Council HQ – Hallway – Night
Buffy awkwardly shifted the sheaf of papers under her arm as she walked down the hallway. With her other hand she held a cell phone to her ear. “Well, I’m sorry I didn’t say anything. We’re all trying to give Kennedy what she needs right now, you know that, and…look, I’ll be back when I can. Love you, too.” She hung up with a sigh.
She looked down momentarily as she slipped her phone back into her pocket, and immediately after she looked back up again, she bumped right into CiCi. The younger girl had not been paying attention either, having been thoroughly engrossed with typing on her smart phone. Buffy’s papers fell from her arms and distributed themselves across an impressive area of the floor.
CiCi cringed when she realized who she’d just run over. “Oh jeez, I am so sorry. Are you –?”
“I’m fine,” Buffy told her brusquely. She knelt down to pick up her papers, and after a moment CiCi did so as well.
“It’s completely my fault,” CiCi said. “Really, I’m usually much more coordinated. You should have seen me catch Carlena’s lunch tray last week. I just get caught up sometimes, and then everything is bad.”
Buffy’s eyes were drawn to where CiCi had placed her phone down on the tile floor. A half-finished message was on its screen. “You…you were tweeting?” Buffy’s voice seemed to balk at the word.
CiCi’s pale cheeks reddened. “I know, right? But it’s just that –”
Buffy left the remaining papers on the floor and straightened, hands on hips. “It’s just what? Slayer Carmichael, what could you possibly have to say that was so urgent? Did you have an extra order of fries with dinner? Is that it? Is that what the world so urgently needs to know?”
CiCi’s mouth dropped open. “I’m sorry, I…I don’t…” She was still on her knees, looking like she’d forgotten to get up.
Buffy kept going. ” ‘Cause I sure as hell hope it wasn’t details about your work. The demons of the world do not need to know that CiCi Carmichael is about to go out on patrol! What would have happened if we were getting ready to fight Glory, and Anya was all ‘Oh, by the way, internet, I’m helping fix the Buffybot now’?”
CiCi’s face was blank at that one. “Buffy…bot?”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Get going,” she said, tossing her head in the direction of the nearest door. A few other slayers were standing in it, trying to look inconspicuous during their rubbernecking. CiCi gave a small nod, got to her feet, and headed off.
After a few seconds she returned, having forgotten her phone. She picked it up and sheepishly said, “Sorry.”
Buffy glared at her, and CiCi disappeared into the room so quickly that her edges might have been a little blurry. The other spectating slayers went into hiding a moment later.
“What’s with all the papers?” a voice asked from behind Buffy. Tired, Buffy turned to see Lori Carew standing with one hand on her hip and with a tablet computer in the other. She gestured with the computer. “We’ve all had these for two years now.”
“I don’t like mine,” Buffy said. “The touch screen thingy never works the way it’s supposed to.”
Lori shrugged. “You know, I really don’t mind it when you yell. Keeps the girls on their toes.”
“But…?” Buffy said, looking tired again.
“Well, you probably shouldn’t have done that,” Lori said quietly. “We actually encourage them to use social media. It’s free, a lot of them want to do it, and it’s great publicity. It lets people see that slayers are just people instead of…you know, girl-shaped monsters.”
The two of them headed toward the nearby door now. Buffy shook her head. “Okay, but…she’s CiCi Carmichael. Who would want to read about her little…”
Lori poked at her tablet a few times and showed the result to Buffy. “That’s how many followers she has.”
“That’s…a large number. Boy, I hope Kennedy’s having a good time.” Buffy said as the two of them entered and closed the door behind them.
Council HQ – Robin’s Apartment – Same Time
Kennedy hit the hardwood floor hard, shoulder-first. She winced as a four-year-old Nikki Wood pounced on top of her.
“I’m gonna slay you!” Nikki announced, dramatically raising a plush stake above her head.
“Oh no!” Kennedy exclaimed in mock fear.
Nikki plunged the toy down repeatedly into Kennedy’s side. After about six stakings, Kennedy gently attempted to get to her feet. “Okay, Nik, that’s enough.”
“I slayed you,” Nikki told her. “Now you hafta pretend to take a nap.”
Kennedy rubbed at her shoulder as she got to her feet, but she had a small smile on her face. “Maybe later.”
Nikki glared at her and put her hands on her hips. Then she instantaneously brightened. “Have you seen my doll?”
Kennedy shook her head. “No, I haven’t.”
“Her hair is green!” Nikki shouted, as if this was the most important piece of information the world had ever witnessed. Then she ran off in the direction of her bedroom.
