Teal'c spun his staff around, letting it extend through his hands until he caught the end, attempting to surprise his opponent with the additional reach, but it turned out to be a mistake. Bra'tac sensed what he was about to do and stepped forward, catching the whirlwind blow at its base and not allowing the velocity to accelerate into a nasty hit. Already inside Teal'c's radius, he brought the butt end of his staff up and punched it into the Jaffa's sternum.
Teal'c fell to the ground, looking up at Bra'tac as he slowly shook his head in disapproval. "You have become predictable, my friend. You must conceal your intent before you act."
Teal'c spit out a bit of dust and climbed to his feet. "I cannot land a blow on you without you knowing from where it will come," he complained. "It is as if you are reading my mind."
Bra'tac stood passive. "There may be more truth in your words than you know…" he said absent mindedly. "However, that is no excuse. You must tailor your moves so that even if your opponent knows they are coming, they cannot completely counter them. This, I taught you long ago…have you now forgotten?"
"I have not," Teal'c said assuredly, "but either you have gotten stronger or I have gotten weaker."
"Perhaps you should spend less time in council chambers and more time in training and meditation?"
"Perhaps you are right," Teal'c admitted, "but that is not all of it. You have changed. I wish to know how."
Bra'tac's face blanked, then a smile began to creep onto his less wrinkled face. "Convenient. It seems you will have your answer shortly. Another student of mine approaches. He has the answer you seek."
Teal'c glanced around, but saw no one. He silenced his body and extended his hearing, yet he still could not detect anyone's approach. "I see no one."
"He has just come through the gate," Bra'tac told him.
"The gate is far from here. How could you possibly know?"
Bra'tac smiled. "In good time, my friend. Let us get another session in before he arrives."
"As you wish," Teal'c said, then cracked a smile. "I will endeavor to be less predictable this time."
"So I hope," Bra'tac said, making the first strike.
About ten minutes later Stevenson emerged on the trail from the stargate into the clearing where Bra'tac held many of his training sessions. "The day is well," he said, offering Bra'tac a traditional Alterran greeting.
"Your arrival is unexpected," Bra'tac answered, also in Ancient. A few weeks earlier Stevenson had brought him to Atlantis briefly to give him a neural download of the language and some basic operating manuals for Alterran technology. "But fortuitous."
Bra'tac turned and gestured toward Teal'c. "My friend here was just asking me," he said, switching to Goa'uld, "what has changed so that I am now able to defeat him on a whim."
Teal'c groaned slightly, taking mild offense to 'on a whim,' but he said nothing.
Stevenson smiled, also switching to Goa'uld. "Hello, Teal'c. It has been a while."
Teal'c looked him over closely. "Have we met before?"
Stevenson glanced down at the ground briefly in embarrassment. "Forgive me, I shouldn't have expected you to remember. We ran into each other a few times in the SGC…and there was no one on the base that didn't know of Teal'c."
The former first prime of Apophis stared at Stevenson for several seconds. "I have no recollection of you."
Stevenson tilted his head slightly. "No reason you should have. You were gone before the fireworks with the I.O.A. started."
Teal'c's eyes suddenly widened in recognition. "You are the one the Tau'ri are looking for?"
"Yes," Stevenson asked, curious. "What have they told you about me?"
"That you are wanted for disobeying orders," Teal'c repeated unemotionally, "and that if any Jaffa should cross paths with you, the Tauri will compensate them for your capture and unharmed return."
Stevenson frowned. "They put a price on my head?"
Teal'c nodded. "Indeed, and a far greater one at that than they placed on your accomplice."
"Sheppard too?" Stevenson asked. He knew the I.O.A. were scumbags, but he hadn't expected this.
"I too have heard of this," Bra'tac offered. "I would have informed you earlier, but I was under the mistaken impression that you already knew."
Stevenson shook his head. "Did they say anything else about me?"
"Nothing," Teal'c answered. "Though it seems they want you alive, whereas with Sheppard they are indifferent to his fate."
Stevenson's hand clenched into a fist. "Let them try."
"The sum is substantial enough that many amongst the Jaffa will attempt your capture," Teal'c said. "Perhaps a less conspicuous attire would be appropriate," he said, referring to the bright white clothing that Stevenson was wearing in addition to the ornate jewelry that covered most of his arms from elbow to fingertips.
"That will not be necessary here," Bra'tac said. "Though on other worlds you may wish to take Teal'c's advice. Powerful as you are, you can still be taken unawares."
Teal'c raised an eyebrow at the word 'powerful' and reassessed Stevenson with a single look. Bra'tac caught his glance. "Perhaps the two of you should spar," he suggested. "I believe Teal'c would like a demonstration of your abilities," he said, raising a questioning eyebrow towards Teal'c.
"Indeed I would," Teal'c said as Bra'tac passed his staff to Stevenson. As he did, he communicated something to him telepathically that he didn't wish Teal'c to know about.
