9 August, 0900 hours
Captain Samantha Carter stood in the Control Room, surveying the Gate Room through newly replaced windows. Installation of the upgraded trinium-enhanced iris had been swift, and things looked to be getting back to normal.
Well, almost normal, she amended. The memorial service for Henry Boyd and the rest of SG-10 was scheduled for 14:00, just under five hours from now. Due to the bizarre nature of the time dilation caused by the black hole that was slowly destroying P3W-451, they would be holding a memorial for a team who weren’t exactly dead yet, and wouldn’t be for a near-infinite span of time. However, they were completely, irretrievably lost to the SGC and the rest of the normal universe, and she supposed that was as close to dead as made little difference to the families and friends they left behind. Besides, it wasn’t as if the true nature of what had happened to them could be revealed to anyone outside the SGC. As far as their loved ones would ever know, they had simply died in the line of duty, their bodies lost to whatever disaster had been dreamt up by those responsible for making such explanations to anyone who could not be told the truth.
She wondered, however, whether there would need to be a memorial for yet another victim of the black hole. Colonel Frank Cromwell had fallen into the Stargate while helping Colonel Jack O’Neill set a shaped charge to explode in close proximity to the gate in an attempt to cause its connected wormhole to jump away from P3W-451 and spare the SGC and Earth from being destroyed by the black hole’s gravity well, which had been transmitted through the gate. After Cromwell had fallen into the wormhole, O’Neill finished arming the bomb, and Teal’c managed to pull him to safety before it detonated. The wormhole had jumped from P3W-451 to P2A-870, whereupon General Hammond had immediately ordered the gate shut down.
Only a few moments later, of course, the gate had been reactivated by an incoming wormhole as the SG teams stuck off-world and out of contact while the SGC had been incapacitated by the gravity well’s time dilation effect began returning home. The second to arrive had SG-6, with Daniel Jackson in tow, returning from an archaeological dig on P3X-808. Upon being brought up to date regarding what had occurred in his absence, Daniel’s first question had been, “How is Jack?” His sixteenth, nearly a day later, was, “So, has anyone gone to P2A-870 to look for Colonel Cromwell?”
That was the one that had stopped them all cold. Everyone, including Carter, had just assumed Cromwell to be lost, victim to either the crushing pressure of the gravity well or the black hole itself. Not to mention the blast energies from the shaped charge that had detonated less than thirty seconds after his tumble into the gate’s event horizon. But what if they were wrong?
The exchange had sent Sam back to her calculations for yet another all-nighter, and although there were still a lot of variables she hadn’t been able to pin down, she now suspected the effects of time dilation on the internal properties of the wormhole meant there was an outside chance that Cromwell could have been still in transit when it skipped between Stargates. In that case, was it also possible that he had survived the journey to reach P2A-870 alive?
A hand closed gently upon her shoulder. Startled, Carter whirled to find Daniel behind her. Blue eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses surveyed her with an expression of concern. “Sorry, Sam, I didn’t realize you were so lost in thought. I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
She shook her head, giving him a tired smile. “It’s okay, Daniel. If I stand here any longer, I’ll start to put down roots. Want to go get a cup of coffee? I could use a walk.”
They found an empty table in a far corner of the commissary, and settled down with steaming cups. Sam turned hers around and around between her hands. “Have you seen the colonel today?”
Daniel looked up from stirring his cup. “I thought he was still in the infirmary.”
“No, Janet told me last night that she was releasing him. I think he was probably starting to drive her crazy. You know how he hates to be stuck in one of those beds.”
The archaeologist shook his head. “That’s Jack for you. He probably went home to decompress and de-stress, maybe try to get some sleep in his own bed. It’s what I would have done after almost getting killed.”
“Don’t remind me of that.” Sam stared into the depths of her coffee. “I don’t know how I’d have lived with myself if he had been, considering it was my idea that had him rappelling into that gravity well with a bomb in the first place.”
“Sam, it isn’t like you had a choice. What you came up with was brilliant, from everything I’ve heard, and if it weren’t for you — and for Jack — we wouldn’t even be able to have this conversation.”
She sighed. “Thanks, Daniel. I’m just glad Teal’c was able to pull him back in time.”
The archaeologist fixed her with a penetrating look. “Okay, this is probably going to sound weird, especially coming from me, but have you gotten any sleep since all of this happened?”
