Author: Julie the Tall Terror
Summary: The galaxy learns that some Humans are Immortal. While greedy aliens are after the secret to immortality, the Minbari and Watchers search for a particular Immortal, Valen. Highlander/Babylon 5 crossover.
Setting: 2264. The new Interstellar Alliance is still very shaky.
Babylon 5 characters: Valen (Sinclair), Delenn, Catherine, Sheridan, Garibaldi, possibly more.
Highlander the Series characters: Methos, the Watcher organization, Macleod, possibly more.
You do NOT need to know anything about Highlander: the Series to understand this story and if you do, you'll just enjoy the familiar characters.
Big thanks to John Hightower for creating the Minbari Dictionary at and my beta reader Marianne Todd.
Too Many Unknowns
"Valen said: 'The greatest enemy is the one you do not know. You can predict the actions of those who are familiar to you. The one you cannot predict is the one who can harm you.'"
- Delenn, Babylon 5: "Atonement"
- o0o -
Could the sound of a people detector be any more annoying?
After the tenth bell, it was obvious that the person wasn't going away. Grumbling, Methos wearily stumbled to his front door. He still hadn't quite re-adjusted to the local time after his jaunt through space. He would go on holiday to recover if he weren't so glad to be home. He opened it to see a plain, serious looking man standing on his doorstep holding up his wrist to show the Watcher tattoo on it. The stranger gave no other introduction.
"This is quite irregular," was Methos' greeting.
"If we had another choice we'd take it," the Watcher replied, pulling his sleeve down. "But this is an Immortal matter we can't handle ourselves and given the circumstances."
"Find another someone else to be your flunky," Methos said as he started to close the door.
The Watcher stuck his shoe in the doorway saying hastily, "It directly involves you and your recent trouble with the Narns."
Methos spent half a second contemplating a gruesome and effective way of removing this man from his home before curiosity got the better of him. The Watchers always knew the best secrets after all. "Go on then."
"Cassandra, under her latest identity as Captain Lochley, has died under mysterious circumstances on Babylon 5. You hadn't heard the news?"
Methos shook his head and asked, "This should interest me how?" His first thought was that she'd lost her head, but he remembered a quickening of would seriously damage the station. He was sure something like that would have made the news.
"There was no quickening." The Watcher stated the obvious.
"She wasn't decapitated. However, she remains dead."
Methos gave him an aggravated look. "So, Cassandra has decided to end her current identity. No doubt she has left instructions in her will to ship her body to her 'family' on Earth, who will turn out to be a friend who'll unseal her coffin so she can revive."
The Watcher nodded and explained, "Her body arrived last night and was claimed by a former student of hers. He did exactly as you said and appears to be increasingly alarmed as the hours have passed. He doesn't have anyone to ask for help that we know of. She still hasn't revived."
"It could be a combination of her visit to the morgue, an airless coffin, and the freezing hold of the ship that brought her home. Embalming fluid is not pleasant, to say the least," Methos responded as though speaking to a child and an obtuse child at that. "With her head still attached, she will revive under the right circumstances."
He didn't appear to take offense at Methos' tone, but responded as though discussing an academic puzzle and completely ignoring its implications. "She wasn't embalmed, per the instructions she left in the event of her death. They didn't drain her blood or inject her body with any chemicals. She had ample opportunity to revive and slip out of Babylon 5's morgue before they put her in the transport's freezer."
Not surprising to hear. Immortals who took longer than a few minutes to regenerate sometimes woke up in morgues and for that reason tended to specify in their will that they not be preserved. Methos himself had only been embalmed once in modern times, but that was one time too many for him.
"It is reasonable to suggest," the Watcher continued, "that something is preventing her from waking up. The Narns who captured you surgically implanted technology inside your body to prevent you from reviving. We think the same has happened to Cassandra."
"Did her Watcher see the Narns discover Cassandra's Immortality? Why would Earthforce quietly send her body home if something like that had happened to her? Surely they'd discover it. Did her instructions forbid an autopsy?"
"Yes, it did," he answered the last question and ignored the previous two. "Scans alone couldn't explain why she was dead. If the Narns are involved you are the only one who can find out."
Methos gave a weary sigh. "Can't you steal her body yourself?"
"This isn't a clean up after a beheading," he bristled, showing real emotion for the first time. "Her student is keeping vigil and is clearly aware something is wrong. You already know about Watchers, he doesn't and we don't need to reveal ourselves to him. Many Immortals have become very paranoid around mortals since you were attacked. Which brings me to my next reason; he will recognize you from ISN's report and listen to you. And finally, you owe us for getting you off Tau Ceti."
