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Aberrant: Stargate Universe - [AU] Path of Vengeance [Mature]

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This fiction contains graphic scenes of sex and violence. People die, some in horrible ways. If you are not comfortable with the subject matter, it is recommended that you read with care, or avoid reading at all.

Due to the pleading of my roommates, I've decided to start this fiction. With 70+ posts already written at the time of this post, I think that I can finish it before the readers catch up.

Please enjoy reading it. I know I had a blast writing it.
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October, 2009

She had limits. She’d come close to breaking, dealing with the daily nightmare of Hatchins’ sudden arrival on base. She had hung on regardless, holding tight to her teetering sanity and turning it into a mission, a way to cope and even strike back, subtly. She had just gotten used to having her former rapist around when everything changed.

She sighed and looked up from the scroll she’d been translating when she heard her phone ring; the id was from an unfamiliar Berkeley number. Olivia picked up the call, offering a cautious, “Hello?”


“Is this Dr. Jenings-Izumi?” The unfamiliar, authoritative voice had mispronounced her name. She knew that something was wrong, instantly. The tone and the call had that feel, the sense of bad news being delivered.


“This is she. What’s wrong?” Her voice was strained, and Daniel looked up from his section of the scroll, his face instantly becoming concerned.


“I’m Detective Alex Thibbeau of the Berkeley PD. There was a break-in at your parents’ house,” he said, and Olivia felt her gut clench. “I’m afraid I have some very bad news for you, ma’am.”


Her hands were suddenly cold, because there was only one place this was going. “Mom? Dad?” Her near-whisper was plaintive, devoid of hope yet begging. Daniel sat a little straighter, his eyes widening; Olivia turned away before she saw something in them that made her start crying. Not that she was far from that point; she could feel them stinging her eyes as she anticipated the worst.


“I’m very sorry to have to tell you this, but your parents and your brother were in the house. We think they came home and interrupted the intruder, who was armed. You should come to Berkley,” he said, his voice gentle but professional. Practiced. He’d delivered news like this before. “There things that need to be arranged, that have to be done face to face.”


Arrangements weren’t made for living people. Olivia choked and pressed her hand to her mouth, fighting for control. Daniel’s gentle touch on her shoulder made her jump but she didn’t pull away. “I will,” she said as soon as she could. “Who should I call when I arrive?”

“Me,” he said, and gave her his number. “I’m very sorry, Doctor. I wish I could do more.”

She knew she should thank him, that it was polite, but she found that all she could say was, “Me, too.”


As she hung up, Daniel said, “I’m sorry.”


Olivia nodded, feeling hollow. She should be crying. She just felt… nothing. “I need… General O’Neill.”


“Do you want me to come with you?”


“Please,” she replied, putting her hand over his. Nodding, he walked her out the door and toward the elevator.

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O’Neill granted her two weeks leave. It was a long two weeks. She struggled through the preparations and the funeral. That was followed by the management and disposition of the estate. She had to leave before it was done to return to the base, forcing her and her lawyer to finish over the phone and numerous faxes. Everyone was nice about it, giving her enough time on the phone and with the fax machine to get it done. Olivia did most of it on autopilot, aware in a vague way that she was a little more well-off than she had been before, but unable to care.


She’d only been back a day when Hatchins pushed her over the edge. She was in the hallway, walking from the library to the ladies restroom, her head down, lost in grief. “I heard about your family,” Hatchins said behind her, making her jump. “I’m sorry, Liv.”

She turned, ready to curse at him—


He was with several others; it looked like they were on the way to the pool. She choked back her anger and responded with a cold, “Thank you.” Stick with the plan, she told herself, keep up appearances-


He stepped close, and his finger touched her exposed clavicle. She stiffened before pushing his finger away from her skin. “If you need anything… anything at all… you know where to find me,” he said, smirking. “Now’s not the time to be alone.”

“I’d rather be alone than with you,” she whispered, her eyes hot with anger.

His hand slid up to her neck, resting against the base of her throat; she heard his companions murmur at this display. They were waiting to see if she’d push him away, or if they’d get to see the loosest woman on base in action. She couldn’t push him away; she just froze, trembling slightly. She felt sick and helpless as he leaned close and told her, “I thought we covered that, years ago.” His lips brushed her ear as he said, “Do I need to remind you of that?”

“No,” she whispered, shaking as her eyes dropped. She was surrendering, again. She always surrendered to him.

“Good, because I have more power than you think,” he said, delighting in her discomfort. “What happened to your family was unfortunate, but easy to arrange.” As her eyes widened and flicked to him, he grinned and added, “For a guy with power and connections. Don’t look at me like that. I’m just saying. The right guy with the right connections can do anything, even to a specialist.”

Cold rage, so different than the heat that normally filled her when she was angry, soared through her blood, and a hundred things ran through her mind. She wanted to hurt him, to kill him, but instead, Olivia nodded. “I’ll remember that.”

“Good,” he replied and kissed her cheek. “I’ll see you around, ok?”

“Yeah,” she said, her eyes cold and her heart empty. She watched him go, then murmured, “Yeah, you will.”

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It took days of planning. She let her life move forward, but she had a silent goal now. She and Vinny went on their date, which went well enough despite the two-week delay. It couldn’t distract her from the mantra in her head, the pounding rhythm that had lodged itself in her mind ever since Hatchin’s whispered warning. There was only one thing which might distract her, so when Vinny started to head back to base, she asked him to go to his apartment for a nightcap instead. He stared at her for a few seconds in shock before grinning and making a highly illegal u-turn.

She wasn’t sure if he’d just anticipated a drink, or if he saw what would happen. She was sure he hoped for it, so there was only delight in his eyes when she straddled his legs and plucked the cigar from his lips. The next several hours did a beautiful job of distracting her, at least for that one blissful moment when all the grief and rage were washed away and all that was left was ecstasy.

After that, her days were filled with planning; her nights with Vinny, and she got through the first week. More importantly, at the end of that week, she had a plan. It was simple. It would work. The only downside was that she wasn’t sure how to conceal it. So in the end, she didn’t plan to hide it. But she wasn’t going to go to jail, not for him. If she couldn’t hide it, she also couldn’t be here for it.

She collected the supplies that she needed, planning each step out. She did the research needed, so that she’d have the right clothes and makeup, so that she said the right things. She’d only get one chance. She was in the middle of researching Amaterasu when Damien walked in.

“Hey,” he said, his expression gentle. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine,” she said, wishing that everyone would quit asking her that. All it did was remind of why she wasn’t alright. Only Vinny seemed to understand that she didn’t want to talk about it; that when she got that haunted, grieving cast to her eyes, the best thing he could do was act like it wasn’t there. He often did that by distracting her, usually with sex.

Damien, Daniel and Declan all cared about her, so she swallowed her frustration with all the coddling and smiled. “What can I do for you, Damien?”

His stance changed slightly and became apologetic. “Given what happened, Olivia, we need to get you a psych eval before you leave on the next mission.”

“Are you serious?” she asked, panic rising in her. The shrink was sure to want to talk about nothing but her grief; they’d want to dig at her pain and drag it out into the light to make sure it was ‘healthy’. There was nothing good or healthy about the pain that tore at her heart like a saw.

“Yes, Olivia,” he said comfortingly. “It’s just SOP in this situation.” He put his hands on her shoulders and gently squeezed. “It’s not a big deal.”

Behind him, Vinny arrived to take her to dinner. He scowled when he saw Caine touching her, and Olivia gently removed her CO’s hands. “Alright, when?”

If he was upset at her removing his hands, he didn’t show it. “Tomorrow, 0800. You’re excused from training for the morning,” he said evenly, glancing back to see Vinny. “Captain.”

“Major,” Vinny growled back, his dark eyes resting on Olivia. “Ready, darlin’?”

“Yep,” she said, standing up and moving to his side. He slung an arm over her shoulder – it’d taken them about three days to more or less forego ‘discreet’ by the military’s standards – and bent down to kiss her lightly.

“Fuck was that all about?” he grunted as he steered her toward the mess.

“Psych eval,” she sighed. “They want to make sure my feelings are healthy.”

Vinny snorted. “Just smile and say, ‘Takin’ it one day at a time, Doc’. Oh, and on those ink things – butterflies, a big bunch of fuckin’ butterflies.”

“Noted,” Olivia laughed as she laid her head on his chest. This is what she needed – mockery of the system and ways to avoid what she couldn’t mock.

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But there was no avoiding the appointment in the morning. Olivia was guided out of the complex by her escort to another building on-base. There, she was shown to a luxurious office done in warm, soft colors. The older but professional-looking woman waiting there rose and introduced herself as Dr. Michelle Glaese. Olivia was polite in turn, even as Dr. Glaese said, “Since you’ve never done this before, let me explain. I have been given a list of items to cover, we’ll have a nice chat and then you’re free to go.”

“What happens after that?” Olivia asked.

“After that, I write up my assessment and send it to your commanding officer and Dr. Fraiser. Together, they’ll determine your readiness to participate in an off-world mission,” Dr. Glaese said, crossing her legs in their neat slacks. “They’ll present their assessment to the General, and he’ll sign off on it or ground you.” She smiled. “I’m sure we’ll have no problem. Major Caine speaks highly of you.”

“He’s a good commanding officer,” Olivia said, smiling.

“So I hear. How’s your professional relationship with him?”

Olivia stared at the woman for a second, hating that she was prying like this. The specialist forced another smile and said, “It’s great. He’s one of the best bosses I’ve ever had.”

“So you enjoy working with him?”

“Oh, yes,” Olivia said. “He’s very understanding, very professional… perfect, really.”

Dr. Glaese made some notes and asked about a few other things, related to her job. Olivia answered them patiently, knowing where this was going. Dr. Glaese was circling around her point, driving obliquely at the heart of all this. “I understand you lost your parents and half-brother recently.”

“Yes,” Olivia said, nodding and clasping her hands.

“I heard you were very close to them?” the psychiatrist pushed.

“Yes, I was very close to my family,” Olivia said softly, somehow managing not to put a sarcastic sneer into the words. Give her something. “I miss them, very much.”

“I’m sure. How are you handling that?” the doctor asked bluntly.

Olivia choked back irritation and a hundred other emotions. “I take it a day at a time,” she said, and it was only stonewalling in part. “Just… deal with it.”


Nosy bitch. “I try to focus on work when I’m working. When I’m not working, I just let myself remember and think. I don’t push myself to grieve or not grieve. I just try to take care of myself, you know?”

“I know,” Dr. Glaese said, nodding sympathetically. “That’s good to hear.” Thankfully, that seemed to please her, and Olivia was released not long after.

She was cleared for the mission the next day, to her relief. She needed to be on-mission for her plan to work.

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The day, D-day, started in Vinny’s room, awakening next to him. Her dark eyes slowly fluttered open and focused on his face. He didn’t need sleep, but he said that he liked to rest for about an hour a day; it let his mind reset. She watched him nap, his face relaxed. He was here when she went to sleep, and here when she got up; she knew that he left in between those times to work out, but she didn’t care. He was here when she needed him to be.

The alarm was unwelcome. His calm repose was shattered, and he woke up with a grumble, though he smiled when he saw her. Olivia was too shattered, too caught up in her own emotional tempest to see the familiar warmth and affection in his eyes. Whether knowing that he cared so much for her would have made a difference to her plans would never be known; she missed it. “Mornin’,” he said in a sleep-graveled voice, leaning over to kiss her.

Even as part of her planned for the day’s event, part of her wanted to put it off. Impulsively, she murmured, “Be late today.”

“What?” he asked, propping his head up on his hand, his other hand stroking the smooth curves of her dark body.

She cupped him, finding him already hard. It brought a glint of lust to his eyes, a glint that turned into a fire when she said, “Be late today. Stay in bed with me for a bit longer.”

“Can’t,” he grunted, looking disgruntled. “Gotta meet the General.” He smiled again and leaned in. “Give you something for now, though.” He kissed her again and pulled her close, and did what he could now. Olivia pulled these sensations close and clung to them. They’d be her last for a while.

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Olivia had a couple of hours before mission. He’d just be ending a night shift; she’d just had breakfast with Gwyn. It was a matter of timing and conviction. She was better at the former, thanks to the artifact; she had plenty of the latter every time she thought about her parents.

She rode the elevator up and down, until he got on it. Hands shaking, she pressed the button for the level her rooms were on. He spoke to her; she couldn’t hear over the blood racing in her ears. She just stared at him until the light for her floor went off. Then, before the door could open, she stepped forward, slapped him across the face and said, “You’ll never have me again, you rapist pig. I’m telling you no.”

The doors opened, and Olivia shot out of them, dashing for her room. She heard him following, not trying to overtake her. For a second, she wondered why before she realized he wanted to get some ‘alone-time’ with her and was building up a head of steam. He thought he was hunting her; he thought he’d trap her in her room.

She grinned and led him right into her trap. It wasn’t much of a trap, just her room; what was trapping was what she could do in that room. He caught her at the door as she opened it, his hands bruising the back of her neck as he shoved her in and followed her. “I told you I don’t like ‘no’,” he seethed at her as he shoved her door shut. “I think you need to be reminded of this reality.”

“Here’s the new reality,” Olivia said, punching him in the face. It had more than the intended effect; his sinuses burst like a rotten melon as everything from his eyes to his upper lip assumed a concave appearance. Hatchins rebounded from her and crashed into the floor, thrashing and screaming, holding the ruin of his face. He was dead; no normal person could handle that grievous of an injury. His body just hadn’t figured that out yet.

Grabbing him, loving the ease with which she could toss him around, Olivia shoved him into the chair she’d put in the middle of the room. She quickly tied him to it, her greater strength allowing her to pin him to the chair. He’d stopped screaming very quickly and now hung limply against his bonds. Olivia had wanted to ask for details on why and how he’d arranged for the break-in, but he no longer had a functional mouth. “I’m going to put you out of your misery,” she told him; there was no sign that he heard or comprehended her. “Now, I’m going to break your neck, but I’ve never done this, so it may take a couple of tries. I wish that I was sorry about that, but I’m not.”

It took three tries. She wasn’t able to get enough of a snap on the neck to break it, so she finally twisted it around using brute strength. There was the sound like a bundle of celery being snapped and then Carl Hatchins was looking behind himself. There was a terrible gurgle, and then silence.

She wasn’t sure what to feel at this moment. Olivia was sure she should feel something, but there wasn’t much there, anymore. Sighing, she went to get ready for her mission – and part two of her plan.

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The rings activated, their whine covering the sound of Olivia popping the zat open. Cam Mitchell knelt next to the rings, turning toward her with a smile on his face, saying, “Hey, it worked!” The smile faded when he saw her pointing the zat at him.

“Sorry,” she said, firing the zat. She took a few valuable seconds to pull him off the rings, just in case Gwyn and Damien found their way back before Cam woke up. She only had seconds, but she bought herself another thirty seconds by shooting Cam with the ingtar, too.

