These stories follow four longer pieces set within BtVS season 5-7 continuity, and mention their events. In Should Have Gone To Vegas... CSI received their wakeup call about the supernatural courtesy of Angel, learning more in Manhunters and Slayer, Las Vegas. Finally, Potential Problem was set at the end of BtVS season 7. You don't need to read those stories first, but their events may be mentioned, and they help to explain how the Slayer and her associates become involved in the activities of the Las Vegas Police Department and its CSI unit, and why they are now based in Las Vegas.
All characters are the intellectual property of their respective creators, film companies, etc.; this story may not be sold or distributed on a profit-making basis.
I'm British, so's my spelling. Live with it.
Ernie's Bar, Las Vegas, Nevada
"No cards," said Clem, eyeing the basket of kittens that was the pot for the back-room game.
"One" said Norm, a handsome balancing demon who looked more or less human apart from the horns concealed by a wide Stetson hat.
"Two" said Ike, a grey-haired vampire who was generally regarded as an "uncle Tom"; he'd been caught and tagged by a Slayer at Las Vegas International a few months earlier, and had agreed to stick to animal blood in preference to indefinite arrest. Unlike most he was actually keeping to the agreement; vampires who broke it generally lasted less than a week.
"One," said Joe, a ghoul with a strong smell of rotting flesh who worked at one of the city morgues.
"One," said Fragg, a troll wizard who ran a small import-export business between Earth and the Troll dimension. "Clem, want to start the um.. bidding?"
"Two kittens," said Clem.
"I see your two and raise you two," said Norm
Ike and Joe folded.
"I see your um.. two twos and raise you.. um.. two more." Fragg wasn't the sharpest pencil in the box, although his magic was powerful, but he did tend to be lucky. "Clem?"
"Call." Clem put six more kittens into the pot.
"Fold," said Norm
"Call," said Fragg. "Okay Clem, just you and me."
"Full house, Queens and Jacks."
"Four sixes." He showed the cards
"Darn," said Clem, "Okay, that's me cleaned out. Same time next week, guys?"
There was a loud crash from the main bar, and an amplified voice said "You in the back room, this is the SPCA. Put down the cards and the kittens and come out with your hands up."
"Great Odin! Can't a troll even gamble in peace?" said Fragg, scooping up a handful of kittens and vanishing, Clem assumed, to his home dimension.
"Third game busted this month," Norm said mournfully, pulling down his hat and shuffling towards the door, hands up. "Better go quietly, they'll be armed."
"Armed? Really?" asked Clem, pulling on a woolen cap that covered his ears and following him out. "First I've heard of it."
Joe and Ike followed them outside, where four grim-looking men wearing flak jackets with the SPCA logo and carrying shotguns patted them down and lined them up against a wall. Two others went in carrying plastic pet carriers, came out a couple of minutes later with the kittens, and went outside. Three of the others followed them, the fourth backing out behind them. As the last one left Clem went to the door and looked outside, and saw them climbing into an unmarked black van. One of the men pointed a shotgun in his direction, and he hastily ducked back inside as they finished boarding the van and roared off.
"Anyone else think that was a little odd?" asked Clem.
"How'dya mean?" asked Norm.
"No police with them, and no arrests. Not even any warnings." He turned to Ernie, a tough-looking human with biker tattoos, who was behind the bar. "Did they show a warrant?"
"Nope, but I wasn't gonna argue with four guys with shotguns."
"Weird. Oh well, let's have a tequila and yak urine for the road."
"You think they weren't SPCA?" asked Norm, finally getting the idea.
"Like Ernie says, with four shotguns pointing at us who's gonna argue? What the hell, it's only kittens."
"Easy for you to say that," said Ike, swigging a vodka and pig's blood, "you were cleaned out. I still had five kittens in my bag, the bastards took them."
"Not much we can do about it, unless you wanna get staked or something."
"Good point," said Ike, "Okay, I guess that killed the evening. Anyone need a lift towards Utopia Memorial Cemetery?"
"Me," said Joe. "Thanks, saves waiting for the bus."
"That's okay, I only live a couple of blocks from here, the walk'll do me good."
"Thanks, but I'm headed the other way." They finished their drinks and separated. Clem went a block in the direction he'd indicated, checked that nobody seemed to be watching him, then got out a mobile phone.
