Wednesday, 17 Dec. 1997, 7:00 AM, Sunnydale California
44th Day after first purchase of the Warehouse
Willow came over this morning to wake me up. What a wake-up call! Wow... I swear that woman only wants my body. She’s not interested in my mind, my scintillating personality, my handsome good looks or my money. Well maybe my money just a teensy bit.
Karen was in full pixie smirk mode as she laid out a nice breakfast for us. She kept winking at us while grinning and making suggestive innuendo about our morning activities. It was embarrassing for me and exhilarating. Willow is my red haired temptress. My exuberant Aphrodite who as each day passes is getting better at pulling the rug out from under me. Sometimes with just a look or a flash of skin that would bring fire to my cheeks. In another life she might have been a Succubi. Maybe a ‘Storm Maiden’ granddaughter of the Norse sea goddess Rán? With that red hair more likely a granddaughter of the beautiful Japanese sea dragon goddess Toyatama-Hime? In Japanese mythology their dragons were shapeshifters who would assume a human form and like the Greek and Roman gods would mate with humans. Their children allegedly had red hued hair and demi-god like magical powers and long life.
So far Giles books had nothing in them about benevolent gods, goddesses and demi-gods. In a decade Willow will have a longer life so two out of three isn’t so bad.
Two months ago she would never have done these things. Now she reveled in tempting me when no one else was looking. It’s really hot but… but not appropriate for a classy girl like Willow.
I can’t help it if I got a massive dose of John’s culture of honoring marriage and commitment. California’s culture is diminished by Hollywood’s destructively loose and casual portrayals of sexual relationships and commitment.
Cortana briefed me that in the past ten years in California the annual teenage unmarried mother birth rate was never less than 18% and this year was 23%. It was why our school district had a kindergarten and nursery next door. Prior to 1975 in California teenage pregnancy and unmarried mothers was a small fraction of what it is today.
It’s a good thing I’m leaving for two weeks. Otherwise with a few more wake-up sneak attacks like that and I’ll be a father. I don’t want to see Willow waddling down the hallway in High School like the others. Buffy and Cordelia call them the slut brigade or the cow herd. Not that sleeping with Willow and being a father wouldn’t be fantastic. Wrong at this time for both of us but fantastic and something new. Something new and unknown, since John has no memories of fatherhood to guide me. But Giles is right. I may not want this right now, it may be dangerous for Willow since she is not a full grown woman yet, despite what her hormones are saying, but it will happen nonetheless. My goal is to resist long enough. At least she won’t be an unmarried mother.
It’s like that Halloween night of magic grew me up physically but also the genetic changes stabilized what should be wildly fluctuating hormones in normal teenagers. I still have teenager hormones. The genetic treatments and nanites have little effect on normal youthful maturation other than moderating the hormonal rushes and wild mood swings. Willow’s hormones are peaking and then gyrating all over at the same time the nanites are altering her very DNA.
I haven’t said anything to Willow but I’m... afraid. Fatherhood is a huge step into the unknown. I’ve never been very responsible. Not a nit. At least until recently after my mind-meld with John. Inside the 25th century Webster’s Thesaurus under the word ‘Responsible’ was a photograph and description of John Walker, Master Chief Petty Officer, Spartan-117, UNSC ONI Special Warfare - as both a synonym and as example.
Now I’m stuck with it.
For me the thought of it is... like stepping off a Pelican’s cargo ramp 90 km above the surface of a world. A rush of very sweaty intimate pleasure and then I will be responsible for Willow and a new life. Our own ankle biters afoot and into everything...
I’m also afraid of her. Willow is so beautiful, sensuous and smart. She could whup my ass with just a look.
Not that my own mom, who just loves Willow, told me to my face that if I ever hurt her – she’ll shoot me dead and feed what’s left to sharks. She was serious. Who knows what the slayers would do to me? Cortana might even help them.
What is galling in me is that three months ago - I would have gladly jumped Buffy, Willow, Cordelia and any other female that was willing and offered. I was a typical teenage shallow and selfish male that I wouldn’t have cared much for the emotional wreckage that I would have left in my wake. I probably wouldn’t have taken any responsibility for the babies that I gave them.
Today I am willing to take responsibility for my actions and choices. I’m willing to commit my time, my money, my attention and my honor. Three months ago those were just words on a paper with no real meaning to me. Now they bond my life.
Would I be a good father or a sort-of-father like mine has been? At least when he was sober he was decent and later apologized for hitting me. At least he was ashamed for what he was like when he was mean drunk.
I hoped that I never became a crap father like Buffy’s dad. He was considered to be a successful and highly paid executive but who cheated on his wife at every opportunity. Buffy didn’t see it but I saw it when Buffy mentioned him in her Mom’s presence. That briefest flash of pain would cross Mrs. Summer’s face just before she blanked her face and smiled for Buffy’s benefit. It was obvious she still loved him and never said a cross word about him in Buffy’s presence.
With Cortana’s heightened surveillance in Sunnydale over the last four weeks, even the beautiful and perfect Cordelia had really crappy abusive parents. That was a surprise to me.
No one but Cortana and I knew. I would never mention it to anyone and not even to Willow.
Cordelia’s parents treated her like a possession and most of the time an unwanted possession. She was a daughter who was supposed to always be beautiful, silent, in the background and only to be displayed on command when entertaining her dad’s business clients. When she wasn’t… they beat her and verbally abused her. They never struck her where it would show and so far she was physically abused at least once each week by both of her parents.
Her handsome father was a white collar con man, swindler, embezzler and all around well-dressed GQ low life. Her mom was the always beautiful country club wife and amoral slut who slept with her husband’s business partners.
Cortana left them alone with their money because of Cordelia. It was obvious that they loved their money and appearances more than they loved Cordelia. But Cortana projected a 56% probability that her parents would attempt to prostitute her as a business deal ‘perk’ within the next year and 78% in her senior year. That horrible idea was revolting to me personally. Until recently I would have never thought that possible.
Even Buffy’s dad was not that depraved. Still Cordelia said nothing and presented a persona at school of the perfect Miss Queen of fashion exactly as her mother wanted. She was a smart girl and I mean way above average. Someday she would scream, no.
I wondered if she had already been abused for the crime of hanging out with us Scoobies?
Cortana was watching out for her and we would actively intervene only when necessary. I was hoping that Cortana’s behavioral projections were wrong but we still needed a contingency plan to protect Cordelia from her own parents.
I neuronetted Cortana, “Good morning Sis.”
“Well good morning to you to. Are you ready for your morning briefings?”
“Not quit yet. Can you do something for me? I mean not right now… but when it is time… or you get an opportunity.” I was meandering and uncomfortable, not knowing a good way to broach this.
Cortana giggled at me, “Is this about Willow again?”
“No… No. This is about Cordelia and her… home life.”
Cortana’s voice went as cool as ice. “Can I do something really appropriate now?”
“No. That’s for later. But this can’t come from me or anyone else but you. She’s starting to talk to you now… she’s a girl… and you’re a girl… and I shouldn’t be the one to talk to her about this…”
Cortana was disappointed but intrigued, “So what do you want me to talk to Cordelia about?”
“You told me about her parents. Next time she calls you to just girl-talk and only if it is appropriate – please let her know that she has safe harbor options and friends. Tell her to go to the apartment at Reach, or Mrs. Summers or to here with Karen or to the Kendell’s house or to Giles. Anyone of them will provide sanctuary. Tell her that you are also her watchful guardian just as if she was Willow or a Slayer. I just think she needs to know. She really needs to know that she is welcome no matter the circumstance, time of day and that she has options.”
Cortana’s voice softened, “That is so sweet and thoughtful. I’ll diplomatically let her know that she will always have friends within the Scoobies and that she has places of sanctuary.”
“Thank you Cortana. Now I’m ready for my briefings.”
Wednesday, 17 Dec. 1997, 9:00 AM, Sunnydale California
Willow and I, were going to have a... ‘be together’ date today. I enjoy being with Willow at any time. Each day that passes my day is made a little better with her presence. Cortana says it’s my softening brain, endorphins and male hormones. She says I’m just a, “hairy bag full of water with a dash of electrolytes and organic molecules that somehow gained sentience”. Then she laughs at me with that wonderfully female voice of hers. I can’t feel too insulted when she laughs at me and with me.
On the way to Reach we were first going shopping. I had to stop at Kohl’s for some businessman’s travel luggage and travel accessories. Since, I was going to be on the road for two weeks wearing mostly suits and talking to my new company executives, bankers, lawyers and now even a few politicians. Fun, fun and more fun - not.
While inside Kohl’s after I picked up my stuff, Willow drug me over to the girly things area. I suppose I will have to somehow get used to this. It embarrassed me. I was uncomfortable, sweating and trying hard to stay out in the main aisle while she shopped. When we got to the ladies unmentionables, underwear and lingerie section, I was really trying to be invisible. If anyone looked my way they probably saw a hunted and terrified gazelle, with a hungry leopard nearby called Willow.
Then I saw a couple of older men in the same area with their wives, by their wedding bands. They were about thirty years apart in age and the youngest at least fifteen years older than me. They were actually offering suggestions to their lady’s to try on clothing and the most scanty lingerie clothing. They were shopping as obviously intimate couples.
After a few minutes more of following Willow around, I thought of making a joke of selecting some sheer frilly lingerie knickers for her. With a giant grin and sparkling eyes she looked at it and returned it to the rack. I thought I had escaped with my joke.
She then selected one in her size and told me that I was going to see her in it before I left. Sort of her version of this is what you’re going to be missing prize. I was standing there getting weak in the knees as she selected something ‘naughty and nice’ for every night of the week. Naturally she said, for when I returned. I gulped and imitated a gold fish.
Like a drooling idiot I bought it all in a daze of fevered hormonal fumes.
After leaving Kohl’s I realized that I should never dare or encourage Willow when it comes to pretty dresses or lingerie or for that matter anything. She will only view the dare as another opportunity to package herself up and wear me down. She knows that one of these days I’m was just going lose it and ravage her. Like a doofus I bought her very pretty things to take off.
What am I going to do? Especially since around Willow, I seem to lose 60 IQ points and drool on my chest.
Maybe I should ask Cortana to arrange to buy another house up near Roary and Karen’s. I’ve got a weird feeling that Willow and I may be married next year. The apartment at Reach was more for a bachelor. A safe house between combat sorties and a place to hide allies. Not a place for a wife. Maybe not for Willow, I’d never get her away from all the computers and lab equipment.
But a house, any house is what its occupants make of it. A couple who love each other will make any house a home.
Neuronetting Cortana and keeping our conversation silent, “Cortana, I’ve got a problem.”
Cortana was so full of satirical mirth, “Is your problem named Willow?” She started laughing at me. “I saw all of that shopping and may I say that those are very pretty nothings that you bought for her? She’ll look absolutely fantastic as she models them for you and then takes them off for you.”
It was all I could do - to not wreak the car so close to Reach or yell out loud or scream and alert Willow to my covert conversation. Gripping the steering tightly, my blood pressure went up and I tried to remain calm. “You know it is and I was duped. She... she tricked me!”
Cortana was guffawing at me, “Do you mean that you’re an idiot or that she’s a naturally superior intellect? ... I think you should just admit that she’s smarter and more cunning than you. Around her the idiot part is a given.”
Pulling slowly into the Reach parking lot, “Yah, ya, ya. Ok, so she outsmarted me. But I need you to get our real estate ladies to find another nice house near my current home on Albert Drive. That house will be Roary and Karen’s soon. I think that... I’ll need a house up near the college. No hurry really but maybe next year… sometime. I’ll need a house for Willow... and I to live in. There I said it.”
Cortana still all gleeful at my embarrassment and full of sarcasm, “Well! About time you finally realized she is the superior species.”
I chuckled at that thought. My emotions bleeding over into the neuralnet. “You’re both smarter than I am… but she’s... a real live woman.”
Cortana replied with an invisible smile and irritating snorking humor, “Why yes she is... I’m so happy that you noticed... I’m quite sure that you will notice even more as she models that lingerie for you. Ha! - Next April I will launch a subroutine to monitor any houses that go up for sale.”
Then I had a terrible suspicion. I had to ask, “Have… Have you been coaching her?”
“Oh My God Alex! You are so dense. Dense as neutronium. Yes! I confess. Karen and I have both been coaching her on the fine arts of dominating the male species. Someone has to teach at least one of you youngsters to be mature about this situation and you didn’t ask me to help you with understanding the female species. Willow did ask for my advice, as opposed to asking her ignorant peers. So we are teaching her to seduce and dominate you, using millennia old feminine ways. The art and skill of ceremony, dressing up, dance, subtlety of word, batting her eyes, smiling, delicate sighs, coy glances, crying, pouting, guile, subterfuge, cunning, the application of her superior intelligence and just plain old having her wicked ways with you. Plus she has been getting upscale dressing and cosmetics tips from mostly Cordelia and also Buffy.”
I’m so stupid... I’ve been resisting my female adversary with fixed ground defenses while my opponent has been adapting and maneuvering across the entire human battlespace. My Maginot Line to her feminine Blitzkrieg in four dimensions. My lovely and deviously cunning opponent who is getting help from experts in devious.
With resignation in my mind’s voice, “Ok Cortana, what do I do now?”
“Silly boy, first things first. Get out of your car and open her door for her. Help her out and touch her gently and gentlemanly every chance you have. No pinching the butt, or slapping her rear, or knuckle bumps or shoulder bumps. She’s all woman and not a barely civilized male ape like you. Oh! Don’t drag your knuckles on the ground.”
Walking into Reach, Willow was much too happy. I had opened the doors for her and was being a proper gentleman who was deferential to his Lady. Besides, she was excited to have her BFF Cortana and non-stop computer fun for our entire Christmas vacation.
For the next two weeks, I was going to be learning to sleep standing up. John’s memories were full of hectic times where he and his other Spartan team mates grabbed sleep intransit between battles. Sometimes standing up or sitting up. I was going to be forced to learn the same with Cortana’s aggressive travel schedule.
Just inside the offices, I introduced Willow as my fiancé to my new building manager Curt Wildsmith. Curt promised to get her a Reach ID pass and security code pin number, so she can come and go whenever she wants.
I can’t get between a hacker girl and a thousand big computers already installed in Nefertiti Systems across the parking lot. Naturally I had some very expensive computers in Reach’s side that were networked with the still growing Nefertiti data center. So she could occupy this side in privacy and not get in the way of the technicians and engineers working inside Nefertiti.
Curt was aware of vampires but not the entire menagerie of demons. So as Willow and I, gave him the nickel tour of ‘his’ buildings. I explained to him and Willow all of the finishing work and furnishings that still needed to be bought and installed. Also I told him about my hunting trophies that would be coming to our hallway. Willow and Curt were going to be in charge for the next two weeks. Especially for ‘my’ apartment and the gyms. I know that Willow, Karen and my Mom will have a good time shopping while I’m gone. They will furnish my apartment and the front offices.
I asked Curt on the QT to ensure that pink and frilly; didn’t get put up anywhere.
I told him that the entire ‘Scooby Gang’ would all be coming over every day to work out in the gym. So I arranged for him to issue out Reach ID pass-cards to them also.
Just then Willow started making gagging noises and said, “This place stinks! What spilled?”
Curt explained about all of the brand new carpeting, tiles and paints. When the building was sealed up at night the new stuff out-gassed VOCs (Volatile Organic Chemicals). VOCs were mostly acetone and toluene; both dangerous solvents that were used to make plastics and paints.
I neuralnetted Cortana who was in control of the entire buildings environmental control systems. “Hey Cortana, can you hit the heat and then fans on the offices and my apartment space to help outgas the VOCs (Volatile Organic Chemicals). The smell is strong enough to kill even California cockroaches.”
