Author: Chris Cook
The last gusts of wind from the escaping helicopter, bearing Willow further and further away, whipped lazily at Tara as her eyes went from soldier to soldier, and finally back to Adam Walsh. Her back was to the edge of the roof, no room to retreat, and the semi-circle around her left her no room to manoeuvre either.
'I don't have time for this,' she thought grimly. 'I need to be rescuing Willow.'
She clenched her fists, and crouched, waiting for Walsh to make the first move. He gave a derisive snort.
"You're outnumbered, and outclassed," he sneered. "In case you didn't know, I'm the best hand-to-hand fighter there is. So just give up, and my boys won't rough you up too much, alright?"
"Make me," Tara challenged. 'How the hell do I get out of this?'
Walsh shrugged, took a step forward, then went cross-eyed as someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned, and found himself confronted by M, in a shiny purple bodysuit with black boots up to her thighs.
"I think you should make that 'second-best'," she suggested. On either side of them women in gold costumes, moving so fast they were little more than blurs, leapt out of the shadows and knocked out Walsh's soldiers in a flurry of well-placed punches and kicks.
Walsh gave an angry roar and swung both arms, aiming to catch M's head between his fists, but the blows never connected. Quick as a flash her arms were blocking his, and before he knew what was happening she had curled her legs up, flipped herself over in a somersault, and kicked him in the head. She landed elegantly and brushed an errant strand of hair from her face, while Walsh toppled backwards like a fallen redwood and landed with a thud at Tara's feet.
"M?" she said, still in shock at how quickly the tables had turned.
"Adorabunny?" M asked.
"Helicopter," Tara replied quickly, pointing into the night. "Cordelia."
"We'll get her back," M promised. "What do we know?" Agents were swarming onto the roof, taking up sentry positions and burrowing through the debris of the windmill, while M's bodyguard - the elite Gold Bunnies - returned to her side and waited for orders.
"Adora and Shy Bunny's efforts were successful," Fred said, appearing with one of the data cases Willow and Tara had sabotaged. "These would've hijacked the Kitten Awards transmission and uploaded the virus to every television and computer watching them - which is every sane person in the world. But the uplink was never made."
"No tracking on the escape vehicle," Anya added with an apologetic shrug. "Probably a carbon lattice chassis with E/M scramblers wired into it - she's sensor-invisible, and our direct visual satellites won't be able to pick her out in the dark. Unless we can work out where she's headed, our only option is to hope for a sighting, if she flies low. I've got remote-control search drones with spotlights going into the air now, but the odds aren't good."
"On the plus side, I found your panties," Faith put in, holding up Tara's black g-string. Tara blushed as everyone instinctively glanced down, then politely averted their eyes until she had pulled them on.
"Willow had them," she explained sheepishly. "They must have fallen- ow!" She squirmed, looked down, sighed and blushed again, and reached into the front of the g-string.
"Not really the best time," Faith quipped.
"No, this was in there," Tara frowned at her, producing a tiny electronic component. A single tiny red light was blinking on and off.
"I'm assuming it wasn't in there to begin with," Buffy said, while Fred gingerly took it from Tara and looked at it, puzzled.
"It looks uncomfortable," Anya added.
"It's Morse code," Fred said. "It's one of the data capacitors from the other data case, Adorabunny must have grabbed it when Chase appeared. And she's bent the refresh signal wires over onto the earthing elements, to burn a simple program into it..."
"And then stashed it in Blondie's panties," Faith concluded. "Which she just happened to have on her?" She leered at Tara.
"That's quite brilliant," Fred went on, ignoring Faith. "C...T...and it's repeating. It says 'direct'."
"Direct?" Tara repeated.
"Maybe she was trying for 'direction'?" Buffy suggested. "To tell us where Cordelia was taking her, but she didn't get it finished."
"She knew she didn't have much time," Faith pointed out. "I know Red babbles in person, but she knows how to be concise when she has to be."
"Maybe it's something she overheard," Anya said. "She and Tara just foiled Osbourne's plan, Cordelia may have talked to him over a secure cellphone to tell him, while she was kidnapping Adorabunny."
