The musty boardroom of the Watcher's Council, ensconced in the heart of London, was stirred by a cacophony of voices. The usually quiet deliberations had been abandoned in favour of a jumbled chorus of condemnation.
"This second Slayer, this Faith, is an aberration, an abomination! She should be eliminated immediately..."
"Yes, yes, like a mad dog, should be put down..."
"The Summers girl may be recalcitrant, but at least she performs her duty - unlike this one..."
"We must ensure that Faith does not leave Los Angeles alive..."
But then a voice cut through the din: "Why should we kill her at all?"
Heads turned in shock to stare at the speaker: a whippet-thin man with a disconcerting stare and long white fingers. "Consider, gentleman," the Surgeon-General continued smoothly, as cool as ice and sharp as a razorblade. "Cast your minds back to Faith's predecessor - Kendra, the Jamaican girl. I would not be wrong in assuming that she met with your approval, yes?"
There was a general nodding of heads and agreement.
"Well, my dear colleagues, then please recall the fact that not so long ago, Slayers as obedient and pliable as Kendra were the norm rather than the exception. We must remember that Faith is indeed an aberration, a mere blip on the radar, and I have no doubt that her successor will be far more willing to conform to tradition and authority..."
"Then why not have done with it now, and eliminate Faith as soon as possible?" someone called out brashly, and once again a murmur of approval ran through the boardroom.
"Because, gentleman," he replied, his voice now tinged with a hint of acid, "why should we simply settle for another Kendra? Why should we settle for just one, when we could have a dozen? When we could have a hundred?"
For a moment there was silence - but he did not have to wait long for a response. Sure enough, one of his colleagues soon surged heavily to his feet and thumped a fist upon the solid oak table. "Surgeon-General, explain yourself immediately!"
The Surgeon-General of the Watcher's Council smiled brilliantly, the white bone of his teeth reflecting in the dim light, and knew that he had already won. "Of course, Secretary-General. Of course." He cleared his throat. "Let me begin with the concept of defibrillation..."
* * *
As Faith slowly drifted into consciousness, she gradually became aware of voices - men's voices, with English accents, creeping softly into the corners of her mind.
How are the vital signs? ... She's fine, heart rate down a little but brain activity normal. The dosage was enormous, but it barely even registered on her metabolism... Strong as horses, these Slayers... I heard they barely caught her at all... Yes, she killed her own Watcher before the team took her down last night...Bloody dangerous, this one ...Look, she's waking up already... Sedate her again, we can't risk her waking until we're further out to sea...
Faith blinked open her eyes, the white glare of fluorescent lights blurring into focus at the same time as she registered the smell of antiseptic. She tried to raise her hand, but realised her wrist was strapped down to the bed. Still dazed from the sedative, Faith had barely enough time to notice that her other limbs were similarly fastened before her vision was darkened by a white-masked figure, leaning over her with a syringe in its hand.
One quick jab into her arm, a mere pinprick of pain, and Faith was gone again, sinking swiftly into dreams of broken glass and blood. The last thing she noticed was that the world seemed to be rocking, the shadows swinging back and forth in time with the ocean waves.
* * *
Faith woke and slept, woke and slept, ensconced in the hull of the luxury yacht and constantly watched by white-coated and worried-looking men, who in turn were watched by the black-clad and arms-bearing crew. It was not a swift journey, and she had much time in which to dream. Such troubled dreamings and obscure visions - she tossed and turned restlessly in the narrow bed, tuned to the rise and fall of the tides...
'Little sister's coming soon,' Buffy said to her, smiling. 'Tatyana makes three, we'll be a happy family.' She laughed as they ran along together, hand in hand, singing the names breathlessly. 'Then there's Rachel, and Hester, and Mei, and Agnetha, and maybe even more...' But now they stopped running and suddenly she was driving the knife into Faith's guts again, except that this time Buffy kissed her before she fell...
'What if it had been different?' Wesley asked wearily, still tied up to the kitchen chair and the dried blood caked along one side of his face. 'What if you had had Giles as your Watcher instead of me?' He laughed bitterly. 'You killed me before I had time to give you my answer, Faith. So I'm telling you now.' He leant forward and breathed into her face, the scent of lavender and mouldering corpse. 'Don't you see, Faith? These questions are foolish. It doesn't matter what might or might not have been, because you'll always be second best. You'll always be Second...'
'I know what you're going through,' Angel told her, holding her against his chest as she cried. 'I know how hard it is to die. I know how much it hurts.' He wiped away her tears and smiled at her, even though he too was crying. 'But don't worry. I'll make sure you get it done properly...'
