A THIN VENEER" A Knife's
Primary author: Albert Green Jr. and Major Diarrhia, Ed Becerra, Associate author: Ash's Boomstick, Renato S, Matt S, and Lightning_Count
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Only certain characters and technologies are mine and these are the creation of the author who is solely responsible for them as such. Neither Studio is responsible for the content of this story.
Be it known that I own nothing and expect to get nothing because the rights are owned by others. Only certain characters and technologies are mine and these are the creation of the author who is solely responsible for them as such. Neither Studio is responsible for the content of this story.
THIS STATEMENT MUST ACCOMPANY THE STORY 'A THIN VENEER' IF DISTRIBUTED. THIS STORY IS FREE OF CHARGE AND MAY NOT BE SOLD OR EXCHANGED FOR FINANCIAL RETURN IN ANY FORM. THIS DEDICATION MUST ACCOMPANY ANY DISTRUBUTION OF THIS STORY.
First of all, to my wife who allowed me to keep hiding in our basement and write in relative peace, even though punishment will come later. I keep saying that and it still applies. To Neil Gartner, Charles Caruthers, SG07, and Charles Nelson whose writing has continued to inspire me-THANK YOU.
Albert Green Jr.
A quick note: This story started when I read Col Crackpot's story idea some months ago. Intrigued, I asked him if I could do my own take. He agreed, and I and MD went for it. For CC, thanks and I promise to make mine different. His story still inspires me and after a decade or so I, remember.
Big note: I am gong right into this with only a tiny reference to ATV. To understand this story, please read A Thin Veneer, or you will be lost. I am doing this because I have taken far too long to deal with this and I made a promise before I die of old age,
Please enjoy. AlbertG
A Thin Veneer: The Knife's Edge
Minbari Star System-Chi Draconis
United Federation of Planets, Klingon Empire, and Earth Alliance attack fleets
From Satai Cadroni's position, standing just to the front of Admiral Kirk whose attention was focused on the huge primary view screen, realization dawned.
"You are baiting them, inviting them to attack," he announced, half-glaring, half-admiring the strategy. It was so simplistic and obvious that it had to be a trap. Yet the Ashen were actually falling for it. It took a few moments for him to reason it out. The Ashen would assume that it was a trap, but there was no other choice for them but to come after the command ship, the Enterprise. The Ashen would sacrifice their souls on the off-chance that Kirk would join them in the ranks of the dead.
In the final analysis, the Ashen didn't have a choice but to act on this all-or-nothing attempt to kill the head of this Federation. There was no chance of victory. Their resources were all but gone, with no hope of reinforcements. The Minbari had turned against them, the Vorlons had abandoned them both, and they could not run. Like the Minbari, retreat was not in their nature, but their cousins were even more hardwired against an honorable retreat in the face of the dark enemy.
The satai silently cursed. His people's dedication was a testament to arrogance and stupidity. But they were Minbari and the satai felt embarrassment because of their actions. In the case of the Ashen, their dedication could best be described as obsession, a condition he believed the First Ones had genetically encouraged. He couldn't deny it, no matter how bitter the truth was. The Vorlons had engineered both of them too well. It was the only thing that made sense, and he suspected it was true.
Admiral James Kirk's attention never left the main screen, but Satai Coplann harbored little doubt that the human was aware of every single action happening on the bridge. The admiral was in tune with the vessel, his vessel.
His gaze was so intent that Cadroni wanted to believe that the man hadn't heard him, but he wasn't that naïve. The satai knew of only a few Shai Alyts that exhibited that level of concentration, so he wasn't deceived. The man absorbed everything, filtering out the non-critical elements. But neither did he discount the trivial actions happening around his bridge either. Kirk saw every aspect of this battle, modifying it, refined it to fit into his calculations. It gave the satai a new appreciation for how the human Admiral's ways were almost Minbari in his action.
Cadroni's quietly corrected himself. It wasn't just the admiral, but every one of the other human and non-human crew were like him. He chided his memory for forgetting the lessons learned about the humans not so long ago.
Quickly refreshing his memories, he recalled some of the previous analysis of the UFOP and those thoughts returned and slapped him.
