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Looking Into The Abyss

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This story is No. 1 in the series "Battling Your Inner Nature". You may wish to read the series introduction first.

Summary: What would the consequences be if some of the Scoobies met the Initiative a bit earlier than they did in canon?

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > Multiple PairingsGreywizardFR18420,554611314,5496 Jun 1124 Jun 11Yes

Chapter One

Rating: FR18 for lots of violence and some foul language. (But with Faith around, could you really expect anything else?) Also, a *lot* of the story will be *quite* dark.

Disclaimer: Few, if any of the characters or concepts in this story belong to me, which is a damn shame, because I could definitely use the money they've all generated. The Scoobies and the Circle of the Black Thorn belong to Crack-Head Joss and Mutant Enemy. The Nathan Essex Children's Home and Elalyth Destine belong to Marvel Comics. Adam Blake and Dabney Donovan belong to DC Comics. Gabriel Newman, Professor Tindalos and International Operations all belong to Wildstorm Comics. Senator Kinsey and the NID belong to Jonathan Glassner, Brad Wright and MGM, too, I think. John Clark belongs to Tom Clancy, and Sydney Bristow belongs to J. J. Abrams and Ziva David belongs to Donald Bellisario. I also don't own anything having to do with either the Pretender or Dollhouse, and Cyber-Viral Implants first appeared in Earth: Final Conflict, so I don't own that idea, either.

Time Frame: Goes significantly AU a few days after Season Three’s ‘Graduation Day, Part II.’

Spoilers: None intended, but if you don’t know what happened up to this point, why are you reading this story?

Warning: This is a !Dark! Fic. Various character deaths ahead. You have been warned.

Character Bashing: Nah, not this time. Well, except for descriptions concerning Maggie Walsh, the (Not-At-All) Honorable Senator Robert Kinsey, Quentin Travers and the Watchers Council, maybe, but then again, they've always been scumbags as far as I'm concerned, so it's not really bashing – just accurate descriptions of their true characters.

Feedback: Of course!

Archiving: Talk to me first, please.

Author’s Note: Many thanks to Bill Haden and Theo (Starway_Man) for beta-ing this story.

