1900 hours, August 12
Hammond sighed inwardly as the technician closed the connection to P2A-870. He glanced around at the members of SG-1, all of whom had joined him in the Control Room as the gate was dialed. The look on O’Neill’s face as the wormhole evaporated said it all. The colonel was restless, edgy, and badly in need of something constructive to do.
The general remembered his own similar feelings after his best friend had been shot down over Vietnam. Joe Carlson had bailed out of the burning plane; Hammond had seen his ’chute open and drift toward the landscape below, and had radioed Joe’s position in the hope that he would be recovered. Hours had stretched to days and eventually to weeks with no word of the man’s fate, however. The only thing that had kept Hammond on anything approaching an even keel had been the fact that he’d remained busy. There wasn’t much downtime in those days for an Air Force pilot stationed in ‘Nam, and he’d flown missions despite the gnawing worry over his closest buddy.
He’d never seen Joe again…
Savagely, he shut down that train of thought. With any luck, things would be different for O’Neill and Cromwell. Still, the key right now might be sending O’Neill and his team on another mission. A brief one, to be sure, probably just simple recon. There were plenty of gate addresses from the Abydos cartouche still to be explored, and more had been added to the list by O’Neill himself while in the grip of that alien database. A few hours on another planet where they would have immediate tasks rather than more waiting around would occupy the colonel and his teammates and hopefully bleed off some of the stress that was obviously building up, especially in SG-1’s CO.
“Colonel.” He gestured to O’Neill. “I’d like you and your team to come to my office.”
Ferretti spoke up. “Me too, sir?” Hammond had noticed the major quietly taking up station near the stairwell just before the Stargate connected to P2A-870, and suspected the rest of his team were still in the mountain despite being free to go off-base after their return from P4X-293.
“Not — ” the general began, then stopped himself. Not at this time, he’d been about to say. But it was clear Ferretti was concerned over Cromwell to. Hammond was aware that old bonds ran deep. “Come along,” he told the major with a nod.
In his office, he didn’t bother to sit as he consulted the master mission schedule. Next up was P3W-924. It was always a gamble, sending a team through to a new destination for the first time. There was no telling what they might find there, although most commonly the gates were located on pastoral worlds. Occasionally they might encounter Goa’uld or Jaffa, but more often they encountered no one at all, or only another group of humans descended from ancestors transplanted long ago by the parasitic Goa’uld. There was no reason to expect P3W-924 in particular to be any different from the bulk of places the SG teams had visited. For all anyone knew, it could be just another planet with strangely-colored vegetation, like what Ferretti and SG-2 had recently encountered.
“Colonel O’Neill, I know how badly you want to get back to P2A-870 and resume the search for Colonel Cromwell. Believe me, I’m as anxious as you are for that to happen. Cromwell is a good man and a fine officer, and I’m eager to bring him home safely.”
He saw the colonel’s eyes begin to narrow, and raised a hand to forestall complaint. “You know as well as I do that there’s little point in sending a team into the middle of what is, for all practical purposes, a hurricane. It would be nearly impossible to search under those conditions, and even hurricanes have to wind down or move off sometime. Until then, we wait. But we’ve also lost more than two weeks from our schedule due to the time dilation this facility experienced while the Stargate was coupled to its counterpart on P3W-451. The President, the Pentagon, and the Joint Chiefs have made it clear that we must continue our explorations, and the last thing we need right now is another delay that might bring political pressure to bear against this command.”
“So what are you saying, sir?” O’Neill didn’t even bother to disguise his irritation.
Hammond kept his tone calm. “I’m saying that unless the weather on P2A-870 clears by the time of the next MALP check-in at planetary local dawn, approximately our 0700 hours, I’m ordering SG-1 to embark on a mission to P3W-924. Simple recon, there and back again in less than twenty-four hours. Those twenty-four hours will help us remain in the good graces of certain powers-that-be, and will also allow extra time for the weather system currently affecting P2A-870’s Stargate not only to clear, but possibly for its aftereffects to abate as well, at least to some degree.”
“General — ” the colonel began.
