Do Vampires Dream of Electric Slayers?
They dont advertise for killers in the newspaper. Thats what I am. Ex-Slayer. Ex-killer. Ex- a lot of things.
I sighed and closed the paper. The front page story was about a terrorist attack on the Lothair Corporations BioGen subsidiary up in Rochester. Not my problem. It was all the same news endlessly recycled anyway. Same corruption. Same murders. Same wars. The names changed, but it was all the same shit, in this world as much as in my own.
I pulled my raincoat tighter against the rain that never seemed to end this time of year and stepped out of the shelter of the awning. The awning, what was left of it, belonged to a crumbling building that was home to my third floor walkup office. It hadnt always been a walkup, but the elevator had long ago frozen between floors six and seven, and the landlord wasnt about to bother to fix it.
You can see my office from the street if you look for it. But even if you could see through to the Summers Investigations lettering on the door glass, or the old photos on the wall of dear friends long dead, you wouldnt learn much about me. You couldnt, because like me, its all out of context. Its all part of another world that I try to keep alive out of desperation, because I dont belong in this time or place any more than those memories on the wall or that art-deco office door do.
My name, if it matters anymore, is Buffy Summers. Im a licensed P.I. Thats Paranormal Investigator, if you want to spell it out. I wasnt always a shamus. A long time ago, before I was immortal, before I was here, I was the Slayer
Yeah, guess I should explain about the whole immortality thing. I dont really understand it all myself. Near as Ive ever been able to figure, I stopped the clock the day I stepped into a big magical artifact called the Gehenna Key and channeled the magical equivalent of an exploding sun. I dont know the biology of the thing, dont know if its the same thing that keeps vamps alive or if its something else entirely. All I know is here I am.
I said Im not getting older. That doesnt mean I cant get my ticket punched as easily as any other mook on the streets. Prick me and I will indeed bleed. Shoot me and I will very likely die. But dont try it. Others have attempted that dance with me. Theyve all regretted it.
The old guy (I should talk!) running the garishly lighted sushi stand across the street knew me. He never bothered to take my order, just served up whatever he decided I was going to have that day. Today it was nice tuna, the real thing instead of the usual textured soy protein, and some California rolls. I smiled at him.
Thanks, Hiroshi-san. Trying to drive me into debt? I asked good naturedly.
He smiled back. Nice fish today.
He poured some highly tariffed imported sake from a ceramic jar into a little blue cup, the neon of the stand playing over the warm liquids shimmering surface. He set the cup next to the food as I relished my first bite of tuna. Hard to believe I once would have taken such a simple pleasure for granted. But with this worlds fisheries almost wholly depleted, it had gone from simple pleasure to sybaritic luxury.
Wonderful, I said. I washed it down with some sake and slid my debit card to him.
He shook his head. You no pay today.
Credits good, Hiroshi-san. Im bucks up today. Being a P.I. does occasionally bring in a paying client, you know.
No charge. Man already pay. See you across street, pay me for two tuna special. One for him, one for you.
Man? What man? I asked. My hand strayed to my raincoat, ready to reach for the licensed handgun holstered behind my back.
Police man, said Hiroshi, gesturing across to the other side of the stand to a man in a battered felt fedora hunched over the same dinner I was having.
Vange, I said with distaste.
He Slayer, yes? Like you, said Hiroshi.
I ate another bite of tuna, not about to let Vange put me off my dinner.
Not like me. I havent done that line of work in a long time.
Once Slayer, always Slayer, said Hiroshi.
I took my napkin, balled it up, and tossed it across the stand at the man Hiroshi called a Slayer. It bounced impotently off his fedora and he looked up at me. The hard, psychotic face smiled at me. I flipped him the bird and continued eating while he continued smiling.
By the time I had washed down the last bit of tuna with a second cup of sake, I found him at my side.
Hello, Summers. Long time no see. What, you been hiding from your old pals? Gonna make us feel unloved, he said.
I could smell the sake on his breath and said, Drinking on duty, Vange? Departments getting lax, huh?
Slayer Units got its own rules. You know that, he said as he picked a California roll off my plate with this chopsticks.