As usual, "word" indicates speech, :: word :: indicates mental communication and { word } indicates a character's thoughts.

~~~

"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you." – Nietzsche

***

Saint Peter’s Cemetery
Sunnydale, CA

May 20, 1999


"So, Buff, how’re things going with your Mom?" Xander Harris asked, resuming the conversation he’d been having with one of his two best friends, Buffy Summers, before they had been interrupted by the sudden appearance of six Gronz'ndi demons leaping (leaping being used loosely here) out from behind one of the older mausoleums and attacking them. "Has she finished freaking out about what we had to do to the high school?"

Buffy didn’t answer immediately, still rather preoccupied by the demon attack. Not that she or Xander had really been in any real danger, mind you – all of the monsters in question were relatively slow moving, pretty stupid and, aside from the usual slavering fangs, long hooked claws and near stomach-turning stench of breath that smelled like a recently disturbed cesspool, not all that hard to kill – well, not as long as you had the requisite silver-inlaid bladed weapon to defend yourself with.

It hadn’t taken the Slayer and her sidekick more than three minutes to deal with all of them and Xander was quite pleased with himself that he had managed to take one down all by himself without getting even a scratch while Buffy had sliced and diced four others, with him then distracting the last remaining idiot long enough for Buffy to decapitate it while it had been snarling at him.

He could barely believe it himself – he’d stood in front of the thing and yelled, “Look over here, bozo, and ignore the blonde girl!”, and the idiot had actually done it!

God, he LOVED stupid demons!

"No, not really, Xand," the petite blonde shook her head as she shrugged nonchalantly in answer to his question as they strolled through the immaculately kept up grounds.

"Mom was still asking me why we couldn't have maybe just blown up just part of the school – like say, just the gym – when she got a call this afternoon and had to leave all sudden-like on another buying trip, though.

"Some museum curator friend of hers told her he'd heard that some Chinese vase that one of Mom's clients has been looking for is gonna be offered at some kind of estate sale in Omaha tomorrow, and since it could be worth a big pile of money, Mom wants to make sure she can grab it as soon as it’s available," Buffy elaborated. “I’ve never heard of a ‘mink’ vase before Mom mentioned it, though.

"Who’d want a furry vase, anyway?” the Slayer asked, her forehead furrowed with confusion (quite adorably, Xander thought to himself – the puzzled expression on her face really was just that cute) for a moment before shrugging it off.

"Anyway," Buffy then continued, "it’s a real shame you couldn’t leave on your tour of the good ol’ USA last week like you planned, but I’m actually kinda glad in a selfish sorta way that you ended up having to stay for this week, at least.

"So, is a transmission thing-y really all that important for a car?" the tiny blonde asked curiously as she looked up at him from under the arm he'd curled semi-protectively around her shoulder.

"Yeah, it actually is pretty important, Buff," Xander tried not to laugh at his friend's somewhat ridiculous question. "It’s kinda hard to drive anywhere without one. But Uncle Rory says he’ll have everything fixed up by the end of the week; he said the case is cracked and he’s waiting on a new one, from a junk yard in Sacramento. Are you sure you’re gonna be okay here, all by yourself?"

"Yeah, I’ll be okay, Xand," Buffy nodded semi-enthusiastically, trying to project a positive mood in response to his question. "Giles is supposed to be back from visiting his cousins in Tweed-Land by the end of June and Will’s only gonna be away with her folks on their tour ‘til the second week of July, so it’s not like I’m gonna be by myself for the whole summer."

“No word from De...uh, Angel, I take it?” Xander felt that he had to ask the question, even though he didn’t want to and he knew that Buffy would only get upset by the mention of the undead ex-boyfriend who’d just walked off into the mist last Friday, without so much as even a backwards glance.

Buffy resisted the urge to snap at Xander, for that hated nickname that had *almost* come out of her friend’s lips. She knew that Xander was ecstatic that Angel was finally gone, and she hadn’t wanted to put Willow in the middle, so the only place Buffy could privately vent her pain was in her diary. “No.”

“Look, Buffy, you know how I don’t like the guy – and that’s one hell of an understatement if there ever was one, I gotta tell ya – but I hate seeing that mope-y expression on your face even more. So if you want, I could go after Angel and...” Xander trailed off, unable to bring himself to complete that sentence.

“Thanks for the offer,” Buffy said dryly, knowing that it was like pulling teeth for her friend to even suggest tracking down the guy that she still loved and whom her Xander-shaped friend personally detested, and bringing him back to Sunnydale. “But Angel made his choice. Just like Cordelia made hers, huh?”

“Yeah,” Xander grumbled; he knew that his ex-girlfriend was hitting the road soon and that Buffy wasn’t exactly shedding any tears over that fact. In a way, it was kinda like the situation with Buffy and Angel, actually, in that no one other than himself had even attempted to talk Miss Chase out of it. “Cordy made it clear she’s never coming back, either. So looks like, despite whatever feelings I might still have, I’m gonna hafta start looking at other fish in the sea, if ya know what I mean.”

Buffy felt uncomfortable at she remembered the consequences of Xander and Willow’s disastrous illicit smoochies last November, and briefly wondered if she should offer to track down and talk to Cordelia the same way Xander had just done for Angel. There was little love lost between her and the former Queen C, granted; still, Xander deserved to be happy, and if he still wanted his ex as much as she wanted hers...

But before Buffy could say anything, a short distance away a group of men wearing black fatigues and balaclavas, and carrying rifles looking like they’d been procured at a Star Wars convention, abruptly appeared.

“Whoa. Who let the geeks out on patrol?” Xander asked at once, his eyes narrowing at the sight of the futuristic weaponry.

~~~

Initiative base
Beneath Lowell House fraternity building
UC Sunnydale campus

The same time


"Director Walsh, Alpha Team has just reported sighting two more suspected HSTs. Both superficially appear to be human teenagers, but the team witnessed them fighting with a group of six Class Three HSTs and neutralizing all of them within a three minute time period," the technician manning the communications board informed the stern-looking woman standing by the command board with professional indifference.

