The Vampire of Steel
“All right,” said Supergirl. “I’ve been listening for a heartbeat that might be a bit out of synch with normal, or breathing that might match that of a Kryptonian. But I haven’t heard a thing.”
Giles adjusted his glasses. “The problem with that, my dear, is that vampires neither breathe nor have very much of a heartbeat. So I fear detecting our...quarry...by those means is useless.”
Kara simpered, sitting on the edge of his sofa. “Just fine. So I have to go door to door looking for a vampire?”
“Hey, it’s just about what we’ve had to do, sometimes,” said Xander. When Willow and Buffy both glanced at him, he held up his hands. “Okay, okay. Xander, the Invisible Guy. Carry on as before.”
“It’s okay, Xander,” said Buffy. “Supergirl’s new to our sort of stuff.”
Kara looked up, her blonde hair catching the dimmed light of the candle Giles had burning on the nearby table. “What I can’t get is why we, that is, us super-heroes, haven’t learned of this by now. A thing called the Hellmouth? You’d think a source of magic power like this would’ve drawn some of our attention by now.”
Willow said, “Maybe it’s not supposed to be noticed by you. That is, by the magic super-heroes like Zatanna and such. There are an ‘and such’, aren’t they?”
“A few,” said Kara.
“Good point, though,” conceded Buffy. “With super-heroes running loose all over the country, and, maybe, five times as many super-villains, you’d think that Sunnydale might have drawn some attention by now.”
Supergirl nodded. “From Felix Faust, if nobody else.”
“I met him, once,” said Giles. “Didn’t care very much for the man. Long ago and far away. But I may have a theory behind the, ah, superhuman population not knowing of the Hellmouth.”
“And that is?” Buffy looked up at her Watcher.
“It’s very possible that the Hellmouth doesn’t wish to be known to the likes of the Justice League or the, ah, New Teen Titans. In fact, the population of Sunnydale barely knows of it...or, perhaps, wishes not to know. I have a feeling that only the persons intended to know about its existence, do.”
“Super-heroes aren’t supposed to know of it?” Supergirl looked at him with amazement. “That’s ridiculous.”
Giles met her gaze. “Why?”
“Well, I mean, it doesn’t seem logical. We’ve got magical heroes of our own, like the Phantom Stranger and Zatanna, and a few others we have over from Earth-2 every once in awhile.”
“Earth-Two?” Xander squinted. “This is beginning to sound kind of Moorcockian, if you know what I mean.”
“Hey, I do!” Kara beamed. “You mean you read Moorcock, too?”
“Did I!” Xander struck a pose with an imaginary sword. “Arioch! Blood and souls for my lord Arioch!”
Willow buried her head in her hands. “Oh, goddess. I thought Xander was the only...I mean...”
Supergirl looked a bit sheepish and put a hand to her lips, smiling. Xander, dropping his pose, said, “I’ll finish it. You thought I was the only geek here, right?”
“Uh, something like that.”
“It’s all right, dear,” said Kara. “It’s nice to be able to contact my inner geek once in awhile.”
Buffy sat cross-legged on the rug and yawned. “I should like to point out that I’d like to get a few hours of sleep tonight and this morning, which I can do because it’ll be Saturday. If we’re going to hunt Supervampire, shouldn’t we make some plans and like that?”
Giles nodded. “We were hoping for some pointers from Miss Kara here. After all, she’s the Kryptonian in our midst.”
“Kara...uh, that is, Miss Kara,” amended Xander, “do you think this guy’s from the Phantom Zone? I read about that in those true-crime Superman comics and such. With all the gray mists and Jax-Ur and Krypton’s Most Wanted?”
The Girl of Steel said, “That’s most likely, Xander. Rifts open between the Zone and our world more than I’d like to admit. It’s possible he could be a criminal from Rokyn, the world on which Krypton’s surivors settled, but I really doubt that. He’s more likely a Zoner than a Daxamite, in my belief. That heat-vision damage we saw on the two...demons...tends to rule out him being a Martian. Martians have some super-visions, but they can’t do that.”
“So if we find him...no, make that when we find him,” said Buffy, “what do you suggest we do? You said Kryptonians are vulnerable to magic. We’ve got Willow, here. I’ll bet she could stir him up some trouble.”
Willow drew in a breath as both Kara and Buffy looked at her. “Well, I could try.”
“That’d be of great help,” said Kara. “But my plan, really, is to get a Phantom Zone projector and use it against him when we find him. That’ll be a lot easier than trying to fight or kill him.”
“What if,” said Xander, “he gets out again?”
“Then we put him back again.”
Four sets of eyes seemed to be trained on Kara. “Well, what should we do? I mean, I don’t play judge, jury, and executioner.”
“That, Miss Kara,” said Giles, “is exactly what we do. It’s what we’ve always done.”
“I will not kill,” said Kara. “Not even a vampire.”
“Then you’d better be prepared for all of Krypton’s Most Wanted to turn into vampires, once you send him back,” warned Buffy. “How are you and your cousin Superman going to deal with that?”
“He couldn’t infect other Zoners. They can’t physically harm each other. Not even bite.”
