It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.  — Seneca


A harsh wind rattled the windowpanes in Cadogan’s office on the second floor of the Am Rhyddid’s Dinas Coedwyg headquarters. Fat raindrops splattered against the glass and ran together over the surface, turning the world outside into a blur of indistinct grays and browns broken here and there by patches of verdant evergreen, or fiery orange-yellow where some stubborn oak still held onto a mass of autumn foliage.

Cromwell drew his gaze away from the windows with an effort, focusing once more on the report being delivered by Graid, the movement’s local quartermaster. Graid was by no means unlikeable or unpleasant, but his manner when making a report rendered an already dull subject wholly soporific. After more than twenty-five years of military service, the colonel understood full well the importance of proper supply administration to any fighting force. However, that didn’t mean he found the details particularly gripping even under the best of conditions, let alone when conveyed in the quartermaster’s nasal monotone.

A brief glance told him that Cadogan wasn’t really feeling it, either. The cadlywydd absently tapped the stylus for his diptych against the tablet’s wooden frame as Graid droned on about the number of saddle blankets needed to replace what an unexpected infestation of moths had destroyed. After a moment, the quartermaster finally wound down, closing his own diptych and looking at his commander expectantly.

Cadogan cleared his throat. “Is that all?”

“Yes, sir,” Graid replied.

The cadlywydd favored him with a nod. “Then purchase the replacement blankets from whomever has sufficient stock on Weaver’s Row, and look into commissioning new trunks for their storage.”

The quartermaster inclined his head in the ubiquitous Pridanic gesture of compliance and took a seat as Cadogan made a note in his diptych. For a moment the only sounds in the room were the wind outside, the crackle and pop of the fire in the hearth, and a soft scratching as the stylus found a thin spot in the wax layer and struck the wood beneath.  The cadlywydd pursed his lips and smoothed the waxy surface, then continued writing, ending the line with a firm stroke.

Laying the stylus aside, he turned to Cromwell. “Neirin, would you care to fill everyone in on our mission to Emhain?”

Despite having been stunned into unconsciousness — along with Cadogan — by zat fire during the latter portion of his Black Wolves’ joint raid upon Doireglas with Fearghas mac Cuilen’s own team of Emhaini rebels, Cromwell now knew the details of what had transpired even after he and the cadlywydd had gone down. Awakening in the shallow cargo well of the barge with Cadogan at his side, he’d learned that his men had killed the entire mixed force of loyalists and Jaffa whom they had engaged in the firefight that had taken both Cadogan and himself out of action, then managed to escape on the barge with both unconscious men. Fearghas and his team had rejoined them shortly after their return to the fort at Rath Tulach, where the Emhaini ceannard had related the tale of his own men’s exploits at the Doireglas facility, culminating in a rout of the attacking force of Jaffa sent by Moccas, as well as the strategically arranged deaths of several individuals loyal to Bel who had been among those in charge of the facility. Cromwell, Cadogan and the Black Wolves had spent the night in Rath Tulach, returning through the stargate to Tir Awyr the next day. Three days had passed since then.

Cromwell looked around the table at the rest of the meeting’s attendees: Nenniaw, Aeronwy and Dynawd from Llanavon, along with Brochwel, Eian and Llywarch, who commanded three of the six teams based in Dinas Coedwyg. Celyn and his team were on duty back in Llanavon, and the other three local teams were away on field exercises.

He took a sip of hot tea, then launched into an overview of what Fearghas had told them regarding his group’s possession of false Jaffa armor, following with a description of their encounter with Moccas’ Jaffa at Doireglas. “According to Fearghas, our own forces combined with those already at the facility managed to kill all of the foreign Jaffa. Four of Bel’s Jaffa were lost as well, and the administrative staff of the facility who were loyal to Bel were killed either by Moccas’ Jaffa or by ‘friendly fire’, if you take my meaning.”

“They’ll be replaced by personnel who are secretly members of our own movement,” Cadogan put in. “Fearghas says his own people are already on it.”

Cromwell nodded. “The interesting part of all this is that Moccas appears to think it well worth his trouble to conduct raids on Bel’s worlds for resources. While none of us wish to see such raids result in further deaths among our own people or the general populace, as long as the balance can be held to the point where Moccas continues to trouble Bel without causing him to clamp down too hard on any of our planets, we may benefit from letting Moccas absorb the blame for our own activities.”

