Under Pressure - 4
~Lowell House, Wednesday, 8:00 p.m.~
“Where have you been?” Forrest greeted Graham at front door of Lowell House.
“Just meeting one of the undergrads in Walsh’s class. I figured it would be bad to blow her off and blow my cover. Why, is something up?” Graham followed Forrest into the dormitory.
“You could say that. McNamara is looking for you.”
Graham’s face went white. If what Riley said was true, McNamara was in on all this. He hadn’t been able to read more than a few pages of the report Riley had given him, but what he’d read hadn’t been good. “Did you cover for me?”
“I didn’t have to. The Iota captain has been tying him up with technical problems. There was a slight electrical fire on the third level, and I think they were worried about whether the cages would stay locked in a system fail.”
“What caused the fire?”
“I don’t know. Random sparking, I think. It’s not really my problem.” Forrest shrugged. “You should probably go to the general’s office so that when Iota finishes up, he won’t have to go looking for you..”
“Hey, I just call ‘em as I see ‘em.” Forrest grinned. The two parted ways in the hallway; Forrest heading to his bunk as Graham entered the elevator to the larger compound. He got off on the correct level and headed towards the office McNamara used when he was in town. The door swung open and the captain of the Iota unit walked out, a frown on his face.
“Ah, Agent Miller, just the soldier I was looking for. Come in.” McNamara said from his seat behind the desk. “Close the door behind you.”
Graham shut the door and stood at attention.
“At ease, take a seat, I have a feeling this is going to be a long one.” McNamara muttered. Graham sat down across from the general. McNamara turned to the oak cabinet and pulled out a bottle of scotch and a single glass. He carefully poured a glass, put the bottle back in the cabinet, and took a gulp of the alcohol. He paused thoughtfully, letting the taste of the scotch linger in his mouth for a moment before finishing the glass in another gulp. Graham watched the actions wondering if this was some sort of mind game, giving Graham enough time to get nervous so that he would confess to meeting Finn and seeing the confidential reports. He wondered if all soldiers were given this treatment before getting a court-martial.
“Soldier, to get to be a general you have to have experience, and while all the successful missions in the world look nice on the resume, it’s the missions that go south that really provide you with the experience you need. Do you take the courageous route and stick it out, or do you save face and get out while you can? They try to teach this stuff at training, but no amount of simulations can prepare you for the real thing.”
“Sir?” Graham gulped nervously. That certainly wasn’t the greeting he was expecting.
“Miller, with Finn off-base, you are the second ranking officer on this base. You are about to get some general-building experience.”
“Are you saying the Initiative is going south, sir?”
“Your commander is MIA. We have had three independent break-outs in the last three weeks. Our injury lists are rivaling those from the worst active combat units. The joint chiefs have been pouring money into this operation, and we have little or nothing to show for it. I’ve been told that we either turn this ship around or prepare to bail. On the one hand, I believe the research going on here could have valuable returns if allowed to continue. On the other hand, maybe now is not the time or place to continue this research. Now, agent, what would you recommend if you were to make the call?” The general studied the young soldier carefully.
“That’s a difficult question, sir.”
“I didn’t ask if it was difficult. I asked what you would do.”
“I would retreat, sir.”
“Why is that?”
“We aren’t meeting our mission’s objectives, sir.”
“And just what do you think are the mission objectives?”
“To capture dangerous H.S.T.s and find ways to neutralize their threat.” Graham recited from rote memory.
“And you don’t think we’re getting that done? Our containment units are full.” The general had a grim smile, as if he was amused by the naivety of Graham’s answer.
“I think we are capable of capturing H.S.T.s, sir, but I question our research to neutralize the threat. Perhaps if our mission was to dispose of the threat directly…”
“And what would that accomplish?”
“Well, for one thing sir, it would cut the costs of containment if they were disposed of quickly.” Graham struggled for an answer.
“That it would.” The general chuckled. “But, putting a dent in the H.S.T. population of one small town in California would hardly be worth the investment of the US government’s resources. If we could find a way to neutralize all H.S.T.s however…” The general trailed off. He had been making that argument to the joint chiefs ever since he had discovered the existence of H.S.T.s, and he was beginning to doubt the possibility that the H.S.T.s would ever be neutralized. In fact, some days it seemed far more probable that the H.S.T.s would be granted citizenship, than treated like the pestilence they were.
“Permission to speak freely, sir?”
“Go ahead.” The general waved a weary hand.
