Riley sat silently in the back of the black van with Juliet, the gentle motion of the vehicle not disturbing them at all. She was busy testing the strength of the manacles on her wrists and all he could do was stare at her, small beads of sweat forming on his forehead and upper lip.
He couldn't believe the complete physical similarity she bore to Buffy. She was Buffy. She hadn't started that way, of course. Buffy's natural light brown hair was startling for him to see when they'd brought Juliet out of isolation after the cloning procedure, but the hair and makeup artists had done wonders with her and had given her just the right shade of Buffy-blonde. Battle scars aside, Juliet was the full physical representative of Buffy Summers.
The problem was that she was not mentally or emotionally Buffy; that the constant uploading and removal of imprints left her fragile. Any time he secretly noticed any intellectual or mental growth in her - even a tiny sliver of the real Buffy's persona slipping through - she was uploaded with a new imprint and all progress was lost.
He'd wondered if that was part of the reason why they used her so often for engagements. Maybe Professor Walsh had noticed some Buffyness coming through and decided to imprint Juliet and then have her wiped to take away those small traces of a real persona. He knew Maggie was up to no good and the only reason he'd signed up for this project in the first place was to keep an eye on her. When he saw her seemingly back from the dead, he knew something wasn't right. He'd hoped that he'd be able to keep a lid on the badness factor of whatever nefarious plans she had.
Luckily for him, she'd welcomed him into the project and had made getting Buffy's blood his personal job. He had been more than happy about that; even though he knew the consequences would be dire if Buffy ever found out, he would've rather have been the one to steal a drop than someone else who would have taken it all if he had turned the job down - or failed.
Things had gone well with the cloning procedure and Juliet was a rising star in their facility. Top notch, actually. Complications arose, however, when she'd started having the slayer dreams. They knew the dreams would come, as they had with the other cloned slayers, but when they started previewing the future and not just the past, Riley was certain they were in trouble. If Juliet was having the dreams, that meant other slayers probably were too, and if she could see other slayers . . . that meant they could see her as well.
Reagan, their head programmer, had been obsessively tinkering with an imprint he'd created weeks back in hope that it could be used on Juliet in the event that the slayers found them. The imprint, known as Eve . . . well, it hadn't worked so well the first time around. They'd lost two handlers and Riley had nearly had both legs broken. Still, Reagan was sure that he'd fine-tuned it and fixed all the bugs and, with the added security measures, he was hoping that tonight's engagement would be the technological victory he was hoping for.
"You're nervous," Juliet said as she stared at Riley and studied his face. He quickly snapped back from his thoughts and wiped his fingertips over his mouth to remove the perspiration from his upper lip. "It's okay. I would be too."
The corner of her lips curled up into a smile that made Riley more uncomfortable than being locked in the back of a van with her. Hopefully the manacles would hold if she decided to go all Destructo-Doll again.
"We're not far now, Eve. Just sit tight," he said, trying to avoid her gaze. Just saying her name made his legs ache a little. Couldn't Reagan have renamed the imprint?
"Will there be lots of bad guys to kill?"
"Probably some good guys too," he said under his breath.
Juliet just grinned excitedly in response. Her fingers flexed as much as they could within the confines of her manacles. Riley watched warily, his hand permanently affixed over the gun on his hip. It didn't take her much to snap last time and despite Reagan's assertion that he'd fixed the flaws, Riley still didn't trust the Eve imprint.
He didn't care what anyone said; there was nothing safe about creating an amalgamation of every slayer they'd ever neurologically mapped. Being able to jump from one slayer's personality and abilities to the next meant that they were creating a virtually unbeatable foe.
Eve was dangerous. She couldn't be trusted.
But if it came to helping Juliet run, he'd rather have her imprinted as someone who could defend herself. Time was ticking and he needed to make his decision. Do what was right or do what he was told? Either way was incredibly dangerous. He needed to pick a side.
The van rolled to a stop and after a few moments, the back doors swung open to reveal two men in army fatigues with large guns in their hands.
"Get her out," one of them ordered.
