"You know," Willow said a couple of hours later, as she soldered replacement fuel cells into April's torso, "I'm sure that there's something I've forgotten."
"You think it's important?" asked Dawn, mixing silicone plastic, hardener, and dye to match April's skin tones,
"What do you mean?" asked Tara, using a spatula to spread the goo over the hard plastic that overlaid the metal skeleton of April's leg, with a selection of brushes and sculpting tools to add the fine detail.
"It's just... Willow's told us so much already, and most of these problems will go away if someone catches Warren and Xander goes through with the wedding. What else can there be?"
"I think I've got memories of at least fifteen or twenty different versions of the next couple of months," said Willow, "In most of them the wedding is a disaster, but I've a feeling that there are other things, maybe they only happened in one or two of the lives I'm remembering. Low probability stuff I'm having trouble remembering."
"We could try hypnosis," said Tara, "but it's kinda intrusive. Maybe you just need to stop trying for a while, concentrate on April. How are you getting on with the soldering?"
"Almost done. Should be able to get her back on line in a few minutes."
"Okay. Good thing we got the industrial sized drum of this silicone goop, and never got around to throwing it away after the Buffybot was destroyed. Better make the next batch a big one, Dawn, we'll need a lot for her butt and thighs, but don't add the hardener until she's ready to move. Wish I could change my figure this easily."
"You're fine," said Willow, "comfortable."
"That does it, I'm definitely going on a diet."
"She's teasing," said Dawn. "You're gorgeous. Besides, how can you diet with Buffy's birthday coming up, that's definitely gonna be an eat till you puke event."
"That's it," said Willow excitedly, "there's something about the birthday party. Someone makes a stupid wish, we end up trapped in the house with a demon. Don't think it's me, but it's kinda fuzzy, it might be. There's a sword and a vengeance demon involved, not Anya, one of her friends."
"Okay," said Dawn, "another thing to add to the list, no wishes. And make sure that Xander knows, after that dancing demon thing I'm not sure I trust him to be sensible."
"It's not just when Buffy blows out the cake, I think it happens earlier."
There were footsteps downstairs, and Buffy shouted "Dawn?"
"Up here, Buffy, we're fixing April."
"Hi guys," said Buffy, walking in with Spike behind her. She took one look at the near-naked April and shut the door in his face. "Sorry, you can't come in..."
"She's a robot," said Spike through the door, "not like I'm ogling naked women."
"You just did, and I'm not sure she sees it that way. Go downstairs, I'll be down in a few minutes."
"It's okay," said Willow, "she's powered down right now, she won't know."
"I do," said Buffy, "and that's enough for me. Any news?"
"We think we've spotted a few problems coming up. The big one that happens in a lot of the lives I remember is Xander leaving Anya at the altar. We think someone uses a mind control spell on him."
"I wish. Or rather I'd better not, in one or two of my lives someone makes a stupid wish that leaves us trapped in here with a demon at your birthday party."
"Party? What party? I wasn't really planning..."
"We were. Are. We'll just have to be really careful about the 'W' word."
"Okay. Anything else?"
"Robo-Sheila found a really cute stray kitten on the lawn," said Dawn, "but it ran off. Don't suppose you saw it on patrol?"
"Nope. You want a kitten?"
"It was really cute..."
"You ready to look after it if we find it? Change the cat litter and the rest of it?"
"Okay then, Spike and I'll keep our eyes open. If we don't find it there's always the pound, I guess."
"How about you and Spike? Did you find any sign of Warren?"
"We nearly got him but he shot Spike and escaped. Before that April chased him all over town, must have messed up his plans. I need to talk to her when she's awake."
"Let's wake her then," said Willow, pushing a screwdriver into April's ear at an odd angle to press the reset switch.
April blinked, shook her head, seemed to think for a few seconds, and said "That's better. Thank you, Willow, all functions are nominal."
"That's good. We're getting on pretty well with the cosmetic side of things, but we need you standing for the next part."
"Okey-dokey." She stood, wobbling slightly, and said "I think this gyro-stabiliser is calibrated a little differently from the old one. I'll need to practice walking when you're done."
"It was adjusted for the Buffybot, she was shorter than you. Good thing we kept it. Can you compensate?"
"Yes, it will just take a little practice."
"Take a look in the mirror, what do you think of the repairs so far?"
"That's fine... oh, I think my ankles look thick."
"Your upper legs look slimmer because we haven't put the last coating of plastic on yet, I think it'll be fine once that's done."
"Okey-dokey. You're very good at this."
"We had a lot of practice with the Buffybot."
"April," said Buffy, "did you run into a guy called Rack this evening?"
