There Is No Fucking in Hades
"The factories are shut," the old woman said. "No jobs." This first statement is all economic depression backgrounding, but there's nothing to frame the delivery. I like the way that it sort of hangs there in your head, waiting to be framed by what comes next.
"I'm sorry," Elizabeth said. "I'm not looking for work. I'm looking for a friend of mine. Have you seen her?" She held out two photographs of Teyla, one in her daily clothes and another in her uniform. And the apology that isn't really an apology, but more of a verbal pause, a sort of throat clearing signifying that Elizabeth still needs the old woman's attention. And the rest, setting the stage and drawing up mysteries: where is Teyla, why is she missing, what happened, why is Elizabeth the one hunting for her with photos and inquiries? The way that she's asking also sets the stage, signifies an abduction, a disappearance - it's something we've seen in a million movies, a billion desperate people trying to find missing women, missing children.
Without glancing at them, the old woman said, "No. You should go." And the stonewalling is suspicious, sure, but now that the first line is framed? The old woman isn't complaining in that, she's defending herself and her community against an outsider.
"Please," Elizabeth said. "Help me find my friend." I like the choice of definition here, categorizing Teyla as her friend. It seems thought out, as it should be - Weir is a diplomat, she knows people, studies communication and manages their reactions and interactions - calling Teyla her friend, pleading for help rather than demanding the return of a member of the expedition, that all seems calculated to be non-threatening, leveling.
"Maeda said go," a young woman said, staring at Elizabeth, her hands on her belt. "The stargate is that way, on the other side of town." It's strange how even without any mention of weapons, her hands on her belt makes the young woman sound solid, intimidating.
Elizabeth sighed, and tucked the photographs into the leather satchel Ronon had lent her. "Would you walk with me?" The mention of Ronon without elaboration of why he isn't there is also effectively mysterious.
More women gathered around her, young and old, staring sullenly at her. Maeda raised an eyebrow, then turned her back and pushed her way through the others. "Let's go," the young woman said again, and the crowd opened up so Elizabeth could leave. Maeda is a fairly important surname during the warring states period in Japan. Fun fact. So seeing it here makes me wander around saying sengoku jidai for a while, every time I read this. Even though it really isn't a period I'm that interested in studying, it's hella fun to say.
"My name is Elizabeth," she said. "You are?" Still very non-confrontational, keeping things fairly even.
"Coirasse. There is no work here. Why would you come?" Suspicion again. So I don't know that the Maeda thing was really meant to provoke any connotations, but I think the Coirasse/cuirass/coir thing is pretty evocative, and must be meant that way. There are other names with meaning to them, homophonic or otherwise, but I'm not going to speculate on them any more, I don't think.
"I told you, I'm not looking for work. I have a job at home. I'm looking for a friend of mine, this woman, Teyla."
"She isn't here. No one comes here." She pointed at the dilapidated buildings they passed. "Like that since I was born. Maeda says the Wraith destroyed everything." So Maeda is the source of history. The eldest and therefore the elder?
"You Wraith? Then it's not your fault." The contrast between Weir's soft offer of sympathy and Coirasse's hard, practical rejection of the sentiment is effective - I think that often the huge gulf between the fairly privileged and soft-living expedition and the cultures that are shaped by constant threat of culling isn't acknowledged often enough, and this is a nice, subtle way to do it.
"Listen, I know that Teyla was here. You can't see everyone who comes through the gate. Please, I know she was here." Elizabeth hesitantly put a hand on Coirasse's arm. "Please." I like that Weir isn't physically arrogant here.
Coirasse studied Elizabeth's face. Elizabeth remained still, trying to look open and honest. "Show me your friend again." Elizabeth scrabbled at her satchel, pulling out the photo of Teyla in her uniform. "Pretty. Your girlfriend?"
"Ah. Well." Elizabeth hesitated, and Coirasse laughed. "You'd like her to be. So she ran away?" Ran away from...? It's telling, that this is Coirasse's first guess.
"No. Someone took her. She was on Porthas a few weeks ago, on a trading mission, when the team was ambushed. The men were beaten, but she was taken. We've been looking for her ever since."
"Men don't come here," Coirasse pointed out. The explanation, sidelong, of why Elizabeth is alone.
"Yes, I know. She escaped. We tracked her to, ah, well, I don't know the true name of the place, but I've heard it called Balls."
Coirasse nodded. "Bad place. They steal women to make babies. They have farms of women, I hear. Some of the women here escaped from Balls." She slowed to a stop. For the first time, she seemed hesitant to Elizabeth. "Maeda says you must go, and I think she is right. But first, let's see one of the women who escaped." Farms of women. Like a product, like livestock.
She turned abruptly, heading down a side street, narrow and overgrown with weeds. Elizabeth was glad she wore boots because the ground was covered in glass and fractured machine parts. She tripped and caught herself against a shattered brick wall, scratching her hand. "Careful," Coirasse said. A broken down industrial landscape, with a society of homeless women too poor to walk away from it or repair it.
