Reception Hall Bathroom – Moments Later
“Sooo…this is the girls’ bathroom,” Lex commented with a smile. “Not quite how I imagined it.” Antonia, still in her wedding dress, elbowed him in the side.
Dr. Burkle paced impatiently in front of the stalls as Sebastian, John, Jocasta, Katherine, and Livia watched and waited. When Mira returned from placing the neon-colored “closed for cleaning” sign on the door, Sebastian turned to the flustered physicist.
“All right, Dr. Burkle,” Sebastian announced. “I think we’re all here. What was it that you had to say?”
Dr. Burkle took a deep breath. “At approximately ten o’clock this morning, something happened to the Anomalous Zone.”
“‘Something’?” Livia asked with a raised eyebrow.
“I am a scientist,” Burkle told her. “I don’t like imprecise words, but yes, Slayer Hansen, ‘something’ happened. I don’t know what, but whatever it was, it has caused the Anomalous Zone to begin expanding.”
“Has the containment field been breached?” Jocasta asked worriedly.
“Not yet, but it’s only a matter of time.”
“How much time?” Jocasta pressed.
“If the current rate of expansion holds, and keep in mind that we aren’t dealing with an exponential certainty, or even a fractal pattern, so I’m operating here completely on a basis of…”
“Doctor,” Sebastian prompted.
“Right,” Dr. Burkle shook her head. “If the current rate holds, the containment field will fail in less than twenty-four hours. Maybe even less than twelve.”
“Twelve hours?!” Livia objected. “Why didn’t you tell us this before, like this morning?!”
“Really,” Mira said. “It’s called a comlink. Learn to use it.”
“I’m telling you now.”
“And if the containment fails?” Katherine asked.
“With nothing to rein it in, the Zone will encompass all of Texas, then the entire Southwest, then North America. Within a matter of weeks—”
“—the whole world will be covered in extra dimensional freakiness,” Jocasta said nervously. “Lovely.”
For several seconds, no one said a word. Livia sat back onto the marble sink counter and stared at the wall, thinking intently. Mira watched her closely.
“So what do we do?” Lex asked.
“Right. How do we stop it?” Antonia added.
“I don’t know. Without more data…”
“You must have some idea,” Lex said. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t have rushed up here to tell us. What is it?”
Dr. Burkle looked disoriented for a moment as if she had lost her place in a train of thought. Then she seemed to recover.
“Oh…now I remember,” she said. “I-I-It’s only a hypothesis, you understand, but…the origin of the Anomalous Zone was a supercollider accident, an experiment in quantum physics gone awry. When the proton/antiproton collision occurred, reality was literally torn apart. A Council team mended the rip, but that repair was later destroyed in the Siege of Dallas terrorist attack, creating the Anomalous Zone as we now know it.”
“And that was when the containment system we have now was put into place?” noted John.
“That’s right. By then the rip had already grown too large to be returned to its pre-attack state. The best they could do was contain it within an area of about 75 square miles.”
“But why is the containment failing now?” Antonia asked. “It’s held all these years.”
“It’s my belief that the repair done in the twenty-first century had a critical flaw: it didn’t actually heal the internal wound at all; it merely sewed up the flesh around it. And the current containment is no better than a very large bandage.”
“And now the wound has become infected,” Lex said, catching Burkle’s drift. His voice rose excitedly as he went on with his speculation. “It’s swelling, ready to burst through the skin and cover the world with its demon-filled, mystical, monster-y pus!” Lex looked around the room and found only disgusted expressions staring back at him. He blushed and hung his head. “Okay that was gross…”
“And yet it is a fairly accurate analogy,” Dr. Burkle said. “We need to find that original wound, that exact point in space and time at which the rip occurred. I call that point the Source. That is where the Zone’s energy originates. If we can find the Source, then, with the right combination of magic and technology, we can heal the wound.” The scientist ducked her head before adding, “I-I-In theory, at any rate.”
“What’s the right magic?” Katherine asked.
Dr. Burkle shrugged and lifted her hands in a helpless gesture. “Not my department.”
Katherine and Jocasta exchanged glances.
