'The Ashen Winter'
USS Enterprise: Lead Command Vessel
Destination-Minbari star system with battle fleet
Speed- Warp Three: ETA seven hours, thirty-three minutes
"Admiral on Deck," Lieutenant Cor'tyn announced the moment the lift doors opened allowing James T. Kirk and Doctor McCoy entry onto the bridge. The Andorian Security guard nodded slightly as the two men moved passed him.
"Commander Harriman, you still have the conn," he told the young Federation officer. His grooming for Captaincy was coming along nicely and he would soon receive a promotion after this war was over. "Status?"
"No change, sir."
"Admiral, Captain Uhura's transmitting a priority one," Lieutenant Valeris said.
Uhura had broken the communications blackout. Classically Vulcan, one eyebrow lifted indicating her curiosity as to why she had broken protocol.
Kirk gave her a quick glance. "I'll be in the Admiral's quarters. Pipe it through, Ensign Rove."
Kirk spared a moment to glance over that the young men and women, performing their various duties the bridge, almost basking in the moment, subconsciously comparing the old with the new. This was his second Enterprise, the first one being destroyed when he lost his son and although he loved this ship; 'she' was his first love. In the back of his mind, he could see Captain Decker, now years dead – no, missing was more accurate, commanding on the bridge of the old Enterprise. He and Illia were, for lack of a better definition, somewhere else, fulfilling a destiny that most likely no one who witnessed the event would truly have any true understanding about.
He and is old friend Bones headed directly to the Admirals quarters, located in a small room behind the bridge. It was a small room, somewhat bare but still large enough to do what needed to be done in privacy. The room sported a small desk with a computer workstation on it, a couple of chairs and a large screen on the wall. On the desk was a picture of Carol Markus and his son, David. There was another picture of a woman named Antonia, the woman he had met recently but had captured his attention and his heart was situated on the opposite side of the desk well away from the others. The images had been purposely positioned that way. It seemed appropriate to do so.
Carol hadn't said anything when he told her of David's death. She simply looked at him as if he were a shadow, smiled and whispered. "That's exactly what I was afraid of." It was certainly the most cutting thing she could have possibly said at that moment and she knew it. The single tear that Carol shed wounded him more than any injury he'd ever experienced as she walked away without another word.
She hadn't actually come out and accused him to his face at the time, but he felt responsible and she felt the need to hurt him, something she did a few weeks later as she all but accused him for the death of their son. She took out every bit of her hurt rage and anger on him. He took it like the man he was. It was a price, one of many, of command and he paid for it over and over.
When there is the death of a child, sometimes the damage could bring the parents closer together or, it could tear them apart. Although they wouldn't admit it to anyone else, they both knew James blamed her for keeping him from his son as much as she blamed him for David's death by somehow making her son walk in his father's footsteps. She wanted her son next to her. He left.
In truth however, as time went by and the loss lessened bit, both found that they couldn't truly condemn the another, but neither one of them really talked about it to each other, either. Selfishness and insecurity on both sides contributed to the events that shaped their lives forever more. Carol would never admit that she was wrong about keeping David from James. James knew he was wrong for quietly acquiescing to her demands. But the past was now past and it was too late. Both silently let the lines of communication between each other die.
After all, they were only human. It was such a waste.
– And things moved on.
'Must be getting old,' was the pained thought that slipped into his mind. 'I keep going back to the past, thinking back to what could never be. Is that what it means to get old? Why now?' There was something nagging at him…. a half remembered dream.
"A latinum strip for your thoughts," said Bones.
"A what?" the Admiral asked.
"It's called gold-pressed latinum," answered Bones. "It's a form of currency that's becoming popular in the outer regions."
Ah, he was talking about their trip to Earth's past to get the whales. The necessity of having to have money just to get on that dirty, smelly bus sent shudders down his spine. "Never catch on," Kirk announced. "Who wants to carry that on your person?"
