DISCLAIMER: I don’t own any of the characters from gargoyles or BTVS and don’t make any money off of this, so don’t bother suing. This is just for fun. This story follows immediately after ‘Unfinished Business’. As always, feedback is appreciated.
Owen Burnett prided himself on attention to detail. He was meticulous, and it was one of the things that Xanatos valued most in his aide. Detail was important. Formalities were another matter, especially those that served no purpose. Consequently, he was not in the best of moods when he left the Sunnydale police station. Reporting his rental car stolen was necessary, but he had realized soon after the beginnings of the meeting with a bored looking detective, that nothing would be done.
He was already aware, thanks to his discussions with Elisa Maza, of what had happened to his rental car. It would have been irritating enough having to report the theft and sit through the endless questions knowing that the car had been destroyed. The detective’s lack of interest and the certainty that the time consuming paperwork would be as good as tossed in the trash as soon as he left was well beyond irritating.
He allowed himself to be annoyed for only a short time, though, before returning his attention to his hopelessly disrupted schedule. First, there was the matter of the company Xanatos was interested in buying. The technology, some of it at least, showed promise, but Owen had concluded that reopening the plant in Sunnydale was out of the question. The Hellmouth was still far too active, despite the efforts of the Slayer and the government agents. Owen decided that he would have to recommend that the project be canceled or at least reevaluated.
Adding insult to injury, the only rental car available had been a subcompact that fit his tall, sparse frame like a glove two sizes too small. At least, he reflected, if this one were stolen and destroyed it would spare someone else from having to drive it.
He knew that such thoughts were uncharitable at best, considering that the Slayer had been killed in the process. Lex had seen the aftermath of the accident from a distance but had not risked approaching the Initiative agents. He had barely known the young woman, but had been impressed by her skill and personal strength. Not much impressed Owen Burnett. He had agreed to meet with Maza for lunch to discuss what had happened. Her own business in Sunnydale had seemingly come to an end when the man she was watching had disappeared during the Initiative’s attack on the research facility. She no longer had any leads to follow and was preparing to go home. She had decided to go visit Mrs. Summers first though. Owen suspected she was going to ask him to come along.
"Thanks for coming Owen," Elisa sat down across from him at the small table. "I think we need to talk about what happened last night." Straight to the point, Owen had always appreciated that. "I suppose you’ll be reconsidering doing business here." Owen nodded.
"Indeed. The Hellmouth is still too much of a threat to the residents. I see no way of conducting business here. Your own business is done?" She nodded glumly.
"It was a long shot to begin with. Now even the straw I was grasping at is gone. So its back to New York." She paused and Owen could easily see she was preparing herself for the awkward moment.
"Not immediately, though," Owen suggested. "I take it you wish to visit the Slayer’s mother and friends?" Elisa’s face showed a mixture of surprise and relief.
"Yeah," she pursed her lips thoughtfully. "We didn’t get along that well, but I feel I kind of owe it to them to pay my respects."
"I should do the same while I’m here," Owen decided to spare her the trouble of asking. "This evening, perhaps?" Elisa nodded, grateful.
Buffy sighed and stretched, reaching toward the open sky. "Man am I glad to be out of there!"
"Buffy hates hospitals," Willow said to Riley by way of explanation. The small group that included the Slayer, Willow, Riley, Joyce, and Xander left the Initiative’s HQ together. Joyce was still keeping a close eye on her daughter, almost afraid to let her out of her sight, which seemed strange given that she had learned that she never again had to worry about Buffy dying in the line of duty.
Buffy bore her mother’s concern with an affectionate tolerance. She knew how badly her mother had been frightened by what had happened, but there was only so much mothering a person could take. Looking after herself may have become much easier, but she was determined that she wouldn’t become careless or sloppy, especially not with the Initiative aware of her condition.
For the thirtieth time since waking up in the Initiative’s morgue, she silently cursed Cin-an-ev. It could have been worse, she realized, much worse, but somehow that wasn’t a comfort. Thanks to the Fay she no longer had to worry about being killed by a demon. Her biggest worry was the Initiative. She definitely didn’t like the way professor Walsh had been looking at her.
At Joyce’s insistence they returned home and settled in for an early lunch. To her surprise, Buffy found she was ravenous and quickly demolished the meal, before they began to talk business.
"I don’t like the way Maggie was looking at me," she said without preamble. "Makes me nervous."
"She’s a scientist," Riley shrugged. "This whole business fascinates her."
"What about you?" Riley considered his answer carefully.
"I agree with your mom. It’s nice that I won’t have to worry about losing you. Give Walsh a chance. Everything’ll be fine." Buffy didn’t find this the least bit reassuring. "Really Buffy. Of course she’s interested in this, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to go all mad scientist and try to turn you into an experiment." Buffy said nothing. "That is what worries you isn’t it?" He shook his head. "Walsh isn’t like that. She doesn’t have a secret plan to conquer the world and I’ve never heard her laugh maniacally even once." It did sound foolish when he put it that way, and Buffy found herself smiling in spite of herself.
There were still plenty of unanswered questions about the Initiative, but Riley was right. It didn’t seem likely that she’d wind up as a lab rat.
With a last keystroke she sealed the file and withdrew the disk. Her regular office within the initiative HQ was secure, top secret in fact, but for work of this type she used an isolated computer in section 314. It had no connection to any other computer and was thus isolated from even the most determined hacker.
Rising from the small desk, Maggie Walsh made her way to the lab where her favorite child waited patiently for her.
"I have a gift for you Adam. A gift that will make you truly unbeatable." Adam regarded her silently from where he lay on the table. "The Slayer is becoming a problem, but she is also the key to your ultimate success." She inserted the floppy disk into the drive that had been installed in Adam’s chest. "Process this, and you’ll understand what I mean."
"Yes mother," her favorite son replied obediently. Adam could have passed for human in poor light, from a distance, but Maggie Walsh would know him anywhere. She had painstakingly selected, designed, and programmed every part of him, from the mind of the human template to the tiny supercomputer that enhanced his intelligence and memory, to the portions of sub-terrestrial anatomy that made him stronger than any single demon they had on file. Anyone else might have found his overall appearance grotesque, but to Maggie he was beautiful. She watched, beaming with pride, as he reviewed the new data she had provided for him.
Adam felt a flicker of surprise at what the disk contained, but nothing registered on his face. Interesting. Very interesting.
Elisa rang the bell and waited nervously for an answer. She had done this before in the course of her job, visiting the homes of murder victims, or of officers killed in the line of duty. It was her least favorite activity. Buffy’s mother knew the risks her daughter took, as did the families of most cops. It didn’t make it any easier. By now, Elisa realized, Joyce Summers would almost certainly have heard of her daughter’s death, but she still felt an obligation to offer whatever comfort she could, especially as the circumstances here were highly unusual.
She didn’t realize how unusual they were, however, until Buffy opened the door. "Buffy?!" The short blonde teenager raised an eyebrow.
