Part V

I could go anywhere in the world, folding dimensions to take me there, and I've done it often enough before. This time, though, distance isn't necessary. I transition to Dodson's Beach, a few miles outside Sunnydale, and find a comfortable place where I can sit and watch the ocean and think.

I spent all this time working to take Glory down before she could bring in an apocalypse, whatever end-of-the-world cataclysm that forms the Wall that I keep running into. I finally made it, and beat Glory … and nothing changed.

Tara's right, I got so focused on one answer that I stopped being able to think in any other terms. So, make the effort, concentrate on thinking outside the box I unknowingly built around myself. What do I see?

I stopped Glory. It didn't stop the bounce. That's a fact. So, clearly, Glory's continued existence is no longer necessary to bring up the Wall. Did she already set something else in motion, elsewhere, so that I now have to locate and short-circuit it? If so, what? and where? Now that I know where to find her, now that I have sufficient power to deal with her, I suppose I could capture her and torture her for the information —

No, that's a new idea (and may even be right), but I still haven't broken the paradigm. It's like, if I were a Palestinian, I'd have to fight inside my own head to NOT see everything in terms of the struggle against the cursed Zionist oppressor. It might never occur to me to look outside the Middle East, to consider that the End Times could begin in some nondescript little southern California town that I'd never heard of …

… Damn. I was right on the edge of something there, I think, but I just can't seem to get hold of it, it skitters away every time I think I have it. Looking outside your own neighborhood … checking the back of your own head … keeping your eyes open for the obvious …

Still don't have it. And it's gotten dark while I was trying to cut my mind loose. Which means only a few more hours till my next bounce.

I fold reality to take me back into Sunnydale proper. It's too late in the day to really accomplish anything, so I might as well use it for a little light me-time. I've pretty much burned out on binge drinking and reckless sex, but something lower-key might be nice. UCSunD isn't having any parties 'today', even Porter Dorm came up short, and I'm in the mood right now to stay local. That means the Bronze, so that's where I appear —

The Bronze is on fire.

Fire, and screams, and panicked bodies dashing in all directions, and gunshots, and above it all a familiar voice attempting to bellow except that it cracks on every third word: "Nancy! Nancy Doyle! I'm calling you, Nancy! Nancy, come to me! Nancy, here I am —!"

It's coming from the second level, which is where I am in the next second, and I telekinetically yank away the pistol so hard, it crashes through one of the walls, and then I have him by the shoulders and I'm yelling, "Jonathan, WHAT THE HELL?"

His eyes are wild, face strained with desperation, but his expression slackens with relief as he recognizes me. "Nancy," he blurts, grabbing me back. "Get us out of here, I have to talk to you but not here —"

He's right, I can hear the sirens. Hit the place with a vampire gang or a demon biker crew and you'd be lucky to get an official inquiry by morning … but fire a gun and the Sunnydale PD does an all-out scramble, three years later there are still wanted posters up for the Han Solo / Indiana Jones pair who shot up the joint during Halloween '97. I slap a field around us both and shift, and Jonathan screeches and covers his eyes. Oh, right — sun, bright sun, things like that don't really bother me anymore, but the sudden switch can be hard on strictly human eyes, and then he pitches onto his knees and starts horking onto the sand, which reminds me that teleportation's a bitch all by itself.

He's mostly okay in a couple of minutes: still sweaty and pale with nausea, but he wipes his mouth with his sleeve and blinks at me. "So … where are we?"

"Florida," I tell him. "First place that occurred to me. Sorry for the bumpy ride, but you said jump so I jumped us quick. Which brings me back to Jonathan, what the hell?"

I'm used to intimidating Jonathan, dominating him, and from the hunch in his shoulders I haven't lost my mojo, but he doesn't back down. "I had to," he tells me. "I had to reach you, I tried to call you, I tried to get to you through Buffy and the others 'cause I'd sent you to them but she didn't know anything, and you said you bounced backward every night but I didn't know when at night. And I was so scared I wouldn't be able to reach you in time, because I might never think of this again, so I just made the biggest mess and noise I could to get your attention —"

"Jonathan," I interrupt. "Stop. Chill for a second. We still have time, the bounce isn't for another couple of hours. Take a breath or two."

He does, obediently, solemnly. Once I'm fairly sure he isn't about to give himself a stress coronary, I ask, "So, what's the big news?"

He locks his eyes with mine, and tells me earnestly, "I think you have the wrong movie."