Stevenson smiled briefly, but hid it before Teal'c could see. He set himself opposite the Jaffa and waited for him to strike.
Teal'c offered his opponent the option of striking first, but when Stevenson didn't take it he elected to charge forward and made three quick thrusts with his wooden staff before inexplicably losing his balance and falling on his face.
Only his face never hit the ground, nor did his body. Teal'c found himself suspended in mid air, body parallel to the ground, and Bra'tac laughing loudly from the side.
Stevenson rotated Teal'c up so that he could look them in the face, then slowly lowered him to the ground.
"Forgive me, my friend, but I couldn't squander such an opportunity," Bra'tac said, thoroughly amused. "Stevenson here has become one of the Ancients…as have I."
Teal'c's eyes widened even further. "How is this possible?"
"The repository of knowledge," Stevenson explained, "that SG-1 discovered was not the only one. I found another and survived the transformation. That is why the I.O.A. wants me captured alive."
"They want the Ancient knowledge in your mind," Teal'c said, catching on quickly.
Stevenson nodded. "What they don't know, among many things, is that I've been given the ability to transform others into Alterra. Bra'tac was the first. He does not have the library of knowledge as I do, but his mind and body are now fully Alterran."
Bra'tac smiled widely at Teal'c.
"You deceitful old man," he chastised him. "You let me believe my own skills were lacking," Teal'c said, half sarcastically.
"You needed the motivation," Bra'tac said, losing some of his mirth. "As do many Jaffa these days."
"Never the less you should have told me," Teal'c said, turning back to Stevenson. "How do you know each other?"
"We are partners in something of a joint venture," Bra'tac explained.
Stevenson interrupted. "It is that 'joint venture' that I have come to discuss with you. I have something more ambitious in mind than we previously agreed upon."
"Really?" Bra'tac inquired passively. "Does it have something to do with the box you brought with you?"
"Indeed," Stevenson said, telekinetically lifting the box off the ground and into the sparring ring where they now stood. He opened the canister and pulled out a foot-long, slightly wriggling white worm and held it up for both Bra'tac and Teal'c to see.
"General Carter, we have our first lead," Colonel Caldwell reported via subspace communication to the Odyssey.
"What have you got?" Carter asked from the battlecruiser's command chair.
"It seems some of the locals on Felonis were recruited by representatives of Atlantis four months ago. No one seems to know where the volunteers went, but the remaining villagers are getting a bit nervous due to the fact that none of their people have returned home yet."
"Did they say what they were recruited for?" Carter asked.
"That they did…they said they were training an army to fight the Wraith."
"What!" Carter half whispered.
"I know," Caldwell said, mirroring her thoughts. "Sounds rather ambitious, even for Sheppard."
"What is he thinking," Carter asked. "Does he really expect to turn farmers and millworkers into an effective fighting force? And now that they've broken off from Earth they don't even have any ships at their disposal. Everything they do will have to be through the gate."
"It seems the locals weren't convinced until the representatives demonstrated some sort of advanced weaponry and defense shields. After that they picked up a few dozen volunteers."
"Shields…really?" Carter said, reassessing the situation. "Must be Stevenson's doing. With his knowledge of Ancient technology thrown into the equation it could give them some advantages over the Wraith, but I still don't like their chances. Were your people able to remain under cover?"
Caldwell nodded. "They were. The locals' speculation about what happened to the people who left was at the top of their gossip list. My team got most of their intel without having to say a word."
Carter nodded. "Good work. Now we at least have a breadcrumb to follow. Rig up some type of surveillance system so we can monitor the planet's gate. If any of the volunteers come back for a visit, I'd like to get a gate address."
"Way ahead of you, General," Caldwell told Carter. "It's already set up. How are the Odyssey's modifications coming?"
"Slow," Carter said. "We've got the weapon half built, but in order to properly test it we're going to have to use your ship as a guinea pig." She saw Caldwell's expression sour. "Sorry."
"I don't suppose 50 bucks would convince you to pick on the Apollo instead?" Caldwell jokingly asked.
Carter laughed gently. "I'm afraid not, Colonel. The Daedalus is the closest to us at present."
"Not to sound like I'm dodging," Caldwell said, turning serious, "but are our shields anything even remotely like Atlantis's?"
Carter nodded regretfully. "We've considered that angle, and though the shield construction is different, we still need to test a few aspects of the weapon on an active shield…and we can't very well shoot at ourselves."
"Could always put it on one of your 302's," he offered.
"Thought of that," Carter said, slightly amused at his squirming. "Too big to fit."
Caldwell blew out a defeated breath. "How soon is this test going to occur?"
"The Odyssey will come to you when we're ready. Keep to your mission list until then."
"Will do, General. Any last orders?"
"Nope. Just keep up the good work. The more breadcrumbs we get the faster we'll be able to track them down."
Caldwell nodded. "Daedalus out."
Carter leaned back in her command chair and glanced up at the ceiling. "What are you up to, Sheppard?"