Z War: The Council Interviews
Beta By: Starway Man|()|()|SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL[I arrive at the Maclay Learning Center earlier than expected. This being my first interview with anyone from the IWC has made me slightly nervous. The fact that the person I'll be speaking with today is none other than Willow Rosenberg makes me all the more so.
I'm quickly greeted by a smiling young woman who introduces herself as an executive assistant, and soon enough I find myself in Miss Rosenberg's office. If her appearance hadn't been so widely publicized throughout the world, I'd most likely be shocked.]
It's okay, I'm used to it by now.Excuse me?
The stares, the shocked expressions. [Smiles warmly.]
All the people who come here to learn have the same reaction, initially. If I didn't have a thick skin, I wouldn't be able to accomplish what I have here.[According to various news reports, due to her use of magic against the zombies during the war, Miss Rosenberg's features have been drastically altered. Her
eyes and hair are pure black, and her alabaster skin seems all the paler for it, with dark bluish-black veins visible across her face and neck.]Shall we begin?
Sure. And I can already guess what your first question is; why didn't we stop it from ever happening? The fact is we simply weren't prepared for what happened. After helping to set up the Council at various locations around the world, Kennedy - my girlfriend at the time - and I came to Rio just to relax for a while.¹ When the term 'African rabies' started hitting the papers, we didn't even blink. After all, 'bird flu' and 'swine flu' likewise made the headlines, and nothing major ever came out of them.
1. Kennedy Fitzgerald, former reality star, and current star of the popular television show 'Kennedy the Zombie Slayer'.Are you still in contact with Miss Fitzgerald?
No. [Her tone makes it clear she has no intention of discussing the subject further. After I nod my assent, she continues.]
Anyway, I was a little worried because Xander was in Africa...Just to clarify, by that statement do you mean Alexander Harris?
Yeah, he's the best friend a girl, or a witch, could ever have. You'll be talking to him soon, so you can ask him how things in Africa were. I'd rather not get into that.I’m sorry. Please, continue.
Okay, it's just you have to understand - we were all basically on vacation. After seven years of helping Buffy out in Sunnydale, and another year helping to set up a worldwide organization, I just wanted to take it easy for awhile. Sure, Kennedy would occasionally hook up with the local slayer contingent and go on patrol with them, but mostly it was us just hanging out on the beach.
The first time we got an inkling that something wasn't right, was when that clinic thing happened.² But it was all just street rumor, it never made the conventional press and it just didn't seem important enough at the time to do any real research into it. In hindsight, that was a big error on my part, I will admit.
2. This is widely believed to be the first incidence of Solanum infection in South America.
By the time we realized just how wide the outbreak was, we were fighting for our lives on the streets of Brazil. I remember how the school lost two girls because of bites the first day. Slayers...well most
slayers, I’m sure you know how slayers are used to fighting hand-to-hand, with the occasional weapon like a crossbow thrown in. That's what they're made for.
How could we have known that a tiny scratch from a tooth or a nail could be so deadly? Slayers are pretty much built for battle; the thinking was that if it’s not life-threatening just slap a band-aid on it, and keep right on going, you know? That virus, though, is pure evil. I've healed all kinds of injuries over the years; gunshot wounds, vamp bites, you name it. Sure I could heal the bite wound, but the virus was still there.You and many other members of the Council made countless attempts to destroy the virus, but none were ever successful – is that right?
You betcha. Heck, there still are people trying to do that, even as we speak. The Watchers Council has a team whose sole purpose is to look through everything in the archives, and try to find a way to make sure it never comes back. So far, we haven't had any luck, but we're still trying.When did you realize that the infection was incurable?
Well, you gotta keep in mind that at the time, we still thought this was a mystical problem. We'd encountered zombies in the past, just not infected ones. Since the PRC [The former People’s Republic of China.]
was still in full cover-up mode, and 'African rabies' was still an African problem as far as we knew, we didn't know what exactly we were dealing with until it was far too late.
We didn't connect them with what Xander was fighting in Africa, because he was out of contact with the IWC headquarters. If we'd known, things probably would have turned out a lot different. Getting a signal in Africa even with a satellite phone wasn't always easy, even back then.
But getting back to the matter at hand, there are magical potions and poisons for just about anything; if you have the time and money to find them. That's what we thought we were dealing with, so when Rosana and Francielle passed on, I warded their bodies against anything like that.
The Council keep small morgues in the basements of every school around the world. They're an unfortunate side-effect of the lives slayers lead. Nothing fancy; just something to store the bodies in, until arrangements can be made with their families. Both of the bodies were stored there when the head of the school heard the banging noises.They were trying to escape, once the infection had…well, transformed them?
Exactly. And my wards hadn't done a darn thing to stop it either. It was a good thing how it was Mr. Pacheco who discovered them; a lot of the other Watchers were young, they might have tried to help...oh, Gaea. [Sighs.]
I don't want to think about how bad that could have turned out.
