Chapter 5: Modern Secrets
There were a lot of questions Buffy wanted to ask, like "who's this Tarith'na?" and "what's Chulak?" and "false gods?" and "you know about the ghouls?" and "what are you talking about, Tau'ri?" and "are you telling me I died twice and didn't even know it?"
All that came out, though, was an inarticulate "hunh?"
Basically, Teal'c's speech was meaningless to her. Judging from the incredulous sputtering reactions of his companions, though, he'd just given out one hell of a lot of information.
At times like this, there was pretty much only one thing Buffy could do.
"Giles?" she pleaded.
Giles frowned and rubbed his forehead. "It's nothing I've heard before, but perhaps there may be some references in the-"
"Okay, everyone ... stop - right there," O'Neill commanded. He glared at his companions - subordinates? - and beckoned with his head to the kitchen.
Jackson and Carter stepped forward; Teal'c held his ground.
O'Neill cleared his throat.
"O'Neill, do you doubt that we face a Goa'uld?" Teal'c asked, hefting the ornate staff he carried.
"Uh, no," O'Neill countered pointedly. "Which is why it's our problem, not theirs."
"You are only partially correct, O'Neill," Teal'c pronounced. "There is also no doubt that the creature that attacked us was among the Goa'uld's forces. Yet I believe none of us have ever seen such a creature before."
Jackson raised an eyebrow. "I don't know if I'd say that," he ventured carefully.
"No, Daniel Jackson. I know to what you refer, and the creature we faced tonight was nothing I have ever seen." He paused, inclined his head to Buffy, then Giles. "And yet our hosts not only knew it by sight, but knew how to dispatch it."
O'Neill shook his head. "I was there, too, Teal'c. And as I recall, Carter was the one who blew it away."
"No, sir, Teal'c's right," Carter said. "I got lucky - but they knew where the vulnerable spot was on that thing." She closed her eyes a moment, then opened them again. "And I know what it looked like, but it wasn't that, sir."
"Major," O'Neill snapped, warningly.
"Sorry, sir," Carter answered. "I know, security. But they've already encountered our target, Colonel; they were at risk before we were even called. If nothing else, they deserve to know enough to protect themselves."
"How tough is locking the front door?" O'Neill shot back. He turned to face Buffy and the gang. "Look, I know this has got to be tough for you, but believe me, the best thing you can do right now is stay out of the way."
Buffy turned to look at the front door, with plywood over the broken windows and hardwood patches where Xander had quickly repaired the ruptured hinges. She glanced at O'Neill and indicated the door. "That door was locked when your friend Kheper blasted his way through it. He came for us, and he nearly killed Willow - and that was before any of us knew he was even in the neighborhood."
"Willow?" O'Neill asked.
Carter frowned at Riley. "Agent Finn, wasn't Willow the name of your friend who was killed?"
"Yeah. I ... ah ..."
Willow smiled sheepishly. "I got better, I guess." She shrugged. "Woke up in a golden box, kinda like a sarcophagus out of one of the old pharaohs' tombs. Except that written in with all the hieroglyphs there was some other form of writing I've never seen before. It wasn't Egyptian, or Mayan, or Etruscan, certainly not ancient Greek or Sumerian..."
Jackson raised an eyebrow. "You can, ah, read all those?"
"Well, I'm not a hundred percent fluent in all of them, but I can tell them apart," Willow said.
Buffy smiled. "Will's kind of our resident intellectual. Her and Giles."
"And you are the warrior," Teal'c said. There was no questioning, no disbelief in that deep, rich voice.
"Believe me, it wasn't my idea," Buffy answered defensively.
Teal'c nodded solemnly. "The Tarith'na does not seek out battle," he said. "She is called to it, strengthened for it. In the past, when she came to my people, she was alone, one against armies, and she fell." He looked at the dining room, at the varied faces. "But today, you have allies. If you fight the Goa'uld Kheper, then your fight is ours as well."
O'Neill cleared his throat and nailed Teal'c with a look. "A word."
Teal'c inclined his head respectfully to O'Neill, then turned back to Buffy. "A moment."
Carter and Jackson followed them into the kitchen with trepidation. Buffy looked helplessly at the rest: her mother, her Watcher, her boyfriend, her two best friends and their lovers, and a vampire who'd tried to kill her at least half a dozen times but still got invited over for tea by her mother.
"Aahhhh ... check please?" Xander quipped.
"You know what? Bugger this," Spike snapped. "I'm off. If you lot need me ... then I hope you fry." He turned to Joyce and his expression softened. "Thank you for the cocoa."
