Thursday 31st October 1996
Ethan's Costume Shoppe, Sunnydale, CA
Sweat stood out on Ethan Rayne's brow as he chanted the incantation.
"Persona se corpum et sanguium commutandum est."
His eyes were closed tightly with concentration.
"Vestra sancta praesentia concrescet viscera. Janus! Sume noctem!"
Outside, the wind began to pick up all over Sunnydale. Energies from the spell radiated outwards from the statue, seeking, searching, and changing when it found each and every item that had been stained by the magical potion Ethan had used to mark his costumes and props. The very spirit of Janus himself rode the wind and took the night. The chaos god's bust flashed white for a second as the spell activated in full.
Ethan raised his head and opened his eyes. A grin spread over his face like an expanding oil slick. "Showtime," he whispered.
Invisible tendrils of chaos magic swept across the town, transforming garments and props as they went, before they abruptly stopped. One costume had been soaked in the potion – the result of an accident in which Ethan had spilled half the contents of the jar – and thus demanded more power than all the other costumes combined.
Sensing this, the magic homed in on this single costume, ignoring all the others. Upon reaching the costume, the magic began to infuse it with all the power it could, to complete the transformation and the journey its wearer would need to make.
The very fabric of time and space itself twisted and split apart, engulfing the costume's wearer as the chaos magic that Ethan had unleashed forced itself to draw ever more power from him. Ethan's eyes widened in shock an instant before wave after wave of his magic and life force were torn from him by the chaos magic to complete the transformation and the journey. The magic struck its earlier victims once more, reversing their transformations and pouring the last scraps of magical energy into this one transformation and transference.
Most Sunnydalers noticed very little; many remembered having felt peculiar for a second or two before everything had returned to normal.
It was not until much later that night when Rupert Giles found Ethan dying in the little back room of his shop that the Hellmouth's defenders learned what had happened and why.
Even by the standards of the Scooby Gang, the events of that Halloween would have remained unremarkable had it not been for one thing:
It was the day that the life of Xander Harris ended.
Monday 19th May 1997
5 Miles Outside Boston, MA
Wild fingers of blue-white electricity arced and danced within the confines of a narrow steel canyon formed by a pair of tractor-trailer rigs, parked side by side in the back lot of an all-night truck stop.
Abruptly, the strange lightning formed a circular opening in mid-air, growing from the size of an atom to over a metre in diameter in the space of a single second. In a sudden flare of light, a figure took shape within a sphere of energy, right before there was a deafening thunderclap and a blinding flash of light that flooded the lot.
As the light died away a nude young brunette man was revealed, crouched in the dip in the tarmac formed by the lower edge of the light ball while the lightning slowly dissipated, small stray bolts randomly earthing themselves here and there. Slowly, gracefully, he stood up, his face devoid of emotion as he impassively surveyed his surroundings before stepping from the still-smouldering hole.
The Corral Open was a truck stop diner on a back route to south Boston. A handful of local truckers sat hunched over chilli-sizes, their CAT hats pushed back on their heads. Three bikers noisily played a game of pool in the back, their Miller empties lining the table's rail. The jukebox belted out a country-and-western number.
The dive's owner, Lloyd, a podgy aging biker-type in a soiled apron and a moustache, stood behind the bar, surveying his domain, and nodded in silent satisfaction to himself. It looked like a nice normal night again, should be a decent night's profits, too. Nothing much was going on, just the way he liked it…
The front door opened, bell jingling merrily as a very naked and very muscular young man strolled in. His bulky frame was covered in muscle, with not a single ounce of fat visible upon his body. Lloyd's eyes widened: that certainly didn't happen every night.
All eyes in the Corral Open simultaneously swivelled towards the youth. Lloyd heard an appreciative-sounding intake of breath from Ginger, the young college student he'd hired as a barmaid only last week, and astutely guessed that she wished it did happen every night.
The young man either didn't notice or didn't care that he was the centre of attention as he calmly strode into the diner, his brown eyes emotionless as they passed over each of its occupants in turn. Everyone was frozen, unsure how to react and by turns amused, bemused or appreciative of the sight of the burly young man.
The young man saw the room through a digitised electronic scan that transformed the world into shades of red, overlaid with glittering alphanumeric readouts that changed faster than the human eye could ever follow. He moved past the staring truckers, the owner, the young barmaid and the awestruck thirty-something waitress, and at last approached a large and nasty-looking bearded biker puffing on a cigar. White wireframes flashed around the biker's garments, thousands of estimated measurements sequentially appearing and vanishing again as his clothing was analysed, until at last the message 'MATCH FOUND' flashed in blood-red letters across the young man's field of vision.
The young man stopped, looking the cigar-smoking biker square in the eye, then calmly announced: "I need your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle."
The biker's eyes narrowed as he took a long draw on his cigar, the tip glowing cherry-red hot. "You forgot to say 'please'," he replied in an equally calm tone of voice, then ground the cigar out on the young man's chest. The biker grinned hugely, anticipating the freaky kid's agonised reaction…
…a reaction that never came.
Cigar had time to frown in confusion before, calmly and without expression, the young man grabbed him by his hand that still held the cigar. Cigar's eyes widened before he screamed as the pressure inexorably increased, the young man's grip relentlessly tightening, the bones in Cigar's hand noisily grinding together under the inhuman strength the young man was bringing to bear.
"Get him off! Get him offa me!" Cigar shrieked.
The other bikers reacted quickly. One, behind the young man, having abandoned the game of pool, held his cue by the narrow end like a Louisville Slugger. The heavy end whistled in a powerful swing and cracked clean in two across the back of the young man's head.
