“Okay,” said Buffy Summers. “I’m still a little jet lagged, I guess. Let’s just have a quick reality check. Is this Bizarro-world? Or the world without shrimp?”
“Nope,” said Dawn, “unfortunately not.”
“How the hell did the government… our government… screw up like this?”
“Your government,” said Giles, emphasising the ‘your,’ “let HYDRA gain control of SHIELD. When that fell apart there was a review of all cases in which SHIELD and other covert agencies had arranged imprisonment, which unfortunately included Ethan Rayne. And since all of the evidence and most of the paperwork went down with the Initiative, which turns out to have been at least partially controlled by HYDRA… well, they really had no alternative to releasing him and repatriating him to Britain – I’m only surprised they didn’t give him compensation, but I gather that he didn’t make a good impression on the review board. I suppose we should count ourselves lucky that Agent Finn belatedly heard about it and let us know.”
“Only a week too late,” Buffy grumbled.
“Don’t exaggerate, it’s only been five days. Dawn, perhaps you could summarise recent developments?”
“While Buffy was snoozing her way across the Atlantic we’ve been trying to trace his movements, but he’d already hit the magic stores for basic supplies. Looks like he started off with a concealment spell, so we can’t track him magically unless he starts messing with the mojo big-time. Vi’s coordinating with the Devon coven, they’re trying to run a track and trace every couple of hours, but there’s nothing so far.”
“Willow could have cracked his protection,” said Buffy, “but oh no, she had to go off on a dimensional road trip with Strange and Kennedy. I wish he hadn’t invited them this close to apocalypse season, we’re sure to need her by the end of May.”
“There wouldn’t have been another chance for years,” said Dawn, “the alignments have to be right, and the trip ought to give her a lot of new skills. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.”
“You know, Buffy, pouting kinda worked for you when you were thirteen, now you’re thirty-three it just looks silly.”
“That’s right, make your sister feel old. You’re not exactly Miss Teen USA yourself, Doctor Summers.”
“Yeah, I got taller and graduated. Unlike some people.”
Giles began to polish his glasses and said “Getting back on topic, there’s still Ethan to deal with. Knowing him, he’s planning to unleash some form of chaos, and he’ll probably guess that we’re looking for him. If he knows anything about Willow’s current power level – and it’s fairly common knowledge in the community – he’ll think that it’s only a matter of time before she breaks his concealment spell. I hope nobody has let slip that she’s currently unavailable. Anyway, I’m sure he’ll strike at the earliest opportunity, and probably in Britain because his remaining resources are here. Though I doubt he has much, I’m reasonably sure that the old Council seized his assets, especially the magical ones, after the Initiative captured him. But we need to stay focused and stop him before he does anything catastrophic.”
“So how do we do that?”
“Watch out for anything out of the ordinary and try to work out his game plan, as we would for any other threat.”
“So… correct me if I’m wrong, I’ve spent how much time in London? Six weeks?”
“Seven, I think. Though as I recall it felt considerably longer.”
“And wasn’t that like, let’s see, eight years ago?”
“Whatever. The point I’m making is that I wouldn’t know where to start now, I’ve been back in the USA so long I’ve forgotten what tea tastes like. Meanwhile Dawn’s based in Cambridge, that’s only a few miles away, you’ve got slayers here who actually know the area, the Devon coven knows the magical scene and, oh yes, you were his best friend. What the hell do you need me for?”
“If it’s as bad as I suspect, to stop me killing the bugger when we catch up with him. Or help me if I have to.”
“Oh…” said Buffy. “Okay, that kinda makes sense. Meanwhile I’d better go out and do some research, I guess.”
“You’re volunteering to do research? Bloody hell…”
“Hey, I need to find out where the good shops are these days. And while I’m poking around doing that, you never know what else might turn up. Coming, Dawn?”
“Actually,” said Dawn, “Unless we get more of a lead on Ethan there really isn’t much for me to do here.”
“Go on then,” said Giles. “Leave me to do the paperwork while you indulge in rampant consumerism. But take your phones, and for goodness sake make sure that they’re actually switched on this time.”
Dawn pecked him on the cheek and said “Come on, Buffy, let’s hit the shops.” The sisters hurried out.
