Chapter Two: Phoning Home
Big shout and hoot to KCH who made me a fantabulous photo!manip that I added to chapter 1. I love it!Chapter 2
The eighteen-minute ride from the restaurant passed in smoldering silence. Thankfully, Dawn was the only passenger on the Hamilton Street 4981 bus. No innocent bystander needed to experience the patented Dawn Marie Summers Glare of Ghastly Death, guaranteed to make 500-year-old master vampires and skin-supping U'Rec'tor'zhork demons cry for their mommies.
Even more important, no one should accidentally tap dance on her last unmarked nerve.
Abused air breaks hissed like Giles' old teakettle as the bus chugged to a halt. The driver opened the bi-fold doors and let her off beside the sheltered kiosk nearest the Silver Meadows Condominiums. It left her with a long one-block walk, but the streets were well lit and the neighborhood clear of hide-worthy, shadowy places.
As Dawn moved westbound along the sidewalk, she eyed the combination wrought iron and red brick fence that surrounded the four seven-story buildings. The black iron points at the peak of each post--stylish but nonfunctional approximations of the real medieval war spears her sister used--reached ten feet high, each gilded with faux gold leaf. The width between columns barely allowed room for an arm to fit through. Sculpted bushes and mulch-lined flowerbeds decorated the base but were nowhere near dense enough to hide a threat larger than a housecat.
Dawn rolled her eyes at the fancy fortification and pffffffted.Like that would keep out a vampire, or most demons I've read about or seen first-hand. No, it keeps out the HUMAN bads.
She was less than twenty feet from the pedestrian entrance to the condo complex when a lone woman clad in purple hot pants and a pastel pink, midriff halter-top turned the far corner and headed her way. Dawn turned her face skyward, threw her arms wide, and offered her best Valley Girl whine.
Can't you give me a break here? PTBs, are you listening to me? Wasn't one fight tonight enough for you?"
"Talk to yourself often, kid?" the pale-faced stranger with the strawberry blonde pixy-cut smiled even as her demonic face emerged. "Wouldn't you rather talk to someone real? Like me?"
The human girl didn't bother to dignify that stupid opening line with her usual witty riposte. "Not tonight, Leech McLurk, and I mean all about the fighting and not about the talking. I am seriously
not in the mood to dance with you."
The vampire cocked her head to the side and blinked. Game face scrunched up in confusion. Dawn could read her every thought--prey shouldn't act irritated. It should either be too terrified to move or running away as fast as its mortal legs will carry it. It should scream at the very least. It wasn't a real hunt without the fear or the chase.
Dawn waved her twin stakes in the air in a go-away motion.
"Lucky you. I'm giving you a get-out-of-dusting-free card. You don't even have to Pass Go or collect 200 fake Monopoly bucks to get it ... Move along, Miss Harmony-Wanna-Be. There's nothing here for you to munch on ... Damn it, you stupid vamp, I said SHOO!
With a startled whimper, the vampire hopped into the street and disappeared down a manhole, pulling the metal cover closed tight behind her.
Muttering invectives in three dead languages, Dawn shoved the stakes into her bag and dug her entry card from her left hip pocket. Fortunately, she met none of her neighbors as she unlocked the pedestrian gate, entered the seven-digit door code, entered the building, rode the elevator to the seventh floor, and stomped down the hall to unit A-707. A vigorous toss of her key ring onto the entry table and a hearty slam of the cherry-stained, hardwood door did nothing to ease her mood.
With a shrug of her shoulder, her bag fell to the floor. She dropped the Styrofoam to-go box onto the cherry wood dining table and disappeared into the bathroom. Business done, she washed her hands and leaned against the pale blue porcelain, shell-shaped sink.
"Way to go, Dawnie," she scolded her reflection in the oval vanity mirror. "You did everything just right today ... not!
Stupid, stupid, STUPID!
Taking a clean fork from the silverware drawer, she settled down at the table and managed three bites before she fell to shoving the lukewarm food around its container.
"Why am I angry?" she asked herself. "More's the question: why am I angry at myself? Gee, let me count the ways. I never should have said hello to him in the first place. I knew it was a Tuesday. Strangers and Tuesdays are non-mixy things. Then what do I do--I invite this Tuesday-stranger to dinner and make it ten times worse by walking the streets after effin' dark!
Oh, and let's not forget the military hints, shall we? Clueless much, Dawnie?"
A heavy sigh later, she gave up any effort to finish. The little she'd eaten sat heavy in her stomach. The container disappeared into a refrigerator half-stuffed with take-out bags and to-go boxes, while the fork clattered against a plate that already lay in the sink. Restless, Dawn paced the living room several minutes before finally settling into her padded study chair.
"Face it, girl. You're really angry because you chickened out. You left him aware of your kind of nightlife but with few, if any, answered questions. Bottom line: a stranger with probable military connections knows who you are, where you go to school, and can easily find where you live. Worst of all, he can go through you to find Buffy and the mini-slayers." She hid her face behind trembling fingers. "I am so screwed."
The new Council wielded more overt power than the old one and operated with official White House support. That didn't change the facts: black ops and covert groups would jump at the chance to get their hands on either a young slayer or a newbie magic user, and they wouldn't give a damn what the President wanted.