“That’s reassuring,” said Giles. “But if your Zoners get out as often as you claim they do, what’s to stop him from making other vampires every time he escapes?”
Supergirl didn’t say anything.
Xander came in with a save. “Supergirl’s got a point. We probably can’t kill this guy, whether we like it or not. So if she’s got something that can get him off Earth, that’s probably the best we can do. I vote yeah.”
Buffy sighed and stretched back, holding her knees. “Whatever. Just as long as we get him, and get him quick.”
“I can go get the Zone projector and be back in a few minutes,” said Supergirl. “But he’s not likely to strike any more tonight. I can be back this evening.”
The Slayer got to her feet and put her hand on Supergirl’s arm. “No, Kara.”
Kara looked at her in confusion. “What?”
“I mean, you don’t have to go to work tomorrow, do you?”
“Well, no, but...”
“I want you to stay over at my house for the weekend,” she said. “It’s the least I can do for you. Yes. Okay?”
“Oh, no, Buffy. I couldn’t. I might give you away to your family. Besides, I don’t...I mean, I can’t...”
“You have a secret identity. Or you can make a new one just for the occasion. Can’t you?”
“Buffy, this is rather irregular,” said Giles.
“Giles, please,” said Buffy. “Don’t worry about my mother, Kara. She knows.”
“She...knows?” Supergirl looked at her friend, incredulously.
Buffy Summers nodded. “She does. Sometimes she doesn’t like it, but she understands. Or she does her best to. I’m sure she’d love to meet you, and, Kara, I want you to stay.”
“But why, Buffy? For Earth’s sake, why?”
The younger woman looked steadily into the Kryptonian’s eyes. “Because we’re friends. Because we’re alike in certain ways. Because I want to do something nice for you. And because I like you. Well?”
Kara sighed. “All right. Will you wait here while I go back and get a change of clothes?”
Buffy smiled. “Sure. But don’t be too late. And wake me up when you come. I’m going to crash on Giles’s couch.”
Xander said, “Can I watch when you take off? And do you really say ‘Up, up, and away’?”
“Yes, you can, and no, not that often,” said Kara.
Joyce Summers had seen her daughter bring in some pretty strange house guests before, so she was used to surprises. But, outwardly, the woman Buffy brought home with her at 5:15 a.m. wasn’t strange at all. Appearances could be, and often were, deceiving. Joyce just hoped that this time they weren’t.
“Hi,” said Joyce, in her robe and slippers, watching from the open door as the two came up the walk. “Who’s your friend?”
“Mom, this is Karla,” said Buffy, coming up the steps. “Karla, this is my mom, Joyce Summers. I’ll tell you more when we get inside.”
“How do you do, ma’am?” Karla, who appeared to be a redhead in the dimmed light of the front room, was wearing a white blouse, a brown blazer and pants, and sensible flat shoes. She looked very pretty, and was more than a few years older than Buffy. So a school friend she definitely was not.
Joyce didn’t know whether to be relieved or more worried about that.
Also, there was the box Karla was carrying under one arm, and the suitcase she had in the other. Joyce wasn’t ruling out holy water, crosses, and stakes being in either one of the things she brought with her.
She made a point of not inviting Karla in, but the young woman came over the threshold with Buffy. That was a bit more reassuring, at least.
Buffy shut and locked the door behind them. “Okay, Mom. I can’t give you all the details right now, but Karla is a woman I worked with when I went to Chicago. She helped me bring down the vampire ring I told you about. Remember?”
Joyce’s eyes went wide in sudden comprehension. “You mean, she’s...I mean, she can’t be...that is, excuse me, miss, you can’t be...”
Karla took out a metal comb, ran in through her hair, made it change color to blonde, and styled it in a different way. “Do I look more familiar now, Mrs. Summers? I could change clothes if you’d like, but I’d like to get some shut-eye.”
The Slayer’s mother stepped closer to study Karla’s face more closely. She hadn’t paid that much attention to all the news broadcasts and magazine photos of the Girl of Steel beforehand, but since Buffy came back from Chicago with news of having worked with Supergirl, she’d looked up a few articles just to see what her daughter’s ally had really looked like. It was sometimes hard to match a 2-D picture to a 3-D face, but not in this case.
“You’re her,” said Joyce. “You’re really her. But...why?”
“We have a case, Mom,” said Buffy. “And right now, I really need to crash. Can we tell you later?”
“Well, yes, of course,” Joyce Summers allowed. “But...that doesn’t mean...well...”
Supergirl took Joyce’s hand, in a grip that was reassuringly soft. “You’ll be all right, Mrs. Summers. No super-villains followed me into Sunnydale. There’s just, I suppose, the usual stuff. Could I use your couch?”
“Oh, well, yes,” fumbled Joyce. “Let me go get some sheets and a pillow, and...” She turned away to head for the hall closet.
“I wouldn’t put you to the bother,” said Supergirl, from behind her.
Joyce turned, and saw her guest standing with sheets and a pillow already in hand.
“I’m sorry,” apologized Kara. “I used my X-ray vision to see where your closet was and went ahead and got them. Really, it’s just super-powers, no magic. I’d rather not be any trouble.”