“The earth is doomed,” Giles said fondly, and turned back to his files.
* * * * *
Jane looked up from her laptop. “Next time maybe you should tape them down properly. Anyway, it’s sprained, not broken.”
“Still hurts like a fucker.”
“Wait a minute… You’re the wacky comedy sidekick?” asked Ian Boothby, bringing in mugs of coffee. “I thought I was. What does that make me, then?”
“My minion, of course.”
“But he is not small and yellow,” said Thor, following Ian in from the kitchen with more mugs and a plate of cookies, “and he has two eyes and speaks English. And I have not noticed an especial love of bananas.”
Darcy grabbed a cookie and grinned at Thor. He was Jane’s, of course, but he was wearing form-fitting jeans and a tight shirt that really showed his muscles, and she appreciated the eye candy.
“Well, nobody’s perfect,” said Ian. “Which reminds me…” he rummaged through his pockets and eventually produced a crumpled piece of paper and handed it to Darcy.
“You asshole! What part of getting receipts in to me well before the end of the month are you having trouble with?”
“Sorry,” he said sheepishly, “It’s for the van I hired to collect the meson resonator unit Middlesex University loaned us. I forgot April has thirty days, not thirty-one.”
“Well if… and I stress ‘if’… the university accounts guys haven’t already printed the checks you might be okay, otherwise it’ll have to wait for me to make a special claim, that’ll take about a week.”
“Okay. If you could give it a shot, I could really do with the money, I have to renew my license by May the ninth. Reminds me, anyone got plans for the bank holiday?”
“Bank holiday?” asked Darcy.
“First Monday in May is a public holiday in Britain,” said Ian, who was used to explaining things to the non-Brits. “Public buildings and banks are closed. People take the weekend off too if they can, relax a bit.”
“Didn’t we have the high energy physics lab booked for Monday?” asked Jane.
“No, that’s Wednesday,” said Darcy, “that must be why they said we couldn’t have Monday.”
“Is there aught we should do on this holiday?” asked Thor, taking his third cookie. “What are the traditions of your people?”
“Depends on what the weather’s like,” said Ian. “Sports, drinking, funfairs, that sort of thing. Or just chill out if it’s raining or something, have a day off. But the forecast says it’s going to be warm.”
“What about you?” asked Darcy.
“That was what I was going to say. There’s a canal boat festival, I’m lending a hand with that.”
“I didn’t know you were interested in boats,” said Jane.
“He lives on one,” said Darcy, “It’s kinda like a trailer, only narrower and damper.”
“It’s cheaper than renting a flat,” said Ian, “But I have to pay a license fee every few months, and move it every couple of weeks or they start charging mooring fees, and that gets expensive fast.”
“So what happens at this festival?” asked Jane.
“Oh, they get lots of boats from all over the country, and a few from overseas, people come to see them. And there’s a bit of a market, lots of food and drink stalls, barbecues – Thor ought to like it. And there’s usually a puppet show and games and rides for the kiddies, singers and musicians, that sort of thing. It raises money for the charity that looks after the canals.”
“Sounds like fun,” said Darcy, “where is it?”
“Little Venice,” said Ian, “that’s a big canal junction near Paddington Station. You could get there easily, even with your ankle hurt. Why not come over? I’ll show you round. Or you could spend the weekend on my boat, I’ll be moored there.”
“Not a good idea. Thor would hit his head on the ceiling every time he stood up, and last time I was there I got seasick just sitting on your sofa-bed. Which, incidentally, felt like it was stuffed with small boulders.”
“It’s much better when it’s opened out.”
“No it isn… um… I’ll take your word for it. Okay, which is the best day?” Darcy and Ian both looked shifty for a moment, but Jane and Thor didn’t seem to notice her slip.
“Saturday’s probably best, it gets really crowded Sunday and Monday. But don’t get the wrong idea, it’s not a huge event. Maybe thirty or forty thousand people visit it over the three days, but not all at the same time.”
“Okay,” said Darcy. “You guys coming too? Jane? Thor?”
“It might be nice if the weather’s good,” said Jane.
“Then I shall see that it is,” said Thor.
“Just for the three days,” Ian said hastily, “we don’t want a drought!”