Disclaimer: The Sentinel is the property of Pet Fly; Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the property of Mutant Enemy.

Author's Notes:


Government Recycling Program
by
Besterette

Besterette@aol.com

 

"I'm aware. I know every molecule of myself and everything around me. No one... no human, no demon... has ever been as awake and alive as I am."
— Adam in Superstar, Buffy The Vampire Slayer


Watching the press conference in the TV room, Alex Barnes laughed and laughed, unable to believe that Sandburg was that much of a sap, that instead of cashing in on Ellison, he had turned his back on money and fame for something as worthless as friendship.

She understood, when the men in black came for her, took her out of prison, and put her on a plane headed south. They didn't speak to her, but she thought about two men simply taking her out of prison, two men who screamed 'federal agent' in dress and demeanor. And the private plane. She's been around the block a few times, and she knows the score.

They took her into a frat house in a University town, to a mirrored wall that held a retinal scan and concealed elevator. Sandburg didn't want to get his friend disappeared. She didn't mind, it was better than prison. She'd listen to their pathetic patriotic Jamie Bond crap, maybe get some free training and kewl toys out of them before ghosting and going back to her own life. Maybe going back for Blair...

It wasn't until she saw the cages and what they held that she truly began to understand, and put up a last, futile struggle.

There were too many of them. She was overwhelmed, strapped down to a gurney, unable to resist the needle and the cold fire burning through her veins...

And that was the end of Alex Barnes.

"I wanted Ellison. He has the proper training and military background for this project."

"I know, but young Mister Sandburg's press conference makes extraction problematic. At least Ellison's out there on our side. This one was just going to waste. A few changes to the programming, she'll be fine," Doctor Engleman replied.

"Hopefully, with what you learned from the nerve grafting on Adam, we'll be able to retain greater tactile sensitivity." Maggie Walsh looked down at the blonde's body, already planning the demonic augmentation she would add to her new sentinel. "We're going to make a new woman out of you, aren't we, Eve?"


Adam was still pounding on the lid of his box when Elsie Lanchester let herself into 314 after lunch. Wincing, she hurried over to the sensory deprivation tank, but it was too late—he'd already broken one of the hinges. "Easy, big fella," she muttered, flipping the latches. "You're out, you're out... now let's see if you've broken your hands..."

She got the lid off, and Adam sat up by himself, turning his head to look at her. She noticed that, but just took his hands in hers, checking them for soft tissue damage. "Professor Walsh isn't going to be very happy, you know. She wants you to stay in isolation long enough to trigger your latent heightened senses. That's not going to happen if you keep breaking out."

The hands were unmarked. She stepped closer to check his left shoulder, knowing the Polgaran arm had been recently attached. "Guess I can't blame you. You're starting to interface with the neural net, showing independent brain activity... it must be boring in there, huh? You just start to regain self-awareness and we lock you in a big metal box," she sighed. "Well, let's get you out of there. As long as you're getting stimulus, it might as well be the right stimulus."

She started him on some spatial perception puzzles, timing him, pleased to note he was surpassing all expectations. "Not bad. According to the numbers, you're making better progress than we expected." Sitting at the table with Adam, under the fluorescent light, Elsie noticed the grayish pallor of his mismatched face, and glanced up again at the lighting.

It was supposed to provide the full spectrum of natural light, but there was nothing like the sun. Too bad she couldn't take him topside without causing a panic. Sentinels needed to go outdoors, out into the wilderness, to stay healthy, she'd read that in the Burton monograph and the Sandburg papers...

"Finish that last ring-tangle and I'll give you a massage with the estrogen cream," she glanced down to make a note on the chart. "Your skin's not looking too..."

click. click. click. click. click.

She looked up, startled, as Adam set the silver rings flat on the table. He stared back at her, impassively. But a muscle twitched under one leathery cheek, almost as if he were trying to smile.

Elsie laughed. It was hard not to anthropomorphize, to look for signs of intelligence that weren't really there yet, but it seemed like Adam was eager for his massage.

"Walk over to the bed. Remove your boxer shorts. Sit down on the bed. Swing your legs up. Lie down on the bed, and roll over onto your stomach," she ordered, breaking up the instructions into short phrases that he could comprehend, and went to get the cream.


Touch.

Her touch.

Words were coming back, as connections spread from neural net to brain tissue.

Dark hair and eyes.

The scent of violets.

A soothing voice.

Touch. Caress. Embrace. Protect. Want.

Want more.

More touch...

The words were coming back, but he didn't know what to do with them yet. Adam lay quietly, content to be out of the box, and with her.


Adam's back glistened, slick with the moisturizing cream. That's probably the best I can do, Elsie thought, unless I could get Professor Walsh to sign a purchase order for a tanning bed. She spent a little more time on the thick ropy line of scar tissue where the Polgara shoulder was attached to his torso, working the cream in with her fingertips.

Then moved down the entirely human buttocks and legs, blushing slightly. She wasn't trained for nursing care, but the security clearance required for the project meant there were just the four of them... and right now Professor Walsh and Doctor Engleman were busy with the new subject. A woman who fit the sentinel parameters had been killed in a car accident and left her body to science. And David... she wouldn't trust David to take care of a cactus plant.

"Okay, Adam. Roll over," and her blush deepened. "Oh. Um. That happens, I guess it's a normal reaction..." She tore her fascinated gaze away from Adam's midsection and started on his face. She'd worry about... that... when she got down there.

She was using her fingertips again, working the cream in around the surgical staples over his sternum when she heard the door open behind her and an amused snort.

"Geez, Elsa. How long you live in dorms? If you're gonna be playing Bride Of Frankenstein down here, y'gotta put a rubber band on the doorknob for privacy."

For the thousandth time, she cursed the string of coincidence connecting her name to the project. "I'm not playing anything, David. I'm working. You do remember work? You do it elsewhere."

"I came in to get some tips on technique. I'm being transferred over to Eve full time, I get to grease up a hot blonde," David came to look over her shoulder. "Whoa. Think that's original issue? If sentinels are all physically perfect specimens and we've got HSTs and Ubermensch wandering around loose? Or does Mad Maggie just pick out the ones with the best bits?" he switched to a smarmy, high pitched singsong. "This wiener's too eentsy, and this wiener's too teensy, but this one's just riiiiiiiight."

"You're disgusting."

"Hey, you're the one feeling up a reanimated patchwork corpse and I'm disgusting?"

"If you want to do something constructive, you can take that isolation box out to the main lab and have a maintenance team replace the hinges."

"He busted up another one? Hoooo, that's strong!" but David amiably went over and started maneuvering the large metal tank around to the door.

When he was gone, Elsie moved down to Adam's feet and started working her way back up. "Just ignore David, he's an idiot." She couldn't help sneaking a little look. Just riiiiiight... "An envious idiot."


The installation of the neural net in Eve's brain had gone off without a hitch, although Maggie Walsh, given her area of specialization, made a mental note to keep close watch over future development. Young Miss Lanchester's experiments at MIT had only gone as far as reanimating rats, but she'd theorized some slight return of memory and personality was possible, once the neural net was fully integrated. Walsh doubted it. Dead was dead. They were simply building organic robots.

However...

If any fragmented personality remnants resurfaced...

The late Alexandra Barnes had been a sociopathic murderess.

Eve would bear watching.

Her footsteps echoed strangely loudly through the empty halls of the Project 314 lab.


He stared at the Other.

She stared back.

Eve sat on a gurney against the far wall. Blonde hair cropped short. A metal plate followed the curve of one eyebrow. Camouflage pants and a black sports bra. Her new left arm was mottled red, fingers tipped in black claws, and her right leg had a metal brace on it.

He stared at her. She stared back.

The door opened, and the two women came in. "... very impressed with Adam's progress. That last electroencephalogram showed more brain wave activity than some of my Psych 101 students."

Elsie laughed politely at Professor Walsh's quip. After a curiousry glance, they passed Adam and Eve and went to the computer station to go over more of the data. They didn't notice Eve's head turning to stare at them.