"Something about Osbourne's plan?" Tara wondered.
"Direct... uplink?" M suggested.
"Of course!" Fred exclaimed. "Why didn't I think of that?"
"I am the boss for a reason," M grinned.
"Didn't Willow and Tara stop the uplink?" Buffy asked.
"They stopped the covert uplink," Fred explained. "The one that would've slipped the virus into an existing signal, and let that signal do all the work of propagating it throughout the world. But if Osbourne has a transmitter powerful enough, and big enough, he could send a blanket signal - just use brute force to overpower whatever electromagnetic transmissions are being sent, and replace them with the virus. It's not very elegant, and it'd probably lose a lot of data in the process, but it's a smart virus - it could cope, and reconstruct itself, even if it got uploaded all scattershot-like."
"How do we find the transmitter?" M asked.
"At a guess, it must be built into one of the building projects Osbourne's company has been involved in, like the bridge in Millau."
"Or here," Anya put in. "I remember the Moulin Rouge had a restoration done last year, it must have been one of Osbourne's shell companies that did it, to get their equipment and escape route hidden like that."
"We're just looking for something that could hide a really big antenna," Fred went on. "I mean really big - it could be hidden in a building's framework, or disguised somehow, but basically we're just looking for tons and tons of metal that Osbourne can wire up and send a signal through. If we find the antenna, we'll find Adorabunny."
M nodded and turned to her bodyguard.
"Wicked Bunny, cross-reference the list of companies Osbourne has control over with renovations within a hundred kilometres of here, going back five years. Wimpy Bunny, coordinate with Ministry air command, I want clearance from the French government to launch and operate whatever hardware we need, as of now. Whipped Bunny, contact Buckingham Palace, tell them I am authorising firing of the Dolphin vibro-satellite system - we're getting our agent out safely, but if we can't confirm capture of all enemy personnel, I want this antenna destroyed." The gold-clad Bunnies scurried off to carry out their orders, while M turned to survey the lights of Paris, spread out like a starry blanket over the city at night.
"Now we just have to find it," she muttered grimly.
"Um," Tara said, her eyes fixing on a specific point on the skyline. "How many tons of metal would the antenna have to be, roughly?"
"A lot," Anya replied. "Six and a half, maybe seven thousand tons."
"At least three hundred metres in length," Fred added. "A sophisticated data conversion system hooked up to something about that size would be able to blanket all of Europe, half of Africa and the Middle East, maybe even reach the North American coast. Say a bit over three hundred metres, to be on the safe side."
"Like that?" Tara asked, pointing to where the Eiffel Tower was bathed in floodlights.
"Oh boy," Fred muttered.
"If we can't capture everyone, are we still going to blow it up?" Gunn asked, appearing at Fred's side.
"I hope not," M winced. "The French Prime Minister's mad at me already for scooping up all of tonight's tickets for 'international security'."
"Moving remote drones," Anya said, tapping her earpiece. "One squadron going in to test for aerial detection and... yep, something in the tower's painted them-" She broke off as a bevy of tiny explosions bloomed around the distant tower.
"Tempest Bunny reports drone squadron destroyed," Anya grimaced.
"I have Vixeny Bunny and Brer Rabbit redeployed on surveillance," Fred added. "They report multiple concealed heavy railgun emplacements on the tower. Estimated field of fire is three-sixty degrees, by eighty-five to ground level. And they confirm enemy helicopter has landed on the tower's main platform."
"Willow," Tara murmured forlornly.
"Terra Bunny's armoured brigade could weather the fire enough to get to the base of the tower," Anya suggested.
"Do we have any options that don't involve turning the Champs de Mars into this decade's Omaha Beach?" M asked.
"Uh... I know someone who may be crazy enough to get in there," Faith suggested, raising her hand.
"I sent you to switch on two hack units," Daniel said to Cordelia, as she dragged Willow into the secret lair improbably located at the top of Paris's tallest landmark. "What part of that did you interpret as 'waste time impersonating a stripper until you're spotted'?"
