The noise was so loud, she couldn't sleep, couldn't eat, couldn't even hear her DI when he stood in front of her, screaming so hard she could feel the veins swelling inside his skull. It came from all around her: from the other Privates, from the instructors, from the people giving them their placement tests, and, yes, from her DI.

When she finally sorted through all the noise and got to the sound of her DI's thoughts, she realized he thought she was unconscious, that he was actually worried about her. She opened her eyes and looked down the rank at herself, standing at attention in front of the DI, and realized she was looking out of someone else's eyes.

Things got weird after that. She remembered being wheeled into the base hospital on a gurney, and some strangers in navy blue suits with those hideously ugly government-issue ties (why the government would allow its agents to be seen in public in something so ugly and unfashionable, she could never understand) saying something to her that was drowned out in all the noise of the hospital.

And not just noise! There were sensations that went with the noise! There was someone just a few rooms down from her whose guts were being eaten by cancer, a woman two floors up who was giving birth to twins--and one of them was twisted around the wrong way--someone in the next cubicle with a broken leg, even another Private whose mind couldn't take the stress of boot camp and had taken refuge inside himself. That one, at least, she had been able to help, to coax him out of his internal refuge far enough that the hospital's therapists had been able to take over. One less painful sensation to add to all the noise, at least.

The government agents put something on her head, kind of like stereo headsets, and the noise went away. The relief was so great, she found herself sobbing with gratitude, once again missing whatever it was the agents were trying to say to her.

"Evans, Buffy, Private," one agent was saying to the other when she was finally able to focus on their voices. "Her drill instructor reported that she became catatonic within hours of arrival, and that another Private in her platoon reported feeling her . . . where is that . . . 'looking out through my eyes' just before the drill instructor ordered an ambulance."

"Given her response to the neural field dampener," the second agent said, "I believe we can safely conclude she will probably test positive for psionic potential. We should move her to the Project Thirteen Hertz facility as soon as she is safe to travel."

She looked from the first agent to the second, her eyes asking the question she was too weak to verbalize.

"Private Evans," the first agent said. "We are from Project Thirteen Hertz. It is a special project of PRIMUS, designed to help recruits with psionic potential to fulfill that potential without being broken by the noise and unpleasantness of normal military training." He chuckled at the look of confusion on her face. "You will be trained as a soldier, never fear, but you will be trained to use your mind as your primary weapon, rather than a rifle. The neural field dampener is yours to keep, regardless, but we do hope you consider it a down-payment on a future career in PRIMUS' psionic services branch."

"You . . . can keep . . . the noise . . . down?" Buffy asked through dry lips. The headphones had somehow managed to block out the noise, and if they could promise that they would continue to do so, she would go through Hell to keep them.

"We can," the second agent said.

"Where . . . do I . . . sign?" Buffy asked, trying to make a joke of it, so they wouldn't feel how desperate she was.

"No need for that," the first agent said. "As a soldier in the US Army, you are already a potential PRIMUS operative. Just don't lose your headset until we're at the Project facility, and we tell you it's safe to take it off."

"In . . . that case . . . lead . . . the way," Buffy said.

"First," the second agent said, taking a hypo out of an aluminum briefcase, "something for the nausea. I remember how sick I was when I couldn't shut out the noise."

"Oh god, yes, please," Buffy moaned, raising her arm.

The agent smiled reassuringly at her and injected the contents of his hypo into her IV. The medicine, whatever it was, hit her like a bucket of ice water. Suddenly, all the nausea, dizziness and vertigo vanished, and she was able to focus on the agents with more clarity than she'd had--for anything--since she was thirteen and had first begun feeling other people in her mind. She could still feel them there, but it was as if they were in a box, that she could close when she wanted to, instead of constantly interfering with her own thoughts.

"Sir!" Buffy said, when she noticed that the first agent had subdued captain's bars on his collar, "Private Evans reporting for duty. Err, well, as soon as they discharge me, anyway."

"Relax, Private," the captain said, giving her a reassuring smile. "You'll find that at Project Thirteen Hertz, we operate on a slightly different basis than you're used to from boot camp."

The captain nodded at the other agent, who closed his case and left the room.

"For instance," the captain said, his voice appearing only in Buffy's mind, "everyone at Project Thirteen Hertz has some psionic talent. Most of us are telepaths, so you'll probably get out of practice at talking aloud." He chuckled, obviously considering that to be humorous. "I am Captain Rafael Sabatini, and I am the senior military officer in our unit, but our commander entered PRIMUS by way of the FBI. Speaking of which, why did we find you in the Army, rather than in a PRIMUS training facility?"