Across the table, Aeronwy spoke up. “I can see why this is helpful, but how certain can we be of this balance persisting?”

“It’ll be tricky, and we’ll need to formulate several contingency plans to deal with various scenarios,” Cadogan told her. “Sabar and the Tok’bel are working on some of this, and we’ll have more information once the Tok’bel operatives sent to infiltrate Moccas’ organization report back. Until then, the best we can do is keep a sharp eye out for further activity and address each situation as it arises.”

The filwriad inclined her head in acknowledgement, her dark braid slipping over one shoulder.

Cadogan sipped at his tea and glanced around the table before moving on to the next order of business. “I’d still like to have additions to the list of personnel willing to be trained to fly ger’tak. You all know of the plan to relieve Bel of his new ha’tak upon its completion, and if all goes well, we’re going to want to have plenty of qualified pilots for the fighter craft it can carry. If you have anyone in mind who hasn’t already been placed on the training list, please let me know.” He paused, fixing each of his officers in turn with a significant look. “Those pilots are going to need leaders as well, so we’ll need experienced officers to step up and take those roles. Any of you are more than welcome to volunteer, and I strongly encourage you to do so. You may also recommend officers under your command, or officer candidates — although again, I will stress that experience is preferable.”

The assembled filwriadau exchanged uncomfortable glances, and Cromwell got the impression that none of them were particularly eager to take up piloting. He could sympathize, despite being familiar with flying craft — and now spacecraft, courtesy of Cadogan’s insistence that he learn to pilot the tel’tak recently.

The meeting wrapped up a few moments later. Cadogan stayed Cromwell with a gentle hand on his arm as the other officers filed out of the room, murmuring amongst themselves. When the two of them were alone, Cadogan crossed to the bookshelves that lined one wall of the office. Lifting down the gwyddbwyll set that rested there, he raised an eyebrow at Cromwell. “Do me the favor of a game while we wait to see if the rain will let up?” he asked.

The colonel nodded his acquiescence. “I’m in no particular hurry to get wet,” he said, resuming his seat at the table.

Cadogan carried the game over and placed it on the table between them, taking the chair opposite. As he set up the pieces, he said casually, “I went over the list of pilot trainees again this morning.”

Cromwell tried to ignore the sinking feeling in his stomach. “And?”

The cadlywydd took a deep breath and blew it out between pursed lips. “Sixteen names.”

Cromwell blinked. “That’s all?”

“That’s all we’ve got so far. Why do you think I keep pressing everyone on this, Neirin? Of those sixteen, only four are officers, and three are of those are recently promoted, like Armagil.” As he spoke, Cadogan finished arranging the game board. “I don’t know what we’re going to be able to do with only sixteen pilots total and four squadron leaders. We’ve nearly that many ger’tak now, and if we get more along with Bel’s ha’tak — which seems probable, given that our spies in the shipyards swear they’ve seen plans to construct them — we won’t have enough people qualified to fly them.”

The colonel suspected he knew what was coming next. “Cadogan, if you’re asking what I think you’re asking — ” he began, then stopped. The rest of his words died unuttered as he was struck by the look of naked desperation on the cadlywydd’s face. It wasn’t an expression he recalled ever seeing from his friend.

“Neirin,” said Cadogan, “I know I promised not to ask this of you, but I’m asking anyway. I need at least one senior officer to learn to fly ger’tak, if for no other reason than having someone the others will trust who can explain that it really isn’t as difficult or as daunting as it obviously seems to them.”

Cromwell shook his head. “Why can’t someone like Armagil do that?”

“Armagil could, but I still think it will be much better if it comes from a senior-level officer. You’re the natural choice, given that you’ve already mastered the tel’tak. Flying ger’tak isn’t much different, barring certain elements of maneuverability and a slight adjustment to their flight dynamics. Believe me, you’ll have no trouble with it, and I think that seeing one of their number step forward and take the initiative will motivate some of the other officers to do the same.”

