Originally published in The Seventh Chevron #1, 2000

 

A Day at the Mall

 

"Aw, come on, General," Jack OíNeill wheedled, pacing back and forth in front of his commanding officerís desk. "He canít spend all his free time hanging around the base here. He never gets to Ďgo home from workí."

"He has been out of the base on occasion, Colonel," General Hammond responded. "I can name at least a dozen occasions when he has left here."

"Sure, once in awhile over to my place or Danielís apartment for the evening, or for Danielís wake that time, and once with Cassie," protested Jack, taking a few quick strides around Hammondís office. "And the time that honking great bug munched on him and wanted to turn him into a cocoon. Iím sure heís real happy about that. When you have downtime, you donít stick around here unless something criticalís hanging over us. I donít want to drag him on an excursion to all our National Monuments. I just want to take him to the mall."

"In case you havenít noticed it, Jack, Tealíc isnít precisely inconspicuous." Hammond sounded impatient but he didnít sound quite final. Jack had long ago learned how far he could safely push the General and how much over that safety barrier he could risk if he wanted to take it just one toe over the line.

Jack held back a grin. "Hats and sweatbands are great inventions, sir. And Daniel and I will be with him the whole time. A guysí excursion. Weíll keep our eyes on him." He could tell the General was weakening.

"Why doesnít that reassure me?" Hammond asked whimsically. He stood up, palms resting on the top of his desk. "Colonel, I realize that Tealícís quality of life here does leave a great deal to be desired and I feel for him, too. As long as the Goaíuld threat hangs over us the way it does, I donít see that changing. Consider this: he is a member of a race at war with humanity. He possesses a larval form of the Goaíuld inside him. Something so simple as a traffic accident could expose the Stargate Project. Then, also consider that people like Colonel Maybourne would do anything to get their hands on him. Iím not entirely certain an outing to the mall is worth his dissection."

"No, ya think?" Jack knew the General was right, but it didnít seem fair and he was willing to take the risks necessary to protect Tealíc.

"There is also the possibility of journalistic exposure," Hammond continued. "That reporter you encountered in Washington was remarkably well informed. He may not be the only one." He heaved an exasperated sigh. "But if I refuse your request, I find myself wondering how much better than the Goaíuld we are. Tealíc has proven himself over and over, risking his own life to save this planet. He is entitled to some leave. Tell me this, though, Jack. Does he really want to go to the mall?"

OíNeill grinned. "How can he tell, General? Heís never been before. He might just think it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. And think how much fun heíll have telling Master Braítac all about it."

He caught Hammond sternly repressing a smile. "Very well, Colonel," the older man conceded. "But Iíll expect you and Doctor Jackson to be extremely careful and to leave immediately at the first sign of trouble. Iíd feel better if Major Carter went along. Iíd trust you completely on a mission, but the malló" He held up a hand before Jack could protest. "And donít tell me Doctor Jackson will be there, too. I know him. Heíll find a bookstore or a place that sells rocks and heíll forget all about watching out for Tealíc."

"Not...forget, sir," Jack defended his friend. "Just be a little distracted. Iíll give him his mission briefing before we start."

"And Major Carter?"

Jack had a horrid mental image of being dragged into dress shops and places that sold knickknacks, and holding packages while Sam tried on clothes. He knew it was a stereotype even as he thought it and suspected Carter would brain him if she had even the tiniest inkling what he was thinking, but Jack had been to the mall with women before, and it was not an experience he remembered with fondness. Facing Apophis would have been easier. At least he could do that with an HK MP-5.

"All right, sir, Iíll ask her," he agreed, mentally crossing his fingers. Maybe she wouldnít come.

** *** **

"Of course Iíll come," Sam Carter agreed half an hour later. "I need to pick up a few things, and Iíve seen men in malls before. Youíll only confuse poor Tealíc. Does he really want to go, sir?"

"Why does everybody keep asking me that?"

"WellÖbecause youíre the one whoís pushing this, Jack," Daniel reminded him. "Anybody would think you wanted to go to the mall and were afraid it wasnít safe to go alone." His eyes twinkled with amused mischief. "When was the last time you went, Jack?" he queried.

