The Winter of Hammond's Heart

Chapter 1

Major General George Sinclair Hammond chased the wrinkled, green peas around the plate with his fork then, with a disgusted growl, gave up. They weren't worth it. The whole meal wasn't worth it, except for the fact that he'd missed lunch then walked straight into a crisis with a returning SG team. Sorting out that mess had taken all afternoon leaving barely enough time to change from the traditional Friday BDUs into his blues for the dinner. The coffee and toast he'd grabbed at 0520 had been long gone.

Never known for exceptional food, the Club didn't surprise anyone tonight. Deciding the baked chicken, which must have seen the better part of the evening in a warming pan, was best left unfinished, Hammond sat back in his seat with his iced tea and wondered what there was to eat at home.

The frosty emptiness of his freezer and the bareness of his cabinets and refrigerator came to mind- he really needed to squeeze in a trip to the commissary- and decided that the Taco Heaven drive-thru window was a much better bet. He would worry about the diet Dr. Fraser had him on some other day.

Around the head table, others chatted while doggedly working at finishing their own Gala Chicken. There was perhaps an hour and a quarter or half yet to go with awards, speaker, and appropriate remarks from the ranking brass- himself. If he didn't hang around afterwards, he could make it home by 2130 hours.

And do what?

What he usually did- watch the news, throw in a load of laundry, polish his shoes, read a couple of briefs, review and sign performance reports, or work on the papers due in D.C. next week? Grimacing, Hammond tossed his napkin onto the table. Is this what his life had become... work followed by a dull evening of more work only to be repeated when he woke up at 0430?

He'd always worked hard, putting in long hours, but had his life been this dreary before? What did he use to do? He thought for a long moment, recollecting. There were long walks with Maggie around the neighborhood, discussing what was happening in the news or with their girls. When he had time, they played cards while listening to music or sometimes just enjoyed each other's company in silence.

Before his wife's death five years ago, he read books about history, people, and the occasional mystery, not just reports and briefs. He tried to remember the last book he read, and could not.

Then, as now, his free time was limited. Still, he found time to draw, sketching nature, landscapes, and, often, Maggie. He tried different media such as watercolors and oils, but found he preferred pencil above them all. Shortly after her funeral, he put away the sketchbooks, pencils, and charcoals, not for any particular reason except he simply did not have the desire to create anymore.

Hammond set the glass of tea on the table and looked down at the wedding ring on his left hand; taking it off had never occurred to him. He twisted the wide, gold band slowly and sighed. Perhaps it was time.

The woman next to him leaned close. She spoke just loud enough for only him to hear, her voice filled with concern. "George, is everything all right?"

"Everything's fine, Helen," he replied, looking up quickly. He gave her a reassuring smile. "Just thinking, that's all."

Her frown disappeared and she placed her hand on his arm. "Bob and I would like you to come over for dinner. It's been much too long since we got together. Do you think you can make it Friday, two weeks from now?"

Hammond nodded. Helen and General Bob Woodman were good friends and he always enjoyed their company. Maggie and Helen had played mahjong together; he and Bob had known each since duty together in Japan many years past. "I'd like that very much. I'll do my best to get away on time."

"Good. I'll plan something special," she replied, eyes twinkling. She patted his arm. "About 7:30 will be fine."

She turned away to hear something her husband was saying, leaving him alone again with his thoughts. He considered. What was it he was feeling of late? Was it renewed sorrow for the loss of Maggie? No, Hammond didn't think it was that. There would always be the feeling of loss, but the pain had lessened over the years and he remembered the good times while moving on with his life.

Was he bored? It could hardly be that. At least sixteen of his all-too-short twenty-four hour days was consumed by his position. Commander of the Stargate Program, whose purpose was to contact alien civilizations in order to gather new technology for Earth's fight against the Goa'uld, was hardly a boring position. If nothing else, SG-1 made certain his job was never dull. True, there was paperwork, but there had always been, and always would be, paperwork. He could handle it- that's what shredders were for, he thought wryly.

Dessert was placed before them, ladies first. It was green- something lime. Hammond disliked anything lime except, of course, margaritas. Seeing how it was not, unfortunately, a margarita, he passed on dessert and excused himself, then went outside for some air.

Nodding to the polite greetings of those he passed, but not stopping to talk, he made his way through the crowd to stand by himself at the farther end of the club portico. He knew no one would disturb him- only another general or a colonel might, and only if that colonel was in his command or knew him well.

