Reversible Error


Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN. Other recognizable characters are likewise not ours, but presented with respect and affection.

Part VI

“The ramifications are far more complex and subtle than that,” Giles observed. “I fear we’ve only begun to scratch at the surface. Still, that’s a fair initial summary.” He retrieved the brandy snifter he had set down, and at last took a seat in the big armchair by the fireplace. “To take a Slayer and divest her of that status, to strip away her abilities and her heritage, is dreadfully reminiscent of the Cruciamentum, and occasions comparison to other practices of the old Council in which a Slayer was regarded, and treated, as a disposable tool. For those reasons, and others, the removal of the Slayer essence should be a matter of awe and dread, a rare and extreme last resort for those terrible instances in which no alternative will suffice. And, given that reluctance — which must be stressed and re-stressed, reinforced until no Watcher is ever able to think of it as a casual expedient — we shall, I think, find it necessary to exercise extreme caution in evaluating and selecting those former Potentials to whom we might offer the previously impossible opportunity to become Slayers after all.”

Buffy, who had been taking it all in, looking from one speaker to another, now sat down also. Heavily. “This is, is a major wallop right out of nowhere,” she said, “My head’s still spinning. But, as far as you talking about different groups, I can already see two types of former Potentials we’ll be looking at.”

Giles tilted his head to one side. “Yes?” he prompted with steady, even courtesy.

“Well, first there’s the ones you already mentioned, the ones who aged out before the Slayer call went worldwide.” She knit her brows at a sudden thought. “How far will we want to go on this? How old is too old? I mean, in this profession I’m old, but with modern nutrition and medical care, you take a healthy fit woman in her forties or even fifties, and slap the Slayer mojo on top of it …” She shook her head suddenly. “Gaah! Too much complication make brain hurt. But, well, there’s another group after that.”

She looked around at those assembled, assessing their reactions as she chose her words. “You say the new ones are being offered a choice. I’m telling you, if fifteen-year-old Buffy had been asked if she wanted to be strong, there’s just no telling what her answer would’ve been. But after I’d seen more, learned more …”

“I get it,” Willow said. “According to Giles, every new Slayer since the first wave is one who said yes. But the ones who said no, if we can use the new tracking spells to find them —”

“Some of them will be older now,” Buffy said, nodding. “More life experience, a different perspective, maybe more confidence or … or more sense of duty. If we pick out the ones who look like good candidates and explain that they’ll have a support team behind them, give them some background info so they can decide on a basis that isn’t spur-of-the-moment yes-or-no-right-now, we could get a different answer and pick up some solid people.”

“To replace some of the ones we lose.” Xander’s voice was bleak. “To our brand-spanky-new Acme Home DeSlayerification Kit.”

Giles looked to him, frowning slightly. “I had anticipated that Buffy would be the one to feel, and voice, the greatest reservation,” he said. “I am … surprised, I’ll admit it, to find you instead in that role.”

Xander shrugged, but his face was still set in hard lines. “Buf has nearly ten years’ experience carrying the weight of the world,” he answered. “Me, I’ve spent most of that time becoming the resident expert of being powerless on a mystical battlefield. Making somebody else powerless … that one’s a punch in the gut.” He sighed. “Look, I know it’s not that simple. Some girls aren’t meant to be Slayers — some people aren’t meant to carry that much juice — and if you have do something about it, well, this gives us another option.” He raised his gaze to meet Giles’. “Before, if we had a full-on outlaw and didn’t want to let her keep cutting a swath through defenseless civilians, we could only kill her or lock her up for life. This is better than that. But I don’t like it.” His hands clenched in his lap. “I’ll never like it.”

“I am frankly relieved to hear that,” Giles said, nodding gravely. “As I observed already, this course of action — this awful duty — is one I wish never to see regarded lightly. With this in mind, I would suggest some of the following measures …”
 


 
– October 2014 –

Being a mystical Key, recast into human form? Total bummer. On the one hand, you were special, literally unique; on the other, it wasn’t really good for anything. Dawn Summers, with (bogus) memories of a lifetime spent comparing herself to her Chosen sister, had fiercely striven to prove that she was Special, too … and, on discovering just how true that was — only not the way she wanted — come near to total meltdown.