“In process right now Alex. The VOC level is at 7 parts per thousand inside your new apartment residence area. Which is at a hazardous level for even humans. This would result in a severe headache as your first warning sign. Right now I will open all vents and run the blowers. When humans are not present, I will cycle the indoor temperature up to 95 degrees F. and then run the fans on max. I can run this cycle once each hour. So by next Monday morning the VOC ‘smell’ and measured density should be below hazardous levels for humans. I project that it should be below 3 parts per billion on Monday morning. I will monitor the levels from now on and cycle the air to keep the VOC levels low as new items are brought in.”
“Thanks Cortana. You know that Willow, Karen, Buffy, Kendra and my Mom will be eager to go shopping to furnish this place for me?”
“Yes, I know. I’ve been helping them…” Cortana said laughing.
“Traitor! Well... at least suggest to them that I get to furnish my own bedroom and maybe even the entertainment room. No pink, violet, purples or salmon colors or any of that girly gay stuff. Which starting after Christmas we can start calling this hovel my ‘man-cave’.”
Cortana came back satirically indignant. “Hovel indeed! Calling it a cave is an insult to all of our design work and the quality of the workmanship that went into it. Man Cave indeed! Hmmph! You do realize that the slayers will be using that gym more than you will?”
“Just the same, can you make sure that the ladies and Curt get the shopping list printed to them? They can shop all they want next week. But I don’t want them inside these spaces until the VOCs are down to a safe level OK.”
“Roger that Alex and I agree. VOCs are dangerous but exceptionally dangerous to females of child bearing age.”
“Don’t remind me of that Cortana! Nyah - nyah - nyah! I’m not listening.” I wanted to put my fingers into my ears. While Cortana was laughing and snorking at me again.
I turned to Curt and suggested that he keep the blowers on and some doors open until the VOCs were less noticeable. He agreed jotting down notes on his clipboard.
By this time it was nearing lunchtime, so I asked Curt to get everyone on both properties together. Lunch was on me at Subway. I intended to eat two of their footlong sandwiches before my afternoon hunt started. At least Willow and I could have a lunch together over our cafeteria table.
Just then Cortana broke into my oogling of Willow via my neuronet. “Alex, you do know that the girls after using the gym will be taking showers and cleaning up in ‘your man cave.’ Naked girls... in your shower.” She started laughing diabolically at me, as my brain began to melt as my imagination began to run wild. Willow looked at me in confusion as I stumbled and nearly choked.
Cortana still chuckling at me said, “Gotcha, Alex.”
After recovering and making a good excuse to Willow and Curt, we continued on our inspection tour until lunch would arrive. Cortana is my evil sister who knew just what buttons to push on me.
Today, I intended to go down into the tunnels during daylight hours to see if there was a difference in demon traffic and demon types. I sort of had a track record for the nighttime hours. Maybe the tunnels would be empty during daytime and maybe not?
Wednesday, 17 Dec. 1997, 2:00 PM, Sunnydale California
This was a first for Curt; he was witnessing my metamorphism into a fully armored Spartan. Only the very few Reach employees on this side would ever know. The geeks on the Nefertiti Systems side were not slated to ever see me like this.
Curt and his wife Miriam had a bad history with a vampire thirty years ago. Their first daughter was murdered in front of them by a master vampire, while on vacation in Paris. She was sucked dry and cast aside like an empty coke can. Their daughter just trash to be tossed. The only reason they were not the main course was the intervention of a young slayer. When Cortana found him semi-retired in Texas, she offered him a job. Enlisting him and his wife in our war was... for them a big bonus.
Thirty minutes ago Kendra and Buffy had showed up to use the gym again. They were beating my collection of heavy to very heavy punching bags into tatters. After I went down Curt, Roary and Willow would keep them company.
For now Roary and Willow helped me suit up. Mostly Roary because Willow was more into feeling me up. Which didn’t help me at all but was good for their laughter.
The guards had arranged some trucks to be my concealment when I walked out of Reach to drop down into the tunnels using the manhole furthest to the back.
While I was gone next week our Engineer Mr. Pippin and with Curt, were going to have a construction crew come in and excavate the back fence line so that I would have a concealed ramp going down into the tunnels from inside Reach. They were going to put a series of heavy cement and steel demon proof vault doors between the drain tunnel and the inside of Reach, along with steel conduits for electric power and communications lines for Cortana’s use. The ramp and doors would be wide enough for me to drive an All-Terrain Vehicle or even a Wiley Jeep into the tunnels.
Cortana, Willow and I had brainstormed up effective anti-demon offensive weapons for our ‘alarm system’ and for later some very nice lethal anti-demon traps for insertion into the tunnels. But first the concealed ramp so I wasn’t walking across the parking lot anymore to drop down through the manholes. After this all of the manholes near Reach were going to be locked and bared shut with the strongest of steels. If that proved useless, then a fourteen ton cement plug was going to be installed into each manhole with adamantine locks and bars on top of that. It would take a heavy construction crane to lift that out. So far I hadn’t seen a demon big enough or strong enough that could lift fourteen tons eleven feet straight up.
While finishing suiting up I was thinking about my schedule tonight and tomorrow night. Cortana had arranged for me to scan our friends.
Tonight I would be scanning Willow, Karen, Roary, Kendra and Buffy. Thursday night I would be scanning Jenny, Giles, Cordelia and lastly Buffy’s mom. Although Buffy’s mom didn’t know it yet. Buffy was going to slip her three drops of chloral hydrate, knock-out-drops into her wine. So she could get the scan while safely out cold and delivered back home before waking.
Buffy’s mom didn’t know about her Slaying nightlife and Buffy didn’t want her to know. But after talking to Cortana and I about it; we convinced her that this course of action was for the best. The odds were that she would know before Buffy graduated high school. She had to know at some point and we needed her complete medical records before that point came.
Cortana and I had serious doubts that Buffy would break the news to her gently in a controlled environment during daylight. The real problem was that she would most likely learn while witnessing one of Buffy’s violent combat actions against one or more vampires. What the head shrinkers sometimes referred to as ‘a primal scene’. She’d freak out and the probability that she’d be severely injured during that action would be very high. Buffy had never really put much thought into that ugly scenario. Buffy probably avoided thinking about it. All real mothers loved their children and she would attack the vampire thinking she could save her daughter. As the mother of The Slayer, her risk and vulnerability to attack and injury was far higher than Willow’s or my risk.
So Buffy reluctantly agreed and I arranged for the bottle of liquid chloral hydrate syrup via our local friendly but not so law abiding Private Investigator. After Cordelia left Dr. Rapicz clinic - Roary would arrive with Buffy and Mrs. Summers. At least that was the plan.
The following two weeks all of them will be scheduled for full physical, medical and dental exams for our ‘medical research’ program. Later in pairs all of them would be scheduled for comprehensive physiological exams at the Sansum Research Clinic in Santa Barbara.
With that I dogged my helmet down and stepped into my safety box to initialize my shields. Really just a large seven by seven foot area taped out on the floor inside my armaments vault with yellow hazard tape.
Curt about swallowed the large wad of bubble gum he was chewing when he witnessed my shields pop on. The light display was awesome when seen on his face.
He garbled a bit and Roary slapped him on the back, until he spit out his gum which hit my shields down near my ankles and was promptly incinerated in a flash of vapor. Still Roary held him back with his now standard warnings about touching me.
I had already laid out my weapons for this run. I quickly loaded up and walked to the back of Reach down our alley. The gym was on my right side but the doors were closed. I could hear the girls sparring and making snarky comments at each other, as I stepped past.
I stepped out on the truck platform into the sunlight. I stood there only a second and jumped the thirty yards across and down to the manhole, which my guards had already pulled the lid off. Three large semi-trailers and some low tarps blocked the area in and denying anyone else a view.
Willow, Curt and Roary stayed up on the platform. Willow waved at me. Her left arm held tight across her in tight worry. I waved to her and then saluted them and the guards.
I dropped from sunlight into the twilight.
Wednesday, 17 Dec. 1997, 2:15 PM, Sunnydale California
Daylight Tunnel Run
I stood slowly and scanned both tunnel directions per my SOP for a mission. Nothing pinged except a few rats. What did I know? I would still treat them as potential demonic rats and a threat. I guess I had watched way too many Sci-Fi and Horror shows like ‘Willard’ to assume that they were normal rats.
So I burned them with my ranging laser. Set to 10 Watts they would smolder and catch fire. Set to full power at 2 kilo-Watts they literally exploded into superheated giblets.
My Uncle Roary had this really cool old T-shirt from Vietnam in his old military footlocker box. I got into it out of curiosity. It had a winged tiger standing on the skulls of stylized slanty eyed enemy Vietnamese soldiers with bullet holes in their skulls. The writing at the top read, “Kill Them All, Let God Sort Them Out”. I don’t know why that image came to mind at this moment but it seemed appropriate. Appropriate for human eating demons.
Maybe I needed a cool logo like that T-shirt? Vengeance… Kill them All and let God sort’em out. I’ll have to ask Cortana and Willow about that. Who knows we could even get into merchandizing Vengeance T-shirts and action figures.
I had no idea what I would find down here in the tunnels each time I came down. I fully expected to find Hollywood Alien xenomorphs, piles of gooey human bones, human skin used as wallpaper, man-eating slugs slithering, giant ‘Them’ ants, smart super-sized cockroaches or killer rats. So far, with just a few exceptions most of what I found was into eating people.
I had five hours before Karen expected Roary, Willow, Kendra, Cordelia, Buffy and I for dinner. I planned for four hours down hole. I began to slow jog north again at 38 kph to what was my high traffic routes.
On my Fleet radio net, I commed Cortana, “Following mission path from Alpha to Delta, no targets acquired so far. I’ll report when I have first contact. Spartan one out.”
Cortana radioed back, “Roger that Spartan one. Good hunting.”
As I jogged, I thought about our future plans for making powered combat armor suits for regular humans. More like the kind of powered armor that was described in the Robert Heinlein book Starship Troopers. Maybe not Spartan Mjolnir armor but far better than what the UNSC offered their space marines and Orbital Drop Shock Troopers. All of them with built-in instant secure communications with each other, to higher headquarters and to support elements. Every soldier inside their armor suits made mechanically stronger, faster, with 3D battle sensors, smart aid software and enough firepower to sink a World War II battleship.
That instant communications is a huge force multiplier, especially for me. Cortana and I were constantly talking to each other. It was rare when we weren’t discussing decisions, analyzing something, designs and plans. Always both of us planning and plotting how to build our companies and escape the attention of demons and corrupt politicians. The NeuralNet was a blessing, giving me a massive advantage. The more I used it, the greater the depth of our information transfer. Now sometimes even emotions bleed over, more than just words. I could almost feel Cortana’s thoughts and emotions.
The more I used the Mjolnir armor the more comfortable I became in it. Each time I learn something new about its capabilities. Some of the suits functions are becoming almost second nature for me to call up and implement. Other times I have to think about it. Even movement is becoming more natural for me. So far I’ve been holding back for fear that I might hurt myself or the suit. Also caution because down in these tunnels I really didn’t want to move to fast and run into something really big with lots of teeth. At best I might be a giant suppository for a Tyrhrock dragon. Still I hadn’t attempted to see how fast I could really run, or how far and high I could jump. Each time out I pushed the edge a little bit further; expanding my comfort zone with this extraordinary weapon system. Someday I’ll have Roary drive me out to a very lonely and straight for miles road in the Central Valley and I will try to push my real limits. Someday… but today I’m still faster than any vampire and that is all that matters for now.
Most of what we discussed in my dull moments like jogging between intersections in a tunnel was dull business operations and financial stuff. Dull and boring but necessary to maintain our companies movement forward.
Per my SOP, I slowed at each crossing and ranged for targets but found none from Alpha to Delta fifteen.
Finally at D15 I had myself a target. The tunnels had a bit more light in them during the day due to small fingers of light shining down from the ‘finger’ holes in the street manhole covers and reflected light from the open curb drain ports. It was more eerie with the soft light shining down every 50 to 100 meters. Still my target was 400 meters north and was moving slowly away from me. The target was warmer than the ambient air but not red hot on my thermals. Radar sensors had it as fairly meaty over a solid skeleton. It was two meters wide in the tunnel and almost two meters tall. I didn’t think it was another Tyrhrock carnosaur demon. Its movements and my sensor readings were all wrong. I started overtaking it but at a slower speed.
I commed Cortana and linked her into my sensor feeds, “Cortana, I have an unknown contact ahead. Can you get Giles and Kendra in the loop and help identify this thing. I’ve never seen one before and it... just hopped I think. Jumped forward about 10 meters in the tunnel like a frog.” I stopped in the tunnel now 120 meters away and froze. I think it was aware of me.
“Spartan one extreme caution and no contact is recommended until identification is made. It seems to have the appearance of a very large amphibian.”
“Roger that Cortana. Looks like a large toad or frog. Confirm I will not initiate contact. But this thing is listening and looking for me. The way it is moving its head slowly left and then right.”
“Be advised this would be a toad. The skin is not wet or smooth as in a frog. Notice the lumpy skin. If this is similar to a toad those large flat disk areas behind the head are its ears. Those ears are both sensitive and also unarmored. Its brain should be directly between both ears and slightly forward. Those large black eyes are excellent for low light and tracking movement. Maybe even has Infra-Red vision. If you are forced to engage then the ears and eyes are your primary targets.”
“Roger that Cortana. I zoomed my optics on its head. Its large black eyes were rimmed with a gold colored iris and gold like flecks from the ring to the edge of the eyes. The eyes were predatory and yet striking.”
I waited as still as a statue while the demon stayed in place. If it used heat to see then my Mjolnir suit was a black hole. The damn thing was either a patient hunter or confused at my location. Its head was like a metronome as it slowly drifted left and then right. Exposing those large acoustic pads of ears and its large eyes to every angle front and back.
I wondered if this thing had a long sticky tongue like a toad. The shotgun in my right hand would have to be my primary engagement weapon. I didn’t want to find out in battle if that tongue had other nasty properties. Still I was wishing for more grenades. I really needed a box of M15 White Phosphorous High-Explosive Incendiary (Willy Pete) grenades. I only had one left from the Montero batch and it was back in the munitions locker inside Reach. If this demon was like a toad then the white phosphorous would eat the flesh right off its bones. But alas our first order of infantry munitions was not due for another three weeks.
Today, I only had three M67 HE-Frag hand grenades with me.
Finally the giant toad crept on all four legs forward. Its belly was off the ground as it crept forward and then it sat down again like a toad. I stayed still. Good that I did because its motion left and right to try to spot me was immediate. So it was also cunning.
When its head went back to dead center I was waiting. It had barely bobbed its head down to move forward when I moved also. It moved and I moved. It stopped and I froze. Minutes dragged on in this slow movement north.
I was playing shadow to a monster that looked like it weighed close to 1,500 kilos according to my scans.
The monster and I had been at our game for 10 minutes and 34 seconds when Cortana came back online with Kendra.
Cortana gave me a heads up. “Spartan one be advised I have your video up on the displays here. Willow is chewing her nails off and Buffy has nothing but she does want popcorn. Roary is clueing in Curt and I think they will make popcorn. Kendra will advise you.”
Kendra came on the radio, “V, I’ve encountered these before. They’re called Hezrous demons and they’re just like big toads. Except they have many barbed fangs on their tongues and a lot more teeth than a toad should ever have. They usually try to crush their prey by jumping on them. But they like to swallow their food alive. So don’t get tongued.”
I heard Buffy and Willow over the radio in the background; as the monster and I moved again.
Buffy choked and guffawed at Willow, “He’s gonna tongue Hezzy now! I thought you were the only one tonguing him!”