"Neither one’s facial features altered during the course of the confrontation the way the Class Five’s do, but the smaller one managed to eliminate four of the Class Threes without any assistance from the larger one in the same amount of time that its companion took out one of the HST-Three and the two then cooperated in taking down the last remaining Class Three," he continued relaying the team leader’s report.

"Team Leader Gates says that both HSTs resemble your typical high school students and that the more dangerous one looks like – and I’m quoting him here, ma’am – ‘a stereotypical California valley-girl cheerleader,’ while the HST accompanying it looks like ‘your typical high school slacker’."

"Very well. Inform Alpha Team that they are to acquire both subjects as expeditiously as possible," the woman directed. "I’m particularly interested in examining the smaller one.

"It appears that the creatures have instinctively learned enough about our society that they’ve managed to perfect the protective coloration needed to infiltrate the population," she mused to herself. "Most likely in order to provide themselves with the best opportunity to feed.

"I’ll be in my office. Let me know when the new specimens have arrived," Dr. Maggie Walsh ordered before turning and heading off.

~~~

Saint Peter’s Cemetery
Sunnydale, CA
The next night…

A few moments later


"Uh, hey guys, I hate to spoil your cosplay, but y'know, Halloween's not for another five months yet," Xander said as he and Buffy stared at the half-dozen members of the masked group that had just appeared from out of the shadows bracketing them.

"Take ‘em," was the only response the Slayer and Slayerette received.

Without any further warning, four of the newcomers immediately focused their weapons on Buffy, catching her by surprise as they zapped her with their blasters, quickly rendering her unconscious.

Xander, too, was targeted by the remaining two Initiative agents and suffered an identical fate, dropping to the ground to lie alongside his hero, insensible and unable to resist.

"Okay, let’s bag ‘em and tag ‘em," Agent Forrest Gates ordered, his voice muffled somewhat by his balaclava, and watched as his teammates quickly secured the two teens with heavy duty chains and manacles.

~~~

Initiative base holding cells
Beneath Lowell House fraternity building
UC Sunnydale campus


"Hey, let me out of here! What the heck’s going on?! Let me out, you morons!" Xander could hear Buffy’s voice echoing from somewhere further down the hallway bordering the cell that he was he noted to himself as he blearily looked around, trying to shake off the last vestiges of unconsciousness.

Pushing himself off the floor and to his feet, Xander moved over the glass wall that separated this room he was in from the hallway. Reaching out to touch the glass, he yelped with surprise at the electric shock he received upon making contact with the wall and reflexively jumped back at the same time he muttered a rather profane curse in Sumerian – one which he’d learned after hearing Giles muttering to himself in a low voice after a visit from Principal Snyder.

"Hey, Buff, are you okay?" he called out as he tried to peer as far down the hallway as he could without again touching the glass forming the wall of his cell.

"Xander? You’re here? I’m okay," he heard Buffy responding to his question. "How are you? Do you have any idea where we are or what’s going on?"

"Yeah, I guess I’m okay, Buff," he called back in answer. "But no, I don’t have any idea of where we are, either. The last thing I can remember is seeing a bunch of masked G.I. Joe wannabes jumping out in front of us and zapping us with some kinda Star Trek ray guns."

"Shut up, you freaks!!" a new voice bellowed. "Just settle down, be quiet and we’ll get along fine. Keep yelling like that and you’ll regret it."

The voice belonged to a rather average-looking, middle-aged white guy dressed in your stereotypical white lab coat and holding the equally stereotypical clipboard in his hand.

"What are you talking about? And who are you calling 'freaks,' buddy?" Xander asked indignantly, his questions echoed by Buffy’s voice from wherever she was currently being held against her will, too. "And why are we locked up in here? What are we being charged with – walking through a cemetery without a license?"