The exhausted investigations and analyses of this man revealed that he surrounded himself with competent people like himself. They knew their jobs and did it with Minbari-like efficiency. Not only did they support him, but he supported them as well. Together, they were a cohesive power relying on themselves and each other. There was another distressing truth that he was loath to admit but couldn't deny. The Federation possessed the military and technological power to back up their bold claims. They were arrogant and dangerous, but backed their claims with victory, and dare he say it, mercy. It was a bizarre combination he still had trouble wrapping his thought around.
Those thoughts pulled another emotion from him.
These humans were what his own people claimed to be, and that frightened him. His people, all of them, had made their calculations about the Federation based on their knowledge of Earth Alliance humans, and all of his people came to the wrong conclusions. Now they were paying for it now.
Yes, these people frightened him, and he worried what they might become in the future. Would they drag Earth Alliance along with them as many suspected they would? And what would the Minbari's place be in that yet unseen future? All of this passed through his mind in an instant and with effort, he pushed it away as Kirk finally responded to his query.
"I am giving them an opportunity," corrected the hazel-eyed admiral. "There's an old human anecdote," he told them. "What goes around comes around."
Coplann didn't fully understand its full meaning and the real intent that went with it, nevertheless he felt the chill run down his spine from the cold-eyed look Kirk gave him. He was the more antagonistic of the two Minbari, and of course this human had noticed. But he didn't care how the two satais felt at the moment. They weren't in control.
The admiral was.
James T. Kirk had mercy on the two Minbari leaders. "Our conflicts taught us about war and peace. I wasn't sure if my people would even survive. We have a darkness inside all of us, and in spite of our thin veneer of civilization we pretend to have, we acknowledge that there lurks the savage primitive waiting for the opportunity to get free, to destroy and to kill. But we know how to fight and prevail against it. That's why we have laws and our moral values to keep the savage at bay. And we have the ability to choose what we will be. We have the opportunity to choose not to kill. We can choose not to kill–today. But the barbarian is always with us," he said, glancing at the two blank-faced Minbari.
"I encountered an elder race called the Metrons," Kirk said. "You would consider them First Ones. They called us half-savages," and here he paused for a moment. "But he also said there was hope for us. The Metron believed we could become a civilized, give or take a few thousand years or so." He looked at them, still in awe and encouraged after so many years, by the words of the Metron.
The two stunned Minbari just stared at Kirk in was no doubt that the human male was telling the absolute truth. This man had encountered First Ones, more than one if the rumors were true. This, this human spoke to them and they answered. These Metrons, the Medusan ambassador, and even the Shadows spoke to the UFOPers and to this man personally. The Vorlons hated him by default because he was the de facto leader of that branch of a branch of humanity that didn't defer to them. The Minbari feared him, The Ashen wanted him dead. This simple human was a fulcrum in the universe.
How many First Ones have you encountered," Coplann couldn't help but ask.
Kirk's eyed him for a second before turning back towards the view screen. "Quite a few. I lost count after Trelane," he answered absentmindedly, in a manner that terrified both Minbari. Looking at the screen once again, he continued his lecture.
"We do need a little time," Kirk told both of them. "Until that encounter with the Metrons, I wasn't sure if there was hope for the Human race. But those words helped me understand who and what we were and what we could be. Humanity is still half savage," he explained. "We are able to forgive, but we still remember, and we will not allow our complacency to destroy what we're trying to build," he told them as he glued himself to the view screen.
"At last count, twenty-eight plus million people died on the Regulus colony alone. Since this started, millions of Minbari, Ashen, Humans, members of the Federation and others have died. I intend to be the one to end this now. I know my purpose, my reason for being here," he said. Admiral Kirk was now giving them his full attention. "I'm half savage and I acknowledged it and choose not to let it rule me. Twenty-eight million plus and you glory in it. What does that make you? Does it make you half savage or the mindless primitive?"
"You call yourselves half-civilized. And what will you do to the Ashen?" asked Coplann as his curiosity got the better of him. To blurt out that question in such a blatant manner was unbecoming of him, but he couldn't help it. "You intend to kill them all. What is the difference between you and them, or my people?"
"Very little," Kirk admitted. "Other than the fact that we can choose to kill or not to kill–today. Our pride is everything, but we are more than our pride. We see our faults and not remain slaves to them. We are optimistic but are aware of our pessimism. We are aware of our dark halves, but we also know we need that part of us if we are to survive. We're not perfect, but we strive for perfection even though we don't know what it means. We however expect to understand what it means in the future, and we strive towards it."
