Chapter 7: Plan "A"
"Come on, Buffy. The only reason you don't like the plan is because you're not a part of it."
"There's too many things that can go wrong, Xander. Giles, tell them."
"Actually, Buffy ... if I understand it properly, this plan may have a better chance of success than anything I could come up with."
Buffy spun a stake on the coffee table. "Blasting the entrances to Kheper's stronghold closed and then setting off a ... what was it again?"
"FAE," Riley answered.
Willow pursed her lips. "I think the proper term these days is 'alternative lifestyle', isn't it?"
"Not for the bomb, it isn't," Riley shot back with a smile. "F.A.E. Fuel-air explosive. It's perfect, assuming they can get one. And assuming that they can man-handle it through the sewers into the compound."
"Seems kinda chancy to me," Buffy said. "I mean, what if the bomb doesn't go off? Or what if it doesn't affect them?"
"Oh, it'll affect them," Riley said. "The thing releases flammable gas and then ignites it. If the fireball doesn't fry any vampires or demons that are in there, the shockwave'll finish them off. Four to one it'll collapse the ceilings on the whole complex."
"And collapse any buildings on top of it," Buffy mused darkly.
"Naw," Xander said. "Look at the map. It'll just make a nice big crater in Richard Wilkins Memorial Park. Which, when you think of it, is kind of fitting."
"What, that we're blowing up the park they named for the Mayor? Or that we're killing a snake the same way we killed the Mayor when he turned into a snake?"
"Excuse me," came a voice from the front door. "Did someone say something about a mayor turning into a snake?"
Buffy turned around and saw the owner of the voice: Jack O'Neill, dressed in civilian clothes with a baseball cap and a battered leather jacket (who would wear a leather jacket in California in August? Obviously someone who didn't belong), with Sam Carter behind him, in a black t-shirt and jeans. O'Neill had a bag of groceries in his hands.
"Figured we could at least make up for all your food that we ate," O'Neill commented. "So you were saying that the mayor of this fine town turned into a snake? I mean an actual snake?"
Willow shook her head. "Demon snake. And he tried to eat our high-school graduating class."
O'Neill put down the grocery bag. "Hmf. Must've been a Democrat."
"Was he?" Buffy mused.
Willow shrugged. "Well ... he was just ... you know, the Mayor. Always had been. He'd been around forever."
"Literally," Xander clarified.
Carter set down a bag. "So how was he stopped?" she asked. "He obviously didn't succeed; I think something like that would have made the news."
"A lot of things happen here," Xander answered. "People just ... don't notice. Make excuses. Find some way to explain away the weird. And yeah, we stopped Mayor McSnake, but it wasn't easy." He shook his head, and a dark look came over his face. "Wasn't cheap either."
Teal'c entered the house with a nod. "Perhaps a similar strategy would work." He glanced at O'Neill and Carter. "In the event we are unable to implement the current strategy."
Willow shook her head. "Not unless you've got a hundred graduating seniors with flaming bows and arrows, spear guns, axes, stakes, that sort of thing. And we needed explosives there too."
"Some good people didn't make it out," Xander sighed. "Some not-so-good people too, but some good people."
Buffy looked over. "You're thinking about Larry?"
"He was getting out, Buffy. You know he had a football scholarship to USC?"
Xander shook his head. "I mean, yeah, he made my life miserable for years when we were all growing up, but when you learn what sort of secrets he's holding back, how hard it is for him to live day to day, then..." He drew a hand over his face. "He was almost out and away from here. Larry deserved better than to be crushed by a power-hungry political snake, you know what I mean?"
O'Neill pursed his lips. "That's politics for you," he said darkly, without even a hint of humor. "Okay, they don't usually crush you literally, but ... it's all the same, I guess."
Teal'c nodded. "I have never seen it otherwise, O'Neill." He placed a long duffel on the ground and extracted a staff weapon, looking it over with a critical eye. "Have we been successful in acquiring the necessary explosives?"
"Hammond hasn't called us back," O'Neill answered. "We'll know when he knows. The good news is, the rest of the equipment is coming in to the airport on a transport: C4, remote carts, and a couple of flamethrowers, I think. Should be there in a couple of hours."