"Yeah, I’m talking to you, freak," the lab coat snarled angrily. "We’ve finally caught you, and you and that other freak down the hallway can‘t pass for human any longer, so you both might as well quite pretending you’re human and cooperate."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Xander could hear Buffy demanding indignantly, as the seeming scientist turned in her direction. "We’re both human! What makes you think we aren’t?"

"'Cause one of our teams saw you two freaks fighting off some other freaks in that cemetery, that’s why," the initiative drone sneered. That statement caught Buffy and Xander by surprise and left them momentarily speechless.

"What? Are you gonna try and tell me that a couple of normal humans can fight off a dozen of those other freaks the way our people saw you do?" the guy asked derisively.

"Well, yeah, actually," Xander replied. "All it takes to handle Gronz'ndi demons is just making sure you have a silver blade on you and knowing where to stick it. And then waiting for the opportunity to use it right, that’s all.

"Look, buddy, me and my friend her have been fighting all the things that hang around this town and go bump in the night for the past three years. We’re demon hunters – it’s what we do," Xander then added, seeing a bit of uncertainty appear in the guy’s eyes upon hearing his explanation. “Come on, is it impossible for you to even consider that as a possibility to explain what your grunts saw happen?”

"Perhaps, perhaps not. But then, neither of you are completely human, are you?" a new voice loudly declared, interrupting their conversation.

A grey-haired woman in a white lab coat, carrying the requisite clipboard and trailed by a crowd of similarly dressed lackeys, joined the guy Xander had been speaking with and gestured with the clipboard in her hand.

“Who are you?” Xander demanded, getting a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach at the sight of the new arrivals.

"My name is nothing you need be concerned with," the woman sneered at Xander. "And according to our analysis, while both of you possess the basic human DNA matrix, *your* DNA also incorporates both feliform gene structures as well as genetic markers of the great white shark, mako shark and tarpon," the grey-haired Director stated firmly, staring at Xander as though he were simply yet another experimental animal she was inspecting. "And the female you were captured with carries the same abnormal blood markers as the other female HST our people discovered in the town's hospital.

"That HST displayed exceptionally rapid regenerative abilities," she informed the group who accompanied her, "which I would expect this new specimen to exhibit, too.

"Once it's fully recovered from the stun weapons discharges, we'll test it and see if it displays the same level of combat expertise the other specimen displayed while under surveillance," Walsh said as she looked down and scribbled a note on her clipboard.

"Hey!!!" Xander yelled indignantly as he glared at the woman. "We're not specimens! And we're not 'it's'! We're people! United States citizens, God damn it! I demand to speak to a lawyer!"

"I think you’ve been watching too much television, whatever the hell you are," the woman shook her head dismissively, as she sneered at him. "Understand this; you have no rights here. The U.S. Constitution does not apply to you and your kind, because you're not human, as your DNA test proves.

"You and every other HST in this facility are mine to do with as I wish," she said with an air of complete confidence, reminding Xander of that little tyrant, Principal Snyder, at his worst. Or Doctor Mengele.

