Title: I, robot
Setting: Season 5. Sort of.
Rating: PG at most for language
Summary: What if things happened a little bit differently...
Author’s Notes: This is basically rooted in S5, but it does... erm... wander a bit. Purely written for the fun of it, so if you want the angst and drama, I'm letting you down this time - sorry!
“Oh, you’re kidding me, right?” Buffy stared across the training room, her face a picture of stunned disbelief.
“Erm… well…” Behind her, Giles shuffled uncomfortably and manfully resisted the urge to polish his glasses.
Buffy shook her head and turned to face the group standing nervously behind Giles in the doorway, all of whom suddenly and inexplicably found something fascinating to look at on the floor. Giles smiled bravely, but his right hand headed relentlessly towards the bridge of his nose.
“OK. You wanna try and explain?” Buffy folded her arms and raised an eyebrow.
“Well, it’s a training aid… clearly.” Giles gave up the manful struggle and removed his glasses.
“A training aid.” Buffy’s expression implied it wasn’t clear at all.
Giles polished and tried again. “It’s just, now that Riley… well, he’s… erm… not around,” Giles winced at the killer look Buffy flashed him and struggled on, “I thought… that is, we thought…” he looked around for support from the others, but the floor with still holding their attention. “A… ah… sparring partner, so to speak. So we got Warren to… well… make one,” he ended lamely.
“Warren. Right.” Buffy crossed the room. “So you care to tell me why this particular model?”
Giles waved his glasses vaguely. “Well, clearly we needed a vampire… with vampire strength and abilities and… Xander suggested…” He paused. Strangely enough, it had seemed an entirely reasonable idea at the time. Not any more, however. “Well, really I don’t see that it matters…” he went on with somewhat less conviction. “We just needed something – Puffy Xander wasn’t going to stand up to much more punishment and…”
“Doesn’t matter?” She snorted in disbelief. “It’s Spike!”
“Well, yes… in part…”
“In whole! Look! It has the stupid hair and the duster and…” she peered closely, “even the scar!”
“Well, actually I thought it would be a plus.” Xander shrugged. “Must just make you want to kick it all the more.” He dropped his eyes in the face of Buffy’s steady stare. “Well, it would me…”
Anya nudged his arm. “I did tell you she wouldn’t like it,” she hissed. “I said ‘Have had it made Johnny Depp-shape, she’d like that.’ Hell, we’d all like that! But would you all listen to me? Oh no…We should have returned this one to the strange, geeky guy and demanded a refund.”
“Ahn…” Xander shot her a look and she subsided, muttering quietly to herself.
Buffy glared Anya into silence and then turned back to Xander. “And you don’t think maybe one of them is more than enough?”
“This one’s housetrained.” Willow offered. “And… and actually,” she was clearly thinking on her feet, “it’s quite useful that it’s based on a real live… erm… dead vampire, because it has this really neat adaptive programming so we’ll be able to see how it changes and compare it to the real Spike and maybe learn something about how vampire brains, you know – work.”
“Spike has a brain? Can’t say I’ve ever seen much evidence of it.” Xander muttered.
“Why do I get the feeling there’s a certain amount of flying by wire going on here?” Buffy shook her head. “OK, so I’m listening. Tell me about it.”
“It’s a lean, mean, fighting machine with attitude and a nifty leather coat.” Willow’s smile wilted in the face of the patent Buffy stare. “Sorry. OK – it’s a high spec simulant programmed with some pretty basic fighting moves; but the really exciting thing is it’ll learn stuff. So – more you fight with it, better it gets. Neat, huh?”
“So, I fight with it, it gets better and better – what, to the point it can actually beat the crap outta me? This is clearly some definition of ‘neat’, I haven’t mastered.”
“Oh! No! Its programming won’t let it do that.” Willow frowned. “I mean it might get to the stage when things get a bit ouchy, but it won’t do any damage.” She smiled weakly. “Not any serious damage, anyways.”
“And yet I don’t feel comforted by that thought.”
“There’s an emergency shut down! See?” Willow held up a small, chromed device. “You press this red button here and it stops right away.” She held it up for Buffy’s inspection. “And the green one turns it on, and the numbers are the different programs.” She smiled nervously. “We thought of everything.”
Buffy eyed the device suspiciously. “That looks an awful lot like a cellphone…”
“That’s because it is.” Willow shrugged. “Easy to convert and all.”
Buffy smiled brightly. “Ha! Ingenious! So, when I accidentally try and use it to order a pizza, I get a psychotic robot leaping onto my back.”
Willow and Giles exchanged a look.
“Plus, one other thing. Kinda small thing and all, but – I’m in a killer armlock? How exactly am I gonna get the phone out of my pocket?”
“Oh.” Willow bit her lip in thought for a moment. “Oh! I know. A word. I’ll program it to turn off a specific word, then all you have to do is say it and no more armlocks. Something like… abeo, or desino, or…”
“How about ‘stop’? Has a nice, direct ring to it. Plus not with the easy to forget.”