Xander cleared his throat. "Why not just go to the army base and, oh, borrow some explosives?"
"They haven't got anything there that's up to the job," O'Neill said. "We've got the charges for sealing the exits, we've got the cart systems to get the bombs into position, but we're still trying to find the FAE's."
"How can you not know where the bombs are?" Xander asked. "I mean, you're the Air Force. Bombs are your business."
"Yes, they are," O'Neill shot back. "But the type we're looking for, they're not making right now, and they're actually decommissioning them. So finding a bomb dump that's actually got a FAE we can use isn't gonna be exactly like getting a quart of milk."
"What about using some of those, ah, bunker-busting thingies that you used in the Gulf War?" Willow asked. "I mean, the complex he has is just a big honkin' bunker, right?"
Carter shook her head. "We don't know how deep it is, and we can't locate it precisely enough. And we couldn't guarantee a kill in any case, even if we could get authorization to drop it."
"So maybe roll it in? Like you were planning to do with the fuel-air thing?"
"Wouldn't work," Carter said. "The problem is, we might collapse part of the complex and leave the rest. We couldn't guarantee a total kill, and we'd never get a second chance to take him out."
Teal'c sat down cross-legged. "Perhaps if the situation is as dire as Daniel Jackson and Rupert Giles have said, we should consider using an atomic weapon."
Buffy dropped her glass onto the ground with a crash. Willow and Xander looked at him, jaws gaping. Giles and Riley stopped cold and stared as well. Even the Air Force people were staring at him oddly.
"Absolutely not," O'Neill finally responded.
Buffy sputtered, "You ... you'd actually consider that?"
"As a final alternative only," Teal'c answered. "If nothing else will stop the Goa'uld Kheper, though, we must consider it."
Carter looked him dead in the eye. "Teal'c, there's ten thousand people in this town!"
"And there are six billion people on the planet Earth," was the response. "If this ... Hellmouth can destroy them all, then is it not our responsibility to prevent that, whatever the cost?"
"Teal'c, we are not going to put innocents at risk just to take this guy down. For crying out loud, you know better than that!"
"I know this," Teal'c said. "I very much fear, though, that Kheper knows it as well, and will use it as a weapon against us."
O'Neill sighed. "Daniel, can ya talk some sense into ... okay, where's Daniel?"
"Dr. Jackson fell asleep in my flat," Giles said. "He appeared exhausted; I felt it best to let him sleep now, with Kheper's forces immobilized by the sun."
"Yeah, good call," O'Neill sighed. "You look like you could use a few hours as well."
Giles lifted a coffee cup. "I certainly could. I suppose it'll have to wait."
Buffy tapped the stake on the coffee table. "Okay, say we can't find the bomb. What about just pouring in gasoline or something, setting it all on fire, and then blowing the exits?"
"Maybe if we could find a liquid-natural-gas tank truck," Riley offered.
"No way to pipe that much LNG down there, and even so, it's way too volatile," Carter said.
O'Neill stood. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves. They can't have wiped out all the bombs this fast, and even if they have, like the man said, bombs are our business." He looked at his watch. "Today's Friday. Whatever King Snake is planning, it can't go down before Sunday night, right?" he asked, looking at Giles.
"Two hours after sunset," Giles confirmed.
"How big a window has he got?"
Giles blinked. "Window? There aren't any windows at the Hellmouth ... not anymore, at least."
O'Neill opened his mouth and then shut it. Carter broke in: "Time window. How long will he have to open the gate?"
Giles pinched his nose. "Of course. Window. Silly me." He took a breath. "Generally, such rituals must be completed before sunrise; the night's energy is dissipated then." He tapped a text. "The only reason we have those two hours after sunset before the ritual can begin is because the magical energy required must ... accumulate. Build up. Once the threshold is reached, he will have essentially the rest of the night."
