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Strength and honor are her clothing

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Elizabeth of course disapproved of any culture that institutionalized discrimination on the basis of gender, or any other characteristic. Still, she had to admit she found it…refreshing to deal with the Ysai, who treated her with respect and looked through Sheppard like he wasn’t there. The matriarchal Ysai were one of the reasons that the SGC included women on its away teams.

The Vesians, on the other hand, were one of the reasons the SGC was unhappy about doing so.

***

In addition to being unimpressed by the male soldiers, the Ysai seemed to find the male scientists simply adorable. For Rodney, who hadn't been condescended to on an intellectual level since the nuclear bomb incident in sixth grade, the experience was quite unsettling. So when the Ysai discovered an interesting, possibly Ancient artifact in one of their old temples, he was happy to delegate. Miko won the rock-paper-scissors contest among the female engineers and was sent off with Lieutenant Grace Crown's team.

Three days later, the team came back without Crown or Miko.

"There were approximately twenty-two men, armed with some kind of stunning weapon," Corporal Haake said. The two remaining members of Crown's team spent the entire debriefing staring at the center of the table. "They met with the Ysai. They said their planet had been culled, and they wanted to…to buy women, to start rebuilding their civilization. When high priestess refused, they attacked them. Us."

"Who were they?" Sheppard asked sharply.

Corporal Gelman shook his head. "They called themselves Vesians, but the Ysai don't know them, or their planet."

"They took us by surprise," Haake continued dully. "We returned fire but were overwhelmed and rendered unconscious. When we regained consciousness, Lt. Crown and Dr. Kusanagi were missing, along with several of the Ysai women. No one saw the gate address when they left."

Elizabeth slapped her palm down on the table and said, "Gentlemen, I want a plan in one hour."

***

They had a plan in an hour, but it took two more days for Halling to find a friend of a friend who had heard of the Vesians and could set up a meeting.

"Okay," McKay said. "These are the tracking devices." He held up a device the size of a coffee bean. "Dr. Beckett is going to insert them subcutaneously, just in case they search you."

"I still think this is a foolish plan," Carson said as he scrubbed a spot on Laura's arm with alcohol. He glanced up at her, and she could see the naked worry in his eyes. She gave him her best confident and reassuring smile, and he looked away.

"Yes, well, that's why you're not the military tactician," McKay said.

"I don't see why Angie has to go."

"Dr. Biro is cleared for off-world missions, she volunteered, and Crown or Miko may need a doctor," Sheppard said soothingly.

"Her specialty is infectious disease!"

"Hey!" Biro said. "If you get to go off-world for exciting rescue missions, then so do I."

"It just doesn't seem safe. For a civilian," Carson said, but he was looking at Laura.

"We will take good care of her, Doctor Beckett," Teyla said, gently. Laura was pretty sure her use of the pronoun was intentional.

"Don't worry," Sheppard said. "We'll be monitoring them the whole time from a cloaked jumper. Once we know where the Vesians are holding Miko and Crown, or if the transmitters stop working, we'll go in with guns blazing and get our people back. I don't sell my people into slavery permanently."

"No matter how much they offer for Kavanagh," McKay said with a sigh.

***

Sheppard kept one eye on the tracking display and one eye on the stargate. Aunver was a trade planet, and despite the Wraith threat, traders came and went all day. Some were on foot, some came with carts pulled by several variations on the Pegasus version of oxen. A line of women draped in red and gold left the planet carrying wide shallow baskets on their heads. A little while later, a caravan of black llamas with great clawed feet arrived.

Teyla said you could buy anything on a trade planet and nobody asked questions, which explained why the Vesians had wanted to make the deal there.

Halling and the marines dressed like Athosians made it back to the gate and dialed the alpha site. Halling was carrying a flat box that he hadn't come to the planet with.

"I guess he made the exchange," Sheppard said. "Now let's see where they go."

The dots on the tracking display didn't move.

