"No sign of Warren for a couple of days," said Buffy, looking around the Magic Box two nights later, "Probably means he's planning something nasty."
"Well, we know where he was two nights ago," said Spike, "playing poker chip with Clem and his friends. Sounds like I missed a good game. Shark's got half the demons in town out looking for him, that's got to cramp his style a little."
"Okay, everyone, if you were Warren what would you be doing?"
"Peeing myself," said Spike.
"Trying to free my friends?" suggested Xander.
"Not a chance," said Willow, "Warren uses people, he won't go an inch out of his way to help them."
"Maybe they have something he wants," suggested Tara. "Jonathan was his big gun for magic, and we're pretty sure that Andrew summoned demons for him, Warren's more the technology guy. If Warren's still after Willow he'd need their help."
"We know that, but does Warren?" asked Dawn, "He's kinda over-ambitious, isn't he."
"Anya," asked Willow, "do you have any suggestions?"
"For the bridesmaids, if you're sure the green won't work. Time's getting short, we need to finalise."
"A bit... girly, isn't it?" suggested Dawn. "Besides, we've got a redhead here, not sure pink matches well."
"Hmm... maybe." Anya retreated into her copy of Brides Magazine.
There was a knock at the door, and Buffy went to check it, returning with Jay, Kay, and an old man in a rumpled grey suit.
"Hi guys," said Xander, "Who's your friend?"
"Uncle Saul?" gasped Willow, "They said you were dead!"
"This is G'Ftyuk Drufkitzy," said Kay, "A Baltian attorney. He's only on Earth for a few days so we had to get him a ready-made body suit, same model your uncle used. He doesn't speak much English. He'd like to talk to you, Miss Rosenberg."
"Okay. Maybe we should do this out back, it's gonna be kind of boring for the non-Baltian speakers." Willow led him into the office adjoining the practice room, and they began to talk.
"How's it going," asked Jay.
"Right now Warren still seems to be our biggest problem," said Buffy, "everything else is pretty quiet right now. Damn, I had to say that, didn't I."
"Oh boy, we're doomed," said Xander.
"I don't understand," said Anya.
"It's like in the westerns, when someone says 'it's too quiet' and ten seconds later they get hit by an arrow and the Apache attack."
"Apache? We don't want to be attacked by them, they'd take our scalps and we need to get our hair styled for the wedding in a couple of weeks."
"It's metaphorical, Anya. I just meant that saying that it's quiet sometimes jinxes it."
"There will be no jinxing of anyone until after the wedding."
"Did you find out anything from your end?" Buffy asked hastily. "You were going to check into Warren and his pals, see if they had any alien technology."
"Nothing," said Jay, "so far as we can tell everything they've used is just normal Terran science, even that android."
"April?" asked Buffy. "We've decided to adopt her into the family, she's been helping us a lot and she doesn't have anyone else to turn to."
"We noticed that there were suddenly social security and IRS records for April Summers," said Kay. "Whoever you have hacking for you is pretty good."
"Don't worry, it's none of our business. Terran, not alien. Where is she, anyway?"
"I'm not quite sure, Willow asked her to run some sort of errand. I think she's gone to the Mall or something?"
"On her own?"
"She's getting to be good at dealing with people, and we can't keep her cooped up forever. So what are the rules for alien technology? I think Willow has some ideas but they'd probably involve things she's learned from her mother's memories.. sorry, her own Baltian memories. God, this really confuses me."
"You and everyone else. When I told Zed about it he took three Tylenols. Last time he did that was when Elvis went home."
"I'm not gonna ask."
"I am," said Xander, "Elvis was an alien??"
"I thought everyone knew that," said Anya, "you didn't think any normal human would wear clothes like that, did you?"
"Well.. okay, I guess I see what you mean."
"Getting back to Willow," Buffy said hastily, "I was asking about the rules."
"Basically, anything she introduces has to be cleared by us. Non-destructive refinements of existing Terran science, such as new uses for existing devices, are normally fine, anything else tends to be blocked. Extending Terran science is usually okay, but we've learned to be cautious about that one, so clearance usually takes a while. Flat-out alien gizmos are right out, regardless of what they're for."
"I guess that makes sense."
"I'll get her a copy of the regulations, I think she already knows the Treaty of Tycho but the full schedule runs to a couple of thousand pages."
"Ouch. Rather Willow than me, but she'd better have them."
"So I guess you can't give us any help with Warren now?" asked Dawn.
"Oh, we still want to neuralyze him, he's seen too much and we need to make sure he can't make anything of it. Jay's already taken care of his friends, we'll be keeping an eye out for him, but we don't have the resources to keep a major incident team in Sunnydale indefinitely. Which reminds me," he handed Buffy a card with the letters MiB and a San Francisco telephone number, "if you catch him we'll probably pick up on it, but if we don't seem to be around call us. We can get a team here in half an hour, neuralyze him and anyone else he's told about our activities."
"So how's Willow handling this?" asked Jay.
"I think she's getting herself together," said Tara. "She had a lot of nightmares the first night, and some mood shifts next day, but she seems to have put herself back together pretty well. Her aura's looking a lot better now, much more stable. I think that it's matured her a little, if anything, maybe got her past the worst of her problems with magic."
