Chapter 10: Forward, the Light Brigade

"Ladies and gentlemen," Xander Harris announced, "I present you with the world's most expensive barbecue grill. Self-propelled, capable of cooking your burgers and mixed grill to perfection, or giving evil overlord wannabes that nicely-charred texture, with just a hint of mesquite flavor."

"Get away from that. It's a bomb, not a toy."

Xander sighed as he looked askance at the Colonel. "Duh. I'll have you know that I'm only mostly stupid."

Buffy came down from her room and squinted, rubbing the grit out of her eyes. "So that's it, huh?"

"It" was an oblong box-like cart with six wheels, with a set of pressure tanks strapped to its top in a slightly makeshift fashion, capped with valves, wired into an electronic box with an antenna on it.

"That's it," O'Neill confirmed. "Not fueled yet; we've got the stuff out in the Humvee. We won't pump up the tanks until game time."

"Oh, good," Buffy mused. "Wouldn't want to bring a live bomb into the house."

Carter looked the device over. "There are safeties on the valves and the detonators. And without the gas in the tanks, the detonators aren't any more powerful than a couple of firecrackers."

"Still, firecrackers in the house ... not exactly making with the comfort," Buffy responded. She looked towards the kitchen. "Mom awake yet?"

Xander nodded. "She woke up about the time the Dawn Patrol came in." He cocked his head towards the kitchen.

"Thanks." Buffy wandered through the living room to the kitchen. "Mom? Can we talk a minute?"

"What's up, pumpkin?"

Buffy took a breath. "Mom, I need to know you're going to be safe."

Joyce closed her eyes a moment. "Buffy, I've seen what your life is like. There's no such thing as safe; all I can do is help the best I can."

"Mom ... this is going to be bad."

"It's always bad."

"This is gonna be worse," Buffy insisted. "Look, this clown already attacked the house once, and he got Giles at home. There's no guarantee he won't come back here again."

Joyce nodded. "I could probably set up in the gallery and wait until it's over."

Buffy clenched her eyes shut, gripped the center island's countertop so hard the wood creaked, and sighed. "It's worse than that, Mom. The town isn't safe."

Joyce laughed. "Weren't you the one who taught me that?"

"Mom, I'm serious," Buffy said. Her voice dropped to a whisper. "If we can't stop this thing tonight, then the military people are planning extreme measures. Matter of fact, the best place for you to be might be Los Angeles."

Joyce's eyes widened. "How bad are we talking?"

Buffy took a breath. "If we don't get out alive, Plan B is, they're going to try and nuke the Hellmouth," she hissed.

Joyce dropped a fork with a clatter.

"Look, it won't happen unless the Big Bad beats us, anyway, and it wouldn't happen until sometime tomorrow." Buffy reached up and put a hand on Joyce's shoulder. "You've got all day."

Joyce sighed and looked around the kitchen. "What time?"

"'Scuse me?"

"What time tomorrow are they going to do this?"

Buffy frowned. "I don't know. Might be a good thing to find out, huh?"

"Might be," Joyce said pointedly.

Buffy sighed and made her way back out to the living room, where Carter was slowly rolling the bomb on the floor using a remote-control device. "Uh, Colonel? Got a question."

O'Neill looked up. "Shoot."

"Kinda ... private thing? You know, what we were talking about last night?" She cringed even as she said it, but Riley was still asleep, his body trying to recover from the abuse it had taken during the night.

They'd all need their energy tonight.

O'Neill sauntered over. "What is it?" he whispered.

"It's about what you're planning to do to the Hellmouth in case this doesn't work."

"Look, kid, we've been through this. There's not really much choice."

"I know," Buffy whispered. "I just wanted to know, what time were you planning on having them do it?"

"Two hours after sundown, like the Englishman said. That's when they'd be ready to get the ball rolling, right?"

Buffy nodded. "I think so ... but these things sometimes don't go according to plan. Maybe you should set it up for a little before dusk? You know, it'd be a lot less ... noticeable at that time."

O'Neill frowned. "I'll have to clear it."

"You can just do that?" Buffy asked. "I mean, don't you need authorization from the President or something like that? Keys, or codes, or something like that?"

"Something like that," O'Neill said. "Sometimes all we can do is tell our bosses what's got to be done; it's up to them whether they actually do it or not." He brought out his mobile radio/phone and snapped it open. "Might as well be sure," he said, thumbing a button. "O'Neill for Hammond.