As much as he hated it, the fate of his people rested in the hands of this human warrior. "I don't know if you humans are inspired, or touched by madness," Coplann whispered.
"Will you wipe the Minbari from the universe?"
Cadroni could see the anger in his fellow satai. But more importantly, he saw the almost pleading request coming from a leader of the Minbari leader. The Satai had broken and were desperately grasping for a glimmer of hope for their people. Such a display of weakness saddened Cadroni, but he truly understood how Coplann felt because those feelings were the same ones he felt.
"Will you implement that General Order of yours and destroy my people from existence? What real guarantees do we have that you would honor your pledge not to kill us all?"
"Starfleet Command gave me the authority to make the final decision," Kirk answered. "I admit I am a half-savage," he said as he went into lecture mode again. The Minbari chaffed a bit but held their peace. "But I am an enlightened half-savage." Kirk glanced at both satais before his attention returned to the screen. "I keep my word, Satais. You came here and offered surrender. I've accepted on behalf of the Federation, provided that your people do their part."
Coplann believed the man, but it wasn't enough. He still needed reassurance. "Admiral, you continually to mention at every given opportunity, the twenty-eight million my forces killed," Cadroni said impassively. "How can you not seek vengeance on our people?" He looked utterly confused. "We could not do the same? "
"A civilized society must maintain a balance between war and peace. We must honor that balance, or all of our high-sounding words mean nothing." He turned to his helmsman. "Time, lieutenant."
"Four minutes, sixteen seconds, mark," Valeris responded in classic Vulcan form.
"Wisdom is more important than high-sounding words," Coplann chided. "Do you believe that this suicidal strategy will end this?" the satai asked, although it wasn't a question. "And you call us arrogant," he sniffed. "The Ashen will cripple your fleet and we can do nothing but watch as you are wiped from the battlefield. You will have no one to blame but yourself." He glared at the human admiral.
His next words shocked even him. "I thought better of you."
For an instant, Kirk's piercing hazel-colored eyes snapped towards the Minbari leader and then just as quickly turned back to studying the screen.
"Satai Coplann, when you came aboard my ship, it was under the conditions that I would offer you the hospitality of the Federation until these negotiations were over. That hospitality included protection while you were on board my ship. I am assuming that our negotiations are still being held in good faith on both sides. Therefore, it wouldn't be…honorable for me to endanger the Minbari delegation on board my ship, would it?" Neither one of the Minbari said anything to refute his comments. Kirk smirked. "Satai, you presume too much about the Ashen and too little about the Federation."
Now it was Cadroni's turn to glare. What he saw in the human's eyes wasn't hostility, but bemusement, and it caught him unawares.
We are so foolish, the elder Minbari thought bitterly. He and Coplann were true Minbari, continually underestimating this human leader. Both still saw him using their own perspectives. Their natural prejudice against humans and so-called lesser races continually worked against them. Their mindsets were too rigid to change. One would think that we would know better by now.
Cadroni's epiphany struck him so hard that he had to force himself from taking a step backwards in shock. This, he realized, was one of the weaknesses of his people. The Minbari were warriors, afraid of nothing, confident in their own power, strength, and understanding in the ways of war. But what his people failed to accept was that there were other ways to wage war, other strategies, other points of view that were just as effective and just as deadly.
For a thousand years, no other race had ever opposed the Minbari with such tenacity. The few that had tried failed and were punished for their insolence. It was only during the great war, a thousand years ago, had the Shadows and their minions came close. However, in individual combat, the Minbari prevailed and had always prevailed against the forces arrayed against them.
His people weren't the only survivors of the last great war. There were few other races, so few that they could count them on with both hands. Of those, only three had rediscovered space flight. During those terrible times, none of the young races were strong enough to fight against the Shadows, but with the Vorlon's help victory was achieved.
Those victories, along with the fact that the Minbari were the Vorlon's favorite, brought about a certain arrogance and over confidence, an overconfidence that followed them for the next millennium. His people reveled in their superiority.
And why shouldn't they? They were Minbari, the chosen ones!
But in light of all of that, their weakness was clearly shown when they fought against another power more than equal to theirs, a power not steeped in darkness, despite views by some to the contrary. All the Minbari power, the technology, and their rage wasn't enough to stem the tide of this…inevitable defeat. It wasn't that they weren't strong; it was that they weren't strong enough.