She was busted, and she knew it. “I slept for almost eight hours after Janet told us the colonel would be okay.”
“Mmm-hmm. And that was two days ago.”
“Daniel, I had work to do.”
“I understand wanting to catch up on things while we’re on stand-down, but honestly — ”
She interrupted him. “I’ve been doing some calculations, and it looks like there’s at least a chance Colonel Cromwell could have survived. A slim one, but it’s a chance all the same.”
His eyes went wide. “Does the general know?”
“Not yet. I mean, I only just finished figuring it out myself about half an hour ago. And General Hammond’s been tied up with preparations for the memorial service, so I haven’t had a chance to tell him yet.”
“Tell what to whom?” The deep voice accompanied the arrival of Teal’c at their table.
“Sam was just telling me that Colonel Cromwell might still be alive, on P2A-870.”
“Indeed. And you have not yet shared this information with General Hammond.” Not an affirmation; rather, a question, Teal’c-style.
“I haven’t had a chance,” replied Carter.
“Well, to be fair, Teal’c, she did just figure it out now.”
“Actually, I went looking for the General, but couldn’t find him either in his office or in the Control Room. That’s where Daniel found me, just a few minutes ago.”
“I see.” The Jaffa warrior pulled out a chair and joined them. “O’Neill will want to command the rescue mission.”
Sam massaged the space between her eyes. “There’s something else. I — I think there used to be some bad blood between him and Colonel Cromwell.”
That earned her two wide-eyed stares. Horrified, she realized the potential implication of what she had just said. “No! No! I wasn’t suggesting Colonel O’Neill would ever deliberately — ”
“Not in a million years — ”
“O’Neill would not — ”
They realized they were all talking at once. Sam went on, “What I meant to say was that Colonel O’Neill and Colonel Cromwell seemed to have had a history together, and it wasn’t a good one. But I also got the impression that something changed while they were getting ready to set that bomb.”
“That would explain the look on O’Neill’s face after Colonel Cromwell disappeared into the wormhole.” Teal’c finished her thought. Their CO’s expression had been one of complete anguish, made all the more horrific by their seeing it in slow-motion as he had still been deep in the high-gee zone near the Stargate at the time.
Daniel, having been off-world during all of this, was clearly at a loss. “Would one of you like to explain to me exactly what we’re talking about here? Sam?”
“When I first encountered Colonel Cromwell, he was in the Control Room. Colonel O’Neill introduced us. He said that Cromwell was here to rescue us, but then added, ‘don’t count on it’. The way he said it just sounded odd. Bitter. General Hammond showed up about a minute later, ordered the evacuation of the base and asked for two volunteers to stay behind to set the auto-destruct. The colonel — Colonel O’Neill — volunteered. So did Colonel Cromwell. Colonel O’Neill didn’t seem happy about that at all, and asked for another volunteer. No one came forward, and Cromwell told him it looked like he was stuck with him. I didn’t quite catch what Colonel O’Neill said after that, but he was clearly unhappy about it.”
“Most unusual,” Teal’c observed.
“Also, I talked to Janet later on, and she mentioned that when she was being… escorted through the base by Colonel Cromwell and his men, and encountered Colonel O’Neill, he confirmed that he knew Cromwell. She got the same feeling I did, that there was animosity between them.”
Daniel drummed his fingers on the tabletop. “Do you think Jack’s told her anything more?”
“If he has, I doubt she’d tell me. Patient confidentiality and all that. But if I had to guess, I’d say she doesn’t know any more about it more than I do.”
Teal’c picked up the narrative. “After Captain Carter convinced General Hammond that allowing the base to self-destruct would be ineffective in shutting down the wormhole and averting the destruction of Earth by the black hole’s gravity, she devised the plan to detonate the shaped charge in proximity to the Stargate. Colonel Cromwell and O’Neill worked together to set the charge. At this point, they seemed to be working well together as a team and I detected no animosity between them. After the secondary windows of the Control Room shattered, injuring both men and causing them to slip farther down their ropes than anticipated, Colonel Cromwell appeared to be attempting to aid O’Neill in re-ascending the line. When Colonel Cromwell’s line broke, he caught and held onto O’Neill’s harness momentarily before falling into the wormhole. I distinctly saw O’Neill try to catch him as he fell, and I saw O’Neill’s face when he was unsuccessful.”
Sam pushed her empty cup away. “Daniel, he looked like a man who’d just seen his best friend die.”