Title: The Thin Grey Line: Interludes (1/1)

Author: Cyclone

Feedback: Please be gentle.

Distribution: Gimme credit and a link.

Rating: Nothing worse than on the shows, except maybe language.

Spoilers: After the end of one and before the beginning of the other.

Disclaimer: The characters depicted herein belong to other people. I'm just borrowing them for a while.

Summary: In the wake of the Earth-Minbari War, the pieces come together. Slowly, the stage is set for a war that would rock the galaxy.

Author's Note: Beware the vorpal plot bunny. I would also like to thank Drake the Archr for his outstanding beta work and fact-finding for this story.

It was a eve of the Third Age of mankind, a time of rebuilding and rediscovery, when an uneasy peace settled in the galaxy.

During this time, the Babylon Project went forward, but other events were clearing the way for the coming darkness. In their own ways, the Sentinels and the Minbari were preparing for it.

The Babylon Project would be our last, best hope... for peace.

It is the 2250s. It is the decade between wars.

January 10th, 2248

"G'Kar, I do not believe any of us in the Kha'Ri can honestly say we are entirely comfortable with the decisions you made at what the humans call the Battle of the Line," Kha'Mak said gently.

"I am not happy with them either," G'Kar retorted. "To have Centauri ships under my guns and not fire made me positively nauseous, but we were in rather dire straits at the time, and if the humans won -- as they did -- it would be better for us to have survived to speak our side rather than have the Centauri claim we were fighting for the Minbari."

"Yes, G'Kar," Kha'Mak nodded, "we are aware how dangerous an Earth-Centauri alliance could be, particularly with these new allies the humans have conjured. For preventing that, for ensuring that the humans would at least not unite with the Centauri against us, the people of Narn owe you a great debt."

"However, acting without permission," spoke a member of the First Circle, "without the blessing of the Kha'Ri, is something we cannot ignore, G'Kar, and we believe you would do well to take some time away from the pressures of dealing with aliens. We are therefore relieving you of your position as ambassador to the Earth Alliance."

December 2nd, 2249

"The reparations these humans are demanding are outrageous!" snarled Satai Tannier. He had stepped forward as the spokesman for the Worker Caste on this issue.

"It is only right that we help them heal the wounds from our actions," Satai Delenn said. "They are our people, though they may not know it. We have committed a grievous sin, and we must do what we can to make amends."

"Then you work and make these reparations, Delenn!" Tannier snapped. "The Worker Caste cannot stand for this."

"Don't be ridiculous, Tannier," Satai Morann snorted. "This is the law, as set down by Valen. Three castes: warrior, religious, worker. They pray, we fight, you build."

"It was the Religious Caste and the Warrior Caste who brought us into the war with the humans," Tannier said, his voice biting. "It was the Religious Caste and the Warrior Caste who surrendered to the humans. But now, it is the Worker Caste who must pay back the humans for the price of your war!"

With that, Tannier spun on his heel and stormed out of the room. The other two Worker Caste members of the Grey Council paused only to glare at the other six before following.

"They are right," Delenn said quietly. "It was our decisions that led us to this, not theirs."

"But what can we do?" Satai Coplann asked helplessly. "Conquer the humans' neighbors and offer their worlds as tribute? I doubt that would go over well, and I doubt the humans would appreciate the gesture if your caste simply prayed for them."

"We already pray for them, Coplann," Delenn said, "but you are right. There is nothing we can do. It is not right. It is not fair. It merely is. Do you know, Coplann, the humans have an interesting prayer for times such as this?"


"Yes," Delenn nodded. "'God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.'"

March 15th, 2250
Centauri Prime

"I think it is clear that the Emperor has lost his fire, wouldn't you say, Lord Kiro?" Antono Refa mused aloud.

"I could not agree more," Kiro nodded. "I thought things would be different. Gambling the Imperial Navy -- the entire Republic! -- against the Minbari was not the act of a timid man, and yet... and yet..." he trailed off and shook his head.