“We don’t run in the house,” Robin called after her, entering from the kitchen with a hot cup of tea balanced in each hand.
Kennedy gratefully accepted one of the cups. “Thanks.” The two sat down next to each other on the battered couch. “She’s a handful.”
“I feel I must point out,” Robin said, “that your hands are not really supposed to be the full ones, if I understand correctly.” He took a sip and grimaced.
“Well,” Kennedy said, “they sort of are. I mean, Fa…her mom was like my…well, all slayers, really, we’re like sisters. So that makes her my niece, right?” Hurriedly, she downed a gulp of her tea, which left her gasping. “Wow, this is really…I didn’t know you made tea.”
“I don’t, apparently,” Robin replied. “Kennedy, she loves you, and I do appreciate the help, but…I really am figuring out the parenting thing. I used to be a high school principal; this is only different as a matter of scale. You don’t have to be her mom.”
Kennedy made a pfft noise. “Hell no. No kids for me.”
At that point Nikki ran back into the room carrying a Barbie-type doll wearing a superhero outfit and sporting green hair. Nikki was now wearing a very similar-looking outfit, though human-sized and much-battered.
“I’m Electric Girl! Hi-ya!” She karate-chopped Kennedy in the shin, causing her to open her mouth in a silent cry of pain.
Rubbing her leg, Kennedy told Nikki, “Girl, you have no idea how happy I am you’re not a slayer.”
Council HQ – Ready Room – A Short Time Later
Buffy stood at a lectern in front of a tiered lecture hall filled with slayers. Lori sat in a chair nearby. “And Caroline and Gamma team will be in Parma tonight. You’ll be wanting to run some sweeps for, um, Lohan demons…”
Lori tried to suppress a smile. “Lothar demons,” she corrected quietly.
“Lothar demons,” Buffy said without missing a beat. “There have been some sightings, and we’d like to take care of that before somebody has their ears cut off and ground into a powder.” She shuffled the papers around for a moment. “Um, I think that’s it.”
She looked up and saw a few dozen girls watching her, all of them younger than her. Most of them were waiting expectantly; a few were fiddling with cell phones or staring at the clock on the wall. “That’s it,” she said again, and the entire group burst into simultaneous conversations.
As the first girls exited the room, Lori pushed back her chair and stood up. The motion was only a little awkward. Buffy watched Shannon walk past. “Shannon!” she called.
Shannon stopped, though she didn’t look particularly happy about it. The girls continued to stream out of the room. “Yeah?”
Buffy hesitated. “Be careful,” she finally said.
Shannon just nodded and headed out the door.
“Chairwoman?” Buffy turned to see Cici standing nearby, looking very contrite.
“CiCi,” Buffy nodded. “You’re popping up more than usual.” Behind her Lori looked on with interest.
CiCi nervously pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “I just wanted to say that, um, I’m sorry. I think that sometimes I get distracted by the fact that all these people are, y’know, reading what I say and maybe I lose sight of the point of stuff.”
Buffy sighed and looked down at her lectern. She gathered up her papers. “Well, I’ve been thinking, and I’m sure we can come up with some kind –”
When she looked up again, she stopped mid-sentence. Instead of CiCi there was another teenage girl there, with blond hair and bright blue eyes, and a big smile. For a moment, Buffy’s breath caught in her throat as she examined the girl that closely resembled herself.
The unknown blonde raised an eyebrow and asked, “You okay?”
Buffy said nothing and appeared to be growing slightly alarmed.
“Buffy?” Lori asked, sensing her mood shift. Buffy swung her head around for a second to see a concerned Lori, then immediately back to look at the girl. But the girl wasn’t there. CiCi was still seated, like before, her eyes wide.
Buffy shook her head unsure of what she saw, but realizing everything seemed to be in order, she picked up where she left off. “CiCi, what I mean to say is, I don’t want you to stop doing what you’re doing. I’m just looking for some…discretion, that’s all.”
“Okay,” CiCi nodded, looking very relieved that whatever had happened wasn’t her fault. After an awkward moment, she nodded to Buffy and Lori and hurried out.
“So…what just happened?” Lori asked after everyone had left.
Buffy blinked a few times. “Just following your advice.”
“No,” Lori insisted, “before that.”
Buffy said nothing at first. “Maybe I’m feeling a little sleep deprived,” she answered. Lori arched an eyebrow in curiosity, but Buffy just waved her off, and the two started walking for the door. Buffy then asked, “How’s your leg?”