Willow squeaked loudly, “Eeep! Your real boyfriend only has batteries! I’m gonna...”
Then I heard wild giggling and a tussle going on. I could imagine Buffy and Willow wrestling and tickling each other. Ooooh! My two favorite girls writhing together.... I was dangerously losing focus on my enemy.
Kendra came back on the channel with amusement in her voice after coughing. “Ok, let me rephrase that. Do not let the demon’s tongue hit you and do not let the monster jump on you.”
“Roger that Kendra. Good advice. Can you tell me where you encountered your first Hezrous?”
Kendra’s voice got quieter and serious, “Mr. Zubuto and I were in Louisiana near Baton Rouge in a cemetery naturally. There were these stupid human acolytes who worship demons or evil hell gods. They were going to sacrifice a young woman on this stone alter. Just before they finished their ritual two hungry vampires decided to crash their ceremony. I freed the young girl while the vampires were playing with their meals. Then this Hezrous came out of a concealed ground cave and ate two of the evil acolytes. It was more than twice the size of this one that you face.”
Kendra paused, remembering what for her must have been a terrifying battle with a monster.
Finally she continued, “The vampires ran off with their next meals and I was left to fight the Hezrous. At that time I only had two knives and my stakes to fight with. It tried to jump on me but the cemetery stones and mausoleums got in its way. I threw my stakes and one knife at its throat but the slight damage only made it madder. Finally it turned at just the right time for Mr. Zabuto to fire one of his crossbow bolts into its left ear pad. The arrow did its job and severely injured the Hezrous. It writhed about and kicked down many a stone and tree. It was no longer focused on eating me. I picked up several large piece of steel from the former wrought iron gates to a mausoleum and used them like spears. I threw them with all my might. The third one did the job. My aim was true or just lucky. The spear passed through its throat and stopped sticking out its head. I had finally speared its brain. The Hezrous went instantly still and died.”
With a smaller Hezrous in front of me, I could just imagine Kendra’s nighttime fight in a creepy southern cemetery with Spanish moss hanging down from the trees. I imagined it as a place right out of the movie ‘Creep Show’ and with a monster that outclassed her weapons. But humans worshiping demons or hell-gods? Getting their party crashed and sucked... Well I wouldn’t shed any tears for them. Some people are just full to the brim with stupid juice so good riddance. Who knows what they were going to try to conjure up?
I had to ask Kendra, “What did Mr. Zabuto tell you about these demons?”
Kendra had sadness in her voice as she answered me. “He told me that he had personal experience with Hezrous before he had become a Watcher. They are more common in warmer wetter climates and they like to live underground. Coming out to ambush other demons, animals and people. Their skin is tough but they are killable; just large and smarter than a dog. He said that his first encounter was with a granddaddy Hezrous nearly six tons in weight. After eating a whole family in Jamaica, the entire village trapped it and killed it. He said that he was fifteen when they battled it. It killed six more of the villagers in their fight. His father and older brother were among the dead. Even if the tongue is unable to pull you into the Hezrous’s mouth, its hook barbs will rip the flesh from your body. Enough of you torn off that a human will die quickly. The tongue can shoot three times the length of the Hezrous body; through windows and even between the bars of a hastily built cage trap.”
Well that sucked for Sam Zabuto and his village. “Kendra, did he tell you how they killed it?”
She sighed and continued on, “Yes, they fashioned two compressed air guns to launch sharpened steel fence posts, like a harpoon. They positioned the barrels next to the cage on either side but when they fired them the spears impaled the Hezrous body but did not kill it. They didn’t break its back or spear its brains. It was thrashing about and severely wounded but did break out. Mr. Zabuto’s brother stopped its escape by crashing a truck into it, breaking its shoulder and the car also hit the steel posts sticking out of its body. The steel spears were twisted in the wreck enough to break its back, delivering the death blow but at the cost of his brother’s life. Back then most cars didn’t have seat belts.”
What a story of courage and self-sacrifice. But there had to be more? I asked softly, “Kendra, have you fought others?”
Kendra was silent for almost thirty seconds before she spoke, “Yes, three total and I am lucky to be alive. -- If it hadn’t been for Mr. Zabuto each time I would have been killed... eaten.”
Ok, I can kill these things. Pure violence will do the job. I decide right then my course of action. “Cortana when I am done here with this Hezrous will you show Buffy and Kendra my other demon snuff videos. Please provide them some proper commentary and warnings. Maybe they have seen them and maybe not. Compare notes with Kendra especially. But I’m going to go dynamic in a few seconds.”
I immediately cut my radio channel to Reach so I wouldn’t be distracted. Cortana knew better than to kibitz during combat and distract me.
This Hezrous and I had come to the end of our game. I slowly pulled my shotgun up to my shoulder as we both moved again. But this time I moved closer quickly and I sighted on where its large black and gold left eye would appear when it first moved its head left.
A microsecond of anticipation and I turned on my targeting laser to full power and beam spotted its large eye as it came around. I rapid fired two rounds. One for the eye and one for the ear pad. My shotgun incendiary round to it eye was almost wasted. My laser pulse first blinded the beast, and then boiled the entire eyeball until it exploded with a popping flash of steam. My shotgun round entered its skull through a laser cauterized crater where the eye had been. My second shot impacted three inches off dead center for the ear pad due to the demons rapid spasm of pain from my laser pulse. Still the high explosive penetrator made a smacking splat sound on the ear pad and then exploded in a wet pop inside the monsters skull. Blowing what looked like a gallon of ear goo and meaty blood across the tunnel to splash against the wall.
The Hezrous made pained spasm jumps from one side of the tunnel to the other smashing into the walls and ceiling. Falling to the floor of the tunnel writhing in agony and rolling about flailing its arms and kicking its legs. Blood was gushing from its ear and mouth. Its great foreleg ‘hand’ was clawing at its eye and ear, tearing great scars in its own head. A low rumbling warbling sound came from its throat. Finally after fourteen seconds of weakening death spasms and tremors; its mouth hung open slackly and its tongue began to slowly flow out as its muscles relaxed.
The beast was on its left side up against the tunnel wall, its smooth cream colored and freckled belly in stark contrast to its grey green mottled top skin. Its hot dark red blood was sprayed and smeared all over the tunnel for forty meters of its violent contortions. I slowly walked forward my gun at the ready and noted the blood smears cooling and the Hezrous’s still warm body. I reloaded with two HEI rounds. Noting that the webbed feet and front ‘hands’ all had long sharp claws on each appendage.
When I walked within ten meters of its body to check for signs of life, its one good eye blinked but otherwise no other movement. So I scanned the tunnels looking for additional threats and found one. Up tunnel and running away. I suppose that if I hadn’t acted in such a hurry, I could have witnessed the Hezrous eat a meal.
The tongue was now hanging a meter outside the open mouth. I zoomed in my vision on its tongue and examined the serrated hook like teeth that Kendra had described. She wasn’t kidding. It looked like rows on rows of inch long hook teeth all pointing backwards towards the creature’s gullet. That tongue alone was lethal and guaranteed to get prey into its mouth. If not the whole prey then a good sized chunk of flesh or limbs torn away.
I stepped back as its rear leg trembled and spasmed. Kicking weakly for it but still strong enough to break a humans leg in its speed and momentum.
Now for some cleanup work. I securely commed Cortana, “Hey Sis, I’ve got another commission for our favorite taxidermist, Richard Harney. Can you get him over here for a quick pickup? I think one of the manholes near here is behind a dentist’s office in his parking lot and should be closed today. I think we can get this demon out of the tunnels without drawing attention to our work.”
Cortana came back, “Calling him now and your correct, manhole C16 is behind a dentist’s office and he is closed today. I’ll have Mr. Harney meet you there.”
Willow burst into the open channel, “Kendra! Some amphibians and reptiles can regenerate lost limbs and appear dead for some time before coming back to life. What does it take to really kill one of these Hezrous?”
Willow was a smart girl, I was so proud of her.
I knew that they could see what I was seeing. I immediately jumped back away from the Hezrous and this time began scanning it for any signs of life or magical regeneration. My explosive round had detonated inside the monster’s brain cavity near the front left side. The still steaming pureed brain soup was oozing out its left ear and eye socket. My incendiary round had penetrated through the eye orbit crushing and smashing its way through its forward skull. The round was lodged in its right hand side sinus cavity and must have burned out its sensitive nose.
Kendra’s voice was confused at first and then got focused. “Oh! ... Right. Destroying the brain or cutting off the head is the only sure thing that I know of. Sort of the standard for all demons... But any attack that doesn’t kill their brain will just slow them down.”
“Oooh-kay... Smarter and bigger than zombies but treat them the same.” My explosive round had put this one down but the other round was just a painful inconvenience.
Buffy came on mic, “My little ol’stake wouldn’t do much for one of these. I bet you’re all happy-happy with stuff that goes bangy and shot gunny.”
I sighed at her valley girlisms, “Remind me to get you girls some bigger weapons soon. I think vampires maybe your primary prey but this...” My voice trailed off as I had a terrible thought. “Ladies! I think we need to have the Watcher’s book and his slayer encyclopedia scanned for Cortana. Sooner rather than later. I’m wondering how many slayers were killed by the larger but rarer demons like this one vice vampires?”
I could hear some low voices in conversation away from the microphone. I think my question has gotten them thinking also. I wondered how many non-vampire demons were on this planet? I needed LAWS rocket launchers for these demons. A lot more than we had ordered.
Only a madman with a death wish would try to kill a Grizzly with a throwing spear like the Native Americans hundreds of years ago had to do. Probably lost six or eight braves of their tribe just to kill one Grizzly or Cave Bear.
Demons were just as big or bigger, far more aggressive and a lot harder to kill. Why play around when we could blow them into demon puree.
I went secure to Cortana again, “Hey Sis. Please order a lot more anti-tank rocket launchers for me. Split the orders up for M72 LAWS, but mostly those German Armbrusts and Panzerfausts. The German stuff will be safer to use in these tunnels and enclosed rooms. I think we may need to stock pile on every continent after we clean up here. Can you also get a contractor to start manufacturing something like the 7 Kg Brute spiker grenades for me? Pop-out spikes that will stick to these monsters but something that a normal human can throw. Please keep them under 1 Kg.”
Cortana was all business. “I understand completely. More light anti-tank rockets and some sticky grenades for oversized reptiles. I will place the rocket orders immediately. I’ve had a design for a human spike grenade that has several nice features and I found a small arms producer for them in Poland. Next week I’ll order 10,000 per year for the next ten years. That way the production line will stay open and stable. Then you don’t have to be stingy with them. I’ll also order 5,000 Russian RPO-M and Z model Shmels. You should be able to put them to good use.”
“Can you remind me again why the Russian Shmel will be good?” She uploaded the specs to me.
“As you can see this Russian weapon fires a rocket that when detonated delivers a high explosive driven spread of napalm type II plus a mix of phosphorus and thermite incendiary materials. For that extra crispy BBQ after the HE turns them into shredded meat.”
“This looks good Cortana. Blow a nice new cavity in them and then roast them. Yep, you’re the best.”
“Alex, you are a shameless flatterer. But keep it up.” She giggled at me.
Chuckling over the link, “Roger that. Is Roary listening on the Fleet channel?”
“Yes he is.”
“Good, I’m switching back.”
“Hey, Razor-2 can you do something for me next week while I’m gone.”
Roary came on channel with amusement in his voice. “Sure thing Spartan one. What do you need done?” I could still hear the girls talking in the background behind him.
“Pick up some handguns, shotguns and all the good accessories for our ladies. I mean take them shopping so they can pick what they want. Let them pick the handguns that fit their hands. Then take them all to Montero’s Range for gun safety training and target practice. I think we need them all up to speed on self-defense and demon slaying with modern weapons. We also need to get Karen, Willow and Cordelia into the training gym for some hand-to-hand combat training and sword training. I hope they never need it but I don’t want even one human mugger walking away from them without a serious limp.”
“Check Spartan. I can make it girls’ day out as well as girls’ night out.” He laughed at what was becoming his standard joke about blood thirsty women.
I unfolded a large bright blue vinyl fabric tarp from my fanny pack for dragging demons short distances without damaging their hides. Richard Harney had suggested it. Not really a suggestion from him, a command. He didn’t like skid marks and road burns on the demons from me dragging them out. I rolled the Hezrous toad over onto the tarp. In death most of its body was actually fat, air and guts. Its bone structure was one meter in width. I folded it inside completely and roped it up for a 600 meter drag. It now looked like a giant blue burrito.
While dragging it over to my exit at C16, I thought how strange this was. In war you can’t take the time for pillage or trophies. That was the difference between professional soldiers and brigands. Soldiers completed their mission, immediately pressed on to finish off their enemies and win the war. Armies of brigands were there for the pillage. Their wars were fought in small battles with long pauses of pillage in-between, where their enemies could flee and reconstitute for the next battle. Here I was dragging a trophy home after just one engagement. So what did this make me? Was I a pirate? A brigand or a soldier?
The UNSC doesn’t exist and I’ve taken no oaths to any government on this planet. For now Roary, I and the Slayers were the soldiers in this little war. Closest thing to soldiers that these demons would ever see. The fact was that we and the rest of the Scoobies were a law unto ourselves amongst these demons. Our Mayor was a demon, many of the local city officials and police were demons. No telling how far demon influence has spread to other agencies of the State of California and Federal governments.
It was obvious that enormous amounts of money and labor had been spent on the tunnels and caverns under Sunnydale. Far greater sums of money than a single city or county could afford without outside aid. Wealth pours into this city for the aid and maintenance of demons. So this demon corruption and influence has spread far beyond Sunnydale. How far did it extend?
No the fact is that we were The Law here. The only real law and justice for humans in this lawless town full of demons. Within a few years our bases on the moon and in space would make us a sovereign nation unto ourselves. So long as we could stay below the radar of all the great nations of earth until that time came - then it would be fait accompli. Until that time, every official hand could only be presumed to be against us.
I was now less than fifty meters from my exit. If Richard and I could get this monster out of the tunnel quickly, I would have three hours and a bit more remaining on my mission clock.
My life has turned out so weird. Here I am killing demons in dark tunnels and I’m watching my clock so that I don’t get Karen mad at me. There was nothing more fearful than a good cook who’s pissed off that you’re not going to eat their food hot. I loved her like I loved my Uncle Roary. She was in our souls and family now. Their marriage next month was only a formality but foremost for God and honor.
The only thing John was afraid of was failing his team mates. I’m afraid of disappointing Karen and Willow. I’m just a wuss in a billion dollar suit of armor.
Arriving at C16, I went up the rebar ladder and pushed the manhole cover off to the side. I deployed my forearm fiber-optic snooper scope, like a small flexible periscope to look around. Making sure no homeless people or horny teenagers making out were in the parking lot. It was empty so I ascended to the surface to wait. I modified my Mjolnir color to the green of the Rhododendron bushes along the border wall, dropped my shields and stepped back into them for concealment.
One minute later Richard arrived in his bread truck. I noticed that it was not the same bread truck from when I first met him. He stepped out and not seeing me immediately he looked down the hole. I stepped out of the bushes quietly but greeted him so as not to startle him. It’s always a best practice to always be polite to armed men and women.
Over my external speakers, “Hey Mr. Harney, I’ve something new for you.”
He smiled at me and reached out to shake my armored hand. “Ave’ you now. That’s what your sister said. So what’s this one look like?”
So I gave him the short version, “It’s a 3,300 pound toad like demon, called a Hezrous. Its body will just fit through this manhole. I’ve wrapped it up for transport as you recommended.”