The Jenny Calendar School, Las Vegas, Nevada
"Clem!" Dawn shrieked happily, "It's been, like, forever... Yeah, it's me, Dawn... "
Andrew covered his ears and tried to remember who Clem was.. oh yeah, the demon guy with the floppy ears, friend of Spike.
"Stole your kittens? Why would anyone steal kittens?... Eww... Clem, I so did not want to know that... Well yeah, I know you're a demon, but kittens? Gross..."
She scribbled some notes on a pad, then said "Okay, I guess it does sound like something we should look at. If you can find out where and when the other robberies were it might help, and anything else you can remember... no, she's in Cleveland right now, but don't worry, we've got people to deal with it. Yeah, I'll say 'Hi' for you when I talk to her at the weekend. Can we call you if there are any questions?... okay, got that. Thanks, bye."
"Something interesting?" asked Andrew.
"Would you believe kitten hijackers with shotguns?"
"Kittens with shotguns? Cool!" He began to sketch one; it looked like Rambo with a furry face and eye-patch.
"Don't be a dork, Andrew. The hijackers stole the kittens, they were the stakes in a demon poker game."
"Why do demons gamble for kittens?"
"Trust me, you don't wanna know."
"So what do we do about it?"
"You start Scoobying with a computer search, anything odd going on with kittens or cats in the Las Vegas area, I'm gonna call Grissom, give him a heads-up."
"Why Grissom," said Andrew, typing 'kitten Las Vegas' into Google, "why not Brass?"
"Brass is homicide, this is just stolen kittens... okay, stolen by guys with guns, but I haven't heard of anyone getting hurt yet. Anyway, Grissom will know who to talk to about this. Who have we got working with the police tonight?"
"Vi's at the airport, Kennedy and Willow are out with the SWAT team in the desert on some sort of training deal, and Shannon's with CSI."
"Hmm, let's hope CSI don't get too involved, I sometimes get the feeling that Shannon over-compensates a little."
"Because she wasn't in the final battle?"
"Not her fault Caleb knifed her when she was a Potential," said Dawn, dialling Grissom's number, "but she seems to think she has something to prove. What with the way she dresses and all..."
"Think of it this way... if the kitten thieves are some sort of big bad, and Shannon finds them tonight, they're gonna get their asses whipped."
"That's for sure... Hi, it's Dawn, Dawn Summers..."
Ernie's Bar, Las Vegas, Nevada
Ernie was polishing glasses when the girl of his dreams came into his life. Redheaded, stacked, and gorgeous. There was a kid behind her, brunette, looked to be in her late teens wearing leather jeans, with short hair and a blouse that left her midriff bare, but he barely spared her a glance. He didn't notice his last three customers decide to leave in a hurry.
"I'm Catherine Willows," said the redhead, "Las Vegas PD crime lab. This is Shannon, who's interning with us. We understand you had a robbery here earlier this evening."
"Robbery?" said Ernie.
"Four armed men with shotguns, and a couple of others helping them."
The kid wandered over to the pool table, picked up a couple of the balls, and bought them back to the counter, saying "Don't waste our time."
"Isn't this a school night?"
The kid put one of the balls on the counter, put the other into the palm of her hand, and smashed it down onto the first. The lower ball was driven half-way into the counter, the upper smashed into four or five jagged chunks. Her hand was unharmed. "I'm sure you'll find it's educational."
"oh crap." said Ernie, in a very small voice, taking in her expression and the scars on her neck and midriff. "oh crap."
"Shannon," said Catherine, "please don't upset the nice barman, I'm sure he wants to be helpful. Don't you?"
"Know who I am now?" asked Shannon.
"The... um.. the Slayer?" said Ernie. "I thought you was a blonde..."
"She's in Cleveland. Tonight I've got the Vegas franchise."
"What do you want to know?"
"You were right, he does want to be helpful..."
"Good," said Catherine, "let's start with the security camera tapes, and anything you noticed about your visitors..."