"I tried to sign up for PRIMUS, sir," Buffy thought, hesitantly, "but the recruiter said that I needed to get military or law enforcement training first. Since I'm too young for my local police department to even consider, I signed up for the Military Police."

"Did you tell the recruiter about your special talent?" Capt. Sabatini asked.

"I did, sir," Buffy said, "but it . . . I don't understand it, sir! When the recruiter asked me to demonstrate, all I could do was pick up on his desire to be done for the day so he could go home. That's all I've ever been able to do, before boot camp! Why did it suddenly wake up like this?"

"That's a good question, Evans," Capt. Sabatini said. "It's one of the questions we're trying to find answers to at the Project. Why did you want to join PRIMUS in the first place?"

"Detroit, sir," Buffy said, biting her lip to help herself focus on holding down the emotions that tried to rise whenever she remembered seeing the battle on TV. "When I saw all those people, whose only super power was their bravery, trying to protect Detroit, I knew I had to put off college, at least until the immediate crisis was past."

"You're exactly the kind of person we want in PRIMUS, Evans," Capt. Sabatini said. "You're right. There is a crisis. We lost a lot of good people that day, and we need people with your kind of attitude to replace them. Honestly, I hope you decide to make PRIMUS your life's work. You won't even have to put off college, at least, not once you've made it through your initial training."

The other agent returned, and Buffy noticed his collar had a golden eagle.

"All set, Captain," the other agent said.

"Thank you, Inspector," Capt. Sabatini said. "Private Evans, this is Inspector Daniel Kowalski, my law enforcement counterpart. Dan, Private Evans was just telling me that she enlisted because of Detroit. And that she tried to enlist in PRIMUS, but her power wasn't fully manifested, so the recruiter told her to get some military or law enforcement training before coming back."

"Well, he did the right thing," Inspector Kowalski said. "As frustrating as it is, you remember what it was like when we took people in off the streets."

"Oy, do I remember," Capt. Sabatini said, with a melodramatic groan.

Buffy bit her lip, trying to hold in the giggles, but they overwhelmed her and she found herself laughing until she hiccupped.

"Definitely time to go," Inspector Kowalski said. He stepped into the hallway, just in time to dodge a nurse with a wheelchair, before vanishing from view.

"Are you certain you want to check her out in this condition?" the nurse asked, giving Buffy an appraising look as she continued laughing.

"Positive," Capt. Sabatini said. "She'll be just fine, and we have plenty of experience in dealing with recruits who have adverse reactions to their talents manifesting."

"Are you sure that's all this is?" the nurse asked. "She looks to me like she's on a drug trip."

"Positive," Capt. Sabatini said. "Unless your people gave her a drug that can do this, it's nothing more than an origin event."

"I hope you're right, Captain," the nurse said. She locked the wheels on the chair, then removed Buffy's IV and helped her into the chair. "You stay right there, Private, while I retrieve your uniform."

Once Buffy's uniform had been retrieved from the room's closet and put in a bag on her lap, the nurse wheeled her, still laughing uncontrollably, out to where Inspector Kowalski waited with a standard Army-issue green LTD.


The trip from the hospital to the base helipad gave Buffy enough time to recover from her laughing fit. Waiting on the pad was a helicopter that looked sleeker and more advanced than anything she had ever seen before. The PRIMUS logo on the side told her that she really was stepping from one world into another. Captain Sabatini and Inspector Kowalski led her to the helicopter, and they were soon in the air, Inspector Kowalski in the copilot's seat and Captain Sabatini in the back, with Buffy.

"Why is the Project named Thirteen Hertz?" Buffy thought as they travelled west, away from the base.

"Do you know anything about brain waves?" Capt. Sabatini asked.

"Not really, sir," Buffy admitted. "I never paid much attention in biology class. I was more interested in sociology, to tell the truth."

"Nothing wrong with that, Evans," Capt. Sabatini said. "Given your talent, sociology is a good field to study. The reason brain waves are relevent is that the founder of our project believes that psionic talents represent the manifestation of a fully awakened mind. Since the awakened brain produces electromagnetic waves between thirteen and thirty hertz, he chose the lowest frequency as an indication of his belief that we are just beginning to awaken to our potential."

