"Baa Baa Black Sheep"
The agony, like a bullet sized atomic bomb, ripped through her chest. Files & Records collapsed on the floor; her eyes opened wide, seeing nothing except white for a moment. Slowly, they focused on the Beast that she had been researching to no avail. Strange; it seemed very much like it was pulling something out of her torso, something dark beyond recognition, but simultaneously it felt like bits of sharp metal were being shoved into her body.
Her eyes moved, although Files & Records couldn't remember ordering her head to turn. Instant recognition. People associated with Angel Investigations, weapons in hand in this... in the White Room? A voice came from within herself, a voice not her own.
The answer is among you.
Meaningless words, why wouldn't the pain go away? While the intensity of the torture did not subside, it began taking on a new clarity. Awareness dawned--part of her soul was returning.
Baa baa black sheep have you any wool? Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full!
It felt dirty and wrong; it felt like the White Room. There was an ancient language moving on lips not quite her own, but Files & Records could feel the air leaving her lungs somehow. The members of Angel Investigations faded, leaving the Beast to growl in frustration. Files & Records screamed in the basement, and then, with a smile of a little girl, she closed her eyes.
They opened later to the dim glow of emergency lights. Files & Records was lying on the cement floor of her file room, her office, her home. Slowly rising, she tried not to move too much; her chest still ached from the violence of the reinsertion. Strange, it hadn't hurt at all when it had been taken from her. In fact, there had been a lightness, a euphoria, and the sudden realization that her mind was thousands of times stronger than it had been before the ritual.
Pain itself was such a momentary thing. Or least, it had been. Panicking, Files & Records opened her desk and ran the edge of her letter opener down her thumb. There was the momentary pain and throb as the blood welled from the wound, but just as quickly the cut stopped oozing and closed itself. Healed in under thirty seconds; she breathed a sigh of relief.
There was no time for this. The Little Girl was dead--however inconceivable that was. Reaching into the bottom of a filing cabinet, Files & Records pulled out a heavy canvas tote that she hadn't needed for years. Running the Dewey decimals through her head, she located the three more volumes that might help--comprehensive guides to things that Ms. Morgan had pointed her at earlier in the week. Without a further look back, she was opening a hidden door that a few moments before had looked like a wall, thenshe was in the sewers.
*Late May 1943*
Peggy did not move her head as an appreciative whistle reached her ears. It had been like that all afternoon, sailor, soldier, civilian; she ignored them. Instead, Peggy sat on her towel, leaning against a large canvas tote and enjoying the warm California sun. The crash of the waves mingled with the sound of the roller coaster on the Santa Monica pier. She could almost believe that it was four years ago and there were no blackout curtains or rationing.
But it was a long way from December seventh, and even further from the tiny house in Connecticut where Slavic immigrants had raised her. Mama would be scandalized by the bathing suit she was wearing; Papa would have a stroke. There were reasons for the 3000 miles between them.
They hadn't wanted their Marjeta to take the scholarship that Wolfram & Hart had offered, but Marjeta had thought otherwise. She had always been bright at school - more than bright. With nearly perfect eidetic memory, the only thing truly holding her back was her lack of connections. Wolfram & Hart came to interview her after she had participated in a memory study done by some Harvard graduate student.
Later, when Peggy had graduated from UCLA with her library sciences degree, her parents had wanted her to return to Greenwich to work in the one room library down the street--they had spoken to the head librarian. Instead, Margaret Drabek, as her personnel records at W&H identified her, went to work in the Los Angeles office.
The mixture of the completely familiar and the strangely alien was disconcerting. Venice Beach, Union Station, the Los Angeles Mission: the street names all looked the same, but everything else...so peculiar. It had been a very long time since Files & Records had stepped outside Wolfram & Hart.
As her emergency instructions dictated, she attempted to make it to one of the safe houses. Apparently, others had had the same idea, but Files & Records entered house after factory after office only to find slaughtered co-workers.
If she had been at all emotional or less informed, Files & Records would have guessed that she was the last member of Wolfram & Hart alive in the city. She did know for a fact that Lilah Morgan was out there somewhere, still alive. There was a connection between them. It wasn't a strong romantic soul-spliced tether running between them, but as Vice-President of Special Projects, Lilah carried a small orb with a piece of Files & Records' soul. Until the day that the Beast entered Wolfram & Hart, the Little Girl had held another piece of Files & Records soul--not in something as mundane as a soul orb. Their connection had been more... intimate, in a way that still made Files & Records want to shiver.