Buffy? Classic valley girl who happened also to be a supernaturally empowered killer of vampires and demons. Dawn? A force beyond time, a font of power greater than anyone could even measure … and it had been stuffed into a thirteen-nearly-fourteen-year-old body, so that the universe-shattering Key was better known as ‘little-Dawn-who-has-to-be-rescued-every-Tuesday’. Because all that magickal mojo had no actual physical component: in every way that mattered, she was purely, ordinarily normal.

Or so she thought. Because, her first week of college, Dawn had discovered one little aspect of her nature that wasn’t ordinary: ridiculously quick recovery from certain, um, chemical overstimulations. As in, massive drinking (never try to drain an entire keg on a bet; the closer you come to winning, the worse you lose) produced a hangover that was horrendous in its intensity, but was over fast, a matter of twenty brutal minutes instead of hours of aching, muted misery. It also turned out to be true with less benign drugs, which was how 1) she’d got rid of her first roommate after that skank thought a bit of ketamine would “loosen her up”, and 2) an unscrupulous frat boy wound up with a dislocated jaw and a ruptured testicle when Dawn snapped out of the Rohypnol he’d dosed her with just as he was about to get down to (uggh) business.

This? Now? More like the K with the wooziness, more like the hangover with the pounding head and general awfulness. Dawn sagged in the chains that held her to the wall (chains? seriously? embrace the cliché, people), and tried to study her surroundings with something like professional detachment. Because she was a professional now: years spent studying to become and then operate as a Watcher, years spent learning how to research properly and fight bare-handed or with weapons, years becoming proficient in ancient and demon languages, years becoming not helpless and not a victim and not ordinary. She had made a name and a role and a reputation for herself, made herself someone that Slayers respected and even admired. She had outgrown her past, and now …

… now …

… now she’d been kidnapped again. Again! Of all the nerve! She was twenty-eight years old, this was her birthday, what kind of rude son of a bitch kidnapped a woman on her birthday? It was an outrage, it was intolerable —

Oh, hell. It was a Tuesday. Of course.

Control. Ignore the throbbing in her skull, that would pass. Don’t bother waiting for rescue, because 1) you didn’t want to pin your hopes on someone else finding you in time, and 2) she didn’t need rescuing, she was perfectly capable of saving herself and she’d kneecap anybody who said otherwise! Focus on the essentials: situation, physical status, location, possibilities. Assess, plan, act. Make it happen.

Location: this was no dank dungeon or even run-of-the-mill basement, but a closed and well-furnished room, like something you’d see in a tasteful mansion or a high-class country club. Physical status: feel awful, but everything works. Situation: drugged, obviously, though she didn’t remember it happening. Possibilities … yeah, this was where it got good.

At the age of sixteen (or three, since she’d been ‘created’ at not-quite-fourteen), Dawn had thought the universe had finally chosen her: Willow’s Potential-detection spell had flashed straight through her, and for a few hours Dawn had thought herself a Child of Destiny. Turned out to be a mistake, of course, which was actually for the best. If you were going to be Special, better to do it through your own efforts than have it depend on a roll of the cosmic dice. So, as her involvement as Slayer support deepened, Dawn had added other things to her accumulated repertoire. Though possessing no innate power — not like Willow or even Amy — she had discovered that her body had an affinity for magics, so even if she was no great shakes at actual spell-casting, it was possible to load spells into herself. Carefully selected and developed, incorporated into henna tattoos that she changed on a regular basis to keep herself ‘armed’ in a way that few people would even recognize.

Kidnapped, drugged, chained? Please. It was to laugh.