"Are we that lucky?" McKay asked finally. "Are they that dumb? Is this their home base?"

"I don't know." Sheppard half-watched two more carts go through the gate. "At full dark, we'll check it out."

The tracker led them to the back room of an inn, run-down and disreputable, at the edge of town. There was no one in the room.

"Damn two-dimensional display," McKay said. "Okay, look for a basement or an attic."

The marines spread out, tapping at the floorboards. Sheppard went to grab the table, so they could reach the ceiling, and froze. On the table was a small wooden cup, and in the cup were three bloodstained transmitters.

***

Laura swam up to consciousness slowly. She could feel fingers touching her arm, slim and cool and strong, and knew immediately they were not Carson's. She opened her eyes and saw a white plaster ceiling. Biro's face appeared in her line of sight.

"Hey, there. How many fingers am I holding up?"

Laura rolled her eyes and sat up. "Where are we? And where are my clothes?"

"I'm afraid we cannot answer either question," Teyla said. She and Biro were wearing the same plain, white, knee-length shift as she was. They both had bandages around their upper left arms. Laura was suddenly aware of the dull ache in her own arm.

"The transmitters?"

Biro gave her a grim smile. "Our new owners were at least nice enough to stun us before they cut them out."

"They scanned us, I remember they scanned us before they stunned us."

"I believe we may have underestimated their level of technology."

Shit, she thought, and the door swung open.

A man in a uniform stood there. He consulted a clipboard.

"They’ve been cleared by the doctors," he said to someone behind him. "Take them to holding." To the women, as if to dim children, he said, "Go with this man now." Laura decided to resist the urge to kick him in the balls, at least until they found Crown and Miko.

A soldier with one of the Vesian stunners stepped up to the door. They followed him, carefully meek, down a long, white hallway with three doors. The hallway made a right turn at the end, and she couldn't see what was beyond it. The soldier took them to the last door, and peered through the pane of glass set in it. Apparently satisfied with what he saw, he opened the door—Laura couldn't see how he undid the lock—and waved them in.

Laura swept her eyes over the room. It was large and white, no windows, a single door in the far wall. The glossy black circle in the corner of the ceiling was probably a camera; it looked like a last minute addition, the wires running down the wall to the door.

There were about a dozen women already in the cell. Miko shoved her way to the front of the group, burst into tears, and hurled herself into Biro's arms. Crown hugged Teyla and Laura, and the relief of finding them alive was almost giddying.

"Are you all right?" Biro asked. "Did they hurt you?"

Miko shook her head, and Crown said, "No. Their doctors examined us, but they didn't hurt us. It was just uncomfortable and humiliating."

From the circle of Biro's arms, Miko sniffled and tried to smile. "I am never saying mean things about my gynecologist again." Biro squeezed her shoulder.

"I think they're waiting to…know for sure that we're not pregnant."

Teyla grimaced. "Of course. To be sure of paternity," she said, and Laura's stomach rolled over.

"What happened to your arms?" Crown asked.

Laura told her. She left out the part about why exactly they had the transmitters implanted; Crown could figure that out herself.

"So we're on our own," she concluded. Laura had been halfway expecting that from the beginning. Crown nodded once, sharply, and Miko's chin came up. "I think we can handle it."

***

Before they left, while they were waiting for the meeting to be set up, Elizabeth had talked with Laura, Teyla, and Biro individually.

"I trust Colonel Sheppard's military judgment," she said to Laura. "But I don't know if he has thought about the exact nature of the danger you will be facing on this mission. You volunteered, but if you change your mind, we will come up with a different plan. I won't even tell Sheppard why I'm scrubbing the mission. You don't have to do this."

Crown wasn't on Laura's fireteam, and they had never fought a battle together, but she was a fellow marine, a sister in a family of mostly brothers. Miko was the first civilian friend Laura had had in Atlantis; she was the one who invited Laura to the girls' poker night. They were both part of the sisterhood of the protectors and the protected, and Laura thought if you didn't stand by your sisters at the ass-end of the universe, then it didn't matter much where else you'd stand by them.