McCoy's eyebrow rose. It was a remarkable Spock-like gesture that would have been sure to illicit a round of cursing if he had noticed it, or if Kirk decided to mention it. "Getting grumpy in your old age?"
"Weren't you the one who told me to get out and do something before I really did get old?"
"That was then," McCoy grumbled. "This is now."
Kirk glared at his friend for getting too close to the truth. He sat down in front of his computer and pressed a button. "Ensign Rove, put the Captain through."
"Yes, sir. Ready."
An image appeared on the screen and he couldn't help smiling wispily at the gray-haired captain gracing the screen. His quick smile dissipated quickly as he looked at her sober-looking face.
"Greetings Admiral," she said. "My squadron will rendezvous with the fleet in two hours. But, I'm afraid I have bad news."
Kirk frowned a bit. There was every indication that the Minbari were surrendering. "What's happened?" he asked.
"Several of the Ashen warships detected the Knowles through our stealth and were attempting to lock on and fire. One of the Minbari fired on the Ashen before they could attack us. There was a planetary cease fire in effect at the time. The Minbari honored it. The Ashen aren't. The two groups were shooting at each other when we left. We have probes in the area and telemetry indicates that the conflict is rapidly escalating. Both Ashen and Minbari leaders were talking but they've stopped. It looks like a full scale war between both factions is about to begin."
"The Minbari were starting to honor the cease fire and the Ashen took exception," the Admiral surmised.
Starfleet Intel had expected something like that but they hadn't anticipated that it would turn into a full-fledged conflict.
Next to him, McCoy looked horrified. "How many ships were involved in the fighting before you left sensor range?"
"Approximately two hundred before we were out of range," she answered. "Several dozen Minbari combat groups were forming defensive lines against Ashen squadrons before we lost moved out of sensor range. Telemetry from the probes confirms that weapon's fire is increasing near the planet. We're now feeding data to the fleet."
"How many ships are in the system?"
"Two thousand, three hundred, sixty-three Minbari and Ashen capital ships," she answered. "That number doesn't include the civilian ships trying to escape the fighting. The Minbari are being forced to protect them and fight at the same time. But they Minbari have mostly second-line warships, older Sharlins and Tinashis. A few of the front line ships were in the system but most of their premier ships have been damaged or destroyed. The Ashen have maybe about eight hundred available ships left. But Admiral, they are front-line vessels and the have subspace sensors. They can also still navigate hyperspace despite the hyperspace instability in the region. We also know that they will be re-enforced with the remaining ships fleeing from Proxima."
"Good work," the Admiral said.
He did a quick calculation. The invasion fleet consisted of eighteen hundred Starfleet ships of various classifications, mostly heavy and light cruisers, destroyers, and single nacelle fast attack ships. The Klingons contributed another eight hundred warships mostly D-7's and birds of prey. Together, they were a more than sufficient enough forced to deal with anything that the Minbari and Ashen could throw at them. There were another four hundred ships in reserve that could be called upon if needed. The Gorn had several ships accompanying the fleet but had stated emphatically that they were there to observe, not fight as they had completed their mission of retribution. The Earthforce contingent was a small token group, but they needed to be here as much as anyone else. Two Narn, two Centauri, and two Vree ships were also with the fleet participating as observers. Every single one of them was watching the Federation actions carefully. How they prosecuted this attack would be carefully observed and analyzed by everybody and Kirk knew it. Together the Minbari and Ashen ships even unified stood no chance. However, if the Ashen and Minbari were fighting then both sides would be effectively crippled before he would arrive. "Give your crew and squadron my congratulations. Get back here as soon as you can. Watch out for Ashen ships returning from Proxima."
"We will," Uhura responded. "See you in two hours."
"Good luck, captain. Kirk out."
Kirk stood up and started pacing the small room. His friend was sitting now looking disgusted as well as worried about what they'd just been told.
"Jim, how bad do you think it'll be?"