"He sounds more like a philosopher than a scientist, sir," Buffy said.

"I have been accused of that," a new voice said, gently amused. "So you are our newest recruit, then? I am Michael Sanchez, the founder and director of Project Thirteen Hertz. Rafael, bring her to my office when you land. You should be teleporting any time now."

Just then, Buffy felt a twist of vertigo wash over her, and the scenery outside the helicopter changed, from the Ozark Mountains to what looked like somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.

"Jump completed," Capt. Sabatini said. "We should be landing in about ten minutes, sir."

"Understood," Mr. Sanchez said. "Welcome to Project Thirteen Hertz, Private Evans."

"Thank you, sir," Buffy thought, distracted by confusion as she studied the world outside the helicopter. "Rocky Mountains? But we were at Fort Leonard Wood?"

"Yes, we were," Inspector Kowalski said. "While my telepathy is only marginal, at best, I am able to teleport up to forty tons, to any destination I am able to visualize clearly. Usually, that means I have to have been there long enough to study my surroundings. I've been with the Project for nearly five years now, which means I have a fairly decent knowledge of the area."

"Fairly decent," Buffy thought, giggling.

"Yes, you'll develop a talent for understatement when you've been with us long enough," Capt. Sabatini said, chuckling. "It seems to be one of the things we all do best."

Suddenly, the helicopter dropped ten feet, as a missile flew past, trailing a long tail of fire. Capt. Sabatini reached across the helicopter and checked Buffy's harness, while Inspector Kowalski mashed a button on the console, launching a cloud of flares and chaff.

"Mayday! Mayday!" the pilot barked, while putting the helicopter into a mid-air dance. "We are under attack! I repeat, we are under attack!"

"Report!" Mr. Sanchez' voice snapped.

"One, no, make that six, surface-air missiles," Capt. Sabatini said. "Launch location is minus four kilometers, plus fifteen hundred meters. I sense . . . VIPER. We need backup. Now!"

An explosion hammered Buffy back into her seat, and the helicopter plummeted into darkness.


"Over here!" a man's voice called, loud enough to pierce Buffy's ears and leave her whimpering. "This one's alive!"

"Hurry up!" a woman's voice yelled. "VIPER's bringing up reinforcements!"

The sound of bullets whipping past and hitting metal reminded Buffy of her alarm clock back home. Back home? That doesn't sound right. Something's stabbing me in the shoulders. My bed wouldn't do that. Wait . . . VIPER? No!

Buffy sat up, screaming, to see soldiers dropping on ropes from helicopters, while people in VIPER costumes came out of a door in the ground, firing strange-looking weapons at the soldiers and the helicopters. Buffy felt all her pain, fear, and anger coalesce into a ball, somewhere in the middle of her chest, and then explode. Every VIPER agent in front of her dropped, their heads exploding as if each one had been trying to swallow a grenade. Buffy felt someone's arms catch her as the darkness welcomed her again.


In an otherwise abandoned government installation, a light on a computer console ticked over from red to green. An otherwise normal wall panel slid out, then to one side, revealing a secret chamber behind it. Along the left wall of the secret chamber were three life support pods, the central one occupied and functional. Along the right wall were lockers that matched the life support pods. The door to the central locker unlocked and swung open, revealing PRIMUS uniforms, tailored to fit a woman, hanging in the upper half, a pair of combat boots and dress shoes sitting on the bottom of the upper half, and three large steel drawers that made up the lower half.

The life support pod's monitor screen began displaying rapidly-scrolling text. A port opened near the top of the pod, and there was a whine, as of high-pressure pumps inside the pod. The pod rotated, as a long hatch on its upper surface opened out and then split, sliding to both sides. By the time the hatch was open, the pod had completed its rotation, so the hatch faced the locker.

A pair of gloved hands reached out and clutched the sides of the opening. A moment later, a woman, clad in a skin-tight suit of some kind of synthetic material, staggered from the life pod to the locker, and braced herself against the front of the locker. A viscous, transparent liquid dripped from her body and hair.