One for my master, one for the dame, One for the Little Girl that lived down the lane
The rhyme was stuck in her head. Interestingly, its common interpretation was about overtaxed peasants. Files & Records had never felt overtaxed; indeed, she was grateful for the benefits that employment with Wolfram & Hart had provided her--superior memory, rapid healing, slow aging. The forced soul return didn't seem to change any of those advantages; however, she found herself increasingly lost in a reverie of the past. Lilah Morgan became confused with Holland Manners or Linwood Morrow or Edgar Reynolds. Edgar Reynolds had been her first boss, her knight in shining black armor, who rescued her from life in Connecticut and the Byzantine power structure of the secretarial pool. Files & Records had not paid him a thought in quite a while.
Shaking herself back to the present, Files & Records stepped over the gutted body of a co-worker and raided his refrigerator for sandwich fixings. As she ate, she studied the wounds, comparing the damage inflicted by the Beast to that of other large clawed demons. After a glass of water, she gathered her things and started to leave, but found herself pausing with a... a craving. Returning to the refrigerator, Files & Records pulled a kosher dill pickle from a wide-mouth jar. Salt and sour filled her mouth, sending a satisfied little tremor through her body. Eating over the years had become a mechanical thing, like typing or filing. Smiling, she capped the jar and put it in her bag.
*June 1, 1943*
"Miss Drabek, you're here late." Peggy looked up from the ancient text she was summarizing to see a junior vice-president looking down on her. The sixth floor was warm, the building holding the heat from the day. Except for the light of her gooseneck lamp and the exit sign near the stairs, the floor was dark due to the carefully drawn blackout curtains. A few years earlier, Japanese submarines had fired their big guns at the oil field between LA and San Diego, but without the persistence of eminent danger, most people had become lax. Wolfram & Hart, as a prominent law firm and occasional government contractor, was scrupulous about keeping the regulations--at least the regulations that were visible to the public. Casually, Peggy slid closed the drawer of her desk where extra ration cards had been placed as a reward for a special project she was currently working on.
"Putting in some overtime, Mr. Eddleton. The secretarial pool has been a bit overwhelmed with the McMasters case in full swing. Helping out there has put me a bit behind in my own work." The man tossed a newspaper in front of her, the early addition of the LA Times; a quick glance at the clock showed it was four a.m. The front page was all about riots in the Mexican neighborhoods near the armory. Servicemen were mixing it up with the handsome, olive-skinned boys in zoot suits. The paper had other, less flattering, words but that was how Peggy thought of the Mexican boys that she had danced with to big band music at the Paramount Theatre.
As Eddleton sat on the edge of Peggy's desk, he pulled out a cigarette case from his pocket, offering her one. Briefly Peggy eyed the manuscript on her desk, imagining what Mrs. Kendel would say if there was a lit cigarette around something so valuable and irreplaceable. Quickly making a decision, she closed the book, sliding it to the opposite corner of her desk and accepted the cigarette and a light.
"The streets could be dangerous. You shouldn't go out tonight without an escort, or the company could send you back to your place in a taxi."
A bit relieved, Peggy smiled, wishing that she had touched up her lipstick, although, in the darkened room, it probably didn't matter one way or the other. "Thank you, sir. I didn't realize that anyone knew I was in the building."
Eddleton had the looks of a movie star and he knew it. That didn't stop Peggy from admiring the view. "The guard at the front desk has the list of people approved for night work. I was just doing a quick sweep. Let's see, you're actually part of the archival unit, taking care of the more valuable files and records, right? Most of the others working graveyard are down in the lower levels."
Suppressing a shiver about the mention of the 'lower levels,' Peggy put on a game face. Mr. Reynolds considered her work privileged information. "Yes sir. Personnel felt it wasn't appropriate for me to be locked in the vaults with an entirely male staff, so I'm up here in the secretarial pool." She stood up and retrieved a bucket of sand from near the coat rack. The sand was a safety precaution for fighting fires cause by incendiary bombs. The number of other cigarette butts spoke to her co-worker's concern about potential bombings.
Nodding, Mr. Eddleton blew the smoke out of his mouth towards the ceiling. "People probably mistake you for just a secretary all the time; undoubtedly, that must be frustrating for you." In the dim light of the desk lamp, Peggy couldn't quite make out the look on Eddleton's face, but it was becoming clear that he knew something about the real work she was doing.
"My job is to do what Wolfram & Hart needs me to do, sir."
Swirling in the lamplight, the smoke obscured Eddleton's face slightly as he smiled down on her. Peggy felt something flutter inside. "Company loyalty will get you far, Miss Drabek. However, one must be careful not to confuse company loyalty with loyalty to an individual."
"Yes, sir." Peggy leaned down to tap the ash off into the bucket. She was fairly certain that she was being offered a new assignment.
Endless darkness had a way of bringing out the worst in the city.
The streets were teeming with vampires and other demons. For the most part, they didn't pay attention to Files & Records making her way from place to place. Well, some of the younger-stupider ones tried, but shoved her away at the first taste of blood. Files & Records wondered about that; what did her blood taste like to them? Was it just the incomplete soul? Or perhaps, alongside her corpuscles ran data streams of binary rhythms strung around helical coils of the human she once was.