The buildings leaned together, the street grew narrower, more overgrown, as they continued. Elizabeth saw that people were living in the shambles, tucked into the crumbling angles of collapsing buildings. They turned two more corners and then Coirasse knelt, peering through a broken basement window. "Eh, Turna. You here?"
"Naw, stick yer head out. Lady needs help." Coirasse's style of speech modifies a little, more casual when talking to a friend than it was with Elizabeth, who is an outsider despite her gender and the desperation of her search.
"She got work? Food?"
"I have food," Elizabeth said quickly, digging in the satchel again. "Not much, but you can have it all." She pulled out a handful of powerbars, two candy bars, a pack of cinnamon gum, a bottle of water. "Please, I need help."
The woman who emerged from the basement window was the same color as the window, a dark grey. Her long hair hung in many heavy braids, tied with string and long grass. She grabbed a powerbar from Elizabeth's hand and sniffed it suspiciously, then peeled back its wrapper. "What you need?" she asked through a mouthful of granola.
"Balls," Coirasse said. "Her girlfriend was stolen and taken there. Says she escaped here." Easier to refer to Teyla as girlfriend than not.
"Like me," Turna said, smiling in satisfied recollection. "Kicked that fucker who called himself my owner in the balls. That's why the planet's Balls, see? All balls and no brain."
"My friend, have you heard of her? Has anyone escaped lately?"
"Shit, somebody comes through the gate from Balls twice a month. Easy to get away. Wait till they're drunk, kick 'em in the head, run like hell. Stargate's in a quarry, cold rock and wet; they don't like to guard it. Drunk half the time, or fucking."
Elizabeth closed her eyes at the image of Teyla there. She'd been to Balls, but disguised and in the company of Ronon and John. And here, Elizabeth's participation is defined (though this gets more complicated later on) - she wasn't recruited to search this planet due to her sex; the others were disallowed from this part of the search due to their sex.
"Show her the picture," Coirasse said, and Elizabeth obeyed. "Seen her?"
"Naw, but you know first thing they do here is get cleaned. Scraped inside and out, so no babies." Elizabeth put her hand over her mouth. "That woman from Udara does it these days. She's over to the river and north a bit, by the falls. She's big on clean."
"Thank god," Elizabeth said involuntarily. "Coirasse, would you take me? I don't have more food, but I can get more. I'll give you everything I have if you'll help me." The situation is so real and desperate here for Elizabeth. She's shocked when it's put into words, in the paragraph above, that Teyla will have been raped, that they are set up, here, to deal with that in a profoundly practical way. It isn't that Elizabeth wouldn't have known what Teyla is likely to have gone through before it's said, but rather that no one on Atlantis is likely to have said it aloud, and so baldly.
"Maeda'll kick my ass," she mused, staring at Elizabeth.
Turna laughed. "Maeda'd do the same thing. Helped me all those years ago. Take her, Coir. Wouldn't you want someone to come for you?" I don't think Coirasse actually needs convincing, here. I think she made her decision to help long before this.
"It's a hike," Coirasse said. "It'll be night soon, and it's cold. You run?"
"I'll run forever," Elizabeth promised.
They ran. They ran through the rubbled streets of the fallen city, a nightmare of brick and steel; Elizabeth saw that it had been like Sateda, an industrialized city of size and substance. "Did the Wraith do this?" she panted.
"Most, yeah. I heard from my gramma that they bombed everything, even though it meant they lost food. A warning to other cities, she said. But some damage we did, so it looks like nobody lives here, so we can hide from the Wraith and from the men." And here is an explanation gone beyond their poverty - the city is heavily decayed not because they lack hope, but the opposite. It's camouflage.
"So there are no men here at all?"
"Well, some, but we pretend they're not. They don't hurt us, so they're not really men." I like this separation of sex from gender (and from sexuality), inventing a new gender to suit the society. Man here, in some special cases, does not equal male.
Elizabeth was too out of breath to pursue that thought.
They ran on, out of the city, into what must have been suburbs but were now only mounds of broken masonry and glass. The paved streets were potholed, and trees lay rotting across them, but once out of the suburbs, the trees still stood, dark in the growing twilight. Elizabeth's chest ached, and the satchel kept smacking against her thigh, but she ran on, following Coirasse deeper into the forest.
Eventually she heard the sound of a river, a big one, and then smelled the rich scent of water and green things. Mist rose from the damp soil, and ahead, dim and trembling, was a light. Coirasse pointed at it.
She slowed, and Elizabeth gasped for air, grateful they had arrived. Coirasse held up her hand and they stopped. "Eh!" she shouted. "Two of us, no one else." Caution hinting at danger.
After a long silence filled only by the sound of the water, a door opened and light spilled onto the riverbank. "No food," someone shouted, "just a night's shelter." And more poverty.
They walked toward the building. Elizabeth thought it had been a barn, a big one, but the paint had worn away and the wood was splintering. After the dark of the forest, the light hurt her eyes, but she was happy to escape the growing chill of the night. "Bless you," she whispered as they entered.
"Bless all of us, yes. Stand and let me look at you." More practicality in response to Elizabeth's comparative softness.