"Oh pipe down," Cordelia sneered, handing Willow over to Harmony. "Attach her handcuffs to... what happened to your boobs?"
"Daniel let me try out some new villainess outfits," Harmony preened, lovingly stroking the green-edged moulded pvc wrapped around her torso. "This one makes me look thirty per cent bigger, isn't it cool? It's all push-uppy, and there's room underneath for miniaturised villainy devices."
Cordelia shot a baleful look at Daniel.
"It kept her busy for half an hour," he admitted. "And you're the one who's done the screwing up here, remember."
"I did not screw up-" Cordelia insisted.
"You let my primary plan fail because you were too busy participating in lewd acts in front of a worldwide audience."
"You didn't explicitly tell me not to do that."
"I'm trying to eliminate smut," Daniel said patiently. "I'd have said it was implied."
"Uh, except my smut," Harmony interjected.
"Yes, except yours," Daniel waved a hand at her irritably. "Just restrain Willow before she does something heroic, would you?"
"Anyway," Cordelia went on, while Harmony dutifully bolted Willow's cuffs to one of the overhead girders, "that wasn't just any lewd act, that was Miss Kitty goddamn Fantastico. You do know who that is, right, you're not so prudish you never heard of her?"
"She's a stripper," Daniel replied levelly. "Not much of a career, if you ask me."
"'She's a stripper'," Cordelia scoffed. "She's the best erotic dancer in the history of the orgasm, and let me tell you she's as good with her hands as she is with her choreography. I don't care how much you're paying me, I'm not passing up a chance to be Miss Kitty's cat-toy-"
"Fine, enough!" Daniel shouted, covering his ears. "Just... keep an eye on the defensive systems. The Ministry's got drones in the air, and they'll no doubt try to mount some kind of rescue, since you had to go and kidnap one of their agents."
"I thought you'd like having your ex-girlfriend around," Cordelia leered.
"She's one of the enemy now," Daniel shook his head. "I've washed my hands of her."
"Probably just as well," Cordelia mused, sauntering over to Willow. "You never know where she's been... though given what Tara looked like up on the roof, I can guess at least one place you've been recently, huh?" Willow, still gagged, did her best to stare daggers at her captor.
"Oh, she doesn't like me," Cordelia taunted her. "Too bad, little red - you're a good driver, I'll give you that, but the measure of a Bunny is in hand to hand combat, no vehicles, no gadgets, just one on one. Didn't do too well there, did you? I mean, your back was turned, fiddling with Daniel's data gizmo, but let's face it, you'd never have lasted five seconds even if I'd tapped you on the shoulder and waited for you to get your act together. Pity. Tara's a real ass-kicker, you know that? Almost as good as me. I bet she's pretty disappointed in how you just gave up and got captured like that - she's got high standards, did you know that? Since she came out from under my wing, she's never kept a partner for more than one mission, and let me tell you, she's been paired up with some hotties now and then."
Willow swallowed, and gave Cordelia her best glare, but the rogue agent just laughed.
"Oh come on, what were you thinking?" she chuckled. "You thought you're the one - you're special? You're just a tech who's good with cars. Sure she had some fun with you, she'll probably even try to rescue you - just for form's sake, it'd look bad on her record to lose an assigned partner on a mission. Don't get your hopes up, though - once this is over, she'll move on. She always has." She laughed to herself. "Assuming you're not both fired for failing utterly in your mission, of course... Hell, with no more smut, the Ministry might as well just admit they've been beat and throw in the towel."
'Tara's coming,' Willow told herself. 'Tara's going to save me.' She took a deep breath and ignored Cordelia, focusing on learning what she could from the computer screens set up around the cramped lair, and the master console where Daniel was setting up the crackling energy matrix containing his super-virus.
"Hey, don't get all upset," Cordelia pouted. "Look, I'm just telling you this for your own good. If you get your hopes up, you'll just wind up hurting more when it happens."
'Tara's going to save me... then what?'
Above Paris, France
"What do you think?" Faith asked the agent she had singled out from the crowd, and whom she and Buffy had been huddled with planning since they had taken off. The woman nodded.