First, the chains. Dawn found the Spiral Dragon on her shoulder, stroked it while she Thought the trigger-word. This would loosen her muscles, make her joints flexible and the bones semi-elastic, she’d eel out of the shackles as easily as taking off her socks. Then would come testing the door, learning more about where she was being held —

Wait. She wasn’t flexible. She pulled, and her wrists caught on the cuffs of the shackles. Come on, damn it, she knew she’d done it right, but it wasn’t working, and she heaved and yanked at the chains in frustration and the bracket tore right out of the wall. Okay, piece of luck, they’d been in too much of a hurry when they installed it but she was still chained, she stood on the center links and pulled and strained again, if she tore skin getting out she’d just have to get healed once she was free but first she had to get out, and with a last desperate jerk she at last got her wrists out and through the cuffs.

Which had broken. What?

Okay, this was getting freaky. The cuffs were torn open, and one of the chain links had snapped. Was she having some weird reaction to whatever they’d used to drug her? No matter, think about it later, keep the momentum going. The door was unlocked, so she went through, moving softly and quickly. Hallways, yep a mansion and bigger than she had thought, this was like the downstairs servants’ passageways — or what she imagined those were like — there didn’t seem to be anyone around even though she was listening closely (and she was so amped up, she could swear she could almost hear the electricity running through the walls), so she’d regained consciousness faster than expected and if she was lucky she might make it out before her still-as-yet-unseen captors returned. She pushed on, losing her sense of direction in the rat’s-maze of corridors but looking for stairs or an outside doorway and bingo! there was a window set high and she could see the dim reflected light of a setting sun, this was her way out. Easy to get up there, she stroked the Snow Owl on her inner wrist and thought herself Light, she’d float right up there …

God damn it, no floating! Had the drug screwed her up so bad she couldn’t access ANY of her little tricks? She crouched and leaped, stretching, as if she would still make it happen, and she reached the window easily only it wasn’t floating, she’d simply jumped eight feet straight up like she was hopping over a curb. Whatever was going on had her thoroughly scrambled but, again, save it for later, she slipped the window catch and pushed it open, and seconds later she’d eased her way to the outside.

Gardens. Estate gardens. The shadows were falling deeper, the sun would be below the horizon in minutes — already it was blocked by the walls — so now she just had to find a way out of this part. Good so far, she moved swiftly while keeping an eye out for pursuit. Even confused and shaken by the malfunction of her secret arsenal, Dawn was feeling a growing optimism, time and speed were working in her favor now and she was determined to ride that wave while it lasted. Her body, too, was shaking off the last effects of drug residue, her head was clearing and her energy was growing like the acceleration of a Maserati, if she didn’t find a gate she’d just run up the walls, she felt that revved-up. Even while cautioning herself against overconfidence, she felt her hopes soar.

Then the vampire darted out to intercept her; definitely a vampire, nothing else moved like that. He was dressed in khakis and a polo shirt, but he came at her like a charging leopard, and fear would have paralyzed her for at least an instant if she hadn’t been dealing with these things for, effectively, her entire life. She had a full third of a second before he reached her and this one had to work, it was almost bound into her essence, the Key by nature was pure so she stroked the Chalice and triggered Sanctify: for a few seconds her flesh would be almost as sacred as holy water, no vampire could bear the contact —

Notworkingnotworkingnotworking! His hands closed on her arm and shoulder, she wrenched herself desperately free and struck with a combination of instinct and trained reflex: raking her elbow down the center of his sternum (wouldn’t actually damage him, but the nerves were close to the skin there and the pain would make him jerk back) and then slamming a palm-heel thrust directly into his nose, angling upward, looking to shock and blind him while she made a break for any possible avenue of escape.

That was what was supposed to happen. Good technique, devastating against a human opponent and something a well-trained human could use against a vampire for a few moments of effect. What wasn’t supposed to happen was the crunch of cartilage in his breastbone, or for the palm-strike to break his neck. He dropped where he stood, and Dawn looked down at him for numb, bewildered seconds before breaking a branch off one of the decorative trees and driving the sharpened end of the break into his heart.