"We're women," Coirasse said, but she held up her hands, so Elizabeth did, too. "She's from another world, come to look for her girlfriend. She was stolen by Balls but maybe found her way here."
"Maybe," the woman said. Elizabeth's eyes adjusted to the light and she saw their hostess was about her age, painfully thin, her blonde hair cut Marine short.
"You the woman from Udara?" Coirasse asked.
"Maybe." She's the abortionist, extra cagey and not giving away anything. I like how this is done, it's evocative of so much history.
"I'm Coirasse. This is Elizabeth. She's looking for her girl. Got a shiny picture of her, too."
"Just wait. In the poke? Let me see." Elizabeth handed over the satchel. Teyla's photographs were on top. The woman from Udara carried them to stand beneath the light. "Eh."
"Do you know her? Has she been here?" Elizabeth asked, her heart still racing. Heart racing from the run, heart racing from nearness to her objective.
"Maybe." She looked at Elizabeth, studying her. "Let's say she is. How do I know you didn't sell her to Balls? How do I know you won't sell her right back?" It's a good acknowledgement, that being female doesn't mean you are on the side of the women.
"She's my friend," Elizabeth said, wringing her hands. "Please, if she's here, she'll know me, she'll tell you, please."
"Maybe so, maybe no. But you don't look like a slaver, nor a pervert. Wait." She stuffed the photos back into the satchel and tossed it to Elizabeth, then disappeared behind a heavy curtain. Elizabeth stared longingly after her; she could hear soft voices and shuffling feet. Then she returned.
"Teyla!" Elizabeth cried, and darted forward, but Teyla screamed and backed away, hiding behind the woman from Udara. Elizabeth froze, her hands around her own throat. "Teyla? It's Elizabeth. I've come to take you home." Teyla traumatized and hiding behind anyone is evocative of a huge amount of trauma, Comparing this post-rape, post-slavery survivor Teyla with the one in Atlantis: I am not yours is interesting, too - they are both escapees, out under their own power, but this one hasn't got to the hard-shelled coping strategy stage yet. And might not (certainly not in the same way).
"Teyla her name? We call her Soft, because she walks softly. But she fell coming through the gate. Maeda's guards wait there and watch, in hope Maeda's granddaughter will come through one day." More hints at Maeda's status, and at the political make-up of this place.
Elizabeth noticed that the woman's voice and diction had changed; maybe she was revealing herself. Coirasse didn't seem to notice; she was studying Teyla curiously. "She don't remember her own name?" she asked. As the woman from Udara relaxes, she becomes more refined; as Coirasse relaxes, she becomes coarser. Everyone is showing a behavior modeled for outsiders, and one for the people who belong. Elizabeth is tenuously being accepted here.
"No, not a thing except how to dance and sing. She's beautiful. Come out, Soft. You know I won't let anyone hurt you." This implies, a little bit, that her beauty is being judged not only physically, but according to skill.
Teyla leaned against the woman, her face open in a way Elizabeth had never seen before. "Teyla," she said quietly. "I was so afraid we'd lost you." To Elizabeth's humiliation, her throat closed with sorrow and gratitude, and tears filled her eyes. "Oh," she breathed, wiping her face on her sleeve. "Oh, please remember."
"Come in," the woman said. "You are tired, I see, and Coirasse could use a bath."
"Eh!" Coirasse said, but she smiled. "Your girlfriend, she is very pretty."
They followed the woman and Teyla through the heavy red curtain that revealed the rest of the barn. It was big and airy, the floor covered in clean straw with mats laid nearly around the perimeter. In the center, a small fire burned, and around it sat nearly a dozen women, most young, but two or three older than Elizabeth. "We can offer you maté, and soup, but no bread tonight." The inside of the barn, the hidden part, is a contrast with the claustrophobic rubble of the city.
"Thank you," Elizabeth murmured. She wanted to talk to Teyla but she wasn't sure what to say. She wished Carolyn Biro had come with her. She never dreamt to find a Teyla who didn't know her. I think it has worked in Elizabeth's favor that she's doing this alone.
The soup was watery and bitter, tasting of the herbs stewed in it, but the maté was rich and strong. She drank it happily, enjoying the caffeine rush. "This is good," she said, holding up her cup. "Maybe we can trade for it."
"That's Maeda's business, not mine. Mine is the women who come through the gate." More hinting at politics and social structure.
"I'm the woman from Udara." This is just right, her caution, and the way she won't be pushed out of it. If there is a real danger of slavers finding this place, then there's certainly also a real threat to the woman from Udara.
"Okay. Um. It's very good of you to take care of Teyla. I don't know how to thank you."
"Be patient. Maybe I don't want your thanks. Maybe Soft doesn't want to be Teyla." I like the way the woman from Udara points out that it's all up to Teyla, and not anyone else.
Elizabeth started to argue, but took another deep drink of the maté instead. She didn't want to antagonize this woman; she wanted an ally. She sat back and watched.