Kirk looked at him. "They've started a civil war just before an enemy fleet arrives. It'll be bad. The Ashen have decided to push against the issue of surrender and obviously haven't taken the Minbari surrender well. They're obsessive and believe in the scorched earth scenario. The Minbari have no choice but to fight."
Bone's eyes widened as the implication struck. "You think they'll try to kill the people on Minbar rather than allow them to surrender?"
James simply nodded.
"But attacking the planet? That's insane!" he protested. "They'll be killing their own people."
"Minbar isn't their world," Kirk countered. He'd seen this type of activity far too many times. Human and Klingon history as well as countless others were dotted with such actions. "We know they believe in a higher purpose. The Satais told us that. The Ashen are like programmed machines. They believe sacrifices must be made for the greater good," he said with absolute contempt."
"My God! What is wrong with these people? Even the Klingons wouldn't slaughter their own like this."
"We don't know if it'll go that far, but we need to be prepared for the worst."
"Are you going to increase the speed of the fleet to stop this butchery?"
Kirk looked at his long time friend. "No, I'm not yet, Bones. Our fleet will continue at warp three until all of our elements join together."
"But we could stop this before millions of people are killed!"
"Chang and the Gorn will arrive in one hour," Kirk snapped. "When we rendezvous, we will increase warp and we will arrive in force, and put an end to this. We have a tentative agreement with the Minbari government…"
"Exactly!" Bones countered, cutting Kirk off. "They've surrendered."
"Surrendering doesn't automatically make them allies. The Federation is a peacekeeping force, but we're not and we can't be responsible for keeping the peace everywhere. I won't rush and place our forces in the middle of a civil war and get my people killed trying to protect an enemy that has callously killed millions of people just because they happened to be Humans or species allied or even associated with us."
"So just because we were at war means that we push our humanity aside and watch as they commit genocide against each other because it's inconvenient at the moment? We should just let them die because this is an internal problem? If we do that, my God, just what are we becoming? Are we becoming as cold-hearted as those cold-blooded, logical, hard-headed Vulcans we claim to be so different from?"
"Remember one of the tenants of Starfleet," said Kirk. "It's for mutual protection of the Federation. That's' our responsibility, one that we've been forgetting about because it's convenient to look only at the positive side. The various PAAP organizations have been pushing for Starfleet to be turned into an essentially exploratory branch and the Federation was considering it. If that happens, do you believe that the Federation could survive?"
"Honestly, no," the doctor admitted. "And yes, I can understand their reasoning, although I don't' agree. I'm a doctor, not a military expert and even I know better."
"Then you know as well as I do that freedom, security and peace comes at a price, but we can't be everywhere and we can't do everything. When the rest of the fleet arrives, I'll do what I can when we get there."
"Jim, what you do there will determine how the Federation is perceived throughout the quadrant. If you can save lives…"
"I won't do it by needlessly sacrificing the lives my own people," Kirk said, cutting him off. "I remember every crewmember that died under my command as Captain, but I have a greater responsibility, now." He moved towards his station and activated the intercom. First, he'd update everyone under his command on the developing situation and then he'd have to have a talk with the Minbari onboard and let them know of the new developments.
"Ensign Rove, open a fleet channel."
"Channel opened, all ships acknowledging."
"Sir, General Chang will arrive what's left of his combat group in forty minutes. He wishes to speak to you."
"Acknowledged. Tell him I'm busy and will get back to him as soon as I can. Order the fleet to increase to warp five when the Klingons arrive, and Ensign, choose your words with better care, next time."
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."
"I hate this war," muttered the doctor.
"So do I," Kirk whispered back.
"Fleet channel opened, sir."
It started off small, a single decision by one man.
– A decision that was considered by historians to be the right thing to do; a decision considered honorable by those historians who debated his actions during the final conflict of the war. However, there would be only a handful of people who actually knew the truth as to why Shaka of the Wind Swords decided to attack his Ashen allies. Whether the decisions by a warrior called Shaka were considered honorable or not, whether the Ashen considered him the greatest of betrayers and had placed a price on his life, the repercussions of his actions would change a world forever.