"Are you being disrespectful of your commanding officer, Doctor Jackson?" countered Jack, unable to suppress an answering twinkle. "Iíve been to the mall before. Letís see. The last timeÖ." Oh, god, it was before the first mission to Abydos. Heíd been to a strip mall or two or to a store in Colorado Springs, but not to an actual mall, not to Ďmall crawlí, as Sarah had always called it.

"MaybeÖnever?" Daniel challenged.

"I do not understand this mall," Tealíc put in. "Yet, it will enable me to learn more of your culture, so that is a good thing. Do you expect it to be dangerous, Major Carter?"

"Dangerous?" She pondered it, tilting her head a little. "No, not for you. For the Colonel, maybe, but not the rest of us. Daniel, you go to the mall, donít you?"

He nodded. "Thereís a Natural Wonders store there I like, and a good bookstore, and theyíll order anything I want. Theyíre used to me by now." He turned to the big Jaffa. "I think youíll enjoy it, Tealíc. It will give you an idea of an American subculture, anyway. I know youíve seen malls on TV."

"The distribution of products is done more sensibly on Chulak," Tealíc muttered to himself, but he nodded. "Very well. I confess, the opportunity of an off-base excursion pleases me. General Hammond does not disapprove?"

"No, he said you could go, Tealíc," Jack reassured him. "I think heíd just want to say not to spend all your money in one place."

An eyebrow lifted. "The mall is not one place?"

"No, itís a lot of places all together," Daniel began excitedly. "You see, Tealíc, a long time ago, towns used to have a central shopping area, downtown, with stores along the streets. But then towns got bigger and parking got more difficult and they started building malls, andÖ."

"Okay, Danny boy, can the economics lecture. He doesnít need to know." Jack grabbed Daniel by the scruff of the neck and propelled him to the door. "Okay, kiddies. Time to get into civvies."

** *** **

"I do not like this headband," Tealíc protested, gazing down at his blue jeans and Izod shirt. "I feelÖmost conspicuous."

"Hey, youíre not conspicuous, Tealíc," Jack encouraged the Jaffa.

"No and, if itíll make you feel better, I know Jack will wear one, too," Sam volunteered for her colonel. Behind her, Daniel, also in blue jeans and wearing a tee shirt with a picture of an Egyptian pyramid on it, smothered a chortle with an extremely phony cough, avoiding Jackís eyes. The major offered a sweatband to Jack, who looked at it with almost as much loathing as he might feel for a zat gun stuck in his face. "This whole expedition was your idea, sir," Sam continued. "The most you can do is help to make Tealíc feel less obvious." She was wearing blue jeans, too, and a tank top in a vivid electric blue. It wasÖokay, it was very form-fitting. Jack was a guy; how could he help noticing? Worse, she saw him noticing and she looked amused. The sweatband waved in his face.

With a disgusted groan, Jack snatched it from her and put it on. Okay, now Tealíc wasnít the only one who felt conspicuous. They were heading for the mall, hangout of teenagers. Theyíd look like a geezer parade. Okay, so maybe he was the oldest one here, but that didnít have to meanÖ

"You lookÖgreat, Jack." Damn it, Daniel was laughing at him.

"Weíre going," he said sternly and waved them along. The sooner they went, the sooner they could come home again. What had he been thinking?

** *** **

"So, this is the mall." Tealíc stood foursquare near a fountain that played in the center of the mall courtyard. Around him, in long, angled wings, were stores, their signs bright in multicolored neon displays. Elderly joggers walked their measured miles along the outskirts while teens in a variety of styles that would have had them expelled from school back in Jackís schooldays congregated in bunches, talking whatever weird lingo kids talked these days. A lot of them were into body piercing and tattoos. Groups of women wandered from clothing store to clothing store while young mothers wheeled toddlers in strollers, trying to keep them from grabbing any reachable item from shelves. Tealíc regarded it all with as much wonder, shock, and dismay as he might look at a gang rumble or an instruction to put on a pinafore. One eyebrow arched vividly at the sight of such a mixture of humanity. Chulak might have outdoor markets but the items sold would mostly be necessities. American Earth sold a lot more inessentials than was probably good for them.

"Yep, this is the mall," Jack agreed. "What do you think of it?"

"It is too soon to tell," Tealíc replied in a doubtful voice. Jack was sure he was being tactful.

"So, what do we do?" Daniel asked. "Split up? Take Tealíc around in a body?"