Turning around, she hurried to the StarGate and dialed the first address she had memorized. The metallic pops were familiar as her fingers nimbly picked out the right keys, then pressed the red bulb. The StarGate powered up and emitted the well-known sideways ‘flush’. She let the event horizon settle before running up the stairs.

“Olivia!” Cam staggered to his feet, lurching sideways. “Stop!”

She looked at him to find he was aiming his zat at her. Fortunately, his nervous system was still messed up, and the zat wavered wildly. Olivia said, “Tell them, all of them, I’m sorry.” Then she turned and ran through the portal.

The dark woods of P3X-797 closed around her as she exited the StarGate. Once, these shadowed areas would have been inhabited by dangerous feral humans, but SG-1 had long since brought the cure to The Touched. Still, Olivia didn’t tarry; she quickly turned to the DHD and dialed another destination. Their arrival, following her, should scramble the buffer and leave them with fifty addresses to go through. She dialed another address and the gate filled with the ‘liquid’ that marked the portal.

PX3-1279’s plains stretched before her, the sun hot on her hair. Several natives looked up at her, blinking in surprise and she raised her zat. Olivia cursed to herself; she’d chosen this world because the gate was far from the closest village and she’d hoped to leap through the gate before they knew she was here. Now, they were witnesses, and could memorize where she went.

“Easy,” she said softly, keeping her weapon on them. “I’m just here to use the StarGate.” Keeping half an eye on them, she dialed out for her next destination. As the natives watched, she jumped back through the gate, heading for her next stop. She’d wanted to go straight to her first long-term stop from PX3-1279, but the native presence near the wormhole forced her to divert.

This stop was a bit nerve-wracking, but should be fine – while P3X-984 had once been the Alpha Site, it had been abandoned for a few years now. She stepped out into the open area before the gate and stopped, frozen for a moment. The sheds and buildings startled her; she hadn’t known they’d be here. Frozen in shock, she was convinced that her information was wrong and she was about to get caught. After a few moments, she relaxed; all she saw was the materials left behind. This place was a ghost town. She sighed in relief, then turned around and dialed her final destination for today’s jaunt.

The ruins of Velona were laid out before her, and Olivia allowed herself to relax. She was alone, for the first time in weeks. She wouldn’t stay here more than a couple of nights. There were dozens of uninhabited planets out there, but sooner or later, they’d try this one, if they were serious about finding her. And Olivia was pretty sure they’d mount a sizeable search for her. She carried a hell of a lot of SGC information in her head – not that she’d ever use it against them. Her loyalty toward SGC, in her own heart, hadn’t changed; she just hadn’t been willing to not kill Hatchins, and she wouldn’t go to jail for her act of long over-due justice.

For now, she was safe, safer than she’d been in a while. A few minutes of concentrated searching led her to what was once a small house. She barred the windows and the door, then set up camp on the floor. She began to pull the supplies she had secreted in her pack; the makeup, the traditional kimono and tiny shoes. She knew that all this authenticity might not be needed, but she wasn’t going to risk getting caught over some tiny detail.

The only thing that wasn’t completely authentic was the small locket that she secreted in the inner pocket of her kimono’s sleeve. The pictures of Mom, Dad and Wakiki in the locket were the only mementos she was allowing herself; a reminder of why she had done all this. She didn’t need the photographs, but it made her feel better to have something physically to touch and hold.

Her setup done, Olivia got up and left the building, exploring. Not only were the ruins themselves fascinating, but she needed to find a spot to hide the gear she couldn’t take with her. She might need it later.

She took her time walking around the city. She remained alert, but gradually, the oppressive silence got to her. Every echo or strange noise was an SG team sneaking up on her, and before too long, her nerve broke. She quickly got her mind back on the task, focusing on finding the spot where she could hide her excess gear. In one of the buildings, she found a collapsed portion of the floor. She could fit the gear in the hole and shift a broken cabinet over it. Follow that up with dusting away her footprints, and it’d be a good place. She could hide a mark over the interior door, using some chalk; people never looked above the door they’d just entered unless they were looking for something specific.

It was nearly dark as she hurried back to her house, feeling the exertions and stress of the day. Despite her haste, she stopped when she caught sight of the stars overhead. There were no lights, no planes – nothing to interfere with the vast beauty of the alien heavens. “Wow,” she whispered, feeling the tension of years fade for just a moment in the face of such glory.

A whisper of sound destroyed the moment, and she hurried to ‘her’ house, barring and locking the door for the night.

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Thirty minutes after Dr. Jenings-Izumi went AWOL

“My god!” Gwyn’s startled curse filled the silence left by the shock of opening Olivia’s door.

Damien took a step forward, feeling his heart sink as the pieces finally fell into place. As his dead teammates whispered to him, he crouched down so that he was face to ruined face with the corpse, studying it. “The hole in its face is similar in size to Olivia’s fist.” He looked back at Gwyn. “Did she touch you today?”

“I… yes, she patted me on the arm at breakfast,” he said, frowning. “She must have copied me then.”

“I’m sure she did,” Damien said, sighing. It all made sense now, from the niggling feeling of ‘wrongness’ he’d felt from Olivia almost since her return, to his decision to have her evaluated. He’d even had the impulse to ground her from missions; her eval had been good for ‘someone dealing with such extreme grief’ but he’d felt there was something more. He should have listened to himself. “Gwyn, catch one of the MPs and have them call the general.”

“What the fuck?” Vinny stood in the open door, his expression mixed between fear and agitation. “Where’s Olivia?”

“Captain Wright… Vinny,” Damien said carefully, standing to face the man. “I have some bad news. Dr. Jenings-Izumi went AWOL on mission today.” If anyone doubted that Wright could be emotionally vulnerable enough to be hurt, that doubt would be erased by the flash of pain that crossed his face. It was gone just as fast as it had appeared, but Damien had seen it, and he knew: Vinny had just had his heart cut out.

“And she killed him on her way out,” Gwyn said, pointing to Hatchins. “Did he attack her again?”

“This fuck was the guy?” Vinny asked, his face somehow getting redder. “This was the fuck that raped her?”

“Yes-” Damien said, only to get cut off as Vinny grabbed his shirt. “Why the fuck did you let him live!?” the demented Captain asked, his voice a dangerous growl.

Gwyn and Cam stepped forward, their faces set in hard lines, but the Major held up a hand to stop them. Damien looked down at the huge fists holding his shirt, then up at the livid face before him. “Captain,” he said in a carefully controlled voice, “I understand that you are overwrought, so I’m going to overlook this moment. But you are going to release me and treat me with the respect I have earned. I expect your next actions to exemplify a Captain in the United States Air Force.”

For a second, Caine really thought that Vinny was going to lose it. But the man pulled himself back from that red border and released him. In a voice that could have ground rocks, he said, “Yes, Major. May I ask, sir, with all due respect, why you let this fuck-shit live? ”

“For the record, I don’t kill members of the Air Force,” Damien said. “Off the record, I planned to, but Olivia asked me not to. She thought that this was a ploy by the IOA to either punish her or persuade her to spy for them in exchange for his removal. She wanted to catch them at it.”

As Vinny struggled to absorb this, Gwyn said, “She apparently changed her mind. But why? She was so determined to follow the plan.”

“I know why,” Cam said, holding out a piece of paper. As Caine read Olivia’s ‘Dear John’ note, Cam said, “He told her he was responsible for her parents’ death. She must have snapped.”

“Completely,” Gwyn sighed, rubbing his face.

At the door, General O’Neill paused, staring at the gruesome sight of seeing the back of his Sergeant’s head while being able to read his nametag at the same time. “I’m waiting,” he said in a tight voice, “for what had better be a damned good explanation.”

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Sixteen hours AWOL

The StarGate roared to life and the iris snapped shut; as O’Neill hurried into the command room, Walter said, “SG-22’s IDC, sir. They’re… dialing in from the Alpha Site.”

“Let them in,” O’Neill said, lifting his chin. “Tell the MPs to get ready to detain her.” It was wishful thinking, and some part of him even acknowledged that. It was confirmed the second the general saw the face of 22’s commanding officer. He sighed as 22 walked dejectedly down the ramp – though Wright’s ‘dejected’ was closer to enraged. “Walter, I want debriefed as soon as they’re ready. Oh, and call the new specialist to the conference room; I want her to hear this too.”

It didn’t take the three-man team long to assemble in the conference room; as they were waiting, a young woman came in, her bearing confident but hanging back until O’Neill entered the room and said, “Specialist McConnell, please take a seat. These are the members of your new team, SG-22.” He made introductions all around, pleased to see that Wright managed to shake her hand and nod to her despite his foul mood.

Aradia sat down, folding her hands over the folder in front of her. “Specialist McConnell, Captain Wright was about to tell us about his efforts to recover an AWOL specialist. You’ll find her information in the folder in front of you. Captain?”

“Went to PX3-1279; natives positively identified her,” Wright grunted, his jaw tight. He glanced at the new member of his team as she started to dig through the folder faster. “But she jumped away again, right to the old Alpha Site. Wasn’t there though – had KT scanning out further than she could move-”

“Holy shit!” Aradia yelped, then turned red as every eye in the room went to her.

“Something to add, Specialist?” O’Neill asked sardonically.

“Sorry, sir… I just know her,” Aradia said, staring at the picture of Olivia in the folder. She looked up at the people in the room. “What happened to her? Just running off doesn’t seem like her…”

Drawing a deep breath, Kyria started the story.

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One day, twelve hours AWOL

She woke to total silence; sunlight had crept into the room through cracks in the walls, lighting the interior, but there was still that eerie silence. She’d planned to stay here another night but found that the isolation was getting to her. She changed her plan, deciding to head out a day early. No reason to wait; she was ready to move on. Olivia wasn’t sure it was a good sign, but she felt safer on the move.

Olivia emptied her knapsack of everything in it, then started to repack it with what she wouldn’t need anymore. The distinctive ingtar was the first item in the bag, despite her fervent wish to take it; it was clearly Taur’i. The GDO and her radio followed it, along with almost every other piece of equipment she’d been issued yesterday. In the end, her bag was very full; it was surprising how much she actually carried on her belt and in her pockets. The items outside the bag were a world apart from what had replaced them inside.

She paused a moment, then took off her SG uniform for the last time. She felt a pang of regret as she did, and there was extra reverence in her touch as she folded the garments and put them in the top of her knapsack. Even her socks, bra and underwear went into the bag. Naked, she used some wet wipes to clean up a little, then pulled on her new clothes.

The silken undergarment was loose and whispered against her skin; Olivia was used to tighter underwear, but knew that she’d just have to get used to this. There was no real bra, just a band of cloth that wrapped around her breasts loosely to remove the worst of their jiggle. The three silk robes of the simple kimono went on one over the other, and were secured with a belt of a contrasting color. Everything else – some makeup, her provisions and few toiletries – were stashed in the second bag she’d brought with her. Unlike her SGC-issued bag, it was a colorful cotton sling that crossed her torso, hanging from shoulder to hip. Her zat was tucked into the front of the sling, hiding it nicely while keeping it handy. She put on her slippers, and then she was ready to go.

Pausing at the door, she looked around at the place where she’d left her old life behind, and started anew. It really felt like she was cutting herself off, or maybe like she’d died when she found out that her family was dead because of her. “Olivia is dead,” she murmured, feeling coldness seep into her bones. Shivering, she went to hide her gear and abandon this dead world.

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Two days, two hours AWOL

The marketplace on Yvoures was an easy place to get lost in, and Olivia smiled as she was surrounded by a cloak of people. She walked around casually, blending in with everyone else despite looking like none of them. There was a certain comfort in being a member of the crowd; she would have stood out in her uniform. Now, she was just one more woman, looking to trade goods.

She paused before a lodging house, studying it before deciding it wasn’t too posh or too dirty. Smiling – it’d been a long walk from the St- no, it was the chappa’ai; she needed to remember to call it by the ‘proper’ name. She pushed her way into a lodging house, looking around the dim interior until she spied someone who looked to be minding the place. She dug into one of the pockets in her sleeve and pulled out a ring as she approached. “Do you have rooms for lease now?” she asked, trying to look assured of herself.

“Ay-yep, we do,” he replied, nodding to her as he glanced up and down her frame. Her kimono was nice, but she knew that it was a little dirty and stained; she’d made sure of that. She looked very much like a woman down on her luck. It wasn’t that far from the truth, and like all the best lies, it was good because it was the truth.

Holding out the ring she’d picked up on the cheap at a pawn shop, she extended it toward him and asked, “How many nights will this buy?”

He took it and rolled it around in his fingers, then lightly bit it. “Eh, it’s not real gold… three nights.”

Olivia blanched. Her stash of jewelry wasn’t going to last long at these prices. Grumbling mentally about inflation reaching all corners of the universe, she pulled out a necklace. It wasn’t much better quality than the ring. “Will this and that get me seven nights?”

He peered closely at the necklace. “Six.”

“Twenty-four inch chain,” Olivia said, her voice tight. “And that’s a real diamond in the pendant.”

“What’s a diamond?” the innkeeper asked curiously.

“Very hard, very valuable stone where I come from,” she said, leaning forward and pointing it out.

“That chip of a gem? That might get you four nights where you come from, but here, I’m giving you charity when I give you three,” he shot back. “’Sides, it’s just white, no color.”

“You see a spectrum of color in the sunlight,” Olivia said. “Let’s go to the window, and you can see it better.”

He followed her, his face resigned, into the light. He tilted it into the light, then nodded. “Yeah, I see it. Very nice. Still three nights.”

“Done, six nights for the ring and the necklace,” Olivia sighed. She’d either find something else to trade or leave a day early. And really, her schedule was arbitrary. She’d picked seven days because it was a comfortable number. But she needed to get out of habits like that now; she wasn’t on Earth anymore. Taur’i. She wasn’t on Taur’i anymore.

“Deal,” he said, smiling. “Room’s at the top of the stairs.”

“Can I have a key?” she asked after an expectant pause.

“A key?” he snorted. “Do I look like a rich man? The door bars from the inside.”

So no leaving her stuff in her room, she sighed to herself. Still, given the tech-level of this planet – a step above agrarian – it wasn’t an uncommon setup. “Very well, I’ll be back later,” she told him before turning and heading back out.

The double suns were small but bright, and she pulled the scarf draped around her arms over her head to block out the overwhelming light. The market stretched to her left and right, and she choose right randomly, paying attention to the booths. Olivia took her time, studying the merchandise and the handlers both. She was looking for very specific things, and after her stash of stuff was gone, she’d have a harder time trading. After she’d decided who she wanted to trade with, she went back though, methodically stopping at each selected booth and making an offer.

