'Webs and Lairs'
Author's Note: Sorry for the delay in getting this one out. Also, this isn't quite as long as I'd meant for it to be; I ran out of time, so I'm posting this despite not quite getting to my intended stopping point for the chapter. I SWEAR this story is going somewhere; we're now two chapters away from the end of the initial story arc, at which point it will really and truly turn into a Dawn/SG:1 fic, as opposed to having everyone separated.
Author's Note Pt 2: This will be incredibly self-indulgent of me, but I'll ask the favor of you anyway. As a writer who studies writing, and is trying to improve, I find myself a fan of the 'TV Tropes' website (http://tvtropes.org). If you've never been there, go check it out. If you're familiar with it, and happen to have some time, and are a fan of my work... it would be 99 different kinds of awesome if someone made an entry there for this story, or for that matter any of my stories. I'm just sayin', if you ever have the urge to do something nice for your writer, be it me or someone else, that would be an amazingly nifty thing to do. Okay, enough begging. Here's the chapter. The next one is already in progress, and should show up no later than a week after this one.
Nine Days Later....
Dawn squirmed slightly beneath the cool, silken sheets, and heaved a conflicted little sigh at the darkness. On the one hand, the activities of the last hour or so had left her feeling deliciously languid and satiated. On the other hand, once things had quieted down he had promptly fallen asleep and was now snoring directly into her ear. Loudly
His name was Colton Aldridge, and he was spooning her from behind, arms wrapped possessively around her even in sleep. Even though she knew it was pointless, she tried to Jump to the far side of his lavishly appointed bedroom. Tried, and failed. I hate that. When he wraps me up like this, the energy his body gives off 'sticks' to mine, and I can't move myself without bringing him too... and he's way too heavy for me to drag along through hyperspace or whatever.
She'd had more than a week now to practice with her ability, and that limitation had been the worst surprise she'd encountered so far (aside from the one that bound her within a given distance from the Ring, obviously). Although non-living material on her person, such as clothing and jewelry, was carried along with her when she Jumped, she could choose to leave them behind if she concentrated on doing so. Living things, however, had energy fields associated with them, and those fields interacted with her own, and actively tried to latch onto her, like magnets to iron. It was very difficult to pull away from that by Jumping. Not impossible--four days ago she'd been grabbed by a man on the street while his partner had moved to steal her purse and jewelry, and even though he'd had a hand clamped around each of her wrists she'd managed to transport herself to safety. It had been difficult, but she'd managed it. Barely. The amount of body-to-body contact was absolutely a factor; someone holding her with one or both hands she could escape, someone crushing her against their torso, she couldn't. I'm pretty sure I can learn how to manage it, though. It feels like there's a trick to it, like... leverage or something, that I can get better at if I practice. And I
am going to practice it; I don't like being trapped.
With that thought in mind, she tried again to escape the full-body embrace of her sleeping lover by Jumping a few feet away. Ugh. No good. It feels like I'm trying to lift him over my head; he's too heavy to move, and I can't unstick myself, either.
Dawn tried resorting to physical means, taking the arm that was draped over her side and lifting it up and off--
He snorted, stirred briefly, and wrapped her up even more tightly than before, pulling her close against his flat, hard chest and stomach before settling back to snoring, his arms a cage around her. She sighed again, this time with real feeling. Such a typical stockbroker--thinks he owns everything he touches.
Her range of movement was limited when she was, basically, engulfed
in his embrace like that, but she could lift her hand and put it near his face, just above and behind her head. She pushed her fingers sidewards-through
, then wiggled them back and forth, inches from his eyes. Bright green light flared to life as she stirred the unseen forces that always surrounded her, throwing shadows around the room. Colton snorted again, shook his head, and lifted his arm away to shield his eyes in clumsy, still-sleeping reflex. Dawn pulled away; a few inches was enough to break contact with him over nearly her entire body, and once she'd done that-- FlickerSNAP
She watched him settle back, his breathing slow and steady, and gave him a fond little smile as she scooped her discarded lingerie up off the floor and pulled it on. Colton wasn't a bad sort, really. He was arrogant, yes, though not without reason. He was, after all, handsome, intelligent, wealthy, funny... and amazing in bed. As she slipped on her heels and gathered the rest of her clothing into her arms, Dawn hesitated briefly, feeling a faint rekindling of desire. She could climb back into bed, wake him with kisses, and feel his so-very-skilled hands and lips on her body again....
She shivered, grinned, and shook her head. Later, Dawnie. No sense in losing points to him like that; he'd enjoy it too much if I came begging for more. He's halfway to thinking I belong to him already, and that's with him doing all the chasing. Any more encouragement from me and he'll be totally obnoxious about it
. She tip-toed out into the hallway--not without a wistful little glance back at his wonderfully gym-toned body.
The rest of the apartment was just as well-appointed as the bedroom; sleek, modern furniture and lots of expensive artworks and knick-knacks everywhere. She wasn't experienced enough to know if the look came off as cultured or just a too-obvious attempt at seeming that way, but it all seemed pretty impressive to her. Everything is a little too neat and orderly for me to feel comfortable here, though. It hardly feels lived-in at all, with everything so clean, and all the little spotlights shining on the paintings and sculptures and antiques.
Sneaking through the huge apartment in nothing but her high-heels and lingerie, Dawn found she couldn‘t keep a wicked little smile from her lips. I’ve been in lots of places filled with expensive things, and stolen lots of them, just never with
this much skin showing!
She giggled, trying her best to keep it quiet, even though Colton was a ridiculously heavy sleeper. Come to think of it, there were a few times when my life might have been a lot easier if I’d been dressed like this--that guard at the art show in Portland had no sense of humor at all... but he could hardly take his eyes off me. Maybe I should have some kind of special burglar outfit made that’s, like, designed to short-circuit men’s brains?
She entered the study, which was lined with shelves full of expensive first editions that Colton had never even considered reading. Her heels clicked quietly as she moved to a large glass case and peered down at the dozens of rare and valuable coins that lay gleaming on their black velvet cushions. It’s not like I need to steal any of his things for money; I'm set for a long time, with what I've grabbed in the last few days. Nope, this is just for fun--and to make sure Colton knows he doesn't own me.