"On the contrary, I got a free ride. My offer to fill in blanks of your chronicles was turned down and no other means of payment was asked of me."
"It should be obvious that you'd have to return the favor someday," he answered rather primly. "I should think you'd be worried aliens may have found a way to detect Immortals, not just target them when accidentally found as you were."
"What if Cassandra's 'former student' you still haven't bothered to name recognizes me from what Cassandra might have shown or told him instead of ISN's damned broadcast?"
"I don't know what you mean by that. Unless you weren't so camera shy as you are now when you knew Cassandra, I don't know how she could have a photo to show him or why she would feel the need to do so."
Methos looked for a hint of understanding or pretense on his face, but there was none. He seemed genuinely unaware, which meant this Watcher was a mere messenger who didn't know much about the Immortal he'd been sent to convince. Or did he? It occurred to Methos that this man hadn't called him by name implying he likely knew Methos' current alias wasn't his real name. However, he didn't act like he'd just met the oldest living man either. Better to play it safe, just in case. Methos put on a pained smile and exuded all the nervousness to be expected from an average Immortal trying to cope with yet another reminder of his alien imprisonment.
"Very well. I'll find out what happened to Cassandra on one condition, I want my Watcher to accompany me and don't wave non-interference at me."
- o0o -
"How could you involve me like this?" Aria hissed.
"I honestly thought they would refuse," Methos answered from the passenger seat, a little abashed. They were in her vehicle, probably so that she could safely abandon him if necessary.
"To which you would've said, 'if you don't like my price, I can't help you' and then run off. Do you have any idea how much trouble I'm in?"
"Your boss wouldn't allow you to come along if we were in danger of being attacked on sight and Cassandra makes a point of not involving innocent bystanders in her quarrels."
"Not that. For telling the Watchers you spotted me, you idiot!"
"You mean you didn't tell them? None of the other Watchers in your posse snitched on you?"
"Of course not. I'd get reassigned, taken out of the field, which you well know. Corbin is a nice bloke, he wouldn't report me for your stupid guess. You didn't care if you were right or wrong, did you? You did it for fun. That would be so like you, Methos."
"So, you do know my name."
"You aren't quite as significant a secret as you once were." She gave him a sneer. It didn't suit her.
"Do all Watchers know?"
"Certainly not. Rank hath privileges."
"And you wouldn't tell me who even if you knew."
He decided to change tactics. "I am sorry for imperiling your job and I sincerely beg your forgiveness," he said politely and then added, "I can say it in a few dozen languages if you like. Well, not in Iante. They didn't have the concept."
A tiny smile started on her face, despite her efforts to remain irate with him. Good sign, he decided. He needed his innocent bystander to at least appear to be working with him, not putting on a show of being dragged along against her will.
"Besides, the Watchers can't you demote now. Not after asking you to interfere with your assignment. Shall we go then?" he asked.
"I'm here to observe only," she corrected him as they pulled up to the side of the road.
"Will you at least come inside then? I didn't request your assistance for you to play lawn ornament." Methos asked as he got out of the vehicle.
She huffed under her breath, but followed him up the walk to a modern style house that appeared to be recently built. It was imposing with thick metal beams and pillars emerging from concrete made to look like boulders and stones. Not a stick of wood to be seen that wasn't growing in the front garden. Something so trendy and hideous in Methos' opinion wasn't what you'd expect most Immortals to choose as a place to live. Often they picked places that reminded them of their homeland or the types of homes that they wished they could have lived in or had lived in when they were younger.
"What's the bag for?" she asked conversationally as they waited on the faux flagstone doorstep.
"In case she needs surgery."
Aria's eyebrows shot up, but she pressed on without sounding squeamish. "You haven't been a doctor in ages. Where'd you get it?"
"The last time I was a doctor," he said as though it ought to be obvious.
"You're kidding?" she answered, eyes wide as she studied the antique looking leather satchel. "But that was –"
"Medicine hasn't changed that much," he replied in exasperation at her reaction. He held the medical kit up and gave it a little shake in her direction. The tools inside rattled. "I've got a laser cutter and everything."
"Is that man ever going to answer the door?" Methos interrupted and waved his hand at the people detector.
"Maybe he didn't hear it. You could try knocking if you're impatient. Can't you sense him?"
"No, he must be upstairs or in the back garden. Or not home."
"He's here," she said with confidence.
The man's Watcher and who knows how many others stalking them just in case there was trouble would have alerted her if he'd left, Methos had no doubt. Not that they'd rescue him from danger. Just Aria.
"Well," she continued unperturbed, "the PD should have alerted him even out there unless the outside speaker is broken. Or perhaps the door's sensor is out of order?"
