There was something about downtown Manhattan that just didn't sit right with Faith. She'd been in big cities before; Boston wasn't exactly a small place and neither was LA for that matter. Manhattan was different though. Masses of people swarming up and down the streets in their designer suits, cell phones pressed to their ears as they went about their business.
They didn't know about the dirty dark underworld, but more importantly? They didn't care. They were so wrapped up in their lives and their jobs that they didn't want to know about the evil and the bad. For a person like Faith who knew that dirty dark underworld like the back of her own hand and had called it home, well . . . it just didn't sit right with her.
From the moment that the car had dropped them off outside of AFH after the short journey from the helicopter pad, Faith stood stock still against the building, her entire body tense as they bided their time. She watched as people passed by completely oblivious to the fact that just inside that building, people were being cloned and used as toys.
Maybe she shouldn't have judged so harshly. Maybe AFH, when not acting as a pimp or trying to play God, did good things. Hey, maybe they even helped the helpless.
There was no doubt that it was for a price though; done simply to expand Adelle's fortune and her empire. And regardless of the fact that some people may have benefitted from the services, that didn't change the fact that it was all wrong.
Faith chuckled bitterly to herself as she continued to watch the people pass by. Leave it to her to pass moral judgment, right? She should be the last person in the world to judge anyone else like that, but something deep inside of her knew that they were wrong and that it was the right thing to do in bringing them down.
Suddenly her line of vision was blocked by a pair of dark brown eyes looking into hers.
"Hey . . . hey!"
Faith shook her head when she realized that Satsu was trying to get her attention.
"Ain't no reason you need to be this close to me right now," Faith said, narrowing her eyes at the girl.
"Then buck up and quash whatever internal drama you're having," Satsu replied easily. "This isn't the time for self-flagellation."
Faith's eyebrows knitted together in confusion.
"Self-what? What the hell?"
Satsu rolled her eyes and took a step back, hands on her hips now.
"I'm just saying that this mission will be a hell of a lot easier if you'd stop carrying that cross. Gotta be a bit heavy by now, am I right?"
Faith just shook her head in disbelief. Were the Scoobies offering classes on her now in Scotland? It's like everyone always knew what was best for her and every little thing about her past.
But what did Satsu know about anything anyhow?
"Me and you . . . we're gonna have us a little discussion when we get back to Giles' place."
"Oh goody, another awkward moment to look forward to. As if meeting my clone wasn't enough."
Faith relaxed her shoulders then and took in a deep breath through her nose before exhaling loudly. She knew that being an ass to Satsu was stupid but she just couldn't help it. Back when she was a kid her teachers and parents used to yell at her because she never liked to share her toys. Now she had this new and shiny Buffy toy and had no intention of sharing her with Satsu, even if the whole situation between herself and Buffy was completely unresolved and up in the air.
Still, as much as she wanted to keep Satsu far away, they were both in the same boat at the moment and they needed to be on the same side. She needed to put her petty jealousies - and anger - to the side.
"Listen," Faith began with a sigh, "I'm sorry, yeah? I'm just ten shades of tense. The clone situation, the B situation, and the fact that that fucker over there," she nodded in Quentin's direction, "stole my blood . . . I'm just on edge. Let's do the sacred duty thing so we can roll along home and move on."
Satsu looked at her for a moment, biting her lower lip while she debated whether or not to ask the next question before it just fell from her lips.
"Do you really think that we're all just gonna be able to move on? Be able to put all of this out of our minds and never worry again that there isn't some version of ourselves out there wreaking havoc?"
Faith's answer was simple.
"We have to. Nowhere to move but forward, right?"
Satsu nodded and took a few more steps back after a moment, waiting for Faith to take the lead. Faith smiled inwardly, happy that the girl knew when to back down and follow rank. She turned her head to the side and cracked her neck before nodding at Quentin and walking towards the door where two security guards were waiting for them.
She thought it would be just as easy as walking in but it looked like she was wrong as the guards stood in the way of the door and refused to budge. They looked at her expectantly, waiting for something that she wasn't quite sure of.
Suddenly her fingers twitched and she noticed Satsu's do the same out of the corner of her eye. Willow and Marina's spell was working.
"Sierra three-one-Lima, reporting in," came from Satsu's mouth as she kept direct eye contact with the guards. Both guards looked to Faith then, waiting for her to follow suit.
She didn't know where it came from but the answer bubbled up from within her as if she'd been programmed to reply.
"Echo one-zero-Whiskey, reporting in."
One guard stepped aside then as the other turned and entered the building, indicating for them to follow. Satsu entered first, followed by Quentin and lastly by Faith. Before taking her last step inside, Faith turned her head and looked out into the busy street, her eyes searching anxiously.
"It's now or never, buddy," she mumbled under her breath, ignoring the look that the stationary guard gave her.