"Yes. Willy told me that Warren had gone to him. I followed, but Warren had gone when I got there."
"Did you do something to Rack?"
"I think he tried to interface with me. It didn't work."
"Interface?" asked Dawn, "Is that some sort of euphemism?"
"No. He tried to connect his brain to my computer, using magic. I don't think human minds are built to work that way. He was still processing when I left."
"He was saying a lot of numbers," said Buffy, "zeroes and ones."
"My core processors are binary, he must be trying to assimilate my programming."
"How long is that likely to take?"
"I don't know, but if he tried to take all my memories it may be some time. Days, maybe weeks."
"Did he say anything useful?"
"He told me Warren was after Willow, so I left him and found Warren. Unfortunately I was too low on power to stop him."
"I wonder what Warren got from Rack. We know it was something magical... Willow, any ideas?"
"I'm not sure I... I want to talk about him," said Willow.
"If there's anything that could help..."
"I'm pretty sure he got everything from me... the spells I know, the memories I had then, my feelings for Tara and the rest of you. I don't like to..." she began to sob, and Tara moved to her side.
"One thing that comes to mind," said Tara, "It was Amy that introduced them. So he would have known her spells too, everything that she did."
"D'you think Warren might turn Willow into a rat?" asked Dawn.
"Maybe, I couldn't do much to fix things if he did."
"I don't think so," said Willow, pulling herself together. "Warren doesn't really have much power, and spells like that are major mojo."
"I noticed a pestle and mortar and some herbs and minerals in Rack's room," said April.
"Any idea what they were?"
"No, but if you have pictures I may be able to identify them."
"Yay for digital memory. Tara, do you have any herbalist books handy?"
"They're all in the room I rented or at the Magic Box."
"It'll have to wait until morning then," said Buffy, uneasy at the thought of Willow having anything to do with magic.
"You could go on line when we've finished your legs," said Willow, "there are plenty of sites, you ought to find pictures if the stuff he used was at all common."
"Okey-dokey," said April.
"Most of them ought to be bookmarked on my computer."
"Willow," said Tara, "You haven't been looking at them, have you?"
"No.. not recently anyway. You know, it's an odd thing, but since this afternoon I just don't feel the same need to use magic."
"You must have used a lot to levitate the way you did."
"I know, but I don't have the tired feeling I had when I was messing with the dark forces. It's more like... like it's in the past now, something I can do, but I don't need to do. Must have something to do with all the extra memories I picked up."
"It could be, I guess. Maybe you're past the addiction," she said a little dubiously. "Or you're remembering your life after you're past it."
"Talking of memories, there's some really weird stuff that Sheila knew, science that we haven't come up with on Earth yet. What she knew is gradually falling into place with the stuff I know. If I can persuade Jay and Kay to let me patent a few things I'll be rich. Bill Gates rich."
"You're kidding," said Buffy.
"Want a phaser? I'm pretty sure I can build one with parts from Radio Shack. It'll cost forty bucks or so."
"And then Jay and Kay come back and neuralyze you back to your diapers. Let's take it carefully on this stuff, find out what they'll let you do before we get into real trouble."
"You're probably right. Besides, I think we have more urgent problems. Okay, I think we're done. April, stay still for a few minutes, your new skin is still a little tacky. We'll have to trim off a couple of places and do the fine detailing once it's hardened, maybe in the morning."
"It looks good," said April.
"I want to check it in daylight," said Dawn, "make sure we've got the colour matched properly. Then we add in a few spots and dimples, imperfections, things like that, or it won't look real."
"I remember, you did this to me when I was Buffy."
"Umm... yeah, that's right, but I don't think we ever had to replace this much skin before, we'd better get it right or you won't look good in a bikini."
"Does it make you uncomfortable if I talk about being Buffy?"
"A little. It's kinda odd."
"Then I won't do it again."
"April," said Buffy, "If I haven't already said it, you did well tonight, and the Buffy part of you did a great job when I was.. well, dead. What I want to say is... well, if you want to go on as a member of the Summers family it's okay with me, and I think Dawn agrees."
"Sure. Better be a cousin though, not a sister, or there might be awkward questions. Our cousin April, the glamorous model, or whatever you end up doing. That'd be cool."
"Thank you, I appreciate it. I'll hug you when my legs aren't sticky, I don't want to ruin your clothes."
"That's considerate. Thanks."
Buffy heard a loud thump and swearing from downstairs, and sighed. "Sounds like Spike's found a way to get himself into trouble again, I'd better check."
Spike sat on the lounger watching TV and patting Warren's box through the leather of his coat. Her could hear the murmur of women talking and decided that with four of them comparing notes upstairs, five if you counted April, there was no way that Buffy would be down in less than ten minutes.