"We just wander at first," Carter volunteered. "Get an idea what might interest him. Tealíc, you like music. Thereís a place here that sells CDís. Thereís another place that has pianos and organs."

"Musical instruments?" Tealíc looked interested. "Master Braítac can play a parílatian." When Jackís own eyebrow lifted, he explained, "It somewhat resembles a flute. Perhaps I could purchase an instrument to give to him the next time I should see him."

"Thatís a great idea," Daniel agreed. "But you need to buy something for yourself, too."

"I need nothing," Tealíc replied.

"Hold it. Wait a minute." Daniel planted himself in front of Tealíc. "Sometimes, it feels good to buy something not because you need it but because you donít. Something frivolous. Or something educational. Iíll take you to Natural Wonders. Youíll like it."

"They sell rocks," Jack muttered under his breath.

Tealíc stared at the anthropologist. "I do not understand, Daniel Jackson. Does OíNeill mean they sell artifacts, such as you find on missions? If he simply means rocks, can you not go out of doors and pick them up off the ground? On Chulak, one has no need to purchase rocks."

Daniel grinned. "Exotic rocks, Tealíc. Crystals, geodes, gemstones. And they have a lot of scientific things. Jack, youíd like it, too. They sell telescopes."

"I have a telescope," Jack muttered, feeling outmaneuvered. Okay, so heíd been wanting to buy a sun filter for his telescope, but he didnít want to admit it. That would be like giving in.

"Come on, sir," Carter urged.

"Weíre off duty, Carter. Make it ĎJackí."

"Then, make it Sam," she challenged. "Which way, Daniel?"

"Itís down here."

Okay, so Jack had to admit it, Natural Wonders was a good idea. Tealíc was fascinated with such simple things as a model of the atom, a collection of toy dinosaurs, and some puzzle games that he said resembled games he had played as a boy. Daniel bought a huge geode and steered Jack over to look at a giant, folding starmap.

"We could put it up and stick pins in it to show.Ö" He let his voice trail off, unable to complete the sentence in public. Where weíve been, Jack realized he meant to say. He was surprised Daniel didnít have one at home already, and said so.

"I do have one in my bedroom," Daniel replied. "I thought maybe you wanted one, Jack."

Damn it, why did the kid have to look so earnest? Heaving a sigh, Jack carried the map to the counter, knowing heíd have to find a place to display it because Danny was sure to want to see it the next time he came over and heíd put on that sad puppy look of his if Jack didnít have the map up with pins stuck all over it. On the way he grabbed the sun filter heíd wanted and plopped it down on the counter with his map.

He found Carter ahead of him buying two pairs of earrings that were designed like pewter dolphins. "One for Cassandra, sir," she explained. "We converted her birthday to..." she lowered her voice for Jackís ears alone, "Earth time...and itís the week after next. I wanted to get her something pretty."

"Yeah, well, thatís nice." It was also weird to realize that when he was with these people, he couldnít have completely normal conversations any longer. They had done so much more than the average human, been to more places, that they had to watch what they said in public. The little boy who was staring up at Tealícís muscles with undisguised wonder would freak if he knew he was looking at an actual alien instead of what he must assume was a Schwarzenegger wannabe.

He tried to say something like that to Daniel after they left the store. "Itís weird. I was looking at that kid who was staring at Tealíc and realizing he didnít knowóand then I was realizing that, for us, it doesnít even matter. We take it for granted that heís one of us."

Danielís smile blazed out. "I know, Jack. Thatís one of the things I like best about all of this, that it doesnít matter. I lived on...Abydos... for a year, and people are people. And when itís right, it honestly doesnít matter. Because we can respect each otherís cultures and all the differences as well as the similarities and still be friends."

Jackson had a way of doing that, putting things into words that Jack felt but couldnít always explain. He started to answer, but then stopped because they had rounded a corner and come upon a video arcade. The passage was closed in with weird lighting in strange patterns overhead that made it look like aówhat did they call it?óa Borg cube. Teens gathered around the various games, inserting quarters or whatever it took. Tealíc stopped dead, staring.

"OíNeill. What is this place?"

"These are arcade games, Tealíc," Jack explained. "Come on, take a look at one." He dragged the unprotesting Jaffa over to one that was basically pretty simple, to drive a car down a road. Theyíd even had these when Jack was a teen, way back in the dark ages. "You see, you put your money in here, and then you have to steer down the road without hitting anything."

