallway. The Councilor followed in step with her surly escort.
He came to a halt in front of a door marked 352. Veronica stood patiently by his side. He glanced up to a small security camera positioned above the door.
A buzzing noise signaled it was clear to enter the room. Stepping past the guard, Veronica went inside and took a seat next to the hospital bed. Within seconds, she heard the door lock behind her as the guard remained outside.
Groaning from the bed, its inhabitant turned over to face his visitor. A pleased smile crept onto his face as Veronica took his hand in hers. Looking into his face sadly, she leaned forward and whispered in an almost reverent tone, “Hello, Sean.”
“Hello, Veronica,” he croaked weakly. “Fancy meeting you here.”
As his face creased into a smirk, she grinned and squeezed his hand.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Same Time
Mira grimaced as she attempted to reposition herself in the less-than-comfortable hospital bed. Standing beside the bed, Jocasta and Katherine both reached out to lend a hand. After a few tries, Mira finally seemed to come to acceptable place on her side. She let out a relieved breath and leaned against her pillows.
“You know…gettin’ skewered really sucks,” Mira said. Jocasta and Katherine laughed along with the injured slayer.
“Definitely not fun,” Katherine agreed.
“I wouldn’t know,” Jocasta said with a grin. “Hope I never do.”
“So…have you had a lot of visitors?” Katherine inquired.
“Saw Lian a little while ago,” Mira answered. “She came by to check on Janet, and me too, I guess. I sure was sorry to hear about her sister.”
“Yeah,” Jocasta said sadly.
“I’m surprised she’s back on duty,” Mira pointed out. “It’s so soon, you know? I guess she just needs to work…get her mind off things.”
“Probably so,” Katherine said.
“Has anybody else been by?” Jocasta prompted.
“Oh, just the usual, you know,” Mira answered nonchalantly but without meeting their eyes.
“Livia?” Katherine finally asked point-blank. Mira shook her head but said nothing.
“You mean…Livia hasn’t been by to see you? At all?” Jocasta asked.
Mira shrugged. “I guess she’s got better things to do.”
Jocasta and Katherine traded worried looks.
“Never mind, my deal. What’s the scoop? What’s new at HQ?” Mira asked, clearly changing the subject. She looked at Jocasta and Katherine and waited expectantly.
Watchers Council – Slayer Gym – Same Time
Slayers were milling around the gym, killing time as they awaited the beginning of a training meeting with Velika. In one corner, Jenn was having a talk-a-thon with Bunni, Cherise, and Monique. Near them, Cassidy and Eva were hanging out with Lian and Damesha. On the other side of the room, Livia stood alone, watching as Finola spoke with Jordyn and Natalie.
“‘At’s right, girls, I’m here to stay,” Finola bragged, throwing back her shoulders proudly. “Got me transfer orders today. I’m gonna show you lot how to have some fun in this town,” she added, giving Natalie a playful shoulder nudge.
Then Finola leaned in and whispered something to Jordyn and Natalie, causing both slayers to burst out laughing. Livia scowled and looked away.
Just then, Velika entered the room. “All right, slayers,” she called out, giving a beckoning wave to the group. “If you’ll head this way, we’ll get started.”
As most of the slayers moved forward to join their commander, Livia hung back a bit, close enough to hear but far enough to keep the sense of distance. She sighed as Velika began her briefing.
Watchers Council – Giles’s Office – Same Time
Sebastian Giles glanced up from his computer screen at the sound of a buzz on his office intercom. He touched a button on his console. “Yes?”
“Mr. Chairman, there’s a Senator Cregg on line two for you,” his secretary’s voice announced. “Should I put him through?”
Giles’s eyebrows rose about an inch. “You mean Senator Charles Cregg of California? The head of the Supernatural Relations Committee?” His voice sounded as if he didn’t quite believe it.
His secretary’s voice was somewhat bemused when he replied. “That’s the one. You are the Chairman of the Council, you know. These people are bound to show up from time to time.”
Giles sighed in response. “Put him through, Snyder.”
Giles turned to his video phone and pressed a button. The man who appeared on the screen was perhaps in his sixties, with well-defined cheek-bones and graying hair.
“Good afternoon, Senator,” Giles greeted. “How can I help you?”
“Chairman Giles, I wanted to talk to you about a problem that’s come up here on the Hill.” The senator flashed a practiced smile. “I am sure you’re aware of the current situation when it comes to the werewolf problem?”