"I want baseline readings on both of these new specimens finished by oh-seven-thirty tomorrow morning," the woman ordered as she turned and walked off, ignoring both Xander's and Buffy's protests as though they simply weren't there.

~~~

As she inspected the other cells visible to her from her own, Buffy noticed that the one catty-corner to hers on the side opposite Xander's was occupied. Its current resident appeared to be either unconscious, sleeping or completely unconcerned with the events taking place nearby, leading Buffy to momentarily dismiss the prisoner from her consideration as she examined her surroundings in greater detail with an eye to figuring out how best to escape.

The room in which she was currently confined was approximately eight feet square, windowless, and held only a simple mattress, a sink and a toilet. Three of the walls, the ceiling and the floor appeared to be solid sheets of white-enameled steel, while the fourth wall was a transparent sheet of some sort of high-impact glass, plastic or acrylic with a single normal-sized door on the right hand side, and which apparently carried a very hefty charge of electricity, judging by the shock she'd received the first time she'd touched it. There were two ventilation grills set high up on two of the steel walls, she noticed, but neither one was anywhere near large enough for her to even consider trying to fit inside as a possible method of escape.

Buffy was abruptly distracted from her evaluation of her situation by the sound of a familiar female voice speaking to her.

"Huh. These fuckers got you, too, eh, B?"

"Faith?!" Buffy exclaimed in surprise as she turned to see that the person occupying the cell she'd noticed earlier was, indeed, her fellow Slayer.

"When did you wake up? And what are you doing here?" the blonde Slayer asked, astonished not only to see her mystical sibling also incarcerated a short distance away, but at seeing the haggard and hollow-eyed state the brunette was in was worse than even her appearance at the hospital.

"Woke up a while ago. And your guess is as good as mine, but best as I can figure it, we’re playing guinea pig for a bunch of really sick fucks," was the dark-haired Slayer's tired response.

"Guess the Powers That Be decided to punish me for going over to the Dark Side, like the X-Man would put it," Faith then added, with a hint of her old smirk.

"I don't think the Powers had anything to do with this, Faith," Buffy shook her head in disagreement with the brunette's opinion, wisely deciding to let past grievances stay in the past for now. "'Cause Xander's in a cell down the hall, just like us."

"Well, shit," Faith's face paled ever further when she heard that piece of news.

"I'm sorry, B. Boy Toy didn’t deserve that," she then offered an apology to the astonished blonde. "Both of you guys don’t deserve to be here," Faith added.

"I know we really don't like each other, but even I don't want you guys to go through what these fuckers have been doing to me lately," she half-whispered.

"Hell can't be all that much worse than what happens here."

~~~

"Which testing protocols do you want us to initiate with regard to the new specimens, Director?" the white lab-coated technician inquired as he stood by the door of Dr. Margaret Walsh's office.

"Hmm. Based on the initial analyses of our three newest specimens, I was considering using all of them as subjects utilizing the various samples that Colonel Makepeace obtained for us from that subterranean lab complex the NID discovered in Omaha earlier this year," Maggie said contemplatively.

"All of the creatures have physiologies close enough to baseline humans that that we should be able to extrapolate whatever outcomes result to predict the most probable enhancement effects for any human subjects who undergo similar procedures in the Super Soldier program," the grey-haired project head added thoughtfully as she sat back in her chair and considered the possibilities the program's newest acquisitions offered.

She spared a momentary thought to wonder exactly which of the various covert intelligence agencies had really been behind the sponsorship of the Nathan Essex Children's Home, since it was evident from the design of most of the equipment which the acquisition teams had discovered beneath the orphanage that the people involved were truly geniuses and were undoubtedly at the forefront of the biotechnology field. Not to mention that concealing their operation behind the facade of an orphanage was yet another stroke of brilliance! Maggie just wished she’d gotten more of the samples the field teams had taken into custody; over half had been assigned to the Gillette, Wyoming labs for their long-term genetic upgrade program.

"As I noted earlier, the DNA results of the male specimen which Alpha Team captured last night, Gamma-Zeta-One, displayed both feliform and piscine gene sequences in addition to the standard hominoid sequences he and the female he was captured with obviously use when they mimic being human. However, since his genetic sequence differs from that of a typical human in fewer key sequences than either of the female specimens do, it would seem to me that he is the best potential candidate for implantation of the Omicron Four Seven Nine sample. Should he survive the gene replacement procedure, it will allow us to determine what, exactly, the superhuman abilities that the notes accompanying the sample referred to might be," Maggie said, while thoughts of the information she'd been able to ferret out from the rather cryptic descriptions the abandoned lab's owners had left behind them for the NID recovery teams to discover filled her mind.

After all, having a supersoldier who possessed both psionic and physical abilities which far surpassed the superhuman levels displayed by any of the HSTs the Initiative had as yet encountered, and who was also capable of not merely surviving, but adapting to hostile environments without any support equipment, was just exactly the sort of thing Senator Kinsey and his supporters were looking for.

The intelligence group's most recent report that the NID's ongoing search for an individual named Adam Blake – the subject identified as the source of the gene sample they were planning on using – still hadn't provided any new information concerning his whereabouts, something which was a major disappointment as well as a significant roadblock in her efforts to accomplish both the project's and her own personal goals.