"Okay, come on back here!" Faith called to Tara, who was leaning back from the co-pilot seat watching the trio, while Anya flew the transport. Tara quickly got up and joined them in the cargo bay, which was filled with heavy equipment crates.
"We've got a plan?" she asked, looking from one to another of them.
"Tara, meet Agent Wolf Bunny," Faith smiled. "She'll get you onto the tower... if you're crazy enough to follow her."
"What do I have to do?" Tara asked. Wolf Bunny opened a crate and took out a pressure suit and helmet.
"HALO jump," she said, tossing the helmet to Tara. "The tower's defences have a blind spot - they can detect a target directly above them, but can't fire on a straight trajectory. We've got a four second window before a missile fired at their optimum elevation can veer around and hit us - not enough time for a conventional aircraft to descend and offload a team."
She kicked open a crate, revealing a streamlined object the size of a surfboard, with wings folded beneath it.
"These are switchblades," she explained. "We ride them down like torpedoes, reaching terminal velocity before we enter the range of their radar. It'll take two seconds to fall from maximum range to level with the top of the tower - at that point we pop the wings, vertical one-eighty, your dive becomes a climb to a stall, and you've got about a split second hanging motionless in mid-air to fire a grapple at the tower before you fall. Grapple, reel in, and you're on the structure. I'll lead you in and do a ninety degree swoop, head off flat away from the tower - hopefully the radar will fix on me and I'll draw off any missiles they fire, and with luck they won't even know there was a second diver, and you can catch them by surprise."
"I still can't believe this is the best idea we've got," Buffy grimaced.
"So," Tara said, frowning, "we're going to jump out of this plane, dive down on one of these things," she pointed at the fragile-looking switchblades, "and pull up at the last second?"
"That's the plan.".
"What's the difference between success and going splat?" Tara asked.
"About a tenth of a second," Wolf Bunny grinned.
"It's okay," Faith added quickly. "She does this for fun. It's like skydiving, just a bit... faster."
"Uh, won't the g-force on that swoop be well over the passing-out threshold?" Anya asked from the cockpit.
"That's averaged, guys and gals - women can take more gee than men, proven fact. You in?" Wolf Bunny asked Tara. She frowned in concern, then her expression hardened.
"It'll get me to Willow," she said quietly. "Let's go."
"Kick-ass," Wolf Bunny grinned. "Okay, you two, help me unpack these things..."
Tara watched the switchblades being prepared for a moment, then ducked back into the cockpit.
"Anya," she said quietly, "I need you to send something to M for me." She held out a data pad, which Anya took and glanced over.
"Wow," she muttered, eyebrows raised. "Are you sure?"
"I want this on record," Tara nodded. "Whatever happens."
"Okay, you're the boss," Anya shrugged. "Figuratively speaking - I still outrank you. Don't go around telling anyone you're my boss-"
"Okay, Anya," Tara smiled. Anya nodded briskly and plugged the pad into the cockpit console.
Directly above the Eiffel Tower
Anya triggered the alert light, glanced over her shoulder to ensure everyone had their safety lines attached to something, and the hit the switch to open the cargo ramp. A fierce, howling wind filled the interior of the hovering aircraft as the high-altitude gale outside suddenly found its way inside.
"On three, one count between the two of you!" Faith shouted, holding up a hand to Tara and Wolf Bunny, who both winced.
"They've got the same filtered radio headsets as us, they can hear you just fine," Buffy pointed out.
"Oh," Faith grinned sheepishly. "Well... whatever. One!" The pair gripped the recessed handles of the switchblades and edged as far out on the ramp as they could, their safety lines bracing them against the gale-force wind.
"We're in the drop zone!" Anya called.
"Three! Go!" Faith yelled, pointing to Wolf Bunny. She slapped her safety line release and leapt without hesitation from the end of the ramp, disappearing downwards.
"And go!" Faith pointed at Tara. The blonde slapped her line release, held the switchblade tight with both hands, and jumped.
