12 Hours Later
Watchers Council – Slayer Dorm Hallway – Evening
"I am in charge here," Buffy said softly through clenched teeth. Sweat dripped over her pale face, and deep dark bags hung under her eyes. "I am the Chairwoman of the Watchers Council, and I'm ordering you to…"
She blinked a few times, eyes rolling upwards, then caught her breath. "I am ordering you to –"
Buffy's legs gave way, and she collapsed sideways in the middle of the hallway. She stayed down, her body a pathetic lump on the carpet. After a moment, two large white gloves pushed her to the side, keeping her out of the way until they could get to her later.
Eerie figures in white, full-body hazmat suits moved in twos and threes through the corridor. Two of them rolled Hadley along on a gurney.
"No, you don't understand," the slayer managed blearily. "Tonight's my turn to bake the enchiladas…"
Another team of two emerged from one of the rooms lining the hallway holding an unconscious Casey, a smear of blood on her face. No one had gotten to Denise yet…she lay awkwardly in a corner, unconscious but breathing hard. Her sweaty face was a sallow white, almost blue.
Nearby, two of the white-suited figures stood next to one another, discussing the situation.
"We're moving all the infected to the cafeteria," said one of them, a youngish man with a goatee. "It'll be more efficient for everybody that way."
"Good," agreed his companion with a female voice. "That will make it easier to keep an eye on them." She turned towards him, revealing, through her clear plastic visor, the manager of the bowling alley Faith and Norman had visited the night before.
"Er…right," the man agreed after some hesitation. "We're keeping Lehane in the infirmary since they've got her on a ventilator."
The manager of the bowling alley nodded. "What's our infection rate?"
"Nearly 100%," the man told her, moving to the side so that a gurney carrying Chamique, her eyes closed and her lips moving inaudibly, could pass by. "We've only managed to find three people who were inside the building at the time of the quarantine who aren't infected. None of them are slayers or witches. We're confining them to one of the Council's interrogation rooms for the time being. Hopefully that'll be enough to keep them healthy."
"If they don't have it yet, they're not going to get it," the manager sighed. She sounded somewhat disappointed. "You did the right thing. I'll go check on them immediately."
She turned to leave, but one of the young man's white gloves caught her arm. She whipped around.
"Miss Long…we are going to help the slayers, aren't we?"
Miss Long licked her lips behind her mask. "James…you know there's nothing we can do."
He released her arm, and her bulky white suit paced on down the hallway. She stepped around Buffy on her way.
Washington DC – L'Enfant Plaza Hotel – Same Time
"What do you mean, the airport's closed?!" Rowena shouted into her cell phone. Andrew paced on the room's balcony, carrying one of the twins in his arms, while Grace looked up at Rowena warily from a pressboard desk, a laptop open and humming in front of her.
"I don't care who ordered it," Rowena continued after listening for a moment. "Unless Yahweh herself rides down here on a shining cloud, I want a team of slayers in there right now."
Someone spoke on the other end of the line. Rowena hardly waited for them to finish talking. "Yes, it's been contaminated. That woman's people are crawling all over that place like a roach infestation. Our first priority is to regain control of this situation…Well, put 'em on a bus, then. Detroit is only three hours away, tops…Yeah, maybe you should get on that."
She snapped her phone shut with a huff.
"Did I ever tell you how masterful you are when it comes to inspiring the troops?" Grace asked her with a small grin.
Rowena sat down on the end of the bed, grabbing the bridge of her nose compulsively with one hand. "The New York group was re-routed to Cincinnati. Wibberley's getting them on a bus, but that's a minimum four hours. Detroit might get there quicker if they get off their asses."
"We've already been out of contact for over ten hours," Grace sighed. "Do you believe O'Mara yet?"
Rowena gave Grace a hard look. "Faith's not dead," she said flatly. "That woman planned this. I don't know how or why, but she did, and I'm going to take her down, one way or the other."
Grace raised an eyebrow. "Which woman?"
"I'm not going to say her name," Rowena replied, and Grace gave her a baleful look before turning back to her computer.
Cleveland – CDC Mobile Command Center – Day
"Congresswoman O'Mara," a middle-aged man in a sleek headset acknowledged as Autumn O'Mara stepped into what was essentially a large trailer being used to coordinate what was being billed, at least publicly, as the "containment efforts." O'Mara surveyed the ten or so people working a bank of monitors, laptops, and phones. Every possible news channel played on one of a wall of TV screens, while other monitors displayed security feeds, helicopter shots, etc.
