Under Pressure - 1
~Angel’s Mansion, Wednesday, 4:08 p.m.~
“Come in.” Giles called out, hearing the familiar voice on the other side of the door.
“Hey you.” Buffy quietly said, slipping into the dark room.
“Good afternoon to you too. What brings you here?” Giles set down the notebook he had been writing in, thankful that Xander had grabbed the current watcher’s diary before soldiers could find it. Goodness knew how much incriminating evidence was in there.
“Oh, you know.” Buffy shrugged, sitting on the corner of the bed. “Whatcha up to?”
“Just chronicling our latest adventures, for posterity and such, you understand.” Giles smiled.
“Right.” Buffy rolled her eyes. “At this rate, I don’t know why you bother. I bet the Council will just censor anything you write.”
Giles wisely decided not to respond to that. “What’s on your mind?”
“What are we doing here?”
“Well, I for one, am trying to avoid leaving the room, as I’m not quite sure I’m up for the sort of chaos that awaits us outside. I’m sure by tonight I may be able to handle whatever mess we’ve gotten ourselves into this time, but now, I’m just trying to enjoy the calm before the storm. You don’t really expect me to have a better plan now, do you?”
“I’m being serious Giles.”
“So was I.”
“Fine.” She settled into a more comfortable position on the bed, staring at her watcher as if daring him to pick the book back up. “So what do we do now?”
“Well, as comfortable as this house is,” Buffy coughed at that. “I am guessing either tonight or tomorrow we will have to move. After all, the soldiers have already captured us here once. Undoubtedly, they will be pushing down on us here if we don’t move soon. As far as what to do about the entire military operation, I’m not quite sure. Unseating the American army was not included in watcher training, especially an army led by a mad scientist.”
“Yeah, Walsh was pretty crazy.”
“That’s an understatement.” Giles rubbed his wrists tenderly, trying to forget his brief encounter with the doctor.
“Do you think she’s going to pull another Mayor?”
“Undoubtedly the Freudian implications of turning into a giant snake would be rather off-putting for the good doctor.”
“So that’s a no?”
“I don’t know. She strikes me as at least twice as crazy as the Mayor.”
“Indeed. I just don’t believe she’d rely on a magical solution. The question is, how much trouble can she get into with just science?”
“You know, it’s days like this when I really miss Chris Epps. I wonder whatever happened to
“Didn’t his monster kill him, or was he the student that was the monster?”
“I suppose you’re right. It doesn’t really matter.”
“So what do we do now?”
“Well, I suppose it would make sense to get all of us in one room and figure out what we really do know about this Initiative. Perhaps we could find a room with a nice afternoon exposure…”
“You’re incorrigible, did you know that?”
“I’m also impressed. Such language, and it’s not even S.A.T. season.” Giles grinned at his slayer.
“I know.” Buffy smiled before admitting. “Actually, my mom used to say that to me all the
time. I still have no idea what it means.”
“And that explains so much.”
“ Right. So how about you round everybody up and I’ll go take my shower? Sound good?”
“Alright. Just don’t take too long. I’m sure we’ll want to have a plan before dark.”
“Aye-aye captain.” Buffy saluted, turned, and left. Giles closed his book and set down his pen. “I suppose she’s right.” He mumbled. “They really will white-out this whole encounter. But I’ll be damned if any of them knew how to follow the proper protocols in this situation.”
~Initiative, Wednesday, 4:22 p.m.~
Dr. Angleman and Dr. Ramaswamy, the robotics expert, had been eating their lunches in the small lab kitchen when the tornado known as Dr. Walsh stormed in. “Good afternoon, Maggie. Do you want us to make room for you at the table?” Dr. Angleman offered, wincing as Dr. Walsh systematically opened and slammed all the cabinet doors.
“Where are the mugs?” She ignored his greeting, choosing to focus on the problem at hand.
“Hanging on the rack over the sink… where they always are.” Dr. Ramaswamy pointed out.
She turned to glare at him, “I don’t like your tone, doctor.”
Dr. Ramaswamy was tempted to say “The feeling’s mutual,” but settled for, “It’s been a long day.” He added a cryptic smile that he found to be the easiest way to annoy his pessimistic colleague. For someone so well versed in human emotion, Walsh never seemed to handle anything other than bitterness well.
