By HonorH and Gyrus

Summary: When a millionaire abducts Dawn to L.A. for an unholy experiment, the Scoobies and Angel Investigations cooperate to secure her return -- until Angel and Spike undergo a startling change.

Disclaimer: The characters of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL are the creations of Mutant Enemy and the property of Fox Television. We just took 'em out for a spin.

Rating: PG, for violence and some adult language

Authors' Notes: This story takes place early in seasons 6/3, just after "Fredless" and "Life Serial." Huge thanks to Tanja, Big K, and S.J. Smith for their stellar beta-reading, and to P. Miano for some rude Italian words.


Chapter 1

It was surprisingly cold in the desert.

At least, that was what Nicole D'Armand thought. She was well-traveled, but she had never been in a northern desert like the one that surrounded the remote town of Rachel, Nevada. She pulled her olive-drab coat tighter around her slim frame and tried to shove herself deeper into the passenger's seat of the brown Oldsmobile.

The driver looked over at her. He was a slightly gaunt-looking man in his early 40s who wore the uniform of an Army major.

"Too cold for you, ma'am?" he asked. The neutral tone of his voice made it unclear if he was asking out of genuine concern or amusement at the woman's discomfort.

"I'm fine," D'Armand answered. Her voice had the slightest tinge of a French accent. "We must be close by now."

"Yes, ma'am. The turnoff is about two miles ahead."

Nicole looked down and checked herself over. She too wore an Army uniform, complete with captain's bars. Neither she nor the major wore sidearms; outside weapons weren't permitted where they were going.

A couple of minutes later, the major turned the car onto a nondescript dirt road that led north off the two-lane desert highway. There were no signs or lights. To all appearances, it looked like a long farmhouse driveway, rather than the road to what was probably the most secure prison in North America.

They drove carefully along the rutted road for nearly twenty minutes before the gate appeared in the headlights. The major had told Nicole earlier that the gate was the only opening in nearly eight miles of chain-link fence crowned with razor wire. What was more, a mild electrical current ran through every link in the fence. The amperage was not high enough to be noticeable to the touch, but any change in the electrical conductance of the fence would alert the guards to anyone trying to climb over or cut through.

They pulled up in front of the gate. The major rolled down the window to address the guard in the small booth next to the car. The guard saluted.

"Welcome back, sir," the man said to the major. "Identification, please."

D'Armand pulled her credentials from her uniform jacket and handed them to the major, who passed them, along with his own ID, to the guard. The guard inspected them, ran them through an electronic scanner, and handed them back to the major. Then, with a baton-sized flashlight, the guard peered through the windows into the back seats of the car. The major pulled the handle to open the trunk, which the guard also inspected before stepping back into his booth.

"Have a nice evening, sir," the guard said, pressing a button. The gate opened, and D'Armand and the major drove through.

About 100 yards from the gate, a single light became visible, like a porch light. It was situated next to a steel door on what looked like a small concrete bunker.

The tip of the iceberg, D'Armand thought.

There was a small dirt lot near the building, with a sign that read "All Vehicles Must Park Here." The major pulled into it and stopped the car.

D'Armand looked over at the major. "Check your heating system," she said.

The major looked inside his jacket at a small, square object - a specially- made wet-cell battery with a ceramic casing. Non-ferrous wires ran from the battery under the man's clothing, where they connected to what was essentially a set of long underwear. More wires led back out from the undergarments to a tiny readout on the face of the battery, which currently read "98.6".

"Heating system is functional," said the major. He closed his jacket and opened the car door.

They walked up to the steel door of the bunker. The major pressed a button on an intercom that was fixed to the concrete wall next to the door. He looked directly into the tiny camera lens on the intercom's face as he spoke.

"This is Major George Underwood and Captain Joan LeTour requesting access."

"Access granted," a man's voice replied.

The steel door slid open to reveal a small, concrete-walled room. The major walked in with D'Armand behind him.