Hearing some noises from down the street, Files & Records forced her mind to clear and made her way to the back of an old warehouse building that was now full of expensive lofts. The book she pulled out of her bag was carefully marked with a variety of useful spells; the one she was about to use was marked with a blessed dagger, which Files & Records held against the lock. The noises were getting closer, but she remained unfazed while intoning the spell. Despite the fact that the spell was firmly lodged in her head and she could quote it verbatim, there was something about that technique that the magic found lacking. Holland Manners had explained it in detail and had promised that during her next transformation it would be mended. But Holland's abrupt departure had ended that plan.
Wistfully, Files & Records smiled at Holland's image in her mind. He had been one of the good ones. With a snap, the lock gave way and granted her admittance into the building. Quickly getting inside, she closed the door behind her and headed to the second floor. Still holding the book, ready for the next lock, she was surprised to find the door to Lilah Morgan's loft open. It rather indicated to Files & Records that the other woman had been there and had been in a rush to leave.
Once inside, Files & Records could see why. The floor-to-ceiling windows on one side had been smashed, leaving a hole large enough for something very large, something Beast-sized. She momentarily debated the need to review a book on crime scene investigations, but found it unnecessary. Random piles of debris in the otherwise orderly apartment indicated the path to follow.
The shredded couch cushion, the torn shower curtain, the opened secret drawers in the armoire all had one thing in common--blood. Ms. Morgan must have come here for some things. It seemed unlikely she would have escaped the Beast if they had been there at the same time. The Beast probably came later and followed the trail of blood. Files & Records suspected that she should keep moving, but weariness and temptation overwhelmed her, and she decided to make this a base of operations for a few days.
*1943, a week later*
"Nice, Peggy. You've come so far in such a short time." Peggy could see the red marks left by her lipstick as she bobbed her head up and down in Eddleton's lap. His hand was lightly pushing on the back of her neck, indicating she should speed up. "Good girl, that's it. Now add a little teeth." Peggy knew he couldn't see her eyes roll.
She had been moved away from the secretarial pool to join Eddleton's staff. By day, she typed and put together legal briefs. In the evenings, she located certain magical texts and sucked Eddleton's cock. The former came naturally to her; the latter took much more work.
While continuing the service, adapting to the predictable litany of his demands, Peggy closed her eyes and tried to focus on anything else. The weather had been good, but the temperament of the city was running hot. Police sirens blared and taxis honked. The riots had spread from the neighborhoods around the armory to downtown. 'Zoot Suit Riots' the papers were calling the incidents with servicemen of all branches going after the Mexican-American population of the city. Cab drivers ferried the sailors and soldiers for free.
"Yes, yes, God, Peggy." Fighting the urge to gag, Peggy closed her eyes tight, swallowing because oh, how he adored that. She was glad she had a toothbrush in her desk because the state of the streets tonight would not let her get home until the early morning hours.
"That's my girl. In just another week, we'll all be getting a promotion, but I have something special for you." Peggy looked up from her place on her knees and managed to smile adoringly. The promotion would be worth the extra effort.
Dreams. Files & Records hated them--unstructured, random. What she hated more was now she was having them during the day. Looking down at the dagger and bowl in her hands, she tried to remember what she had been doing. Right, gateway. While not all of her ingredients were ideal, and some were inferior quality substitutes, Files & Records still thought she could pull off the spell. It was probably going to scorch a hole in the plush carpet, but that type of detail hardly mattered anymore.
Checking that her hand-written copy of the portal spell was safely tucked away in her blouse, Files & Records reluctantly pulled the remaining markers out of the spell book. The book wasn't particularly valuable, but then again, neither was the book she was hoping to trade it for. With a light hand, she dropped incense on the brazier for the third time, intoning the words from the book. Slowly, a fiery doorway took shape.
Eddleton had been hung by his ankles over a pentagram, with a hundred shallow cuts slowly bleeding him.
"Peggy, in addition to the firm's thanks, I'd like to include my own." Peggy's heart was pounding as she looked away from Eddleton and the cloaked figures chanting around him.
"Thank you, sir." Standing a bit straighter, Peggy looked up into the face of Eddleton's would-be assassination victim, Mr. Reynolds, Vice-President of Special Projects. "I was only doing my job."
Peggy felt the fatherly hand come to rest on her shoulder. "It took quite a bit of courage to walk into the lion's den as a double agent; that's more than just your job." Feeling more reassured, she smiled up at the older gentleman. "I also understand that you went above and beyond in other ways as well."
Flushing bright red, Peggy glanced away. She knew very well that when nice girls lost their reputations, they weren't expected to redeem them. "Sir, it is the unfortunate truth that a woman is sometimes faced with difficult decisions, and that sometimes standing up for one's principles does not always get the job done."