“Well at least that’s something we can agree on.” Walsh took her mug from the rack, rinsed it out and filled it with water. “Great, now where’s the damn tea bags.”
“Third drawer over.” Dr. Angleman offered.
“Somebody moved them.”
“Yeah, when they brought in the new bagel slicer a couple days ago, things got shifted.” Dr. Angleman shrugged, taking another bite of his warm bagel.
“A bagel slicer?” Walsh shot Angleman a dirty look. “Haven’t you ever heard of just using a knife?” She pulled out a random tea bag and threw it into her cup.
“Ah, chamomile, good choice. It is said to help reduce stress, and one must admit we have all been under pressure here lately.” Dr. Ramaswamy observed.
“That was chamomile? What happened to the Earl Grey?” Dr. Walsh checked the drawer again to realize that she had indeed used the wrong teabag. She briefly considered switching teabags, but it just wasn’t worth the effort; she put the mug in the microwave. “Could this day get any worse?”
“I think there’s something wrong with the microwave.”
“You weren’t really supposed to answer that, Angleman.”
The chubby doctor just shrugged. You could never win with Dr. Walsh. “I’m just saying, it took an extra half a minute to get my bagel warmed up. Just give it some extra time and it’ll be okay.”
“Maybe it’s your bagel.” Walsh set the microwave for the usual amount of time, and stared at her watch. The seconds ticked away as Walsh mentally tallied how much longer she’d have before she’d have to go rescue her PCR reactions of the biocontainment samples.
The microwave beeped. “Your tea is done.” Dr. Angleman informed his colleague.
“The microwave beeped.”
“I’m aware of that Angleman, but I was watching my watch the entire time, and a full minute hadn’t passed yet.”
“Are you sure? Perhaps you should try again. Replication is the key to quality science.” Ramaswamy lectured his fellow scientists.
“This isn’t science; it’s just a microwave.” Dr. Walsh opened the microwave to take her mug out. “That’s not right. It feels colder than when I put it in.”
“Well, give it some more time.”
Knowing that she couldn’t just leave this question unanswered, Dr. Walsh put her mug back and set the microwave for another a minute, paying attention to her wristwatch at the same time. Once again the microwave beeped before her watch passed the minute mark. “Unbelievable. I think the clock is counting fast.”
“That’s impossible. That microwave bases its clock on the flow of electricity coming from the socket, which is standard. It wouldn’t speed up unless you gave it an alternate source of power.”
“Or, it could be the socket’s rate is speeding up.” Dr. Angleman added his own pet theory.
“I don’t care what it is. Ramaswamy, I expect you to get your men out here to fix this before dinnertime. Do you understand?”
“I’ll add it to the list of things to do, but I doubt we’ll get to it today. The faculty microwave is hardly a pressing issue.”
“Whatever.” Walsh grabbed her mug and left, not even caring if it had finally warmed up.
“She is a strange woman.” Dr. Ramaswamy commented.
“Yeah, I’m just glad my shift ends after this. I can’t wait to get home, away from her.” Dr. Angleman agreed. “I think the pressure is finally getting to her.”
~Angel’s Mansion, Wednesday, 5:50 p.m.~
“Okay. Where to start?” Willow glanced around at the crowded room. She was seated in the wheel chair, with Asher standing behind her. To her left were Zoltan, Angel, and Spike; to her right were Buffy, Giles, and Riley; and on the couch facing her were Clem, Xander, and Anya. “I know, we’ll start with chronologically, because it’s logical with a side of chron.”
No one laughed at her joke, not even her. “Okay,” She nervously watched Buffy eyeing Angel
eyeing Riley eyeing Spike. “We know that the Initiative was brought in not long after Mayor Wilkin’s death.” Riley caught the look Xander shot Buffy; clearly this wasn’t an accidental death. “Margaret Walsh is the leading science officer. Before that, Walsh was mainly working for a biotechnology company that worked on integrating circuits into neural pathways. She was studying this really cool method for artificially linking synapses and… well, I suppose it doesn’t really matter, but I …”
“How about we jump to the stuff that does matter, pet?” Spike interrupted. He got a couple nasty glances from the slayer’s crew, but refused to budge.