“If by ‘werewolf problem,’ you mean that werewolves are the subject of widespread persecution and distrust, not to mention how they are denied basic rights, then I am aware, yes.”
“That is partially what I mean,” Senator Cregg replied. “Though you must agree that the public has valid reasons for its mistrust, Mr. Chairman. Werewolves are monsters at the full moon, and there have been some well publicized deaths.”
“You don’t need to lecture me on the dangers of werewolves,” Giles remarked sadly. “I lost one of my slayers to a wolf attack, years ago. However, I try not to paint all members of a group with the actions of a few of its members, and the media has a tendency to sensationalize the problem. Some werewolves can now maintain full control of their change and of their actions in wolf form.”
The senator nodded. “Some, but not enough. And after that tragic case with the children in Iowa…” He trailed off. “Humanist sentiment is at an all-time high, Mr. Chairman. We need to appear to be taking action on this.”
“Why not go a step further and actually take action?” Giles replied coolly.
Senator Cregg frowned slightly. “I don’t know if you have tried negotiating with werewolves, Mr. Giles. They are…stubborn.” He sat back in his seat. “But there’s no point in making rules they will refuse to abide by. I’ll cut to the chase, Mr. Chairman. I’m planning a peace summit with the leading werewolf clans, and I would like your people to mediate it.”
Giles considered this for a moment, his fingers clasped under his chin. “That may be a very good idea.”
“I don’t expect anything to come of it,” the Senator sighed, “but sometimes good publicity is an end in itself. The clans are on board, as long as you personally are involved.”
“I’m flattered,” Giles said.
“There is, however, one small problem,” Cregg sighed. “Summits like this are like a lightning rod for those looking for a forum. I’m talking about protesters, both Pro-Human and Pro-Reconciliation. A lot of protesters. And possibly some rioting thrown in.”
“It’s strange how both sides of a debate can be ‘pro’,” Giles commented. “In terms of crowd control, you’ll need to speak to the Mayor of Cleveland.”
“Frankly, I’m worried about the safety of the participants, including my own.”
“Well, if you wish, all the summit delegates can stay at the Council for the duration,” Giles offered. “I can assure you that our compound is completely safe.”
“That should be fine, Mr. Chairman, thank you,” Senator Cregg agreed. “I’ll have my people call your people to discuss specific arrangements.”
“I’ll update my staff,” Giles said, and both men nodded.
“You are a reasonable man, Mr. Giles,” the senator noted, “I can see that. This summit may be productive after all.” The screen clicked off, and Giles ran a weary hand through his hair.
Watchers Council – Giles’s Office – The Next Morning
“I think this conference is a wonderful idea,” Veronica said. She was seated across from Sebastian as he sat at his desk. “Werewolf rights is certainly a hot issue these days.”
“I know,” Giles said. “It’s all over the Net.” He sighed heavily. “My concern is that Senator Cregg is staging this conference only as a publicity stunt. He knows there’s an election coming up, and he doesn’t want to seem soft on monsters.”
Veronica’s lip curled slightly, and she looked down at the coffee cup in her hands. “Sean told me once that the only real monsters are those who see them around every street corner.”
Giles’s harried look was replaced by a glower. “Hence his…flexible moral outlook?” he ventured.
“There’s a lot about Sean you don’t know,” Veronica replied, “or that you choose not to remember.”
“And how is our resident felon?” Giles asked. “I was told that you visited him again yesterday.”
“Much better, actually,” she said. Giles looked surprised. “I know, it’s amazing, isn’t it? They said he would never recover…it’s like magic.”
“Very,” Giles said shortly. At that moment, the door to his office burst open as Morgan Travers walked through.
“It’s finally happened,” he announced. “I knew it would happen eventually. The great Sebastian Giles has gone mad.”
Behind Travers, Snyder stood in the doorway, looking decidedly put-out. “I told him you were already in a meeting, sir,” he said apologetically, “but he wouldn’t listen.”
“That’s all right,” Giles assured him, holding up a hand. “Mr. Travers’ interruption is not quite as unwelcome as usual.” Snyder nodded and left, closing the door quietly behind him. “And why are you so ready to put me in the asylum, Morgan?”
“It’s this…peace summit you’re planning with the werewolves. It’s preposterous!”
“Actually, that would be post-posterous, since he’s already scheduled it for next week,” Veronica pointed out with a grin.
“The Watchers Council does not extend peace offerings to monsters!” Travers blustered.