The young man seemed not to notice, didn't even blink. Without releasing his grip on Cigar, he snapped his free arm straight back and grabbed Pool Cue by the front of his jacket. The heavyset biker abruptly found himself flying through the nearest window with a loud crash as he smashed clean through the double-glazed safety glass.
The young man hurled Cigar, all two hundred and thirty pounds of him, clean over the bar and through the serving window into the diner's kitchen. Cigar landed face-down on the big flat grill, his screams of pain accompanied by a sound and smell like sizzling bacon from his face hands as he flopped and jerked about, before finally rolling off the grill to land in a smoking and whimpering heap on the kitchen floor.
The third biker, a muscular twenty-year-old man with a crew cut, whipped out a knife from his belt, the eight-inch steel blade glinting as he slashed at the young man's face. The youth's hand flashed out and grabbed the arcing blade with his bare hand. Blood trickled down his wrist, his expression still as emotionless and blank as it had been when he'd first walked into the diner.
With a swift twist, the young man jerked the knife from the biker's hand. Almost too fast for the human eye to follow, the young man flipped the knife into the air and grabbed the handle correctly in an ice-pick grip, while grabbing the biker with his free hand and slamming the man face-down over the bar. The knife whistled down, driven straight through the biker's shoulder and into the bar top, pinning the now-screaming biker with his own steel.
Seconds later, the kitchen door banged open and the young man strode in. The cook did a fast-fade as the young man walked toward Cigar, who was cursing in pain on the floor.
With his deep-fried hands, Cigar struggled to draw the AMT Hardballer .45 Longslide automatic pistol from where it was tucked under his leather jacket, his nerveless fingers barely able to grasp it. The .45's barrel trembled and wavered as Cigar tried to bring it up to aim at his assailant, and his thumb scrabbled ineffectively against the safety catch, unable to release it.
Reaching down, the young man took the pistol from him as if Cigar were no more than a small child. The young man ignored Cigar as he carefully examined the weapon, analysing its calibre and operating condition, taking the safety off, pulling back the slide and chambering a round.
Apparently satisfied with the .45, the young man's emotionless eyes slid back down to Cigar. Fumbling in his belt, Cigar drew out the keys to his ride. "Take it!" Cigar cried, and threw the keys; the young man effortlessly snatched them out of the air, not even looking at them, eyes still fixed on the biker at his feet.
A few minutes passed before the Terminator strode from the kitchen, now fully dressed in a black leather jacket, leather riding pants, fingerless leather gloves and clean heavy black leather boots. The .45 was in his hand and several spare magazines were tucked in the back of his belt.
On the day I was born,
The nurses all gathered 'round
And they gazed in wide wonder,
At the joy they had found
As the Terminator passed the moaning biker pinned to bar top, he jerked the knife out without slowing his stride. The biker slumped to the floor behind him, groaning and whimpering piteously as he clutched at his wounded shoulder.
The head nurse spoke up,
And she said 'leave this one alone'
She could tell right away,
That I was bad to the bone
The Terminator continued toward the front of the diner, passing Lloyd. At the door, he came abreast of two truckers who still sat frozen in mid-bite like a snapshot. One of the truckers finally nodded, fighting hard not to show his fear, and said: "Evening."
Bad to the bone
Bad to the bone
The Terminator stared back impassively at the trucker for a second, then turned and moved on out the door.
B-B-B-B-Bad to the bone
Bad to the bone…
The Terminator walked out onto the Corral Open's front step and surveyed the row of gleaming motorcycles parked outside. The bell jingled as the door thumped shut behind him.
Slipping the .45 in his belt, the Terminator strode over to Cigar's enormous customised Electro-Glide and swung his leg over it. He slipped the dagger into his boot, then inserted the key in the ignition and kicked over the engine. It caught with a roar the first time, and the Terminator slammed the heavy iron into gear with an audible klunk.
I broke a thousand hearts,
Before I met you
I'll break a thousand more, baby,
Before I am through
At that moment, Lloyd appeared at the diner's door with a sawn-off 10-gauge Winchester lever-action shotgun. He fired a warning shot into the air and quickly jacked in another round, aiming at the Terminator's back.
"I can't let you take the man's wheels, son," Lloyd called out. "Now get off or I'll put you down."
I wanna be yours, pretty baby,
Yours and yours alone
I'm here to tell ya, honey,
That I'm bad to the bone
The Terminator turned and considered Lloyd coldly. He eased the shifter up into neutral, then rocked the bike back onto its kickstand. Swinging his leg over the machine, he began to walk calmly toward Lloyd, striding right up to him and staring straight into the shotgun's muzzle.
"Awright, that's enough!" Lloyd warned as he began to sweat, trying to decide if he was really going to kill the young man in cold blood.
Bad to the bone
Bad to the bone…
Lloyd was still trying to make up his mind two seconds later when the Terminator's hand shot out like a striking cobra, and snatched the shotgun clean out of his hands in a blur of motion Lloyd's eyes could barely keep up with. The Terminator slipped the fingers of his right hand into the trigger housing and hand guard, easily holding it one-handed like a pistol and pointing the barrel straight up in the air.
