Case Western Bioengineering Department – Faculty Offices – Late Afternoon
Willow Rosenberg glanced at her phone and then up at the brass nameplate screwed next to the door.
“Tamara Goldman,” she read. “This is it.” She knocked lightly on the door and then opened it tentatively at the faint “Come in!” from inside.
“Hi there,” Willow said brightly as she entered the room and carefully closed the door behind her. She turned around. “I’m Willow, we have an…” She trailed off as she got her first good look at the woman sitting behind the desk. “Uhh…”
“We have an ‘uh?'” the blonde woman said as she stood up.
“Uh…” Willow’s eyes roamed down the woman’s curves, which was clad in dark business attire. “Appointment!” she finally got out.
“Oh,” the woman glanced down at the desktop and pulled an open book toward her. “Oh yes, Ms. Rosenberg…my TA penciled you in. I’m sorry, I forgot to check today’s schedule. I’m Dr. Goldman.”
“Uh…” Willow again said, and the woman frowned.
“Is there a problem?” she asked.
“No!” Willow finally got out. “No problem, not a single one, but I’m sorry, would it be okay if I just stepped out to make a quick phone call?”
Dr. Goldman leaned back a bit, but then gave Willow a quirky smile and nodded her head. “Sure, take your time.”
“Thanks!” Willow said and hurried out the door.
Case Western Faculty Offices – Hallway – Moments Later
Willow paced up and down the hallway, passing students and teachers alike, as she held her phone to her ear and waved her other hand with impatience. “Come on! Pick up!”
She stopped pacing. “Finally!” she said, ignoring the strange looks from passersby. “Kennedy, why didn’t you tell me about Dr. Goldman?”
She listened. “What do you mean, what do I mean? Kennedy! You have met her, haven’t you?” Pause. “No, she’s not a demon, she’s just a regular plain old human, but Kennedy…didn’t she seem, oh I don’t know…familiar?”
Willow paused again. “Look, I know you never met her when she was alive, but you have seen pictures of Tara. Heck, she even showed up in your dreams.” A longer pause. “Yes! I’m talking about that Tara! So you do see the resemblance?” Pause. “What do you mean, barely? My Goddess, they could be twins! They look alike, they sound alike. Like…like, all dopplegangy alike twenty years later, that’s what I’m saying!” Willow took a deep breath as she listened. “No, Ken, I’m not freaking out! I know Tara’s long gone and Dr. Goldman isn’t her, it’s just…what?” A pause. “I can’t believe you can’t see a resemblance here.” She listened for a moment longer. “No, I’m not sending someone else for this case. I can do this. I’m a professional, after all…okay…you too. Bye.” She then pulled the phone from her ear as it made the distinctive click when the connection hung up.
“Not Tara,” she muttered under her breath. “Not Tara…remember that, Willow. Not Tara!”
Willow glanced back at the nameplate once again, squared her shoulders and purposefully marched back into the office.
“Ms. Rosenberg,” the doctor greeted her again. “Is everything okay? Please, take a seat.”
“Yes!” Willow replied. She dropped her bag on the floor next to the chair facing the desk, before dropping into it herself. “Good, fine, yes. Everything’s fine. Thank you for seeing me, Dr. Goldman.”
“Of course,” the blonde woman replied. “How may I help you?”
“I was referred to you by my associates Kennedy and Kadin Van Helsing.” Willow answered.
“I see,” Dr. Goldman said warily.
“Oh!” Willow exclaimed. “No! I’m not here for that. Nope, my wife and I have plenty of rug rats of our own and we got them the old fashioned way, sorta. Not that you care to hear about that, but even if you did, I wouldn’t give you any details.”
Dr. Goldman smiled. “Okay, so what can I do for you then?”
“Well, I’ve tried to keep up with the literature, medical journals and such, and I’ve read a lot about CRISPR and how it helped with the Covid-19 vaccines, and I know that’s what you used, in part, to help Ken and Kadin with their little miracle that should be literally arriving any day now. A-and I was wondering if you might be able to help us, maybe, with another virus problem we’re having, this time with the refugees who are coming here from Vor.”