Everything was in flux. What was always known was no longer true, forcing him to question everything. He, like every other Minbari in existence, always assumed that being the Vorlon's favorite was the greatest of honors. Now, he couldn't help but believe that it was the greatest of curses.
For all the wisdom and understanding that his people claimed they possessed, they had also lost something. The Minbari had more than enough passion and rage to fight to the end. What they'd lost was compassion and the qualities of mercy that these humans and their Federation evidently had in abundance. The Federation's General Order Twenty-Four was a brutal edict, almost Minbari-like and begrudgingly, he saw its value. It was just that the rule was directed towards his people and it was a death sentence. On the surface, the order was very similar to the edict the Minbari planned for Earth. Unlike the Minbari plan, however, Cadroni acknowledged the modicumof mercy that lay behind it. They could choose to halt. The Minbari wouldn't have stopped unless they had discovered an excuse that would satisfy their lust for vengeance.
The Minbari ideal was simple. Its foundation was steeped in revenge, the excuse being the death of Minbar's greatest leader in a generation, Dukhat. Every human man, woman and child had to die as retribution for the loss of that one Minbari. Earth and all of its colonies were to follow shortly. It was the Minbari Federation's way. It established their importance as the most prominent of the younger races, one that required acknowledgement from all others. The Minbari were superior and all others were required to understand this. Disrespecting that status was not tolerated. Earth, being a young and arrogant race, acting above their station had to learn this lesson and by doing so, the other race was reminded once more of the same lesson. It was simple. It was the Minbari way.
The United Federation of Planets were power and needed to demand the same respect. However, the UFOP had limits. They were trying not to be the mindless savage, no matter how much they wanted to be. General Order Twenty-Four was…flexible as the Minbari were not. It provided a way out for the Minbari people. it allowed mercy.
He still hated them.
Coplann stared at the screen without any outward signs of emotion, as befitting a Satai of the warrior caste, prepared for whatever came. He would not see what happened to his world with his death. He would not see the death of his people. He would not see his people slaughtered in a straight up fight against the Ashen, and a part of him welcomed it. Instead, he would join them in the fiery afterlife. Then he intended to forget the Ashen and the humans everywhere and instead embrace the universe and perhaps discovered why all of this happened. He wanted to let go. But Admiral Kirk, the Minbari's great enemy, was like a clamming balm in the middle of a storm.
Didn't the man see death flying towards him?
Humans had a saying that he learned. It amused him, so he remembered it, 'like lambs to the slaughter'. He knew what those animals were and the analogs living on Minbar. It seemed an apt description. Coplann understood its true meaning. Kirk and his people weren't lambs, despite seeming to act like it with their merciful attitudes and actions. They were wolves.
Cadroni inwardly smiled as he watched his fellow satai bravely trying hard not to whither in despair. He also remembered the saying. These people weren't lambs, they wouldn't be the ones slaughtered.
"Coplann," Cadroni spoke. "Be at peace." Coplann looked at him in confusion. "These people are warriors, not lambs."
Coplann looked up, surprised. Was the older Satai reading his mind, or was he that transparent?
Coplann was lost, but for reasons that Cadroni couldn't guess at. It wasn't the incoming Ashen ships and the expectation of impending death that frightened him most. It was everything else. The truth was that he was having an epiphany of his own. Wasn't it only a few months earlier that he believed that that this other Earth Federation was steeped in darkness? The answer to that, he acknowledged, was yes!
Every Minbari living believed that these other human colonists came from the other side of the galaxy. As unbelievable as it was, no one disputed this. He couldn't deny that there were oth6er conduits allowing access throughout the galaxy like arteries and veins in a body. That the galaxy had its equivalents of veins and arteries; wouldn't surprise him in the least. A few workers had suggested that these conduits extended not only to other parts of the galaxy but theoretically to other realities if such things existed. Members of the Grey Council weren't fully convinced and would believe it only when the Minbari mounted an expedition to see and proves such claims for themselves.
How humans discovered some of these secrets, he'd never understand. This Federation of aliens possessed science and understanding above their position but weren't a matured middle race. If they were, then he could accept their power. The capability to crush the Minbari was somehow more palatable if they were.
Satai Coplann tore his thoughts away from such thinking as he knew it to be a distraction. Considering the current situation, those theories weren't important. What was important was that he was a proud servant, one of the great leaders of the warrior clans of Minbar. There was no denying that he was proud of his part in the war. He relished the killing of untold thousands of Earth Force humans. He was just as shocked, afraid, and enraged as the rest of his fellow Minbari when he saw a Shadow warship boldly present itself at the star station Becerra Alpha One.