“Right, so according to my research, there are three big projects, and a couple minor ones. There’s the H.S.T. project that captures demons and inputs behavior chips in them. That’s this stack of papers.” She tapped one of her stacks of printouts. “Then there’s project 214, which is this stack. They were injecting H.S.T. byproducts into soldiers to see if they could get demonic powers. Not exactly a bright idea, but hey, what do I know.” Willow shrugged, before realizing who was in the room. “Sorry Riley, no offense.”
“None taken.” The soldier was sitting at nervous attention. As far as briefings went this was not one of the best run he’d been to, but it was probably one of the most important. He nervously wiped the sweat from his brow.
“Then we have project 314. There’s really not much on that. It looks like they’re trying to create a super-soldier by gluing demon parts together. It’s kinda confusing because they don’t know the names to any of the demons so they have all these part numbers, and I don’t know what all of the parts go to.”
“A chimera of demon parts? What an atrociously bad idea.” Giles frowned.
“I’m surprised the Council hasn’t thought of it first.” Xander piped up earning a scowl from Giles.
“I assure you, Monsieur Xander, it has.” Asher replied.
“Wrong council.” Angel muttered.
“Lovely.” Giles rubbed his brow.
“Okay, so I think it’s fair to say that right now, they’re the bad guys?” Xander asked the group, seeing everyone nod, some quicker than others. “So we should take them down, like any other bad guy.”
“Well, I don’t know. Maybe we could just find Dr. Walsh, and explain to her what a really bad idea all this research is, and get her to change her ways?” Willow offered. “It would be nice not to fail my first college science class.”
“Dr. Walsh is not a woman to be reasoned with.” Giles answered.
“Besides, there’s no way you’re going to find Dr. Walsh.” Riley added, belatedly realizing he was giving away too much information.
“Why’s that?” Spike asked, picking up the stack of papers on the H.S.T. project and flipping through them.
Riley was tempted to ignore the question, but it was clear that everyone else was interested in the answer as well. “Dr. Walsh is the faculty-in-residence of Lowell House.”
“And that means?”
“That means she works at the Initiative, lives at the Initiative, and only leaves to teach her intro course… where she has a soldier guard posing as a TA.” Buffy answered on Riley’s behalf. “God, that woman has no life. No wonder she’s such a psycho.” Riley could have reminded her that his life had been just as pathetic up until this week, but settled for just looking sheepish instead.
“What about the other docs?” Spike double checked the cover page. “This Angleman or Jones? Are they live-ins as well? Perhaps a Jekyll-Hyde-Frankenstein ménage a trois?”
“No. Even if they did live at the base, they wouldn’t share quarters with Walsh.” Riley winced at the mental picture.
“You’re just gross, Spike.” Buffy stared at him.
“You have no idea.” Spike leered at the slayer, safe from his position across the room.
“Don’t taunt her.” Angel muttered.
Anya interrupted, before a full grown argument could sprout up. “Are you okay, Buffy’s boy? You look sort of flushed, and while I admit that Spike’s suggestion could be gross with the wrong people involved, it wasn’t that bad.”
“Anya!” Xander shook his head.
“What? He looks clammy and gross. He shouldn’t look like that if he wants to mate with Buffy.”
“Anya!” It was Buffy’s turn to be abashed.
“It’s true! You can’t tell me you’d actually want to kiss someone who is that color. That’s just
“Whether I want to kiss him, or not, is not up for public debate.” She cast a nervous glance at Angel before looking at Riley.
“But Anya does have a point.” Giles interjected. “Riley, are you feeling well?”
“I’m fine.” Riley automatically replied.
“His pulse is above normal, his temperature is too low, and he smells of sickness.” Asher observed.
“Alright, I’ve been better, but you don’t have to fuss or anything.”
“I don’t know. I think we should probably do something for you. You’ve missed a dose of demon lymph already. This may be withdrawal.” Willow picked up the second stack of papers, leafing through them. “Are you having any problem with blurry vision?”
“No.” Riley muttered, not willing to admit his faults in front of the H.S.T.s.
“Well, just in case, I think we should do something.”
“What did you have in mind, Willow?” Giles had always been impressed by Willow’s hacking skills, but was a little nervous at the thought of her playing doctor.