After taking a couple of breaths, Joyce said, “At least let me help you make the bed.”
Thankfully, Kara allowed her to do that.
When all three of them got up, one by one, the next morning, Kara insisted on doing breakfast for the lot of them. Thankfully, pancakes, bacon, and eggs cooked at super-speed with heat vision tasted pretty much like the results of the normal process, and Kara was a competent cook. Over coffee, Joyce ventured to say, “You do this with your eyes?”
“Then, where you live, do you even need a microwave?”
Shrugging, Kara said, “Not really, but I have one. You know how it is. People think something’s wrong if you don’t.”
“I can imagine,” said Buffy, between bites of pancake. “I’ll take you to lunch today. That is, if Mom’s still feeling generous with the money.”
“Lucky for you, I still have some,” said Joyce. “But I’ll take you both out. If that’s all right, of course.”
“Well, I’ve got some cash,” said Kara. “I could treat you both.”
“No, dear,” Joyce insisted. “You’re a guest. We Summers insist on showing hospitality.”
“Especially to visitors from the planet Krypton.” Buffy grinned. Then, when she saw the look in Kara’s eyes, she backpedaled immediately. “Oh, geez, Kara, I’m sorry. I forgot...your planet blew up.”
Setting down her mug of hot tea, Kara Zor-El sighed. “Not exactly. I wasn’t born on Krypton. My city died of Kryptonite poisoning. My parents and I are the last survivors.”
Joyce, with an expression of sympathy, lay her hand on top of Kara’s. “Oh, no. Kara, honey, I’m so sorry.”
“Not your fault, Mrs. Summers. At least I still have my parents, and my cousin Kal. Plus all the people of Kandor, the few times I can see them now. But they’re on another world, in another dimension, now. Excuse me, I know this does sound bizarre, but it’s unfortunately very, very real.”
Buffy stood up, went over, and massaged Kara’s shoulders through her robe and nightdress. “Honey, believe me. After living with me for the last few years, Mom’s got a whole revised definition for ‘real’. I also know all about people dying. Too much, actually.”
Kara shut her eyes, and Joyce guessed that she was willing herself to be strong. “Thank you. Thank you both, really. I shouldn’t be this way, but sometimes...some things you never really get over. Not if you’re human.”
The Slayer hugged her from behind. “I know how it is, honey. We’re both in the same line of work. Sort of.”
Smiling a bit, Kara squeezed Buffy’s hand lightly. “Well. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what say we do some daytime reconnoitering? You can show me all the sights where you do your, uh, business.”
“Fine by me, Kara. The joint really doesn’t start jumpin’ till the sun goes down. But I can show you where the action usually takes place. Prepare for a tour of Sunnydale’s most vigorous graveyards, plus a few other stops on the Slayer Tour.”
“Where and when for lunch?” said Joyce.
“Let’s do the Laughing Greek,” suggested Buffy. “Ever since Allison took over as chef, it’s actually become edible.”
“As long as you don’t tell Kara how she got the job,” Joyce suggested.
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
Kara raised her eyebrows briefly, decided she’d been caught out in an in-joke, and kept her peace.
It was uncanny how one’s bodily rhythms woke one up at just the right time, when one was a vampire. Even within a lead-lined coffin, you knew when the sun went down.
He walked from the box in which he had slumbered, brushed himself off, smoothed back his hair, and ventured forth onto the streets of Sunnydale. The place where he had hunted last night seemed to be prime turf for his needs, so he headed there. But this time, he was in search of more than blood.
Of course, blood had to be found.
His eyes could make the darkness into day, could see through the thickest boles of trees, could reveal all there was to be revealed about the park that served as a vampiric game preserve. It didn’t take super-hearing to perceive the scream of a woman. But it did take super-speed to get there in time.
A girl was being attacked by two vampires. One looked to be of high-school age, fairly athletic. The other was an older man, in tweeds. The girl was young, not particularly pretty, but she had enough of what they wanted.
The young vamp was about to sink his teeth into her neck.
An instant before he could, a hand with the force of a plane of steel chopped through his neck and sent his head bouncing away from his shoulders. Both head and body separately turned to dust.
The vampire’s dispatcher glared viciously at the older vamp. “Stand there,” he ordered. The figure in tweeds shook visibly, but he obeyed.
The girl gasped, her eyes tearing. “Oh, thank God,” she said, breathily. “Thank God you were here.”
Her rescuer opened his mouth wide and bit into her neck.
A few minutes later, it was done.
Leaving the corpse on the ground, the man who had drained her stood and pointed to the vampire who was still quivering against the tree. “You. Give me information, and you will live.”
“Anything,” muttered the older vamp. “Anything.”
“Is there a gathering place where our kind can be found, in this city?”
“Willy’s Place,” burst out the old vamp. “At Willy’s. Just about everybody goes there, one time or another.”
The man stepped closer, and the old vamp widened his eyes at the sight of the strange clothing he wore, with risers on his shoulders and some sort of insignia on his chest.
“Then you and I will go there,” he said. “And the ones who survive will become my first army. Lead on.”
With an audible gulp, the old vampire did as he was told.