Her most valuable item was her pocket calculator. She was able to trade that for a bolt of fine cloth, which she traded for three weeks of food. Her sunglasses got her two almost-new canteens – which hurt since she’d just left a perfectly good one behind on Velona. But it had been military grade, and these were made of animal parts. She found the well and started to fill them up, only to gag on the taste-test she performed on the water. The water was nothing approaching safe to drink. Emptying her canteens, she wandered until she found a brewer. She traded a colorful set of gel pens for enough ale to fill her canteens. That’d have to do until she found a clean source of water.

She’d never expected this to be fun, but having to drink beer so she didn’t get cholera was depressing. Sudden homesickness hit her, and she wondered if prison was really worse than this. Then the wind blew and lifted her hair, and she knew that she didn’t want to lose her freedom.

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Two days, three hours AWOL

“… and Caine, we’re going to split SG-21 up across SG-15, SG-19 and SG-20. Having a familiar face on the non-specialist teams might mean that she is more willing to come in. Plus, since we don’t know how long she can retain her borrowed powers, you’ll be the ones who have to do the heavy lifting. You all have your list of gate addresses to clear. Any questions?” The team leaders of SG-15, 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23 all looked at him, and in their eyes, he saw their willingness. “Remember, this is a retrieval mission,” O’Neill said softly. “One of ours is out there alone, and hurt. Let’s bring her home. Captain Wright, a word.”


Wright startled and glanced at him, surprise on his features. But the Captain remained in his seat until the others had gone. “Yes, General?” he asked, showing some patience despite his anxious body language.

General O’Neill studied his face for a moment and said, “You seem pretty upset, Captain.” Behind them, the light coming through the windows went blue as the StarGate went active with a rush of noise. Wright’s eyes flickered to the light, then back to O’Neill, impatience creeping into his expression as he waited for O’Niell to get to the point. “I need to know that you can bring her back.”

Wright stared as his face went red. “Know how to do my job, sir,” he growled.

O’Neill started to protest that he knew that, but he had to admit he wouldn’t have asked if he had known that. “I had to ask, Captain,” he said, meeting the man’s eyes. “You’re in a bad spot.”

Wright stood up, looking annoyed. “Sir, it’s not a bad spot. Olivia is out there alone. Gonna find her and bring her home. End of story.”

“Even if you’re bringing her back to a jail cell?”

Wright paused, his face hard. “She wouldn’t be alone,” he said, and O’Neill saw the concern in the man’s eyes – concern that he probably wasn’t even aware was there.

O’Neill nodded, hiding the pang of sympathy he felt for the other man. Regardless of what he admitted, Wright was in a bad place. “Dismissed, Captain. Good hunting.”

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Three days, three hours AWOL

The first night was the worst. The sounds of strangers pushed all around her, and she slept fitfully. In the morning, she went walking around the town, then pushed out into the wilderness. That didn’t last long because she quickly realized this was no tamed park or even farmland; it was Wild. She came back with strange red bugs sticking to her legs under her skirt; they left itching welts that needed a lotion, and she had to trade away a set of earring to get it.

She finally found a bookstore, tucked away into a dark alley. Grinning and itching her hip, she stepped into the store. “Hello,” the elderly lady dusting shelves said, turning to her. “What can I help you with?”

“I’ll be in town for a few days, and was looking for some reading material,” Livy said, starting to look over the books. Her shoulders slumped a little when she realized that they were in a foreign language she didn’t recognize.

“Well, we have lots to read here,” the woman said, shuffling over to join Olivia. “What are you looking for?”

“Something I can read,” Olivia sighed. “I don’t know this language.”

“Yvouri is a complex language,” the proprietor said. “Let’s see… do you read Goa’uld?”

“Oh, yes!” Olivia said, relieved. “I do.”

“Well, I don’t have anything in Goa’uld,” the woman replied.

“Oh, that’s… not the answer I was expecting,” Olivia grumbled. “How about… something in the language we speak?”

“The common language… I might,” she said, shuffling into the back. She came out with a wooden box, setting it on the counter. “Here you go, dear.”

Olivia smiled, only to have it fade when she saw the woodcut cover. “That…”

“It’s a pillow book,” the woman said, smirking toothlessly. “A story of romance and the pleasures of the wedding bed.”

It’s a box… full of romance novels. It seemed to be a bad omen, a sign of a life yawning before her without substance. “I’ll take this one,” Olivia sighed, digging out one of her last pieces of jewelry. She wasn’t sure she’d read it, but she knew how awful boredom could be.

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Five days, fourteen hours AWOL

By the third night, she was desperate. She started to read the book, and soared through the simple prose and linear plot in a night by the inn’s fireplace. The next morning, she traded for another ‘pillow book’, almost ready for a SGU cell if it would mean something real to read. She didn’t let herself think about the other things she was missing from SGU. Instead, she kept her mind desperately busy.

The staff of the inn had gotten very used to the quiet dark-skinned woman in the silken robes. Her habits were familiar; she was always reading or watching with dark, perceptive eyes. They left her alone for the most part, interacting with her only when they had to. She slept little, but ate a lot and minded her own business. She was an excellent patron.

Still, trouble was inevitable. She was clearly alone, and lovely. When the trader Renbar saw her, he quietly inquired. Hearing that she was isolated here, he decided to take advantage. Slavery was still alive and well in the galaxy, and a woman alone was an easy mark. Renbar considered his options, and then decided that a frontal approach was the best. Standing, he walked over to her, looming over her seated form. “What’s your height and weight, pretty?”

She looked up at him, her eyes narrowing. “Five-five and between one-thirty-three and seventeen thousand pounds,” she said ominously. She stood up and faced him, her demeanor calm. As she turned to him, he heard the floor creak under her.

He was going to press the issue, he really was, but the innkeep shouted, “Hey, leave my customers alone!”

“I’m your customer, too,” Renbar said angrily.

“Bah, you buy some ale. She’s got a room. Guess who makes me more money?” the innkeeper asked, his tone sarcastic. “Get out of here, Renbar. I won’t let you make one of my tenants a slave.”

The dark-skinned girl inhaled sharply. “I should have known,” she muttered. “You stink of scum.”

He bared his teeth at her, and she just stared back. “Watch yourself little girl,” he snarled. “I’ll be in town for a few more days. I’ll be looking for you.”

“Do that,” she snapped back. “I won’t bother, because I’ll smell you before I see you.”

Orilius, the innkeeper’s large stablehand, came into the room, stopping with a shoulder in front of Renbar. The message was unmistakable, and Renbar snapped, “Watch your back, girlie.”

“I will, because you sure aren’t brave enough to do it my face,” the woman replied. Orilius herded him and his friends out, and the woman went back to reading her book.

Renbar’s body was found the next afternoon, his skull crushed. Everyone in the town knew who had done it, but no one cared. People did tiptoe more softly around her, and she was left in peace for the next two days.

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Six Days, five hours AWOL

Major Louis Fisher picked at his teeth with his tongue, eyeing the village center in front of him. It had taken five teams the better part of three days to clear the planets that were known to be uninhabited, habitable and safe. Then they’d moved on to the inhabited planets, which were easier to clear but carried more of a risk that they’d miss her if she had convinced the inhabitants to hide her.

“Spread out,” he muttered to the rest of the team. Team, plus one, he thought sourly, looking back at Declan Perrault. The big man was here to soothe the AWOL Specialist, if she was here. Fisher hoped she wasn’t; he really hated this mission. The woman wouldn’t be worth all this trouble if she hadn’t packed her head with classified information. But in all honesty, she’d offed the fucker who had raped her and killed her folks, if the rumors were to be believed. And he believed them; one of his poker buddies had cleaned out Hatchins’ room and the things he had seen had been eye-opening. The man had some sick tastes. If the wee black woman wanted to jump out into the universe and stay out of prison, Fisher would be more than happy to let her fade away, if only she didn’t know so damned much.

His men faded into the background, and Fisher kept strolling forward. Before long, a curious villager came forward, and with a smile, he produced the picture of Dr. Ji that everyone was carrying. Quietly, he reflected that she’d probably never had so many men carrying her picture in their pockets. After some preliminaries, he asked, “Have you seen this woman around your village?”

“Oh, no, I don’t think so,” the man said, shaking his head. “But follow me, we’ll ask around.”

“Thank you,” Fisher said, hiding his disgruntled expression at the thought of talking to a hundred more people. Hopefully his time would be cut down by the other four men circulating through the crowd, but he rather doubted it. They had to be thorough, even if he didn’t want to be. He had the bad feeling that if O’Neill found out he was less than eager to bring her back, the general was likely to demote him to an Airman, and that was nothing compared to what Wright would do to him. The man had a major hard-on to get her back, which made no sense to Fisher. If he was interested in her, why was he trying to get her thrown in jail?

“Sir!” Fisher was jerked out his contemplation by one of his lieutenants. It’d been about three hours, and his mind was more on lunch than on his mission. “Sir, I found someone who’s seen her. Yesterday. Not here, but he gave me a gate address. It’s a bazaar world, as in, trading bazaar.”

“We figured she’d go somewhere like that,” Fisher said before toggling his radio. “Everyone, back to the gate, pronto. We have a lead.”

He met the team back there, noting the hope on Perrault’s face, which was somehow scary. The man always scared him, but that wasn’t something to be ashamed of, it was just common sense. It wasn’t that the man had hope that was scary, it was that he was scary, no matter what he did.

They dialed home, and soon had the General on the horn via the MALP. “Good work, Fisher,” O’Neill said when he’d reported. “Get back here. SG-20 just got back. You’ll rendezvous with them and immediately go get her. Don’t want her to get away.”

“Yes, sir, we’re coming home,” Fisher said, waving at his team-plus-one. As they disappeared through the gate, he turned his thoughts ahead to capturing Dr. Ji. He may not have wanted to do it, but he knew his duty.

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Six Days, seven hours AWOL

Olivia was considering leaving that day, which was a night early. She’d gotten itchy here, mentally starving after having nothing to read but romance novels. And she was feeling restless, for reasons to do with being a wanted criminal who has sensed that they may have stayed in one place too long.

So it was with a great deal of terror but no real surprise that she spotted the three men in familiar green uniforms. Dropping her head, she stifled the impulse to shove her way through the crowds and instead forced herself to think. She had her supplies with her due to the lack of security in her room; all that she was missing was some extra food that she could replace, with effort. She didn’t look very much like herself right now; her makeup made her eyes look darker and her cheekbones higher, and the kimono obscured her form. So hopefully a casual glance would pass her over. The StarGate – she needed to get there, and through it. She had her next stop ready in her mind, and Olivia began to trace the path she’d plotted as her escape route.

She hurried around a corner and reminded herself to slow down. Lt. Simon stepped out of a cross street ahead of her, his eyes scanning the crowd. Olivia smoothly turned and headed down another street, using her knowledge of the town to wind her way through the narrow streets and alleys. She stepped out into the main artery, hearing Caine’s voice behind her.

She almost turned, almost headed toward the sound of her CO and home, but she didn’t. Tears stung her eyes as she was hit with a sudden realization of what she was leaving behind. Her family might be dead, but there were others things, things that she’d forgotten in her grief: Damien’s kindhearted support, Declan’s quiet devotion and Vinny’s strong body. But her determination to not rot for that bastard kept her on the course.

Her head down, she stumbled on toward the StarGate. She was too close when she realized her mistake; three men in uniform hovered around the gate, eyeing the carts that were waiting for the portal to open. The armed Jaffa around the carts were keeping the SG personnel back by their mere presence, an uneasy, unspoken truce.

It was her only chance and Olivia took it, ducking close to a wagon. Biting her lip nervously, she grabbed a spare robe off the back and shrugged into it quickly. Pulling her hood up, she focused on pretending to secure one of the many ropes. She ‘worked’ diligently, never looking at the StarGate personnel who were looking for her.

The StarGate came alive with its usual rushing roar, and Olivia glanced at the blue ‘water’ of its event horizon. “Kree!” one of the Jaffa shouted, and whips popped, convincing the shaggy beasts yoked to the wagons to lean into their harnesses. Pulling her hood up a little higher and dropping her gaze, Olivia walked next to the wagon. It was the hardest thing in the world, to walk along as if you weren’t terrified of the man whom stood twelve feet away from your path. But she did it; she kept her head down and her pace normal instead of breaking into a nervous run. She was rewarded with the cool sensation of the event horizon on her skin and then the psychedelic ride through the wormhole.

She stepped out into rain, which obfuscated her as she walked in the company of possibly hostile Jaffa. Olivia knew that she had to get away from them and circle back to the StarGate to get the hell out of here. Casually, she started to break away from the group, keeping her pace even, or as even as she could manage with her knees knocking together.

Kree hol mel.You there, stop. Olivia flinched as the last statement she wanted to hear in Goa’uld was stated simultaneously with the sound of a Staff Weapon activating. Stopping, she turned slowly, putting her hands up cautiously. An irritated-looking Jaffa stamped with Ba’al’s markings was glaring at her, an active Staff Weapon pointed at her.

“Hi,” Olivia said, smiling in what she hoped was a charming manner. More Jaffa were noticing and gathering around, while those who seemed to be in charge of the carts remained with them. She was rapidly surrounded by a lot of people who looked both annoyed and wary. It was a bad combination as far as she was concerned.

“Who are you?” the one aiming at her asked.

“My name is Matsu,” she lied, “and I can explain why-”

An Al’kesh dropped out of the sky and began firing, delivering death from above. At the same time, armored Jaffa swarmed out of the trees, running toward the group holding her hostage. In a second, all was chaos, and Olivia sensed this was her chance. Turning and ducking, she started her dash for shelter.

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Six days, seven hours AWOL

Olivia threw herself to the side, rolling on the ground as dirt was tossed into the air by the Al’kesh’s energy beam. She regained her feet as fast as she could, stumbling toward the tree line. Hide… sneak back after the fight! Get the hell out of here!

She made the mistake of looking back.

A woman lay on the ground, moving weakly, but that wasn’t what stopped Olivia’s dash and made her run back to her. It was the swell of her belly; the clear sign that abandoning this woman to fate was to abandon two, not one. While Olivia was crazy with rage and grief, she wasn’t so far gone that she could do that.

As she ran back, Olivia pulled on that echo of Gwyn that she still carried in her, and her feet pounded heavily on the earth. She scooped up the woman like she was a stuffed doll and began to dash for the sheltering trees. Shouts from running people and zaps from energy blots followed her as she hustled into the underbrush around the trees. Laying her moaning charge under the overhang of a particularly thick hedge, Olivia peered back out at the battle.

Everywhere she looked, she saw more people needing help. “Stay here,” she told the woman in Goa’uld before dashing back out into the field. She pulled out her zat and began to fire at the armored Jaffa, trying to avoid their return fire. The first person she reached was an old man, shot in the leg. When she turned him over, shouting at him to get up, she found he had two kids under him. He screamed at her to take them, and she did.

By the time she got back to him, his skull was a shattered, burned mess.