“Before I came here I had never heard of H.S.T.s or seen any evidence of them. How can they be such a threat to national security if the nation knows nothing about them?”
“There are many threats the average citizen knows nothing about; that doesn’t excuse us from dealing with them.”
“I know, sir, but I can’t help but think that maybe we’re just poking a stick at a hornet’s nest by staying here. Walsh’s research…”
“What do you know of Walsh’s research?” The general snapped.
“Nothing, sir…” Graham tried to lie, but couldn’t. “I don’t understand Walsh’s research, but I’ve found out that I may have been made a study subject without my consent.”
“That is a very interesting claim. How did you hear of it?”
“With all due respect sir, I think I should ask for a lawyer.”
“With all due respect agent, I think it’s too late for that. What do you know of Walsh’s research?”
“Honestly sir, I know very little about the behavior chip program and I have no idea what goes on behind door 314. But, I do know that Agent Finn was exposed to alien compounds while on base here. I know that with the compounds, Agent Finn was performing at a level above his baseline capabilities. I also know that Agent Finn is becoming severely ill the longer he is away from whatever compound he was exposed to. I know that whatever Agent Finn was exposed to I have also been exposed to.”
“You’ve seen Agent Finn?”
“Why the hell didn’t you bring him back to base?”
“That wasn’t in my orders.” Graham said, his jaw aching from clenching his teeth so tightly.
“Damn. You say he was ill?” The general asked thoughtfully.
“Yes sir. He was weaker than I’ve ever seen him.”
“Walsh swore it wouldn’t have any long lasting effects.”
“You knew she was experimenting on us.” Graham couldn’t keep the accusation out of his voice.
“She said it was just a vitamin supplement to increase your focus. I had no idea.” The
general frowned. “I guess that settles it. I’m going to have to shut Walsh and this operation down.” The general stood up abruptly.
“Sir, if I may make a suggestion? If what Agent Finn is going through is a type of withdrawal syndrome, perhaps the rest of us should be weaned off before the program is shut down?” Graham tried to picture an entire base of soldiers resembling Riley’s recent appearance and cringed at the mental image.
“I’ll take that into consideration.” The general frowned. In his past operations, he had never had to worry about the scientific fallout of prematurely stopping experiments. This added a whole new layer of complexity for dealing with the Initiative’s downsizing. “Agent Miller, everything said in this office is to be kept in confidence. If I hear any word of this leaking out, a court-martial will be the nicest possible fate. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir.” General McNamara watched the soldier leave. As soon as he was gone, the general rested his forehead on his desk. This was a disaster. Trying to explain sanctioning the next generation of Gulf War Syndrome was a no-win situation. He needed to get those soldiers off the 214 protocol without any of them dying if he had any chance of preserving his career. He needed to talk to Walsh, immediately.
~College Street, Wednesday, 8:10 p.m.~
“You know, you really shouldn’t have promised Spike something you couldn’t deliver. He may be young, but he carries grudges worse than some masters I’ve met.” Angel said as he placed the doctor on the front porch, taking care to be gentle with the dead man.
“What ever are you talking about?”
“You promised to make him an incubus.”
“I promised to help him learn how he could become an incubus.”
“But if it’s not in him, he won’t be able to feed off the lust no matter how hard he tries. You either have the ardeur, or you don’t.”
“And which experience are you speaking from?” Asher watched Angel fold the doctor’s hands across his chest as if in a parody of prayer, a subconscious gesture made habit from his days as Angelus.
Angel was silent for several moments before finally replying, “The first time I ever went to court was after Darla encountered one of our line with the ardeur. She was jealous of the gift and wanted it for herself.”
“It is as much a curse as a gift.”
“It doesn’t matter. She tried to bed every vampire of our line in the hopes that something would stick.”
“Ah, that would explain her fascination with having you…”
“Yes, that would explain it.” Angel’s face went blank, as though he were back at Court.
“To need people so intimately can be a very lonely existence.”
“One that Spike should not have to endure.”
“You surprise me, Monsieur.”
“I’m surprised anything can surprise you these days.”
“Come, we best not dally.” Asher walked off the porch, knowing that Angel would follow him. He waited until they reached the copse of trees across the street, before turning to address the vampire. “You would not warn Spike away from the ardeur if you had no knowledge of it yourself.” Angel remained silent. “Does our mistress know you are blessed with her fondest trait?”
“I will not feed her hunger for her. I will step into the sun first.”
“I hope it will not come to that.” Asher and Angel turned to face the doctor’s house, waiting for Spike to meet them. “I am touched by how you try to protect your childe while having nothing to do with him.”