Lori shot her a look, but she said, “The new therapy’s still working.” She flipped off the lights as the two left the room and closed the door behind them.
London – Roof of Building – Night
Lorinda leaned back on an old chimney that predated electricity. Around her, the London skyline glittered against the night. 3 St. Mary’s Axe flanked the renaissance dome of St. Paul’s. She ignored the view, instead studying her own fingernails.
A girl with dark hair and a pale complexion ran up to her and spoke in a thick Newcastle accent. “Ma’am, there’s aboot seven a’ the Blastik’s down ‘er, like.”
Lorinda glanced up at the girl. “How are they laid out?”
The girl hesitated. Lorinda sighed and walked past her toward the edge of the roof. “Have to do everything myself.”
London – Roof of Building – Moments Later
Lorinda peered out over the edge of the roof, with only her head visible. She was flanked by three other girls, including the one from Newcastle.
She saw several yellow-scaled demons populating the tiny alley below. They had crests of wispy-yellow feathers sprouting from the back of their head, almost like Big Bird. The alley was more street-like than most in America, though, lined with actual, reputable-seeming stores. They weren’t open at this time of night. The demons had broken the front window of one of the stores, and a couple disappeared inside. The sign above marked the place as a jewelry store.
“They’re stealing jewelry?” Lorinda asked, wrinkling her nose. “Petty crime seems very…petty. For Blastiks, I mean.”
“Time’s tough fer us all,” Newcastle girl said. “Ya want us to gan in ‘er, do a proper job of it?”
Lorinda thought for a moment, quirking her head to one side as she did so. “That seems tiring.”
Cleveland – Strip Mall – Night
Shannon was perched atop a strip mall that stretched into the distance in either direction. A large bow was slung across her back, sharing space with a sleek quiver. The plaza backed onto another, similar structure, leaving only a thin, dumpster-filled alley between. In this space several figures moved, their boorish calls echoing in the dark. Shannon’s knees were bent, her gaze hard. She looked like a gargoyle.
Another girl appeared next to Shannon, her movements only slightly less sure. Her hair was short and divided into blonde and brown streaks, and she wore thin glasses low on her nose. “Looks like six vamps,” she whispered.
“Seven,” Shannon replied in a low voice.
Used to moments like this one, the girl did not question the different count. “We’ve got surprise,” she ventured. “Pretty even numbers. We could probably risk a straight-up fight.”
Shannon turned her head to look at the girl. “I don’t take risks I don’t have to.” A silent moment passed. The younger girl bounced nervously in her knees, unable to mimic Shannon’s motionlessness. Then Shannon sat back and stretched her back and neck. “Okay, get everyone over here. Quicker is better.”
London – Jewelry Store – Night
The dominant sound was the tinkle of broken glass, as several of the yellow-feathered demons rummaged around in display cases for gold watches and diamond cufflinks.
“Hey everybody!” The demons turned with various grunts to see Lorinda leaning in the doorway, one hand in a pocket of her jeans. “Wow, jewel heist, huh?”
“Slayer,” one demon growled. He curled back his lips to show his teeth.
“Not just any slayer,” said another.
“Oh goody, I’m famous,” Lorinda sighed. “That was the idea.” She stood up straight and took a few casual steps forward. She closed the door behind her. “Now, listen, I understand we’re all having to branch out in the current economy. But –”
“This doesn’t concern you,” said the closest demon.
Lorinda shrugged. “Y’know, you’re right. Robbery’s not really our thing. But I know you guys. Blastiks, right? I’ll bet that this plan of yours ends with you getting to suck the bone marrow out of a bunch of kids. And I’m right there with ya, y’know? Kids, yes, annoying, and we all need more calcium in our diets, but really, if you’d just come to us, this wouldn’t be happening.”
“I see five of us, and only one of you,” said one demon. “What do you think is about to happen?”
Lorinda gave him a friendly smile and pulled her hand out of her pocket. She now held a small fold-up umbrella, which she promptly opened and held above her head. “Nothing much,” she said.
At that moment, something activated the jewelry store’s sprinkler system. The demons gave each other panicked looks. After a few seconds it became clear that the water was melting them. Two ran for the door, but found it locked. Their faces ran in the water like paint. One-by-one, the demons collapsed into heaps of disgusting, wet flesh. Lorinda looked on placidly, as if taking a stroll through a passing shower.
Cleveland – Strip Mall – Night
Shannon pulled back the string of her large bow with practiced precision. She waited, staring down into what looked like darkness to the non-slayer eye. Her fingers were light on the string. Below her, the vampires could be heard scuffling and rooting through dumpsters. She let out a slow breath, then released the arrow with a very quiet twang.