Mira took a step forward. “Maybe I’m missing something, but I thought things shifted around inside the Anomalous Zone.”
“You can say that again,” Livia grumbled.
“Wouldn’t that mean that this…”
“Source,” Burkle provided.
“…that this Source could be anywhere inside the Zone at any given time?” Mira finished.
“Correct,” Burkle said with a nod.
“And the larger the Zone becomes, the harder it will be to find the Source,” Jocasta added.
Burkle nodded once again.
“Guess we better get crackin’ then,” Livia said.
Reception Hall – Moments Later
Lex and Antonia, still in their wedding garb, stood up in front of their guests. Antonia spoke into the hand-held microphone.
“Um, I’m sorry, everyone, but it looks like the party’s over.”
As the crowd exchanged confused and nervous glances, Lex gave them an apologetic smile.
Reception Hall – Moments Later
As Lex spoke with the family, Antonia made her way toward Jocasta, who was already on her comlink.
“I need a transport fueled, equipped, and ready in half an hour. Put her down on the South Tower. Give me the best pilot you’ve got…No, not this time…Sounds good…See you in a few.”
“I know I did not just hear you assign another pilot to this mission,” Antonia said sharply as she walked up behind Jocasta.
Jocasta steeled herself and turned around. “Do you know what today is?” she calmly asked her cousin.
“Yes, it’s a possible ‘end of the world’ day,” Antonia stated as she crossed her arms.
“No,” Jocasta said, shaking her head. “It’s your wedding day. Yours and Lex’s, and I’m not letting you substitute a mission for your honeymoon!”
“I’m the best damned pilot you’ve got, Jo, and you know it!”
“Damn it, Toni, you’re not going, and that’s final! Deal with it.”
Antonia was too furious for words, but Jocasta didn’t back down. But the redhead’s expression did soften, and she put a hand on her best friend’s arm.
“Look, I know you’re mad,” Jocasta told her, “but this is serious, and I need to go into it knowing that, no matter what, you guys got your happy day, honeymoon and all. Okay?”
After a brief but intense stare-off between the two women, Antonia finally sighed and uncrossed her arms. “So who’d ya get? Cross, Egley, Applegate…?”
“I suppose Applegate’s fairly competent,” Antonia grumbled.
“You know he is,” Jocasta teased.
Antonia pulled Jocasta into a tight hug. “Be safe, cuz. I know you guys can save the world, even if it’s without me.”
When the two women separated, they both had tears in their eyes. Jocasta gave her friend’s hands a strong squeeze. Just then, Lex walked up, and Jocasta gave him a tearful embrace as well. Then she began backing away.
“You have a great honeymoon,” she told them, “because I want to hear all about it when I get back. Got it?”
Then Jocasta turned and hurried from the room before more tears could fall.
Livia’s Skimmer – Same Time
Racing at a frightening speed, Livia skillfully wove her skimmer in and out of traffic as she and Mira returned to the Council Headquarters. Mira calmly held the handrail above her head as she and Livia discussed mission personnel.
“So, who’s going?” Mira asked. “Besides you and me, of course.”
Livia raised an eyebrow in Mira’s direction. “And who said you were going?”
“Well, Jo told you to get your best team together, so naturally that means me.” Mira sent a smirk right back at Livia. When Livia chuckled in response, Mira went on. “So, back to the original question, who else is going?”
“I was thinking Finola.”
Mira’s eyes grew wide with surprise. “You’re kidding.”
Livia shook her head. “Whatever else I might think of the Irish Terror, she can kick some serious ass when she wants to. We’re gonna need that.”
Watchers Council – Giles’s Office – A Short Time Later
“This is outrageous!” Morgan Travers huffed. “You cannot call the Council out of session because of some routine mission on the other side of the country!”
“I assure you, this mission is anything but routine,” Sebastian told his rival. “The Anomalous Zone is—”
“The Anomalous Zone,” Morgan grumbled. “This is nothing more than a pathetic attempt on your part to block the passage of my Slayer Service Bill, and I won’t tolerate it,” he warned. He shot a devious grin at Sebastian. “As Chairman, you may hold the gavel, but with enough names on a petition, I can call my own session of the Council. With or without you, I’ll see my bill passed.”