"Or he doesn't have a people detector at all," he said with a sigh. "Some Immortals never get with the times."
Another moment passed in silence.
"Daring and inquisitive, we are," she commented as the pair of them continued to stand there.
Methos rapped his knuckles on the metal door smartly at the same time Aria pushed a small button beside the door.
"There is a doorbell," she said pointing out the obvious and shrugging her shoulders.
They didn't have to wait long. Methos' back straightened and his breathing paused for a moment as he felt the other Immortal move into his range. Aria immediately took a step backward to one side where she could either duck behind him or away from him depending on their host's response to an unexpected Immortal and his mortal sidekick.
The door opened to reveal a short man with a touch of grey hair at his temples. Something that was unusual for Immortals as most died rather young. For a moment Methos thought perhaps the man was trying to look physically older to avoid suspicion and remain a little longer in his current life, but a second look confirmed it was his real appearance.
"Hello," Methos began. "I'm Pierce and this is my friend, Aria. I don't suppose you saw my picture on ISN recently?"
"Who hasn't? I haven't had a decent night's sleep since everybody found out Immortals exist. Though I suppose you aren't really to blame." He sounded dubious, as though he'd like to hold him responsible, but couldn't for lack of motive. "Why are you here?"
"I heard about Cassandra and would like to offer my assistance. I'm a doctor."
The man narrowed his eyes critically. "Heard what and why would you do that?"
"Cassandra and I are old acquaintances. Has she never mentioned me?"
Methos concealed his relief, settling instead on a look of puzzled disappointment that his 'friend' hadn't remembered to talk about him.
"Oh," Methos replied. "I guess I can see why she wouldn't. She had to break a lot of rules to help me sneak out of Babylon 5 after I escaped the Narns. I was going to call her to let her know I'd made it safely home, but I was told she'd died in public on the station the very day I got back to Earth."
It was the truth minus her reasons for speeding up his departure from the station and if you didn't count his fictional intention to inform her of his arrival home. The short little tale worked, breaking the man's tension and mistrust. He opened the door wider beckoning them in. His eyes lingered a moment on Aria, before accepting her as a trusted mortal friend of another Immortal and no more.
"How'd you find out Cassandra was here?" he asked, displaying the usual suspicion most Immortals clung to.
"From the same friend who told me she might have been found out by aliens the way I was," Methos explained. Calling his source a friend wasn't exactly accurate either, but he could always make up a name for the friend if needed.
"The Narns who tortured you?"
"Maybe, but there are so many races after us now and Babylon 5 is full of aliens…" Methos left off allowing the man draw his own conclusions from it whether it was fear, paranoia or outright bigotry. Whatever got them in the door would do.
The man nodded, accepting his explanation. "Oh, I haven't introduced myself," he said belatedly, his exhaustion becoming plainer as he dropped his guard further. "Alastair."
"Nice to meet you."
"She's in here," Alastair said and resolutely started off into the house. He led them down a hall into a rear room past many objects of the Victorian era. It didn't match the exterior of the house at all as though the outside was a deliberate camouflage. They entered a large sitting room with a large fireplace and overfilled with too much furniture and knickknacks.
The most striking thing they saw was the large unadorned metal coffin discarded against the wall as they came in the doorway. Cassandra was lying in repose on a sofa, implying that her relationship with her old student was too formal for something as personal as putting her in a bedroom. Though there was ample light, several candles flickered on the low tables near her. They gave off a heavy perfume that couldn't quite obscure the morgue smell that clung to her body and clothes.
Everything about her appearance spoke of death, from the pallor of her skin to the unnatural stillness of her chest. She was wearing her dress uniform. The polished metals on her jacket glittered in the candlelight. There was no obvious sign of trauma. Her face was serene.
"What did the doctors on Babylon 5 say she died of?" Aria asked, her voice sounding unnaturally loud in the still room.
Methos snorted. "Another way of saying they don't know. I don't suppose they mentioned what caused the heart failure."
Alastair shook his head. "They don't know. They did say she didn't have any wounds."
"Or she had wounds that healed only on the outside and something inside is keeping her dead."
"Well, that isn't something I'd be able to…" Alastair said uncomfortably, his face reddening. "That isn't my area of expertise."
"I have been a doctor many times," Methos stated. He kneeled down by the sofa and pushed aside some of the candles on the nearest table to make room for his surgical kit. "What else did they tell you?" he asked as he pulled out a scanner and began waving it over the body. The others stood over him looking at the scanner readout, though Methos doubted either would understand it.
"They found her in her quarters on the floor. The security chief's theory is she let someone in and was attacked, but the doctor says otherwise. No sign of a struggle, nothing stolen and she didn't call anyone for help," Alastair recited sadly. "Whether any of that is actually true, however…" he finished, suspicion lining his face.