"And yet," Refa picked up the thought Kiro could not finish, deliberately misinterpreting it, "he signed a treaty with the humans, who in turn have signed one with Narn."

"That's hardly my issue, Refa," Kiro shook his head. "That treaty was a wise one. It prevents the Narns from bringing the humans and their allies in against us, people who have done what the Lion of the Galaxy never tried in its prime. They are too dangerous to fight, and the treaty will keep us safe from them."

"Then..." Refa pretended to think; he had already known from the beginning what had upset Kiro, "...you are upset he ceded the Ragesh system to the Narns, negotiating through the humans without so much as a token fight."

"The Centaurum should not stand for this!" Kiro snapped. "Had this happened a generation ago-..."

"It would never have happened a generation ago," Refa sneered. "The Republic of the last generation had teeth and the will to use them. Perhaps we should consider sharpening them again."

Kiro suddenly went very still, then slowly turned to look at him, "What are you suggesting, Refa?"

"Only to strengthen the Centaurum's resolve, Kiro," Refa said innocently. "Only that and nothing more."

For now, at least.

August 14th, 2251
Martian Shipyard, Dock 94

"This way, Honor," Admiral Mark Sarnow, currently part of EarthForce's Development Board, gestured as he led his guest through the shipyard. She had just finished with leave time, visiting her parents on Earth.

Rear Admiral Honor Harrington stopped and sucked in a sharp breath as she stepped out into the observation room and saw the ship. It was an impressive sight, three quarters of a mile long. Not quite as big as a dreadnought, but still impressive, perhaps a battleship or battlecruiser, and obviously a new design. It was an uneven hexagonal prism, shaped like an isoceles triangle with its corners cut off.

Sarnow turned and smiled, "Admiral Harrington, allow me to introduce you to EAS Fearless. She's the first of the new line of destroyers."

Honor stared for a long moment, then whipped her head around, "You call that a destroyer? She's almost as big as a dreadnought!" She caught herself and added belatedly, "Sir."

He nodded, "Twelve hundred, ten meters long, with shadow cloaking, a reflex furnace, artifical gravity, inertial dampers, and gravitic sensors. She's armed with thirty-six particle beam and railgun dual turrets, twenty-four heavy missile tubes, and a pair of fixed heavy combination cannons."

A so-called "combination cannon" consisted of a variable frequency laser and a particle beam cannon that both used the same barrel assembly, yielding a deadly versatility. They were based off Tirolian technology; most of the original Zentraedi warships had been equipped with combination cannons, a legacy that was still used by the Tirolian Federation today. Now, EarthForce was apparently intent on incorporating them into their newest ships.

"The combo guns are equipped with mag lenses," he continued. "They can fire a good seventy degrees off-bore. Defensively, she's got the latest pinpoint interceptor network. And if you think she's big, wait'll you see the new Orion-class heavy crusiers. Fearless is the first ship to come out of the new Maximum Upgrade Program."

She nodded in understanding. The Earth-Minbari War had showed them just how unprepared the Earth Alliance was for a war of extinction, and they knew the Haydonites would be coming back to start another one. The Maximum Upgrade Program was designed to correct that by completely rewriting EarthForce's standards.

"All right," she said, "I'll accept that, but destroyers need to be fast. Her engines are a little undersized." She pointed to the tiny thrusters mounted on the back. The thrusters were actually only slightly undersized for a dreadnought or battleship that size... but destroyers were assigned to duties that required far higher accelerations than battleships or dreadnoughts.

"We've equipped her with an experimental drive system; she'll outrun any other ship in the fleet," Sarnow replied proudly. "We've tested the basic system repeatedly, and Fearless has gone through the trial runs with no problems."

"What did you do?" she asked, eyes narrowing suspiciously.

"We modified the inertial dampers," he said simply. "With the technical data from the cache and the samples we salvaged from Dilgar and Minbari ships, we were able to modify them to extend around the whole ship, reducing its effective inertia by up to eighty percent. With that, those engines will be as effective as conventional engines five times their size, and they won't give her away like the Minbari's gravitic drives."