The women were quiet, but she saw them smile at each other, and laugh softly. They huddled away from Elizabeth and Coirasse, but near the woman from Udara and each other. The face of one of the older women was scabbed in a pattern Elizabeth was certain came from a boot print. One young woman's hands were bandaged, her fingers splinted. All were thin, but they were cleaner than anyone else Elizabeth had seen on this planet.
She watched Teyla, noticing that Teyla was watching her in return. Whenever their eyes would meet, Teyla would drop her head and turn to the woman from Udara. "How long has she been here?" Elizabeth asked quietly.
"Just a few days. When did you lose her?"
"Three weeks ago. Her team was on a trading mission on Porthas. They were ambushed, and she was taken. Her teammates didn't return home for several days, they were so badly beaten." She could still see the bruises on their faces, Rodney's bewildered anger, the way Ronon kept herding John and Rodney, like a border collie with his flock, nervously keeping them together. Oh, Ronon. I really like that simile.
John had been angrier than Elizabeth had ever seen. Teyla was part of John's family, she knew; more than that, Teyla was the person that John thought he should be. Yes, exactly. This is true, in canon, I think. He loved her, and she'd been taken. But his silence couldn't hide broken bones from Carson, nor would Rodney or Ronon permit him to lie about his injuries. Major Lorne's team had returned to Porthas to hunt for Teyla while John's team recovered in the infirmary.
Earlier than Carson had liked, though, all three had been up and back through the gate, working with Lorne and the others, following the trail through the stargates of stolen women and beaten men. "A hunting foray," John had reported back. "The women die on this world."
"I wonder why," Rodney said sarcastically.
Lorne's team had gone first to Balls, at night in a cloaked jumper. They'd returned with a description so horrifying that Elizabeth thought she was dreaming dystopias. So she'd dressed as a man, and Laura Cadman had accompanied her, both of them armed to the teeth. They'd dressed together, binding their breasts, wearing multiple tee-shirts and bulky jackets to disguise their bodies. Cadman had tied her hair up and jammed a knit cap over it; Elizabeth wore an Orioles baseball cap. Though it seems odd to risk a second woman on Balls, I think I wouldn't want to be the sole woman gone to see it with my own eyes, either. When you see a category you belong to being victimized, it's good to have a physical reminder that it doesn't have to be that way. It also puts a distance between Elizabeth and the men of the expedition - they aren't taking part in creating the bad situation, but when humanity is divided in half, men versus women, it would be hard to not generalize your reactions onto the closest men. I feel like I'm not saying this quite right, but seeing the situation on Balls is this horror, and a threat that I don't think that any woman new to it could help but to react to somewhat viscerally. An excuse to not interact with the male members of the team, who are also horrified, sure, but who by definition are not having the same reaction to the situation, is a good thing for everyone.
On Balls, again at night, they'd searched for Teyla. John claimed to be her husband; his anger fueled his performance, but no man admitted to recognizing her photo. Just before dawn, Elizabeth and Laura had slipped away to the back of a house where they'd seen women working: making bread, washing clothes, feeding chickens. They'd pulled off their hats, but only when the women had touched their bodies did they believe. And a good, practical reason to take women into this danger. Aside from the idea that it would be disempowering (and that's a mild word in this context, it doesn't feel right) to categorically exclude them.
"Come with us," Elizabeth said, and they followed. One very young woman looked longingly back, but another grabbed her arm and pulled her along. "Don't spoil it for us," she hissed. "You can always come back, but you'll never get this chance to escape again." Fear of change, but also, this is her life. And we find ways to discover the good in any situation, and to cling to that good part jealously. The young woman lacks perspective, certainly, but what is she giving up by leaving? Any number of good, valid possibilities, things that make her life worth living.
Before dialing Atlantis, Laura shone a flashlight on the photos of Teyla. "I remember her," the youngest said. "She helped me. She was nice." Asking them before overwhelming them with the new setting is smart.
"She went to Cray's household," another said. "But I heard at the market that she escaped. Went through the gate with that Hildy from Felag's household. The pregnant girl, remember? Felag was pissed." She smiled grimly. Pride in the hard-won victories of others.
They took the women back to Atlantis. "Ladies, ladies," Laura called, clapping her hands. "Follow me. We'll visit my very handsome boyfriend who is the doctor, get you cleaned up, and then get you home." It's a nice, glancing way to vouch for Carson, that he is safe and trustworthy.
"Ah," John said. The women's faces turned like flowers to the light, and Elizabeth wondered if that was because they were used to obeying men or because John was charming and shy. Shy. I've been thinking on this, and it's one of those characteristics that's canonically sort-of-true. He kind of is, in fits and starts, occasionally and situationally shy. It's nice. "Our friend, Teyla. The one who escaped. Where would she go? She didn't come home."
"To Shay," the women said in unison. "That's where we go, when we escape." The soft, hushing sound of the placename.
"To Shay," John repeated. "Would any of you know the gate address?"
"I do," Laura said. "Let me get these ladies to Carson, sir."
