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Summary: A response to Jinni's five song challenge- Asher is sent by the council to investigate reports of military activity near the Hellmouth

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Anita Blake > Willow-Centered > Pairing: AsherdulcineaFR1855165,32913100122,4912 May 043 Sep 06Yes

Under Pressure - 8

~Angel’s Mansion, Thursday, 11:21 a.m.~

Asher peeked around his bedroom door. The sounds of sparring and chatter were all coming from the front rooms. Clearly the humans did not expect the vampires to be up and about yet. It was the perfect opportunity for him to conduct some of his more discreet business. He quietly closed the door and went back to his desk, fetching the cell phone from the desk drawer. He followed Benton’s instructions for calling the Council’s manor, and waited patiently for someone to pick up.

After eight rings, someone finally answered. “Good evening. Please state the manner of your call.”

“Bonjour Benton. May I speak with Belle Morte?”

“She’s being entertained currently. Please try again later.” The crisp British voice retorted.

“Benton, this is Asher.”

“I’m well aware of that.”

“Then I am sure you are also aware that Belle Morte has always been interested in what I have to say. This is no exception.”

“Perhaps when you were present, she gave that impression, but surely you didn’t think she would reserve your place at her side while you went off gallivanting half way around the world.”

“Monsieur Benton, I assure you this is a matter of some importance. Please tell our mistress that I must speak with her. If she does not hear my message, the next Council meeting will go quite ill for her. If events do not go to her liking, it will be much easier for her to punish those who are proximate, such as the one who refused to connect the phone call. Now, I will not request again.” Asher muttered into the phone.

“I suppose she may be interrupted from the entertainment just this once.” The phone was set down. Asher used the time to settle on the bed. If he had to endure Belle Morte’s bedroom voice, he may as well be comfortable. After several minutes, the line was picked up again. “Monsieur Asher, are you still there? I believe I have speaker phone established.”

“Oui, I am here. Good evening, sire.”

“It is good to hear from you Asher. Your most recent letters have caused quite a reaction here.”

“Is there any one else there that I should be greeting?” Asher asked as a polite way to find out just how private this conversation truly was.

“Non, I have ordered even our little protégé out of the room. That is what you wish, is it not?”

“Oui. What I have found should probably not be mentioned elsewhere.”

“Now I am intrigued. Tell me, Asher, what have you been up to?”

“As you know, Zoltan has been in custody of the soldiers and fitted with a chip to make him useless.”

“Yes, yes, we’ve got that message from you.”

“What you have not yet received is the notice that we have managed to fix Zoltan and eliminate one of the doctors who is causing these atrocities. We could have perhaps made further inroads, but we were interrupted by El Lobo.”

“Of Padma’s line? That’s impossible! He was sent to monitor the reports of a new master in Mexico. He should not be near the Hellmouth.”

“I have seen him with my own eyes. I know not what else to tell you.”

“He should be in Mexico. The Council will hear of this.” Belle Morte fumed.

“My queen, would it not help to know why El Lobo is here, before confronting the others? Perhaps Padma is not the only one on Council who doubts my ability to investigate this little matter.”

“By doubting you, they doubt me. I do not think any would dare to do that.”

“Then what other motive might the wolf have?”

“Leave that to me.” From the tone of her voice, Asher figured she had reached the same conclusion he had. Padma was daring to do the impossible by establishing his line on the Hellmouth. “In the meantime, how is your project progressing?”

“Which project are you referring to, my queen?”

“Do not taunt me, my Asher. Your news has already put me in a foul mood.”

“I believe it will be possible to transfer the ardeur to Monsieur William, but I hesitate to attempt it on the Hellmouth with enemies so close at hand. As soon as the military situation is resolved I will have more opportunity to train him. As for Monsieur Angel, he has certain diplomatic skills that could be useful, but with his taint of humanity, I would hesitate to bring him back to Europe. They have potential to be great assets, but it will take me years to develop them into masters of your line. I request more time and patience so that I may develop their talents.”

“You have formed an attachment to the Hellmouth?” Asher was thankful Belle Morte couldn’t see him falter as he thought of fair Willow.

“I only seek to be where you most need me, and I believe that is here.”

“I will consider your request. After all, there is always the matter of what to tell the rest of the Council. They will not appreciate you extending your visit.”

“Tonight we will make our move. By tomorrow, the demons here will not have to fear the humans any more.”

“I expect you will send thorough updates as soon as possible.”

“Of course. I am always at your service.”