To sleep and to dream, to wake with her face wet with salty tears and her heart beating urgently in fast adrenaline flutters - so it went, for nights upon days upon nights. And all the while the ship surged onwards, cutting through the waves on the long route to London.
* * *
"The heart beats according to the regular delivery of electrical impulses," the Surgeon-General explained to the panel of senior Watchers that observed from behind the operating room's glass wall, while behind him his underlings prepped the equipment. "Defibrillation involves delivering a voltage of electricity large enough to override all other impulses, stopping the heart completely..."
He had explained this many times before, summoned to meeting after meeting to repeat the same weary spiel, but he did not care. The tiresome task was necessary, something to be endured in order to realise his grand vision - an idea he had conceived the first inklings of more than twenty years ago, when he had first read about the preternatural physiology of Slayers. Of course, back then his theory had been mere speculation; he could never have foreseen the accident that proved it was indeed tenable, or that he would one day be in a position to put the idea into practice.
"... Once the heart has ceased all activity, or flatlined, the activation of the next Slayer should take effect immediately." He said the words by rote now, his mind already focused on the task at hand, his eyes drifting to the doors through which the patient would soon be entering. "We will restart the heart using cardio pulmonary resuscitation techniques after sixty seconds have elapsed. One minute should be sufficient for our purposes and will also minimise the likelihood of brain damage. The whole procedure is perfectly simple, I assure you, and the advanced regenerative traits of the Slayer make it almost foolproof."
There was a clatter at the door and the Surgeon-General turned sharply. "Ah, and here is the subject now," he murmured calmly, disguising the sudden thrill of excitement that coursed through his veins as they wheeled in the stretcher.
The patient - he had long ago ceased to think in terms of 'she' - was gagged, but muffled screams were still audible. Coolly he noted the bloodied wrists and ankles, chafed raw by the patient's struggles against the restraints, and mentally resolved to have them treated as soon as possible to avoid infection.
"Shouldn't you sedate her?" One of the more nervous Watchers called out tentatively, clearly disturbed by the confronting reality of 'the subject' in person.
The Surgeon-General was barely even listening, occupied by the bustle of the operating theatre as his assistants readied the defibrillator, briskly smearing the shock pads with saline paste. "Oh no," he answered absently. "The patient must be conscious - any charge delivered in combination with a general anaesthetic would almost certainly be fatal." With that he turned back to the table and smiled like a shark beneath the surgeon's mask, ready to carve out his place in history forever.
The patient jolted violently on the table, spine arching and muscles taut. Then the body slumped and the monotonous sound of the flatline filled the room...
* * *
Three years later
The smoke from the Secretary-General's pipe puffed out in thick gray clouds, drifting slowly in the still air of his wood panelled office as he listened to the latest report.
"... A fourteen year-old from Lagos in Nigeria, sir. She was identified as a prospect back in 1996 and assigned a Watcher. She's particularly skilled with the crossbow and has few family ties to distract her from her duties. I was impressed by her dedication to the calling, sir, a model Slayer if ever I saw one."
"And the Watcher is requesting a permanent relocation to, hmm, the Ivory Coast, is that correct?"
"Yes, that's right, sir. Apparently there's some sort of mystical convergence within the vicinity of the coastal city of Abidjan, similar to a Hellmouth, and he feels they could do the most good there rather than in Nigeria."
The Secretary-General furrowed his brow thoughtfully and flipped through the documentation with his free hand. "Thank you for the report, young, er, man. You may go."
"Thank you, sir."
When the door had closed behind the earnest young Watcher, the Secretary-General leant back into his comfortable leather armchair and sighed. Three years had passed since the Council had taken the first irrevocable step, an exhausting and frantic period that had resulted in the tripling and then the tripling again of the Council's activities. The Secretary-General was fifty-seven years old and had devoted the majority of his life to the Council, yet the events of the past decade had rendered the organisation almost unrecognisable from the one of his youth.
Almost three years ago from today, they had successfully brought Faith back for the first time from whatever lay beyond the flatline. Sure enough, a sixteen year-old girl from Moscow named Tatyana had become the Third Slayer. Emboldened by their success, the Council had waited a mere three months before repeating the experiment: this time the girl was from Christchurch, New Zealand. Five months following the Fourth's calling, the Fifth Slayer was activated, and four months after that so was the Sixth.
The Nigerian girl was the Twelfth Slayer.
He bit the stem of the pipe and remembered those prophetic words with a wry smile: Why one, when we could have a dozen? When we could have a hundred?
The first prediction had been realised and soon there would also be a Thirteenth: the next flatline session was already scheduled for two months and a week from now. The former Surgeon-General, now Chancellor of the Watcher's Council, had plans in place that would see the Twentieth Slayer called by 2007. Beyond that, their course of action was still uncertain - but privately the Secretary-General could see no end in sight.