CSI Headquarters, Las Vegas Police Department, Nevada
"Whoever they are," said Catherine an hour later, "they weren't genuine SPCA. About twenty different reasons, starting with them smashing into the bar carrying shotguns. If there was some real crime involving animals the SPCA would go to the police, of course. Logo on their jackets is close but isn't quite right, lots of other discrepancies. Here's the best pictures I've got from the security camera tapes; five demon-type guys playing cards for kittens, then our intruders. Three white, one black on the initial team, then one white and one Latino that actually collected the kittens. All wearing thin leather gloves. Recognise anyone?"
"No," said Grissom, "but I'll be amazed if none of them have criminal records. Perp three has something that looks like a prison tattoo on his neck, and the MO looks well-practiced. What about the gamblers?"
"The barman's ID'd all five as regulars, given us first names, we have one identified as a vampire who's in the control program and four unknowns. Shannon?"
"Apart from the vampire we've got a troll, two balancing demons, and a ghoul. The balancing demons, that's the guy in the hat and the guy with the floppy ears, are relatively harmless," she looked round to make sure that the door was closed then said "in fact the guy with floppy ears is Clem, he was one of Buffy's contacts in Sunnydale. He bought Xander a bunch of grapes when we were both in hospital, I'd guess it was him that tipped Dawn off about the robbery. But keep that to yourself, demons that help Slayers tend to be unpopular."
"What about the other two?" asked Catherine.
"Both bad news. The troll could rip your arm off without trying, and the ghoul could take it off with one bite. But we didn't get a warning about either of them, and they didn't put up a fight during the raid, so my guess is that they were just there to play cards."
"Anything else?" asked Grissom.
"I found tyre impressions," said Catherine. "The getaway van was front-wheel drive, road width just under six feet, wheelbase about a hundred to one-twenty inches, and had new SBRP225/60R16 tyres on all four wheels. That probably makes it a 2003 Volkswagen Eurovan MV, and I'll be surprised if there are more than a couple of hundred in Las Vegas. It might be worthwhile checking the driving licence photos of purchasers, see if we come up with a match for any of the perps."
"And you're doing it?"
"Search is running now. Also a criminal records search, of course."
"I just can't see the point of this robbery," said Grissom. "Even if the thieves are fanatical about kittens, there are plenty in danger that they could rescue without running around with shotguns. For what this must have cost to organise you could probably bribe someone to give you every kitten in the pound. And it's not just that batch, Dawn told me that the informant mentioned he'd heard of two similar poker game robberies, but didn't have details."
"What about other cat thefts?" asked Shannon, "And lost cats generally?"
"I was waiting for someone to ask me that," said Grissom, "there's no change. Either other thefts have gone unreported or someone is specifically targeting kittens used in demon poker games."
"Why do demons want kittens anyway?" asked Catherine.
"Snack food," said Shannon.
"I'm sorry I asked."
"So someone wants kittens," said Grissom, "presumably kittens that have been in contact with demons, and I'd assume that there's a reason why they're not just breeding them and getting a demon to look after them."
"Maybe they're looking for a specific kitten," said Catherine.
"Maybe.." said Shannon. "Some sort of cat demon, cat god, something like that."
"Bubastis," said Grissom, "Egyptian cat goddess, also a solar and fertility deity, from about 3000 BC onwards. Ra was also associated with cats. Oh, and Freya was a Norse goddess who rode a chariot pulled by giant cats. Other than that they're associated with luck and witches, allegedly have nine lives, and there's an Irish story about the king of the cats. Can't think of anything else right now."
"Boy, I bet you're popular when they're picking quiz teams."
"Luck?" said Catherine. "In this town that's a powerful force."
"Willow's told us," said Shannon, "magical power generated by the gamblers, magical defences against cheating, yadda yadda."
"Have you ever seen her use it?"
"Not yet. She says it's dangerous to mess with it unnecessarily."
"We have. She nearly killed herself to save two children. I think 'dangerous' is an understatement."
"Don't get me wrong, I know how powerful that stuff can be. Look what it did for me and the rest of the Slayers. It's just... it's like I'm Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi is telling me The Force is too dangerous to play with and I've gotta stick to using my fists. Damn, I'm spending too much time around Andrew. Look, I know there are reasons, I just don't have to like it."
"Okay," said Grissom. "Getting back to business, and ignoring the reasons for the thefts for now, we need to find out who they are and what they're doing with the cats they steal. Suggestions?"
