Author: Kirk Baldridge
Buffy had no idea where she was going as she sailed above the city on wings of fire, searching for some sign of Willow and Tara. Given the flashy nature of their powers odds were that if they were in the middle of a fight with Malice or Hellion she would be able to see it.
As she was passing over the First Bank of Sunnydale she heard screaming. She angled down to the street just as people came stumbling out of the bank. Malice and Hellion wouldn't bother with a bank robbery, but if there was a Super involved she was the only one around at the moment to deal with it.
Inside, a figure clad in blue and white was using beams of ice to freeze the vault door. It would be easy to break into then. Buffy frowned. This woman was in the Facilityís data banks but was listed as a minor menace. Still, she had potential dangerous powers and was not to be underestimated.
The other woman turned, ice-white eyes narrowing as she saw a young blonde, not in a costume but surrounded by plumes of fire. Frost was police detective Kate Lockley, whose S-genes activated when she was almost killed in a shootout. It left her partner and lover Liam dead, and her heart as cold as the ice she produced. "Who are you supposed to be?" Her voice had no emotion in it at all.
"Name's Firehawk," said Buffy. "Do you have an account here?"
According to her file Frost didn't seem to enjoy taking part in the witty banter that seemed to be a part of many Super encounters. With a totally blank face she released twin blasts of ice from her hands, which melted as soon as they got close to Buffy. The room filled with steam, and the blonde shook her head.
"This is pointless. You canít touch me."
"Spoken like a true amateur." Frost fired again and again, with the same result.
Pretty soon the room had become a sauna, and though the heat didnít bother Buffy she realized, a little too late, exactly what the villain was doing and why. The air had become so saturated with moisture it was difficult for her to keep her flame burning. She could barely even generate enough of a barrier to defend herself, though from the way Frost was sweating and panting she might not have to.
"Youíre not as smart as you think," Buffy countered. "I know about your vulnerability to heat. All I have to do is wait for you to pass out."
"Once perhaps. But you see Iíve been through some... changes as of late, and while Iíll admit the heat is stifling there is also a great deal of moisture in the air." She spread her arms, and all the water that had begun condensing on surfaces around the bank turned to ice. While this did cause the temperature to go down, it had little effect on the humidity. So the villain got even stronger, but Buffy was finding it more and more difficult to concentrate on her powers. "What do you say to that, little girl?"
Buffy sneered. "I could make some cliched comment about fighting fire with fire, but instead..." She charged at Frost with surprising speed, then at the last second spun in mid-air, and kicked her opponent in the chest. Though the villain was staggered by the blow Buffy felt a knife of cold shoot down her leg, and it left her boot encased in ice. Off-balance she stumbled and fell, gasping, as her leg started to go numb. "Hey!"
"Nice move." Frost cocked her head. "You do have some skill. What a pity you aren't going to live long enough to really develop it."
Flames filled Buffyís eyes. "That's it!" A surge of fire washed over her and melted the ice. "I'm so sick and tired of being like a kid! Iím a Super too, damn it!" She shot a bolt of flame at point-blank range at Frost, knocking her across the bank in flames.
The villain shrieked in pain and fear, and when she hit the far wall a tapestry hanging there caught on fire. When it fell the tapestry, in turn, set alight various plants and pieces of furniture. Pretty soon half the bank was burning. Frost rolled around until the flames were out, groaning. At that point the sprinklers in the ceiling came on. Since this was a bank they couldnít risk damaging the money with water, so the owners had installed dry sprayers which released a fire extinguishing, non-damaging type of foam.
Buffyís own flame was extinguished along with the others, leaving her standing in the middle of the bank in her hospital gown and nothing else. She was also trying to deal with the knowledge of just how close she had actually come to killing someone. Such an uncontrolled blast would, of course, have seriously hurt anyone, but Frost was particularly affected because of her susceptibility to heat and fire. "I-Iíve got to... get out of here." In the distance she could hear sirens. The police would be able to contain Frost until they contacted the Facility, and she needed to get out of the foam before she could reignite her fire again anyway, so she ran.
Around the corner she came to a costume shop. They were popular in Sunnydale, with people always wanting to emulate their favorite heroes and sometimes even villains at parties and events. This particular store happened to be closed for renovation according to the sign out front, so she ran around to the back and burnt open the lock. "I am sorry about this," she said to no one in particular. "But if I want people to take me seriously as a Super, I need to look the part." She headed for the nearest clothing rack.
Some time later the shop's owner arrived, alerted by the silent alarm, with a couple of policemen. As they were checking around out front a flaming figure shot out the back and into the sky.
Amy watched with amusement as Kennedy, wearing Tara's shape, circled Willow, nipping at the redhead's throat and playing with her hair. But when it looked like she was actually about to undress her former lover the brunette decided to put an end to things and cleared her throat.
"Can we move on, please? I really don't want to watch this."
'Tara' pouted. "Fine." She turned back into Kennedy and crossed her arms. "She's no fun anyway."
"Now then," said Amy. "About the Augment..."
Willow shuddered at the memory of Kennedy's hands all over her. "No way. We destroyed it years ago."
