Blinded With Science
What with one thing and another, a week went by. Willow slept in, tracked down that pesky pointer, corresponded with an old math-team buddy, got an A on her paper on "Cooperation between enemies in *The Prince*", and wore the single ugliest skirt ever seen in Sunnydale.
Spike, meanwhile, smoked, paced, announced repeatedly that he was evil, and scraped off and reapplied the polish on his nails. Five times.
One afternoon, while Spike nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, as of some one gently rapping, rapping at the crypt's old door. << Damned well about time!>> A soft voice said "Spike? It's me. Are you awake?"
Spike pushed the extremely departed Viola Simmons to one side, climbed out of the sarcophagus, and strolled, to the door, in what he hoped was a casual, uninvolved fashion. "Yes?"
There stood Willow, with a plastic suitcase in one hand and a flashlight in the other. "Leaving town, Red?"
"Not exactly. Can I come in?"
Spike snorted. "Since when do you need to ask? Turning vampire, luv?"
"Being polite is always good." Willow walked in.
"What's the suitcase, witch?"
Willow looked him in the eye. "Well, I was thinking. It's really easy to say you didn't write a letter. I don't even know how many people recognize your handwriting. I've never seen it myself. So I thought we'd use something you couldn't back out of -- a videotape. And, in case you were wondering, this camcorder doesn't use mirrors, so it sees vampires just as clearly as you do."
Spike forced himself to grin. "The thought never crossed my mind." << Damn. Blindsided twice in two minutes. Note to self: Never give this girl time to think through a problem. >>
Willow soldiered on, "So, if you're ready, we can set up the blackmail part of this deal."
"Not so fast, ducks. Before I hand you what remains of my reputation, I'd like some proof that you can deliver on your side of the bargain."
Willow rolled her eyes. "Here we go again. Zero-knowledge proof."
Spike's face went blank. "Zero-what?"
"Zero-knowledge proof. I need to prove to you that I know how to set you free, without giving the information away so you don't need me any more. Let me sit down and think."
"Have a tomb, luv. The occupants won't mind."
Willow perched uneasily on the edge of a vandalized sarcophagus. <<It still comes down to trust. But if I tell him that, he'll back out.>> "Okay, how would you break a computer?"
"I find throwing them across the room works a treat."
<<Why do I think that's experience speaking?>> "The chip's inside your head, silly."
Spike glared. Willow continued, oblivious.
"I don't think you want me throwing your head across the room. In fact, you don't want me physically touching your head at all."
Spike quirked an eyebrow. "I wouldn't go that far, pet..."
Willow colored to her ears. <<I want OUT of this conversation NOW! Try another tack.>> "If you needed a computer answer, who would you kidnap?"
"I've sworn off kidnapping, pet. Too bloody many heroic rescues. But I take your point. You're the local expert on knobs and lights and stuff."
"Okay. I'm the expert. I have no reason to lie about this, right?"
Spike maintained his neutral expression. "I suppose."
Unconsciously, Willow stood up and assumed her best classroom manner.
"There's something called an EMP that can damage computer chips without touching them. If we expose you to a strong enough EMP, it should destroy the chip without hurting you.
"By the way, knowing what an EMP is won't do you any good. Trust me, you'll need special equipment to do this, and I'm not telling you what that is in advance. I'm not stupid, you know."
<<Nor she is.>>
Willow suddenly looked worried. "Unless -- vampires aren't made of silicon inside, are they? You're not some sort of cyborg... because you go dusty when you, um, ... anyway, I've never had to clean up a vampire corpse, so I'm not sure what's inside a..."
Spike sniffed. "Vampires roamed the Earth long before computers." <<And with any luck we'll be here long afterward as well.>>
"Okay. So I'll just set up the lights, and we can make the tape. Be right there." Willow balanced a flashlight on yet another crypt, and began assembling the camcorder. "Okay, Spike, stand against that wall over there."
He struck a menacing pose, and Willow bit the inside of her cheek. "Okay, here we go." She pressed RECORD. "Spike, why are you here?"
Spike dropped the pose and advanced on Willow. "What sort of bloody stupid question is that?"
Willow pressed STOP and sighed. <<I knew this wouldn't be easy.>> "Spike, we're making a blackmail tape, right? The vampires who watch this tape need to know what it is. Explain it for them."
Spike snarled, paced back to the wall, and faced the camera. Willow pressed RECORD.
"I'm making this sodding tape because I need sodding help from Little Orphan Annie here --"
<<Perfect, just what I was hoping for!>>
"--and she doesn't have the bloody sense to write this on a bloody label."
Willow decided to go for broke. "And what's your opinion of 'N Sync?"
"I'd like to use their throats as cup holders."
Willow gulped, then rewound the tape. "Spike.... try again." She looked into the viewfinder to avoid meeting his eye.
Spike looked murderous. "One day, Red... I love 'N Sync. I have all their albums. And that is the bloody end of this statement."
Willow hit STOP, then let her shoulders collapse. "Good enough. I'll drop this off and get back to you."
Spike stormed up to Willow and grabbed her arms. "WHAT did you just say?" He shook her once hard, then collapsed to the floor with his head in his hands.