“I am not extending anything,” Giles said. “The Council will function only as a mediator between the werewolves and the federal government. It is not our job to take one side or the other, but rather to ensure a place where an open exchange of ideas can occur.”
Travers made an offended noise in his throat. “And I am sure you intend to remain unbiased on the matter. No helping your murderous friends?”
“You know very well, Morgan, that my feelings on werewolves are somewhat colored by Laura’s tragic death.” Giles paused for a moment, obviously affected by his feelings. “That does not mean we will not be impartial. I believe in giving everyone a second chance.”
“That’s why most of us are still here,” Veronica noted.
“And that explains why so many of the senior officers of the Watchers Council are troublemakers and hooligans,” Travers said derisively. He turned to Sebastian. “I have a related matter to discuss with you. Is this ludicrous exercise the reason the Command Council has delayed reviewing my slayer service bill?”
“It is,” Giles told him. “There are simply too many things to consider with the conference coming up for the Council to begin making wholesale changes. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Mr. Travers, I am in a meeting.”
Morgan Travers looked like he was about to go apoplectic, but he said nothing as he stormed out of the office.
Veronica watched the door slam shut. “Say what you will, I’d still take Sean over that idiot any day.”
“I will take the idiot, thank you,” Giles told her as he rummaged through some files on his desk. “At least I know what side he’s on.”
A Week Later
Watchers Council – Velika’s Office – Same Time
Velika stood up and came around the desk as Mira entered her office. The commander held out her hand and smiled.
“Welcome back,” she told Mira, who took her hand and shook it firmly. “How are you feeling?” She motioned the slayer into the chair in front of her desk and then returned to her own seat.
“Good. Ready to come back to work,” Mira said.
“Glad to hear it,” Velika replied. “Damn flu has us a little shorthanded at the moment.”
“Well, I’m ready to go,” Mira said, although somewhat flatly and with more than a little fidgeting.
Velika eyed the brunette warily. “You sure about that? You’re not exactly brimming with enthusiasm here. You’ve got plenty of time available to you, Mira. If you’re not up to returning to work, you –”
“No, it’s not that,” Mira interjected. “I, um, I have a request. A formal one.”
“I want to be reassigned to a different partner.”
“What?!” Velika said, her eyes wide in disbelief.
“I want to be reassigned to a different partner,” Mira repeated firmly.
“But…you and Livia have been partners for what? Almost four years now?”
“I know, but it’s just…” Mira glanced away for a moment, then looked back up. “It’s time for a change.”
“This isn’t related to what happened in Orlando, is it?” Velika asked. “Is there something about Livia’s actions I should know about?”
– Livia kissing Mira desperately
– Livia leaning her forehead against Mira’s
– Livia whispering, “Please don’t leave me. I love you. So much.”
“I mean, if there’s something in her coordination of this mission that I should know –”
“No!” Mira interrupted. “No, nothing like that.” She sighed. “I just need a change, okay?”
Velika stared at Mira, trying to see past the wall the slayer was clearly putting up. Unsuccessful, the commander echoed Mira’s sigh and said, “Very well.”
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Same Time
“…and the werewolves will sit on the far side, here,” Jocasta said, pointing to a seating chart spread across the center of the table. She, Giles, and Travers were huddled around it.
Veronica burst into the room, looking flustered. The trio looked up at the new arrival.
“Sorry I’m so late,” she said. “I got caught in the massive protest out front. Have you seen those people?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” Giles said.
“Katie and I tried to go out for dinner last night, but we never made it,” Jocasta said. “We now have the world’s seventh largest collection of pamphlets though, so, y’know, toss up.”
“Where are we?” Veronica asked, and everyone turned their attention back to the seating chart.
“I see you put me directly next to the murderous animals,” Travers commented.
Jocasta opened and closed her mouth before forming a response. “We can move you if you prefer…”
“No, it’s quite all right,” he told her. “I assume the werewolves will be under slayer guard at all times, correct?”
“Actually,” Jocasta said, “there have been some objections by the clans to that stipulation.”
Travers looked like he was about to explode, but Giles held up a hand to stop him. “There will be a slayer guard.” Jocasta gave the chairman a curious look before he continued. “It is my understanding that some of the clan delegation will be in wolf form during the talks.”
Veronica’s eyes widened, as did Jocasta’s. Travers simply shook his head. “No. That is a step too far, even for you, Sebastian. You cannot expect me to –”
“I expect nothing from you, Morgan,” Giles retorted, “after years of getting nothing. You asked to be part of these talks, and I acquiesced, but do not presume to tell me how to do my job.”
