Sunday Bloody Sunday - 1
~ Initiative Lab, Tuesday, 9:50 p.m.~
“Pathetic, just pathetic.” Dr. Walsh set down her scalpel.
“Mother, is something wrong?”
“No Adam, everything is fine.” Maggie’s voice was anything but calm.
“In that case, I believe my cerebral functions may need adjusting.”
“Have you noticed any problems?” Maggie frowned. Ever since that wrist was grafted, things just seemed off with Adam. She hoped this new polgara implant would solve that problem.
“Every sensor I have indicates that you are unhappy, but you insist you are well, therefore my processors must be malfunctioning.”
“Ah, of course, your sensors. Well, Adam, nothing is wrong with you, but there are many other things that are wrong. Finn is missing, and I am worried that if we don’t find him soon, he will miss his next treatment.”
“Then you must look for him.”
“The entire Zeta team is looking for him. I don’t think he’s left the building, considering the security measures we have, but I can’t imagine where he’s hiding.” Walsh sighed.
“If I may interface with the computers, perhaps I can help you find Finn.”
“That’s nice of you to offer, but I do not think your circuitry is up for that.” Maggie admired her work for the evening. The new wrist would heal soon, but Adam would need time to repair the damage and integrate the nerves.
“But Mother, I should help look for my brother as well.” Walsh winced at Adam’s phrasing. Perhaps it was wrong to imprint Adam on whom she thought was the most dependable soldier, but the most modern research pointed to the importance of social connectivity in promoting soldier lifespan. Unfortunately, she had never considered what would happen if Riley deviated from his psychological profile.
“Very well, but at the first signs of overload, I want you to unplug yourself. There’s no use damaging your new wrist.”
“It is a very nice wrist.” The human side of Adam’s face smiled while the mechanical side twitched slightly.
“I would hope so; the extraction surgery was a bear.”
“A bear? I thought this was of the polgara subspecies.” Adam tilted his head.
“It’s just a phrase.” Maggie shrugged. She opened a small electrical panel over Adam’s mechanical ear and attached a cable leading to her computer terminal.
“I am now scanning for signs of Finn, Riley.” Walsh watched as Adam’s eyes rapidly scanned
back and forth, reading invisible data.
“Do you have to do that with your eyes open?” Maggie found herself asking. She had thought between the army and medical school, nothing could gross her out, but watching Adam’s mechanical eye spin freely in its socket was just too much.
“Yes mother, I can’t close my eyes; the image is projected before the lid and it would make it go away if I were to displace the lid.”
“Very well. I will see about optical options.” Maggie muttered, making a comment in her notebook to look into it. The MP knocking on the door surprised Maggie, but did not even register with the demon/human/machine hybrid. Dr. Walsh straightened her lab coat and opened the door.
“Dr. Walsh, the troops have all returned from Operation Back to School.” Brown saluted, standing at stiff attention.
“And how was it?”
“Alpha unit was correct. There was an anomalously high concentration of H.S.T.s located at ground zero. We captured a lot of them and delivered them to Quarantine 4.”
“Have yet to be fully accounted for.” Brown answered
“Assign units Rho and Tau to base patrol. Give the other units rest for six hours, strictly on premises, and have the unit captains meet with me when I’m finished here.”
“I’ll have the captains meet in briefing one.” Brown retreated.
Dr. Walsh turned to see Adam remove the cord from the port and return to his cot. “Was there an error?”
“Finn, Riley, is not on these premises.” Adam replied.
“That is an erroneous statement. Was it not demonstrated by Hostile 17 that escape is entirely possible?”
“We’ve fixed the security breaches since then. Besides, Riley wouldn’t do that.” Walsh mumbled more to herself, but Adam was still able to hear.
“On the contrary, he would do exactly that. Your last standing order recorded was to stay with civilians Summers and Giles. If they have escaped, his sense of duty would allow him no other option than to escape with them.”
“Well, then where is he?”
“With civilians Summers and Giles.” Adam answered simply. He could not understand how mother did not come to the same conclusion, given the data.
“I have to go to a meeting. I don’t have time for this.” Walsh glanced at her watch. Every other professor would already be asleep by this time of night. She hoped one day her contributions and sacrifices would be recognized by that same sleeping scientific community.
~ Initiative Conference Room 1, Tuesday, 10:00 p.m.~
“At ease, gentlemen.” Walsh slid into her seat at the head of the table. “Agent Brown, what’s your report?”
“Units were in position around ground zero by 2015. Combat was engaged at 2030. Twenty H.S.T.s were captured and an additional ten were dead on the scene. We have twelve men in the ICU.”