“On to it. I’ll reprogram later. Meantime, I’ve got the zapper doohickey if you… you know… wanna give it a try?” Willow looked at Buffy hopefully.
“Well… I dunno…” Buffy peered at the strangely inanimate - and spookily quiet – replica Spike.
“It’s quite safe. We sort of tried it – well, not the fighting and all, because Xander was too chicken…”
“Hey! I didn’t wanna break it before Buffy could play is all!” Xander blustered.
Anya patted him sympathetically on the back. “Of course you didn’t, honey.”
Willow rolled her eyes. “It’s safe – wouldn’t do a thing. Just stood there growling even when Xander poked it…” Buffy raised an eyebrow. “…with his finger… prodded… it…” Willow blushed then rushed on. “So you see, we still haven’t really tested it, not properly. It’s mainly programmed to respond to you.”
“Gee. How touching.” Buffy turned to look at the ‘bot. Actually, she had to admit she was kind of intrigued as to how this would compare with the real thing and whether giving it a good beating would be equally satisfying… “OK. Let’s go for it.” She stood in front of the ‘bot and looked up at its immobile features. “I may regret this, but… fire him up.”
Willow pressed the green button.
The ‘bot’s eyelids fluttered open and Buffy felt a start of shock. A perfect match; charcoal lashes framing crystal-sharp blue eyes she’d glared into often enough to know well. But as those eyes focussed on her, there was something missing – a spark, that essence of irritating, maddening, exasperating Spikeness wasn’t there. And it annoyed and surprised the hell out her in fairly equal measures that she’d even noticed. Close, but not close enough. However, the frown settling on the ‘bot’s brow as it registered her presence was pure Spike.
“Slayer…” And that growl? On the button. She took an unconscious step backwards.
“Oh, you’re quite safe. Unless we choose a program, it won’t attack.” Giles moved closer to the ‘bot, which glared at him suspiciously. “Remarkable, really. For a mechanoid. Warren is really rather talented…”
“’Ere, who you callin’ a noid? Cor blimey! I’ll ‘ave you, mate, just see if I don’t! Strike a light!” The ‘bot turned its glare on Giles.
“…but sadly it seems he attended the Dick van Dyke school of English.” Giles winced. “That is presumably what Warren considers a cockney accent. Good heavens, you colonials have a happier knack of destroying the mother tongue than we do...”
“I could probably fix that, if you wanna give me a few pointers in Englishese.” Willow joined the contemplative circle examining the Spikebot. The ‘bot glowered at them suspiciously, apparently uncomfortable under their scrutiny. “You know, the programming was really pretty neat, considering.” She grinned. “’Course, it’s way neater now since I tinkered with its circuits.”
Giles gave an exasperated sigh. “I thought we’d agreed no tinkering?”
“Aww… it was hardly anything. A teensey, weensy tinkette.” Willow gave Giles a wide-eyed innocent look. “Just a little look-see. Besides, you know Warren - had to make sure there were no sneaky little surprises hidden away in his circuitry.”
“And were there?”
“Well… no.” Willow conceded. “But there might have been some cunning masterplan…”
“What are you lot blatherin’ about?” The ‘bot snarled at Giles, then turned to Buffy. “We gonna fight or what?”
“Huh. Direct and to the point. Kinda makes a pleasant change. OK, I’m game.” She gestured to Willow. “Give me a number 1.”
The first scuffle lasted seconds, the ‘bot going for the ‘launch-yourself-at-the enemy-with-a-bloodcurdling-yell’ tactic, which was easily defeated by Buffy’s ‘step-out-of-the-way-and-trip-him-up-as-h
From its position sprawled at her feet, the ‘bot cursed loudly. “Oy! Bleedin’ slayer.” It was back on its feet, scowling. “You try that again, an’ I’ll flippin’ well flatten you, so I will!”
“Oh, I’m quaking in my stylish, yet affordable boots here.”
The ‘bot looked down and gave a puzzled frown. “You’re not wearing boots.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “One more time, Will.”
Willow reordered a number 1 program and the ‘bot launched itself at Buffy again. This time it had learned enough not to fall – literally – for Buffy’s dodge and trip-up trick and managed to get close enough to warrant a sharp slayer-type punch to the nose that once again had it sprawled at her feet.
Buffy looked down at the floored ‘bot and pouted. “Awww! No blood! Punching Spike on the nose that hard always comes with a nice satisfying crunch and a side order of bleeding. This one doesn’t bleed. Not nearly so much fun.” She considered. “Although it does avoid the drinking of his own nose blood squickyness.”
“By dose!” The ‘bot was clearly less than happy. “You fight dirty!”
“Me? Dirty? Skilled, yes. Sneaky, maybe, in a sassy and sexy sort of way. But dirty?” She held out a hand to help the ‘bot to its feet and used the opportunity of his momentary unbalance to dump him back on the floor flat on his face. “Ok. Maybe that was dirty.”
The ‘bot struggled to its knees and glared up at her. “Say your prayers, little girl.” It pointed a finger at her and its voice was pure venom. “You’re dead.”
“No. You dead. Me slayer. Up and at ‘em, dead boy.”