"Yes, sir, the device came. We're getting it ready now. Looking at go-mission approximately twenty-hundred hours local. No, sir, we haven't gotten the other package yet. Uh, sir? We may need to move up time-zero on the contingency to about nineteen-hundred hours local tomorrow. That should still leave enough time to evac-

"They didn't? ... He didn't?" O'Neill was hissing through his teeth as well by now. "Sir, did you happen to mention the little thing about the end of the world? ... Yes, sir, I know that's all part of the job ... sir, the last government agency to take charge here was a wholly-owned subsidiary of the NID. Do you want the fate of the human race in that office?

"I know you know that, sir. Did you tell him that? ... Well, maybe you could tell him again? Yeah, calling him now might not be a bad idea."

Buffy closed her eyes and banged her head against the wall.

O'Neill gave her a sympathetic look and then turned back to the phone. "Yes, sir, I'm here. ... Thank you, sir; I'm doing well. Did General Hammond tell you about the...? Yes, sir. No, sir. No, sir, I don't want to do that, but soon enough there might not be a choice. ... Yes, sir, I'm aware that there are taxpaying citizens in this town-"

Buffy groaned in frustration. "Gimme that," she snapped, grabbing the phone out of O'Neill's hand.


Buffy ignored him and barked into the phone, "Hello? Could you guys stop worrying about cheesing off the taxpayers, and maybe start focusing on whether there'll be any taxpayers, or any taxes, or anything else left standing by next Tuesday?"

"Miss, could you put Colonel O'Neill back on the phone?" a voice asked with a sharp Texas twang.

"Sorry," Buffy answered. "Can't do that. You see, he's got to follow orders from you guys even when those orders stink, and if he tells you that ignoring him is stupid and crazy, you can just have him court-martialed or something. Me, I'm one of those taxpaying citizens you're worrying about, I don't have to follow your orders, and I'm telling you, if things go wrong and you don't have a Plan B, things are going to get bad. I mean biblically bad."

"Ma'am, I'm reluctant to go forward with a plan that drastic if there are any alternatives at all," a second voice said, with a softer southern accent, eerily familiar.

"Look, I don't know who you are, either of you, but maybe you should talk to someone who can actually make this decision? Because we're talking about the real thing here. You know, 'and the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a voice cried out from heaven, saying, it is done'?" Off O'Neill's odd look, she covered the phone with her hand and whispered, "Hunt for Red October. Mom's got a thing for Sean Connery."

The Texas voice came back: "Ma'am, isn't it possible that you're overstating the case just a bit?"

Buffy groaned. "Look, ask the Pentagon. Look up the Initiative, ask them about the Slayer, and you should find a lot of stuff about the end of the world, okay?"

"That's going to take some time," Texas said.

Voice Two added, "You're asking for an awful lot on your say-so," and this time Buffy knew she'd heard that voice somewhere before.

"Hell-o?" Buffy snapped into the phone. "Not my say-so, okay? You guys have the information, assuming you didn't shred it all so you wouldn't have to know how badly the Initiative screwed up. Look, let's say you had a flying saucer in Area 51 that was malfunctioning and ready to destroy the world; would you hesitate to nuke that?"

After a pause, Voice Two responded: "You may have a point there. I'll have my people look into it."

Texas took a breath that Buffy could hear through the static, and then asked, "Can you put Colonel O'Neill back on the line?"

"Oh. Right. Sure," Buffy said, handing the phone to O'Neill. "They want to talk to you again."

O'Neill took the phone and shot Buffy a withering look. "Yes, sir. Yes, sir," he said into the phone, doing a lot more listening than talking, apparently, as Buffy walked towards the basement.

Then the refrain changed: "Yes, Mr. President."

Buffy froze, realizing just why Voice Two had sounded so familiar, and in her daze she forgot to step down when she reached the stairs to the basement.

"Are you sure she's okay?" Jack asked as Xander put a box into Joyce's jeep.

Xander nodded. "The fall wouldn't faze her; she gets worse than that from the nightly vamps. She's probably just kinda mortified. She gets that way sometimes."


Riley came out with another box, almost too large for him to carry. "One more after this," he announced. "Buffy's got that one."

"You need a hand, Riley?" Xander asked.

"'Preciate it." Riley struggled with it as Xander came around to pick up one side. "You talk to your folks yet?"