To stare at Elsie.

Adam noticed.

Adam didn't like it.

"uhnm"

"Was that..." Professor Walsh turned to look, and Elsie shoved back her chair and ran over to him.

"Vocalization! Yes! Adam, what are you trying to say?" Elsie quickly plugged in his cranial jack and rushed back to the computer, then returned to peer over her superior's shoulder as Professor Walsh came closer to study him, intently.

"... mhum"

"Nonverbal. Involuntary gibberish," she proclaimed.

"... muh. Muh..." It was difficult, his tongue clumsy in his mouth.

"Mama?" Professor Walsh repeated, eyebrows climbing. "or aphasic regression to an infantile vocabulary?"

"Mama?" Elsie repeated, incredulously.

"Well... in a sense, as the creator of this project, I did give him life. Most likely an instinctive label for an older woman. Quite a breakthrough. You should celebrate." Walsh glanced at her watch. "Unfortunately, I have class. You'll have a report ready by Monday?"

"Yes, ma'am."

Walsh left. Elsie ran back to make sure the computer was reporting the current output. "This is so far ahead of schedule—so exciting! Adam, Eve, you two sit tight. I've got to get David, there's so much to do..." she almost skipped with delight, out the door.

Eve's head turned to follow.

Only another sentinel could have read the longing in her eyes.

Adam tried to speak again.

"Mine."


Far to the north, James Ellison, sentinel of the city of Cascade Washington and its outlying suburbs, tossed and turned on his king-size bed, lost in uneasy dreams.

Dreams of a blue-lit jungle that was frighteningly familiar, and a pair of unnatural, misshapen things that snarled and tore at each other with tooth and claw.

He woke, shaken, and for a long moment was afraid to move, half believing that the warm comfort of the loft was the dream. He glanced at the clock on his nightstand. 4 a.m. And no way in hell was he going to be able to get back to sleep after that. It disturbed him that the jaguars or the wolf hadn't appeared... just those nightmare creatures. Something about them... it trembled on the edge of memory.

He got up, headed downstairs and started looking through the bookshelf. For a moment he was afraid that his book on Greek mythology had migrated back into Blair's bedroom again. Sandburg had a reprint of the same volume, but could never find it in that compost heap he called an office, so he kept borrowing Jim's copy when he needed to look up something for a lecture. He found it, finally, on the wrong shelf.

A quick trip into the kitchen to fire up the coffeemaker, and he settled down on the couch and turned to the index. It had been a while, so he had a couple of false starts. With only a description of the monster, and no clue what the name was, he had to guess. He read through several legends of heroes and monsters which were interesting, but not right.

He took a break, got a cup of coffee, and stepped out onto the balcony to look out over his slumbering city. A few early morning noises from night-owls and early-birds, for the most part Cascade was dark and quiet. At peace.

The last time he had dreamed of that place, the blue jungle, had dreamed of jaguars and a wolf, that had been when Alex Barnes was in his territory.

The female sentinel thief had used his guide to gain better control of her heightened senses, then tried to kill him to cover her tracks. Had killed him, briefly. Jim had gotten there in time to revive him. Barely. The proximity to another sentinel had him so far over the edge he couldn't have hit sanity with a sniper rifle.

This didn't feel like that. His skin wasn't crawling with the sensation of the walls closing in. He didn't feel irrationally territorial, irritable. Just... a little tired.

He came in, hit the books again, and found it. They were a pair of chimaera. According to the book, 'a fire breathing monster with a lion's head, goat's body, and serpent's tail, killed by Bellerophon.'

Interesting, but not exactly helpful. He wrote down the description, and what he remembered from the dream, then put the mythology book back where it belonged on the nonfiction shelf of the bookcase.

Just to be thorough, he checked the encyclopedia, which agreed with the description but spelled the name chimera. It also provided a pronunciation for the triumphant hero. Jim added buh-lair-uff-on. Blair. Of. On? to his notes, just in case it was relevant. This was why Blair was the shaman-guide. Sandburg had a handle on all this woo-woo stuff. Jim couldn't make heads or tails out of it.

The Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defined chimera or chimaerae as 1:a; fire breathing she monster in Greek mythology having a lion's head, goat's body, and serpent's tail. b; an imaginary monster compounded of incongruous parts. 2: an illusion or fabrication of the mind, especially an unrealizable dream. 3: an individual, organ, or part consisting of tissues of diverse genetic constitution and occurring especially in plants at a graft union.

Jim copied that down too. Then stretched out on the couch, grabbing the TV remote and thumbing the volume down to sentinel-audible levels.

He still had about fifteen minutes before he could shower or start breakfast without waking Sandburg. The kid was always burning the candle at both ends with his work at Rainier and at the station. Needed all the sleep he could get. Jim figured he'd just check CNN and the Weather Channel...


Blair Sandburg stopped in the doorway to his room, raising his eyebrows at the deep, resonant SKNNKGGHRSSSNKH of Jim snoring on the sofa. An infomercial on the silent TV screen showed a woman rubbing some goop on her face, and then the camera cut to what clearly had to be her ten years younger sister wearing the same outfit and holding up the goop bottle with a smile.

"Jim? Hey, Jim?" Blair whispered quietly. He didn't know if it was his voice or the alarm clock going off unattended, upstairs, but the sentinel bolted upright with a snort, and Blair scooted into the bathroom to get first dibs on the shower.

He came out, clad in a ratty blue plaid bathrobe, hair damp and curling, and went to the fridge to get his low-fat plain yogurt. Jim was already whisking a measuring cup of eggs with a fork, butter sizzling in the frying pan on the stove.

Blair moved over to the opposite counter and got out the blender, opening a cupboard for an envelope of algae shake mix. "Insomnia night?"

"Nah. Nightmare. Vision. Thing." Jim viciously stabbed at the solidifying eggs with his spatula. "Chimera."

"Chimera?" Blair repeated. "Huh. That's a little more... mythic... than you usually get."

"Yep. Got a clue? Two of 'em. Fighting."

"Huh. Well... A chimera symbolizes change... and a fundamental dislike of change ties into your major control freak tendencies..." Blair theorized happily, and started the blender.


Elsie's alarm went off, waking her from an odd dream of a phoenix and chimera. She sat up, pushed sleep-tangled brown hair back out of her face, and put on her glasses to check the clock. Four and a half hours this time. She hadn't been getting enough sleep lately—with the project in full swing there was too much work and not enough hours in the day.

If she was being honest with herself, she hadn't gotten a good night's sleep since the Scary Government Guys showed up in Boston and moved her across the country to Sunnydale last year.

Working with rats was one thing, but demons, and monsters, and corpses... oh my. Not that discovering that all these fairytale things were real wasn't fascinating. Not that the resources available in the Demon Research Initiative weren't much more extensive than her scholarship grant had provided. Not that what they were accomplishing wasn't amazing.

The scientific ethics of the project worried her.

She didn't think Professor Walsh had any.

Nothing she could do about that without being removed from the project entirely, and for the sake of the subjects, she couldn't allow that. Better that she was there, to keep an eye on them and do what she could. Politics sucked.

She wandered sleepily out to the tiny kitchenette and grabbed a blueberry muffin and a can of coke. It was a bad grad school habit, not good nutrition, but quick and easy.

After breakfast, she showered, letting the hot water and the sharp violet scent of her bath gel help wake her up. Blew her hair dry and braided it, got dressed in a dove gray skirt and crisp white blouse, then hung a silver cross with a cabochon cut garnet around her neck, carefully fastening the clasp.

It had been her grandmother's, something she found in the back of her jewelry box and now always wore whenever she left her home, knowing what stalked the shadows.

She gathered up the paperwork she'd brought up with her last night—this morning—files and a clipboard. As she closed the door to her apartment in the barracks building, she almost dropped a pencil, just held it loosely in her left hand as she walked into the elevator, yawning.

"I've got to start getting more sleep," she yawned, leaning back against the wall of the elevator as it sank down through the earth to the subterranean base.