Buffy nodded. "Okay, so we can't count on delaying him until the window passes. Which means we've got to either deny him access to the Hellmouth - and there's not enough of us to do that, unless you've got an army company you can pull out of a hat?" she asked O'Neill. At his negative shake of the head, she grimaced. "Okay, so there's today, tomorrow, and until sunset Sunday to take him out. We are not leaving this to the last minute again."
"No," O'Neill said. "We are not leaving this to the last minute. I appreciate everything you kids have done to help, but there's a Goa'uld in them thar hills, and I don't see magic tricks and kung fu making a difference." He held up a hand against Buffy's protest. "Ah - ah - I know, you've got a lot of skills, and the snake-head's goons aren't like anything we've gone up against before. But ... let's face it. The last time you went face-to-face with him, he didn't leave anyone standing, did he?"
Buffy opened her mouth - and this time, she was the one with nothing to say.
"The last few times we-" O'Neill cocked his head to indicate Carter and Teal'c - "went up against a Goa'uld mano-a-mano, we lived and the snake didn't."
"Which ones?" Buffy asked acidly.
"Lessee. Ra, Hathor, Seth, ya think we can count Sokar?"
Carter nodded. "I'd say so. We blew up his pla - ah, his base, after all."
His WHAT? Buffy wondered. Carter had almost ... almost said it. Plant, planet, what?
It was frustrating. She'd come clean, dammit, she'd told them her big secret, and they were still holding back. Riley hadn't held back once she'd found him out, had she?
Yeah, but Riley got clearance from his boss before letting you in, didn't he?
These guys aren't like the Initiative, remember?
The conversation went on around her, but Buffy was slowly sliding down into her own thoughts.
They're trying to shut us out. Whatever they've got planned, they're having a fit about us being involved.
It's because he thinks you're nothing but a bunch of meddling kids, an annoying voice broke in from the back of her head.
Well, duh. Why do you think we call ourselves the Scooby Gang, anyway?
Be nice, the voice countered. The Colonel's kid got killed when he was ten, remember?
Hey, I'm old enough to enlist. Xander was ready to join the Army back in the spring, remember? Way different.
And don't be too hard on them because they're not spilling secrets, the voice continued. There's a law against them doing that, remember? All you've got to worry about is a bunch of tweedy stuffed shirts in England.
But the Initiative already knew. The government already knows, remember?
Buffy tapped the stake harder and harder against the table as the argument spun in her mind, until she hit it one time too many and its point splintered.
"Buff, you okay?" Xander queried.
"Yeah. Just thinking. Just..." Buffy shook her head to clear out the cobwebs. "Tea - er, Tee - er - Tank. You said that these snake things live in human beings?"
"The Goa'uld prefers a human host," Teal'c responded. "Humans are more easily healed and controlled."
"Giles, opening the Hellmouth leads to the entire human race being wiped out, right?"
Giles nodded grimly. "Once the demon armies are let loose, yes. There will be an attendant cataclysm, and nothing human will survive."
Xander's eyes widened. "I get it. How do we know that wiping out the human race won't take out Walk Like an Egyptian, Talk Like an Egyptian with the rest of us?"
"Maybe he's just rolling the dice," O'Neill mused.
"Or he has a contingency plan," Teal'c added.
"And even if he lives through it, he's still gonna be lord and master of a global disaster area, right?" Xander asked. "Won't that cut into his ability to be, well, you know, a god?"
"I dunno," O'Neill said, shrugging. "Knock on wood, by the time his window opens, he'll be too busy being dead to care."
A moment later, his cell phone rang; he fumbled with it a moment, then snapped it open. "O'Neill.
"Yes, sir. We'll be ready. ... There's no way to get them here sonner? ... Understood, sir. We'll plan to move in at first light. ... No, sir, we shouldn't have any problem from the locals. I'm guessing the local police couldn't find Godzilla if he were sitting in the town square eating a hot dog. Cart. Hot dog cart.
"Oh, those locals. No, I think we can keep them out of the danger zone. We got a cover story ready for the earth-shattering ka-boom? ... Gas main? Ya think?" He covered the microphone end of the phone. "You think they'll buy a cover story about a blown gas main?"
"Oh yeah," Xander said. "Heck, that's almost plausible. Lots better than the usual explain-away's."