That's what he says, as if it's this huge surprise. I wait a moment, then another, and then I say, "Jonathan, I'm going to drop you in the ocean. About a mile out into the ocean."

"No, really," he protests. "All this time, you've been thinking Groundhog Day. But what if it isn't? What if it's actually 12:01?"

"I take it back. Two miles, at least."

"I'm serious," he says. "Just listen." So he explains, and I listen, and then I move us back to Dodson's Beach, being careful with him this time. We talk some more, and make long, slow love, and he's still holding me when I bounce.

~ – ~ – ~

Each day starts for me at 3:23 in the morning. Sometimes, if I'm still carrying enough of the psychic equivalent of adrenaline, I jump straight out of bed and get started, try to take advantage of every last moment of the time available to me. Usually, though, I sleep for another four or five hours, and the intimate session with Jonathan left me so relaxed that this time it's past nine before I wake up.

Even then, I'm in no hurry. I have a new path to follow out, and it doesn't matter how long it takes me to get it right, as long as eventually I do. I dress and get breakfast and then make my way to the public library, my laptop was glitching when this all started and so I use their Internet terminals when I need to look up something and am not ready yet to commandeer Willow's system. Spend some time reading and tracking, and then more making phone calls, with a lunch break in the middle. (In Buenos Aires; there's a restaurant there that does things with beef that you have to taste to believe.) Eventually I find a video store in L.A. that has a copy of the movie, and I transition there to pick it up. Then, still without any rush — if I have anything, it's plenty of time — I get myself a luxury hotel suite with a VCR, order some delicacies from room service, and settle in to watch.

Made in 1993, 12:01 stars Jonathan Silverman, Helen Slater, Martin Landau, couple of other familiar faces. It has the same premise asGroundhog Day, a repeating time loop with only the central character aware of it — in fact, while I was tracking it down I caught a mention of one movie suing the other over the similarities, but didn't care enough to chase down the details — with some important differences. In 12:01, the cause of the loop is known (a scientific test gone wrong), as is the reason for the protagonist keeping his memory of each repeating day (accidental electric shock which coincidentally hit him at the same moment as the bounce). Biggest of all, there's a reason time stops looping: once our hero knows what's going to put the universe on a treadmill, he's able to keep it from happening.

I can see it. The opening stages of the paragon spell, that could have made me different, put just enough of a protective bubble around me to keep my memory unfrozen while the rest of me continued to be recycled every seventeen hours. More than that … what if the guy in the movie had been living in Cleveland, or London, or, hell, Buenos Aires, when the loop started? He might have never figured out what was going on, just his luck that he worked in the same building as the big universe-freezing generator he had to stop. I live in the world capital for the freaky and supernatural, we actually are moving toward an apocalypse … but what if the Wall I keep hitting, the source of the bounce, is a different apocalypse taking place somewhere else?

If that's the case, I've been just as clueless as the theoretical guy in Buenos Aires, and might have stayed that way indefinitely. Out of all the times I repeated my own loop, 'yesterday' was the first time I looked up Jonathan in the morning, giving him the rest of the day for that geek-king brain to make connections that would never occur to me. (At which point he gets the bright idea to go totally postal just to draw my attention. Sad and pathetic, except for the part where it worked.) If this really is the key to what's going on, Tara was right: I was looking in the wrong direction all along.

I've watched the movie three times, not that much of a chore since it's barely over ninety minutes, with breaks between for champagne and munching and thought. I've used up almost all of the day, there's less than an hour left, not really enough time for me to accomplish anything, but I'm just restless enough to want to do something. This close to bounce-time, maybe whatever sets it off will give me something to track, an idea where to look when I tackle the issue again tomorrow.

I phase just enough to pass through the wall, give myself a light cloak (not actual invisibility, but it keeps people from noticing what they see), and rise up into the air, letting my senses range outward. Not looking for anything in particular, just getting a feel for the ambience. I'm not catching anything in the high registers, nothing so big you'd feel it halfway around the world, so I guess I'll spend a few weeks or months checking out various locations, trying to hone in on something capable of setting time on infinite loop. Meanwhile, I can work on refining my mystical senses, building the necessary subtlety of awareness …

I've chosen a destination and am moving toward it before I fully notice what it is that's drawing me: there's a tinge in the atmosphere, the barest whiff of otherness, and as I spiral in, the sense impression firms. There's quite a bit going on in L.A., even if it's not as concentrated as in Sunnydale, you can definitely find items of the supernatural variety, but right now I'm catching a mass of signatures. Demons below, moving to converge on one of the lesser-used streets, they aren't heavy hitters but there are nearly two dozen of them. Even if this is unlikely to be a major event, it's enough to serve as entertainment; I alight in the middle of the biggest clump of them, calling cheerfully, "Hey, guys, what's up —?", and they instantly whip out bladed weapons and jump to attack me.