Still half-asleep, she exited the elevator into the main Initiative complex, too preoccupied at first with the reports due to notice the pandemonium of sirens and alarms going off, until she collided with a running figure and looked up.

The alarm for an escape from the containment cells. Elsie found herself looking into the blue-eyed, chiseled cheekboned deceptively handsome face of a platinum blond vampire. He shifted, eyes glowing gold and fangs protruding. Elsie pushed out instinctively, to fend him off.

The golden eyes widened and he had just enough time to sigh, "Oh bugger!" before crumbling to dust, leaving one of the new experimental behavior modification chips bouncing on the floor.

Elsie let go of the pencil, and let it fall to the floor beside the chip.

That was when Captain Finn and the rest of the procurement team arrived.

"Hot damn, Hostile 17 is down! We got a slayer in the house?"

"Shut it, Forrest. Miss, are you all right?" Captain Finn knelt down, a concerned expression on his earnest, corn-fed boy-next-door face, and that was when Elsie realized she was sitting on the floor, staring at the chip and the pencil, hugging herself.

"That was a vampire."

"Yes, ma'am."

"I killed it."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Was it expensive?"

"Ma'am, you're not all right. Forrest, go give the order to stand down. Graham, give me a hand with her, let's get her to the infirmary..."

She found herself being lifted to her feet, suddenly aware of strong arms supporting her and a whiff of pleasantly spicy aftershave.

"No, I'm okay. It was just... shock. And exhaustion. But I'm better now. Really. You can let me go, Lieutenant..."

"Miller. Graham Miller."

"Lieutenant Miller."

"You're scientific staff, right? Exo-bio?"

"Computer catalog," she dutifully repeated her cover story, bending to pick up the paperwork she'd dropped in the scuffle. Miller crouched to help. "You know, Monster dot com, only for real, not the jobs," she added, then winced a little. That had sounded funnier inside her head.

But the young lieutenant laughed, handing her the clipboard.

"If you're sure you're all right then," Captain Finn interrupted, with a small, amused smile, "we've got a patrol circuit to run."

"Yes, sir. We'll need to file an on-base HST incident report... maybe I could help you out with that at dinner? Breakfast? Whichever shift this is for you?"

"Oh. Well." Elsie looked into the young marine's green eyes and wondered why she wasn't interested. "That would be nice."

Her cheeks pinked as Captain Finn led his lieutenant away with a "Come on, Romeo." and she hurried across the complex to the 314 lab.


Adam was waiting just inside the door, tense and unhappy, fidgeting from foot to foot with repressed anxiety.

"You were attacked," he stated as she entered the lab. "and I could not come to your aid."

"I'm all right. And it wasn't really an attack, more of an accident." Her eyes narrowed, as she dropped the papers on her desk and met his gaze. "Are you all right? It's okay, Adam. I wasn't hurt and you aren't responsible even if I was."

"My purpose is to defend humans against hostile subterraneans and other non-human entities. However, I am not allowed to leave this laboratory. It is contradictory. I could hear you in distress, yet could not fulfill my primary function. I found it... disturbing."

Looking up into his mismatched eyes, Elsie's heart sank as it struck her who she'd been subconsciously comparing the gallant young lieutenant to, and why Graham Miller's blandly attractive features had seemed unappealing.

Okay, she thought I've obviously been spending way too much time down here.

"You did the right thing, not leaving the lab. I know it must be frustrating, but we need more data before releasing you for fieldwork."

"I feel fine."

"I know, but you're unprecedented." She noticed the corner of his mouth turn up, and couldn't help smiling back.

She reached up and gave Adam a comforting pat on the shoulder. "It shouldn't be much longer now that Eve's up and running. Professor Walsh hasn't chosen a guide for her yet, so we can keep her in the lab for testing while you're out fighting the forces of darkness with Captain Finn."

"Captain Finn," Adam repeated in an unreadable monotone. "He was with you out there, when the hostile attacked. And the other one. Miller."

"It wasn't an attack as such. He just grabbed me and I stuck him with a pencil. I didn't even have time to get scared. Captain Finn and Lieutenant Miller picked me up and dusted me off afterward," she hesitated, glancing at the computer. There was, indeed, a computer catalog—collected, verified occult knowledge the Demon Research Initiative had been gathering since the agency was founded in the late 1930's. She could search it manually, but they'd been downloading it into Adam's memory, along with the Library of Congress and the International Archives. "Adam, what is a 'Slayer'?"

He lifted his chin slightly and took on a distracted air as he accessed. "Slayer. Fictional mythology. A human girl between the ages of fourteen and twenty imbued with super strength and reflexes who preys upon non-human hostile subterraneans, primarily vampires. Folkloric figure appears in the oral tradition of eighty-eight known demonic races. No proven trace of Slayers in human history, although the myth explains this with a secret society devoted to concealing her activities from humanity." He blinked, and looked at her again. "Lieutenant Gates suggested you were the slayer because you dispatched Hostile 17 with a pencil?"

"Uh-huh. Pretty funny, right? I'd assume the slayer would be better coordinated," she sighed, "and not a complete klutz. Time for work."

He followed her to the computer station, sat down, and opened the metal plate covering his cranial jack.

Hours passed in companionable silence. She checked over the days' operation log on his neural net, then began another informational download while she switched to the word processor and started on the never ending paperwork that documented and detailed every second of a top-secret government project.

At eight-thirty AM Elsie paused the program and shut everything down. "Okay. I have to meet Lieutenant Miller to file an incident report. Hostile 17 was one of the new chipped vampires... this is gonna be such a headache. You rest for a little while, Adam. We've got another three hours to go and then David's taking you to the gym."

Adam watched her go out, then went over to the gurney, laid down, and went into rest mode.

He did not require much sleep, instead maintaining on what Professor Walsh termed 'power naps'. Dreams had come as something of a surprise, but Elsie had reassured him that they were a necessary byproduct of his organic components, an inefficient method of data sorting and virtual simulation.

Dreams were odd. He had often dreamed of copulating with Elsie, and woke from rest mode to find his body prepared for intercourse, as though the illusory images were real. He understood that this was because Elsie was the only female constantly in his presence that he cared for, and the entertainment DVDs category: porno that David sometimes watched on a portable screen while he and Eve were sparring, both combining in his subconscious.

Odd. Yet pleasant.

In this dream, he found himself walking through a dense jungle environment. A rain forest. He breathed in a rich medley of scents not found in the sterile 314 lab. Green, growing things, rotting vegetation, flowering plants, moist earth. He turned his face up to the sun, feeling the heat warm skin and scale.

A chimera appeared on the game trail ahead of him, looked over its shoulder at him and disappeared into the thick underbrush. He followed it, and came to a great ruin of crumbling stone, the steps guarded by statues of stylized jaguars. 5.4 miles to the northwest, a parrot shrieked.

Adam studied the structure, accessed files, and compared. "The Olmec Temple of Sentinels. Discovered by Blair Sandburg," he announced to nobody in particular, and started up the steps.

He startled a troupe of monkeys as he crossed the stone paved plaza. They clambered up a vine covered obelisk and chattered angrily at him as he entered the temple.

Two rectangular pools of dark stagnant water were sunk side by side into the floor. Between them, a tall dark haired man stood, a man dressed in crisp gray trousers and a deep blue silk shirt.

Adam recognized him immediately. From the holographic projector designed to disguise him for civilian contact in future fieldwork. No surgical alterations marred his features. The human who had provided his basic physical matrix.

He looked back at Adam with kind brown eyes, and asked, "Who are you?"

"Adam."

The other accepted this with a slight inclination of his head. "What are you?" The questions were asked with a quiet curiosity.

"I am a kinematically redundant biomechanical demonoid sentinel designed by Maggie Walsh."

The other smiled slightly, and asked again with particular emphasis. "What are you?"

"What I was made of." Adam looked down at his hands. One Human, nails clipped short. One Polgaran, sharp yellow claws and the forearm sheath for the bone skewer. "Monster. And man. And machine."