The New Slayers had already done well, and within the next few years they would undoubtedly be able to achieve more good and prevent more evil occurring than any single Slayer, or even two Slayers, could ever hope to match in a lifetime. The various factions of the Council were united for the first time in several centuries.
The only dissenter was the First Slayer, Buffy Summers. She had even dared to come to London to harangue the Council in person, demanding that they 'free' the Second Slayer or, failing that, to turn her into policy custody. The foolish girl had done so not once but several times - in point of fact, her latest visit had come just last week. He shook his head at her obstinance and wondered at her inability to see that it was all for the greater good. There were also recent and troubling reports that the vampire Angelus had been spotted in the vicinity of London...
The Secretary-General puffed on his pipe and pondered the problem a moment longer, before turning his attention back to the matter of the Twelfth Slayer and the relocation application.
* * *
The Second Slayer stood quietly in the restraints, forced to stand bolt upright against the wall as the attendants placed the tray of food onto the bench and took away the old one, scurrying nervously through the door as soon as they were done. She paid them little heed.
Instead, she listened to the familiar sounds of her prison being resealed, mentally ticking them off in sequence. The first click which meant the innermost door had closed; then the rattling of the bars sliding back into place; next, the clang of the solid steel door; and finally the soft electronic beep which meant that all systems were secure. When the beep came, the restraints on her arms and legs clacked open automatically, and she was free to move again.
Faith sat down at the bench and began to eat - it was either that or be force fed, and she had enough experience of the latter to know that it was better to simply eat. All the while, she was acutely aware of the cameras that watched her every movement, as they had done since she was first locked in here nearly three years ago.
Even back then they had anticipated everything, or so it seemed. The cell contained no sheets that she could wind around her neck, no beams from the ceiling or doorhandles she might knot a string around, no sharp objects of any shape or description. Everything that Faith came into contact with was carefully vetted for its ability to be used as an instrument of self-harm, from the non-toxic bar of soap in the basin to the plastic cutlery she ate with. Suicide by any conventional means was impossible.
Not that she hadn't tried anyway. Starvation had failed - twice. In the fifth month a guard carelessly dropped a pen and she managed to slit one wrist right open before they came in and sedated her. Once she knocked herself out on the wall and didn't come to for thirteen hours - after that incident, they padded the cell before they put her back in.
But Faith hadn't made an attempt since before her last flatline session, and since then she had been on her best behaviour - playing it dumb, playing it safe. She occupied her time by playing with crayons and paper, filling whole sheets with bright whorls of colour, the remembered fragments of nightmares which were not nightmares. She closed her lips, cast down her eyes, and was as meek as a milkmaid to the guards that feared her.
The psychiatrists and their coloured bits of cardboard, the doctors and their beeping machines, had all concluded the same thing. 'Brain damage,' they whispered behind her back. 'Mental age of a ten year-old.' And so they had come to believe that she had accepted her fate.
People forget that children can be cunning.
As Faith drank her milk obediently and began to tackle the slice of cake, she gently flexed her left foot for reassurance. She arched it, just a little - enough to feel her muscle tense around the metal embedded under the skin, but no more than that. This was her secret.
Sometimes she was allowed in the yard for an hour or two, a walled-off concrete courtyard twelve steps wide and twenty-three steps long (she had counted often enough to know this off by heart). But yesterday, she had found a tiny razor the size of her fingernail, wedged into the mortar between two bricks - she could hazard a guess as to who had put it there.
I'll make sure you get it done properly...
Minute characters were etched into the metal: a one and a two, enclosed within the symbol for omega.
The Second Slayer briefly wondered how they had ever managed to smuggle the weapon inside, before quickly slipping the razor into the soft muscle of her foot. Her skin healed over within the hour and soon showed no more evidence of the razor than a red mark - and for the first time in years, Faith had been thankful for her Slayer's body.
All day she been simply biding her time, waiting to pick just the right moment in which to take out the blade and end the torture of the past three years. Faith knew that it would work, that it had to work. She had been pushed into the flatline ten times with excruciating pain, and on each occasion was brought back screaming. With each flatline came another little sister, called into the family by the awful sound of her soul being ripped out of her body.
Ten times for ten sisters, making Twelve Slayers in total - but she would not suffer a Thirteenth to be born from her.
Faith finished the cake and flexed her left foot, ever so gently, before she lay down on the mattress and waited for night to fall. At ten p.m. precisely, she heard the familiar cry of the guards in the hallway, pronouncing the ward secure - "clear!"
Then all the lights in the block went out, leaving Faith in the darkness for one last time.