"Yes?" Buffy chided herself for being amused by their reaction. It was childish of her, she knew, but the expression on the detective’s face was still priceless.
Elisa and Owen traded glances, Owen’s as placid as ever, and Elisa’s completely confused. Owen spoke first. "We were told you had been killed. Apparently the information was in error."
"No it wasn’t." Buffy took pity on them and invited them in. "Cone on in. I’ll tell you about it." They entered and made their way to the living room. Joyce and Xander were there; as was a red-headed girl and rather large young man that Elisa didn’t recognize. "Mr. Burnett, Detective Maza, this is Willow Rosenberg and Riley Finn. I believe you remember Xander and my mother." Both nodded politely and found seats for themselves. Joyce asked if they wanted something while already making her way to the kitchen for food and drink. Buffy glanced after her worriedly. She knew it was her mother’s way of coping. She needed something to do to take her mind off the weirdness, even if only for a moment. Preparing food was normal, safe.
"So…" Elisa began hesitantly after the Slayer’s mother placed a glass of lemonade in her hand, "don’t take this the wrong way, but why are you alive?" She hurried on to explain. "I mean Lex told me what happened. He wasn’t close enough to help you, but he saw that car roll over on top of you several times." Buffy shuddered.
"Thankfully I don’t remember the details, but as far as anyone could tell, I was dead. You see…" She broke off, eyes widening. "I wonder if this means a new Slayer was called?" She glanced at Willow who shrugged. "I’ll call Giles later." She returned her attention to the new arrivals. "Um, anyway. I woke up in the morgue, not a pleasant experience by the way." She stopped and looked pensively at the ground. "I guess I finally found out what Cin-an-ev’s little poem was about." Elisa remembered the incident clearly and reviewed the Fay’s words in her mind.
"-so shall you stay until…. Oh my God."
"Until the last demon has vanished away," Buffy finished for her.
"He made you effectively immortal," Owen said matter-of-factly. "An interesting choice of rewards." Xander laughed humorlessly.
"Yeah, a gift from the people who inspired the phrase, ‘be careful what you wish for. I don’t suppose there might be anything in Giles’ books about the Fay?" Owen considered briefly.
"There is one comprehensive book on the Fay that I know of. It is quite ancient and highly accurate."
"Maybe it will tell us if there’s a solution, how to handle something like this?" Buffy asked tentatively.
"Maybe there’s a prophecy in it that’ll tell us if Buffy’ll ever get her ‘normal life?’" Riley mused. Owen repressed a sigh.
"It is a scholarly text," he told them, "not a magic eight-ball."
"Speaking of magic eight-balls," Buffy perked up, "how’s Puck doing?" Elisa almost choked on her lemonade. Buffy had only met Puck briefly, but he had made an impression. The others, who had no idea what she was talking about traded confused looks while Elisa laughed and coughed. Owen thumped her on the back, somewhat harder than necessary, but that was the only sign that he was at all affected by the question.
"Sorry," Elisa said without looking at Owen. "Oh, ah, Puck. Well, he’s all right. I don’t think he’s heard anything from Cin-an-ev recently." She shrugged. "It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to attract Cin-an-ev again anyway." Buffy nodded, easily agreeing.
"No telling what he’d do this time."
"The Fay," Owen interrupted smoothly, "have a reputation as tricksters. It is well earned."
"There are some advantages to your condition," Elisa suggested hesitantly.
"Yeah, we’ve covered that," Buffy answered, sounding rather sour about it. "I don‘t think there’s really anything to do... and I guess there is a bright side." There wasn’t much more to say, but they discussed it for another hour, rehashing what they already knew. Owen left the information about the book he had mentioned with Willow who promised she would track it down.
They parted company finally; Owen to complete his business with Cadillax and Elisa to make a final round of places where her only lead might be hiding. There wasn’t have much hope of finding him at this point, but she had to try.
The Scooby gang parted ways, leaving Buffy and her mom alone. By unspoken agreement, neither spoke of anything supernatural for the rest of the evening.
He had taken time to process the information that mother had provided before accessing the Internet to search for additional facts. For hours Adam sifted through web pages and message boards, discarding most of what he found. Impatience was not part of his design. He did not grow fatigued or bored, and he had time. Mother’s goals would parallel his for some time yet.
After several hours, he logged off, having learned a few useful facts after sorting through a mountain of myth, conjecture, and pure fantasy.
The Third Race. There was enormous potential there. It might take him time to learn to exploit it, but he would have the time. He would have all the time he needed after he had the Slayer.
Carefully eliminating any trace of his activities, he shut down the computer and removed the wireless modem that gave him access to the outside world. It hadn’t been easy acquiring that component, but it had proven remarkably useful. Adam returned to the table that Walsh still believed he occupied when not otherwise instructed. She returned a few moments later and brought him more data on the Slayer. Test results. Predictably, they told him nothing. That wasn’t important. He could learn what he needed to know from the Slayer herself.
He had kept part of his awareness focused on mother while he outlined his strategy for taking the Slayer. Suddenly she said something that got his full attention.
"I’ve seen her in action Adam. She won’t be an easy capture. I want to run a few tests before setting you after her. We need you in top shape for this." She added assuming the manner of a mother fussing over her baby while she wheeled a portable console toward the table where he lay. A full system diagnostic. That could not be allowed. Adam had already determined that the final stage diagnostic would reveal the modifications he had made to himself, the ones that freed him completely from her control. It might even, if she were especially diligent, reveal the design flaw that had allowed him to free himself.
He knew mother would be diligent if she discovered anything amiss. As soon as her back was turned, Adam did three things he should not have been able to do. He sat up, raised the arm taken from the polgara demon a few nights before, flexing it in a way that would cause the bony spike to emerge, and killed Maggie Walsh.
She made a small sound of surprise and looked down at the bone spear protruding from her chest. Turning, as much as she was able she looked at Adam in shock. "Adam?" The body slid forward off the bone spear and flopped to the floor.
"As always," Buffy sighed. "There was a rumor of a new fang gang near the docks. I need to check it out before we have bodies as proof."
Joyce nodded resignedly. "I know. I was hoping that we could spend some time together, mother-daughter time?" Buffy smiled sympathetically.
"Sorry mom. How about we get up early tomorrow and go for a really decadent breakfast over at Denny’s? Lots of sugar and fat?" Her mother visibly wavered. "I don’t have any morning classes. I could come to the gallery and help you out there for a while." Joyce smiled gratefully.
"I’d like that. Okay. An unhealthy breakfast and then manual labor." She snickered at Buffy’s expression and gave her daughter a quick hug. "Be safe." Buffy hugged her back and left for patrol.