Riley nodded and slipped down onto one knee in front of Juliet. He stared up at her face for as long as he could without looking conspicuous, then used a key to free her from the manacles that were attached to an iron hook on the floor. She stood up and stretched, sparing him a quick glance.
"Don't worry, Beefstick. I'll be back in a jiff and then you and I can have some of that real fun that you were promising." She winked at him and then walked to the back of the van, hopping out without much to-do. The two men stood on either side of her and escorted her down toward a large clearing ahead of them.
Riley watched until they were out of sight in the darkness, then rested his head back against the cool metal wall and closed his eyes. Security measures or not, he still didn't fully trust her. Eve was unstable, but she was more capable than Juliet. If he wanted to get her out of there, though, he'd have to learn to trust her.
Even more, he had to trust that he was making the right decision.
Kennedy reached the end of the long hallway of the dorm and slowly turned around, pausing to look at all of the doors she'd left open in search of Buffy. Taking in a deep breath through her nose, she turned again and made her way down the stairs to head back to Willow. When she finally reached the communications center where Willow was intently watching a group of monitors, she cleared her throat to get her attention.
Willow turned back with a smile on her face but it quickly fell when she saw the look Kennedy was giving her.
"Houston, we have a problem," Kennedy said.
"No," Willow interrupted, shaking her head. "No problems. Problems aren't allowed!"
"Yeah, well, tell that to Buffy . . . if you can find her."
"You mean . . .?"
"Yup. She's gone."
Willow quickly turned back around to look at the monitors, chewing nervously on her bottom lip. She could see the building in question; could see the three teams in place, ready to make a move. She watched as Faith's team slowly crept toward the building in the cover of the night with Echo's team hanging back to wait for their opportunity.
And then she watched as a taxi pulled up just a bit down the street and an eager Buffy jumped out, clinging to the shadows to go unnoticed by the teams.
Riley's eyes were still closed when he felt the van move slightly under someone's weight. He quickly looked up to find Juliet - no, Eve - standing before him, a smug grin on her face as she held a gun less than one inch from his head.
"Bang. You're dead," she said and then began laughing.
Riley let out the breath he'd been holding and then quickly took the gun from her before she decided to use it. He looked nervous yet relieved at the same time as he checked her over and found that most of her injuries were superficial.
In fact, most of the blood on her wasn't even hers.
"You made it," he said, not sounding too surprised.
"'course I did. Did you ever really doubt?" As she sat back down in her seat and held her hands out for him to cuff again.
"No, I guess not. Professor Walsh will be pleased. Once Reagan can confirm that the imprint is working without fault, they'll be ready to start imprinting the others. Her success rests in your hands."
He knelt on one knee again and locked the manacles over her wrists, leaving them a bit looser this time. He didn't want her wrists to hurt, after all, and he still wasn't sure if the blood on her hands was hers or from the soldiers. He looked up and met her gaze, staring at her in wonder.
"I'm not her, you know," she said after a second, then laughed a little. "Well, I guess she's in here somewhere, actually. She comes in handy now and again. Situations like these though? Back seat, baby."
"So who's driving now?"
"Well, when I was getting my kung-fu on with that motley little group of baby soldiers, Satsu was front and center."
Eve curled the corners of her lips into another grin. "Faith's driving the getaway car. Speaking of which . . . shouldn't we be getting away? Never a great idea to linger around a crime scene."
Riley didn't say anything. He simply nodded and made sure she was locked down before closing the doors and knocking on the front wall of the van. A moment later the motor started up and they pulled away, headed back to the dollhouse.
"So is the plan a go?" Eve asked after a second, watched as Riley seemed to be waging some kind of internal battle. "Come on, Riley; don't leave me high and dry now."
Riley looked over at her, worry in his eyes. He still didn't know if they could pull it off.
"Team three is inside and is climbing," Faith's voice came over the earpiece. "Team two?"
"Coast is clear and two is on its way," Echo replied as she and her team edged around the side of the building in the shadows, heading toward the front entrance on the other side of the underground parking entrance.
"One?" Faith asked.
"Team one is in position and is on standby," Robin replied. "Waiting on you guys."