Elizabeth saw that Laura didn't want John to speak of this further in front of everyone, so she nodded. "I'll come with you. John, you and your team need to rest and recover. We'll meet at eighteen hundred in the mess hall." I can't imagine that the refugees would want to talk too much more about Shay openly anyway. Using the name as a talisman as one thing, breaking the spell by explaining it in mixed company, among strangers, is another.
John opened his mouth to protest, but Rodney poked him in the arm. Elizabeth hurried the women away. John doesn't want to wait, and that fits him, a refusal to recognize the barriers between a missing team member and their retrieval.
While the medical team looked them over, Laura took Elizabeth aside. "Ma'am, I've heard of Shay. I should have thought of it. I'm so sorry. Colonel Sheppard's gonna kick my -- I mean, the colonel will be disappointed in me." I think Cadman is very driven to excel.
"No, he won't, Laura. You did a wonderful job. How did you hear of Shay?"
"Teyla told us about it. Sometimes we get together, you know, just some of the girls, and talk, or, well, try each other's make-up. Just girl things, you know?"
"I know. So Teyla knows about Shay."
"Yes, ma'am, and it's safe there, she said. Really poor, though, so no place to trade, plus they don't let men in, just gays and only if they're somebody's brother. I think its real name is something that means safety."
"Safety," Elizabeth murmured. "Thank you, Laura. Thank you so much." To her own surprise, she hugged Laura, clinging to her for a moment of comfort. I think this is in character for Elizabeth, who gets these rushes of relief and acts on them by embracing whoever's attached to the feeling. Even though the act is sort of inappropriate.
"Only women," Laura reminded her. "The colonel isn't going to like that." Sheppard's sort of a lead-from-the-front kind of guy, by definition. And protective of Weir, in a sort of managing-your-manager way.
"The colonel isn't going to know," Elizabeth said. "You know the address. I'll just go through."
"No, ma'am, please, don't put me in that position." Um, yeah. That's a really shitty position.
"I'll make it an order, Lieutenant Cadman." They stared at each other for a few heartbeats and then Laura smiled. Making it an order really isn't going to protect her, but it does sort of limit recriminations to the unofficial variety. But Laura is making her own decision either way.
"Yes, ma'am. Be sure to order me not to tell anyone, especially Carson. That man cannot keep his mouth shut." Not that it's going to help, except possibly to delay anyone finding out that Elizabeth has gone. Once they notice that, it's going to be obvious that Cadman gave her the address.
"Consider it done."
But Elizabeth had expected to find a dead end or, at best, another trail to follow, not to find Teyla sitting docilely by a fire with the woman from Udara.
Elizabeth helped them clean up, drying the bowls and mugs, and watching as each woman took her bowl and tucked next to her sleeping mat. She sat with them around the fire again, and took a hit from the hand-rolled cigarette passed around the circle. As each woman accepted the smoke from the next, she said, "Sauftei." When Elizabeth was passed it, she murmured, "Sauftei" as well. The smoke was soft in her throat, and she closed her eyes to focus on the sensation. Cool, like mint or menthol but different, and she felt lighter and happier when she passed it on. It occurred to her that the real name of Shay must be Sauftei.
After the second pass, the woman from Udara tossed the cigarette into the fire, and the others went about preparing for bed. Elizabeth felt too relaxed to move, so she remained seated, watching Teyla watch her. After a while, she took the risk and scooted a bit closer to her. "I know you don't remember me," she murmured, "but we're friends. I've known you almost three years. You have friends and family waiting for you." I like the way the woman from Udara is in charge of everything going on in this place, not just in charge of her own work. She's protecting her work, owning the place.
"I can't remember," Teyla said.
Elizabeth smiled at her. At least Teyla would speak to her now. "It's all right. I'm sure that will pass."
"It is because of this, isn't it," she said, and pulled her hair away from her right ear. Elizabeth saw neat stitches in a half moon above her ear. "They tell me I fell coming through the stargate. I don't remember that, either. I only remember waking up here."
"I'm told you went through the gate with another woman, Hildy."
"I do not remember." She rubbed her forehead. "I do not remember anything."
"It's all right," Elizabeth said softly. "I'll wait for you. As long as it takes. I don't want you to feel pressured or rushed. I don't want to scare you." The goal of finding Teyla has been reached, but the focus stays with her. If it's been more than eight hours since Elizabeth got to Shay, though, the expedition must be in an uproar.
"You don't scare me."
They smiled at each other, and then Elizabeth yawned. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "It's just that I've been so worried, and looking for you for so long."
"I am glad to know that someone was looking for me, even if I cannot remember who or why." She rose gracefully and held out her hand to Elizabeth. "We will prepare for sleep. I still sleep a great deal. I am told this is due to my injury." Despite her amnesia and injury, Teyla retains her equanimity.
Teyla showed Elizabeth where to pee, and where to fetch water to wash her face and teeth. They stood side by side brushing their hair, looking into a windowpane that had been backed with black paint. Elizabeth wasn't sure where she was supposed to sleep, but Teyla took her hand again and led her to a mat in a corner, surrounded by the other women. After an awkward hesitation, Elizabeth drew off her trousers and unhooked her bra, deciding to sleep in panties and tee-shirt and socks. She lay down next to Teyla, who smiled sleepily at her.