"No, no, no." Reynolds gave her shoulder another reassuring squeeze. "That wasn't meant to be a condemnation. I simply wanted to acknowledge your efforts, your sacrifice. I assure you that particular abuse of power that Eddleton indulged in will not come back to haunt you or become a job responsibility."
A slight sigh escaped Peggy's lips, "Thank you, sir."
With a gesture towards the door, Reynolds began leading her out of the room. "I believe that the firm has a position that will make better use of your talents." Peggy nodded and tried not to shiver as she heard Eddleton scream.
The copy of Rhinehardt's Compendium had not only cost the book of spells but also Files & Records' twenty-year service pin from Wolfram & Hart, which for no apparent reason, the six-armed merchant seemed fascinated with. The pin was cheap 10k gold with an emerald chip that couldn't be seen without a magnifying glass. It wasn't like she didn't have a sixty-year pin and a pin for every other five-year mark.
Still, it bothered Files & Records not to have it. It was one more symbol of Wolfram & Hart gone. For the first time, she realized that she was frightened. This type of emotional rush was also becoming more common, like the memory flashbacks. Emotion was something that she rarely indulged in and these incidents hadn't happened at all until the Beast decimated the firm. Trying to shake it off, Files & Records gathered some food from the kitchen and settled onto the couch to read the compendium. This would allow her to repeat the necessary information in case the book became damaged. It made her feel good to be doing her job. Files & Records tried to reassure herself. It was only a matter of time before Wolfram & Hart contacted her and began restoring everything to normal.
*early July, 1943*
"No-" She had said that too quickly and sheepishly looked up at Mr. Reynolds. "Yes."
He smiled and clapped her shoulder. "Understandable. It's not every day that people give a greater part of themselves for the mission. You're rather like an ordinary person volunteering for the Marines."
"Sir, I'm not a Marine." Peggy pulled the sash on the dressing gown tighter. She had been told that the clothing, or rather, the lack thereof, would make the process go smoother.
"Not yet, you're not, but you're not an ordinary individual either. Without your natural talents, the elixir would never work on you."
"Yes." Peggy frowned, wondering for the first time ever if eidetic memory was a good thing. Nervously, she cleared her throat. "Sir, what's going to happen to...that really small piece of my soul?"
"It's going into this orb." With a hand on her back, Rutledge led her to a small altar with the orb sitting on a special dais made of gold.
"And the orb, what happens to it?"
"We put it someplace very safe because you have just become an extremely important employee to us." Somehow the hushed and reverent tones of Rutledge's whisper soothed Peggy. Nodding, she stepped over the scattering of bones that formed a ring and dropped the dressing gown.
Strange as it seemed, moving through the sewers was easier than the surface streets. After having checked the records and reports still logged in her head, Files & Records was able to look for a reliable guide. Lilah had been spotted by a number of sources, wandering the sewers, looking for information. Files & Records didn't doubt that Lilah was alive; she could feel the connection, and it was still warm. There was a vivid memory of feeling the connection to Holland grow slowly cold over the course of an evening. Linwood's body had not been allowed to become cold, which suited Files & Records just fine. Linwood had been a person who appreciated information, but didn't care where it came from.
Noting the staleness of the air, Files & Records stepped into the seedy underground cantina, which was apparently losing business because of the endless darkness on the surface. Most of the current patrons were from species that preferred the damp and the wet, explaining why they were missing the party above. Taking a moment to focus, Files & Records could feel the tug of the soul tether, drawing her to a dimly-lit table in the back. Instantly, she knew that Lilah was still looking for information about the Beast. How odd it was to see Lilah dressed in dirty clothing, covering herself with an old jogging jacket.
The informant had left her table, and as Lilah began to rise, Files & Records place a hand on the other woman's shoulder. She jumped back when Lilah suddenly brandished a crowbar, clutched tightly in her hand, ready to strike. Almost immediately the weapon was lowered when Lilah frowned in recognition and surprise. Files & Records sat at the table, while Lilah gaped at her and finally sat down.
"You're alive. You're the only one I've seen alive." Grimacing, Lilah move a hand down to protect her side, which was bleeding.
Alive was not necessarily the most accurate description of Files & Records' state of being. She could be considered alive in much the same sense that a vampire could be considered dead. Still, it was accurate enough. "All the safe houses are filled with bodies. I believe that the firm is dead, except for you and me." Files & Records paused momentarily. "The Little Girl is also dead."
Nodding soberly, Lilah took a sip of the drink in front of her. "So why aren't you running? Why'd you look for me? Assuming that I'm right, and you've been looking form me."
"Files and Records, it's my job." The statement was simple, direct, and Files & Records knew that Lilah understood, even if the wounded woman was shaking her head.
"So, do you have information for me on the endless darkness and the Beast?"
