Author: Kirk Baldridge
Warren was in the middle of performing several different complex calculations at once when something struck the Augment room door so hard it actually made the metal buckle.
"What the hell?"
He got up to investigate. The deformation looked suspiciously like the imprint of a human fist. He frowned. As far as he knew neither of his allies possessed that level of strength. Then he remembered the Super locked in the basement, Amazon, and how Hellion had spent time alone with her.
"Stupid girl. Keep that up and you'll bring this place down around our ears."
Warren opened the door, to see Willow firing a tremendous blast of energy... straight at Tara, and for a moment he was confused. He figured out one of them must have been Hellion, about the time the blast ricocheted off the blonde's shields and hit him in the chest. It incinerated what passed for a heart within his mechanical chest and he fell to the floor, sparks shooting out of the smoldering hole in his torso.
The fight came to a screeching halt. Willow turned into Hellion and scowled. The other, obviously real Willow let an energy blast she had actually been planning to throw at Malice dwindle away and neither the blonde nor the brunette had anything to say. They all just stared at one another.
"I think I broke his heart," Willow finally said, ending the silence. She grimaced at her own pun.
Malice shrugged her shoulders. "We didn't need him anymore really. We still have the Augment. We know how to work it ourselves, so it's not like he was essential to the program."
"Oh right. The Augment." Willow rose into the air. "I don't think so." She flew into the other room, and since no one was in place to stop her Tara followed. The redhead's hands began to glow.
"No!" Malice screamed and fired agony blasts at Willow's back, but Tara blocked them. "Kennedy!"
Hellion stepped into the room behind her partner. "I got it!" She transformed into Willow, rose into the air, and shot toward Tara. The blonde put up her hands to deflect the redhead's blasts, and so was surprised when she flew around her instead and turned into a duplicate of Tara herself. Using the blonde's powers she put a wall of energy between Willow and the Augment, stopping the redhead's attack.
Or so she thought.
Willow shook her head. "Come on, Ken. You should know me better than that." The redhead aimed her hands in two different directions and smiled. "I'll bet this Augment is more stable than the first one, as long as it's support equipment is intact. So tell me, which ones am I going to fire at? You can't protect them all. I take out just one or two of these machines and it's game over. Watch and learn, Ken!"
The blonde's face turned red. "NO!" She had access to all of Tara's powers, and when her anger increased so too did the potency of her force fields. Without even realizing it she was able to put a blanket of force all around the lower parts of the room, thus shielding every one of the computers. By redirecting her energy that way, however, she inadvertently left the redhead's original target wide open.
Willow grinned. "I was hoping you'd do that!" She gathered every ounce of power she could into her hands for a final, full-strength blast. "Baby! Watch my back, would you?" Nodding, Tara erected the strongest shield possible between the two of them and the villains, who tried their best to blast their way through it with little success. "I'm going to enjoy this. I don't often get a chance to really let go!"
On the ground, Warren's eyelids snapped open. "You must not...disrupt...the matrix..."
"Time's up, robo-geek. Time to kiss your toy good-bye!" Willow unleashed huge, crackling bolts of energy from each hand which merged together and went right through the Augment like a searing hot knife through butter. The blast went on to destroy a computer bank, and turned the wall behind it into rubble before finally dwindling away, leaving a charred trail in its wake. The lights in the room dimmed, alarms started flashing, and the Augment itself began to shudder and swell like a bizarre metal balloon.
Malice grabbed Hellion, who was staring at Willow. "Ken! Come on!" The two of them ran out of the room just before a foot thick emergency door slammed down, locking them in.
Tara's face paled as she saw this. "Will?"
"Hmm?" Willow sank to the floor, her aura fading. "Uh oh."
"What's going on?" Tara asked.
"Fail-safe." Warren's voice sounded like a slow-playing record. His power supply was depleting rapidly. "Room seals... to contain... blast. Augment... self... destructing. Thirty... seconds..."
Tara touched the door. "Will? Can you blast it open?"
"I don't have enough power left. I used too much destroying the Augment. Damn it!"
"There must be another way! Didn't you have an emergency escape route or something?" Tara turned to Warren, who was staring up blankly at the ceiling. "Willow. What do we do?"
The redhead put her arms around her lover. "I don't know. I'm fresh out of ideas."
"I love you." Tara rested her head on Willow's shoulder. "So much."
Willow kissed her. "I love you too, baby. Forever and ever."
Buffy made it to the docks district, but she still had no idea what she was looking for. According to the Facility records, Willow and Tara's encounters with Malice and Hellion usually ended with explosions and a great deal of collateral property damage. But so far she hadn't found any sign of them.
She wasn't ready to consider the implications. She couldn't bring herself to think about the possibility that they might have lost. That they were...she shook her head. Somehow she knew they were still alive. But they were also in trouble. Of that she felt certain. They were experienced, capable Supers but she knew even the strongest could use help sometimes. She flapped her wings for more altitude and was hit by another wave of dizziness, which was enough to weaken her concentration and cause her flames to diminished.