In the morning, Coirasse went home without a word. There have to have been negotiations between Coirasse and the woman from Udara that Elizabeth wasn't privy to, deciding that. Some of the women took Elizabeth and Teyla to the river where they hunted for eggs in the sand; Elizabeth was afraid to ask what creature had laid the eggs. They dug up onion-scented bulbs, and a sweet-smelling juicy plant that the woman from Udara sliced into a sizzling frying pan. The scent made Elizabeth's stomach jump, and she promised herself to send as much food as Atlantis could spare to this place of peace. Yes. Except - the poverty is part of what keeps them safe. It's difficult.
As they ate, the woman from Udara spoke quietly to Elizabeth. "The unemployment rate here is probably ninety percent. The Wraith destroyed most of the buildings, and culled most of the population. Only a few hundred were left, and most of them were elderly, too elderly to be useful to the Wraith. Shay and Sateda were examples to the galaxy: to survive, you must hide. Be mice." The 'gates make it possible to make examples of whole planets, and know that the entire galaxy will learn of it. And all done while the Wraith were in hibernation, which makes me think that the writers of the actual show should think a little bit about the scale of destruction that should be occurring now that they are awake.
"Why the division of the sexes?" Elizabeth asked.
She shook her head. "No jobs, so the men left to find work elsewhere. Or died. The poverty, the hunger, the lack of all services -- many places are like this. But Maeda's mother had a vision. She wanted a place of safety. From the stories I've heard, her man was a devil who beat her, taking out his anger on her instead of the Wraith. I heard she killed him in his sleep, and that's what started this. It must have been a tiny population left behind, to make this kind of social re-ordering possible.
"I'm not sure it's true. It sounds like a myth to me. But for whatever reason, the initial imbalance led to segregation."
"I thought there were some men here?"
"Some, yes, but we don't call them men. They're the sisters. We hide them, too."
"From?" Oh, Elizabeth. You know better than to ask that question.
The woman gave her look but said only, "Anger."
Elizabeth looked down at her empty plate. The universe did seem to be an angry place. At least, both galaxies she knew were. Some places more than others, and maybe Atlantis was too angry as well. Maybe they should think about becoming a place of safety. If only they could hide from the Wraith. It would be a different way to fight, becoming a refuge. It would be a very hard sell. Impossible while still connected to the SGC & IOA.
"Elizabeth?" Teyla called. "Will you -- would you like to help me? I am going to fish."
"Fish," Elizabeth said. "I don't know that I've ever actually fished before."
"If you wish, I will teach you."
"I would like that," she said, scrambling to her feet. "Oh."
The woman from Udara took the plate from her hand. "Go. Fishing is more important than dishes."
She smiled, and followed Teyla into the sunshine. The day was still cool, but the night mist had settled. The morning smelled dense and sweet. They passed the sandy beach where they'd dug eggs, and walked downstream along a narrow path at the river's edge. When they reached a tumble of rocks the river splashed over, Teyla stopped. She pointed, and Elizabeth peered into the water, finally kneeling in the moist earth to see better. Shadows flickered beneath the water, darting into and back from the falls. Teyla dug into the earth and instantly found a wiggly insect that she threaded onto the hook; Elizabeth tried not to make a face. Then she tossed the line into the water and they sat quietly, watching. Elizabeth recognizes her separation from self-sufficiency, here, I think. The one that comes from being born white and well-off in a first-world nation on Earth.
Teyla cleverly tugged at the line, making the insect dance seductively. Something flashed and she pulled up and back, and suddenly there was a fish flopping on the grass. "Oh, oh!" Elizabeth said, and grabbed a rock, hesitating a second before smacking the fish in the head with it. "Ick." But she can't change her sensibilities that fast, even so.
"No, not ick," Teyla said. "Not ick at all." She tossed the fish a bit further from the water, found another insect, and they started again. When they had four fish, one nearly a foot in length, she said, "Enough. Now we clean them." And Teyla doesn't even recognize the sensibility. She would, if she had her memories, but she would be saying the same thing. Just couching it differently, perhaps - less corrective, more explanatory.
"Oh my god," Elizabeth moaned. "Why isn't Ronon here?"
"Who is Ronon?"
"He's, oh, he's a big guy who cleans fish," she said inadequately. She sounded like John, she thought, making a face. Hahaha. Yes. Oh, Elizabeth, I forgive you for wishing there was a man around to do the dirty work - but only because you are mocking John's explanatory skills in your head. And because bringing up John in this situation makes me think that he would also wish for Ronon if he were in a position where he had to deal with fish guts.
"Then I wish he were here also."
When the fish were cleaned and rinsed, their entrails left in a neat pile for scavengers, Elizabeth and Teyla washed up, and then walked further downstream to a sun-filled meadow. They sat, smiling shyly at each other. "You say I know you."
"Yes. I think you know me better than I know you."
"Why is that?"