Half an hour later Buffy had to admit the ‘bot was showing promise in the potential sparring partner department. It had learned a few of her moves and even invented a few of its own.
“It’s getting better.” Willow smiled brightly. “Almost lasted three minutes that time. But I think maybe we should leave it there – let me check him over, make sure all the bashing about hasn’t worked any screws loose.”
“Coupla screws loose would be more authentic.” Xander reasoned.
“Oy!” The ‘bot lept to its feet and squared up to Xander. “That’s enough…”
Xander faced up to the ‘bot. “Oh, yeah. Come on then, silicon boy.”
The ‘bot glared at him for a long moment then sneered and turned away. “Huh. Not worth the effort.”
“Stop teasing the toys, it’s not fair. ‘Sides that’s my job.” Buffy turned to Willow. “OK – check him out. I need a chocolate break anyways.”
“Scared, slayer?” The ‘bot wasn’t giving in.
“Still quaking.” Buffy shook her head. “Zap him, keeper of the doohickey.”
Willow pressed the button and the ‘bot subsided into silence. Buffy sighed. “If only that worked on the real thing…”
“Speaking of which, haven’t seen Captain Peroxide around for a while.” Xander gave the ‘bot a final glare then followed the others out of the training room and back into the Magic Box. “Don’t suppose you’re gonna make my day and tell me you accidentally staked him?”
Buffy frowned. The lack of Spike’s attention on her patrols hadn’t gone unnoticed. She’d been almost certain she’d sensed him, had that strangely distinct form of vampire-tingle only he seemed to evoke, but despite that there had been no sign of his putting in an actual appearance. “Now you mention it, he’s not been annoying me lately. Not that I’m complaining.” Not complaining exactly, but it was kind of… well, strange without him.
“Maybe he’s moved on out. Gone to do the evil undead thing somewhere less with the slayerage.” Willow bent down to pick up her computer and settled at the table.
“You think?” Buffy raised an eyebrow. “Somehow, given it’s Spike, I can’t believe it’s that easy.”
“Well, we should probably be grateful he’s not honouring us with his presence, given the… ahh… replica of him in the other room.” Giles fended off Buffy’s attempts to steal a chocolate bar he’d hidden under the till. “I dread to think what his reaction would be if…”
“And that’s only just occurred to you? Gee, and here’s me thinking you were the brains of the operation.” Buffy shook her head then raised an eyebrow and nodded towards the door. “Oops. I hope you got your story straight...”
“Wha…?” Giles turned to look then frowned. “There’s no-one…” He turned back in time to see Buffy unwrapping his chocolate bar. “Oh. That was a sneaky, low down trick…”
“Hey! All’s fair in love and chocolate!” Buffy grinned. “Now, go help Willow with the Englishisms.”
About the same time as she ran out of chocolate, Buffy also ran out of interest in Giles’ crash course in Cockney. Leaving the others to discuss the finer points of the bizarre rhyming thing, she wandered back into the training room.
The ‘bot stood quietly in the corner of the room, eyes closed. Buffy walked up to it slowly. It really was remarkably lifelike… she frowned… deathlike… whatever. Spikelike at least. Except she’d never actually seen Spike connected to the mains by a bundle of wires – not that it wasn’t a bad idea, on reflection. Maybe they could just get Warren to make it a new head… She reached up to touch its face hesitantly. The synthetic skin yielded convincingly along the sharp, sculpted line of a cheekbone. Her finger travelled down to trace the line of the lips - cool and firm, softer than the cheek – then up again to brush the arch of an eyebrow, the smoothness of a scar that now she looked at it wasn’t quite right, not really, it should be a little more… She dropped her hand quickly. Not that she’d ever noticed. She shivered. Actually, this was wigging her out. The likeness really was unnerving, pretty much perfect in every detail… She bit her lip and looked around cautiously. Every detail? Her hand moved cautiously to the button of the familiar black jeans. I wonder…?
“Not anatomically correct.” Buffy jumped guiltily at the sound of Willow’s voice and dropped her hand quickly. “Bit like GI Joe.”
“What? I wasn’t…! I mean, no way! As if…!” Buffy ground to an embarrassed halt in the face of her friend’s huge grin. “How do you know, anyway?” she added suspiciously.
Willow headed across the room, laptop in hand. “I checked.”
“Not like that!” She put the laptop down on a table near the ‘bot and frowned down at the screen in concentration. “Giles told me. It was one of the things he did specify. This thing has fuzzy logic, emotion recognition, adaptive programming, the works…it’s more alive than a lot of people I know. So given it can learn and all, and given April, and what Warren… well, you know… made her for…” she rolled her eyes, “Giles didn’t want it…” she put on her best Giles voice “… developing… ah… inappropriate reactions in close physical situations.” She gave Buffy a stern look. “I didn’t peek.” She bent back to the keyboard and the grin was back. “Well, no point after he told me that! Here,” she held out the end of a cable to an open-mouthed Buffy, “plug this in.”
Buffy took the connector and turned back to the ‘bot. “I’m kind of afraid to ask where…” she said, shaking her head bemusedly.