Chapter 9: Contingency Planning
People possessed by ancient evil Egyptian brain-sucking demon snakes do not squeak in fear. Willow didn't have a chance to reflect on it right at the moment, but that was the only thing that saved her from being shot dead for the second time in three days.
That, or possibly Tara's quick thinking in stepping between Willow and the boom-sticks and machine guns that had suddenly snapped up and pointed at her.
"Wait-wait-wait!" Tara shouted. "Don't shoot, don't shoot!"
"Out of the way, kid!" O'Neill shouted.
"But it's - it's - it's just a spell!" Tara persisted, stepping towards the commandos.
"It's a glamour," Willow confirmed. Carter and the big guy frowned, stared at her, and then gaped. "It's just an illusion," she continued. "Showing the mind something it expects."
"A disguise?" O'Neill asked incredulously.
"Yuh-huh," Willow answered, only it came out more of a question.
Teal'c apparently wasn't buying it; he kept his staff leveled, stepped forward, and spoke in a language Willow had never heard before, words threatening to peel the paint off the walls. She shrugged. "Happy Thanksgiving to you too?"
Then Teal'c relaxed. "She is not a Goa'uld."
"How did you know?" Carter asked.
"What did you say?" Xander asked.
"I said that she had regressed from her ancestors in the ancient swamps, that she was unfit to be worshipped by molds and mushrooms, and that the queen that spawned her was so stupid as to have taken a dog as a host."
"Ooh. Nasty," O'Neill cracked.
"A Goa'uld would have understood every word ... and would have been outraged at the insult."
Willow took a breath, letting the glamour fade, and then sighed audibly. "You think it would fool Kheper?"
"Without a doubt," Teal'c said.
Buffy walked up to Willow with an odd look in her eyes. "Will, don't take this the wrong way, because I love you to pieces, but," she said, and then smacked Willow across the scalp with the flat of her palm. "Are you nuts? How about a little warning next time?"
"Sorry," Willow said sheepishly. "Guess I just ... kinda got caught up in the moment."
"Okay," Buffy said. "I'll let it slide. This time. Call it delayed trauma from coming back from the dead. But next time, let us know ahead of time, okay?"
Xander smiled from the table. "Okay, so we've got ourselves a snake disguise. Will, feel like dressing up in that slinky outfit again?" At Tara's glare, he spread his hands. "Kidding!"
"It can't be Willow," Buffy said. "The snake already knows her, and he wouldn't buy the disguise." She looked over. "Can you do the illusion, Tara?"
"I ... ah ... I can do the glamour, but..."
"Apophis would not take a female host," Teal'c stated.
"Oh, really, Teal'c?" O'Neill challenged. "Would it even matter to a snake?"
Teal'c simply stood there. "Apophis enjoys the pleasures of the flesh. He would not take a female as host unless it were absolutely necessary, and then he would abandon her for a male host at the first opportunity. I know the workings of his mind."
Xander piped up. "So if it can't be Willow and they wouldn't buy Tara, then who's up third?"
Buffy looked at Xander. Then Tara looked at Xander. Willow gave him a thoughtful look of her own.
Xander gulped. "What's everyone looking at me like that for?"
"Buffy, you realize this is insane, right?" Xander pleaded as he tried to keep up with the Slayer. "I mean, how could I possibly pretend to be a god? Plus me and magic, not so much with the good mix, remember?"
"It'll work," Buffy said, walking so fast that Xander and Teal'c had to race to catch up. "Tara's as good at the magic as Willow is, and she'll be right there alongside you."
"Valentine's Day," Xander shot back. "Remember how well that spell turned out? Or did you like spending an afternoon as a rat?"
"You won't be doing the spell, Xander. Relax."
"And what if he tells me in snake language that my mom was a frog?" Xander retorted. "Not that it's that far from the truth, I'll grant you, but I don't know how to say 'same to you' in snakelish!"
Teal'c placed a hand on Xander's shoulder. "I will also be at your side, Xander Harris. If the Goa'uld attempts to trick you, I will guide your responses."
Xander stopped a moment, and Buffy had to stop and turn around. "How ya gonna do that? You guys have some sort of fancy mind control powers? Weird technology?"
"I propose to use a radio."
Xander pondered. "Oh."
Buffy jerked her head. "Come on." She strode on to the graveyard. "I just hope we're not wasting our time here."
"Threatening Spike is never a waste of time," Xander quipped. "We don't do it nearly enough."
"Do you not trust your companion?" the big guy asked.