"Look for someone buying lots of catfood and litter?" suggested Shannon.
"Complaints about cat smell or noise?" said Catherine.
"Check for anything cat-related apart from the cat thefts, like... um... a casino opening with a cat theme, or an Egyptian theme?"
"There's the Luxor, can't think of any others. But try a search on that and check in with the school, see if they've found anything. I'll look into cat-related purchases and complaints. We're probably not looking for more than forty or fifty kittens, but that might be enough to upset someone, and I'd imagine they'd use a lot of cat food. I think there are special types for kittens. Catherine, see how the ID searches are coming along."
The Jenny Calendar School, Las Vegas, Nevada
"Okay, here's a weird one," said Dawn. "Theory that if a thousand cats simultaneously dream of a world that they rule it'll happen, and they'll be bigger than humans."
"'Dream of a Thousand Cats'" said Andrew, "Neil Gaiman, Sandman issue.. um.. eighteen, I think, the second story after the Dolls House arc."
"Comic. Okay, scrub that one then."
"How about this one... using cats with buttered toast strapped to their back as a perpetual motion machine."
"Get real. Okay, we're getting nowhere fast. Get down to the lounge, see how many trainees are around, and get everyone on it..."
"Might as well, what good are we if we can't even find some lost cats?"
CSI Headquarters, Las Vegas Police Department, Nevada
"Holy crap..." said Shannon, staring at the screen with her jaw dropping open.
"Found something?" asked Catherine.
"It's so weird I think it could be what we're looking for. Patent, about six months ago, for a method of keeping the ashes of dead people, animals, whatever, by turning the carbon in their bodies into synthetic gemstones. So you can wear your loved ones as a memorial. That's kinda sick, but the company that registered the patent is Bubastis Industries, Las Vegas."
"Let me try that name... yes, they bought a Volkswagen Eurovan MV when the new model came in."
"How about the perps?" asked Grissom.
"The tattoo looks like it came from Sing-Sing, but even with image enhancement I can't find a match for the guys face, or any of the others."
"Try it without image enhancement. That was a lousy camera, the enhancement process may be adding details that weren't there and making it harder to find a match."
"Okay, I'll start another run."
"I've got nothing on cat products or complaints, so it seems likely that they aren't surviving long. That would fit in with the idea of killing them and vitrifying them, I suppose. Any idea why they'd want to get into the catnapping business?"
"With a name like that I'd guess it was their goal all along," said Shannon.
"Okay, but why?"
"Damned if I know, but as soon as Catherine's finished there let's go and find out."
"Why? What grounds do we have? There's no way we'll get a warrant on such flimsy evidence."
"Make that a little less flimsy," said Catherine, "You were right, the enhancement was messing things up. I've got an ID on one of the perps. Not mister tattoo, one of the men that picked up the kittens. Clarence Martin, age 34, served eight years in Sing-Sing for armed robbery, now employed by Bubastis Industries as a driver."
"I think that gives us legitimate grounds to go talk to the man. We'll try his home first, see if we can do this without setting off too many alarms."
"Okay," said Grissom, looking around Martin's large apartment and wondering how an ex-con could possibly afford it on a driver's wages. "You're not admitting anything, and I'm not accusing you of anything quite yet. But someone robbed a poker game tonight, and the people who were playing... well, let's just say that they weren't people. And right now they're really annoyed."
"Now you may be right, and we may not have enough to convict you," said Brass, "but we sure as hell can arrest you. And if we do, word's going to get around. Of course sooner or later we'd have to release you, but I'll promise you one thing. I like cats, and unless you tell us what the hell's going on you won't be released in daylight."
"What do I get if I talk?" asked Martin.
"Depends on what you tell us, and how useful it is."
"Okay.. Okay, I'll tell you. They're building something. Some sort of laser..."
The Jenny Calendar School, Las Vegas, Nevada
"Okay," said Dawn, "I got that. Weird... Right, I'll get everyone on it right away. Ask Grissom to get Willow, you're gonna need her for this. She's in the desert and I can't raise her cellphone."
"So what is it?" asked Andrew.
"They're building a laser that'll amplify the spiritual essence of cats so that they can summon the goddess Bubastis and make her knock over a casino."
