The Sunnydale operation was over. It had been a resounding success. Dozens of demon entities had been identified, studied and dissected, and the knowledge gained was being used by the military to make its fighting men and women better and stronger soldiers. Riley’s excellent performance throughout the operation had been noted by his superior officers, who had decided he was ready to command his own mission. He had been sent, with very little notice, on a top secret mission to the Maldives. This had meant, of course, that he would be on the other side of the world from his girlfriend Buffy, but in any case he had the sense that their relationship had come to a natural end. He felt great affection for her, but he could not see her as a military wife any more than he could see himself as a Slayer’s husband. They parted as friends, knowing that they would always be able to rely on each other.
A few months after he left town, Riley telephoned Buffy. He had a favour to ask of her.
“I need you to go into the Initiative’s facility in Sunnydale and make sure everything’s okay,” he said. “There was a bureaucratic mix-up and Arkwright, the officer in charge, was transferred before the decommissioning was complete. Someone was supposed to replace him, but those orders never came through.”
“According to Arkwright all the specimens are secure and all confidential documents have been shredded,” Riley said. “He took care of that before he left. But it sounds like nobody has been to check up on the specimens since his transfer.”
“By specimens,” Buffy said, “you mean demons?”
Riley was on an encrypted military line but Buffy was not. Riley sighed at his ex-girlfriend’s casual disregard of military protocol.
“Yes. They’ve been left without food or water for more than a month. Most of the specimens will be dead by now, but there are a few particularly hardy strains that could have survived. If they are any still alive, they’ll be very hungry and very angry. Any survivors will be very dangerous, and I need someone with your kind of experience to clean things up properly and dispose of all the specimens.”
“Angry, hungry demons, gotcha,” Buffy replied.
“I’m sending you all the details by secure courier. Obviously, this is top secret – for your eyes only. I’m trusting you the way I’d trust one of my own men. I know you won’t let me down.’
Being a Slayer, Buffy had found, required some delegation. She couldn’t do everything, so she concentrated on the slaying part and left things like reading reports, performing spells and acquiring demon knowledge to the Scoobies.
“Ooh,” said Anya excitedly, reading classified military secrets over Willow’s shoulder, ”They’ve got a Pyrankha demon. If it’s still alive, we should cut out its liver. We can sell fresh Pyrankha liver for a hundred dollars an ounce at the magic store.”
“Is there anything there we should be concerned about?” Buffy asked.
“Nothing we can’t handle,” Willow said confidently. “Just the usual vampires and a few minor demons.”
She scanned the pages quickly.
“Oh wait,” she said, “this looks interesting. It’s a description of one of the vampires they picked up – bleached blond hair, blue eyes, London accent. They’ve got Spike.”
Xander smiled, “Does that mean we get to kill Spike? Say yes, please say yes!”
“According to this,” Willow said, “the Initiative performed an experiment on him. They planted a chip in his head that makes him unable to attack people.”
“So we get to take down Spike, and the vamp can’t fight back,” Xander said.
“I don’t quite understand,” Willow said. “Why go to all the trouble of planting a chip in a vampire when it would be so much easier just to stake them?”
No one had an answer to that one.
“Your government dollars at work,” Xander said shrugging. “The important thing is that we get to kill Spike.”
The air in the Initiative’s underground facility was stale; the ventilation system and the lights had been turned off when the last soldier left. Their was a rank odor – the stench of demons (usually sulphuric or sourly acidic depending on species) and rotting flesh on top of the lingering scents of gun oil, boot polish and the manly sweat of soldiers. Following the map Riley had provided, the Scoobies went it to the command centre where Anya managed to figure out how to turn on the lights and ventilation. The command centre was scrupulously tidy, a model of functional efficiency, although a thin layer of dust lay over all the room’s surfaces. The keys to the cells were on a neatly labelled hook. The only decorative item in the room was a hand-lettered poster thumb tacked to the wall. It read “The only good demon is a dead demon.”