After that, everything ran together. Olivia had never been in the heart of a real battle before and wasn’t ready for the haze of war. In addition, her own memory loss when she used someone else’s power robbed her of recall, and there was a good deal of confusion for her. She remembered, in a distant way, getting clubbed in the head with the spade end of a Staff Weapon to little effect. She also remembered throwing a rock as big as her head at something. That had to have been before she ran out of energy, becoming her usual weak self. But still she tried, working to save the injured.

It ended so suddenly; one second she was hearing Staff Weapons and zats firing madly as she struggled to get an injured man into the woods and the next, the weapons fire was gone. She looked around to see that two Al’kesh were settling on the ground. They were both more battered and scarred than the one she’d seen initially, and Olivia suddenly realized they were the reason that the first Al’kesh was a smoldering heap on the ground.

The man leaned against her, groaning, and Olivia remembered what she had been doing. “Sorry,” she murmured in Goa’uld, helping him lie down in the open area rather than drag him all the way to the tree line. She was exhausted; the unfamiliar feeling of being out of ‘juice’ was weighing her body down with weariness.

“You!” The barked command made Olivia flinch, and she turned to see the same Jaffa who had spotted her before glaring at her again. He was short for a Jaffa, only a little taller than she was, but built broadly.

“Just let me use the chappa’ai,” she said, hearing the desperation in her voice. “Just let me go and I’ll get out of your hair.”

Perhaps that was the wrong phrase to use, she considered as she glanced up at his shaved head. He didn’t like the statement or he didn’t understand; either way, he was scowling as he grabbed her arm. He didn’t release her as he oversaw the aftermath of the fight, dragging her with him as he supervised the repair of the wagons and treatment of the wounded. Finally, after too long, he pulled her sharply after him, and began to walk further away from the StarGate. Shivering, Olivia allowed herself to be dragged along, at least until her strength returned.

You’d think that saving their people would count for something.

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Six days, ten hours AWOL

“She was there. Sgt. Perrault caught her scent, and it was recent. She had another night leased at an inn, but she’d already fled through the StarGate,” Fisher reported, feeling the disappointment in the room like a miasma. “I’m sorry, sir. Either she saw us and slipped through the gate, or she planned to run early and the extra night was a decoy.”

In the silence that followed his statement, Captain Wright’s fist slammed on the table. Pens and coffee cups jumped; notepads and folders flopped. Every man in the room looked to the General for his reaction; when he ignored it, so did they.

“Any clue on her next stop?” O’Neill asked the quiet room.

“No idea, to be frank, sir. The Yvourians wouldn’t let us access their buffer, so we couldn’t pull the last fifty addresses. Also, two large groups went through while we were there. They were big enough to hide her, but one was a pseudo-Arabic culture that, um… let’s just say that Dr. Ji wouldn’t be real comfortable there. And the others were Jaffa from a free Jaffa colony, and they wouldn’t welcome strangers among them,” Fisher reported, glancing down at the notes he’d made so that he could keep his thoughts straight. “My belief is that she left before we were there, and we never even saw her.”

Wright’s face was red, but he was still and silent. Fisher glanced at him as O’Neill asked, “Did we see the addresses of those groups? Just to be sure?”

Fisher shook his head. “There are people of Yvoures have guys who block visual access to the DHD. Some of their customers don’t like people knowing where they’re going and Yvoures likes to protect the privacy of its main source of income.”

“That’s spiffy for them,” O’Neill said, sarcasm heavy in his voice.

“Yes, sir,” Fisher agreed – when in doubt, nod and say ‘yes, sir’. “Perhaps Teal’c can find out which Jaffa group that was?”

“I’ll ask him,” O’Neill said. “Anything else?” After a moment of silence, he said, “Dismissed.”

“General,” Vinny said, standing and approaching him, even as he tried to leave.

“Yes, Captain?” O’Neill asked, a suspicion in his mind.

“Jones, Perault, Mitchell...we want to go back out tonight, sir," Wright requested with as much respect as he ever showed. “Don’t need to sleep, wanna look some more.”

“I thought you boys still needed rest,” O’Neill said.

“An hour is enough,” Wright replied. “Just waste it workin’ out. Could be doing something useful.”

O’Neill considered then shook his head. “Captain, I know you want to find her. But if you burn yourselves out, you won’t do anyone any good.”

“Sir-” Wright bit off whatever else he was going to say as his face burned. O’Neill knew his expression brooked no argument. “Yes, sir.”

“Good night, Captain,” O’Neill said. “Get some rest. You’ll be back at it before you know it.”

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Six days, twelve hours AWOL

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“Nothing here.” Vinny’s voice made Aradia jump and grab her chest. “Already checked.”

“Fuck!” she barked, looking at her CO with large eyes. “You fuckin’ scared me.” She looked around Olivia’s room and put down the picture of Wakiki, feeling grief tug at her heart.

“Knew him?” Vinny asked, glancing at the discarded picture.

“Yeah, when I was fourteen, we all took a summer trip. Drove around the Southwest,” Aradia said, a sad smile tugging at her lips. She looked around the room. It was disorganized, but Aradia honestly couldn’t tell if that was the way Olivia had left. She knew her ‘sister’ well enough to know that it was possible that this mess was from her.

“So, how long will they leave this here?” she asked after a moment of silence.

Vinny shrugged after a moment, his jaw tight. “Till the general says to clear it out,” he answered non-helpfully.

“Right,” Aradia said, feeling her throat tighten. So long as they left her room alone, there was the sense that she was still here, that she might come into the room. If Aradia felt that, what must someone who knew her more recently and intimately feel? “Can you… tell me what she was like here? This is such a strange place for her to be. I mean, for the Livy I knew. She must have been so different from the girl I knew, to work here, to have killed…” Aradia’s voice trailed off before it started to shake. Finding out that Wakiki was dead had been hard to bear; it was starting to feel like Livy was dead, too. Her only real friends outside the circus, gone. “I just… I can feel her, but can’t see her being here.”

There was a long silence from the big man. “She tries,” Vinny said, his voice gruff. “She’s a damned civvie, but she fuckin’ tries.” Abruptly, he turned and left the room.

Aradia watched him go. She’d started to get a handle on her boss, and base gossip had filled her in on the nature of his relationship with Livy. She got another piece of the puzzle of Vinny when she realized that he was the only person who talked about her in the present tense, as if she weren’t gone. That’s because, some wise little voice told her, to him, she’s not gone. You’ll know he’s given up when he switches tense.

The former acrobat looked around the room again, feeling her jaw set. Olivia may have given up on them, let them go, but she’d be damned if she’d do the same. Grimly determined, Aradia grabbed a box and went for the photo albums and other personal things she knew Olivia would want, once she came back to herself. Aradia would keep them safe for her, until her sister returned. So long as she kept them for Olivia, she knew she’d see her friend again. Aradia just knew it.

And she never referred to Livy in the past tense again.

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Six days, sixteen hours AWOL

A quarter of the Jaffa remained behind to fix the wagons and do what they could to get the supplies to the village, along with those too wounded to move. The rest of the Jaffa set a hard pace. The one who had grabbed her was still holding her by the arm, pulling her along. When she tripped – which she did often – he hauled her back onto her feet and kept her moving.

Olivia was so tired now. Not only was she out of juice, but everything below her waist hurt. Sweat poured down her face and her breath rasped in her throat. She felt as bad, if not worse, than she had on her first run with SG-21. Of course, if it hadn’t been for those runs, she would be dead by now, probably literally. Caine would have loved it.

The Jaffa didn’t seem to be having any trouble. Even the pregnant one, now that she had recovered from being tossed around by a blast from an Al’kesh, was keeping up well, her head held high and her dark hair blowing in the wind. Olivia would have hated her, but she didn’t have the energy right now.

A gasp rose from the walking Jaffa, and they slowed for a second. Olivia lifted her head to see them all staring at a smudge of smoke behind a hill. With a new urgency and even more speed, they began to move again. Olivia tried to keep up, but soon her legs gave out and she collapsed. “Get up!” the Jaffa demanded, pulling on her arm.

“I can’t!” Olivia cried, even as she tried again to get up. “And dislocating my arm won’t help!”

“Bah,” the Jaffa growled, pushing her to the ground. He looked at one of the guards hovering anxiously. “Kill her.”

“Oh, fuck you!” Olivia moaned, even as she tried to get up again, hopeful that mobility would spare her life. She heard several Staff Weapons activate, and wished she’d gone to Damien when she’d heard his voice.

“Torlak, do not be so ungrateful,” the pregnant woman said, moving to kneel next to Olivia. Her presence hampered their shots, and the aiming Jaffa muttered. The woman ignored them and said, “She saved the life of your wife and unborn son. That is worth some consideration, is it not?”

“Shall I have my warriors carry her?” Torlak sneered, waving to his men. None of them looked pleased at the thought.

“Do not be ridiculous. I will stay with her; you will not let me do anything at the village anyway, for fear of losing your son,” the woman said, her dark eyes flashing with anger. Her voice remained level however, calm yet forceful. “Matsu and I will follow you.”

Torlak stared at them for a moment, then snorted. “Horak, you will remain with them. We will move faster without them anyway.” The gathered Jaffa turned and hurried away, leaving Olivia alone with two strange Jaffa. She considered escape options, now that the odds were merely unfavorable as opposed to overwhelming.

“Here, lie down,” the woman said, and thoughts of escape fled as Olivia was gently pushed onto her side. The woman took off her cloak and made it into a pillow for her, then sat down carefully next to her.

“Thanks,” Olivia muttered, still breathing heavily.

“Thank you,” the woman said. “You have saved my life and the lives of others, and even my husband will acknowledge that when he’s in a better mood.” She paused. “His temper can be… expansive.”

Olivia snorted and muttered, “Sounds like Vinny.”


“No one… here,” Olivia sighed. She looked up at her rescuer. Like so many Jaffa, she had a strong North African look to her features. There was a strength to her, a calmness in the way that she gazed down at the human, and Olivia found herself envying her. “What is going to happen to me?”

The woman shrugged. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “I will advocate for you, but you have seen our home, and presumably know our address now. And don’t try to say that you didn’t see it. It doesn’t matter if you did or not. You could have seen it, and that is all that will matter.”

“Okay, fair enough,” Olivia said, when it was really anything but fair. “What’s your name?”

“Daniah,” she said, giving Olivia a smile.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Olivia said, nodding and smiling.

“Good to meet you as well.”

At least they were congenial captors.

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Six days, twenty hours AWOL

After being left alone to recuperate for a few hours, the Jaffa returned for them. As they approached, Olivia pushed herself upright, determined not to face them on her back. Horak looked relieved to be freed of his burden, but Olivia didn’t feel better as she was surrounded by the Jaffa. “How bad?” Daniah asked, her expression concerned.

Torlak ignored his wife and stared at Olivia for a long moment before saying, “I find it suspicious that you would show up now, when our village is burned and our people attacked.”

Oh, crap. It’s the ‘blame the new kid’ game, Olivia sighed to herself. “I’d find it to be stupid to have shown up now, if I knew your village was about to be attacked.”

Torlak narrowed his eyes at her, then dismissed her with a growl. Reaching down, he helped Daniah to her feet and murmured to her softly. Olivia watched her face crumple, just a little, before she hardened it into strong lines. “I need to go to him,” she said, clearly distraught and trying not to break down.

“Yes,” he said, putting a supporting arm around her. As they began to move toward the village, he said over his shoulder, “Bring the off-worlder.”

A Jaffa reached down and pulled her to her feet, drawing a pained hiss out of Olivia as he pulled on her still-sore arm. Keeping a tight grip on her, he marched her down the hill into a valley. A river curled between two hills and they followed it to the village. Olivia’s first look at the village was distressing. It had once probably been very nice, but the Al’kesh had attacked from above and destroyed it. Not a building stood untouched; the mud and waddle structures had all had been blasted at least once. The bodies of animals and people lay in wrecked piles on the ground. Olivia felt tears rise in her eyes at the reckless, useless destruction.

Others were moving through the wreckage, looking for survivors and salvaging food, clothing and other necessities. Daniah moved over to a collapsed house and stood there for a long moment; Olivia watched, recognizing the signs of grief. She stepped toward her, only to have the Jaffa holding her pull her back. Giving him a glare, Olivia said, “I was just going to stand next to her.”

“Leave her alone,” the Jaffa said, his face and demeanor like stone.

Olivia sighed and looked at the closest thing she had to a friend here, wishing she could do more for her. In that moment of focus, she heard something from the rubble: a heartbeat. “Someone’s alive,” Olivia said, pulling away from her captor with new force. “Hey! Someone in that building is still alive!”

The Jaffa looked at her as she started to shout, his face clouding with irritation. “What are you going on about?”

“Someone in that building, yes, that one, Is still alive!” Olivia said, feeling desperate. “We have to move to rescue them!”

Daniah looked over at her, then waved for them to bring her. “What do you mean?” she asked as the guard brought Olivia close. “What are you saying?”

This close, Olivia was even more sure. “I can hear someone is still in there, still alive in there,” Olivia said. As doubt flickered over Daniah’s face, Olivia pushed on. “I have great hearing. I can hear a heartbeat.”

“Just one?” Daniah asked, sorrow in her eyes.

Olivia listened for a moment. “Yes,” she said, meeting Daniah’s gaze with determination with her eyes. “I can hear a heartbeat. Who’s house is this?”

“My brother and his family lived here,” Daniah replied softly, the barest of hitches in her voice.

A brother and his family – you didn’t have to be a psychologist to know that Olivia took this personally. For her, it immediately became a mission to save a brother, to redeem herself for not being able to save her own. “Let’s get them out, then,” Olivia said. “There’s at least one person in there, there might be more.”

“I’m not sure how,” Daniah said, looking frustrated.

I wish Vinny were here, Olivia thought to herself. He’d know exactly how to do it. “Neither do I, exactly,” Olivia said, biting a lip. “But we have to try. Do you have an engineer? Someone who designs buildings? And I’m going to need wood for bracing things.” That was the extent of her knowledge. “While you get those, I need to explore the building.”

Gwyn’s gift flowed both ways, and now Olivia used it to make herself half-incorporeal. She stepped toward the ruins, and oozed inside. Behind her, Daniah gasped in shock, staring at the hole Olivia had just disappeared into. "Hak’tar,” she whispered reverently before turning and getting what was needed.

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Six days, twenty-one hours AWOL

It was a bizarre sensation to feel her body flow around and through objects. It was a little stomach-twisting, actually, as if her body knew that this was wrong and was trying to get her to stop. Olivia pushed on, sliding and slithering through the wreckage. She had to be careful; she still had some mass and weight, and she had to be aware of weak spots that could crumble under her reduced weight.

She had a great deal of hope as she oozed her way down through the debris. That hope took a violent blow when she reached the first body. It was of a child, and a beam had crushed her chest thoroughly. Fighting back tears, Olivia closed her eyes and moved past. The next body was long gone, with the upper half crushed, while familiar blue blood had mixed with human-red around the body. The legs of that corpse were feminine and adult.