“Colonel, I have no choice.” Hammond leaned forward, placing his hands on the desk; his gaze swept the assembled personnel. “You all heard Senator Kinsey’s complaints when he was here last year. Except for you, Major,” — he glanced at Ferretti — “and I’m sure you’ve heard most of it since then. We’re under a tight schedule and I really don’t have the option of placing things on hold right now, especially for my flagship team. I’m sorry.”
In truth, he probably did have a bit more leeway than he was letting on, but not much. Most important right now, though, was giving O’Neill and his team something constructive to occupy their time and their energies while they waited for the opportunity to resume their previous mission. The colonel was wound up tighter than Hammond had seen him in recent memory, and if he didn’t find some way to reduce the excess tension, Hammond feared he wasn’t going to be half as effective when he got back to P2A-870 as he might need to be.
“General Hammond, sir?” Ferretti again, his respectful words couched in a tone that betrayed his own level of concern. “What about SG-2? Couldn’t we take this recon instead? ”
Hammond fixed him with a stern expression. He’d been hoping Ferretti would pick up on what he was trying to do, but no such luck. “SG-2 just returned from an off-world mission this afternoon, Major. You’re to stand down for forty-eight hours unless conditions on P2A-870 improve during that time, in which case you’ll accompany SG-1 and SG-5 on the search-and-rescue mission.”
He saw O’Neill’s scowl lift slightly, replaced by a questioning look. “Yes, Colonel, you heard me. As soon as SG-1 returns from P3W-924, you will have a ‘Go’ to return to the search for Colonel Cromwell if conditions permit. I’m not putting that on hold beyond what the weather dictates. I’d just like to get something more accomplished while we wait. You’ll have twenty-four hours to complete a recon of P3W-924, and for all I know it may not take even that long. You’ll embark at 0800, unless the morning MALP query says otherwise. For now, I want you to go home and get some sleep, then be back here at 0600 to prep for travel. Dismissed.”
The light from the cottage window was fading toward dusk. It slanted wanly across the sheet of paper that lay on Cromwell’s writing-desk, half-covered in the Pridanic script that had assumed a more elegant character in his mind the longer he was exposed to it. He paused in his writing to review his choice of words, then resumed, the letters forming up in rows to march behind his quill. The colonel filed nearly all of his ‘paperwork’ by means of the wax diptychs commonly in use among the Pridani, but occasionally he transcribed certain items to paper-and-ink for more permanent storage. Cadogan had asked him to do so with his report concerning events at the mine, adding detail and fleshing out the rather terse account he’d initially provided nearly a week ago upon returning.
All in all, he reflected, their mission had been a success. Of the contingent from Llanavon, none were lost and there were only two injuries worthy of mention — a sprained wrist and a broken finger, both involving one of his men. Upon the party’s return to the village they’d healed quickly under the ministrations of Cadogan and Sabar, using the Tok’bel healing device.
The group had been expanded temporarily by the addition of several other miners who’d joined with Tesni’s group and continued on with Cromwell and his team to the rendezvous near the caves. Hailing from various settlements within a twenty to thirty mile radius of the mine itself, most had traveled to the mine in wagons now lost to the fire. They’d managed to collect their horses, none of whom had bolted terribly far from the mining camp itself. The loss of their wagons, however, meant they’d have had to walk to their distant villages, a journey of up to two days on foot in winter. Acutely aware the miners lacked sufficient provisions for the long trek. Cromwell had decided to bring all of them to Llanavon as it was the closest settlement of sufficient size to supply spare wagons and provisions, or to offer lodging until other arrangements could be made.
And so it was that Cromwell and his Wolves along with Tesni, Ceinwen and a dozen other Llanavoni had shepherded some fifteen fellow miners to Llanavon. They arrived with the waning light of sunset, leading or in some cases astride the great horses that had lately drawn their carts. The colonel had alerted Cadogan via communicator while they were still on the road, and the villagers had turned out to greet them and escort everyone to hot baths, clean dry clothing, a hearty meal and comfortable quarters.
Cromwell had sat late into the night with Cadogan, too keyed-up from the events of the day to seek his bed when the others turned in. Tesni had joined them after a time, and shared the decanter of dwr o fywyd her uncle had brought out for the occasion. At Cadogan’s request she’d related her own experiences at the mine, sitting in one of the cadlywydd’s horsehair-upholstered chairs with glass in hand while Cromwell stretched himself on the hearthrug and waited for the warmth of fire and whisky to permeate his being.