From below came the unmistakable opened-can-of-pop sound of a vampire dusting. Shannon already had the next arrow nocked and released before this could even register. Another vampire dusted. Shannon’s movements were smooth and perfect. Though there was obviously a great deal of panicked movement and shouting below, two more arrows from Shannon found their targets within the next five seconds.
Only a few vampires were left to sprint for the end of the alley, passing through small pools of light thrown by glowing exit signs and security lamps. Greeted by the pairs of slayers Shannon had posted at each end, the remaining vamps were quickly disposed of in tag-team fashion.
After it was over, Shannon hopped down from the roof. She landed in a crouch next to the girl with the glasses.
“I thought there were more of them,” the girl said.
“There were,” Shannon said quietly. She slung her bow over her shoulder once more and raised her voice. “All right, we’re moving on to the next hot spot.”
London – Alley – Night
“Well, that was a bit canny, like,” said the girl from Newcastle after Lorinda had emerged from the jewelry store and shaken out her umbrella. “I’d forgotten that bit about the water. Brilliant, that was.”
“Well, now you’ll remember,” Lorinda said. She handed her umbrella over to the girl, who handed Lorinda back a large black bag. Lorinda looked around at her squad standing in the empty street, checked her watch, and tried to suppress a smile. “All right, you all can knock off or whatever you people say. It’s a Friday. Try not to get into too much trouble.”
There were a few whoops. The girl from Newcastle asked, “You won’t be coming back with us?”
Lorinda just smiled and shook her head.
Council HQ – Library – Night
The library was once again in patrol mode, abuzz with the activity of a few dozen watchers working on as many different projects. Rowena was instructing a group at the end of a set of shelves marked “Curses Jinxes Maledictions etc.”
“Daryl, check through the Chronicles of Danzig,” she said, “and Beatrice, I’d like you to…”
She was distracted by Grace tapping her on the shoulder and giving her a wide-eyed significant look. Rowena sighed. “Beatrice, um, you know what we’re looking for here. I’ll be back in a second.” Then she turned to Grace and asked, “What is it?” The two of them moved together further into the stacks.
Grace handed her a tablet PC. “We got a hit on the Predictive Corollary Database.”
Rowena glanced down at the tablet then back up at Grace. “Wait, what?”
Grace sighed. “Yeah, you know it’s obscure when you haven’t even heard of it. But somebody, your girl probably, put together this thingy we have that takes all the info we’ve got regarding prophecies, predictions, ancient fortune cookies from space, and so on, and sorta mushes it together and tries to give us a heads up if anything’s about to, y’know, come to pass or whatever. I just so happened to check it while looking for info about the Night of St. Aghraba…”
“That’s coming up, isn’t it?” Rowena interjected.
Grace made an “iffy” gesture with her hand. “Eh…but the point is that something else might be coming up.”
She pointed to the tablet in Rowena’s hands, which Rowena scanned briefly. She raised one eyebrow. “The Uncreation? That sounds… UNpleasant.”
“It is,” Grace confirms. “The world as we know it pretty much ceases to exist. I think.”
“It’s all typically vague. You gotta love ancient chroniclers…they just kinda jump off the metaphor cliff.”
Rowena started reading through the document more closely. “We definitely need to know more about this. What would we do without you, Grace?”
Grace licked her lips, a little nervous. “I’m pretty sure you’d manage.” She changed the subject with gusto. “Anyway, it’s weird to think about. How come there’re prophecies for things in the future that would get ‘uncreated’ or whatever? Isn’t that what you’d call a conflict?”
Rowena shrugged and handed her back the tablet PC. “My theory? Time’s always in flux. You don’t know the future, even when you think you do.”
Grace’s brow furrowed. “But a lot of the time the predictions are right.”
Rowena shot her a rueful smile and put a hand on Grace’s shoulder. “Hopefully not this one.”
London – Street Outside Club – Night
Now wearing a revealing-yet-stylish outfit, Lorinda slid out of the back seat of one of London’s famous black cabs and closed the door behind her. The club was in front of her, from the outside looking for all the world like a low-slung warehouse. Except for the fact, of course, that bouncers guarded the door and the line of people waiting to get in stretched around the block. A stylized block of neon above the door advertised the name of the place: “Oxygen”.