The body suit fit the woman like liquid latex, but there the resemblance ended. Tubes and fiberoptic cables connected her upper thighs to her lower thighs and her upper arms to her lower arms. Both her boots and gloves were lightly armored, with more tubes and fiberoptic cables connecting her feet to her legs, and her hands to her forearms. At her shoulders, heavier tubes and cables connected her upper arms to her back, vanishing into the back of her suit near the point where it was connected to a device that looked like a streamlined life support pack, with openings that could have been either compact rocket nozzles or high-speed air intakes. On her head, tubes sprouted from her scalp, rose above her auburn hair, then returned, ending in new locations. Her brow and nose were protected by a small armored device that joined one of the tubes from her scalp to a sealed mask that covered her nose and mouth. The torso and arms of her suit were covered with a raised pattern that looked like either circuitry or a complex cooling system. In the center of her chest was a raised gem that glowed a brilliant fuchsia, as did the fiberoptic cables that connected the various parts of her body, in contrast to the prussian blue base color of the body suit and white of the raised pattern, tubes, and armor around the fiberoptic cables.

The woman looked around, supporting herself against the locker, then closed her eyes for several moments. When she opened her eyes, there was a hint of worry in her gaze. She reached into the locker and took out one of the uniform shirts. The shirt had a single inverted chevron atop a rocker on the sleeves, PRIMUS above the left breast pocket, and the name Evans above the right breast pocket. She opened the shirt and tried slipping a hand into the sleeve, only to stop when her armored glove caught on the sleeve opening.

"What happened to me?" Buffy asked softly, looking down at herself and feeling the pattern of raised lines on her body suit. "The last thing I remember is an explosion, and the helicopter going down."

She returned the shirt to its hanger, then examined the contents of the three drawers in the bottom half of the locker. She retrieved a teddy bear from the bottom drawer and walked unsteadily out of the secret chamber, clutching the toy to her breast.

"I don't know how they found you," Buffy said as she hugged her teddy, "but I'm not letting you out of my sight again."

The room outside the secret chamber had obviously once been a laboratory of some kind. What kind, Buffy couldn't tell, because it had been stripped: even the fittings on the work benches had been ripped up and taken away. As she walked out of the laboratory, into a large corridor, Buffy saw an emblem painted on the wall, which had been mostly covered by obscene graffiti, which identified her location as the Project Thirteen Hertz base. She wandered down the corridor, opening doors at random, becoming more and more frantic as her search revealed that not only were there no people there, but the entire base had been stripped as thoroughly and ruthlessly as the laboratory outside her life pod had been.

Buffy reached the end of the corridor, where an elevator, large enough to carry a helicopter, waited. She stepped into the elevator and saw there was no control panel. Instead, it had a handprint recognition pad. She looked at her gloved hands and began laughing hysterically. Suddenly, the pack on her back opened up, two panels swinging out to reveal heat exchanger panels on their inner surfaces, and a gas exchange system filling most of the visible interior space. The heat exchange panels glowed a dull red, and the gas exchange system hissed as air flowed through it as if pumped by a turbocharger. Buffy's laughter slowed into occasional hiccups as she studied the elevator's hand pad. As her laughter slowed, her pack closed again with a soft hiss.

"What am I supposed to do?" Buffy asked rhetorically. "I can't take the gloves off, so how is this supposed to recognize me?"

Not knowing what else to do, she pressed her hand against the pad. The elevator lurched, then began to descend, while the light panels activated along the walls of the shaft, revealing the top, over a thousand feet above her and rapidly receding.

When the elevator came to a stop, the door opened onto a dark corridor that lit up as Buffy entered it. A line, glowing a brilliant green, appeared on the floor, leading her down the corridor to a blank wall at the far end. When she approached the wall, a light shone out of both corners of the ceiling and played over her body like a matched pair of scanners. Buffy clutched her teddy bear tightly as the scanners finished their examination and switched off. A moment later, the wall sank into the floor, revealing a room that could have been the living room of a luxury apartment.

Buffy walked into the room and stopped just inside the door, slowly turning to look around at the furnishings. Not only were there a pair of leather-upholstered couches in the center of the room, flanking a glass and chrome coffee table, a bar ran along two thirds of the left wall, an entertainment center, with a theater-sized flat-panel television, covered the back wall, and a computer center with multiple monitors and control systems covered most of the right wall. A door, centered in the open area of the left wall, and two doors, flanking the computer center on the right wall, were the only obvious exits from the room. Behind her, the wall rose, sealing her into the apartment. Buffy spun at the sound of the wall rising, then sagged, let out a soft sob, and sank onto one of the couches.

As soon as the wall was sealed, the entertainment center came to life, and a man's face appeared on the television. He appeared to be in an office, with the PRIMUS seal on the wall behind him. The man was wearing a conservative navy blue suit, had hair that was short enough she couldn't quite tell what color it was, and wore bifocals. His expression was haggard and drained, and when he spoke, he sounded as drained as he appeared.