“You’re certainly welcome to try, but right now, I’d like to focus on saving the world, if you don’t mind.”
At that, Morgan stomped out of Giles’s office.
Sebastian sat looking at the closed door as Veronica crept in from the adjoining room. “You may only have a day at the most,” she told him.
Sebastian continued to stare at the door for a moment longer before he turned to face her. “I’ll take every minute we can get until I find a solution. Is the AZ team assembled?”
“As we speak.”
Watchers Council – Briefing Room – A Short Time Later
Seated around the conference table were those Colonel Rosenberg had chosen for the AZ mission: Jocasta herself, Katherine, Livia, Mira, Finola, James, and Anya. At the front of the room was Dr. Burkle. She stood before a large wall screen where a real-time satellite image of Texas was projected.
As she concluded her presentation, she touched a spot on the monitor, and it zoomed in to the area south of Dallas. There, in what used to be Waxahachie, a blue-white mass, spherical in shape, swirled within the boundaries of a ringed containment field.
“…so that’s the current situation as far as we understand it.” Dr. Burkle said before nodding to Jocasta and returning to her chair. Once seated, she immediately began rifling through her notes and whispering to herself.
Jocasta turned to the group. “Any questions?” James raised his hand. “Yes?”
“Um, yeah. I didn’t get half of that,” James said, “and I’m usually considered a nerd.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Jocasta said. “When the world’s on the line, James, you’re definitely the one I want around for tech support.” The two of them exchanged small smiles. “Is Anya ready for the big leagues?”
Anya scoffed, sounding almost offended. “I have you know I am fully functional!”
Finola leaned over to James. “What’s ’er thing, mate? Why does she keep sayin’ ’at?”
Anya nudged her owner. “Tell them, James!”
James ignored both Finola and Anya and answered Jocasta. “She’ll be fine,” he said.
Finola turned from James and waved her hand at Jocasta. “Shouldn’t we be takin’ more of us gals? Slayers, I mean? Last time, Livie ran into an army of faeries or some such…”
“Two armies actually,” Livia supplied. “Elves and Goblins. And that’s Commander Hansen.”
Finola continued unfazed. “All I’m saying is, what if there’s a repeat performance?”
“The smaller our force,” Jocasta explained, “the more likely it is that we’ll be able to slip through without getting—”
“Wait!” Mira interjected suddenly. As the others did indeed wait, she went on in hesitant voice, as if calling up a memory. “Strange landscape, armies…it’s all coming back to me.”
“What is?” Livia asked.
“A dream,” Mira answered. “Dream, nightmare, whatever. I’ve been having it over and over again lately.”
“Is it a slayer dream?” Katherine asked.
“If not, it does an awful good impression of one,” Mira said. “Anyway, I’m on this mountain, right, and I’m surrounded by this army of demons. It’s so gigantic I can’t see the edge of it. And I’m holding this weapon, like… did you ever see the old Slayer Scythe, like in a history book or something? It looks exactly like that.”
Jocasta looked startled. “The Scythe?”
“Well, it couldn’t be a slayer dream then, could it?” Livia asked. “I mean, Shannon Matthewson lost the original Scythe on a mission to Thailand. No one knows what happened to it.”
Jocasta sighed. “Actually…that’s not exactly true. The ‘no one knows part’, I mean.” Everyone stared at her, except for Katherine, who knew what Jocasta was about to say, and Dr. Burkle, who seemed to be off in her own little world.
“Something you ’aven’t been telling us, Colonel?” Finola asked.
Jocasta sighed. “This cannot go outside this room, okay?”
“I’m still confused as to what the ‘this’ is,” James said.
“A couple of years ago an archaeological team working in Thailand found the original Slayer Scythe, intact,” Jocasta explained. “We’ve been keeping it a secret for security reasons.”
“Where is it?” Livia asked.
“Here, in the Vault,” Jocasta said.
“Maybe that’s what my dreams have been telling me,” Mira said excitedly, “that we’re supposed to take the Scythe on this mission.”
Jocasta shook her head. “I don’t know. I mean, that’s not very…secret-y, is it?”
