"Your report, Commander?" the High Kleeson asked.

Neela nodded her head with respect to the 7-member council. "We have ascertained the identity of the ship that came to the defense of Earth…they call themselves the Alterra."

The seven Kleesons exchanged glances.

"However, we do have some knowledge of them, we just didn't realize it," Neela continued. "They are the builders of the stargates."

Eyes on the Aschen leadership council widened. "Are you sure?" one of the junior members asked.

Neela nodded ominously. "However, they are not as powerful now as they once were. According to information recently acquired from an alien captured trying to infiltrate Remasse, these Alterra were wiped out long ago by some disease and only recently have been reborn through a feat of technology and biology. It seems we are also Alterra, degenerated to primitive status in some way to avoid the disease that killed them. When combined with some sort of transformative database, a Human becomes Alterra with all their knowledge and skills."

"Surely you jest?" another Kleeson argued. "Our origins are Tremarste. Archeology has confirmed it."

"I do not dispute our previous findings," Neela said cautiously, "however they may be incomplete. Perhaps our ancestors were placed on our homeworld by the original Alterra."

"Repeat what you said about this database?" the High Kleeson instructed.

"It seems they left a number of devices throughout the galaxy for Humans to find and use, once they physically advanced far enough to become compatible with the technology. The Tok'ra told me that most Humans are still incompatible and would die from its attempted use. All it took was one success and the Alterra were reborn."

The High Kleeson nodded. "Continue, Commander."

"We believe these new Alterra are few in number, but their technology, needless to say, is far beyond ours. If you dispute that premise, you need only study the intricacies of the stargates. However, to supplement their numbers they have allied themselves with the Jaffa and are supplying them with some of their technology."

"Some?" another Kleeson asked.

"Based off of scans of the ship that defended Earth and the Jaffa vessels we've encountered, there appears to be a significant technological diminishment from one to the other. Though similar, it would seem that these Alterra aren't giving the Jaffa the best that they have available."

One of the silent Kleesons leaned forward with keen interest. "Presumably in order to assure they don't turn the technology back against them, if they are as small in number as you suggest."

"We believe so," Neela confirmed. "Also, it seems these Alterra are not present within this galaxy…at least not yet."

"Explain that, Commander," the High Kleeson demanded.

"According to the Tok'ra, their queen was altered in an Alterran city in another galaxy. We believe the Jaffa are their source of power here, for the time being."

"What of the ship you encountered?"

"It has not been seen since," Neela offered, none too happy with the partial answer. "We believe it is not based here…or else the Alterra have a world unknown to the rest of the galaxy…or at least the portion of it we've met."

"That is a very large assumption, Commander," the High Kleeson warned.

Neela bowed her head. "Forgive me, I realize as much. My team and I believe that we have a narrow window of opportunity for success and not enough time to thoroughly investigate the matter."

"How so?" the Aschen leader inquired.

"We cannot match these Alterra technologically, but their limited numbers do offer us an opportunity. Though inferior, our technology is effective. Battle data supports this. Given sufficient numbers of elementals we can overpower their ships…"

"But give them enough time," another Kleeson interrupted, "and the odds of us gaining numerical superiority over their fleet drops precipitously."

Neela nodded.

The Kleesons conferred amongst themselves, off mic. Neela waited before them for several minutes before they returned their attention to her.

"What is your analysis team's suggestion?"

Neela steadied herself. "We believe the only way we can achieve the numerical superiority necessary to overcome the Alterra and their allies is to abandon current protocol and forcefully seize any and all assets within this galaxy necessary for the production of elementals. Concurrently, we expand reconnaissance efforts tenfold in order to locate Alterran installations, or those of their allies, within this galaxy. We must find them and strike quickly, before they grow into an enemy we cannot contain."

"Subsequently," Neela continued, "we need to plan for failure and begin heavy reinforcement of Tremarste and the establishment of battle stations in orbit over our primary worlds in preparation for an Alterran counterattack. We also must push the limits of our technology towards battle hardware and weapons development. Any minor upgrade in the elementals will result in a cumulative net advantage when fielded in large numbers, as we believe they must be."

"We also have prepared a full report on secondary projects to coincide with this new offensive. We must be multi-dimensional in our approach and prepare for all type of eventualities," Neela said, walking up and handing a small data chip to the High Kleeson.

"Do you know what you're suggesting?" he asked her as if she were a little child.

"We do," she answered humbly.

"This is not the way of the Aschen," he reminded her. "Are you sure we have no other options?"

"Establishing diplomatic relations will be difficult, given that we've already opposed the Alterra in battle, but it is not without possibility. However, any such attempt would give the Alterra and their allies the necessary time to grow beyond our reach. Unfortunately, time is not on our side."