She gave the man who had greeted her a slight nod. "Dr. Brogan. What's the current situation?"
Brogan swiveled in his chair to look up at the Congresswoman. "Everything's running smoothly. They're just now completing the process of moving all the slayers to a central location. There hasn't been any substantive resistance during that process…"
"What's the current fatality total?" O'Mara asked, cutting him off.
Brogan bit his lip. "Er…there isn't one. We have no reported deaths. Yet."
O'Mara took this in without expression. The fingers of her left hand tapped against her hip once, twice.
Then she grabbed the laptop open in front of Brogan and threw it into the bank of TV screens, breaking a few of them. The resulting small shower of sparks sent several of the trailer's workers scrambling for cover.
O'Mara grabbed Brogan by his graying hair and forced his shocked face upwards to stare at hers. "Dr. Brogan, I recall someone assuring me that under this scenario deaths would begin to accrue with 24 hours of initial infection. We are now approaching 48 hours. Who was that someone, Dr. Brogan?"
"I-I did," Brogan stammered, eyes huge.
"That's right, I remember now, it was you," O'Mara agreed. "Because of you, I told the entire world that one of the most famous women on earth is dead, when in fact that is not the case. Why is it not the case, Dr. Brogan?"
The other workers in the trailer huddled silently in twos and threes, staring in fear.
"I don't know," Brogan admitted. "There are simply too many variables to…gain an accurate reading…"
O'Mara stared at him disdainfully for a moment longer, then released her grip on his hair. Dr. Brogan collapsed into his chair in a broken heap.
"Lucky for you, Dr. Brogan, replacing you would prove…inconvenient at this stage," O'Mara sighed. Around her, the rest of the workers hurried to return to their duties. She licked her lips, taking a moment to rein in her anger before continuing. "What about containment?" she finally said. "Did anyone exit the building during the window of infection?"
Brogan blinked a few times, realizing he wasn't going to die right away, then sat up. "We, um, we picked up two women who claimed they worked there…not slayers. They're in holding."
Quarantine Tent – Same Time
Kadin and Tracey sat around a portable table in the center of a huge plastic bubble, the walls repeatedly marked "Quarantine."
Tracey placed a queen of spades down on a pile of cards and proclaimed "Ha!"
Kadin sighed. "This is getting to be stupid."
"That's how we play Hearts in Cali, bee-atch!" Tracey shouted.
"The west coast has changed you," Kadin observed.
CDC Mobile Command Center – Same Time
"Neither of them has shown any trace of the virus," Dr. Brogan continued. "There haven't been any reports of cases at local hospitals, either."
A thought struck Congresswoman O'Mara. "And Rowena Allister? She was never in the building during the window of infection?"
"Uh…not that we're aware of," Brogan replied, shuffling through some papers in front of him.
O'Mara's tone became very short very quickly. "She wasn't in the building that you're aware of or she wasn't in the building?"
"She wasn't in the building," Brogan said quickly.
"Are you sure?"
Dr. Brogan gulped loudly. "Yes."
O'Mara leaned back, visibly relaxed. "Good." She nodded a few times. "Good."
She slapped Dr. Brogan on the back, though he flinched away from her touch. "Keep up the good work. I have another press conference to get ready for."
Outside Trailer – Moments Later
As the trailer door shut behind her, Autumn O'Mara leaned back against the white metal outer wall, gasping for breath. Her fingers scrabbled at the cord around her neck, eventually pulling out the Loathestone from beneath her blouse. She opened her mouth wide, gulping the air. Her outline fluctuated briefly, drifting into her demon form.
"I can't do this forever," she gasped, in two voices at once.
Autumn O'Mara looked up to see her aide Darlene waiting expectantly.
"Is everything okay?" Darlene asked.
"Yes," O'Mara nodded. "Everything's fine. Just a little…light-headed, I think. Could you get me a Diet Coke?"
Darlene nodded and ran to get the beverage, while O'Mara watched her go.
Watchers Council – Interrogation Room – Later
The smacking noise made Dr. Miller grit his teeth. It was coming from Joan, her jaw moving rhythmically as she slumped in her chair. Norman took no notice. The diverse group sat tiredly in uncomfortable-looking plastic chairs, which along with a bare wooden table were the only furnishings in the white, soundproofed room.
