Hit the Road
The photo had been taped up above Teal'c's mirror as long as Vala knew him. At first glance, it seemed a rather nondescript geological formation, sky being far more of interest to her than earth, but she knew him well enough now to understand that it had to be important somehow.
"Have you been there?" she asked once as they got ready for a mission.
His posture did not change, nor did his expression. "I have not," he replied, his voice as impassive as his face.
She heard it anyway though.
That was when she realized there had been a major oversight on the part of their teammates. Granted they were busy all the time with fate of the galaxy stuff, but honestly, she'd only been here a matter of months and was already going stir crazy. How had Teal'c somehow managed to live on this planet for nine years and not really see any of it?
Clearly they needed one of those famous Tau'ri rites of passage she'd seen in the movies: a road trip.
Which meant they would need a car.
Vala knew better than to ask Daniel or Sam, who would come up with a million reasons why it was a bad idea. Cam would just ask to come along and Landry had a serious lack of imagination. General O'Neill was her best hope.
She knew she'd won the moment he answered the phone, his voice heavy with indignation and the same edge of being trapped that she could see sometimes in Teal'c.
Most people wouldn't have been able to see past two aliens wanting to run wild across state lines, but General O'Neill had rebelled enough in his day to know the difference between a lark and a rescue mission.
"Just don't…blow anything up, okay?" he said, his own voice wistful.
Vala always knew the general saw a lot more than he let on.
In the car, slipping away from the pressing suburbs of Colorado Springs, Vala realized she'd organized this jailbreak as much for herself as Teal'c. Taking a deep breath, she relaxed into the seductive lure of freedom. She had no problems with impure motives if the end results were the same.
As signs of civilization began to fall away, so did Teal'c's careful adherence to speed limits, his foot pressing towards the floor. It was only as they sped into open countryside, the wind whipping over their heads, the world pushing back at them, that the layers of restraint finally peeled back.
Out here, they had nothing to prove, no standards to live up to.
Somewhere in the desert north of Albuquerque, Teal'c pulled over and taught Vala how to drive. Surprisingly, she found she actually preferred it to flying a space ship. At least on the ground you always knew which way was up.
Dusk bled into the sort of complete darkness that only existed in the desert. They continued driving, Vala dozing in the passenger seat. She had it tilted back as far as it could go, staring up at the stars and the pitted face of Earth's moon, never having realized before how much it resembled her own childhood moon.
She'd believed it long forgotten, buried with a million other unpleasant things, but didn't mind the reminder as much as she would have thought.
Teal'c tuned the radio to some distant station and through the light layer of static she heard crooning voices over steady beats and some sort of sharp, scaling instrument. Classic rock, Teal'c informed her, his own voice occasionally joining in.
She wasn't sure what rocks had to do with it, but didn't bother asking, letting her eyes slide shut with the wind in her face and Teal'c's quiet voice in her ear.
It was barely dawn when they finally reached their destination, Vala waking to find the car pulled off to the side of the road, Teal'c leaning back against the hood.
Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she stepped out of the car, the view in front of her seeming to swallow her whole. The tiny postcard in Teal'c's locker hadn't done it justice.
Not far from where they stood, the ground dropped away, opening into a canyon that stretched as far as the eye could see, a dizzying mix of pinks and grays and oranges. In the shadows at the very bottom, Vala could just make out a thin green line that marked the river responsible for this formation. The small influence that gently stripped away at the rock, millennia after millennia cutting through the earth one grain of sand at a time.
It was beautiful, this Grand Canyon, but she knew it had to be more than that. The galaxy was full of beautiful things.
Vala moved to sit on the hood next to Teal'c, her shoulder bumping against his.
"So tell me," she said. "What is it about this place, really?"
Teal'c looked down at her for a moment, before returning his eyes to the canyon as if it held him under some spell.
"It makes me feel small," he said.
Vala looked back at the formation, her eyes straining as if somehow hoping to swallow the entire vista at once, knowing it was impossible. Too much for one mind to hold.
He was right; it did make her feel small. She just wasn't sure why that was such a great thing. To be small was to be forgotten, sometimes. To be helpless.
"The Goa'uld build giant monuments to their own greatness," Teal'c said. "Pyramids and palaces, ships built to intimidate and awe, to be worthy of worship. But they are lies."
"And this is real?" Vala asked.
"Perhaps," Teal'c said.
Maybe it was something real enough to be believed in. Something bigger than yourself to stare at in awe.
Two aliens, one an ex-goddess and the other an ex-slave, driving across the surface of a small distant planet, looking for a glimmer of truth. She never could have imagined it, even a year ago.
"This is not where I thought I would end up," Vala said.
Teal'c nodded, self-satisfaction curving his lips.
Maybe that was what faith was really about, taking a leap and having enough guts to hang on and see where it might take you.
Teal'c glanced at Vala, sliding her a look that was a bit too perceptive for comfort. Jumping down off the hood with a little hop, she dusted off her pants. "I think we are pretty close to another impressive geological formation I've always wanted to see," she said.
Teal'c gave her an indulgent smile, as if he knew she was purposively changing the subject and didn't mind letting her get away with it. "What is the name of this place?" he asked.
"Las Vegas," she said, swiping the keys from his hand. "And I'm driving."
Slipping into the driver's seat, she slid on her sunglasses and cranked up the radio.
They had miles of road to go.