“Vor?” Dr. Goldman looked skeptical. “You mean the demon dimension? You’re talking about creating a vaccine for demons from another dimension?”
“Right!” Willow said. “Still not used to this whole open demon-y knowledge thing, but I’m glad you can see the big picture here.”
“CRISPR’s success is based on human DNA,” Dr. Goldman stated. “It has had limited uses on other species, of course, but you’re talking about something else altogether.”
“I know,” Willow replied and leaned forward to grab her bag. She promptly banged her head on the edge of the desk. “Ow!”
“Oh my God, are you all right?” Dr. Goldman exclaimed, jumping up and coming around the desk.
“Oh, yeah,” Willow said with her hand to her head. She tried to focus her eyes on the blonde, who was kneeling only inches away. “Wow!” she whispered. “You…you…”
“Me?” Dr. Goldman asked.
“Just remind me so much of someone I used to know a long time ago,” Willow answered.
“Were you this accident prone then, too?” Dr. Goldman laughed as she pulled Willow’s hand away from her forehead.
“Worse!” Willow laughed. “Within seconds of our second meeting, I sprained my ankle.”
“No blood,” Dr. Goldman said after examining Willow’s forehead. “Just a bump.”
“Oh good,” Willow said almost dreamily. “I’ve had lots of those.”
“So, back to this…project. I’m assuming you’re asking for help finding a cure for a virus?” Dr. Goldman prompted, sitting in the other chair next to Willow’s.
“Right,” Willow said, pulling a large file folder out of her bag. “Some of the refugees from Vor are coming down with a mystery illness, which we think is caused by a human virus…not Covid-19 nor any of the SARS types, but maybe something as simple as the common cold or…or…even, I don’t know, certain cancers caused by viruses, like HPV. All we know is that it’s attacking their organs that do not have any human equivalent–as if the virus latched onto something they couldn’t attack here until the refugees arrived.”
Dr. Goldman opened up the folder and glanced at the contents. “You’ve started the DNA sequencing of the species?” she asked.
“Yes,” Willow answered. “The Department of Supernatural Affairs ordered it immediately upon acceptance of the refugees, just in case they carried something harmful to humans, but with the extra nucleotides they have, we needed to reprogram the software and equipment to handle it. I tell ya, it’s not easy going from four nucleotides to six!”
“No, I imagine it wouldn’t be.” Dr. Goldman looked up. “Why haven’t I heard about this before? And why aren’t you going through the Administration instead of coming to me?”
Willow shook her head sheepishly. “I’m afraid there are those in the White House who are not too happy about our latest immigrants,” she answered. “They figure if something is killing them when they arrive, well, then that just means less demons they have to worry about.”
“Not much different than our founders passing out smallpox-laden blankets to the natives as part of their treaty goods,” Dr. Goldman said.
“Right,” Willow replied. “But we at the Council feel that, since they have come to us for help and we agreed to help them, then it’s up to us to at least try and find a cure. There’s also an added component that shortsighted folks might miss – what if this jumps species? Sure they might think it’s ‘killing all the right beings,’ but what happens when some of those beings start being human. So that’s why I came to you. You’re one of the leading bioengineers in the world and yet, as far as I know, you have no ties with the government.”
“Mmm,” she murmured and finally looked up. “Some of these sequences are very complex. May I keep this for further study?”
“Of course,” Willow answered. She again reached in her bag and pulled a business card from a silver engraved case. “Here’s my card. Take your time, well, not too much time, people, demons they may be, are dying and I’m hoping we can do something about it.”
Dr. Goldman took the card and read it. “Cleveland Council of Watchers, Director of Magic and the Supernatural. Impressive.”