Her pressure helmet screened out the noise of the air tearing past her, and covered as she was from head to toe there was no sensation of wind against her skin. There was a layer of low cloud beneath her, and with nothing to see she felt strangely weightless as she clung to the hull of the switchblade, falling into and through pitch blackness, with only the orange glow of the telemetry projected inside her visor to remind her that she was moving at all. A crosshairs indicated Wolf Bunny, on course ahead of her, and the gyroscope readouts were all well inside the critical zone that would keep her from falling off-target.
A grey mass slowly faded into view ahead, and suddenly she was in the midst of a cloudbank, then just as quickly through it, with the lights of Paris spread beneath her. She felt her sense of weight settle back into place as the readout confirmed terminal velocity - almost 65 metres per second, with the switchblade's hull and the contoured panels of her pressure suit streamlining her. She nudged her chin against an internal paddle in the helmet, switching for a moment from telemetry to relayed tactical data from the ground - the tower was directly beneath her, and a series of glowing markers showed where Ministry units were advancing, heavy vehicles fitted with ablative armour and interceptor cannons. Even without the aid of the readouts she could see the flashes of the tower's defences firing, and the tiny blooms of explosions as the missiles detonated against armour, or amid hails of cannon-fire in mid-air. Falling into range, her helmet automatically began picking up the short-range radio traffic from the agents on the ground: "-Rage Bunny to Kiss Bunny, alter approach by ten degrees-" "-armour depleted, cannons running hot-" "-Yarn Bunny will cover you, fall back to-" "-Stick Bunny taking fire, moving to intercept-" "-Cummer Bunny adjusting interceptors to cover-"
"Sounds like they're putting on a good show for us down there," Wolf Bunny's voice cut through the radio chatter.
"Yeah," Tara said quietly. "I hope it's a good enough distraction."
"Time to find out. Remember visualise your grapple as if you're doing it with your eyes closed - you'll probably get some tunnel vision, maybe grey-out for a second, don't let it rattle you."
"Thanks," Tara nodded, arching her back a fraction momentarily to roll against a gust of wind coming in from the left. "Thank you," she added sincerely, as the ground loomed closer.
"Anything for lovebirds," Wolf Bunny replied. "Manoeuvre in three... two... one-"
Tara could see the silhouette of the switchblade ahead of her, against the ground lights - suddenly it shot out of her view, so fast she almost missed it. Everything was happening too fast to react to, only her training, and the hurried rehearsals in the aircraft, kept her steady - she twisted the switchblade's control handles, hauling back as hard as she could, while its wings slammed out and locked into position, and a weight that would have crushed Atlas thundered down onto her. An alarm sounded in her ear - missile locks from the tower - and her peripheral vision blurred and faded out, as the floodlit structure loomed up in front of her. Her whole body felt impossibly heavy, her eyelids were drooping, it was so tempting to let herself fall, to give in to the terrible, crushing weight and let it drive her down instead of fighting it... then it was gone, she was weightless again, hanging in mid-air. She was conscious only of wondering what was going on, but again, training saved her - she kicked away the switchblade, her arm moved by itself, bringing the grapple pistol attached to her waist up and firing at the tower.
An explosion from beneath rocked Tara, and snapped her back to full awareness, just as she began to swing at the end of the grappling line. She hung on with both hands, bracing herself to hit the thick girder ahead of her, and in the back of her mind registered the destruction of her switchblade - one of the five missiles launched had tailed her. She hit the side of the tower hard but managed to absorb the impact in her legs, and didn't lose her balance. She wasted no time in scrambling for a foothold and swinging upright, hooking the grapple pistol back to her belt as she clambered sideways, balanced precariously on the oversized rivets studding the metal in front of her.
Her helmet showed four missiles still in the air, all chasing after Wolf Bunny, who was far across the Seine and still going - as she watched the warheads reached the limit of their range and detonated in mid-air. Tara held her breath, but there were no more launches, and the searchlights swinging left and right from the top of the tower never came near her - the ground battle raged on, but there was no indication that she had been spotted. She took a deep breath, trying to calm her raging heartbeat, and looked around for the best route to the top of the tower.