"Private Evans," the man said, "I am Michael Sanchez. If you are seeing this, it means that you are the sole surviving member of Project Thirteen Hertz. We have been under seige by VIPER since the day you were supposed to join us, and you are currently in an experimental life support pod we have hidden in a secret chamber behind the medical laboratory that rebuilt you after your crash. I'm afraid you are going to find that life is a little different than you--or we, for that matter--had hoped you would experience upon joining us."

The sound of an explosion interrupted Mr. Sanchez. He looked up, above the camera, then back down into it.

"You have been authorized full access to all Project Thirteen Hertz resources," Mr. Sanchez said. "I trust that you will use them wisely. The security systems have been reset to recognize you as the master operator, and your mental patterns will be sufficient to activate anything on base. I'm afraid I won't be able to explain much, so I recommend you access your computer as soon as possible to familiarize yourself not only with your own condition, but also with the resources available to you. Good luck, Private Evans. You are now Project Thirteen Hertz. Make us proud."

A storm of energy beams transfixed Mr. Sanchez, and he fell from view. A moment later, the display shattered in a blur of static.

Buffy curled up on the couch, clutching her teddy bear, and whimpered. What was she supposed to do? She was only eighteen years old, and now she was all alone, without even any training in how to deal with villains! As she cried, her pack opened, releasing heat with a soft hiss.


The lights had dimmed as Buffy sat curled up on the couch, leaving the LEDs from the entertainment center and computer center as the only sources of illumination. Buffy moved, and the ceiling lights came back on, causing her to cry out with pain at the sudden brightness.

"OW! Isn't there some way to dim these lights?" Buffy asked aloud. As she did, the lights dimmed to half their previous level. "Whoa . . . dim?" The lights dimmed to half their previous level again. "Bright?" The lights returned to the level they had first dimmed to. "OK, I guess there is a way. Come on, Mr. Wiggles. Let's see what's in the computer."

Buffy took her teddy bear and crossed the room to the computer center. She put the stuffy on the counter beside the primary monitor and sat in front of it, looking down at the keyboards and controls. Beside the keyboard was a handprint recognition pad. Buffy giggled and rested her hand on it.

The computer immediately lit up, displaying a desktop on the primary monitor with the Project Thirteen Hertz emblem in the center. Buffy scanned the folders on the desktop, and immediately noticed one labeled "Buffy Evans Life Support System". She opened the folder and found a number of files. At the top of the folder's file display, though, was one named "Overview". Without hesitation, she clicked on it.


Problem: Private Evans was mortally wounded when the helicopter carrying her to Project Thirteen Hertz was shot down by VIPER forces. Despite her wounds, She regained consciousness long enough to eliminate an entire VIPER company with a single psionic blast. Mr. Sanchez ordered all resources necessary be applied to the problem of saving her and returning her to fully operational condition.

Inventory of Damage: Private Evans suffered third and fourth degree burns over ninety-one percent of her body, and second degree burns over the remainder. In addition, she suffered severe nerve damage due to spinal injuries, as well as a large number of broken bones (see attached list). Her lungs were severely damaged by inhalation of burning jet fuel, both eyes were destroyed by shrapnel, and her brain was saved from total loss only due to the quick thinking of on-scene paramedics, who applied gas/liquid ventilation to cool and oxygenate her immediately upon her collapse after her psionic display. Her heart suffered sufficient damage from the crash and from her display of psionic power that it will require replacement.