“Heh, not really,” Willow said. “I mean, you can do what they did on Jurassic Park, edit genes with pinpoint precision and such, that’s impressive. Magic is…”
“It’s magic,” Willow shrugged and stood up, placing a steadying hand on the desk. Both women heard three text message sounds in a row, and Willow reached for her phone. “Sorry. I don’t mean to be rude,” she said before opening the app. As she started to read, her jaw physically dropped.
“Are you okay?” Dr. Goldman asked.
Willow began, “From my wife – ‘If you see the news, the kids are okay and no casualties. Shooter at Liz’s restaurant.’
“Oh no,” the doctor sighed.
“Liz, that’s my niece, it’s her workplace.”
“Oh no, is she okay?” Willow opened the link and the pair stood shoulder to shoulder watching the report together. They saw Alex, Liz and Jen help direct the customers to ambulance services.
The reporter looked straight into the camera as he spoke. “A gunman got more than he expected when he attempted to open fire on this Doublemeat Palace. Unknown to him, an inventive student Wiccan, a watcher-in-training and a quick, strong slayer thwarted what could have been yet another deadly shooting in America.”
Willow and Tamara watched as the reporter tried to talk to “Jennifer Rosenberg,” as it said at the bottom of the screen. They watched as she and her brother helped an injured man into an ambulance. The reporter asked, “Can you tell us what happened inside?”
Jen shrugged, “What’s to say? Another unstable person with easy access to guns they shouldn’t have. It won’t end ’til this country gets its shit together and really values human life.”
Quickly, the reporter pulled away the microphone, and Jen was on her way. As he continued his report, Willow ignored him and turned to Tamara.
She sighed, “I’m glad everyone is okay, but that’s gonna open a can of worms. At least her Grandma Rosenberg will be pleased with that anti-gun soundbite.”
“Can of worms?” Tamara asked.
“At the Council we have to walk a fine line. We’ve got pro-second amendment groups who might take offense. We’ve got anti-abortion activists who will say Jen is pro-life with the ‘value of human life’ comment, and that will offend women who think it’s their body, their right. What we say in the public eye needs to be…delicate. More than ever, it seems. A-and my teenage daughter and her friends are anything but delicate. Anyway, I should go, but it was nice to meet you. I look forward to doing it again soon.”
“Certainly and, if you can, please text me to let me know how they’re doing – and you, too. Dealing with that can’t be easy.”
Willow grinned. “I’ve seen a lot since 1997. Very little shocks me at this point. The kids are learning that now, too. It’s funny, y-you want your kids to have a better life, but sometimes destiny gets in the way…” She paused a moment in thought but then brushed it off with a small shake. “A-anyway, I apologize for my babbling, and I appreciate your concern.”
Tamara gripped Willow’s upper arm with one hand and squeezed her hand with the other. Willow looked down at their locked fingers.
“If you need anything, reach out and let me know.”
Willow nodded and said, “A-and please, call me when you’re done with your review. I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you.”
“I will,” the doctor answered. “It’s the least I can do since the Van Helsings recommended me to you. Their project is the one I’m most proud of.”
“As you should be! A fetus made by two women’s DNA is pretty exciting stuff,” Willow complimented. She paused, looking deep into Dr. Goldman’s eyes. Finally, she shook her head and muttered, “So much alike.” She turned and walked out the door. Dr. Goldman looked at the closed door for a moment and then returned to the large file folder, as if eager to delve in deeper.
Doublemeat Palace – Nearby Woods – Late Afternoon
“Hey,” Alex asked Jen as they waited for their dirt bikes to warm up, “are you doing okay?”
“Yeah, I’ve been hurt worse at sparring. He just knocked me on my butt, but I’m all right.”
“I didn’t mean your butt. I meant…” He tapped his temple. “You can’t deny you went a little medieval on that crazy asshole.”
“Just doing what needed to be done.”
“Okay, but, did you?”
“I stopped a mass murder, and you want to criticize me. Typical.”
“No,” Alex said, “it’s just…I ask because you seemed pretty angry. I thought you were going to kill that guy with your bare hands.”
