Usual disclaimer - all the trademark covered and reserved stuff, characters, technological references and such, belong to their respective owners.
The author announces that he either owns anything covered by copyrights nor does he wish to infringe any copyrights. He owns only the characters and technologies he created. The story is for entertainment only, and is under no circumstances to be used for commerial purposes.

The story is co-written by Entilza, to whom big kudos.

DIVIDE ET IMPERA

Chapter One:

Captain Sheridan slowly pushed open the heavy oak doors and entered General Lefcourt's office. The General was already waiting for him, a file
waiting on his desk and a serious expression on his face.

"It's good to have you back, captain," Lefcourt said in greeting.

"Thank you, general. It is good to be back," Sheridan replied.

"Have a seat," Lefcourt suggested, pointing to a chair in front of his desk.
"I've read your report and... it doesn't look good."

"I know," Sheridan replied, taking the seat Lefcourt had offered.
"If I may, sir, are there any leads on who busted the party?"

"Nothing concrete yet, but we can be sure it wasn't one of our on ships. To be completely sure we'll need to wait for the official investigation and
several unofficial ones as well, to finish, but I can already tell you that we've accounted for all our jump-capable ships that were close enough at
the point of the attack. Even the ones that weren't in range check out.Whoever did it, it wasn't us."

"Well that just doesn't make any sense sir. If the Minbari did it, why let me live? They don't like me very much you know. I did blow up their flagship,"
Sheridan smiled. "And the way things are at the front, they'd hardly need to bother with subterfuge like that... Plus I've got no idea what was that
thing about the "future in Dukhat's sanctum" the Minbari who met us meant. Dukat was their leader, but what was the "future" thing supposed
to mean? It makes no sense..."

"I don't know either, Captain. Something's very wrong about this whole thing; we're missing a crucial piece of the puzzle. Still, right now there's
nothing we can do about it," Lefcourt sighed.

"Sir, I'm ready to return to the Lexington on the first available flight."

"I know you are, but you won't."

"Sir?" Sheridan asked.

"Now listen carefully, captain. What I am about to tell you, you will not discuss with anybody else. You won't talk about it, you won't even think
about it, clear?" Lefcourt asked, his eyes betraying the war of emotion going on in his head.

"I know how to follow orders, general," Captain Sheridan replied, slightly offended that Lefcourt thought him incapable of keeping a secret.

"Good. Now hear me out. You and I know both, that as it stands right now, the Alliance is not going to win this war, which kind of narrows it down.
Unless we somehow manage to turn the tide, and quick, we're going to loose. The only question is how badly. We know that Minbari society is
divided into 3 castes. Warrior, Worker, and Religious; those who fight, those who work, and those who pray. Their conduct so far seems to
support this – they're fighting along these divisions, killing off our warriors while leaving the rest alone. Will this trend still hold after our military is no
more...? We can't tell. The Minbari leader was killed by our military and maybe, just maybe, they'll be satisfied with taking their retribution out on
EarthForce alone. But while we hope for the best, we have to prepare for the worst."

"I only hope it won't come to that, sir," Sheridan said.

"Well, it doesn't hurt to hope, but hope alone isn't good enough. Since the official approach doesn't seem to work, we'll be trying the unofficial one.
EarthForce Black Ops has been authorized to acquire new weapons and technologies through whatever means required. It may make some of the
League governments sore at us, but they'd need to catch us first, and besides, they owe us for the Dilgar War. And since they refuse to help us
on their own, we'll simply help ourselves."

"I know some League races are pretty advanced, but will this be enough?"

"We won't know until we actually get the merchandise," Lefcourt conceded. "The beam weapons the Narns sold us are good and will give us
much greater engagement ranges. What we really need though, are sensors to deal with the Minbari stealth. We'll be focusing our efforts in
that arena on the Vree and the Abbai for now, and try to infiltrate the Hyach and the Yolu as soon as we can. Our contacts within the Centauri
Republic are also working on the issue. Maybe we can bribe someone to look the other way as we get what we need."

"I'm beginning to see the picture, but how do I fit into all of this?" Sheridan asked.
"I'm sure there are others better suited for these sorts ofassignments."