There were two spots in the case that were conspicuous by their emptiness--two places where small gold coins had rested until very recently. Two coins gone missing, one for each of the two previous times he had taken her to his bed. Ha! He was sooo mad when he saw the first one was gone--he stormed up to me the next night in the club, and actually snarled at me, wanting to know if I'd taken it. When I just said 'yes', he didn't know
what to do!
She'd refused his demand that she return it to him, and his anger had turned to surprise and puzzlement, and eventually to amusement. To be honest, she’d been a bit surprised by that particular turn of events. He gave the impression of being a total control freak--he was
a total control freak! All she could figure was that he was so used to women falling all over him that he found it refreshing for someone to defy him. Of course, it was a very minor, completely harmless sort of defiance--she doubted he would have found it nearly as cute if she’d cleared out his entire apartment instead of taking just the one coin.
And finally, a beautiful young woman with the ability to steal something from a locked case, with no trace of how she'd done it, seemed to intrigue him. After she'd admitted to the theft, and refused his repeated demands for its return in the most kittenish and flirty ways she could devise, he'd stayed with her all that evening. They'd talked and danced and flirted till the club closed down, and then he had brought her to his apartment for another round of very satisfying sex.
And after he fell asleep, she made a point of stealing another golden coin as she left. He handled it just as well the second time, too; when he saw me tonight all he did was smile at me, like I'd done something funny and adorable that made him laugh. And the things he did to me in bed tonight when we got back here--ohhh, so nice. If it bothers him at all to have me taking his toys, he's willing to put up with it so long as he gets to keep playing with
Dawn shivered a little, and not just from the chill of the apartment as she stood there in nothing but a gauzy negligee. With a little shake of her head to drive those thoughts away, she reached for the case. It was of museum quality; heavy glass set in an attractive framework of brushed steel nearly as solid as the girders that held up the building. She paused when she saw the brand new locking mechanism; an intricate thing of gleaming metal that looked like it had been dreamed up by some crazed watchmaker who secretly longed to build bank vaults. It seemed to require two oddly-shaped keys to open, as well as the proper manipulation of a complex arrangement of small, sliding levers.
With a soft laugh and a quick glance towards the hallway to make sure Colton hadn't awakened, Dawn bent down and lightly pressed her lips to the cool metal of the lock. One soft kiss, when infused with the power of the Key, was more than enough to defeat the device. With a quiet triple-click, it disengaged, and she slid the door at the back of the case aside. Her hair spilled forward past her shoulders in a silken rush as she leaned over, and she used one hand to keep it clear as she reached inside. She had no clue which coins were the most valuable, and it didn't matter to her in the least. She chose one basically at random, simply because it featured a seven-rayed star design that appealed to her. Leaving all the rest of the gleaming gold untouched, she closed the panel and relocked it with a touch of her finger. There; take that!
She wasn't sure who she was addressing; Colton, or Willow, or the cold and uncaring universe. What she was
sure of was how comforting and satisfying it was to clasp that coin in both hands and press them tightly to her chest. No more taking things away from me; not ever again. Now, I get to take things. Anything I want, any time I want.
It occurred to her that Faith would be very proud, if she could see how Dawn was dealing with her situation, how she was taking whatever she wanted and using whoever was at hand to satisfy her needs and desires. Buffy, on the other hand.... Buffy would understand. She wouldn't like all the stealing, but she would want me to be rich, and have nice things, and boink hot guys... right? If those things made me happy, she wouldn't hate me for being selfish and just a teeny bit evil, would she?
Dawn wanted to believe that.
One last look around, to be sure she'd closed the case properly and still had her dress tucked under her arm, then she visualized where she wanted to go.
The room around her vanished in a flare of green light.
* * * * *
“--So despite there being clear evidence that it was inhabited by humans in the recent past, the amount of dust in the upper atmosphere, plus the extremely low Oxygen levels, seem to point to some kind of catastrophic event that wiped out all life other than bacteria, mosses and lichens.”
Jack watched as Carter went through the motions of the debriefing, relating the findings of their latest mission to General Hammond. She looked
normal enough, and the voice was a close approximation of her usual tone... but he could see that underneath the veneer of professionalism she was still struggling. As tough as she was, it would take more than a few days to get over being invaded and controlled by a Goa'uld, even a self-described 'good' version such as Jolinar had claimed to be.
"Do we know if this event was the result of an attack?" Hammond asked from his place at the head of the table. Carter shook her head.
"There's nothing conclusive that we could discover from the area around the Gate, sir. Background radiation seemed normal, so it wasn't a 'Nuclear Winter' scenario, at least. That doesn't rule out natural causes, though. A series of supervolcano eruptions could result in what we saw, or it could have been an asteroid impact."
Teal'c stirred, and gave Hammond an impassive look.
"The Goa'uld have been known to employ such methods against worlds that are deemed too troublesome to conquer, yet too dangerous to ignore. Several Ha’tak motherships working in concert can redirect small asteroids with relative ease."
Jack scowled at the tabletop.
"Great. One more way they have to wipe us out, and unless we come up with something a lot meaner than a Shuttle, there's not a thing we can do to stop it."
An uncomfortable silence weighed on them then, until Carter cleared her throat and continued with her report.
"So far as useful technology, it looks like the inhabitants were somewhat more advanced than we are in some areas, a bit less so in others. Their metallurgy, for example, looks very interesting. Unfortunately, the low Oxygen means that any teams going back will need specialized equipment--possibly some light vehicles to carry spare breathing tanks and to allow the retrieval of a wider selection of samples."
Hammond nodded, making several notes on the paper in front of him.
"Very good, and well done, all of you." He glanced up at Carter, and his expression softened slightly. "Captain Carter, I have no complaints with your work on this mission, but if you change your mind about needing additional time to recover--"
"I'm fine, sir," Carter interjected, perhaps a little too forcefully. She took a breath, and continued in a normal tone. "I mean, no, sir, I'm fully fit for duty, and Doctor Frasier has confirmed that to you already, I believe." There was something slightly brittle about her as she regarded him, though she was too proud to let anything like pleading show in her expression. The general watched her for a moment, then shot O'Neill a questioning glance.