The other considered this response.

"Which do you choose to be?"

And Adam opened his eyes on his gurney in the 314 lab. He stared at the ceiling blankly, listening. He sorted through the various conversations going on the main Initiative complex, until he found Lieutenant Miller flirting with Elsie in the cafeteria.

Monster. Man. Machine.

Which did he choose to be?


Eve felt something. It was rage. She and Adam were showering after sparring practice. David was watching her. And commenting.

"Mmm, yeah baby. Soap up good. Damn, you were a stone fox before the Prof started stitching you up."

When Elsie supervised sparring sessions, she stayed in the gym while they showered.

Eve liked that better.

She didn't like David. Her claws extended, and bit deep into the bar of soap, cracking it in half. One piece slid out of her hand and splashed into the pooling water around her feet.

She felt better when they were dressed again. Less vulnerable.

They went back into the lab, leaving Adam in his room. Elsie came to help David with her, taking readings from her neural net.

They were worried.

She sat passively on the gurney and listened to them talk about her as if she wasn't there.

Elsie bit her bottom lip. "Are we sure she's a sentinel? I know she fit the profile, but I don't understand these readings. Every time she tries to use her senses beyond baseline normal human capacity, it causes a crippling migraine. There's no reason for that."

David shrugged. "You check with Engleman? She came in as road pizza, right? That bod's in primo condition 'cept for the upgrades. Musta been a head injury."

"Maybe." Elsie tapped a finger on the desk. "I wonder if there's anything in Sandburg. I think I'll reread the journals until Doctor Engleman comes in."

"Whatever."

Elsie left, and David plugged in Eve's cranial jack and began a download, then pulled out a gameboy.

She was aware of the information being burned into her memory, but ignored it for a more tantalizing subject.

Sandburg.

Sandburg.

Blue eyes. Long hair. The smell of roses and sandalwood aftershave.

Sandburg.

Her guide.

Her enemy.

Sandburg.

Things were... different. She had access to so much information. So much data inside her head. A whole world inside her head.

And she almost remembered that, almost understood what the memory was, the stone building and the pools, Sandburg and the other—the other one like her. Adam? Not Adam. Jim. And the betrayal, the white hot fire of rage that burned inside her, that burned away everything until all that was left was ashes.

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down...

She sat quietly on her gurney, staring blankly at the bare wall opposite, silently repeating the address she had found inside her memory. Blair Sandburg. 852 Prospect Avenue. Apartment 307. Cascade Washington. Then she began to look for blueprints of the Initiative facility.

Eventually, she smiled.


Elsie leaned back and closed her eyes, reaching up to massage her temples. She hadn't found anything in the Sandburg papers—however, Sandburg concentrated on the anthropological function of sentinels in primitive tribal cultures.

Doctor Engleman brushed her off by saying Eve had come in with no visible head trauma and he'd schedule tests if necessary but he rather thought it was a hardware issue.

Elsie had spent the last two weeks running complete diagnostics on both Adam and Eve, going over simulations, her blueprints... even looking at old data from her rats. She was almost convinced that there was a glitch in processing the massive amounts of sensory information provided by the heightened senses. Too Much Information, literally. She just couldn't understand why a hardware/wetware interface glitch would be manifesting as physical pain.

She was writing yet another report stating this and urging Doctor Engleman to go ahead with the tests to search for a neurological problem, when David stuck his head in the door.

"Hey Elsie, y'gotta come down to the gym and see this. My girl's beating the crap out of your boy. We get this on pay per view, we'd make a fortune."

"This isn't Robot Wars, David," she sighed, but saved her work. She needed a break, and she had to admit that Adam and Eve's sparring sessions were generally impressively violent. If David thought today was something special...

It was. Elsie was no combat expert, but Adam and Eve were spinning around each other in the ring in a fluid ballet of kicks, punches and throws that reminded her of the most excessive moments in a Jackie Chan movie. It was definitely a couple of levels up from their usual routine.

Elsie winced as Eve's foot narrowly missed impacting with Adam's chin. Adam ducked, caught her ankle and tossed her across the ring. Eve somersaulted in midair, landing on her feet and coming at him again. Adam spun to face her, laughing.

"She initiated this?" Elsie asked David.

"Yep. Warmed up with the usual katas and then she just started pounding on him. PMS?"

Elsie rolled her eyes. "Or she's just bored. She can't use her senses properly, she isn't speaking yet... that's delaying half of her training. I know Adam's getting a little twitchy about going on active duty. And they seem to be having fun."

"Yes," Adam called out in agreement. He threw a punch. Eve blocked it, and tried to knee him in the groin. He sidestepped, kicking. "This is quite challenging."

"Go get her, Tiger," Elsie cheered him on, and headed back to finish her report. She hesitated, then changed her mind and passed Adam's room, continuing down the hall that linked 314 to the main facility. She wanted to stretch her legs a little after hours of sitting at the desk, typing. Swinging through the cafeteria and getting a can of soda and a bag of chips or something so she could work through lunch, that should be just enough of a walk to shake the stiffness out of her back, and it would be killing two birds with one stone.

The cafeteria grill was closed at the moment, but since the base ran on a twenty-four hour schedule, there were always people looking for something to eat. The lingering greasy smell of french fries and hamburgers made her stomach growl, and Elsie felt a sudden rush of pity for the experimental subjects. The self-contained power core might be more efficient, but it seemed cruel to deny sentinels the full use of taste. They could eat—it just wasn't necessary for survival, so the Project didn't bother feeding them.

She stacked a can of Coca Cola on her tray with a bag of potato chips and one of Doritos and idly tried to think of how she could word a test proposal involving, say, Godiva chocolate... so Professor Walsh would approve it.

She paid the cashier, and left the tray, stuffing her provisions into the deep pockets of her lab coat, and headed back to 314.

Lieutenant Miller was over by the railing surrounding the Pit, the two story area with the containment cells. "Hey Elsie," he called out a greeting. "C'mere a minute?"

"Hi Graham." She walked over, and looked down. Gates and a few of the base security guards were trying to pry a large purple squid-thing off its gurney and stuff it into a cell. The squid was hanging on with four tentacles, and fighting back with the other two.

"So, uh, a bunch of us are going to the Bronze tonight, around nine. The guys. Riley and Buffy, and some of Buffy's Townie friends."

Buffy Summers. The fact that the slayer was real, and the current slayer was the blonde freshman in Walsh's Psych 101 class that Captain Finn was dating had been something of a nine day wonder around the base. The computer catalog people had to reopen investigation on leprechauns, since if one confirmed mythological creature could turn up, so could the other.

And Professor Walsh had developed the peculiar habit of randomly muttering "pointed wooden sticks" under her breath.

"So if you can get out of here around then, I was wondering if you wanted to go with me," Graham continued, amiably. "Just some dancing and buffalo wings."

Down in the Pit, the squid had three tentacles around Gates, and was using him to hit everyone else.

"Oh. I don't know if I..." Elsie began scrambling for a polite excuse. Graham had flirted with her while they were filling out the incident report, and she had ended up going out to a movie with him. He was nice, and she had begun to realize that spending all of her time in the lab with Adam and David as her only male companionship wasn't precisely healthy.

Although, actually, she'd be more worried if she was starting to find David attractive.

She begged off, claiming work and admitting that she didn't really like dance music. They did make a date to meet for coffee at the Expresso Pump later in the week.

She'd always crushed on tall brunets, and the strong silent type. Intellectuals. It was Adam's endless curiosity and dry wit that attracted her. She hadn't expected that. She'd thought some fragments of memory might return. She hadn't expected a whole new person, a personality, to develop. Adam was no different than an amnesia victim, in some respects.

Very different in other respects.

Like being dead. And having demon bits sewn onto him.

But she probably couldn't help developing a little crush on Adam. She'd been working with him since the beginning. Isolated. Teaching him, studying him, taking care of him. Maybe subconsciously training him to become her type.

It was all too Pygmalion for words.