"You're welcome," Joyce answered. "You sure you wouldn't rather stay? I mean, this guy sounds dangerous."
"No offense, Joyce," Spike said. "But if my welfare depends on the Scoobies here and the bleedin' Colorado Cuckoos out in the kitchen, I'd have better odds at high noon on Laguna Beach." He spun on a heel and walked out the door.
"Colorado Cuckoos?" Tara asked.
"Air Force nickname," Riley answered. "Their academy's in Colorado Springs, so..."
Giles frowned a second, then began scribbling on a notepad absently. "Willow, did you happen to bring your computer with you?"
"Okay, I won't ask if you've lost your mind, Teal'c. But we are treading real damn close to blowing open, oh, the biggest secret in Earth's history here, so don't you think we should be a little careful?"
Teal'c nodded. "I apologize for my excessive zeal earlier, O'Neill. However, as you heard, they already know much of the Goa'uld from your legends, and they have already encountered a Goa'uld, his weaponry, and his technology. They have been inside his stronghold, and will likely be able to direct us there."
"Uh, Jack?" Daniel asked. "I agree that we can't just tell them our whole life story, but if they've been targeted, then the nature of the Goa'uld at least has got to be need-to-know information for them. I mean, granted, we don't have to tell them anything about the Asgard, the Nox, the Tollans, or the Tok'ra, but the general gist of the Goa'uld, a run-down on the System Lords, and I think we'd be safe mentioning Settesh."
Carter brightened a bit. "Okay, maybe we take that tack. That what they've heard is right as far as it goes, that the ancient Egyptian gods were in fact otherworldly creatures that were driven off in a rebellion, but some of them slipped through the cracks. Seth was one, Kheper's obviously another. We can tell them that much without compromising anything - but I agree that we can't tell them that we've got a Stargate up and running."
"So how do we explain Teal'c and this Tariff thing?"
"I propose that we tell them of the slave colonies the Goa'uld established, without specifying that they are on other planets," Teal'c said. "If I say that I was born on a slave colony as a servant of Apophis, only to rebel and find my way here, that is the truth. All else is unneccesary. Perhaps we should inform them that their speculations could cause concerns if they were to fall into the hands of the enemy."
"So ... give 'em a stripped-down version of the truth?" Carter asked.
"Okay," O'Neill said. "Ground rules: we tell 'em about Seth and his merry little cult; that should at least clue these people in that we know what we're doing. Anything else, rule of thumb is: if a snake-head who's been out of the loop for five thousand years wouldn't know it, then we don't say a word about it."
He turned back to the living room, then stopped. "No, better yet. Let's get them talking about just what the hell happened to them. We'll fill in the blanks here and there, then tell 'em about Seth and how we had to stop him, and them maybe they'll stand aside and let us do our damn jobs."
"That's the plan?" Daniel asked, with more than a hint of doubt in his voice.
"That's the plan."
"...and then Spike tried to bite me."
O'Neill frowned. "Bite you?" he asked Willow dubiously.
"Yeah, but he didn't hurt me. His chip went off."
The Air Force contingent traded puzzled looks at that.
Giles spoke up into the silence. "Spike had an ... incident late last year. He was apparently taken prisoner in a secret laboratory and implanted with a behavior modification device of some sort. If he attempts to harm a human in any way, it causes him ... severe pain."
Carter's hand flew to her mouth. "Who ... what ... who would do something like that to a human being?"
"Spike's not human," Xander broke in. "He's a vampire. Tried to kill us all more than once, but since he got the chip in, he's been pretty much harmless."
"But ... brain surgery for behavior modification? Against his will? Who would do that?" Carter persisted.
"Same folks that sign your paychecks, ma'am," Xander answered with a little bite in his voice.
Carter swallowed, looking pale. Riley broke in. "It was my old assignment. The Initiative. We were funded through Washington, from the NID Office in the Pentagon, I think. Professor Maggie Walsh was initially in charge, but after her, we came under direct military control. First Colonel Haviland, then Colonel MacNamara."
Shock gave way to dismay. The disgust remained on four faces. "Please tell me you didn't just say you worked for the NID," O'Neill groaned.
"The Initiative was an autonomous unit," Riley answered. "NID just shelled out for equipment and civilian salaries."
Jack O'Neill rubbed his face in his hands. "I just know I'm going to regret asking this. What were they buying with that money?"
"Research into demons. Ways to control them, harness them," Riley said. "We were making some progress, too, but nothing really substantial."