"Leave us," the High Kleeson said with finality.

Neela bowed and walked backwards for a few steps, then turned and exited the council chamber. Jarro and Ilsa were waiting for her outside.

"How did it go?" Jarro asked.

"I'm not sure," she said, walking with them.

"Did they reject the premise?" Ilsa asked.

"No."

"Did they argue the lack of time?" Jarro inquired.

"No."

Both of Neela's assistants exchanged glances.

"Typical procedure," Neela added, "is to study the matter in private for a minimum of two weeks. We will simply have to wait for their course of action and then do what we can to further it."

"Meanwhile the enemy grows stronger," Jarro added.

"That cannot be helped," Neela said as they exited the building and walked over to a transport pad. All three of them stood close together and transported up to their research station in orbit.

"What do you wish us to do in the interim?" Ilsa asked.

"Continue consolidating intelligence reports," Neela told her, "and once you're satisfied that we've received all pertinent data from the Tok'ra, have her terminated."

Ilsa nodded and walked off in another direction.

"I don't like this," Jarro whispered so only Neela could hear.

"Neither do I," she answered honestly. "But what choice do we have?"

"Wait, watch, and learn," Jarro repeated the old Aschen mantra.

"At which point our fate will rest entirely in our enemy's hands."

"There are too many," Jarro argued. "The Asgard have reappeared, and given the Kleeson's reluctance to relinquish Einherja we have already soiled any potential relations there. We cannot risk making new enemies that have technology superior to our own."

"There comes a time," Neela said, "when all great peoples must stand up and assert themselves over the lessers. Until now, we have held the advantage when we did so. Now, it seems, our mettle will be tested in doing so."

Jarro grabbed Neela by the arm, gently, but it was still a wildly rash action for an Aschen. "But if what the Tok'ra said is true, and these Alterra are an advanced form of Aschen, we might be the lessers in this situation."

"I suggest you keep that kind of talk to yourself," Neela warned, lightly extricating herself from his grip. "These Alterra were wiped out by a disease. How superior could they truly be? Technology alone does not indicate superiority. Our intelligence and patience will see us through."

"Even if we're forced into haste?" Jarro argued.

"While some act, others will watch and study," Neela reminded him. "They will have all the time they need to insure we are on the correct path, and if need be, to instruct us how to adjust it. Now, if you have no more objections, see to the next shipment."

"Very well," Jarros relented and walked away.

Neela let him go a few meters then headed out to the observation platform. She was alone on the large deck with a panoramic view of Tremarste. There was still a large visible chunk of the planet missing where the material had been sucked through the active stargate into a black hole, but that depression was slowly diminishing as new rock was continuously being shipped in from offworld and deposited within the wound. After enough time the pressure would build and the planet's internal heat would liquefy the material, at which time the smooth lines of the Aschen homeworld would return and they could go about fixing the missing portion of crust. As it was now, their reconstruction project was 28% complete.

At least the orbit and rotation had been stabilized enough to return to the surface. Violent temperature swings and unbelievably chaotic weather patterns had wrecked the Aschen infrastructure along with a continuous chain of earthquakes. Those had been stabilized with the core adjustment project, followed by a debris collection effort, after which the reconstruction of the primary cities had begun and the first of the planet's evacuated population was able to slowly start returning.

Logistically it would have been easier to settle a new world, but giving up on Tremarste would have been acknowledging the victory of the Earthers. The Aschen would do no such thing, and would denote as many resources and years as it would take to rebuild the planet…literally speaking.

Many of those resources were coming from recently acquired star systems, thus expediting the recovery efforts. The more worlds they laid claim to, the faster Tremarste would heal. Neela thought that appropriate, given what the galaxy had done to them. Her only regret was that they couldn't exact vengeance on Earth and carve up the planet's bedrock to repair theirs. Despite the disappointment, that battle had woken the Aschen up to the dangers within the galaxy.

Up until that point they had assumed technological superiority, or at least co-dominance with other species such as the Asgard, whom they believed held the technological bellwether within the galaxy…but the emergence, or reemergence, of the stargate builders changed all that, and Neela believed that meant the Aschen also had to change, else they be destroyed.

She looked down on the surface of their homeworld as the damaged section rotated out of view as the research/recovery station crossed over into the night side and several large cities became reassuring beacons of civilization beneath her.

She sucked in a slow, deep breath, resettling her nerves and drawing strength from the visible symbol of the Aschen's strength of will. They would find a way to succeed and bring this galaxy under their total control…they must in order to survive.