“Yeah, well, we’ve got a hot-tempered mom and a dark magic ma, so that’s quite a combo. And they put all that into a package with slayer strength.”
“Does that worry you?”
“No,” Jen automatically answered. She paused and then added, “A little, but it’s okay.”
“Okay,” Alex parroted. “I just…I worry about you sometimes, is all,” he answered. “I know we…get competitive…but you know you can talk to me, even if we’re rivals.”
“Rivals? You flatter yourself to think you’re at my level,” Jen said seriously before cracking a smile. He grinned, too, not taking her bait. She cleared her throat and in a sincere voice said, “If you tell anyone I said this, I will find the nearest billboard and string your ass up buck-naked for the entire Cleveland area to see.”
“Noted. Please continue,” he replied, still not taking her bait.
She grinned slightly. “Thank you for your concern, and thanks for saving me with your magic.”
“Thanks for saving me with your strength,” he replied, completely ignoring the previous threat.
As they continued to wait on their dirt bikes, neither said a word to each other. Once they mounted their rides, Alex said, “Getting caught street riding seems kinda light by comparison to the earlier events.”
“I’m glad you took the chance and came out. If you weren’t brave enough to get here, I might’ve died tonight,” Jen told him.
Alex nodded. “And we still might die when we get home. You know they probably saw us on the news?”
“And if they don’t kill us, they’re gonna ground us for having the bikes out.”
“I should be more worried than I am,” Alex said in amazement.
“Was it worth it?” Jen asked with a knowing smile as she put on her helmet.
“Absolutely,” he agreed, securing his own helmet.
“Then let’s take whatever they dish out without much debate, agreed?” Jen shouted over the revving cycles and helmets.
Alex nodded and pulled out, with his sister following behind him.
Giles Home – Kitchen – That Evening
“She should be home by now. We should go there,” Becca said.
She was seated at the kitchen island with Giles across from her. Martin sat at her side as they waited for Liz’s arrival from the restaurant.
“She said she was on her way home,” Giles countered. “We might miss her if we go there now.”
The door opened, and the three of them turned to see Liz coming inside and taking off her coat to hang on the rack by the door. Everyone visibly exhaled, and Martin rushed to the front door.
Liz had just hung up her coat when she turned to find her brother barreling toward her and then enveloping her in a bear hug, trapping her arms. She grinned at first and then teasingly said, “I don’t have time to wrestle now.” He let go and stepped back slightly. She seemed to sense the worry in his eyes. “I’m okay,” she told him as she patted his upper arm.
He just nodded and stepped back further as their parents arrived.
“Oh, Lizzie,” Becca said as she kissed her on the cheek and hugged her. As Becca pulled back, Giles stepped forward and cupped Liz’s cheek.
“Are you okay?” he asked sincerely.
“I’m fine now,” Liz answered. “Really. I am…I’m still maybe in shock a little bit. It all happened so fast.”
“What happened?” Martin asked.
Giles jumped in, “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, Sweetheart.”
“Honest, guys. I’m okay.”
“Well,” Becca told her, “your dad and I spoke, and if you don’t want to go back to work there, you don’t have to.”
“Right,” Giles joined in. “There are lots of other places hiring.”
“Why?” Liz asked.
Martin shrugged. “It could be scary going back to that place again.”
“Maybe,” Liz answered, “but I’m not going to quit. Heck, they even talked about getting me a raise. I guess it’s superior customer service to get the staff and customers away from the tragedy.”
“There’s more to life than money,” Becca told her.
“Absolutely,” Liz answered. “And raise aside, statistically speaking, I’m safer there because the odds of something happening again in the same place are slim. I’m actually in more danger if I switch jobs. So, more money and less risk? Yeah, staying put would be the best choice, in my opinion.”
Giles grinned. “That actually makes perfect sense, but promise me something?” Liz just looked at him to continue. “If it gets to be too much, being there again, promise you’ll find other employment elsewhere. Promise?”
“I promise,” she replied.