Two guards were posted across the room from the entrance, on either side of a second steel door. One of the guards was a tall, pale young man who stood behind a small console in the left rear corner of the room. His nametag read "Dougherty". The other guard, whose name plate read "Tranh", was a wiry fellow who stood in the right-hand corner, holding an M-16. Both men straightened to attention and saluted the major and D'Armand as they walked through the metal detector just inside the entrance.

"At ease," the major said. Both men relaxed, though the rifle-bearing guard did so only slightly. The major had explained to D'Armand that all would-be guards here had to score high on several psychological and physiological tests of vigilance. Generally, vigilant soldiers came in two flavors - the ones who can relax without letting their guard down, and the ones who never relax. Clearly, this room contained one of each.

"Welcome back, sir," Dougherty said. "How was Aspen?"

"Perfect," the major replied. "Blue skies every day and plenty of powder on the slopes. Now, I need to see prisoner 32J."

Nicole narrowed her eyes as she looked at the guard at the console. This was where her special talents came in.

She reached into the man's mind.

Like a bubble of air stirred up from the bottom of a pond, up floated all manner of information associated with prisoner 32J: His face, his name, things he had said or done in Dougherty's presence, and most importantly, the five-digit access code for his prison cell. The codes were changed weekly and were not stored on any computer, only in the minds of the prison guards, who were made to memorize them.

"Will the captain be joining you, sir?" Dougherty asked.

"No," the major replied. He turned to D'Armand. "Wait here. I'll be back in a few minutes."

The major stepped up to the steel door in the back of the room. Dougherty pushed a button on his console, opening the door. When the major walked through, the guard sealed it behind him.

Beyond the door was a tiny room with a yet another steel door opposite the entrance. Set into the right-side wall was a pair of lenses which jutted from the concrete like binoculars embedded in the wall by a freak tornado. The major walked up to the lenses and looked into them.

"Identify Major George Underwood," the man said in a loud, clear tone.

Half a second later, a computerized male voice replied. "Identity confirmed. Please hold still for infrared scan."

Nicole could hear all this through the intercom speaker on Dougherty's console. Once again, she focused her eyes on Dougherty.

Everything looks fine, she thought at him.

The guard looked down at his screen, which showed the outline of the major in various colors. His legs and torso were red, as one would expect from a warm human body. His face and hands, though - were they a little blue?

No. They were fine. His infrared signature was normal.

The guard pushed another button on the console, signaling his agreement with the computer to let the major enter. The inner door opened onto a set of stairs that led down to the main prison level.

Now came the hard part. It had been very difficult just to forge appropriate military ID for Nicole; to fake transfer orders for a prisoner was virtually impossible. Which meant that the major could not simply walk prisoner 32J out the door. All Nicole could do was buy the major some time.

She looked at Dougherty again, projecting images and feelings of normalcy. Everything is fine. Green across the board.

Nicole, of course, knew differently. Casually, she put her hands behind her back.


The major stopped in front of Cell 32J just as the display on his digital watch lit up. D'Armand was sending him the access code she'd plucked from the guard's mind. Good.

Everything was happening on time and according to plan, which was how the major preferred it, despite his very recent and involuntary change of lifestyle. Becoming a vampire had banished his loyalty to God and country, but not his love of organization and discipline. He also admired resourcefulness, a trait which his new employer, Mr. Hayden, seemed to have in abundance. Hayden had not only found the location of this facility, but also divined the best place and time to kidnap the major, who was one of the prison's highest-ranking officers, just long enough to convert him to the cause via vampirism. Hayden had also provided the major with some nice gear, including the watch-receiver and the personal heating system to fool the IR scanner. And you had to respect a man with his own mind-reader on staff.

The major reached the door to Cell 32J and looked at the small television monitor next to the access keypad. Inside the cell, he could see the man he had come for, who appeared to be resting on his cot.

Quickly, the major punched in his access code and pushed the door open. The man on the cot opened his eyes at once.

"Ethan Rayne?" the major said. "Come with me."


Everything is normal, Nicole thought. Everything is fine.

It was working. Dougherty couldn't see the blinking red light on his console that indicated an open cell door. But Nicole knew that wouldn't work for long.