It has always been said that 'Minbari do not kill Minbari'. That, of course, was a lie from a certain point of view but most people couldn't debate it as Minbari hadn't killed Minbari for a thousand years since before the Great War. The truism was something to be proud of. It was something honorable. The Ashen were Minbari. They were pure Minbari, in many ways more Minbari than the Minbari themselves. Ashen killed Ashen. Ashen had killed Minbari.
Now Minbari were killing Ashen. Any hope of minimizing the amount of blood being shed was pushed aside when the warrior castes discovered the atrocities done by the Ashen at the holy site on Minbar, as well as in the cities and countryside. What little hope there was, was shredded when the first Ashen ships destroyed a Sharlin on assumption that it might have been among those that had associated with Shai Alyt Shaka's patrol group and therefore consider by the Ashen betrayers. If the Minbari wanted to survive then they had to kill Ashen. Two sides of a coin; once separated united once more.
– In the balance, a world.
Talylinchya – Ashen Command ship
At a safe distance from the fighting, sixteen Shuumtians stood guard protecting the massive Ashen heavy Trannus Assaulter from any and all intruders into their defined territory. Any intruder whether Ashen or Minbari, would be immediately challenged and summarily destroyed unless given leave by the Sutain Ashen Lords. Several dozen Ashen fighter-craft flew in protective CAP formation in help ensure the safety of the Command vessel.
In the darkened chambers of the massive ship, the counterparts of the Grey Council glared at the increasing violence with distain. The Minbari cousins were fighting the Ashen bathing the system in blood for the right to surrender to the incoming darkness. What kind of fools were these people? How did the Vorrin allow such weakness to continue to exist in their name?
The answer was simple: they hadn't. That was why the Ashen were there, to cleanse the way and temper the steel that would gut the darkness and send it fleeing into the unknown reaches of the universe where it would wither and die.
"The remnants have returned," Sutain Lanot'Jell said to the other Sutains surrounding the circle of light. "Two hundred survived the crossing."
Sutain Ladyll moved to the middle of the circle. "We are displeased that only two hundred ships survived the Proxima battle to return to us. But they are strong and will be needed for the coming battle."
Although outwardly calm, the woman was absolutely furious. The Proxima battle had been a completely unexpected debacle. At the very least, it should have been a hard-won fight against the more advanced forces arrayed against them. Still, the enemy's defeat should have been inevitable. No one had expected that more than eighty percent of their forces would be destroyed or crippled by the dark creatures called Klingons and their pet Gorn. The Ashen should have been victorious but they were defeated just as the Minbari had been, although she refused to think about the implications of that right now.
The Minbari were weak, Ashen were not.
However, there was no denying that the darkness was strong and the combined Minbari and Ashen forces weren't enough to stop them. In time, when the Vorrin allowed the grand fleet to pass through their territory in their thousands of ships to crush all who opposed them and the light in this part of the galaxy, then the dark servants would be crushed from existence forever. But what she didn't understand was why the Vorrin had allowed only a quarter of the fleet to cross and enter the war. Did they not know how strong the darkness was, or had they somehow miscalculated? No, that road of thought led to disbelief and faithlessness and she would have none of that.
There was no possibility that she could think of otherwise. No Ashen could have thought differently. Unlike their Minbari counterparts, the Ashen were bred completely to the will of the Vorlons, experimented upon to a level no other collective species had endured. To them, the Vorrin, or Vorlons as the Minbari called them, were more than gods. They simply 'were'. Every cell in their bodies told them so.
That utter devotion was woven into their genetics by extensive Vorlon manipulation. The Ashen were another one of the great experiments and in a way, they were a success. But the experiment was never intended as a long term project. There was a time limit placed on them. To the Vorlons, the Ashen were little more than specialized bacteria in a petri-dish, carefully cultured to be used for a specific purpose and then discarded. Their only purpose for existence was to fight the darkness, as defined by the Vorlons; to be used against the Shadows and their dark servants. They were never meant to interact with their Minbari brethren. The Ashen were cannon fodder, more so than even the Minbari.
