The Vampire of Steel
Buffy was in the communications center watching Passions when something came up on her from behind. Before it could call her name, she was out of the chair, stake in hand, and whirling in its direction.
Supergirl stood there with a large valise in hand. “Nice reflexes,” she commented.
The Slayer caught her breath. “Don’t ever do that! I mean, sorry. This is your house and all...I just get jumpy. I might have...” She looked at Kara. “I might have hurt myself.”
“No problem. Obviously, I’m back.”
“Yeah.” Buffy stashed the stake back in her handbag. “Sorry. Um, I was watching soaps.”
“That’s cool. Did you ever get into ‘Secret Hearts’?”
“Kind of before my time. And anyway, I could never stand that woman who played Margo Hatton, you know? She was such an irritating bitch.”
“Uh. Anyway, Buffy, we don’t have that much time. I wanted to show you a few things I’ve brought back with me. Then, of course, I’ll have to show them all over again to your group. Observe.”
Willow felt the heft of the stake in her hand. “Doesn’t feel any heavier than the usual. I mean, is this a .38 caliber stake, or what?”
Buffy said, “Giles. Do you have a book or something you’re not using? Preferably a hardback?”
The Watcher looked up from the opened valise around which he, Kara, Cordelia, and Xander were gathered. “Oh. You want a demonstration? Just use this.” He pulled a book from a standing shelf and tossed it to her. Buffy caught it on the fly.
She looked at it. “A Baptist hymnal? Giles, I am so not going to desecrate this book.”
“All right, then.” He threw another, heftier book at her. She caught it. “Carl Sandburg’s The American Songbag. He was always a rather lightweight poet.”
“The book isn’t,” said Buffy. She held it before her in both hands. “Push against it, Will. A little.”
Willow came at the book, her staking arm back as if she was going to throw a forward pass. Buffy said, “Stop, Will! I said a little, not a lot. This is our Kryptonian stake demonstration.”
“Oh.” Willow stopped, then walked to Buffy, put up her hand with the stake, and gently pushed the tip against the book cover. It went through the whole book with a single thrust, pushing out paper pulp and cloth-covered cardboard. Willow’s eyes widened.
“Weird,” she pronounced.
Xander said, “The new improved Stake-O-Matic from Ronco. It penetrates, defenestrates, and...somebody give me a good rhyme here.”
“Xander,” said Cordy, in despair. “Get with the program.”
Kara said, “These stakes are from the wood of a Rokynian tree. In Earth’s environment, they become super-hard. They can punch through even Kryptonian flesh. They are not toys, and after our exercise, every one of them has to be recovered and sent back with me.”
“Understood, Kara,” said Giles, feeling one of the stakes gingerly. “Just the thing I’ve had to do with many of the magical accouterments around here. Dangerous materials must be handled with care.”
“And he fines you if you don’t put ‘em back,” added Xander.
“Yes. That’s the librarian in me.”
Willow went back to the table, holding the stake in both hands. “Yeah. I know what you’re thinking. Did he stake only five vamps, or all six? Well, let me tell you, punk...”
“You didn’t watch that movie, Will,” said Cordelia. “Tell me you really didn’t watch that movie.”
“What?” Willow dropped her hands to her sides. “I’m only supposed to watch girl movies? I can’t watch Clint Eastwood if I want to?”
“Well, you could watch him in ‘Bridges of Madison County.’” Cordy held up a golden medallion on a chain. “What does this do?”
Supergirl took it from her, gently. “This is a medallion of Rao. Priests wear it on Rokyn. This, especially, has to go back with me. It may, probably will, have the same effect on Zol-Am as a cross would on a Christian, or ex-Christian, vampire. If we get lucky with it, we may not need anything else other than a stake.”
“If,” said Buffy. “Always the operative word. And usually not even operative.”
Kara gave her a serious look. “You’re right.” To all of them, she said, “This is just the stuff I brought from Rokyn. The box I brought with it comes from the Fortress. I only want Buffy, Giles, or Angel to handle what’s in it. Understood?”
“Sounds like hazmat,” offered Xander.
“Very hazmat,” said Supergirl, taking the box from under the table. “You two, follow me.”
Willow, Xander, and Cordelia watched the threesome leaving the room. “What do you think they’ve got in there?” asked Willow, tentatively.
Xander sombered a bit. “There’s only a few things that can kill Superman. My guess is she brought a few of them back with her.”
Cordelia said, “And if it can kill Superman, it can kill...”
“You aced the pop quiz, Cordy,” said Xander. “That’s why it’s on a need-to-stake basis.”
In the kitchen, Kara paused and looked all about the room before setting the box down on the table. “Why’d you do that?” asked Buffy.
“X-ray vision,” said Supergirl. “Also telescopic. I can’t afford to open this without making a check first.”