"A fine ship."

"Glad you think so," he replied. "She's being assigned to Vega Sector. And so are you."

July 4th, 2252

"Good. Then we will fight in the shade."

"I'm Spartacus!"

"'Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.'"

"Ma droite est enfoncée; ma gauche cède; tout va bien: j'attaque!"

"'To the German commander: Nuts!'"

"You're on every street; you're in their homes; you've got their children! Of course they're going to fight!"

"...consisting of more than four million, eight hundred thousand battle-ready warships, with the destructive force of a small nova."

"...the day the world declared in one voice, 'We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive!' Today, we celebrate..."

"...and we will attack in full force. This may be the only chance we'll have. Good luck."

"...there isn't a single soldier in this hall today who isn't painfully aware of all the hazards that will certainly arise during the course of this mission..."

"...Admiral Hunter has called on us to spearhead a vast military operation, with the firm intention to invade and reclaim our ancestral homeland."

"Surrender on any scale is not an option."

"No greater sacrifice has ever been asked of a people, but I ask you now, to step forward one last time. One last battle to hold the line against the night! May God go with you all."

The Anla'shok Na watched as the series of short clips ended, lingering on silent footage of the death of a world. The humans called it the Rain of Death, and the sheer level of destruction he saw amazed him. It was what the Minbari had planned for the humans, and the fact that the humans could rise again from the ashes of such devastation to fight off three -- no, four -- more wars to the brink of extinction was... disquieting.

The Anla'shok had gathered much information on human culture since the end of the war, in an effort to understand them. It was a mixture of fictionalized recreations, purely fictional entertainment, historical recreations, and genuine historical footage. What he was viewing told a chilling tale. One thing that was clear to him now was how the humans were able to maintain the will to fight, despite the utterly hopeless odds until First Cyrus.

The humans did not give up simply because, when pushed against the wall, they did not know how. So long as at least one human being survived, the species would continue to fight until its dying breath.

February 28th, 2253
Space Station Independence

The newly-elected president, Luis Santiago, followed General Robert Lefcourt, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, through the gigantic factory satellite. The satellite had been folded to Venus orbit a mere month ago, after they managed to bring the fold drive online. Until then, the factory had been in operation, building ships that were ferried by fold-capable ships to Earth space.

"Mister President, may I present to you the Sentinel Alliance's new dreadnought, SAS Colossus," the general said, gesturing out the observation window. "Of course, the name's still unofficial until construction's complete and we can properly christen her."

"My, she is impressive," Santiago murmured, staring at the gigantic ship under construction. "When will construction be finished?"

"Hard to say, Mister President," Lefcourt hedged. "We've had to completely redesign her interior three times already, just from new developments in cracking and integrating new technology. Assuming no more major breakthroughs, though, we expect she'll be spaceworthy in about three years and fully operational in about five or six."

"All right," Santiago nodded. "I can see she's pretty impressive, but don't you think we're putting all our eggs in one basket with this?"

"It's a risk," Lefcourt acknowledged, "but a calculated one. When she's finished, she'll be able to take on an entire Minbari battle group, and we're refurbishing another ship we salvaged. One of our colony-finding ships stumbled across her, adrift and drained of protoculture, so we used Ark Angel to fold-tow her back. She's even bigger and better than Colossus, and she'll be flying an Earth Alliance flag, not a Sentinels one. We don't exactly trust her yet, though, considering our history with boobytrapped alien technology."

"Perfectly understandable, General," Santiago nodded. "It's good to see humanity's safety is being secured."

October 31st, 2254
EAS Magellan

"We're being hailed."

"Let's hear it," Cmdr. William Riker said amiably.

EAS Magellan was a Garfish-class light cruiser converted for exploration. The Garfishes were vastly superior to the Explorer-class used by the EA until the Pegasus mission simply because of the once-forbidden technology they used: fold drives.