"No complaints, sir." Jack said, echoing Hammond's comment from a minute before. "I can say with confidence that Captain Carter is as ridiculously intelligent and competent an officer as she was before the... incident... and all of us have complete confidence in her." He said it in an offhanded way, as befitted something that was obvious to everyone present. Carter looked torn between being grateful for his support and embarrassed by the praise, so all was well on that front. To his credit, Hammond took him at his word, and let the matter drop without further comment.
"Very well. Captain, if you have any specific suggestions for the follow-up mission team, I'd like them on my desk by the end of the day."
Carter nodded, and, in the normal course of affairs, that would have been the end of the meeting. Of late, however, there had been an unofficial addition to the format. As usual, it was Daniel who spoke up first.
"So... is there any word?"
The general folded his hands atop the mission folder and gave them each a brief look before he answering.
"All I've been told--officially--is that 'the threat remains unresolved, and all appropriate security precautions should be maintained until further notice'. Which is just another way of saying that the girl is still at large.”
“And that all of us are still laughing at the egg on Maybourne’s face,” Jack added. Hammond’s lips twitched into a microsecond smile that was there and gone in an instant, even as he nodded gravely.
“That too,” He agreed. “Because of the sightings, and the camera footage from the various ATM’s she’s compromised--plus the two bank vaults--it’s clear that she’s spending at least part of her time in the vicinity of Denver, and to a lesser extent Colorado Springs. That’s made certain persons in the chain of command nervous enough to authorize routing copies of all of Maybourne’s reports to me, since the only reason anyone can think of for her to stay in this area is if her plans have something to do with the SGC.”
“That’s assuming she has
a plan, General,” Daniel pointed out. “Other than, you know, stealing a lot
of money.” He glanced at Jack. “How much is it up to now?”
“The six ATM’s only added up to about a hundred and eighty thousand, but when she got tired of that and moved up to the vaults it got out of hand pretty fast.” He looked at Carter. “Last I heard it was over two million?”
“Two point four five million dollars in cash, total, so far. That doesn’t count all of the safe deposit boxes she emptied out while she was at it, though. I think they’re still trying to get an accurate list of what was taken from those.”
Jack couldn’t help smirking.
“Given how crazy she is about anything shiny, I’m guessing any jewelry that was in there now has a new home. I really
wish I could follow Maybourne around and watch while he tries to keep a lid on all of this. Someone breaking into bank vaults without leaving a mark on them is the kind of stuff the cable news channels love to talk about. He must be twisting a lot
of arms to keep it this quiet.”
While he’d been talking, Hammond had located a particular folder from the stack in front of him. Opening it up, he passed out several densely-typed sheets.
“The latest reports we have. There’s been activity in Denver, Pueblo and Colorado Springs over the last twenty-four hours. Now that the NID has their facial recognition program plugged into every surveillance camera they can find, they’re getting a fair number of confirmed sightings.”
“I’ve seen some of that data, sir,” Carter said. “The problem is that the girl only has to go somewhere via car or on foot once, then she can teleport there every time after that. It makes it incredibly difficult to build up a pattern for her movements, or to try and follow her to whatever location she’s using as a home base.”
Jack, despite his preference for ignoring any form of written report if at all possible, nevertheless found himself skimming the papers Hammond had given them.
“Hmm. A bank manager called the cops when a homeless man came in and tried to open up a checking account,” he said, paraphrasing the report. “Turns out the guy was out three nights ago, panhandling in front of some fancy restaurant. A girl walked up, started to go inside, but stopped when he complimented her on how pretty she looked.” Jack smirked at the obvious ploy there, though of course in this girl’s case it wasn’t undeserved. “She stops, thanks him, then asks why he doesn’t have a better jacket.” Skimming ahead, he blinked, then whistled softly. “He gives her his spiel, asks her for a dollar, and according to him she ‘went all green and blurry, because the aliens used their beams to take her away’. She disappears, leaves the guy there, wondering what happened, then a minute later she blips back in. She hands him a coat and a sleeping bag, both with the tags still on them, and disappears again. He puts the coat on, wonders why the pockets are stuffed full of paper, and finds eight thousand dollars
Carter’s eyes went wide.
“Wow. If that gets out, every single woman on the street is going to be getting a lot
of random compliments.”
Daniel leaned across, trying to see the report.
“Did they let him keep the money? It sounds like he needed some help.”
Jack scanned the rest, then shook his head.
“Doesn’t say.” Skipping ahead to the next entry, he found himself grinning. “And by the way, don’t go thinking she’s all sweetness and light all of a sudden. The manager of a movie theater outside of Pueblo reported a disturbance yesterday afternoon. Seems a bunch of people were in line to get their drinks and popcorn, when somebody’s boyfriend made a little too much eye contact with an individual who’s description seems oddly familiar to me. This person, who we’ll randomly designate ‘Dawn’, apparently responded by flirting back at him... at which point his girlfriend became... upset.” He glanced up at Carter, who was already wincing. Off-the-charts brilliant or no, she was still a female too, and knew very well how they tended to respond when their territory was invaded.
“Apparently there was an initial phase, with lots of insults and glaring; everyone agrees that the girlfriend was throwing ‘slut’ around a lot, and that Dawn’s response had ‘psychotic bitch’ in there somewhere.”
Teal’c, who was intimately familiar with the standard modes of ritual combat, nodded sagely.
“A serviceable means of initiating a duel.”
Jack cocked an eyebrow at him before looking back down at the written account.
“That might have been the end of it, except the girlfriend actually took a swing at her, and landed a solid slap to the face. Everyone has a different take on what happened next, but it definitely involved Dawn standing there for about five seconds, looking like she couldn’t believe that really happened. Then she threw a ‘Giganto(tm) sized’ drink in the girl’s face. Her eyes started to glow, and there was a flicker of light, and two more drinks get thrown. Then--” He frowned, reading through the next paragraph. “Well, basically there were ten or twenty seconds of flickering green light and this girl nearly getting drowned. It looks like basically anything in the whole lobby that was in a drink cup ended up in the girlfriend‘s face.”