Amy touched a button on the wall and it opened to reveal another, larger room. There were banks of computers monitoring the cylindrical tank in the middle of the room, filled with bubbling green liquid.
Tara gasped. "The Augment."
Designed by the man who had been in charge of the Facility's R&D department before X, it was supposed to be able to dramatically increase a Super's powers. Only it's creator, Warren Meers, stole the device at the behest of his lover, the villainous Glory. She convinced him to use it to boost her own abilities, but Thunderbolt and Light-shield learned where they were hiding and interrupted the process. The Augment ultimately exploded, destroying an entire city block and killing both Glory and Warren.
"That's impossible," said Tara.
Kennedy put an arm around Willow's shoulders and smirked. "Nothing's impossible, blondie."
"Oh, you were right about one thing," said Amy. "You did destroy the original Augment. But as you can see, this is the new and improved model. Free of all those annoying little 'burning the body up from the inside and making you wish you were dead long before it actually does kill you' bugs it used to have."
Kennedy stared at her partner. "That was a truly inspiring run-on sentence."
Tara listened to this exchange and then shook her head. "If I can interrupt this little brain-trust a moment, I have a question. Building the Augment again, and more to the point making it function correctly requires a knowledge of electronics I can't begin to understand. I know you two aren't responsible, because I'd be shocked if either one of you could program a VCR correctly. So who built the thing for you?"
Someone stepped out from behind the Augment. A dark-haired man about X's age wearing a long white lab coat over jeans and a BOBA RULES T-shirt. He smirked. "Why me, of course."
"Who better than the inventor?" Amy asked.
"Warren?" said Tara. "How is this possible? You're dead. The building blew up. We saw it."
"You're right. The Warren Meers you knew died in that explosion. But before he did I managed to transfer most of my consciousness into this robot duplicate of my body. It was a contingency plan I'd put in place in case of just such an emergency." He frowned. "Unfortunately, poor Glory wasn't so lucky. She died cursing my name, and the collapse of our building left me buried under tons of rock. It took me years to dig my way out. By then I was low on power and damaged, and it just so happens the electronics company I broke into in order to repair myself, was the same place Amy and Kennedy here were robbing."
Amy nodded. "That was last year. We'd seen him with Glory so we knew he was on the level. We agreed to help him get the funding and supplies he needed for a new and improved gizmo, in exchange for being among the first people boosted once it was up and running."
"So Nightmare, Vipera, and who knows who else, they were just guinea pigs?" Tara asked.
"Basically," Warren replied. "Now, if you ladies will excuse me, I have some work to do." He turned and walked back toward the Augment, the door hissing closed behind him.
Tara and Willow's eyes locked, and they both nodded. Their bodies began to glow.
"Hey!" Amy stepped back. "What are you doing?"
"The shock-chains," said Kennedy. They could feel energy filling the room. There was no heat, only light, and it made their skin tingle. "Why aren't they stopping them?"
"Damn it! The shock-chains only react to stress. They're not going off because they're not fighting them!"
"I think we've heard enough," said Tara. "Don't you?"
Willow nodded. "We got what we needed." They each generated a pulse of energy that shorted out the manacles and allowed them to slip free. "There. That's better."
"They played us," said Kennedy. "They could have broken out at any time. They played us!"
Tara smiled. "And it was easy. Fun too."
"We had to find out what you were up to," said Willow. "And the Augment. So I think it's time the two of you go back to Walsh. I understand they have a couple of suites waiting just for you."
Amy sneered. "No way. I'm not going back there!" She put her mask on. "Not without a fight!"
"Fine by me." Willow clenched her fists, which began to glow.
Tara's aura intensified. "Let's party!"
The redhead fired two stun-bolts at Amy, hoping to take the brunette out with one shot. But Kennedy stepped in front of the blasts, her body transforming into a tall, thin figure in a black and white costume. The blasts bounced right off Kennedy's chest and back at Willow, who reabsorbed the energy harmlessly.
"Backlash," said Tara. "Nice trick."
Kennedy returned to normal and put on her mask. "It wasn't just Nightmare and Vipera."
"We had half a dozen test subjects before we took our shot," said Malice. "So there are several other people we had contact with you don't know about. Wanna see?"
Willow shrugged her shoulders. "I don't mind doing this the old-fashioned way." She and Tara had the advantage when it came to combat. They'd both undergone extensive martial arts and self-defense training and could further enhance their natural abilities with their powers if need be.
Hellion transformed into Faith and cracked her knuckles. "Okay."
Tara blinked. Physically, Amazon was far stronger and tougher than either of them could ever be.
Meanwhile, Malice's eyes filled with silver energy.
Buffy had to land on a rooftop in downtown Sunnydale because she suddenly felt dizzy and her flames were too weak to keep her airborne. The blonde was wearing an orange costume with red trim, gloves and boots and a half-mask that was patterned after the bird-mask worn by the late Red Eagle.
"What's... happening to me?"
Pretty soon it passed, and with her head clear she was anxious to resume the search. She had gone over most of the city twice now, with no sign of them. All that was left was the docks.
"Guess I'll try there."
Inwardly, she just hoped that whatever was going on with her powers would not happen again.