"Big surprise, they didn't listen," Xander said. "They haven't listened to me since I was four years old; why would they start now?"

Jack cringed. "You mean to tell me you told all this to your parents?"

Xander gave him a look. "Uh huh. Told them that I'd be out tonight impersonating a god, and that if I get eaten, these nice folks from the government are gonna turn downtown Sunnydale into a smoking hole in the ground. Not that anybody would notice the difference. Come on, I know I look dumb, but I can't look that dumb," he snapped. "I told 'em it would be a good idea to take a day trip tomorrow. Talked with Cordelia in L.A. and arranged for tickets to a show tomorrow night; if they're not paying, you can bet they'll be there."

Riley nodded. "Best anyone can ask is that you try, man." He frowned as they finished easing the box into the jeep's cargo area. "Cordelia. Your ex, right? Anya know about her?"

Xander sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "My breakup with Cordy is how Anya got to Sunnydale in the first place." Jack looked at him with what must have been a puzzled look, because Xander continued: "It was pretty messy. And then Anya came to town and there was this whole parallel-universe thing." He turned to Jack. "You wouldn't understand."

"You'd be surprised," Jack commented.

"So yeah, Anya knows about Cordy, but it's okay, because she knows that Cordy and I are deader than ... some really old dead guy. Relationship-wise, you know, not in the really being dead sense."

Jack gave one of the boxes an experimental nudge to make room for the last crate soon to come. "This must be a really weird place to grow up," he mused.

Xander nodded. "Yeah. If you can survive being a teenager in Sunnydale, you're ready to take on the world." He sighed. "Only problem with that is, a lot of kids never make it."

"Like Darwin," Jack said with more than a hint of bitterness in his voice. "Survival of the fittest."

"Yeah, except the tough guys end up dead and the ones who make it out are the little guys like Jonathan and the losers like me. Well, plus people who are good at fighting it. Like Buffy and Willow."

Riley clapped a hand on Xander's shoulder. "I've seen you fight, Xander. Hell, half the Initiative couldn't do as well as you. And they were professionals."

"I was lucky."

Riley shook his head. "Not just lucky. Luck's not enough in this town."

Xander looked up. "That's for sure." He stepped back from the jeep. "I'm gonna go see if Buffy needs a hand with that last box, unless - hey, the pizza's here," he called out.

Jack looked at the panel truck that had pulled up to the house. "I think this is something else," he said, walking fast to catch up with the driver approaching the door.

Two other men in the truck began unloading boxes; Xander cracked, "Either that or they really overdid it on the pepperoni."

Buffy came down balancing the last box of records and artifacts from the storage closet Joyce had made of the spare bedroom, only to bump right into a pair of G.I. Joe types setting what looked like a steamer trunk down in the living room. Next to two others just like it.

"That's not the pizza, I'm guessing?"

"It is not," came the response from behind the box. She put it down to find the big guy slowly withdrawing one of those elaborate staff weapons from the first trunk, setting it aside, and pulling out a stiff metal contraption that looked like half a suit of armor. "Our equipment has arrived."

"I guess the snake guys really go for the Medieval Times shtick, huh?"

Teal'c didn't answer; instead, he slipped the armor over his head, touched a stud on the flaring metal collar, and was suddenly encased in a metal sculpture, a cobra's head that had extended from the collar over his head.

It was just like what Buffy had seen in her dream.

As she gaped, he touched the stud again, and the serpent's head snapped open, folding back in on itself, collapsing back into the collar. "The armor of the serpent guards," he said.

"Yeah. Whoa. Color me impressed. That is ... definitely you."

Teal'c pulled the armor back over his head and set it aside. "It is what I used to be. It symbolizes my enslavement. My deception by the false gods. It is everything I have rejected."

"Hey, I didn't mean it like that," Buffy said quickly, maybe a bit too defensively. "I mean that you look good ... well ... it's just a piece of armor, you know? And it's gonna help get your friend back."

"I cannot separate the armor from its symbolism that easily, Tarith'na. I committed acts of brutality while wearing the armor. Acts for which I merit a sentence of death. Deservedly so."

"God, you could give Angel brooding lessons," Buffy sighed with frustration. "Look, Tank. Put the thing back on."


"Put it back on," she repeated.

He slowly pulled the armor back over his head.

"Now close it up."

Teal'c touched the stud again, and the serpent's head enveloped him.