"So what stopped you?" Carter asked.
"One of the projects got out of control." Riley took a breath. "Adam. Hybrid of human, demon, and technology. Went rogue, launched an attack to take over the whole Initiative, create an army of soldiers like him. We stopped it, but ... it wasn't cheap."
"So what you're saying is, for the good of the nation and the continued supremacy of the human race, the Pentagon in its infinite wisdom paid a group of mad scientists to create a cyberdemon. Which, like any good self-respecting video game monster, broke out of control and decided to try and take over the world." O'Neill rolled his eyes. "This should be surprising me. This should be leaving me at a total loss for words. Why am I not surprised?"
"You've grown cynical in your old age, Jack," Jackson quipped.
"Nice," Jack snapped back.
Xander put down a glass. "Anyway. Hopefully now you understand: it's nothing personal when we say we don't trust you guys as far as we could throw you."
"Okay, that was the NID. We are not the NID."
"Then who the hell are you?" Buffy asked.
"We ... can't tell you."
Buffy stood abruptly. "Giles. The Initiative knows about me, which means the government knows." She turned to face O'Neill and company. "I'm the Slayer. Vampires, demons, monsters ... I'm the one who has to face them down. Giles is my Watcher; his job is to provide me with what I need to know to fight them, so whatever I need to know, he needs to know. Xander and Willow ... they're my friends, they've been in this fight for almost four years now, and I wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for them, so whatever's out there tonight, they're in." She took a deep breath. "Don't ask me why, maybe I just drew the short straw in a previous life, but I'm the Chosen One. I didn't ask for it, didn't go looking for it, tried more than once to walk away from it, but this is what I do." Now she was the one to fix O'Neill with a glare. "So with all due respect ... what do you guys have to do with it?"
O'Neill cocked his head to Jackson.
"Basically, what your friend said about the Egyptian gods ... it's true. They were in fact parasitic creatures using humans as hosts; they were driven away about five thousand years ago, through the gateway they used, the ... Doorway to Heaven. The thing is ... not all of the creatures left."
"You mean evil brain-sucking Egyptian demons still walk among us?"
"We found one of them a little over a year ago. Seth. Settesh," Carter said, fidgeting a little. "He'd managed to set up a cult in Washington state, and we were called in to ... neutralize him."
"Set," Willow whispered. "God of chaos. He was, like, evil personified according to the mythology..."
"Oh yeah," O'Neill confirmed.
"But to successfully impersonate a god," Giles broke in, then paused. "He must have possessed incredible power. How does one ... neutralize such a creature?"
"Killing him seemed to do the trick okay," O'Neill drawled. "Trick is getting in close enough to do the job, or catching him off guard, or hitting him with enough force that those damned shields can't absorb it."
"And getting past his guards," Buffy muttered.
"Quite," Giles said, nodding along with Buffy. "The demons he has chosen as his guards are powerful." He tore a sheet off his notepad and handed it to Willow. "Willow, perhaps you can go upstairs and look through Buffy's demon files? Supplement with a computer search if you need to. Perhaps Tara can also be helpful."
"I ... ah ... I'm not that good with computers," Tara stammered.
Willow smiled, tucking the sheet into a pocket and grabbing her tote bag. "Don't worry. I'll walk you through it." She took Tara's hand and almost dragged her upstairs.
Giles frowned. "Now. You encountered Settesh, you say; what sort of forces did he have at his disposal? And were you able to ascertain his plans?"
Carter took that one. "He'd set up outside Seattle and managed to collect a small group of followers. Basically, it was a cult with him as their god."
Giles pursed his lips. "I seem to recall reading something about that ... a cult of Settesh that would pop up now and again. It never seemed to amount to much; certainly, nothing as aggressive as we are seeing here in Sunnydale."
"Seth was a fugitive from the rest of the Egyptian pantheon, actually," Jackson responded. "He stayed behind when the others retreated from Earth, basically to save his neck. By the time he could have gathered enough power to become a player on the world scene, the world had already changed drastically enough that he never would have been able to hold on to it."
"What about Kheper?" Buffy asked. "Where'd he fit in?"
Jackson closed his eyes. "Well, Kheper was the Scarab of Ra, a symbol of the Sun God. The historical individual, though, is a little more difficult to pin down. I never really found too much."
"I believe I can complete the puzzle," Teal'c said. "I have heard of Kheper; he was made an example by the gods. He was the servant of Ra, but he grew ambitious; he hoarded technology, began to raise an army of his own, in an attempt to gain power and raise his stature among the gods."