Rupert said, “With all respect, Kara, please don’t flaunt your extra powers around that much. We know what you can do, in theory.”
“Giles,” said Buffy. “I’m all right with this, okay? I know Kara can do more than I can. I’m not about to become Inferiority Complex Girl, okay?”
“Sorry, I wasn’t trying to put anyone down by comparison,” Kara said. “I know what it’s like, believe me. I didn’t always have powers.”
“Neither did I,” said Buffy. “Sometimes I think I’d like to be back there.”
“That makes two of us,” Supergirl said. “Let’s not worry about that right now. Mr. Giles, if you would, pick up this box for a moment.”
Giles reached out, grasped the box, and lifted it. “Hmm. A bit heavier than your...normal box, I would think.”
The Argonian nodded. “Lined with lead. That’ll be suspicious enough to Zol-Am when we get into battle. But it something that can’t be helped. I’m trusting you and Angel to keep this out of sight and out of conspicuousness when we get there, but have it near to hand. What I’m about to show you stays here and doesn’t go out. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” the two others echoed.
“All right, then.” Kara opened the box.
Inside was what looked like a large, red, circular projector with two buttons on the back, and a much smaller metal box. “And this is...what?” asked Buffy.
“I do believe I know,” said Giles. “I’m not quite sure I’m comfortable with it. At all.”
Supergirl nodded. “These are our two last lines of defense. This,” she said, gesturing to the projector, “is a Phantom Zone ray. Just worry about the white button. If you touch that, whatever you point this at will be instantly banished to the Zone. This one I’ve set to burn out its power element just two minutes after activation. That should prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. If all else fails, use this on Zol-Am. I don’t want him back in the Zone. I don’t know if he can infect other inmates there with vampirism, and I don’t want to find out. If I don’t have to.”
“Yeah. One vamp with powers to change the course of mighty graveyards is all we need for now. And what’s in this little box?” Buffy reached for it.
Kara grasped her wrist. “Don’t.”
“I know what is in there,” said Giles, quietly. “Kryptonite.”
“Kryptonite?” Buffy jerked her hand back, with Kara still holding her wrist. “You’re serious?”
“What do you think?” asked Kara, softly. “If even the Zone projector fails, you have to use this against Zol-Am. It must be in close proximity to him for several minutes to kill him. If it gets knocked too far away, or he manages to fly off, or lead gets between it and him...he can recover. Also, don’t expect him to be too pleased.”
“We can’t use that against him while you’re around.”
“Buffy.” Kara took her friend by the shoulders, gently but firmly. “You’ll only use this as a last resort. But if that happens, you will use it whatever the circumstances.”
“Whatever the circumstances. Am I clear?”
Just as gently, Buffy removed Kara’s hands from her shoulders. “Kara. Reality alert. Have I told you that I’ve died before?”
The Slayer nodded. “Drowned by an ubervamp called the Master. Xander brought me around, just barely, with artificial resp. I’ve not only died, I’ve killed. I killed Angel, too. Seriously killed him.”
“The very same. I killed him to save the world. Your line of work, I know, but you weren’t available at the time. Sent him to Hell, and he came back a nice guy again.”
Rupert Giles said, “Buffy, I believe that’s enough. I would really rather you didn’t get into further details, if you please.”
Buffy shot him a look. “Should I tell her about Jenny Calendar?”
“No, absolutely not.”
Supergirl looked from Buffy to Rupert and back again. She had a feeling that, even though she’d seen more than either of these two would in a lifetime, there was something she’d missed. Like lifting up a board in an empty lot and seeing the beetles, grubs, and worms burrowing about. Something from which she’d possibly been shielded before. She had better sense than to ask about Jenny Calendar.
“So you see,” said Buffy, “you’re dealing with a professional here. I may not work the same side of the street. But we’re in the same line of work.”
After a pause, Kara said, “Then you think you can put me out of work, if it comes to that?”
“If it has to come to that,” said Buffy, trying to keep her voice steady, “it isn’t going to be anybody does that but me.”
Angel awoke slightly before sunset, showered, and dressed quickly. The group was already assembled in his living room. Buffy, Giles, Xander, Willow, Cordy, Willy and Supergirl. “Well,” he said. “Anyone got a pithy comment to toss off before we go to war?”
“Only that war is just what we’re going into,” warned Kara, sitting on the arm of a stuffed chair. “This guy is a military professional, Angel. He was a subordinate of a guy who almost conquered my homeworld. You can’t expect an easy time with him.”
“Boy, does she have us pegged,” said Xander. “Not.”
“That’s gallows humor,” said Buffy. “We’re good at it around here. Comes from practice.”
“It doesn’t mean they’re not taking this seriously,” Giles said. “Just that they’re using humor as a coping mechanism.”