The Minbari were – or had been – far more useful to the Vorlon collective. Although manipulated like countless other races in the sector, they still maintained a measure of freedom that their Ashen counterparts could never hope to have. It was that lack of free choice that the First Ones lobotomized, for the greater good that had also made them useless for anything other than war. Thus it was completely understandable that the Ashen leadership came to an inescapable conclusion, the only one they could possibly come to.
"The Wind Swords are a capable force, but they are flawed," Sutain Lanot'jell viciously hissed. "Why would they attack their own allies to save an enemy of darkness?" he growled. The nearly seven-foot Ashen didn't wait for an answer as he expected is counterparts to have come to the same conclusion. "They've been seduced by their enemies. That is why they fight us! They do not understand that there is no compromise with the darkness. It can only consume them! "
"They believe that their flawed leaders are correct in this foolish decision to surrender," Ladyll answered. "The Satais have rooted themselves in their foolishness and refuses to do what needs done. Their failure to answer our communications is proof of their weakness. They should be the ones who would deny Minbar to the darkness. This battle is lost, but not the war. It continues on!"
"But, not for them," Ty'll said flatly. The other Ashen Lords acknowledged with a short nod. "They have rejected our wisdom. It is a disappointment but we cannot allow such weakness to grow and fester under the control of the spreading darkness. We have always done what is right." He paused for a second. "Never leave sanctuary for the enemy to hold and secure."
The others nodded their approval.
"Minbar is the land of our ancestor's birth," Ladyll said. For the first time, she allowed the slightest hint of sadness on her heavily jeweled face to betray her feelings. "We shall not leave it to be polluted by the creatures of the dark. We deny the enemy our brethren's vessels. We deny them our ancestral home and when that is done, we die killing our enemies. The others will succeed where we have miscalculated."
"Better to die fighting the larger darkness with our teeth on their throats than to live under its yolk."
"Their will be done."
Admiral Kirk stepped into the conference room once more and sat near the Minbari delegation that had arrived a few moments earlier. There were four guards present.
"I have bad news," the admiral said without preamble.
Cadroni spoke up before Kirk could continue. His voice was filled with anguish. "The Grey Council rejected the surrender?" The words came out almost as a plea of denial, one that every person in the room could not help but recognize.
Kirk shook his head. "The Grey Council has surrendered. The Ashen have taken exception had have decided to fight."
"That was to be expected," Cadroni said with some resignation. "It was too much to hope for that the Ashen would surrender. The Ashen are not Minbari, as you understand the term."
"I do understand," corrected the Admiral. "As I said, your people were about to honor the surrender but there's been an incident. One of our ships was in the system. An Ashen ship prepared to fire on it after the cease fire was announced and a Minbari defended the ship causing the destruction the Ashen vessel. As of one hour ago, there is a full battle between the two sides. Neither is asking for a cessation of hostilities. People on both sides are dying all across the entire system and on the planet."
The Minbari nearly jumped out of their seats. "How bad?" demanded Coplann. "Can you tell from your sensors?"
"We have probes in the area," Kirk admitted. There was nothing they could do about it or tell anyone about anyway and might as well find out what was happening now. "A group of Ashen warships apparently broke through the formation and attacked the planet's civilian population. Apparently, your orbital defenses wouldn't acknowledge the Ashen ships as targets."
"No. Our planetary defensive systems would have acknowledged the Ashen as allies and not fired on them," Cadroni muttered. "It would have taken time to make the corrections."
"We estimate that it took almost twenty minutes before your forces either destroyed those vessels or forced them away. There have been several such attacks directed towards Minbar across the world. Some were repulsed, others were successful," Kirk told them.
"How many were successful?"
"As of thirty minutes ago, we can confirm that there have been six successful strikes against Minbar."