Moments later, a voice crackled from the intercom on the console. "Station One, Central Control. We show unscheduled access at Cell 32J. Can you confirm, over?"

The guard looked down at his control panel, then pushed the intercom button. "Negative, Central Control. All lights on my board show green. Cameras show no activity, over."

The second guard walked around behind the first and looked over his shoulder at the console. "What?" he said, pointing his finger at the video monitors. "Right there! The major is in the corridor with 32J!"

"What are you talking about? I don't see- Oh, shit!"

Damn, Nicole thought. Her mental illusions worked very well on the unsuspecting, but they could be broken by a disciplined mind, or one that had enough evidence to contradict what she showed it. This guard had both.

Needing a new diversion, Nicole turned her attention to the rifle-bearing guard, Tranh.

Shoot him, she thought.

She knew Tranh probably wouldn't pull the trigger. His reason, if not his conscience, would stop him. But soldiers are trained to commit violence upon the orders of others, so his first instinct would be to obey, at least long enough to distract his fellow guard.

Sure enough, Tranh pointed his M-16 at Dougherty. Both men's eyes showed equal amounts of surprise.

Before Tranh could utter a word of protest or explanation, Dougherty stepped left and pushed the barrel of Tranh's rifle to the right, simultaneously gaining some control of the weapon while taking himself out if its line of fire. But Tranh was just as well-trained. He let go of the rifle altogether and drove his palm upwards into Dougherty's chin. Dougherty fell backwards, unconscious.

Tranh grabbed the rifle off the floor. He started to bring it to bear against D'Armand, but she was already right in front of him. She snapped her foot into his groin hard enough to double him over, then slammed the blade of her hand down on the back of his neck.

Tranh was dazed. Nonetheless, he straightened up and made a grab for D'Armand's wrist in an attempt to throw her down and immobilize her. But Nicole could read his intent as easily as anything else in his mind. She yanked her wrist back, out of Tranh's reach, and simultaneously drove her other fist forward into his jaw. Tranh was knocked out cold.

Nicole ran to the console. The major and Ethan Rayne were nearly at the exit door. Fortunately, neither Dougherty nor Tranh had hit the emergency button on the console, which would have precipitated a general lockdown and trapped everybody where they were. She entered the release code - also taken from Dougherty's brain - and both major and prisoner dashed up the stairs and into the guard room.

They ran to the car and sped towards the gate. They could hear gunshots up ahead and saw white streaks of light shoot into the sky. The major had told Nicole earlier that the guards here loaded their rifles with magnesium tracer bullets hot enough to incinerate a vampire on contact. They weren't too good for most other species, either.

The gate was open when they got to it. A black Cadillac was parked right next to the guard station; currently, one man, two vampires, and one big, ugly demon were getting into it. The dead body of the gate guard lay near the car, as well as the corpses of a few guards who had come from an emergency response station near the guard post. Apparently, they hadn't been fully prepared for this particular emergency.

Or maybe they had. The wide-set headlights of several Humvees were rapidly approaching from several directions.

The major sped past the Cadillac and the guard station and kept going down the rutted dirt road. The sedan they drove looked crummy but was equipped with a brand-new suspension and shock absorbers. The frame sat a few inches higher off the ground than was standard for the model.

White streaks filled the air, smashing windows and slamming into doors. The tracer bullets didn't have much penetrating power; D'Armand and Rayne were saved when they ducked below the line of the windows. But the major, who was driving, had no such opportunity. A burning bullet hit him in the shoulder, setting him on fire from the inside. Within moments, his vampire body flamed orange and then turned to ash.

D'Armand screamed but still had the presence of mind to slide over into the scorched driver's seat and keep the car moving forward. A few more seconds, and they were out of range. Looking in the rear-view mirror, Nicole could see that the Cadillac had also made it out of the firestorm.

She turned onto the two-lane highway and drove like mad for the safehouse her employer had set up nearby. Ethan, who had kept to the floor until now, climbed back into his seat.

"So," he said, "when did I become so important, to be worth all this trouble?"