The Eiffel Tower
"I'm going outside for a bit," Cordelia said warily.
"Why?" Daniel asked.
"Just a feeling," the brunette shrugged. "If I were trying to kick your ass, I'd have gotten onto the tower by now."
"Surveillance cameras don't show anyone out there," Harmony said.
"Hands up all those who were the best agent in the Ministry?" Cordelia asked, raising her hand. "Oh, just me? Okay then, let's listen to my intuition, shall we?" She shot Daniel a withering glare and stormed out of the lair, slamming the reinforced steel door behind her.
"I don't think she likes you," Harmony helpfully pointed out to Daniel.
"I don't need her to like me," he muttered, making some final adjustments to the energy matrix. "Done!" He stood back and looked at the master console proudly - between the two vertical rods now set into it, several dozen plasma balls' worth of electrical arcs were writhing in oddly geometric patterns.
"It's sending its signal thingy?" Harmony asked.
"It will," Daniel beamed. "It's on a fifteen minute countdown."
"Uh, Cordy told me to tell you, if there was a countdown involved, you should skip it and just 'switch the goddamned thing on'," Harmony said. "Her words, don't get mad at me..."
"Who's in charge here," Daniel demanded. "Me, or that amoral slut?"
"Hey, that's not nice!"
"I'll find a way to live with myself. Now shut up and don't touch anything."
Harmony crossed her arms, as if her cleavage needed any more enhancing than her costume was already providing, and stalked over to where Willow was hanging from the ceiling. Willow caught her eye, and made a muffled plea.
"Um, I think she wants to say something," Harmony called over her shoulder to Daniel. "Should I take her gag out?"
"Why not?" Daniel shrugged. "It's not like she can stop me."
"Cordy said anything you said including the phrase 'it's not like they can stop me' or anything along those lines-"
"Alright, alright," Harmony muttered, undoing Willow's gag. "Get laid more often, mellow out... What's up, Agent Adorawhatsy?" Willow glanced at Daniel, who was still gloating over his slowly counting-down doomsday device.
"Harmony," she whispered, "what did you mean when you said 'except your smut'?"
"Duh, it's all part of the master plan," the blonde scoffed. "Once all the other smut in the world has been erased, everyone will use my website. Have you seen it? A Taste Of Harmony, dot com. It's, like, the best smut in the whole world, so once everyone's hooked up to my site, instead of getting their smut from totally inferior sources, everyone'll be happy. See? I know deleting everyone's porn is harsh, but it really is for the best."
Willow took a moment to process this.
"Let me get this straight," she whispered at last. "You think he's going to all this trouble, just so you can corner the porn market?"
"Yeah," Harmony nodded, as if confused that it wasn't obvious.
"Harmony, he's not doing this for you," Willow insisted. "He wants to get rid of all smut. All of it, including yours. He doesn't like admitting that hot raunchy smut turns him on, so instead of just dealing with it like an adult, he's trying to wipe it all out."
"Nuh-uh," Harmony shook her head. "How dumb do you think I am? I-" she broke off and turned around, then chuckled ruefully. "Sorry, I'm used to Cordy interrupting whenever I say that. Anyway, that's ridiculous, why would anyone be that mean?"
"You know that program you wrote for him doesn't make exceptions, right?" Willow asked.
"Well, yeah, but Daniel told me he personally put in a loophole subroutine for my website. After I'd finished the program, and handed it over, and he wouldn't let me see the code again."
"Harmony," Willow said patiently, "he lied."
"He... a-ha!" Harmony suddenly grinned triumphantly. "I get it... you're trying to brainwash me. Daniel! She's trying to brainwash me!"
"There isn't a bathtub small enough," he said absently over his shoulder.
"There, that's got you stumped!" Harmony rounded on Willow. "So now what do you... hey, wait, what's that supposed to mean?"
"Quiet, Harmony!" Daniel barked. "She's found something!"