The docks were a fair distance away, and the most direct route there took her through fairly safe areas. There were lots of people and they tended to move in large groups without realizing they were doing so. Buffy moved purposely through the crowd. A report from one of the Initiative agents indicated the location of a possible nest, just established. They were planning to hit it soon, she was sure, but it might not be soon enough to prevent deaths in the area. Walsh’s desire to study and tame demons didn’t interest her. Only killing them did, especially now.
Perhaps that was why the brief flicker of shadow, moving across the lighted street was enough to get her attention. She looked up and to the right in time to see a small kite shaped figure disappearing over the roof. Lex. She moved on. If pressed, she wouldn’t be able to tell anyone the specific reason for disliking the small gargoyle. For some reason, they antagonized each other in much the same way she and Forest did. That was all there was to it. They just rubbed each other the wrong way. If there was a deeper reason to it, and she was certain there was, she didn’t care to look too closely.
Continuing on her way, she looked for signs of the vampires as she neared the docks. It looked like it was going to be a fairly routine evening.
It was a rare that anything startled Owen Burnett. He had a well-earned reputation as unflappable, and he had had his calm put to the test many times without displaying any appreciable emotional response. Now, however, something did surprise him. He was actually incredulous. "Excuse me?"
"I said give me your money," the vampire repeated, stepping toward him menacingly. "Do it now and I won’t hurt you."
"Since when do vampires mug people?" The question seemed to confuse the demon for a moment.
"Well, you’re just lucky I need the money more than I need a good meal right now." That answer didn’t make sense. There was a puzzle here and the Puck loved puzzles. He thought carefully for a moment; then the answer came to him.
"You were a guest of the Initiative. You can’t hurt humans." The vampire’s face actually seemed to collapse in disappointment, revealing the human features.
"Bloody ‘ell! Who taught those wankers how to keep a secret?" He turned and stomped off swearing colorfully. Owen smiled slightly. Well, that was entertaining,
the deeply buried part of him that was the Puck commented smugly. Owen put the neutered vampire out of his mind and continued on his way to the place he was to meet Lexington. The gargoyle’s patrol was to end near the docks. He had decided to spend his last night in Sunnydale trying to eliminate a few vampires. Elisa was spending her last night in town catching up on her sleep.
Owen’s last meeting with the owners of the defunct company had gone as well as could be expected considering the deal that would save them from bankruptcy was falling through. He had listened patiently to their arguments and assurances but did not let the meeting run beyond the time he had allotted. It made little difference as he had plenty of time left in which to meet Lexington and frankly the whole affair had robbed him of his appetite, but allowing a pointless meeting to drag on would have offended his sensibilities. It was almost 8:00 when he left, and Lex was due to meet him at 9:00 a block from the offices the owners had established in a low rent building.
The town would have been quite nice, he reflected as he walked down a street that passed through the commercial district just east of the waterfront, if it weren’t for the demons. The part of him that was Puck could feel them, just as he could feel the energy emanating from the Hellmouth. Sunnydale wasn’t a safe place, even for one of the Third Race, and thanks to Oberon’s command he did not have access to his powers. He didn’t worry overmuch about vampires, but there were worse things. One of them was moving under the street ahead of him.
Owen followed, stretching his senses and the limits of Oberon’s restrictions. Whatever it was it was very powerful and it was seeking something. Or someone.
Buffy watched the sentry from her hiding place. There were five inside that she knew of and two sentries. They made a constant but discreet circuit of the building, keeping an eye out for her she assumed. She noted the points at which their paths crossed and the points at which they were farthest from each other. Not very much could be told about the vamps inside the building. The windows were dark, but from her current vantage on the roof she could make out a sliver of light under an interior door. Nothing to be gained by just sitting and watching the building. Time to go.
The sentries crossed paths and moved apart. Buffy zeroed in on the female vamp and waited till they were at the furthest points on their circuit, and then hit her hard over the head. She caught the body before it could hit the ground and removed the coat and watch cap the vamp was wearing before staking her. Like the first sentry, the second never knew what happened.
Forest Gates knelt over the body of Maggie Walsh, a fierce scowl on his face. "She’s been staked." The other agents looked uncertain.
"We don’t know that," Riley argued. "I sent Saunders to check something. Just wait a-"
"You were right." They turned to see Saunders, an unassuming, wiry little man reenter the room. "The polgara demon is gone. Looks like it escaped."
"Hold on a minute," Forest spoke up before Riley could. "A polgara demon’s got an IQ lower than my shoe size. How did it get out of containment, find it’s way up here, kill the professor and get away all without anyone noticing? I think we need to look elsewhere." He looked Riley straight in the eye. "Where’s your girl friend?"
"That’s not an issue," a new voice interrupted. "She didn’t do this." Both men looked around, cut off in mid-argument by Dr. Martin, Walsh’s assistant. "It was the project. Project 314. It escaped." Riley and Forest looked at each other blankly. "Both of you assemble the other squad leaders for a briefing."
It didn’t take long. Everyone had heard about Walsh and come in, wondering what would happen to the Initiative without her. Only ten minutes later, a group of five men were assembled in the briefing room reserved for team leaders. It had not yet been determined what to tell the others. Dr. Martin told them a carefully edited version of the truth. He told them about Adam, but not the real reason for the cyborg’s creation. He told them that the creature had gone rogue, but not that it had stolen many of professor Walsh’s notes and most likely knew of its intended purpose. He told them that it had disabled a built in tracker so they could not find it, but he did not tell them that he believed it might be acting on Walsh’s plan to capture and study Buffy Summers.
The Puck was getting a clearer idea of what he was sensing, and he could only hope it wasn’t sensing him. There were conflicting energies and natures within the creature. Magic and technology worked in harmony to drive something that was and was not human, machine, and demon. Whatever else it was it was powerful. In some ways it was like Coldstone, but there had been nothing of the demon in Coldstone. The power this creature drew on was far different.
It was interesting, though. The creature obviously posed a threat. The question was what was its immediate goal? Equal measures of curiosity and concern pushed him on to follow the creature. It seemed to be zeroing in on a small office building near the docks.
Buffy let herself into the building and moved toward the inner office where she could see a light from under the door. There were three separate voices all arguing rather heatedly. She couldn’t tell what the argument was about, and didn’t much care. It was about to become moot. Holding her stake at the ready, she knocked on the door. The argument faltered but didn’t stop. Behind the door, a chair scraped back and a second later the door was shoved open. The vampire, obviously angry, had his game face on. "This had better be goo-" The stake plunged home, cutting him off in mid threat.
"What the hell?!" Another vamp was on his feet and rushing her already. Buffy grasped the edge of the door and slammed it in his face. Pulling it open, she slammed the stake home into the stunned vampire’s chest. Shoving him aside and rushing into a room that was much smaller than she had expected. Discovering her miscalculation too late proved painful.
The third, last, and largest member of the group was better prepared. He threw his chair at her as she came through the door and followed it up with a series of kicks and punches that drove Buffy into the wall. She was on the defensive at once, with too little room to maneuver. Several heavy blows landed before she got clear of him. Ribs cracked as she ducked under a haymaker and drove a fist into his side just under his armpit.