"I'm gonna guess it didn't work?" Xander quipped. "Seeing as how nobody seems to have heard of him?"
"Indeed. Kheper was discovered and exiled by Ra, on pain of death if any of the Goa'uld ever received word that he had gathered any followers at all."
Buffy cringed. "Yeeg. Guess that was a fate worse than death for a creep with a God complex."
"Oh, yeah," O'Neill cracked. "Mix that in with an inferiority complex, and ... Teal'c, what's the matter?"
The big man had suddenly stood, grabbed his staff, and was moving to the door, quiet as a cat. He gave a piercing look to everyone, then slowly put a finger to his lips. He gently gripped the doorknob with his right hand, while his left touched something on the staff, causing its sharp end to split open with a crack of ozone.
"Okay," Xander whispered. "Does anyone here not have a bad feeling about this?"
O'Neill raised a hand. Off his look, Carter and Jackson did the same, with amused expressions.
"Oh, boy," Buffy sighed, quietly bringing Mister Pointy out from behind her back.
"So where does Buffy keep her demon files?"
"Please," Willow scoffed. "Keeping files is Giles' job. The Watcher's the brains, the Slayer's the brawn, or that's how it was in the old days before Buffy kinda tossed out the rule book." She handed Tara the piece of paper Giles had slipped her. "What we're looking for are those guys."
Tara opened the paper and nearly dropped it. Written in a clear neat hand, she saw:
COLONEL JACK O'NEILL (O'NEIL? O'NIEL?)
Underneath the third name were five scratched-out attempts to spell the name of the fourth visitor, concluding with the words "maybe later".
"He just didn't want them to know we're hacking into the Pentagon to find out about them," Willow continued as she plugged in her laptop and powered it up. "They might have gotten cranky."
"Didn't they try and shoot you the last time you broke in?"
Willow smiled as she began typing rapidly. "We're not breaking into their base, just their files. Besides, these guys seem nicer than most of the Initiative. The guy with the glasses reminds me a bit of Giles, and the lady..." she tailed off, then gave a short wolf-whistle.
Tara hit Willow playfully on the head with a sheaf of paper, then froze when she looked at the title page. "What were those names again?"
"Colonel Jack O'Neill, Major Samantha Carter, Dr. Daniel Jackson, and Giles doesn't know how to spell the big guy's name any more than I do."
"Daniel Jackson. Here!" Tara shouted, thrusting the paper into Willow's hands. "'Parallel Development of Isolated Cultures on the Egyptian Model,' by Daniel Jackson, Ph.D."
"Where did you get it?"
"When you were ... when they took you away, I was printing out everything I could find on the Egyptian gods, and I think I may have gotten three or four by him." Tara shuffled through the papers in her handbag. "This one's weird. It's like something out of the Weekly World News, except with the sensational language taken out and a lot of footnotes put in. Look here," she said, indicating a page. "He actually published a paper speculating on whether the Egyptian gods might have been from outer space."
Willow's eyes widened. "Buffy said that they thought the idea of demons was as crazy as saying the pyramids at Giza..."
"...were landing sites for spaceships," Tara finished. "You don't think...?"
"Let's see what the Pentagon has to say," Willow mused. "Ladies first ... Carter, Samantha. And hey! We got another hit!"
"Oh, no. Has to be different. This is a Doctor Samantha Carter, looks like a paper on astrophysics ... oh, no, wait. Doctor Carter is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs ... hey, here's the link."
"What'cha find?" Tara asked, putting down Jackson's treatise.
"Served in the Gulf War, flew about sixty missions ... wow, she really saw some action ... and to get a doctorate on top of all that, while serving active duty, that's amazing..."
"If you were the government and you were hunting an ancient Egyptian god, why would you send an astrophysicist?"
Willow frowned. "Uh ... theirs not to reason why?"
Tara kissed Willow on the top of the head. "There's a reason. We'll figure it out."
Willow sighed contentedly, only to jump when the computer let out an angry squawk. "Beep," it said in an odd synthesized voice. "Connection terminated at the source."
Tara almost jumped herself. "Is it ... supposed to talk like that?"
"Oh, just a speech synthesizer thingy. I thought it was cool." Willow frowned at the last lines of the readout. "Current assignment classified, top-secret, SGC, no remote access." She stretched her hands, shaking her fingers, then attacked the keyboard again. "Let's try again. AF-dot-mil ... okay ... personnel ... O'Neill, J. Gonna get a lot of them ... here we are! O'Neill, Jonathan, colonel, current assignment classified, top-secret, SGC, no remote access."