The colonel heaved a sigh, knowing he couldn’t refuse; neither in good conscience as an officer, nor in his capacity as this man’s friend. Not when Cadogan had given him so much in his time here. “All right,” he said. “When do we do this?”

Cadogan reached across the table to clasp his hand in gratitude. “The day after tomorrow suits me. Fair enough?”


Standing once more in the subterranean hangar at Caer Ynys, Cromwell looked dubiously at the small metallic device in his hand.

“Place that against your cheek,” Cadogan told him. “It’s a communicator, so we can talk. These work both intra-ship and from ship to ship.”

He shrugged and did as the cadlywydd instructed. The device adhered lightly to his skin, and he felt a faint vibration that quickly faded. “So the control system for the ger’tak is the same as in the tel’tak, then?” he asked.

Cadogan nodded. “Essentially, yes. Both craft use the same type of control globe for piloting.” His voice came over the communicator as well as through the air to Cromwell’s ears. “You did well in learning to handle the tel’tak, so I really don’t expect you to have trouble with the ger’tak.”

Cromwell resisted the urge to shake his head. Of the two of them, Jack had really been the one with pilot training, not him. The circumstances of Jack’s transition from flyboy to ground forces had been complicated and murky with secrecy, but his piloting skills had come in handy a few times in the twelve years the pair had served together. Cromwell had handled weaponry on those occasions, making them a formidable team even in something other than their normal operating environment.

Like many fighting aircraft used on Earth over the years, Goa’uld ger’tak normally carried a two-man crew — a pilot and a weaponry officer — although a single individual could handle both elements of its operation if necessary. Sabar had insisted that each of the rebel volunteers be trained in both roles, so that any one of them could pilot the fighter craft, take responsibility for its weapons, or do both. The colonel hadn’t planned on learning to handle any of the Tok’bel’s collection of vessels at all, but when Cadogan had personally asked him to learn to pilot the tel’tak that was Sabar’s personal craft, he’d found the idea intriguing. After a day of lessons, Cadogan had pronounced him a more than adequate pilot for the craft, and he’d had several opportunities since then to practice. Now, at the cadlywydd’s behest, he was also going to learn to pilot a Goa’uld fighter craft and man its weapons controls. He’d never planned to be a fighter pilot, but again, his friend had made the request personally as well as professionally. The colonel had to admit that at least he’d probably spent more time aboard flying craft than most of the other rebels; certainly more than any of his own men. And other than himself and Gerlad, very few of the unblended human rebels had ever piloted a spaceship.

It was ironic, Cromwell reflected. Less than two years ago, he and the rest of the 121st Special Tactics had sat in a briefing room as General West explained their new assignment. The colonel had felt a guarded anticipation; after all, he was pretty sure he was about to find out exactly what Jack O’Neill had been involved in for the previous year or so, and also exactly how dangerous it was. But nothing could have prepared him for the two words with which West had opened the briefing.

“Space travel,” West had said, looking around the table at each man in turn.

“Space travel,” echoed Cromwell, confused. “General, we’re a Special Ops team. We’re hardly qualified for a shuttle mission.”

West smiled tightly. “You’ve been called here because you are uniquely qualified for this project.”

“I don’t understand, sir,” Cromwell told him. “We’re combat control and pararescue, sir. We shoot people. We rescue people — when we’re allowed to. We blow shit up. We don’t fly spaceships.”

“No, Colonel, you won’t be flying any spaceships,” West had replied, just before flicking on a slide projector and showing the 121st their first glimpse of the Stargate.

The general had been wrong about that, at least in his case, the colonel reflected. Although he could admit that for once it was through no fault of West’s own. If someone had told me two years ago that I’d wind up piloting spaceships — hell, not just scout transports like the tel’tak, which at least isn’t much different in size from the Shuttle, but alien space fighters like something out of friggin’ Star Wars, no less — I’d have said they were crazy. West probably would have agreed with me, too.

He pulled his thoughts back to the present with an effort. “All right, let’s do this. I never thought I’d fly something like these, but I’m game to try.” In fact, I’ve done damn little fighting in the air, and none of it in the past fifteen years unless you count hoping like hell not to take any fire on my way down to the LZ.

“I expect you’ll do just fine,” Cadogan assured him.