The vampire roared, more angry than hurt, and tagged her with a lucky kick. She stumbled toward the door, trying to get her breath back and put some distance between herself and the vamp. Perhaps she was too focused on the vamp in front of her or too angry with herself for getting cocky; but for whatever reason she didn’t sense the threat behind her until a sharp pain tore through her. She looked down at herself to see a bone spear protruding from her chest.
Adam lowered his arm, allowing the Slayer to slide off onto the ground. "Thank you," he addressed the vampire, courteously. "You made that much easier."
"Who? What the hell are you? She was mine to kill!" The enraged vampire seized Adam by the throat and lifted him off his feet, or tried to anyway. Calmly the cyborg broke the vampire’s arm and threw him across the room. Adam watched him curiously until it became obvious that the vampire had no intention of challenging him again. He picked up the Slayer and slung her body over his shoulder. He took a second to examine her, and discovered that his calculations had been precise. She still lived, but without medical attention or the extraordinary healing ability she was purported to have, she would die within an hour.
There was a change. Puck felt it from his hiding place deep inside Owen. The creature was no longer seeking. It had what it wanted. Turning to follow, he made his way north. It wasn’t hard to follow the creature, but he wondered if he should be worried about it detecting him. Owen visibly started when Lexington landed on a lamppost he was passing under.
"Hey Owen. What’re ya doing?" Owen looked up, suppressing the annoyance he felt at being startled.
"We have a problem." Lex jumped down to the street level after glancing around to see that no one was in sight. He quickly faded into the shadows and looked at Owen expectantly. Owen quickly explained the situation.
"Any idea what it is?" Owen shook his head. "Where is it now?"
"This way." He located the creature; it was on the move again.
"Stick with it. I’m going to scout a bit, see if I can find Buffy, she said something about patrolling in this area." Owen nodded, too focused on the creature to take note of Lex’s departure. He started to follow it again. The creature, whatever it was, was in no particular hurry.
The trail led away from the docks and toward the local University. Owen began to wonder about the Initiative. Could they be behind this creature?
He knew that the Initiative was trying to control demons, but this creature didn’t feel like a demon, not exactly. What had they been up to? Owen stretched his senses as far as he dared. It was definitely heading toward the concentration of demons that simple deductive reason told him could be nothing other than the Initiative’s containment cells. Almost half an hour had passed before Lexington caught up with him.
"I couldn’t find her."
Owen frowned thoughtfully. "That might not be a coincidence."
"We’re getting close to a large concentration of demonic energy. I suspect that the Initiative’s containment facilities are below the university. What if this creature was sent to retrieve the Slayer?" The notion clearly didn’t make him happy. In fact, he was more upset than Lexington had ever seen him.
"You think that the scientists in charge sent a demon to capture her?"
"Not a demon." Owen was shaking his head, surprised at how unsettled he was becoming. He hadn’t realized until he was forced to try to relate what he sensed to another person. "This is something different, something new."
Lexington found Owen’s manner more unnerving than his statement. Anything that could shake up the normally unflappable Owen Burnett was not something to take lightly. "Any idea’s about how to deal with it?"
"None. Until we know more about the creature, confronting it would be foolish. I can, however, continue to track it to its lair." Lex nodded. It wasn’t easy to admit that doing nothing was the best course of action, but he knew Owen was right.
Pain. Again. This sucks.
Buffy listened without opening her eyes. It wasn’t easy concentrating past the pain in her chest while pretending to be unconscious, but she thought she was pulling it off.
"You can open your eyes. I know you are awake." Or not.
She opened her eyes and looked around. Drab gray walls, computers, lab equipment, and one of the weirdest looking demons she’d ever seen. The brief inventory and the fact that she was strapped to what looked suspiciously like an operating table was sufficient to give her a strong hunch about her location. "Who are you?"
"Adam," it answered conversationally. "You are the Slayer. By all accounts you are immortal. That is something that interests me."
Buffy took a good long look at her captor; thoughts of Frankenstein’s monster sprang to mind at once. It seemed to be a sewn together mess of human, demon and mechanical parts. "314," she murmured.
"Very good, Slayer. You are as perceptive as I’ve heard. Mother was right about you."
"Professor Walsh," Adam clarified as he busied himself with preparations that Buffy couldn’t see from her place on the table. The sound of metal implements knocking against each other struck her as ominous though.
"She made you?" Buffy began to carefully test her bonds. "Why?"
"Mother had a vision for the future. I am not certain of all of the details, but I know it involves you. Soon I will have all I need." He still had his back to her and Buffy began to work at her bonds more aggressively. "You are wasting your energy," he assured her. "Those bonds were designed to restrain demon species many times stronger than Humans. They should be sufficient to hold you." Well
, she thought morosely, that confirms it
. I’m in the Initiative. I knew Walsh couldn’t be trusted, but how many others are in on this?
"So where is mommy dearest? I’m sure she’ll be proud of her little… whatever, for capturing me." Adam ignored her question, refusing to rise to the bait. There was no sound of anyone else in the room either. She tried a different tack. "What do you think this will gain you? If you know how I got like this you’ll know you don’t want to attract that guy’s attention."
"Once I have learned what I need to about the Fay, that is precisely what I will do."
"I’d wish you luck, but it wouldn’t help."
"The sentiment is appreciated nonetheless." Buffy would have suspected sarcasm, but Adam’s voice was flat and unemotional. He turned to face her finally, carrying a metal tray. "Do not struggle," he advised. "It will only cause more pain."
Riley Finn had stalled his search long enough to make a call. Giles and Willow had been together, researching the Fay, but quickly set aside the books to call together the rest of the group. Xander and Anya arrived followed by Tara, a recent addition.
"Do we have any idea where she is?" Willow asked.
Giles shook his head. "She said something about patrolling down near the docks, but that covers a lot of ground. Unfortunately, Riley was unable to provide much information, his time being somewhat limited. He was calling us er, on the sly." He took off his glasses and polished them with his handkerchief. "I think he broke a number of rules simply telling us about Walsh’s death."
"And they think Buffy had something to do with it?" Xander interrupted, sounding incredulous.
"At first," Giles amended, "and it’s safe to say that Riley never believed that. This project though, could cause us some serious problems which is why we need to find her as quickly as possible."
"Was he able to tell you anything about it?"
Giles glanced at Tara, somewhat surprised to hear her speak, then shook his head. "Sadly no, he’s never seen it himself."
"We have to find her," Willow insisted, "which… I guess is pretty obvious," she answered lamely. "Um…Oh! Wait, I know." She turned to Tara. "We’ve been working on that communication spell, projecting sound, remember?"
Tara brightened. "Yeah! We don’t have to know where she is to make it work. She’ll be able to tell us." Then she frowned. "What if she doesn’t know?"
