"That was a signal, okay? Is that clear enough for you?"

Wesley smiled. "Not even close."

They kissed, and it was everything that he imagined, everything that he had dreamed—

"If you're in the middle of something, I can always come back later," a voice broke in. Female. Young.

Wesley disengaged from Fred, spun around. To stare at a young brunette he instantly recognized. "Dawn," he said, and he could hear the surprise in his voice.

"Buffy's sister?" Fred asked, confused.

"And recently promoted High Council member," Wesley added. He looked at Dawn, who looked basically the same as she had a couple of weeks ago, although her clothing was slightly less casual and he could almost swear that she held herself with just a bit more confidence. "I hear you conducted yourself admirably in Brazil."

Dawn looked him in the eye. "Eighteen Slayers died in Brazil," she said, but she said it matter-of-factly, as he might have said it. Sentimentality would be a luxury in which she would not be able to indulge.

"So," interjected Fred, "why are you here?" She didn't say it unkindly, but the confusion was clear in her voice.

"Angel said the two of you would be down here," Dawn said, walking closer to them and picking up a nearby remote control. She turned off the episode of "Smile Time" which was still playing on the television. "I need to talk to you."

"What about?" asked Fred.

"Just the fact that a robot impersonated a High Council member and almost succeeded at committing atrocities in our name," Dawn said.

"But that happed well before Christmas," Fred said.

"The Council's been dragging its feet on account of you being evil," Dawn explained. "Buffy doesn't trust you, Giles doesn't trust you, Lydia doesn't trust you and God knows your father doesn't trust you, Wesley. They finally sent me because I'm the only one who doesn't wildly distrust you guys."

She didn't say that she did trust them, Wesley noticed. Good for her.

"Well, do you want to see the robots?" asked Fred. "We have them in storage?" Then, as an afterthought, she paused and looked at Wesley. "Would you rather—?"

"I can look at the cybernetic remains of something which is not my father," he said, stepping forward towards the storage facilities. Fred typed a few codes into the console at her left. "It'll be a few moments until the system brings them up from the basement," she said, but almost as soon as she finished speaking the wall opened up to reveal two specimens: one the remains of his father's robot clone, the other one of the ninja assassins.

"As you can see, portions of the . . . thing are biological, whereas others are cybernetic. There's really no way of knowing whether this started out as somebody, or whether the whole thing was built up out of scratch. We finally cracked the encryption on its central processor using a random transform variable-selection, but we didn't learn much. It's memory was pretty clean."

"Any clue who could have made it?" Dawn asked, peering into the robot's innards.

Fred shrugged. "Someone who was good at what he or she did, that's for sure. And working alone. Nobody on my staff has ever seen anything like any of these components; they didn't go through any of the usual distributors."

"So there's no way of tracing these things back to their creator?"

"As my f—as the robot pointed out when it was here, the power core is marked by Dutrovic markings. I've searched through the Saitama Codex —"

"But the journals of a 12th-century monk don't exactly contain references to bionic clones."

Wesley nodded. "Exactly."

"Perhaps that's because they're not at Dutrovic at all."

Wesley re-examined them. "What do you mean? I've checked them myself. They represent—"

Dawn cut him off again. "The instructions for dismantling the power core. Yes. But only if you read all the ideograms. Dutrovic typically skips every third syllable if the writing isn't mystical in nature. It's Moracian—you need to read it from the bottom up, interpreting the Dutrovic stops as guttural clicks."

Wesley paused, looking at the symbols again. She was right. "I told him that it was Moracian," he said to Fred.

"It's not quite grammatical," Dawn said. "It's difficult to get something to read sensibly in two languages at once, after all. But it's a binding spell, possibly for protection."

"So what does that mean?" Fred asked.

"That the creator of the robots knows both Dutrovic and Moracian—as the two clans have been at war for millennia," Wesley answered. "It has to be a third party. What type of binding spell is it?"

"Thaumaturgic," Dawn answered after examining it a bit more. "Which gives us just enough information to triangulate."

Wesley nodded. "Tryrens," he said. Oh, well. The news could have been worse.