“I think a cleansing spell is in order. It’ll get all the foreign stuff out of his blood stream.”
“A spell?” Giles thought it over.
“It couldn’t make things worse.”
“Alright. I don’t suppose you have the ingredients for the Nekton’s brew here? That would probably the best to start with.”
“I don’t think you’ll find any of the ingredients here.” Angel answered. “But you’re welcome to look through the kitchen.
“Xander, if I make a list, can you get some things for me?” Willow turned her doe eyes on her best friend.
“Anything for my bestest friend,” Anya elbowed Xander in the side, “As long as I can get reimbursed later?” He added, earning a proud smile from his girlfriend.
“We’ll work something out, but I think getting Riley back to health is a higher priority.” Giles snapped.
“I don’t know. Do we really have any use for the soldier?” Spike watched as Riley tried to hide his trembling fingers from Buffy’s gaze.
“Shh, Monsieur Spike. He does indeed have his uses.” Asher whispered, earning a sharp glare from Willow. “Truly, ma chaton, you do not want him harmed, do you? I speak only in his defense.” Willow could feel the earnestness in his words pressing down on her, and couldn’t help but wonder at sensation.
“Why do I get the sense that you’re plotting something?”
“Moi?” Willow just shot him a glance as she reached for a pen and her notebook.
“So, other than Willow’s suggestion that we try to ask Dr. Walsh to nicely stop her experiments, what other options are there?” Giles tried to refocus the meeting.
“We could try sneaking in through the back and, I don’t know, unplugging their power, or something.” Buffy suggested.
“We could surrender ourselves to get inside again.” Riley added.
“You could use whatever you used to blow up the judge.” Spike suggested. “That was a sweet explosion, I’ll give you that.”
“Thanks!” Xander smiled before realizing that he hated everything to do with Spike. The room was quiet for a moment. “We could use hummus.” Xander earned glares from Buffy, Willow, and Giles. “Why is it funny when Oz says it, but not me?”
“Actually, I think that’s a rather good idea.” Zoltan spoke up. “Normally, I’d just smite them all down with a pox, but hummus could at best clog all their diabolical machines, and at worst exfoliate their skin. Goodness knows that hag of a doctor needs it! You would think no one would have explained to her the purpose of moisturizer.”
“We’re not using hummus.” Angel insisted. “And, you can’t give them a pox with that chip in your head.”
“Well, then I guess we’re stuck.”
The computer beeped, as though it disagreed. “Maybe not.” Willow muttered, standing up, and hopping the few steps over to the computer desk. “Riley? You’ve got an email.”
“I do?” Riley stared at her. “How would you know?”
“Well,” Willow blushed, “You didn’t log out when you checked it this morning, which you shouldn’t have been checking anyway since you never know if someone were to trace your email back to here, and it actually was a close thing since your army account was being monitored, but your school account wasn’t really, so I sort of set the computer up to keep you logged in and alert me when you got anything.”
“Okay.” Riley tried to disentangle Willow’s explanation. “Can I see what it says? If it’s the school account, it might just be someone from class.” Riley stood up, and couldn’t help but falter a bit, as his head clouded up. Resolving to not let the monsters see his weakness, he walked over to the computer. “Oh this is interesting.”
“What is it?” Buffy followed Riley over to the computer.
“It’s from Graham. He’s reporting a major snafu.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know, but maybe he’ll have a suggestion for how we should stop the scientific projects without getting anyone hurt.”
“You’re going to ask your army buddy how we should break into his base? That’s crazy.” Buffy shook her head.
“It’s not that bad of an idea.” Riley insisted. “Besides, if something big is happening at the base. It would be useful for us to know that.”
“I understand your point of view, but surely you can see that this might be some sort of ruse to bring us out of hiding.” Giles considered.
“No, Miller wouldn’t do that.” Riley said with conviction. He knew his squadron backwards and forwards, and if Graham said there was an emergency, then there was definitely an emergency.
“Well, I suppose we could set up a meeting in a public place, and I’ve been craving a double caramel macchiato all day.” Buffy reasoned.
“So, should we set up a meeting for the Espresso Pump in an hour?” Riley asked.
“I suppose we have no better alternatives.”
“Great.” Riley reached for the computer keyboard, only to have his fingers slapped away.