"Good," Faith replied. She and her team were going up a maintenance stairwell, headed toward the upper floors of the building where they suspected they'd find what they were looking for if it was really there.
"Back, back, back!" Echo whispered harshly to her team over the earpiece. "Faith, Team Two is pulling pack. A van just pulled up and guards are walking up to it. We can't get to the front entrance as long as they're there."
"Okay, just wait until the van moves and the coast is clear," Faith replied. She and her team paused their ascent, waiting to make sure that everything proceeded as planned.
There were a few minutes of radio silence as they all waited to see what happened.
"You're just gonna have to trust me," Eve said and held out her shackled hands.
"That's the point; I don't trust you. I trust her," he said warily.
Eve stared at him long and hard for a few moments, focusing herself as best as she could. Suddenly she shook her head and fluttered her eyes.
"Riley, listen to me," she said suddenly and Riley instantly perked up. She was familiar. She was Buffy. "If you take me back in there, Walsh will see that Eve is a successful imprint and she'll have no reason to keep me around; not when she can put the imprint into any cloned slayer and have the same results. I'll be obsolete. There will be no attic, there will be no freedom; there will be a big, messy death. I exist because you stole blood. Do you want my death on your conscience?"
"No," he said, shaking his head.
Eve held up her shackled hands. "Then let me out."
Riley watched her for a few seconds and then nodded. He drew in a deep breath before pulling the key from his pocket and kneeling in front of her.
"Listen, my car isn't far from here. If we can take out the guards, we have sixty, maybe ninety seconds before more arrive. We can make a run for it," he said as he unlocked the manacles and let them drop to the floor. "Just follow me and . . ."
His words were cut off as Eve uppercut him under the jaw, sending him flying back against the side of the van.
"Sorry Riley; you know I can't just leave Walsh to keep all of this running. I have to destroy this imprint, and then I have to stop her."
Riley was dazed and couldn't quite see her but he could hear what she was saying. "Don't . . . don't do it . . . Buff . . ."
But it was too late. Eve reared back and kicked the back doors of the van out, knocking two guards out in the process. Suddenly several armed guards swarmed the van, all taking aim at her. She jumped down and got into a fighting stance, something flickering behind her eyes as a devilish grin appeared on her face.
"Kon Ni chi Wa, boys. The name's Satsu, and I'll be kicking your ass."
"Faith, something weird is going on here," Echo said as she watched the scene play out before them. "There are like ten guards swarming the van. I can't see . . ." she trailed off, thinking that her eyes were deceiving her.
"What's goin' on?" Faith replied, her heart starting to race. She knew that Willow would pick up on the change and she hoped that she didn't get suddenly teleported back to headquarters.
"It's Buffy," Echo said blankly. "Or the clone. I don't know . . . shit!" She watched as the blonde broke out into a flurry of fists and kicks. "Faith; there are guards all over her; she's totally outnumbered. I'm going in!"
"No, wait!" Faith yelled, but it was too late. Echo was off and running toward the commotion. She was maybe one hundred yards out when she slowed down in surprise.
The blonde was standing alone in the middle of a pile of unconscious guards. She was slowly spinning around, making sure they were all incapacitated, when she noticed something moving off in the distance. She looked up to see Echo running toward her, then quickly slowing down and eventually stopping. Their eyes met over the distance and she instantly recognized her. Felt her. Knew her. Beyond the programming, something called to her; something deep inside that she couldn't push down.
A smile crept up on her face, just like it had done on the brunette's.
But then the brunette's eyes widened and before Eve could turn around to see why, several small electrodes shot into her from behind and she was tazed by several guards. She fell backwards into the arms of one of the guards and was quickly dragged away as Maggie watched on. Maggie looked over at Echo and smiled - actually fucking smiled! - before turning around and quickly following the guards.
Echo was running toward them again, pushing herself as hard as she could. She made it into the parking facility just as they'd walked into a large elevator but by the time she'd reached them, the door closed and they were gone.