After five minutes he couldn't resist taking another look at the box. There wasn't much to it; a big push button, a red light, a sliding switch with five positions labelled "off 1 2 3 4", and another with three positions labelled "Band 1 2 3". On one end was a socket with two rows of pins. He guessed that was for connecting it to something, a charger or more likely a computer. He pressed the button again for a second, the light lit up, and he felt the same mild tingle in his head. He wondered about the other settings, hesitated for a moment, slid the first switch to 2, and pressed the button again. Pain stabbed in his head, as bad as anything he could remember feeling from the chip, and he quickly released the button. The pain didn't stop, and he fell to his knees swearing. He tried to push the button again, but the pain continued. After a few seconds the box fell from his spasming hand and he collapsed onto his side, writhing with pain.
Buffy ran in and saw Spike on the floor. She looked around for the cause but couldn't see anything that might have hurt him. "What is it, Spike? What's wrong?"
"Box.. Warren's toy."
Buffy spotted the box on the floor and stamped on it with her heel, once, twice, three times. The light went out, and Spike relaxed. Buffy pulled him upright and said "What were you thinking of?"
"Wanted to see what else it did."
"You... you... what if it switched the chip on and left it on, or made your head explode?"
"Didn't think of that."
Buffy picked up the remains of the box, pulled out a battery, broke the rest of it some more with her hands, and dropped the remains into the garbage. By the time she got back Spike was back on the lounger.
"What were you planning to do, Spike? Keep it in your pocket and switch it on when you wanted to hurt someone?"
"Bollocks. Okay, yeah, it did cross my mind. Demon here, remember? Would be nice to be able to hit scum like Warren."
"And how long before you're using it on people who crowd you in the supermarket or annoy you at the Bronze?"
"Would I do that?"
"Come on, Spike."
"Maybe. Okay, maybe I would."
She kissed him, and said "That's for admitting it," then punched him, not particularly hard, and said "and that's for being an idiot. Want some blood? I think there's a couple of bags in the fridge."
"Now you're talking. But gimme another kiss first."
"Okay," said Tara, "that looks like a transformation potion to me. Wonder what the transformation was."
"Anything that might give you a clue?" asked Willow, tidying away her tools.
"Not really. No bottles labelled 'tiger blood' or 'demon scales' or anything obvious like that."
"That's the trouble with evil wizards these days, you can't trust them to leave honking big clues in plain sight."
"Are you sure that there was nothing else, April? Maybe something separate from the ingredients you looked up, or an animal or something? An empty container?"
"There was an empty plastic bag on the floor," said April, after reviewing her memory.
"Yes. It was labelled 'Felix'"
"Felix?" said Tara. "As in 'Felix domestica'? You don't think..."
"Dawn," said Willow, "I think you'd better give up on the idea of keeping that particular kitten as a pet."
"You have got to be kidding," said Dawn.
"Nope. I think it was Warren."
"Wow, he sure got past our guard. Why the heck did he run? Sooner or later the spell would wear off and there he'd be, inside the house."
"Don't you remember?" asked Willow. "Tara was talking about taking him to the vet, to get him fixed."
"Was he broken?" asked April.
The others were too busy laughing to answer.
In the room above Dave's Bar and Grill a group of demons was playing poker.
"Okay," said Mr. Shark, "I'm calling." His hundred-odd teeth glittered in his grey face.
"Damn," said Clem, wrinkling his nose. "I've got squat. Fold."
"Three sixes" said Gruk, a scruffy-looking demon with a bad skin problem, one of Glory's old servitors.
"Four threes" said Jerry, one of Shark's vampire henchmen.
"That's three threes and an eight, ya moron," pointed out Irving, a Miquot demon who had already folded. His yellow spines twitched warningly.
"Oops," said Jerry, "my bad."
"And I have a royal flush," said Shark, showing his hand and pulling over the basket of kittens they'd been using as stakes.
"That's me cleaned out," said Clem.
"Me too," said Gruk.
"Better call it a night," said Irving.
"You sure?" asked Shark.
There was a sudden tearing noise and the basket exploded, showering pieces of straw and kittens in all directions, and knocking all the drinks onto the floor. Warren was lying on his back on the table, holding his gun in one hand and the empty potion bottle in the other. There were two kittens on his chest, another on his head. He sat up, shaking off the kittens, shrieked, and leaped towards the open window, and there was a loud crash as he landed on the garbage cans below. The demons strained to listen, and heard footsteps running - or perhaps hobbling was a better word - off into the night.
"Okay," said Irving, after a few seconds. "Who's been tampering with the stakes?"