"I have information on the Beast." Files & Records slid Rhinehardt's Compendium across the table.
Lilah looked down and frowned. "I've seen this - pretty elementary first stop. There's no information in it." Files & Records opened to a colored bookmark, revealing a picture of the beast.
"What the hell?"
"The book was made in another dimension. As you suspected several weeks ago, we needed to consult sources outside this realm."
"Why does one version of the book have it and not the other?"
"I don't know." Several speculations came to mind, but without confirmation, Files & Records was loath to give out potentially inaccurate information.
Lilah wrapped the book in a dirty blood-stained cloth from her pocket. "Did you read it?"
"What does it say?"
Files & Records blinked and then began a search for the data that was suddenly misplaced. When her eyes stopped spinning, she simply admitted, "I don't know. Apparently, the information cannot be recorded in this dimension."
"Nifty trick." Lilah stood and was obviously on her way out.
"Do you have further assignments for me?" Files & Records was looking at her changed agenda and began to worry about vast amounts of idle time.
Lilah appeared to be at a loss and then finally said, "See what more you can find out about the Beast and the endless night." As an apparent afterthought, Lilah added, "Take care of yourself."
*late July, 1943*
The Paramount Theatre was jumping. There was a big band on the stage and a dance floor full of people jitterbugging. It seemed strange, but tonight there were no zoot suits to be seen. The mayor and city council had banned them as a public nuisance. Still, there were some Mexican-American boys flirting with danger in half-drape zoot suits, a less extreme version of the emblematic clothing, seeing just how far they could push it. The streets had been quieter as LA moved into July, but the press still boiled daily with details of the Sleepy Lagoon Trial. The city and the press were still bitter about Mrs. Roosevelt deeming the incident a race riot.
"So, Peggy, Mary just told me that you got a big promotion." The man from accounting was cute but annoying. The girls kept staring at her, waggling their eyebrows. This was Peggy's first night out with the girls since the ritual. Now Mr. Reynolds' personal assistant, her full time duties included research, translation, and only a small amount of confidential typing.
"Yeah, Sam, I guess I did. I helped Mr. Reynolds with a project, and he had personnel move me." There was a tingle that ran up Peggy's spine. Mr. Reynolds needed... something. There were too many distractions.
"Say, would you like to dance?" Peggy heard the question, but didn't respond. Having closed her eyes, she was working on blocking out sound as well. Mr. Reynolds needed information about Krev'tan demons, as soon as possible. With a twist in her mind, Peggy produced an index of information about the species in question. Most of it was in the general library, so it wouldn't take much time to gather the books and bring them to her boss's office. Without a word, she rose from her chair.
"Great!" Sam extended a hand and smiled until Peggy walked right past him.
"I need to get to the office."
Two days later, Files & Records was methodically making her way through the stacks at the LA County Public Library. She was undisturbed in her browsing because the library was closed due to the chaos outside. While on a mostly futile search for information not already in her memory from Wolfram & Hart, Files & Records felt Lilah die. Violent. The dozen or so heads of Special Projects between Reynolds and Lilah had taught Files & Records the different nuances about what it felt like to die.
Slowly sitting on the floor with her back against the wall, she wondered for the first time in decades what she was supposed to do. If all things had proceeded correctly, the orb would have been passed to the new head of Special Projects -- but there was no Special Projects Department. There was no Wolfram & Hart. There was no connection to the senior partners. There wasn't even someone to go to Lilah's body and rescue the orb.
For several hours Files & Records sat, doing nothing in the library and then the orb moved. As always, her sense of the other end of the attachment was vague. In her mind's eye she could picture fingers following the path of Lilah's gut wound, digging, searching, finding. The hands were warm... and evil. There was no mistaking it. It wasn't the Little Girl, but it had a similar taint but with a foreign sense to it.
Unlike the other times though, Files & Records could tell that the orb was not reinserted into another being. For some unknown reason it was sitting out in the open, like some kind of trophy... or magical ingredient. Not that Files & Records was any kind of calculating machine, but when one looked at the possible uses for a 'soul in a sphere,' well, there weren't many options.
Lilah said that Files & Records was to take care of herself. The last order given to her and she was determined to follow it.
The building had changed, the company had expanded--dozens of power shifts and still Peggy marveled at the racial tension in the city. This time it was more from the black section, Watts, instead of the Mexican-American. It didn't matter how much progress was made, things somehow seemed the same--like herself.
The transformation had been a wonderful thing. Anyone who knew her would say that she hadn't aged a day. Of course, anyone who had known her had either passed away, like her parents, or retired. All of the woman she had met in the secretarial pool had long since left and were watching their children begin to have children. Peggy wondered if they would have traded that for the skin of a twenty-five year old like she had.