To his own mild surprise, he did. The cadlywydd took second seat, usually the province of the weaponry officer, and instructed him from there. Sabar could have taken charge of Cromwell’s instruction, and the colonel had half-expected him to, but true to form, Cadogan assumed the primary role. His symbiote had taught him how to pilot one of these craft some time ago, he explained, and he welcomed the opportunity to impart that skill to another — with, he admitted, some input from Sabar himself. This one ger’tak out of the Tok’bel’s collection had been altered slightly, outfitted with a second control sphere in the weapons station to enable its use as a twin-seat trainer. The colonel noted, not without amusement, that some things might simply be universal.

After leading him through the ridiculously simple prelaunch sequence, Cadogan ordered the doors of Caer Ynys’ hangar bay opened, and guided Cromwell through the actual launch. Leaving the bleak surface of the small moon behind, they soared into space. Cromwell was struck yet again by the awesome beauty of the pale gas giant about which the Tok’bel stronghold orbited. Its striations reminded him of photos of Jupiter. Pressing back the momentary pang of homesickness which still occasionally assailed him when he thought of things connected with his native world, he focused his attention on the ruddy sphere embedded in the console before him. Feedback from the alien control system was still a strange sensation, and he’d not yet completely shed his amazement at the idea of controlling a vessel with mere thought and touch. The DOD would kill to have a system like this to study. I wonder how much technology has actually come back to Earth via the Stargate Program, anyway.

Shaking off the reflection, he concentrated on Cadogan’s instructions and the fighter’s controls, acclimating himself to the feel of the smaller craft as he put it through its paces under the cadlywydd’s tutelage. The ger’tak was definitely more maneuverable than the tel’tak, and Cromwell quickly found that he needed to adjust his reaction time to match the smaller craft’s capabilities, not to mention the fact that the sensation of rapid flight was far more pronounced in the ger’tak given its smaller size. He spent a couple of hairy moments on the edge of letting the fighter get away from him before he began to get the hang of it and settled into a more-or-less steady rapport with its control systems. Cadogan assured him throughout the process that this was normal, however, and nothing he should feel bad about. “There’s a learning curve involved here, Neirin, and you’re doing what every new pilot does in one of these. Don’t worry; you’ll be fine.”

They spent perhaps two hours in flight before Cadogan said, “All right. I think you’ve got the flying part. Let’s turn our attention to weaponry.”

Now came the tricky part. The ger’tak fighters were outfitted with what were essentially scaled-up versions of a ma’tok. Over his time among the Pridani, Cromwell had thoroughly familiarized himself with the use of the ma’tok staff that, along with the zat’nik’tel, formed the basis of both the Am Rhyddid’s arsenal and its Goa’uld counterpart. He’d been rated an expert marksman by the Air Force back on Earth, and his skills had carried over to the use of the alien weapons. Firing a ma’tok in a ground battle was one thing, though, while using its oversized cousin while flying a fighting ship through space was quite another. Cadogan put him through his paces, conducting several strafing runs on the back side of the desolate moon housing Caer Ynys, as well as directing him in practice firing at orbital targets in the small debris belt that circled the gas giant itself. At first he missed his targets far more frequently than he hit them, causing no small measure of frustration, especially in light of the fact that he’d previously handled the weaponry of atmospheric fighter craft with a fair amount of skill. Determined to master the task at hand, Cromwell persevered, gradually gaining control over the ger’tak’s firing system and feeling his level of confidence return.

He was closing in on physical and mental exhaustion by the time Cadogan finally instructed him to turn back toward the nameless moon once more, arrowing for the small canyon that hid the doors of the hangar bay from any prying eyes. Not that Bel or any other Goa’uld suspected the base’s location, Sabar had assured him many times. The Tok’bel had ample evidence of that from their own operatives within Bel’s hierarchy and the fact that Caer Ynys had never suffered an attack. Cromwell knew that a previous base had in fact been destroyed by Bel, leading the Tok’bel to relocate here, but he got the impression that had happened many years ago. The current base was far better hidden, said Sabar, and unlikely to be detected.

“Are you comfortable with navigating the canyon in the ger’tak?” came Cadogan’s voice over the commlink as they approached their destination — a ragged furrow in the moon’s desolate surface, just one more scar in a landscape that seemed to be made of them.