"A tracking spell." Willow smiled. "I used one once… I know it was kind of a bust, but this time there’s no wee little Irish fear demon to screw it up."
"That communication spell is rather complex," Giles pointed out. He went to a shelf behind the counter and pulled down a book. "If I remember correctly we’ll need some specialized ingredients. I believe I have most of them here."
"We have the stuff we need at the dorm," Tara assured him. "And our ritual stuff is there. We can cast it there and then call you." With little time to spare the two witches double-checked the list of materials in Giles’ copy of the spell book and left for the dorm room that they had begun to share more nights than not.
Tara pulled the box of spell supplies from under the bed. "It’ll take a few minutes to set up. I’ll mix the ingredients if you’ll set up candles."
Willow nodded and laid out the mat they used for making chalk circles and pentagrams. Setting up the circle and placing the candles only took a few moments, moments which Tara used to mix the herbs they needed in the offering bowls. The invocation would be tricky, but they couldn’t afford to spend too much time on preparation.
Buffy had had worse days, she was sure of it, but at the moment none came to mind. Fortunately, Adam hadn’t gotten very far before his attention had been diverted by something. She didn’t know what had pulled him away, but he wasn’t going to be gone long. She already knew that she couldn’t break the restraints. They were too strong. Maybe…
Twisting and turning her wrist she began trying to get her hand through the cuff. There were, she reflected, some advantages to the curse that had gotten her into her current mess. Getting out of the restraints would hurt, but she knew she would recover. It did hurt. Adam had been careful with her restraints, but she managed to compress her left hand enough to, with some blood for lubrication, squeeze through.
With the left hand free, she began to work on the right. For a time her left hand was almost useless, but she still tugged at the fastenings on the restraint while it healed. Feeling was just beginning to return to her left hand when a voice startled her.
"Buffy? Can you hear me?"
"Willow? What are you doing here?" She looked around frantically, concerned that Adam would catch her friend. Willow, however, was nowhere in sight. "Willow?"
"Relax Buffy, I’m not actually there. This is a spell, sound projection. Sorta like magicy throwing your voice."
"Neat, but I don’t have a lot of time."
"The project, Walsh’s project…"
"We’ve met. He’s called Adam, and he’s not much of a host."
"Where are you?"
"Somewhere in the Initiative I think. I think I was dead when he brought me here." There was no answer for a moment. "I’m okay Will, but this is not going to be a fun night. I gotta get out of here."
"O-okay Buffy. We’re on our way." She ended the call after getting what few details Buffy could give her. The tracking spell had some limitations and Willow wanted to be as close as possible to Buffy before casting it. Their trip to the Initiative’s HQ was delayed by the need to contact Riley. He knew every inch of the Initiative complex, and he quickly separated himself from his patrol to head toward a meeting place near a subterranean entrance to the facility. He knew that his superiors would never support the idea of civilians entering the Initiative for any reason. He was still in Walsh’s doghouse for bringing Buffy’s mother and friends into even a low security area. The thought made him wince. Walsh was dead. She wouldn’t be angry with him again. She wouldn’t praise him again. He shoved those thoughts aside, knowing that he couldn’t allow himself to be distracted.
Close. It was close. Adam stopped and stretched his senses. Whatever had been following, searching for him, was close. There was power in the being that approached him; power unlike anything he had encountered before. Not a demon, nor a human sorcerer.
Could it be Fay? That was an intriguing idea. Whatever it was, it had stopped its advance. It knew he was close, apparently able to sense him in much the way he sensed it. That meant that getting close to it if it didn’t want to be approached would be difficult. Knowing its motives became key then. What did it want? What little he knew indicated that the Fay were treacherous. They were motivated by curiosity and the potential for fun. He might be able to use that to his advantage, but it would take time to formulate a plan. In the meantime, he decided, it was best not to leave the Slayer alone for too long. The girl was quite resourceful and dangerous.
Lex knew he wouldn’t have much time. The creature had left just as Owen had predicted, but he had also predicted that he wouldn’t be able to hold it’s attention for very long. Lex counted to twenty after he heard the thing’s footsteps fade down the corridor. It had been necessary to wait for the creature to open the doors and turn off the security system from the inside. He might have been able to bypass it, but Owen had suspected that any such attempt would have been immediately detected by whatever was down there. Okay, go in quick, have a look around and get out fast
. That was the plan anyway, until, working across the ceiling to avoid any motion detectors, he heard the sounds of someone struggling from behind one of the doors. He moved quickly and risked a look through the round window in the door. "Buffy?" He quickly dropped to the floor, pushed open the door and entered what appeared to be a doctor’s examination room. Buffy was strapped to a table. She had managed to free one hand, but the remaining restraints were giving her problems. He quickly moved to assist.
"What are you doing here?" he asked working quickly to free her.
"I might ask you the same, not that I’m complaining of course. We have to hurry. He could be back any time now."
Lex nodded. "Owen’s got him distracted, but it won’t last long." Together, they made their way out the door and into a larger room that seemed to have several uses. One corner seemed to be an electronics workshop, another had crates of equipment stacked nearly to the ceiling. It was all Buffy really had time to notice before Lex pulled her towards a door on the far side of the room. "Come on. We don’t have much time." He pulled open the door that led to the tunnels only to see the creature, a cybernetic nightmare worse than anything Xanatos had ever dreamed up coming toward them. It increased its speed when it saw Buffy free.
"Let’s go for door number two," Buffy said making a run for the third and last door in the room. Adam burst into the room just as they reached the door. Their choice turned out to be a small room with no obvious exit. "Fight out here or in there?" Lex turned and charged for Adam with a roar. "Good choice." She moved to join him just as Adam slapped the small gargoyle out of the air. "Okay ugly. Let’s see if you can take me on face to face."
"As you wish." A bone spur extended from the monster’s left arm, a feature she remembered from a demon that Walsh had sent her to capture.
"Nice spear. Looked better on the polgara, though." She ducked the first swing. "The polgara was better looking too." Another swing and a miss. Adam stepped toward her, or tried to. Lex darted forward, low to the ground and spun around, his tail lashing out, striking the cyborg’s ankle. It wasn’t enough to sweep his opponent’s feet from under him as Lex had planned, but Adam stumbled. Buffy immediately took advantage, landing three solid blows. Adam barely seemed to feel them and regained his balance in time to give her a backhand blow that sent her sliding across the cement floor.
She climbed to her feet and tried again. Lex leaped onto Adam’s back and dug his talons in. The cyborg spun in place and simply shrugged off the small gargoyle, hurling him toward Buffy.
"This looks bad," she said, rather unnecessarily Lex thought as they rolled apart just in time to avoid Adam’s spear.
"No. Really?" He took a position opposite Buffy and they began to circle. Adam, for his part was calm, utterly silent. There was none of the snarling and threatening that she was used to hearing from her opponents. "I’m open to suggestions," Lex called, trying to distract the monster.