Luckily, he called me in straightaway, and I...I took care of the problem. I had to completely incinerate the bodies, just to be sure. I never realized that they would be the first of thousands, heck, maybe hundreds of thousands.Is that how...
I ended up looking like this?[She waves her right hand over her face and body. The expression on her face is a wistful one.]Yes.
The short answer is yes, I mean it all depends on what side of the emotion spectrum you lean towards. If I'd been doing white magic at that time, that's what color my hair and eyes would be right now. [Shrugs.]
But when I couldn't cure the Solanum, there wasn't a whole lot of demand for healing.Are there others like you out there, or could there be in the future?
No, see, people with potential magic ability don't have to worry about ending up like me. If anyone else had tried to throw as much black magic at those things as I did, it would most likely have killed them.What about your associate in Los Angeles, Cordelia Chase? There have been reports of her having pupil-less white eyes, and her body emanating a bright light.
That's something completely different. You should really ask her, if you want to know what that's about. In my case though, Giles once said I'm like one in a million.You're referring to Rupert Giles, head of the IWC, I take it?[She smiles brightly at the mention of that name, appearing calm and relaxed.]
Yep, head of the good ol' International Watchers Council. He's on your interview list, too, right?Yes, I'm looking forward to interviewing as many of you as I can.
Good. Because I'm sick of hearing people say we're some kind of cult, or some kidnapping ring that snatches little girls. I know my appearance doesn't exactly help our case, but we're all doing a lot of good out there, and it's time everyone understood that.That leads me to something else I’m sure the readers will be interested in. Is it true what happened during, or immediately after, the so-called 'last broadcast'?[She looks down at her desk, her perky demeanor vanishing at once.]I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-
No, it's okay. I know people will just keep asking about what happened that day, until they get an answer that will satisfy them. It's just, I've only ever spoken about it with close friends. But if this helps clear things up, and makes people a little less nervous around me, then I'm all for it...[Sighs.]
Look - at that point in time, Rio was overrun. We had a three block area in the resort district basically surrounded by the undead. We'd given up the slayer school months before, and we had several thousand people packed into this tiny space to look after.
Fights were constantly breaking out, riots were a regular occurrence, we had at least two murders a week. A lot of the slayers weren't even from Rio, they were from the surrounding areas - farmers’ daughters and the like. Most of the girls were only fifteen or sixteen, and they were forced to basically be cops or...some kind of law enforcement, anyway.
Since all the barricades had been hastily built, we constantly had to fight off one horde or another who had broken through a weak spot. That just added to the tension all the more, we were always hearing on the Argentine radio how some military base or private group had gotten overrun like that.Argentine? There were no local broadcasts in Rio de Janeiro anymore?
There was only one, some guy calling himself Marco - he kept broadcasting on 94.1 FM for a long time. We never figured out if he’d worked there as a DJ, or if he was just some random guy at the station. He was all alone in that place, surrounded by God knows how many zombies...but we finally had to make it a rule to stop listening to that guy.Why is that?
The suicides. [Shakes her head.]
Apparently, his wife and daughter had become infected at some point, so he locked them both in a closet somewhere in the station. He'd spend hours a day broadcasting as he sat by the door, begging for their forgiveness as they pounded away, trying to get out.It certainly sounds awful.
Yeah, that was just too much for the survivors we were trying to keep alive. Almost all of them had lost someone to those things, and this guy was just opening wounds over and over again with every broadcast. We never found out who he really was, and one day there was nothing but static coming from the station.
There was nothing I could have done to help the guy, at least not at that point. Every one of those people you could have saved, it eats at you, ya know?Because you didn't have that kind of power at the time.
And that's the crux of the matter, see, it's about what I could have done. People in pain don't want to hear that, though - they want to know why you didn't save their son, daughter, husband, wife...whoever. Most people need a scapegoat to blame for all the awful things that have happened in this world, and I'm an easy target.
That's what people don't realize, even the ones that don't blame me for not doing it sooner. I didn't actually do
anything to make it happen, it just did. It was a perfect storm at that exact moment in time. Like I said before, one in a million.What exactly did happen that day? No one I've talked to was ever completely sure.
The barriers keeping the zombies out, they were always breaking...leaving gaps for one, ten, a hundred, you just never knew. What might look and feel solid isn't so much after you've had a thousand fists pounding away at it overnight, and that's just one section of many.
Gaps could usually be sealed pretty fast once they were discovered. Kill the zeds quick and start blocking the hole off. Usually, we'd just back a car into a spot to hold it up until something more permanent could be put there. By that point, neither I nor the slayers showed up to things like that unless we were in the area.Given your abilities, wouldn't you have been an asset in those situations?
Yeah, but by that time, we'd all been run ragged by the constant attacks. The slayers and I finally had to call everyone together and tell them, unless there's ten or more of those things, handle it yourselves. I know it sounds cruel, but if we had to rush over every time a zed poked his head through a break in the barrier, we'd never get anything else done...