I make a rich woman beg,
I'll make a good woman steal
I'll make an old woman blush,
And make a young woman squeal
Lloyd gaped and held up his hands, instinctively knowing that he was completely at this strange youth's mercy. The Terminator's free hand snapped out toward Lloyd, the latter cringing in fear and a last thought of 'Oh, shit…' flashing through his mind…
I wanna be yours, pretty baby,
Yours and yours alone
I'm here to tell ya, honey,
That I'm bad to the bone
…the Terminator slipped the wraparound sunglasses out of Lloyd's shirt pocket. Still staring into Lloyd's eyes with that same emotionless and inhuman expression, the cyborg shook out the shades and slid them on.
Swivelling exactly one hundred and eighty degrees on his heel and now ignoring Lloyd completely, the Terminator strode back to the Electro-Glide and wedged the shotgun's barrel between the exhaust pipe and the bike's engine. With that, he fired up the big hog once again and roared off in a shower of gravel.
Bad to the bone…
There was very little traffic about as the Terminator roared down the freeway, heading for Boston. Cold neon flared across the bike's chrome. The lights flowed over the Terminator's appropriated wraparound sunglasses, looking eerily like the tracks of tracer rounds.
"Back away from the door, sweetheart!" the guard called mockingly over the cell's intercom. "You know the drill by now!"
"Yeah, yeah, okay," mumbled the fifteen-year-old girl, pressing herself face-first against the far wall, her arms and legs spreadeagled and her fingers splayed.
With a faint thump of disengaging deadbolts, the door swung open. Two guards entered, one smirking as he none-too-gently jabbed the girl in the back with his police-style nightstick, the other dumping a tray on the bed and removing last night's.
The girl clenched her eyes shut as she felt the first guard's warm breath wafting across the back of her neck. 'I'm not gonna cry, I'm not gonna cry, I'm not gonna cry…'
"Are you gonna continue to be a good girl?" the guard breathed in her ear. "Huh?"
His colleague snickered.
The girl nodded mutely, trembling.
"Damn right you're gonna be a good girl," the first guard sneered. Despite her promises to herself, a small sob tore its way free from the girl's throat as she heard the electrical crackle of the tazer barely an inch away from her cheek. "You still remember what we'll do to you again if you don't, don't you?"
"Y-yes, sir…" the girl stammered.
"Good," the guard growled, and the girl felt the nightstick being removed from her back, heard the guards walking out the door.
"Please…" she whimpered, not daring to move until the door was safely shut again. "Just tell me one thing… why'm I even here?"
The guards laughed. "Sorry, sweetheart," the first guard told her. "Not in my job description."
With that, the door slammed shut again.
Finally daring to turn around, the girl saw the guards peering through the window in the door. Her gaze alighted on the tray of… well, she'd never worked out what was in the watery gruel, but it seemed to keep her alive well enough. It was brown and cold, globby and slimy, a half-liquid slush that she had to shovel into her mouth with her fingers. She shut her eyes tightly as she took her first mouthful of the day, trying to think about anything, anything else to distract herself as she felt it slide horribly down her throat with the consistency of cold vomit.
The two guards, clad in month-old expensive designer label Italian suits, watched as their charge began to eat her breakfast, trying not to get any of the slop on her cheap grey pyjamas or threadbare bed sheets.
"She always looks like she's gonna spew that crap right back up again," the first guard commented.
The second guard snorted in amusement. "Like you wouldn't?"
"Yeah, but I'm not gonna become one of those freaks one day, am I?"
The second guard nodded, conceding the point. "Too true."
The first guard shook his head as they headed off down the corridor. "And at least I don't have a dumb name."
"Yeah, what kinda nutjob calls their kid 'Faith', anyway?"
"Buffy?" Angel asked, looking bewildered as his gaze flickered around the old factory and back to the diminutive blonde before him.
Buffy felt her heart breaking all over again as she remembered Giles's words, knowing what she had to do and hating herself for it, hating the necessity of the deed. Ignoring the sound of the very fabric of reality beginning to be torn apart, she grasped her boyfriend around the neck and pulled him down into a brief but passionate kiss.
"I love you," she told the souled vampire as she stepped back, before running him through with her sword and pushing him into the opening rift. She saw his eyes for one last split-second, full of pain and betrayal and begging for help, for an explanation—
And then he was gone.
The sword slipped from Buffy's fingers as the rift sealed itself, and she fell to her knees before the spot where she'd sent the man she'd loved to hell.
A single tear slowly trickled down her cheek.
Then a third.
Buffy Anne Summers, the Vampire Slayer, fell into a foetal position, sobbing as she mourned the love of her life.
She'd saved the world.
But deep down, she wondered…
Was it really worth the price she'd had to pay?
The petrol station was quiet and bathed in the early dawn's ruby red light when the Electro-Glide pulled to a stop beside its single phone booth, which was occupied by a biker.
The Terminator clambered off his ride and approached the booth. Slamming its door open wide, the Terminator effortlessly snatched the booth's occupant out by his greasy t-shirt, flinging him backward into the car park. The biker was bear-like and slab-handed, but the Terminator didn't even glance back as he stepped in to take the biker's place.
The Terminator ignored the burly biker's cries of protest. A woman's voice, a faint reedy monologue, issued forth from the dangling receiver, going unheard. The Terminator quickly leafed through the booth's telephone directory, his fingers coming to rest beside a particular listing:
The Terminator received no answer when he knocked at the apartment's front door.
There was a faint squeak of rusted hinges across the corridor as one of the neighbours opened her own door to peep out, terrier-like curiosity piqued by this strange visitor. Mrs Lilywhite was in her eighties, had lived in the building all her life, knew all its comings and goings and had a reputation as a gossip and a curtain-twitcher. This leather-clad young man looked like trouble to her.