O'Neill nodded. "Gas main should do it, sir. We'll report in when we're ready to move."
He snapped the phone shut. "Okay, they found a couple at McGuire in New Jersey. They're going to check them out, make sure at least one is viable, fit the detonators and fly it all out here. Should arrive at Sunnydale airport at four-forty A.M."
"Gives us the night to get ready," Xander said.
"No, it gives us the night to get ready," O'Neill countered. "It gives you the chance to get a good night's sleep and wake up when the fireworks are all done."
Carter frowned at the map. "Are you sure you can trust the guy who gave you this map?"
"Not at all," Giles sighed. "He seemed sincere enough, of course, and the Bracken are not known for hostile ways, but there is no way of being certain."
"Never mind the whole 'demon' thing," Xander cracked. "Because 'demon' just screams 'trust me', you know, in that 'I'm from Brooklyn, let me sell you a bridge' way."
"I believe he said he was from the Bronx, not Brooklyn."
"He wasn't being literal, Teal'c. You know, selling the Brooklyn Bridge?" O'Neill snapped. "On second thought ... never mind."
"We can't get a satellite image of the cavern quickly enough," Carter mused. "And even that wouldn't reveal any real surprises."
Buffy cleared her throat. "Sounds like we need to ask somebody else who was in there. Someone who has a grudge against King Tut."
"Oh, no," Willow stammered. "I wasn't there long enough, and I'd probably lead you into a death-trap."
"Relax, Will. I had someone else in mind."
"I still think we should have brought Teal'c."
"Who would that have left to guard the house?" Carter asked.
"Okay," Jack grumbled. "We've got the bases covered; I just have a bad feeling about this."
Buffy led them up the alley to a converted warehouse with a simple sign above the door, announcing "BRONZE". "Here we are." She showed her ID to the bouncer at the door, got her hand stamped, and walked in. Carter and O'Neill looked the bouncer over; he stood his ground.
"Ya really think I'm too young to get in here?" Jack asked acidly, gesturing to his gray hair.
"I don't like the look of you," the bouncer said. "She's okay. You're not."
O'Neill pulled out his Air Force ID. "Official business, son. I'm not here to cause anybody any trouble."
"Please," Carter said sweetly, opening her jacket so the bouncer could see what she was wearing. Or more precisely, so he could see the bulge of the pistol at her hip. "We just have to see someone inside there, that's all."
O'Neill hooked his thumbs over his belt, showing the bouncer a glimpse of his own sidearm. "It's kinda urgent."
The bouncer gulped, then waved them in.
They caught up to Buffy in a moment, then followed her to the bar, right to where the small man in the trenchcoat was busying himself with a beer and a basket of chicken wings.
"Well, well, well. The Slayer, in the flesh. And Colonel Disaster himself. What happened, love, you finally decide to trade up from Captain Cardboard?"
"Cork it, Spike. We need information."
"And where is the mysterious Mister Finn, anyway? Does he know that you're out clubbing with a gentleman old enough to be your father?"
Buffy gritted her teeth so hard O'Neill could hear the grinding. "For your information, William, he's watching out for Giles until the big military operation that's going to wipe out Kheper. You remember Kheper? The lame Egyptian wannabe who turned you into his bitch?"
"Don't ... task me, Slayer. You want my help, the least you can do is ask nicely. And nothing says 'please' as nicely as cash."
O'Neill snorted. "A vampire? Looking for cash? For what? What are ya gonna buy, sunscreen?"
"For your information, soldier boy, ever since your colleagues chipped me, I've got to pay for my blood. It's either this or I take up pickpocketing."
Buffy slapped down some bills on the bar. "We wouldn't want you doing anything immoral, now would we?"
Spike grabbed the small pile. "You're not buying much with that."
"Just look over the map we have of Kheper's complex, Spike. Tell us if there's anything missing that we'd need to know about."
"Depends on what you're planning to do to it," Spike responded sarcastically. "I mean, I couldn't tell you the best place to hold a tea party or where the poof's most likely to be. How are you planning to take him?"