Daniel was looking a bit shocked.
“Oh my god.”
Jack only shrugged.
“Yeah, well, teenage girls; what are you gonna do?” He flipped the page and found a somewhat grainy photo. “Hey, somebody finally got their cameraphone out. They missed the exciting part, but here’s the aftermath.”
The girl looked like she was quite pretty... usually. In the picture, however, she was standing knee-deep in a pile of large, empty cups, and looked like she’d been standing under a veritable waterfall of cola and slushies. She was huddled in on herself, crying, and looked to be in shock, even as a young man who was probably the boyfriend tentatively reached out to comfort her... while trying not to get too sticky in the process.
Carter, examining the photo, looked like she couldn’t decide between frowning in concern or smiling in appreciation of a battle well fought.
“Well,” She ventured finally. “As retaliations go, at least it was... non-lethal?”
Jack nodded in agreement.
“And it’s good to know that she can spam the teleport that way. The girlfriend is lucky Dawn settled for something harmless, instead of doing real damage.”
Hammond frowned at him.
“Not everyone would agree with your evaluation of ‘harmless’, Colonel. Certainly not the people she’s making a habit of stealing from.” He indicated the report in front of him. “Early yesterday evening the second-largest jewelry retailer in the state was robbed. There was no sign of forced entry, but the intruder was caught on their security cameras.” He slid a series of color photographs across the table. Daniel took them, adjusting his glasses as he examined the images.
“Well, that’s her all right. Nice resolution on these, by the way. I doubt the camera I use on our missions is this good.” He started to pass the photos to Carter, stopped, and took a closer look at the top one. “Wait. Is she wearing headphones?
What, is she listening to music while she‘s robbing this place?”
“Apparently our guest isn’t terribly concerned about getting caught.”
Carter had barely glanced at the photos, she was scanning the written reports instead.
“She’s got good reason to be confident, sir, since she can escape instantly whenever she likes.” Flipping the page, she continued reading. “It says here that she only took five items; a pair of earrings, a bracelet, and three rings. Only five, even though she was on camera for almost ten minutes, and opened over a dozen cases full of very expensive items.”
Jack got the pictures as they were passed around the table, and snorted softly at what he saw.
“Seriously, she was trying stuff on?
Look at this--she’s going through them like she’s shopping, trying things on and looking at herself in the mirror.”
Daniel only nodded, as if it confirmed what he’d thought all along.
“It wasn’t a robbery. Or, at least not a serious one. She’s not out to maximize her profits, she just... has no regard for anyone else’s property.”
Jack's half-smile faded as he regarded the girl in the photo. "Yeah, well; she
might think it's all some kind of game, doing what she's doing, but eventually some cop or security guard is going to shoot her in the back instead of giving her a chance to surrender." He saw Daniel wince, and his mouth pulled into a lopsided grimace--irrational or not, the other man blamed himself for their failure to bring the girl in when they'd had the chance. If anything serious happened to her, Daniel's self-appointed guilt would escalate by a factor of a thousand.
"So, hey," He said, attempting to lighten the mood a little. "Has anyone thought about just aiming a spy satellite straight down at Denver? With all the diamonds she's carrying off from these places, the sparkles alone should be enough to track her from orbit."
Daniel, in that oddly literal mode he dropped into when focusing on a problem, frowned at him, then peered closely at one photo, then another.
"Um, I think they're mostly sapphires and emeralds, not diamonds.... I seriously have to find out who makes these video cameras--"
"Actually, sir, that's already being tried." O'Neill shot Carter an incredulous look, and she gave a tiny little exasperated motion of her head before continuing. "I mean, no, not the sparkle thing, obviously. However, the NID has
requested that the Phaedra
x-ray telescope be repositioned to look Earthward, and the orbital track has been adjusted to overfly Colorado." She drew a folder of her own out of the stack before her, and flipped through it until she found a particular memo. "Also, because I'm involved in some of the research being done at Area 51, I'm informed whenever significant science assets there are retasked." She glanced up at them, and tapped the memo with one finger. "At 0600 hours this morning, several truckloads of high-energy sensors and other equipment were shipped out, on their way to Schriever Air Force Base."
Jack leaned back in his seat, considering that. Schriever was a smallish facility on the far Eastern edge of Colorado Springs, just fifteen miles from the Cheyenne Mountain complex. It was also the location that Maybourne had chosen as his HQ after General Hammond had successfully lobbied for the NID to be barred from using the SGC as their base of operations. On paper the reason given was something about ‘causing undue disruption to the offworld program’. The reality was more along the lines of ‘various SGC personnel are waiting for any excuse to beat the living crap out of the NID officers’.
“They’re going to try to use the satellite and this other equipment to track the girl?” Hammond asked, looking intrigued despite his distaste at anything involving Maybourne. “Can they do that, Captain? Get a fix on her position by detecting some kind of energy emissions given off when she teleports?”
“In a word, sir: no.” Everyone there was used to the usual scientist thing of never stating anything in absolute terms, since even really crazy-seeming things often had at least a small chance of being proven correct. In this case, however, Carter didn’t seem to see it that way. “Basically, General, given what we’ve seen so far, a tribe of Neanderthals using tools chipped out of flint would have a better chance of discovering the Neutrino. Nothing the NID can deploy is qualitatively better than the detection equipment we have set up to monitor the Stargate, and we’ve already had multiple teleport events take place, literally within arm’s reach of those sensors without giving us any readings at all.” She shrugged, looking torn between disappointment at the failure of her instruments and satisfaction at the prospect of yet more embarrassment for the NID. “The truth of the matter is, we don’t yet have the tools to deal with whatever forces are at work here. I mean, we haven’t even managed to reverse-engineer a Zat yet, and that’s one of the simpler examples of alien technology we’ve encountered. This thing that the girl, that ‘Dawn’ is doing... that’s almost certainly several orders of magnitude more complex.”
Daniel predictably looked pleased by anything that seemed to favor the girl’s chances of staying uncaptured, but Jack had no choice but to inject a dose of reality into the proceedings.
