A Thin Veneer:TKE

USS Enterprise:

Satai Cadroni stood rigid on the bridge in the starship Enterprise, practically ignoring the imminent attack from an Ashen fleet literally burning out their engines, heading towards the Federation fleet generally, and the Enterprise in particular. To the Ashen, Enterprise represented the heart of the enemy. Cut it out, and they would cripple the Federation, or so their train of thought led them. Their decision angered the satai.

Their decision.

It was reckless, irresponsible, and a waste of materials. But those people were blood of his blood, and a part of him despaired at their genetically induced, hard-headedness. The other part of him wanted their entire clan to die screaming because of what they'd done to their own people.

Cadroni couldn't blame his cousins for their obsession to kill Enterprise, not completely because he admitted to himself that he'd lost count of the number of times that he fantasied standing on this very bridge, a broken and battered piece of debris rejoicing at the sight of a dead or dying Admiral Kirk. This ship or what remained, having been dragged to Minbar to the unadulterated cheers of the billions on the home world. How many times had he dreamed of gutting the remains of this human in front of him and loudly proclaiming victory for the Minbari people and informing Kirk's cooling corpse that the Minbari would do the same to the Earthers remnants and his dying Federation?

Such was the stuff of dreams.

The reality? Here he was, onboard the very ship he so wanted to destroy with his bare hands, asking for terms and begging for the help of a man who humbled a people that rode the stars for a thousand years, bowing to no one, because they were above all the younger races.

The universe's sense of humor was a bitter brew.

The Ashen were an isolated people, more so than the Minbari ever were, but those same thoughts caused him a moment's embarrassment. He was only beginning to understand an awful truth. The Vorlons had isolated them from their own people. Perhaps they were planned as a backup force against the Shadows. They were true weapons of war. But the Vorlons did their jobs too well. They were effective weapons, but beyond that they were little more than animals whose only purpose was to destroy anything, not walking hand in hand with the Vorlons. They made the Earthers look civilized.

Cadroni never imagined he could hate the Ashen more than the humans who killed Dukhat. Worse, the ancient Ashyne (as pronounced in the old tongue) represented what the Minbari might have been if the Vorlons had gazed in their direction. The Ashen were every darkness that the Minbari hid in the dark recesses of their hearts, but magnified.

The Ashen's obsession with vengeance and retribution in the name of their masters, especially against anyone considered by them to be inferior, burned hot. Not a single one of them comprehended what they had done to their own people, what they were doing at this moment was wrong. The Ashen couldn't stop. If they couldn't win, then they intended to die with their fangs embedded in the throats of their enemies and everyone else. To them, there were no innocents even among their own people.

Cadroni didn't like the implications for his own people.

The Blood Knives clan, and their sister clan Stone Knives, their female counterparts, weren't much better. They humiliated his people in the eyes of the Federationists when they attempted (and failed) to kill Kirk during his talks with Delenn in neutral territory. It was a dishonorable action performed during an honorable cease-fire agreement. The clan's action effectively destroyed any hope for peace between the Minbari and the Federation and Earth Alliance. He remembered being so angry that he wanted to wipe out the clan because of their stupidity. That one action helped to doom his people to–this.

Every action subsequently done by his people had brought them closer and closer to the brink of extinction. And just as they saw a way out, the Ashen ripped it away. The actions of his people and their rush to judgement shamed him to his soul. Idly, he wondered if his people had known what would happen before they pursued this war. Would they have still gone to war?

Once more, he chaffed at his answer.

The Minbari were a proud people, and none of them believed that they required help until the Federation proved otherwise. Then, out of desperation, they turned to the Vorlons, their staunch allies, who did little to nothing except spout cryptic messages few understood and gave them weapons and technology inferior to their Ashen counterparts. What the Vorlons gave them was essentially useless in prosecuting this war. Accepting Vorlon's help was just enough to cripple the Minbari.

Cadroni flushed red as another wave of anger and hurt nearly overwhelmed him. Those waves of anger and humiliation momentarily paralyzed him when he acknowledged and truly admitted he was jealous of the superior technology given to the Ashen and not his people. The Minbari gave the Vorlons everything, and in return, betrayed them. The question was why? He didn't have the answer, but neither could he deny it. To the Vorlons, the Minbari were nothing more than tools, and despite their power, the Ashen were less than tools. He concluded they were disposable tools, a likely last-ditch weapon pointed at the Shadows.