"Um, you're harder to know. Not shy, but disinclined to share too much. You have great reserve and great dignity. I envy that." Also because Elizabeth is occupied making decisions and acting on them most of the time. Teyla, away from the Athosians, can spend a lot of time observing and analyzing people without having to really put her observations into a management framework.
"You envy me?"
"At times? Very much. You have a position of importance among your people and mine. You serve on the flagship away team. Your teammates would do anything for you, Teyla. Most of us would."
"Are you my teammate?"
"Well, technically, no. But in another way, yes. Yes, I am." In a way, everyone in Atlantis is team. In many ways, simultaneous and intersecting.
Teyla took Elizabeth's hand. "I am told that I will remember. That I just need time to recover. But I do not know what I am recovering from. Will you tell me?"
"Oh, Teyla." She squeezed Teyla's hand, then lay back in the grass, already dry from the sun. Teyla lay next to her. "I can only tell you what I know, which isn't much." She repeated to Teyla what she had told Coirasse, and what Turna had told her about Balls. "I don't know what happened to you there," she whispered, staring into the sky. "I'm afraid."
"When I woke, the woman from Udara was examining me. She said it was precautionary, that she did not believe I was pregnant. That I might not have been raped."
"Oh, god, Teyla." Elizabeth rolled onto her side. "I'm so sorry. I can't tell you how sorry I am."
"Do not be. Life is pain. Only in death do we find peace."
"No, that's not true. This planet is peace. What the woman from Udara has done, it's peace. And home is peace. Even though we're at war with the Wraith, you found some peace there, I know.
"People love you, Teyla." Tears filled Elizabeth's eyes; she was still tired, she knew, and overwrought, and distressed by Teyla's ordeal. "I love you."
Teyla smiled at her. "I believe you."
Elizabeth rubbed at her nose, embarrassed by her display of emotion when Teyla was so serene. "We should get back. Those fish won't stay fresh forever." Oh Elizabeth. Getting swept up in her feelings again. If they weren't lying in the grass, there might have been another impulsive hug. Oh, hey - this isn't really the place to ask this, except that I was thinking about it - is Ronon in on Elizabeth's trip to Shay? He supplied her with the satchel, after all. Or was she carrying the satchel on Balls and just hasn't given it back?
One of the women, Aigre, made a fish curry for dinner that night, with more of the onions they'd dug, and small cubes of a starch that reminded Elizabeth of potatoes. "Delicious," she said. This was how they spent their time: digging for eggs and roots, foraging for berries, fishing. There was a small garden, but no large-scale production of wheat or even orchards. "The Wraith," the woman from Udara said, as if that explained everything. And maybe it did, Elizabeth thought as she brushed her teeth. She knew from her experiences in Central Asia that desperate poverty created more poverty. At least here on Shay the birthrate was low; almost all population growth was due to women escaping through the gate. Maybe they had a chance, or would in time. The poverty, again, is life-threatening, but also life-preserving.
She didn't sleep as well that night, although she tried to keep from tossing and turning so she wouldn't disturb Teyla. She was ready to sneak away when Teyla opened her eyes. "You are restless."
"I'm sorry. I'll find another place."
"No, stay." Teyla opened her arms and Elizabeth moved nearer, so she could wrap her arms around Teyla.
"This feels so good. I didn't think I'd ever seen you again," she confessed. I like the way the physical intimacy based around platonic love is natural here. Even as a run-up to the other sort. It's nice.
"Were we lovers?"
"No. I don't believe you are with anyone at the moment, though I know Ronon is very interested in you." Yeah. But I'm not sure Teyla's that interested in Ronon.
"Are you? With anyone?"
"Oh, no. No. Not possible in my position. Although . . ." Teyla's actually the one person in the city with whom involvement would be possible, I think.
"Well, there are a couple of men."
"Only men, Elizabeth?"
Elizabeth raised her head to study Teyla's face. The fire was out, but a soft red glow filled the barn and she could see Teyla's eyes. "Teyla. You don't remember me. I'm a stranger to you."
"No, you are not. And even if you are, I am alone and lonely and frightened." And Elizabeth has proven her attachment through her behavior. It makes sense that Teyla trusts her and seeks comfort in her.
Elizabeth stroked Teyla's soft cheek, sliding her fingers over the strong cheekbone. "You are so beautiful," she breathed. "When you remember, if you want --" Trying not to take advantage, which is important.
Teyla kissed her. Soft and plush and luxurious, her kiss didn't insist but asked sweetly, and Elizabeth wanted comfort, she wanted to know that Teyla was alive and well, so she kissed her back, winding her arms around Teyla's strong shoulders, stroking her beautiful arms and back. She was panting when they parted. "We can't," Elizabeth said again. "I want to, but it isn't fair." She kissed Teyla quickly, then rested her cheek against Teyla's before pulling away. "If you still want this, later, when you remember and we go home, I will, too. I will, too." I kind of feel like Elizabeth should respect Teyla's decision in this matter. But then, she has to make a decision as well, so.