“Okay guys, as much as we’d all like to believe our mystery guest is harmless, and that Maybourne is going to keep tripping over himself for the next five years or so, there’s something we all need to keep in mind. As much as we dislike the man, he does know what he’s doing. The whole teleport thing might be giving him trouble, the same way it did with us, but he has a lot of experience in tracking down insurgents; all of them a lot meaner and nastier than our little Dawn could ever dream of being. And even if the tech ends up not helping, he’s got over seventy field operatives in Colorado under his direct command now, plus the ability to call on all the resources of the Air Force.” He looked at Hammond, got a grave nod of agreement, then turned to Daniel. “We’d better hope she decides to come back and talk to us. Soon. Because if he has enough time, eventually Maybourne will
find her. And somehow I don’t think he’s going to be especially gentle with what comes after that.”
* * * * *
Nearly an hour after she’d done it, the broken fingernails still
hurt so badly that Dawn was nearly in tears.
“Ow. Ow. Owwwwwwwwwwww!”
Fresh out of the shower, still dripping despite having one towel wrapped around her body and a second twisted around her hair, she stood at the bathroom sink and finished applying a fresh set of band-aids. Thankfully the bleeding had stopped; now it was just a matter of not hitting them on anything.
“Yeah, good luck with that, Dawn,” she grumbled aloud. “Fingers and hands; touching things is kind of the whole point.” And it wasn’t just the two painfully-throbbing fingertips that were the problem; her hands sported a number of other scuffs, scrapes, bruises and blisters--all courtesy of three days spent working on getting her new lair into semi-livable condition. Three days of ‘porting out junk, shoveling and sweeping and scrubbing. Then, this morning, things had been going pretty well until her hand slipped once--just once
--and the next thing she knew she’d snapped two nails off to the bloody quick.
Even recalling that made her wince, and her fingers throbbed a little more fiercely. Trying not to think about it, she picked up her comb and hairdryer. Leaning out of the little bathroom she checked the door, nodding to herself when she saw it was still closed, still blocked by the chair and little writing desk that were standard issue in basically every single hotel room in the world. Switching on the dryer, she pulled the towel from her hair and lost herself in the familiar ritual of drying that luxurious mane.
“All that work, and if I want to wash off the dust and dirt I still
have to come here to take a shower; why am I even bothering with this?!” Even to herself she sounded petulant and whiney, so she stopped, took a breath and held it, stared at herself in the mirror and exhaled in a whoosh. “I’m ‘bothering’ with it so that I’ve got a safe place, duh! Someplace where nobody could ever find me in a million years.” Even though she was trying to be careful as she combed, she snagged her fingertip on her hair and gave an agonized little squeak. “Ouch! Damn it!” She transferred the hair dryer to her bad hand, willing to deal with the awkwardness of using the wrong hands for that half of her hair if it meant avoiding any more missteps like that one. “Besides, it’s fine,” she continued, speaking to her reflection. “There’s seriously thousands and thousands and thousands of hotel rooms that I can reach; it’s not like those military guys are going to walk into this exact one right when I happen to be using it, right?” She frowned; that seemed entirely too much like tempting fate, so she leaned out and checked the door again. It was still closed and completely undisturbed, which made her smile a little.
“Looks like this dimension really is
different from mine; there’s no way I would have gotten away with saying that back home.”
So far as she could tell, this world was unlike her own in lots of ways, though surprisingly similar in most others. For example, there seemed to be no magic in this place at all. None of the self-proclaimed Witches or mystics she’d investigated had shown even a shred of real power, and showing them how she
could wake trails of light in the air and magick open padlocks hadn’t resulted in any of them showing her something supernatural in return.
In the same vein (ha ha, she cracked herself up) there didn’t seem to be a single vampire or demon anywhere, at least not within the circle of territory she could reach. After a few nights of wandering down dangerous-looking alleys and through shadowy city parks, she was now fairly sure that the only things lurking in the dark places of this world were ordinary human beings; some of them not at all nice, but all of them completely mundane.
“And no Buffy,” she murmured sadly, the strokes of the comb slowing as she recalled the online searches she’d done at the library, and the dozens of phone calls to people with certain names, living in certain cities. “No mom, no dad, no Giles, or Xander, or Tara... and thank gods, no Willow.” It sort of went without saying that there’d been no counterpart for Dawn herself in this world; she hadn’t existed physically in any
world until the monks took it upon themselves to create a body for her from a stolen drop of Buffy’s blood.
Speaking of which....
“Definitely changing,” she told herself, peering at her reflection, even leaning in close to the mirror to get a better look. She turned her head from one side to the other, then nodded. “Yep, that is not the nose I started with, two years ago in Sunnydale.” She’d had conversations with Giles, even before that fateful night on the tower, with her asking what, exactly, she was, and him throwing out his best guesses. And his theory had been that Dawn was Buffy’s twin (because ‘clone’ was such
an ugly word). When she’d replied by asking why, then, was she almost seven inches taller, with completely different features, he’d spread his hands and speculated that the ritual that created her had included some deliberate ‘tweaks’ to her appearance, in order to diffuse the suspicion that a younger, identical Buffy would have prompted.
“But underneath it all, I’m still a copy of her,” Dawn said softly. “And some of those ‘tweaks’ started coming unstuck not long after she died, so I’m going back to something closer to the... blueprint, I guess.”
The weird thing was, she was basically okay with that. Her nose had been pretty in its own way, though it had
been a little too prominent for her liking. Now, so slowly that it had taken two years for her to even notice, it was morphing into something very close to Buffy’s cute little button version. Even the height thing wasn’t that bad; it had been over a year now since she’d realized that she was losing inches, albeit very, very slowly. Almost three inches in about fifteen months; that puts me about halfway there, if I’m going to end up as short as she was... gods, please don’t let me end up short
In spite of everything she found herself grinning, imagining Buffy’s glee if she’d been able to see this. So many times, Dawn had mocked her diminutive sister, and now she seemed destined to share her vertically-challenged fate. She would be teasing me constantly. Like, ‘Hey Dawnie, can you get those plates down for me? Awww, you can’t, can you?’ or ‘Hey Dawnie, be careful if you go outside, we haven’t mowed the yard this week and you could get lost in there!’.