But all she said was, "We don't leave a woman behind, either, ma'am."

And Elizabeth had nodded and said nothing else.

***

They were not treated badly. Crown explained the routine. They were fed three times a day, good food (spoons only, and lacquer plates: sturdy, but too light to do any damage). After the mid-day meal, they were taken outside for an hour of exercise. The Ysai women—priestess and novitiates, mostly—did something that looked like tai chi, but the guards let Laura, Teyla, and Crown run, as long as they didn't get too close.

Laura didn't look directly at the stargate while they jogged. It sat tauntingly at the top of a low, broad hill that rose up out of a vast plain. The Vesians stronghold was buried beneath the hill, so they were close to the gate. It would have to be a hard, fast run, but they could do it. There were only four guards—overconfidence or a labor shortage, Laura didn't know—but it meant they had a good chance to overpower them at the same time.

So she had a plan. Admittedly, the plan was "knock the guards out and run like hell," but at least it was simple. They needed simple, and they could pull this off even with a dozen civilians slowing them down.

The problem was going to be getting everyone on the same page without alerting their captors. Teyla took care of that.

"We should thank the Ancestors that we have been safely reunited with our friends, and that we are not in danger," she said when they had been returned to their cell. "We should sing something loud and joyful, so that they," and she looked up at the ceiling deliberately, "will hear us and know we are grateful."

"Oh!" Laura said. "Yes!"

"Perhaps the Ysai have an appropriate song?"

The Ysai looked confused. "Singing is not the way we worship," one of them said, a little tentatively, like she knew she was missing the point.

Teyla did not roll her eyes, but Laura could tell it was a special effort. "Perhaps something from Earth, then, that you could teach everyone."

Laura's mind went completely blank. Then Biro blurted out what was obviously the first song that came to mind. Which was how they ended up planning their great escape under the cover of twelve alien priestesses singing "Row, row, row your boat" in rounds at the top of their lungs.

It ended up not being simple after all, because Miko bit her lip and said, "But we can't leave the other women."

Laura had not wanted to think too hard about that. There were two other groups of women that they had seen. A group of twenty-eight obviously pregnant women went out to exercise first, followed by a group of thirty-three not obviously pregnant women, and then their own group.

"It'll be a lot harder," Laura said.

"But not impossible," Teyla said.

"No, not impossible." The rational decision was to leave them behind, go with the easier, more reliable plan, and come back with reinforcements. Laura didn't feel rational.

"Fine. We're doing it the hard way."

***

Biro stood at the door, trying to look casual as she watched the second group of women go out. They went down the hallway two by two, with a guard in the front and the back of the line. The first group of women was still out on the field; the guards would send the second group out and bring the first group back. Which meant there would be a point when both groups were at the exit.

Biro nodded at Miko when the group had turned the corner. Miko stood directly under the camera, hopefully in a blind spot. She broke one of the lacquer plates, and used the sharp-edged fragment to cut the camera wires.

Crown and Teyla were standing underneath the air vent. As soon as Miko cut the wires, Laura stepped into the cradle of their hands and lunged up while they boosted her. Her hands hit the vent with a stinging slap. The second time, the vent shifted. On the third try, she was able to push the vent aside and pull herself up. She belly-crawled forward until she got to the vent in the hallway outside their cell. The air duct was not metal, but some kind of plastic or composite, and the process was blessedly silent. She peered out through the geometric pattern of the vent. The hallway was empty. She removed the grate and flipped herself down into the hallway. For a brief, ridiculous moment she was glad there were no men on this mission: the shift she was wearing was not designed for full coverage during a prison break.

Miko's face appeared at the edge of the vent with a spoon clenched between her teeth like a tiny, demented pirate. Laura steadied her as she dropped, and Miko immediately went to the door to their cell. She pried off the panel covering the door's locking mechanism with the handle of the spoon.