O'Neill ran with it. "Roll in a bomb on a remote-control cart, blow the entrances with C4, and set off the bomb."
"That simple. Bomb comes in tomorrow morning, by tomorrow night he's history."
"Well, if that's all you need the map for, then yeah, it's accurate enough. About like I remember, and if there are any surprises in there, I'm not aware of them."
"Okay," O'Neill said. "That's all we needed to know."
"It'll never work," Spike said mockingly.
"It's a simple plan," O'Neill countered. "The fewer parts of the plan, the less that can go wrong."
"Too simple, too straight-forward. No plan ever survives exposure to the Hellmouth. I ought to know."
"Yeah," Buffy scoffed. "I lost track of how many times you tried to kill me, and now you can't even lay a finger on me."
Spike gently poked Buffy with his forefinger. "Mark my words, Slayer. It's going to go wrong, you'll see. You'll come back to me, begging for my help."
"In your dreams, Spike."
"Hmf," Spike snorted as he drained the last of his beer. "Oh, and your lady friend over there? Hope you're not too fond of her."
O'Neill looked over to the dance floor, to the edge, where Carter was watching his back - and getting some attention from a roguish gent, dressed in a way he'd had nightmares about his son...
He took a deep breath, looked back at the bar, but the bleached man was gone.
At his side, Buffy frowned at the tableau. Then she turned to face O'Neill. "Dance with her."
"Excuse me?" O'Neill sputtered.
"You want her alive for tomorrow? Get out there and dance with her."
O'Neill frowned, puzzled, but followed her lead. The band was playing something safe, anyway, a little old and bluesy.
Buffy slid up to Carter and the pale young man, sweetly asking, "May I cut in?"
"I'm sorry," the guy said. "We're kinda hitting it off here."
"Think of this as moving up in the world," Buffy said, taking the guy's arm smoothly as O'Neill maneuvered Carter onto the dance floor.
"Sir?" Carter asked, confused, as they moved awkwardly among the youths.
"Something lit off the kid's spider-sense, Carter."
"Something about that guy?" Carter said, laughing softly. "You know I could have handled any trouble."
"I don't doubt it," O'Neill agreed. "But ... well, the only way any of this makes any sense to me is if I think like we're out on assignment."
"Which we are," Carter said.
"Like it was another planet," Jack whispered.
Carter nodded, and just then, the music switched, going from the safe blues to the Righteous Brothers. "Unchained Melody," as if it weren't bad enough. "Somebody hates us," Jack groaned, rolling his eyes to the ceiling.
"Can we get off the floor?"
"Too far. Someone would notice."
"So I guess we've got to dance."
"I guess so," Jack muttered, putting an arm around Carter and beginning the slow dance.
"Sir ... we can just think of it like P7X-935," Carter said softly into his ear.
"The swamp? Add two banjos and you've got Planet Deliverance?"
Carter laughed. "That was P7R-393, sir. P7X-935 was the one based on the Incas, remember? The one where there was the dance ceremony before battle?"
"Oh, right. The one where we had to convince them that we couldn't..."
"Right, sir." Carter chuckled as O'Neill spun her gently around, keeping an eye on the perimeter, the tables, the exits.
"Carter, there's something I've been meaning to ask you for a long time," Jack finally said, as the singing crescendoed.
"What is it?" she asked, looking him dead in the eyes.
"How the hell can you keep those planet names straight?"
Carter winced, then smiled. The spell was broken, thank God.
Buffy turned up then. "Everything's okay," she announced. "We can get out of here now, I think."
O'Neill looked hard at her. "What happened to the other guy?"
"Oh, him?" Buffy asked, looking down at her outfit and brushing off dust. "Gone with the wind, I guess."
"And now we've got one going out by request," the DJ announced. "Courtesy of Spike, this one's for Buffy and the Colorado Cuckoos."
With that, the music shifted to a drum riff, then raucous singing: "That's great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snake and aeroplanes, Lenny Bruce is not afraid..."
Buffy whirled, and O'Neill and Carter followed her gaze to see Spike, sliding out the side door, favoring the trio with a mocking salute.