The canyon twisted across the rocky plain like an addled snake. Still, Cromwell reasoned, he seemed to be getting a good grasp on piloting their craft, despite its different feel from the tel’tak. “I manage all right in the tel’tak, so this shouldn’t be terribly difficult,” he said, adding, “Just stand by to take over if I get us in trouble.”

The reply came in Sabar’s voice, rather than Cadogan’s. {“I’m not worried,”} said the Tok’bel cheerfully.

The colonel grunted. “I’m not either, really, but be ready just in case.”

A chuckle, in modulated harmonics. {“I will.”}

The entry went smoothly, external sound returning as they passed through the forcefield barrier that held the atmosphere inside. He brought the ger’tak down gently in its assigned spot, and the massive metal doors of the hangar slid closed as they ran through post-flight and shut down the craft. At Sabar’s direction, the colonel pressed the control that lowered the cockpit capsule through the bottom of the vessel. I still say this is a strange design, but it works, he thought as they descended.

Together, the pair climbed out of their seats and stepped down to stand on the cavern’s crystalline floor. The Tok’bel leader nodded, wearing a look of satisfaction on the face he shared with the man who had become Cromwell’s closest friend in this unexpected new life he had been forced by circumstance to carve out for himself. In recent months, the colonel had slowly grown somewhat more comfortable in dealing directly with Sabar than before, although he still couldn’t completely shake the bizarre sense of otherness he still felt sometimes, especially when he looked into Cadogan’s eyes and unexpectedly found the symbiote looking back at him. He noticed the change when he was watching it, as both members of the pair never failed to look down and make the switch with closed eyes. “More comfortable for everyone,” Cadogan had once explained. Cromwell had never been subjected to the eye flash he knew that Goa’uld were wont to generate; all of the Tok’bel took care to hide it. But at times when he hadn’t actually seen the exchange, it could be disconcerting to suddenly find himself dealing with Sabar rather than his host. The colonel noted that he was getting better at sensing which consciousness was in charge, however. Some subtle difference in expression, the cant of the head, or body language usually alerted him nowadays to the fact that Cadogan had ceded control to the symbiote.

Sabar patted the ger’tak’s massive wing, satisfaction mixing with appraisal in his expression as he smiled at the colonel. {“Neirin, you’ve caught onto this amazingly fast, even given that you’ve already been trained on the tel’tak. Between that and today, I’m guessing you were at least reasonably familiar with flying craft before you came to us, weren’t you? Not spacecraft necessarily, but atmospheric ones, no?”}

Cromwell fought to keep tension out of his own body language. The question sounded innocent enough, but if the sketchy information from his Air Force briefings were at all representative of the larger picture, most of the worlds on which the Goa’uld had settled their human slaves still possessed relatively low-tech cultures, with technologically-advanced worlds being few and far between. The colonel knew that Sabar was already aware he did not hail from a completely low-tech world. His wristwatch was one clue; he had never bothered to hide it, reasoning that it was rather too late to do so by the time he’d decided to blend in with the local population. Any human who had already seen it would be somewhat familiar with the similar devices worn by some of the Tok’bel, and the colonel hoped that they would think his nothing more than a slightly different model. Likewise, he knew that the Tok’bel he’d encountered were sure to have already noticed it, although none had inquired about it. Cadogan, and therefore Sabar, had seen the device up close on countless occasions, but if it provided any clue to his origins, neither had mentioned it.

But aircraft were a far cry from wristwatches, even digital ones. Or are they? Cromwell asked himself. Probably not, in terms of tech level, he realized. Still, the watch was something he could perhaps hope to pass off as tech imported to his world from elsewhere, while a familiarity with powered flight was another story. For a fleeting instant he wondered how many human worlds actually had flying craft of any description other than those of Goa’uld origin. Probably not too many. On the other hand, Sabar was pretty perceptive, and Cadogan was no slouch either. Belatedly, the colonel realized that he might have inadvertently given away an important clue to the identity of his homeworld by failing to hide the fact that he understood the essentials of flight dynamics. True, the inertial-negation drive utilized by Goa’uld and Tok’bel craft for sublight travel was a game-changer, but at least some of the principles were still the same, especially in atmosphere.