"Are you chewing gum?" Dr. Miller asked acerbically, all pretext of politeness having long since melted away in the close confines.
Joan looked over at him. "Yes sir, I am."
"Must you?" Dr. Miller asked.
"Ten hours we've been cooped up here," Joan replied. "That long without food, I get weird, okay? I need something to take the edge off." She paused, then held up a half-used yellow pack in her non-braced hand. "You want some?"
"No, thank you," Dr. Miller said.
"Could I have a piece?" Norman asked.
Joan turned and held out the pack as Norman selected a foil-packaged stick. Before he could unwrap it, however, the door opened, revealing a hulking guard wearing a hazmat suit standing just outside. He stepped aside, and in walked a slimmer figure, though similarly suited. When the door closed, the figure removed its headpiece to reveal Miss Long standing before them.
Norman's eyes widened. "You're the…you're the lady from the bowling alley."
"You know this woman?" Joan asked.
"You must have me mistaken for someone else," Long told him. Norman didn't look convinced. "I am here to apologize for the inconvenience the three of you are being put through," Long announced. "We are doing everything we can to stop the spread of the virus, but until we're confident that we've done so, all of you are just going to have to remain in quarantine."
"I've been waiting to speak to someone in charge," Dr. Miller told her. "I understand your intentions, but I'm a licensed medical professional. I should be out there helping to fight this thing."
"Yeah," Norman piped up. "He's, like, my mom's personal doctor. He knows stuff."
"I'm sorry, you're just going to have to stay here," Long said. "All of you. It's just too much of a risk. You're the only Council members who have not yet contracted the virus, and we would like you to stay that way."
"Wait." Joan sat up. "The only Council members. You mean everyone…"
Long just pursed her lips and nodded. "It's interesting, actually. What our doctors can't figure out is the common thread between the three of you…" She paced from one side of the room to the other. "Dr. Albert Miller, wife, children, runs the Council infirmary. Joan Arkham, like the saint…"
"Like the asylum," Joan corrected.
"No family to speak of," Long continued. "Twice divorced. You're personal assistant to the Chairwoman. And Norman Hansen…" She stopped across from Norman, looking down her nose at his slight frame. "I've heard so much about you."
Silence crept over the room…even Joan's smacking had stopped. The corners of Long's mouth curled slightly upwards.
"I'll try and see if I can have the guards bring you some food," Long said as she turned and strode toward the door. "Wouldn't want you to starve…"
The door closed behind her with a pronounced thud. The three remaining occupants of the interrogation room sat quietly for a moment that stretched significantly. Then Dr. Miller turned toward Joan.
"Like the asylum?"
"Am I the only one who thinks that lady's totally evil?" Norman said. "She's totally evil, isn't she?"
"Yep," Joan said, getting back into her gum-chewing. "Snidelina Whiplash and her hazmat monkeys are definitely up to something. So, Doc, what's the plan?"
"Call me Al," Dr. Miller told her with a sigh. "And since when am I the one who thinks of the plans?"
"Well," Norman said, "you do have to go to school for like a bazillion years to be a doctor, right? That has to be handy sometimes."
Dr. Miller thought about this then shook his head. "Well, I suppose our first step is to find a way out of here."
"Into the infection?" Joan asked dubiously.
"He's right!" Norman insisted. "We need to help Faith…and everyone. We have to fight our way out."
Dr. Miller held up both hands. "Wait, hold on. That's not what I meant. Look at us. We can't fight our way out of anything."
"There's one guard out there," Norman argued. "There's three of us."
"One guard that we saw," Dr. Miller corrected. "I'm on pain medication for my back, she's got a bad wrist, and you're just a little kid who…"
"Who what?" Norman asked when Dr. Miller didn't say anything more.
"Wait a moment," Dr. Miller said as he went over to a computer. He began to type in some information. "No one has reported being sick or injured in the last two weeks…at least no one in the building."
"I don't get it," Norman said.
"That makes two of us," Joan agreed.
"Don't you see? This virus is attacking healthy people. No one in this room can say they're entirely healthy."
"But I'm not sick," Norman said. "Not anymore…not that I know of. Are you saying I'm sick again?" he asked, sounding a bit concerned.