Willow backed to the door. "I'm dropping this off with a neutral third party. My parents' lawyer. She thinks I'm afraid of my ex-boyfriend. If I'm still alive in a year, she destroys the tape. If not..."
Spike stalked toward her. "And I should trust you because?"
"Because I'm a good guy. I keep my promises. If I just wanted to humiliate you, I wouldn't need this. And I give you my solemn promise that this is going straight to the lawyer. In one year, if I'm still alive, the lawyer destroys the tape."
Spike nearly smiled.
Willow continued. "Oh, and if Xander, Buffy, Giles, Tara, or even Anya dies in that year and I think you were involved, I tell the lawyer to mail the tape to Willy for distribution. Got it?"
<<Not bad, witch.>> "Got it. A trifle open-ended, but..."
"I'll be back tomorrow evening and tell you what we do next."
But the next evening, Spike rose early to find no Willow, only a note propped on the edge of the crypt. <<Block printed. Maybe she does know about the vampire literacy rate. >>
MEET ME AT THE BACK DOOR OF STEELE HALL AT 7:00.
Spike growled. <<What the fuck is Steele Hall when it's at home?>>
He finally found the building by asking a passing student. <<Time was, I wouldn't have even bothered to rip this moron's throat out, far less talk to him. Flannel shirt indeed.>> When he came into sight of the building, he saw the redhead standing next to a metal door, chatting with a tall lanky boy he didn't recognize.
The tall boy fiddled with the door, and Willow walked in. "Thanks, Calvin, I owe you one."
"No prob. Let me know if you find the missing dark matter, right?"
Spike waited for the tall boy to leave, then rapped on the door. Willow opened it.
"Oh, good, you're here. Come on, we need to get in and out before the watchman notices us. Not that he'd probably care, the physics majors are in and out all hours of the night, but still..."
Her voice was higher than normal, and she didn't quite meet his eyes. <<Good. That hasn't happened for far too long.>>
Spike watched the pink, purple, and aquamarine skirt disappear up the institutional stairs, and headed after her. They climbed up two floors. Then Willow opened the hall door, scanned both ways, sprinted down to a door marked "Lab 235", and keyed in a code on the number pad. <<Bloody hell, I've seen enough labs to last me the rest of my unlife.>>
Willow looked back. "Hurry up, the lock will time out!"
Spike walked, deliberately slowly, to the door, and slipped inside just as the lock emitted a loud click.
To Spike's relief, the "lab" looked nothing like the cages and operating theatres he'd learned to loathe in captivity. It was a plain, high-ceilinged institutional room full of odd-looking machines, each covered with knobs, switches, and displays. In one corner was what looked like a pair of rabbit ears for an old-fashioned television. Willow did something to its base. Sparks began to crawl up from the base to the top, then disappear with a loud snap.
"Not that it isn't entertaining, luv, but I am NOT Frankenstein."
"Actually, I'd be Dr. Frankenstein, you'd be the monster. This is more sort of an experiment. Stand over here. You don't have to touch it."
"I've had quite enough experimenting, Red. I thought you knew what you were doing?"
"Spike, I know several solutions, and one of them should work. We're starting with the simplest one, then moving up. This one's really easy; you just have to stand next to it. Just watch the sparks."
Spike walked over to the rabbit ears and watched the sparks rise to the top. "It'll never replace television. Now what?"
Willow hugged herself. <<I hate this. This is the scary part.>> "We have to find out if you can hurt a living thing. I thought about borrowing a rat from the bio department, but what did the rat ever do to deserve that? I mean, the biologists kill rats all the time, but at least they're advancing human knowledge. And rats always make me think of Amy now anyway. So I guess you'll have to pinch me and see what happens." And she stiffly held out one arm.
Spike looked blank. Then he slapped the outstretched hand, and fell to the floor.
Willow, ignoring her hand, fell to her knees beside him. "I'm really sorry about that. This next one I feel a lot more confident about. It should work, honestly."
Spike raised his head and snarled, "Thanks so much for your confidence."
Willow stood up, turned off the Jacob's ladder, and walked across the room to another machine. This one looked like a silver mushroom on a tall, thin pillar. When she turned it on, it began to hum. She looked around, then dragged a small rubber pad next to the machine and stepped on to it.
Willow turned to Spike and assumed her best lecturing manner. "This is a Van de Graaf generator. It sets up a really high voltage at a low current. It's perfectly safe. Watch what happens when I touch it." Willow laid both hands on the mushroom, and her red hair suddenly became a halo. "As a side effect, it puts out an enormous EMP. I'm pretty sure this will do the trick. Now you try."
"Bloody Hell, witch!"
Willow lifted her chin. "Don't be a sissy. I went first. Your turn. Unless you're afraid..."
That did it. Spike strode up to the pillar, pushed Willow off the pad, stepped on to it and laid both hands on the mushroom. Nothing much happened. He stepped off the pad and looked at Willow, who had backed away.
"Remember, if I die, Willy gets the tape." She held out one hand.
"I remember." He walked toward her and slapped the outstretched hand with his right hand. No effect. Willow looked at him wide-eyed.
Before she could say anything else, he struck her hard on the point of the chin with his left hand, and she slumped to the floor.
To be continued in *In The Company of Wolves*.