Well, there was nothing for it now but to brazen his way through and hope. He put on his best poker face and answered in a neutral tone, “I’ve seen them, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Sabar nodded again. {“I know that several worlds have them. The Aschen planets, for instance, not to mention one or two of the worlds from which my former hosts have come.”} He regarded Cromwell expectantly, as if looking for some hint of recognition at the name of what must be a relatively high-tech culture. The name meant nothing to the colonel, but it was obvious that the symbiote’s curiosity was aroused.

Groaning internally, he nevertheless kept a tight rein on his reactions. “Sabar, I — ” he began cautiously.

The Tok’bel waved him off. {“Oh, don’t fuss. I know you prefer anonymity, and to be honest, I really don’t have any problem with that. I’ll admit I’m curious, but I think I know you well enough — or Cadogan does at any rate, which amounts to the same thing in terms of trust — that I don’t really need to know where you come from if you have some reason for not telling me. You’re a Pridano now anyway, and a very useful one at that, so I won’t pry.”} He laid a hand gently and briefly on the colonel’s shoulder, turning him away from the ger’tak and beginning to walk them both toward the doorway that led from the hangar back into the main tunnels of Caer Ynys. {“You’re certainly not Aschen yourself; you haven’t anything like their attitude. I don’t think you’re Tollan either. Though if it turned out you were from someplace like, say, Volia, I might completely understand your reticence, since I know the Volians have had their share of problems not long ago. Being Volian could go far in explaining how easily you learned Pridanic, too.”} Sabar raised one eyebrow a fraction as Cromwell looked at him, but the colonel kept his silence. After a second, Sabar glanced away, then back again with a wry smile. {“My apologies, Neirin. I should know better than to let curiosity get the better of me by now. I won’t ask again, all right?”}

‘Tollan’ sounded vaguely familiar, but Cromwell had no clue who — or what — the Aschen were, nor the Volians either. Rather than admit this, however, he simply nodded. “Fair enough, Sabar. I know Cadogan’s curious too, but he doesn’t ask. And I just would really rather not talk about it.”

{“I can accept that. Again, I’m sorry if I’ve made you uncomfortable.”} There was genuine regret in Sabar’s expression.

“It’s all right.” The colonel changed the subject as they entered the airlock leading to the narrow tunnel that would take them into the lower levels of Caer Ynys. “I will tell you that I never once dreamed I would find myself piloting any kind of craft in space, and now you’ve taught me to handle two of them. It’s a bit much to wrap my mind around, when I stop to think about it. But I think I like it.”

Sabar grinned. {“Good. I’m glad to hear it, because I’d like you to spend more time on this. When we get to the point of being able to really make use of these ger’tak, you know as well as I do that we’ll need seasoned commanders to lead our pilots. You’ve already proven yourself in the second category, and I think you’ll do quite well in the first. What do you say — are you willing to lead a squadron when the time comes?”}

Despite having harbored a sneaking suspicion that this request might be coming at some point, Cromwell still found himself taken aback by the speed with which it had arrived — so much so that he stopped in his tracks, staring at Sabar. His mind raced. He’d agreed to help in any way he could, he knew. Even so, nearly forty-eight was a bit late in life to embark on a career as a fighter pilot, wasn’t it? Let alone becoming a squadron commander? Old dog, new tricks… Then again, my life’s been a steady parade of new tricks this past year or so…

His companion apparently misinterpreted his bemusement as reluctance, for he bowed his head and closed his eyes, ceding control to his host. A second later, Cadogan looked up and said, “Neirin, Sabar wouldn’t ask if he didn’t sincerely believe you were the right person for the job. And neither would I. But we’re both asking.”

Cromwell snorted. “To be honest, I don’t know if I’m the right person or not.” Then again, was anyone? Truth be told, he did have experience and knowledge relevant to what was being asked of him, whether or not he admitted it to Sabar, or to Cadogan either. And he’d never been one to walk away from a challenge, nor from a friend’s sincere request in a time of need. “But I’ll do it, if you’re sure that’s what you want.”


Cromwell’s recollection of the 121st’s briefing with General West is drawn directly from Flora’s tale, “All Go Down Together“. Once again, I am indebted to her creative genius.