Olivia wanted to turn around and crawl back out. The death and the stench were starting to get to her; the only thing drawing her forward was that persistent heartbeat. Doggedly, she eased onward, over the body of another child, this one even smaller. She lost it finally when she found the third child; he had been on an upper level when the floor collapsed. He’d broken his neck in the fall; the back of his head rested on his shoulder.

Turning away, Olivia tried to vomit, but her stomach was long empty and she just heaved. Shivering and crying, she kept her eyes averted as she crawled around the body and on toward that pumping beat. Thankfully, she found him in the next room. An adult Jaffa lay on the ground, debris over one leg. He was the one whose heart she had been following into this hell. Seeing him there, she became more determined to see him clear of this place. With a new purpose, she started to examine the debris around her.

It took too long, to her anxious mind, but she found a way to brace up a half-shattered window frame and clear the debris blocking it. Sticking her head out, she shouted, “Here! Over here!” Several Jaffa, including Daniah, ran to her voice. The men crawled in after her, eager to rescue one of their own. Together, they cleared the rubble pinning his leg and lashed him to stout poles to keep him stable. Then they painstakingly pulled him out, grunting and sweating with the effort. To Olivia, it was worth the exertion when Daniah gasped in joy, trying to hide the tears in her eyes.

Olivia was doubled over, sucking in sweet air, when Torlak grabbed her arm and pulled her upright. “You will check all the buildings for life,” he ordered, his face impassive and unrelenting. “Now.”

“Sure,” she sighed. She would have done it anyway, but there was no point arguing that with Torlak. “Let’s do it.”

She found six more people, and each time, she oozed into a building alone to try to find a way to them. Four were fairly easy, but she lost one when the building collapsed around her. She wasn’t sure she was going to make it out that time, but she pulled herself free of the rubble, oozing out like some kind of liquid person. The sixth person took the longest to rescue; darkness had fallen by the time she had gotten to them, and it was impossible to hold a torch and use Gwyn’s gift. She had to push it ahead of her, then crawl after, over and over. Then the rescue itself was conducted in the dark, in the total blackness that you only get in a rural area. Olivia wasn’t sure how they managed, but the Jaffa were relentless, and they wouldn’t give up.

Only after she’d verified that they’d gotten everyone still alive was she allowed to eat. She’d long since passed beyond hungry to numb, but her appetite returned with savage vengeance. The food they gave her wasn’t enough, not by half, but she’d beg for more later. They gave her a place to sleep in the lee of a half-toppled building, and she was asleep before the blanket had finished settling into place around her.

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Seven days, four hours AWOL

Olivia was woken up by a gentle hand shaking her. Slowly, she opened her eyes, feeling like she’d been run over by a car – or maybe Gwyn had tripped over her. Drowsily, she blinked up at the strange woman shaking her awake. “Greetings, Matsu,” the woman said, offering a bowl to Olivia.

“Werh dot,” Olivia said, moving stiffly, probably from sleeping on the ground. Trying again, she asked, “What’s that?”

“Grackle drippings,” the Jaffa told her, sitting back and giving her room to move.

Olivia winced at the name. “Hmm, so what’s that?” Because it sounds like bird shit to me.

“Grackles are small, bitter berries. When you boil them, they release some sweetness,” the woman explained. “Then you add bayweat and cook off the water.”

“Hmm,” Olivia muttered, peering into the bowl. It looked like someone had mixed thin grape jelly with some kind of oblong grain. It smelled good, but at that moment, raw rat probably would have smelled edible. Sitting up fully and crossing her legs with all the grace of an octogenarian, Olivia took the bowl and plank of hard, round bread offered with it. Tearing off a bit of bread – with effort – she used it like a ladle. It was like eating molasses-covered oats off a wafer of wood. Olivia found her nose wrinkling at the sickly-sweet taste that meshed poorly with the bland, bitter taste of the grains and the sour taste of the bread, but that didn’t slow her movements as she shoveled the food into her mouth.

“Do you like?” the woman asked; reluctant to stop eating or possibly insult the person feeding her, Olivia nodded. Her host looked pleased. “Good, not everyone likes grackle drippings,” she said, smiling. “It is usually an acquired taste.”

“I seem to have acquired it,” Olivia mumbled during a brief pause. “Thanks… um, I don’t know your name.”

“Shaeyr,” the Jaffa said, smiling.

“I’m… Matsu,” Olivia replied, having almost given her real name.

“I know, I was told,” Shaeyr nodded, smiling.

Olivia took another look around and realized it was still dark, though one horizon was starting to get a soft gray glow. “What time is it?”

“It’s before dawn,” the Jaffa woman said. “I’m sorry to wake you so soon, but we’re moving out and Torlak wanted me to get you up.”

“Right,” Olivia sighed, feeling the stiffness in her body. “Let’s hope I can get up.”

“I’ll help,” Shaeyr murmured, standing and offering her a hand. Olivia took it and the woman hauled on her arm. Stifling a groan, Olivia staggered to her feet and stood. Or she was close to standing; she was supporting herself on a wall with one hand and wasn’t sure if she could have remained upright without it.

“Time to go,” a Jaffa said as he stepped around the corner, his dark eyes glinting nastily. Kavin, she remembered; someone had called him Kavin.

Olivia nodded and bent to gather her supplies. They’d definitely seen better days but she didn’t care. Opening her canteen, she washed her breakfast with the bitter beer, gagging on the taste. The foul brew just seemed to get worse every day, and Olivia wasn’t sure if she could keep drinking it. Maybe the Jaffa would have a clean water source here.

She fell into slow, limping step next to Shaeyr. “Where are we going?” she asked the other woman softly.

“We have caves to flee to,” Shaeyr said. “We’ll be safe there.”

Olivia nodded. “I’d like to be released before we get all the way out there,” she said to Shaeyr.

“You’ll have to speak to Torlak about that,” Shaeyr said, her eyes dropping.

Olivia knew what that meant: she wasn’t getting released anytime soon.

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Seven days, twenty hours AWOL

Seven days.

Vinny pounded on the punching bag, making the sack swing wildly. Sharp exclamations of air escaped around the unlit cigar clenched in his mouth with each blow. The meaty impacts rang like the sound effect of a horror show.

Seven fuckin’ days.

He’d been sure they were going to find her quickly. It wasn’t that he thought she’d be easy to capture, but because he thought that they’d be better than her. They were trained for stuff like this, and she was a civilian. They should have had the upper hand, but still she evaded them. And some small part of him thought she’d miss him enough to come back, or at least let herself be caught.

So with a doubly bruised ego, Vinny took out his rage on the bag. The beleaguered sand-filled sack swung wildly as he rammed his taped fists into it over and over. On it, he was picturing Hatchins’ face. Or Anubis’ face, or whatever he had that passed for one. Or he saw Ba’al’s smirking, smug face. Or anyone who might be hurting Olivia right now while he was cooling his fucking ass at StarGate Command!

Had she not been evading them, evading him, he would have been proud of her. But all he could feel was irritation that his girl was being so damned clever. And she was his girl, until one of them called it off. Some guys would have considered her actions to date to be calling it off, but for Vinny to consider them done, Olivia was going to have to look him in the eye and tell him so. Until then, she was his girl, and anyone who fucked with her would learn why you didn’t want the Wrath of Vinny to fall upon you.

With a final punch, the bag split. Snarling, his rage still a fuming beast, Vinny hopped backwards. Spitting verbal acid under his breath, he went to the quartermaster to get yet another bag. He wasn’t sure if they’d replace it, since he’d destroyed one yesterday, too, but he had to do something or he was going to kill someone.

Seven fuckin’ days.

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Eight days, one hour AWOL

Olivia was exhausted again; the brief breaks throughout the day hadn’t been enough to keep her going. This time, some of the Jaffa around her were starting to flag, too, so she didn’t feel completely worthless this time. They had to be getting close; there were tall cliffs ahead that had been growing steadily on the horizon. Olivia prayed they’d been taking a straight shot; she didn’t look forward to more walking along the cliff face. It was dark, really, really dark.

Sudden light flared ahead, and the mood of the Jaffa around her changed. Olivia smiled as the clear signs of relief filled the faces and postures of the Jaffa and their step picked up. The shift in wind brought the smell of hot food, making Olivia’s stomach rumble. She was so hungry; they were going to have to give her more food, especially since they’d taken hers. It was added to the collective for the group, which was fine in theory. But she needed to convince them she needed greater rations than the rest. The fact that she hadn’t felt full since getting here, and was usually very hungry, wasn’t a good sign, to her. “Does somebody live here?”

“No, no one,” Shaeyr said, smiling gratefully. “Torlak sent people ahead last night to prepare for us.”

So he’s a jerk, but he’s not a dumb one, Olivia thought, feeling relief that their leader wasn’t incompetent. “Good, and that food smells good.” Shaeyr glanced at her, just a darting look, but Olivia caught it in the dark. “What, Shaeyr?”

“How could you see my glance?” Shaeyr asked, and Olivia heard awe in her voice.

“I’m… I have skills,” Olivia said softly. “I have sharp senses. And I know what that look was for. My skills have prices, and one is that I have to eat more food than most people. I know that seems wasteful, or selfish, but I’m so hungry I’m dizzy.”

Shaeyr gave her another look and Olivia wasn’t sure if she believed her. “I will tell Torlak what you have said,” she said.

“Please,” Olivia said, “I’m not sure I can survive on what you have been rationing me.”

They fell silent as they walked toward the cave. Olivia wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but it wasn’t the tall, cathedral-like room with shoots jutting off into the stone. Had she come to it while it was still dark and unwelcoming, she might have been less impressed, but those who had come before had been busy lighting the area and setting things up. The cave was now glowing with warm light from the torches, and a fire pit burned just off the entrance, hidden from sight behind a wall of rocks. They’d set up a massive pot over a tripod, and a stew bubbled within. People were already lining up with bowls.

Olivia debated whether to get in line, but Daniah found her. “Please come with me, Matsu,” she requested politely and Olivia nodded, following her through a winding passage to a smaller room. It was brightly painted, with what looked to be scenes of battle. Olivia shivered as she recognized Ba’al’s symbol over the head of one of the forms. She wondered why they hadn’t painted over what was clearly their history of enslavement under Ba’al; then she spotted what appeared to be them overthrowing their former god. In the middle of the room, Torlak waited.

The leader was sitting on the flattened top of a rock; cushions sat on the rock floor in front of him. “Sit,” he ordered, and though it rankled Olivia to just comply, she did, sitting down while carefully managing her robes. If she were lucky, she’d be able to get up again on her own power. Daniah took another cushion.

“You like our paintings?” Torlak asked. It was the first semi-pleasant thing he’d said, and still it sounded a like a challenge.

“They’re beautiful,” she said, pointing to the one of them tipping over Ba’al, casting him into a deep pit. “That one is my favorite.”

Torlak’s eyebrows twitched. “I see. That was a statue, and we did push it off a cliff.”

“Always good to remove a blight like that,” Olivia said easily. She hoped he wouldn’t think she was brown-nosing him, but she spoke the truth, or at least her truth.

Two men came in, carrying bowls. One gave one to Torlak, and the other gave one to Daniah. The two men found seats on their own cushions and started to eat. Olivia managed not to stare at the food like a starving woman – despite being one – but she couldn’t stop the loud grumble from her gut. Torlak looked at her, but didn’t say anything; Daniah set her bowl aside, looking at her husband with forced blankness. Olivia could see the game being played here, and she didn’t like it. “How many more are we waiting for?” she asked softly. She wouldn’t ask about the food, but figuring how much longer they would be here would let her know how long she had to wait. Her head was starting to hurt; she been pushed hard, without enough food or rest or water. Even her improved body was starting to give out.

“One more,” Daniah said, just as Olivia heard footsteps in the corridor. A last man came in with his food, and sat down. Olivia noted that there was an extra cushion, but she said nothing.

“Who are you?” Torlak asked, and there was a hard snap to his voice.

And so the interrogation begins. “My name is Matsu,” she said, meeting his eyes.

After she offered nothing else, he barked, “Where do you come from?”

“I was a slave of Amaterasu before I escaped,” Olivia said, hoping that all her rehearsing made her sound legitimate. “I was a maid in her pleasure ship.”

“And how did you escape? A mere human?”

“You have already seen that I am no mere human,” Olivia said softly. “I found an artifact that partially Ascended me and gave me the tools to escape her. I have been on the run since.”

Torlak’s gaze didn’t soften. “So you are a spy for her?”

“No,” Olivia said, frowning even though she half-expected this ploy. “I serve no false god.”

“You say all the right words, but there is the taste of lies to you,” one of the men replied, looking at her closely.

Olivia said nothing. She just looked at Torlak. He was the boss, and it was he who would make the decision here. “Grenk is right,” Torlak said. “You are hiding something.”

Olivia looked down, her brain rapidly working to try to get them enough to let her stay without giving her true story away. The Free Jaffa were allies of the SGC – they’d turn her over, without hesitation. “I killed someone,” she said, her voice shaking. It was from hunger, but let them believe that it bothered her. “He… raped me, and then had my family killed. It was justice, but I knew that it would ruin me.”

She felt Daniah’s eyes on her and knew that she’d just earned the woman’s unquestioning support. Daniah had been rooting for her before, but this had just cinched it. The men remained less committed. “You told Shaeyr you’re partially Ascended,” Torlak said. “Are you going mad? So many of them do.”

“No, what was done to me is more stable.” Olivia was tired of the questions. “What do you want me to say, to let me go? All I want to do is leave you in peace. I want to go my own way, and you yours.”

“You aren’t going anywhere,” Torlak said, staring down at her. “You will remain here, with us.”

Olivia wearily reached out and picked up a loose stone, holding it tightly in her hand. “I see. If I try to leave, your people will try to stop me?”

“They will succeed,” Torlak said.

“Then let’s make one thing clear,” Olivia said, lifting her hand so all could see the rock. Calling on Gwyn’s gift, she crushed the rock in her hand. Tilting it slightly, she let the newly-created gravel rattle out of her hand, making an interesting counterpoint to her argument. “I have no wish to see your people hurt, and I’m not talented enough to force my way out of here without hurting someone. You’ve seen what I can do, but that’s part of this, isn’t it? So long as I’m sane, I’m useful to you. Fine, I’ll stay, and do so without complaint or struggle, but I won’t be treated like a prisoner. You’ll give me my own place, you won’t harass me about the amount of food I require and you’ll never, ever tell anyone I’m here. In return, I’ll use my considerable skills to help your people. I’ll blend in and won’t cause trouble. I’ll be a good, long-term guest.” The last peddle clattered to the ground. “Otherwise, I can make things very difficult for you and yours, and other than my own life, I have little left to live for.”