About ten years ago, the company had paid for a funeral for Margaret Drabek--tragic incident requiring a closed coffin. Now Peggy Reynolds, rumored to be a distant relative of a former vice-president, ran the Files and Records office.
Lifting her head from the filing cabinets, Peggy saw Mr. Martin striding into the file room. "How are you today, Mr. Martin."
"Oh, fine, fine. The question today is how do you feel."
"Me? I have this beautiful file room all to myself, access to all the manuscripts in the vault - what more could I ask for?" Returning to her desk, Peggy picked up the coffee pot and poured two cups. Of course, she knew that the boss was coming, although she couldn't quite pick out why. Smiling internally, Files & Records admitted that Martin was the cagiest of her bosses and the only one since Reynolds who would bring her a birthday present. The part that tickled her was that he always hid his thoughts so it was a surprise; Reynolds had never bothered.
"You could want more." Mr. Martin smiled as he picked up his coffee. "The senior members of this firm have come to rely on your special skills, and we don't want to lose them." Peggy looked at him wide-eyed; they couldn't think that she wanted to quit.
"No, no, hear me out." Martin was shaking his head and laying a hand on hers--that was different too. Other than a bump in the hallway or a casual touch over a pile of papers, Martin was the only one who touched her. It was never in a sexual way--Reynold's promise had been kept through the years, but sometimes it was nice when someone shook her hand. "We know that you're happy here at Wolfram & Hart. We want you to be happier."
Focusing on the link, Peggy was getting nothing. Momentarily she wondered how well Martin was able to read her from his end of the link.
Pulling out a small black soul orb from his pocket, Martin smiled. "A trip to the White Room."
Somehow it shouldn't have been a surprise that the locating spell had led Files & Records to the Hyperion Hotel. How often had it been lamented among the current staff about the trouble caused by Angel Investigations?
Hiding outside in the bushes, Files & Records watched the glowing dot fade from the map. The schematics of the building were in her head. There was a reasonable chance that she could follow the metaphysical tether that connected her to the orb. However, walking through a lobby filled with the enemy did not seem prudent. Somewhere between dejected and desperate, she reviewed options. A long list of magical spells that would be too difficult to perform sprang to mind.
There was a burning, choking feeling in her throat and suddenly her eyes were swollen and... wet? Files & Records was quietly crying in the garden. Even if she was brave enough to walk in, there was too much noise coming from the lobby. Through the glass she could only see a few people standing around, but the red-head had the look of a magic user, and things were fluttering without any real wind. That was not a scene she was prepared to walk into. Wiping the tears with her sleeve, she wondered how she was supposed to get the orb back.
Trying to pull herself together, Files & Records took the spell book from her canvas bag. Reviewing the index in her mind, she flipped to a specified page and saw the spell she needed in her mind. With the magical maelstrom occurring just beyond the glass doors, Files & Records began to copy out the soul flight spell.
*Labor Day 1966*
While other people were enjoying family barbecues and beach trips on the national holiday--things Peggy never did anymore--she found herself celebrating in a completely different way. Her office was connected by a narrow hallway to a small Spartan bedroom. The room didn't have to be Spartan, but it seemed pointless to hang a Rockwell print when she could close her eyes and see the Sistine Chapel in vivid detail. Putting on Martin's Christmas gift from two years ago (a thick bathrobe with the Wolfram and Hart corporate logo) Peggy headed to another door further down the hall that lead into the women's locker room.
The corporation, recognizing her needs, had actually planned an entire one-bedroom apartment, but she had dissuaded them. It was too bothersome to dust or scrub a toilet, so she simply made due with the other facilities in the building. Her badge covered her meals in the cafeteria. Mail order catalogues updated her clothing on a yearly basis. Peggy wouldn't have bothered with that except that Mr. Martin insist that she blend in with the rest of the staff and not look like an artifact.
Like the first time, she used a strong smelling, magically prepared soap to ritually wash. When she emerged from the shower in robe and slippers, Martin was waiting for her. As was appropriate, it was the middle of the night and therefore there was no one to fuss about his presence in the ladies locker room. With a gentlemanly hand on her back, he led Peggy to the elevator bank. She saw his hands move on the buttons and memorized the sequence to make the white button appear. Peggy found that she wasn't nervous like the first time; instead, she was deeply curious. The White Room and the Little Girl were mysteries. No matter how hard she tried, she could never follow the soul tether when her bosses had gone to that room.
Leaning against the stucco wall, Files & Records felt mildly nauseated from the sudden double vision. Simultaneously she was seeing her surroundings and a bedroom of some sort within the hotel. There was a woman, Cordelia Chase, casting spells and incantations around a mo-ping, Files & Records' soul sphere must be on a nearby piece of furniture. Not entirely sure what was going on, she felt dread rise in her. The sense of evil was thick in the place. Files & Records wasn't bothered by that in particular, but the fact that Cordelia Chase was working with a soul in a jar did not reassure her.