“You cannot guarantee my safety in that room,” Travers told him, “or that of the senators.”
“I’ve heard that some werewolves have figured out how to control themselves after the change,” Jocasta reasoned. “That’s probably who they’d bring, right?”
“Yes,” Giles agreed. “And to answer your question, Mr. Travers, I am the Chairman of the Watchers Council. If anyone in the world can guarantee your safety from werewolves, it is I.”
He stood up before continuing. “It appears that preparations are complete. Now all that is left is to hope that this summit can bring about a better world for us all.” At that, he turned and left the room.
Mansion – The Ballroom – Later That Morning
On one side of the cavernous room, multiple tables were lined up and covered with a tangled web of computer equipment. Cables and wires snaked into the outlets and the network feeds in the wall. Several vampires sat at the computers, clearly in various stages of hacking. Thomas, a well-dressed minion in his twenties, observed the proceedings, a pleased look on his face.
Nearby, Cassandra lay on a divan watching multiple holo-screens that were streaming from a projector at her feet. Her face was emotionless as her fingers flew over a touch-pad remote in her hand, causing the images on the screens to change rapidly. Mitchell stood next to her, wringing his hands nervously.
“See? I-I-I told you we’d get in,” the pudgy minion said, pointing at the vampires hard at work. “I got passwords to all kinds of stuff.”
“Thanks, Mitchell,” Thomas said arrogantly upon arriving at Cassandra’s side. His tone was icy and condescending, but Mitchell didn’t comment on it. He just glared at Thomas then slipped quietly away. Thomas turned to Cassandra. “With that geek’s clearance, we can make a world of trouble for the Council,” he said. “We can cripple their communications system, plant a virus in their network, compromise their security. Hell, we can even –”
“None of which concerns me,” Cassandra said firmly. “At the moment, at any rate,” she added. “For the time being, I have what I need.”
Suddenly, the door to the ballroom burst open, and a distinguished-looking older man in an expensive suit strode angrily in.
“Thomas!” he called out sternly. “What are you up to now?”
“Uh-oh,” Thomas said. “Daddy’s home. Guess his trip ended early.” Thomas turned to Cassandra and put on his game face. “Want me to turn him? He is one of the country’s top computer geniuses. With his skills, we could…”
Thomas trailed off as Cassandra ignored him. She merely watched silently as Thomas’s father approached. The man looked at his son with a mixture of despair and disgust, then turned to face Cassandra.
“You!” he said, pointing at her. “You did this…turned my son into this-this thing! You’ll pay for this. That, I promise you.”
A vamped-out Mitchell leapt upon Thomas’s father from behind. The man stumbled forward a step or two, but it was Mitchell who screamed in pain, jumping back from the older man as if he had been burned.
“Blessed suit,” Thomas stated, chuckling ruefully. “My dad…always the boy scout.”
The older man straightened his suit and smiled, clearly pleased with himself. The smile fell away when he turned his eyes back to Cassandra. He started to threaten her once again, but she only looked bored. Before he could get out another word, she raised her hand and pointed. The man was instantly wrapped in eldritch power. He screamed in agony as his life’s essence was torn from his body. Within seconds, he was dead.
“Yeah!” Thomas cheered when he saw his father’s body slump to the floor.
Cassandra shot Thomas a warning glance, and he immediately quieted. He cleared this throat and took a step back.
“I’ll, um, I’ll just get back to it, then,” he said before hurrying back to the line of computer tables to supervise the vampire hackers.
With a small sigh, Cassandra turned her attention back to her holo-screens.
Watchers Council – Cafeteria – Later That Morning
Lex stood up and waved when he saw Jocasta trotting towards him with a smile on her face.
“Got your message,” she said when she arrived. She leaned over for a second and took a few deep breaths. “Sorry. It’s been a hellish day. Between reconfiguring the new security matrix for the Vault and helping Giles with the werewolf summits, I’m a bit tapped.”
As both of them took a seat, Lex handed Jocasta one of the two bottles of water he had grabbed for them. She gratefully took hers and opened the top.
“So, what’s the emergency?” Jocasta asked. “Sounded very serious,” she said teasingly before taking a long drink of water.
Lex let out a heavy sigh before he met his cousin’s gaze. “What would you say if I told you I was going to ask Toni to marry me?”
Jocasta suddenly spurted water out of her nose and mouth, spraying both Lex and the table.
End of Act Two