"This oneís awfully basic, isnít it, Jack?" Daniel objected.

"Well, he has to start somewhere." He fed money in. "Hold this, and steer. You need to stay on the road and avoid obstacles and not hit other cars. This controls your speed. This tells you how many points you get, your score. Whoa, wait a minute. Not so fast. Youíll crash and burn."

"I will not." Tealíc took hold of the controls and proceeded to whip through the game with incredible speed and dexterity, avoiding trucks, traffic jams, landslides, icy road conditions and, once, a UFO hovering overhead shooting laser blasts at his car. Jack watched the points mount at an astounding speed. As the machine dinged to indicate the mounting score, a few teens crowded in to watch, then more of them. Jack eyed them uneasily and wished he were armed, but they didnít appear threatening. They were fascinated. When Tealíc surpassed the machineís record and won in a loud ringing of bells and beeping of horns, the kids gathered around, awed, some of them clapping him on the shoulder. Used to children and realizing some of them were the same age as his own son, Ryaíc, Tealíc seemed completely at ease with them.

"Come on, dude, try this one, itís harder," one of the older kids said. He was probably around nineteen and had grown up playing the games. "Letís see if you can clean up on this one, too."

Tealíc went willingly, listened to the instructions, and proceeded to break that machineís records with little effort. This one was even noisier. His new mentor eyed him with awe and led him to the next machine.

"This is getting out of hand," OíNeill muttered to Carter and Daniel.

"No, let him, Jack," Daniel urged. "He isnít hurting anybody, and heís enjoying himself. Heís good at it. He wonít reveal anything to those kids, and it probably does them good to see that an adult can have fun like they can."

"Good reflexes," Sam agreed. "I think he may get some of them fromóuhóJunior, sir. Jack," she corrected.

When Tealíc finished winning the last game, he was smiling, clearly delighted. "I like these challenges of skill," he remarked. "They teach dexterity and quick response time. They are an ideal training. I see much wisdom in your society to train the young warriors thus, in such a way that a recreation can be a teaching exercise."

Jack guided him away before any of the thronging kids could make out what heíd said and start to wonder about it.

"But thereís something in that, Jack," Carter added as they hurried out of the arcade. "Because a lot of companies will leave the games on their computers until the employees familiarize themselves with the mouse. Itís easier to learn something new if itís got an entertainment factor."

"Guess I never thought of arcade games in the same league as flight simulations," Jack objected.

"They were in The Last Starfighter," Daniel said. "I loved that movie. There were a lot of times when I felt like that kid, like I was trapped in a place I didnít think Iíd ever leave. He got out." He grinned suddenly. "So did I."

All those foster homes, Jack realized. Maybe the arcade games gave those kids hope.

"I must buy Master Braítac a musical instrument," Tealíc announced with sudden determination.

"Oh, wait." Sam put up her hand to stop them. "Look. Ice cream cones. I love ice cream cones."

Danielís face lit up, too, allowing her to guide him in that direction. The two of them were like children on an outing.

"I know of ice cream," Tealíc said. "But what is an ice cream cone?"

"If you donít know then youíve been deprived too long." Daniel took the Jaffa by the arm and led him up to the booth. "What kind of ice cream do you like best?"

Tealíc paused, considering the various times he had eaten ice cream on the base. "Rocky road."

Daniel grinned. "Okay. Two scoops of rocky road," he ordered, digging out his wallet. "My treat. You have to try this, Tealíc." When the cone came back, two huge scoops balanced in the cone, he passed it to Tealíc, and gestured at a little girl who stood nearby savoring her ice cream with the tip of her tongue.

The Jaffa frowned, his brows drawing together, then a cautious tongue emerged to circle the top scoop. His face lit up and he went to work on the cone with childlike delight. Daniel beamed and Sam nodded in approval.

Daniel got vanilla. Jack half expected him to try some really odd, exotic flavor. He quirked an eyebrow at his friend.