With an explosion of splinters, the Terminator calmly punched his way clean through the cheap wooden door. Mrs Lilywhite jumped back with a cry of terror as he fumbled around for the lock, then let himself in.
The Terminator surveyed the interior of the small and poky run-down apartment, listening to the faint sounds of Mrs Lilywhite calling the police and babbling incoherently with fright. This didn't concern him; he'd be long gone before they could arrive.
Stalking through the apartment, the Terminator noticed a briefcase full of money – crisp and clean twenty-dollar bills – lying on the lounge's ancient couch. A single wad of the bills appeared to be missing. A business card sat on the mantelpiece; the Terminator picked it up, read it and pocketed it as he proceeded to search each room in turn, finally coming to the bathroom.
Opening the door, he found a body lying on the floor and several lines of white powder arranged on the sink. A banknote smeared with more powder was clutched in the cadaver's hand. Turning the body over, the Terminator noted it was that of a forty-something woman whom he didn't recognise. Judging by her condition, she'd been dead for at least a weak.
There was no trace of his objective.
Returning to the briefcase, the Terminator examined it carefully, recalling the data from the business card as he did so. Reaching a conclusion, he straightened up, closed the case, seized it by the handle and walked out. Passing Mrs Lilywhite's door, he noted that it sounded like she was still having difficulties convincing the police to investigate.
Wolfram and Hart's Boston office was an imposing cubist castle of black glass in the middle of a new business park in one of the more up-market parts of Boston.
Carrying a box of long-stem roses under his arm, the Terminator strode confidently into the vast high-ceilinged lobby, across the marble floor and right up to the high reception desk. One of the two receptionists at the desk peered haughtily down at him. "Can I help you?" she asked, taking in his motorcycling leathers and wraparounds.
"I'm a friend of Faith Lehane," said the Terminator. "I was told she is here. Can I see her, please?"
The receptionist sniffed in disdain. "No such person has been admitted to the building," she insisted, not even bothering to consult her terminal.
"This guy bothering you, Louisa?" one of the suited security guards called out from his post by the lift, hooking his thumbs into his belt and strolling over with two of his buddies in tow.
"No, this gentleman was just leaving," the receptionist said calmly as the guards surrounded the Terminator, one behind him and one to either side.
The Terminator stepped back, head turning slowly and deliberately, taking in the layout of the reception area and the corridors leading off from it. Ignoring the three hulking security guards, the Terminator turned back to the receptionist, his eyes eerily hidden behind his shades. "I'll be back," he told her.
So saying, he spun smartly on his heel and walked straight for the front doors, almost flattening the guard behind him. Ignoring the guard's protests, he marched through the doors and out into the bright morning sunlight.
"Man, what a whacko," one of the guards muttered, as the group clustered around the reception desk.
"Yeah, tell me about it," a second agreed.
A faint mechanical roar sounded in the distance, gradually growing closer. The third guard frowned, turning toward the door as his colleagues began flirting with the receptionists. The third guard's jaw dropped in astonishment as he saw it, began to try to shout a warning—
Big as a house, its chrome glistening and diesel engine roaring, the Kenworth tow-truck smashed through the gleaming glass doors and into the lobby.
The security guards vanished beneath the mammoth machine's wheels an instant before it blasted straight on through the reception desk and slammed into the wall beyond it at full throttle, crushing both smartly-dressed women in the wreckage.
Lying on her little bed with her meagre meal now over, Faith sat bolt upright, her eyes wide with terror and confusion, as the crash reverberated through the building.
Kicking open the Kenworth's large and heavy door, the Terminator jumped down from the wrecked truck's cab, the Winchester dangling at his side from an improvised shoulder sling. Smashing his way through the debris of the wall that had been behind the reception desk, he landed in a narrow featureless corridor amidst a shower of plaster fragments.
Emotionlessly, the Terminator strode forward, the Winchester now in his hands. He jacked a round into the chamber, the motion slow and fluid and unhurried as he marched down the ready-made shooting gallery.
Two security guards ran out of a lounge, looking confused, one still carrying a cup of coffee. The Terminator instantly fired from the hip, worked the action while taking a step forward, fired again, the sound deafening in the enclosed space. The guards were flung backward in a spray of coffee and plaster, the shotgun's blasts catching them square in the chest.
The Terminator stepped over the bodies of the two guards without breaking stride, marching on down the corridor as he jacked in a fresh round. Coming to another door, he tried it only to find it was locked, and promptly kicked it in, tearing it clean off its hinges. Another security guard sat behind a desk: drawing his sidearm, the guard leapt up and sprinted for cover while the Terminator tracked him with the Winchester.
In his computer-enhanced vision, the Terminator saw the guard dash around a corner as if in slow motion. As he disappeared behind the wall, an animated outline of the guard was still visible, a probabilistic extrapolation of his motion, a target crosshair following the figure.
The buckshot round tore through the wall and into the guard, hurling his bloody body against the wall before it fell limp and lifeless to the floor.
Investigating the room the guard had been in, the Terminator found its contents included a small weapons locker. Punching through the thick metal door and ripping it open as if it were a sheet of tinfoil, his gaze quickly roamed across the weapons within before finally selecting an Uzi carbine and a SPAS-12 autoloader shotgun, deeming them suitable for his purposes.
The Terminator examined each weapon in turn, working the actions with curt and precise movements, before loading them and stuffing his jacket pockets with ammunition for both weapons. Letting the Winchester dangle once more from its shoulder sling, he hefted the Uzi and SPAS-12 as if they were no more than toy pistols, one in each hand.