Vange was one of those cops nobody liked but nobody could touch. He was six-five, built like a prize fighter, and he was a complete sociopath. The old unit had a lot of them these days, guys with hard-ons to kill things and hurt people, guys whod found a legal way to do just that behind the badge of a Slayer.
I scowled. What do you want, Vange? Im a busy woman, dont have time for the hard ass Raymond Chandler shit.
Vange shrugged. Captain wants you back. Hes got something special for you. Told him he was wasting his time with you, but hes got this thing into his head, wont let go of it. Probably thinking with his crotch again.
Ill let him know your feelings on the subject.
He wont believe you. Probably think it was foreplay.
Look, cut the crap. Im out. Ive been out for a long time.
None of us are ever out, Summers. You least of all.
Tell Shaugnessy no. Whatever it is, no.
Doesnt work like that, said Vange in the midst of devouring yet another of my California rolls. Look, you dont think you got a choice here, do you? Youre not with the Slayers, youre a nobody, get it? And if youre a nobody, a lot of things can happen to you. Your credit could go south just like that. That aint so good in a cashless society. Or a little database search could turn up some outstanding arrest warrants. Or the IRS could get real interested in you. Maybe your P.I. license gets pulled, you ever think of that? Happens all the time. In fact, I wouldnt be real surprised if you suddenly find the key card to your apartment dont work so good no more. Power of the bureaucracy, sweetheart. You cant slay that.
* * *
Vange had me over a barrel. He knew it and so did I.
I didnt talk to him as we drove through the snarled downtown traffic to police H.Q. He wasnt worth the breath. Instead I watched the world I helped create. It wasnt a pretty one, even at night.
All right, I guess Ive got a lot of explaining to do, so I might as well get it out of the way up front. I am Buffy Summers, but this isnt my world. Oh, its Earth all right. It just isnt mine. What happened was this: on my Earth, I kicked all the vampires and other supernatural nasties out of the universe with that Gehenna Key contraption, the thing that gave me immortality. But that only opened the world up to some pretty unpleasant extraterrestrials we called the M-7 aliens, named after the Morphology-7 genetic pathogen they were using to turn us into them.
And thats where the whole alternate Earth thing comes in.
You see, when we finally pushed the M-7s backs against the wall, they tried to do an end run around our orbital defenses and establish a stable wormhole right on Earth. I was still in my crusading hero phase, and I tried to stop them, got my ass in a sling, and my only way out was through the aforementioned wormhole. It sent me here, to a parallel Earth.
Think of it like this. Imagine the universe is two-dimensional, a flat plane. Now imagine a number of planes stacked one on top of the next. Now shove a cylinder through the stack. What youve got now, from the point of view of the flatland inhabitants of each plane, is separate, two dimensional planet in each two dimensional universe. Just raise all the dimensions by one, and thats what were talking about here. One three-dimensional Earth stacked on top of the next. And here I am, in one of them.
It aint no garden of Eden, let me tell you.
This worlds Buffy Summers wasnt exactly a resounding success at the Slaying gig. So when the Master came out to play, things got ugly in a hurry. You see, I didnt know this back in the good old days, but the Master wasnt heir to the world by divine right. There were a lot of pretenders to that throne, not all of them vampires, either. The Master walked out of the Hell Mouth one fine night, and all the other supernatural bad boys crawled out to join the Royal Rumble for control of the world.
What a mess.
Kendra took over for the other me. Lasted a month. Faith took her place and realized in a hurry that there was no way one Slayer could fight a hundred supernatural brush wars by herself. Thats where this worlds Dark Hunter comes in. For those out of that loop, the Dark Hunter is an entity of vengeance that goes from human host to human host down through history, helping fight supernatural evil. Thats the back-of-the-sugar-packet explanation, anyway. Apparently, every universe comes with one as standard equipment (dont ask me why, I just live here).
Okay, heres the punch line. You might remember that way back when, in my world, I did a short stint as the Dark Hunter. Well, in this world, that dubious honor went to Faith.