"They had something like vanilla on Abydos, Jack," Daniel replied. "They made a dessert halfway between sherbet and ice cream, and they had a bean that tasted a lot like vanilla. They hadnít used it for ice cream before, so I taught it to them. We made the cones out of yaphetta flour, and they were pretty different, not like anything I ever tasted here, but they were great. I still remember the first time Skaara had an ice cream cone. He had ice cream on the tip of his nose, and he thought it was the funniest thing heíd ever done." Daniel smiled a bittersweet smile, remembering a time lost forever. Probably remembering Shaíre, too.

Jack heaved a sigh and took the chocolate cone that Carter passed to him. How did she know chocolate was his favorite? Hers was some exotic sherbet in greens and yellows and pinks.

The four of them strolled along eating their ice cream cones, Daniel weighted down by the sack that held his huge geode, Sam with her packages in her purse. He never saw Carter carry a purse on the base or even thought of her possessing one. Probably because she was not as much a woman to him as she was a fellow officer. She didnít look like an officer today in that blue tank top, though.

Instead of pursuing that thought, he fell into step with Daniel. "You okay?"

Daniel looked momentarily startled, then his eyes warmed as he realized what had prompted the question. "A part of me is wishing that, someday, I can take Skaara to the mall," he said. "Heíd be so excited. God, I hope Iíll get the chance." He didnít mention Shaíre. He hadnít said much about her lately, but Jack was not enough of a fool to think he had forgotten her or ever would. If he couldnít forget Sara, who had left him normally and was still alive and well, if just not his any longer, then how could Daniel forget Shaíre, who was his in her heart but not in any other way? Maybe he needed to get Daniel out and about and entertained a little bit more, give his thoughts a new trend. Not that Jack wanted him to forget his wife; if Daniel could forget his loyalties, he wouldnít be the man Jack admired so much. But sometimes, people needed a distraction. Jack had learned he could forget the bad things in his past, even if he could not forgive himself for some of them.

Remembering his last encounter with Skaara, not as Klorel but as Skaara, after heíd shot him to save Danielís life, Jack heaved a wistful sigh. "Yeah, Iíd like to bring him here, too," he said. "Someday.Ö"

"Someday," Daniel agreed, and Jack clapped him on the shoulder before looking around hastily for something to break the mood.

Oh, great! Barnes and Noble.

"Books," cried Daniel with relief and charged across to the bookstore.

"Many books," Tealíc realized and followed.

When OíNeill and Cater caught up, they found Tealíc standing in front of a display bin, holding a Danielle Steele book in his hand and frowning as he read the description on the back cover. "This is a tale of love?" he asked OíNeill, waving the book in Jackís face.

"Hey, come on, put that down." Embarrassed, Jack snatched it from him and thrust it into place. "You donít want to read books like that."

"Should I not learn from your culture, OíNeill?" Tealíc wondered.

Jack noticed Carter grinning at them. Daniel, of course, was long gone, vanished into the depths of the store. No help there. "Books like that are for bored, frustrated housewives," he said. "Come on. Iíll find something better for you to read." He guided Tealíc inside, to the fiction department. Hmm. What to get him? The great American novel, whatever that was? A new mystery? Science fiction? A classic? War and Peace? Moby Dick? Sam trailed them, snatching up a book here and there and tucking them under her arm. Jack wasnít the fiction type, but he knew good novel would tell Tealíc more about human nature than a book of baseball stats ever could.

"Are not books available on the internet?" Tealíc asked.

"Oh, yeah, and there are CDs with a couple hundred classics on them or more," Jack replied.

"But if you really want to read, get a book," Sam put in. "Yes, Iím a scientist and I use computers every day. But you canít curl up in bed with a good computer, and you canít take it to the park to read. Okay, maybe a laptop, but thereís something about the smell of a new book...."

Tealíc raised a book to his nose and sniffed it doubtfully. "I smell only paper and binding," he admitted.

Jack grinned. "I guess you had to be there. Okay, Carter-I-mean-Sam, what have you got for him?"

She displayed the books quickly. Of Mice and Men, The Red Badge of Courage, Pride and Prejudice, War and Peace, Field of Dreams, To Kill a Mockingbird. Well, Jack had to admit they werenít a bad choice, although the very thought of Tealíc curled up in bed reading Jane Austen boggled his mind.

"My treat, Tealíc," Sam explained. "I think youíll be interested. You may not love them all, but theyíll give you a quick cross section."

"Throw in a couple of Hardy Boys books," Jack prompted.