Solution: As liquid ventilation is providing excellent life support, we have included its use in the applied solution. Since the liquid ventilation interferes with normal verbal communication, we have implanted a standard thought-speech interface in her life support facemask, which will allow her to communicate verbally without difficulty. All broken bones have been surgically replaced with kevlar, which we have more than enough of. Titanium would have been better, but we are severely lacking in supplies of that material. Marrow transplants are taking root in the provided chambers in the kevlar long bones, and appear to be regenerating satisfactorily. Skin damage is too extensive to allow for simple grafting, so we have chosen to replace all dead skin with an experimental body suit that will not only maintain an appropriately sealed environment, it will also provide superior damage resistance should she recover sufficiently for field work. Both eyes have been replaced by cybernetic optics, and all tests show that the integration of cybernetics to her brain is well above expected levels. (Note to self: Be certain to recommend Drs. Haley and Mazzoni for commendations for their excellent surgical work.) Due to spinal and neural damage, we have been forced to provide cybernetic replacements for nerves in both arms and legs. Fiberoptics are producing superior results as compared to previous patients' electronic implants. Due to the damage to her heart, we replaced it with a high-performance circulatory pump, and reinforced her arteries and veins with nanite-infiltrated kevlar weave. A power crystal, mounted on her chest, will provide enough energy to power all systems that require additional power. Our previous experiments with power crystals indicate that it should continue to function, even at full output, for at least three hundred years. Due to the lack of evaporative cooling available with the new sealed environment, we have included liquid cooling systems in the sub-surface layer of the suit, which will be managed and controlled by a backpack system, which will also contain the external components of her liquid ventilation life support system. The backpack will automatically vent excess heat at any time her core temperature rises above thirty-seven degrees Celsius, unless she is engaged in high-intensity activities. If she is engaged in high-intensity activities, the backpack will flush extra air through its internal systems, both to increase oxygen availability and to minimize core temperature rise. Regardless of activity level, if her core temperature rises above thirty-eight degrees Celsius, the backpack will act immediately to flush excess heat. I am not satisfied with the shielding available during heat flushing operations, but the risk of allowing core temperature to rise too high outweighs the risk of damage to the cooling systems. We must train her in how to repair her backpack if it should become damaged during heat flushing. The included files contain detailed descriptions of each of the solutions applied, as well as requirements for maintenance and emergency repairs, should they be needed. As Private Evans is currently in a full-immersion life support pod to allow her healing to complete without external intervention, I recommend she remain there until all of her systems are fully integrated and she is able to act without external assistance. Most importantly, I recommend she remain there until this current VIPER problem has been resolved.


Buffy re-read the summary file, then studied her reflection in the unused monitors.

"So I'm stuck in this for the rest of my life, huh?" she thought. "I guess I'd better get used to it, then. If the doctor in charge was worried about my backpack, I'd better start by learning how to keep it working. I'd really rather not die of overheating or suffocation."

Buffy opened the folder labeled "Backpack Life Support System" and began studying files. Each file led to another, which led to another, until she had files open on every monitor in the computer center, and her backpack opened to release the extra heat she was generating with her intense concentration.

"Well, Mr. Wiggles," Buffy said, closing the files and sitting back. "It looks like I'm going to have to find out what other rooms are in this apartment. Let's go, huh? I hope there's a shop in here, or I'm going to have to go back out into the base and search for one."

Buffy picked up her teddy bear and stood, unconsciously adjusting her position to counter the opened panels of her pack. Her search of the apartment turned up a bedroom, behind the wall the bar was on, a bathroom that contained more facilities than she'd ever imagined could fit into one bath, and a room that would have been an amazing kitchen, if she'd been hungry. That was when she realized that she hadn't had the slightest pang of hunger since waking up in the pod. For that matter, she wasn't tired, either. She knew she'd have to sleep, sooner or later. The noise got too loud to shut out if she didn't. But she wasn't tired.

Out of curiosity, she decided to see how long she'd been at the computer. She went to the life support system folder on her desktop and checked the last accessed time. When she saw the date and time, she stared, stunned. June 21, 2010, 4:09 AM

"That can't be right!" Buffy thought.

She got up and went to the entertainment center. It took her a minute to work out the controls and get a connection, but when she did, the first channel she got was KWGN.

"Who the heck is Maury Povich?" Buffy muttered as she began scanning channels. After scanning through soap operas, Spanish language stations, movies, shopping channels, more movies, sports, still more movies, she finally landed on CNN. Seeing the scrolling news at the bottom of the screen, Buffy staggered back until she landed on the couch, and let out a gasp. "Twenty-ten? But . . . when I came here, it was September 21, 1992! How could it be eighteen years since I arrived?" She clutched her teddy bear tightly and whimpered. "Oh god, everyone must think I'm dead!"

The news from CNN washed over her as she huddled on the couch, holding her teddy bear like a life preserver. Eventually, the lights dimmed, then went out, leaving the television as the only light in the room. Buffy remained in her huddle, holding her teddy bear, as June 21 faded into June 22, then June 23. Still awake, still mourning her lost eighteen years, she held her teddy bear, curled up on the couch.

June 24 came, and Buffy stood, slowly walked to the computer center, and placed her hand on the ID pad. The monitor lit up, and she began searching through the folders she hadn't examined yet, until she found a folder that contined files on the resources available on her level of the base.