The air was chilly; winter was still making itself known, but it felt good after the stuffy room. Again, he wished he could leave. The only dinners he attended now were those required. A captain from SGC would be receiving the junior officer of the year award tonight- not an easy accomplishment when a good portion of your nomination sheet is classified. His people worked hard and he supported them, so he was pleased for his troop. Still...

The hour will go quickly, he told himself, and you've given so many speeches you can say the appropriate words in your sleep. It will be over soon enough and you can go home to your papers and reports and shoe polish

He leaned against a porch column and gazed out over the landscaped grounds. Why was he so...restless? Was there something missing? Was it time for him to ask for a new command?

A new command was not what he needed. The SG program was vital to America's, as well as the worlds, security. It was his baby and he would see it through- he decided that the first time he saw those ugly snakes in his gate room. He would make sure the fight against the Goa'uld pressed forward and did not fail. There was no command existing that he would consider above what he held now.

In addition, the only person he would feel comfortable giving up the command to, if it ever came to it, was his second, Colonel Jack O'Neil. Hammond snorted. Getting Jack promoted was a whole different battle.

As for retirement, he wasn't ready to do that- not just yet. To be honest, work was what kept him going and filled the long hours of his days since losing Maggie. He once considered writing a book, but even if he were to, there needed to be something to look forward to afterwards. At the moment, there was absolutely nothing in sight.

Through the haze of lights from the base and surrounding city, Hammond could see faint, glimmering stars in the heavens- other worlds, some not very friendly to the Taur'i, the inhabitants of Earth. He headed the first line, the only line of defense, the Earth had against the Goa'uld. No, his command isn't the problem.

What was it, then?

You are fifty-six years old, a dirt-poor kid from Hardscrabble, West Texas wearing two stars on your shoulder that you have put a hundred and ten percent effort into living up to, and have four beautiful girls- two daughters and two granddaughters from a loving twenty-seven year marriage.

You crawled around the Vietnamese jungle under Red guns- was even their 'guest' for a spell and have the scars to prove it.

You chat with aliens over coffee and doughnuts and your name carries the reputation of a warrior on numerous alien worlds.

You deal with situations and issue orders that would give most people nightmares for months, then go home and sleep like a log...most of the time.

You have stood on foreign soil where, to your eyes, Earth's Sol isn't even a fleck of light in the heavens.

You bear the full burden of secrets no other human knows- secrets so astonishing it would turn the planet upside down.

The fate of Earth and its allies rests squarely on your shoulders.

All this, and you're restless?

George, old boy, suck it up.

Hammond grunted in derision at himself and stepped away from the column to head back to the stuffy room. Before going inside, he paused for one last look at the worlds glittering above. When he got home, he would pull out the box of drawing material and sketch for a while.

Maybe that would help.

Three hours later, Hammond stood at the kitchen sink washing black smudges from his hands. The case of pencils lay open on the oak table in the dining area with a half completed sketch of Tessa and Kayla on his drawing pad. He squirted another dollop of soap in his palm then rubbed them together. He stopped, looking at the gold ring glistening in the foam. For a long moment, he considered then gently pulled and twisted the band toward his knuckle. After another squirt of the lemon-scented soap, he had it off. It lay in his palm.

Putting the ring carefully aside, Hammond dried his hands and checked to make surethe kitchen was squared away before pickingthe ring up and flipping the light switch. He made his way to his bedroom, sat of the edge of the four-poster bed, and again looked at the ring cradled in his hand.

He remembered the day he and Maggie had married, just three months before he shipped out to 'Nam. Two years later, nine months after they met in Hawaii for R and R leave, he sat stunned and bursting with pride at the Red Cross message informing him that he was a father. He recalled how, once more when deployed from his family, his grinning CO's handing him another message telling him of his second daughter's birth.

His throat tighten and the gold ring became blurred as he recalled Maggie, wasted from the chemotherapy, insisting he remove the matching band from her thin finger lest it fall off and she lose it. He hung it around her neck on a gold chain so it would be near her heart and she smiled.

He squeezed the band tightly in his fist, head bowed. After a moment, he took a deep breath and walked to the carved wooden box on the top of the dresser where he kept only those items dearest to him- locks of his daughters' hair, his first set of lieutenant's bars and nametag, love letters Maggie had sent him throughout their marriage, and her wedding ring. With one last caress, he placed his ring beside the smaller band...then gently closed the lid.

