You slowly come to a halt among the rat-gnawed corpses and broken furniture as Buffy picks her way among the rubble ahead of you.
This is where it all started.
Over there's the chain link enclosure where a squad of Roger Ramjets tasered you like so much unruly meat; leaving you naked on the blood-smeared concrete floor after stripping away your name and your clothes. Now the gate's propped open by the dessicated carcass of one of your captors. The back of his head's missing and the barrel of his M-16's blossomed out in ribbons of rusted steel.
Believe me mate, I know the feeling.
Nervously, you touch the back of your own head with one slightly trembling hand as you step over the remains of a filing cabinet. You shine your borrowed flashlight through a bullet-scarred doorway. The operating table's been overturned; the instruments and cameras scattered and smashed…
…demon-faced, it spat and snarled up at them from its restraints. The technicians processing it ignored its racket while rooting through its entrails like pigs in a trough; casually discussing what they planned to do after work as it screamed its name at them in between animal wails of pain.
The chip fires…
It screamed, desperately memorizing names, faces, scents… Mark had a girlfriend on campus. He planned, he said as he drove a needle into its spine to collect fluid, on taking his girlfriend Brenda to the big football game after dinner. "Her twin Bret's playing tonight, halfback; gonna be a pro someday. Should be a good game."
…sending white-hot lightning through your head… your knees buckle; your nose starts to bleed…
Phil's bowling team was leading the league. "One more win and we get the trophy!" he said over its screams as he handed a neatly labeled skin sample to Michelle, his assistant before punching through the bone in its hip for marrow samples. "I'd say that's worth a year's supply of free pizza and beer, don't you?"
… as you slide down the doorframe, mouth working, the flashlight falling to the floor with a clatter… you land butt-down hard, boot heels drumming in the filth as the chip follows up with random stab after stab into your brain…
…oh God oh God oh God oh God…
Then it's over, leaving you fetal in the rubble with the rest of the bodies. Right side tingling, you stumble to catch up with Buffy though memories that gibber and shriek at you from behind long dead faces.
You join Buffy at the edge of the main bay before you realize that you aren't the only obscenity still moving down here as slams into you from behind so that you go face down on the damp, mildewed concrete.
The chip fires.
Bloody hell, not now!
You scream, writhing while Buffy grapples in the dark with your bastard sibling.
…oh God, oh God, oh GodohGod…
Finally the pain ebbs; all you can do is lie there as your whatever it is drags you off by one ankle so that more shadowy doorways flicker past.
…without being asked, it and sixteen others like it were dropped into tanks of frigid and then boiling water over and over again. When that didn't kill them, they were electrocuted. They were staked. They were gassed. They were set on fire - while it clutched its name to itself like a talisman.
Their numbers were cut in half in puffs of dust.
… acid was sprayed on them in that room over there. Then they were exposed to artificial sunlight. Later their arms and legs were systematically broken, leaving them sobbing on their bellies. White lab coats with name tags on the pockets watched them heal; taking notes while it clutched its name to itself like a talisman.
Their numbers were cut in half in puffs of dust.
…that was the room where without being asked, it and the rest were injected with fluids that burned, itched and made them break out in sweats and chills, leaving them strapped down on cots yammering to themselves while it clutched its name to itself like a talisman.
Their numbers were cut in half in puffs of dust.
…it was only one of four left when they sawed its head open. Its name fell from its mouth and shattered on the floor and Maggie Walsh ground the broken pieces underfoot. The sound of the little round blade cutting into its skull is still the background music to all of its nightmares. The smell of cauterizing flesh and antiseptic, the cold, the clamps…
You're screaming inside your head when the lights come on and your brother flees into the shadows.
Oh God, I can't remember my name!
Nameless and forgotten, you lie there numbly on the floor in a pool of your own filth. Pain sings in your ears, rushing in and out like the waves of the ocean so that you only catch parts of what's going on around you as Buffy argues with a man you can't see because your vision's fading one eye at a time.
Buffy, because of what I am, have been, I know I deserve nothing from you, from anybody, but… help? Please?
Boots clatter around you.
Anybody but you lot!
Their names have been sewn onto their uniforms so that everyone knows who they are:
They stare down their rifle barrels at you with disgust.
Oh God, not again!
While Ruiz and Hoffstedder put what's left of you on a stretcher…
Don't touch me!
…and carry you back into the darkness.
It no longer remembers its name, but it remembers this place…
Hoffstetter and Ruiz move you from the stretcher and onto the remains of a shattered CAT scan unit in a brightly lit room where dried brains decorate the mildewed walls.