I noticed some additions to Mr. Harney’s new Ford E450 walk-in Utility Master Truck which I measured at 18 feet long of cargo space. It was larger than the old one and sporting a new paint job. It wasn’t the standard all white but a light green on the lower half with a darker forest green one foot wide border stripe between the upper bone-white and light green. He had fake removable magnetic signs near the front doors over his logo. Not a flashy paint job but tastefully disguised as an electricians truck. This one had been accessorized with a heavier duty motorized winch mounted on the back and four hydraulic side outriggers for stabilizing. Which were now deploying.
This was a big step up for Richard but the new winch and outriggers meant that he could now lift heavier loads. My kind of dead-weight loads.
“Hey Richard, I see you have a new truck and toys to go with it. Nice wheels.”
Richard was holding the control pad for the outriggers, as he turned his face up to me smiling, “Yup. New toys for your taxidermy needs.” He smiled again and winked at me. “Don’t worry, you’re paying for it.”
I chuckled at his joke. I certainly was paying for it. But secrecy was not for government accountants who foolishly shopped for the lowest bidder. Only an idiot would assume that you could have it cheap and secret at the same time. It was one or the other. Governments attracted idiots, cheats and scoundrels – like flies on a turd. Still this truck looked like it could lift a good sized Tyrhrock and certainly this Hezrous.
I asked him, “So... what’s your maximum lift limit on this baby?”
He turned back to me smiling with now the crane lift controller in his hands. “This rig will lift ten tons of live and spitting mad weight.”
Wow... That was four tons heavier than I thought it would. I hoped that we never brought one up alive and kicking that weighed that much. I didn’t believe in a zoo for demons or the endangered species recognition that our idiot ecofreaks would try to establish. No. But... Willow and Richard did have a point. What would happen if we were lifting one that I thought was dead and it came back alive on us? Magical regeneration? At least Richard was thinking about this. His truck wouldn’t be damaged in the fight to kill it a second time.
I soberly told him, “I hope that we never have one coming up in your rig alive and spitting mad. Just the same, I’m glad you thought of it.”
Richard rigged up the lift harness as I dropped down hole. I scanned all directions for threats and only detected a few rats again. I lased them anyway and ended them. My ranging and targeting Laser was 2 kW UV at full power and capable of getting an accurate range measurement through atmosphere to 400 km. A single max power pulse would cook 10 pounds of meat well done. My Laser could emit 400 max’ed pulses per second. Rats and that Hezrous eyeball didn’t stand a chance.
I finished dragging the wrapped corpse up to the manhole. The fishnet weave of tie ropes that I had used were working well. Thank God, for the UNSC Navy still training their people on tying knots of all kinds. Naval traditions for basic training of all recruits withstanding three centuries of space faring.
I hooked up the lift straps to the ropes. This Hezrous was just a little heavier than a prize bull cow so Richard’s new toys should be fine.
As it rose up, I lifted from the feet to assist it up. More worried about a rope breaking and the drop hurting the corpse. An enemy to be killed while alive and now I was worried over its body. Richard really wanted a good looking corpse to dress up for display.
My demon ascended slowly and finally snagged the manhole edge. My call of warning to Richard stopped the lift before the ropes broke or the tarp tore. I ascended the ladder and arranged my giant blue demon ‘burrito’. It fit through.
Ten minutes later the toad was inside the van and the outriggers were retracting. One minute later I was climbing down hole and pulling the manhole cover back on.
Wednesday, 17 Dec. 1997, 3:30 PM, Sunnydale California
Daylight tunnel run.
Back in C16 tunnel I scanned again. No hits so I began jogging north at 60 kph, slowing at each intersection long enough to scan for targets. By the time I hit C20, I still hadn’t encountered any other demons. Now the tunnel was ascending slightly; heading deeper into the mountain ridgeline east of Sunnydale. I was under Grayson Ridge. On the other side was the largest of Sunnydale’s drinking water reservoirs. Everything past that was the California coastal mountains and nothing but arid ranchland for 75 miles. A few ranch houses every five or ten miles but mostly deer, horses, cows, goats and sheep. No farmland to speak of and no cities.
So far today only one dead demon. I needed more intel on daytime traffic patterns in these tunnels. I needed some action.
Approaching C21 the tunnel was now 15 meters underground. Twice as deep as normal for one of these tunnels and no manholes for the past 300 meters and none as far up ahead as I could scan.
When I passed C22, I was 30 meters underground. I was now walking in a black out zone for radio with Cortana. The dirt and stone itself absorbed radio waves and the depth. So I stored everything for upload on the return trip. Assuming that I would have a return trip.
As I went past C23, I slowed. I knew that this was approaching the general line of the large east to west running cavern that I had named the Demon Bazaar. I usually entered further to the west. I expected to enter into a far eastern connecting tunnel that would lead to it. This was my first time this far up this tunnel line. I jogged more cautiously at 36 kph and passed two more intersections before the tunnel ended in a void. Still nothing detected. Not even rats.
My scanners told me that the cavern ahead was 40 meters wide and the C tunnel continued on north-easterly past the cavern. I wasn’t sure now that this cavern was connected to the Demon Market at all but may run along a common geological fissure.
I slowly approached the cavern and marked it on my Nav as C26. I would spray paint the walls later. By the calculations of my built-in inertial navigation system (INS) I was now standing 90 meters beneath the surface, 1.6 km east of Sunnydale High School and under the skirt of Grayson Ridge. If the C tunnel stayed level but continue on for another 1.5 km it would be almost directly under Grayson Peak and 3 km past that was Sunnydale Reservoir in the valley beyond.
Sunnydale’s Reservoir was for human drinking water. The whole place was fenced and they didn’t allow swimming or boating or fishing. Were monster Hezrous demons crapping and laying giant toad eggs in the water?
The cavern was a lot smaller than the Demon Market. It was a 40 by 60 meters oval with a 20 meter domed ceiling. It appeared to be a carved bubble in the rock formation. The top of the dome was covered in naturally red luminescent moss. This moss provided a faint red colored light to bath the room in a hellish twilight. My sensors detected the moss also emitting more energy in Infrared waves which would be useful for a critter with heat sensitive eyes.
All my sensors were in play now. This place was full of mystery but no demons.
The floor was worked, carved nearly flat. Not smooth but lots of designs cut into the floor. All cut in concentric rings around the raised ring in the center of the room. An elevated circular ring wall two meters in diameter and raised 42 centimeters above the floor surface. It looked like a large fire place. I slowly walked to the center of the room and stopped. I scanned the fire pit. Sure enough there was charcoalized oak wood logs and wood ash debris in the pit. Along with human bones in the pit. Bones enough for three separate people by the lengths and types. Just not all of their bones and the ones left here bore sharp teeth marks. Ok, these demons eat humans.
My scanners pulsed the entire room for a detailed 3-D image. There were nineteen pillars along the wall evenly spaced and standing 1.5 meters from the walls; except where the C tunnel entered and exited on the far wall. Very Roman in appearance and they were solid cut from different stone and moved here. They were all identical, 13 meters tall and one meter wide. No steel dungeon rings or bolts in them so they were for some sort of demon ceremony but maybe not prisoner restraint. Maybe they were decorative?
I walked to the eastern wall and began walking the entire circumference of the room. Looking for signs of chains, restraints or bones. This place was surprisingly clean compared to the other demon caverns that I had been in. Looks like it had been swept and mopped. No layer of dust anywhere. In the cut grooves in the floor my scans revealed remnants of human blood, human tissue and urine. Lots of blood of all types.
The walls were also covered in carvings to 13 meters up the walls. The floor graphics looked like writing, rune language. Just one I didn’t know. So I walked the entire floor imaging the floor graphics. Then I walked the wall again but this time taking high definition images of the entire wall. I even took some deep scans looking for hidden doors or secret compartments. Then I moved one of the pillars to see if there was hidden writing beneath them. Nothing. The floors were carved with smooth pillar pads already in place.
The wall imagery was not like the demon Agonia church at all. No demony things with lots of demons raping, eating and tearing apart humans. No graphic square was the same though. It did appear to be a visual record carved in stone of all of the demon types. I found carvings of Tyrhrock, Brachen, Vampires, Gajug, Hezrous, Mantis and a dozen others that I recognized but hundreds of others were unknown. A whole lot of unknowns on this wall. Too many for my liking. I wondered if this was some sort of visual catalog of demons? So where was the rest of it? Having a picture of our enemies was good, but I needed the descriptive details. I needed an encyclopedia.
So I switched illumination spectra to see if there was hidden graphics or runes. I cycled up the spectrum and the rock was gorgeously patterned in IR with some natural rock florescence but no hidden messages.
Talking for my records, I said, “Cortana, I need analysis of these recordings. Get help from Giles, Jenny and even Angel if you have to. I need a translation and evaluation. The walls are maybe a visual catalog of demons. Also for later, I’ll need a covert sensor suite for this cavern to let us know when it is being used and get recordings of the occupants. I’ll want to greet them personally. The fire pit creates smoke and there is a 16 cm hole at the top of the dome which I assume is a chimney or vent of sorts. We might be able to use that to our advantage. I’m going to set up booby traps here on the entrance tunnels and then head over to DK23 and the Demon Market. Really wish that I had one of Montero’s party favors for this place or at least five gallons of gasoline.”
I suspected that under Grayson peak was another demon city or town. Maybe the entire ridgeline was a collection of demon villages in large caverns. Maybe an underground lake full of Hezrous toads or worse.
Blast John and Cortana! Looks like I’m going to really need some nuclear weapons and not some firecrackers. I need to kill these cities, plus cave in the mountains and leave them a molten crater open to the sky. Nothing less than total annihilation of their sanctuaries.
With that I pulled two Montero special M67 hand grenades from their pouches. Leaving me one left. In my fanny pack, I had brought two Campbell’s soup cans packed with 5 minute two ton epoxy, superglue, ten each of assorted plastic zip-ties and 100 meters of 30 pound fishing monofilament line for some field expedient surprises. I emptied the soup cans on the floor over a white hand-towel, using it like a work cloth.
I moved two of the nearest stone pillars over to use as a step stool so I could reach the tunnel roof easily. It wasn’t near as heavy as my Tyrhrock and my powered armor made it easy. I was more worried about breaking the pillars and leaving debris of my passage to alert my intended targets.
I used my Laser, set to 8 Watts to heat up the rock in four places. I epoxied one can to the ceiling two meters inside each tunnel entrance to the cavern. The cans open end pointing into the cavern but towards a tunnel entrance edge. Then I epoxied three small plastic zip-ties closed into wide loops to the inside cavern walls. One up high on level with the can at the inside edge of the cavern. The other two on opposite sides of the cavern wall entrance but 22 cm off the floor.
The heated rock was cooling fast in the 48 degree cavern but the heat set the epoxy in less than five minutes. Still I waited past the five minute cure time. I tied off one end of the monofilament to the zip-tie loop opposite the can’s open end and down low. I then began threading the line through the other two zip-tie loops until the fishing line was near the soup can. I pulled the safety pin on the first M67 grenade and slipped it inside the can. The grenade fit nicely and held the arming safety spoon in place. I carefully tied the fishing line taught to the grenade.
Now I had an old fashioned jungle booby trap. Whatever came down the tunnel to use the cavern; their legs would hit the fishing line stretched tight across the tunnel down low. This would pull the grenade out of the can and it would swing down. The arming spoon would pop-off and three seconds later the grenade would detonate. Anything inside the tunnel or in the cavern for 15 meters in both directions was going to get a very nasty surprise. With the tunnel walls concentrating the blast I might get more than 20 meter lethal zone. The blast wave would rupture their eardrums, shatter soft organs, the heat might char the flesh and the metal shrapnel would fillet them.
Whatever was using the cavern was going to be in for a rude and painful welcome. Injured or dead, my campaign of terror against these demons was just beginning.
I finished both north and south booby traps and put the pillars back exactly as I had found them. The advantage to having taken great high resolution photos before beginning my work.
I carefully stepped back into the south C26 tunnel. Making sure that I stepped over the fishing line now trip-wire.
Looking back into the cavern, I switched to human light spectrum and then just IR. My fishing line and traps were invisible in both. What surprised me was that in the UV spectrum the fishing line glowed a bright blue. Didn’t know that before. I hoped that my intended targets didn’t use the UV spectrum to see in. But unlikely, since most demons so far found UV light to be painful.
For now I’m done here and I have 110 minutes left on my mission clock and one hour to get cleaned up and back home.
I jogged south to the C20 intersection. From there I could move over to the DK tunnel line 3.2 km to the west and then backtrack to the Demon Market at DK23. This would give me a quick way to count the demons in their market area and observe differences in the population. Just before I went kinetic on them.
As I passed C21, I came out of the radio blackout zone and I immediately raised Cortana.
“Cortana. I have some intel for you on a new cavern with some interesting images and data. Uploading on side channels. No demons encountered.”
When I got to the C20 intersection I turned and this time started running. No time to lose and I hoped that there were no more large demons out but so far my sensors should be able to spot them long before I run into them.
Cortana came back, “Good to have you back, alive. Warning! Willow has bitten off all her nails when you stopped responding to her radio and was working on her knuckles. So expect some blowback.”
“Maybe I should send her out shopping while I’m out hunting?” Cortana being the nasty sister had switched my channel back to the Fleet net so everyone heard my last remark.
Immediately Willow herself came on channel and none too pleased, “Good luck with that Mr. Alexander Harris! Assuming that I don’t kill you first!”
I realized that this was the first time that Willow had been on channel when I hit a blackout zone for comms. She was worried sick and now pissed off at me.
I didn’t have time for this; I was coming up on my turn. “Willow, I love you and you can kill me later but I’m going to be real busy soon at the Demon Bazaar.”
I knew that she and the others could once again watch my video uplink.
I arrived at the DK20 tunnel intersection at a walk. This area under Sunnydale was a hot zone for my previous demon encounters and I couldn’t afford to sprint in and make the turn casually. I brought my shields up to full and pulsed additional electric current across the shield as my anti-Vamp measure. There was nothing in the number 20 tunnel line but when I stepped out into DK, I had targets north and south of me. All of them heading for the bazaar. So I turned and faced the three targets approaching me from the south at a fast walk.
They weren’t vampires by their body heat. I had a high probability that they were human or mostly human. They had flashlights. Why would three humans willingly come down here?
I slung my shotgun, pulled my katana and stood still baring the tunnel. At their rate of closure I had four minutes until they arrived, so I decided to meet them instead.
I walked towards them quickly. When they were fifty meters away I stopped and became a stone statue. Their flashlights finally reflected off me when they were thirty meters away. They were unsure of me but still approached slowly talking loudly to each other in a show of bravado which slowly quieted to silence. They finally stopped at twenty paces. The fools.
From my scans they were all human. Not even a teensy bit of demon crossing in their familial line. The oldest looked to be in his late fifties and the other two were in their mid-twenties. I labeled them as Idiot-1, 2 and 3. I didn’t move and made no sound.
Finally the oldest motioned the other two to follow him and they were going to walk around me. They must have thought I was a statue.
In a flash, I pulled my second katana and stepped into them. One sword across Idiot-1’s chest and just below his neck. My second pointed tip touching the chest of Idiot-2 behind him. Idiot-1 froze and his eyes almost popped out of his skull. Idiots-2 and 3 both shrieked like little kids at a horror show and fell over backwards onto the sand. None of them pissed themselves so that at least was something.
All three were dressed for a relaxed California day and high top walking shoes with day hiking backpacks on. If this wasn’t a tunnel I would have thought these three would be walking one of the local hiking trails.
I switched to my Vengeance voice, “State your names and your business - humans?”
Idiot-1 spoke first. The other two were now twenty feet away and looked like they were seconds from running home to momma. “Yer, yer... you’re him? Aren’t you? You’re the one, the hunter the magic folk say is here?”