“Me, I’d rather use fashion as a coping mechanism,” said Cordelia. “But, hey, we all have our burdens.”
“Well, we won’t have them if we don’t, you know, win tonight,” Willow put in. “I mean, we are facing somebody with super-powers. Even more than Kara, here.”
“Thanks for reminding us, Will,” Buffy noted. “So it’s going to be tough. We’re fighting somebody who’s got more strength than any vamp we’ve ever faced before. Like Kara says, he’s a tactician. He’s probably got numbers on his side, too, by now. But he does have the old Achilles heel or two, and we’re gonna use ‘em. Kara and I whipped M’nagaleh together, and this guy has a lot less power than that guy...or glob...or whatever had. Am I right?”
“Definitely right,” said Kara, glad for a chance to see an upside again.
“So we’re going out to take the war to Zolly now, and if it doesn’t take too long, we’re gonna celebrate at the all-night Doublemeat place,” Buffy finished. “I know it’s kind of a short beer for you, Kara, but that’s all I can offer right now.”
“Hey, it’s enough, Buffy,” said Supergirl. She noticed a sour expression on the Watcher’s face. “Something wrong, Mr. Giles?”
Giles said, “I was just reflecting on some truly horrible movies that I used to watch as a child. Mostly, we saw them on TV...we had Creature Features in Britain, too. They must’ve been made in the Fifties and early Sixties. Monsters or aliens would land in a small town, a bunch of teenagers would be the only ones who knew about it, and they’d be forced to defeat the monster. Then they’d go back and hit the malt shop afterwards.
“When I got out of my youth, I thought those were the stupidest movies I’d ever seen. And now, God help me, it seems they’re a preparatory text for my life.”
Angel grinned. “I remember those times. And those movies.”
Xander said, “Well, what’re we waiting for? Let’s, like, go wipe out the monsters, Daddy-O!”
“Hmm,” said Willow. “Could this possibly be called a monster rally?”
“Will,” Buffy advised, “shut up.”
The army was already on the march.
Zol-Am wasn’t wasting time with things, as it was. The first inkling Sunnydale had that things were amiss was when a squad of demons stopped a patrol car near the park with their bare hands. There were enough of them to do that. The cops radioed in a report to the station, but they were yanked out of the prowl car by creatures who were strong enough to tear the doors off their vehicle. A demon driver got in the car itself afterward and took it to a secluded place within the park proper.
Before too many minutes were past, Zol-Am’s troops had expanded outward from the park, on the march. The few late walkers and disreputable types who caught sight of them were snatched, dealt with, and disposed of. For what little time he’d had to train them, Zol-Am had the vamps and demons acting like a reasonably efficient regiment.
The mayor received a report on the activity from a frightened flunky. He issued an order to keep an eye on things, but not to intervene. Not entirely ignorant of the situation, he judged it a time when he, too, hoped the Slayer would pull them through.
Bill Goodwin, who had been made Zol-Am’s second-in-command thanks to doing a short stint in the Army, looked sideways at his topkick. “Sir, permission to ask a question.”
The Kryptonian didn’t bother to turn his head. “You don’t have to ask permission, soldier. I may not answer, though. Proceed.”
“Begging the general’s permission, sir, but, given the fact that you’ve got enough power to put the rest of us in the sunlight...”
“That is a given, soldier.” Zol-Am permitted himself a smile.
“...and the fact that you can fly, and shoot heat through your eyes, and all that comic-book stuff...”
“Begging your pardon, sir, I’ll explain comic books one of these days when you have a lotta time. Well, you’ve got powers far beyond the reach of ordinary mortal, or immortal, vampires. So why do you need us to help you open the Hellmouth?”
Zol-Am, still on the march, considered his choices: telling the truth, keeping mum, or tearing the head off Goodwin and finding a new lieutenant. The last would take time, and he felt like hearing himself, so that left out the second choice. However, admitting a Kryptonian’s vulnerability to magic outright, even if some of the troops may have suspected it, would be bad form.
“Lieutenant,” said Zol-Am, “would it be an army if the general could get everything done by himself?”
Goodwin considered it. “Probably not, sir.”
“Definitely not, lieutenant. It’s not just the fact that the general can get things done better, it’s that he knows how to delegate responsibility. To make sure that all his men get a taste of action. Isn’t that so, lieutenant?”
“Sounds affirmative to me, sir.”
“I believe we’re on the same wavelength here, soldier. Now, you take this—“ Zol-Am waved one hand at the throng about him. “—Just a ragtag bunch of raw recruits a couple of days ago, each one fighting for his daily blood. No pride, no accomplishment, just a leech off of the greater society. That was where they were two days ago.