"Tealíc!" Daniel returned clutching a paperback copy of something called The Dragons of Eden. "This is a book about the evolution of human intelligence. The man who wrote it, Carl Sagan, had a knack for making science accessible to the layman." A sideways glance at Jack was accompanied by a wicked grin. "Maybe you should read it, too, Jack." When the Colonel lifted an eyebrow, Daniel added defensively, "Well, it won the Pulitzer Prize."

"I will try it," Tealíc agreed. "I have a great deal to learn."

Daniel thrust the book at him and vanished into the rear of the store, returning some twenty minutes later with five books balanced in his arms, his geodeís sack balanced atop them. He had to lean slightly backwards to balance his weight."

"Heíll be lopsided before we get home," Jack grumbled.

"Maybe we should eat," Sam suggested as they stood in line to pay for their purchases. "The food courtís close by.

"Oh, great. Weíll expose Tealíc to the joys of tacos and pizza."

"I have eaten tacos and pizza, OíNeill," the Jaffa reminded him. "You always serve pizza when we dine at your home. You do not prepare it yourself. When Major Carter fed us at her home, she prepared the food. So did Daniel Jackson."

"So, Iím not much of a cook. What is this, Pick-on-the-Colonel Day?"

"I did not know there was officially such a day." Now Tealíc was kidding him. Could it get any worse than this? Sternly, Jack squelched his amused grin. It wouldnít do for any of them to think he was having fun, would it?

Tealíc sampled Chinese food and fell in love with Crab Rangoons. He must have eaten fifteen of them, to the awed astonishment of the young woman behind the counter each time he came back for more. Daniel, who had contented himself with an Arbyís Roast Beef and fries, grinned at Tealícís delight.

"Weíll have to get them to fix that at the base," he said.

"Indeed. I do not understand why they have never before done so," Tealíc replied, taking him seriously.

"Probably because your symbiont can handle the cholesterol and all that sodium, but the rest of us need to stay healthy on our own," Jack protested in a lowered voice so his words would not carry to the next table, taking a bite of his pizza. Okay, so he was predictable when it came to food. And never mind that pizza had its own share of fat, cholesterol, sodium and various assorted goodies. It also had all the basic food groups in it, didnít it?

Samís food was something made with tofu. Now that wasnít food, was it? Jack grimaced. To each his own.

The music store was the last stop of the day. Tealíc stood in the entry, eyeing the rows of pianos and organs with wide-eyed appreciation. "Anyone may purchase a musical instrument?" he asked, entranced.

"Anyone who can afford it," Daniel said. "Come on, Iíll show you." He sat down on the bench of a gigantic grand piano and played the first few bars of The Blue Danube. " See? Anybody can learn. I wish I could remember more. One of my foster mothers made me take piano lessons for a year. She said she wouldnít have anybody in her house who wasnít musical." He looked up and grinned. "Can you play, Jack?"

"Sure I can play." He sat down at the next piano, pushed up imaginary sleevesóand played Chopsticks. With great vigor. With variations. It was one of the two pieces in his repertoire.

"I have heard that played many times, OíNeill," Tealíc remarked. "On the piano in the rec room back at the base."

"Most people know that one," Daniel agreed and played it, with his own variations, nodding for Jack to come in. They played a Chopsticks duet with great fervor, grinning, then segued into Heart and Soul, Jackís other piece, as if theyíd planned it. Sam sat down at a third piano and joined in with a one-handed, highly embellished variation that wound itself around the main melody line. And Tealíc startled them all by snatching up a cheap, plastic recorder from a display case beside them, and joining in. His first few notes were wrong, fumbling, squeaky, but then he found the melody and his fingers flew as he produced sweet, pure sounds. Chulakian music was somewhat different from the kind Jack was used to, but Daniel had once said that each culture had its own sounds and some were more approachable to western minds than others. That was true. Jack still couldnít get his mind around sitar music. And while he had no objection at all to watching belly dancing, he could never quite find the rhythm in its melodies.

When the piece finished, several customers and clerks favored them with a round of applause. Too bad he hadnít had a hat to lay out for donations, Jack thought wryly.

"I didnít know you could play?" he and Sam said to each other in perfect chorus.

"Youíve just heard my entire repertoire," OíNeill admitted. "Tealíc, what about you? You havenít played a recorder before, have you? How do you do that?"