"Well, he’s plenty strong," Buffy reasoned, thinking out loud, "but smell isn’t everything." As she said this, she let herself get within reach, but Adam didn’t rise to the bait. Instead lashed out with a foot, nearly catching Lex as he tried to take advantage of the distraction the Slayer provided.
"He’s not stupid either," the little gargoyle remarked, grateful for his quick reflexes. "We need a better plan than just hitting him." He dodged back and moved in quickly as they tried to double-team Adam. It wasn’t working. The cyborg was simply too fast and too strong. Between them they were barely holding their own and staying out of his grasp.
The door leading to the tunnels burst open and four more people entered the room. Giles, Willow, Riley, and Xander, all carrying weapons, stopped in their tracks, staring at the monstrosity in stark disbelief.
The odds were changing. Adam quickly recalculated, taking the new arrivals and their weapons into account. The weapons were no threat to him nor were the people. He could handle any two of them easily, but the group dynamic presented some interesting challenges. The new female and the older male drew his attention. There was power there, possibly enough to disrupt his plans. Magic always introduced unstable variables into a situation. He had been gauging the Slayer’s abilities up to that point. The gargoyle was of less interest, although their unique physiology had a few intriguing possibilities.
Deciding to wrap it up quickly, he went on the offensive, ducking under a metal tool thrown by Lexington, he moved faster than he had before toward the web-winged gargoyle. A quick lunge and backward aimed kick put both of his opponents on the ground. The bone spear of his left arm tore the gargoyle’s right wing while his foot caught the oncoming Slayer in the solar plexus. He turned to face the reinforcements in time to deflect a hurling ax with his metal arm.
The soldier, Riley, he noted with interest, aimed the heavy taser and fired. Adam easily absorbed the voltage, channeling it into his secondary systems where it provided a pleasant power boost, rather like a shot of caffeine for a human.
"Uh-oh," Riley’s eyes widened in alarm as the charge was soaked up as if by a sponge. That couldn’t be good, he realized. Dropping the taser he drew a knife from his boot. "So much for high tech."
Willow grabbed his arm before he could move to attack. She focused on the creature moving toward them and said a single word in a language far older than Latin. Adam suddenly found himself flying backwards through the air. The threat assessment was quickly redone. Clearly the witch was more powerful than he had realized. A tactical retreat might be in order if she was as advanced as that demonstration indicated.
It didn’t come to that though. The Slayer had reached a similar conclusion. "Everybody out! Move!" Lex gave a single nod of agreement and headed for the tunnels. "Will, try to keep him pinned but don’t linger." Slayer and witch motioned the others out of the room.
Adam quickly moved to follow, but another word from the witch and the air became as thick as mud. He could still wade forward, but with his speed cut in half he knew he was at a severe disadvantage. Both girls left quickly, not realizing how badly the spell hampered him.
"That went well," Lex said sarcastically.
"Actually, it could not have gone better," Owen put in, winning astonished looks from everyone. "Remember that the point was to rescue the Slayer. You have done so. In the bargain, you have gained valuable intelligence about Adam’s abilities. We now know that he is too dangerous for any one among you to challenge alone."
"I must concur," Giles said reluctantly from the table where he was helping Willow patch Lexington’s wing. "Adam has proven himself a formidable opponent. We must have a clear plan of attack before engaging him again."
Xander was nodding his agreement. "I think its safe to say that pointy sticks are not going to get the job done." Leaning back in his chair he looked at the ceiling for inspiration. "Maybe a flame thrower would work better, or a machine gun. The taser was a bust, but we could try something more conventional. Wish we still had that rocket-launcher."
"Rocket launcher?" Riley looked at him curiously for a moment before deciding that he didn’t want to know. "I can get pretty much anything we need. With Adam on the loose and Walsh dead the Initiative’s going to be out in force."
"Maybe you should join them then," Buffy suggested looking over from the bookshelf she was perusing, at something of a loss as there were no books on demon cyborgs. "What we need most right now is more information, a better idea of what we’re fighting. There have to be files at the Initiative no matter how secret Adam was. Besides, they’ve got to be wondering where you are by now." Riley nodded reluctantly and rose to his feet. He gave Buffy a brief kiss and slipped out quietly. "It looked like Will’s magic was the only thing that even slowed him down." She leaned on the couch and watched her friend closely. "Any ideas, Will?"
The young witch glanced up, frowning slightly. "I think we need more information, like you said. I mean we don’t know what mixing science and magic like that means. It’s never been done before."
"Yes it has," Lex interrupted. "Xanatos used pieces of shattered members of my clan to make something just like Adam." The others looked at him in surprise. "Look on the bright side. At least Adam doesn’t have a built in laser."
"Did this other… creature," Giles ventured, "have a laser?"
"Still does," Lex nodded. "We haven’t seen him in a while."
"I’m sure there’s a fascinating story there, but let’s focus. Is there anything to learn from this other cyborg? What powered it? Was there a way to shut it down?" Lex glanced at Xander, frowning, then looked at Owen.
"He might know more about that."
Owen looked slightly self-conscious, but nodded. "Knowing as little as I do of Adam, it’s difficult to say, but it seems unlikely that what drives him is like the forces that were harnessed to bring Coldstone to life. It is unlikely that Professor Walsh used any magic to create Adam."
"It might be possible, though," Willow was the first to speak after Owen’s words had spent a moment or two sinking in, "to use magic to disrupt his power supply. I mean when we find out what it is."
"Hopefully, we’ll know that soon," Buffy sighed. "I could barely fight him. He shrugged off my best efforts."
"Yeah," Lex chimed in. "Even Coldstone had a few weaknesses we could exploit. I couldn’t find any in this thing." He looked at Owen. "I know we were only supposed to be here for a few days, but I’d like to stay a while longer, see if I can help them sort this out."
"Very well. My duty to Mr. Xanatos will not allow me to remain, but I will alert the clan to your decision and transport can be made available when you need to return."
"We’ll be glad of the help," Willow assured them both. Buffy nodded but said nothing. Lexington’s decision surprised her. They had never gotten on well, and his desire to help was puzzling. Everything she had learned up to that point about gargoyles indicated that they tended to stick close to their protectorates. Lex was far from his and he couldn’t be very comfortable. She considered asking him but decided that it would be rude. Much of the friction between them, she freely admitted, was her fault. There was no need to alienate him by questioning his motives.
"Your experience with… Coldstone was it?" Lex nodded at Giles query. "May well be invaluable. Do you have any ideas?"
"One maybe," he hazarded after thinking hard for a moment. "There was a time when he was disabled. He tried stealing from a computer that had a real nasty defense system. If any unauthorized user tried to download files from it, the computer automatically put a virus in the download that would destroy the files and any system that tried to access them." He had their full attention now. "I noticed a disk drive on Adam’s chest. We might be able to use that."