He now smiled viciously. 'The wrong tools for the wrong job.'

There was no doubt they were animals, worse than the UFOP's Klingon dogs. But as vicious and as animalistic as the klingons were, they hadn't turned on their UFOP allies at the first given opportunity. The Klingons were warriors, not zealots, something he could not say about the Ashen brethren. Neither were they followers of the Shadow.

The result was that Minbar, and its people were in shambles.

And Delenn was missing!

Someone said that there was no dishonor at being defeated by a superior enemy. The satai shook his head. That person was a fool to even utter those words! They never knew of the Ashen!

He now understood why Admiral Kirk and Commodore Acantha rejected Branmer's peace proposal between the two Federations. Why should they sacrifice their lives and the lives of the leaders of Earth Alliance, and ten percent of the population when they were winning?

He knew beyond doubt Kirk's people were winning this war, and if his people had received such an offer, his leaders would have never even imagined considering such a proposal. The Grey Council and the warrior clans would have laughed in the Federation's faces. They would have fought that much harder, convinced of victory. Cadroni certainly would not have entertained such a proposal, let alone agreed to such. A demand to the Klingons from Branmer would have instigate a blood-feud on top of the war, and the satai suspected Branmer knew what might happen, and wisely hadn't included them in the proposal.

But at the time, most of the Grey Council honestly believed that the younger races would agree to such a condition. And why? Because his people had demanded it, and that was reason enough. Having the weight of a thousand years of being the greatest of the younger races afforded them a confidence that they knew what was best for all concerned.

The whole concept was hysterical in a humiliating sort of way, and this time, a snort of laughter escaped. His lapse of control was smothered quickly when Kirk and the others glared at him, curious. He had no intentions of revealing the reason for his lapse to anyone.

Cadroni was just as lost as Coplann. Perhaps death was preferable. He just wasn't sure at the moment. Like Coplann, he didn't want to die before his Asher cousins were wiped from the face of the universe.

xxx

"Two minutes, ten seconds," Lieutenant Valeris said as she watched the chronometer's count down. "All ships report ready, Admiral. The Gorn fleet has acknowledged."

"The Klingons?" Kirk asked.

"No response, sir," Valeris reported.

Kirk glared at her just for a moment before turning his attention back to the war. Her tone remained steady, but the admiral was positive the female Vulcan's voice held a bit of contempt. He understood why/

Typically, Vulcans kept their emotions suppressed, but this lieutenant didn't, or wouldn't. Most humans were unfamiliar with Vulcan voice intonations and body language. Most people assumed Vulcans didn't have emotions, but Kirk wasn't one of them. The lieutenant's tone spoke volumes to him.

Both satais stared at him. They could feel the tension. All wasn't right between the UFOP and Klingon allies, if 'allies' was the right word to use.

"Get a channel to Chang," Kirk growled.

"Channel opened."

"To be or not to be-ready, Admiral," General Chang said before Kirk could speak. "That is the question, is it not, Kirk?" There was a brief pause. "I am Klingon. I am always ready." he added snidely as he cut the channel.

Kirk took his glasses off, carefully cleaning the lenses to keep from venting his anger on the bridge. He shouldn't have allowed that Klingon to get on his nerves, especially.

He allowed his anger to drain away so he could focus on the now. "Time?"

"One minute, eight seconds, sir."

He never trusted them, never would. Now, however, he redirected his anger at another enemy. Chang would wait.

Admiral James Kirk wasn't a fool. Even as this war ended, another was about to start. Whether it was a clash of cultures or something more personal was open to debate.

He wasn't sure which, not yet.

USS Valkyrie: Constellation class

Captain's log, startdate supplemental: Most of the Ashen, have broken off the battle with their cousins and are now heading directly towards the fleet. Their plan smacks of desperation and a last-ditch effort to stop us. Even raw recruits could recognize their ploy. Using their infamous jump point attack as a viable offensive doesn't have a chance of success now that we are aware and have prepared for it, they just don't care as long as they can kill as many of us as possible.

Operational planning has prepared for this potential attack. But I still find it surprising that they expect us to stand here and take the punishment they intend to inflict on our fleet. If they believe this, then who am I to tell them they are in error? The crew of the USS Valkyrie is ready for anything that we might come up against. I have full faith in my crew and in my ship as their actions, performance and dedication have been outstanding. Throughout this conflict.