"It has the same principles as a parílatian," Tealíc admitted. "Master Braítac would like this." He weighed the instrument in his hand and his brows came down. "This device is not well made. I would not buy such an instrument for Braítac."

Sensing a sale, a clerk oozed up, "We have better ones, sir," he offered and whipped out a beautiful one carved of a dark wood.

Tealíc took it into his hands, weighed it, ran his fingertips over its surface, played a few quick notes and nodded in appreciation at its clear tones. "Master Braítak would admire the craftsmanship of this instrument. Is it costly?"

The clerk quoted a price that made Jack wince, but Tealíc nodded. "I shall purchase it. I will not stint in a gift for my old Master." He reached into his pocket and produced a wad of bills.

"Oh, for crying out loud, put that away, donít flash it around," Jack urged, helping Tealíc to count out the requisite amount of money. Okay, so maybe it would be a little tricky for Tealíc to open a bank account, but if Jack had known he meant to carry all his worldly wealth around with him, heíd have warned him not to bring it.

When Tealíc had paid for his recorder and the clerk had found its case and packaged it carefully for him, they headed out of the store, OíNeill watching carefully to see if anyone had noticed Tealícís wad of bills. Of course, Tealíc was probably a pretty unlikely candidate for a mugging. Muggers tended to pick on people who were smaller and less threatening than themselves, although a gun was the typical leveler. No one seemed to be watching them, though. Okay, Jack, just shift into military alert mode here, he told himself.

"Did you like the mall?" Sam asked as they headed for the parking ramp and Jackís car.

"It was...most different," Tealíc replied. "I am grateful for the experience."

"Do you think youíd want to go again?" Daniel asked him.

He hesitated. "Perhaps, if there were something I wished to purchase. I would also go again, with the three of you, for another day of socialization."

In deference to Danielís armload of books and the rock he was lugging around, they took the elevator up to the second level where the car was parked. To Jackís dismay, the elevator was actually playing musicóno, Muzak. It only needed that. Not only Muzak, but a bland, instrumental version of a Barry Manilow song. Could this day get any worse? Jack grimaced and gestured at the speakers. Daniel and Sam exchanged a surreptitious smile, while Tealíc listened to the music as if he actually liked it. Okay, proof he wasnít from Earth, even if he didnít have Junior in his gut.

First off the elevator, Daniel suddenly let out a protesting cry and lunged forward, books and rock falling unheeded.

A step behind him, Tealíc voiced and inarticulate protest and thrust the recorder at Carter, who fumbled for it and caught it before it could fall to the concrete floor. Looking over her shoulder, Jack saw Daniel bearing down on two men armed with knives, who were menacing a slender woman with a baby in a stroller. "Gimme your purse," one of them insisted, unaware of Daniel and Tealícís approach until Daniel shouted.

"Donít hurt her!" Daniel insisted, racing forward without hesitation. Typical. No matter where he went, Daniel always ran toward danger, not away from it. Someone in trouble could be sure of a defense from Jackson. Reining him in was one of OíNeillís main duties on missions.

"Want to play hero, do you?" snarled the bigger thug, lashing out in a great semi-circle with the knife just as Daniel reached him. Jerking to a stop, Daniel spread his arms and arched his back to avoid the slashing blade, but it must have got him because he cried out, folded in on himself, and wrapped his arms around his chest. Yelling, Jack pushed past Sam, and tripped over the geode. It rolled in its sack under his foot and pitched him down on the floor so hard that the breath whooshed out of him.

"Daniel Jackson!" Tealíc reached the site as a gasping Jack tried to push himself up to go to the rescue. At the sight of the massive Jaffa bearing down on them, the two knife-wielders hesitated. Taking the opportunity presented, the panicked woman wheeled the stroller between an SUV and a panel truck, safely out of sight.

Tealíc took no time to examine Daniel. Instead he reached out and grabbed each man by the wrist, twisting hard and causing them to spill their knives onto the pavement. The smaller man screamed and struggled, but the bigger one tried to kick the Jaffa.

Without hesitation, Tealíc lifted both men into the air, undaunted by their weight, and slammed them against each other. When he let go, they dropped to the concrete and lay, stunned and unmoving, one of them moaning softly.