~ The Initiative, Thursday, 2:00 p.m. ~

“Alright sir, my men are right on it. All exits are to be watched and all science personnel are to have double guards posted. I don’t think Delta will like taking orders from Zeta, but...”

“They don’t have to like it, they just have to do it. I have evidence of a major security breach and Washington will be breathing down our necks in less than twenty four hours. I want everybody paired up and accounted for.” Graham barked out the orders.

“Yes sir.” The normally laid back Zeta captain snapped to attention. “Just one more question. Who is in charge of informing Dr. Walsh that her staff is grounded?” The Zeta captain silently prayed that wouldn’t be his job.

“I’ll take care of that.” Graham said, gritting his teeth. He would have to get Riley back for this one day. “In fact, I’m heading there next. Do you know which lab Walsh is in?”

“I believe she’s still in 314.” The captain answered. “At least, that’s where her guard is posted.”

“Thanks.” Graham left the base control center and headed down to the labs. Nodding at the guards on either side of the door, Graham knocked once on the door to 314.

“Who is it?” Professor Walsh called out, clearly annoyed.

“It’s Agent Miller, ma’am. I have some urgent things to discuss with you.”

“Fine,” she muttered.

Graham opened the door just as Walsh threw a white sheet over whatever was on the operating table. “Sorry to disturb you, ma’am, but it’s an emergency.”

Walsh sized up the Alpha’s new leader, and shrugged. “Well, if you’re going to be here anyway, at least be useful. Get those pipette tips off the top shelf and put them on that counter. I’m just not tall enough even with a step stool. Whoever stocked these labs...” Walsh figured the bet way to evade any serious questions from Agent Miller would be to distract him with meaningless tasks. While Miller was loyal and strong, he was no where near as intelligent or resourceful as Riley. For once, Maggie Walsh was glad that her second in command had gone on a walkabout. “What sort of emergency are we preparing for anyway? Did someone forget to recharge the patrol radios again?”

“Ma’am, Professor Walsh, I don’t know how to say this, so I’ll just be blunt. There was a body found in the morgue this morning.”

“Yes, Agent Miller, the morgue is where the bodies go when they’re dead.” Professor Walsh sent him an intimidating glare, hoping to embarrass him for being stupid. She didn’t have time to deal with a full inquisition.

“I know, but this is different. The body wasn’t an H.S.T.; it was a man, and he was murdered.”

“Do you recognize who it was?”

“It’s not something I want as common knowledge, so I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone else, but for your information, the victim was General McNamara.”

“Oh my.” Professor Walsh tsked as she surveyed her lab. Depending on what Miller said next she would have to devise her next move. After all, if he knew McNamara’s plans, she would have to find a way to eliminate him as well. Nothing could get in the way of the Initiative’s future. “Do you have any idea who might have done this?”

“None. I’ve got the Alphas on the investigation, but as you know, the security cameras have been giving Iota fits lately. I’ve stepped up security for all the science labs just in case, and I’ve got all the teams grounded tonight to aid the investigation. I just wanted to stop by and ask you to make sure all the science staff cooperates with base security and stays on base, at least until the investigation team arrives from D.C., for their own safety. After all, whatever killed McNamara, might have also killed Angleman, and that would leave us with some sort of serial killer. I doubt it, but it’s possible.” Graham stepped down from the step stool and put the pipette box on the counter.

“Well, do you have any ideas at all about motives?” Professor Walsh tried to look casual while fishing her dissection supplies out of a drawer.

“I have a few. As far as I know he didn’t really have any enemies on base; he was rarely on base as it was. The only thing I can think of is his mission report. I know that he was planning to recommend scaling back on the Initiative’s projects on his next trip to D.C.”

“Oh?” Professor Walsh tried to feign surprise. She needed time. “Agent Miller, since you’re here, would it be too much trouble for you to get all the boxes down from the top shelf? I can find a place for them on a lower shelf later.”

“No problem, ma’am.”

As Graham’s back was turned, Professor Walsh grabbed her scalpel. “So who do you think has motive to kill the General?” Walsh crept closer to Graham’s back, watching to make sure he wouldn’t turn around.

“Well, professor, anyone in your science team might have motive, if they were afraid their projects were to be cut. Of course, that would have meant he had told them about his plans. He was in a hurry to catch his flight last night, so he probably didn’t get the chance to tell anybody other than me and....” The blood drained from Graham’s face as he slowly turned to face the Professor wielding a scalpel just a few inches from his chest.