Although she had noted that one of the Senator's newer staff consultants who had accompanied Kinsey on his last inspection tour – what was his name, again? Danny Devon? Danny Donahue? Dabney Donovan? It had been something like that – had definitely reacted when he'd heard Blake's name mentioned, she recalled. And that most likely meant that he had at least some knowledge about that person that he hadn't shared with her. She'd have to give some more thought on how she could best motivate the man to share whatever it was he knew with her.

In any event, it had been her promises of the virtually unlimited potential advantages of being able to create custom-made minions for her employers to deploy on whichever battlefields they wished that had clinched her appointment to the directorship of this facility, and Maggie knew she needed to be able to provide at least some clear and obvious evidence of success in her experiments, however limited it might be, if she wished to continue heading up this complex. And if the notes that had been found with those cell samples were even partially accurate, being able to implant those gene sequences in whichever subjects she wished would establish her as the premier geneticist of the twenty-first century!

"And since the female captured with the male last night, Gamma-Epsilon-One, seems to possess the same recuperative capabilities as the one we obtained from the city's hospital last week, and we haven't used it for any prior tests which might impact on test results, she appears to be ideally suited to use as the subject for implantation of sequences from sample Theta Four Eight Three," Walsh continued aloud.

While the notes that had accompanied the second cell sample were clearly fragmentary and incomplete, the hints regarding the possible capabilities any recipients might receive were just too intriguing to ignore. Merely the thought of what the NID might be capable of accomplishing if it had metamorphs who could also become invisible working for it had been enough to get Senator Kinsey and his associates to sign off on all the authorizations they'd sent over without a single quibble.

Although the NID's ongoing failure to locate any sort of records for anyone named Elalyth Destine (aside from some fragmentary British documents nearly a millennium old) occasionally made Walsh wonder whether she should also be having her staff working on developing ways to ascertain whether their test subjects might possibly possess any anti-geriatric tendencies that could allow them to offset the aging process.

"What about the other female you just mentioned, Dr. Walsh? Gamma-Delta-One – the one that Gamma Team secured from Sunnydale General hospital last week?" the minion asked as he handed Maggie a clipboard filled with a sheaf of papers annotating the test results. "What do you want done with that one? It appears to have recovered completely from the test protocols we conducted on it Wednesday."

"That's good to hear, Gregory," Walsh mused to herself approvingly as she reviewed the test data he had presented to her.

"Since the creature appears to have relatively high-level regenerative capability, it would be interesting to see what reactions its immunological system might have to the cellular armor/blood substitute compound Colonel Makepeace acquired from Gabriel Newman and Professor Tindalos at International Operations' research facility prior to their unfortunate accidents," Maggie decided as she handed the clipboard back.

"As far as we've been able to determine, I.O. has yet to achieve any successful results with that particular branch of research, despite the fact they've poured nearly three hundred and forty million dollars into it," she noted parenthetically.

"Therefore, I fully expect that our people will be able to succeed where others fail," Walsh then declared confidently.

"Oh, and use the new bioslurry implantation protocols Section Nine has been developing to implement the new protocols on all three subjects," she added, almost as an afterthought.

The full body immersion techniques their researchers had been developing over the course of the past year, while still in the preliminary stage of implementation, had proven to be a much faster method of genetic transfer and implantation than anything else the Initiative currently possessed, and time was just as significant a factor to be considered as everything else they were dealing with at the moment, especially considering the upcoming inspection which had been scheduled by Senator Kinsey.

"Very well, Professor," Gregory nodded his understanding and preparing to leave.

"Oh, one more question, ma'am," he said as the minion paused at the door to look back at his boss. "Should we hold off on the implantations until we have the cyber-viral control implants installed in the subjects, first, as per standard procedure?"

"The reason I ask is that we've exhausted all of our current supply of them on the various other test subjects the field teams have captured in the past two weeks and the next scheduled delivery isn't for another three days," Gregory explained. "If we follow standard protocols, we'll have to delay all three procedures until the CVIs arrive."