“I do not think it is a wise idea to allow him near the computer. There is no telling what he will send.” Asher declared.
Riley stared at him, but upon meeting Asher’s eyes, felt his defiance melt away. “Fine, Willow, can you send Graham an email?” He asked, not looking away from Asher.
“Sure, what should it say, so he knows it’s from you, but like not from you?”
“He’ll know it’s from me by the return address.”
“Not if I send it from an anonymous account. I wouldn’t be surprised if your friend’s email is being watched.”
“Why would they trace Miller’s email account?”
Willow shot the soldier a scathing look. For being a psychology major, Riley had no understanding of how the military mind worked. “How about this, I’ll title it ‘Friend from Iowa.’ That’s sort of obvious but not entirely so.”
“Sure, tell him that his friend from Iowa is ready to share psych notes, and then give him the drop off point.”
“Yeah, like that’s not obvious.” Xander snorted. “Why don’t you just send your GPS coordinates and the message ‘shoot me now’?”
“Ooh, I know!” Buffy said. “What about this. Dear Graham the TA, I’m so sorry, but I like totally flaked today and missed class because my friend from Iowa was visiting. I was going to call Riley, but a friend told me you had taken over. Anyway, I was wondering if I could meet with you tonight to share notes. I’m going to be at the Espresso Pump at seven tonight, and would love to meet you. Thanks, bye!”
“Ooh, I like.” Willow grinned, spelling ‘love’ with a ‘u’ and no ‘e’. “If only I could draw hearts over all the I’s.” She quickly typed the email up. “Now, who do I sign it from?”
“Daisy?” Buffy stared at Riley, who just nodded once. “Daisy? As in Daisy Dukes?”
“Or Daisy Gatsby? Daisy Miller? Daisy Duck?” Willow added in, trying not to grin. “Any last name, Daisy?”
“Just Daisy.” Riley answered. “He’ll know what I mean.”
“I’m beginning to think you’re a man of many depths.” Buffy joked.
“That’s me, off the deep end.” Riley winced. He could feel the beginnings of a migraine starting.
Buffy caught Riley’s wince. “You should probably lay down for awhile. You don’t look so hot. We’ll come get you before we go to the coffee shop.” Buffy instructed her sort of boyfriend.
“Are you sure don’t need help with …” He glanced towards the three vampires.
“Don’t worry. I can take ‘em. That’s why they call me the slayer.” Spike snorted at that. She pulled a stake from her pocket and flung it behind her, not even glancing back to see it wedge itself in the wall next to Spike’s head. “Watch it, bleach boy, next time I’ll actually aim.”
“Looks like you have things under control, I guess I should just…”
“Don’t worry, we’ll fetch you before anything exciting happens.” Buffy watched him head back down the hall towards the bedrooms.
They waited until he had closed the door before resuming their discussion. “So you think he’ll be okay to go to the Pump in an hour? ‘Cause, in my opinion, he’s not at his top game.” Xander mused.
“We can count on him.” Buffy announced and nobody was willing to challenge her assertion.
“Who else will be going with him?” Angel watched the group carefully. He had only been out of Sunnydale for a few months, but it was clear the dynamics had shifted.
“I’m going.” Buffy immediately answered.
“I’m going.” Xander echoed her.
“No, you’re not.” Anya tugged on his shirt.
“But what if it’s a trap?”
“Exactly! If it’s a trap, you might get hurt, and I don’t want to you to get hurt.”
“Touching.” Spike glared at the ex-demon.
“I also think it might not be the best idea to send Xander along.” Giles added. “So far the Initiative does not know of his involvement. It would be a bad idea to show all our cards now.” Asher raised his opinion of the watcher. While the slayer was clearly the dominant leader, the watcher had a sharp mind for strategy. “If anyone else goes with them, I think it should be me.” Then again, maybe not.
“Monsieur Giles, if it is a trap, you would be in the worst position to defend yourself. Perhaps Monsieur Ange would be a better choice.”
“Oh no, that is so not a good idea.” Buffy shook her head.
“They wouldn’t recognize me.” Angel mulled over the suggestion.
“No, but I would,” and it would be awkward to have Angel watching out for Riley, Buffy added in her head. “Besides, if you went with us, who would watch those two?” She glanced at Spike and Asher.