Eve was ready. She'd made all of her plans, she was in top physical condition and she had trained with Adam enough to know that nothing human could stop her. It was time to go. Lifting her hand in front of her face, she extended and retracted her long, razor-sharp claws. If she didn't go now, Professor Walsh might choose another demon augmentation, and then Eve would be stuck until she healed from the transplant surgery.

She waited until after a workout session, when David was walking her back to her room. She reached out, and silently broke his neck, letting him fall to the floor with a soggy thump. She started for the small group of lockers down the hall, opened one, and withdrew several small items.

The door to Adam's room opened, and Professor Walsh stepped out, her head turned back to speak to Elsie. "... interesting theoretical research question, but I'm afraid we have more practical application concerns..." and then she froze, staring at Eve. Staring at David's body on the floor behind her.

Eve pounced. Before anyone could react, she had Professor Walsh in a headlock and was backing toward the air intake access.

Framed by the doorway, Elsie's face was pale. She was staring at David's body and whispering, "No, oh no, God, no," over and over.

Adam gently shouldered past her and stepped in front of her, placing his massive frame protectively between the threat and the young scientist.

"Eve," Walsh's voice trembled with fear, but she was trying to stay calm. "Stand down and release me at once."

Eve considered her options. "No." It was her first word. It was an important one.

Adam stepped forward. "Eve. You are threatening to harm a human being. You have already killed a human being. This is unacceptable behavior. You are malfunctioning. Stand down. Let her go."

She stared at him incredulously. "You care about what happens to them? After what they've done to us?"

"What's done is done. What matters is how we go on."

"We're two of a kind now. Made for each other. Adam, you could come with me."

Adam shook his head slowly. "I'm not like you. You have a serious design flaw, but if you release Professor Walsh, it can still be corrected."

Eve's eyes hardened. She slashed at Walsh with her claws, shoving her at Adam. Elsie screamed as Adam caught the dying woman, and Eve pulled the grating free and disappeared into the air vents with an easy leap.

Adam eased Walsh to the floor.

"Doctor Engleman," Elsie stuttered, still in shock. "Doctor Engleman went into the records room, I'll get..." She started down the hall.

"Give me your lab coat. I'll try to stop the bleeding."

Elsie tore her coat off and tossed it to Adam, then ran for the records room. Doctor Engleman was there—with Captain Finn, Buffy, and a marine she didn't recognize, a Sergeant Harris.

Elsie didn't even pause to consider clearances and her secrecy oath. "Eve's escaped. She killed David, and attacked Professor Walsh. There's a lot of... Adam's trying to stop the bleeding."

"Dear lord." Engleman hit a panic button that started the alarms going off out in the main Initiative complex. All of them followed her out, down the corridor to where Adam crouched, trying to staunch the flow of blood. The lab coat, folded into a pad, was almost soaked through.

Buffy stopped dead in her tracks, tensing. Beside her, Captain Finn drew his sidearm, but held it loosely. "What is that?"

Elsie was trying to see if Professor Walsh was still breathing, as Doctor Engleman rushed to kneel at her side. "Adam," she replied absently.

"Okay," the petite blonde stated calmly, "you answered who, I asked what."

Adam was getting to his feet, giving Doctor Engleman room to work. He'd heard the exchange, and regarded the newcomers with curiosity. "I am a kinematically redundant biomechanical demonoid sentinel, designed by Professor Walsh."

Buffy blinked. "A what?"

"A demon zombie cyborg," Adam described himself in layman's terms. Well, a layman who watched a lot of bad movies on the sci fi channel's terms. He moved over to the bank of lockers, opened one and took out a UCSD sweatshirt, pulling it on over his head.

"It's too late," Doctor Engleman said softly. "She's gone."

Riley Finn's face crumpled into a mask of grief.

Adam buckled what looked like an ordinary sportsman's watch onto his right wrist, and turned the crystal in a precise combination. Light washed over him, leaving behind the appearance of an average, fairly attractive young man.

"Eve is moving north across campus. I can track her. If we move quickly, we can capture her before she harms anyone else."

Buffy looked at the two bodies, and then back up at Adam. "Eve's a demon-bot thingy like you? And you can track her?"

"Yes."

"Lead the way."

"Buffy!" Captain Finn protested angrily. "It's..."

"Riley. I know you're used to labeling anything nonhuman as hostiles. But I'm thinking? The big scary monster who killed two people is hostile. The big scary monster who tried to save their lives is one of the good guys," Buffy explained, not without sympathy, then glanced at Adam. "No offense."

"None taken. I am a big scary monstrous good guy."

"Let's go."

Elsie automatically fell into step beside Adam. At Buffy's quizzical look, she offered, "Elsie Lanchester. I was on the design team... I may be able to help."

As they moved out, into the main Initiative complex, she said quietly to Adam. "I'm sorry. What Eve said... about what we've done to you... I'm sorry for my part in it."

Adam looked down at her, and smiled slightly. "I have your thesis and grad school papers in memory. The neural net was intended to serve as a bypass for brain injury and certain forms of paralysis. Yours was a noble purpose. It was the Initiative that sought the means to create a race of warrior drones, and thus perverted your invention into this," he touched his chest. "I do... regret... the origins of my organic components, but I enjoy my existence. Without the neural net, I would not be a sentient being. I appreciate that gift."


Jim had dreamed of chimerae, but nothing had come of it, other than sending Blair off on a research tangent looking for evidence of sentinels appearing in ancient Greek mythology. Nothing concrete, nothing he could really use. There were a few heroes in various legends with one heightened sense, but no full fivers.

A footnote in his thesis, the mythology of various cultures, fairy and folk tales that suggested vestigial memory of sentinels among us.

Blair still wasn't entirely sure what to make of the 'sentinel' dreams or the spirit animals. He'd told Jim that a psychologist would say that it was his unconscious mind trying to speak to him in symbols. Privately, he had begun to wonder if Jim had gotten one too many concussions in the line of duty.

And then Alex Barnes had tried drowning him. And he had gone to the blue jungle spirit realm himself.

He'd seen the black jaguar.

He'd been the wolf.

It made a believer out of him. He just wished it was easier to interpret these messages from the great sentinel ancestral spirits.


Blair had just spent a week dividing his time between teaching Anthro 101 and tagging along on Jim's stake out and working on his thesis in what he laughingly referred to as his spare time.

Today, he was taking the day off.

He'd set his alarm just for the pleasure of being able to shut it off, roll over, and go back to sleep.

Even so, he only slept for another hour before getting up and wandering out to the kitchen for breakfast. A toasted bagel with a little light cream cheese and a big glass of orange juice, as a Day Off from his usual algae shake.

He read the paper while he ate, having retrieved it from the lobby while his bagel toasted. Luckily there wasn't a fire this time. Jim was still in the shower.

Blair was making note of a few big garage sales when Jim came out, tying the belt of his bathrobe.

"Morning, Chief," he opened the fridge and stared at the contents blearily for a long moment, before taking out the eggs and a package of sausage links. "Big day planned?"

Blair shrugged. "Nah, just gonna chill out and relax today. Maybe run out later on. You?"

"Gym. Sporting goods store, they got a sale on camping equipment. And there's a game on later."

Blair finished with the paper so Jim could read it, and flopped on the couch in front of the television for a while. There was nothing on worth watching. Blair flipped through all of the channels five or six time, to make sure.

One of the more obscure channels was showing Spiderman And His Amazing Friends, a cartoon he'd loved when he was twelve. He watched a few minutes, amused at the jerky movements and horrible plot, before idly flipping through the channels a few more times before going to take his shower.


Blair loved garage sales. On several levels. His neo-hippie upbringing taught him to love the recycling aspects of it. Why buy something new-made and wasting resources when you could buy a perfectly good used version of the same thing? Something that had history and character.

And that appealed to the anthropologist in him. It was interesting to see what kinds of things turned up in garage sales over and over. Young couples selling baby clothes, furniture and toys. A rite of passage, marking the first step toward adulthood.

