"So where are we headed?" Xander asked.
"Cyberdine Industries," Buttercup said. "They pay decently for quality work so we looked at some of their job postings. Rather than agreeing to work on a project, we've got completed projects already ready for them, based on what little info they've leaked. At most I figure two of the fourteen projects we have ready will be exact matches, but at least five of the others will be something they'll want and they'll probably buy a couple of the others so we don't sell them elsewhere."
Bubbles grinned. "Preventing some of our products from becoming competitors should be as big a motivation as selling them themselves."
"Cool. Cyberdine," he said thoughtfully. "Why does that name sound familiar?"
"Well, besides being a cutting edge computer company with their fingers in a lot of pies, they've also been in the news as some Luddite terrorist group has targeted their production facilities and offices multiple times," Bubbles offered.
"Oh, yeah. Something about stopping judgment day," Xander said. "I guess they all can't wander around wearing sandwich boards."
Sarah Connor kept her head down, her dyed black hair pushed up under her cap, and her figure made unremarkable by the shapeless grey coveralls she wore as she pushed a broom. It was easy to sneak into nearly anywhere if you dressed the right way and acted like you belonged, especially if you were dressed like someone most people felt was beneath their notice.
She'd mostly concentrated on sabotaging Cyberdine's hardware division, causing dozens of products to fail due to rising costs and late deliveries. In fact the only hardware Cyberdine now worked on was military projects with their warehouses on military bases under guard. Rather than attack US military bases she'd decided to switch her attention to Cyberdine's software division, whose head offices were conveniently located in LA.
She was just passing a trio of teens when everything went black.
"I'll handle the presentation, you two put her in the trunk," Buttercup ordered.
"Good luck," Bubbles said as she and Xander each threw an arm around the janitor and carried her off.
"And why are we kidnapping the janitor?" Xander asked.
"Remember the Luddite terrorists we mentioned?"
"Her?" Xander asked in surprise.
"Yep," Bubbles agreed. "She claims that computers are going to become self-aware and destroy mankind starting a nuclear war and then sending robots after the survivors."
"Whatsa?" Sarah said slowly coming around as they crossed the parking lot.
"She's tough," Bubbles said. "Most people would be out for hours."
"Where are you taking me?" Sarah asked, not quite awake enough to struggle yet.
"Car in the parking lot," Xander said. "We have business with Cyberdine and don't really need you blowing up the office while we're there."
"Have to stop the machines," she said recovering rapidly.
"Sure you do," Bubbles agreed.
"You don't think she's telling the truth, do you?" Xander asked.
"You mean her paranoid ranting about Judgment Day and the machines taking over?" she asked sarcastically as they crossed the parking lot.
"Malachi," Xander said flatly.
"Shit!" Bubbles said stopping for a moment before continuing, "OK, new plan. Sarah sits quietly in the back seat of the car while I see what I can find out."
"You believe me?" Sarah asked doubtfully.
"No, but we can't risk you being right either, so we have to investigate the possibility that you aren't nuts and are in fact dealing with a possible future."
"And how do we do that?" Xander asked.
"Good old fashioned hacking," Bubbles replied.
Buttercup came out of the meeting with a smile on her face until she saw the three serious faces in the car. "OK, what did I miss?"
"Guess who isn't a crazy Luddite terrorist?" Xander asked.
"No, she's still all those things," Bubbles said. "She's just got good reason to be them.
"Robots wearing human skin are being sent back to ensure something called Skynet is created so it can wipe out the human race," Xander explained.
"Cyberdine Systems is the brains behind the creation of Skynet," Sarah said. "They have to be stopped!"
"They just gave us a shitload of money," Buttercup whined. "Can't we stop someone who isn't paying us?"
Xander laughed before saying, "We need a war council for this."
"War council?" Sarah asked.
"You…really aren't going to believe it until you see it," Bubbles said.
"I'm fighting an artificial intelligence who keeps sending cyborgs back in time to kill me and my son," Sarah said. "Do you really think you can shock me?"
"Yes," the three chorused.
"What?" she challenged.
Xander sighed. "We are three people who find your story possible before we did a lot of research. Try to imagine what kind of life we have to have lived for that to be possible."
"You've dealt with cyborgs, AIs, and time travel before?" Sarah asked skeptically.
"Yeah, just not all at once," Buttercup said.
"Time travel?" Xander asked.
"A timeline that was erased," Bubbles explained as Buttercup started the car. "So the only people who remember it are Anya and Cordelia, well and us of course."
"We have all of Cordelia's memories," Bubbles explained. "We'll get to the why and how after you meet Angel and Willow."
"I get introducing her to Angel, but why Willow?" Xander asked.
"Floating pencil trick," the girls chorused.
"And I thought I was supposed to be the crazy one," Sarah said.
"Something wrong?" John asked.
"Sarah Connor is overdue on her check in time," Cameron replied.
"Where's Faith?" Buffy asked Blossom.
