As soon as they reached the shelter of the trees, Laura demanded answers, but the redhead wasn't ready to share.
"Where are the rest of your people?" the woman demanded, looking around.
Ellis shook his head. "No people. Just the two of us."
"Unless things have changed that badly in my absence, the 'Lantean's still have a treaty with my people, the Genii. And knowing that, I also know very well your teams are of four. Not two." Without waiting for confirmation, the redhead pulled the child further into the trees, and away from the village.
"So, you are Daro's sister," Laura said.
The woman glanced at Laura in surprise. She blinked, then smiled. "I should have known my brother wouldn't have let me go that easily. Yes. I'm Shaana. And this is my friend, Mina. Although I have a feeling it was not me you came to find.”
Laura shook her head. "The old bat took one of our people." She quickly described Jen.
The little girl, Mina, bobbed her head eagerly. "That’s Calara. Shaana says that’s not her name, but we should call her that so Thea doesn’t get mad at us."
“Calara?” Ellis asked.
“Thea likes to give people new names,” Mina said, bobbing her head. “But I like my name, so Thea said I could keep it. Calara’s name sounds funny. What was her old name?”
“Jennifer,” Ellis said. “Jennifer Keller.”
“Jennifer,” Mina repeated slowly. She smiled. “Oh yes. I like that much better.”
“Me too,” Ellis said.
"I met your Doctor Keller several times before Thea's people brought me here," Shaana said. "I knew who she was the second I saw her."
“You saw her?” Laura exclaimed. “Jennifer. Here. In the village. You’re sure.”
Shaana nodded, then shook her head. "I am sorry. Your doctor was here. But she disappeared sometime during the night. No one knows why, or how. Or where she went. Thea is tearing the village apart looking for her."
Laura almost laughed. They'd been right! Jen had somehow managed to get away and disappear.
Eager to get the message to the others, Laura tried to contact John, but the Colonel didn’t answer. Evan replied, warning her that the radios were only working over short, direct distances. She quickly told him they had Daro’s sister and confirmation on Jen. She wanted to relay the news to Ronon, but Evan hadn’t heard from the Satedan either. Agreeing to relay her message to Sheppard, he described a rocky outcropping set between two streams with an overlook of the village and advised her to meet him there. Laura confirmed the location with Shaana, who agreed to lead them.
"No one has ever left the village before," Mina said, her face scrunched in seriousness. "It's too dangerous."
"Dangerous?" Laura looked at Shaana for explanation.
"Thea does not allow the women to leave the village. Consequences of such an indiscretion… can be… deadly."
Mina bobbed her head, her eyes wide with fear and worry. "They killed Arana. Poisoned her with that terrible soup."
"Soup?" Laura repeated, thinking of Thea's command to have hawk nose bring 'soup' back to the barn.
"Regnig root," Shaana answered.
"Poison?" Laura asked.
"It erases your mind," Mina answered, bobbing her head up and down furiously.
"Erases your mind?" Ellis repeated, stopping to lift the girl up onto a large piece of deadfall. He set her on top of the log, then hopped over it, reaching up to lift her back down.
"It makes you forget everything," Mina said to him, her eyes wide, her head nodding with the very stern and serious expression. She placed her small hands on his shoulders, inched up on her toes to whisper in his ear. "You forget forever."
In the silence of the forest, Laura heard the child’s warning clearly. The knot it her abdomen that had lessened at the news Jen was on the planet, tightened right back up again.
Ellis gently lifted Mina off the log and placed her on the ground beside him.
"Shanna says that is the only soup Thea feeds pretty girls," Mina said, reaching up and grasping Ellis hand, without care that they’d only just met. "I'm not old enough yet. But Shaana says I wouldn't like Thea's soup anyway. She says it tastes like mud."
"Quiet voice, Mina," Shaana cautioned.
"It tastes like mud," Mina repeated, her whisper nearly as loud as her regular voice.
"Regnig root grows on many planets, but it is rare to find," Shaana explained while they walked. "It has many medicinal uses, but it is also very deadly. Some planets use it freely, many others have laws against its use. In little doses it can be very helpful. Easing pain, especially around the head and shoulders. In larger does it can help people forget terrible actions or memories. It erases recent events. Wipes them clean. But too big a dose, and it isn't just what you have seen recently that you can forget."
"It forgets everything," Mina added. "Shaana said if you eat too much you can't remember who you are. Even your name. But I haven't had any soup so I still remember my name. Mina Chrissa Cait Drican, of the planet Syawa."
"Sounds like you're a long way from home," Ellis replied, smiling down at the girl.
“I miss my Papa,” she said sadly.
Mina’s sad sigh tore into Laura. What kind of evil would take such an adorable child away from her family? They had enough of those monsters on earth, she didn’t need to find them here in Pegasus, too. She locked eyes with Ellis, the hard anger in his eyes solidifying her own. Once this was all over, once Jen was back home and safe, Thea was going to face a world of hurt, and Mina was going to get home to her parents. Even if Laura had to cross the entire Pegasus galaxy to do it.
And she was pretty damn sure Ellis was going to be right there with her.
A noise through the trees to their right had them scrambling for cover. Ellis picked up the child and thrust her at Shaana, pushing them down behind the wide trunk of a tree, and blocking them in behind him.
When Mina started to ask what was wrong, Shaana shushed the child, begging her to keep as quiet as a mouse.