"You're right, which is why you don't fit into this at all. We have no way to know if these... "measures" will allow us to turn the tide of war or not. And
we have no intention of going down like the Dilgar did, which is why a contingency plan has been devised. Even if Earth and the Alliance should
fall, humanity must survive – no matter what it takes."

At this, Sheridan shifted uncomfortably in his chair while Lefcourt continued.

"Now listen closely, for this is beyond "TOP SECRET". The project is called "Operation Noah" - I'm sure you get the reference. Your father is currently
en route to the League to secretly negotiate passage and settlement rights for potential refugees. We hope to create safe havens for small pockets of
humanity within and outside of League space. What your father doesn't know however, is that while we hope for him to succede, his mission is
essentially a feint. We fully expect the Minbari to learn of this, and we hope this will divert their attention away from the main operation."

"And this... "main operiation" is what exactly?" Sheridan asked.

"In short, the goal of Operation Noah is to insure the survival of humanity as we understand the idea, by creating fully self-sufficient colonies outside
of known space."

That statement alone indicated just how serious EarthGov was about the whole issue. Until now the lack of self-sufficiency all of the colonies shared
was one of the ways to keep them in line. EarthForce was another.

"They will be called the "Arks". Now as you know, after the Dilgar War we've been expanding in all directions. All but one that is, the space once
occupied by the Dilgar. Partially because it's so far away, partially because as their sun went nova it messed up the adjacent jump routes, and
partially because it wouldn't do for our public image to "scavenge" the worlds the Dilgar had clensed. All of which is of no consequence right now.
Conventional observation with high-resolution optical telescopes has yielded several promising locations, all past the former Dilgar territory and
well into uncharted space. We've observed about a dozen solar systems not connected to the beacon network, and that's just the start. In at least
two systems we suspect habitable planets similar to Earth – in one additional case we believe a moon of a gas giant might fit the bill as well. I
take it you are familiar with the Explorer-class vessels?"

"Yes sir, before the war I planned to request reassignment to one of them, once they'd enter service. Now though... Wait, am I...?" Sheridan asked,
realizing what Lefcourt might be up to.

"No, not exactly," Lefcourt replied, much to Sheridan's relief. "The Explorers will play an essential part in this, but as for you, this will be your new
command."

A small display screen popped out of the desk, presenting an image of a modified Nova-class dreadnaught with an added rotating section in the
middle.

"Nova-X class, I heard about them. Built for long-duration missions," Sheridan said, still wondering why he was being reassigned.

"Exactly," Lefcourt replied, his smile growing a bit and just beginning to reach his eyes. "This is the E.A.S. North Star, Nova-X Mk2 subtype.
Refitted with the long range beam weapons we bought from the Narns. Observe..."

The display zoomed in, magnifying the bow of the ship. Where on the port and starboard of the bow the typical Nova used to sport two twin
mounts of heavy pulse cannons, the Nova-X had... something else.

"Those are the Narn beam cannons, reverse-engineered from Centauri technology. As you see, there are two of them in a twin mount where the
four pulse cannons used to be. This gives you nice long range punch of four beam weapons in the forward arc. Here..."

The display shifted, this time showing the aft part of the ship.

"...same deal. Four aft-facing beam cannons, though here each one is placed separately, above each engine. Those cannons would give the
Minbari a lasting impression, if we only could hit the bastards. Still..." – the display shifted again – "amidships, instead of the usual payload, you have
pulse turrets from your typical Hyperion-class. 4 in front of the rotating section, 8 behind it. This is to save mass and give you good anti-fighter
coverage. Still, your rules of engagement are as follows: every threat you can engage, gun down at long range. This is what the beam cannons are
for. When you can't engage, like with the Minbari, run like hell. With the uprated engines, you've got the fastest ship class in the fleet. Each of the
three Explorers currently in service will be escorted by two Nova-X Mk2s.
The North Star and the Paladin will escort the Copernicus. Your, along with the other two groups, will scout the systems our telescopes have
discovered and lay the foundations for colonisation. The construction of another three Explorers is being rushed, and they will join the effort as
soon as possible. Now, contrary to the usual procedure, you will not be constructing any jumpgates. The last thing we want is for anybody to
follow you; the colonies must remain secret and separated no matter what. So in order to get there secretly, two new technologies will be used. First
is the "Ariadna's Thread." You are familiar with the myth I take it?"