"Spike?" Xander laughed. "Please. He's tried to kill all of us more times than I can count, he loves to play mind games, he's directly responsible for me breaking up with my totally hot high-school girlfriend, he tried to sell us all out to the evil-of-the-month this spring, and he got Buffalo wing sauce all over my couch. Plus, hello, vampire? What's not to trust?"
Buffy sighed. "You and Cordelia? Xander, he may have been doing you a favor."
"Yeah, but he also busted up Will and Oz. You can't tell me there was any good there."
"They got back together, didn't they?"
"Yeah, only to break up again last fall."
"That wasn't Spike's fault and you know it."
"Why are you defending him?"
"I'm not defending him. He's done enough evil that we don't have to blame him for stuff that was other people's fault."
Teal'c cleared his throat. "If this Spike is so untrustworthy, then perhaps we should reconsider enlisting his aid."
"Naw, he'll be good," Buffy said as she approached a crypt. "He knows I'll kill him if he gets funny. Plus which, Kheper turned him into a puppet. No way Spike's gonna let that slide."
She pushed open the door and stalked in, Xander and Teal'c flanking her. The crypt's occupant was sitting in a camp chair by a coffin, reading a novel and smoking a cigarette. "Well, well, well. The Slayer and entourage. Don't tell me, let me guess. Things didn't go as well as you planned?"
Teal'c answered: "The forces of the Goa'uld Kheper struck tonight. They have taken the Watcher and Daniel Jackson."
"And now you come crawling to me for help. I wonder why I didn't see this coming. No, wait; I did see this coming."
Buffy blew out her breath in frustration. "Spike, it's the end of the world if you don't help. You want this jerk to win?"
"What I want is this sodding chip out of my head, free reign over the denizens of this benighted township, and you cold in your grave, Slayer. Lacking that, I will settle for hearing you say, in front of this large and unimpeachable witness, that you were wrong, I was right, and you are now begging me for my assistance."
"We don't have time for this, Spike."
"Say it, Slayer. Costs you naught but your pride. Or is your ego that important?"
"You were wrong, I was right, and you are begging for my help."
Buffy sighed. "I was wrong, Spike. You were right. And we need your help."
"I don't hear begging," Spike lilted.
"Shall I remove his head now, Tarith'na?" Teal'c asked. "Or would you prefer I began with his arms?"
"Come to think of it, who needs begging?" Spike continued smoothly. "Now, then. How can I help save the world?"
"We're going into the compound," Buffy said. "Two teams. The front way, Xander's going in dressed up as a major-league snake, with Tank and the Colonel backing him up."
"Please. Even I couldn't mistake Harris here for someone with power," Spike scoffed.
"Tara's going to back him up. She's got a spell that can make him fool anyone. Meanwhile, the back way, the rest of us are going to go in, find Giles and Jackson, get them out, leave a bomb, and then everyone runs for it, blows the entrances behind them, and kaboom. No more snake, no more threat. You get the last laugh on King Tut, and everyone's happy."
Spike dragged on his cigarette. "Can't help but notice you glossed over my part in this plan."
"To attract the attention of Kheper, Xander Harris is going to present him with a gift," Teal'c announced.
"I recommend chocolates. Those truffle things are quite nice."
"He will be presented with the person of a traitor. A shol'va," Teal'c said, staring right at Spike.
Spike blinked at that, and the cigarette dropped from his mouth.
"He will accept without question, and we will be able to use this to assist in the rescue of our comrades and destroy the false god."
"Spike, we need you for this."
"No, no, and no. If you want me for chaos and senseless violence, I'm all for it. Not this. You want bait, you pay cash. Up front, small bills." He pointed a finger right at Xander. "And before you even say it, no, I will not take American Express."
"You mean the look on King Tut's face won't be worth it when we blow his plan up in his face?" Buffy asked, pouring on the sweetness.
Spike shook his head. "Be a sight to see, right enough, but a bloke has certain needs that need a certain coin."
Xander sighed, looked from Buffy to Teal'c. "I guess we gotta scrape up some cash. How much do you have on you?"
Buffy rummaged through her pockets. "Ten bucks and a little change."
"I got ... lessee. Seventy-five cents, a coupla buttons, and - ooh! Game token. I wondered where that went." He looked up at Teal'c. "How about you, Tank? You got any money on you?"
Teal'c just looked at him.
Buffy sighed. "Back to the house."
Spike got to his feet. "I hope there's cocoa."
"Don't push your luck, William."
"I'll give you a discount if there's hot cocoa."
"Two-twenty, two-forty, two-fifty," O'Neill said, counting out the last of the bills. "You screw with us, I want a refund."
"You wouldn't," Spike countered.