"Okay, now far as I know, there's only two people in Sunnydale who are gonna be sporting this look tonight, and that's the Colonel and you. And the both of you are good guys, right?"

"To an extent-"

"That's a yes," Buffy snapped. "The only two people wearing this are gonna be the toughest, most righteous champions that snake has ever seen, right? You're gonna go in there, you're gonna make it possible for us to get your friend and my Watcher out of there safe, and then we are gonna kick Kheper's brain-sucking serpentine ass back to the Nile. You understand me?"

"I understand, Tarith'na."

"Good," Buffy said. "What the hell else did you guys pack in these things?"

Teal'c opened the cobra's head, removed the armor, and opened up the other two trunks. "Another set of armor for O'Neill, clothing for the disguises of Tara Maclay and Xander Harris, and weapons for Major Carter and Riley Finn."

Buffy peered into the boxes. "Huh. Lotta stuff in there."

Carter and O'Neill came back in just then. "They pack everything, Teal'c?"

"It appears so, O'Neill." Teal'c pulled out another staff weapon and several of the bug-zappers. "Heavier arms are in the other containers."

O'Neill reached in and came up with a long, heavy, menacing-looking shotgun. "I didn't ask for any SPAS-12's."

"Indeed not. However, there appears to be an explanation," Teal'c continued, handing over a piece of paper.

O'Neill looked it over. "For cryin' out loud, they've been watching too many ... uh ... Carter?"

"Yes, sir?"

"You mind checking the ammo boxes for the shotguns?"

Carter looked in with a frown, then relaxed into a tight smile. "It might just be crazy enough to work."

Buffy cleared her throat. "Uh, guys? I don't know if I remembered to mention this, but vampires plus guns equals dead good guys? As in us being dead? Or worse, undead?"

"Way ahead of you, kiddo," O'Neill drawled, picking a shell out of the trunk and flipping it over to Buffy.

It looked like a shotgun shell, only with a slug of wood in it. A pencil-sharp piece of wood. "Where did they get these?"

"Made 'em," O'Neill said. "According to this, Siler's got a cousin works for Denver PD's SWAT team, and they borrowed all the riot-control wood slug ammo they could get their hands on. They must've had every pencil sharpener in Command going to get all this done."

Xander looked over from the door. "Now that is smart."

Buffy nodded. "You guys deal with vampires before, I take it?"

That got a laugh from O'Neill. "Last Saturday they didn't exist, far as we knew. But hey, we're adaptable."

Carter smiled. "We learn to improvise." She dug into the third crate. "We got all the C4 we'll need, detonators, timers ... hey, they even sent over some Willy Pete."

"Willy Pete?" Xander asked. "Is that any relation to Willy the Snitch?"

"White phosphorous grenades," Carter explained. They don't explode so much as burn. Finn, did you get heavy weapons training?"


"This is gonna be yours, then," she said, handing him a bulky rifle with an ugly-looking tube bolted beneath its barrel.

"Uh, what's the point of the guns?" Buffy insisted. "I mean, it's great that you've got the stake-launcher thingies, and I can appreciate things that set vamps on fire, but what are bullets going to do other than, well, piss them off?"

Carter picked up a curved gun magazine from the trunk. "Tracer."

"As in...?"

"Burn, vampire, burn," Xander said, his eyes widening. "I gotta hand it to you guys, you are not nearly as stupid as the last government operation to blow through town."

"Hey!" Riley shouted. "I resemble that remark."

"Present company excepted, of course," Xander continued. "Well, looks like you've got enough hardware for this anyway."

"Too much hardware, actually," O'Neill said. "They fitted us out for a four-man strike, and the only ones who are gonna be carrying this stuff are Carter and Finn."

Just then the door knocked; Joyce opened it quickly, only to be nearly bowled over by Anya, dressed up in olive-drab camouflage and carrying a duffel.

"I'm ready to go," she announced, walking right past Joyce and up to the assembly.

"They're not going to give you a gun," Xander said.

"Oh, that's okay. I brought my own." Anya opened up her duffel bag and brought out a gaudily colored weapon as long as a hockey stick, with a purple pump-grip on its lower edge and a bulbous tank behind the trigger.

Carter cringed; O'Neill groaned and leaned back against a wall. Then he stood up and glared at Anya. "Do you think this is some kind of game? You think you're going in there on a lark? This is the real thing. Something goes wrong, you're dead."