After a moment she turned and continued to follow the others down a long corridor. The stationary guard watched them walk until they were out of view and then unlocked a metal door on the wall, revealing a hidden telephone. He hit two buttons and waited for a response.
"Echo and Sierra are back with Mr. Travers."
"You might want to have the programmers run a scan on Echo. Something's off with her."
There was a long pause before Adelle replied, "Yes, thank you."
Upstairs in her office, Adelle placed the phone back on the unit and spun in her chair to face what appeared to be a solid wall. She pressed a few buttons on a remote control and the wall suddenly slid back revealing a wall of television monitors. A few taps of a button later and the screens showed the inside of an elevator carrying who appeared to be Echo, Sierra, Quentin and the other guard. She stared at the screen intently, her lips pressed in a hard line as she studied the girls.
"They certainly look fine," she said aloud to the empty room.
After a moment or two a series of numbers and readings began to scroll across the screen, the hidden sensors in the elevator walls spewing forth the results from their numerous scans and tests. Everything looked to be in order; heart rate, respiration rate, pupil dilation all normal. What had the guard been referring to? Maybe it was time to replace him with someone . . . else . . .
Adelle's eyes suddenly narrowed as a silent alarm began to flash across the screen. The three hidden internal sensors hidden within Echo and Sierra failed to register on the scans.
"Well you're not my girls at all, are you?"
"Sir, I need a contingent of agents and I need them now. If we don't move fast we're going to lose yet another lead."
Assistant Director Harmon Tatum looked up from the file he'd been reading to find Special Agent Paul Ballard leaning over him with his hands on the desk looking as anxious as ever. It was a scene he'd become accustomed to since Ballard had taken a keen interest in what appeared to be a ghost organization.
Frankly, he was getting more than just a little bit tired of what seemed to be his latest obsession.
"Special Agent Ballard, you've been told again and again that you're chasing a dead lead. You've no tangible evidence but a hunch and a few pictures of a pretty girl with big doe eyes."
"A pretty girl with big doe eyes who has no recollection of me despite the fact that I've met her over twenty times now," Ballard explained excitedly.
"Maybe you're just not her type," Tatum offered with a wry smile.
"Sir, I've looked into her eyes more than twenty times and given her my card just as often and never once has she remembered me," he paused. "Until today."
"And how's that?" Tatum asked, his voice skeptical yet interested.
"I received a phone call from her. It was all very fast but she told me that if we can get to her, she'll show me one of the biggest ethics violations in science that we've ever seen."
Tatum scoffed and sat back in his chair with his arms crossed over his chest.
"Jesus, Paul, is this what it's come down to? I'd hardly warrant an FBI probe into a scientific ethics violation. Ethics are violated every day in every field known to man. What makes you think we should . . ."
"They're cloning humans, Harmon," Ballard interrupted, his voice serious. "Their negligible ethics violation has just broken both State and Federal law and possibly a few International laws as well."
A tense silence settled over them as Tatum took in all of the information. He sighed loudly and sat forward, signing the paper that Ballard had dropped there.
"Take a contingent of ten agents and go, now. I want to be informed of every step of this investigation from this point forward."
"Yes, sir," Ballard said with a nod, grabbing the sheet and exiting the office quickly. He'd already wasted too much time getting the proper paperwork in order. He just hoped that it wasn't too late to help.
Faith did her best not to look around in wonder when they'd stepped off the elevator but she was failing miserably, Satsu right along with her. The sterile offices were boring and not much to look at but the central room that the guard guided them through was anything but. Oriental-inspired with its hardwood floors arching over functional ponds and bamboo-slatted blinds between rooms, it was certainly a sight to see. The fact that the room was filled with seemingly oblivious people doing tai-chi and working out made it even more difficult not to look around.
Satsu looked over and met Faith's eyes, nodding up toward the second level. Faith got the hint and looked up to find a middle-aged woman looking down on them from the above office with much interest. Faith tried her best to look away but her eyes had met the woman's. She thought that maybe she could get away with it at first but then she noticed something flicker behind the woman's eyes.
She knew something was different with whom she thought was Echo.
Quickly averting her gaze, Faith looked to Satsu again and then back ahead of them to the guard they were still following.
"She knows something's up," she said quiet enough that only Satsu and Quentin heard her.
"What do you mean?" Satsu asked just as quietly.
"I looked her in the eyes. She knows I'm not Echo."
"Nice going Captain Obvious!" Satsu scolded.
"Hey, you're the one that told me to look up there in the first place, dumbass! Doesn't matter even if she knows I'm me or not. The cop guy from the card Echo gave you said he'd be here. Never needed backup before and I'm pretty sure we can handle it without him, but all we need to do is bide our time and we won't have to go it alone."