“It’s the end of the world,” Burkle said suddenly. She looked up at Jocasta. “The equation isn’t in our favor. The more variables we introduce, the better.”
“Uh, I think what she’s trying to say is…” Mira began.
“Okay, fine.” Jocasta rolled her eyes then switched to the next point. “I’ve got the data on the spell used to repair the original reality rip and generated a must-take list from that.” She turned to Livia. “Do we need a Seraphim Suit?”
Livia shook her head. “The damn Zone interferes with its systems too much. Yeah, it can do some damage, but if we go down in one, we could be trapped.”
“And then we’d be like a can of Spam for demons,” Mira added.
“Okay. No Seraphim.” She looked to the rest of the team. “Are there any other supplies you think you’ll need?”
“I’d like to take Cooper,” Finola said.
Katherine grinned. “Your boyfriend counts as essential supplies now?”
“’e’s been lookin’ to get more involved,” Finola insisted. “Exchange program and all that. Not much of a bloody exchange if ’e never sees action, right? We could use ’im.”
“As long as he can be ready to go in five minutes, he can come,” Jocasta said, “but he’s your responsibility, Slayer Dunn.”
“We’ll be’ave,” Finola agreed with a sly grin.
Watchers Council – South Tower Hangar – A Short Time Later
Since Cassandra’s forces had destroyed the Council’s main air facility on the central tower, the transport Jocasta had requested was parked inside the smaller hangar atop the south tower of the headquarters.
The slayers were loading gear into the elite transport while ignoring the imperious commands of Anya. James stood near her, hovering protectively as if worried one of the superwomen would lash out. Jocasta watched the bustling activity and smirked when Mira, reaching her limit, finally threatened to disassemble the android. James discreetly led Anya through the transport’s hatch. Mira shook her head at the pair and then went back to the loading.
“Motley crew,” Sebastian commented to the redhead, coming up to stand beside her.
Jocasta turned to the older man. “They’re the best we’ve got,” she replied.
“Indeed,” he nodded. “Some, however, would question your decision to leave your best pilot behind.”
“Do you share in that opinion?”
Sebastian smiled. “No,” he said with a firm shake of his head. “Those in power yet without compassion will never prevail. You made the right decision.”
The two paused as the loading was finished and the transport was secured. Captain Applegate made one last walk-around and then motioned for Jocasta.
“Well, I guess this is it,” she said nervously and looked up at Sebastian.
He gave her a warm smile and brushed a lock of red hair from her forehead. “Not goodbye, I’m sure,” he said. “Just…good luck?”
“Yeah, we’ll need it. Big time,” she chuckled. “You too from what I hear,” she added.
“I’m trying. I am, but…it’s starting to feel hopeless. I thought things might change with a Giles back in the chair but…I guess it really depends which Giles it is.”
“Feeling a little inferior? Living in the shadow?” Jocasta asked. Sebastian gave her a guilty grin. “Don’t,” she continued. “You’ve come this far, haven’t you? Don’t give up now. Keep fighting Travers.”
“Giving up isn’t my concern – – failing is.”
“I don’t think you’re the Giles that failed this Council. I mean seriously… if things had been set up better generations ago, then we wouldn’t be where we are now, right?”
Sebastian got a peculiar look on his face. “That’s true.”
“There you go!” Jocasta said optimistically. “Oh, um, Giles could you…?”
“Um, look after Willowgram?” she asked. “I mean, I know she’s only a hologram and all, but she’s special…you know? I mean, she’s like…she’s like the real Willow, you know? A part of the family.”
Sebastian smiled. “I understand. Don’t worry. She’ll be well taken care of. And I agree, she is a precious resource.”
Jocasta paused, then with a quick movement, she leaned up and gave Sebastian a quick peck on the lips. He stiffened in surprise and then pulled her into a deep hug. She squeezed him back and then ran toward the hatch, wiping at her eyes.
“A precious resource…” Sebastian mumbled aloud as he walked away.
Katherine, standing in the doorway waiting, moved slightly to let Jocasta run inside. The blonde slayer gave the chairman a warm smile and a wave and then closed the hatch.