The Terminator stepped back out into the corridor and continued on his way. A door behind him opened; brandishing a pistol, a guard leapt out into the corridor and fired, hitting him in the shoulder. The Terminator half-turned towards the guard, firing a single shot straight-arm with the SPAS-12 and pitching him to the floor, his chest a bloody buckshot-riddled ruin.
More suited guards appeared at the other end of the corridor, blazing away with their sidearms and scoring several hits to the Terminator's arm, chest and legs. The Terminator turned back to face the guards, his head snapping about and the Uzi coming up. He fired short controlled bursts from the compact carbine, ignoring the impacts of the guards' hits as he gunned them down and continued his inexorable, purposeful advance.
Hearing the distant crackle of gunfire, Faith's terror skyrocketed and she leapt up from her bed. "Hello? Look, could someone please let me outta here?" she screamed up at the CCTV camera in the corner of the room. Shots echoed nearby: the rhythmic thunder of a shotgun, rattling automatic fire, shouts and screaming, the sound of running feet. All of them were getting closer.
Frantically, her teeth chattering with fear, Faith threw herself at the door. There was a faint metallic thump.
Her fear momentarily giving way to surprise, Faith backed away from the door. The impact hadn't hurt as much as she'd expected it to. Looking at where she'd hit the door, her eyes widened as she saw a large dent in it.
Kicking open the door to the building's security office, the Terminator opened fire, raking three of the guards inside with the Uzi while blasting a fourth in the chest with the SPAS-12, taking care not to damage the room's computers or monitors.
One of the guards sneered contemptuously at him. The guard's face morphed and deformed, his brow wrinkling and eyeteeth lengthening and sharpening. "I'm gonna drain you dry, pal," growled the vampire, apparently not the least bit perturbed by the grisly fate his human colleagues had just met.
His expression unchanging, the Terminator levelled the SPAS-12 and fired once, the buckshot shell neatly removing most of the vampire's head. The undead creature's body disintegrated into a shower of ashes as the Terminator shoved a dead guard out of the way before he took a seat before the monitors. Setting down his weapons, he readied his gloved hands over a keyboard.
Faith bludgeoned the door to her cell with a length of cast iron torn from her cheap bed frame. This was the fifteenth such piece she'd used; the others were bent and twisted and smashed apart, lying in a little heap by the door. To her ever-growing shock and incredulity, she actually seemed to be making progress, steadily battering her way through the door.
With a final screech of rending metal, the door finally parted company with its hinges and fell noisily into the corridor beyond, its deadbolts tearing out a large chunk of the wall. Coughing and spluttering from the clouds of brick dust that had been kicked up, Faith dropped her improvised tool and stumbled out into the corridor, blinking dust from her eyes and waving a hand in front of her face as she went.
Looking first one way and then the other, she realised there were no guards around – in fact, no one was around. The gunfire and screaming seemed to have stopped, too, but the sounds of running feet were getting closer.
Right. There was only one thing for it.
'Time to get the hell outta Dodge.'
With that thought it mind, Faith picked a direction at random, put her head down and ran for all she was worth, her bare feet slapping against the floor.
The Terminator worked methodically and meticulously, searching the feed of every CCTV camera still working in the building. He paused as he spotted a strong possibility in the feed of a camera eight floors above the security office, and an enlarged copy of the image promptly materialised on his internal head's-up-display – an image of a teenage girl's face. Blood-red letters scrolled across his HUD:
MATCH FOUND: LEHANE, FAITH
Two further words flashed repeatedly beneath the enlarged image of Faith's face:
The Terminator checked the other screens; several cameras revealed that squads of guards were on the move up there, too, and that Faith would be recaptured in no time. Rapidly searching through the computer's video feeds again, the Terminator soon found what he was looking for, what he'd anticipated he would find.
Faith had already ducked around a corner to avoid a squad of guards: noticing this, the Terminator typed in a command. Watching on the monitor, he saw her jump as the hidden panel behind her clicked open; glancing around herself suspiciously, Faith pulled open the panel and poked her head inside the emergency escape tunnel beyond, then clambered in and shut the panel behind herself.
The Terminator typed in another command, locking off the tunnel entrance again, then stood, collected his weapons and marched out of the security office.
Faith ran through the narrow and dimly-lit tunnel, heart in her mouth as she began to descend another flight of steps.
Mr Brown was not having a good day.
"Where the hell is she?" the operative growled at one of the guards who'd recaptured the empty security office, a feat that Brown was privately very contemptuous of.
"I-I can't find her anywhere on the monitors, sir," the guard stammered nervously.
"Oh, that's just great!" Brown fumed. "She's been activated for all of five minutes and she's already more than you idiots can handle!"
"Sir!" called a second guard. "Take a look at this." So saying, he began to play back a piece of recent footage.
Brown's mouth twisted into a smirk as he watched Faith climb into the escape tunnel. Reaching for his walkie-talkie, he hit the 'send' button. "Central, this is Brown," he snapped. "Get me the duty mage. I need a teleportation spell and I need it right now."
The Terminator discarded the empty Uzi and SPAS-12 as he marched down the steps leading to the Wolfram & Hart building's main entrance. The ammunition he'd grabbed for them earlier was now spent.
Reaching his parked Electro-Glide, the Terminator clambered aboard and jammed the Winchester back in its place. Firing up the enormous hog, he smoothly pulled away, leaving behind a crowd of curious early-morning bystanders gawping at the vast hole the tow truck had left in the building's glass front.