Lorinda completely ignored the line and walked straight up to the velvet rope in front of the door. A murmur went through those waiting as she passed, and the more brazen among the group got out their phones to take her picture. The doorman nodded to her in respect as he unhooked the rope to let her in.
London – Club Oxygen – Moments Later
The interior was black-lit and packed with young, lithe bodies. A DJ stood on a raised platform, egging the crowd on. A techno version of the latest hit played so loud that every surface in the room vibrated. “It’s like a stake to my heart/When you say you don’t want me…”
Lorinda walked straight through the crowd and up a set of stairs, right past a sign reading “VIP”.
The VIP lounge had several private nooks and crannies furnished with expensive couches and buckets of champagne. A few security guards were scattered throughout, trying to look inconspicuous. Lorinda looked around for a moment before finding a tall, gangly young man with red hair. He was chatting with a pretty girl in a silver dress. Lorinda did not look happy at this development.
“You really should go out on the yacht with us some time,” he was saying, his accent the top of the upper crust. “It always helps me to…hello, Gorgeous.”
Lorinda had snaked an arm around his shoulders, almost protectively. “I see you started without me.”
“I had a feeling you would manage to find your way here eventually,” he said. “You usually do. You’re just in time, in fact. They’re playing your song.” He gestured to the dance floor below, from which “Stake to My Heart” still reverberated. Lorinda gave him a light punch in the shoulder. He grimaced and rubbed the spot. “Save it for later, Love,” he said and broke into a grin.
The girl he had been talking to raised an eyebrow at this. “Ah yes, Lorinda, this is Mina Harker. Her mother is a…Countess, is that right?”
“Yes, Your Highness,” she nodded, sticking out a hand for Lorinda to shake. “It’s a pleasure. I’ve heard so much about you.”
“The pleasure’s mine,” Lorinda said with a forced smile. “If you could just excuse us for a moment?”
The future Countess glanced quickly at the Prince, who nodded. Within a few moments, she had mingled back into the crowd. Meanwhile, he and Lorinda found themselves a quiet booth in a corner, and he produced some sort of glowing blue drink for her.
Lorinda took a sip and frowned. “You know,” she said, “I may not have a title, but I will bet you anything my family’s got more money than hers.”
The Prince cackled at this. “Jealous, are we? Well, no need to worry. Mina’s simply a friend of a friend. And possibly a third cousin. You know how it goes.”
Lorinda scoffed at this. “I’m not jealous. I just know how it works around here. You know your grandmother would much rather you have some future Duchess draped over your arm than me.”
“Really? I hadn’t noticed,” the Prince said. “In any case, I doubt you need to worry in that department. You seem to have made quite the impression. The family’s asked me if you’d like to accompany us up to Scotland on holiday.”
“Oh!” Lorinda looked genuinely surprised at this. “How long’s the trip?”
“About a fortnight, I think. We leave in a few days. I told grandmum I was sure you’d be delighted to come…you know how she is.”
“I-I’m not sure,” Lorinda said. “I’ll have to see where we are with my job.”
“Well, I’m sure they’ll understand under the circumstances,” the Prince said with a lopsided grin. He casually stretched an arm around Lorinda’s shoulders.
Lorinda slowly sipped her drink and studied him from above the rim of her glass. Below Hadley’s song built to a crescendo. “They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder/But without you mine’s completely shattered/Baby! It’s! Like! A! Stake! To! Myyyyyy Heaaaaart….”
“I’ve always loved the hunting up there, you know. Most people don’t understand it until they’ve really –”
Lorinda shrugged off his arm and stood. “Unfortunately, as much as I’d love to take a break from killing things to go, y’know, kill things, I just remembered I’ll be busy.”
The Prince got to his feet as well. “Lorinda, I’m sure we can make an arrangement if that’s what…”
“I’m my own boss, Alfie, and my job? Pretty important. Are you forgetting how we met?”
Alfie put his hands in his pockets. The music segued into the more driving beat of a Hybrid Theory track. He glanced at the floor. “How could I?”
“There were ninja vampire assassins, okay, and they were after you,” Lorinda said.
Prince Alfred swallowed and glanced up at her. “You were…very hot.”
“Yes, I was,” Lorinda nodded. “And I still live in that world, so you can’t take for granted that I’ll just drop everything whenever you want me to.” She turned and walked in the opposite direction.
“Wait!” Alfred called. Lorinda stopped with one hand on the railing for the stairs. “Where are you going?” he asked.
Lorinda flashed him a grin over her shoulder. “Oh, you know, the usual. Maybe I’ll save myself another cute boy.” Then she left down the stairs, a small, devious smile on her face.