"Who?" Harmony asked, as she and Willow both looked at the security monitor Daniel was staring at. It showed a portion of the tower, a maintenance catwalk suspended between two clusters of girders, over a long, long drop. Cordelia was in the middle of it, aiming her pistol up at something out of sight of the camera. Willow's heart sank as the rogue agent took a step back and beckoned with the outstretched weapon, and Tara descended on a grapple line, eyeing her opponent warily as her feet made contact with the catwalk.
"Isn't there sound?" Harmony complained. "Why isn't there sound? What is this, the seventies or something?"
"Movies had sound in the seventies," Daniel pointed out, as Tara said something, and Cordelia shrugged and snapped a reply.
"No they didn't," Harmony snorted, hands on hips. "Don't pretend stuff just because you think I'm stupid, they just dubbed over all those old movies when they invented speakers."
"They... forget it," Daniel sighed. On the screen Cordelia took another step back, motioning for Tara to follow her. Willow suddenly felt herself tense up - she had no idea why, but she knew something was about to happen.
Tara took a step forward, and the metal greaves around her ankles suddenly glowed bright white. Sparks flew from the catwalk, and Cordelia lurched as the electrical charge made all her muscles jump.
"You idiot!" Daniel shouted.
"I am not- Oh, it's not me this time?" Harmony stopped herself, surprised.
The image on the screen flickered, the camera evidently having been damaged by the shock. Tara leapt forward, the image dissolved in static, and by the time it had re-formed she and Cordelia were locked together, each with one hand around the other's wrist, struggling to throw the other off balance. Cordelia seemed to fall backwards, but rolled as she hit the metal grille beneath her, trying to get a foot beneath Tara's stomach and throw her backwards, but Tara arched around the kick, flipped herself over, and hauled Cordelia up with her so that they came upright again, now back to back. Tara's face was calm, determined; the pair spun around, and Willow got a glimpse of Cordelia's face, twisted with fury.
The camera cut out again, and Daniel cursed, then turned and frowned in puzzlement at Harmony, who was dialling a cellphone.
"Who are you calling?" he asked.
"Radioshack," she said calmly. "They do 24-hour service calls, right? I want to see what's going on out there!"
Daniel heaved a sigh, then snatched the phone out of Harmony's hands.
"I swear if you say another word, I will have this inserted in you," he threatened.
"Where do you think I was carrying it?" Harmony retorted. "It's not like this villain costume has pockets, you know. Hey, there should be pockets, shouldn't there? Mad scientists get lab coats with pockets, but I'm seeing myself more as, you know, a sexy vamp kind of villain..."
Daniel, who had been staring in horror at the phone in his hand, dropped it, shuddered, and very deliberately turned his back on Harmony. At that moment the camera came back online, showing Tara and Cordelia in the midst of a flurry of kicks. Tara crossed her wrists to block a downward heel, and tried to grab Cordelia's ankle to unbalance her, but the brunette twisted her leg free and turned her spin into a sweep kick, which Tara had to jump to avoid. But in mid-air she lashed out, catching Cordelia by surprise and sending her staggering back against the safety rail, off her guard for the split second Tara needed to land both fists on her chest, and send her toppling over the side.
Harmony gave a whimper as Cordelia tumbled, and Willow fought to breathe as Tara lunged after her, catching her wrist, and hooking her other elbow around the rail to keep from being dragged down with her. They stayed motionless for a moment, Cordelia dangling helpless, Tara leaning out over the edge of the vertiginous drop, only her arm around the rail keeping both of them from falling.
"Oh, how sweet," Daniel sniggered. "She's doing the 'heroes can't let villains die' cliché. That ought to waste enough time for the countdown to finish..."
Willow didn't hear him - she knew all too well how it would tear Tara apart if she let Cordelia fall, but part of her wanted Tara to let go, save herself. 'Don't pull her up, knock her out first or something... if you pull her up, she'll turn the tables on you...' To her horror she saw Tara start to lift Cordelia back up, the strain evident on her face. Cordelia reached out with her other hand, managed to get a grip on the base of the catwalk - then pulled herself up, twisting in mid-air, aiming a kick at Tara's shoulder.
The camera failed again, and the last sight Willow saw was Tara toppling over, her arm slipping away from the rail, with nothing to stop her falling.