"Fuck!" she yelled as she slammed her hand against the door, leaving a large indent. "They've got her! They're taking her upstairs," she said, breathing harshly as she looked around for another way up. Finding no other entrances beside the three elevator shafts, she ran back out front and prepared to storm the front entrance when she ran almost directly into Buffy.
"B!?" she asked, surprised. When Buffy nodded, Echo looked seriously pissed off. "What the hell happened to staying behind?"
"I've never been one to take orders well," Buffy said. "Where are they taking her?"
"Who knows," Echo replied, flustered. "Up, I think. Faith's team is already in the building. Faith?"
"Yeah, we're heading up," Faith replied through the earpiece. Having heard Buffy's voice over the radio, she was even more anxious now. "Get Buffy the fuck out of here!"
"Already on it." Echo grabbed Buffy's bicep and began to tug her away toward the street despite the fact that Buffy was struggling. "Quit it, Buffy. You're going back."
"Over my dead body!" Buffy shouted and shook her arm free.
"Yeah, and it's gonna be if you go in there!" Echo shouted back, her face angry. "I saw you die, Buffy! Why are you trying so hard to make that happen!"
"Because I can't sit back and let this happen to someone else!"
They stared at each other, breathing hard and furious, though not really at each other. Neither of them were going to back down, though, so things were about to get really interesting.
"Buffy?" came a muffled voice from behind them. Both Buffy and Echo spun around and were surprised to see Riley sitting on the back of the van, one of his hands holding his seemingly dislocated jaw in place.
"Riley?" Buffy asked, but then her anger took over her surprise and she quickly advanced on him and spoke through gritted teeth. "Please tell me that you're not involved in this."
He nodded, his eyes sad and filled with regret. "I was just trying to keep you safe." Seeing Buffy's annoyed glare, he closed his eyes, then held up his other hand. A key card was dangling from it. "Twenty-ninth floor."
Before Echo could stop her, Buffy snagged the card from his hand and began running back toward the building with Echo hot on her heels. She stopped at the elevators and ran the card in front of the sensor pad, taking a breath of relief when the door opened.
"What do you think you're doing?" Echo said, spinning her around so that they were facing.
"What I always do: I'm going after the bad guy. You can stay here or you can come with me, but I am not going to sit idly by while Faith runs in to the unknown and they're up there doing God knows what to my clone."
The elevator door began to close and Buffy put her hand against it, temporarily stopping it. She stared at Echo who seemed to be waging her own internal war, then stepped into the elevator as Echo finally relented and joined her. The doors closed after them and Echo sighed deeply.
This was her dream. They were walking into Buffy's death.
She had to stop it. She would.
"Faith," she said, her fingers on her earpiece, "We're coming up. Twenty-ninth floor. Be ready for us."
It was too bad that the elevator blocked the reception.
Faith and her team were still climbing, their progress hampered by the fact that they had to check out every floor. When they reached the twenty-ninth floor and discovered that it was protected by both a security panel and several locks, she knew that they were at the right floor.
Vi quickly jumped into action, pulling a thin black box from her bag. She opened it and pulled several wires out, then stuck them to various spots on the security panel. She pressed a few buttons and the alarm beeped once, twice, then started to smoke, short-circuited.
"That's as much as I can do," she said as she yanked the wires away. "The locks are all yours, Faith."
The rest of her team cleared away from her, giving her ample room to be able to break it down. She stepped back, then pivoted forward and planted her foot square in the center of the door, hitting it with the force of a battering ram. The hinges creaked and moaned but didn't fully give.
"Vi, get on this with me," Faith said and Vi hopped over to her side, mimicking her position. "On three. One, two, three."
They both kicked out with their right legs and the door crunched and pushed in enough that one more kick from Faith sent it flying inside and across the room. Faith was the first to enter, her senses on high alert as she peeked around. They'd been expecting some pretty big resistance but instead they found the area mostly empty with the exception of a few aides who were cowering in corners and under tables.
"Fuck, this can't be right," Faith said with a frown.
"Maybe this isn't the right floor," Vi suggested.
"Yeah, maybe. Listen, two of you head back down and see if there's anything happening at ground level. Two of you keep climbing and see if you can find anything else. Vi, get on the horn with Robin and tell him and his girls to be on alert. If the building is being evacuated, chances are they're gonna use the utility tunnels."