“And would you consider that a success?” Walsh’s tone indicated that her opinion was no. Twelve was too high for only twenty captures.
“Ma’am, I would. We were badly outnumbered.”
“You reported thirty total H.S.T.s. You had more than thirty men.”
“Some got away, ma’am.”
“How many is some?”
Agent Brown glanced nervously around the conference room. “I’m not sure, ma’am.”
“Agent Patel, how many would you estimate escaped?”
The head of Theta cringed as all eyes turned to him. “My estimate, ma’am? More than a hundred and less than five hundred… ma’am?”
“Is that what you call a success? Did you accomplish anything?!”
“We captured twenty.” Agent Brown was confused. On any other night, Walsh would have been ecstatic over twenty. In fact, before this week, it was rare for any unit to get multiple captures in a single night.
Graham attempted to subtly clear his throat, but ended up with a hacking cough. “Yes, Agent Miller?” Walsh was not amused.
“Ma’am, Alpha unit succeeded in rescuing thirty hostages.” Graham looked around to see the other leaders glaring at him. Now he knew why Riley hated these meetings; who would have thought so many units suffered from Alpha envy. “Thanks, of course, to the distraction created by the frontal assault.” He finished lamely.
“Well, that’s something, at least. I assume these were human hostages and not kittens?”
“Ah yes, ma’am.” Graham couldn’t help but wonder what had gone on when he was in the medical unit that Walsh would actually think he would count kittens as hostages.
“Would any of you hazard a guess on the effects this attack had on the H.S.T. population?”
“I believe we managed to capture their leader, ma’am, therefore we should not expect any organized attack soon.” The Beta captain answered, eyeing Graham’s seat jealously.
“That’s better news. Any other thoughts?” The room remained silent. “I don’t suppose we would be so lucky to have any sightings of Hostile 17 in the skirmish tonight?” She glanced around the room, studying each man, debating whether she should let them off the hook. Miller did not look well at all. In fact, she wondered if she should have stuck by her original order that Gates should have been at the point of the Alphas. She would have to do something if her best team was falling apart. “Everyone dismissed. Six hours leave, then report to standard posts. Miller hang back.” Walsh announced.
“Yes ma’am?” Graham stayed in his seat as the rest of the captains filed out.
“I was under the impression that Gates was given point of your unit for this operation.”
“Yes, ma’am, he was.”
“And where is he?”
“In the med unit, ma’am. He received a concussion.”
“What sort of H.S.T. did it?”
“Um, it was a civilian.” Walsh noticed the small tick in Graham’s jaw. Riley always said that Graham’s poker face was lacking.
“What aren’t you telling me? Remember your place Agent Miller.”
“The civilian was Buffy Summers.”
“And Finn was with her, ma’am.”
“And you felt that you didn’t have to mention this at the briefing?”
“No, ma’am.” Graham blinked.
“If Finn took down Gates, then we need to put a team on patrol. A rogue man is a danger to
this entire program.”
“Finn didn’t take down Gates. Buffy took down Gates. I spoke with Finn. He said that he was going to remain with Summers and Giles until you provided further instruction.”
“Did he leave instructions on how to contact him?”
“No, ma’am.” Walsh kicked the table leg and let a few expletives fly. “You could try calling his cell phone?” Graham offered weakly.
Walsh smiled in a way that Graham found just shy of terrifying. “Oh, is that so?” She watched Graham as he stared straight ahead praying for this meeting to end. “There’s something else, isn’t there?”
“Something else, ma’am?”
“What is it?”
“Ma’am. I think, well, I know… I saw Summers with several of her friends. They left the school minutes before we attacked. They had managed to infiltrate and free all human captives before we had even established a perimeter. They moved like soldiers, ma’am.”
“Yes, ma’am. And Summers? She was strong. Gates didn’t stand a chance.”
“Anything else?” Graham stared straight ahead. The last thing he wanted to do was implicate Riley in the Hostile 17 fiasco without definite proof. “Miller, withholding information from your commanding officer is a crime.”
“I believe I saw Hostile 17 at ground zero as well.”
“And you didn’t capture him?”
“No one answered my radio.” Graham replied, glad that he had established that alibi after Riley had left. He had tried radioing in while watching a large slug like creature engage Agent Brown in combat, knowing that his call would go unanswered.
“That’s all you have to report?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Graham answered stiffly.
“I want to see your written report. Alpha unit is grounded until further notice..”
“Yes ma’am, thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet, soldier.” Maggie stormed out of the briefing room, heading straight to her office, just a quick nap before she would have to get back to her work.