The race to find the lost colonies had been vastly helped by the records found with the cache, but reestablishing diplomatic relations with their distant cousins as well as transits between Earth space and the Pegasus galaxy had turned into a logistical nightmare, as every fold drive was in high demand. Only a few ships like Magellan could be spared for actually finding the lost colonies.

"Attention, unknown ship. This is the HMS Breslau. This system is under the protection of the Star Kingdom of Haven. Please identify yourself."

Riker cleared his throat, "Breslau, this is the Earth Alliance Starship Magellan. We're here seeking to reestablish contact with any human colonies we can find."

There was a long pause.

"Understood, Magellan. Please maintain your position while we send word to Haven."

April 19th, 2255
Sinclair Home

Jeffrey Sinclair opened the door and was greeted by an unexpected sight.

"Congratulations, Jeff," John Sheridan said, shaking his hand. "Heard you landed the B5 command and thought I'd drop by."

"Word travels fast," Sinclair smiled.

"You know how scuttlebutt is," Sheridan grinned. "Faster than tachyons."

"No kidding. I hear your father's being considered as our official ambassador there."

Sheridan held up his hands mock defensively, "Don't ask me. Dad hasn't said a word about it." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a data crystal, "Here."

"What's this?" Sinclair asked, taking the crystal.

"Just some advice," Sheridan hedged. "It'd be a good idea to make sure you're alone when you view it, though."

"I'll keep that in mind," Sinclair nodded, his mind racing as he pocketed the crystal. Something was off. He could feel it.

"Well, I'd better get going," Sheridan said, glancing at his watch.

"See you around," Sinclair called, then closed the door. He considered the unusual situation. He didn't really know Sheridan that well, only having served under him for the Pegasus mission, so it seemed strange that he would just suddenly decide to drop by. Sinclair toyed with the data crystal.

Whatever it was, it was in the crystal. Turning to his computer, he plugged the data crystal in and brought up the video file.

"Hello, Jeff," Sheridan's image spoke seriously. "I just wanted to warn you about a few things when you go to B5. Don't ask me about this, how I know it, or what it means. Just trust me, please. Beware the questions 'Who are you?' and 'What do you want?' The answers aren't as obvious as they seem... and the prices definitely aren't pleasant. Beware the name Entil'zha. The ones who use that name have a plan for you. Stay close to them... and keep an eye out for shadows. They move when you're not looking."

September 7th, 2256

Alyt Sineval seethed as he gazed at the empty space surrounding his ship. Trigati was patrolling the Minbari side of the border between Minbari and Vorlon space. It was an utterly pointless task. The Vorlons had been their allies for generations, and the Vorlons' technology was such that, had they chosen to attack them, no patrol would ever make a difference. He knew why he was here. He was here because the Grey Council saw him as a coward, having been the only Minbari to have ever fled the humans without inflicting at least some losses.

Oh, certainly, some humans had surely perished from the damage his force had inflicted after they had stopped hiding within their shield, but it was a hollow consolation. At the First Battle of Cyrus III, the only human ship that flew into battle flew back out under its own power, and that galled Sineval. When news of the surrender had come, he had considered killing himself, but the fact was, the humans had proven themselves worthy foes, and their allies were formidable.

In reality, the Grey Council had noted his growing instability and placed him here, where his temper would cause no harm and would have time to cool.

A flicker of movement from the direction of Vorlon space caught his attention, and he took a more careful look. It was a ship, not quite like anything he had ever seen before. It was long and blocky, much like the human ships that bothered him so... but no human ship would dare cross Vorlon space.

Well, not and come out again.

This ship didn't quite look human either. It was an ominous black and red in color, and a magnified view showed a crystalline structure... and humans built ships out of ugly metals and alloys, not graceful crystal.

Given where it was coming from, it had to be a Vorlon ship. But what would the Vorlons want here?

"Receiving transmission, Alyt."

"Show me."

The display which had, until then, shown the area of space surrounding the Trigati now showed the interior of a dark room. In the center of the image was a dark-eyed Minbari with an earnest expression, and he was flanked by a pair of... well, Sineval wasn't sure what. They wore red cloaks with dark grey hoods, and all he could see within each hood was a single glowing red light.