"Hmm, this looks like Ancient technology."

Scientists, Laura thought. "That's fascinating. Just open the damn—"

The door swung open. Teyla was out first. She ran, swift and silent on bare feet, to the end of the hall. She flattened herself against the wall, and poked her head around the corner, lightning fast. She gave Laura a nod. There was a camera at the entrance, but the tunnel to the surface jogged halfway up, as if the builders had had to dig around an obstacle. This end of the tunnel was out of sight of both the camera and the head of the line. Laura reached the corner.

One shot, she mouthed at Teyla. Teyla smiled sharp and feral, and was off down the tunnel. She came up behind and a little to the side of the guard, and slammed her stiffened hand into the side of his throat. She hit the sweet spot, right over the carotid artery, and he dropped like a stone. She caught him before he hit the ground, but several of the women turned around. Laura held her finger up over her lips, hoping it was a universal gesture. This part was a bit of a gamble. If the women panicked, they'd have to fight their way out sooner rather than later. There was a moment of shocked stillness, then one woman drew a deep breath. Her companion slapped a hand over the other woman's mouth, and the decision was made.

Laura motioned them forward. Miko and Biro appeared, followed by two lines of the Ysai, and they joined the double line of the other group. Teyla brought up the rear, now wearing the guard's uniform, her hair tucked up under the helmet. It wouldn't fool anyone up close, but they just needed a few seconds.

The guard at the head of the line was talking to the one of the guards posted at the entrance, who was shaking his head. They looked more serious than usual. Teyla moved up from the back of the line, stunner out, fast but steady. The men looked over as she approached. Their eyes widened, one opened his mouth, but Teyla stunned them both before they even had their own weapons up. There were several screams from the women. They drew back, huddled against the wall, but at least no one tried to run, or fight. Laura and Crown grabbed the guns and stunners of the downed guards.

"Miko," Laura said, but Miko was already moving towards the door.

"This does not look like Ancient technology," she said. "It does not even need a key."

She turned the gears that pulled the heavy locking bars out of their slots. On the other side, the pregnant women should have been lining up under the watchful eye of the outdoor guards, who would remain in position on the perimeter during the changeover. But when the door swung open, it revealed two very startled guards, one with his hand still raised to knock. Teyla and Crown reacted faster than the men did, yanking them inside and stunning them.

Outside, the sky was a horrible, bilious shade of green. Laura didn't like to talk about it, but she spent several very formative years in a small town in Kansas, and she knew exactly what that color in the sky meant.

"Tornadoes! What kind of crappy alien planet has tornadoes?"

Biro, Crown, and Miko all turned to look at her. All right, maybe that sounded a little irrational, but she felt better after saying it.

"Can we still make it?" Teyla asked. The women were leaving the exercise field in mad rush. As they watched, a gust of wind slammed several of the trailing women to their knees. The two remaining guards pulled them to their feet, herding them towards safety. Laura could already see one tornado forming and reforming on the horizon, stuttering towards them. Even if they could get to the top of the hill safely, they'd be on the highest point around for miles. She didn't know if the stargate would act like a lightning rod, but the women sure would.

Laura stepped in close to Teyla, out of the way of the women coming in.

"I don't—no, not all of us."

The last of the women stumbled in, followed by the guards. Teyla and Laura stunned them absently. There were more screams from the newcomers, but Laura ignored them.

"All right," Teyla said. "We will have to fall back and find a defensible position to hold until the weather clears."

"You want us to hold a position in an enemy stronghold with three soldiers and an engineer?" Crown asked, incredulous.

"Oh, it gets better," Biro said. She was standing beside a pregnant woman. A very pregnant woman, who was clutching her belly.

"Don't even—"

"Yep," Biro said with a slightly manic grin. "This one's in labor."

