Part 8

#

Angel looked at the scene before him, looked at Buffy gazing down at her own mortal remains, and was certain his dead heart was breaking all over again. He had seen it on the video files. Had seen Adam One, the android, get up and leave. Had seen Buffy, his beloved Buffy, lifeless on the floor, her beautiful form consumed by the flames.

Only he hadn't really believed it until now. Buffy was dead.

Adam One was not.

"No," he heard Buffy, or not Buffy, whisper. Angel didn't know what to think. From all he knew, all he had seen, he knew she wasn't, couldn't be Buffy. Buffy was dead. And yet he had seen her two weeks ago, had held her, had talked to her. How was it that he, of all people, hadn't noticed the difference?

He didn't know. He just didn't know.

"I'm seeing double," Xander murmured. "Someone please tell me I'm drunk or something!"

"Oh dear," was Giles only comment.

"Two Slayers?" Spike looked back and forth, confused. "What the bloody hell ...?"

"Buffy?" Faith asked softly.

Adam One. Made from the skin of Proteus, god of 300 changes. Walsh wanted the Slayer's mind as a blueprint for her super soldier, wanted to channel Buffy's fighting instincts, her memories and experience, into her warrior.

It appeared she had done it too well.

"Anne?" Buffy called out to her silent companion, her voice small and barely audible. "Anne, I ... I don't ... Anne?"

I am so sorry, Buffy, the voice inside her head said. I was hoping ...

"What?" Buffy asked, unable to tear her eyes away from the scorched remains of her face. HER face. She was dead. Her body was here, in this meat locker. Dead.

I didn't want you to find out like this, Anne whispered. I'm sorry.

"Find out what?" Buffy yelled. "What happened here? How come I ... how can I ... I'm not dead! I know I'm not dead! I'm right here! I can't be dead!"

She still stared at the body. "This is a trick," she whispered to herself. "Yes, some kind of trick. An illusion. Something to drive me insane."

"Looks like it's working," Spike said, smirking.

"Shut up!" Angel grabbed him and threw him unceremoniously out of the container, not paying attention to the muffled complaint from the other vampire. Then he turned back and slowly approached ... whoever she was.

"Buffy!"

"Am I?" She turned toward him, her face a mask of fear. "Am I? Buffy? How can I be Buffy if Buffy is dead? What am I?"

She stared at her own hands. Those weren't her hands. Her hands were burned, disfigured, consumed by the flames. She remembered that. Remembered being burned. Even as she thought that she saw her fingers change before her eyes. The skin peeled away, became black and scorched, angry red blisters running up her arms.

"No," she screamed. "NO!"

Control yourself, Buffy, Anne yelled inside her head. You're losing control of the form!

Angel and the others could only watch in sick fascination as Buffy's arms, her entire body, shuddered, warped, changed. Crimson metal replaced rosy skin, became burned skin, became crimson again. Buffy's face faded, replaced by featureless chrome, only to return a second later, tears running down her cheeks.

"What have they done to me?" she screamed, falling to her knees.

Angel went closer, not really knowing what he was going to do when he got there. He never had the chance to find out. The thing that wore Buffy's face surged back to its feet and flung Angel aside like a rag doll, then started running for the exit.

Faith made half a step toward her, somehow thinking to stop this thing that looked like Buffy, and found herself airborne a second later, flying across the staging area and colliding with a bleached vampire just getting back to this feet. They both rolled over the floor and Faith felt a sharp pain as they collided with something else.

Looking down, she saw a jagged piece of metal had cut open her belly. The cut was barely more than a scratch, but it was bleeding.

"Very insightful of you, pet," Spike, lying beneath her, said. One or two droplets of blood found their way into his mouth before she could struggle away from him.

"Great," she muttered. "Fucking prophecy dreams!"

By the time she was back on her feet Buffy, or whatever it was, was gone.

#

"We have to find her," Giles said after Angel had filled him in, along with the others. "There is no telling her state of mind right now, even if we were sure who it is inside that android."

"You think she's not Buffy?" Willow asked Giles, tears on her face. Her friend couldn't be dead. These last two weeks, that had been Buffy. She was sure. No copy could have fooled her.

Could it?

"There is no telling right now, I'm afraid," Angel said, looking more tired than Willow had ever seen him. "Maybe when we find ... her, we can ascertain how much of Buffy remains inside that ... whatever she is now."

Faith sat on the couch, her face buried in her hands. She was aware that the Watcher, Rose McNamara, was sitting close by and watching her.

She was the only Slayer now, it seemed. Buffy, or her body at the very least, was dead. As far as the rest went, they would have to find out. Faith was the Slayer now, though. One girl in all the world and all that shit.

She made a silent promise to an absent friend to prove herself worthy.

"Let's look for her, then," Faith said, rising to her feet, looking at Angel.

"I have called Wesley and Cordelia. They're on their way here from Los Angeles. The more people are looking for her, the better."

"And when we find her?" Xander asked, despair written all over his face.

Giles sighed deeply. "Then ... we'll see."

Everyone nodded and started searching.

#

Inside the darkness of a machine's mind the artificial intelligence known as Anne tried to think of something to do.

Any ideas? she asked the other people present.

How should I know? Professor Walsh asked. I certainly never intended to end up in here.

Welcome to the club, the witch Colleen Wing said.

Riley just stayed silent.

THE END

TO BE CONTINUED IN "IDENTITIES"