And the prices appealed to a starving grad student's budget. Well, not starving, exactly, not since he'd been adopted by a sentinel whose hunter/gatherer instincts had him trying to fit half the grocery store into his freezer on a weekly basis, and whose only restrictions on who ate what was that Blair label anything experimentally ethnic made with weird ingredients with color coded tupperware. And after the Fried Grasshopper Incident, Blair couldn't really blame him.

Still. Five CDs for a dollar. Hardcover books fifty cents each. A new denim jacket with the tags still on for five bucks. It was a zen shopping experience; you couldn't really go out looking for a particular item, but you could afford to buy more of what you found that you wanted.

He loaded up the Volvo's trunk with his secondhand treasures, then headed for Gaia's Garden and an organic pita wrap for lunch. He took a long leisurely lunch, too. Savoring every bite, enjoying the Enya Muzak in the background. There wasn't exactly a lunch rush today, so Esme came out to sit with him and flirt. He enjoyed that immensely. The owner/chef and he had been circling each other for ages, mutual interest but somehow they'd never gotten past flirting. Blair wasn't sure why. Flirting was good, though.

He was whistling as he left the restaurant, and drove down to Bayside Park. It was one of his favorite places, a curving slice of greenspace along the waterfront. He parked, and started down the trail.

The trail was actually a boardwalk, low ecological impact pathway that curved and wound around the small park, making a five mile loop, half running along the water, half in woods. There was an overlook deck on the water, a two story observation tower and benches. It overlooked a marshy bird habitat, and also provided a postcard cityscape view of Cascade's downtown.

Blair sat for a while, basking in the sun and watching the rolling waves, listening to the wind and the cry of gulls. Just letting his mind go blank. A meditation.

When he'd had enough, he got up and finished his walk. It was getting late, time to get home before sunset and the mosquitoes coming out. It had been a good day. He felt refreshed, renewed, ready to dive back into the chaos that was his life in Cascade.

He pulled into his usual parking spot at the loft, next to Jim's truck, and got out, lost in pleasant plans for the rest of the evening. Putting his new garage sale finds away, a new recipe for marinated shrimp he wanted to try... then after dinner, if there wasn't anything worth watching on TV maybe they could rent a movie...

Bending over the Volvo's trunk, he started gathering his new junk together, hoping to avoid making more than one trip. His attention occupied, he didn't notice the blonde woman's approach until she was right behind him.

And then it was too late.


Eve was pleased.

She had reacquired her guide. Blair Sandburg. She'd had to subdue him through non lethal force (detainment protocol 76: live capture) She had acquired shelter. The warehouse near the ocean was empty, defensible, perfect. It had a vantage point overlooking the city.

Her city.

Soon.

She secured her guide to a post with the handcuffs she'd taken from a police officer who had tried to stop her from refueling her stolen car in northern California. She'd killed the officer and continued her journey. Adam was pursuing her. She wasn't ready to face Adam yet.

Not until she was on her own ground.

Blair was human. Fragile. Flawed. He needed food and water. She must provide sustenance for her guide.

For now.

Once Ellison and Adam had been defeated, she was quite sure she could locate surgical supplies and adequate candidates among the local demon population to make the necessary modifications.


Jim had had a very good day. Great workout, and a brand new tent that might actually keep the rain off was now stowed safely in the basement storage locker for their next camping trip. He'd straightened up the living room, Swiffered the floors, and there was a mushroom casserole in the oven and a loaf of rye bread for mushroom casserole sandwiches on the counter.

A pound of sliced mushrooms.

A stick of softened butter blended with herbs and spices.

One cup of heavy cream.

Jim was planning on counting how many times Blair said the word, 'cholesterol' in the first five minutes. He was leaning toward twenty.

It was ready before Blair got in. Just as well. Jim closed his eyes and concentrated on the subtle blend of flavors, the tender mushrooms, the rich cream sauce without the entertaining distraction of a nutritional conniption fit.

He left the cream carton out on the counter, though, for later, and settled down with a few back episodes of CSI on tape.

Sandburg still wasn't home by the time Jim was ready to call it a night and hit the hay. He glanced at the answering machine. No message, but then Blair didn't always call when he was planning to spend the night elsewhere. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, he forgot. Sometimes his cell phone was out of juice.

Jim didn't think twice about his absence, and went upstairs to bed.

It wasn't until the next morning that Jim began to worry, when he found the Volvo parked by his truck. It was just possible that Blair had spent the night with some girl from Rainier, had her follow as he dropped the car off, planning to catch a ride to school in the morning, and call Jim to pick him up after his last class.

That was entirely plausible.

But Jim felt the hair standing up on the back of his neck.

He pulled out his cell phone and called in, already bracing himself for Simon's sarcasm. Glancing around worriedly, he spotted a security camera down the block, and smiled.


Elsie climbed out of the back of the jeep and stretched, feeling things pop in her back and knees. Even with minimal rest stops, the chase had lasted over seventeen hours. Adam did most of the driving, Buffy and Riley trading his cell phone back and forth as the captain checked in with the Initiative and Buffy talked to her Mom and the 'slayerettes', her term for a handful of childhood friends who had become entangled in her life as the slayer, and helped out.

As they got out of the jeep at the hotel that would serve as their Cascade command post, Elsie felt grubby, cramped, and exhausted. Buffy shook her long honey-blonde hair back, slightly rumpled. But then, Buffy was nineteen. And had superpowers.

"Wow," Buffy was saying, "look at those mountains. She's not headed up there, is she? Because I'm really more of a city girl."

Riley shook his head. "Only reason for Eve to head for the hills is if she's making for the Canadian border," he looked at Adam.

Adam shook his head. "She is here. She is no longer traveling north, but is moving around within city limits. Given time, I can pinpoint her exact location."

Riley nodded. "And while you're triangulating, we can clean up, grab some shuteye and some food."

Elsie was a little concerned, checking in, knowing they appeared to be four twentysomethings without luggage. There were no problems, though, the concierge too professional to smirk.

Reaching the adjoining rooms, Elsie was surprised to find her own suitcase at the foot of one of the beds. Half bemused by the efficiency, half 'government agents were in my underwear drawer!', she pulled out fresh undies, a pair of jeans and a pastel lilac teeshirt, and took a quick hot shower.

When she rejoined the rest of the team in the other room, Buffy was ordering room service, BLTs. She gave Elsie a questioning look, she nodded, and Buffy ordered a third.

Riley was sitting on one of the beds, firing up the secure Initiative laptop he'd brought in from the jeep. Back in Sunnydale, Graham had gathered everything they could find on Eve and sent it over. Riley decrypted the files and began to read.

"Oh man... Doc, oh Doc, what were you thinking?"

Buffy scrambled up beside him to peer at the screen. "It's bad?"

Riley cleared his throat. "Eve was Alexandra Barnes, also known as Alicia Bannister. She did three years at the California women's prison at Corona, for industrial espionage and grand theft. When she got out, she came to Cascade, stole some security schematics and nerve gas, murdered... no, attempted to murder a Blair Sandburg, anthropology TA over at Rainier."

Elsie sat down abruptly on the other bed. "Oh no..."

Buffy's eyes narrowed. "Oh no in general reaction to that revelation, or oh no something we need to know?"

"Some fragmentary memory return is possible," she began to explain.

"I was a boy scout," Adam interjected helpfully, "for example." Everybody turned to look at him, then returned their attention to Elsie.

"So if Eve... Alex... tried to kill someone here... maybe she came back to finish the job. And Blair Sandburg is an expert on sentinels... humans with heightened senses. We used some of his work in the 314 Project."

Riley's jaw set. "Then we need to find Blair Sandburg."


Having just put the fear of god into Brown over losing his case notes, Captain Simon Banks frowned as Jim Ellison finally came into the Major Crimes bullpen more than half an hour late.

"Glad you could join us, detective," he drawled sarcastically, then stopped, seeing the expression on the other man's face as Ellison marched right up to him.

"It's Alex Barnes. She's back. She took him. Again. I've got it on a security tape."