Vinny. Damien. Declan. Gwyn. Daniel. Her brain traitorously tried to give her things she was living for, but she ignored it. Her statement had more impact, this way.

Torlak stared at her for a long moment. “You will stay,” he said, “and you will be our guest.”

That seemed to be as close as she was getting to an agreement, and Olivia nodded. “Then can you please send someone for some food and water, and tell me why your village attacked? Maybe I can help you with that.” Welcome to your new home, Olivia.

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Eight days, three hours AWOL

Several things were clear to Olivia by the time the situation was explained to her. Torlak was the ruler, but he was advised by his wife and the men in this room. So there was a lot of talking that was usually ended by Torlak making up his mind. She noticed that he did listen to all of his advisors.

She scraped the clay spoon against the edge of the bowl, seeking to get the last bit of broth. It was her third bowl, brought to her without complaint as they had told her who their enemy was. The news wasn’t surprising. Ba’al had left a garrison on this planet, and the Jaffa still loyal to him had been making life hard for the Free Jaffa. When they’d found the village, they had naturally tried to slaughter everyone there. It was the Goa’uld way, she mused angrily.

The good news is that there were other villages, and after hearing what had happened to Torlak’s people, they might be willing to join their side. Greck had been born in one of the neighboring villages, and still spoke to his kin. The other villages had not been willing to declare themselves Free Jaffa yet, but perhaps this would sway them. There was no way to know, yet. Greck would go and talk to them tomorrow.

Another helpful factor was that these caves were unknown. They were sure of that because if the other Jaffa knew about them, the caves would already have been attacked. Also, the garrison was filled with Jaffa from other planets. Ba’al did that to prevent local loyalties from interfering with a Jaffa’s duty. Of course, that worked both ways; the soldiers weren’t familiar with the area and were facing people who didn’t know them personally and wouldn’t think twice about shooting them.

The two Al’kesh were still functional, though questions were starting to arise about how long they could keep the stolen ships working. Olivia could help with that, if they could get her some schematics and parts and some time to study both. She was confident in her ability to learn the necessary skills to keep the ships functional. In the meantime, they were going to use them sparingly and hide them in a camouflaged box canyon not far from here.

That was the end of the good news. The bad news was that the garrison was heavily fortified. Their intel on actual numbers was spotty, at best, while Ba’al probably had a very good idea what theirs were. And their numbers weren’t good; Ba’al’s troops had done a lot of damage and killed a lot of people in their attack. The number of able-bodied fighters was very low. And the bad guys knew who they were and were probably looking for them right now.

But worse was the news that the Jaffa had probably been cut off from the supply of symbiotes. That put them on a brutal timeline, unless they could harvest some from the enemy. And though that was an option, it just wasn’t a sustainable one. These guys needed to get on the Tretonin, badly, but Olivia wasn’t sure how to even bring that subject up. Based on the ages of a few of the kids she’d seen around, she had only had a couple of months to introduce the subject.

In short, there was a ton of work to do. “The first thing is to get more intel,” Olivia said, setting down her bowl and rubbing her eyes. The first thing should actually be a damned nap, she sighed to herself wearily, but she felt the need to prove her worth right now.

“Infiltration will be difficult,” Daniah said softly. “The last one who tried…” Her voice trailed off.

“The last one to try was my son,” a burly Jaffa named Cantal said grimly. “We found his symbiote and a leg.”

Olivia felt her eyebrows rise, but she didn’t ask. She really didn’t want to know why those bits had been left behind. “I can listen in on their radio transmissions, but that’s of limited usefulness since the Jaffa usually pass orders via word of mouth,” she mused, thinking. There was an option, but it was dangerous. “Do they have human slaves there?”

“No, they do not, not unless Ba’al is in residence,” Torlak said, smirking a little. He was waiting for her to prove her worth. Again.

A better, safer thought occurred to her, halting her shudders at the thought of pretending to be a human slave in Ba’al’s presence. “Do they like gifts?” With luck, they wouldn’t have their own story about the dangerous gift of wooden horses.

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Nine days, seven hours AWOL

Olivia looked around the marketplace, still feeling tired despite having slept for way too long. Shaeyr had ribbed her about it this morning, and she’d been called ‘Mother Darkeyes’ by half the damn village. After about an hour of this, Daniah told her it was a legend about a Jaffa warrior-maiden who had slept for fifty years and woke up to find her people and her god had been killed. It was a moral tale about slothfulness, though Darkeyes had taken a traditional vengeance twist, emphasizing that any sin could be forgiven if only you were willing to die while correcting the error. Olivia wondered if she’d ever understand these people.

“Matsu!” Olivia looked at the name, as she always did, though in truth, she was turning to look for her niece. It was nice in that it meant she reacted to the name, even if she did so by scanning the area at knee height. Holhow was waving her over to a shop. Turning, she followed him inside, blinking when he held up a Goa’uld’s short-range communication device. “Is this it?” the handsome, well-muscled man asked.

Olivia smiled at him. Holhow was living proof of the Law of Threes; only three percent of the population got to be smart, beautiful and strong. Holhow was beautiful and strong, and did not fall into the three percent bracket. “Looks like it,” she replied, adjusting the scarf hiding her tattoo-less forehead. She was dressed like a Jaffa, but without the forehead mark, she wasn’t going to be able to pass. She glanced at the shop owner. “What would you want in trade for this?”

“What do you have?” he asked, looking at her over his glasses. Alegensa was a more modern planet; its native technology level seemed to be around that of the Industrial Revolution. It meant that you could find Goa’uld tech here, since it wouldn’t be in a temple being revered somewhere. It also meant, unfortunately, that they had a good sense of technology was worth, and usually wanted tech for tech.

“I have spare parts for an Al’kesh,” Olivia told him. That wasn’t technically true; Torlak still wasn’t convinced that they should scrap one Al’kesh to keep the other running. It made sense to Olivia; they could use the working one to steal another, if they needed it. Plus they’d surely have duplicate parts to barter away, and they needed the transmitter to make their modified Trojan Horse work.

“That’s good. What do you have?” he asked.

Olivia gave a casual shrug. “Don’t quite know yet, but tell me what you’re looking for, and I’ll see what I can do.” And there’s that half-wrecked one we can salvage.

The shopkeeper ran down a list of things; Olivia didn’t even take notes, out of habit. In fact, she almost laughed when the man asked doubtfully, “Did you get all that?”

“Oh, yeah, I have it,” she said with a smile. She didn’t know what half of it was, but she had the names.

“This is harder than I thought,” Holhow sighed when they were back outside.

At least he’d learned when to speak and when to shut up, Olivia noted. “Yep,” Olivia agreed easily, not stating that she found it rather tedious instead. “But we’re making progress.”

“Isn’t that guy going to be mad that you lied to him?” the pretty man asked.

“I didn’t,” Olivia said simply. “We have a wrecked ship to salvage, not to mention I’m still determined to talk Torlak into scrapping one to keep the other going. We need something to barter with, and you guys aren’t exactly producing the right kinds of equipment to interest these traders.” Torlak’s village was famous for its woven rugs. While those could be traded and profitably so, they didn’t tend to interest electronics dealers.

Shaeyr slipped between two groups of corseted women, not noticing or not reacting to their rude whispers and stares. “I have found a goldsmith who will do it,” she said, shifting the baby in the sling around her torso. It wasn’t her baby; she was minding it while her cousin and his wife recovered from the attack. There had been a lot of child-minding and chore-swapping in the wake of the assault; this village was the kind of community that one didn’t find in Olivia’s world anymore. “He said the design will not be hard to do, and that his wife will appreciate the rugs for her store.”

She’d hoped that a craftsman would trade craft for craft. Olivia grinned with relief. “That’s the last piece, now that we have a source for the communicators. Now, it’s up to Torlak to give us the go-ahead. Come on, let’s go home.”

Home? The thought stopped her in her mental tracks. The village wasn’t home and as much as she wanted to go home, she couldn’t. She blinked back tears as her stomach twisted. She was very quiet as they walked back to the StarGate.

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One week, two days, twelve hours AWOL

Torlak agreed to expend the manpower to break down the downed Al’kesh. Olivia could tell that the Jaffa were just not used to thinking like this; when it came to hand-to-mouth survival or fighting, they were golden, but long-term planning or seeing the obvious opportunity was a little harder to grasp. They weren’t dumb; they just didn’t think about it. But once Olivia suggested it, they immediately began to talk about other opportunities, including the Al’kesh and Deathglider graveyard that Ba’al’s loyal Jaffa used. Torlak immediately disallowed that, stating that they were not thieves. There was, in the Jaffa mind, a difference between loot won in battle and items stolen by guile. But it showed that the Jaffa were changing.

She wasn’t surprised by this; they had been ruled by aliens masquerading as gods. They had been taught to take orders and never, ever think for themselves. If Olivia helped them do that much, she’d feel like she accomplished something. But for the moment, she didn’t feel like she was getting much done.

She’d been left alone after all her ‘helpers’ admitted they didn’t know how to break down an Al’kesh and didn’t seem eager to learn. Olivia had always thought she was willing to learn things, but she was starting to question the wisdom of that ideal. “Damn it,” she muttered as she straddled the warped metal that curled over the engine. She had little idea of what she was doing, and she turned back to the manual Daniah had found on Alegensa. It was in a variant of Goa’uld, and she was having to parse the difficult dialect and figure out the hard technical details.

“Problems?” Torlak’s hard voice made her jump.

“Just working this out,” she said, trying to keep the aggravation out of her voice.

“We are alone,” he said, leaning against a bulkhead, “and now you will tell me the truth.”

“I’m sorry?” Olivia asked, frowning at him and stalling for time.

The Jaffa pushed off the bulkhead and took a step forward. He wasn’t a big man, but he moved like Vinny did, all casual violence, as if he were ready to hurt you at a second’s notice. “I know you were no slave. You know too much,” he said. “The others know too, but they are good at not asking themselves questions. I have never been that way. And now, I will have answers. I will know what dangers I’m putting my people in.”

Olivia was quiet, thinking. “You’ll be better off with plausible deniability.”

“You mean lies,” Torlak came back.

“No, I mean, if you know the truth, I’ll be lucky if you just kick me out,” Olivia said bitterly.

“Who are you running from?” Torlak asked, relentless in the hunt. “The day you came to us, you were hiding from someone.”

Olivia shook her head. “I can’t tell you,” she replied.

“You will,” Torlak said softly. “You will, or I’ll tie you to a stick and stake you in the center of the bazaar in Yvoures and ask everyone who walks by who you are. Someone will know, or will know who to ask.”

You really are a Jaffa Vinny, Olivia thought, staring at him sourly. He’d do it, she knew he would. “I’m Taur’i,” she said softly. “Their SGC teams? I used to be on one. The man I killed wasn’t on one of the teams, but he was support for them… and they’d consider him one of their own. He did rape me, and he did have my family killed.”

“So why run, if it was a just vengeance?”

“That’s not the way it work on Ea- Taur’i.” Olivia sighed, rubbing her eyes. “There, there’s no legal recourse for killing someone because he murdered your loved ones. You have to hope that the government will do it for you.”

He stared at her and finally shook his head. “I cannot understand living like that,” he said. He considered her for a long moment. “By taking you in, I have made an enemy of our allies?”

“I warned you,” Olivia said, her already tight stomach curling harder, until she was sure she was about to vomit. “Will you let me run, or will you take me to Bra’tac?”

“Matsu or whatever your name may be, you may stay with us,” Torlak said. “I told you that you could stay, if you did your part for us. And you have, and I will not be a liar.”

“I… I can stay?” Olivia asked, feeling her eyes widen despite her effort not to show her surprise.

“Yes, I have said you could,” he said, scowling. “But no one else knows about this. I will be the only one to betray the trust of our greatest allies.” Turning, he left the wreckage, leaving Olivia feeling oddly guilty.

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One week, six days, fourteen hours AWOL

“Ok,” Olivia muttered, carefully handing over the transmitter with its tiny naquadah battery to the jeweler. “That should do it.” And it had better; she’d spent hours finding enough parts to trade for the two communicators.

The craftsman took it and turned to his desk in the back; Olivia leaned back against the wall and watched his wife pick through the rugs outside the store. “Here.” Daniah was suddenly at her side; Olivia jumped, wondering how in the world a pregnant woman could be so silent. “You will need this.”

Olivia took the package from her friend, picking into the woven bag. There was some kind of dark powder in there, and Olivia was frowning as she looked up at Daniah. “What’s this?”

“A skin dye,” she said. “You mix it with water, and it makes a black ink that stains skin.” Olivia’s face still showed incomprehension, and Daniah elbowed her. “Since you won’t get the tattoo.”

“Ah, we call it henna,” Olivia said, smiling sheepishly. That had been a long argument; getting her forehead tattooed would have made her camouflage among the Jaffa complete, but it was her forehead, and she was loath to have it tattooed, even for a good reason. They’d have to reapply the henna regularly, but it was better than a permanent mark. “Thank you, Daniah,” Olivia said, giving her a smile as she tucked the bag away. “Can you paint it for me tonight?”

“Of course,” the Jaffa said and her smile became mischievous. “Tonight, you will become Ba’al’s.”

“Wow,” Olivia said, blanching a little. “I really wish you wouldn’t put it that way.”

Daniah laughed, her rough laughter making everyone around look at them. “Well, you could keep with Amaterasu, but you’ll stand out here, and this is Ba’al’s claim.”

“You are correct,” Olivia replied wearily, “but I still don’t like hearing it like that.” Vinny would flip, even hearing that in jest. She sighed, wondering when her body would catch up from the exertion of last week and stop feeling so drained all the time.

“Here you are,” the jeweler said, entering the room. A gold medallion, chunky and gaudy, swung from his fingers as he held it up for inspection. “Does that satisfy, ladies?”

Olivia took the medallion and turned it over in her hands, looking for any sign of the transmitter hidden in the decoration. She found it, but she was looking for it, and it wasn’t fair to have her assess, not when she could touch it and know whether she touching gold or not. She handed it to Daniah. “What do you think?”

“I think it will fool that pompous ass,” Daniah replied after examining it, smiling grimly.

“We’re good,” Olivia said to the jeweler, nodding and smiling at him.

His wife finished her selections and they began the walk back to the gate. “So who is going to deliver it?” Olivia asked.

Daniah swallowed, her voice suddenly tired. “Torlak will go. He and some of his warriors. And they will bow and scrape and often this as a gift, and if they are fortunate, Nalk will forgive them.” Nalk was Ba’al’s flunky, the goa’uld left behind to oversee the planet. “And we will return to rebuild the village, and you will spy on Nalk. And then he’ll bow and scrape before Torlak before he dies.”

Olivia nodded. “Sounds like a good plan to me,” she said, putting a hand on the taller woman’s shoulder. “Let’s get this going.”