"You're banking an awful lot on a man who you've never met. For all we know he's just some horny Wall Street guy who has the hots for your clonie and won't take no for an answer."
"I can assure you that Special Agent Ballard is indeed someone who can help," Quentin interrupted quietly. "A scientific genius like Adelle DeWitt doesn't just retire into anonymity without a few people sniffing around and wondering why. Ballard was one of those people. He was just an Agent then, of course, young and new and wanting to make a name for himself. I'd expect that years of waiting have only made him more determined."
They all became quiet as they neared a large door that led to some type of lab. The guard made sure that they all made it inside safely and then left, leaving them alone with what appeared to be a few programmers and technicians. A shaggy-haired programmer - Topher - spun around on his stool and smiled at both Faith and Satsu, wholly ignoring Quentin.
"And how are my favorite girls today? Anything interesting to report from the mission?"
"Nothing outside of protocol," Satsu answered automatically, Willow's spell helping her out.
"Excellent," Topher answered and then looked over at his shoulder at one of the waiting technicians. "Morris, run a scan on Sierra and get her uploaded for Dr. DeWitt. She's running a blank slate until her next mission."
Morris stepped forward and took Satsu gently by the elbow, leading her towards a metallic chair across the room. Faith watched her walk away and hoped that Willow had worked some really good mojo on them. No simple spell was going to counter whatever that chair was going to do.
Faith quickly turned her head and looked at Topher, trying to hide the concern in her eyes.
"I asked how you're feeling. Adams said that you seem off."
Faith saw something in Topher's eyes that she hadn't seen in anyone else's since she'd entered the building: concern and compassion. Topher seemed to work the closest to the actives and it seemed as though something was bothering him; he knew something was going on. No computer programming could completely erase someone's mind and he was starting to realize that.
"Maybe I am," Faith answered, trying to let Willow's spell completely wash over her so that she could channel Echo more accurately.
"Are you unwell?" he asked.
Faith looked at him and tilted her head to the side, a curious look upon her face.
"No, I'm well. I feel . . . something. I know things; things that make no sense." Her eyes flashed over to Satsu who was currently being placed in the metal chair.
Topher suddenly became very serious.
"Echo, do you feel concern for Sierra?" Echo's eyes flashed back to his and he continued. "Are you having recalls again?"
Faith waited for a moment and then nodded, careful to keep an air of innocence about her. Topher exhaled loudly, shaking his head back and forth a bit.
"I knew it. I've sensed a change in you for a while now. They keep making me fully wipe you but it keeps coming back. You're remembering."
He ran a hand through his hair, caught up in his own thoughts. Faith just watched him and hoped that he would do the right thing. There had to be one person in this place who had the slightest of a conscience.
Suddenly Topher's gaze flicked over to Satsu and his eyes widened.
"Morris!" he called out just before the technician was about to start the machine attached to Satsu. "Change of plans. Sierra doesn't need a wipe. Leave her here and go get Juliet prepped for tonight."
Morris nodded and quickly unhooked Satsu from the machine before leaving out another door. Satsu stood up and walked back over to Faith and Topher, her gaze fixed on Faith.
"Okay, that was too close," Satsu said, her voice a harsh whisper. "We need to quit the charade and get with the action before they start poking and prodding us."
Topher's brow immediately furrowed as he stared at Satsu. "What ... Sierra?"
Faith glared at Satsu's little outburst. Nothing quite like blowing their cover to put a chink in their plans. Part of her knew that Satsu was right though. They couldn't risk having the programmers run any scans on them; despite Willow's magic, she was pretty sure it wouldn't stop whatever the scans did to their bodies.
Sighing loudly, she abandoned the rigid stance she'd been in and adopted her usual posture. She looked over to Topher, almost laughing at the confused expression on his face as he glanced between her and Satsu.
"Listen, I'm not who you think I am," Faith began, her eyes pleading with Topher to just believer her. "My name is Faith and someone stole my blood and made who you know as Echo."
"What? I - I don't . . ." Topher stammered.
"And she's not the only one," Satsu said, earning his attention. "My name is Satsu and some jackass stole my blood too," she glared over her shoulder at Quentin. "Sierra is nothing but a cheap Satsu-knockoff."
"This is a practical joke, right? Morris is getting me back for locking him in the men's room. He programmed the both of you to . . ." Topher muttered.
"She's probably a pretty expensive knockoff, actually. She's like the Prime Rib and you're, I dunno, Spam," Faith joked, grinning when Satsu shot her a dirty look.
"Can't say I've ever been compared to canned meat before. Buffy always said my lips tasted like cinnamon buns though," Satsu added, a bit of a challenge in her voice as she met Faith's grin.
Faith narrowed her eyes at the girl and took a step forward but was stopped by Topher who stepped in-between them.