“Me, agent?” Professor Walsh asked with an evil gleam in her eye.

“FREEZE!” Forrest’s voice echoed in the stainless steel lab. “Drop the knife, Walsh, and put your hands on your head.” Walsh seeing that she was outnumbered, one scalpel against the four guns of the Alphas, reluctantly complied. “We followed the footage back and this is who murdered the general.”

“Yeah, I kinda guessed that.” Graham used sarcasm to mask the terror in his voice. He, Graham Miller, Special Ops extraordinaire, was nearly brought down by a scalpel-wielding mad scientist. “Tie her wrists and let’s put her in one of the holding cells.”

“Yes, sir.” Forrest gladly complied, dragging out his former base commander now reduced to a picture of insanity laughing.

~ Angel’s Mansion, Thursday 5:30 p.m.~

Giles could sense their time was running out as the shadows stretched longer across the living room. They had spent most of the afternoon cataloguing the H.S.T. records by demon species. While most were harmless or no worse threat than the garden variety vampire, there were a few that made him question his sanity for even contemplating returning to the same building they were housed in. He had already sent Xander and Clem on several runs to his house to find the weapons or references they would need to tackle one or another of the hellbeasts the Initiative had managed to collect. “Oh dear; Buffy, does this sound like any demons you’ve faced, perhaps last fall?” He handed the file to the slayer.

She quickly glanced over it, “Dude, what kind of scientific report is this? They completely forgot to mention the strong-enough-to-kill-a-vampire garlic breath.” She replied. “Damn, I guess that means no sparkly earrings tonight; and I was so looking forward to accessorizing.”

“Well, just to be on the safe side.” Giles put the folder on the ‘moderately dangerous’ stack.

“Wait, what about that file means you can’t wear earrings? It’s just a hostile.” Riley asked, looking over from the maps he had been working with all day.

“It’s a chumbawumba demon,”

“Ahem, that’s a chumwamatha,” Giles corrected.

“As I was saying, the chumbawumbas tend to get violently ill around shiny things, and by violently ill, I mean violent. They trash rooms, throw furniture, that sort of stuff. It’s not a pretty sight. And they have bad breath, which reminds me, Riley, do you have any extra tic tacs?”

“I’ve got some chewing gum, will that work?” Riley offered a piece to Buffy, blushing as their fingers touched. She smiled shyly but leaned away before Giles could notice and make any comment. As Riley turned to put the gum back in his pocket, he caught sight of the computer screen Willow was studying. “Hey, Willow, can you go back to the previous file.” He said, as Willow clicked on another link.

“Sure, no problem.” Willow reopened the file she had just been looking through. “Good luck making any sense of it.”

“Do I even want to know how you got into Walsh’s account? I mean, Graham’s I could understand. His passwords are always obvious, but Walsh...?” Riley borrowed the mouse to scroll down as Willow shrugged. “These are the results of the immunoassays I had been working on as an independent study. We were testing incoming H.S.T.s for a variety of human pathogens in case any of the undescribed species could act as carriers. Generally the only thing that shows up on this is the flu, which should be in well F12.”

“Fascinating. Now, why couldn’t more of your research be informative like that? The Council would love to know...” Giles caught the stares from everyone in the room. “... nevermind.”

“This can’t be one of your tests, it was just posted this morning.” Willow frowned. “And this isn’t F12.”

“Ah, so here’s the link that lets us know which well corresponds with which pathogen we’re testing.” Riley pointed out another file for Willow to open.

“That can’t be right. It says here that the hit is for Yersinia pestis.”

“What’s so wrong with that? I say anything pestis sounds like a good demon name.” Xander commented.

“Yersinia pestis isn’t a demon. It’s the scientific name for bubonic plague bacteria.”

“Ew, and how do you even know this stuff?” Buffy wrinkled her nose at the thought of bubonic plague. All she could remember was that it had something to do with rats and ring around the rosie, or something like that.

“I’m a genius.” Willow grinned. “And I did my world history report last year on the impact of plague on culture in the Middle Ages.”

“What specimen munber has bubonic plague?” Riley had abandoned his maps on the floor in favor of peering over Willow’s shoulder. “Here search for this code.” He pointed out Walsh’s file name.

“Um,” Willow compared the numbers again and again. “Is it possible she made a mistake typing in the number?” Willow finally asked.

Riley tried inputting the sample name again. “That’s weird.”