Laura swallowed a bubble of slightly hysterical laughter. Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, she thought, or rather, the devil and the deep blue tornadoes.

Teyla put her hands on Laura's shoulders and caught her eyes. "Lieutenant Cadman," and just the title was steadying, "this song cannot be unsung. Stay or go, we must act now. If we are recaptured, we will likely never have this opportunity again."

Laura took a deep breath, trying to absorb some of Teyla's calm through her touch and her level gaze. "Right," she said. "Right. Miko, lock this door. We'll cut off access at the other end of the hallway, hold this section until the weather clears. With any luck, they won't be able to send anyone around on the outside during the storm. The second it's safe enough, we are out of here."

She turned around to face the milling group of women.

"Okay, listen up, people," she snapped. The panicked murmur died down around them, silence spreading out like ripples on a pond. "We are leaving. I don't know about you, but I didn't choose this life and I'm not going to stick around if I can help it. You can come with us, or not, but you are not getting in our way."

Some of the women looked excited, some horrified, some blank or wary, but none argued or resisted when Laura strode back down the tunnel. She stopped by the Ysai.

"I don't know how long the guards will be unconscious. Drag them back and we'll lock them up while we wait." They nodded, eyes wide and impressed. I'm not a hero yet, Laura wanted to say, but only smiled at them and kept walking.

There was a technician working on the door to their cell—Miko had disabled the lock so it couldn't be opened again. He looked up, startled, at their approach, and Laura didn't even break stride when she stunned him. There were no guards; evidently they thought it was an equipment failure rather than an escape attempt. That would change soon enough.

Behind her, Miko said, "This really does look like Ancient technology."

Laura spun around. "Oh, for the love of—"

"No," Miko shouted, pointing the spoon at her. "Listen to me!"

Laura's mouth snapped shut. Even Miko looked a little taken aback at her own outburst, but she kept going. "If there is Ancient technology here, it may be useful. Doesn't this look like a door? A door that's been painted over?"

It did, actually. "They are using other rooms on this floor," Miko said as she scraped the paint off a slightly raised panel with the spoon. "Why would they close this one off, unless there was something in here that they couldn't use, or didn't understand?"

She touched the bare spot she had made and concentrated. After a few seconds, the panel glowed and the door scraped open.

The room looked like one of the labs on Atlantis, but it was empty except for a large screen and the console beneath it.

"Oh," Miko said, and rushed over to it. Her hands moved over the console, delicate and sure, and it lit up under her touch. The display flickered, and a schematic of a city in profile appeared.

"Look," she breathed. "It's an Ancient city, abandoned and buried by time."

"But the hallway and the rooms don't look Ancient," Crown said. "They're all…white."

"We painted them when we arrived," one of the women said quietly. "They were unseemly colors."

Laura turned to look at her. She was gazing almost wistfully at the display.

"When you arrived?"

The woman gave her a little smile. "This has not always been our home, you know. We had a great city of our own. Once, we would not have been impressed by this display." Several of the women looked down as if embarrassed by their awe.

"But we became prideful," a slightly older woman said sharply. "And wicked, like the Ancestors, and like the Ancestors we were scourged. The Wraith came and destroyed our city. Only the blessed few were allowed to escape, to find this refuge."

"Ohhh-kay," Laura said.

"They are only using this level. The system is just now waking up; none of them must have the gene. They must have jury-rigged some kind of generator to—" Miko broke off. "People are coming. Look." She had zoomed in on their section of the city. "Here we are." She pointed to a large group of dots. "And here they are." She pointed to a smaller group of dots in the room at the end of the hall. "If you drive them back out of that room, I can close the emergency bulkhead doors behind them and lock them out."

"Got it," she said, and sprinted for the end of the hall. Crown was right on her heels. They pressed their backs up to the wall on either side of the door. Laura risked a quick glance into the room. Five men that she could see. Time to stop playing around. She checked the gun she was holding—she couldn't see a safety.