"No, don't delay initiating the procedures, Gregory," Walsh immediately replied as she shook her head, not wanting to waste time unnecessarily. "We can have the control units implanted once the new procedures have been completed and then have the artificial personality overlays superimposed on their minds afterwards.

"Several of the Senator's staff members had indicated during their last visit that they're looking to develop agents to infiltrate several of the ultra-black programs that they haven't been able to get any of their usual operatives into," Maggie noted, "so we'll need to use profiles that will enable them to infiltrate whichever program it is the NID is looking to gain access to, as well as allowing them to properly interact with the various levels of society they'll need to consort with, in order to accomplish their mission.

"Based on those parameters, I think that the 'John Clark' persona is probably the best choice for Gamma-Zeta-One to be imprinted with as its primary personality, while the 'Ziva David' and 'Sydney Bristow' personalities should be eminently suitable as primaries for Gamma-Delta-One and Gamma-Epsilon-One, respectively," she decided.

"When combined with the military skills and training that the Dorsai protocols we'll be downloading into their minds will be providing, those identities I noted should furnish the Hostiles with all the requisite initial skill sets they'll need at the outset of their missions, and the CVIs will allow them to download and integrate whichever additional personas they might later determine they need to access without any problem, since all of the artificial personalities were developed using the latest programming guidelines available from both the Pretender Program and the Dollhouse Project," Walsh pointed out.

It was a pity that they just couldn’t put the CVIs into normal soldiers and simply download the basic Dorsai military skills package, as well as any additional skill packages the agents required as needed, Walsh reflected to herself, but the implants simply stressed the brain too hard for someone without accelerated healing to handle.

In any event, with the people funding the program scheduled to visit on an inspection tour in just eight days, she needed to be able to show them *something* to justify all the money they'd been pouring into the complex's coffers.

While three successful procedures would be ideal, Maggie acknowledged that having even one of the subjects survive the modifications would be an acceptable result, as far as she was concerned.

Admittedly, all of these untested procedures broke every rule of the scientific method, but some things were necessary if science was to progress. And popular fiction had so quickly captured the public's view of what the world expected of a ‘Mad Scientist,’ that it had quickly evolved into a cliché.