"Floating in a tube," she replied absently as she looked through a book on rituals dedicated to Hecate.
"We were supposed to be patrolling," Buffy said with a frown.
"That's not for hours," Giles said as he looked up from the books he was sorting.
"Why is she in a tube?" Wesley asked.
"Because she had me install a modem," the red haired cyborg replied. "We talked about this earlier."
"And I believe I forbid it," Wesley said.
"Yes and neither one of us cared," Blossom replied. "Giles has proven himself, mostly, so when he talks we listen. You, Mr. Price have not been here long enough to be fully trusted or listened to."
"But I'm a council assigned watcher!" he exclaimed.
"Yes, and the actions of the council towards the slayers doesn't exactly weigh in your favor. Even ignoring the cruciamentum, the Watcher's Council had done little to support the Slayer. I'm pretty sure that if we go back far enough we'll find the Council coffers were filled with money gained by spending Slayer's lives. Even if not directly paid, I'm sure knowing which areas were demon free and pointing the Slayer in certain directions made sure the council was never short on funds."
"There is some truth to that," Giles said thoughtfully. "The council has collected bounties on demons the Slayer has killed and certainly most of the lands owned were granted by the queen, in days long past for services to the crown by Slayers and their Watchers."
"And despite all that money, Faith has to hustle the pool hall and mug vamps to afford a crummy motel room, so why should any of us listen to a word the council says?"
"Hustle?!" Wesley asked white faced.
"Con, not what you were thinking," Blossom said, "though I have no doubt she's had to do that at times as well."
"I-I-" Wesley stuttered.
Giles started cursing himself and Wesley both for a quarter of an hour. "We both failed," he finally ground out.
"Yeah," Blossom agreed. "She got overlooked, by everyone."
Buffy looked like she might cry or puke, possibly both at once.
"Faith is used to having only herself to rely on," Blossom said. "And any pity sent her way will probably be met with violence, so save your pity because she will see it as insulting, which it kinda is because if any of you really cared about her situation you could have found it out easily enough."
"I thought Giles, as the onsite Watcher, had taken care of it," Wesley said.
"There are no sufficient excuses for our obliviousness to Faith's living conditions," Giles said.
"I knew where she was staying and didn't think twice about it," Buffy admitted.
"That's because you like to fill your life with as much drama as possible and you're so busy deal with that, that you tend to ignore the people who get hurt or killed," Blossom said, not even looking up from what she was doing.
"What?!" Buffy exclaimed.
"Poor me, I'm the Slayer, I'm doomed!" Blossom moaned melodramatically. "Yeah, that crap led to you giving Giles a concussion and drowning. Then later we get a replay of it and there was some kidnapping, not to mention another round of head injuries for everyone. Of course, not content to just claim you're doomed and going to die shortly…for a couple of years now, you decided to date a vampire."
"I didn't know he was a vampire at first!" Buffy exclaimed.
"No, but you knew he was a man in his mid to late 20's when you weren't even sixteen yet. You had him pegged for the kind of jail-bait chaser that would cause problems for you and decided to jump right on. I have all your memories Buffy and I know you better than you know yourself. If you had approached being the Slayer the way you had being a cheerleader a hell of a lot more people would be alive right now. Man, am I glad to get that off my chest!"
The three stared at Blossom in shock. "What, is there something on my face?"
"Buffy has done an exemplary job," Giles said firmly.
"No, she's done a half-assed job compared to what she's capable of," Blossom disagreed. "You severely underestimate what she can do because you are judging her by Council trained Slayer standards and the Council trained Slayers tend to die quickly, having no real reason to live and having it beat into their heads that they're disposable. Yet another reason not to trust the Council."
"I have a hard time believing Miss Summers could have done any better," Wesley said. "I've read the reports and she's handled vampires and assorted demons that would have felled most slayers easily."
"She trains with Giles and barely puts any effort into it and when's the last time she actually worked out? There is a reason that when she was brought back she not only kept the Slayer essence but became even stronger, but that's not important right now. Ask Buffy herself if she couldn't do better."
"I…I guess I could," Buffy admitted with a wince.
"Lothos, The Master, the only times she's actually gotten her head in the game and acted like the Slayer she is," Blossom said. "And seriously, you have no idea how much effort she put into cheerleading and how little she puts into Slaying in comparison."
"I was a popularity obsessed idiot," Buffy admitted. "I put way more effort into it than any sane person should."
"And yet you don't put anywhere close to that much effort into being the Slayer, except for major events."
"OK, I may not be working at a hundred percent all the time," Buffy said, "but I was walking the edge of burnout as a cheerleader and I can't afford to do that as a Slayer."
Blossom frowned, her brow furrowed in thought for a moment before she replied, "You've got a point there, we totally overlooked that possibility."
"I thought you had perfect memories," Wesley said.
"Total recall doesn't mean always interpreting the facts correctly, we're still human and we'll make mistakes," the red head admitted. "The others are back," she said suddenly, "and they're bringing company."Typing by: The Last Primarch!