“He’s been working on the Hellmouth for half a year, and all he can say is ‘that’s weird’? That’s like the weatherman saying ‘partly cloudy’ instead of just admitting he has no clue.” Xander
muttered.

“I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised that there’s a demon in Sunnydale acting as a carrier for the plague. Given some demons’ ages and travel history, undoubtedly...” Giles reasoning was cutoff by Willow.

“It’s not for a demon. It’s from a paint sample of exam room 2. This test says that the building itself is infected.”

“That’s impossible! A building can’t be sick.”

“Actually, that’s not true. For instance, there was once this man who used to go on long trips to New York and his wife was paranoid that he was cheating on her, so she wished that he would just stay home, but she was sort of drunk at the time, so instead of saying be at home, she said be the home, which I thought was sort of amusing, so I said what the hey. He looked kinda funny as a house, and he could still catch a cold during the winter. He nearly sneezed a bird’s nest right out of the chimney one spring.”

“Thanks for sharing, Anya, honey, but I doubt the Initiative has had any wished granted recently.” Xander patted his girlfriend’s hand.

“Fine, then maybe it’s possessed. That happens too.”

“Would a possession test positive for bubonic plague?” Riley asked. He thought it was a reasonable question, but everyone shot him exasperated looks. “I guess not.”

“I might know what happened.” Clem hesitantly volunteered. The demon had been reluctant about working with the Slayer’s group, but figured if Anya could get away with it, maybe they were more open minded than the demon community gave them credit for. “I think that exam room is where the doctors tried to look at Zoltan. He was a little hung-over when they came to get him, and you know how Zoltan gets when he’s had too much.”

“Hey, I said I was sorry, but business is business.” Anya interjected.

“It’s possible that he was cranky enough to infect the wall.”

“He can do that? I would think infecting inanimate objects would be impossible, even providing for... oh, nevermind.” Giles wished at times like these that Wesley was still in town. Yes, the young man had been a complete prat, but at least he could understand the significance of demonic animation of inanimate objects, if only as disease vectors.

“So we’ve got a sick building. How sick is it? I mean, do we slay it, or can we just paint it with a nice penicillin latex?” Xander voiced what most of them were thinking.

“I guess we start by looking up more information on the plague.” Willow clicked open a new browser window, and typed bubonic plague in the search engine. “Okay, here we go symptoms of bubonic plague- headaches, maybe causing blurry vision?”

“Security cameras are all broken; I’d say that counts.” Riley answered.

“Chills?”

“Thermostat misreadings on all floors, check.”

“Trouble breathing?”

“Umm.” Riley was stumped. How would a building normally breathe? And if there was a problem, wouldn’t it have been caused by their earlier escape through the air vents rather than a bacterial infection?

“What about nervous system issues, like seizures?” Willow frowned. This was just too weird for words.

“A few unexplainable electrical fires were reported. I guess that counts.”

“Maybe all the problems I’ve been having with password recognition were really a neurological symptom, like memory loss.” Willow pondered. “Alright, and here’s the big one. Pustules, specifically at the lymph nodes?”

“Um, no active reports, but what does that mean?”

“Yeah, Dr. Willow, what’s the diagnosis?” Xander kidded.

“I don’t know. It would help if we could ask Zoltan. After all, he’d known if he really did infect the wall, wouldn’t he?”

“That’s not going to happen.” Clem offered unhappily. “Zoltan’s sort of a free spirit, and so once he splits, he’s generally gone for a couple years or so.”

“Well, assuming the building has this disease, would it be able to spread to other buildings? Could we do a check to see if any of the surrounding buildings are also afflicted?” Giles suggested.

“Good call.” Riley glanced at the maps he had set out. “The nearest buildings are Gamma Alpha Pi, Tau Alpha Omicron, and what’s left of the Delta Zeta Kappa house. You can get their energy meter readings from the university facilities department and see if they’ve got temperature spikes like Lowell House.” They all looked at Willow expectantly.

“Hold on.” Willow muttered. “I haven’t done this much hacking since the mayor’s big coming-out party. I’m a bit rusty.”

“You know what happened to the Mayor?” Riley asked incredulously. Ever since coming to the town, the Initiative soldiers had been taking bets about what had really happened to Mayor Wilkins. The leading theory was that the H.S.T.s had finally taken him down, but some people believed the official reports that he had died in a gas leak fire.

“Long story, best saved for another time.” Buffy blushed guiltily.