He’d been impressed by Tesni’s account of events. When she mentioned Coll’s remark about the identity of the blond Jaffa whom Sholan had killed, Cromwell shared a nod with Cadogan. “That confirms it, then,” said the cadlywydd. “This group originated from the same source as those we encountered on Emhain. All the evidence points to Moccas, and Sholan will see to it that this raid is woven into the narrative he and our other Tok’bel operatives are feeding Bel as cover for the rebellion’s activities.”
“Do we know for sure he and his party were unharmed?” Tesni asked.
“I had word from our scout at the chappa’ai that the general and his companions left Tir ’nAwyr at sunset,” Cadogan told her. “The general led the group and his Jaffa were bearing two wounded: one Jaffa and one of the general’s Goa’uld subordinates. They left quickly, most likely for Bohan.”
Things had been quiet in the intervening week. A messenger from the mine had arrived with a request from Eiluned for more staff to replace those who had ‘understandably taken their leave’ when the battle broke out. Idris and Cadogan had responded by detailing Nenniaw’s team to fill the gap for one week’s turn.
Most of the non-local miners who’d come to Llanavon with Cromwell and his team journeyed onward to their homes within a day or two after their arrival. Cadogan spent some time conferring with Dylan and Mael, the rebel brothers from Tarren Môr, who’d tarried longer at the cadlywydd’s request. This afternoon they had announced their intention to leave for home on the morrow.
Cromwell paused again every few words to dip the quill in oak-gall ink, reflecting that while the need to do so interrupted the flow of his writing, it also provided him with additional time to collect and organize his thoughts. If nothing else, it helped to offset the difficulty that editing a more hastily-written report would have entailed, given the permanent nature of pen and ink as opposed to a wax diptych — or the computer he’d used on Earth, what seemed a lifetime ago now.
The sound of footsteps behind him announced Tesni’s approach, and he looked up as she leaned in to lift the glass chimney of his desk-lamp and light the wick. “It’ll be dark before you finish,” she said mildly as she replaced the chimney.
“Probably so.” He grasped her left hand and brushed his lips across it before releasing her to attend to her own tasks. Twice in the past four nights he’d startled from dreams in which he saw her yet again in the mine compound, while a Jaffa aimed his weapon directly at her. Each time he found himself unable to utter a warning, his voice frozen in his throat, and as he raised his own zat to fire at her attacker the dream evaporated to leave him wide-awake in bed with his heart racing. He had no idea whether the events of that day troubled her sleep or not. If they did, she surely hadn’t mentioned it to him.
“I saw Tegwyn outside the stable, talking to Cynwric again,” Tesni remarked, setting her taper into its holder on the dining table. Warm light spilled across the smooth oaken surface as she began to set out plates for their supper.
“The boy from Tarren Môr?” Cromwell had noticed that their niece had developed a keen interest in the youth during the days he’d spent here in Llanavon.
“That’s the one. She’s quite taken with him, and he seems to like her as well. Pity he lives so far away.”
Cromwell reflected yet again on how much greater a distance of thirty miles could seem in a low-tech environment than in a world that possessed modern transport and paved roads. “True,” he agreed.
“Ris has been spending time with him, too,” Tesni continued. “Cynwric was curious about the gwrthaflau he’d seen in the tackroom, and Ris was telling him how they were your idea.” She topped off his mug with fresh tea from the pot before setting it on the dining table. “You might spend some time explaining them to Cynwric before he returns home.”
The colonel chuckled at the prospect of sharing his ‘idea’ — stirrups for riding, which he’d long since taken to explaining publicly as the odd invention of a family friend in his youth — with an interested audience. “Well, then, I’ll have to look the young man up. After dinner,” he added, drawing his wife onto his lap when she would have passed on her way to the hearth. He buried his face in her hair, inhaling its scent, then kissed her neck. “And not too late into the night,” he added, before nibbling the spot he’d just kissed. “He and his kin will want to make an early start tomorrow, I’m sure.”