I looked these guys over more carefully this time. No weapons of any kind. Not even one stake amongst the three of them. Mostly empty backpacks and flashlights. Their clothes and accessories almost screamed airhead new-age hippies and the youngest a surfer dude. The Age of Aquarius Ashram fifty miles to the south of Sunnydale was missing three of their inmates.
I lifted my sword blade up to his throat, “Answer my questions human?”
He developed a stutter, “I... I... My name is Sean... Sean Cochran. I... I... I own the ‘Gaia Magic and Novelty’ shop in Sunnydale. I... I... I came down here to trade with the magic folk who live down here.” He started to turn to answer for the other two but I used the sword to slap him in the chest with the flat side of the blade. His focus returned to the blade and me.
I pointed my right hand sword at the other two but said nothing. My left hand sword stayed against Sean’s chest. The older, Idiot-2, began to stammer and both were hyperventilating. Finally their knees stopped shaking long enough for them to answer. “I’m Rudy... Rudy Langston.”
Idiot-3 spoke, “I... I... I’m Doug... Douglas Baker. We’re with him... Looking for the elves and dwarves... To buy cool stuff... magic stuff.”
Now I was confused. Did I just drop down Alice’s rabbit hole? Were these people morons?
I then spoke to the group sheathing my right hand sword, “Produce your identification humans.” Fer crying out loud! Now I’m a freaking cop.
The younger two pulled their wallets out and Sean then reluctantly and slowly began to fish for his wallet inside his cargo pants. His eyes stayed on the sword which I had backed off twenty centimeters.
I took each wallet one at a time and scanned their driver’s licenses. Uploading to Cortana as I tossed them back.
Cortana came on channel, “All three are real identities. Sean is the owner of our local magic, jokes, novelties, and drug paraphernalia store. His store is also the gathering place for all of the local occult and space cadets. He hosts sessions of marijuana and liquor fueled ‘magic conferences,’ occult training classes and bull sessions on conspiracy theories. Topics seem to be ghosts, Area-51 in Nevada, UFO’s in general, little grey aliens and alien species of various types around every corner. He has been detained multiple times for possession of drugs but oddly no arrests. The other two have been his groupies and employees for the past decade.”
I was still confused as to why they were in this tunnel and heading to the demon’s grocery store. I motioned for Sean with my blade and spoke slowly, “What is your purpose here?”
Sean was a little more relaxed since he assumed that I was not going to carve him up. “Wow, man. You’re the man... Well… the whatever you are. You’re the Vengeance that the night elves are afraid of.”
He was starting to babble, I had to get him back on track. “Focus human. Why are you here? In this place?”
Sean paused a moment then said, “All of my special suppliers of magical substances, books and artefacts haven’t come by lately and I’m running low. Most likely because of you. One of the night elves came by last night to buy the last of my potions and she also bought two artefacts. She gave me directions to the Elves Bazaar so I could buy more.”
She? And what the hell is a night Elf? “Did this female creature have a name?” I asked.
Rudy stepped closer, “She came in last night about 8:30, called herself Drusilla. Acted a bit crazy you know but she paid in cash for everything. She had this really wicked cloak with a fancy hood and everything.”
Ok, Drusilla is alive and this is not good. I looked at Rudy and Sean. “What did she buy?”
Rudy continued, “Well she bought all of our healing potions and two magical artefacts used in healing spells.”
Maybe not so bad. Drusilla is obviously healthy now for a vampire. The only reason she’d buy healing potions and such, is for Spike. How injured is Spike? I thought vampires could heal almost overnight from what would be lethal injuries for a human. She’s also trying to keep a low profile; otherwise she would have just killed these guys and taken the potions. Was giving these doofuses directions to the Bazaar her evil crazed way of getting rid of them?
Why did these guys think she’s an Elf? Fer crying out loud she’s a vampire.
I had to ask, “What makes you think that Drusilla is an Elf?”
Both Rudy and Doug chimed in together, “Hey dude! She said she was... and she spoke so... like old... really old English and stuff. You know like from those British movies about old times. She was so strange; she had to be... an Elf.”
I really wanted to smack their heads once. Really hard smack. For a long moment, I was speechless.
Willow came on the radio all snarky, “How stupid are these people?”
I quickly cut my suit external speakers, lest I blurt out my answer.
Then Buffy’s voice, “Are you gonna kill’em... ‘Cause I think that might be counted as community service.”
I could hear Kendra, Curt and Roary in the background laughing.
“Pipe down Willow, that wasn’t helpful.” I started to snork a bit. Then I couldn’t help it. I tried to choke down my laughter without much success. “Funny Buffy... but not helping me right now. I can’t have these three thinking that I’m anything other than the big and terrible Vengeance.”
Sean spoke up, “You don’t think she’s an Elf? Do you... ?”
I stepped back into the center of the tunnel, “No, she is a master vampiress.”
Douglas the youngest was all indignant. “No way big dude. She’s an Elf. I mean vampires aren’t real. They can’t be dude?”
Rudy was nodding his head, yes.
I really, really wanted to slap their heads.
Sean boldly stated, “Doesn’t matter what she thinks she is. I need to purchase more magic supplies and she said I could get them up ahead.”
Sean wasn’t thinking this through or he ran a business and didn’t believe a single thing he sold was really magical. He needed product for his shelves and I had most likely killed his regular suppliers. He didn’t believe that he was in mortal danger and that his suppliers were demons or maybe one of the non-humans who could be down here.
Sean looked at me with no fear in his eyes this time. “What are you?”
He didn’t believe in demons and I knew that I couldn’t convince them. Especially with them all back at base laughing it up and giving me biting satirical commentary over the radio.
So finally I decided on sarcasm, “I’m the Easter Bunny.”
Sean looked at me with a lopsided disbelieving look. Doug and Rudy looked like I had just stomped on their pet puppy. I elaborated, “You believe in elves, dwarves, UFOs and little grey aliens - but you do not believe in vampires or evil demons. Therefore everything that you may have heard about me - cannot be true.”
Seconds of silence went under this bridge and I could almost see their brains trying to connect dots. I made my decision to allow adult foolish people to make their own foolish mistakes. I pointed up the tunnel and told’em the truth. “Down that tunnel you will find no friends and no place for humans, only evil demons who eat humans raw. Only death awaits you but you may continue if you wish.” With that I stood to the side to let them pass by me.
Almost a minute went by in near silence. The three of them huddled together and they thought I could not hear their whispers. Sean was the first to warily pass me by and then both Rudy and Doug passed me. I waited and watched them go up the tunnel.
My mind full of conflict. One part of me wanted to protect them from themselves. But I couldn’t convince them that vampires were real and that only a very bad death awaited them in the Bazaar. I couldn’t beat them unconscious to protect them from themselves. Well I could but liberty and freedom, means making your own choices, even if they were bad ones.
My decision to let them pass was not popular with the ladies, except Cortana. Cortana just said, “There goes three examples of Darwin’s culls.”
Buffy had switched from having me slay them; to me beating them senseless and taking them back to the Magic Store. That sort of fascist actions has never worked in all of history. I cut my audio channel to Reach so I wouldn’t have to listen to them pleading for me to turn fascist on the three.
I waited scanning them as they proceeded up tunnel for three minutes and then I began walking at a human pace behind them. If I was wrong and they were still alive when I got there, then I would act as guardian. I really didn’t expect the Bazaar to be filled with benign and friendly Fairies, Elves and Dwarves. If they existed? They would be as far from Sunnydale as they could get.
They reached the Bazaar cavern 400 meters ahead of me and disappeared down into the cavern at DK23. I sped up but didn’t run. Ten seconds later, I heard the hooting calls of Ghenar demons and what sounded like the roars of other demons.
I went to a run. I was 100 meters away when the screams began. Human screams of terrible fear and agony.
I stopped at the edge of the tunnel. I turned my radio link to Reach base station back on. I looked left to right so they could all see the Bazaar and I ordered in my command voice, “I’ve a fight here, so everyone be quiet so you don’t distract me. Otherwise I’ll cut my audio again.”
There was a milling mass of large demons of many colors sixty meters plus east and nowhere near the pool of water. Some with large horns and some with small horns but all of them were fighting over scraps of bloody meat. Many were covered in blood. Not a single vampire in sight. The last remains of Sean, Rudy and Doug were rapidly disappearing into hungry maws. Torn clothes and all being chewed. Some of the larger demons were already cracking and chewing up their flesh stripped bones.
I felt bad for them but they wanted to play in the middle of the freeway.
Down below me was thirty-six demons in the milling group and further east was a dozen more. I pulse scanned east and west. No Brachens, Pinotaerie or living humans within my scan.
I did have in the main group two Sunnydale’s Police Officers in uniform and eight city utilities workers in their city issue coveralls. Must be their lunch break? Each of demon cops were chewing on what was left of an arm. Each had an arm from a different victim. One of the cops was removing Sean’s watch from his dead wrist as he chewed meat off the Humerus bone near the shoulder end in huge tearing bites.
The demons finally noticed me. A deep bark and a growl alerted the others. In less than a second they were all facing me but none had stopped chewing and crunching.
I ignored those west of the pool below me, to concentrate on the bloody pack before me. My shotgun came to my shoulder in an instant. I fired on the largest of them and then the two demon Police Officers. Eight rounds out and I dropped the shotgun on its lanyard. I pulled my .45s and emptied them. All in less than six seconds. Twenty-four dead demons and nine more critically injured from rounds passing through primary targets. I swapped handgun mags and continued but now I shot down eight to the west of me. Reloading again, I jumped down to the east and began running up tunnel. I was now trying to kill the ones that were up in the grocery store area fleeing furthest ahead of me.
Buffy came on the radio all appalled and excited, “You! You killed two cops! You just can’t do that Xander.”
I said nothing because I was busy and obviously I can and I did. I let her stew as I kept moving.
Twenty-four seconds later the last ones head came off and bounced off the wall. I paused with no more living threats near the eastern end of the cavern 300 meters from the pool near CK23. I sheathed my swords and reloaded all of my hand guns first. Just as I was half-way through reloading my shotgun a giant of a Sankreg demon trundled out of CK24 100 meters away and jumped down to the cavern floor. From the CK23 entrance to my right came two Ter’Ghar demons. Both of them took one look at me or maybe it was the smell of human blood but obviously they had a hard-on for some feeding sex.
Crap, when it rains it pours.
The Sankreg was the highest threat to me so I began retreating back towards the pool and it followed. This one was 3.2 meters tall and 2.6 meters wide of all armored mean. Compared to a vampire these Sankreg were slow. Finally I jumped 15 meters left to the edge of the wall where I had a good angle perpendicular to my pursuing Sankreg. One thing about Sankregs they couldn’t turn very quickly. I was only fifty meters from the black pool of water. From the side angle, its soft leg joints were on full display for me without armor. I fired two rounds at each joint. Hip and knee on its right side facing me. The HEI rounds struck like a wrecking ball and then exploded. Pieces of Sankreg ceramic carapace went spinning off as it collapsed down to the cavern floor. Its caustic blood hissing and squirting for twelve meters as it rolled.
One of the closely following Ter’Ghar caught some of the Sankreg’s ‘blood’ on its hip; horse sized erect dick and lower leg. Its scream was blood curdling loud as its flesh began to steam, bubble and melt. It flailed about in pain, losing its hard-on… the hard way.
The second Ter’Ghar was rushing towards me as I pulled my katana and met it half way in a blur dodging off to its side. I sliced upwards as I passed. My blade sliced off its engorged sex organ, outstretched arms and then its upper shoulders with head. The lower body now headless ran on for three steps before it collapsed.
Twenty meters beyond my blade descended upon the first injured Ter’Ghar and I cleaved it into two halves. Head to crotch, it split apart and fell in a spray of black blood. It was in so much pain that it didn’t even try to defend itself or dodge.
Now I faced only the crippled Sankreg which was lying upon the floor bellowing loudly and screaming how it was going to kill me. Actually the kill’me part was after its proclamations of crushing, bashing, gnashing and eating me slowly parts. Same-o-same-o. These demons had no creativity.
I backed away from it towards the dark pool. I turned scanning and reloading my shotgun. The cavern was empty of live demons now. Bodies littered the floors all about me and from me to the pool where the original ‘lunch fest’ had occurred.
My radio channel went chaotic with Buffy, Kendra, Roary and Willow all talking at once over the base stations microphone. They had watched everything on the monitors. Kendra had seen the Ter’Ghars before but not the Sankreg. Buffy hadn’t seen either before. Willow was frightened for me and made a funny remark about the Ter’Ghars sexual ‘taste’. Roary hadn’t seen either but he was trying to coral the three lady stampede over the mic. Finally Roary switched the mic off, just as I cut their audio.
“Cortana please to talk to them; I don’t need this distraction now.”
Cortana answered me, “Roger, Alex. I’ll try to keep Buffy and Kendra from mangling Roary.”
Turning back to the Sankreg, it was trying to move towards me using its arms and one good leg. The demon grocery store and the other demon shops were mostly ragged tents and wooden splintered shacks along the walls. I needed a cleanup crew here.
Hmmm. In a pinch the Sankreg would do the job for me.
I walked past it along the wall and stopped ten meters from the black pool. I waited and let it continue creeping towards me on arm length pull at a time. I needed it closer to the pool for this to work.
Finally it was where I needed it to be. I ran at the Sankreg and then jumped to the side and behind him. I fired my shotgun again at his left hip, elbow and shoulder joints. Each shattered by the rounds smack and detonations. The Sankreg screamed even louder. More of its volatile blood was hissing out now from its wounds. But now it only had one usable appendage and was going nowhere. Its body was now less than thirty meters from the pool and close enough to be useful.
Ignoring the Sankreg for now I quickly went back the way I had come, picking up demons and pitching them closer to the pool. Tossing 150 to 300 kilo bodies like softballs. Finally I had forty-four demons with parts piled near enough to the pool of Asgroth. I certainly didn’t want to get closer than I intended.
I found the two Sunnydale PD demons and stripped them of their badges, pocket litter and gun belts. No need leaving good equipment and especially weapons behind. Vampires would consider the guns to be quite a prize. The vampires knew how to use them and had the hands for it. Some vampires would sell them but no need increasing the risks for others. I stripped the pocket litter from the City Utility workers also. I could have a little fun with this sowing a little fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) with the demons at city hall.
I finally found Sean, Doug and Rudy’s wallets, keys and pocket items. I bagged them for later.
I was now ready for some cleaning.
Dr. Giles thought that this Asgroth was a G’harax demon by my description of it. He said that they were as close to an ‘Old One’ as living demons could get today. They could grow extremely large and had lots of tentacles. The Krakens of old were thought to be ancient G’harax. They are voracious feeders on pretty much anything. He did warn me that like a crocodile they could move on land but preferred the water. He also said that they were at least as smart as humans. Nuts, Stupid demons were easier to combat.
I started tossing demons and their pieces into the pool. I didn’t know if the one I had seen before would return or a different one would or maybe none. But the bodies would sink into the water and these dead demons wouldn’t feed any others. If he was around at least ‘Asgroth’ ate demons with as much gusto as humans. If this worked out this would be a feeding time for the Kraken.
I kept an eye on the Sankreg who watched me with hate filled eyes. It was trying to inch towards me with its one arm that had the least damage. I had to give it credit for persistence. I paused in my dead demon tossing and shot its one good right shoulder joint. It howled even louder but was now truly not going anywhere.
I was at number twenty-four to pitch like a bag of garbage when my motion sensors alarmed. A tentacle appeared at the surface wrapping around a floating body and pulling the corpse below the black surface. The other floating demons began to disappear. The water began roiling and then pushing upwards. I watched for a few seconds and then sped up my meat tossing as the surface water began to boil with movement.
