Chapter Fourteen

ISA Sword of Justice

Alliance Expeditionary Group One

Ranger Turlan frowned slightly when the long-range scanners of the mighty Victory-class destroyer began picking up a contact heading towards the fleet on an intercept course. He couldn't get solid readings on it from this range, the ship appeared to be employing a stealth system similar to what his people employed on there warships, though it wasn't quite the same. Still it made getting a sensor lock difficult from this range, even though the sensors on the Sword of Justice like all Victory, White Star and Blue Star class ships were based partially on Vorlon technology.

"Captain," he called out to get the attention of the Sword of Justice's commanding officer. Captain Daniel Taggert turned in his command chair to look at the young Minbari ranger operating the sensor station.

"Yes Turlan?" he asked curious.

"The long-range sensors have detected an echo," Turlan reported. "It appears to be a ship on an intercept course. I cannot be sure the ship is using a stealth device similar to our own, combined with the effects of hyperspace its giving our long-range scans a few problems."

"Time to intercept," Daniel asked surprised by the presence of the stealth technology on the unknown ship. While stealth technology had spread from the Minbari to the other members of the Interstellar Alliance as a result of the technology sharing directives, they so far hadn't seen any ships in this part of space that had anything like it. A few times during the journey from ISA territory one of the fleet ships had spotted ships from local races on long-range scans or even medium range scans. Most of the ships had been an odd mix of advanced and primitive, combining very advanced technologies like artificial gravity with very basic jump engines. But none had shown evidence of any stealth technology.

"Ten minutes," Turlan replied.

"Interesting. Communications hail the Independence, let General Crichton know what we've detected and request instructions."

"Yes sir," the Brakiri ranger manning the communications station responded before typing in the command to open a communications channel with the Independence.


EAS Independence

General Jack Crichton listened with interest as he sat in his office listening as one of the communications officers reported in from the bridge on what the Sword of Justice had detected. The news of the approaching ship was interesting, though he doubted it would be a threat to his fleet. Still he knew to tread carefully here as this was a first contact situation, caution was the order of the day.

"Tell the Sword of Justice to break away from the fleet and move towards the unknown ship," he ordered at last. "Captain Taggert is to attempt peaceful contact with the alien vessel and determine its intention. He is not to charge up weapons or fire unless fired upon."

"Aye, sir," the communications officer responded then the channel went dead. Jack leaned back in his seat and thought for a few moments, before standing up and leaving his office to go to the bridge it would be easier to observe what happened next from there, and to react if needs be.


Nebari Host Ship Shentaya

A Few Minutes Later

Captain Vala looked up startled when her sensor lieutenant made a soft sound of surprise, hands dancing across the console.

"Captain one of the alien ships is breaking away and moving towards us on an intercept course," the sensor lieutenant reported. "Their sensors appear to be able to penetrate our stealth field."

"That's impossible," Vala exclaimed stunned. No sensors not even the strongest Peacekeeper sensors were able to penetrate the stealth fields on a Nebari host ship from anything other than point-blank range, it was one of the many advantages provided to the establishment by mysterious aliens she knew of only as The Teachers. The Teachers had vanished twenty cycles ago but the establishment kept on the legacy they had been taught and would eventually take that to the rest of the galaxy, as the last order of the last of The Teachers had instructed them to.

"Alien ship closing," sensors reported. "The stealth field is not blocking their scans, the beams are unlike anything I have ever seen before."

"Tactical is our stealth system at full power," Vala asked.

"Yes captain it is," tactical reported. "The alien sensors are just penetrating it as if it's not there."

"Jump to normal space," Vala ordered knowing that her action was clear, she had to know how these unknowns could penetrate the stealth field. She would defeat and board the alien vessel; once mentally cleansed the crew would tell them everything they needed to know. "Raise shields and power up all weapons systems."

"Yes, captain."


Sword of Justice

Turlan noted a change in the power readings on the alien ship. A distortion field consistent with a forming jump point was opening in front of it.

"Captain the alien ship is opening a jump point to normal space," he said.

"Navigation allow our range to close then follow them into normal space," Daniel ordered.

"Yes, sir."


The Zelbinion

That Same Time

John Crichton was silent as they three of them made there way onto the wreckage of the broken, defeated Peacekeeper warship's command centre. The nature of the damage he'd observed had changed the deeper into the derelect warship they'd gone. Here in the core sections the damage was less and less from battle and more and more from looting. Everywhere panels had been ripped open and there were gaps in the walls where consoles and pieces of equipment had been ripped out.