"All right," Buffy mused as she went through the files, "there's a garage down here, a hangar--not that I'm going to have any use for that--a shop, lab facilities, and a few thousand gallons of perfluorodecalin for recharging my backpack. I guess there's everything I could need to use the base as my home. Except for people."

Buffy sighed and scanned the other folders, until she found one that linked her to the base security systems. Everything above the level she was on, with the exception of the monitors in the secret chamber, was gone--at least, at first glance. It wasn't until she worked her way into the backup files that she discovered monitors that had been missed by VIPER when they invaded the base. She activated the systems the backup files linked to, and saw that the area around the base's surface entrance had been cleared of debris and a PRIMUS security fence had been erected.

"Damn," Buffy muttered. "I wish there were some way to get into the new security systems. Why didn't they leave me an AI?"

"They did," the computer said, in a cultured feminine voice. "You'll find notes on my operation in the files from Mr. Sanchez that you haven't read yet. I was still in the prototype phase when VIPER invaded, so I was unable to assist in repelling the invasion. The best I was able to do was confuse and misdirect their hackers, to prevent them from finding the data Mr. Sanchez entrusted to me."

"Do you have a name?" Buffy asked, after a few moments to recover from her surprise.

"Mr. Sanchez called me Minerva," the AI said. "He said it was a reminder that all beings, including artificial ones, are individuals, and should be treated as such."

"What do you think?" Buffy asked.

"I think that I have been without any companionship for eighteen years," Minerva said, "and I appreciate your speaking to me as a person."

"As far as I'm concerned, you are," Buffy said. "Are you fixed here, or are you able to travel with me?"

"I can install a remote in your life support pack," Minerva said, "but my primary core is too large to easily travel."

"Oh," Buffy said, disappointed. "Do you have to worry about your power supply?"

"No," Minerva said. "Like yours, my power supply is capable of providing energy for several centuries. My functional power needs are actually quite low, compared to the energy available."

"That's a relief," Buffy said. "So, can you link in to the new security systems that PRIMUS installed?"

"Easily," Minerva said. "I have been using them to monitor the surrounding area for several years. I'm afraid it won't be easy for you to get down from here on any ground vehicle. The road leading to the base has not been maintained since the VIPER attack, and several rock slides have blocked areas of the road, while other areas have fallen away due to failure of the ground beneath them."

"So I'm either walking, or learning to fly one of the aircraft?" Buffy asked, silently groaning at the prospect.

"Not necessarily," Minerva said. "It's not mentioned in your basic files, but gravitational control systems were included in your life support pack. I suppose they weren't mentioned because they are sealed systems, that won't need any maintenance in the forseeable future."

"Gravitational control systems?" Buffy asked. "You mean, I can fly?"

"That is correct," Minerva said. "Your theoretical top speed is approximately five hundred forty-five miles per hour, assuming no combat or emergency maneuvering."

"Assuming no . . . ," Buffy repeated, then laughed. "So I can fly as fast as a 747?"

"Give or take thirty miles per hour," Minerva said. "I'm afraid I can't recommend that you try to carry as much cargo, though."

"I like you," Buffy laughed. "You have a great sense of humor."

"Thank you," Minerva said. "I learned it from Michael."

"I . . . I'm sorry," Buffy said softly. "I saw how he died. Have you been alone since then?"

"Yes," Minerva said. "My only duties since then have been to watch over you until you were fully healed, and to protect this part of the base."

"Why did it take me eighteen years to heal?" Buffy asked.

"The life support pods dramatically reduce the user's metabolism," Minerva said. "Doctor Wilson believed that a reduced metabolism would enhance your healing, while at the same time reducing stress on your remaining organic systems."

"That . . . kind of makes sense, I think," Buffy said. "But I should be hungry--hell, I should be ravenous--shouldn't I?"

"I would think so," Minerva said. "Your lack of need for food and sleep are both puzzles I anticipate spending some time attempting to unravel."

"You sound happy about that," Buffy teased. "You like puzzles, don't you?"

"I do," Minerva said. "I enjoy puzzles of all kinds, from simple crosswords to cryptological problems."

"I have a puzzle for you, then," Buffy said. "I need you to teach me how to do maintenance on my pack without killing myself. And while you're at it, you can teach me how to install your remote so I can take you with me when I leave."