He mentally compared them with what he knew of the Vorlons, and it only reinforced his belief. The Vorlons, it was said, wore encounter suits, and so, it appeared, did these beings.

"Greetings, Alyt Sineval of the Wind Swords Clan," the Minbari said.

"Who are you?" Sineval demanded. "What do you want?"

"You may call me Halenn," the Minbari replied. "My associates here," he nodded to the beings flanking him, "have learned of your troubles, and I was created to serve as an intermediary."

"Created"? Sineval wondered silently. Yes, indeed. Only a First One would have the ability to create a sentient being, let alone a Minbari.

"Are they... Vorlons?" he asked hesitantly.

"Every people has its dissenters, Alyt," Halenn replied, "even the First Ones. My associates believe that humanity are a threat to the Great Plan. They use the weapons of the Shadows, and they do so knowingly. The Shadows are returning, Alyt, and preparations must be made. Will you accept our aid? And if you do... what will you do with it?"

Author's Postscript:

In the highly likely event that my readers include people who don't recognize every single quote, here are the references.

"Good. Then we will fight in the shade."
--King Leonidas of Sparta (1962 movie: The 300 Spartans, which inspired the comic 300, on which the movie 300 is based).

"I'm Spartacus!"
--The captured rebel slaves (1960 movie: Spartacus).

"Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred."
--The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson

"Ma droite est enfoncée; ma gauche cède; tout va bien: j'attaque!"
--line attributed to French WWI leader Ferdinand Foch; according to internet sources, it translates to "My right gives way; my left yields; everything's fine: I shall attack!"

"To the German commander: Nuts!"
--WWII Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe at the Battle of Bastogne in response to a German demand for surrender. The nested quote is to indicate that the Anla'Shok Na is hearing someone reading the message.

"You're on every street; you're in their homes; you've got their children! Of course they're going to fight!"
--The Tenth Doctor to the Cybermen (Doctor Who: "Doomsday").

"...consisting of more than four million, eight hundred thousand battle-ready warships, with the destructive force of a small nova."
--Zentraedi Ambassador Exedore Formo, describing the Main Fleet (Robotech: "The Messenger").

"...the day the world declared in one voice, 'We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive!' Today, we celebrate..."
--Fictional U.S. President Thomas J. Whitmore (1996 movie: Independence Day). Whether this line is, in universe, taken from the movie Independence Day (made three years before the SDF-1 first crashed on Earth) or a recording of a non-fictional in-universe President Whitmore rallying troops while Dolza's Main Fleet is defolding overhead is something I'll let you, the readers, decide. Personally, I prefer the latter option.

"...and we will attack in full force. This may be the only chance we'll have. Good luck."
--Captain Henry J. Gloval to the SDF-1 troops and allied Zentraedi, immediately before the Rain of Death battle (Robotech: "Force of Arms").

"...there isn't a single soldier in this hall today who isn't painfully aware of all the hazards that will certainly arise during the course of this mission."
--Supreme Commander Anatole Leonard to Southern Cross troops before launching an all-out offensive against the Robotech Masters (Robotech: "Triumvirate").

"...Admiral Hunter has called on us to spearhead a vast military operation, with the firm intention to invade and reclaim our ancestral homeland."
--Commander of Lt. Cmdr. Scott Bernard's Horizon-T transport ship (Robotech: "Invid Invasion"). In this case, the Anlashok Na is watching a recreation of the speech.

"Surrender on any scale is not an option."
--General Robert Lefcourt to senior EarthForce line officers during the Earth-Minbari War, before the Black Star victory (B5: In the Beginning, before events changed).

"No greater sacrifice has ever been asked of a people, but I ask you now, to step forward one last time. One last battle to hold the line against the night! May God go with you all."
--Earth Alliance President Elizabeth Levy to all available EarthForce personnel just before the Battle of the Line (B5: In the Beginning, part of her speech that was unaltered for this 'fic).