Simon had known Jim for several years, long enough to know that when Ellison went quiet, terse, and his voice was ice cold, the man was either enraged, frightened out of his wits, or both.

"Okay, Jim. We'll get her," he said gently, then raised his voice. "Connor!"

Megan Connor looked up from her computer screen, then got to her feet to follow them into the briefing room.

Jim brought her up to speed as Simon put the tape into the VCR... the three of them watched the scene in grim silence. It was, obviously, Alex Barnes coming up behind Blair while his back was turned, knocking him out, and stuffing him into the backseat of a car.

Jim read off the California license plate, as well as the make, model, color and year of the car. Megan jotted it down so Simon could put out an APB. The Major Crimes captain also intended to raise serious hell over the fact that they hadn't been informed of the dangerously insane sentinel's escape, while the two detectives started the manhunt.

Megan Connor sat in the passenger seat of the old blue and white Ford Ranger pickup truck, and stared at Jim.

He tried to ignore it, and concentrated on his driving. On worrying about Blair. "What?" he finally snarled.

"Thought so," she chirped, looking ahead at last. "You threw a proper wobbler last time she was in Cascade, about people touching your desk, clearing out the loft. Could we track her like that? Using your sentinel territorialness? Drive around town and look for an area that makes you cranky?"

"I'm getting kinda cranky right now," Jim gave her a disgusted snort.

"Sorry. I don't know how this sentinel thing works," she protested. "You know I care about Sandy, Jim, I'm just trying to help."

Jim took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I know. I don't know how this sentinel thing works either. I just have to live with it."

Megan noticed that they were headed for the university. She didn't say anything, just followed Ellison to Hargrove Hall. She didn't realize that she was holding her breath until they reached the fountain.

The fountain where Alex had left Blair to drown.

Today, the fountain was empty. Jim looked hard at the water dancing in the sunlight, then headed for the building. "I want to check his office, just in case he had contact with Alex before she grabbed him."

Megan stopped in her tracks. "You think he was talking to that bit—that woman who almost killed him, and didn't warn you about her?" she asked, outraged.

"I don't know. Blair... believes in second chances, tries to help people. If she came to him with some sob story, hurting... yeah, I think he'd still try to help her. Sometimes his heart overrules his head, y'know?"

Megan had to admit that that sounded like Blair.

His office, however, was exempt from Jim's draconian House Rules, and thus was a place where Blair felt free to let his chaotic nature loose. A thorough search would take days, but just skimming the top layer of clutter showed no trace of Blair knowing that Alex was back in town.

Jim angrily crumpled a flyer for a band playing at Club Doom. "Damn it," he sighed.

Megan carefully set a stack of books back down on the desk, and quirked an eyebrow. "You didn't really expect to find a note; 'meet Alex for kidnapping to secret lair at 141 Klondike Street,' did you?"

"This was a longshot. It didn't pay off."


"Nice campus."

"Rainier's one of the oldest colleges on the west coast."

"At least I'm getting a little sight-seeing in," Buffy sighed. "being the slayer and guardian of the Hellmouth? Not a gig that comes with paid vacations."

Blair Sandburg was a grad student and anthropology teaching fellow. It was the first time Riley's cover identity as a UCSD teaching assistant was more useful than his Initiative credentials. They found the departmental secretary, but struck a dead end. Sandburg hadn't come in today.

They trooped back out to the quad to plan their next move. Buffy dug a penny out of a pocket and tossed it into the fountain.

"What now?"

"Adam..." Elsie bit the inside of her cheek, thinking, "can you hack the phone company files? Get Sandburg's home address?"

"Unnecessary. I now have a lock on Alex Barnes' position. A warehouse at 6644 Gleason Street."

"She's there right now?"

"Yes."

"Let's go."


Megan had found Blair's copy of the Cascade yellow pages. She was looking up art supply stores, working on the theory that Alex might have taken up old hobbies—the first time around her apartment had been stacked floor to ceiling with canvases, the same jungle scenes repeated over and over in an almost pathological attempt to exorcise the visions.

Jim was half listening to Megan, half kicking himself for wasting this much time with Blair's life in the balance.

Then someone said Blair's name down the hall, and Jim found himself tuning into that conversation with his full attention. Nothing. Just a psych student looking for Blair, a few old friends passing through town.

He'd almost dismissed the kids, until he overheard one of the girls ask about hacking into the phone company to get Blair's address, and the other boy answering that he had located Alex.

Jim left the office without a word. He didn't know what the hell was going on, but he had to follow them.

Megan looked up a minute later, and he was gone.


The warehouse had once been part of the McDonan manufacturing empire. Now the paint was faded, and panes of glass had been broken out of the windows and skylights. Weed strewn cracked pavement formed the lot. Doors hung open.

Riley eyed the cavernous shadows, and then looked at his companions. He knew Buffy, had patrolled with her, seen her in action. Adam he was unsure of, but the guy-thing-whatever was 6'4 and had been designed to be a weapon.

"Maybe Elsie should stay in the car?" he suggested. "You're a noncombatant."

"No," she protested almost in unison with Adam.

"I will guard her, she is my guide."

"Your guide?" she looked up at him, surprised.

"Professor Walsh originally intended for Riley Finn or one of the field operatives to serve as my guide, but I trained with you. I trust you. You are my guide."

"Guide?" Buffy asked. "That's a sentinel thing? Like we have watchers? Fine. Just try to stay out of the way, okay?"


Blair finished the burger, then awkwardly stuffed the wrapper into the bag and tossed it as far away from him as he could. He didn't want the smell to attract rats, not with one hand cuffed to a pipe.

Alex was freaking him out, sitting there silently, watching him.

She hadn't said a word since she'd brought him here. Blair knew there was something wrong with Alex—big understatement, the woman was a textbook sociopath—but she'd really fried her brain at the Olmec Temple. At the time, they weren't sure if it was the ancient potion she'd drunk, or exposure to the nerve gas... the experts didn't know if she'd ever wake from the coma. Evidently she had... but in a way that was more damaged than she was before.

As he watched, Alex tilted her head in the classic pose of a sentinel listening to something beyond baseline normal range. She smoothly rose to her feet, and left. Blair waited breathlessly for a long moment, waiting for her to come back. When she didn't, he pulled his swiss army knife out of his pocket and started trying to pick the lock on the handcuffs. He had to keep looking over his shoulder, nervously, afraid of being caught trying to escape.

He got free, and had just left the small room that had once been the warehouse offices, when a tall figure looming out of the shadows made him jump.

Jim.

Blair mouthed, "Alex?" not wanting to make an audible sound. Jim had his sidearm out, held loosely.

"She's got her hands full at the moment. You okay, Chief?"

"Yeah. I mean, freaked out and terrified, but I'm not hurt. She was just... creepy..." Blair tried to find the words to describe the vibes he was getting from the woman, but Jim interrupted him.

"You know a Riley Finn from Sunnydale?"

Blair had to think a moment. "Uh, no."

"Right," Jim turned. "So why were they looking for you and Alex, and how did they lead me here?"

"What?"


They were in the main room of the warehouse. Murky light with spots of brightness flitered through the dirt-encrusted windows, bright with dust motes. Alex. The four kids—all of them younger than Blair. Hell, the little blonde looked like a teenager.

They were faced off against Alex, the teenage blonde and the taller boy in front of the other two. Jim blinked. Maybe it was the light, but Alex and the tall boy both seemed to shimmer, like heat distortion rising off a summer sidewalk.

"Freeze, Cascade Police," he started to take control of the situation. But Alex took off her watch, and changed. Metal on her face and a sleeve... no, that was skin, cranberry red skin... She held herself poised for attack.

The tall boy also did something to his watch, and suddenly half his face was green.

"Whoa..." Blair whistled beside him. "Jim, are you seeing this or am I having a Golden flashback?"

"I'm seeing it, Chief. What the hell are those things?"

The sandy-haired guy, Riley, glanced over and barked, "Classified."