The General Order is still in effect until the Minbari officially and unconditionally surrender. But they are amid a critical dilemma. The Ashen are turning their world into a sepulture, and I find it ironic and sad that what they planned to do to Alliance Earth is happening to them. They cannot surrender to us when the Ashen are trying to kill them. And what happens then? There will be many Minbari who will blame us for this, and the question is, will they follow the Grey council's decision, or continue to attack the Federation in one final blaze of glory, exactly as their Ashen brethren are doing?

The political implications on all sides are enormous.

It's Admiral Kirk's decision, and I do not envy him. Admirals Fontana and Berman could override the order, but I doubt they will do so for a variety of reasons, including the Klingons ego. Everyone is watching every step we make. On the other side, I can see the Minbari in their rage, blaming the Federation for this latest turn in the war. The warrior castes are volatile in the extreme, and there is a real possibility that some of them will not honor the Grey Council's decision and attack the fleet. If that happens, I believe the admiral will be forced to implement General Order Twenty-Four.

Our forces greatly outnumber the Ashen's and although more powerful than the Minbari, their forces are battered. This incoming attack is nothing more than a suicide run on their part. But I am less concerned about them as I am about the Klingons. They're out for blood after their embarrassing defeat from the Ashen at Proxima.

My sources are hinting of increasing tensions between the Federation and Klingons, being provoked by a few members of the High Command in this section of space. I hoped for better. And they have acted civilized for the most part. But there is an exception. On the eve of victory, internal strife is rearing its ugly head.

This is not just a war against the Minbari but for the future relations between Federation and the Klingon Empire. Since his defeat at Proxima, General Chang's antagonism is being directed at Admiral Kirk. And Captain Klaugh was concerned enough to pass that concern to me. He's also warned Kirk of the situation.

Chang's command suffered losses were far in excess of what he had planned in the battle at Proxima. His fellow officers were not happy. The desire for battle is in their blood, but Chang's order to have their ship's rear shields inactivated so they would be encouraged never to turn their backs on the enemy was absurd and contributed to the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Klingon warriors and their ships. he showed no concern for his own people, and they didn't like it. The Gorn witnessed it and commented on his orders, humiliating Chang. He underestimation of the enemy and overestimated his own forces' capabilities.

The Gorn laughed at his incompetence in that battle. Klaugh hinted that word was sent to the High Council and Klingon politics being what it is does not bode well for anybody. According to the initial reports, Klingons almost lost that battle against the Ashen. If it hadn't been for the Gorn, Klingon losses would've been significantly higher. That has not put him in good standing with the upper echelons of the Klingon Empire, or members of his own fleet. I'm concerned that he might do something foolish and pull us into a wall with the Empire just to soothe his pride.

His attitude towards Admiral Kirk was obvious from the start, and I suspect his recent loss of face serves only to aggravate the situation. Although I am wary, I am also hopeful that this will not turn into another bigger war, I am preparing to fight more than one battle today. I thought we're more civilized than this, but apparently, I am wrong. If Chang tries something, I don't know if the other Klingons will follow him. They claim to have honor, but my question is 'what kind of honor'? We still haven't forgotten our differences with them. But will Klingon honor be enough to prevent another war in the future, if Chang pushes the Admiral into another war? Will the other generals follow him? I don't know.

Narn G'Quan heavy cruiser T'hirun

The only thing that G'Kar thought of while he watched the slaughter occurring in the Chi Draconis system was, "such a waste, a horrific one at that." It was a waste of resources and, lives. It was a silent testament to the Narn leader that he could imagine how many lives were being lost every given moment, and there was nothing he could do about it but bear witness and perhaps pray for the dead and dying.

It should have been the Centauri suffering like this.

It was just a stray thought, a pleasant one, but still, just a stray one.

From the actions of the Minbari, he assumed, and rightly so, that they had surrendered under the conditions set forth by the Federation. But the fighting continued because their allies and blood relatives refused to follow the Minbari example. Reports from the T'hirun's sensor suite confirmed the vicious battle occurring between Minbari forces and their larger, more advanced cousins. The logical part of him understood why they fought so ruthlessly against one another. Everyone with eyes knew that both the Minbari and Ashen were warriors.