Sebastian stood there long after the transport had roared out of the hangar and into the distance.
The Phoenix – Cockpit – Same Time
Meanwhile, at the Council’s ground base, Antonia was preparing her personal ship, The Phoenix, for takeoff. It was an old vessel, late twenty-first century, one she had saved from the recyclers and personally restored to pristine condition. It lacked much of the sophisticated technology that current ships contained, but it was solid and reliable.
Antonia was sitting in the captain’s chair, systematically flipping switches, pressing buttons, reading indicator lights, and going through a checklist via radio with Airman Timothy Lang, who was outside the vessel. When they had finished the checklist, the airman could be heard chuckling over the radio.
“Toni, when are you gonna retire this old lady?” Lang teased. “She doesn’t even have phasic stabilizers.”
Antonia grinned widely. “It’s the bumpy ride that makes it fun,” she replied. “Besides, I added impact fields.” When she heard Lang give a snort, she said, “Hey, she’ll outlast any ship on this airfield, stabilizers or not.”
“You’re probably right,” admitted Lang. “You’re good to go. And have a happy honeymoon.”
Lex slipped into the cockpit and watched his wife work. His face lit up in a sense of pride at how good Antonia was at what she did. But he knew her well enough to recognize a bad case of nervous over-preparation on her part. He finally stepped up behind her and took her fidgeting hands from the controls.
“Hey,” he whispered as he kissed the top of her head. “They’ll be fine.”
Antonia glanced up at Lex for a moment then turned her attention back to the controls. “I know.”
Lex eased into the co-pilot’s seat, snagged her hands once again, and turned her around in her chair to face him. “They’ve gone out on missions without us before.”
Antonia sighed as she looked at Lex. “It’s just…I have a bad feeling about all this.”
Lex opened his mouth to say something reassuring when a male voice came crackling over the radio.
“This is the control tower. Phoenix, you are clear for takeoff.”
Lex waggled his eyebrows and shot Antonia the wickedest of grins. “Sin City, here we come!”
The Mako – Cockpit – Later
Jocasta rode shotgun in the cockpit of the elite transport. She stared out the window, watching the landscape drift past far below.
“So, Allister couldn’t talk you into letting her fly this one, huh?”
Jarred out of her reverie, Jocasta looked over at Captain Eric Applegate, a thirtyish man with short but bushy blond hair.
“No,” she said firmly. “It’s her honeymoon. Honeymoons are for the happy-go-lucky, not for the apocalypses.”
“Well, I’m happy to give her the week off,” Applegate said as he flicked a few switches on the controls. “Maybe someday soon she’ll return the favor.”
“You’re going on a honeymoon, too?” Jocasta grinned.
“Maybe,” Applegate replied. “There’s a slayer I’ve been seeing for about a year now. Slayers are just…something else. But then you knew that.”
“Definitely,” Jocasta agreed. “You ever notice how, after they go on patrol, they have all this…pent-up energy?”
“Those are my favorite times,” Applegate said, a goofy smile on his face.
The Mako – Passenger Area – Same Time
Katherine watched Dr. Burkle from across the aisle. The waif-like scientist was a bundle of nervous energy, tapping one foot incessantly, drumming on her armrest with her fingers, and whispering unintelligibly to herself in one long, continuous ramble.
“It’ll be all right,” Katherine told her after a long, awkward moment.
Burkle cocked her head, brow knit. “All right?”
“Yeah, it’ll all work out,” Katherine said, getting up from her seat to sit in the one next to Dr. Burkle. “I don’t have that much experience personally with the end of the world, but Jo’s descended from Willow Rosenberg. I mean, she stopped more apocalypses than anybody. Well, maybe except for Elizab—”
“‘All right’ isn’t realistic,” Burkle blurted, cutting Katherine off. She stared off at the opposite wall. “It doesn’t take entropy into account. A rough beast, in widening gyres…I forget exactly, but it’s not pleasant.”
Katherine reached over and put her hand over Dr. Burkle’s. The woman looked startled but didn’t move her hand.
“We saw your bio-pod,” Katherine told her quietly. “In Orlando. Jocasta and I. It was…interesting.”