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Two weeks, one day, nine hours AWOL

Someone in the village was always hovering around Olivia now, but for once they weren’t trying to herd or watch her. Torlak and six other men of the village had left yesterday, taking the transmitter hidden in the medallion. Olivia had the paired receiver; with her superior hearing, it was easiest for her to pick up anything that came over the radio. She was now the focal point for information about the traveling men. It also allowed her to listen to their journey, but they were aware that she was there and listening in, and she didn’t hear anything juicy.

In the meantime, it was late spring here. Olivia was kind of pleased to have missed the winter, but it was weird to adjust to because was mid-October at home. And then there was the pazots.

Pazots were the large, shaggy beasts that the Jaffa on this planet used for everything: wool, meat and muscle power. They looked like a sheep and a hornless rhino had committed unholy and unnatural acts and had a baby. Olivia had avoided them because they were large and smelly, and frankly scared her with their potential for destruction and her inability to understand them. Shaeyr insisted that they were simple creatures and easily predicted, but while she had demonstrated her ability to control them, Olivia remained unconvinced. So when Daniah told her she’d be helping with the spring shearing, the specialist had paled.

It became the new joke in the village. Any of Olivia’s weaknesses were pounced upon and became the focus of jokes and laughter. Olivia took it as best as she could; she knew that it allowed them to recover some power over her if there were things that she wasn’t good at. It was better than them fearing her, or worse, for her to replace the goa’uld in their minds.

“Here,” Daniah said as they approached the field where the shearing would occur. “These are your shears. Because you are afraid of the pazot, we won’t make you hold one. You can cut wool. Just do not cut the pazot.”

“You should probably get someone else, someone with experience shearing, to do this,” Olivia said nervously. “I really don’t want to hurt them!”

“You won’t, if you don’t cut them with the shears,” Daniah said, laughing. She rested a hand on her belly and added, “I will tutor you, but I cannot do much.”

“I know,” Olivia said, smiling down at the woman’s clear bump. A kick from a powerful pazot would cause a miscarriage, so Daniah would be carding and soaking the cut wool. “I have a question – you and Torlak keep saying you’ll have a son. How do you know?”

“My husband knows because he is too arrogant to have a daughter,” Daniah said wryly. “I say son to humor him. Jorham loves to tease him by talking about his future daughter.”

“How is your brother doing?” Olivia made a point of asking about him often; had it been Wakiki who had been trapped in a house, she would appreciate the support, too.

Daniah sighed. “With the news that his leg will be a long time healing, if ever, he… worsens. He’s not giving up,” she added quickly, lest anyone thing he was a quitter. “But it is harder for him now. He is a crippled warri-” Daniah stopped to compose herself; Olivia politely pretended that it wasn’t happening. “He is a crippled warrior, and he is not sure what that means for him.”

“Yeah, that would be hard,” Olivia agreed. “If there is anything I can do to help, let me know.”

“You can shear the pazot, and not cut it,” Daniah said, smiling. “Jorham and I will prepare the wool, and you will cut it for us.”

“Right,” Olivia said, glancing down at the wicked looking shears in her hands. Sighing, she resigned herself to doing her best. Daniah pointed her to a waiting beast, and Olivia summoned her courage and began.

It wasn’t as bad as she feared; her sensitive touch allowed her to cut very closely, once she got the hang of it. And she only cut one pazot, her third, making the beast cry shrilly and kick at her. After finding the rhythm, she worked steadily, pausing only occasionally to smile at the sight of Daniah and her lanky brother, sitting and working side by side. Jorham’s leg was in a brace and stuck out awkwardly in front of him, yet he didn’t complain about doing a woman’s job. He just worked, focused on what he was doing.

Just after the midday break, Olivia heard something over the transmitter. The audience with Nalk had begun. Stepping away from her task, she listened carefully, her stomach in knots. Yet Nalk accepted the medallion graciously, and seemed inclined to forgive. Olivia smiled as he dismissed them – a smile that faded when he suddenly asked Torlak to prove his loyalty.

She heard Torlak draw in a breath and ask, “How would I prove such, Lord Nalk?”

Tensely, she waited, groaning when she heard Nalk reply, “You will give your coming child to the Priesthood of Ba’al upon his birth. In that way, you will prove to your god, Ba’al, that He is first in your heart.”

“I will never give up my son, not for anything or anyone,” Torlak replied without hesitation, and then the screaming began.

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Two weeks, one day, thirteen hours AWOL

Olivia had always seen the Jaffa as formidable warriors, quick to rise to the occasion of battle. But this was like watching little kids argue over toys in the playground. All it had taken was one of the Jaffa to interrupt the discussion of rescue plans with the question, “Who’ll lead the attack?” Immediately, the bickering started about who would be the boss now. Normally, there was some idea of the next in command; Daniah had stood in her husband’s stead when it was just a matter of running the day-to-day operations. But she wasn’t good enough to lead a rescue mission, apparently. Where he not injured, Jorham would be considered Torlak’s strong right hand. But his injured leg had devalued him in the eyes of the other Free Jaffa.

“How long are they going to do this?” Olivia asked impatiently, her mouth set in a hard line.

“I don’t know,” Daniah said, clearly struggling to remain calm.

“Until one of them wins,” Jorham said, distain in his voice. The tall, lanky Jaffa leaned heavily on his crutch, but his voice was firm.

“Right,” Olivia said and stepped forward. Several Jaffa saw her movement and fell silent, a sign of her growing influence here. It was amazing how lending your super-Jaffa powers to helping the people earned respect and even a little admiration. Her influence wasn’t winning her friends, though. There was a minority that felt she shouldn’t be here. Some of them wanted to kill her; others would have been happy with her leaving. But they were afraid of her and of the influence she could wield. She hated what she was about to do, because it was only going to make those who feared her more afraid. But she would do it for the man who was taking her in, and keeping her secrets, even at his own peril. “I’m going to rescue Torlak,” she said loudly. “I’m leaving right now for the fortress. When I’m there, I’ll find a way in and I’ll rescue him. Who else is coming?”

“I am,” Jorham said, limping forward. “I can help.”

I can see it in their eyes. The rescue team is a cripple and a woman. “Who else?” Olivia asked.

“Me,” Daniah said, moving next to her brother.

“I can’t,” Olivia said softly, her eyes sympathetic. “If I did, Torlak would kill us all, if he survived the shock of seeing you there. But you can get us a wagon big enough for all the men who went, as well as anyone else going.”

“Me. I’ll go,” Holhow said, grinning his dumb smile and pushing through the men to wave at her.

Olivia had to admit, she felt a bit of relief that someone going could actually fight. “Matsu,” Daniah said, her eyes pleading as she ignored Holhow. “I can drive the wagon, or care for the injured… please don’t leave me behind.”

Suddenly, Olivia realized that she was in command here. She was calling the shots, and they were looking to her for orders. The thought was terrifying, but she stifled the fear so that she could focus on what needed to be done. “Daniah,” she said, making herself meet the other woman’s heartbreaking gaze. “I cannot. Help us get ready.”

“You cannot be serious!” one of the men barked. “You’re a woman and a human!”

“And literate, which seems to be bad around here, too,” Olivia added, her temper finally snapping. “I may be all you hate and despise, but I’m also fucking doing something!

She turned to tell Daniah what she needed and heard the attack coming. Declan’s training helped, but what tipped the scales in her favor was the echo of Gwyn’s gift. The Jaffa threw his arm around her neck, and she stomped on his foot, breaking it effortlessly. Holding his arm, she rolled her body forward and tossed him onto his back in front of her. “I could kill you, right now!” she barked as she pressed her knee painfully to his chest, glaring at him. “But I won’t, and it’s not because I’m merciful, or nice, or kind. It’s because your people need you alive more than I need to teach you never to underestimate me again. But know this – touch me again, and I will kill you.” She looked up at them. “I have been abused and sneered at long enough. It stops now!”

As suddenly as she attacked, she dismissed them, rising and turning to the three on her side. “Daniah, the supplies and the wagon. Holhow, help her. Jorham, walk with me. We need to talk strategy.”

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Two weeks, two days, six hours AWOL

They talked all through preparations and the journey itself, and still didn’t really have a plan. There were too many Jaffa for them to take with a warrior, a crippled warrior, and Olivia. Part of her despaired, but they were Torlak’s only hope. Daniah and their baby, and the families of the other men, were counting on them.

“We need more information,” Jorham said, “which is always our issue, it seems.” He shifted on the cart and glanced at her, walking next to the wagon. She had been riding, but after the mid-day stop, the motion had made her sick. She’d actually thrown up, which was both embarrassing and painful. His eyes dropped to the pants she was wearing before bouncing away, nervously. They’d fought about her wearing the pants; he’d been unwilling to concede that she could move easier if she wasn’t wearing the entangling robes. That episode and the vomiting had put her in a foul mood, so when she was immediately irritated when Jorham asked, “Do we have anything we can do, or are we wasting time?”

“I don’t know!” Olivia snapped, glaring up at him. Her stomach roiled and cramped at the same time and she fought the urge to keep ranting. In a calmer tone, she managed to say, “I’ll know more when we get there.”

“How?” Holhow asked, looking innocent and confused.

“I’ll do a quick scouting run, by myself,” Olivia said, rubbing her forehead, feeling where the henna had stained her skin, just by the change in chemicals on her skin. She heard both men inhale and she snapped, “Don’t. Just don’t try to tell me I can’t.”

Holhow blinked, taken aback, but Jorham just smiled sardonically and said, “Actually, Matsu, I was just going to suggest that we find a place to hide the cart here and proceed on foot. We’re very close.”

Olivia rubbed her head again. She was getting a headache, in addition to her stomach. Both had to be her nerves going crazy, not that she blamed them. She was very certain that she was crazy, herself. “Sure, let’s do that. Holhow, you go right, I’ll go left, come back if you find a good spot. Jorham… don’t go anywhere.”

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Two weeks, two days, twenty hours AWOL

Olivia crept from shadow to shadow, trying not to think about the dozens of Jaffa patrolling around the fortress. And it was a fortress, or maybe a castle – a big pile of cold stones. It wasn’t a traditional castle like she saw on Earth, or a pyramid. It was something squarish, which put a castle into her mind, but it had none of the traditional parts of a castle.

It took time to find the needed entrance; an arrow slit – or perhaps, in this case, that would be a Staff Weapon slit. Olivia decreased her density and jumped for the window; she still had some mass but she managed to decrease it enough to get a good jump going. Trying not to grunt with the effort, she pulled herself up, her arms surprisingly weak in this form. Your strength increases when you increase your density; it must go the opposite way if you lower it.

She began to ooze through the break in the wall, wishing she could go faster. Sudden voices in goa’uld from further up the hallway made her wiggle harder, trying to squeeze herself though faster. Come on… Come on!

Olivia suddenly fell, dropping through the wall. She bit back a panicked scream, telling herself that she was alright, that she’d just pushed herself harder and gotten less dense. She pulled herself into the building and hopped right into a pillar – and found she couldn’t breathe. Oh, shit. Oh, shit! Fighting yet more panic, she remembered that she’d been facing the back of the pillar. Her eyes open and seeing only the blackness inside the stone, she eased her face forward until her questing lungs were able to pull air in. After she had a lungful, she turned her head so that her ear stuck out and listened. All she heard was retreating footsteps, and once they were gone, she dared to step out of the pillar.

She’d evaded her first patrol, but she still didn’t know where the prisoners were being kept. Prisons are usually both central and below ground, she mused, glancing at the floor. Time to find the dungeon.

The Jaffa patrols remained heavy, but Olivia always had enough time to hide, even after she had to remove her lessened density or risk having no ‘juice’. Privately, she was astonished at how many blind corners and deep crannies had been built into this building, as if they wanted people to have no problems hiding in the heart of their facilities. It baffled her, even as she took advantage of it.

She was just starting to wonder if they had stashed the prisons somewhere else when she heard someone screaming. Sounds right, she thought, turning toward the noise. She hoped that she was wrong, that the screaming wasn’t their men being tortured, but she didn’t hold out hope.

The ornamentation disappeared and Olivia noted that she’d have to hide in the walls if another patrol came. Still, she crept forward, hearing her heart pounding in her ears. The scream came again, but it couldn’t hide the approaching footsteps from Olivia’s sensitive ears. She decreased her density again and dove through a wall.

Six strange Jaffa stared at her, their angry faces bruised and cut. As Olivia struggled to say something - anything! - the closet lunged at her, wielding a sharp bit of rock like an awkward knife. For all that it looked poorly made, Olivia knew that stone tools didn’t have to be well-made to work, nor were they generally expected to last for more than one use. And it was that one use that was her problem at this moment.

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Two weeks, two days, twenty-three hours AWOL

He slashed with the practiced ease of a born warrior. Olivia stumbled backward with the awkward stagger of someone desperately trying to preserve their life. His skill spanked her desire to survive, and the rough stone dagger sliced through her stomach. It didn’t hurt, and it took her a second to realize that the rock had passed through her as easily as she had passed through the wall. The Jaffa stopped his attack short and stared at her.

His attack… were I a Jaffa, he would have just killed my symbiote. Olivia repressed a shiver. “Quite the way to greet your rescuer,” she said with a calm she didn’t feel, raising an eyebrow.

“Rescue?” one of the other men asked.

“Well, I confess, I didn’t come for you, but I’ll spring you too,” Olivia said.

“What are you?” one of the Jaffa asked, staring at her clothes.

“Your rescuer, that’s what I am,” she said, rolling her eyes. She was out of patience, especially for sexist Jaffa. “I’m here looking for seven men, they’ve been here about a day and a half. Will you help me get them out, if I free you, too?” The men nodded quickly. “Alright, I’ll find my people and the keys for your room. You need to hang tight and quiet for now.”

There were more eager nods, and someone added, “And weapons.”

“And weapons,” Olivia echoed, moving to the other wall. “Is there another cell?”

“Yes,” the stone-knife man said. “Not your friends, though. The three over there have been there longer than we have.”

Olivia paused. “Just three?”

“There were more, before Ba’al’s lapdog started killing them.”

“Right,” Olivia sighed. That sounded like they’d be in an unreasonable mood; Jaffa seemed to spend half their time walking the line of unreasonable anyway, so it wasn’t hard to flip them over into a foul mood. “I’ll be back soon.”

The next four cells were like the first; Olivia was glad that Gwyn’s echo let her ignore the two ambushes she faced. The Jaffa were not the kind of people to ask questions first. But the fifth cell held familiar faces. “Matsu!” Torlak yelped and leapt to his feet as she passed through the wall. He looked like he was going to grab her, but stopped himself. “What- Nevermind. What is the plan?”

“Good question,” Olivia admitted. “I have lined up some help, but I need some weapons. Know where the nearest armory is?”

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Two weeks, three days, two hours AWOL

Olivia was really tired. She had to focus to remember the last time she’d slept, and she’d tossed up her last real meal. The snacks she’d grabbed in the castle weren’t cutting it anymore. And she was low on juice, which always made her nervous. On the upside, she had found keys and some weapons. The latter had taken several trips to fully arm all the Jaffa in the cells.