The spell provided no sound, but the noise from the lobby was increasing. A tremor ran through her as her soul orb rattled with everything else in the hotel. Files & Records screamed as she felt herself falling.
*Labor Day, 1966*
It seemed odd to be approaching a little girl dressed in velvet and Mary-Janes, but Peggy knew that that definition didn't begin to touch on the truth.
"Hello Marjeta Drabek, it's a pleasure to finally meet you."
"Don't call me that-" Peggy snapped in uncharacteristically sharp tones. Martin just raised his eyebrows in curiosity and stepped back.
The Little Girl smiled and approached her, walking lazy circles around Peggy. "If you aren't Marjeta anymore, than who are you."
"Don't be stupid!" The Little Girl was in her face and in the first time in forever, Peggy felt fear. "That's just a name. I asked you who you are."
Her heart was pounding hard as she tried to decipher what the Little Girl wanted. No one was touching her, but the sash unknotted and the robe slipped open. "I don't know what you mean."
When was the last time a human being had touched her breast? Was it Eddleton? The evil smile on the pretty little face coupled with the too-small hands made Peggy feel that she needed another shower. She was rooted to the spot and the girl just leered at her as the tiny hand tickled down Peggy's belly and between her legs.
"I...I don't' know! An employee of Wolfram & Hart." Horror, fear, disgust filled Peggy at what the Little Girl was doing and the reaction that it was eliciting from Peggy's body. Where were the circle of bones and the bottle of mind-expanding elixir?
She babbled hoping it would just end. "Personal assistant to the head of Special Projects, Files & Records clerk...Special Secretary of Files & Records..." Those titles weren't right--as if her job could be summarized in a simple description like those. She had poured her blood, sweat, life, and damn-it, her soul into that job and she finally shouted,
"I am Files & Records!"
The Little Girl smiled wickedly, pulling her soaked hand from between Peggy's legs and planting it in the middle of Peggy's chest.
"No, you're not, but you will be."
The air and lights swirled away from Peggy, along with another piece of her soul.
There was a burning sensation in Files & Records chest--just like when the Little Girl had died.
Just like when the Little Girl had sucked the soul out of her
The pain was awesome to the point that she couldn't see.
Not so different than the other time except then it was ecstatic bliss that was so overwhelming.
Files & Records felt sure she was about to die and collapse into potting soil and tropical plants.
Peggy was sure she was about to die, to melt into the white walls and floor, to be another specter that filled this place.
The world contracted around Files & Records, as random data flew through her mind--American history mixed with Shakespeare and demonology.
The world expanded around Peggy and her near-perfect recall sharpened and accelerated. Her eyes spun as Files & Records reindexed last year's LA Times.
Slowly sinking down the wall, she wondered how Peggy's obituary would read.
The first glimmer of false dawn was brightening the morning when Peggy opened her eyes. She wasn't exactly surprised to find herself in a planter, but some part of her hoped that she would be in a neatly made full sized bed in the basement of Wolfram & Hart. Pulling herself up and dusting herself off, she looked at the Hyperion as if it held some answer that she wasn't fully aware of. Slowly...slowly her mind reviewed the inhabitants, their biographies, the floor plan... The perfect recall that she had been born with was still there, but something else was missing.
It was too early for the yuppie juice bar across the street to be open. Unbidden, her mind made a some free associations about the history of Orange Julius, the average yield of the California strawberry crop, and that in New Jersey, the term 'juice bar' referred to a bar that was not permitted to serve alcohol because it had topless dancers.
This was not the way that Files & Records was accustomed to starting her day.
A few blocks down the boulevard she could see the time on a bank across the road. Comparing it to the bus schedule in her head, she realized that the next bus was a local and would cause her to arrive back at Lilah's apartment only 1.36 minutes sooner than the express bus that would come in twelve minutes. It would also be warmer in the patch of sun on the other side of the street. Once there, Peggy simply climbed on the next bus, dropped her fare into the metal bowl and sat down.
Refusing to look at the bus line number or the framed map, hanging on the back of the driver's seat, Peggy concentrated on looking out the window, seeing the city that she had walked away from thirty-seven years ago. There were more people, dirt, cars, noise, progress and all sorts of other things that didn't seem to make sense anymore. Eventually the tang of salt wafted in through the open windows and occasionally, Peggy could glimpse the waves through a gap in the buildings.
Looking up, she couldn't find the cord to make the bus stop. Momentary panic ripped through her; Peggy worried that she was so out of date and out of time that she would be trapped on the bus forever. A loud ding brought her out of it and several muscled young men with well-tanned arms lined up in the aisle, hanging onto the overhead rail. When the bus came to a halt, Peggy exited with the beach goers and followed behind them into the sand.