She was still struggling to understand when she heard the slapping sound of quick-and-dirty teleportation, and half a dozen Slayers fanned out to surround her and look outward for any threat, while Andrew tripped and fell and then pulled himself up, calling, “Dawn! Good, good, good! We figured you’d be okay, with a Slayer here to protect you, but we didn’t want to take any chances —”

Dawn simply stared at him. “What?” she said. The single syllable seemed to be the limits of her mental capacity right now.

“— we were doing a pull-out-all-the-stops continent-wide sweep for you, and then a new Slayer popped up in the screens, and that caught our attention, and then there you were right with her! So did she rescue you, or did you rescue her? ’cause it could absolutely go either way, we know the kind of stuff you can pull out of your hat …” He stopped, looked around. “Uh, where is she? We ’ported right here, because the two of you were together, it zeroed us in on the both of you, so … where is she? Really?”

And one of the other Slayers — Karen, Dawn remembered recruiting her three years ago — got it just as the awful possibility was beginning to come clear to Dawn herself, and she said to Andrew, “Oh, my God. You’re looking right at her.”

Andrew didn’t get it, Dawn could see that: looking from Dawn to Karen and around for the missing Slayer, then starting the whole process over. The others did, though, Dawn saw understanding and awe beginning to spread over their faces. It’s impossible, she thought dizzily, Slayers are never called before the age of fourteen or after twenty-five …

Except she was only just now fourteen, when you came right down to it: born in autumn of 2000, even if she could ‘remember’ the thirteen-some years before that, so even if she was physically pushing thirty she’d not actually entered the window of eligibility for the magic lottery till now, now, why now? “Slayers were never enchanters” … so everything she had learned, all the little extras she had incorporated into herself to make her extraordinary by her own achievements, had been casually wiped away, and now she was just one of a multitude of super-strong girls …

Most of the Slayers here knew her, for many of them she had been part of the team that explained to them the meaning of their own new calling, and they watched, expectantly, to see her response to her sudden elevation to the ranks of the true Sisterhood. Dawn looked back at them, to all these who would never be able to understand what she had lost, and said flatly, “Well, shit.”


[Dawn Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is, of course, the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN.]


 
– February 2013 –

She hadn’t marked the beginning, hadn’t even recognized that anything was beginning. Her life had already led her through so many bizarre twists that the one cropping up unexpectedly during her junior year of college had been … okay, the most stomach-churning-out-of-this-world-insane-bizarre-EVER, but still, ultimately, one more on the list.

So, when did it actually begin? The day one of her longest-term remaining friends called her up, earnestly seeking advice and help in dealing with his beloved niece? The day her intimidatingly beautiful roommate (at Berkeley, Hearst College having proven both inhospitable and inadequate) stabbed a campus mugger with a sharpened length of wood, and then spent much of the next two weeks explaining — and then providing evidence for, and then conclusively demonstrating — how the dead man had dissolved into a shower of dust? The day she received an unexpected scholarship just after a grand jury had declined to return an indictment against her father (for tampering with evidence to cover her misdeeds)?

Or was it when a tattooed, shaven-headed poor-brown-trash gang kid had let slip that he had once loved Lilly Kane perhaps as much as she had?

She shouldn’t have had anything in common with Eli “Weevil” Navarro … shouldn’t have, and did. The deep wells of inner pain, and the adamantine refusal to allow anyone else ever to see that pain; the reality of being snubbed and marginalized by their “betters”, coupled with the relentless, scorching drive to show just who was better; the reluctance ever to trust another soul with their vulnerabilities, and deathless allegiance to the few who kept that trust regardless.

She had been a motherless daughter, an outcast, a rape victim, a detective, a mercenary, a blackmailer, an avenger. Then she had been a high school graduate, and a college student, and repeated a few of the prior roles before being an unpaid intern, and then a transfer student, and then an unwilling initiate into supernatural warfare, and then become an FBI agent. She had said goodbye to three men who loved her (and remained on tenuously good terms with only one of them); she had dealt dispassionately with rivals, admirers, and grateful clients (paying and otherwise), but retained only a very few actual friends.