This is the room where it woke up unfettered and ravenous so it attacked Pamela the tomographer as she was prepping it for a CAT scan. This is also the room where it fell off the table and landed on its knees clutching its head, shrieking and shitting itself in agony. Pam calmly stepped back, watching it writhe as two orderlies, Sam and Rico, picked it up and put it back on the table, firmly strapping it down before shooting it so full of sedatives that whatever was done to it that day was a pleasure.
You stare up at the blood spattered ceiling with your dimming eyesight while Ruiz adjusts your restraints.
Flatlining Without a Heartbeat
A light is shone first in one eye, then the other.
"Pupils mismatched and not responding."
"Run a field diagnostic." Electrodes are placed on your temples.
Please, not that!
The inside of your head vibrates; you convulse against the restraints.
The buzzing stops; your body goes limp.
Blood gurgles first from one ear, then the other, accompanying the taste of blood in your mouth from where you bit clean through your own tongue.
You're now completely blind.
Morse Code From Hell
"This is a waste of time."
"This unit was never designed to last this long."
Who are they talking about?
"Spike, are you in there?" You barely make out Buffy's words over the long drawn out drone of pain in your head.
Buffy get me out of here, I can't remember my name!
"Spike, can you hear me?"
Spike? Who's that? Bloody stupid name!
"Spike, no, William, can you hear me?"
You want to reach out to Buffy, to cling to her, but your body won't let you.
Am I William?
"Blink or something. Let me know you're in there, somehow. C'mon, try. Try for me?"
You concentrate. Slowly you close your sightless eyes; then open them.
"He's still in there."
I have a name? Sometimes it's Spike? Sometimes it's William?
"Miss Summers, the chip's so badly deteriorated that it's only giving out a steady signal. Let it terminate."
I have a name. Sometimes it's Spike. Sometimes it's William.
"No, not without asking Spike first. I at least owe him that."
I don't deserve it, but thank you.
You blink again, long and slow.
"Reflex action, Miss. Pay no attention.
"Shut up." Buffy pauses, "William, Dr. Moranville tells me that if the chip stays in your head, it will kill you."
Then stake me. Get it over with, please?
"If they take the chip out, you might survive, but you'll risk everything."
Tell me something I don't already know.
"They tell me that it could be replaced, maybe repaired. Do you want that?" Dimly you feel Buffy take your face in her hands, something that you've been aching for since you stupidly went out and got your soul back. "It's up to you this time, William."
You're asking me what I want?
"In my professional opinion Miss Summers, H-17's I have a name, you wanker! too far gone. Let it go."
"Did I ask you, Dr. Moranville?" You feel Buffy's fingers running through your hair as if from a distance, "Spike, do you want me to stake you?"
asking Spike? You're asking William? I have a choice?
You stare up at nothing.
William, Spike, doesn't want to die.
"William, do you want to risk having the chip removed?"
Well now, that's a good question.
Do you want to wake up as you once were?
You've wanted that for a long time.
Things are different now, what with the soul and all, but not that different.
You might go back to being an animal that walks upright and pretends to be a man. Won't that be fun?
Or you might wake up a man. Being a man, being a grown-up, that's a lot of work, especially when nobody believes you.
But you've come so far already, to have it end, before you…
You blink, long and slow.
William, Spike, want to see how it ends.
"Dr. Moranville, you heard the man. Do it."
The world tilts nauseatingly as they release you from the restraints, roll you over onto your side and start shaving the back of your head. You try to relax even as your skull threatens to pop.
Thank you for asking William, Spike, what he wants. Nobody's ever done that down here before.
"I.V.s. I don't see any I.V.s. When my mother had that… tumor thing, in her head, they gave her mucho painkillers." You feel Buffy's reassuringly warm hands take one of yours. "Where are the painkillers?"
Don't worry luv, we've done this before. Compared to what William's done to everyone he's ever touched - it's… not so bad… Only be ready with a stake, please? In case William made the wrong choice?
"It's too far gone. Anesthesia would only be a waste of time."
"His name is William, Dr. Moranville." Her fingers tighten, "Do it anyway, put William all the way under."
You'd do this for me? After what I did to you?
"If you insist Miss Summers," Dr. Moranville's voice is heavy with sarcasm, "We will anesthetize William for you."
Buffy's voice comes hard and flat through the pain, "Please. Do."
Dimly through the scarlet haze you feel the grinding sting of the I.V. needle as it grates across the little bones and tendons in the back of your hand before slipping into a vein while Buffy steadies it. Hot frost travels up your arm, softening the pain in your head from red to gray and then to black as you begin to fall away from the world with your hand in hers. Your eyes start leaking.
I know you don't love me Buffy, but thank you anyway.