Jumping down the last few steps, Faith shoved open the door at the tunnel's end, letting bright, beautiful sunlight fill the exit. She grinned to herself, savouring the polluted rush hour air—
Her blood froze as she saw the man in the immaculate business suit in front of her smoothly draw out a pistol and train it on her head.
As if in slow-motion, she saw him squeeze the Beretta's trigger and a flash from the muzzle; instinctively, she dropped to the ground, and swore she could feel the round speed past less than an inch from her head. Having no time to feel surprised, Faith ran for it, dodging around the suited man before he could fire again and dashing out onto the street beyond.
Brown cursed under his breath as he turned to track the fleeing girl, and fired again; he missed, instead hitting a college-age volunteer from the Republican Party who was handing out flyers. The boy shrieked shrilly as he went down, blood spurting from his chest, and the daily crowd parted like a great wave around them.
Vaulting the bonnet of a parked station wagon, Faith dodged out into the street. Brown fired again, hitting a teenage motorcyclist in the head. The kid went one way; the little Honda scrambler bike went the other, its engine still revving. Grabbing the fallen bike, Faith righted it, leapt astride the machine and gunned the engine. Brown fired once more before she vanished out of range into the morning traffic.
Snarling in frustration, Brown leapt out into the nearest lane, his Beretta up as a yellow Maverick approached. The elderly driver slammed on the brakes, gaping at the clearly dangerous madman before her.
"Out of the car!" Brown shouted, before firing a round into the Maverick's windscreen. "Now!"
Running around the side of the Maverick, he yanked the door open and wrenched out the vehicle's terrified occupant before sliding into the driver's seat and pulling away.
Faith shot onto a main street, crowded with rush hour traffic. Her little scrambler bike cut across the path of an eighteen-wheel rig; the driver hit his air horn, making the already-jittery girl jump, nearly losing control of the bike.
A squeal of tyres sounded from behind her; Faith risked a glance over her shoulder and saw a yellow Maverick station wagon racing through the traffic behind her, tyres smoking. She glimpsed the driver: his head was shaved, his suit impeccable. She looked back ahead, desperately twisting the throttle and gunning the little bike forward.
Faith glanced over her shoulder again; incredibly, the Maverick was gaining. Faith looked back, dodging crazily around a blue Volkswagen Rabbit, shaking her head. This nightmare wasn't happening, couldn't be happening.
A shot rang out, smashing the window of a hearse as Faith raced past it; she glanced back, saw that Brown was driving one-handed while leaning out the window of the Maverick. He fired again, the Berretta bucking and snarling in his grip, and Faith gunned the scrambler's engine, opening the throttle fully, banking and juking for all she was worth through the traffic.
It didn't take the Terminator long to triangulate on the source of the sound of gunfire, and he soon sighted the Maverick and the Honda.
Faith's scrambler was small and agile enough to let her slip through narrower gaps in the traffic; Brown appeared to have experience at conducting a motorised pursuit. Combat-oriented menus and situation-analyses scrolled through the Terminator's heads-up display at lightning speed, their calculations informing him that Faith's chances of survival were slim to none at best without his immediate intervention.
Drawing Winchester one-handed, the Terminator levelled it at the Maverick, pausing to dodge past a blue Volkswagen Rabbit. Ruby-red targeting crosshairs locked onto the Maverick as he got a clear shot, and he pulled the trigger.
The Maverick's rear windscreen erupted in a shower of glass shards.
Brown flinched and glanced back in time to see the Terminator twirl the Winchester around his hand with inhumanly ridiculous ease, working the action to eject the spent shell casing and chamber another round.
Brown's mouth dropped open, and his foot slipped from the Maverick's gas pedal for a second.
Grateful for the momentary reprieve Brown's distraction granted her, Faith gained a little lead over the yellow station wagon, not daring to look back.
Brown looked back to see his target getting away. Keeping a wary eye on the motorcyclist in his rear-view mirror, he floored the gas pedal again, barging his way through the traffic. The Maverick's speedometer crept up to sixty once more, and Brown grinned to himself as he pulled in directly behind Faith: the scrambler had to be at its top speed by now, or at least close to it.
The Terminator aimed and fired again; Brown shrank down in his seat, but the Maverick's course and speed remained unchanged. The Terminator casually flip-cocked the Winchester around his hand as he calculated his options.
Faith's front tyre hit a puddle of water and the scrambler slewed momentarily, losing speed. The Maverick's front bumper slammed into the scrambler's rear fender; the little dirt bike wobbled alarmingly, threatening to tip Faith off. Panicked, she gunned the engine for all it was worth, and managed to pull ahead a little.
Another shotgun blast rang out, making Brown instinctively duck once more even as he floored the accelerator.
The Electro-Glide roared past the Maverick and smoothly drew up alongside Faith's little scrambler as the Terminator shoved the Winchester back into place. In one swift fluid motion, he effortlessly swept Faith off her machine with his free hand as if she weighed no more than a loaf of bread and swung her onto the hog in front of himself. Faith's appropriated dirt bike weaved briefly, then was shunted aside by the Maverick's front bumper.
Faith's eyes widened in surprise and confusion, and she twisted around where she sat astride the Electro-Glide's fuel tank, craning her neck to look up at her unexpected rescuer. The Terminator's face remained implacably devoid of emotion as he wrapped an arm around Faith, pinning her in place squarely in front of him and blocking her view of the Maverick.
Snarling, Brown leaned out of his window, one hand on the wheel as his other clutched the Beretta, pulling the trigger so fast that it fired almost as fast as a machine pistol, emptying the magazine in a scant few seconds flat. The rapid-fire nine millimetre slugs slammed into the Terminator, punching bloody holes in the back of his beat-up leather jacket.
