Title: Shoot the Groundhog
Summary: A slayer team discovers the environment can be more challenging than the bad guy … especially during “spring”.
Characters: Buffybot, Tara, Dana, OC slayer Kara Philips
Length: 2,055 words
Warnings: Wear a parka; you’ll catch your death
(This takes place in my Post-Chosen universe, where Tara and the Buffybot have been brought back to life [kind of] and the slayer Dana has more or less regained her sanity, all as a result of magical interference.)
Dedicated to my facebook/twitter/livejournal friend Nuchtchas, who said she missed my fanfics, and to all my friends from the Great White North.
Shoot The Groundhog
It’s Spring, Buffybot thought, as she waded across knee-deep snow and used her advanced optics to see through a howling wall of flying flakes ahead. Apparently spring means something different in Canada.
She felt a tug on her long coat, and slowed down to allow the slayer Kara to catch up. “I can’t see a thing, Bottie. Are you sure we’re going the right direction?”
“Oh, sure. I mean, I can’t see a thing either, but my GPS is dead on.” The robot trudged another step, and what she’d thought was white-out conditions resolved itself into a ten foot snowdrift, or possibly an embankment. “Everything’s the same temperature, so my thermal imaging doesn’t help much.”
“Great.” Kara was all but invisible under insulated boots, snow pants, a bulky green parka, and curl after curl of striped, multicolored scarf. “I will never complain about Indiana weather again, so help me.”
“It’s a Nor’easter. The east coast is notorious for them.” Bottie did a double take. “Kara, did you steal that scarf from Xander’s nerd shelf?”
“He won’t notice.” She turned to the robot, so that Bottie could just make out her eyes and a bit of brown eyebrow through the cloth. “It was just hanging there on the wall by that weird blue box, waiting to keep somebody warm. I’ll totally get it back in one piece. Aren’t you cold?”
“I am cold.” Was that because of some programming for her sensing circuits, or a byproduct of the magical attacks last year that seemed to be making her more human? She’d kind of liked the parts about how she could now enjoy ice cream – well, not now – and appreciate humor more, but shivering sucked. “Let’s keep going.”
“Right.” Kara experimentally poked her boot into the ridge ahead. “It’s a ridge.”
“Maybe Shangri-La is right on the other side.” Bottie scrambled up the rise, half believing it.
Teenagers clearly didn’t appreciate classic movies. Bottie liked the musical version.
Instead of a paradise, they found a flat area at the top, which led off in an elevated path to both sides. Ahead, the ground dropped straight down again, revealing only another wall of whirling white. “This is an earthen dam,” Bottie reported.
“Are you guessing?”
“No, it matches the contour mapping and the GPS. Look!”
The snow parted for a moment, and far off to the right, on top of the embankment, they saw a figure staring outward. In normal light it seemed like a torso without legs, but in infrared Bottie could see the figure wore white snow pants that disappeared into the background. “It’s Dana.”
“Oh, good – she didn’t strip down like on that mission to Anchorage.”
The other slayer had pulled off her parka hood, causing her dark hair to whirl wildly around her face. It didn’t seem to affect her vision, though: She turned toward them, then pointed. Well, it was impossible to point in wool mittens, but they followed the direction of her extended arm to the frozen surface of the lake, past where Kara and Bottie stood.
Another figure trudged across the snow. She wore only a trench coat and stocking hat over her clothes – and boots, of course – and as they watched she paused, scanned the area, then caught sight of the two standing above her.
“Tara,” Bottie reported.
“I can’t see her.” Kara peered in that direction, using a hand to shade her face from the driving snow.
“She’s giving off an infrared signature. Wait, did ghosts do that?”
“Or maybe it’s the ghost of someone who froze here.” Kara stamped her feet. “Forget the signature, Bottie – even spirits seem warm when it’s absolute zero out.”
“But – absolute zero is minus 273.15 Celsius. It’s nowhere near –“
Tara gestured emphatically further out onto the lake, then started heading that way. Turning, Bottie saw Dana drop into a seated position and slide down the embankment.
“Oh, that looks like fun – but I can do better! I’m triangulating their directions – let’s go.” She sprang off the side and slid down the embankment, pretending to ski. This was fun! Bottie managed to stay on her feet as she hit the ice, her momentum carrying her out onto the surface as snow sprayed out around her. As soon as she stopped the robot looked back, anxious to see the look of joy on her friend’s face.
No one was there. “Kara?”
A mound of snow at the edge of the ice moved as Kara sat up, then rose unsteadily to her feet. “This is not fun. It’s April, dammit! This is ... not fun.” The slayer brushed ineffectually at the snow that now coated her from top to bottom.
“It’s all in your attitude –“
With a scoffing noise, Kara shoved her way by. “My attitude is that this is not fun. Why have we never been assigned to Hawaii?”
They were halfway across the ice before Bottie began picking up the signs. “I see footprints, Kara. Well, what’s left of them.” Faint depressions, really, being filled in by the blizzard as she watched.
“Fine, let’s stake that sucker. We’ve got a plane to catch.”
Quickly consulting her satellite link, Bottie determined that all plane flights in the area had been shut down due to weather. Just as quickly, she determined that Kara didn’t need to hear that right now.
The tracks led them straight to a rundown wooden building at the edge of the water. Bottie analyzed the decrepit place and an almost invisible sign on the wall, quickly determined its original purpose, and decided Kara didn’t need to hear that, either. She dropped her voice to a whisper. “We can get in through this dock, here.”
