FOUR FRIENDS AND A FIELD TRIP
Tara stood on a small rise, her face turned toward a park that stretched out, empty and dark. “This is the scenario: A girl has been possessed by a spirit. The spirit is evil, but the body it resides in is good, so this is a capture. Not, I repeat not, a kill.”
Startled, Dana turned to stare at her. “Not?”
“Not.” Tara looked into the slayer’s eyes, making sure she had Dana’s complete attention. “No harm is to come to the girl. Understood?”
For the first time since they’d gotten onto the van, headed for this suburban Chicago park in the dead of night, Dana looked uncertain. “No head? No heart?”
“Understood,” Dana confirmed, looking crestfallen.
Tara nodded, and scanned the park again. Beside her, Kara brushed windblown hair from her face, and shivered. Dana didn’t seem to notice the cold or the heavy mist, but the Buffybot shuffled over, trying to make her attempt to shield Kara from the wind go unnoticed. Their heavy jackets helped only a little against the November weather, and would be a hindrance in a fight – which was exactly why Tara thought this trip would be good experience. They might have to fight in any weather, after all.
If she concentrated, Tara could feel the biting wind – so she didn’t.
“She’s wandering around here in the park, somewhere,” she told the others. “The spirit that possessed her is powerful, and dangerous. Don’t trust it, and don’t underestimate it. Now, go.”
“Should have brought some rope and duct tape,” Kara muttered as she, Dana, and Bottie headed down into the park.
“No!” Dana’s voice had turned suddenly shrill, but in an instant she controlled it and whispered, “No duct tape. It damages the skin.”
“Right,” Kara agreed, just as quietly.
Turning herself invisible, Tara followed a few steps behind her charges, watching their moves carefully. The party stopped at the crest of a second, smaller rise, and Bottie make a careful scan of the area, as Tara thought she should have done earlier. “I’m on infrared,” Bottie told the others. “No sign of anyone. Should we spread out?”
No, Tara thought, but she said nothing.
“Only a little,” Kara suggested. “Stay within sight of each other. Bottie, you stay in the middle and keep scanning.” She’d make a good leader someday, if she survived, but she didn’t have much experience yet in strategy and tactics.
If she survived? Tara smiled despite herself. Tara hadn’t survived, and now found herself a watcher. Had Giles realized how much leadership that job really entailed, despite its title? Or was he just a natural at it, as Kara would be?
The three stepped further into the park. There were few lights here, and even with enhanced slayer vision, it was hard to see anything. The glow of distant city lights illuminated low clouds, but that served only to show the outline of bare tree limbs, whipping back and forth in the breeze. That would cover the sound of movements, and the trees, along with a scattering of playground equipment and picnic tables, gave plenty of cover.
By the time they’d passed the first few trees, the three slayers – for that’s what Bottie was, no matter her origin – had put about fifty feet between each other. But they were being very careful, watching their flanks and each other, as Bottie kept an eye out for the warmth of a body somewhere ahead.
A particularly strong wind gust caused a din of rubbing branches above and blowing leaves at ground level, as well as shifting, bobbing shadows from the distant security lights. The girls paused for a moment, then, after glancing at each other for reassurance, pressed on.
Behind them, Tara almost screamed in surprise when a black clad figure appeared beside her, crouching on the ground and using one hand to maintain balance. Where --?
Tara looked up. She was directly below a tree that the slayers, stuck in the mode of two dimensional thinking, had just passed.
The figure hurried toward Bottie, as if taking a brisk stroll in the park. It was a tall, slim girl – that much was clear, even though her black slacks and jacket were relatively well padded – and there was an odd bulge on her hood covered face, where the eyes should be.
Without a pause, the intruder brushed back Buffybot’s hair and pinched at a place on the back of the robot’s neck. Without a word, Bottie keeled over like a falling tree, landing face first in the grass.
“Bottie!” Kara and Dana bounded toward their friend’s still form at top speed, then sighted the girl standing between them and veered toward her, instead. Seeing what was coming, Tara winced and closed her eyes.
As a result she heard, rather than saw, the bone crushing impact when the woman in black dove to one side, leaving the slayers, in mid jump, helpless to do anything but slam into each other. When Tara opened her eyes Dana had already jumped to her feet, an ugly expression on her face. Kara rolled over and pushed herself onto hands and knees, then jerked away when she realized she was kneeling on Bottie.
By then Dana was on their adversary in a blur of movement, despite the black-clad girl’s attempts to evade her. “Capture, Dana!” Kara yelled, and Dana reluctantly dodged behind her opponent, pinning the girl’s arms to her sides.
The girl tried to kick, but Dana skillfully avoided feet clad in black sneakers. “I captured her – now what?”
Kara, still trying to throw off the effect of her midair collision, shook her head, then winced. “I guess – look out!”
A blinding arc of light threw the surroundings into relief. Dana, eyes wide, arched her back and neck, appearing for an instant as if she’d reached the climax of a ballet. Then she fell to the ground, quivering.