Coplann let loose a primal scream of absolute rage. "They will destroy everything!" he screamed.
He continued to scream. His eyes went wide and he continued to scream, barely struggling to get his emotions under control. The others in the room remained silent as the Minbari leader raged.
The other Minbari were grieving each in their own way. One of them even allowed a tear to fall.
There was a respectful silence from Kirk, something that surprised Satai Cadroni. Instead of looking victorious, there was compassion to be seen in the Human's. He had not expected that from the Warlord Kirk.
Spent, Coplann spoke again. His voice was hoarse but understandable. "Minbari are a passionate people," he finally managed to get out. "The Ashen are worse. They maintain a thin veneer of civilization, but beneath that façade is a savagery that you Humans can barely comprehend. Their devotion to the Vorlons is past fanaticism and it was the one thing we feared but did not truly understand the depths of their insanity."
"They're fanatics but you allied yourselves with them," Kirk countered.
"Are your Klingons any better?" Coplann sneered, glaring at Kirk. "We were desperate. We didn't expect your kind to fight us so effectively and when the Vorlons spoke of the darkness and the evidence of our eyes confirmed the danger you represented, we gladly accepted their help. They were our brothers in every sense. We had no choice. Failure meant our extermination."
"We had no intentions of exterminating your people. We would defeat you; crush your forces as necessary. But extermination is not the Federation way."
Coplann laughed. It was a bitter sound. "You aliens. You don't understand us. We saw you doing what we would do ourselves. We would have burned Earth Alliance, and you, to ashes if our situations had been reversed. We believed that you would do no less. Your General Order Twenty- Four…how like us."
"Unlike you, our rules comes with conditions and with those conditions met, the surrender nullified the order. If we decide to destroy Minbar then we will – under the laws and rules we've set. But we would not exterminate your people. Your people on other worlds would survive," he coldly added. No way would he show weakness to these people at this critical juncture. "If your people attack us," and he added a qualifier which greatly lowered the tension in the room, "it remains in effect. If the surrender holds from your people and the Ashen attack us, then I will postpone the order and deal with the Ashen separately. I won't blame you or your people for your allies' actions. But the Federation's actions may be a moot point. It looks as though the Ashen are implementing a 'scorched earth' tactic."
"I don't fully understand what you refer to," Cadroni said, "although I can guess."
Kirk nodded. "They are trying to destroy everything rather than allow you to surrender it to us."
"That's what we would do," Coplann hissed. A moment later he was ashamed of at the words that spewed from his mouth.
"There is no honor in killing a world, or its people" said Admiral Kirk. "The Minbari Federation, just as with the United Federation of Planets has responsibilities that extend not just to our own people but to those around us as well. How we act, how we respond to a crisis reflects on everybody, not just the military but to all of the people. What do people see when an entire nation goes to war because the death of one person and that same nation refuses to pull back from the brink because they consider it an exercise? It is responsibility of governments to know when the pull back, when to stop. General Order Twenty-Four exists to protect the Federation, however it does have restrictions. The Federation goes to war to win, not exterminate entire worlds unless absolutely necessary and if it does come to that we have ways of pulling back from the brink. We don't 'demand' that your world destroyed, that's why you have options. There are rules in war that should be honored."
"Don't lecture us on the rules of war."
"Someone has to."
Coplann was tired, emotionally spent. As much as he wanted to admitted, he didn't fully understand the thought patterns of the Federation in general and Warlord Kirk in particular. The Minbari would have never offered a way out for the Earthers if the UFOPers hadn't been pulled into the conflict, even though they knew that this war had been considered little more than an exercise by most of the Minbari warrior castes and even the workers. Now as he listened to the words of the warlord, he found himself struggling to speak the next words, critical words that could mean the salvation or death of his own planet. Pride swelled within him and he struggled mightily to speak the words he knew he must. Part of him would rather die than speak the words. Another part of would rather die than not speak them. As a warrior he didn't want to; as the leader he knew he must.