Mina’s eyes were wide with fright.
Ellis flashed Mina a quick wink and tapped her on the nose with his finger. “Mina the Mouse,” he whispered. “I like it.”
The little girl started to smile. She pursed her lips and scrunched herself in against Shaana.
Laura squatted beside them, tracking movement through the trees. Two armed villagers passed them by, unaware of how close they were coming to death. If Laura hadn’t been worried about making noise, she might take Shaana and Mina’s plight to heart and pick off a few of their captors.
Once the two men were out of sight, Ellis urged everyone to keep moving. Mina immediately reached up and placed her small hand in his. “Good job, Mina Mouse,” he said quietly, nodding down at her.
She smiled. “I am a good mouse, aren’t I!”
“You were the best mouse I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen some pretty good mice. Even ones that can dance and drive a car.”
“What’s a car?” she asked, making Ellis laugh.
Shaana placed her hand on Laura’s arm, indicating with a tip of her head that she wanted to let Ellis and Mina get a little further ahead. She gave Ellis some pointed directions, then waited for him to get Mina out of earshot. Ellis walked ahead with Mina, distracting the child with tales of a mouse named Mickey.
When the distance was comfortable enough to speak without Mina overhearing, Shaana’s expression turned serious. “She may be free of the village, but your doctor is still in great danger.”
“From Thea?” Laura asked. “Or the soup?”
"Both. Thea hides the root in her soup. Then she forces it on the women she brings back. After the first bowl wears off, it causes a nice little headache. More soup makes the pain go away, but then it returns sooner, and stronger, making you want to keep eating the soup to stop the headache After a few days, you forget everything about yourself. Thea gives you a new name and a new life, and you never know what you’ve lost, or what you’ll never get back.”
“Then how do you still remember?”
“Luck. And family. My mother was a healer. That's how I met your Doctor. My mother worked with regnig root and taught me how to use it. Properly. I smelled the root in the soup right away and was able to hide the fact that I was not eating it. I know the symptoms. I knew how I was supposed to react."
"What about Mina?" Laura asked, her eyes on the funny yet touching image of Ellis, in all his battle gear, walking hand in hand beside a cute little kid with a bouncing mop of blonde curls.
"Thea is a monster, but even she wouldn't consider Mina old enough. No, it is those of us of age that Thea brought here to pair up with a husband."
"Husband?" Laura asked, making a troubled connection to a memory wipe and a village full of kidnapped women. Then she remembered Thea's hair and teeth examination in the barn. "Oh geeze," she muttered, renewing her resolve to find a pack of gum, a’sap.
"Thea's form of an arranged marriage," Shaana confirmed with an angry scowl. "Not all the women in the village are acquisitions. Some were born here. But Thea likes to pick proper wives for those in her favour."
"So, if you didn't have any of the soup…then you've been pretending to be someone's wife?"
"I pretended to be who they wanted me to be. I did what I had to do. I knew if I waited, if I had patience, I would find a way home."
"It’s been six months. Why haven’t you left?”
“It’s not for lack of trying. There are at least three men on watch for every woman in the village. That, and I was not conscious when I arrived. The only thing I know about the gate is it is nearly a day's hike from the village. I have a general idea of the direct, but I am not a skilled tracker. If I lost the trail, I could be wandering the hills for years. Then there are the patrols. Weapons here are not as advanced as ours, or yours. At the most I would have had one rifle against the entire village. I almost had the opportunity right after the harvest, but then that idiot Codder showed up with Mina in tow."
Laura's stomach dropped. She stared at the little girl who was now hopping on one foot down the trail, still holding firmly to Ellis' hand. "He wanted Mina…”
"I would have killed him for that."
The cold anger in Shaana’s voice left Laura with little doubt that if this Codder had tried anything, he would be dead, and it would likely have been very slow, and very painful.
"Codder's wife can't have any more children. The oaf thought Mina would make a pretty present. Once I saw her, I knew I couldn't just leave her here. But that also meant I couldn't leave as I'd originally planned. Not without making sure I could take her with me."
Laura understood the dilemma. With only a single shot weapon, and no clue as to direction, an untrained adult would have a difficult time making the trek against Thea's angry hoard. Add in the responsibility of having a child in tow…
She gave Shaana an appreciative nod. Not many women would have had the balls to do what she'd done and keep her wits about her and morals intact enough to want to help a stranger's child.
The desire to beat the shit out of the psychotic old woman jumped up several more notches. She then added Codder to the list.
"Did Thea give Jennifer any of the soup?" Laura asked, worried about how far Thea would have gone with Jen.
“Yes. But your friend has not been here long enough for the root to take full effect. She does not remember who she is, but if she does not take any more of it, her mind should come back to her as it was before."
"Should?" Laura honed in on the word.
"Playing with the mind is a dangerous game. I will tell you this. After the amount she has already had, stopping the soup so abruptly will leave your Doctor very sick. As I said, it makes Thea's job easier to keep giving more of the soup. It stops the hurt. Wherever she is, wherever she is hiding, I promise you, Doctor Keller is in an immense amount of pain. The kind that even the strongest of soldiers cannot manage alone. Unless she has found herself someplace where sound will not carry, Thea's men will find her. They will return her to Thea, and Thea will give her more soup. And when she does, there will be no going back. Your Doctor will be lost to you forever."