Sheridan chuckled. "My wife's an archeologist sir; I could recite half the Greek mythology if I had to."

"Good," Lefcourt replied. "This particular "Thread" works as follows:"

The display changed to show the schematic of a slightly enlarged Starfury.

"The main idea is to allow ship movements as far outside the beacon's guiding beam as possible. These fighters are used for just that reason.
Each ship involved in the operation will carry a full "Thread," each consisting of 12 special pourpose Starfuries. The Furies in question are fully
automated; their hulls are built for stealth, covered completely with sensor-absorbing materials. They carry no weapons, save a two megaton
nuke, of the same type you applied to the Black Star so nicely."

Both officers smiled at that.

"The nuke is plugged to a proximity sensor and will go off when capture is imminent, or when ordered to. Still, its main function is as follows; each
and every craft in the Thread carries the most sophisticated sensors and communication suite our technology allows. One of them travels on the
very edge of the nav-beacon guiding beam, and via narrow-beam peer-to-peer laser comm is connected to the next one in the chain, outside
the guiding beam, thus forming the Thread– and this one to the next one, and so on, for the whole dozen of them. The last one is connected to their
mothership, which in turn is connected to the rest of the convoy. Now as only a peer-to-peer laser connection is used, the chance of your position
being given away by a stray emission is less then slim, provided all ships in the convoi observe silent running protocols."

"I think that's a given," Sheridan said. This operation certainly looked interesting, but it also betrayed Earth's desperation. If the military was
taking materials away from warship production to build transport ships…

"Now, once ready, your group will move to the Epsilon system, and from there, "above" Narn space, to the former Dilgar territory. You'll be using the
less-used jump-routes to further minimise chances of detection. IPX has reactivated and rigged a few long abandoned jumpgates you and the
others will be using for the final jumps. They work on encrypted frequencies, and require proper codes to even start sending their locations.
Past that one, you'll be making use of yet another invention; instead of a jumpgate, you'll be planting a chain of low-power narrow-beam transmitters
in normal space. Those are programmed to respond only to a proper code transmitted within the prearranged timeframe, so you need both the codes
and the timetable to get them to respond. When you pass the last jumpgate, you'll be jumping out every 45 to 60 minutes, recalculating your
position in normal space, planting the transmitter, and jumping back in. Again, this is to minimise the chances of detection."

"Sounds like it'll be a pretty interesting run," Sheridan said. Traveling in hyperspace without a beacon was considered suicide by most, but by only
making short jumps it was possible, though still risky. The main reason point jumps weren't used often, besides the risk of getting lost or swept away by
a grav current, was because of the rapid depletion of the rare and valuable Quantium 40 it entailed.

Lefcourt continued. "Once you reach your destination, you will chart the system and determine its potential for colonisation and development. As we
assume they will be found suitable, each Explorer, along with its escorts, will carry the personnel, hardware and supplies required to lay the basic
foundations for a fully self-sustained colony. With the initial work completed, you'll start hauling in everything else; pre-fab housing,
automated assembly lines, power plants, mining equipment, orbital installations and so on. Essentially what we're talking about is a colony
capable of surviving and moving on without external support. We hope to move as many people as we can there without compromising secrecy. The
Planetary Draft will soon be enacted, and we'll draft the people we need and then "deploy" them under classified orders. Any questions?"

"Just one sir. When does it start?" Sheridan asked.

"The North Star and the Paladin are ready and filled to capacity, and the Copernicus is being loaded as we speak. Your convoy will depart Proxima in
a few days. Oh, one more thing; your wife is among the attached IPX team. Good luck John, you're going to need it."

Sheridan rose and was about to walk out, when he turned back to his superior. "Sir, I almost forgot, who will command the other ships in my
group, and who's in charge of our mission?"

"I believe you know them both. Overall command falls to the captain Jack Maynard of the Copernicus, and do keep in mind that the survival of this
vessel has absolute priority."

"And the Paladin?"

General Lefcourt produced a smile. "You know that particular officer extremely well," Lefcourt smiled, sending a slight shiver up Sheridan's spine.

"Captain Elizabeth Lockley."