Ever since the Stargate Program went public, Jack found himself sucked into doing a whole bunch of things he never thought he would do before. Usually this involved being on TV with some talking head going on about "saving the galaxy", giving a speech at the opening of some fancy building or other, or, in the case of doing what he was doing right now, talking to school kids about the Stargate Program. That was quickly becoming the highlight of his job, because a) it didn't involve paperwork and b) especially with little kids, involved a minimal amount of bullshit.
And anything that involved a minimal amount of bullshit was high on Jack's list of preferred ways to blow off a workday.
So that was why he was sitting in the floor in his dress uniform with a circle of five year olds at Cassie's old elementary school on Career Day. He'd never talked to kindergarten kids before, but they were damned cute, and he loved kids anyway. Twenty-four pairs of eyes were glued to him, twenty-four little mouths were wide open in awe... and two noses had fingers in them. Best audience ever.
"So, kids," he said, grinning. "Your teacher asked me to come here today to tell you about my job, since you're talking about the kinds of jobs you can have when you grow up. And the reason she asked me to come talk to you folks is because I have the coolest job of anybody in the whole wide world. How many of you kids know what the stargate is?"
Twenty-four little hands shot up in the air. "Me, me, me!" yelled twenty-four little voices, and Jack grinned. He hadn't been real fond of the idea of making the stargate public, but lately he got a real kick out of hearing what kids thought about it all. He nodded at a little girl with glasses and a pink nametag that read Abbagail, whose arm was so high in the air she was about to fall over. "What is it?"
Abbagail sat up on her feet, bouncing up and down. "It's this thing you go in and it takes you to other planets," she said breathlessly.
"Ooooh," said a chorus of voices.
"And it looks like water," said a little girl named Kayla, sitting beside Abbagail. "When you go in it. I seen it on TV."
"I gots water in the pool at my house," said the boy beside Jack, who apparently didn't see anything special about water. His nametag said Chase.
"Ooh, you know what?" A red-headed boy near Chase had his hand in the air, and Jack looked at him. "My brother peed in the pool once."
"Oh hey!" Jack said, clapping his hands together. He wasn't sure how he had lost control of this conversation but he wasn't really sure he liked where it was going. Before he could get it back on track, though, he felt a little hand tugging at the shoulder of his uniform.
"You got stars on your coat," said a girl in a blue shirt. Jack didn't see a nametag anywhere, so she instantly became Blue Shirt Girl in his head. "We get stars on our folders when we do good. You musta done good, cause you got three and they're really shiny."
"Nuh-uh," said Chase. He was tugging at the other shoulder of Jack's jacket. "He gots three more over here. And that's one, two, three, four, five, six. That's six. I counted. And I'm going to be six next week."
This led to a chorus of "I'm six! I'm six! I'll be six on my birthday!" and Jack felt vaguely confused. Two minutes ago they were sitting on their little butts on the floor with their hands in their laps, and he had them all in thrall and ready to regale them with a tale of saving the world, and now they were climbing on him and yelling in his ear about birthdays and stars and he wasn't sure what the hell was going on. Where was the teacher? He looked over a sea of heads to see her sitting in the back of the room with a pile of papers, a marker, and a carefully blank expression, like she was trying very, very hard not to laugh.
Right, so he was on his own. Guess nobody had your six in the classroom.
"Okay, kids, so, the Stargate," he tried again, and after a moment of shuffling and poking and "I'm telling!" they all settled down again, twenty-four pairs of eyes glued right on him. Well, twenty-three, since one kid was seriously concentrating on tying his shoe and was paying no attention to Jack whatsoever, but he would take what he could get.
"You go to other planets through it," Abbagail reminded him.
"You betcha," said Jack, grinning at her. At least one kid in this room could stay on topic. She was a little Carter in training, he could tell.
"Whatcha do on them other planets?" This came from a little kid named Ian with big brown eyes, coke-bottle glasses, and Oreo crumbs down the front of his Star Wars t-shirt.
Jack shrugged. "Well, you know, we do a lot of stuff," he said. Couldn't really tell them too much, cause for all the SGC was public knowledge now, most stuff was still classified, but they were looking at him like he was a superhero and he had to throw them a bone. "Sometimes there are bad guys on other planets, you know, like bullies? You kids know about bullies?"
Twenty-four heads nodded solemnly. Okay, twenty-three, because one kid was halfway to falling asleep already, thumb solidly corked in his mouth and head drooping. "Bullies are bad," said Kayla.
"Yep," said Jack. "Sure are. But sometimes there are bullies on these planets, messing with the people there just minding their own business. So sometimes we have to go in there and run the bullies off, make 'em leave people alone."
"You shoot 'em?" Chase asked, with a little more interest than Jack wanted to see on a little kid's face. "Beat 'em up?"
"Sometimes," Jack admitted reluctantly, but before he could elaborate, all the boys and some of the girls in the room cheered. Jack shook his head. "No, that's not a good thing," he told them, suddenly serious, and out of the corner of his eye he saw the teacher's mildly amused glance turn to a little more pointed interest. "Now look here. We always try to talk to them first, get them to go away and leave people alone. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't. But fighting is a last resort. You know, the thing you do after you try everything else and it doesn't work."
"Fighting is wrong," Abbagail said primly.
Jack wanted to beat his head on the floor. There might be a whole lot less bullshit involved with dealing with kids, but talking to them wasn't easy, especially about the serious stuff. "Sometimes you have to fight. You see some bullies picking on people that can't stick up for themselves, you tell 'em to get lost and move on, and they don't listen, so you do what you gotta do. But you don't start there. You start by talking to them."
"Mister General O'Neill?"
It was a tiny girl with shiny black hair in a ponytail. Her nametag said Katie, but it looked a little chewed-on. "I lost a tooth. See?" She grinned proudly, showing him the great big gap between her front teeth. Then they all wanted to show Jack their missing teeth, even the kid across the circle from him who had some orange stuff that looked suspiciously like Chee-toh residue on his cheeks.
Jack wondered if they always did this or if they were just showing off special, for him.
"Do them aliens on them other plantets, do they have teeth?" Chase wanted to know. Jack laughed.
"Kid, most of the folks out there on those other planets look pretty much like you and me," he said. "They got two arms, two legs, and a head, have moms and dads and brothers and sisters, friends and teachers and all that good stuff." He wasn't talking about the snakes or a handful of other types, but on the whole, he wasn't lying.
"Does the Tooth Fairy go to other planets?" Ian asked. This kid was dead serious, so Jack had to give him a serious answer.
"Don't know, kid," he replied. "Haven't lost a tooth offworld, so I can't say. But I don't see why not, you know? People on other planets have teeth, I'm sure they fall out and she comes and gets them and leaves them some money under the pillow."
That earned him a roomful of giggles, and he couldn't help but grin back at them. Damn, these kids were too cute. The scary thing was that you never knew when one of the little rugrats might grow up to be some damn good officer and end up on an SG team someday, or be one of the scientists that invented the cool things that they got to use in the field, or grew up to be the politicians whose agendas could make or break a program. Okay, that last one was kind of depressing, but he figured even bureaucrats were cute little kindergarten kids at some point.
"Class, I think we should thank General O'Neill for coming to speak with us today," the teacher said finally, coming to the front of the room, and Jack sighed in relief.
"Thank you, General O'Neill," came twenty-three tiny little voices. Twenty-four was out like a light.
"Anytime, kids," Jack said, getting to his feet and waving at them. On the way out, he leaned to the teacher and asked, "You do get combat pay for working here, right?"
She just laughed.