Dr. Burkle was silent for a few seconds, and neither woman moved. Then Burkle slumped her shoulders. “I-I-I think something’s going on. With me. There’s that imprecise term again. I can’t help it. I don’t know anything more specific. Maybe I’m going crazy.”
Katherine merely nodded in reply, encouraging Dr. Burkle to keep going.
“Sometimes, I-I-I don’t know where I am. Or…or what I’ve been doing. Or what I am doing.”
Katherine had a comforting smile on her face. “It’s okay. I think maybe all brilliant people are a little crazy. It’s something I’ve learned working with Jo.”
“I’m brilliant?” Dr. Burkle asked.
“Of course!” the blonde slayer grinned. “Hey, without you, the world would definitely be ending instead of, y’know, maybe ending.”
Dr. Burkle grinned back.
The Mako – Cockpit – Moments Later
Applegate and Jocasta were laughing hysterically when their eyes caught sight of something far in the distance but closing fast. They instantly stopped laughing and stared, their expressions full of dread.
“Is that…?” Applegate managed after a moment.
“Yeah,” Jocasta confirmed. “It is.”
Jocasta’s fingers flew over the co-pilot’s console. She activated the intercom and spoke into the microphone.
“Hey everybody, we’re here,” she told them. “Let me send you the video feed.”
The Mako – Passenger Area – Same Time
The members of the mission team hovered around the large screen at the front of the passenger area.
On the screen, they saw a gorgeous Texas sunset of deep pink and, within it, a massive, roiling, bluish expanse. The Anomalous Zone. Its dome-like top towered into the sky, and its body stretched from horizon to horizon. Huge forks of lightning streaked along the surface of sphere, but nothing could be seen inside it.
The anomaly seemed to be pulsing, as if light were emanating from deep inside and rolling outward to the surface in regular waves. But the pulses were becoming more frequent and the light becoming brighter.
James pointed nervously at the screen. “Uhhh, is it just me, or does that thing look like it’s about to—”
Suddenly, the image on the screen erupted into a supernova-like explosion of light.
The Phoenix – Cockpit – Same Time
Soft white clouds separated as the ship glided through the starry skies of the North American midlands. When her console readout told her the ship was approaching the airspace of Kansas, Antonia leaned back into her chair and closed her eyes for a moment.
“Need a break?”
She lifted her chin to see Lex standing there with a sexy smile on his face.
“You fly?” she replied with a teasing scoff. “I think not.”
Lex slipped into the other chair as he cut his eyes at his wife. “I think I understand how to fly.” He glanced over the instrument panel until he found the button he was looking for. He poised his hand over it. “This will make us go faster.”
“No, it won’t,” Antonia said. “That’s just the Auto-Pil—”
She didn’t get a chance to finish her sentence. Lex tapped the button and pulled Antonia into his lap. He gave her a hungry kiss, which she eagerly returned.
“See: go faster,” he whispered before kissing her cheek, and then her neck, and then her mouth once again.
Suddenly, the ship gave a shudder, causing the couple to separate for a moment. Antonia glanced at the indicator lights and monitors and waited. Nothing else happened.
“Just turbulence,” she said before leaning in for another kiss from Lex.
The Mako – Cockpit – Same Time
Jocasta was gripping her chair with white-knuckled hands as Captain Applegate fought to stabilize the rocking ship.
“Get us down, get us down!” Jocasta cried out in terror.
“I’ve got it, I’ve got it!” Applegate yelled back, and the ship eventually smoothed into a steady shake and rumble.
The Mako – Passenger Area – Same Time
Livia stumbled to her feet and headed for the intercom next to the screen. She gave the button an angry punch.
“What the hell’s going on?” she barked into the microphone.
“It looks like the Anomalous Zone exploded,” Jocasta’s voice said as it came over the crackling speaker. “The containment field’s been breached.”
Everyone in the passenger area stared in shock at the static-y image of the blue Anomalous Zone now spreading past the barrier perimeter and into the surrounding Texas landscape.
Anya gestured helplessly at the monitor. “Well, that’s it. We’re doomed.”
Fade to Black
End of Act Two