Buffy lifted her head from her crossed forearms with a tired sigh as she heard Giles' footsteps approaching. Finally.
Her Watcher entered the Council conference room with a sympathetic expression and a cup of takeout coffee, grande sized and smelling deliciously of mocha and mint, held in an outstretched hand. "I take it you've had the vision again?" he greeted her.
"What clued you in?" she said wryly, making grabby hands at the cup. "The bloodshot eyes, the wrinkled shirt, or the general air of paranoid exhaustion?"
"Perhaps the fact that you are, indeed, at the office, at an otherwise unprecedented hour?" he teased gently, handing the cup over. "Do you remember anything more of it, this time?"
"Just your general feeling of impending doom, same as always." Buffy gratefully inhaled a long draught of caffeinated goodness, savoring the taste and the probably psychosomatic, but definitely appreciated sensation of the fog lifting gradually from her mind-- then blinked as it belatedly registered that Giles hadn't entered the office alone.
"Um. How many days of sleep deprivation does it take before you start hallucinating?" she frowned, squinting at the stranger with the goatee hovering behind Giles' shoulder. He was a couple of inches shorter than Giles, darker haired, wearing slacks and what looked like a lab coat, and he was completely unfamiliar to her.
"Depends on the person, and how many days your sleep has been disrupted-- though it's definitely one of the most common signs of sleep deprivation," the apparition said, earnestly and a little awkwardly. "Though of course, problems can arise even from small bouts of sleeplessness. Twenty-four hours without sleep can produce as much impairment as being legally drunk."
"Minus the cavewoman funtimes," she murmured, frowning at him. That had almost sounded worthy of Willow babble... though she wasn't sure whether that counted for, or against, the possibility that he was an actual person. "Giles, you can hear him too, right?"
"What?" Giles blinked at her, startled, then looked back over his shoulder and grimaced apologetically. "Oh-- Buffy, this is Dr. Paul Suenos," he replied, reaching out to clasp the man on the shoulder. Not a First-type thing either, then. Good. "A dream specialist. He invented a piece of technology that records the contents of an individual's dreams, to allow interpretation by a third party."
"Provided you can interpret the dream-- not everyone dreams the same way, or in the same language, or on the same frequency. It's taken my team several years to come up with a repeatable translation method with more than an 80% success rate," Dr. Suenos spoke up.
"And Dr. Suenos, this is Buffy Summers, the... the pupil I was telling you about," Giles continued, gesturing between them.
The doc held out a hand; Buffy took it almost automatically, and found his grip surprisingly strong for a geek, callused more on the fingertips than the palm but nonetheless warm and dry and big enough to almost completely envelop her petite-yet-deadlier digits.
"That kind of tech sounds... suspiciously useful and more than a little disturbing," Buffy commented, then eyed the lab coat a little more thoroughly. "Government funded?"
"Top secret," Dr. Suenos nodded. "I don't know how your Mr. Giles has access to our research; and frankly, I don't need to know the details." Behind him, Giles mouthed the name 'Willow'; Buffy nodded to them both as the doc continued. "I'm just here to help, and-- provided you are willing-- record your data anonymously to help further my research into other sleep disorders."
"What would you need to do to make it happen?" she had to know before she answered.
"Not much. Just put one of these near your chosen sleep location," he held up a green disc, glowing faintly, framed by two ribbed metal wings. "And let it do its thing."
"That's it? No needles, no big metal tubes?"
"That's it," he nodded. "Well, unless you happen to be running a distributed human computing network. Just set it up, go to sleep, and I'll take my readings. And when you wake up? Hopefully, I'll have answers for you."
"I guess that's all we can ask," she sighed, then put her head down again. The effects of the coffee were already wearing off, if they'd even really existed; she was used to not getting much sleep as the Slayer, but it had been especially ridiculous lately. "Out of curiosity, though," she continued through a yawn, "what would happen if we were....?"
"Oh, toxic levels of neurotransmitters in the blood, and a tendency to share dreams with everyone else in the network... or, more accurately nightmares?" he shrugged. "Though since the network tech is still proprietary...."
His voice stretched into a background wah-wah worthy of a Peanuts cartoon; a pity, because she'd liked the sound of it. She wouldn't mind hearing more, later.
Somewhere, she heard an answering rumble from Giles; then a green glow appeared, filtered through a sweep of darkness.
"Just... checking my eyelids for light leaks...." she murmured, dimly.
Then a feeling of anticipatory terror rose in her veins, and she went under.