Aw-w-w, that's so cute.

I don't even have to think about it, it's not worth the effort to access any magic or summon up any special weapons (though it might be interesting to see the effect a mist dagger would have on these characters). I slide in among them, at first glance they look like old men, grey-haired and dressed in old-fashioned suits with string ties … but their faces are white, they have pointed ears and dark raccoon-like circles around the eyes, Lubber demons, I drop one with an elbow-smash to the throat and stop another with a two-fingered Three Stooges poke to the eyes, wrest his weapon away. Dip and spin and arch away, three more strikes miss me, and then I go to work with the confiscated weapon, a small curiously-shaped hand-axe of some type.

They don't have a chance, even though I'm only using my immediate physical abilities, but they don't give up, either. At least, not until they do; one of them calls out something in a language that sounds Slavic but isn't, and the others pull back, break away and take off. Those who still can, that is to say; I killed nine or ten of them in a hair under a minute, which is far from my best performance but not bad for when I'm just kicking back and enjoying myself.

I'm wondering if I should bother pursuing the survivors, when one of them steps out into the street, stops there, and is hit square by a fast-moving black convertible. The car screeches to a stop, and the passengers hop out to check on the pedestrian they just mowed down, and okay, party crashers: one of the newcomers wears a dazzling white suit that contrasts sharply with the lime-green skin and the red eyes and horns; the other one, all in black (of course), his first motions scream vampire! to the senses I've gradually developed. The Lubbers go straight at them, and in moments there's a demon street-brawl going down in the middle of the boulevard.

I could take them all out while they're gathered in one place, but what's the point? I'll run into the Wall in less than twenty minutes now, and we'll all be back where we started. I float away, leaving them to work it out among themselves. If I cared, my money would be on the Lubbers; there's more of them, they have weapons, and they seemed pretty determined, I got the impression they didn't so much run from me as break away because their main aim was something else, which they decided to get back to once they realized they couldn't kill me quickly. I thinned them out some, so a skilled and desperate vampire might be able to take them on, but the odds right now don't look so good for the Odd Couple.

I don't really care, so I rise back into the air, opening my senses again to anything that might be significant.

Actually, it might be worth giving the Lubbers a closer look on my next go-round. They're bit-players, but like a lot of fourth-tier demons, they dream of scouring humankind from the earth. Sure, most of that is wishful thinking, dedication and tradition, but there were rumors once that some of them tried to sabotage the Manhattan Project, shift a few equations around in hopes of setting the atmosphere on fire. Even if it's hard to get excited by guys who dress like grampas and fight with little chopping tools, that equations bit is a subtlety you don't see from most demons, plus the technical side would go along with …

… well, with the scientific end-of-the-world scenario that featured in 12:01 but hasn't been proven or even suggested for the current situation. I mean, it could happen, but I don't see any supercolliders around anywhere, and — once again going with the odds — a supernatural apocalypse remains the hands-down favorite.

I'll work it out eventually. As already noted, if I've got nothing else, I definitely have time.

I never thought about it before, but … if I ever find a way to break the loop, will I keep the memories I've accumulated, or will I just start back at the beginning and finally, blessedly, proceed with the life I would have had if the loop had never happened? I'd welcome the escape, but I've learned a lot I'd hate to lose. Not just power, but things maybe even more important. How to look at other people, for instance: I dismissed Tara for ages, and that definitely was a mistake. Jonathan … Jonathan … Jonathan was nobody to me, and he's come to mean considerably more than I ever would have suspected.

Usually I can feel myself getting close to bounce-time, but I guess right now I'm too caught up in new thoughts. No problem, it comes whether I'm ready or not. First thing in the 'morning', I'll get to work on a way to make sure I keep the memories I want: lock them into an amulet or something, maybe, that I recharge every day, something along those lines. There are several different approaches I could try, and I'll take the time to get it right.

I haven't actually achieved any solutions, just a new line of approach … but, for the first time in a long time, I'm actually looking forward to 'tomorrow'.

end