~ Angel’s Mansion, Tuesday, 10:02 p.m.~
“What are you doing?”
“I’m writing a letter. Please, mon blanchi, do not smoke in here.”
“Because it is a nasty habit.” Asher did not look up from the writing desk.
“Why are you writing a letter?” Spike, with his cigarette lit, bent over the table to read over Asher’s shoulder.
“Because, I have my responsibilities.” Asher frowned.
“Yeah, well, seems to me you have more important responsibilities.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“You’re not an idiot. You can hear her in the loo.”
“Oui. I have tried talking to her, but she refuses to listen. Je ne sais pas quoi faire.”
“So you’re just going to do nothing?”
“Non. I have already stated that I am writing a letter.”
“You’re just going to leave her bawling her eyes out.”
“I do not see how this is any of your concern.”
“Let’s just say, I have an interest in Red.” Spike’s deliberately provocative words worked. Asher’s head jerked up, fixing Spike with a fiery glare. “I need her working on that damn machine to get my head straight. If she’s crying over you, she’s not getting my work done.” Spike replied with a casual indifference. He may be younger and handicapped, but he was not about to allow a Council Vampire get the better of him in a stare down.
“Ah. Well, I have tried, but I can do nothing when there is a door between us. She will come around. Women are such mercurial creatures.”
“So that’s it?”
“Oui. Now, if you don’t mind, I have a letter to finish tonight.” Asher returned to his sire’s
Spike snubbed out his cigarette in a potted plastic plant and wandered down the hall to the bathroom door. Taking a glance down the hall where the humans were gorging themselves on pizza, donuts, and other things that passed as food, he sighed. He could have done without the slayer being brought into this mess, but it was beyond his control now; all he could do was try to get the hacker to work her magic quickly before the slayer got impatient. He pounded on the door.
“Go away!” Spike knocked again. “I said go away.” A voice sniffled.
“Open up, Red.”
“Yeah, pet, it’s me. Now open the damned door.”
“You do know that there’s only one working loo in this whole damn building? You’re hogging the loo. How long are you planning on staying in there?”
“Yeah, how long must we sing this song? Open the damned door, before someone in the line decides to break it down.”
“Come on, Red. I can’t wait all day.” He knew that the girl was too soft. She wouldn’t stay in there if she thought other people were suffering in the hallway.
“Oh. Okay.” Came the mumble immediately before a small click.
“It’s about time.” Spike barged in to find Willow sitting on the floor, her face red and blotchy, her hair still wet and uncombed.
“But wait, you’re a vampire. I didn’t think you guys needed to…” Willow’s eyes slowly unglazed.
“We don’t, pet.” Spike in one swift move flipped her over his shoulder and strolled out of the bathroom caveman style.
“Spike! Spike, what are you doing? Where are we going?” Willow weakly protested as she felt all the blood rush to her head.
“We’re going to get you squared away so you can get back to work. I’m not letting you off until you meet your end of the bargain.”
“But nothing.” Spike kicked open Asher’s bedroom door, making an entrance. “You’re going to talk out whatever this thing is, and I expect to see you at the computer in half an hour. No excuses.” He unceremoniously dumped Willow on the large master bed. “Half an hour.” He repeated then slammed the door on his way out.
“Ma chaton, are you okay?” Asher immediately abandoned his letter to attend to the girl on his bed.
“No.” She rolled over to bury her head under a pillow. “I’m horribly embarrassed, and I hate Spike.”
“But he did not hurt you?”
“No headache.” She mumbled from underneath the pillow.
“Please, my dear, come out from under the pillow.” Asher gently rested his hand on Willow’s shoulder.
He was surprised when she jerked back. “Don’t touch me.” She muttered.
“I am sorry.” He backed away slightly and the lights seemed to dim, cloaking the room in more shadows.
Willow peeked out from under the pillow. “I just don’t want…”
“I understand.” Asher muttered. “You do not want to be touched by a hideous beast. You have seen everything and know what a sight I am. I do not blame you for wanting to forget.”
“What?” Willow stopped short.
“Surely, you cry because you have realized what a beast I am. I am sorry, I had not known, I have not been with a woman since…” He shrugged.
“No. That’s not it at all.” Willow couldn’t help but sit up. “No, what I meant was I just don’t want you to think that I’m a … ho.” She whispered the last word.
“What? Why I would never think such thoughts about a mademoiselle such as yourself.” Asher leaned slightly forward out of the shadows that seemed to swallow the room.