As I tossed the last corpse towards the pool a larger tentacle shot up catching this one in the air and jerked it down out of sight. Water was now pushing out the broken edges of the pools rim and splashing on the floor. Something big was coming up.
I began rapidly backing away from the pool as more tentacles appeared flailing for a meal. The Sankreg was down and ineffective less than thirty meters from the pool. Its eyes were no longer filled with hate but now with genuine fear. It howled like a lonesome starving dog.
I quickly pulled some of the demon store tents and wooden walls down into a pile and threw some extra combustibles on for good measure. The pile of flammable debris was near the Sankreg but off to the side near the wall.
I ran leaving the Sankreg behind but this time I was headed for the eastern CK23 tunnel entrance. The Sankreg’s blood was turning into a low dark yellowish vapor around it and getting thicker. A nice explosive vapor was flowing down hill towards the pool.
At the tunnel entrance I turned my targeting Laser up and set the debris on fire. I started lasing everything that looks flammable in the cavern. I waited for the fires to grow and spread. Asgroth’s tentacles were ranging closer to the soon to be late Sankreg. When the fires began to spread, I underhand lobbed my last grenade at the Sankreg. If I had timed this correctly the grenade would detonate just about the instant it struck the Sankreg’s back.
I had three seconds from when the spoon popped off as it sailed upwards on its trajectory. I began to run south down CK23 as my HUD timer counted down. The grenade’s fuse was a tenth of second slow and the grenade must have bounced off the Sankreg’s back but still detonated close to its right shoulder.
I was 140 meters south when I registered the grenades blast and then a second much larger ripple in the ground. The grenade had cracked the Sankreg’s shell releasing a cloud of its explosive fluids and I had provided a secondary, failsafe backup ignition source with the bonfires. I threw myself down and skidded. My shields flared as I hit the tunnel floor at speed and the furnace blast wave rolled over me a centisecond later.
I stayed down for ten seconds and then stood facing the Bazaar. The tunnel air was full of swirling molten hot sand and dust; my IR sensors were almost whited out from the heat. But with my other spectra I could see a greater roaring heat from the cavern beyond. Like a single bright light deep into a fog bank. By now everything worth burning in the demon cavern would be on fire. Maybe even the specialty stores in the side tunnels. Their glass windows and heavy doors should have been shattered by the blast.
Well, with any luck Asgroth also got a little burnt. The fire would now rage inside what was left of the Bazaar accomplishing my goal of cleanup via Sankreg.
As I stood there ruminating I concluded that the fires would burn for maybe a day. I doubt the humans of the Sunnydale Fire Department will come down here to fight the fires. The air will not only be superheated but toxic to any demons that need to breathe for maybe the next three days. On reflection this may have the added benefit of reducing demon activity for the next three or four days.
Standing there in the tunnel I asked Cortana, “Hey Sis, can you monitor the human death rate and prepare a brief for me? I want to see if there is a decline after burning out their Bazaar.”
Cortana wryly commented back, “You did put another dent in their numbers and the inferno in the cavern should keep them out of the cavern for a while. I’ll keep track and note if the death rate declines.”
I turned and began jogging south towards Reach. I was going to make my time schedule for Karen’s dinner. I wondered if I could get Cortana to order some old style Navy anti-submarine depth charges for Asgroth. Maybe I could net some demons around the outside of the ‘can’ so the G’harax could eat it. The lure would work better if the demons were alive when I pitched them into the pool. How do I get the demons alive but passive while I tie them down?
Then again Asgroth is proving to be somewhat useful and injuring him might make him more dangerous for the other demons in the caverns. A maimed but healing Asgroth will be a very hungry Asgroth. … Maybe I’ll kill him last.
I called to Cortana on our secure Spartan link. “Cortana please relay, my ETA for egress in 12 minutes. Assuming I don’t run into anything else down here.”
Cortana came back, “FYI – The Fire Department is responding to calls of billowing smoke at City Hall, the Police Department, the City Utility and Maintenance yard, the County Magistrates Courthouse, the cemetery across from the Police Station and one Bank building. All of which are above and near the Cavern. Your fire in the demon bazaar is smoking out their side entrances.”
Cortana must have unblocked the other channel, Willow came on, “You and I are going to have a discussion about your radio and... and you not answering! I was worried sick.”
“Sorry about that Willow but its physics for the Radios and I can’t do anything about it for now. When I run into a blackout zone, I can’t help that. I’m mapping them but I have no control over where the tunnels go.”
Willow was still peeved at me and not talking about just the blackout zone, “I’m still going to punch you one!”
“You’ve got to catch me first.”
Willow went all diabolical on me, “That won’t be hard to do. I’ll just take all my clothes off and you will be a moth to my flame.”
I could hear Kendra in the background calling her a tramp again and teasing her. Buffy was hooting and Roary referred to me as ‘poor dumb sucker’. She had a point. I probably would be drooling the entire way, my brain turned to gruel, shuffling towards her like a zombie until she hit me.
“Willow... I didn’t need that in my mind right now. Cortana end video displays until I arrive at home base. Spartan-1 out.”
As I jogged back, I had eleven minutes to think of something other than Willow naked, as pleasant as that was. My mind only partially occupied on my scans and tunnel intersections that I crossed. I needed to talk to Cortana about something that bothered me. Something that I could only could talk to her about without the others uninformed ribald remarks.
I secure commed Cortana, “Hey big Sis, I need to... just talk... about something.”
Cortana came back curious but polite. No satire and no giggles. “What’s wrong Alex? I take it, from the quaver in your vocal cords that this is about Willow and sex.”
“Ya... it is. I’ve a few questions... before Thursday and... and my life begins to spin out of control.”
Cortana didn’t laugh at me which was good. “Well? What about Willow and your future did you wish to talk about? The part where she outsmarts you regularly and is plotting world domination? Or is it the part where she has set herself the goal to marry you and torment you for the rest of your life with your children and her stunning intellect?”
“Blast you Cortana. You know it’s the last part.”
Now she was tittering at me, “I do admit that my plans for Terra’s future defense and Willow’s motivations over your body are congruent and most agreeable.”
“Cortana! You... you are entirely too smug about my predicament.”
“Don’t be such a wuss Alex. Most young males in your shoes would be off sowing their oats across the planet with great gusto and I might add with Willow for a starter. This would suit my plans just fine. This planet is going to need thousands of Spartans and millions of genetically enhanced humans as rapidly as possible. To my dismay, you are not helping me with this plan which you are fully aware of and also know is necessary. From human psychology and behavioral rituals, I academically know why you haven’t, as she says - boffed her bowlegged and pregnant; but your gentlemanly character does not achieve this planets future defense requirements centuries before they would, given their current progress.”
“I still have to keep reminding myself that you’re... you’re not human! You’re my brilliant and wicked sister... mother... lover. You know I should be seeking psychotherapy for this? Our relationship is what they make soap operas out of.”
“Oh Alex! You’re such a flirt and I am very fond of you. If I were a real woman, I would’ve already seduced you into motherhood and then later with Willow on a night of pleasant sweaty exercise. Willow just needs a few more months of experience and she will be successful in her immediate goal. I’m sure that with my help world domination will come later.”
I stumbled while running at 125 kph and careened wildly before recovering and slowing down. “Cortana!!”
She was laughing uproariously at me, “Alex... You are so easy. But it’s nonetheless true.”
I was now just jogging slower back to Reach. I had to be more careful with my conversations with Cortana about Willow. They both had a way of surprising me at inopportune moments. Devious ambushers that’s what they are.
“Cortana, this is serious. Why does Willow want so many children and isn’t really willing to wait?”
“Alex, Alex, Alex... You have all of John’s memories and what amounts to the collected University libraries of entire worlds at your disposal and yet you are so ignorant and naive when it comes to human females. Obviously knowledge does not equate to wisdom. At least you’re no different than all of the other males throughout history who cannot seem to understand females. I will try to answer your question by directing you to the pre-Covenant space faring history of Earth. When genetics engineering became low cost, convenient and medically accepted procedure for ridding the human population of thousands of genetic diseases and other disease conditions; Terra of the 23th Century had two billion inhabitants with two billion living in space habitats. In 2352 slipspace drives were available and other star systems opened up for colonization. With mortality declining rapidly the Terran USAN decided that the next stage of genetic engineering, life extension, would be reserved only to those who served in the UNSC and for off-world colonists. With each genetics and life-extension success, humans adapted to these circumstances. Some females responding to millennia of genetic evolution find motherhood to be desirable and natural. Others find babies and children to be barely tolerable. Others began families in small clusters and raised those children to adulthood before starting again. In other words some couples across 150 years and 100 years of fertility had nearly one hundred children, others about fifty and others less than twelve. With the advanced nanites it is impossible to have none. The only difference today is that this Earth’s humans have lifespans generally half of what the Terran USAN offered for almost two hundred years before the arrival of the Covenant. Forty years before the Covenant they went from good health to even better health plus life-extension from 150 years to 250 years.”
Cortana paused to let that sink into my brain, and then she continued. “Willow is driven by her hormones and the nanite changes in her right now. When she is confronted by the reality of babies she might change her mind about how many she wants and then again she might not. The reality is that babies and children are naturally smelly; require tremendous time commitment, love - and cleaning up their drool, snot and bowel movements. Plus as they mature they are noisy, argumentative, frustrating and siblings are always fighting with each other in some fashion. Despite children bringing chaos to all couples lives - humans keep having them for masochistic but the completely human reason called love. Love and passion are both very powerful human forces.”
I slowed further as Cortana flashed imagery of parenting through my neural link. Thousands of babies at their best and worst. Expecting mothers, happy couples and the pain of childbirth. Parents with loving smiles just the same. The same babies with time-lapse imagery as they grew to adulthood and started families of their own. With all of the demographic and medical statistical charts. Then came the Covenant and all of the lives cut short. Black bands across imagery signifying death by the millions and then billions. Then she cut it off as suddenly as an axe fall.
I had stopped in the tunnel. My hands trembling leaning against the tunnel wall. I stood there uncertain and emotionally drained. I was grateful for her cutting off the tragedy that she in a dark moment had allowed to dominate our neural link. John never got the opportunity to raise children. He and Cortana had a ring side seat to the slaughter of billions of humans and they were in the forefront of trying to save as many as they could. I didn’t realize that even Cortana had her moments of deep sadness and regrets enough to fill the Grand Canyon over her witness to such massacres.
She considered the slaughter of humanity as her failing; it was her greatest regret and led to these darker moments of deep loss. She could race into a depression in seconds because of it and then race out again as her sense of duty and iron willed resolve gripped her. I could almost taste across the neuralnet an unspoken, “never again.”
I was going to be a father but unlike John... I had the opportunity to live with and love them. To love Willow and to hopefully live a very long life with Willow.
This vision of being a parent… Willow as my wife and mother to our children scared the crap out of me. Almost as much my nightmare of the Covenant or these Goa’uld arriving in Earth orbit did. I knew that no matter what, Cortana would stand as guardian for our children and all humanity.
I started walking again. “Cortana did you tell Willow about babies and children being smelly and all of those horrible bodily fluids that kids leave everywhere?”
“Yes, I have and she knows. Didn’t you know that she has been babysitting babies and kids since she was eleven? All of the kids in your neighborhood know her and she is good with children. Besides that, she needs to be fully informed for good decision making but her hormones and her totally unreasonable love for you is jamming the message regarding the more unpleasant reality of babies. This is not surprising since even in the UNSC Universe 93 percent of all females experienced at least one pregnancy before their 21th birthday and 98% three pregnancies by their 28th birthday. Even with male and female birth control far more readily available - teenagers still pair up, fall in love and produced offspring.”
I had a terrible epiphany, remembering what our Mother, Dr. Halsey had done. “Cortana what are you intending to do with my sperm samples? They’re just for Willow aren’t they?”
She dug her spurs into me once again, “Alex, you already know the answer to that question.”
I started jogging slowly again. I’m going to be the father of an entire planet before Willow is done.
Before Halloween, I had read three classic Robert A. Heinlein Sci-Fi stories from the 1960’s. Each featured a character named Lazarus Long. The character was not immortal but was the first genetically engineered human to accidentally have the ‘Methuselah’ genes for long life.
I was now Lazarus Long. Like him, I was also an accident. But unlike him, dead or alive Willow and Cortana were going to carry out their diabolical plot using my sperm samples.
I couldn’t kill her. I couldn’t even hurt her. “Cortana have you told Willow what you plan to do?”
“Yes and no silly. It was her idea and her plan. Terrific idea actually. I would have never thought of it.”
“Huh? What plan are we talking about? Have you made any bets with Willow as to when we are married or when she gets her homerun?”
Cortana giggled quickly at me, “Hmm... Wager for money... no. But I am assisting her so both contests for your future are already assured. Now having said that, you are playing with a rigged deck, which by now shouldn’t be a revelation to you. I have assured Willow that she will be married to you and as she says ‘hugely pregnant’ by this time next year. I fully expect you to assist in these very admirable events.”
“Gaah!!” I choked, almost swallowed my tongue and stumbled on a perfectly flat sand floor not 200 meters from my exit.
If she had sides? Cortana’s laughter would be doubling her over in intensity.
“Cortana!! You didn’t?”
Now she poured sarcasm over me like lit gasoline, “I did and she said that it wasn’t soon enough. What’s your problem Alex? You should be immensely proud of her that she actually wants you. I really don’t understand what she sees in you? She’s very smart, good looking and could have any other male that she wanted. The only rational explanation is nothing more than hormones, her passion and a childish obsession for you. To think her dreams of you all started ten years ago with a crayon. Tich-tich-tich!”
“Gee thanks Cortana... I think.” She started laughing at me again. I’m only the butt of her jokes and pranks. I swear if she hadn’t come with John I would have considered her to be an electronic demoness to be magically exorcised.
“If you finish your Marriage classes on time you will be able to satisfy her marriage goal sometime immediately after the 2nd of June. Viola! She’ll have her second goal satisfied and thusly be pregnant by Christmas ’98. See! It’ll all work out just as I’ve predicted.”
If I would have bonked my head on the tunnel wall, I would have shattered the helmet. “Cortana your prediction maybe just a little off. I think you have it backwards. At the rate Willow is working on me, she will be hugely pregnant on the day we get married and not the reverse.”
Cortana was smug, “For you humans... a trifling detail. Either way MY goal is achieved.”
“Blast you Cortana! That’s no trifling detail! And neither of us live in Hollywood!”
Cortana was still smirking and tee-heeing, “Heh... No, still a detail of timing. The outcome is the same.”
“If this wasn’t Sunnydale I would wish something horrible on you... Like - Like you being a voluptuous woman and I would make sure you were pregnant all the time.”
Cortana contemptuously added, “As if I would be anything other than a beautiful curvy Godiva for seducing you. Besides I would show you how real women multitask. I would bear and raise children - our children while running a trillion dollar corporation all at the same time. Then I would insure that Willow was available for you at the appropriate moments for duets in motherhood to be followed closely by at least one of the slayers and as many others that I can arrange.”
“Ack! Ack! Ack!” I was coughing on my own spit having sucked air when I should have breathed out. I was choking and stumbled to my knees.
Cortana was observing my vitals and her concern for me was real, “Alex! Breathe Alex!”
That’s the problem, I wasn’t breathing and my blood CO2 level was climbing. I was coughing so hard that I was seeing spots in front of my eyes. She overrode my current suit controls to emergency 100% Oxygen.
I was on my hands and knees when my coughing and choking finally abated. The 100% O2 was dry and cold as it burned through each deep breath.