She caught Crown's eye. Cry, she mouthed.

Crown grinned, and said in a high, terrified voice, "Please, please don't hurt us! We surrender!"

Laura heard the men stop walking. "Come out slowly and show us your hands," one of them yelled.

Crown threw herself face down on the ground just inside the room with some excellent counterfeit sobs. Laura waited a heartbeat, then stepped into the doorway and raked the room with gunfire. The men in front were completely off-guard and went down. One in the back made it through the bulkhead doors before they closed. She lost sight of the last one as she spun back out of doorway. Flat against the wall again, she glanced over at Crown, who had rolled to cover as soon as Laura had started shooting.

"Effective," she said of the gun, "but it kicks like a mule."

" 'Kicks like a mule,' " Crown said. "What, were you raised on a farm? During the Depression?"

"Bite me," Laura returned. They were both grinning and breathing fast. Adrenaline raced through her body like joy, bright and hot. She was happy to have a plan that involved shooting things. She'd be happier if it involved blowing shit up, but this was still better than running.

Miko's voice came over the speaker. "There is still one man left, behind the desk."

The man shouted with surprise and broke cover. Crown shot him.

"Okay, I can see what you mean about the kick."

They checked the bodies, and took the weapons and the radios.

"You've locked us in, right?" she asked Miko back at the lab. "We can hold this entire section."

"Better," Miko said. "I can get you to the stargate from inside. Look, you can take the stairs to the next level, where there's a transporter. That will take you to the section just beneath what used to be the gateroom. The structure itself is gone, but the gate was built to last forever. There is a set of doors that I can open that will let you out just beneath the crest of the hill. You will be only a short way from the gate."

"What do you mean, 'you'?" Laura asked.

Miko hesitated and glanced at her. "I need to stay here, to open the correct doors, and to guide you. We can't bring this map with us."

"I will stay as well," Teyla said. "When it is safe to for you to go to the gate, we will join you. You cannot afford to get lost."

Laura grimaced and nodded. Biro came up to them, wiping her hands on a shirt from one of the unconscious guards.

"You know, there's a reason I went into infectious disease instead of obstetrics," she said.

"But you can handle this, right?"

Biro waved her hand. "This is far from the worst conditions I've ever delivered a baby in. No one is shooting at us, and there's air conditioning."

As if on cue, there was a faint clatter of gunfire from behind the bulkhead doors, as if the men were trying to shoot their way through.

"Well—" Biro said.

Laura raised a hand. "If you say anything about the air conditioning, I will shoot you myself."

Biro grinned.

"How is she?"

"It's her first baby. She's not even close to fully dilated. It's going to take awhile."

"Can she do this?"

"Walking will be good for her. Running won't," she added warningly.

Laura sighed. "All right. Let's get this show on the road."

They split the women into two groups, those who wanted to go and those who wanted to stay. Most of the women chose to go. Teyla said something to the other women, low and fierce, and all but eight moved to the group that was leaving. Laura caught Crown's eye, and jerked her head towards the women's quarters. Crown led the remaining women away, to be locked in their rooms.

"Who has used a gun before?" Laura asked. No one said anything. "How about a crossbow or a bow and arrow?"

This time a few women raised their hands, and she handed out the stunners.

"These are stunning weapons," she said. "They won't kill anyone, they just knock you out." In addition to reducing the damage of friendly fire, Laura was hoping they'd be less likely to hesitate before firing, if they knew they weren't killing anyone.

Before they left, she pulled Teyla aside. "Once it's safe to go, I'm not waiting around too long for you," she lied. "So make it fast."

***

Miko did a good job. They didn't meet anyone as they moved through the city. Laura wondered if this was what it had been like for the Atlantis expedition when they first arrived, moving though the vast, lonely silence, where the rooms lit up and the doors slid open for them, leading them onward. The sense of emptiness and time was eerie. The women huddled together and said nothing, only the harsh breaths of the laboring woman breaking the stillness. Laura longed for her P-90 and a bra, pretty much in that order—she felt naked and uneasy without her gear.