She blinked, and her smile faded. I wish you were here, Buffy. I know you were tired, at the end, but this place doesn’t have monsters and demons. It doesn’t need you to give up everything you are to save it. There’s just me, and these stupid soldiers, and I could really use some help from my big sister... even if you would be calling me ‘Mini-me’ pretty soon.
She shook her head, turned off the hair dryer and set it on the sink before picking up a pair of elastic ties. Even with her sore fingers slowing her it only took a minute to comb out her hair and tie it into a pair of unbraided pigtails. Probably a good thing to try and look as young and innocent as possible for this next thing--the lady renting the apartment is way older, and those usually don’t like young girls who are too sexy-looking.
For the same reason she was going completely makeup-free, which, if anything, almost made her look too
young. She shook off that worry, considered herself in the mirror, and finally nodded. It’s fine, it’s going to go fine, so just relax. Think of how nice it will be to actually have my own shower!
She tugged lightly at a pigtail as she opened herself to the crystalline lake of power, watching her blue-green eyes begin to shimmer as she drank deeply of that energy. I will be so upset if my eyes end up changing color too. Buffy’s green ones were cute and everything, but mine are a million times prettier.
* * * * *
“--And right through here is the bedroom. I’m afraid there’s only the one, and it’s a little on the small side....”
The old woman opened the door and stood aside so Dawn could peek into the room. It was small; barely big enough for the bed and a wardrobe. The dark wood paneling made the space a bit dim, even when she flipped on the light, though that also left the space looking warm and comfortable. Taking the one and a half steps it took to reach the bed from the door, she sat on the edge of the bed and bounced experimentally. Pleased with the result, she gave the woman a bright smile.
“It’s not ‘small’, Ms. Hannon, it’s cozy
That won her a smile, and the two of them went back out into the main room. The ‘apartment’ wasn’t really that so much as it was the third floor of a large, Victorian house. That made for low ceilings, lots of dormer windows, odd nooks and cubbyholes, and a general feeling of solidity and age.
“My daughter lived with me for ages, after her divorce,” Ms. Hannon said, continuing the story she’d begun earlier. “Of course, being a grown woman and all, she wanted her privacy, so we fixed all of this up for her; the bathroom is only ten years old; did you see the fixtures? Aren‘t they lovely?” Dawn nodded in agreement.
“It’s a great bathroom.”
“Well, so she lived here, since she couldn’t work after hurting her back. Then last year she finally got married again, and here I was, all by myself again.” There was an insistent bark from down by her ankle, and the woman carefully bent to scoop the little dog up in her arms. “Oh, I didn’t mean to forget you
, little stinky! Of course I‘m not by myself so long as you‘re here!” Dawn smiled, and extended a cautious hand. The little creature sniffed at her, then yipped and started licking at her nails. With a giggle she stroked his silky ears, and scritched behind them carefully. The Pekinese gave a little doggie sigh and closed his eyes in bliss.
“Uh oh, now you’ve done it!” The woman told her, smiling. “He’ll never give you a moment’s peace now; you’ll either be scratching his ears or listening to him beg.”
Dawn pulled her hand back, and sure enough, the little dog’s eyes snapped open and he stared pleadingly at her, whining. She had to laugh.
“Hey, I do the exact same thing, when I’m trying to get my way. Guess I can’t complain about somebody else doing it to me.”
She turned in place, looking around. The third floor living quarters were in a sort of ‘H’ shape, only with one of the four arms missing. No one part of it was very big at all, but there was a compact kitchen, the aforementioned bathroom, one bedroom, a long, narrow living room that was also home to an antique dresser and mirror, and an empty space that she envisioned turning into a walk-in closet. Best of all, it came fully furnished, so all she needed to do was bring in her few boxes of things and she’d be set.
“I love it.” She told the woman with complete sincerity.
Ms. Hannon smiled in relief. Even if she hadn’t said so, Dawn suspected that the upkeep on such a large house was more than she could really handle on a fixed income.
“You’re sure?” She asked. “I know all the stairs are a bother, and having to come in through the downstairs... well, since it was just Tina, there was no need to put in a separate door downstairs....”
“It’s fine,” Dawn assured her. “Stairs are totally not
an issue for me. So long as you’re okay with me creeping through on my way in or out?”
The woman shook her head firmly, and the girl was struck by how spry the old gal was. For someone who looked to be in her mid eighties, she seemed amazingly energetic.
“Not at all. Though of course I would have been nervous renting to a man, instead of a nice young lady like you.” She paused then, and her eyes turned just the tiniest bit stern. “Speaking of, I’ll ask you to promise not
to bring any young men home with you.”
Dawn drew herself up in response and nodded very primly.
“And there’ll be no smoking in my house.”
That made her want to whine and try to argue for an exception, but the fact that she could ‘step out’ any time she wanted let her stifle the urge.
The woman nodded, then suddenly grew a bit uncertain.
“Well then. About the rent....” She hesitated, then went on in a rush. “Would three hundred a month be all right? Because if not, I can maybe go to two hundred and fifty, or even two hundred...?”
Frowning, Dawn wondered what the problem was.
“I thought the sign out front said five hundred?”
Ms. Hannon looked down at the dog cradled in her arms and seemed more interested in stroking his head than in meeting Dawn’s gaze.
“That was before--I mean, well, there’ve been a few people who came in to look, but they all said that was much too high. So, if you’re interested in renting, I’m willing to be, uh, flexible... about the amount.”
Dawn regarded her silently for several moments, wondering just how far behind in her bills the nice lady really was, now that her daughter wasn’t helping with things.
“No,” she said, her tone one of finality.
Ms. Hannon looked confused, then desperately disappointed.
“No? I’m sorry, if two hundred is too much then maybe I can go a little lower--”
no,” Dawn told the woman, gently overriding her. Reaching into her purse, she pulled out a thick roll of cash and started counting out hundred dollar bills. “The sign said five hundred a month, and I happen to think it’s worth every penny. So... here’s my first three months’ rent, okay?” She took hold of one unresisting hand and turned it over so that she could lay the money in her palm. “There. Now, can I start moving in today? I don’t have tons of things anyway, just a bunch of clothes, mostly....”