"Buffy? You mean Buffy Carrigan? She was a client here."
"Wrong-o," Faith replied. "She was undercover trying to find out what kinda high-jinks and shenanigans you guys were up to here. Gotta say, the shenanigans are of the pretty extreme variety." She couldn't help the accusatory look she gave him when she said the last part.
"Whoa whoa whoa," Topher said, holding up his hands, "if you think I knew about any of that stuff you're way off. They told me that the actives voluntarily signed up for five-year contracts. Figured the fat paycheck was enough to sway them. Your friend isn't the only one investigating this place though. A bunch of other scientists keep trying to send their spies in to steal our technology, and who can forget that pain in the ass FBI guy?"
"FBI guy?" Faith asked. She held out the business card Echo had given them and handed it to Topher. "That the one?"
"One in the same. I've got like a hundred of these cards at my apartment. I thought about calling him when Echo and Sierra presented with memory recalls and Dr. DeWitt ordered full wipes on them again and again. Never had the nerve to actually call though."
"Lucky for us I do," Faith said. "Listen, you need to help us out here. Pain-in-the-ass FBI guy is on his way here now and we need to find a way to get him up here. Those apes ya got at the door downstairs are never gonna let him in. Satsu and I can handle whatever happens until then but we can't go hurting these people. Gotta let the law deal with them."
"Right, so I'll just open up a magical portal and beam them up here," Topher said sarcastically.
Faith tilted her head to the side and looked at him. "You can do that?"
Really, would it be so impossible at this point? Slayers, clones, witches, demons; who was to say that the nerdy computer guy couldn't have portal-opening powers?
"It's called sarcasm. Look it up," Satsu said.
"Yeah, maybe after I'm done looking up 'annoying pest.'"
Topher was getting even more and more confused by their back and forth bickering. And now on top of everything, they wanted him to open up some kind of mysterious unguarded passage to get the FBI guys up there. It was impossible! Adelle was going to be expecting Echo's download footage soon and if he didn't send it to her office, she'd come to retrieve it personally.
He suddenly ran over to his computer while Faith and Satsu continued to bicker and typed furiously, opening up the security program. While he was only a programmer, he was the best programmer there. Add that to his elevated security level and he was able to open up the building schematics, locating any and all maintenance access stairwells.
"There!" he exclaimed, his finger anxiously tapping the screen so that Faith and Satsu could see once they'd wandered over. "I can override the security on that maintenance door and have it unlocked for a span of about sixteen minutes before the system catches it."
"Wicked. All I've gotta do is call the guy and tell him where to go," Faith said easily, a satisfied smile on her face.
Topher typed furiously again until an execute menu appeared on the screen.
"There, it's all set. The sixteen-minute window is active. I just hope they get here in time."
Faith nodded and pulled her phone out from her pocket, hitting re-dial on the keypad. She held the phone to her ear and immediately spoke when she heard the other line click.
"You've got sixteen minutes. Rear maintenance door."
Just as she was about to end the call, a loud thud sounded behind her. She spun to find Satsu on the ground and Quentin stumbling over as Topher looked on in shock. Something caught her attention out of the corner of her eye and she looked over just in time to see Adelle grinning coldly at her while someone at her side shot a tranquilizer dart in her direction.
She felt a stinging pain in her thigh and looked down to see the red-feathered tranquilizer dart sticking out of the front of her leg. She quickly pulled it out but it was too late; the medicine was coursing through her blood and she already felt herself losing her balance.
With her last ounce of strength as she finally tumbled over, she slid the cell phone under the desk and looked up at Topher who just stared down at her in horror.
"Don't let them . . . do it . . . to . . . us . . ."
And then her world was dark.
Topher quickly bent down and checked her pulse, then Satsu and Quentin's. Assured that they were still alive and only sleeping, he stood up and looked over to Adelle who was quickly approaching with a small team of actives.
"What are you doing?" he yelled. "You can't just go around hurting people like this, Adelle! They're not Echo and Sierra; they're the girls that you cloned them from. All of this talk of volunteers and genetic studies only for a research project . . . it's all a lie. And you've dragged us all into it with you!"
"Oh, simmer down," Adelle said evenly, dismissing Topher's rant as she looked over Satsu and Faith. "I'm not going to kill them. My Echo and Sierra are gone. I'm simply replacing what's mine with new product."
Topher screwed up his face in disgust.
"These are living, breathing people, Adelle! You can't just mess with someone's life like this!"
Adelle looked over at the woman standing to her side and rolled her eyes, "Please shut him up."
A quick zipping sound was heard before Topher looked down at his side to find a tranquilizer dart stuck there. His eyes widened and he looked up at Adelle in disbelief for just a moment before he too fell to the floor.
"Victor, November . . . get those girls up into the chairs. I'll have my actives one way or another."
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