Teyla smiled sadly at her, closed her eyes, sighed, and slept. Elizabeth watched her for a long time.
The next day, the entire group of women went berrying. "Last chance before winter!" Aigre told Elizabeth. They filled their aprons and their pockets and their mouths with the sweet soft berries.
"Good for jam," the woman from Udara told Elizabeth. "And cobblers and buckles and pies."
A dozen women berrying all day brought in pounds and pounds of berries, and everything and every one of them was dyed a rich purple. In the evening, they cleaned the berries and began to cook them down with the leaves of a grass that both thickened and sweetened them. By the time they staggered to the river for a late night swim, the mist had risen and Elizabeth was shaking with cold. This is well drawn, the chill and the mist, the necessity of the swim, the darkness, the stickiness of the juice.
Only by splashing vigorously was the water bearable, but it did feel good, she admitted, to be clean, to laugh, to duck her head under water and come up in cool moonlight. She and Teyla wrestled a little, and she felt a sudden fierce desire for Teyla's body and mouth.
They ran back to the house, shouting in the night, unafraid, and then danced around the fire. Everyone's body was different, and everyone's body was beautiful. Even the woman from Udara danced, her breasts no larger than Rodney's, Elizabeth thought, scandalizing herself. Hee. Implying (to me) that Elizabeth may have seen Rodney dancing shirtless around a bonfire at some point in the past. But also - the joy and temporary release from fear, dancing gilded by the firelight. It's nice.
When they were warm, they dropped into the hay and shared another smoke. "This has been a good day," the oldest said. Her name was Pangera, and she had lived on Balls many years as a servant to a sterile man. "No babies," she'd told Elizabeth, "and now I'm too old." But Elizabeth thought Pangera had been lucky not to bear children in that terrible place.
"A good day," the others repeated.
"It'll be a hard winter, what with all them berries," Aigre warned, but by the fire, with a pantry full of jam and stewed berries, that didn't seem too frightening.
Elizabeth lay close to Teyla when they went to bed, so they could fall asleep in each other's arms. "When you remember, remember this: you are beautiful, beautiful, beautiful," Elizabeth whispered to her. They kissed sleepily, and Elizabeth drifted, at peace on Shay. Elizabeth gets to say things to Teyla in this setting that she might not be able to on Atlantis, or with Teyla in possession of her memory.
When she woke to full sunlight, Teyla was gone. She rolled over and saw her in the front room talking to the woman from Udara. Elizabeth sat up and stretched, then rose and pulled on her clothes. She poured herself and Teyla a mug of maté and walked toward them.
When Teyla looked at her, Elizabeth saw at once that she had remembered. Yes. Because it would be reflected both in her eyes and in her carriage. She froze, clutching the mugs, afraid. For a long moment they stared at each other, and then the woman from Udara laughed. "For the sake of the gate," she muttered, and took the mugs from Elizabeth's hands so she could hug Teyla. Nice epithet.
"You remember, don't you."
"Elizabeth, you're Doctor Elizabeth Weir, from Earth, now in Atlantis, and I am Teyla Emmagen, and you are my friend, my dear friend."
"Teyla, oh, I, we missed you, I missed you, everyone worked so hard --"
"I have no doubt. I know the colonel would do anything to find me, as would Rodney, and Ronon. And you."
"And me," Elizabeth agreed. "Teyla --"
Teyla kissed her. But this time, Elizabeth thought, she knows. She knows who she is and who I am and then she thought how wonderful it felt to be held so tenderly and kissed so lovingly. The and...and...and... construction is frantic and overwhelmed, joyful. "My dear Elizabeth," Teyla whispered. "Please take me home."
"Oh, yes. Right now. Let me, oh, we need to talk to the woman, and don't you want to say goodbye?"
They were laughing and crying a little, clinging to each other, while the others woke at their commotion. "More party?" Aigre asked, wiping her eyes. The woman from Udara handed them their mugs. "There is time for maté," she said, "and time to pack, and time to say goodbye."
"Goodbye?" the others cried. Because Teyla and Elizabeth have been fully accepted into this tiny temporary community. It's wrenching, a little.
It took hours before they were free to walk to the gate. Coirasse wasn't there to guide them, but in sunlight, the way was clearer, though even more depressing. It was late afternoon by the time Elizabeth and Teyla finally stood before the gate. "Wait," Teyla said, stopping Elizabeth's hand before she could press the first symbol of Atlantis. She looked into Elizabeth's eyes. "I remember," she said. "I remember who I am and where I'm from. And I remember two nights ago, what you said, and last night, in the river. When we go back, will these things still be possible?"
"Do you want them to be possible?"
Teyla smiled her serene and mysterious smile. "I wish all things to be possible." Teyla with her memories is an optimist and a fighter, where without she was a pessimist and a survivor.
Elizabeth smiled back at here. "Then they are. They are. Your presence here proves it. Anything is possible."
Teyla kissed her. :)
Title from The Gate to Women's Country, by Sheri S. Tepper. This is a book that I love, and recommend almost wholeheartedly. And I'm glad that this story was written with so many things in common with that one.
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