"Damn it!" She had to come in for a landing on a warehouse rooftop to keep from plummeting to the ground. "If this keeps up, I won't be able to fly at all." Dr. Calendar had warned her not to exert herself. She was beginning to think the doctor had been right. "Come on guys. Give me a sign."
Buffy felt a low, deep rumbling beneath her feet. She heard pavement cracking and metal creaking, and turned to see the warehouse two blocks over trembling like it was caught in a massive earthquake. Then the roof split open and a tremendously bright green column of energy shot so far into the sky it almost touched the clouds. It was in dazzling view for only a few seconds before blinking out, taking with it the structure of the warehouse, which had apparently been severely weakened by the...whatever it was.
"Okay," said the blonde. "I guess that counts."
Since it was only two blocks away Buffy decided to give her powers a rest. She went down a fire escape and ran the rest of the way. As she got closer two staggering, dust-covered figures emerged from the rubble of the fallen warehouse, and she allowed herself a single moment of hope... that was quickly dashed when she realized who the two were. Malice and Hellion. Their costumes were in tatters and from the way they were limping it was obvious they were hurt. But they were also alive and, more importantly, alone.
Buffy's face contorted in a combination of anger and disbelief. Flames enveloped her and she pumped her fiery wings. Malice and Hellion froze. They were clearly exhausted and in no position to put up any sort of fight as the familiar, fiery figure landed in front of them. "Where are they?!"
"Inside," Malice replied tiredly. "What's left of them at least." She wasn't smiling, although from the glint in her eye she might as well have been.
Buffy's flames started to flare, but Hellion held up a hand. "Look, lady. You wanna fight? Fine. I'm always in the mood for a good throw-down. Just remember." She pointed toward what was left of the warehouse. "Your friends are in there somewhere. Do you really want to waste time out here, pounding on us, while there still may be time for you to play hero and get in there to save them?"
The blonde chewed on her lip for a moment. As much as it pained her, Hellion was right. The longer it took her to subdue her and Malice, even assuming she could, the less chance she'd have of finding Willow and Tara. But if she went to look for her friends the villains would get away. She sneered as she rose into the air again. "Okay. I'll give you two a break this time. But get the hell out of Sunnydale!"
Hellion chuckled as Buffy flew past them. "So predictable. Come on, Amy."
As Buffy landed in front of what she suspected used to be the front door of the warehouse she heard a thud and saw some of the rubble shifting. It happened again and again, and then a bloody-knuckled fist punched its way out of the rubble. She looked on in stunned silence as a tall, muscular, half-naked figure shrugged off what must have been several hundred pounds of debris and groaned.
"Crap. I thought I was dead for sure." The grubby brunette frowned. "Who the hell are you?"
"Firehawk." The blonde cocked her head, eyes widening as it suddenly dawned on her where she recalled seeing this woman's face before. "Wait. Aren't you Amazon?"
"That's right. My friend's call me Faith." She rolled her bruised shoulders. "You can call me Amazon. Where are Malice and Hellion?"
Buffy's face fell. "I-I had to... let them go."
"Really? And why the hell would you do something stupid like that?" Amazon clenched her fists. "I can see your powers. You're not just a wannabe. Why didn't you stop them?"
"I have to find Willow and Tara!" Buffy replied, pointing at the building. "They're in there. Somewhere."
Amazon turned. "T-Bolt and 'shield? Damn girl. Come on then."
Between the brunette's awesome strength and Buffy's flames, when she could get them burning at least, the two heroes were able to clear enough rubble to reach a underground complex where Malice, Hellion, and Warren had been holed up. As they dug, Amazon told Buffy what had happened to her.
"That bitch Hellion was all over me. At first I figured she was just all over me 'cause she wanted my powers, but it turns out she was all hot and bothered about Red. Got us both off a couple of times, I'll give her credit for that, but when it was over she just left me hanging. Then a little while ago, I heard a big bang and the whole damn place shook like I bomb went off or something. I got loose and had to dig my way out. Now it's my damn luck, I have to dig back in again." She shook her head. "Lucky for T-Bolt and 'shield I actually like them."
Buffy was amazed at the brunette's resilience. Here she was bruised and battered, bleeding from numerous cuts and abrasions, and she had to be tired, yet she tossed aside chunks of rock and metal as heavy as cars like pebbles while digging at a pace that would have exhausted dozens of miners.
Hours passed, several times during which Buffy had to stop and rest. At length they came to the Augment room itself. Despite having been the origin point of the explosion it was surprisingly intact. In fact only the roof of the chamber was damaged, indicating that it had served its function admirably. Designed to seal itself and contain the explosion of the Augment it failed only because there was a minute breach in a section of the roof that happened to be marginally weaker than the rest. Not that they had any way of knowing any of this.
"That door," said Buffy. "They're inside. I know it."
Amazon shrugged. "Okay. If you say so. Stand back." She kicked the door and it crumpled into the room. Waves of shimmering golden light came pouring out, and a glowing figure emerged.