Had she accidentally given them that opportunity?
Nervous fingers outlined the Council's Wand, Book and Sword logo etched into the lid of her Willow-personalized laptop. Do I dare?
Long before she started at Oxford, Dawn Summers vowed to never abuse her access to the reformed Council's search engines and databases. She had sufficient access through the uni to do what needed doing for her academic research. Yes, Willow had set her up with a pass code to every facet of the Watcher's mainframes, including some illegal back doors to various government, military, and corporate servers. Such access came with being sister to the longest living Slayer and a trouble magnet in her own right.
Something about Daniel Jackson tempted Dawn to break her personal rule.
He knew so much about archeology and languages. No one could bullshit at the level they were debating. On the other hand, he'd responded to the vamp attack more like a soldier than a scholar. The way he'd used the vamp's own strength against it, flipping it around, dodging and twisting and moving so he never took a hard hit. Every move came straight from the Slayer's Fighting Handbook.It's like he has experience fighting someone--or something--stronger than he is. Not vamps, since he totally didn't know where to put the pointy end of the stake. But he definitely knew how to fight.
It was no use. She'd never be able to sleep until she'd learned everything she could about the mysterious Dr. Daniel Jackson. She lifted the laptop lid, took the secure satellite wireless device out of her desk drawer, and slipped it into the right-side USB port. Within moments, she was powered up, logged on, and into the Council's system.
Guided by years of experience in researching Hellmouthy type problems, she bypassed the normal Google-esque search engines and went straight for Willow's special programs. Ten minutes passed while she navigated a labyrinth of security protocols and private information sources. Social Security (Security, hah! That's a joke!)
records put his home address in Colorado Springs. IRS tax records listed his employer as the United States Air Force.Yay me, I was right. He IS connected to the military. Stationed at Cheyenne Mountain Complex? What would an anthropologist-slash-linguist do for NORAD?
Dawn dug deeper. She was close to the answer--she could feel it.
The personally made laptop had one additional feature, found on only ten computers on Earth. Willow Rosenberg, the Council's most powerful witch and their number one techno-savvy programmer, had installed a magic-based alarm program. The techno-magic hybrid instantly warned when a person or resident program attempted to download a virus or began a trace. Color-coded lights on the screen indicated the severity--pastel pink for low threat up to blood red for highest risk--even as a counter-virus blocked the attempted invasion.
No sooner had Dawn accessed the military server than blood red lights flashed and alarms hooted.
Dawn hit the emergency cut-off and snatched the wireless device from its port. Threat neutralized, she slouched low in her chair and puffed all the air out of her lungs.
That had been dangerously close. Dawn might not be a techno-wiz like Willow, but she knew enough about their machines to realize how fast the military site reacted to block and trace her intrusion. Willow's retaliatory program barely had enough time to deploy and stop the response.
Whoever programmed that military server was seriously
serious about guarding their data.
Dawn grabbed her cell phone from her front pants pocket and hit Speed Dial 3. She muttered, "come on, come on, answer already," until someone picked up on the other end.
"Willow! I know I woke you up but I gotta warn you, just in case someone managed to trace my connection, not that I think it's likely because you programmed my 'top to stop it, but just in case, y'know, you should know what I did and who might be--what? Oh, yeah. Breathe." Dawn drew three deep breaths before she relaxed enough to speak again. "I met a man today ... What do you mean by that? I can meet a guy if I want to, especially a really cute guy that I might go for if he weren't, like, a zillion years older than me. He's actually more Buffy's type than mine except he's not a brooder and he's more cute and doctorly than he is dark and vampirely. Thing is, there's something about him that ... yes, I'm fine. No, he didn't threaten me. More like we fought off some vamps together--ow! Yell in my ear much? ... Willow, will you settle down and let me talk? ... Shut up or I'll put you on mute! ... Thank you."
Dawn spent ten minutes documenting her meeting with Dr. Jackson, the vampire encounter, what little information she'd found on the archeologist, and the hyper-aggressive response to her search.
"Will, should I, like, go somewhere else? I don't think
the trace found me, but I'm not 100 percent sure about that. ... At my apartment, yeah. ... Okay. I'll stay here then. ... Let me know what you find out about Dr. Jackson. ... Oh, pu-leeeeeeez.
You are SO
going to find out all you can about him. I'd be shocked if you weren't already--" Dawn winced and yanked the cell phone away from her ear. When the alarms silenced, she sighed and said, "Yep, that's what I ran into. I don't feel so picked on anymore. ... 'kay. Love to everyone for me. Call me, 'kay? You promise. Bye."
Dawn disconnected the call and willed away the shakes. A glance at the wall clock showed the time at 11:20 PM. With a final, baleful glance at a computer that she dared not turn back on, she rose from the chair, set the cell phone to charging, and headed off to prepare for bed. A quick shower and brisk tooth brushing later, she set the locks and alarms, turned off the lights, and snuggled under her downy comforter.
Tired as she was, she fell immediately to sleep but found little rest. Faceless demons and formless ghosts fought each other across a black and burning dreamscape. Restless, unremembered hauntings came with the first light of morning and left behind an unmistakable feeling of dread.Next on When Trouble Magnets Meet:
Chapter 3: Dueling Hackers