John paused entering the command centre surprised by how much like the bridge of the old Hyperion-class cruisers it was in design. Consoles stood in rows on either side of a long central isle, but there were no chairs or any securing bolts for them so they'd not been looted. Though naturally everything was in ruins. All the consoles seemed to be dark, scorched and burned. Debris from overhead littered the floor and a fallen support beam had sliced one of the crescent-shaped consoles in half.

D'Argo quietly broke away from John and Aeryn and made his way to the navigation station. Squatting down to look at the memory bank D'Argo inwardly sighed when he saw that every last data crystal had been removed. There were no star charts or any data of value left in the navigational systems.

"All the data crystals have been removed from the navigational system," he said standing up. "There are no galactic star charts or jump beacon frequencies here. This vessel has been gutted to worthlessness."

"Pity it would have been useful," John said. "In away I'm glad we didn't find anything. A lot of sentients died on this ship its a grave. It should be left alone."

D'Argo looked at John for a moment; he understood the way the Human Ranger felt about the deaths on this ship. In his culture dead warriors were treated with the utmost respect. Though he had no love for the Peacekeepers for what they had done to him he had to admit that at least some of them could be entitled to some peace in death while their souls journeyed to whatever afterlife there was for Sebaceans. D'Argo looked away and as he did so he noticed that the lights were still on at one of the consoles.

"There's still power to this console," D'Argo said surprised moving over to the console to examine it. Aeryn followed and frowned, she recognised this station. It was the controls for the Zelbinion's communications systems; somebody had recently restored power to it and seemed to be reconfiguring the ships damaged tachyon communications arrays to send a message.

"Someone has regenerated communications," she said. "Recently and is in the process of restoring power to the interstellar communications systems."

"There is someone else here," D'Argo growled hefting his Qualta blade into ready position. Aeryn did the same with her pulse rifle. John sighed and removed his denn'bok from his belt and deployed it. Why in Valen's name does everyone have to be so trigger happy, he thought as in a cautious pattern D'Argo and Aeryn began to search the bridge. John reluctantly joined in listening for even the slightest sound to betray the location of whoever else was on this derelict warship.

After a moment a pile of debris was violently thrown aside and John caught the glimpse of a terrified looking blond female in somekind of coveralls trying to race out of the bridge.

"D'Argo I'm blocked," Aeryn called out trying and failing to bring her pulse rifle to bare on the other Sebacean woman, her line of fire was blocked by a fallen support beam. D'Argo's aim however was not and he raised his Qualta blade in rifle mode to fire.

"NO," John shouted from where he was stand the power in his voice freezing everyone. "Everyone stop. There has been enough death on this ship don't you think?" As he spoke he stood right in front of the bridge entrance presenting a human roadblock. He held his denn'bok in ready position. "You shall not pass," he said to the blond Sebacean.

The blond woman looked straight at him, then at D'Argo and Aeryn. As she looked John saw the fear and panic fade from her eyes replaced by recognition especially of D'Argo and Aeryn.

"Office Sun," the woman said before looking at D'Argo and John again. "The escaped prisoners." John frowned at the woman. How did she know them?

"How does she know us," he asked.

"Because she's from the Lendrolla," Aeryn answered. "She's a tech from the ship that send Officer Crais and the Kraymor after us."


Sword of Justice

Captain Taggert kept his eyes firmly on the windows at the front of the bridge as a jump point to normal space opened ahead of his ship. He watched the red and black maelstrom of hyperspace gave way first to a blue energy vortex then to a sea of unfamiliar stars as the Sword of Justice cruised serenely into normal space.

"Turlan where is the alien ship," he asked.

"Alien ship is off our starboard bow sir," Turlan reported then frowned. "Sir the alien ship has shields activated and we are reading weapons systems powering up."

"Raise shields," Taggert ordered. "Power weapons systems but do not open gun ports yet. Let them make the first moves. Communications hail them."

"No response sir," the Brakiri Ranger replied. "They can hear us but they are ignoring us."

"We're being targeted," Gra'tan the Narn tactical officer reported. Taggert turned his seat slightly so he could look at one of the bridge screens, which showed a tactical display of the alien ship. The vessel was truly a bizarre design vaguely wedged-shaped and studded with all sorts of projections.

"Energy spike," Gra'tan reported a second before the alien ship fired.