Buffy tuned out the conversation and went to tidy up the coffee table. She absently noted Major Carter coming down the stairs with a stack of papers. "Everything OK there?"
"Oh, sure. Your mom let me use her fax machine." She turned to O'Neill. "Siler says it went through okay. They'll try and requisition a plane to get the stuff out here at first light. With luck, it should arrive a little after the bomb."
"Good," O'Neill said. "So basically that's all we can do for tonight. Get some sleep; I'll take first watch."
"Yes, sir," Carter answered, turning to unpack a sleeping bag; her foot hit a box by the coffee table. "Buffy," she read on its lid. "Ma'am, I think this might be yours," she said, handing it to Buffy.
It was long and fairly heavy, with the word "Buffy" in block writing. Buffy opened it and blinked. Hard.
Inside the box she found a bow - a classic bow-and-arrow set, wooden, looking as though they'd been hand-made. She picked up the bow, fingered its loose string, and then picked up one of the two dozen arrows that accompanied it. Wood, sharpened, wonderfully balanced.
She noticed a small paper tag tied to the bow; she pulled it off and read the simple note: "You might need this. Love, Mom."
"It's beautiful," Carter said.
"Yeah," Buffy breathed. "It's ... I wouldn't have guessed Mom would do this."
O'Neill looked at the bow and whistled. "That's pretty good work."
"May I?" Carter asked. Buffy handed her the bow; Carter strung it with some difficulty, then drew it, felt its weight, and handed it back. "Pretty strong pull there."
Buffy smiled. "I can handle it. Wouldn't have thought Mom would get me something like this."
Spike looked over. "You don't give your mum enough credit. That's one hell of a lady there."
"Spike, what are you still doing here?"
"I was just-"
Buffy picked up an arrow and idly spun it in her fingers, not exactly pointed at Spike, but not quite pointed away from him, either.
"-leaving, I suppose."
"Tomorrow at sundown, Spike. Your crypt. Be there," Buffy emphasized.
Carter patted Buffy's shoulder. "You should get some sleep."
"Heh. Not too likely."
"Riley's upstairs," Carter said. "You might want to check on him; he's had a really hard day."
Buffy sighed, then smiled. "Thanks, Major." She grinned. "You're all right, you know that?"
Carter shook her head, smiling herself. "We all do what we can. We'll wake you once we've got the bomb secured tomorrow morning."
"Yes, ma'am," Buffy said, snapping off an untidy salute. She made her way up the stairs, opened the door to her bedroom, then paused. She turned around, knocked on her mother's door.
"Mom?" she whispered.
"Come in, Buffy."
Buffy stepped into her mother's room; Joyce wasn't asleep, but reading a book while leaning against her headboard. "I found the bow."
"I thought something like that might come in handy. Took a long time to explain to the man at the sporting goods store that I wanted wood." She laughed. "I finally told him that my daughter was a traditionalist, and incredibly strong besides. He kept insisting on composite arrows."
"Maybe against the tougher demons," Buffy said, laughing in turn. "Not against vampires."
"I got a dozen composites just to shut him up."
"So you cleaned him out of wood arrows?"
"Mom, I ... I know you'd love it if I didn't have to do this, if I didn't even know which end of an arrow was-"
"Buffy, stop." Joyce looked at her. "You are what you are. You couldn't avoid it any more than I can avoid gray hairs."
"You know, they make dyes for that now?"
Joyce laughed and softly threw a pillow at her daughter. "You know what I mean. It's ... I get it. I can't teach you anything about it, I can't be at your side for any of it, but ... I wanted to do something for my daughter. The hero."
"I believe in you, you know. You're going to win. You'll rescue Giles, stop this monster, and it'll all be okay."
"I..." Buffy sighed. "I wish I could believe it."
Joyce raised a stern finger. "I forbid you to believe anything else."
"Come here," Joyce said, beckoning. Buffy stepped closer, and Joyce hugged her. "I love you, and I believe in you. Now go get some sleep. It's well after midnight."
"I love you too, Mom. Sleep well."
She closed her mother's door and crawled into her own bed, next to Riley. The commando was sleeping soundly, breathing softly with a cadence that might have been a snore if it weren't so quiet.
Sleep didn't come that easily to the Slayer.
It had taken a while to make sure the house was asleep; Jack felt guilty about leaving the door unlatched, but there was no other way for him to get back in.
He'd questioned Riley Finn closely about the precise location of the Hellmouth, drawing a map of his own while Teal'c was accompanying the others to find their bait. Now, in the dead of night, Jack relied on a set of night-vision goggles and an infrared flashlight to pick his way through the ruins of the old Sunnydale high school. Past forlorn rows of lockers, hanging open and empty where once they had held books, contraband, and the occasional protesting student; past a burned-out principal's office where, undoubtedly, his gracious hosts in this town had spent some quality time; and on to the splintered and scarred doors that marked the entrance to the school library.