Rosenberg-Allister House – Living Room – Later that Night
“You’re grounded for a month.” Rowena pointed to the teens, who sat on the sofa as she paced in front of them. Willow simply sat in the chair across from them.
“Bullshit,” Jen muttered.
“Jennifer Althenea Rosenberg, language,” Willow admonished her.
“What happened to ‘without much debate’?” Alex asked his sister in a bit of an aside.
“I’m not arguing with them,” Jen insisted to her brother. “It doesn’t matter to them that people would have died if we weren’t there. Maybe Liz. And even that chicken-shit Trina who ran away. None of that matters to them.”
“Damn right,” Rowena answered. Then she closed her eyes, bit her lip and corrected herself. “No. Not right. I’m glad everyone is okay, and it’s good you were there to help people, including Liz.”
“Even chicken-shit Trina?” Jen pressed.
“Even her. The issue is with how you got there,” Rowena countered. “You know the rule: dirt bikes are not to leave this property.”
“What were we supposed to do?” Alex asked.
“Walk, take the bus, call an Uber,” Rowena stressed. “But the bikes stay here at the house. They aren’t street legal, and you don’t have a license.”
“I don’t know how you didn’t get caught,” Willow said, somewhat absently. “The place was crawling with police.”
“We parked in the wooded area behind the restaurant so they’d be out of sight from the po-po,” Jen said.
“Smart.” Willow nodded. Rowena turned and looked hard at her wife. “But wrong, very wrong,” she added quickly when she noticed she was about to be in trouble, too.
“Again, that’s bull –” Jen stopped herself and looked at her mom, as if debating whether she’d say it again. ” – shit.”
“That’s it,” Rowena said. “Another week for you,” she said, pointing at Jen. “A month for him and five weeks for you.”
“Let’s make it six weeks,” Jen countered, getting to her feet. “I’m done with this conversation. I saved people. I did the right thing, and by the way, in case you cared: I’m okay. He’s okay. And if I knew the cost of helping Liz and those people was six weeks of my freedom, guess what? I’d do it all over again because it was the right thing to do – even if you don’t see it. I’m outta here,” she finished calmly before walking up the stairs.
Alex stood up too, seemingly much more nervously, and just said, “Ditto,” before he followed behind her up the stairs.
The kids’ moms watched them as they disappeared up the stairs. Once they were out of the room, Rowena turned on the television and turned the volume up. Willow watched this wordlessly until she witnessed Rowena put her face in her hands and sob silently, her shoulders rising and falling rapidly.
Willow put her arms around her and then pulled her face to her shoulder.
“We came so close to losing them,” Rowena whispered as she cried. “I know they go into harm’s way on Council assignments, but this…I’m not prepared for this.”
“No one is prepared for something like this, and they’re okay,” Willow told her. “I was their age when I’d sneak out and patrol with Buffy,” she offered. “Of course I’m not sure how much I snuck. I don’t think my parents noticed I was gone.”
“Willow,” Rowena sighed.
“No, seriously. I was even in a coma junior year, and the only ones there were the Scoobies, according to Giles. My parents weren’t very…hands-on. But our kids are loved and they’re smart. They’ve got way more knowledge about the world than I ever did at their age.”
“I know,” Rowena agreed. “And if Liz hadn’t diverted him, if Jen hadn’t disarmed him, if Alex hadn’t…” She seemed to laugh and cry at the same time, “…turned bullets into marshmallows. I mean really, what made him think to do that so quickly?”
“He’s a talented and creative young witch,” Willow said proudly. “They all did what we’ve been training them to do since day one.”
Rowena started to tear up again. “Our families are lucky. They made it home. So many others just don’t in these situations. And maybe it’s crazy, but I feel…and don’t get me wrong…I’m so so glad they are okay, but…”
“You feel guilty for being happy when others aren’t as fortunate in these situations?” Willow offered. Rowena only nodded. “Me too, Sweetie.”
Rowena coughed slightly to clear her throat. “Was I too hard on them?”