Council HQ – Shannon’s Apartment – Night
Shannon entered her apartment, flicked on a light switch, and threw her keys down by the door. Once it had been Vi’s apartment, but these days it wasn’t heavily decorated. The furniture had been gathered almost entirely for comfort value, and none of it went together. Dirty dishes and crinkled, old receipts littered the rug in some areas. The nicest thing in the place was a heavy oak cabinet, which Shannon walked over to. She took her longbow off her back and placed it inside, next to a highly-organized collection of knives, stakes, axes, and other weapons.
Then she peeled off her jacket. She shook it off a few times in the center of her living room, getting a small plume of dust for her efforts. She threw the jacket over the back of a ratty recliner and headed over to the kitchen. Dishes were also piled in the sink, and the only decorations in the room were the novelty magnets holding various takeout menus to the fridge. She opened it to find it mostly empty, except for alcohol and condiments. She sighed.
Then there was a faint knock at the door. Shannon closed the fridge and moved to answer it. She found Norman standing in the hallway, carrying a large paper bucket with red and white stripes on the side.
“I brought you chicken,” he said.
Council HQ – Shannon’s Apartment – Moments Later
Norman pushed some opened envelopes out of the way and set the chicken bucket down on Shannon’s dining room table. She rummaged in the kitchen for plates. “Mind if I smoke?” she asked.
He grimaced. “You know I have asthma, Shan.”
“Right,” she said unhappily. She came back into the room with a couple of paper plates and plopped them down on the table. “You want a drink?”
“I’m good, thanks.” The two of them sat down opposite each other, grabbed large slabs of fried chicken, and dug in, Shannon with considerably more gusto. After a few bites, Norman set his down on his plate, while Shannon continued to chew noisily. There were several moments of awkward silence.
“Maybe we should, I dunno, talk?” Norman suggested.
Shannon took a few more bites of her chicken before answering him. Finally, with a full mouth, she said, “Norm, I appreffiate the gefture, I really do, but…” She swallowed. “…I really don’t think we’re ready, do you?”
Norman picked up his chicken then put it back down again. He couldn’t quite meet her eyes. “Well, obviously I did, or I wouldn’t have asked. I didn’t mean to cause…a thing, I just–”
“No!” Shannon said. “Don’t get me wrong, I really do think it was sweet, and I don’t want you to feel like you’re not–”
“But I do feel like I’m not, Shan!” Norman sat up in his chair. “I do. I don’t want to be sweet. I want to be part of your life. I think we both need this. I need you because, um, maybe because I always kinda did, and you need somebody to bring you chicken at the very least because I know all you’ve got in this place is peanut butter, pop tarts, and Natty Light.” His voice at the end was louder than his voice at the beginning.
“You bring me chicken now,” Shannon pointed out with a hopeful note in her voice. Norman did not look pleased at this. “But I need you for more than chicken!” she corrected. “I do, I just…well, okay, think about this. How are we supposed to live together all the time if I can’t smoke when you’re around?”
“Plenty of people do it!” Norman said. “And besides, you could always, y’know, quit. You probably should anyway.”
“I tried that, remember, and it didn’t go so well,” Shannon sighed.
“I still think that this is all Ethan’s fault.”
“It had nothing to do with him. I’ve told you that. It was when I was going out with Josh…”
“Musician,” Norman said under his breath.
“He was a violinist!” Shannon protested.
“Well, if Ethan hadn’t always been doing it right in front of you when– And now I’m off-track!” Norman threw his hands up. “The point is, I feel like I’m ready to take the next step, and I really was hoping that you would be, too.”
Shannon sighed. “I think this whole conversation is demonstrating that I’m really not. I’m really sorry. I’m not ready.”
Norman sat back, looking a little defeated. “Well, I guess…I guess it doesn’t really matter.”
“I’m still here,” Shannon said with a small smile.
“Yeah,” Norman said, “but, I, uh, I should go.” He got to his feet.
“Are you sure?” Shannon asked. “I mean, we could–”
“Yeah, it’s getting late.” Norman said. “Enjoy your chicken.”
Shannon watched him go, closing the door behind him. After a moment’s pause, she tore back into her chicken.
Council HQ – Xander & Buffy’s Apartment – Bedroom – Night
The councilwoman stepped into her bedroom and smiled at the figure lying propped against the headboard, reading a magazine.
“Hey, Sexy,” Buffy said with a smile.
Xander looked up, his eyes twinkling over his reading glasses. “How was the congressman?”