"I just did. Laser, cat spirits, Bubastis, casino heist. Got it?"
Andrew sat there, gaping.
"You wanted to be a Scooby, Andrew. Get downstairs and tell everyone, if those bozos actually get this to work there's gonna be a seriously pissed god on the loose in Las Vegas, and that could make Sunnydale look like small change."
Bubastis Industries, Las Vegas, Nevada
Parked in the parking lot of a burned-out supermarket across the road from the factory, Shannon, Brass, Catherine, and Grissom watched through binoculars. The building stood in a few acres of ground, with a high wire fence around it and locked metal gates. Three cars and a black Volkswagen van were parked near the entrance.
"The guy that owns the company is called Tariq Hussein," Dawn's voice said over the radio, "age 55, naturalized US citizen, born in Egypt. Attended MIT, worked for NASA on synthetic materials for space flight, laid off after Challenger. Owns numerous patents related to carbon composite materials used in aviation and other industries. Millionaire, Bubastis is a new venture and his first in Las Vegas. His brother Abdul Hussein still lives in Egypt, and is a noted expert on Egyptology and the ancient gods."
"Anything coming up about the goddess?" asked Shannon.
"We think her festival begins at the next full moon. There's also some sort of prophecy related to her, something about her being called by a multitude of cats crying in unison, that could relate to the laser gizmo."
"I'm going in."
"Wait. Willow's on her way to you, be there in about thirty minutes, and if Andrew's reading the patent right it'll take at least three or four days to convert the kittens to synthetic gems, if they've even started tonight, and it's a week or so to the full moon."
"She's right," said Catherine, "we don't have a warrant, but we will in an hour or so. SPCA are going to swear out a complaint. If we see any sign that they've summoned this goddess we'll go in."
"I don't like just sitting here," said Shannon, "for all we know they're killing the kittens now, starting the process, in an hour there may not be any evidence." She opened her door, got out, and said "pop the trunk open, I've got an idea."
Grissom got out, in time to see Shannon rummage through the trunk and pull out a set of towing chains.
"What's your idea?"
"Delaying tactics. Just get back in the car and ignore me, you really don't want to know."
"You're not going into the factory?"
"Okay then. Be careful."
Shannon ran off into the night, carrying the heavy steel chains on her shoulder. About five minutes later there was a bright flash from the other side of the building, and the factory went dark. Shannon came back fifteen minutes after that, carrying some coffees and an assortment of doughnuts.
"What happened?" asked Grissom.
"I dunno," said Shannon, "I was going to Starbucks to get these when the factory went dark. When I was walking back I past the factory I saw some guys with flashlights, and I heard one of them say that their transformer had blown out."
"Like someone short-circuited it with a length of steel chain?"
"Kinda, but it'd have to be someone that could throw it over a high wire fence and about thirty feet to the transformer."
"If I had to testify," said Catherine, "I'd have to say that it's physically impossible for anyone to do that."
"That's what I thought," said Shannon, grinning and tucking into a cinnamon Danish.
"Let's see if I've got this right," said Willow. "In that factory over there are fifty-odd kittens, alive or dead, which a total whack-job wants to use to put the whammy on Bubastis." She pointed towards the factory, where a few of the windows were now illuminated, Catherine guessed by kerosene lamps.
"That's what we've been told," said Grissom.
"And the guy you questioned says they're gonna try to pump energy into Bubastis, make her more powerful and controllable, then get her to tear the Luxor apart to get at the casino's money room."
"That's right. We've got him under guard, so that he can't warn them we're wise to them."
"And they're using kittens that have been in the hands of demons because they'll have more magical potential?"
"That's what he said."
"How many rooms does the Luxor have? The hotel part, that is."
"Four thousand or so."
"Gonna be a lot of casualties if they can pull it off, and I don't know enough to say that it isn't possible."
"The judge turned down our request for a warrant," said Grissom, "not enough evidence."
"Okay... Then we're gonna have to talk to the lady."
"Willow... are you sure about this?" asked Kennedy.
"I'm not saying we summon her ourselves, we just need to talk to her. That's a lot easier. Both of you have done something similar, the desert ritual to talk to the First Slayer."
"Death is my gift," said Shannon. "I kinda knew that already."
"The three of us?" asked Kennedy.