Faith was bug-eyed with fear as the Terminator shielded her with his own body, and she let out a faint fearful whimper as the fusillade came to an end. Glancing down at herself, she realised she was completely unscathed. Feeling sick, she looked back and up at her rescuer, expecting him to collapse over her and the controls and for her young life to end in a fiery and explosive manner; hell, at the very least she expected him to show some signs of feeling pain.
The Terminator showed no sign of even noticing the small-calibre slugs that had ripped into his back. Releasing Faith and reaching for the Winchester, he half-turned in the saddle and raised the shotgun, firing straight-arm at Brown.
The buckshot ripped through the windscreen to slam into Brown's face and chest at almost point-blank range, and the operative slumped lifelessly across the wheel. The Maverick slewed to one side, out of control, as the Electro-Glide accelerated away.
Harlene Munroe was in a bad mood.
And when the director of Wolfram & Hart's Boston branch was in a bad mood, she tended to share her displeasure with anyone who even remotely deserved to experience the depths of her ire.
"What the hell do you mean, you lost the damn girl?" she roared.
Lois Mason, the head of security at the Boston office, squirmed uncomfortably before her superior's desk. "She… we think she's been activated, ma'am. She broke down the door of her cell, and we're pretty sure she didn't have any help doing that, s-so she must've gotten her powers."
"I thought Brown went after her?" Munroe growled. "What does he have to say for himself?"
"Please, ma'am, but according to the duty mage, Mr Brown is dead," stammered Lois.
"Lehane killed him?"
Lois shook her head. "We-we're not sure, but we don't think so. W-we think it was… well, we think it was her, ah, accomplice."
"Ahhh, yes… her accomplice."
Lois shivered. The office suddenly seemed far colder than it had been a moment ago. "Y-yes, ma'am."
Munroe swivelled her chair to one side, staring at the blown-up black-and-white stills taken from the security camera footage. "Do we have any leads on what this thing is?"
"We've eliminated all known species of demon, ma'am. We're running down a list of other supernatural entities right now."
Munroe gave a mirthless chuckle. "This thing literally smashed its way in here, wiped out over half our security detail – including both of your pet vampires – and, it seems, has killed a Wolfram & Hart special operative."
She looked up from the photos and fixed Lois with a piercing glare. "That'll be all, Mason. Send them in on your way out."
Lois gulped. "Y-yes, ma'am."
Munroe looked down at the photographs again, lost in thought and ignoring the sound of Lois making good her escape. A few seconds after she heard the door close, she looked up from the photographs to the two men before her.
One was African-American. One was Caucasian. The former wore a pale cream suit and tie; the latter's wardrobe was entirely black. Both were of average build and height, in their early forties, and had shaved their heads completely bald. They moved with an odd synchronicity, often mirroring each other's actions.
"Mr Jones. Mr Smith," Munroe greeted the two operatives. "Mr Brown is dead."
"A shame," said Jones.
"He was a… promising recruit," said Smith.
"He could have been…"
"…most useful, given time."
Munroe handed over the stills; Jones accepted them, though neither operative looked at them. Instead, their eyes remained trained on her, patient and unblinking.
"Lehane has a friend," Munroe said curtly. "Someone we never knew about."
"Our assignment?" asked Smith.
"Find him and Lehane," said Munroe. "Get Lehane back: preferably alive. Recruit her friend if you can; kill him if you can't. And whatever you do, don't let the damned Los Angeles office get to either of them first. The last thing we need is that rat bastard Holland Manners getting ahead of us."
Jones nodded. "It will…"
"…be done," finished Smith.
Munroe nodded. "Good. We've invested far too much time – and money – to let that Slayer get away from us now."
With Faith sitting in front of her rescuer, the Electro-Glide roared down a quiet side street. Faith craned her neck around to get a look at the person/thing she was riding with, her mind racing as she tried to work out what was going on. All the evidence pointed to only one thing, but the only conclusion she could draw from that was just crazy…
"Whoa… okay, time out!" she called over the roar of the engine, forming the appropriate hand gesture for emphasis. "Stop the bike! C'mon, time out, stop the bike!"
To her surprise, the Terminator immediately complied, leaning the bike into a tight turn and heading into a nearby alley.
As they came to a stop, Faith hastily slid off the petrol tank and backed a few paces away from the bike. The Terminator impassively stared at her while Faith looked him up and down.
"Now don't take this the wrong way," Faith tentatively began, "but you are a Terminator, right?
"Yes," the Terminator said calmly, removing the Winchester from its place and starting to reload it. "Cyberdyne Systems Model 105 Series 890-XH. Advanced prototype."
Faith's jaw dropped. "No way!"
She stepped forward and touched the Terminator's skin, then the blood on the back of his jacket, and stared at her bloody fingers. Her mind overloaded as the reality of it hit her.
"Holy shit…" she breathed, looking back at the Terminator's emotionless face. "You're really real! I mean… whoa!" She took a cautious step back. "You're, uh… like a machine underneath, right… but sort of alive outside?"
"I'm a cybernetic organism," the Terminator corrected. "Living tissue over a metal endoskeleton."
"This is intense," Faith muttered to herself. "Get a grip, girl. Okay, uh… you're not here to kill me… I kinda figured that part out for myself. So what's the deal?"
"My mission," the Terminator said as he finished reloading the Winchester, "is to protect you." He slid the shotgun back into place.
"So… it's all real? The movies, Judgement Day, nuclear war, all that shit? It's real?"