"Maybe not again, Norm," Dr. Miller told him. "But you've spent years fighting cancer – most of your life. Maybe that makes you immune to what this is."
"Well, fine then." Norman crossed his arms angrily. "I guess we'll just sit here and wait while Smiley Hipflask lets all our friends die because we're not superheroes."
"Snidelina Whiplash," Joan said absent-mindedly as she pushed her chair back and got to her feet.
"Look, all I have at this point is a theory," Dr. Miller replied.
"And it's a nice theory, Al," Norman continued. "But what's the plan? How on earth are we going to help everyone?"
Dr. Miller blinked. "You know, you really remind me of your…what is she doing?"
Joan wasn't paying attention to either of them. She now stood at the door and rapped on it hard with her good arm. The others just watched her.
"Hey!" she called. "Hey! I need to go."
There was a pause on the other side of the door. Then: "Go where?"
"To the little girls' room, numbskull!" Joan said. "You've kept us locked in here for a little too long."
Another pause. "I'm not sure that's a good idea, ma'am."
"Well, fine then. I'll just go in here. Then you'll have to clean it up, not to mention deal with the traumatized child cancer-survivor…"
The door opened.
As soon as the man in the hazmat suit stuck his head inside the room, Joan grabbed it. She pulled him forward and kneed him right in the groin. She then clocked him hard over the head with her braced wrist, sending him tumbling to the floor, out cold.
Both Dr. Miller and Norman looked stunned.
"What just happened?" Dr. Miller asked.
"You're not a slayer, are you?" Norman asked skeptically. "'Cause that would be…new."
"Just a brown belt in jiu-jitsu," Joan told them. "I thought I could maybe, y'know, help out more in a pinch, but Miss Summers just said she'd 'let me know'…So, are we escaping or what?"
Dr. Miller rose to his feet. "I suppose so."
Watchers Council – Hallway – Moments Later
Norman poked his head around a corner, making sure the coast was clear. At a nod from him, the trio ran across the gap and kept right on going down the hall.
"So," Joan whispered to Dr. Miller, "what's your story? I mean, with your degree, you could be set up in Miami giving models boob jobs."
"Strangely, I find this job more fulfilling," Dr. Miller replied. "I did not go to school for 'a bazillion years' to make people pretty."
"And I guess not for money alone either, huh?" Joan said. "Have you ever asked Miss Summers for a raise? She turns colors. I think she had a bad financial experience or something."
"Guys!" Both adults looked to see Norman turned around ahead of them, one finger to his lips. "Jeez, have either of you ever heard of stealth?" He pointed at Joan. "And throw out the gum!"
Watchers Council – Joan's Office – Moments Later
Joan hung up the receiver to her office phone with a sigh. "No signal, like our cells. Figures."
The room was full of knick-knacks, most notably a large number of collectible Disney figures arranged across one shelf. The portion of the gunmetal desk that wasn't taken up by Joan's computer was strewn with papers, envelopes, and invitations of all shapes, colors and sizes.
"So what do we do now?" she asked Dr. Miller, who appeared to be closely examining a figurine of Belle from 'Beauty and the Beast' in a poofy yellow dress.
He looked up at her, scratching his forehead. "If we can't call for help, I suppose we'll just have to exit the building somehow and bring back help."
Joan gave him a dubious look. "It's the 'somehow' that worries me, Al. They've got this place surrounded."
"Someone's coming," Norman whispered urgently from the doorway.
"What now?" Dr. Miller asked.
"Quick, under the desk," Joan urged them, kicking her swiveling office chair out of the way.
"But, my back…" Dr. Miller protested. Norman didn't give him the opportunity to argue, though, jerking him down by the hand as he went past. With a groan, Dr. Miller followed him, and in a moment the three of them were hunched in close quarters under Joan's desk.
The space was made even smaller by a burgeoning stash of boxes of crackers and cookies that made Norman grin.
"Hey, Nilla Wafers!" Norman reached out a hand, but Joan slapped it away.
"Shh…" she urged. "Haven't you ever heard of stealth?" Norman rolled his eyes at her.
They all went quiet as the voices of two men could be heard as they walked past the door.
"So, all the slayers are contained in the cafeteria at this point?" one asked.
"Yeah, except for Lehane," the other agreed. "But she won't be any trouble. She's in the infirmary, circling the drain. It's sad, really."