"Umm... no, 'fraid not. You're not really involved, you haven't really done anything to fight their plan. If you go in there's a risk that Bubastis won't believe you're committed to helping her. And I'll have to be on the outside casting the spell."
"So I'm on my own?" asked Shannon.
"What about us?" asked Grissom.
"You've all worked against this guy, but Bubastis is definitely a female. Either of you guys go, she won't be happy."
"How about me?" asked Catherine.
"Well... yeah, I think she'd like you."
"How come?" asked Brass.
"Gods are kinda literal, her name begins 'Cat' and it's her job to be inquisitive."
"What are the risks?" asked Grissom.
"At worse, psychosomatic injuries. But Shannon'll be there, and if Bubastis gets frisky she ought to be able to handle her, especially with the edge she's gonna have. I'll be monitoring you both, and I'll be able to pull Catherine out before she comes to any real harm."
Grissom noticed that she didn't make that guarantee about Shannon.
"Just a sec." Willow got out her cellphone, pressed one of the preset numbers, then said "Hi, Buffy, it's Willow. Shannon needs to use the scythe. Can you spare it for a few hours?... okay, get it, and hold it over your head in both hands about two minutes after the call ends, and think of Shannon holding it. I'll have a courier bring it back to you once we're done.... yeah, everyone's fine, but Shannon's gotta go dream-walk and talk to a god, she needs to be extra impressive... yeah, a god. Bubastis... ask Giles, he'll tell you. Gotta run, bye."
She turned to Shannon. "Okay, out of the car and stand with your hands above your head, palms upward, and about three feet apart, relax, and think of holding the scythe. Everyone else, stand clear."
Willow's eyes seemed to turn inwards, and she muttered "Hold it up, Buffy, a little higher..." then said "Accio falcifer" and seemed to glow white for a second. Shannon felt a sudden weight in her hands and Willow staggered and nearly fell.
"Accio?" asked Kennedy, steadying her. "Been reading Harry Potter again?"
"Makes it easier to visualise the spell working."
"Wow," said Shannon, "I've seen it, but I never got to use it before." She twirled the glittering weapon in an intricate arc, its blades swishing through the air with a singing note.
"Holy..." said Brass. "What the hell is that?"
"A magic scythe that only the Slayer can use," said Willow. "Even a goddess ought to find it reasonably impressive."
"What happens now?" asked Grissom. "And can you be sure that Catherine and Shannon will be all right."
"Catherine's okay, I'll be able to pull her back if necessary. Shannon... I can do it, but I'll need your co-operation, so if you need rescuing don't fight it. Okay guys, if we're gonna do this Catherine and Shannon need to sit back to back on the ground. I'll draw the conjuring circle around you and get to work."
"Where the hell are we?" asked Catherine, looking around at the baking sand.
"Ancient Egypt, I guess, or some idealized version of it."
"What makes you say that?"
"Willow said to expect that, and there's a sphinx headed this way and I kinda think they're mythical."
"WHO SEEKS THE GODDESS MUST ANSWER THIS RIDDLE," roared the Sphinx. "WHAT CRAWLS..."
"Hey," shouted Shannon, "Answer this one first. What do you call a woman who can bench-press half a ton and carries this scythe?"
"Slayer.." roared the Sphinx, much more quietly
"Okay, well done. Now, was there a question you wanted answering?"
"Only if you feel like it."
"We're kinda in a hurry. Another time?"
"Very well. You may pass."
"How did you know she'd let us by?" asked Catherine, after the Sphinx was out of sight.
"You don't quite get it yet, we're imagining this, kinda a mutual hallucination. Our bodies are still sitting in the parking lot. Not sure about the scythe, it kinda exists on a lot of levels. This desert looks more like Nevada than the Sahara."
"So the Sphinx couldn't have hurt us?"
"Sure she could, she's part of this reality. The trick was to make sure we didn't imagine ourselves in a situation where she got to run the scenario her way. The Sphinx is supposed to know everything, so logically she has to know who the Slayer is, which means she damn well ought to be cautious around me. So I played it that way and it worked. That won't work for Bubastis though, in this reality she's as real as we are and has even more control of the environment. But the rest of the world..."
"Then we simply need to imagine ourselves with Bubastis."