In her brief life, Veronica Mars had worn many identities. Now, she was about to take on another.

If she would ever have sworn to one thing about herself, it would have been her inability to back down from any challenge. When Dawn Summers showed her the existence of a shadow world underlying the reality she had always taken for granted, however, Veronica found that this was a road she was unwilling to walk. The change required would have been just too huge, too absolute, a total reordering of everything. And so she had turned away: only after Dawn had explained, in detail, exactly how these demonic threats were being met and countered by supernaturally capable champions, but nonetheless she had turned away.

In the meanwhile, however, she had learned quite a bit about that world … and in the years since, without intending or desiring it, she had gradually learned more.

Now Ofelia Navarro, who Veronica had last seen as a happy eight-year-old at an amusement park, was apparently revealed as yet one more of those mystically appointed champions. How it had happened was still to be determined, but that it had happened seemed irrefutable. So: Ofelia the Slayer. An intense, adventurous life, and potentially a very short one, spent under the authority of these Watchers who observed and supported and trained and guided and …

… controlled …

Full stop. Because Veronica had undergone her own experiences with self-appointed authority figures who had been certain they were qualified to make important decisions for her. For her own good, of course. Even those who meant no harm, who truly DID have (or believed they had) her best interests at heart, weren’t to be trusted, because Veronica had never been willing to cede dominion of her own life to anyone other than herself.

The thought of such control being exercised over a group of young girls — brought home to her by the undeniable reality of one such girl that she actually knew — just made her skin crawl.

This wasn’t a challenge. It was an unsought and unwelcome duty. But this time, she couldn’t run away.

Her father had worried about her, she knew, since midway through high school. Loss and tragedy and betrayal and disillusionment had sharpened her, hardened her, made her pragmatic and ruthless and implacable in her resolve. He had feared, not that she would break, but that she might make the turn into full outlawry. He had been right to be concerned, but his love and his example and his own brand of ferocious determination had prevented the feared transformation from taking place.

She still had all those tools at hand, though.

Sitting at her desk in the office she would soon vacate, Veronica began to sketch out a series of notes. The responsibilities she was about to assume wouldn’t allow her to remain in the FBI, so she would have to turn in her resignation … but not before using her position to gather certain resources, information, and favors that she would need. The qualifications she had acquired over the years, the experience and the contacts — Graham Miller, Kate Lockley, Dawn herself — would make it ridiculously easy to acquire membership in this Watchers organization.

And once she got there …

Eli would be part of this, she knew already. Almost certainly not an official member of the Watchers himself, but she would find a role for him, to augment and enable his existing role of protective uncle. Ofelia Navarro would not find herself at the mercy of overlords who might or might not value the young girl who held the power of a Slayer; she would be watched by at least two people who put her first.

And, because there were so many other young girls who would need the same support, Veronica would have to find, and cautiously recruit, and invisibly direct, others who shared her priorities and dedication. Watchers within the Watchers, with a purpose that didn’t run counter to that of the larger group, so long as that larger group held to the ideals it claimed to represent.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodies? “Who will watch the watchers?” Veronica had heard the question posed many times, in many arguments (most devoted to theoretical principles), over many years. Now she faced that same question in an immediate and urgent context, one she couldn’t even wish to deny or ignore, and the answer was: I will.

She had no desire to oppose the Watchers … but if they ever proved unworthy of the trust that had been placed in them, they would find themselves confronted by an enemy they had no idea how to face.

She didn’t want this, but she was coldly determined to carry it through … and God help anyone who tried to stop her.


[Veronica Mars, Ofelia Navarro and Weevil Navarro (Veronica Mars) are the property of Rob Thomas, Rob Thomas Productions, and Warner Brothers Television.]