The Dark Hunter and Faith used the resources of their corporate front, the DH Group, to develop a whole new type of technology that combined magic, quantum physics and modern semiconductors. Pretty soon, the human race had weapons it could use against the supernatural. But it went even further. With the help of the CIA and other covert ops organizations, the Group figured out how to use magical Compulsions to coerce the undead to do their bidding. Thats where things started to unravel, I think, because they didnt stop there. They wanted badder and better than the enemy had. So they started fiddling with vampire genetics and even tried altering the underlying magic of the whole thing. Oh, yeah. Bad mojo there. Take away vulnerability to sunlight and holy water and suddenly youve got a vampire even I would think twice about mixing it up with.
By the time I got to this world, though, the DH Group had been almost completely destroyed from within by carefully placed saboteurs. Faith was dead. The major supernatural threats were defeated but in their place was a world teaming with vampires and other really bad things, things even I had never seen before.
I never did find out what happened to the Hunter. Victim of its own techno-magic, maybe. Whatever, its out of the game for good as far as I can tell. That left me. Hey, what else is new, right? You can imagine how my story went over with the DH Group honchos. But once I convinced the Group of who I was, I resurrected the company in my own image. I continued the research. I was instrumental in the formation of the original Slayer Units, police Special Investigations squads specifically trained to hunt the undead.
But all that was a long time ago now. Supernatural evil is still alive and well in the world, but these days it lurks in the shadows. Techno-magic is a genie that, like the atomic bomb, might have been best left in the bottle. The Lothair Corporation has largely supplanted the DH Group in that area of research, and pushes the envelope with the reckless abandon that comes with stratospheric stock prices. And the Slayer units chug along in all their homicidal glory. Id never intended them to become that, but looking back I guess it was always inevitable. Give any group the power of life and death, then make them unaccountable and virtually untouchable, and you shouldnt be surprised when you get a Gestapo at the end of the day.
So in many ways this is my world. Welcome to it. Youre not in Kansas anymore, kid.
Despite the traffic, it didnt take long to get where we were going. The hundred-twenty story Giuliani Municipal Building stood on what used to be Central Park West. Every city service was crammed into it, along with apartment blocks, shopping centers, theaters everything so the civil servants working there would never have to actually spend any time on streets so violent they made old Sergio Leone westerns look like Disney musicals.
Giuliani Municipal was hot as hell inside. Hot and humid. The place had no windows you could open. Almost all the buildings built before the One Day War were like that. But now with the Mideast oil fields nothing but a nuclear-biochemical wasteland and the offshore wells starting to pump sludge, the citys daily rolling blackouts and brownouts were getting more and more frequent.
Ceiling fans had been installed. They ran off battery when the air-conditioning went off line, which these days was more often than not. The fan in Shaugnessys office on the seventy-fifth floor had seen better days. So had the office. So had Shaugnessy.
Take off, Vange, he said when we entered his domain.
I used the slight delay to size the place up. Not much to size up. The office hadnt changed in five years, except to look older and even grimier. There were more coffee rings on the gray, rubber topped metal desk. The stacks of hardcopy reports and computer memory cards had gotten a little more haphazard. But the same autographed baseball still sat on top of the same crappy NYPD coffee mug. The same photos of Shaugnessy with the same politicians and judges and businessmen still hung crookedly on the grimy, beat up plasterboard walls. The windows behind his desk still looked out on the same urban cesspool.
Shaugnessy had gotten fatter and his eyes had the rheumy look of a guy whod hit the bottle early and hadnt ducked when it hit him back.
Okay, Im here. What do you want? I asked.
He gave me a smile that I think he must have thought was charming. It looked more leering to me than anything else.
I want you back, Summers. We need you on the team again. We need the old Slayer magic.
Why? I thought you and the Hitler Youth had the town pretty well nailed down.
Somethings come up. Something you might be interested in, he said.
I shook my head. No. Whatever youre trying to maneuver me into, the answer is no.
Shaugnessy smiled again. I didnt like this one any more than the last one. This time around, the lecherous quality was replaced by something more predatory.
You might change your mind when I tell you the target, he said.
I raised an eyebrow. I doubt it.
Spikes back in the game, Summers. And Im giving you a shot at taking him down.