"So try to think of a place where she'll be."
"She's a goddess, she'll be wherever she likes. This weather somewhere cool, maybe a boat on the Nile, like Cleopatra..." Catherine closed her dream eyes as she talked, opening them when she felt hard deck underfoot. They were on the deck of a luxuriously ornate barge, in the middle of which was a silk tent. "I think this might be it."
"You're getting the hang of this, try to keep it humble but impressive," whispered Shannon, then knocked on the deck three times with the scythe, taking care not to damage it, and said "Oh great and noble Bubastis, we crave audience with you."
"Who dares disturb the rest of Bubastis?" asked a purring voice.
"I am Shannon the Vampire Slayer, and my companion is Catherine, a seeker after truth."
"You may enter."
They went into the tent. Bubastis was a huge black panther-headed woman, at least ten feet from head to toes, with several pairs of catlike teats rather than normal human breasts, naked from the waist up, lying on a silk-covered bed. She was attended by four handmaiden, normally-sized women with cat heads and light fur, who fanned her with palm leaves.
Shannon and Catherine bowed deeply.
"Do you have a gift for me?" asked Bubastis.
"Death is my gift," said Shannon, "but I doubt that you want it."
"My gift is knowledge," said Catherine.
"Knowledge of what?"
"Of a man who wishes to enslave you."
Bubastis stood, towering above her hand-maidens. "Go on."
"In our city there is a man named Tariq Hussein, whose servants are stealing kittens to build a device to enslave you. If he succeeds you will be forced to enter the world, forced to destroy and kill."
"He would force a god?"
"We are certain he means to try, and that to build this device he will kill kittens."
"Then stop him."
"We cannot. Our laws require proof of his misdeeds, and we haven't got enough."
"Then what do you want?"
"To warn you," said Shannon, "and to suggest a course of action."
"If we are right this man has kittens, alive or dead. Maybe you could do something with them. Help them to escape, perhaps, if they still live."
"And if they are dead?"
"He'll have their bodies, either intact or alchemically prepared, perhaps in the process of being turned into gems. Look, you're a god, I'm sure you can think of interesting things to do with them. If not, then sooner or later, we think at the next full moon, he'll use them against you."
"I will kill this man Hussein, and all those who help him. I will level his city, and leave nothing but the drifting sand. I will..."
"You're a god of life, not death," said Catherine. "Why stoop to the level of these madmen? Stop them, give us the proof we need, destroy their machine if you must, but please don't be sucked into their insanity."
"Very well... I will be merciful. Hussein alone will die."
"No he won't," said Shannon calmly, "because if you start killing people we'll have to stop you."
"Me... and the other Slayers. You know there isn't just one of us now." She waved her hand and a vision of the battle in Sunnydale appeared, and the spell that gave the Slayers their power. "And you know that one of us was all it took the last time a god had to be stopped." More images, Buffy fighting Glory.
"I know." She seemed to be calming.
"I agree the guy is a slimeball, but there are better ways to deal with him than killing him. I think he's mad, and the way we treat madmen is worse than death. Drugs, electric shocks, imprisonment, and worse." She imagined a collage of asylum scenes from a dozen films, and again it appeared as a vision.
"That is... acceptable," said Bubastis. She began to shrink and change form, becoming a huge panther... a cat... a small black and white kitten. "Carry me."
Catherine reached down, and picked up the kitten. For a second it seemed to be enormously heavy, then negligibly light. Then they were sitting on concrete, in semi-darkness, watched by Grissom, Brass, Kennedy, and Willow.
"How long were we gone?" asked Shannon.
"About ten minutes," said Willow, then gasped as she saw what Catherine was carrying. "Goddess."
"Yesss..." said a small voice that seemed to be inside their heads. "Where are the men who would enslave a god?"
"In that building, the one across the road," said Catherine.
"And the kittens they have taken... some still live. Carry me across the road then wait for me with your friends."
Catherine carefully stood, feeling the kitten's claws prick her arm as she stood, waited a second for a car to pass, then crossed the road and carefully lifted the kitten through the fence and put her down inside the factory grounds. She paused briefly to scratch, then scampered off towards the darkened building.
Catherine crossed back, and Willow said "That was her, wasn't it? Bubastis?"