The inside of my helmet visor was coated in my own spit and splattered fluids. The energized film of nanites began rapidly cleaning my visor. My gunk moving down for recycling.
I was gulping in oxygen and slowly stood up.
I could see up ahead that the manhole was now off and sunlight was streaming down. It was so inviting.
My throat was a little raw from gagging and coughing. I grumbled, “Next time... will you warn me... before you assault me?”
Cortana was all indignant, “I did not assault you. I... only told you the truth.”
“When were you planning on having one of the slayers jump me and have my baby? Not to mention... others? Why not the entire cheerleading squad?” Cortana was even more devious than I suspected.
“I would not be adverse to such a scenario. Naturally with a slayer to determine if your genetic enhancements and their magical enhancements are inheritable and transferable. But I’m sure that with Willow’s aid - one of the slayers and I can come to a mutually beneficial arrangement at some time in the future. Buffy did say she was willing to boff you for a set of diamond jewelry. This does indicate that she has set for herself low standards for being a concubine and mother. The rest yes, it’s only a matter of what their price is.”
“Oh my God! Oh my God! You would!!” I wanted to run away and hide. But she’d just find me no matter where I was. The dark side of the moon was to close for me to hide.
Cortana was going to pimp me out!!
“Alex, should I bring Willow into this conversation to help you come to terms with your life?”
“No! Oh my God! You can’t... you already have... haven’t you?” My ego was shrinking to the size of a mouse as realization hit me that both of them were planning this. I’m doomed. I can’t escape. They’re both going to pimp me out! I’m going to be a Dad with hundreds of women. Every father in town will try to kill me.
Then the fog inside my brain began to lift and what I could see was disturbing. “This is Willow’s plan?”
Cortana was not sympathetic to my emotional gyrations, “Yes... It’s Willow’s idea and completely her plan. We’ve discussed this in operational process and scheduling milestones. She is in complete agreement over how your bodily resources are to be... she described it as pillaging you. I can’t fault that description. It has such a rich meaning.”
“May I say that you and Willow are devious fiends.”
“Oh, Alex I love it when you flatter me.”
“You did say that it was Willow’s idea? What are we talking about here? What kind of sperm donor program are we actually talking about?”
What did Willow plan with Cortana? I was thinking of them having me boff girls the normal pleasurable way and keep my sperm on ice as a future contingency in case I was severely injured or killed.
Cortana was all business as she described their covert scheme, “Your assumptions may have led you astray. Your sperm will not be collected for just Willow and neither is your blood serum. Remember the Sansum Research Clinic with my assistance will be concentrating the nanites from your blood and crafting a single dose injection from it. Approximately one to two doses per unit of blood. Concurrently your sperm will be offered to childless couples who desire invivo or invitreo fertilization services. Normally these procedures can cost $45,000 or more per baby. Our service will, to the selected couples offer this service for free, subject to the conditions of the contract. When the females are selected they will receive a shot of your nanites sixty days prior to the day that they receive the embryo that has half of your genes. Therefore the first babies at birth will be only half genetically enhanced. Under the contract the couples must have four pregnancies of your babies within ten years. Some of those pregnancies will be twins. All maternity fees and the childrens medical costs will be paid by the program. Each selected couple will be paid a fixed amount per live delivery of $5,000 per year adjusted for inflation. By the time the mother is somewhere between her second and third pregnancies your nanites should be done enhancing her. The babies produced then will actually be from her own ova and your sperm and 100% genetically enhanced. All of the children will eventually be genetically enhanced before their tenth birthdays. The husbands will be receiving only one nanite injection to speed up their conversion process. But they will be fully converted over the decade. Eventually the nanites will repair the medical conditions that made the couple infertile and they will have their own biological children. This will probably be a big surprise to them.”
I was standing at the manhole access ladder looking up into the sky. I had this huge sinking feeling as to where this was going. “Cortana how many kids will I have... this time next year?”
“None Alex. But not counting Willow, you should have forty ‘buns’ in the oven. Given the demands on your blood products, I expect that this program will have your first ten offspring implanted somewhere around five months from today. The first volunteer candidates are already being screened for selection. The research teams that will carry out this program already have one hundred volunteer couples for selection. The limitation is not the quantity of your sperm that is necessary but the number of nanite injections that we can create from your blood. That’s the primary reason why your blood donations are so critical. The first eight of your nanite injections are coming here for you to use. The selected mothers are planned to receive four injections each their first year. The program will require 160 nanite injections per year, leaving 36 injections for your usage or medical research. This makes the upper limit of forty babies produced each year from the program initially. We can’t safely get anymore blood out of you than that.”
My foot had slipped off the ladder rung when she said 40. Was I wrong? I had naively mislead myself as to the nature and scope of their plans. To Willow and Cortana, I’m just a turnip to be squeezed!
I tried to grasp for a reason to cancel this. “Cortana what’s our budget on this baby factory plan?”
“Negligible Alex. When compared to our current primary projects this is a drop in a very large barrel. Less than $12 million to begin and after the fifth year somewhere around $62M per year for 200 little Alexander Harris’s produced from the first group. At birth half of them will be partially enhanced and the second half should be all enhanced. Five years from now the medical research teams should be well along the path of mass producing your nanites without your blood serum. Ten years in we should be at 1,680 parents in the program and you’ll have been the sperm donor for at least 6,000 children. You will be happy to know that Willow is on the parent selection committee as a Board member for Halsey Research Inc., of Austin Texas. Willow also insisted on retrieving any potential orphans to live with you both.”
My guards were washing me down. Good thing I‘d locked my armor to stand still. My brain was just not there at the moment and I was as limp as a wet noodle. Swimming before my glazed eyes was a giant flashing red neon sign proclaiming ‘Tilt’ and ‘6,000 babies’.
Willow, Roary and Curt were watching me from the dock. My brain slowly came out of its fog of crazy thoughts. I can’t strangle her in front of all these witnesses. What am I going to say? She’s on the selection committee. It was her idea… She’s a Board member for Halsey Research, our biomedical and genetics research company. I thought that they were going to research just my nanites and genetics to benefit all mankind. Not also produce babies. My kids... She gave Cortana the idea and the complete plan on farming me out.
I went from shock to resignation and then I finally settled on anger. Those two... WOMEN!
Not my Muses... but Furies! Both of them sent to visit plagues upon me. A catastrophe upon my head! 6,000 babies!! What in all the blazing debris of battle will be next?
I’m just their puppet dangling on their strings. What a simpleton I’ve been?
When Roary and Karen find out... My parents? Oh my God! Mom will kill me. They can never find out.
Willow and I are going to have to talk about this... Without anyone else around, except Cortana. I’ll need a tank of oxygen to revive me and maybe have Willow chain me to a really big steel post so I don’t strangle her to death. Errh... no chains. She’ll just take advantage of me.
What are my courses of action? Cortana has already set all of this in motion and I can’t stop it. She is the Corporate Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer and Chief Legal Counsel. My vote vice her three votes. Bash my brains out? My vote versus their four votes. I forgot Willow’s a board member now.
I have only one course of action and suicide isn’t an option. They’ve constrained and limited my options. They’ve trapped me. Pillage me is right.
As I walked into the Reach warehouse I secure commed Cortana again, “Cortana, let me apologize to you now. Because I’m pissed and you’ve left me no course but yours. I’ve always thought of you as my Muse, my protective Valkyrie and my sister but right now you’re a Fury and so is Willow. I reluctantly concede defeat. But I want your word that you will not withhold monumental personal things like this from me... ever again?”
Cortana came back all sweet but with all of the vicious deadliness of a good Fury. “Your apology is accepted and what made you ever think that I wasn’t inclined to be a Fury? By the way, I do love the analogy. Remember what I did to all of those drug dealers, terrorists and despots from the first night I was here on this planet? So whether I’m your Valkyrie or a part-time Fury, my nature is from our mother. Who I might add killed Col. Ackerman after he tried to murder you a second time. She like an avenging Fury arranged a spectacular air car accident for him, Mach 3 right into a hill side. Wheeee... boom. All to protect you and the other Spartans from his vicious malice. So yes, she was also a Fury, when it was required.”
I searched John’s memories. Col. Ackerman was the pile of whale crap that created that murderous year end ‘graduation’ test for John and the other Spartan II’s. John was only fifteen years old at that time. He always opposed the Spartan program... and tried to kill us all. When did he attempt to kill John a second time? Must have been when that Inni sniper missed my ear by a fraction on Epsilon Eridani IV followed up by that Inni ambush. Col. Ackerman was the only one who knew that we had been dropped in. He’d sold us out. He really slipped up to piss off Mom. How did she rig his air car on Reach? That’s supposed to be impossible...
“I didn’t know that Cortana. Did John know what mother did?”
Cortana was unapologetic, “No, he didn’t. Maybe someday my other self in that alternate future will tell him. But you should know as a Spartan how coldly ruthless mother could be and I’m a complete copy of her mind.”
I was feeling very morose about this whole thing. “Yah, I know you are and I forget.”
“Why so glum, Alex? None of this will hurt you and in fact just the opposite. After your married Willow is planning to pleasure your body twelve times a day until she’s a blimp. Or at least that’s how she’s described it.”
“Yah-yah-yah. I’m hearing you but I’m just... not happy right now about it. I wanted to be killing demons, building a base on the moon, Mars and maybe hunting down this ‘lost Goa’uld’ princeling. Catching Willow hugs and smoochies in between the important stuff. Not walking the floor at night with our baby.”
Cortana was all snark, “I’ve got news for you Alex, Willow and your children ARE the important stuff.”
I stepped into my Armory as Cortana on the giant screen displays gave me a dark haired Marilyn Monroe skirt up moment with a dazzling wicked smile. She waved, impishly stuck out her tongue at me and mouthed, “Later.” Then blinked off screen.
Roary was inside the Armory. Willow entered thirty seconds after. Curt arrived but stayed at the door. Both Roary and Willow began to help me out of my Mjolnir armor. When I got down to my skin suit, I asked Roary to give Willow and I - a moment. He left smirking and taking Curt with him.
Willow punched me in the arm as hard as she could and then started shaking her hand wincing. To me that punch barely registered through the protective skin suit. What am I going to do with her?
I leaned into her and grabbed her upper arms quickly. She stopped and gave me a wonderful smile. She wrinkled her nose at me and said, “Gotcha!”
She then stepped into me and leaned her whole body against me hugging me tightly. I didn’t expect this. I had to release her arms instantly when she moved in on me. Looking down at the top of her head, her eyes were closed and I swear she was purring. My anger at their subterfuge and wicked plans for me was melting away. I wrapped my arms around her and hugged her back.
I took a deep breath and began to talk to the top of her head on my chest, “Willow... I talked to Cortana during my run... a private channel so only she could hear. She told me about your plans for me. For me being a sperm donor and that you were on the Board of Directors for Halsey Research and also the parent selection committee.”
She looked up at me, at first a worried look flashed across her face and then she smiled mischievously. Then she began jumping up and down in nervous energy against me.
She squeaked out in rapid fire, “Oh... I’m glad she told you all about it. I’m really thrilled to be on the board now. I’ve been on the board for almost three weeks and it is so exciting. Did you know that I’m going to be meeting with people from the Mayo Clinic, the Howard Hughes Medical Research Institute and a dozen more? Not counting the Fertility Centers at University of California Los Angeles and Santa Barbara Medical Centers. This is going to be such a great opportunity to help so many childless couples and this all ties in with my College degree. This is so cool. You’re going to be a surrogate father before you are a real dad.”
I couldn’t believe it. She was so happy about this... I kissed her to shut her up. She was so bubbly happy and she was spoiling my morose grouch fest that I had planned. My whole you’re a fiend speech was evaporating. Then she started trying to peel me out of my skin suit while heating me up with her whole body friction. She was smoking hot and I was losing it, again.
I grabbed her arms again and pushed her away, holding on tight enough to keep her from bouncing from her usual excited energy. I had to take a deep breath and cool down. She was looking at me like a mischievous Elf again. A beautiful real life elf maiden and all she needed was pointy ears.
Oh crap! I’d better just get this over with before my head explodes. I’d rather face a dozen enraged brutes.
Since I really hadn’t done this properly before, I got down on one knee and held her hands. “Willow, our six months of marriage counseling courses ends next 2rd of June. I love you and you know I really don’t want you waddling pregnant down the aisle. You said you wanted a June wedding... Soooo... when I get back from Europe, why don’t we talk to your parents, then the Vicar and schedule a June wedding?”
That’s all the further I got in my meandering waffling of capitulation. I rationalized it in my mind since my parents had been engaged for only four months and Willow’s parents had been engaged for only two weeks before their marriages. I was pretty sure that Willow’s parents would consent to an earlier date. I guessed that she had been working on them almost as brazenly as she had been me.
Willow jumped up on me, her knees tight above my hips, squealing loud enough to wake a Sunnydale cop. “Yes, Yes, Yes!”
She couldn’t decide whether to clutch my neck like an anaconda or put her hands over her mouth and squeal some more. Her eyes were full of tears and lit from behind like spot lights. She was so happy. I couldn’t stay mad at her.
What am I doing? ... I really need my head shrunk. I just held onto her waist as she repeatedly pressed her entire body against mine while hugging me. No matter, my brain was drifting off into confused happy places.
Just then Buffy and Kendra were standing in the doorway.
The dark grey Spartan skinsuit is form fitting, very high tech underwear that is tougher than today’s class III Kevlar body armor. Still it’s thin and almost as revealing as spandex. So far the only woman to have seen me in my skinsuit was Willow.
Buffy was the first to say something, “Get a room! There’s a child present!” She was playfully trying to cover Kendra’s eyes again.
Kendra was tittering and dodging Buffy’s hand across her face, while she was grinning. Then Cordelia arrived, standing next to Kendra and she stared.
Cordelia blurted out, “My god that’s not Xander’s body! … That’s like… like different. Nice… beefy… muscles… and… nice package.” Then she put both hands over her mouth and started giggling.
Buffy said, “I told you, he had a nice butt and you didn’t believe me.” Buffy’s head ping-ponged from Cordelia and Kendra back to Willow and I several times. Then she blurted out, “You can see everything… Willow! Stop teasing the… the dirty… young man.”
Willow jumped off of me and stood between me and the doorway gaggle of oogling girls. She was shielding me, but I was embarrassed. Not for Willow clinging to me but because the skinsuit left little to the imagination and Willow always gets a rise out of me. I knew that my face was now flushed red from embarrassment and I probably had steam coming off my entire body.
Willow with her back to me, said to the smiling gawkers with a not so subtle wiggle of her hips, “What?! He’s my fiancé. I love him and he’s sooo patriotic around me.” She went from a false outrage to almost a sultry purr and gave me an over-the-shoulder smoking hot look that would have melted steel.
A look of confusion passed across the faces of Buffy, Kendra and Cordelia.
In a flash, I was worried because this was the first time that Cordelia had seen the inside of the armory. My Mjolnir armor and environmental suit were in their separate inner vault cabinets hidden from sight; but my guns were racked on the wall along with all of the swords and edged weapons. This is where Kendra and Buffy brought their weapons for training and cleaning. She didn’t know about me being a Spartan or my role as Vengeance. Her presence was inopportune.
I saw her eyes flick from Willow and I, to the weapons. One of her eyebrows rose. But the only thing out of her mouth and Buffy’ also was, “What do you mean patriotic?”
Facing them but blocking their view of my waist she coyly said, “Yes, he is very patriotic around me… He salutes me all the time.”
I wanted to die right then and there. As Buffy, Kendra and Cordelia’s eyeballs all about popped out of their slack jawed faces. Their mouths hanging open for more than three seconds. I wanted to turn away and run. All I could do was turn away and grab my Khaki trousers from my locker shelf and hold them in front of me to hide behind. I tried to smile as if nothing was wrong. Didn’t work.