The following Monday morning, Hammond tossed his briefcase, heavy with papers and gear, onto the passenger seat as he slid behind the wheel. Reaching for the seat belt, he wondered if he should be throwing the new comm unit around like that and decided if the $15,000 device inside the padded, bulletproof case couldn't take a bounce on a leather seat, he didn't want it.

The Tahoe came to life with the turn of a key and soft music filled the interior. Hammond turned the volume down a tad, paused then touched another button to display the choice of CDs loaded in the system. Light jazz? No, not in the mood. Wiggly Wally or Singing With Squirrel and Friends? He skipped past those; they belonged to granddaughters Tessa and Kayla. How about a little bit of Texas with Asleep at the Wheel? Not at 0537, he decided. Johannes Sebastian Bach it was, then.

He backed the SUV down the dark drive and onto the street. As he pulled slowly away, he could see the light on in the kitchen. Maggie had always left a light on so that he never had to enter a dark house no matter what time of the evening or, more often, the early a.m. he finally came home. He continued to leave the small lamp burning after she died as it still gave him comfort, even after years of being alone.

Often, a driver picked him up in the staff car, particularly when he had meetings requiring him to travel between the local military bases. This evening, however, he planned to stop by a toy store to purchase birthday gifts for Kayla. He did his homework, consulting members of his staff with pictures of young girls on their desks about what a six-year old would like. This year he was ready for the long aisle of toys in pink boxes.

He was away for much of his own children's early years. In all honesty, between TDYs, deployments, and remote tours, he had not been home as much as he wanted when they were older, too. He tried to stay close to them now without being too intrusive in their lives, but he found himself fighting his schedule for time with them. That troubled him for his daughters and granddaughters were the joy of his life.

The girls were wonderful, including him in all family celebrations and activities, letting him know he was always wanted and welcome. He liked his son in law, Steven, a doctor. The boy seemed a bit daunted by having a Major General for his father-in-law, but he tried to put Steven at ease and Hammond thought they had a good relationship.

He had not spent much time with his family lately and would have little opportunity to in the coming weeks. The birthday party was Thursday night and he flew to D.C. Friday, just in time to ruin his weekend. He still had Sunday afternoon, unless his schedule changed; maybe he could take his granddaughters out for ice cream...if there were no crises calling him in to work.

Today there was the usual early briefing from each department head and SG team commanders, then meetings, a teleconference in the afternoon, a long-term planning session with his commanders following that, then the daily evening briefing. The coming two days would find him in yet another two teleconferences- one with the Joint Chiefs, the other with Manning and Personnel who could not understand why SGC kept requesting such specifically and diversely qualified people. A meeting with the Cheyenne Mountain CO concerning the planned electrical upgrades, which involved shutting down power and using back-up generators, would follow, midweek. There was more of the same in the days after that, too.

Hammond frequently yearned to don his fatigues, grab his bag (with the extra rounds of ammo he learned from experience to always pack), and step through the gate with one of his teams, leaving behind all the meetings and papers and headaches. But, he knew it wasn't his place. His position was behind the desk, making decisions, clearing the way, guiding them in their work, warding off the brunt of outside interference, and taking the blame for all that occurred.

His heart, however, was in the field with his troops.

Traffic was light, so he made good time, pulling into his reserved parking place just steps from the entrance a few minutes before 0620 hours. His thoughts returned to the vague unease he felt of late. Maybe he should take a couple of days off while the place is powered down. Jack was always trying to rope someone into going fishing. Then again, maybe fishing with Jack wasn't such a good idea. Everyone avoided his offers like the plague. There must be a reason and Hammond just as soon preferred not find out what it was.

Surprised, Hammond saw his Execby the entrance, talking with the officer supervising the security desk. Lt Col Beale was earlier than usual. Hammond needed half an hour in his office alone to go over email and make a few calls; he would send the colonel out on a couple of errands- that would keep his aide busy for a while.

There was staff constantly around him and Hammond was rarely alone at work. He'd learned to deal with the constant attention over the years, but when he needed time by himself, his private quarters were available just down the hall from the command center and he owed no one an explanation for closing his office door. Even so, there was always someone outside waiting for orders.

He was convinced that he had the finest staff around; everyone in his command was first-rate and he cared very deeply about his people, at least, as much as he dared allow himself to. This meant he was close to no one; he could not be.

The cold reality of life was that one day, George Hammond might have to send them to their death...as he'd done others.

Hammond switched off the motor and left the soothing strains of Bach's "Air on the G-String" and most, but not all, of his restlessness behind.