Surrendering to the enemy was an anathema to any true warrior. Suffering defeat at the hands of the enemy, at the very edge of one's home, could cause the heart of any warrior to break and in the process, drive them insane, compelling them towards one last glorious effort to retain some honor. But only a fool would burn their own home when there was no need. Despite their arrogance, the Minbari recognized this truth. Their Ashen counterparts didn't.

From the Ashen's point of view, Minbar wasn't their home, not anymore.

Interviews with several Minbari POWs uncovered historical facts strongly suggesting the Ashen clans allegedly were wiped out more than a thousand years earlier. There were always rumors that the clan had somehow survived by secreting in hidden caves or fleeing to distant regions and changing their clan names and culturally identical. But no one was sure how they managed to survive. The Ashen were lost to the annals of history and cultural fantasy until they revealed their existence during this war. In hindsight, it was obvious that there was a higher power who saved them, secreting them away until they were needed. Only the Vorlons could have done such a thing, but their survival came at a horrific price.

From the reports that he'd read, the Ashen didn't have any emotional ties to their home, and those reports were backed up by the numbers of fires burning on the Minbari home world. Other than having some distant sentimental attachment, they had little connection to the world of the birth going by their actions. This group was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of their own cousins and apparently, they didn't care.

It also appeared that the Ashen have no concept of surrender in their psyche. Every bit of evidence G'Kar had seen of this war proved that they intended to fight to the death, killing the enemies even as they were in turn being slaughtered.

They cared nothing for the lives of their fellow Minbari cousins, and that disturbed him on a visceral level. He understood loss, and the pain of losing his people, and he understood hatred. And he completely understood the desire, the need for revenge. G'Kar delighted in continually reminded Ambassador Londo Mollari of that minor fact every chance he got, although he had to admit, if only to himself, he was changing now that the Federation had suggested caveats that would bring Narn untold prosperity.

But he hadn't experienced genocide, not like this. He hated the Centauri, but did he want them all dead? Well, maybe. Once. Or maybe not. These days, he had the option to hate or not to hate. Smirking to himself, he admitted he hated that option. To hate or not to hate. That was indeed the question when untold prosperity was within sight.

He had a choice, but the Narn ambassador believed that the Ashen didn't have that option. Neither did the Minbari at this point.

The Ashen came late to the war as the Minbari offensive crashed against the wall that was the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Naturally, the Minbari accepted the help of their cousins without pause. It was one of those things that seemed like a good idea.

If he were in their position during the Centauri Occupation of Narn, and his Narn cousins came to help, he knew without doubt that he and his people would have accepted without hesitation and worried about the ramifications later. In fact, he would have not even worried about the ramifications.

The Centauri occupation, those were desperate times for his world, and the atrocities perpetrated upon the Narn people by the Centauri were too many to count. His people were enslaved, tortured, and murdered, and their world devastated by the Centauri occupation. Millions upon millions of his people died, his world ecologically raped by strip-mining as the Centauri lusted for the precious resources on Narn. They cared nothing for the people and when they finished; they left his world to rot while they continued their decadent and extravagant lifestyles, having no concerns whatsoever about the devastation that they caused and the misery that they had created on Narn.

It was no wonder why the Narn hated the Centauri with a passion. So, he understood the Minbari's quick acceptance of their then unknown cousins.

He knew he would have just grabbed the horse (without looking in its mouth. It was an old Earther saying that he was quite fond of) and said, 'thank you'. He couldn't blame the Minbari for their choices. But they forgot that sometimes, family reunions could be–distasteful. The gift of Ashen help had turned into a nightmare for the Minbari people, and now they were paying for their natural shortsightedness.

G'Kar continued watching the carnage with what could be described as disappointment. The Minbari always claimed that they were the greatest, eldest, and wisest of the younger races. If what they claimed was true, they should have known better.


Two Minbari Tinashi frigates went toe-to-toe against one of their Ashen counterparts. This particular battle lasted only seconds. The Minbari warships were cut to pieces, unable to withstand the weapons of their more powerful cousins. The Ashen warship didn't get away unscathed, but not crippled as their energy screens protected them from the worst of the attack because of their energy screens, shields, or whatever they chose to call them.

The Ashen warship continued on, seeking other targets. Again, their version of shields protected it against Minbari weapons that could have cut it apart. Those shields weren't as effective in protecting it as the Grey Council first assumed. Images of damage to the ship were clear. The Ashen defeated the Minbari ships but had suffered in the process. Yet, it continued on, seeking new targets.

Minbari ones.