And then the two partly human creatures started to fight. Just pounding on each other, punishing blows that didn't seem to faze either one of them. Jim couldn't get a clear shot, and then the little blonde ran in to attack Alex as the male creature staggered back from a roundhouse punch. She was thrown across the room for her trouble.

Riley shouted, "Buffy!" and ran to the support post she'd been tossed against.

Jim hesitated, but with his medic training, went to check on the girl. She seemed just stunned, a normal person would have been knocked unconscious. He knew they'd left normal behind a long time ago, and let her get to her feet.

There was a horrendous crash as the two combatants went through a wall and out into the weedy overgrown yard outside. Startled ducks flew off from a small, sloping banked pond nearby. Jim realized that this was the pond where David Lash drowned his victims, the place where he'd meant to take Blair. He glanced at the shorter man for his reaction, but Sandburg was too busy staring at the fighters.

"Jim... man, they're chimera. You know what this means?" he chattered excitedly.

"That the government's been experimenting on sentinels," Jim reminded him flatly. That shut Sandburg up, his mouth hanging open.

The dark haired girl was standing only a few feet away. "Only these two possible sentinels who left their bodies to science. Given how spectacularly the experiment has failed, and how rare sentinels are, I assume the project's been cancelled."

Alex screamed as her opponent producted a bayonet-horn from his forearm and speared her through the shoulder, then began punching her in the face while she was pinned, impaled.

She extricated herself, slashing at his stomach with the long, sharp claws of her inhuman hand. The sweatshirt tore away. Smiling cruelly, Alex reached in, gripping, those claws digging into flesh. A thin, milky fluid bled out around her fingers.

"Adam!" The dark haired girl rushed forward, picking up a length of two by four laying discarded in the long grass, and swung at the back of Alex's head.

It worked about as well as Buffy's attack. Alex stopped trying to disembowel Adam, grabbed her, and threw her, hard. She landed in the pond with a splash, and didn't move.

"Elsie!" Adam bellowed, and gave up on trying to capture Alex alive. Catching her by the throat, he plunged his claws into her stomach, and pulled out a short cylinder, glowing yellow-green. Alex screamed again, and he dropped them both. Alex folded like a rag doll, twitched once, and died.

Jim paused to check for a pulse, then followed the others to the banks of the pond, just in time to hear Blair and Buffy both mutter, "Déja vu."


Adam lifted Elsie out of the water and cradled her in his arms. He brushed her wet hair back from her face. She was very still. Not breathing.

Adam remembered dying. When it was over, she had been there. He knew the way, and where his guide led, he would follow...


Blair was staring at the pair, transfixed. Frankenstein's Monster reinterpreted by the X Files or not, Blair knew he was looking at a sentinel and his guide. A sentinel... and his guide who had just been drowned by Alex Barnes.

He'd never really thought about Jim's side of the fountain. He looked up at Jim as the taller man reached his side. He looked back—and found they were no longer outside the warehouse.

The light was blue. The jungle surrounding them was blue. Blair looked down, and the wolf curled up at his feet. The jaguar was seated by Jim.

A shrieking cry and the furious beat of wings made him look up.

In this muted world of shades of blue and white, the bird's plumage burned red as flames. It was flying away, until a chimera lept out of the underbrush, and yanked it back down by the tailfeathers.

They became Adam swinging Elsie around in his arms. "What happened? What is this place?"

The voice came from everywhere and nowhere, and it was both male and female. THIS IS THE PLACE OF CHOOSING.

"Choosing what?"

Jim answered. "The future. Whether you accept the gifts and burdens of being a sentinel."

Blair chimed in, "and of being a guide."

Elsie looked at Adam. He gave her a half-smile. "I think we've already chosen."

And they were back in the warehouse yard, Elsie coughing up brackish water in Adam's arms.

Jim had just seen two other sentinels—who had been altered by some nightmare government conspiracy—fight to the death. He'd been reminded of some of the worst moments of his life, and he'd been dragged to the spirit jungle to witness a mystical bonding connection. He hated the spirit jungle.

He looked at Blair, then at Riley Finn, who was obviously black ops military, the girl Buffy, who was... something else... Adam and Elsie, the newly forged mutant sentinel and guide, and at the body of Alex Barnes.

He took a breath, and said the only thing he could think of to return to a world where things made sense.

"You're all under arrest."


Of course they weren't, exactly, but Jim wanted answers, and that was the only authority he had to get them. Adam used his wristwatch device to return to the appearance of an ordinary young man, and they went back to the station.

Unfortunately, Megan ambushed Jim just off the elevator. She gave Blair a quick hug, then started yelling. In Australian. Jim only understood every third thing she called him. By the time he had apologized profusely for abandoning her at Rainier, Blair had led the four kids into the briefing room.

Simon stopped him before he could follow, frowning. "Jim, heard you found the kid. I don't know what's going on here, but the prison faxed over Alex Barnes' death certificate. She died six months ago."

"There's been a complication in the case, sir."

"I'd say so, detective."

"It's, uh..." Jim shifted his weight from foot to foot. "It's a complication of a sentinel nature, sir," he lowered his voice.

Simon held up a hand. "Say no more. I don't want to know. Just sort it out."

In the briefing room, Buffy was on the phone, and Blair and Elsie were talking shop, how to identify sensory irritants, the criteria her project used to look for sentinels, the basics.

"Okay, I want to know who you people are and what the hell happened to Alex, and this guy. None of you are leaving until I get answers." Jim used his most intimidating voice.

Buffy put the speakerphone on. "I think this will answer all of your questions, detective."

It was a young woman, reading some kind of poem... "Let the waters of Lethe wash memory clean..."

Jim blinked. Riley was shaking Blair's hand. "Thanks for making time for us, Blair. Detective Ellison. It's been... interesting."

Jim stepped aside from the doorway, letting them file out. "Glad to be of help." He usually hated being part of a dog and pony show, but the four kids from Sunnydale studying criminal psychology had been polite and asked intelligent questions.

He frowned a little as Adam walked past, and rubbed his eyes.


Elsie eyed Buffy as they left the police station. "You're sure Miss Rosenberg's amnesia spell won't do them any harm?"

"Nope. Just wiped out their memories of us. I know, you're Science Girl, not used to magick, but trust me, we do this kinda stuff all the time."

Riley was on the phone. "Okay. The locals are taking care of Alex... shipping her back to base. And we have plane tickets home... for tomorrow night."

"Tomorrow?" Buffy looked up at him with shining eyes.

"Assuming there isn't another apocalypse. I think we can swing a slayer vacation on Uncle Sam's tab." Riley glanced over at Adam and Elsie. "I figured you two would want a little time to think, too."

Elsie yawned. "All I want now is a nap."


Back at the hotel, they found they had been moved to separate rooms. Elsie stared at the king-sized bed. After a moment, Adam said quietly, "When Riley and Buffy changed to a single, they must have mistakenly assumed..."

"It's okay."

"I could call the front desk..."

"Adam, it's okay."

"Or there's the chair, I wouldn't mind..."

Elsie took a deep breath, stretched up, and kissed him.

They broke apart, a long moment later. "Oh," Adam said softly. Then squared his shoulders, turned off the holographic image, and moistened his lips. The tip of his tongue was very pink against the green. "Aesthetics were not a primary consideration of my design," he said, quiet and resigned.

She kissed him again, unflinching, then cupped his cheek with one hand, her thumb gently stroking the scar along his cheekbone, where skin melted into scales. "I've grown accustomed to your face. And I'm no beauty queen myself," she added wryly. "We said we'd already chosen. Chosen this, too. Or maybe it was chosen for us. I never thought much about fate, or destiny, but how else do we explain the coincidences? You... my name..."

"Elsa Lanchester," Adam recited. "The Bride of Frankenstein, 1935..."

She laughed. "Oh, much worse than that," she assured him. "Elsie is just a nickname. For my initials. L.C." She looked down, then back up into his eyes. "Adam... I'm Lilith."

~ End ~


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Page last updated 7/10/04.