"I know what the risks are. I've been around death and destruction a lot longer than you have," Anya shot back. "Besides, it's holy water. That works well on vampires."

"No," O'Neill snapped. "No, no, no, and in case there was any misunderstanding, no. We are not going to turn this into some kind of war game. The Harris kid and your friend are coming just to get us in the door and give us enough of a distraction for Carter and Finn to get in, rig the bomb, get out Daniel and the English guy, and finish the job. Everyone else is staying behind."

"But-" Buffy sputtered.




"Sir, are you certain-"

"Ah!" O'Neill barked for the third time, holding up a finger. "This is how it's going to be."

Xander turned to the crates and, before anyone had a chance to object, picked up one of the machine guns.

"Hey, put that down!"

"Listen, Colonel. There's something you've got to understand about us," Xander snapped. "We didn't get into the evil-fighting business because it looked like fun, or because we wanted to do things in real life like what you see in video games." He pulled out the gun's magazine while he was talking, yanked at a lever, and when a shell popped out of the side of the gun, he caught it in mid-air and placed it on the coffee table. "We got into this because we got sick of seeing our friends and classmates disappear without a trace, finding names of kids we played with when we were little showing up in the high school paper's obituary column." He quickly took the gun apart into five pieces, sighted down the barrel, and began to put it together again. "Will and I, we found out about all this from nearly being eaten once, and I don't know how many times we came close to being snack food without even knowing it."

"Wait, back up," O'Neill said. "Your school paper had an obituary column? Like a regular thing? You were losing that many students?"

"Welcome to Sunnydale," Xander said grimly, sliding the weapon's parts together and tapping them on the ground. "This place may be hell on earth, but it's our home. And God help us, we're the ones who hold the line against those things out there." He picked up the gun and its ammunition, looked at the taped-together magazines. "You sure you want your mags taped up like that? Doesn't it lead to jamming?"

"Only if it's end-to-end," Carter said. "Tape them like this, and the ends are protected by the bulk of the gun."

"Gotcha," Xander said, locked the magazine in place, and handed it to O'Neill. "My point is, whatever is waiting for us down there, we're in. We've lost too many friends to back out now."

Everyone looked from Xander to O'Neill. Hope and expectation radiated from Buffy's friends and family, while O'Neill's people looked a little more ambivalent. Or rather, Carter did. Teal'c was giving the Colonel a hard stare.

"Point taken," O'Neill finally said. "But I can't give out military hardware to people who aren't checked out on it, and I don't feel right taking anyone along on the assault team unless they're either well-protected or able to defend themselves."

Buffy grabbed the longbow and arrows from the coffee table. "I think we can take care of ourselves."

"I'll be okay," Willow said. "I've got a few tricks up my sleeve."

"Will, you sure? 'Cos if you want to sit this one out..."

"You might need me. I can do some glamours of my own, or ... ooh! There's a new one I've been waiting to try."

"Which one?" Tara asked nervously.

"If everyone could, you know, kinda stay a little bit away from the fireplace? Tsul'kalu, lord of thunder, I beseech thee ... bring forth the lightning and the thunder ... fulgus!" Willow shouted.

With a deafening bang, a jagged spark of lightning shot from her fingertips to the poker by the fireplace. As everyone scrambled for cover, Willow yelped and jammed her right hand under her left arm, squeezing, a pained expression on her face.

"Willow! You all right?"

"Yeah - ooch! Just kinda - aah! - not used to that spell," Willow answered, blowing rapidly on her fingertips. "Kinda a last resort thing, you know? Buffy, do you have an axe I can use?"

"Got a couple upstairs."

Carter picked up a small case from one of the trunks along with a bundle of clothing. "Is there a room I can use to help Tara get ready? This is going to take some time."

"It's ... I mean, it's just a dress, isn't it?" Tara asked hesitantly.

"Lot more than that, I'm afraid. Some pretty elaborate stuff you're going to have to wear, not to mention the makeup."

"Oh ... well..."

"My room's fine, guys. Knock yourselves out."

Xander nodded. "I'll just find a closet and throw my stuff on," he said, looking at the other bundle of clothes.

"You will require assistance," Teal'c said.

"I've been dressing myself since I was four."

"But not as a god," Teal'c countered. "Before I became First Prime, I was sometimes called upon as his personal servant. I will make certain you are garbed appropriately."

"There's a couple of dummy ribbon devices in the case where the clothes were," Carter said.