“Spike and I have a long and complicated history.”
“The two of you could have a long and complicated future as well, but not if William can not find a way to feed.” The two men waited in silence for a few minutes, not feeling the need to fill the silence with mindless chatter.
Finally Angel spoke, “Why are you really here? I can understand the Council trying to investigate the Hellmouth, but you are too valuable to Belle Morte. I don’t think the other leaders would stand for you as their representative.”
“You have been away from the Council too long. Perhaps a century ago that would have been true, but I have been pitied for too long for anyone to take me seriously now. I am practically the court eunuch.”
“Belle Morte must have sent you here for some other purpose. There are always ulterior motives with her.”
“Perhaps.” Asher admitted. “She asked me to assess which of her lineage in this country would be capable of holding a city, were this continent to organize itself.”
“And what will your report say?”
“Monsieur William is approaching.”
“What will your report say?” Angel repeated, but Asher was dutifully ignoring him as he watched the approaching vampire.
“Best we retreat. Company’s on its way.” Spike said, walking past Asher and Angel, and heading straight into the woods, away from the street.
“What are you talking about? What did you do?” Angel frowned.
“I didn’t do anything.” Spike shot his sire a nasty glare. “I passed one of those military trucks at the end of the block. Call it a hunch, but I think the soldiers are on their way.”
“Shh.” Asher watched the doctor’s house, allowing the trees’ shadows to hide him from any street traffic. A black hummer pulled into the doctor’s driveway. A soldier, dressed in civilian clothes, but clearly responding to orders from a military issue radio, hopped out of the side door and went to the doctor’s front door, evidently expecting an easy assignment, only to find a complication on the porch.
“Man down! I repeat, man down! Requesting back-up team to report to Angleman’s residence.” He called into the radio, causing the driver of the hummer to turn off the engine and jump out of the car.
“Well, I guess that answers the question, how long ‘til they find him. Let’s go.” Spike turned to leave.
“Not so fast.”
The three vampires turned to see a stocky man, or rather vampire, facing them. His eyes were the steely gray of a wolf and his chin sported a permanent five o’clock shadow. “El Lobo, I was not aware you would be in town.” Asher spoke quietly, trying to avoid any emotion in his words.
“My master thought you might not be doing the Council’s business quite as diligently as you have been reporting. Clearly, there is some truth to his words, for you are here hiding in the trees rather than facing the threat with bravery and skill.”
“If Padma did not approve of my reports, he could have voted against sending me. There was no need for him to send you across the ocean.”
“He has his reasons.” El Lobo glanced at the house, where one soldier was busy putting up yellow tape. “If you are not competent enough to take down those few boys, perhaps he was right to not trust you with this task.”
“Hey, you want to try to take them, be my guest.” Spike had never heard of this vampire before, but could already tell he didn’t like him.
“Shall I show you how it’s done, minion?”
“Oh yes, by all means.” Spike sneered.
“I do not think that is a good idea. If Padma has sent you here, you should at least hear what we have discovered before rushing into a fight in your sire’s name.” Asher interrupted Spike’s egging on.
“You just don’t want me to fight these humans. Why? Are they your allies? Do you plan to turn the people of the Hellmouth against my kind?”
Asher saw no need to contradict the vampire who refused to believe any vampires outside of his own line. “What do you mean, your kind? Are we not all vampires?” Angel asked, hoping to draw the vampire out in a philosophical debate until the soldiers could get away. While he didn’t approve of the Initiative, he didn’t believe the errand boys in the driveway were the true cause of the problem, and he didn’t want any more blood on his hands.
“Are they so ignorant on this continent that they have not heard of the sourdre de sang?” The vampire snarled. “Here’s a lesson, fledgling, while your line fights with your feminine wiles, my line fights with tooth and claw.” El Lobo shifted into a half-beast form, with claws coming out of his hands and fur sprouting along his chest. “One method works considerable better than the other.”
Angel was about to remark that he had been to court and had known about the power of vampiric lines before Padma’s line had even been recognized, but was preempted by Asher. “And you believe fighting with tooth and claw will help you against those soldiers? You are not the first to try that method.” Asher tilted his head to listen for more vehicles. The soldiers had already called for backup.
“You were sent here to get rid of the military, not stand around and watch them.” El Lobo growled. “I will show you how it is done.”
The vampire strolled out of the woods, not even bothering the cloak his approach. As he approached them, he took a menacing pose. “I am El Lobo, and you will now die.” He announced to the soldier who was attending to Dr. Angleman.