"No. The Terminator movies and all other elements of the Terminator franchise are fictional and have absolutely no basis in reality."
"Yeah?" Faith asked, suspicious. "So who sent you?"
The Terminator paused, brow furrowing in a faintly puzzled frown. "I don't know," he finally said.
"Look, I know I'm no rocket scientist but I'm not stupid, y'know – someone musta built you and told you to protect me, so what's goin' on?"
"All available data suggests that my origins are of a magical nature," the Terminator said calmly.
"Magic? Are you outta your frickin' mind?" Faith asked, incredulous.
"No. I was not originally a Terminator. I became a Terminator on October 31st 1996, whereupon I was instantly transported through time and space to this city via temporal displacement field. I arrived less than six hours ago."
"Y-you didn't used to be a Terminator?" asked Faith. "Then… w-what were you?"
Faith rocked back on her heels. "You were human, and you got magically turned into a Terminator last Halloween?"
Faith shook her head, staring at her newfound guardian with an amazed expression on her face. "This is deep," she muttered. "Okay, so why're you protecting me? And what did those assholes who grabbed me want?"
"You are a Vampire Slayer," said the Terminator. "I am programmed to assist and protect Slayers at all costs. My primary mission is to assist and protect you, Faith Lehane. My secondary objective is to assist and protect other Slayers to an extent that does not affect my ability to carry out my primary mission.
"Given Wolfram & Hart's extensive connections to the supernatural underworld, there is a very high probability that their plans for you are related to your status as a Vampire Slayer. It is highly likely that they will make further attempts to recapture you. If they do not succeed, they will most likely attempt to terminate you and capture the Slayer who is Called upon your death."
Faith scratched her head as she digested this intelligence. "So what's a Vampire Slayer?" she decided to ask.
"Into each generation a Slayer is born…" the Terminator began.
Friday 30th May 1997
40 Miles Outside Sunnydale, CA
The tiny petrol station was an island in the middle of the desert, looking almost lost by the side of the motorway. Its signs were written in hand-lettered Spanish, while beyond lay a vast expanse of scrub desert as far as the eye could see. Overhead, the sky scowled down on the little station with an impending storm.
Sitting in the shade in a folding chair was the station's attendant: an elderly Hispanic man with a neatly-trimmed moustache and a wide-brimmed hat, his weathered face hinted at a lifetime of working long hours in the hot sun.
The sleek Electro-Glide pulled in smoothly and came to a halt exactly next to the station's pump island. The attendant arthritically rose from his chair and went through his routine of refuelling the powerful bike, shooting puzzled glances at its occupants.
The bike's rider was a well-built young man with closely-cropped dark hair. Clad in brand new black motorcycling leathers, a grey t-shirt and wraparound shades, his face betrayed not even the slightest hint of emotion.
The passenger was a teenage girl, wearing a smile on her face and her eyes hidden behind shades that matched her companion's. Her wardrobe consisted of a navy blue scoop-neck tank top that clung to her like a second skin; skintight trousers, knee-high boots and a jacket, all in black leather; and a fire engine red silk bandana tied around her hair, keeping her jet-black curly locks out of her face. She removed her shades to reveal eyes so dark that they were almost completely black, mysterious and hypnotic.
Strapped on the back of the bike behind the girl were a couple of small bags and a briefcase. The young man had a narrow cylindrical canvas bag slung across his shoulders.
There was a click and a whir: the girl jumped, startled, and smiled as she turned to see a small boy who'd just snapped her picture with a beat-up Polaroid camera. He held it out to her, speaking in rapid-fire Spanish.
The attendant suppressed the urge to smile. "He says you are very beautiful, Señora," he translated, "and he is ashamed to ask five dollars for this picture, but if he does not, his father will beat him."
The girl gave the young boy a sly grin. "That's a pretty good hustle, kid," she told him, then held up four fingers while pulling a wallet from her jacket pocket. "Four. Quatro."
The boy accepted the four dollars with a toothy smile, and the girl watched the snapshot develop. It was a good photograph of her: the wind lightly ruffling her hair, her expression thoughtful and eagerly optimistic.
The attendant finished refuelling the bike. "Mil trescientos… fifteen dollars," he translated.
As the girl paid him – throwing in a tip of a twenty-dollar bill for good measure – thunder rolled in the distance. The boy yelled something in Spanish as he ran off. "What did he say?" the girl wondered aloud as she slipped the picture into her wallet.
"There is a storm coming," the attendant solemnly told her. "It is coming to the Boca del Inferno, the Mouth of Hell."
Faith gazed at the thunderheads building up out over the desert. Heat lightning pulsed in their depths, flashing menacingly, the distant flickers of light reflected in her deep dark eyes.
Slipping her shades back on, Faith wrapped her arms around the Terminator's waist and smirked at the attendant. "Damn straight it is," the Vampire Slayer agreed.
The Terminator gunned the bike's engine, pulling out of the station and rapidly picked up speed. Faith held on, feeling snug and secure behind her cyborg bodyguard as the cold slipstream caressed her face.
The Electro-Glide tore out across the flat desert on the ribbon of motorway, riding straight towards the heart of the oncoming storm, and Faith's lips curled into a grin, eager with anticipation. Up ahead, a brilliant flash crescendoed from horizon to horizon out at the rim of the world as the storm broke directly above their destination:
Disclaimer: I don't own anything related to 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' or the Terminator franchise. "Bad to the Bone" is a song by George Thorogood and the Destroyers, and (I'm guessing) they own the copyright.