Xander looked in. "Yeah. Wait, weren't there three of those things?"

"Don't worry about it," Carter called from the staircase.

"Okay." Xander looked from the clothes to Teal'c, who held a small box of his own. "What's that?"

"Cosmetic paint."

"Makeup?" Xander yelped. "Whoa, wait a minute. Nobody said anything about makeup."

"It will make the difference between Kheper mistaking you for Apophis," Teal'c resopnded, "and Kheper recognizing you as an enemy and executing you on the spot."

"Oh, well, in that case ... makeup!" Xander called in his best Milton Berle voice.

As Xander and Teal'c walked off, Buffy shook her head and went over to her mother. "You should get going soon, Mom."

"I know, Buffy. I just..."

"It'll be okay, Mom. We'll get through this. I know we're kind of in Keystone Cop mode right now, but ... there's nobody I'd rather have backing me up when things get ugly."

Joyce sighed. "I'll try not to worry. I promise. Just ... call me when it's over? I'll call when I find a place to spend the night, I'll leave the number on the answering machine."

"I'll call. I promise."

Joyce smiled. "I'll hold you to that."

Buffy closed her eyes tight. "Mom ... in case it doesn't work out right ... if worst comes to worst ... could you tell Angel? Tell him ... tell him I'm sorry? For everything?"

Joyce winced. "Sure. I'll do that ... if it comes to that. You promise to try and make sure it doesn't come to that?"

"I promise," Buffy said, and hugged her mother. "Now get going, okay? And drive safe."

Xander flexed his hands, trying to get a feel for the metal glove in his right hand. He was having pretty bad flashbacks to another magical glove he'd run across once, and had pestered Teal'c and O'Neill until they had assured him that the contraption on his hand was merely a facsimile of the snake-thing's weapon. He'd gotten a little concerned about the fact that while O'Neill and Teal'c were now carrying boom-sticks and wearing bug-zappers in holsters on their forearms, Xander himself - and Tara - were defenseless; Teal'c had reassured him that the snakes generally left the artillery in the hands of their minions.

He'd tried to reassure, at any rate. Xander was feeling far from reassured at the moment.

This was insane, he decided. Which was probably the best thing this plan had going for it.

Tara was trying her best to walk in a haughty strut, but it was pretty obvious she was terrified; the tight, revealing outfit wasn't helping her posture or her confidence.

"Relax, Tara. All ya gotta do is keep the mojo going and fade into the background."

"I know. I just ... I feel naked," she whispered.

"I know. I wish I'd taken something. A picnic knife. A rock. Something."

"I mean literally. This ... this outfit ... and I know Willow was trying to be supportive, but..."

"But wolf whistles don't help with the self-confidence. I am so with you on that," he muttered. "Look on the bright side. Even the Colonel's in makeup."

"Yeah, but he's all ... armor-y."

"Look, if something goes wrong, they step right in front of us and put that armor to good use."

Spike turned back to face them. "Will you two shut it? You want to announce to the bleedin' West Coast that you're fakes?"

"Hey, you're supposed to be bait."

"I'm a prisoner being brought back for bloody torture and whatnot. I'm supposed to be pissy. You're supposed to be all high and mighty and superior; don't even want to think how much mojo it's going to take to pull that off."

"The glamour's easy," Tara said.

"Right. You can do it in your sleep, Tara," Xander said encouragingly.

"Well, hopefully not in my sleep?"

They took a turn through the disused sewer pipe and came to a roughly cut door. "This is it," Spike announced, prying the door open to reveal a corridor beyond.

O'Neill looked at the grimy passageway. "You thinking what I'm thinking?"

Nobody responded for a moment.

"I believe so, O'Neill," Teal'c finally answered. "However, I still do not understand why the coyote does not fall until after he notices he has passed the edge of the cliff."

Xander gaped at Teal'c. "Did you-?" Then at O'Neill: "Did he-?"

O'Neill took a breath. "Game faces, everyone," he said, and touched a stud on his armor; the metal shield extended from the back of his collar, arching over his head, enveloping him, sealing his head in the striking-cobra helmet. Teal'c did likewise, shifting his hold on his staff from a walking-stick to a weapon's grip.

Tara muttered a few words; her eyes flashed white, and as she gripped Xander's hand, he felt the magic course through him.

"Showtime," O'Neill announced from within the serpent's helm, and the five stepped through the rusted doorway into enemy territory.