"I am not one given to irony, but I find myself asking, is there anything that you can do?" Those words came out slowly, easily but they were the hardest words he had ever spoken in his life.
Kirk pinned him with his glare. "You, as representatives of the government of the Minbari Federation who have unconditionally surrendered to the United Federation of Planets, are officially asking for our help to stop your Ashen allies from trying to destroy Minbar?"
"If we cannot stop them ourselves," Coplann muttered.
"Your people killed more than twenty-five million of our people and you're asking the Federation to help you? Is that correct?"
"YES!" he screamed. Softer now: "I am asking."
"You officially asked, I will officially help," Kirk answered slowly, "provided that your people don't fire on my ships."
Coplann nodded curtly. "I wish to get in contact with my government."
"This way, Satai."
"Kirk, it's not 'professional' to wait to speak to ones equal without cause," General Chang said. "One would think that you were perhaps avoiding me."
"I would never do that, unless it was necessary," James responded with casual indifference. "Duties first, you know. I congratulate you on your victory Proxima," Kirk said smiling. Chang twitched. "Were the Gorn useful?"
Chang's entire demeanor changed. Gone was the semi-civilized Klingon on the screen. For an instant, there was pure rage flashing across his face. Anger, hatred and embarrassment vied for control before he regained control. I will admit that they were of some limited use. They fought like Klingons. You should have witnessed it for yourself. It would have been most enlightening for the Federation to witness."
"How were your casualties?" And again, Chang twitched. "We can assist with medical care if needed."
Chang glared at him. "That won't be necessary, Admiral. The injuries are unimportant. We can handle our own affairs. I want to know if the Minbari surrendered or not?"
"Yes, they have. I have representatives here on my ship that have effective the ceases fire and surrender."
The Klingon general smiled. "But our long range sensors are detecting weapons fire. If they've surrendered, then why is there fighting in the system? Did you perhaps start the final battle before I arrived?"
Internally, Kirk sighed. "The Minbari and Ashen are having a disagreement."
"Ah," clapped Chang. "Then your General Order Twenty-Four is still in effect. I am so…" he paused, seeming to look for a smiled and stared at his Federation counterpart as he found that perfect word, one that most Klingons didn't even fully comprehend. "…Pleased to know this. I'll still get to see the spine of the Federation. Will you keep your promise, or, are you a weak willed-liar, not strong enough to protect those under your pledge? I'm curious to find out which. Earth Alliance will be interested as well, I'd wager. "
Kirk had seen this challenge coming for a long time. Chang had thrown G.O. Twenty-four in his face and yes, it had come back to haunt him. The Federation doesn't need you to tell us what we can or can't do."
"But you made a promise. I believe you called it 'unconditional surrender'. Chang's one eye seemed to gloat even as he spoke perfect Federation standard. "The entire galaxy heard you," he announced waving his arm as if to encompass everything. "They're all waiting to see what you're going to do, the mighty Federation, the famous James T. Kirk promising to lay waste to a planet unless the Minbari lay down and expose their throats to you." Now that one eye seemed to fairly glow. "Whatever else they are, they are not cowards and they can only die but once. Honor their bravery. Don't be afraid of greatness, Admiral. Sometimes it is thrust upon you."
"It is thrust upon us, Chang. But what we choose defines what we are and when the time comes, I will choose."
Chang looked at him for a brief moment and found him wanting. "You're weak, Kirk," the Klingon general growled.
"Freedom of choice isn't weakness, Chang. That's my strength. That's the Federation's strength."
"If you say so," the Klingon general dismissed, changing the subject. "Don't you find discussions such as this stimulating, from one adversary to another?"
"But we're not adversaries, are we Chang?" It really wasn't question. The gantlet had been thrown out and accepted.
The Klingon clapped his hands once and smiled into the screen. "I'm so glad we understand each other. Our ships have increased to warp five as 'you' ordered. We will be there to support you and the Federation when the time comes."
"Of course you will. We look forward to it. Kirk out."