“Do you suppose it’s heated?”
Bottie’s worry that the dock would creak proved foundless: Apparently noise was frozen. A sliding door stood open just enough for them to squeeze through despite their bulky clothing. Each of them reached for stakes they’d Velcroed to the outside of their coats, then they crept off in different directions.
There wasn’t much to see: a big, empty storage area, a door into an office, some moldy piles of hay, and a rusty discarded tool here and there.
Then the biggest moldy pile exploded in a spray of hay and mouse droppings, and a figure launched itself at Kara.
At first Bottie thought there was something wrong with her partner. Kara swung clumsily, missed, and almost lost her footing as she tried to reposition. Maybe she had hay fever?
No. It was Kara’s clothes. Coat, snow pants, jacket, jeans, shirt, undershirt, long johns – Kara could barely move, and couldn’t see well, either. The demon, with no need to be warm and dressed in a rather tacky gray business suit, had no problems with range of motion.
Bottie launched herself at the vampire, but her swing also missed, and she succeeded only at knocking him back a few steps.
When the vamp roared back, Bottie confidently shoved the stake in his direction. But even though the guy looked like he’d been a meek accountant in another life, he easily sidestepped her thrust and rammed into her, knocking the weapon aside. Bottie fell to the uneven floorboards, and despite her strength couldn’t get off her back and out from under him.
Instead of trying to bite her, the vamp raised his fist, ready to smash it into her face.
Then a colorful scarf whipped around his neck and the vampire vaulted through the air, landing squarely on a figure that had been creeping up from behind. The impact slammed Dana to the hard floor, and when their opponent scrambled to his feet she lay still. From the other direction Tara ran to her, but Bottie saw her friend was still breathing and faced off against the vamp.
Kara stood for a moment, staring in dismay at one very long scarf that had become two shredded, still pretty darned long scarfs. “Dana, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to throw a vamp at you!” She took a step forward, not realizing her legs were tangled in the material, and keeled over like a falling tree.
Oh, now I see why the term “That went well” is so ironic. Bottie faced off against the vampire, alone and weaponless, and still encumbered by pound after pound of polyester and down filling. She had other weapons – three or four layers in.
The vampire looked her up and down. Then he held up both hands. “Kill me.”
He shook his head, and when he did a few strands of hair broke off and tinkled to the floor. It had no noticeable effect on his male-pattern baldness. “Please. I can’t take it anymore.”
“You can’t take what?” Bottie had always thought nothing bothered vampires but stakes and crosses, except when they got re-souled and all moody.
“I thought it would be great, coming up here, feeding on people snowed in and helpless, when no one could get to them. Never worrying about the sun – ‘Thirty Days of Night’ stuff, right?”
“Very scary movie,” Bottie agreed.
“But I can’t take it anymore.” He dropped to his knees. “The mountains of snow, the constant gloom – sometimes I could go out in the middle of the day, but why bother? Every time I’d try to feed I’d have to fight my way through a foot of wool or down filling. Have you ever had a mouthful of down?”
“No, I’d have remembered.”
“See this?” The vamp held up his left hand. The pinkie was missing. “One night this guy tried to fend me off with a beer bottle, and my finger just snapped off. Snapped right off! Frozen solid. Then he apologized for hurting me before I ate him. Canadians!”
“They seem very nice.”
“I’ve lost three toes, and I can’t smell blood anymore, and this isn’t a trick of the light: My skin really is blue. One night this chick told me I was sparkling and made a joke about me being Edward. Turned out I was covered with hoar frost. Sure, she thought my teeth were fake at the time, but a guy can only take so much insult.”
“Oh, that’s horrible,” Bottie murmured sympathetically.
Agitated, the vamp stood again and waved his arms. “You know what this place is? An ice house! They stored ice here. Who needs ice in Canada? It’s been spring for two weeks, look around. I had to put on extra layers just to keep my private parts from snapping off, and if you don’t drink your victims right away you end up sucking on a bloodsickle. I’m ready to throw myself into a microwave. Please, just end this.”
Then the vamp stopped, staring at the tip of a stake protruding from his chest. For just an instant, he looked grateful.
Then ash, instantly frozen into crystals, drifted to the floor, leaving Kara standing there with a sympathetic expression. “Mercy killing.”
Tara, who was helping Dana to her feet, nodded. “I’ve never heard any vampire complain that much, not even Spike. Well, maybe him. How are you, Dana?”
“Ow.” Dana ran a gloved hand over her head, then frowned. “I can’t feel my scalp.”
“Neither can I.” Tara looked around, and Bottie guessed she was searching for some source of heat. Of course, a place designed to keep ice frozen through summer – even a summer up here – wouldn’t have that. “Let’s get back to the car.”
“Oh, I’ll start it up!” Bottie liked to tell people she still had a few tricks up her sleeve, and one of those was the ability to start a car remotely. She concentrated, concentrated more, then sighed. “The battery’s dead.”
They looked at each other. “Of course it is,” Kara finally said.
“Sorry. Okay, I just called for a jump. For the car, not me.” Bottie gathered Kara into a hug, and started edging toward the others. “Let’s share body heat.”
“I have to replace this scarf.” Kara freed one hand to wrap the remains of the scarf around her neck. “Do you think some company makes these monstrosities, somewhere?”
“Oh, probably.” They headed out, while Bottie pondered the idea of a vampire driven insane by too much dark and cold. It didn’t seem likely.
But then, at the moment, neither did spring.