When they got to the transporter, Miko's voice came over the address system. "Don't touch the screen. I'll tell the transporter where to go."

Laura went with the first group. The doors closed, then opened on another huge, empty room. "Stand back against the wall," Miko said. "I'm going to open the doors just a crack, but there will be a lot of dirt."

Two of the panels on the far side of the room groaned open a sliver, letting in a hissing rush of dirt. When worst of it had settled, Laura crossed over to check the weather. The wind whipped fitfully against her face and the sky was a heavy leaden gray, but it seemed like the worst of it had passed. Crown came up beside her.

"Check it out," Laura said. "If it's safe, key the mic once. If it's not…do pretty much anything else. If it is safe, dial the alpha site and go through. I'll send the women up after you, but I want our guys to know we're friendlies."

Crown nodded and scrambled through. Laura waited. After a minute or so, the radio clicked on to static, and then was silent. Laura let out the breath she'd been holding.

"Okay!" she shouted and waved the others over. "Let's go! Miko—"

"I heard," Miko said. "We are on our way."

"We will be there as quickly as possible," Teyla added, "but if we are not there by the time you have all gone through, do not wait for us."

"Just hurry up," Laura said, and helped another woman through the gap.

***

The gate flickered closed, and Laura cursed under her breath. It had taken her group almost an hour to reach the stargate, but Teyla and Miko should have been much faster. They should have made it before the wormhole closed. She hesitated with her hand over the DHD, torn between going for reinforcements and staying with her team.

Something rustled behind her and she whirled around, gun up. "Jesus," she said, "Took you long enough," as Teyla and Miko came up over the hill.

"We made a brief detour," Teyla said.

Laura noticed that Miko was carrying something. "You stopped for souvenirs?" Then, "Oh, my God, is that a ZPM?"

Teyla and Miko grinned. "It is only a quarter full," Miko said, "but still—"

"Still, it's a ZPM. McKay is going to freak out!"

"Perhaps," Miko said with a wistful sigh, "perhaps…"

Laura dialed the gate. "Yeah?"

"Perhaps now I will get that nice lab space on the east side of level three, the one with the balcony."

***

After everything had calmed down, after the other women had been sent home, or taken in by the Ysai, Elizabeth invited Laura, Teyla, and Biro into her office again. There was a flat wooden box on her desk.

"I understand the Ysai have made a song out of your exploits," she said with a smile.

Biro snorted. "More of a chant, really. We heard a rough draft at the welcome home party they threw."

"It's nice to know we'll be remembered for at least one good thing in this galaxy." Elizabeth touched the box. "Halling gave this to me. He said however it turned out, he couldn't keep it. To be honest, I'd be uncomfortable keeping this as well."

She opened the lid. Inside, Laura saw three plain knives, sleek and shining against a length of black cloth. Each was as long as her forearm. She looked up at Elizabeth.

"That's what Halling got for selling us, isn't it?"

Elizabeth nodded. Teyla reached out to touch the maker's mark stamped into the hilt, a stylized glyph like a bird in flight.

"He did not do so badly," she said. "These were made by the Ngoryn clan. Their knives are considered to be the best in the galaxy. They are passed down from generation to generation."

Biro gave a faint smile. " 'Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies,' " she quoted.

"If you don't want to keep them, you can trade them for something else, or we can give them away as diplomatic gifts," Elizabeth said.

"No," Laura said. "No, I'll keep mine." She didn't know why she wanted to keep it; partly because it seemed like a final "fuck you" to the Vesians, and partly because it was…reassuring? Whatever else I am worth, it said, I am worth as much as a good knife in a time of war.

In the end, all three of them kept the knives, and passed them down to the next generation, some sooner than others. That part went into the songs, too, but not for many years.