"Beep," the computer said again. "Connection terminated at the source."
"My, we're getting testy tonight," Willow shot back.
Tara snapped her fingers. "Hey, maybe there'd be something in the Initiative files?"
"They're not the Initiative ... but maybe they kept backups of other black projects?" Willow smiled. "See? You're good at this. Maybe Riley knows what they did with their-"
They both jumped as they heard a thump from downstairs, followed by an indistinct shout, a buzzing electrical shriek, and another thump. Willow quickly ran to Buffy's chest by her bed, lifted the false bottom, and came up with an axe and a mace. "Here," she called to Tara, tossing her the mace.
"What do I do with it?"
"If you see something that looks evil, hit it in the head," Willow called, rushing out the door and clattering down the stairs with her axe ina battle-ready position.
The first thing she noticed was a sharp smell of ionized air; the second was a creature twitching and moaning on the floor, flat on its back, with one of those staffs near its hand. Teal'c was in a relaxed fighting stance; Jackson had one of the bug-zappers pointed at the creature; and Buffy had a stake out.
"This creature was spying at the door," Teal'c announced.
The thing moaned again; it wasn't that large, but with its blue skin, red eyes, and spikes all over its face, it looked pretty menacing.
It finally spoke. "Aw, jeez ... didja haveta hit me that hard?"
Buffy strode up. "You spy at our door carrying one of these," she snapped, grabbing the staff, "and now you're complaining about getting banged in the head?"
O'Neill frowned. "You can talk?"
"Duh," the creature snapped back. "I can sing 'New York, New York' better than Sinatra ever did, too. Look, the whole warrior-demon thing isn't my shtick, guys. Maybe we can cut a deal or something?"
"A deal?" Jackson sputtered. "You ... you want to deal?"
The demon sighed. "Look, I didn't want to join up in King Tut's little crusade any more than the rest of 'em. The guy didn't leave us a helluva lotta choice, y'know? Gassed us, knocked us out, and before any of us knew it, we were all gung-ho, worshipping the schmuck as our freakin' god, if ya can believe it, and we were all set and rarin' to go take the Hellmouth." He shuddered. "Whatever ya did back there, I appreciate it. I been roped in for seven months and change, and I'm glad I ran into youse guys now instead of at showtime. Whenever the hell that is."
Teal'c nodded. "Nish'ta."
"Of course!" Carter exclaimed.
"The same way Settesh did it," Daniel said, nodding.
"Ahh," O'Neill said, in an understanding tone that didn't fool anybody.
Giles took off his glasses absently. "Is that helpful? This nish'ta ... is it a process, a technique, something we can ... ah..."
"I think what Giles is trying to say is: hunh?" Buffy said.
"It is a biological substance much like a virus," Teal'c explained. "It renders its victims ... suggestible. If Kheper controls a supply of the substance, then he has the means to control anyone he can take within his stronghold."
"So how come our friend isn't still singing the praises of his god?" Riley asked.
"The electrical shock of the zat'nikatel destroys the nish'ta," Teal'c answered. He turned to the creature. "You are now immune to its effects."
"Anything else it does? 'Cos I don't wanna get back to the Bronx and find out that this thing's gonna turn me into a puddle of goop."
"It will not."
Willow brightened. "So that's how Spike turned back. The chip must've killed the virus."
"It appears so," Giles mused. "Ah ... do you have a name?"
"Sean O'Leary," the creature said.
"Sean O'Leary?" O'Neill echoed incredulously.
"Yeah - ya gotta problem with that?" The demon sighed. "Look, a lot of the Bracken demon colonies came out of Ireland. My clan settled in the Bronx near Fordham Road back after the potato famine. I was only out here on the Left Coast 'cos a cousin of mine died in L.A. back around Thanksgiving, and I wanted to be there for the wake. I didn't sign on to be a crusader for some yahoo with delusions of godhood."
Giles sat up a moment. "You said that he was gathering his forces to take the Hellmouth? Were you speaking ... metaphorically?" Something in his tone was pleading.
"Dear Lord," Giles responded quietly
"Oh, no," Willow moaned.
Xander groaned. "Oh, great."
"Not again," Buffy sighed.
"Hellmouth?" O'Neill asked incredulously.
"It's a legend," Jackson said. "Supposedly there were some points where the Earth connected with ... well, Hell. If such portals were opened ... well, it would be bad. But it's just a legend." He looked at his hosts. "It is just a legend, right?"