“Boring,” she said. “This kid has a serious case of hero worship. I tried to talk about budget appropriations, and he wanted to gush about my past exploits in between hitting on me.”
“Can’t blame him, Babe,” he said as she disappeared into the bathroom. “I’ve worshipped the hero of you since you were sixteen.”
“I had to remind him of my hero husband at least three times,” she called. “What is it about Washington that instantly turns the elected into sleazeballs?”
“A Sleazy Hellmouth?” he mused. “Maybe I’ll have Willow look into that.”
“Nah, don’t bother,” she said, returning to the room dressed in silk pajama bottoms and a tank top. Xander’s eyebrows rose in appreciation, and he put his magazine and glasses aside. “I’ve got enough on my plate right now.”
Xander watched as she applied lotion to her arms and hands then he enveloped her in his arms. “Lights off,” he said, and they snuggled in bed, her back against his chest.
“Better now?” he asked.
Buffy sighed. “Much, thank you.”
“My pleasure,” he said, rubbing her stomach. “So, what’s up?”
“Nothing, just…” she paused. “Like I said – there’s a lot on my plate right now, and it just seems like it’s becoming a bit too much.”
“What is?” he asked.
“Everything,” she replied. “Not just one single thing, but everything as a whole. Haven’t had this feeling of overwhelmingness in a long time.”
“So what do you want to do?”
“I don’t know yet, but I’m thinking about it,” she said but then smiled. She rolled over and straddled his hips. “Now, I believe we have a transaction to complete, Mr. Harris.”
“Oh do we?” he said with a smile. “Well, you better get right on that, Mrs. Harris.”
“Oh yes, getting on it is at the top of my list,” she said and leaned in for a kiss.
Kennedy & Kadin’s Cabin – Living Room – Night
Kennedy entered the cabin with a small smile on her face. This faded a little when she found Kadin sitting on their couch and waiting for her, her knees tucked up underneath her. The TV was on, playing a late-night commercial for a phone chat line. Vaguely attractive women tried their best to look sultry.
“You didn’t have to wait up,” Kennedy said. She pulled off her coat and turned to hang it on the rack.
“You know you didn’t tell me where you were going, right?” Kadin asked.
Kennedy paused with her back to the room. She sighed. “No, I did not realize that.” She turned and walked over towards Kadin. “Look, I’m sorry. I was over at–”
“Robin’s,” Kadin finished. “I know. You’re not that hard to figure out, y’know.”
Kennedy collapsed on the couch next to Kadin. Metalocalypse now ran on mute on the TV. “In that case, you want to help me figure me out? I’m really sorry. I just wanted to spend some time with Nikki, and time got away from us…”
“I’m not mad about that,” Kadin said, placing a hand on Kennedy’s knee. “It’s corny as hell, but I kinda love that about you. I just want you to know that…I guess I want to say that I know you’re going through something, okay, and I’m still here. I want to be here.”
Kennedy looked away and ran a hand over her face. “I don’t want to bother you,” she said quietly. “You’ve still got your powers.”
“Wow, is that not the point,” Kadin replied, brow furrowed. She reached out and ran a hand through Kennedy’s hair. “You’re not bothering me, Ken. We’re married. Your problems are my problems, right? I can help if you’ll let me.”
Kennedy turned to look at her briefly. “Yeah.” She suddenly got up from the couch, jostling Kadin. “I’m going to bed.”
With a frown on her face, Kadin watched Kennedy head into the other room.
Council HQ – Conference Room – Morning
“Can we kill the lights?” Grace asked. She stood in front of the assembled Council directors, who chatted quietly among themselves.
“I should…” Rowena told Willow with a squeeze of her wife’s hand, and Willow nodded.
Rowena made her way around the table to sit by Grace. On her way, she tapped a dimmer switch on the wall, and the lights went down a few notches. Grace cleared her throat, and the place quieted down. Buffy sat in her usual spot at the center of the table. She and Grace caught eyes for a moment, and Buffy gave her a single nod.
Grace pressed a button on her hand remote, and the words “THE UNCREATION” came up on a projection screen behind her, upper-case and as foreboding as possible.
“I’d like to introduce you to the Uncreation,” she announced, “our prophecy of doom for the week. It’s in pretty much every source out there if you go back far enough. The Nyazians hint at it. Aberjian goes on and on about it, but I think he’s just quoting the Codex Cluj. It’s a good thing that the Zoroastrian seers didn’t have plagiarism rules, because –”
Kennedy leaned forward and interrupted her. “So…what’s it mean?”