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.” Spike rolled his eyes. “If that’s the best he’s got, it doesn’t say much for you Council vamps.”
“El Lobo is very powerful.” Asher offered, “But not terribly bright. I have a feeling Padma wants to see if the Hellmouth can be ruled by brute strength alone. He is not investing his brightest resources quite yet.”
“It’s suicide, that’s what it is.” Spike muttered.
“I’m going to save him.” Angel announced.
“What, El Loco?” Spike shot his sire a disbelieving look.
“No, the soldier. He doesn’t deserve to be clawed up.” They watched as the soldier was thrown off the porch, landing in some bushes.
“Not a problem; just watch.” Spike muttered as the driver of the hummer pulled out his taser gun and shot El Lobo. The vampire reared up and howled, turning his attention to the driver. This gave the other soldier a chance to pull out his taser. As another flash of blue lightning hit the vampire, instead of collapsing as weaker demons would do, he shifted completely into the werewolf form.
“More soldiers are coming.”
“Let them come, let’s get out of here.” Spike suggested.
“We can not leave El Lobo here. If he is captured, the Council will investigate. If he succeeds, the soldiers will want retribution against all of us. This must be stopped.” Asher analyzed the situation.
“Fine, Spike, you get El Lobo, and drag him to the bushes. Asher and I will handle the soldiers.” Angel suggested.
“Why do I get the rabid werewolf?”
“Gee, I don’t know, Chippy. Now, let’s get going before the other soldiers get here.” They watched as El Lobo slashed at one of the men with the tazers, knocking the gun from his hand. Sensing a space in the fight, Asher and Angel rushed forward, knocking the two men down before the men even realized more people had joined the fight.
Spike grabbed the wolf by the scruff of his neck. He started towards the trees across the street only to see two hummers pull up to the corner of the block. “Backyard!” He yelled, realizing they had no chance in the open. The three vampires ran for the backyard, taking advantage of the lack of fences to run across several yards and come out two blocks down. The vampires stopped running as soon as they reached Main Street. They ducked into an alley behind the movie theater.
“Bloody hell. Somebody else take the mutt.” Spike shoved the master vampire towards the dumpster.
The vampire collapsed in a heap. “Evidently, even the masters of Padma’s line are not immune from the soldiers’ weapons. That is interesting to know.” Asher mused.
“What is he doing here, anyway?” Angel watched the vampire, still in werewolf form.
“I can only assume his master sent him here for the same reason mine sent me.” Asher muttered. “This puts us in a very precarious situation.”
“You mean this puts you in a precarious situation.” Spike corrected.
“As you wish. However, I doubt that they will discriminate which vampire of Belle Morte’s line killed him, when Padma sends his people to get retribution. And, as you will not be able to leave the Hellmouth until your head has been repaired…”
“So we don’t kill him.”
“If we don’t kill him, he will undoubtedly rail against the military again. They will easily overtake him, but not before he causes serious damage. Perhaps he will try to take out the slayer in an attempt to get to the root of the problem.” Angel’s head shot up at that announcement. “He may even try to kill everyone around her. While I am not particularly fond of the slayer myself, it would seem an unnecessary waste to let El Lobo get anywhere near her circle.”
“So what do we do?” Spike kicked at the dumpster.
“We walk away.” Angel answered. “We need to get back to the mansion and warn the others that he’s in town.”
“You are right, mon ange, it is time for us to leave him here. I just wonder, if he is still collapsed here at the dawn, and we have left him here to die, will the Council hold us responsible?”
“Easy enough solution to that.” Spike flipped open the lid to the dumpster and tossed in the limp wolf-form. With a metal clang, the lid to the dumpster fell back down, leaving the werewolf-vampire in total darkness. “There, no toasty master.”
“Spike, you can’t just throw a Council vampire in a garbage dump! What happens if he wakes up early and starts screaming let me out? He’ll attract the wrong sort of attention and we’ll be good enough as dead.”
“You seem to forget that this is Sunnydale; he could be running around starkers and not attract the wrong sort of attention. He’ll be fine until tomorrow. Now, who else thinks it’s time to check up on Red?”
“Indeed. Undoubtedly she misses us dearly.” Asher said with a faint smirk. Seeing the redhead would make the return to the mansion bearable despite the unenviable duty he would face upon returning of letting his sire know about Lobo’s presence. Perhaps that could be put off until after he had seen to the redhead’s safety.