"Let's hope old G'Ftyuk doesn't upset her, he was convinced we'd kidnapped her mom and were trying to put in a ringer to get hold of her inheritance."
"She ought to be okay, I think. We're on the level, and with luck she'll be able to convince him."
"...so then T'dolytuf turned the tfpot'ky onto ct'opwa cycle," Willow said in Baltian, "and it sprayed S'atfor with the foulest-smelling gunk you can imagine, and dyed his t'fotn'l infra-purple. After that he kinda lost his enthusiasm for j'piltok."
G'Ftyuk slapped his hand onto his thigh, and said "All right, I'm convinced. No Terran could possibly make up that story. Either you've been coached by a Baltian or you are one."
"Hey, that was English," Willow said indignantly. "You've been testing me, haven't you."
"Wouldn't you? I knew your uncle well, I'd hate to see a bunch of savages take advantage of his estate. No offence meant."
"Wait a minute... you knew uncle? I thought your name was familiar, you bought me a w'logju when I was a little girl!"
"You remember that? What colour was it?"
"Black, of course, what sort of question is that? Come to think of it, it looked kinda like Kitty Fantastico."
"A cat? Yes, there is some similarity. I recall your Uncle kept one while he was here."
"Enough, I'm convinced. You're little H'lotka. Now we have to work out how we get you back to normal."
"Err.. actually I kinda like things as they are."
"As a Terran? You've been here too long."
"We've already been over this twice. Subjectively, I've been a human about three times as long as I was a Baltian. Besides, everyone I love is on Earth, what have I got there except distant relatives?"
"If you're sure...."
"Very well, I'll begin working on getting your assets transferred to Terra. You realise that both our government and the Terrans will want a large share?"
"I got that. Not a problem, I wasn't planning to buy any spaceships anyway."
"Be prepared for a certain amount of media attention. Your uncle being who he was, and your story being so romantic..."
"I'm sure that with the right agent and bt'lik-writer it'll be a best-seller. I've friends in the industry, would you like me to make inquiries?"
"You know I'm kinda shy. The thought of all that publicity...."
"Oh, there wouldn't be anything on Terra, unless someone wants to buy the translation rights. That could be written into the contract if you like, that all names and locations would be changed so that you couldn't be identified."
"Well, okay, provided it won't end up with my life being a freak-show."
"I'll look into it. Now, I'll need you to give me a power of attorney to access your accounts on Baltia, other than that I think we're done..."
Warren drove past Buffy's house for the third time and cursed as he spotted the figures that he suspected were guarding the place. He recognised Sheila Rosenberg, he had an idea that one of the others was Willow's father, but who were the guy in the college sweater and the girl in the old-fashioned dress who'd been sitting on the back porch all evening? He was already pretty sure that they weren't human, nobody sits that still for so long. Maybe Willow had built more robots based on April's design...
He went to an internet cafe and tapped into the network of cameras the Trio had planted around Sunnydale in their glory days. Nothing at the college or any of their homes... here they were, meeting at the Magic Box. He could see most of them around the table; Buffy, Xander, the two strangers, Anya, Tara and Spike. No sign of Willow or April, maybe they were out of shot. As usual he wished that Jonathan had had the sense to put the bug in something that wasn't kept in a soundproof case, he couldn't hear anything and didn't know how to read lips.
Jay's scanner beeped, showing the symbols for a bugging transmitter in operation. He casually said "We're being paged" and showed the screen to Kay, who pressed the touch screen to trace the outgoing signal, then smiled and said "Hello Warren."
"Huh?" asked Buffy.
"Someone's planted a camera bug in the shop, it just activated. It isn't picking up sound so try to look like we're having a very interesting conversation, I'm trying to trace it."
"We'll have to call the police, we don't have anyone else in Sunnydale right now."
"That's no good," said Buffy, "they're pretty useless. I'll go out the back way, pretend I've gone to the ladies room or something. I'll take my mobile with me, can you text me directions as you track him down?"
"Remember," said Spike, "Bastard's got a gun."
"Don't worry," said Buffy, "I'm not planning to give him a chance to get a shot at me."
"There he is," said Irving the Miquot demon, "told you I saw him going in here."
He and Jerry the vampire strolled through the internet cafe, trying to look inconspicuous, which isn't easy for a demon with yellow skin and a head ridge made of living knives. Anywhere but Sunnydale there would have been a panic, here the customers seemed to glaze over as soon as they saw that the thugs weren't heading in their direction.
Warren was sitting behind a potted palm where nobody could see his screen. Unfortunately that didn't give him a very clear view of the rest of the cafe. He only realised he had company when Irving grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet, spilling coffee all over the keyboard of the rented computer. Warren went for his gun, Jerry grabbed his other arm and twisted until he had to release it, caught the gun in mid-air and pulled it apart, dropped the mangled remains into the potted palm, then together they threw Warren through the window and climbed out after him.
By the time Buffy arrived a couple of minutes later everyone in the cafe was prepared to swear that they'd seen two teenagers on PCP drag someone out, and nobody had any idea where they'd gone.