“But now, look at them. Well, just look, lieutenant. We’ve given them something to strive for. We’ve given them discipline, regimentation, training. We’ve given them inspiration. The chance to fight for their community. I tell you, lieutenant, this will be a day to mark down in your calendars, and I’ve noticed your special days are marked in red, which makes it even more appropriate. Have I told you about our campaign on the Great Plains, with the Duplicates of General Dru-Zod?”
“Uh, begging the general’s permission, yes, sir. A few times.”
“That’s all right. We’ll save that for later.” Zol-Am sniffed the air. “But you have to understand inspiration, lieutenant. It thrives on spectacle, on the sight and experience of a well-won victory. That’s exactly what we’re going to give the men tonight.”
“There are women, too, sir. Demons, vampires, werewolves.”
“Soldier.” Zol-Am looked at Goodwin stonily. “In this outfit, there are only men, regardless of their sex. Is that clear?”
“Now, then. We’re going to give the troops their spectacle. They’re going to participate in the slaying of this...’Slayer’ of yours, and her guerilla band. Myself, I’ll see to the destruction of my worldsman, this ‘Supergirl’. After that, we’ll open your Hellmouth, and things will proceed from there. Understood?”
“Received and noted, general.” Goodwin was getting tired of being a yes-man, but at least it was better to be a yes-man to this guy than, say, the Master. Maybe. Definitely better than some fat slob demon who had to have broth poured all over his body.
He thought, idly, that this might be the place where he could be all that he could be.
“They’re on the march,” said Supergirl, hovering 20 feet off the ground and using her telescopic and infra-red visions to scout the darkness.
“I think we can guess their intended theatre of operations without much difficulty,” said Giles. “Well, troops, should we ‘bug out’, as they say?”
Cordelia eyed Giles’s Citroen. “Do I really have to ride in that thing? If I’m going to get killed, I’d prefer it to be in a sportier car.”
“How many of you can cram into a car?” asked Supergirl, calling down to them.
Buffy reflected. “Well, there’s Giles’s and Xander’s. So I guess the bunch of us could manage to fit into both.”
“Oh, god,” moaned Willy. “Am I gonna have to sit over the stick shift again?”
“Get in,” said Kara. “I’ll show you how to get to the battle site quickly and in style.”
“I’m sure that last part will appeal to Cordelia,” remarked Willow.
The Scoobies piled into both cars. Angel and Xander shared the front seat of Xander’s car, with Willow and Willy in the back. “Now what?” asked Xander, at the wheel. “Does she, like, use her superbreath to blow us there, or what? Hey! What’re you doing there?”
He’d caught sight of Supergirl at the front of his car.
“I think she’s going to move us, Harris,” remarked Angel, a second before Kara took hold of the front bumper and towed it gently but swiftly to a spot just behind Giles’s tried-but-true Citroen.
“Wow,” said Willow. “Talk about Girl Power. I wonder if she’d talk to Wonder Woman about getting me into Amazon training, or something.”
“Hey, forgive me for noticing, but I thought you were still learning to be a witch,” said Angel.
“Yeah, I know. But maybe I could audit, or something. A double major.”
Willy sighed. Then his eyes bulged as though Ed McMahon was standing there with a Publisher’s Clearing House van behind him. “Hey. Hey! Waitaminnit. What’s she doing?”
Supergirl had her cape off and had looped it around Giles’s back bumper and Xander’s front bumper. She tied both ends of the stretchable red garment together, with one set of Scoobies looking back at her and the others looking forward. After she was done, Kara went to the driver’s side on Xander’s car and spoke to them. “You’re all buckled up. Good. Stay that way, and believe me, this won’t take more than a minute or two.”
“Oh, no,” gulped Willow. “I bet this’ll be worse than the Matterhorn at Disneyland.”
“Just hold on tight,” advised Angel, “and think of England.”
“Why should I think of England?” asked Willow, seeing Supergirl speaking to the group in Giles’s car.
“Figure of speech,” Angel said, just before the girl in blue grasped Giles’s front bumper and hauled both cars into the night sky.
Willow was right. It was worse than the Matterhorn. But, thankfully, the ride was over a lot sooner.
Even the vampires were startled by the sight (or what they could catch of it, in the subdued night lighting) of a flying woman in blue, yellow, and red coming down in the parking lot of Sunnydale’s high school with two cars in tow. Their troops hadn’t quite stormed the school yet, but that, everyone knew, wasn’t far in the future.
In an interval of time too fast for human eyes to see, Supergirl untied the cape from the bumpers and fastened it to her shoulders again. The Scoobies piled out of the cars and assembled, as well as they could manage. Both units stood facing each other across an intervening street, for a long moment.
Then Zol-Am, rising from the mass of demons and vamps by his flight power, pointed at them and made a proclamation. It was simple enough for the troops to comprehend.
“There stands the enemy,” he said. “Attack!”