Nebari Host Ship Shentaya

Vala permitted herself a small smile as she watched two blue quantum particle beams streak forth from her ships main guns towards the huge alien warship. The warship was bigger than her ship and almost fragile looking, though its lines spoke of great power. The hull was a sapphire blue material that looked like it was organic but Vala was sure that it wasn't – no race she knew of other than The Teachers had mastered organic technology.

A moment before impact the beams from her ship struck an energy shield that hugged close to the alien ships hull, the beams broke up instantly dispersing on the gravitic energy barrier, the energy sleeting ineffectively back out into space in a soft bluish fog of dispersing particles.

"Direct hit to the alien ship," her tactical officer reported. "No damage their shields are holding. Alien warship opening gun ports we're being targeted."

"Fire again," Vala ordered. "All forward guns."

"Yes captain." Before tactical could comply Vala saw a slender green energy beam reach out towards them and make contact with shields around the Shentaya making the whole ship shudder with the impact. Then her own guns fired back sending multiple blue quantum beams at the alien ship. Each shot impacting the alien shields and setting them aglow. Through it though the aliens hit back with green and yellow energy beams that slammed into her ship like sledgehammers. Each blow shaking the Shentaya violently.


EAS Independence

General Jack Crichton looked over at the communications officer as he heard the chirp of an incoming signal.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Message from the Sword of Justice sir," Ensign Slater reported from the communications station, eyes going wide. "Sir the unknown ship is firing upon them. No warning or provocation, alien is firing quantum particle beams similar to Drakh weapons but not as powerful. The Sword of Justice reports they are returning fire but that their shields are weakening."

"All ships battle stations," Jack ordered immediately. "Navigation plot an intercept course then relay to all ships."

"Aye, sir," navigation reported as the battle stations klaxon began to wail throughout the Independence summoning the crew to action stations.


Nebari Host Ship Shentaya

"Keep firing," Vala ordered gripping the armrests of her chair as her ship shuddered under another barrage of return fire from the unknowns. This was not going as well as she would have hoped, the alien ships gravitic shields were incredibly strong almost as if the aliens had encountered quantum weapons before. Her weapons were weakening the alien shields but not as quickly as she would have hoped. The primary shields on a Peacekeeper carrier would be almost down by now and a Scarren dreadnought would already be dead. The alien weapons – which there sensors indicate were a mix of neutron particle beams and somekind of fusion lasers – were steadily ripping into her ship. Weakening her own shields with every blow.

"Shield status?" she ordered.

"Shields at seventy-four percent captain," tactical reported. "Alien shields are at eighty-five percent. Their shield technology appears slightly more advanced than hours. Captain jump points forming all around us."

"Show me," Vala ordered and a holographic screen coalesced into existence in front of her. Twelve blue jump points formed in space all around the Shentaya emerging from them were twelve ships, the rest of the fleet that the alien had broken away from. Abruptly the alien ship stopped firing.

"Captain the alien fleet is targeting us with all weapons," tactical reported a shudder of fear in the officers voice.

"Target the biggest ship," Vala ordered. "Prepare for a lateral run all guns. Engineering can we jump."

"Jump engines are recharging," the bridge engineer reported. "We'll be capable of opening a jump point in thirty five microns."

"Excellent begin…" Vala's voice was cut off by a crackle from the speakers as a powerful transmission came in.

"Alien vessel this is General Jack Crichton of the Interstellar Alliance," a powerful male voice said. "I command the vessels you face. You have committed an unprovoked act of aggression against us. You are ordered to stand down and prepare to be boarded immediately."


EAS Independence

Sitting in the command chair of the mighty Firebrand-class dreadnought General Jack Crichton waited patiently for the alien vessel to respond to his ultimatum. The unprovoked attack on the Sword of Justice had shocked him to the core, and also angered him. He also didn't understand what motivated it; they hadn't done anything wrong. Anything to provoke an attack.

"There ignoring us sir," Ensign Slater reported.

"Hmm tactical."

"Sir?" the tactical officer asked.

"Fire a warning shot across their bow."

"Aye, sir."

One of the Independence's heavy plasma cannon turrets rotated and fired a green plasma bolt towards the alien warship, the pulse passing the bow of the ship in a clean, deliberate miss.

"Alien vessel that was your only warning," Jack said speaking again. "Stand down immediately or we will open fire. You have thirty seconds to comply."

"General the alien ship is turning towards us. It looks like they're planning to race past us presumably so they can jump," tactical reported.