They waited outside the facility. for the ventilation system to do its work. The poor air quality had made the humans feel sick and dizzy after only a few minutes of exposure, and they needed to be in good physical shape to deal with any of the demons that might still be lurking in the facility’s cells.
After the air had cleared, the Scoobies went back inside. All of them were carrying weapons, except for Anya, who was carrying a cooler loaded with ice. The demons in the first few cells were already dead. Anya identified them as a Varoshta and a G’Braith.
“No market value,” she said, examining the corpse of the Varoshta demon. “If it was in better condition, we could sell its pelt but look at this. There’s these marks. Little round circular holes...”
“Cigarette burns,” Willow said. “Someone was burning it with a cigarette. What kind of experiments did they do here?”
“Hey, let’s not get all soft-hearted about the poor demons,” Xander said. “I bet this Varoshta thing had it coming. Remember that it was a demon invading our realm before we all get all mushy.”
“More a refugee than an invader,” Anya said, stroking the dead demon’s fur. “Their realm is being taken over by the Tanakai, and those are guys you really don’t want to meet in a dark alley. The Varoshta usually live in the sewers and eat rats. Sometimes the odd stray cat or lost puppy. They’re kind of shy.”
“See, evil puppy-eating demon,” Xander said, sounding slightly less sure of himself.
The Scoobies walked past more than a dozen cells, at least half of which were occupied by dead demons in various states of putrefaction. The smell was appalling, and prevented Anya or Willow from getting close enough to any of the bodies to make a proper species identification.
“Could any of those be Spike?” Buffy asked.
“Don’t think so. None of them are the right size and shape. Besides when vampires die all that is left is a pile of ashes. Maybe they kept the vampires in their own cellblock.” Willow said.
Deep in the underground facility, the Scoobies found a live demon. Anya was thrilled to identify it as a Pyrankha. It was small demon about the size of a collie, with emerald coloured eyes that glowed in the dim confines of it cell. The dead bodies of rats neatly piled in a corner of the cell showed how the demon had survived.
“Watch out,” Anya warned. “It spits acid.”
The creature, however, was too weak to do anything more than bare its sharp yellow teeth. Anya dispatched it quickly and then gutted it. She removed the liver and placed it in the cooler.
“It’s not in great condition,” she said, looking at the piece of demon organ meat. “I’ll be lucky if I can sell it at half price.”
Buffy was eager for this disappointing mission to be over. She looked at Riley’s map.
“Only one more unit of cells,” she said,” and then we can go home.”
The last unit had housed the vampires. A vampire, crazed by thirst and months of isolation, staggered to the bars of its cell and reached for the Slayer. Buffy put a stake through the mad thing’s heart.
“Buffy,” Willow called from down the corrider. “I think this one is Spike.”
Willow’s doubt was understandable. The occupant of the cell was barely recognizable. His hair was an unkempt mess of greasy light brown curls and he had the kind of patchy, straggly facial hair possessed by those who were never intended by Nature to have a beard. He was naked and filthy. Dried rivulets of caked blood painted his chest and ran down his back and his legs.
“Is he alive?” Buffy asked.
“Well, he’s not a heap of ashes,” Willow said, “so I assume he’s alive, or at least not dead.”
“I knew he dyed his hair,” Xander said.
“Well, duh,” said Willow.
Buffy unlocked the door and knelt down by the unconscious vampire.
“Riley said to dispose of all the specimens,” Buffy said uncertainly.
“But he’s got that chip, right?” Willow said,” So he’s not dangerous anymore.”
“I can’t leave him here,” Buffy said. “That would be more cruel than killing him. And I’m not going to take him home and nurse him back to health because he’s already obsessed with me, and playing Florence Nightengale would just make it worse. Besides, chipped or not, I’m not letting him near Dawn.”
“You’ve got to kill him then,” Xander said sombrely. “There’s no other choice.”
Spike’s eyes opened. He focused on the Slayer. With great difficulty he managed to whisper a word.
“Angel,” he said.