Communications closed on a smiling one-eye general. Another in a long list of problems…
There had never been such a uniting of the spirit of the major warrior castes as there was now at this moment. Not even the death of Dukhat had wedded the castes together in such united fury. The war against the UFOPers and their allies had taken a toll on them and they were a former glory of themselves, but the ships of the Storm Riders, the militant Wind Swords, the radical Blood Knives and their unstable, breakaway offshoots, the Red Blades stood side by side with the others, united against their once allies vectoring in on them to start yet another yet another orgy of devastation and death.
No mercy was offered, none expected between the Minbar and Ashen. Each side knew what the other side was capable of. The emotion that ruled here wasn't fear but pure rage. The beautiful crystalline cities in Tuzanor province had been turned into molten pools of solidifying crystal fused with the flesh of millions of men and women, most of whom died believing that the UFOPers were taking their revenge on the Minbari. Neutron-based emerald beams from Ashen ships that had managed to break through fierce Minbari resistance specifically targeted civilian cities. Beams carved great gashes though out the land scape before they were stopped by squadrons of Minbari warships that sacrificed themselves freely to stop the Ashen slaughter. The Ashen however were persistent and continued hitting the planet. Antimatter and heavy neutron cannon beams, fusion beams and even several mass accelerator bombardments peppered the planet. The longest attack lasted twenty uninterrupted minutes by more than thirty Ashen capital warships, the shortest a mere eight minutes. Most major and many secondary cities, and orbital stations burned. Minbari screamed and died believing that death revenge was being extracted by the Humans and their ilk. The orbital attacked ceased only when the orbital defense finally recognized the Ashen as enemy targets and added their firepower against Ashen hips that dared come close enough to be targeted.
The Minbari would never, ever allow the destruction being waged on their planet to go un-avenged. Gone was even the concept that the so-called dark ones they were willing to surrender to were the true enemy. No, the true enemy was their own brethren. Both Minbari and Ashen were an equally passionate people but now the equation had shifted. The Minbari warriors, religious and worker castes were focused tighter than a laser. They were one people and the Ashen knew war. Although better equipped and more powerful, the Ashen ships began to fall under the merciless, savage attacks of Minbari war vessels sacrificing themselves so that their other castes had clear shots at the murderers of Minbar.
The ancestral home of the Ashen was a sacred place, the very birthplace of the Ashen clan and as such they would not allow it to fall into darkness. Better to destroy it utterly than allow such filth as the darkness to conquer it. If the would-be conquerors had been something other than the incoming darkness, then Minbari would have been spared the gift of death. However such a heinous act could never be tolerated and, in their minds, death was preferable. As one, the Ashen warriors couldn't fully comprehend why their Minbari counterparts were so upset at what they considered a noble death. Indeed, it was impossible for them to do so as they were programmed too well to stand against darkness. The Vorlons had done their job too well. Ashens only saw the darkness that the Vorlons pointed them towards, not the shadows that had frozen their souls.
Any possible reflections as to what they had done was turned into a moot point as thousands of pinpoints of lights appeared signaling the arrival of the hated Federation ships into the heart of the Minbari system bypassing several layers of carefully layered defenses. The voice stepped in darkness screamed at them.
"This is Admiral James T. Kirk, commander of the Federation taskforce facing you. To all Ashen, power down your weapons and surrender. This is your only warning."
With the arrival of the enemy, the completion of their primary mission was beyond them now and the order was given. The purifying of Minbar was beyond them now with the Minbari putting up such a spirited defense, the Ashen leadership chose to die in a blaze of glory.
"We are unconcerned with your orders or desires," a defiant Sutain Ladyll transmitted back. "Darkness can endure for only so long before the light prevails."
As one, the surviving warships broke engagements with the Minbari and rushed to tear at the flesh of the darkness.
Finally -coming up, the last chapter and epilogue!
Note: made some slight corrections as of 1-4-2013. This is version 2 of the chapter