It's like pulling a detective away from a murder investigation, to deal with a loud music complaint. I'm not trying to say that we were better than everyone else, but those breakthroughs happened every day, and the people we were trying to save had to learn to take care of it themselves.I see. So what changed?
The day things changed was mostly like any other, at the time. We were still working on getting food from outside the barriers, mostly by building bridges to rooftops outside the safe zone. That was rough going because a lot of times, the buildings we were connecting to were overflowing with infected.
In the meantime, that meant food riots. On top of that, a family of three had been murdered in their home the night before, and the place had been emptied of anything even remotely edible. Unfortunately, that was a common occurrence; but what was happening in Argentina, now that was what everyone was talking about.
See, up until the day before, Buenos Aires had been a human stronghold. Unlike a lot of other cities around the world, it had remained more or less intact. With their huge radio tower, we could hear all of their broadcasts as clear as day.But this was in another country, hundreds of miles away from you.
It was still a beacon of hope to the people we were protecting. If the government was still in place there, the thinking was that surely Brasília was doing just as well. Think about it; the Brazilian Army was the biggest in Latin America, so if the Argentineans could do it, why not them?
The battle updates were coming through every radio in the place, you couldn't escape it. Every survivor was glued to their radio, hoping beyond hope that the Argentineans would pull through. Of course, when everyone is distracted, that's when a zed has to show up to ruin your day.
Nobody noticed it at first. Then there were two, three, four and so on. The people that were supposed to watch the barriers were taken so suddenly, they didn't even have a chance to raise the alarm. [She glares angrily.]
It was pure complacency, and it got people killed.
By the time the slayers and I arrived, there were over fifty zombies inside the safe zone. The only reason the whole place wasn't overrun, was because so many of them were fighting to get a piece of those that had already been dragged down. The rest were being more or less held back by the other survivors.
Seeing how bad it had gotten, I used 'thicken' to stop them in their tracks-I’m sorry, thicken?
Yeah. [Shakes her head.]
It's a spell that wraps the target in an almost unbreakable black ring. The idea is to hold the zeds in place, so that someone else can bash their heads in without being in any danger. It worked out really well, most of the time.
Any mid-level witch can use it pretty easily, but how strong it is really depends on the kind of power you have. The problem was, there were only two other magic users amongst the survivors, so most of the time, I was on my own in that regard.
With so many zeds, of course, it was a real strain to hold that many; but I managed. Everyone had started to calm down and take out the zombies, business as usual - when there was a cry somewhere behind me. I couldn't really do anything about what was happening, so I just kind of ignored it. Then someone turned the volume on a radio up to its highest setting, and that's when I heard it.The last broadcast.
Yeah. That beautiful voice...have you ever heard the recording that was made?No, but I'll be speaking to someone who worked at Radio Free Earth in the near future.
I've heard her name was Maria, that she was just about to get her big break when the world started to collapse.³ I really believe that was the catalyst for what happened in Rio that day. I can't think of anything else that could have done it.
3. The actual identity of the woman who sang the Spanish lullaby has never been unequivocally established.
I remember how I was struggling to keep all the zeds in check to make sure no one else got hurt or killed. I was tired as hell, up all the night before, trying to heal a woman with a spinal injury who'd fallen off a balcony. My emotions were running high, and just for a second, one second
, I had a complete breakdown.
It was anger over the situation. Hatred for those shambling corpses that had destroyed so many lives. Sorrow to hear that woman pour her heart and soul into that song, going out to those who would still survive. She knew it was all over, that lullaby was just her way of saying to the rest of us 'hey, it'll be okay
When I lost it, after that moment...every single zombie within ten blocks was gone. I had poured so much power into that thicken spell, they'd all imploded. I woke up chained to my bed hours later, surrounded by a group of very frightened slayers.They actually chained you to a bed?
There-there was someone else
...who had the same black-eyed look that I had in the past. She ended up causing a lot of problems, so they were just being cautious. Those girls were quite right, too; considering what I had just done, and the huge amount of power I had used to do it, it would have been crazy for them not to assume the worst.You said before that your appearance changed due to what happened that day. Considering all of the zombies you wiped out, and how many lives you probably saved, shouldn't your hair and eyes have turned white?
No, because white magic is about healing, love and being in tune with nature. I know it sounds all hippie-ish, but it's still true. 'Thicken' is a really gray area; it neither harms nor helps, it's just sorta in between. But when I channeled all of my anger and rage, it became a destructive force, and that’s black magic.Do you ever regret what happened, given how much you've been physically changed?
Sometimes it bothers me, sure...but considering the push we made after that to reclaim the city, I can't complain. There were a lot of people trapped in small pockets in the surrounding areas, and they would have died of starvation if I hadn't done what I did that day.
You know, I can still hear that lullaby in my head. It's there pretty much every minute of every day, haunting me. It's even in my dreams at night, I can never escape it. I think-I think when I can finally do that, maybe I'll go back to being normal...|()|()|END