“Because we are, in a sense, substituting our judgment for that of whatever supernatural agency or process operates in the selection of Slayers,” Giles went on, “I prefer that we exercise utmost caution, both in activating those Potentials who declined the Slayer call or had it pass them by, and in assessing those active Slayers who might need to be … deactivated.” He looked around the room. “My thought is that, for such instances, we form an established, er, Committee for Decision, a council within the Council, of a composition very like that of this gathering.” He indicated himself. “A senior Watcher, if not always its current titular head.” A nod to Buffy: “A senior Slayer; no verdict should ever be rendered upon one of your number without there being a Slayer’s voice in that verdict.” A second nod toward Xander: “A senior member of the field support teams, those who have the deepest and most comprehensive experience in working side-by-side with Slayers.” A gesture that took in Willow and Salome: “Senior representatives of the traditional Coven — a voice outside the formal Council — and of the new-line enchanters directly affiliated with our organisation.” His gaze swung to Wendell Chu. “Wendell, I would most certainly wish you to be part of our initial organisation, but I’m not certain how I would describe your position, or if I would want it to become part of the formal arrangement. However much I value your individual judgment, I have reservations about establishing a permanent seat on this new group for, erm —”

“For bureaucratic bean-counters?” Chu’s smile was gentle and amused. “In that, we are quite in agreement, sir. I appreciate your trust, and I share your reservations. We shall have to proceed with care in this matter … Set one seat on the new Decision Committee for a delegate-at-large, perhaps?”

“A wild-card seat,” Salome mused. “That could be interesting. Maybe more than you reckoned with.”

Giles laughed softly, but before he could reply further, Buffy abruptly asked, “So, would Faith be eligible as the Slayer representative?”

He regarded her, one eyebrow raised. “I had presumed you would wish to hold that position.”

“I do,” Buffy said. “But we’re already looking ahead, trying to plan how it’ll work even when it isn’t us. And besides, I just want to know.”

“By right, she would be eligible,” Giles acknowledged. “On a practical basis, we would need to assess whether that would be a desirable approach.” He sighed. “Her past history …”

Xander nodded. “Issues,” he said.

“Gigantic issues,” Willow agreed. “So, what, you think she might go too easy on the bad girls?”

“It’s possible,” Giles admitted. “Or equally possible that her continuing desire for redemption might move her to be excessively harsh. Or even that her judgment would be irreproachable, but the fact of passing judgment would exact a disproportionate toll from her. We simply don’t know at this point, and those are considerations that must be addressed.”

“Okay,” Buffy said. Her eyes were downcast, and her hands moved restlessly on the arms of the chair. “Lots of things to work through, I get that.” She looked up, her mouth set. “But, basically, we’re doing this, right?”

Giles nodded. “I don’t see how we can avoid it,” he said. “Nor should we attempt to do so.”

“Genie’s out of the bottle,” Xander said, and stood up. “And we’re the ones who pulled the cork, so it’s on us to handle it.” He looked around at the others. “We have a responsibility: to the world, and to these girls. Whether we want it or not, it’s there, and I’m not about to turn it over to anybody else.”

He would set himself to war with the entire Council, Giles mused, studying the man before him, if he believed we were victimising these young women. The realisation was actually encouraging — he who had once been the Heart was now determined to serve as Conscience — but it would be best not to bring it to the attention of the current Council’s more bristly elements. “We do indeed bear a responsibility,” Giles said, “and I doubt any one of us is prepared to shirk it. So we have many things to consider, and guidelines to draw, and a proposal to be formed in such a manner as to persuade those in our consolidated organisation who cannot be directly commanded.”

He looked to each of them in turn, and in each face he saw acceptance and resolution. “The task before us will be long, arduous, and complex,” he announced. “Tonight is only a beginning.” He took a sip from the near-forgotten brandy. “All the same … it has begun.”


end
 

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Acknowledgment: The concept of a choice being offered to Potentials after the First Wave (and the overall manner of that choice) was originated by Liz Marcs in her epic “Living History”. If I’m going to steal, I’ll always steal from the best.

Questions? Comments? Any feedback is welcome!