“Alright, here we go.” Willow saved Buffy from having to tell the story of Mayor Wilkins. “The Gamma Alpha Pi House looks pretty normal. Tau Alpha Omicron looks normal too, although, I think someone has an illegal cable hook up in there.”

“Well, I can’t say anything about the quality of the neighborhood.” Riley rolled his eyes. Disguising a military operation as a fraternity meant being kept up most nights by the loud parties, but on the up side, they seemed to blend in well.

“Oh, ruhroh raggy, we’ve got five electrical fires reported in the last 24 hours at Delta Zeta Kappa.”

“Serves them right, stupid snake worshipers.” Buffy muttered.

“That may be the case, but the point is that the disease is spreading. How do we get rid of the two cases of bubonic plague before it gets out of control?”

“Fire.” Everyone turned in surprise to see Asher in the doorway, shadowed by the other two vampires. “We used to burn the bodies that had been infected. Why are we discussing the Black Death? I thought you were to be planning a means for extracting Dr. Walsh from the facility.”

“Priorities have changed. It appears your friend Zoltan shot one of his death rays at the building and has given it bubonic plague.” Riley shot back.

“In his defense, I doubt Zoltan was actually aiming for the wall. He was probably aiming for a commando and hit the wall instead. It’s generally not as much fun infecting inanimate objects.” Anya filled in.

“Good, the buggers deserve it. I say, more power to you, Zoltan. They chip his brain, he zaps their building, fair trade.”

“Spike, what if it isn’t just the building that’s infected?” Angel scolded his childe, knowing it would have been more productive to try scolding the infected wall.

“So what? They deserve it.”

“Monsieur Spike, plague spreads rapidly and is a disease of the blood. I would rather feed on this bottled pig you have here than a village of plague victims. If it is indeed spreading into people, then it is a problem that must be fixed. Do you know if any humans have been infected?”

“We don’t know. No one’s reported it, but then I don’t suppose they normally test for that. I suppose if anyone had prolonged exposure to any mucous emerging from a pustule, it would be possible.” Giles reasoned.

“So we need to burn down Lowell House and the Zeta Kaps; is that what you’re telling me?” Buffy turned to her watcher for the final call in this bizarre situation.

“If that’s the only way to stop the spread.”

“Oui, I believe that is the only successful way to contain it, Monsieur.”

“So we need to evacuate both places first, and check everyone for symptoms of the plague.”

“If I contact Graham, he can start the evacuations.” Riley offered.

“Uhuh, no way. You’re not going to go calling all your little soldier friends so that they can clear out before we get there. I’m getting Walsh and that’s all there is to it.”

“I don’t think so, Spike! Innocent lives are at stake. I’m not going to sit back and watch them die because you want revenge.” Buffy argued.

“Hey, they deserve it! If they hadn’t captured Zoltan in the first place...!”

“Oh, don’t you even go there!”

“Quiet!” Angel’s shout quickly shut off Buffy’s and Spike’s argument. “Here’s what we’ll do. Finn over there will set up the evacuation. Buffy and I will go with him, and in the ensuing chaos, I’ll get Professor Walsh. Just in case she slips out the back, you, Asher, and Willow will be waiting by the forest exit.”

“I can’t believe you’re helping him.” Buffy glared at Angel.

“It’s not like that. Look, Buffy, you admit that Walsh is bad; she held you hostage too. I’m just helping her undo one mistake, then I will make sure that Spike doesn’t take it out on her afterwards.” “Hey!” “You know he’s going to hunt her down whether I’m there or not.”

“Angel, you can’t redeem yourself by hunting people down and hurting them.”

“I’m not hurting humans. If anything, I’m saving humans from Dr. Walsh.”

“That’s a weak argument, and you know it.” Buffy glared at her ex.

“Look, we don’t have time for this.”

“You can’t just expect me to turn humans over to vampires, no matter how evil. I love you Angel, but I can’t let you do this.”

“Buffy, as much as I hate to admit it, and believe me, I really hate to admit it, Angel has a point. We need to evacuate these people, and someone needs to make sure Walsh doesn’t get away. Not to mention the fact that there are about 20 species of dangerous demons down there that will be trying to escape at the same time everyone’s evacuating. Clearly the soldiers don’t know what they’re dealing with. You and Angel are probably our best fighters. We need you guys to go with Riley and clear out the bottom levels before its total chaos. It’s a dumb plan, but we don’t have a better one.” Xander reasoned.

“Fine, let’s go.” Buffy sighed.
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