Like the other leaders of the Minbari, he watched, stunned beyond belief as two small Shadow vessels were allowed inside the station in like they belonged there. Coplann winced as he remembered seeing the human news specials that were transmitted on the Becerra station special helped to solidify his initial beliefs that these humans and alien allies had to be destroyed at all costs. Naturally, his warrior's soul was lifted when the Ashen presented themselves to his people, offering much needed assistance to their Minbari cousins.
The Ashen hadn't been seen in more than a thousand years after their clan's defeat and their mysterious disappearance. The Council now knew that the reason. It was because of Vorlon interference, but they didn't care. They were overjoyed having allies to help fight against the UFOP.
For the first time since the war, the Ashen gave Minbari everywhere real hope where it was fast fading. He was elated because his blood ran cold when he saw the Shadow, live on the Earther's ISN special report. Those same reports gave the Minbari intelligence services more information about their traditional enemies in three hours than the entire Minbari warrior and intelligence divisions able to discover since the beginning of war. That information was so freely given that it had to be a lie, but it couldn't be disproven otherwise, so his people were forced to use it. By nature, the Minbari were a secretive and isolated people, not given to spreading information about, especially among Minbari. The discussion within the council concerning the reasons they would give out such valuable information was as heated as the actual information in and of itself.
And the Shadows! The Shadows were real, and they were back!
His mind always kept coming back to that one fact. All of his fears and instinctual hatred dominated his thoughts and anger against these humans. A part of him felt them traitors of the light. It was something he couldn't get past, Allies of the UFOP interacted with them and they were proud of it! A bigger shock was what they had to say to the people of the galaxy. Their words went against the core faith of his people and his understanding of the universe at large. The dark entities freely admitted to everything from the wars to their objectives. And these humans didn't seem to care enough to wage war against them.
To add further confusion to himself as well as the galaxy, the Dark Ones said something that stunned the universe. They publicly declared that they would not involve themselves in the war. They were finished, had no intentions of helping either side, and they added something that confused him at the time. They declared the debate was over. He didn't understand what that meant, still didn't. Apparently, the Vorlons did understand because once again, the room trembled as they expressed their suppressed rage inside the council chambers.
The representatives of the Grey Council never understood the reason why the young Federation races didn't rise up at that very second an attack those abominations! The Shadows were a cancerous plague. Everyone knew it. The UFOP races should have felt it to their souls. But they hadn't.
It almost seemed that those races, including the Federation humans, were embracing them. Although there was nothing said, many of the warrior, religious, and worker class weren't sure what the truth was. Their acceptance went counter to everything the local races believed. Even local races that had never even seen the Dancers in the Dark, could feel the dread and evilness of those creatures.
The Grey Council was confused and didn't know what to believe. The war was over before it began. But the Starfleeters were here, tearing apart everything that his people believed. And the Vorlons said nothing., refused to help in the time of Minbar's greatest need.
The majority of the people still believed on some level that the UFOP were Shadow minions. But if they were, then why were these people helping them against the Ashen, the very people that the Minbari had once considered their saviors?
No doubt people would be confused when all of this was over–if they survived. By Valen's name, he was confused himself, just as he was confused with the revelation that he was afraid of death claiming him at this moment!
Coplann prided himself as a First among Warriors, a leader of the Star Rider clan. He couldn't remember being afraid of anything.
Death terrified him now. He didn't want to die before seeing the final results of the war, otherwise he could never be at rest during the long sleep. There was too much at stake to die now, and although he would never admit it, he was secretly pleased that these humans and their allies were going to slaughter the Ashen.
After a moment's thought he smiled. It was a vicious smile to anyone who saw it. The Ashen needed to die. They should have died a thousand years ago during the clan wars, and it was only because of Vorlon mercy that those murderers had survived. In retrospect, Coplann wished that they had all died.
Minbari did not kill Minbari, a truism that was no longer true. Coplann had to admit it to himself. He didn't consider the Ashen true Minbari. They lost that claim the moment they turned on their ancestral home world. The Ashen still needed to be exterminated from the universe. Reality was tearing his soul apart when he needed to be at his strongest. His mind reeled. 6Everything he knew was different, and he was lost.