Olivia sat against the wall in the back of the cell, watching the Jaffa psyche themselves up. The guards would be here soon for their torture with breakfast session, and they were in for a surprise. In fact, her allies were looking forward to that, without question. Their moods had certainly improved with the acquisition of implements of death.

Olivia was trying to summon the energy to think about fighting when Kavin sat down next to her, nodding. Olivia felt her eyebrow rise in surprise. Kavin had been one of the first Jaffa to sneer at her and generally be a rotten bastard to her. She was even more surprised when he said, “You came here alone to get us.”

“It’s not as dangerous for me as it would be for most,” Olivia pointed out.

Kavin frowned. “Still, I have never known of a human with your courage.”

“This isn’t courage,” Olivia admitted. “It’s just the right thing to do. I’ve been scared since we left the caves.”

“Courage is doing what is right despite fear,” Kavin said somberly. He shook his head. “You are no human.”

Olivia rolled her eyes. “Thanks for what you think is a compliment, but I assure you, I’m human where it counts.” She gave him a sideways look. “And how do you know that humans aren’t like that? How many do you know?”

“Counting you? None,” Kavin said, then gave her a grin.

“I’m human,” Olivia sighed, but she was too tired to really fight about it.

“She is human, mostly,” another Jaffa said with a laugh, “but her forehead is Jaffa!” The other Jaffa cracked up.

“Shut up,” Olivia said, sitting up suddenly.

“Humans can’t take teas-”

“I said, shut up!” Olivia snapped. “I can’t hear!” The Jaffa immediately fell silent, trusting that she was just showing them another power. Since she was, she couldn’t fault their reaction, but the instant obedience was a bit off-putting. “I hear Al’kesh.”

“So?” one of the Jaffa dared to ask.

“I hear Al’kesh fighting,” Olivia said, a grin spreading over her face.

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Two weeks, three days, three hours AWOL

The lock on the doors had fallen to a single Staff Weapon shot, and the guards were busy fighting the attackers. The former prisoners made it all the way to the courtyard before finding anyone to kill. Olivia trailed behind, clutching the stolen zat and praying she survived this. Despite her slow pace, she was still useful, picking off enemy Jaffa as they attempted to surround her allies.

Brutal hands grabbed her by her hair and threw her into a wall. Olivia was saved from a concussion only because she’d been pointing with the zat, and had time to reflexively put her arms in a defensive stance. Her elbows and forearms took the force of the blow, followed by her breasts and then hips. Hissing, she instinctively pulled on Gwyn’s echo yet again, just in time for her assailant to punch her in high in the back, between her shoulder blades. She screamed as her body spasmed from the pain. Her increase in density saved her; he was a big, strong man who was punching with metal gauntlets. Pain screamed through her body, but Declan’s training was now utilized as she shoved off the wall and brought a super-tough elbow around.

The Jaffa’s helmet took the brunt of the blow, but it did stagger him sideways. His knee wasn’t protected at all, and when Olivia heel-stomped the side of the joint, it tore cleanly. The Jaffa screamed as his knee bent sideways, bone and tendon separating with ease. As he fell on his side, holding his leg and howling with pain, Olivia became aware that she wasn’t all that bothered by it. He’d tried to hurt her; her aching arms, stiff back and sore scalp attested to his vigorous intentions. But she’d more than hurt him in kind, and she wasn’t sorry. “Picked the wrong side,” she told him before zatting him and walking away. Shock should keep him unconscious once the zat had worn off. People who choose to serve oppressors deserved to get that kind of treatment.

The battle in the courtyard raged; Olivia hid behind a collapsed piece of masonry – a statue of Ba’al, she noted– and proceeded to shoot anything in armor. She wasn’t surprised to see Holhow had joined the fight, but Jorham surprised her. He was in the middle of the enemy on the back of a pazot, using both ends of a Jaffa Weapon Staff. Due to his ride, he wasn't shooting with any accuracy, but the sheer destructive nature of a terrorized pazot more than made up for his lack of precision. When it seemed in danger of hurting his allies, he cut himself loose from the beast and rolled away, letting it stampede out the gate, bawling. That left him in the center of battle, gamely balancing on one and a half legs.

"Shit," Olivia muttered, and before she could think better, she dashed out into the heart of the conflict, her eyes mostly on Jorham. She got to him just as a Jaffa swung at the back of his head with the blunt shovel of the Staff Weapon. Olivia threw up an arm and blocked the swing, feeling the impact all the way to her bone. She was going to bruise, but her arm didn't break. She put the zat up to her opponent’s nose and fired, felling him.

She stood at Jorham's back, fighting with him. She did surprisingly well, her borrowed power making up for her lack of training. But it couldn't last forever; something slammed into her side, burning and bringing a hoarse cry out of her. She looked down at the ugly Staff burn in her side, right before she looked up and saw the scoop end of a Staff Weapon coming at her head. There was a dizzying impact, and then darkness.

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Two weeks, five days, six hours AWOL

Olivia had been floating in and out of consciousness for a couple of days. She’d been aware that she hadn’t been hurt that badly, but part of it was pure exhaustion taking a toll on her. She’d awoken only to eat, really, before collapsing back into bed for more sleep. Part of that fatigue was caused by pain from her wounds; the medications they had did very little against her metabolism. The other part was just, she decided fuzzily as she crammed down some more of their hard, sour bread and gravy, stress wearing her down before the fight.

She woke up fully because of the strange noise; it was a throbbing, humming noise that jerked her out of her pseudo-coma. A man, a human in turn of the twentieth century clothing, was passing a device over her.

Olivia reached out and grabbed his hand, scowling. “What are you doing?” she asked, a hairsbreadth away from summoning Gwyn’s gift. Her eyes darted around the room, and her panic increased when she realized that she wasn’t in her room in the caverns, or even in a tent, which would have been the other housing that Torlak’s people would be using. It looked like she was in the castle.

“I’m healing you,” he said, making his pipe bounce as he peered at her critically over the rim of his glasses. “Can I continue?”

“Not until I know where my friends are,” Olivia hissed.

The man snorted and turned on his stool. “Hey, Jaffa, get someone in here! She’s awake and talking.”

Holhow burst in, grinning. “Matsu! Did he make you better?”

“I don’t even know who he is!” Olivia snapped, exasperated.

“Dr. Ramkin, save the which-uncle-was-the-ram jokes, if you don’t mind,” the doctor grunted.

“He was brought here by Bra’tak, Matsu,” Jorham said, limping into the room. His crutch was gone, and he leaned only on a cane. “I know you have heard us speak of the great leader of the Free Jaffa.”

“Satisfied?” Dr. Ramkin asked.

Olivia looked to Jorham, who nodded. “Sure,” Olivia said, releasing his arm and sinking back into the bed.

“Thank you,” the doctor said in a snotty tone and the device began to hum again.

“How long was I out?” she asked, eying Jorham’s leg. If it were that healed, she might have been out for days or weeks.

“Two days,” Jorham said. “The doctor used that on me, and partially healed my leg, enough that it should finish healing on its own.”

“There were other, more critical cases,” Dr. Ramkin muttered.

“Yes, and I agreed,” Jorham said mildly. “I’d rather not owe my healing to a Goa’uld device anyway.”

Olivia tensed. “Bah, stupid superstitions,” the doctor grumbled. “It’s just a damned tool, for Ra’s sake.”

“Invoking Ra’s name doesn’t help,” Olivia growled. Ramkin just grunted, and Olivia turned back to Jorham. “How is Torlak?”

“My brother is up and well and generally being a nuisance,” Jorham grinned.

“He took credit from you!” Holhow said, angrily.

Olivia blinked. “What?”

“He told Bra’tak that it was his plan! He didn’t even mention you!” Holhow said, balling his fists. “He made us not say anything.”

“Yes, and my brother usually isn’t a glory hound like that,” Jorham added somberly.

Ramkin’s presence limited her reply. “It’s ok,” she said. “I’m just glad he’s ok. I don’t mind if he takes credit.”

“Done,” Ramkin said, sitting back. He tucked the device into a pocket. “Now, young woman, if you’re going to play at being Jaffa, be more careful.”

“She is Jaffa,” Jorham said, his voice insistent.

“No, she’s a human with a forehead tattoo,” the doctor growled. “I know, I just scanned her. And furthermore, you should not be fighting in your condition.”

Jorham frowned. “What condition?”

“She’s pregnant.”

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Two weeks, five days, six hours AWOL

“I am not!” Olivia snapped, her brow furrowing. “That’s not… possible…” But it was; it was very possible. Oh, god, please no… not now! How? I was on the pill.

“Oh, you are,” Ramkin grumbled. “Why don’t people listen to their doctors?”

Olivia continued to converse with herself as the doctor darkly muttered. You idiot. The pill wasn’t designed for specialists! And how many times did you ‘borrow’ his specialist endurance to ‘enhance’ things in bed? You freakin’ dummy, of course you’re pregnant!

Oh, god… I have to go back, tell Vinny-

They’ll put you in jail and take your baby away. You’ll never see him or her again, much less Vinny or Caine or anyone.

The men watched as horror, fear, and then sorrow crossed her face. Her lips trembled as she struggled not to bawl in front of the Jaffa. “Are you sure?” she asked the doctor.

He hesitated. “Well, I could do tests and verify it, but I’m sure you are. The healing device hasn’t been wrong yet. You’re less than a month along.” He paused and then murmured, “If this is a problem, it can go away.”

The Jaffa glared at him, but Olivia immediately snapped, “No. Out of the question.” She wasn’t making that mistake again.

Dr. Ramkin stood and started to gather up his bag. “Well, I’d like to come back and check up on you regularly-”

“We have a midwife,” Jorham said firmly. “She will care for Matsu.”

Ramkin stared at Jorham, his face going hard. Abruptly, he pulled out a piece of paper and scrawled a gate address. “If you need some real medical care, this is where I am,” he said, passing it to her. “And if you need anything, let me know.”

Olivia caught his arm. “Wait.” As he looked at her, she murmured, “Don’t tell anyone I’m a human.”

His expression fell as he scowled. “I suppose you don’t want me to mention anything else odd I noticed about you?”

“Please,” she murmured.

He nodded. “My planet has rules about patient privacy, and you’re a patient. My teeth will not part,” he grunted and left, clearly still in a surly mood.

Olivia struggled to comprehend this; part of her just wanted to bask in this moment. A baby. She hadn’t tried for one, but to have one was something she’d always wanted. Fate, it’s fate, she told herself, ignoring the fact that it was actually the nature of being a specialist more than anything else. She should be upset, but the shell of rage and pain in her heart crumbled before the overwhelming thoughts of a child, and she couldn’t be unhappy. She had family again.

Jorham broke the spell. “Holhow, get Torlak,” he said.

Olivia blinked at him, but it was Holhow who really startled her. He leaned over and whispered, “I still like you,” he murmured and left.

“Uh, what?” she managed.

“It is shameful for a Jaffa woman to bear a child without a husband,” Jorham said softly.

“Oh, come on!” Olivia snapped. “Are you seriously giving me this masochist bull?”

“It is our way,” Jorham said. “Do you want to blend among us or not?”

“This sucks,” she muttered, irritated, but a voice in the back of her head was singing, Baby! It’s a baby!

It’s Vinny’s baby.

It’s redemption.

Don’t worry, she told the cluster of cells, I won’t let anything bad happen to you.

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Two weeks, five days, six hours AWOL

“Pregnant?” At her nod, Torlak sighed. “Matsu, let me be frank. We can handle this three ways. The first is that we defy all the customs and traditions of our people, and we let you remain as you are. The second is that you leave us. And the third is that you agree to marry one of our men.” He gave her a rare smile of encouragement; he had warmed up to her since her jail-break. “It will be hard to find a husband, but it can be done.”

“I… don’t want to get married,” Olivia whispered, swallowing hard.

“Do you want to leave us?” Torlak asked. “Do you want to be on your own, knowing what you face?”

It had been hard being alone; how much worse would it be to be alone and pregnant? Olivia couldn’t even imagine. She could leave and return to SGC, but she knew what would happen. She’d be arrested. She wouldn’t even have a trial; they’d detain her. She’d have her baby taken away when it was born. She was alone.

No, not alone. She touched her stomach, which was still hiding the treasure within. She had to start thinking beyond herself and what she wanted. Being alone in the universe was dangerous for an unborn child and even more dangerous for a new baby. Thanks to Ramkin, she had a place to have it, but before that? What would she do? She couldn’t hide on an abandoned planet forever; she’d lose her mind. And if she got sick or hurt, she could lose the baby.

She sighed and hung her head. “I’ll… I have to stay, at least until I can find another place.”

“There is an option,” Jorham said softly.

“What?” Torlak asked, his voice doubtful.

“In our village, all know that Matsu is not one of us, and there are few that do not owe her their life or the life of a loved one,” Jorham said carefully, as if weighing each word before speaking it. “So I suggest this. Matsu comes to live with me. To us, she is just Matsu, an extraordinary human and because she is not Jaffa, her loose morals don’t matter.” He shrugged a little at Olivia’s glare, his gruff features folding into a semi-apologetic grimace. “To any outsiders, she is my wife.”

“We lie?” Torlak grunted, clearly unamused with the thought.

“Lies will not be necessary,” Jorham replied, glancing at his brother-in-law. “I say, ‘She is mine to protect,’ and it is true. If outsiders take that to mean that she my wife because that is a husband’s duty, that is not our fault.”

“She’ll need the bracelet,” Torlak said.

Jorham stiffened. “Yes,” he said gruffly. “She will.” There was an awkward pause, and then he said, “I’ll get it.” He left the room quickly.

“What bracelet, and I haven’t even agreed to this,” Olivia pointed out stubbornly. Despite her words, she’d agree to it. It was the best of all worlds, for her.

“A man gives his wife a piece of jewelry that has familial marking on it, to show his favor of her,” Torlak replied, his voice soft. “Jorham is getting the bracelet that he first gave to his wife.”

“We use rings,” Olivia murmured, feeling awkward and guilty. She’d heard Shaeyr and Daniah talk about how much Jorham had loved his wife. “I don’t think this is healthy for him, Torlak.”

“He will endure, and you should never, ever think that he can’t,” Torlak said, his voice haughty with Jaffa pride. “He does this for you. Be grateful, not doubtful.”

“Right,” Olivia said. She stared at the blanket over her legs. “Will it work?”

“It must,” Torlak said. “I need you, and I can’t have people distracted by your status.”

“Why, what’s going on?” Olivia asked, sitting up a little straighter.

“Since we have cleared Nalk off Hajur, we now rule ourselves. I have invited Jaffa from all the regions of our planet to create governance for ourselves,” Torlak said, scowling. “There are many representatives from all around Hajur. But I think that the sons of snakes are lying to me!”

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