"Okay," Vi nodded, then took the rest of the girls and walked them back toward the stairwell.
Faith waited until they were gone until she began to look around again. This place wasn't exactly like the other dollhouse had been but they definitely must've used the same designers. The ceiling was taller than in your average office and there were corridors that shot off in several directions from the central room she was now standing in. The sound of an elevator dinged in the distance and she decided to cautiously follow the sound, hoping that it was one of the other teams.
She walked down a long, bright corridor with her fingertips quietly dragging against the wall, hoping that her slayer senses would pick up a sound or a clue. Surely enough, she'd just passed a closed door when she heard whispering from behind it. She put her ear to the door and listened for several seconds, then sighed as she put her hand on the doorknob and pushed it open.
Inside Echo and Buffy jumped at the sudden intrusion but sighed with relief when they saw it was only Faith.
"Thank God it's you," Buffy said. She walked over and into Faith's arms, though Faith was too busy glaring at Echo to reply to Buffy.
"What the hell happened to getting her out of here?" Faith asked Echo.
"You try makin' her do something she doesn't want to," Echo said with a shrug. "Besides, I figured that if I was with her nothing bad would happen."
"You," she said to Buffy, lifting up her chin so that she could look into her eyes, "are in a heap of crazy trouble. And you," she looked back to Echo who raised a daring eyebrow at her, "any of this look familiar?"
"All of it," Echo said.
"We're trying to figure out where they would have taken the clone to. It looked like she was coming back from some kind of engagement but then went a little rogue. I saw her fighting the guards, but then they got her with tazer guns."
"Well if she was imprinted and going rogue, first thing they'd probably wanna do is wipe her so that she can't hurt anyone else," Faith said.
"Best guess on where the chair is?" Buffy asked, looking back and forth between Faith and Echo.
When no one could answer, they decided to venture out of the room and do a bit of exploring. They quickly made their way from corridor to corridor until they finally found a room with privacy doors and windows. There was a mechanical whirring coming from within and the sound of quiet groans and grunts as if someone was in pain. All three girls dropped into defensive mode and inched closer, ready to leap into action at any moment.
The whirring sound stopped, along with the painful groans, and they figured that the time to go in was now or never.
Ever so cautiously, Echo put her hand on the door and gave it a soft push, letting it open inch by inch. She peeked inside to see Buffy's clone in the chair looking quite innocent and not at all like the girl she saw playing kung-fu angel in the lot downstairs. The reason was simple: she'd been wiped. All that remained was the doll persona.
"Don't be rude; either stay out there or come in," came a voice from within the room.
Echo looked back at Faith who nodded, then pushed the door open the rest of the way. The three girls walked in to find Maggie Walsh standing behind a large console looking very much calm and collected.
Oh yeah, and much more alive than Buffy remembered.
"Professor Walsh," Buffy said coolly as she walked in, barely able to look at her clone who was staring at her with confusion. "I should have known."
"Oh, Miss Summers, you never could have known. You're not exactly the brightest of young women. I thought that would have been a problem when we created your clone, but we were able to imprint her with many, many new skills."
Buffy slowly gazed over at her clone, angry tears filling her eyes.
"My, where are my manners," Maggie continued. "I should properly introduce you. Buffy, this is Juliet. She's been invaluable in testing out some new technology for us."
"How nice," Buffy said bitterly. "Now let her go."
"By all means. Now that we have what we need from her, she's become obsolete. Juliet?" Maggie looked over at Juliet and gave her a warm smile, which Juliet kindly returned. "I'm sorry dear, but you've been recalled."
She raised her hand from behind the console to reveal that she was holding a semi-automatic pistol which she was pointing directly at Juliet. The bullet left the barrel before any of the girls could even blink and lodged itself right in Juliet's abdomen.
Echo jumped as she watched the girl slump back in the chair, unsure if it was a flashback or if it had actually just happened. When she saw Faith charge forward toward Maggie and heard Buffy shout, she knew that it was real, and that her dream had just become reality.
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