“But we can’t you know, because well, you know, and it never turns out well, and well you know that makes me a … ho.”
“I am afraid I don’t know.” Asher tried to smile, but noticed that tears were beginning to well up in the girl’s eyes again. “But if you tell me, perhaps I will understand?” He offered, reaching out to brush his fingertips across her cheek.
“It’s just, well, I’m not the kind of girl to just have … you know.”
“Yeah that. And well, before this, I’d only been with Oz, and well you know how that turned out.”
“Oh, ma chaton, come here.” He scooted further onto the bed so that he was leaning up against the headboard, then pulled Willow onto his lap. “I do not regret what happened.”
“Well of course not, you’re the guy.” Willow muttered, before slapping a hand over her mouth.
“Society’s standards aside, I still would not regret what happened. Perhaps I would have wished our first true meeting to be under different circumstances, but I do not regret the joining. You are beautiful, mademoiselle.” He slipped her hand in his and ran little circles over her palm with his thumb.
Willow sighed, not wanting to relax but finding it hard to keep the crying going. “I think you’re beautiful, too. But don’t you see? That’s what’s wrong. I’m not the kind of girl who gets the cute guys. I get the nerdy guys, the deep guys, well not even those kinds of guys any more really.”
“You do not need to get any other guy. I am here.” Asher said as though that resolved all argument.
“But what about Buffy?”
“You desire Buffy? Well then I shall have to be horribly jealous of her.” Asher answered with a slight smile. He always found being obtuse brought a smile from his Julianna.
“No silly.” The corners of Willow’s mouth tilted upwards, but it was still a far cry from a smile. “Buffy’s right. Relationships between your kind and my kind never work out.”
“I have no problems with you being Jewish.” Asher rested his chin on Willow’s shoulder. “I have no desire to raise our children in the Catholic faith.”
“Now you’re just making fun of me.”
“I am sorry, mademoiselle.”
“No you’re not.” Willow pouted and playfully slapped his arm. “I’m trying to be serious here. Buffy tried the vampire- human thing, and it ended badly.”
“With Monsieur Ange, no?”
“Oui.” Willow sighed.
“Do you not think that it is because of whom Angelus and Buffy are, not what they are?”
“I find we are back to where we were when we met. You think you know what I am, while I desire to know who you are.” Asher pressed his advantage by wrapping his arms tighter around Willow. It felt so good to hold a woman again, to feel her heat so near his heart, to smell the flowers in her hair, to touch that soft, pale skin.
“This can not last forever.”
“It could.” Asher muttered.
“No, it can’t. One day you’ll get bored watching the soldiers, or your sire will order you away, and you won’t even look back.”
“You do not know that.”
“That’s what always happens.”
“We could stay madly in love forever.”
“No one lives forever.” Willow didn’t want to believe Asher’s sweet words.
“You could. I could make you my human and you could be my companion for eternity.” As the words left Asher’s mouth he knew it was a foolish offer, but he also knew he wouldn’t want to retract the words. For centuries he had been silent, but in the past week he had discovered all the joy of being in the world. For that reason alone he would have wanted Willow by his side. It certainly did not hurt that he could see she was a passionate lover, even without the influence of Branwyn’s or a thrall. He offered this virtual stranger eternity with him, and hoped she would take him up on it.
“Until you find something better, I know how that works. Everything will be perfect until some gorgeous vampire comes into town and lures you away with her mistress of the dark act, and you find yourself going to Brazil and leaving me to pick up the pieces.”
“That is ridiculous.” Asher smiled. “First of all, there is no vampire more beautiful than my sire, and I know that she will never come here to fetch me. This assignment was her way of ridding herself of me, so there is no fear of that. Also, I refuse to go to Brazil for any reason, eh? And lastly, if I did have to go to Brazil, you could always travel with me. Would that not be delightful?”
“There’s more to life than being delightful.” Willow frowned. “I couldn’t just leave Buffy here, and what about Xander? No, that would never work. Buffy was right. This isn’t going to turn out pretty.”
“Amate, forsan et haec olim meminesse juvabit.” Asher whispered the Latin in her ears. It was a parody of Vergil that Jean-Claude had found delightful back in the days. As much as he wanted to forget Jean-Claude, he found the phrase aptly fitting.
“Love. For perhaps one day you may wish to remember this?” Willow whispered. “I thought it was durate.”
“You recognize it? There is still hope for these colonies.” Asher chuckled. “Yes it was durate, but life is more exciting when you love rather than just endure.” Asher murmured.
“That’s nice.” The room fell into a comfortable silence as the pair contemplated the phrase and their future.