The woman was staring at her, eyes wide. For a moment she really did look her age, with her face creased and wrinkled as she teetered on the brink of tears. Then she smiled, and was suddenly thirty years younger, and radiating joy.
“Oh, you beautiful thing! Of course you can move in whenever you like! Here, come downstairs with me and I’ll get you a key to the house. Wouldn’t do much good to have the apartment if you didn’t have that
“If you say so.” Dawn murmured, following her to the door that opened directly onto a steep flight of stairs. A little more loudly she said: “Ms. Hannon? Would it be okay if I had a locksmith come and put a lock on this door? I know that your daughter didn’t need one, because it was you and her, and it’s not that I
don’t trust you, it’s just that--”
“No, no, it’s fine. Of course
you want your privacy.” They reached the second floor, and the woman turned to look at her, a faintly anxious expression on her face. “You know, I’m sure I’m supposed to have some paperwork for you to sign, but to be honest, I have no idea where to get it, or what it’s supposed to say.” She nodded in the direction of the street outside. “I didn’t even bother with trying to put an ad in the paper, or one of those ‘apartment finder’ magazines; it all seemed so complicated. A sign out front, like back in the old days, seemed like it should be enough.” That’s completely perfect
, Dawn thought to herself.
“That’s completely understandable,” Dawn said out loud. “And it worked out fine. I saw it when I was driving by--” In a stolen car, at night, while filing away new and interesting and useful teleport locations. “--And I love your house, Ms. Hannon! It’s like, really really old, isn’t it?” The woman chuckled, setting down the little dog and heading down yet more stairs, carefully, but with ample energy.
“Call me Wendy, if you like. And it is
an old place; older than me, even, by quite a bit.”
“Cool. And you can call me D--” Whoops. Better not get too careless, even with her. Stick to the made up name, Dawnie.
“--Rachel. That’s me, Rachel Greene. Or just Rachel, like I said.”
She hadn’t watched enough television here to know if Friends
had been on the air in this universe. Hopefully Wendy wouldn’t think it more than a coincidence, even if she recognized the name. Entering the large, warm kitchen at the back of the ground floor, she watched as the dog, ‘Stinky-Dink’, leapt up on one of the chairs and whined at her hopefully. She smiled down at him, gave him his scritches, and looked up to find Wendy offering her a brass key.
“Here you are. Now, just try not to not to startle me too much when you’re coming in, please? I don’t have any heart problems, but an old woman needs to be careful about sudden frights.”
Dawn took the key she’d never need to use and slipped it into her pocket. Reassuring her new landlady was easy when she could be perfectly truthful.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be in and out all the time and you’ll never even see me.”
* * * * * FlickerSNAP
Dawn appeared in the middle of what she was calling her ‘Crypt’, since it reminded her more than a little of Spike’s lair back in Sunnydale. Except mine is much, much more secret than his,
she gloated to herself. No one is ever going to find me here!
All but one of the light fixtures were working now, thank to new florescent bulbs obtained during her many midnight raids. In fact, hardware stores across the state had suffered as a direct result of her efforts to turn the place into a respectable hideaway.
There were three rooms total; a smallish break area/lunch room, with a set of men’s and women’s bathrooms lying just beyond their appropriately-marked doors. The booths and tables were straight out of the early 1970’s, with bright orange plastic and dingy white vinyl being the main elements. There was a cola vending machine standing against one wall, so ancient that even the standardized ‘Pepsi’ logo had visibly evolved since then. It didn’t work, obviously, and she had no idea how she was ever going to get it out of there, since it was hugely too big and heavy for her to teleport elsewhere. The sink beside it did work, however, and thanks to roughly twenty gallons of liquid drain cleaner, the water hardly backed up at all, anymore. The linoleum underfoot was yellowed and ugly with age, but it was also as clean as scrubbing could make it.
The energies of the Lake thrumming comfortingly within her, Dawn walked to her favorite booth; the one in the far right corner, half-hidden behind the Pepsi machine, and plopped down. The room was bright, and chilly, and very, very quiet. Tilting her head back, she looked at the ceiling and tried to imagine what was happening up above. The Silver Mountain Ski Lodge--it’s a long way from being the nicest or newest resort in Vail, no doubt about that. On the other hand, that’s why I came to check it out. Really old buildings like this have hidden or forgotten places in them, sometimes. Places that haven’t been used in so long that nobody even knows they’re there... like this. Thirty or forty years ago, there was some kind of sun deck on this side of the resort, halfway carved out of the hillside. There was a little cafe here, where they made hot chocolate or whatever for the skiers, with this break room behind it. From what that maid told me, that all went away when the deck caught fire one night, and nearly burned the whole place down. They closed that part up instead of rebuilding it, turned the cafe into a storeroom, and forgot this part was even here.
Vail was one of the more interesting parts of Colorado anyway, and just
within the two hundred and forty mile circle that now defined her world, so of course she’d explored the place. A little late-night creeping through several of the older resorts had swiftly followed, with the discovery of these rooms providing her with the perfect place to establish a secure retreat.
“Xander would call it his ‘fortress of solitude’,” she told the echoing silence. “I think it’s a little too solitary for my taste. I wonder if I can pick up any channels on a television if I bring one in here?”
There wasn’t a television yet, but she had lots of other things. Three of the six booths were piled high with expensive clothes, and two more were littered with jewelry. A chest-high wall of shoeboxes half-hid the old corkboard where the lodge used to put notices for their employees, and two waist-length mink coats hung from the coat rack the original builders had thoughtfully provided. There were several large clear plastic storage totes full of money, also; those were stacked just inside the men’s bathroom, since she doubted she would ever have any other use for that particular area.