Not that it would ever stop a true mad scientist.

~~~

"Well, well. I must say that it's uplifting to see that trash like yourself is finally providing some positive service to her betters."

Blinking, Buffy opened her eyes to stare in disbelief at the sight of Quentin Travers, nominal head of the Watchers Council, standing in front of the cell in which Faith was currently being held.

"What the fuck are you doing here, you scum-sucking piece of shit?" the blonde heard her fellow Slayer snarl at the smirking Brit. "It's obviously not to get B and me out of this hellhole."

"Yes, well, you are correct about that, Miss Lehane," Travers nodded his head in apparent agreement, his smile growing even wider as he looked at her.

"I am most certainly not here to assist in freeing either you, arrogant piece of garbage that you are, or that dim-witted, vampire-loving trollop that Rupert has become so fixated on," he elaborated as he paused to throw a rather haughty glance in Buffy's direction.

"In fact, I am merely here visiting a fellow visionary to see how successful she has been in her quest to develop suitable and reliable, enhanced human sentinels who can be trusted to FOLLOW ORDERS, in order to help best safeguard the human race against the demonic hordes menacing it," Quentin announced somewhat pompously, "so that we of the Council will no longer be reduced to rely upon scatterbrained and morally bankrupt teenage girls to do what is needed."

"Wow, those are real big words coming from a candy-ass pussy who's never spent any time risking his own neck actually fighting against any of those demonic hordes you're talking about, Q-Ball," Faith sneered back.

"And lemme guess – either you or one of your flunkies narc'ed on me to the head nutcase heading up this psycho operation, right?" Faith added, surprising Buffy as she threw out her accusation against the Englishman.

"Amazing," Travers commented calmly enough. "It appears that you *do* possess some low degree of brainpower, after all. But to answer your question, yes; I did ‘narc’ on you and Miss Summers, as you so charmingly put it. And that over-evolved orangutan you took as a lover whom Miss Summers considers her best friend, of course."

“Boy Toy? What’s Xand gotta do with any of this? What’s he got to do with you?” Faith’s voice held a definite note of surprise in it.

"Oh, the little simian’s made his mark on certain matters, here and there. Under different circumstances, I might even have put in a good word for him with the Director of this facility – as according to Rupert’s diaries, he apparently has a great deal of courage. Your paramour faced down Angelus himself one night, and I can count on two hands the number of people who ever did that and lived. But unfortunately, his liabilities outstrip his assets – because the young fool is just as fixated on Miss Summers as Rupert is. Not that that’s going to do him any good at this point in time, of course."

"You betrayed us all to the bitch running this place? Knowing who and what we are?" Buffy gasped in horrified disbelief, causing Travers to turn his head towards her and sneer at her.

"Betray? Hardly the appropriate word," the Watcher scoffed.

"Miss Lehane should have been killed by my former protégé Wesley for her actions, months ago. Mr. Harris belongs here, or at the very least in a zoo of some sort, given that he no longer qualifies as human. And you, Miss Summers, shouldn’t even exist – your survival two years ago was simply an oversight on the part of the Fates," Travers said coolly to Buffy, infuriating her.

"You should have stayed dead back then, actually, as was your destiny; not come back to life to bedevil us and incite rifts within the Council, arguments over the best methods of supporting the Slayer in her sacred mission," Travers declared as he allowed his inner hatred to appear in his eyes.

"As far as I am concerned, you need to be terminated immediately. The abomination of your existence shall be wiped clean, while providing the researchers here with insight into some of the more – esoteric – aspects of demonic biology," Travers smiled with approval at the horrified young girl staring at him. “After all, the Slayer’s power originally came from a demon before the advent of human civilization, don’t you know.”

Turning back to look at Faith, Quentin’s smile became even broader as he informed her, "I suspect you would be interested to learn that, as a result of your having briefly died on the operating table three days ago during the course of Dr. Walsh's investigations, a new Slayer was Called in Hong Kong. And the fact that you were revived afterwards is of absolutely no consequence to the Council, since we now have a proper Slayer to guide in the performance of her duties. It is rather amusing, though, isn’t it? That you and Miss Summers are now exactly the same thing? A redundant mistake that will soon be erased from existence..."

Turning away with a satisfied expression on his face, Travers ignored both Slayers' screams and ensuing threats of retribution, and left to join his fellow evil conspirator.

~~~

Travers' departure seemed to be the signal for what would be the beginning of an interminable period of unending agony for all three unwilling test subjects.

The only hint of warning that Buffy and Faith had regarding the beginning of their torment was a faint hissing sound as high dosages of an extremely potent narcotic gas was fed into their cells through the ventilator system, and they had barely enough time to consider what might be occurring before they each dropped to the floors of their cells, unconscious.

Xander, however, was evidently not considered nearly as dangerous as either of the two girls; and thus with the desperation of a cornered animal he managed to incapacitate three of the four people sent to collect him, before being zapped into unconsciousness by the blaster the last member of the group had managed to keep hold of during their prisoner's attack. Though Xander did go down with the satisfaction of gouging out someone named Forrest’s left eye.

The reinforced inch-thick walls of the three containers in which Buffy, Faith and Xander awoke to find themselves imprisoned within, combined with the thick, apparently oxygen-charged fluid filling the tubes which they found themselves breathing, managed to (mostly) muffle their screams of agony as each individual cell of their bodies was systematically torn apart and then rebuilt by the exotic machinery surrounding them to match the new configurations chosen by Professor Walsh.

And like their screams of anguish, their pain-driven struggles were negated by the customized, padded high-tensile frames enclosing and imprisoning their nude bodies while also isolating them from any exterior sensory stimuli, in a deliberate attempt to make their minds more amenable to whichever subsequent mental reprogramming techniques the psychologists associated with the NID might choose to employ.

Unfortunately for the Initiative, though, the absence of external stimuli encouraged their test subjects' sensory-hungry minds to search elsewhere for it.

~~~
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