The men were way ahead of her hitting a volleyball back and forth with no apparent rules. They didn't notice or care that she was following them. Joggers played tag with the surf. Lifeguards arranged equipment. Peggy felt connected to something at last. The trimmings had changed, but something in the city had remained relatively timeless.
And for the first time, she was free to enjoy it.
Heading back to the street, she smiled as she walked into Dunkin' Donuts and bought a large coffee, an orange juice, and a box of assorted Munchkins--donut holes were always her favorite, and she hadn't had them since Mr. Ramirez, the janitor who retired. On a whim, Peggy also hand-selected twelve different donuts. She knew she couldn't finish them, but she planned on taking a bite from each.
The public showers and toilets at the beach were ever so slightly...gross, but she went in and changed into the bathing suit her mother would have never approved of. Mr. Martin would have been pleased that the current retro styles meant it would fit right in.
Dropping the beach/emergency escape bag into the sand, Peggy pulled out an Egyptian cotton bath sheet that Lilah Morgan probably paid a hundred dollars for in Nordstroms or Saks Fifth Avenue. It had been in the bag because Files & Records had rationalized that it would be an appropriate thing with which to wrap a soul orb. Peggy knew it was because they had read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in the late 1980's and had drawn some romantic and metaphorical connections about their current dependence on the kindness of strangers...dead co-workers, whatever.
It gave her pause to think of herself in the plural. Did the return of her soul uncage a demon from within, named Peggy? No matter how she looked at it, Peggy knew that Files & Records was the sensible one. Funny how dangerous a soul could be. With great flourish and not a single other thought, she spread the towel on the sand, propped her back on the bag and looked out into the crashing waves. Why this felt like home to a girl from Greenwich, Peggy had no idea.
And she didn't care at all.
It was dark when Peggy hopped the bus back to Lilah's apartment. The streets were dangerous at night, especially after the recent explosion in the undead population, but Peggy hadn't wanted the beach day to end. It had been filled with swimming and shells, melting ice cream, dirt water dogs, cherry coke, SPF20, sand castles, a trashy Johanna Lindsey novel about bodice ripping pirates in frilly shirts, and a thousand other miracles.
A day in the life of someone else.
The bus passed the intersection closest to Lilah's apartment and kept heading downtown. With a playful tap on the white strip, Peggy called for her stop. Now that she was standing in front of the building, still sealed tight, she recalled that the van that brought her and her meager possessions went straight into the parking garage. Neither Peggy nor Files & Records had ever seen the outside of the building.
Casually she walked among the carefully--tended planters until she came to the spot where the side door should be. Files & Records knew that the quarantine period had passed and agents of other branches of Wolfram & Hart would come and attempt to enter the building on salvage missions.
She hesitated a moment, wondering if this was really what she wanted. No, was it what Peggy and Files & Records wanted. With trembling fingers, she waved the badge over a discolored section of wall. Armor and cement slid aside, revealing a phone booth sized room.
Fitting her badge into the slot, Peggy felt her heart pound, as the armored door slid back into place, leaving her with the glow of a CRT. It took twenty minutes for Files & Records to enter the all access codes and never once did Peggy's finger slip on the wrong number.
The room became a private elevator that took her to a boardroom on an upper floor. She could here the zombies prowling just beyond the door, and she didn't panic when they began to pound their way through. By then, she had punched the appropriate codes into the AV equipment in the center of the long table and retrieved the ring. Taking a deep breath, she slid it on.
A wall panel slid open, revealing Lilah Morgan leaning casually against the back wall of an elevator. Peggy blinked and stared hard at the angry red scar across the dead woman's neck.
"First floor, zombie--filled board rooms." The wood of the door made an ominous crack as if to emphasize Lilah's words. Picking up her bag, Peggy climbed into the elevator that immediately began shooting downward at impossible speeds.
"They beheaded you?" Files & Records needed to know.
"Posthumously--to prevent potential vampirism."
Peggy nodded. Files & Records guessed, "The Beast?"
"The Beast in Cordelia Chase's clothing. Is that towel from my apartment?"
Feeling herself blush, Peggy looked at the towel and then at Lilah. "Yes--I inherited it."
Nodding, Lilah looked at the toe of her high-heeled shoe. "Got me there. So, home office--how come?" Lilah leaned against the wall and studied her nails. "I mean, you were free and clear. They don't make employees at your level sign perpetuity clauses. Granted, they did have some additional insurance in your case, but you got that back."
Files & Records organized a list of reasons that Peggy ignored. "Baa, baa, black sheep."
At Lilah's raised eyebrow, she continued. "You know that sheep grow heavy thick wool in the winter and then scrape it off on the rocks in spring. For me, it's been like someone sped up the clock, and I'm drowning in wool--three bags full. One for my master, one for my dame, and one for this woman, who just wants to come home."~end~