She had a selection of ‘assemble it yourself’ furniture too; shelves and small tables to hold her various treasures, still in the boxes, waiting for her to put them together. Just the thought of dealing with more screws made her teeth clench and her fingers throb. She glared at the rechargeable drill, still lying in the corner where she’d flung it a couple of hours earlier. The door that led out to the storage room, and from there to the stairs up to the Lodge’s main level, was almost
secure. That is, it was shut, and there were a dozen or so metal mending plates spaced along the edges, with long screws holding it immovably closed. There were several additional plates which she’d meant to screw into place, but that had been before her hand slipped, and well....
Looking at her fingers, she saw that the two band-aids were spotted with red. I should change these before I go out clubbing tonight. And maybe take some things to my new place--yay me, I have a new place! With a shower and everything!
She bounced up and looked around, wondering how much she could safely transfer to Ms. Hannon’s house. Most of the clothes, sure. Some of the jewelry; best leave the most expensive things, though. Definitely leave the cash here, except for maybe a couple of thousand dollars of spending money.
She fiddled with the slightly loose bandage on her fingertip, and searched through the clutter for a minute or so before she remembered leaving the box on the sink in the little hotel room, along with her hair dryer and comb. Ack! Stupid Dawn; now I’ll have to go grab all new ones. Or...?
She glanced at the round, decades-old yet perfectly functional clock on the wall. I’ve only been gone a little over an hour. It’s all probably still sitting right where I left it. And even if it isn’t, if some maid found it, and is standing right there wondering where they came from, no big deal, I’ll just blip right back out before she can do more than blink.
She visualized the room, all bland and colorless, and wished herself there. FlickerSNAP
She was there, standing beside the... no, standing beside where the bed had
been, an hour earlier. It wasn’t there now; and neither was the television, or the little desk and chair she’d left propped against the door. There wasn’t any furniture at all in the room now, just a few large, cases sitting open on the floor, with two men crouched beside them, facing away from her. Dawn took a reflexive step back, still trying to process the unexpected tableau. Something brushed against her back, and she whirled to find fully half the room filled with curtains of metallic strands dangling from the ceiling to nearly brush the carpet. Their ceiling attachments were lines of cable that crisscrossed the overhead in a dense pattern, with wires running down the walls and across the floor to where the men crouched. There were several large coils sitting there too; more of the cable and strands arrangement that they hadn’t yet put in place.
In sheer, unthinking reflex Dawn reached out and lightly touched one of the strands, wondering why it was there. A sharp alarm wailed deafeningly, making her jump, and both of the men’s heads snapped around, their eyes locking onto hers. Almost in that same instant two more men came in through the door, both of them carrying additional cases. They dropped them when they saw her, and both reached for the odd half-rifles slung over their shoulders; oddly abbreviated-looking weapons that were all handgrip and oversized tubular barrel and not much else. Dawn flinched back, half-tripping, falling even further into the forest of dangling strands even as she mentally reached for the safety of her crypt. One of the kneeling men fumbled frantically at something in the case to which all the wires were connected, just as she Jumped. FlickerSNaaaaaaPPP
Dawn appeared in her sanctuary, and instantly dropped to the linoleum floor, her arms and legs twitching uncontrollably. For an endless hour--or an agonizing ten seconds or so--she was unable to breathe, her chest locked tight as every muscle clenched unbearably tight in fierce spasm. When it finally eased, she drew in a great, shuddering breath, and then rolled onto her side, coughing. Oh, ugh, that sucked!
It had felt a lot like sticking her finger in a light socket when she was five--something the monks had helpfully included in the false-memory package, even though an indignant Dawn was certain she never would have actually
done anything that stupid--only this had been much, much worse. Those dangly things; they zapped me, and if I hadn’t already been on my way out of there, I don’t think I could have managed to concentrate enough to Jump
. That thought sent chills through her, no doubt helped along by the way she was lying sprawled on a very chilly floor, in a very chilly basement, high up among very chilly mountains.
Slowly, and very carefully, she pulled herself to a sitting position. Everything seemed to be back to working properly, although her pigtails looked a little frizzy now, as opposed to the silky-smooth waves of a few minutes earlier.
“They tried to kill my hair, those bastards.” she whispered mournfully as she stroked it, trying the classic Xander technique of using lame humor to push fear away. It didn’t seem to help very much; her heart was still racing like crazy. “Okay, maybe I would
have really put my finger in that light socket, because going back to that room was stupid
.” She was painfully aware that it was only because she’d gone back too soon that she’d escaped at all. If the soldiers had been able to finish assembling their trap, if the entire room had been filled with those tendrils, and they had been charged up and waiting for her to appear in the middle of them....
Dawn really, really
wished she had a Slayer or two to hide behind, just now. Failing that, curling up in a ball for a month or two and hoping the bad people would give up and go away was starting to look like a viable option.
Scowling at nothing in particular, she climbed to her feet. Her fingers and toes were tingling almost painfully, so she pulled hard at the pure energies of the Lake and let them flood her body. That either reduced the discomfort or else just drowned it out with a different type of sensation; either way it helped, and let her think more clearly.
“All right, I am so not going to hide from these clowns. They can lay scary traps for me? Fine. I just won’t ever go anywhere twice. What good does a fancy electro-web trap thingie do them then, huh?”
She paced back and forth in the limited space she had, balanced almost exactly between being terrified and being furious.
“They’re so stupid, they don’t even know that they don’t matter. They’re not even worth the energy it would take to hate them.” More pacing, her steps slowing as she began to calm down. “They can’t catch me. If I see them coming at me, I can be gone in half a second. I don’t have to be scared.” She stopped, leaned heavily on a fiercely-orange seventies table and bowed her head as she repeated it, much more softly.
“I don’t have to be scared. I don’t.”
Raising her head she looked at the door that led out to the basement. Biting at her lower lip she tried to ignore the urge, tried to tell herself it was good enough... and then she walked over and grabbed the drill anyway. There were enough of the flat metal plates screwed around the edges of the door to hold it shut against a charging rhino, but a few more wouldn’t hurt. Four or five more will be enough, then I’ll take some things over to Ms. Hannon’s--I mean, to Wendy’s. After that, I will go clubbing. Because I’m not scared of them.
The drill slipped, and she bashed an already much-abused fingertip painfully, starting fresh blood seeping through the band-aid. She winced, ignored it, and reached for another screw.
* * * * *