"Some aspect of her anyway."
"She looked just like Kitty Fantastico... cat Tara and I had in college, she was killed when our dorm block was destroyed by an insane god."
"Glory? Shannon showed us a vision of Buffy fighting her. Reminds me," she turned to Shannon, "How did you know how that fight went?"
"All of the Slayers know," said Shannon, "We've all dreamed it, one time or another. Scared the crap out of me the first time I saw it."
"Slayers share a lot of dreams," said Kennedy. "The one that really creeps me out is the weird little guy with the cheese."
"What happens now?" asked Brass.
"We wait," said all four women, more or less in unison. Across the road one of the lights went out, then another. A minute later Brass said "I think I can see a fire. Call it in, and we're going in."
Shannon broke the gate lock with the scythe, then she and Kennedy ran towards the building, with Willow and the police in two cars behind them. As they approached the building the door swung open and twenty or thirty kittens ran out, scampering for cover as they saw the cars. The last was Bubastis. Everyone stopped.
"It is over," said the voice in their heads.
"Okay... what do you want to do now?" asked Catherine.
"I will take my children to sanctuary." She howled loudly, and the other kittens came out from hiding, ran towards her, and were absorbed into her body, which grew a little larger with every kitten. Eventually they were all gone, and Bubastis was the size of a small panther. "Farewell. Should you visit my realm again, bring better gifts." She vanished.
Grissom and Brass recovered from their surprise and went inside, followed by the women. They spent several anxious minutes putting out two small fires, then went looking for the other occupants of the building, finding them hiding in closets, lockers, and other kitten-proof areas. All were badly scratched, none seriously injured. Except Tariq Hussein, who babbled insanely of cats and gods, whose eyes were so badly scratched that he would probably never see again.
Epilogue: CSI Headquarters, Las Vegas Police Department, Nevada
"Do you think it would have worked?" asked Grissom.
"Want to try it for yourself?" asked Willow, "The machinery's still there, and you've got all of his plans and notes. Looks like his brother wrote out instructions on the ritual, follow all the steps and you ought to be get the same results. Feel like summoning a god?"
"Not in a million years."
"So his heirs presumably inherit the machinery and papers," said Catherine, "How do we stop them using them?"
"That's kinda interesting... I read the instructions, and assuming that the theory is right, the ritual looks pretty good, right up to the point where the spell summons a really angry goddess. After that the procedures for keeping her contained and under control are... well, I'd have to call them inadequate."
"Laughable. Wouldn't confine a teeny little demon, let alone a god."
"Would the brother, this Abdul Hussein, know better?" asked Grissom.
"If he could develop that ritual you can be sure of it."
"Interesting. He's the main heir."
"And six or seven thousand miles away, well out of the target area. I'm tempted to send Bubastis a memo, but I really don't want to poke my nose in there again unless I have to."
"So what can we do?" asked Catherine.
"Well..." said Grissom, "he's not the only one that can unleash powerful forces. Hussein's incompetent, not dead, and that makes it a whole different ball game. There are fifteen or twenty state and national agencies that could get involved in case like this, more if we make sure they involve everyone who might possibly have a claim on the company and his estate. It'll drag on for years, and by the time they're done his brother will be lucky to get ten cents on the dollar."
"I'll settle for that," said Shannon, "just make sure we keep an eye on Abdul."
"That's what the Watchers are for," said Kennedy.
"Okay," said Grissom. "I would have been happier if we'd been able to arrest Hussein and charge him with something, but I suppose we'll have to settle for what we've got. It's been... interesting. Day shift are coming on, let's call it a night."
"Works for me," said Shannon, turning to Willow. "Now, I know that this scythe's gotta go back to Cleveland, but is there any way I can get to play with it for a day or two first..."
End note: If you're wondering, the SPCA idea began in an early draft of my BtVS / Men In Black crossover Family Issues, but while the game worked there the raid didn't. This is why both stories have Clem playing kitten poker. Why waste an idea when I can recycle it... And yes, I do like cats. The dream sequence was probably suggested by half a dozen different sources, the main ones being Neil Gaiman's Sandman comic, at least one of Roger Zelazny's Amber novels, and an Xena: Warrior Princess novelization; apologies, but I can't remember the exact titles.