“We do not need watching.” Asher insisted.
“Sure you don’t.” Buffy glanced between Asher and Willow, “But, as long as my friend is stuck with you, I want an eye on you.” Willow blushed, but knew better than to argue with Buffy.
“So, I take it there are no further objections to Buffy and me accompanying Riley to speak with his colleague?” Giles made eye contact with each person, daring them to speak up.
“While you are away, I believe Monsieur Spike, Monsieur Zoltan, and I have an errand to run.”
“An errand?” Giles stared at Asher’s chin, refusing to meet the vampire’s eyes after seeing the effect on Riley.
“Oui. Some of us can not get our food delivered to our doorstep quite as easily as others.”
“Oh no you don’t. I’m not going to leave you alone if it means you’re going to go out and kill people.” Buffy interjected.
“You can’t watch us all the time.” Spike tried taunting the slayer, but before she could react, Angel cut in. “Relax Buffy, today’s delivery day. I’ll make sure they restrain themselves to the hospital supply only.”
“Wait, if you’re watching them, who’s watching Willow?”
“I don’t really need watching. I’m just going to be doing some more snooping for information on the Initiative.”
“Come on Willow, they’ve already found us here once. What if they come back and you can’t get away?” Buffy tried to reason with her friend. “You need at least one more person around to help you get away if it comes that.”
“I can keep her company, that is, if she doesn’t mind.” Clem offered. Buffy glanced at her watcher, who was mentally cataloging what he knew about this shar-pei like demon.
“That’s a great idea. The two of you can do something very dull, while I take Xander home for awhile.” Anya answered with a smile.
“Oh, but before you take him home, you guys are going to the magic store, right?” Willow checked, as she scribbled a list on one of the scrap papers at the printer.
“Sure. No problem. So, shall we meet back here at midnight?” Xander asked as Willow handed him the shopping list.
“Will that give us enough time to…” Anya whispered something into Xander’s ear that caused him to blush.
“I think we can arrange that, if we leave now.” Xander took Anya’s hand and headed for the door. “Bye everybody, see you in a few.”
“It is nice to see that the youth of today are capable of thinking with something other than their heads.” Asher dryly noted.
~Main Street, Wednesday, 6:24 p.m. ~
“You know, the stash of bloodwine wasn’t in any danger of running out.” Angel observed, as he followed the three demons out of the door.
“He just now figures this out?” Zoltan glanced back. “I thought your line was supposed to be brighter than the others, Asher.”
“I believe he was trying to subtly inquire what our true purpose is.” Asher replied. The four demons made an imposing figure, storming down the sidewalks of Sunnydale. People crossed the street to avoid their path blocks before reaching the vampires. It would be much faster if they could just fly to their destination, but Asher had decided it would be best not to demonstrate that skill so near the slayer.
“Do I need to ask you directly what the purpose of this is?” Angel asked. “Or will you explain what’s going on?”
“Our purpose is simple.” Asher shrugged. “It is revenge.”
“On whom?” Angel watched Spike pull a sheet of paper out of his pocket, study it for a second, then turn left.
“You sound as though you disapprove, even before you know our plan.”
“What can I say, revenge can be messy.” Angel had figured out that this would involve Spike’s chip somehow, and Angel’s soul was struggling with the dilemma whether it was true justice to get revenge or just violence that should be stopped.
“We’re about to pay a little visit to the doctor.” Spike finally turned to face Angel. “Doctor Angleman is going to take out what he put in, or he’ll face the consequences. Now, either you’re in, or you leave right now.”
“I can’t let you do this.”
“Then go back to your mansion.”
“I can’t do that either.”
“Then you’re not a hell of a lot of good for anything now, are you?”
“If you had to choose between having revenge, and having the chip removed, what would your choice be?” Angel studied the set of Spike’s jaw as the younger vampire thought through the question.
“If you had this chip, you wouldn’t even need to ask. It’s a constant pain, pressing down on me. I want it out.”
“Alright, I’m in.”
“I am pleased m’ange. It is a master’s duty to look out for those in his line.”
“Let’s get one thing straight, I’m going along to make sure Spike doesn’t kill the doctor. This is not a sign that I care about Spike.”
“We will allow you your delusions… for now.”