Willow shrugged. “You are right. They can’t take those bikes out – it’s dangerous. Is it worth a month’s punishment? Ehh. I say let’s see how the next couple weeks go. They behave, then maybe they can get an early parole?”
Rowena grinned. “I’ll think about it.”
“Good. And when cooler heads prevail, we’ll try to explain again that we’re not mad that they were there. It’s just about how they got there.”
They both turned toward the TV when they heard Jen’s name on the news.
“…Diners’ savior or violent vigilante? The condition of the alleged attacker is making some wonder if the Council understands where disarming ends and brutality begins.”
Willow pointed to the television. “He was gonna kill them and everyone in the restaurant.”
“Of all the dumbest woke shit,” Rowena grumbled.
“Well,” Willow offered, “being woke isn’t bad.”
“Obviously,” Rowena began. “Most woke stuff is important, yes, but some ‘so-called woke’ stuff is just shit. I mean seriously? They want to give two fucks about this jackass who left his home for the purpose of killing people today? Ya know what happened?” Rowena complained to the talking head on the television. “He thought he’d hand out pain and misery, and she handed him his ass.” Suddenly, Rowena went from angry to concerned. She turned to Willow. “Get all the devices.”
At first, Willow didn’t seem to follow her train of thought, but then said, “Oh damn,” and took off up the stairs, going to Jen’s room first.
Jen’s Bedroom – Continuous
Willow knocked once and opened the door without invitation. “I need your devices,” she said.
At first, Jen didn’t say anything. After a few seconds, she extended her smart phone to Willow without argument.
“Am I a slayer or assassin, Ma?” she asked. Her voice broke slightly.
Willow walked deeper into the room and shut the door before taking the offered phone.
“You’re a hero.”
“That depends on who you ask, it seems.” Jen didn’t look up.
Willow took a seat next to her daughter on the bed.
“I don’t even…” Jen wiped her face with the back of her hand and sniffed. “I mean, they’re right.”
“No, Jen,” Willow said, rubbing her daughter’s back. “They’re not –”
Jen looked up at her. “We’ve been over this in class so many times. You don’t use slayer strength on a human, no exceptions.” She gestured emphatically in imitation of an instructor. “What…what’s wrong with me?”
Willow put an arm around Jen. “Nothing’s wrong with you. You’re fifteen, you make choices. I for one am glad you made the choices you did today. I’m glad that you’re still here, and so are Alex and Liz.”
“Yeah, well, I may be fifteen, but I still have super strength, and I’m supposed to know where to point it and when. If I can’t figure that out then…” She sighed and pointed at Willow’s phone. “And it’s not as if these assholes have any trouble going after a fifteen-year-old.”
“I can’t save you from this,” Willow said, handing the phone back to her daughter. “Taking that,” she motioned her head toward the device, “won’t help. Those people…they get paid to make problems. Higher ratings, more hits – that’s all they care about. Different mediums; same goal – money. They don’t care about the truth. They say what will make them richer. We’ll talk to Jim Pollan first thing tomorrow. But do me a favor, okay?”
“I was going to take your devices so that, one, you might not see it tonight and two, so you wouldn’t reply.”
“I don’t even know where to start with some of these people.”
“Exactly. The solution is not to start. Don’t reply to these strangers. Their opinion doesn’t matter. I know it’s hard – it’s so so hard to not want to say something, to defend yourself, but you can’t play their game. Take the high road. If you want to vent, don’t do it in public. Do it with us or with friends you trust, like Liz and Nikki. You’re going to find out real fast, Sweetie, who you can trust in this world and who you can’t.”
Jen nodded and still appeared to be on the verge of tears. “He was gonna kill those people, Ma. Kill Liz…kill me,” she said softly.
“You defended yourself, and we’re so glad you did,” Willow said, pulling her into an embrace.
That’s when the dam broke. Willow just held on to her and ran her hand repeatedly over Jen’s hair, letting her cry.
Fade to Black
End of Act Six