"Yeah," the first man agreed, as the footsteps and voices began to fade. "I mean, all these people are going to die, just because…"
The rest was inaudible. Underneath the desk, Joan, Dr. Miller, and Norman stared at each other.
Suddenly Norman took off toward the door.
"Norm, stop!" Joan called in an urgent whisper as the boy in question bolted from under the desk. He charged out the door and out of sight.
From the hall voices could be heard.
"He broke quarantine!"
A man grunted loudly.
Joan scrambled from under the desk while Dr. Miller climbed to his feet, albeit somewhat slower than his younger counterpart. He turned to see Joan already out the door.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Seconds Later
One of the men struggled to keep hold of Norman, who was thrashing violently in his arms.
"Let me go," Norman yelled as he tried to kick the other man. His foot slid off the man's white hazmat suit.
"Just calm down, son," the first man yelled back. "We're here to help you."
"Let him go," Joan said as she rushed toward them.
"Where did you…oof," Norman's feet found the second man's solar plexus, causing him to double over in an attempt to catch his breath.
Joan used the momentary distraction to lunge at the man holding Norman. Locking her fingers together, she raised both hands high above her head and brought a powerful fist down on his head. Most of the blow was deflected by the baggy hazmat suit, but it held enough force to allow Norman to slip from the man's grasp. A sharp elbow to the back of the head, courtesy of Joan, finished the job, knocking the man unconscious. He hit the ground with a thud.
"See, I can kick ass like any slayer," she looked at Norman. "You're my witness when I tell Ms. Summers about this."
The second man leaped from the floor and charged. Joan pushed Norman out of the way and took a shoulder to the chest. She flew back into the hallway wall and slumped to the floor.
The second man turned to Norman. "You little brat," he roared. "You and your friend are going back to –"
A loud crash cut off his words.
Eyes wide, the man fell to his knees and then forward to the floor. Dr. Miller stood behind him holding the cracked torso of a ceramic version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
"You broke Quasimodo," Joan moaned from the floor.
"I'll buy you a new one," Dr. Miller replied as he knelt down next to her.
"It's a collectible from the Wonderland Music Company – number 36," she argued. "It plays 'Out There'…or at least it used to."
He checked her vitals and motor function. "Where does it hurt?"
"Everywhere," she started to stand. "Come on, let's go."
"Don't move," Dr. Miller ordered. "You could have a concussion. You're lucky you didn't break your neck."
"I'm fine," she shrugged him off and stood up.
"No, don't listen to me," he huffed. "I'm only a doctor after all."
"We should take their suits," Norman said, breaking the thread of conversation. "As camouflage."
"We absolutely will not," Dr. Miller protested. "If the virus is airborne –"
"– then Snidelina wouldn't have taken off her mask when she popped in to muah-ha-ha," Joan concluded, rubbing her sore head.
"That's true. I hadn't considered that," Dr. Miller said after a short moment.
"And I'm the one with the concussion, huh?" Joan teased. "Look, we'll tie 'em up and lock 'em in my office. They'll be safe, in the off chance we're wrong, and we'll be able to get to the infirmary."
Norman was already pulling off one of the men's helmets. He did the math. "Two suits. Three of us."
"You guys take 'em," Joan replied. "I can play the role of the infected slayer." She pushed off the wall and stumbled. Dr. Miller caught her before she fell. "I won't have to act too hard obviously."
Dr. Miller sighed.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Moments Later
A man in a hazmat suit looked up from Dr. Miller's laptop computer, where the scores from several Major League Baseball games were displayed. He rounded the doctor's desk and glanced over to Faith's bed. She did not move.
The man moved to the door. "Who is it?"
"Who do you think?" replied a male voice. "We've got another slayer for you. Found her in the hall trying to escape. You're supposed to sedate her."
The man rolled his eyes. "With what?" He opened the door to reveal two hazmat-clad men supporting Joan under the armpits. "Just 'cause Ms. Long ordered me to baby-sit doesn't make me a doctor."
Dr. Miller and Norman carried Joan in and put her on the nearest empty unmade bed. The other man approached as Dr. Miller moved to a nearby cabinet.
"She looks pretty out of it," the man continued. "Are you sure Jones wants –?"
He didn't finish his thought as Dr. Miller injected a syringe of clear liquid into his arm.
End of Act Three
On to Act Four