The woman in black stood there, a small object in her hand, and turned to regard Kara.
“That’s it, sister,” Kara said through gritted teeth. “You’re going down.”
Her opponent dodged, then spun, then struck out with fists and feet, to no avail. Once Kara was in close, she knocked the stun gun away, then tripped the girl and landed on her, pinning her hands above her head. It took some doing, considering her opponent was almost a head taller than her, but Kara managed to catch both slim wrists in one of her hands. She used her other hand to quickly search for more weapons, while pinning the struggling form down with her body weight.
“There,” Kara gasped. “You and I are going to be very close until Dana can get up and turn Bottie back on, then all three of us are going to make sure you’re nice and secure until we can get that little devil out of you. What do you have to say about that?”
“Your coat is on fire.”
Tara had clamped a hand over her mouth to keep from crying out, as she watched a small tongue of flame work its way up the left arm of Kara’s coat. Now Kara craned her neck, saw the blaze, and tried to slap it out, but her right hand was busy holding the girl’s arms down. No matter how much she flailed, her left hand wouldn’t reach. “Oh, bother.”
“Better let me up,” the woman in black warned. “We’ll burn together. Remember, you can’t kill me.”
“Fine.” Kara leaped up, but before the girl could move Kara grabbed the stun gun, jammed it against the girl’s torso, and applied a jolt that left her opponent helpless. “Stunning, isn’t it?”
Kara stopped, dropped, and rolled the flames out, then hurried over to hit Bottie’s on switch. The robot and Dana slowly began to move, unconsciously imitating each other as they rose to a sitting position and began rubbing areas that didn’t seem to be working very well.
Satisfied her friends were recovering, Kara began to dash back toward the woman in black, then stopped short when she saw Tara standing by the still form. “Where the hell have you been?”
“Yeah? Well, Giles manned a crossbow, every once in awhile.”
Tara smiled at the memories. “Yes, but he kept getting knocked unconscious, too.”
“Not a problem with you, watcher babe.” With a sour expression, Kara crouched over their target, stun gun at ready.
“You were never in serious danger except for when she set you on fire, and in my defense I didn’t see the lighter, either.”
“Some ghost you are.”
By now Bottie had walked over, a little stiffly, to stand behind Kara. “I can’t believe I missed all the fun,” she said, looking greatly disappointed.
“It wasn’t all that much fun.” Dana still oddly resembled Bottie as she shuffled over to them. “Take off the mask. Let’s see her.”
Kara obediently reached down, but warned, “Remember, it’s not her – it’s the evil spirit inside.”
Dana was gently prodding her bruised ribs. “Then she should get her ass kicked for letting the little devil in.”
The mask came off easily enough, and when it did a flood of shiny brown hair flowed out, pinned only by the strap that held night vision goggles on. Tara had trouble not laughing as the girl came to life, pulled the goggles off, and sat up.
“That was fun,” Dawn Summers said with a wide grin. “Except for the getting electrocuted part.”
“Hi, Dawny!” Bottie said with a little wave. “You’re my little bit sister and you’re mucho cute.”
“But –“ Dana said.
Giving up her attempt not to, Tara allowed herself a giggle.
“How did you learn all that?” Kara demanded. “You’re not a slayer.”
“I’ve spent time studying the best,” Dawn told her. “Heck, I learned a lot just watching Buffy and Faith demolish our house when they were fighting each other.”
“But –“ Dana said.
“Plus, I’ve been taking lessons. The tough part was trying not to freeze to death while waiting for you guys to show up.”
The three slayers looked at each other. Dawn looked back at them, still smiling.
“I did tell you this was a training session,” Tara finally reminded them.
“But –“ Dana shook her head, then wailed, “But I thought it was a training session with a real bad guy!”
“That wasn’t real enough for you?” Kara asked, as she rubbed the knot forming on her forehead.
“Come on, let’s get back to the van,” Tara told them. “We have a lot to talk about, and we might as well do it where it’s warm.”
Grumbling a little, the slayers headed back the way they came. “I hate debriefing,” Tara heard Dana mumble.
Tara reached down to help Dawn up, but when the younger Summers got to her feet she held onto Tara’s hand. “Wow. You’re really real, just like I heard.”
“Yep.” They trailed after the others, walking side by side. She hadn’t had much time to talk to Dawn, Tara realized. “Almost as real as ever, except, you know – dead.”
“I don’t care about that.” Dawn took Tara’s arm, snuggling up against her, and even though it let the cold air in, Tara let herself feel. As if reading her mind, Dawn said, “Everybody’s cold tonight. It’s great to have you back.”
Gesturing toward the three girls in front of them, Tara said, “They may not feel that way, once we’re through telling them what they did wrong.”
But Dawn just shrugged. “Get a pair of glasses, polish them a lot, and speak with an accent. They’ll love you as much as I do.”