"It is safe now," Tealíc called to the woman before he turned to Daniel and pried his hands away from his stomach, at the same moment kicking the knives away, out of the thugsí range. "Major Carter, will you ascertain whether they possess additional weapons?" he called, and Sam set the recorder down carefully and went to do so. "Are you seriously injured, Daniel Jackson?" Tealíc continued, his voice gentle.

It had happened so fast Jack was still struggling to get air into his lungs. He finally managed to breathe as Sam patted down the thugs and shook her head. "Theyíre not armed." Deftly she removed their belts and used them to secure their arms behind their backs.

"He...cut me," Daniel said as Tealíc lifted the T-shirt to examine the wound.

The sight of Danielís blood drew Jack to his feet and, wheezing, he trotted over to join them, gripping the anthropologistís shoulder. "Danny, is it bad?"

Tealíc found a piece of cloth from somewhereóit looked like a diaper from the womanís bagóand was gently mopping away the blood while she held her child and stared in alarm. "It is not deep, OíNeill," he reassured Jack. "It is a long, superficial cut that will not require stitches, although Doctor Fraiser should treat it to prevent infection. Would you care to sit down, Daniel Jackson?"

"I...yeah, I think so." Daniel allowed Tealíc to park him on the hood of a BMW. The unexpected weight set off its car alarm, a shrilling sound that rang through the parking ramp, causing Daniel to jump to his feet and choose instead the hood of an old station wagon, the kind that had been called a Ďwoodyí in the Ďlong-agoí days of Jackís childhood. The Colonel settled him there, making sure the wound really was not serious while Tealíc looked as if he wished he had his staff weapon so he could blast the offending vehicle. Mall security arrived with a wail of sirens, and a crowd of ghoulish spectators started to gather as the young mother stood rocking her child.

Jack disgraced himself by bursting out laughing.

 

 

"There you go, Doctor Jackson, and no stitches needed," Doctor Janet Fraiser reassured Daniel as she redid the paramedicsí earlier handiwork. "Youíll be fine." She shook her head, amusement in her eyes as she surveyed the rest of SG-1 who stood in a concerned semi-circle around the bed. "I expect this kind of thing when you go on missions. But I donít expect it when you go shopping. What is it about the four of you, anyway?"

"Daniel Jackson raced to prevent a...mugging." Tealíc frowned. "Should he not have done so?"

"They were armed, Tealíc," Sam offered.

"Yeah, he should have done so," Jack muttered, his voice grumpy. "But it would have been better if heíd let you or me do it. Youíre trained to protect people, and Iím career military."

"But Daniel Jackson raced to save a life. Is that a bad thing."

"I think heís mad because I worried him, Tealíc," Daniel explained, pulling his shirt down over the neat new dressing and sitting up. All three of them reached to help him. "No matter what he says, we have to try to help people and save lives. There are too many people on this world who would have looked the other way and pretended they didnít see anything. I thought if they saw there were four of us, they might take off. A lot of guys like that are cowards."

"They might have been cowards with guns," Jack pointed out. He hadnít thought of that at the time, other than to be ready to ream Daniel for racing into trouble without considering the risks. On the other hand, that woman and her baby were safe, and Jack wouldnít really have Daniel any other way. Crush that eager spirit? Not a chance. Sit on him a little? Maybe.

"They werenít," Daniel defended himself. "We got Ďem, too."

"Yeah, and now Tealíc might have to testify in court," Jack groused, not yet ready to let go of his alarm. General Hammond had not been a happy camper about the end of the mall trip. Jack suspected he was already planning ways to prevent Tealíc from being subpoenaed to testify, some classified explanation, maybe, or, at the very least, to be held in chambers rather than open court. Jackís hair would probably be white before the General consented to another off-duty excursion for SG-1.

Seeing that Jackson was about ready to get up, he reached out and gave him a hand to his feet, releasing him only when he was sure the younger man was steady. "Okay?"

"Fine, Jack. Really."

"Donít do it again!"

"If General Hammond will allow it, I shall give testimony," Tealíc decided. "Although I fear a headband is inappropriate courtroom wear from what I have seen on Judge Judy. I did not require one for the Cor-Ai."

Sam sputtered with laughter. "Tealíc, I think this Americanizing might be going just a little too fast for you. If all this could happen just from one day at the mall, I hate to think what would happen when you come up against American jurisprudence."

 

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