It was a woman, but not anyone they recognized.
Though both Buffy and Amazon preferred the company of men and had no interest in women, inwardly they had same thought about the tall, naked stranger...she was unbelievably gorgeous. Her lightly tanned skin was flawless, her arms and legs solid and strong though not as overtly muscular as Amazon's, she had full, round breasts and an impressively long, curly mass of hair that was mostly blonde but streaked with red. With she turned their way her wide yellow eyes pulsed with energy, and she smiled.
Amazon was on-edge. "Who are you?"
The woman cocked her head. "I do not understand."
"Your name," said Amazon. "You have a name, don't you?"
Amazon gritted her teeth. Listen lady, I'm not in the mood for your games!"
"Games? You wish to play?"
"No. I wish to go home and take a hot shower you stupid..."
The strange woman gestured and Amazon disappeared in a pulse of golden light.
Buffy gasped. "No! What did you do to her?"
"I sent her home. To her shower. Is that not what she wanted?"
Buffy touched the communicator in her ear. "Firehawk...uh, come in Facility." She grimaced. "Yes I know I'm in trouble. Can we please talk about it later? Right now I just need to know if Amazon's there. Her quarters. Can you send somebody to check and see..." Her eyes widened. "She is? And she's okay? Oh, well pissed of course. What? In her shower? Really?" She glanced at the stranger, who was still smiling. "I see. Okay. I'm having issues with my powers. Can you send a recovery team to the docks? The address? Uhh, just get here. You'll know. Trust me." She deactivated the communicator before and turned back to the strange woman. "Sorry."
Buffy shook her head. "Never mind." She gestured at the door. "Was anyone else in there, with you? I'm looking for two of my friends. Women. A blonde and a redhead."
The woman slowly shook her head. "No. They are not...in there."
"But you know where they are. Tell me."
The woman nodded, and put a hand on her chest. "In here."
Buffy's first thought was literal, that this woman had actually consumed Willow and Tara. Only she didn't sense any menace from the stranger. Just the opposite, in fact. She felt oddly safe in her presence, even though she was glowing with more power than she had ever felt before.
"What do you mean... in here?"
"They are a part of me. I have been reborn, thanks to them."
Buffy arched an eyebrow. "Who are you? And don't try to feed me that line you gave Amazon."
"I was not lying to your friend before. I am not certain I have the words to explain what I am, and I have no name as you understand the concept. I only speak in your language because of the memories of Willow and Tara. From them, I can perhaps devise a name. If you wish, you may call me... Ultra."
"Okay. So where did you come from and what does it have to do with my friends?"
"Everything. I am of them, and their powers come from me."
"You know of their origin?"
Buffy nodded. "A lab accident went wrong. They got bathed in some mysterious energy."
"Yes," said Ultra. "Mine. What they had done, and not by accident, was open a breach into another dimension, in order to use the energy they found there as an inexhaustible source of power. Unfortunately, the energy they had locked onto was, in fact, my own."
"You're some kind of otherworldly entity?"
Ultra nodded. "In my true form, I am pure energy. Not any kind you are familiar with in your world, however. In mine I have no perceptions other than sensing other energy and a limited awareness. Which is no great loss since there is little in my world to see, hear, or experience."
"So what happened?"
"I was pulled into this reality and torn apart. Fortunately I am not capable of feeling pain as you know it, but that is still an experience I would like to forget. My consciousness ceased that day and my essence was split between Willow and Tara, giving them a small portion of my powers."
"Until today," said Buffy.
"Yes. The Augment enhanced their energies and my consciousness to a point that the two halves of my essence had an irresistible need to be reunited. Because I was not yet fully aware, I had no way of realizing it would bring Willow and Tara together so intimately."
Buffy gasped. "You mean...?"
"Yes. I formed this body out of my own energy, and from the subconscious of the two women who gave my life once more. The two of them gave me a genetic pattern to follow as well. So, in a way, I am their daughter, though it was in fact me who gave them the capacity to rescue me in the first place."
"Wow. So, umm, can they come back? I mean, will they be able to separate again?"
"Oh yes. I could release my hold on this form at any time."
"And what about you? What happens to you once you, uhh, split?"
"My consciousness will once again become inactive as my essence divides between the two. However they can reunite to release me any time they wish. It will be easier for them from now on since their powers have been so greatly enhanced by the Augment already."
"They're more powerful?"
"Significantly so. They have a great deal more of my power than before. By your standards I would estimate the ratio of their enhancement is at least tenfold."
Ultra rose into the air. "I am not yet ready to go though. I wish to see more of this world of yours. As I said, my reality had no stimuli akin to the sights and sounds of yours. I must explore, and experience it at length. Fear not, I will return your friends to your unharmed shortly."
Buffy blinked. In that instant Ultra shot off and was already a blip on the horizon. "Damn." Behind her she heard approaching engines and sighed. "Time to face the music."