I realized that this was like one of those really clever comedy movie farces that begins with one nearly naked guy and four beautiful women all in the same room. You know that he isn’t going to get any because it’s not a porno movie. The audience loves a good situation comedy with lots of laughs at the guys expense. Except this time I was the guy, I wasn’t in a comedy film and to me this wasn’t funny at all.
Buffy was the first to respond. Her mouth clicked shut and she blurted out with a quick wink at Willow, “You wicked teaser!”
Kendra was still agog but blurted out her now standard, “You! You tramp!” But then she got this gleam in her eye and turned slightly to Buffy and asked, “Do we Slay trouser snakes? Because I’ve my knife right here.” As she pulled a blade from her waistband and smiled playfully.
Normally when Slayers smile, vampires begin running. Just stupid I guess because I couldn’t move.
Cordelia then snarked viciously at Willow, “This is so tacky. You got his wood up, so now what? Are you going to go all pervy cow and boink him in front of us?” Cordelia was obviously not happy with Willow’s brazen bimbette act in front of her.
Willow flounced to the doorway and ignored Cordelia’s barbed-wire zinger. With a really mischievous grin at me over her shoulder she turned back to the three and said in obvious triumph, “I finally wore him down. Our wedding date will be next June and you three are my Bridesmaids. So no dying on me.” Willow with a serious look on her face shook her raised finger at all three of them.
A look of consternation went across Buffy’s and Cordelia’s faces. Kendra was still smiling broadly.
Willow then firmly said to both while holding her hands out, palms up. “No, I’m not prego and he asked me. You both lost your bets. Now pay up.”
I was now maximum confused. I was grateful that I was no longer tenting my skinsuit but I was now curious about this bet.
Cordelia looked quickly at me and asked, “Did you tell her to set a wedding date next year?
Willow looked at me with a huge smile and a gleam of triumph. I nodded my head and stammered out, “Ugh… errgh… Yes… I just asked her to get with the Vicar and schedule a date after June 2nd.”
Buffy groused, “This wasn’t fair. You had him right where you wanted him.” As she removed a $20 from her fanny pack and slapped it into Willow’s palm. From her face I would have thought that Willow had taken a cheese grater to her arm.
Smiling Willow said to Buffy, “Thank you and ‘fair’ had nothing to do with it.”
Then she held up her hand and examined her ‘mistress’ ring, flashing it at them and said over her shoulder, “Do I get another trip to Warner’s next month?”
I was still too confused to say anything more. I figured that I had definitely said enough.
Cordelia with a pained expression fished in her dainty designer hand purse and said, “You’ve won this bet but you’re not married yet. Will it be a white or colored dress?” She was holding onto the $20 note while playing a tug-of-war with Willow over the money.
Finally Willow said sheepishly while looking downwards and blushing, “It’s a White dress today and… it will be a white dress next June.”
Cordelia’s eyebrows went up in surprise at that statement and her mouth fell open for a two count. Cordelia looked past Willow at me with a still surprised expression as I was still trying to hide behind my Khaki trousers. Her right eyebrow went up as she titled her head and examined my face closely.
Finally she looked back at Willow and said, “June’s a long way off right now, so don’t count the rest of my money yet.” Then she released the $20 to Willow’s grip.
Willow spun around facing me. With a big grin, wrinkled her nose, she waived the two $20’s at me, licked her lips lasciviously and said, “We’ll all be up front waiting for you to finish dressing.” Then she spun back around and made pushing motions at Buffy, Kendra and Cordelia. She marched them all out while talking non-stop about our upcoming wedding while she pushed the door so it would automatically close. I could hear them talking as they proceeded back to the front of the building.
I stood there still confused. What did I just witness? What were these bets exactly?
I neuronetted Cortana as I rapidly began peeling out of my skinsuit before Willow came back to torment me. “Sis? Do you know anything about this bet that Willow had with Buffy and Cordelia?”
Cortana came on screen dressed in a very revealing Greek toga and said, “I was watching as always and yes, I know.”
“Well… please tell me?”
Cortana chuckled at me as she examined her virtual finger nails and flashing lots of skin at me, “You should ask Willow.”
“I would but I’m afraid to get her back here to ask her. So please just tell me what the bet was? Oh, what does it mean about Willow wearing a white or colored wedding dress?”
After a few seconds pause Cortana finally answered me, “Very well. Remember our very recent discussion about Willow being smarter than you?”
“Yes, and you don’t have to keep rubbing it in.”
Cortana harrumphed at me, “On December 1st Willow after being taunted by Buffy and Cordelia about her ‘mistress ring’ and your eighteen month engagement – she bet both of them $20 each that she would get you to set an earlier wedding date. Specifically no later than September next year. You did and she won that bet. The second bet is whether you and she will actually get married before the end of summer. The third and fourth bets are with only Cordelia.”
I sat down hard on the nearest chair and put my face into my hands. It took her only sixteen days to wear me down from eighteen months to seven months. Her Blitzkrieg just blitzed me flat.
Cortana was giggling at me again but then like a school teacher told me the rest. “Your second question involves Wedding tradition and etiquette. Western women can wear white or a colored dress at their wedding. But traditionally a white dress signifies the brides’ chastity on the wedding day and a colored dress is to be worn by women who are not virgins or have been previously married. Although in America you have Hollywood stars wearing white dresses at all of their serialized marriages. So… Willow admitted to Buffy, Cordelia and Kendra that despite all of the gossip at school, she’s still a virgin and intends to be a virgin on her wedding day.”
“Oh, wow… I didn’t know about that. Err… uh… Maybe now that we’re going to set a firm date, she’ll stop ambushing me while wearing mostly nothing? I mean maybe she’ll slow down her campaign for tempting me into ravaging her. -- Hey! Wait a minute! If she intended to be a virgin on our wedding day that means this whole seduce and tempt Xander campaign was a ruse, misdirection, misinformation… and deception.” I should have been incensed but I wasn’t.
Cortana really laughed at me, “I gave her a copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War and ‘Chapter I item 16 states ‘All warfare is based on deception’. She memorized the entire book. I bought a copy for you also but it’s still on your nightstand unopened. Her campaign using deception has obviously achieved her immediate goal and she didn’t get pregnant to coerce you.”
I replayed her last statements to the other girls in my mind. “Sis, she sort of stated that she intended to remain a virgin for our wedding.” I brightened at that realization. There was now going to be a limit on how far she would go in seducing me. She drew a line for Buffy and Cordelia. She did make a point to collect her winnings in front of me. I had this growing pride for her and no small measure of relief.
Cortana came back, “Yes, she did and you had better hurry. They’re all planning your wedding details and arguing over their relative position as bridesmaids. So if you want any say in this you had better speak up and soon.”
As I was hurrying to get dressed I asked, “Cordelia implied that there is another wager going on between them. Do you know anything about that?”
Cortana was getting bored with my questions. “You can figure that one out - without me.”
Wednesday, 17 Dec. 1997, 8:00 PM, Sunnydale California
Before the meal was served Willow produced from somewhere a wedding planner notebook with her name and mine printed on the front cover. I suspect Karen as her co-conspirator had given it to her. I’m really the focus of a conspiracy and I should have been more paranoid.
The dinner had been typically wonderful for Karen. All of those years cooking fixed menus at a nice restaurant were wasted on the company but not the customers. She was a master chef and much too good for the restaurant. Before the meal and during the meal with all of our friends about, Willow was planning our wedding.
All I could do was sit there, smile on cue and nod my head occasionally like an imbecile. At least in my presence no one made any comments about my lack of will power or worse. Cordelia didn’t even throw some extra snark or zingers at me.
At least Willow didn’t blurt out anything about me being a sperm donor to hundreds and then thousands of women. I’m just glad that she knows how and when to keep secrets. The more she is swept into our corporate empire she is going to be keeping lots of secrets in the future.
Karen cooked enough to stuff two Slayers and one Spartan. Cordelia even ate more than I had seen her eat in the past month. Most likely because she wasn’t eating with her parents and could let down her facade. At least Karen’s dinner table always has good company, laughter and a family atmosphere. Plus Willow’s politeness to her and treating her like a BFF sister all evening seems to have worked magic.
When the dishes were cleared Karen and Willow shoo’d Roary and I out of the dining room. They set up court at the dining table to continue plotting out Karen’s and now Willow’s weddings.
Roary and I retired to the family room where he almost immediately said to me, “You know they aren’t just planning weddings back there?”
I looked at him confused, since he had been through one wedding before and knew what was ahead better than I. “What do you mean?”
“They’re planning wedding stuff all right but that’s not all. See they’re also picking out baby names, colors to paint rooms, furniture, house features, parties, vacations and basically every detail of our lives also.” He nodded sagely at me and pursed his lips.
He continued conspiratorially while looking over his shoulder back towards the kitchen. “I’ll bet they’re also planning where our kids go to college and who they should marry from the other girls kids.”
Roary stood up and turned on the TV and switched the channel over to ESPN to catch the latest college football games. I was sitting there stunned. I blurted out, “But... that’s crazy talk... We’re not even married yet and they can’t be planning the next twenty years of our lives?”
Roary’s eye brows went up and he smiled ruefully at me and shook his head no. “Not crazy talk, you’ll see. Ask Willow. I’ll bet you one dollar, she already has the names of your first six kids picked out and the color of every room of your first house.”
I knew Cortana had joined the ladies in the kitchen and was part of their gaggle. I neuronetted Cortana, “Hey Sis. Roary has bet me that Willow already has the names of my first six kids picked out. Is that true?”
Cortana was condescending to the idiot, “What part of Willow being smarter than you and world domination did you not understand? Yes, she’s already picked out a list of both boys and girls; first and middle names for one hundred children. She has down-selected from those lists for your first ten children. So you owe Roary the bet. Be a good sport and pay the man.”
I was in shock momentarily and astounded at the depth and breadth of Willow’s conquer Xander campaign. I just shook my head in consternation at myself. I’m pathetic. Sherman’s march to the Atlantic sea campaign took longer than I’d lasted.
I sat back into the couch and eyed Roary with new respect. I looked over my shoulder into the kitchen with a little trepidation. To Roary I handed him a dollar bill with my wry comment, “You win. She’s in there planning world domination, starting with me.”
Roary smiling nodded his head sagely as he took my dollar. He said, “The good news is that they’ll plan and arrange everything. All we have to do is show up in a nice tuxedo or suit, stand there reasonably straight and say I do. Try not to get blubbery as you watch your bride walk down the aisle. Afterwards sign the marriage certificates and pay for everything not already covered.”
I looked at Roary with some amusement, “You cried at your first wedding?”
Roary looked at me and hushed me, “No! No! I didn’t cry. I had something in my eye and had to wipe it away.” He looked at me for a moment, winked and then started softly chuckling. Turning away he quietly said to himself, “She was so beautiful.”
My hearing caught his private personal comment. Yeah, tough guys. He did cry or at least get really misty eyes.
Roary and Karen’s wedding day was less than three weeks away. They were going to be married on my birthday, Sunday January 11th. It was going to be a great day for all of us. I was going to turn 17 and going on 69 years old with John’s memories thrown in. I wondered where he was now and if was still fighting the Covenant?
Cortana and I had planned something a little special for Roary and Karen as a honeymoon gift. Now was as good a time as any. I stood up and stepped over to my leather folio case on the entry way table. I pulled a fat envelope out and handed it to Roary. It was prepaid honeymoon travel plans for Karen and him. Two weeks in Bridal Suites at Disneyland and Disney World Resort Hotels with VIP park passes with first-class round trip airfares. Disneyland was Karen’s favorite place since she was a little girl and she hadn’t been there in years. Seemed fitting and I can fend for myself for two weeks. I’ll miss Karen’s cooking and I know Buffy and Kendra will miss their girl’s nights out unless they Shanghai me into driving them.
Roary was nearly speechless. He’d been planning on honeymooning at the Fairfield Inn near Disneyland for one week, but I thought that we could make this a bit more special and Cortana agreed. Disney hotels have first rate room service and staying in one gives the guest access to park tours and facilities that the regular Disney park attendees do not have available. He is an executive in the company after all, plus taking care of me and two high maintenance Slayers rates a lot.
Slouching back comfortable on the couch and stuffed with a hot dinner, I really needed a nap before suiting back up again in two hours. My mind was wandering as my eyelids got heavier.
If the UNSC had Willow and Cortana as Fleet Admirals, I believe their combat strategy with the Covenant would have been very different from Admiral Hood’s. They might have fought them to a standstill and at the least destroyed many more of their ships; despite the technological disparity between their forces. They would have slagged their home worlds and colonies and make it look like the brutes did it; initiating a civil war.
Admiral Hood and all of his subordinate Fleet Admirals were like the American Civil War General of the Armies of the Potomac George B. McClellan or the World War II Allied Commander for the Battle of Anzio, American Major General John P. Lucas. Both Generals McClellan and Lucas were meticulous planners, builders, logisticians, consolidators and fortifiers - but not combat commanders. They were great administrators, leaders in name only but not combat commanders.
Worse would be putting elitists, political brown-nosers or bureaucrats in charge. Unless you want to lose, you never put them in charge of combat forces or overall war strategy.
To win wars you need people that have the same managerial skill set but have transcended it. This seems to be rare trait. For combat commanders you need people like Admiral Charles Howard the 1st Earl of Nottingham, Vice Admiral Francis Drake, Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, Field Marshall Rommel, Gen. Patton, Admiral Nimitz, RAdm. Clifton Sprague, BGen. Merrill’s, Gen. Hap Arnold, Colonel David and LGen. William Sterling, Lt. Col. Robert Mayne, Lt. Col. Gritz’s, Lt. Col. Hackworth’s, Colonel Arthur Simons, Gen. Horner and Gen. Schwarzkopf. Men or women who can devise a complex strategy, execute it and adapt it against a dynamic enemy force in the most hostile and hazardous environments – and snatch victory away from superior enemy forces.
Willow and Cortana have so much in common with people like ship’s captain Francis Drake and the other great commanders in history. They’re all pirates and rare individuals who do make a huge difference. I underestimated Willow and I should never do that again.
I’m the richest guy on this planet right now and I’m constrained and limited by my culture, my new behavioral norms, my family, the Slayers, Giles, Cordelia and most especially by Cortana and Willow. With Cortana in league with her, Willow definitely outmaneuvered me and penned me inside her coral.
I can’t even take a months vacation on the beach in Bora-Bora. I’ve currently 5,000 employees world-wide and soon to be ten times that number. Cortana and I have got to make sure everyday that they get resources, work tasks, pay checks, and insurance.
I’ve got a duty and responsibility to make sure Sunnydale becomes the most lethal spot on the planet for demons – all to insure the safety of my family, friends and safeguard this planet.
I suppose looking at the big picture… having Willow herd me into setting a wedding date one year earlier than I wanted - is a small thing compared to the task of building space ships, cities on the moon for two million workers, orbital industries and star ships.
Willow certainly proved that she can set a workable strategy and then implement it. I think she can do the same from within Aten Werks and come up with workable plans to get 2 million workers to the Moon. Do this under the noses of the world governments before they can react to shut us down. They will try to stop us.
After we’re married she is going to get a job that will blow her geeky brilliant mind. She’ll probably faint when I tell her that as Mrs. Harris she’s now the richest woman on the planet. Best to wait until after the honeymoon to drop those bombshells.
John had read Sun Tzu many times. I had his memories but I guess the actual applied reality of it wasn’t as firmly in my mind as it was in Willow’s. Now I must read it for myself, just so I can anticipate her for when she Blitzkriegs me again.
I drifted off to sleep, thinking of the beautiful furies in my life who loved me.