The crack in the ground would have been invisible to normal eyes in this light; with the goggles and the dark light, it showed up crystal-clear. Jack perched himself near a collapsed stack of books and brought out one more gadget, removing the goggles, letting his eyes adjust to the dark.
Not for the first time, he thought, he'd been wrong and Teal'c had been right. If they failed tomorrow ... they'd need to lessen the worst-case scenario. He squinted at the backlighted screen of the device, copying its readings onto a scratch pad.
Then he blinked, dazzled, as a bright light washed over the scene; blindly, he dropped device, pen, and paper, bringing up his MP-5 and snapping on its own spotlight...
...pointing it right into the face of Buffy Summers, who stood on the upper level of the library. She quickly brought up a crossbow, then lowered it fractionally as an expression of shock crossed her face.
"You snuck out," she said accusingly.
"I had things to do," he countered.
"Like what? I thought the plan was to kill him so we wouldn't have to worry about the Hellmouth."
"If we're lucky," Jack countered. "If we're very lucky. If not ... Teal'c was right. We need a contingency plan."
"So what's the toy you've got there?" she asked, indicating the fallen device with her crossbow.
"GPS tracker." He picked it up, along with the notepad. "Needed to get a precise location fix."
"It's not exactly a secret where the high school is," Buffy countered.
"Yeah, but in a ruin like this, it's tough to zero in on a precise spot on the floor plan."
Buffy snorted. "What can you do with that, anyway? If there was a way to close the Hellmouth, believe me, Giles would know about it."
"What I can do," Jack responded, "is have a bomber ready to drop its payload right there." He pointed to the crack in the ground. "With the GPS coordinates, they can drop from twenty thousand feet and hit within a yard."
"Great," Buffy shot back. "So your plan is to bounce the rubble, maybe widen the crack some. Great thinking."
"I'm not planning on there being any rubble left," Jack countered. "If worst comes to worst, I'm doing this so there won't even be a crack in the ground for the bad guys to open. And God forbid it comes to that, no chance for anything to approach. For years to come." He looked at her significantly, and her eyes went wide.
"You're not talking about just a bomb, are you?" she whispered. "You're talking about The Bomb. Capital B."
"Like I said, we need to prepare for the worst."
"How much worse can it get than nuking Sunnydale?"
Jack stepped right into the beam of Buffy's light. "Weren't you just saying that if he opens this thing, it's the end of the world? My superiors can stage an evacuation, find half a dozen excuses for it; they'll have all day to get the town clear. By sundown, there won't be anybody left except the monsters, and the point is to deny them this Hellmouth of yours, isn't it?"
"And you think that this will work? A damned atom bomb?"
"Variable-yield tactical device. Set for minimum yield, burst at about ten or twenty meters - they'll figure it out for themselves. It should fuse the rock, melt this crack closed."
"And if not? If the Hellmouth's still open and King Tut can crack it open with no opposition?"
Jack shook his head. "That's why bombers don't just carry one bomb."
Jack finally stepped right up to her. "Screw the secrets. Listen, kid; this is bigger than the end of the world, okay? If we don't stop this guy, one way or the other, it's the end of the world and it doesn't stop there. Remember the Doorway to Heaven? The Gate?"
"Uh-huh," Buffy whispered.
"Well, he's going to bring about the Apocalypse and then take it out through the Gate."
"The Gate you control, right? I mean, you've got to have control of the Gate, otherwise you wouldn't know anything about any of this, right?"
"And he can't find it, right? I mean you've got it like out in the desert or buried under a mountain or something, probably have a self-destruct wired into it?"
Jack sighed in frustration. "Something like that. But you know what's really sweet? There's another Gate. Out in Siberia where we've got no control. He takes it, it isn't just Hell on Earth to worry about. There's other places, other worlds. Places that depend on us holding back the tide. Places that, if we fail here, are gonna be destroyed to the last. Now do you get an idea of what's at stake?"
Buffy nodded slowly. "Yeah, I'd call that pressure."
"Good. Come on, kid. Get home. Get some sleep while you can."
"Sleep? With all this on my mind?"
"You want to sleep tonight, or maybe die tomorrow night?"
"Hello, atom bomb?" she shot back, but was slowly backing away from the crack in the floor.
"No pressure. Just remember, it could be worse. And if we do our jobs right, no bomb at all."
"Shyeah. If things go right. Like that's ever happened before..."