"How?" Buffy asked. "It’s hard enough getting close long enough to hit him. I don’t think I could get a disk in his chest."
Lex shook his head. "Wouldn’t work anyway. He wouldn’t run the disk. He’d just eject it. We need to trick him in to scanning it." He frowned thoughtfully. "Owen?"
"The virus was designed by the Defense Department. The Initiative should be able to gain access to it." He saw no point in telling them that Xanatos had a copy of the virus, and that it had been the real goal of Coldstone’s mission.
"I’ll talk to Riley," Buffy stated decisively. "He should be able to find out. With Walsh dead he’s pretty much in charge of the military there."
All had not gone as planned. The disruptions caused by the Slayer’s friends made things more interesting, but the new challenge had limited appeal. He had a deadline now that the Initiative personnel were aware of his existence and the existence of the secret section. His calculations showed a better than 90% probability that they would deduce his plans given time. To make matters worse there was information they had access to that he did not. He was aware that Walsh kept files on disks that she alone had access to. If they discovered them, mother’s dream, might never come to fruition. Riley Finn would inform the other military personnel and they would seal off the area.
Quickly reviewing the Initiative complex’s layout, he made and discarded several plans within a matter of seconds before arriving at the approach with the highest probability of success.
Riley listened carefully to Buffy’s idea, frowning thoughtfully. "That could work. Adam will probably want the data that’s in Walsh’s private files. I’ve got people in the secret section Walsh set up, but we haven’t found anything to tell us what it’s for. There’s a lot of scientific equipment in there. Walsh’s files could probably tell us everything we need to know, but those disks are encrypted and it would take us time to crack the code, even if doing so wasn’t a major security breach."
"What are your superiors saying about it?"
"Nothing," Riley said in disgust. "I got a load of crap about ‘need-to-know.’ They won’t accept that we need to know."
"Can you get the virus?"
"I think so." Riley nodded. "I’ve got a few strings to pull. They certainly won’t want Adam gaining access to the systems here. If I pitch it the right way to the right people, we can have it in under an hour." With that assurance he turned and headed for the Initiative’s communications center.
Buffy watched him go, crossing her fingers that the military brass he took orders from would see reason. The plan they had devised might be the only chance they had to stop Adam. The disks that contained Walsh’s most secret files had been located in the hidden section. They were to be the bait. Now all they needed, Buffy thought grimly, was the hook.
"Sir, Adam is designed to hunt and kill demons. He’s virtually unstoppable. The virus is the best chance we have."
"The virus you speak of, if it exists, could not possibly be made available. You’re to rely on conventional weaponry. Use the tasers to overload the hostile designated Adam and-"
"Sir I tried the taser. He soaked up the charge like a sponge. It would take a lot more voltage than even a dozen tasers could muster to slow him down. He’d kill us before it came to that." The colonel he was speaking to was silent a moment.
"Very well. You’ve faced this hostile, I haven’t. I’m forced to rely on your judgment. What about conventional weaponry?"
"Possible sir, but very risky. We’d lose a lot of people even making the attempt. Sir, I know the virus is top secret, but the situation here is desperate. Adam could cause a lot of damage. We risk exposure here to both the civilian community and the demons. If we have a shot at ending this quickly and quietly we should take it."
The colonel frowned for a moment, but finally nodded, agreeing that the risk of a security breach at the Initiative outweighed the risk of using the virus. "Very well. I’ll make the case to general Chessley. We’ll send you the virus ASAP."
"Thank you sir."
"I’ll call when we’re ready." The colonel broke the connection, and Riley gave a sigh of relief. There was no time to waste. The Initiative was buttoned up tight, and the disks were secured where Walsh had left them. It was only a matter of time before Adam came to find them if they’d guessed right. It was logical to assume that the cyborg hadn’t been given access to the professor’s private notes on the project, and thus was not privy to her ultimate plan for him. Unfortunately, no one present was privy to the professor’s ultimate plan, and they wouldn’t be until the disks were decrypted.
That wasn’t an option, though. He didn’t need his superiors’ warning to know that attempting to crack the codes and access the data would be viewed as a very serious criminal offense. Buffy had once told him that waging a war and fighting a war were very different things. It was something she remembered Giles saying to the head of the Watcher’s Council. Riley had to agree, at least to a point. The officers who weren’t there to take the risks found it easy to give orders, and it was frustrating to deal with them. Riley had been on the other side of it too. Usually, there was an excellent reason for withholding the information or assistance that soldiers asked for.
On this occasion, however, given how things had turned out, it was easy to believe that all the brass was doing was following what soldiers sometimes referred to as the CYA protocol. There were plans on that disk that the brass didn’t want the low ranking soldiers to know about. The fact that the virus would destroy those plans would help the general to make up his mind. He just hoped that the decision was made quickly enough.
Adam was coming, probably soon. Riley doubted that the cyborg would hesitate to kill a guard or two to get what he wanted. What made Riley furious was that they had to put up a fight to keep Adam from suspecting a trap. If getting the disks was too easy, he might discover the virus. That was assuming of course, that he didn’t show up before the hook could be hidden in the bait.
Sewers and tunnels weren’t really Lexington’s idea of fun. With no room to spread his wings, he was at a severe disadvantage, and with Adam in the area he needed all the advantages he could get. He had been asked to scout for signs of the cyborg because of his size and speed. He was small enough to go unnoticed, they hoped, and fast enough to get away if he was spotted. He had been in the tunnels around the Initiative for almost four hours though with no sign of his quarry. He wondered if Adam had another way of getting in that they hadn’t found.
He wouldn’t have time to find out, though. The sun was rising in half an hour, and he had to find a safe roosting spot. Making his way to the nearest sewer grating took almost ten minutes. He scrambled out and headed for the nearest tree and then Giles’ apartment.
Adam watched the small gargoyle leave and waited for him to put some distance between himself and the grate he had used before turning toward the tunnels that the small creature had been blocking. His search pattern, more by chance than design Adam suspected, had come dangerously close to Adam’s temporary base of operations. It had been impossible to move on the Initiative while he remained in the area. It would have been fairly easy to kill the gargoyle, but careful observation showed that he was reporting regularly to the Slayer. A failure to report in would have resulted in heightened security at the Initiative complex and further disruption of his plans.
Revising those plans to compensate for the delay, Adam made his way at top speed to the hidden entrance.
Gaining access to the Initiative was not difficult, even though the formerly secret entrance was guarded. He had taken a taser from the facility when he left, one of the few things that he had had time to take as the reinforcements had closed in. His escape had been facilitated by several additions to his systems that only mother had known about. Mother, Adam knew, had made plans that her colleagues would not approve of, especially since they were a part of them. He wasn’t sure what those plans entailed, but had been intrigued by her occasional references to her vision, suspecting that he would find great satisfaction in achieving it for her.