"That doesn't make any sense," DK commented from the science station. "Surely if they scanned us they would see that we can focus heavy firepower on any vector."

"General it doesn't look like they are going to co-operate," Captain Roberts said.

"No it doesn't," Jack replied with a sigh. "Stand by with boarding parties." Jack pressed a button on the arm of his chair. "Fleet command to all ships. Target the alien vessels engine and weapons systems. I want them disabled not destroyed."

"Alien vessel targeted sir," tactical reported.

"Fire."

A neutron beam flashed out from the Independence, simultaneously the two Earth Force battlecruisers flanking the Independence fired their plasma cannons and fusion beams. From the port side of the alien vessel the Minbari Sharlin-class war cruiser fired its dual neutron cannon/fusion beam mounts and the Tinashi-class war frigates their neutron cannons. From behind the Sword of Justice fired he starboard neutron cannons and fusion pulse cannons, and from the starboard side the White Stars let rip with there pulse cannons and gravitic neutron cannons. The barrage of firepower crashed into the alien warship in a carefully planned pattern.

The shields collapsed almost instantly, the gravitic energy field unable to withstand a bombardment that would have severely damaged a Vorlon dreadnought or Shadow battlecrab. Neutron beams, fusion beams, plasma bolts, pulsed fusion bolts and pulsed neutron blasts slammed into the alien's naked armour. Armour alternatively vaporised, boiled off of disintegrated as the incoming firepower demolished weapons arrays and gravitic engines leaving the ship on fire and adrift.

"Cease fire," Jack ordered. "Send in the breaching pods."

"Aye, sir," Captain Roberts replied.


Nebari Host Ship Shentaya

Captain Vala groaned as she picked herself up off the floor where she had been thrown when the alien fleet attacked. Looking around she was stunned by what she saw, the bridge was in ruins, multiple consoles were burning or showering sparks and all around lay the dead bodies of the bridge crew. This is impossible, she thought, this cannot be. Host ships are supposed to be invincible. We cannot be beaten by anyone.

A bleeping sound caught her attention and she stumbled through the wreckage of the bridge to the sensor stations and frowned when she saw a dozen small contacts leaving the biggest of the Interstellar Alliance warships, heading right towards her ship. She guessed they were boarding craft of somekind.

"I can't let this happen," she muttered and returned to her command chair. "They cannot have this ship. The secrets of my people and The Teachers must remain secret."

Opening a panel she keyed in a code.

"Warning! Auto-destruct sequence activated. Detonation in thirty microns," the Shentaya's computer said. Vala settled down in her chair and held herself proud despite the pain from the wounds she had sustained tearing through her.

She listened as the computer countdown reached zero. A bright flash abruptly filled the bridge, there was a momentary blast of pain, and then everything faded away into darkness.


EAS Independence

Jack shielded his eyes with his arm as on the high definition screen the alien warship exploded from within. A plasma blast wave shooting up from the small sun that erupted where the ship had been. The Independence shuddered violently as the plasma wave washed over them though it was well within the deflection capacity of the shields so they sustained no damage. Not so lucky though were the breaching pods, three were enveloped in the blast wave and were instantly destroyed. The others being further away had there armour scorched but thankfully escaped damage.

Seeing the spreading debris from the three breaching pods Jack clenched his jaw in anger. There had been no need for that; the aliens had no need to commit suicide, they would have been well looked after even under interrogation.

"Recall the breaching pods," he ordered. "Then all ships to jump back to hyperspace and resume previous course. I'll be in my office."

"Aye, sir."

"Captains Roberts you have the bridge," Jack added as he stood up.

"Aye, sir." Roberts replied as Jack left the bridge.


Jack made his way through his flagship to his office. As soon as he arrived he went around his desk and sat down, deep in thought. He was going to have to write an after action report as well as letters to the families of those troops who'd died on the three destroyed breaching pods once he knew there names. It was a task that was his duty as a commanding officer to do, and it was a task that he always hated.

"Damn it why did they attack," he asked the air but naturally received no reply. Even if there had been someone to answer there would have been no reply to the question, as no one knew the answer to the question reverberating through Jack's mind. I guess it's a question to which this is no answer, Jack thought, but I would sure like one. Why oh why did they attack us?

Sighing he forced that question out of his mind and turned his attention to his computer. The after action report would have to be sent to both Earth Force Command and the Interstellar Alliance, it was time he got started on it.