"I'm gonna kill him," Buffy growled. "One of these days I'm going to kill him."
Daniel smiled as he pored through another ancient text from Giles' collection. For an amateur, the man had a library of books that would have shamed most of the people Daniel had ever known; there were languages in here more ancient than the Egyptians, than the Sumerians, than any race of humans that had ever walked the Earth ... but there were also priceless relics of the ancient human civilizations, books and scrolls, knick-knacks from his collection that had survived the mindless, devastating sweep of crusades. Copies, some of them, but copies of works that had been given up as lost in wrecked temples, and at least a dozen pieces that were literally hidden survivors of the lost library of Alexandria.
Giles had muttered about them being necessary for his work, downplaying the absolute treasures in his possession. He picked up a papyrus that would, without a doubt, fetch forty million dollars from any one of a dozen collectors. The value of the artifacts as curiosities seemed to be lost to Giles, who cared more for the information within them.
Riley Finn was looking at the books with trepidation, clearly seeing that something in these works was beyond his understanding. He wasn't dumb, not by any stretch, but he hid his intelligence much the same way Jack O'Neill did. Finn had explained that they'd been working under cover for the past year, requiring a certain level of subterfuge, and it was easier for a smart guy to play dumb than for a dumb guy to play smart.
Still, he knew when he was out of his league, though Daniel was very careful not to make a point of it - Finn knew a lot about human nature, but he also knew his limitations. He would occasionally offer suggestions to Giles as the older man pored through his texts, looking for alternate methods of defeating the Goa'uld; but he would laugh off his contributions. "I know I'm just here for the muscle," he'd said, grinning infectiously.
He reminded Daniel a lot of what Jack O'Neill must have been like as a young man: an intelligent man in a job where intelligence was needed, though an outsider never realized it; a man comfortable with the needs of hiding that intelligence.
Giles, however, made no effort to hide the blazing intellect behind his glasses. Much like himself, Daniel supposed, Giles had never been truly comfortable with the power of his mind, and had tried for a long time without success to make himself into something he wasn't; though there were other things about Rupert Giles, certainly.
Daniel looked around the apartment, grimacing at the umbrella rack which held several swords and a couple of axes, and at the crossbow hanging over the mantel.
Then his eyes whirled to the door at the sound of a loud thump. He and Giles and Riley traded startled looks, and then all three shot into motion.
Giles took up his crossbow and quickly loaded a bolt; Riley moved to the side of the door, pistol drawn, taser in the off hand. Daniel dug in his jacket with both hands; his right came up with the zat gun and instinctively pushed the catch, and it snapped open like a cobra ready to strike. His left hand came up with the encrypted radio-phone that was standard issue for any SGC personnel operating Earthside.
The door shuddered as it absorbed another impact; Giles and Riley were poised to shoot anything that got through.
Daniel snapped the phone open and mashed his thumb down on speed-dial 5. The moment he saw the screen announce "Dialing: JACK", he tucked the phone under his ear and leveled the zat at the door. "Come on, Jack. Pick up the damn phone."
"Colonel! Your phone!"
O'Neill barely managed to bite his tongue before saying "thank God"; he scrambled off the dance floor and dug out the flip-phone, opening it with a flourish. "Daniel, your timing is impeccable-"
The voice on the other end of the line was indecipherable - or no, it wasn't so much that as that it was three, maybe four voices shouting at once, drowned out by the harsh pops of gunshots, the explosive thumps of staff-weapon blasts, and the screams of zat fire.
The blood drained from O'Neill's face. "Carter! Something's wrong!" Then he shouted into the phone: "Daniel? Finn? Watcher? Anybody there?"
They were dragging Daniel and Giles out like two sacks of grain. Riley moaned softly, twitching as they filed out softly, leaving him behind. Should he be relieved or insulted at not being worth capturing? He didn't know, and right now, he didn't care.
As the blackness swarmed over him, he heard a desperate voice over Daniel's abandoned phone. "Daniel? Finn? Watcher? Anybody there?"
And dully in the background, almost mocking him, he heard the refrain:
"It's the end of the world as we know it, it's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine..."