Rowena sighed. “Exactly what it says on the box, really.”
“Aw, man,” Xander said from his seat just to Buffy’s left. “I was hoping it would be the opposite of what you think. Like Greenland, or Tiny Lister.”
Grace suppressed a smile and pressed her clicker. “Unfortunately, no. If you cross-reference the various sources, you get some common threads.” She began to read the screen behind her. “The complete and utter destruction of everything, as if it never existed. Also that it will begin in a great forest and/or wilderness or some kind, which is too bad for those who, like me, were hoping we could have just one apocalyptic mission take place in the Manhattan Ritz-Carlton…”
“There was,” Willow sighed in Kennedy’s ear. “New York branch got to cover it.”
“And last but not least,” Grace concluded, “that it will come less than a decade after a great awakening of mankind, in a new world that will weary the old leaders and bring in a new, final generation.”
Silence reigned at this. Buffy shifted uneasily in her seat and shared a glance with Xander. Rowena leaned over the table and spoke. “The more you look, the more prescient predictions you’ll see for the past few years. My personal theory is that the awakening referred to is the world becoming aware of the supernatural a few years ago. However, there is somewhat more pressing evidence. Grace?”
Grace clicked again, and satellite shots appeared on screen. A tropical rainforest from above. In the center, a clearing with a few buildings. From it rose a huge plume of smoke, blackening an entire section of the screen.
“This was taken in Northwest Thailand, near the Cambodian border,” Rowena told them. “What you’re seeing is the village of Thaa-Ploy, population of about one hundred and fifty, three weeks ago. When relief arrived the next day, there were no survivors.”
“No corpses, either,” Grace put in. “As if they had never existed.” She clicked again. The next picture looked very similar. “This is the village of Moo-Buong, two weeks ago.” She clicked again. “Sai-Pa-Pumu, six days ago. All the same. In all, a thousand of the locals have vanished into thin air in the past few months.”
“In the middle of a giganimous forest,” Buffy said with a sigh. “Right. Well, everybody, thoughts?”
“I guess it comes down to, what are we looking for?” Lori Carew asked. “Evil Sorcerer? Apocalyptic demon lord? Congresswoman?”
“We don’t know,” Rowena said. “At all, in fact.”
“But we know where it is,” Jeff said. He had been sitting quietly at one end of the table, diligently taking notes. He looked up and held Grace’s eyes for a few moments.
“Well, um, actually, I’m not sure I made myself clear,” she said. “These villages are hundreds of miles apart, so we’re not exactly –”
“Not yet, we’re not,” Jeff agreed, “but put me on a helicopter over that forest with mojo that dark in it, and I’ll tell you where it’s coming from to within a couple of acres. Easy. Can’t be much background noise out there, right?”
“Um, right,” Willow agreed, somewhat surprised when he turned to her. “It’s easier to pick out a star when it’s the only one in the sky. ‘Course then it’s probably a plane, but…”
“Okay,” Buffy said. “Obviously, this is a cut above the usual pay grade. I know we’re trying not to be forced to send the top brass everywhere these days, but I think we can call this a Special Assignment. Any objections?” This was met with silence and a few nods. “Okay then. We send a recon mission, and they…recon. And probably the Asian folks take it from there after we give them the info. You up for it, Jeff?”
Grace perked up at this. “I’m sorry, but…just, shouldn’t we send Willow? She’s still the top witch, right? And, y’know, end of the world and stuff.”
“Actually,” Willow said with a grin, “Jeff’s probably a better choice for something like this. Sensing from a distance, I mean.”
“And I want to go,” Jeff said firmly. He and Grace once again locked eyes for just a moment. She opened her mouth then closed it.
“So do I.”
Everybody craned their necks, to look at the exact opposite end of the room. Shannon sat there. For a moment, she twirled a wooden pencil between her fingers then stuffed it behind her ear.
“Sounds important,” she said. “I should be there. Special Assignment and all.”
“No arguments here,” Buffy said. “Anybody else?”
Giles & Becca’s Home – Foyer – Morning
Giles opened the front door to his home. Standing on his doorstep was a smiling Buffy.
“Oh Buffy,” he said. “This is a pleasant surprise. Do come in.”
“Hey Giles,” she said, stepping inside. “Might not be so pleasant from your point of view,” she added in an all-business tone.
“Oh?” he questioned. “What is it, Councilwoman?”
“Yeah, see, that’s the thing,” she said. “I’m stepping down from the Council’s chair.”
Giles raised his eyebrows in surprise.
End of Act Two