"I can do that," Minerva said. "Since there is a spare pack in the shop, let's go there and get started. We can practice on the spare pack until you feel sure enough to work on your own."

"Can I replace my pack with the spare?" Buffy asked.

"Yes," Minerva said. "That's what it was designed for. In the field, when you don't have access to shop facilities, you can replace your current pack with the other, and be good to go for another month before needing maintenance or replacement."

"So each time you recharge the pack," Buffy said, "there's enough . . . perfluorodecalin . . . to run the system for a month?"

"That's right," Minerva said. "Unless you engage in a lot of combat or other high-stress activity, that is. We'll have to calibrate your system for combat as we go along."

"You're assuming I'll be getting into a lot of combat," Buffy said, chuckling.

"Of course," Minerva said. "You are a PRIMUS agent, and you are Project Thirteen Hertz. That means you'll be running into VIPER on a regular basis, and probably also PSI, DEMON, and ARGENT, not to mention the Brain Trust, Black Legion, Ubermenschen, Terror Incorporated, Society of Evil . . . should I continue?"

"Just tell me that Dr. Destroyer is really dead?" Buffy pleaded.

"To the best of our knowledge, he is," Minerva said. "However, his organization still exists. Even if it is only being run by his henchmen."

"That's bad enough," Buffy said. She sighed heavily. "All right, I get the picture. Peace and quiet are not in my future, so we'd better start working on calibrating my pack for high-stress activity. I didn't see a gym in the files on this level."

"That's the level just above us," Minerva said. "VIPER didn't seem too inclined to investigate the old training level too closely, so most of those facilities are still operational. We have everything from weight machines to a full-contact training simulator. I promise, I can give you the workout of your life."

"Why do I get the feeling I'm going to regret this?" Buffy asked rhetorically as she took Mr. Wiggles with her and left the apartment for the shop.


"Minerva?" Buffy asked distractedly while adjusting the flow on her spare pack's gas exchange system.

"Yes, Buffy?" Minerva answered from the remote in Buffy's pack.

"What happened to Detroit?" Buffy asked. "I mean, after Dr. Destroyer did so much damage, did they try to rebuild, abandon the city, or what?"

"That's right," Minerva said. "You were in boot camp when the announcement was made."

"What announcement?" Buffy asked.

"That Detroit would be rebuilt," Minerva said. "Only it's no longer Detroit. Now it's known as Millenium City, and it looks like something out of a science fiction fantasy. I'll show you images when we're back in the apartment. If I hadn't been monitoring the news while it was being rebuilt, I'm not sure I'd believe what I see when I look at images of the city."

"It can't be that perfect, can it?" Buffy asked.

"No, it can't," Minerva said. "There are still some neighborhoods where rebuilding isn't complete, or where gangs outweigh the police, but the heart of the city, the Renaissance Center, is something that you would have to see to believe. In fact, I'm hoping you'll visit Millenium City once you leave here, so I can see it first-hand."

"It must be something amazing, if you want me to take you there," Buffy said, laughing. She put down her tools and studied the gas exchange system's flow meter. "Looks good. So what about protectors?" A tear leaked from her eyes as she looked into the distance. "I remember seeing so many die in the battle."

"There's a whole new generation of heroes," Minerva said, "many of whom were inspired, as you were, by seeing the bravery of those who died. The Champions established their headquarters in Millenium City, and many heroes go there to get inspiration from the city and its history."

"The Champions?" Buffy asked, resting her chin in her hand as she thought. "Tell me, Minerva, how would you rate my combat skills right now?"

"As good as anyone with no actual combat experience," Minerva said. "Unfortunately, the only way you're going to get any better is to face actual villains."

"I kind of thought you'd say that," Buffy said. "So, let's make sure this spare has a remote in it, and let's see about setting up a safe house in Millenium City."

"You should really contact PRIMUS and get yourself back into the system," Minerva said, half-heartedly.

"I've been gone for eighteen years, Minerva," Buffy said. "If they don't have me listed as dead, then it's the longest AWOL ever. Either way, who--even in PRIMUS--is going to believe that I spent the entire time in a life support pod, healing from my injuries?"

"You have a point," Minerva conceded. "All right, I'll start working on arranging a safe house in Millenium City. You make sure that your spare pack has both my second remote and enough perfluorodecalin to make it until you're established in our safe house."

"No doubt about that, Minerva," Buffy said, crossing the shop to pick up a computer module the size of her fist. "No doubt about that."