Once within range, he used one of his special features. Being underground limited the range of some of his electronic systems, but once he was close enough, his modem and access codes gave him full control of the security system. The alarms were easy to circumvent. The motion detectors in the tunnel leading to the entrance were deactivated without alerting those inside. This allowed him to reach the bend in the tunnel a mere fifteen feet from the entrance. Closing his eyes, Adam accessed the security cameras beyond the door. The room was empty. He opened the door remotely; another modification to his systems that wasn’t part of the plans mother had shown her colleagues. She had foreseen a time when such an advantage would be useful in dealing with Initiative soldiers reluctant to take their place in her grand design.
When the door opened, the two soldiers guarding the entrance turned towards it and did not see Adam come around the corner. One guard fell to a taser blast as Adam covered the distance to the other in the blink of an eye and impaled him on his bone spear.
Doors opened before him; alarms stayed silent. He encountered only one soldier and did not give him the chance to put up a fight. Adam’s enhanced senses gave him plenty of warning of approaching soldiers and he easily avoided corridors and rooms where groups of people worked, leaving them oblivious to his presence. Upon reaching mother’s private lab, he discovered that there was no need to key in the combination to the electronic lock. The door had been forced. This troubled him until he saw that the safe containing the disks he sought remained locked. The rest of the office had been searched thoroughly. Adam calculated an 88% probability that Riley had authorized the search in an effort to locate information about him, but had been warned off by his superiors in Washington before he could manage to open the safe. An abortive attempt had been made though. Adam detected traces of the oil left behind by human fingers on the door to the safe and on the dial.
Eventually someone would open the safe, order or no. It was one of the reasons it had been necessary to hurry. Now that the disks were his, however, time was not an issue. The disks with the information he required were far more vulnerable than he was. He quickly opened the vault and grabbed the six floppy disks inside. As he picked up the disks, he heard approaching footsteps, at least five people. He could tell that they hadn’t entered the corridor outside yet, but they would soon and the small office was not the best place to face them. Quickly reviewing his options he moved toward the largest room and the likely staging area for the sweep that would soon be underway. It was time to face them and the truth.
Buffy and Riley faced the group. "We know he got in," Riley was saying. "Let’s make sure he doesn’t leave. Beta team will seal off the tunnels. Alpha team with me. We’ll drive him towards the exit and catch him between us."
"Unnecessary," came an emotionless voice from above them. As one, they looked toward the upper level. Adam looked down at them, unconcerned by the weapons that were suddenly pointing at him. "I’ve been thinking about the world," he began conversationally. "About demons and humans." He fed the sixth and last disk into his drive and scanned the files. "Mother had a vision for the world, a great vision. Humans are too weak, too fragile to truly control this world. Only their cleverness and technology has given them an advantage. An advantage that cannot sustain them in the face of what is to come."
Riley raised a hand, indicating that the agents should hold their fire. "Demons are mired in mysticism and are hopeless with technology," Adam continued. "Where does this leave us? Mother. She foresaw something new and great. She saw us. What I am, you can be. Powerful, with all doubts about your mission and your place in the world washed away. In this room is the beginning of a new order." His voice rose, a strange passion creeping into the normally emotionless tones. The soldiers below were watching him with rapt attention. The beauty of mother’s vision and the chaos it would bring to the world inspired him. "With mother’s vision to guide us I can remake you. Together we-" SYSTEM ERROR
Adam blinked. "I can show you the…" SYSTEM ERROR
What was happening? He began a diagnostic, watching the men below him carefully. The diagnostic scrolled across his mind’s eye, revealing the beginnings of a long list of problems. SYSTEM ERROR SYSTEM ERROR SYSTEM ERROR SYSTEM ERROR SYSTEM ERROR SYSTEM ERROR SYSTEM ERROR
The list vanished and so did the soldiers. Half a second passed before he realized that the cybernetic eye had cut out. He turned his head to watch them with the limited vision that his human eye provided. "What… what is happening?"
It was the Slayer who answered, a smile on her face. "What’s the matter Adam? Vision getting a bit cloudy?"
He attempted another diagnostic. There was no response, but the answer occurred to him even as the disks slipped from the fingers of his mechanical hand. He looked down at the unresponsive limb. "The disks. A virus. You have-" There was one chance. A complete shut down and restart from the protected backup files stored in his system. It would take only seconds. Mother had made him well. He initiated the shut down. He was not beaten yet. Mother’s vision would-.
"The techs lost two PCs in the effort, but they think they figured out what happened." The colonel frowned at him. No such attempt had been authorized, but under the circumstances it hardly seemed the time to bring it up. Action would be taken based on what the experiment had told them of the Initiative’s true goal.
"What did they deduce?"
"The virus scrambled all of the project’s computer dependent components, wiping the programs, just as it was designed to do, but no one could have predicted what would happen when it was introduced to a cybernetic system. They theorize that the organic parts had become dependent on the mechanical. Without the control and coordination that the computer provided the systems began to try to act independently. The result was internal chaos. By the time the project reached us it was staggering and babbling about professor Walsh, calling her mother." Riley shook his head. "That was all that made sense though. They think that it was looking for her, she may have programmed it to return to her for repairs. Its mind, what was left of it, was pretty jumbled."
"Nothing left sir. The project is still alive, but it doesn’t respond to any sort of external stimuli."
"There was nothing else?" The colonel asked suspiciously. The project’s reference to Walsh as ‘mother’ was worrisome rather than reassuring. The psyche profile on Walsh contained some interesting notes about her eccentricities. Nevertheless, each of the soldiers he had spoken too so far had given the same report. The project designated Adam had been incoherent when it reached the agents. It had asked for ‘mother,’ presumably professor Walsh, grown incomprehensible, and collapsed.
Riley shook his head. "No sir."
"And since it collapsed?"
"It’s moved occasionally, the technicians think it’s the result of random neurons firing. It hasn’t done anything more threatening than sit up and fall over."
"Is that what prompted the unauthorized examination?" He stressed the word ‘unauthorized.’
"Yes sir. We had to be sure that it wasn’t somehow repairing itself."
The colonel mulled that over briefly. It was plausible, and the technicians he’d brought with him had already confirmed it. Riley, the acting C.O. hadn’t told him anything that he didn’t already know. "Very well Finn. Organize the agents in the main briefing room. There will be an announcement in 10 minutes."
Riley saluted and left. The colonel frowned briefly after him, considering his options. Picking up the phone, he dialed a number from memory. "General Chessley?… Yes sir. The situation is under control." He frowned briefly. "Yes sir. I’ve questioned everyone who was present when the project showed up, including the Slayer. The data has been destroyed, and no one knows the details of the Initiative’s true goal…. Yes sir. I’m certain. Their stories were very consistent…. It’s possible the project can be salvaged sir. It may be a blank slate, but we won’t be starting from scratch. Sir, if I may ask, what about the Initiative. This town is…. Yes sir. I understand. It’s not our concern. I’ll be waiting for your decision."
NOT THE END