“So, complaint one, this place is in like the eighteenth century or something. LIke nothing here at all is computerized. That’s going to mean a lot more Parker and Sophie and a lot less me.” Hardison frowned at his computer screen.
“And Tara.” Sophie opened the door to their rental house to reveal her sometimes-partner. “She’s consulting on this one.”
Nate raised his eyebrows. “Hello, Tara. Sophie…”
“No, I didn’t invite her, Nate. I know how you get about these things.” Sophie held up both of her hands.
“I invited myself. Sophie and I were chatting about your little mission here, and, well, it’s Sunnydale. You need a guide.”
“A guide?” Hardison frowned. “A big town, this is not.”
“I’m not talking about the streets.” She dropped her bag and checked her make-up in the mirror. “I’m talking about the nightlife.”
“We’ve handled the mob before, Tara.” Nate frowned at her. “This one doesn’t have a revenue stream. We can’t pay you.”
“Trust me, I’ll make money. If I can’t make money in Sunnydale, then I can’t make money anywhere — and I can make money everywhere.” She made a kiss-face at the mirror and then, only then, turned to look at the three teammates. “Nate, Sophie, Hardison, good to see you. Eliot and Parker running recon?”
Hardison coughed. “Something like that…”
“The mall,” Eliot complained. “The freaking mall.”
“Teenagers?” Parker shrugged. “That’s what Nate said. Teenagers like malls, right?”
He side-eyed her. “You’re something else, you know that, right? Yes, teenagers like malls. So where are all the teenagers?”
“Curfew?” Parker guessed. “Do teenagers have that?”
“Why are you asking me?” Eliot nearly snarled it out. He was looking back and forth, scanning for danger, while they were faced with nothing more exciting than a nearly-empty mall.
Parker shrugged. “Seemed like you’d know.”
Eliot glanced at her, then dropped his voice and moved in closer. “Look, I was never what you’d called exactly a normal teenager, either. None of us were, except maybe Nate. Okay?”
“Teenagers are hard,” Parker muttered. “They talk a different language, and the language changes all the time. It’s like being in Paris and suddenly finding out they speak German. That wasn’t any fun either.”
“What… never mind. Look, we’re pretending to be — we’re going in as adults, all right? And the one thing teenagers know about adults is that they’re clueless. Use that.”
“Clueless.” She widened her eyes. “Like normal people!”
“Exactly. So… look. You know that feeling you get when you look at normal people? Like they’re all a bit ridiculous? Just use that. Everyone’s a bit ridiculous.”
“Have you noticed,” Parker shifted gears without warning, “how for a mall, there’s no mirrors here? When Sophie goes shopping… there’s mirrors everywhere. This place… I’ve counted something like three.”
“And there’s this guy sneaking up on us, too,” Eliot muttered. “Go check out the mall,” he sneered. “See what the teenagers in this town do. Thanks, Nate.” He ducked down, barely missing a swinging grab, and swept the attacker’s feet out from under him. “Amateurs.”
The man on the ground shifted; Eliot grabbed his hair. “P… Alisha.” At the last moment he remembered they were here under alias. “Cameras?”
“None.” She looked again. “There’s two camera balls there, but there’s no camera in them. And they didn’t even bother with the cheapest hidden cameras or anything.”
“A kill zone,” Elliot muttered. “It’s a freaking kill zone. I’m gonna murder Hardison.”
“I heard that, man.” Hardison’s voice popped up in both their ears. “All right, so what you’re in is also a dead zone. Half of that place, I can’t even find you. Oh, and the good news? Security ain’t coming.”
Eight: The Debrief
“I don’t know why driving you to the mall is part of my job. I mean, I don’t know why I have a job here at all. I mean, I’m not part of your little scooby gang. It’s not my thing. But here I am, it’s nearly dark, and we’re going to the mall…”
“Because we’re going to buy you a new pair of shoes,” Buffy interrupted, “just as soon as you tell us what you found out from Franklin. Remember, pointy bribery?”
“Yeah, well, just make sure that’s the only pointy thing you aim my way, creep girl.” Cordelia glared at the steering wheel.
“The intel, Cordy?” Xander prompted from the back seat.
“‘The intel’,” she mocked. What are you, army boy?”
“Shoes, Cordy.” Buffy flapped a hand in Cordelia’s direction. “What’s the scoop?”
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