"Are you implying that the doctors on Babylon 5 might have done this to her?" Aria asked as she handed the scanner back to Methos. Alastair just looked at her as though suddenly remembering she was mortal and therefore also a potential threat. Methos decided not to try to defend people he didn't know, Aria or the staff on the station.
Methos looked again at the scanner's readout. It was an old model and rather slow, but it did its job well enough. He hadn't really expected it to find something when Babylon 5's doctors couldn't. "I don't think our technology can detect the problem," he decided.
He looked up at Aria. This was the reason he'd wanted her along, she'd been on the Minbari ship and heard or seen things he hadn't. She raised her eyebrows in response to his expectant face, which likewise drew Alastair's attention. She offered nothing and seemed content to revert to silent observer. A Watcher indeed. Or maybe she just wasn't going to say anything in front of a second Immortal. Not good enough for Methos.
"I wasn't told everything about what the Narns did to me and I had little interest in inquiring further at the time. However, Aria was there after I was rescued," he said, knowing she'd have to say something now.
She was ready with an answer that sounded prepared, even if was only to be used if needed. "I know that the doctors found three machines inside your chest cavity that they believed were keeping you temporarily dead. I don't know what they were made of or how they might have worked. I didn't see them myself, they'd already been disposed of."
It was essentially a repeat of what Methos had been told trimmed of names and places Alastair didn't need to know about. He bit back his disappointment. Whether Aria had information he didn't about it or didn't know any more than he did, she wasn't interested in talking here. He pulled on some surgical gloves and arranged what tools he had hoping they would be sufficient for this operation.
"Well, I suppose I'll have to perform an autopsy myself to discover if what happened to me has been done to Cassandra," said Methos, informing rather than asking permission to turn Alastair's sofa into a surgical table. "If you'd rather not watch –"
"I'll just sit over here," Alastair answered moving to a seat across the room so that the sofa back obscured his view of Cassandra's body. He didn't look squeamish, but quite embarrassed. Methos spared a moment to wonder if there was more to this man's relationship with Cassandra than a student and teacher. Or perhaps it was just Victorian modesty. Methos turned back to his bag to find his Watcher literally hanging over his shoulder now, the picture of eagerness.
"Aria, if you could hand me the instruments?" he said with an amused smile that only she could see.
"Sure," she said, not quite stifling the enthusiasm in her voice. Watchers Methos thought were a bit too macabre sometimes. Or perhaps Aria was in the medical field herself. It occurred to him that he didn't know what Aria did other than skulk after him. Some Watchers had day jobs after all, often just as a cover.
As he began unzipping the front of Cassandra's uniform, he tried to estimate how quickly she was going to try to kill him once she revived and how to protect himself. He had no problems with leaving her student to explain everything while he and Aria fled the premises. She didn't need to know who her benefactor was. Yet, he was also having second thoughts about not injecting her with a sedative to prevent a rapid return to consciousness. However, if she could accept his help as atonement, or partial atonement, wouldn't it be worth staying to tell her himself? If she accepted anything at all, she'd likely insist he continue atoning by other means for the rest of his life of course, but Methos could live with that. Even if he didn't concede to any future demands, not having to worry about accidentally encountering her would be an improvement. Dodging her for over two thousand years had not been fun.
"Is it supposed to smell like that?" Aria asked, breaking into Methos' train of thought.
Methos' scalpel paused over Cassandra's ribcage. He sniffed the air and frowned. There was the usual cadaver smell and the ghastly perfume of the candles. Whether it was bouquets of flowers, perfume or incense, you always brought in something to mask the stench of death. It was normal, Alastair probably hadn't thought twice about it. Death smells. Methos hadn't thought anything of it either. Stay in a morgue long enough and you'll smell like a morgue. Aria had probably never seen an un-embalmed corpse in her life and likely didn't know what death smelled like.
His eyes widened in disbelief as he realized the smell shouldn't be as bad as was. Hurriedly he made cuts in the skin and tissue and flinched as the stench increased. Aria backed up at once, coughing. Frantically, he dug his hand inside the body cavity for anything that didn't belong. But there weren't any boxy metal machines, just the early stages of putrid decay no longer being delayed by lack of air or cold temperatures. He'd been so distracted, he'd stupidly forgotten one very simple fact: temporary death didn't stink.
Looking at her now, it was undeniable that she was truly dead. He couldn't understand why he had thought otherwise. Her skin was too green, the veins were too dark, and just thinking about the smell seemed to amplify it. Yet, it was impossible. He felt her neck, but all the bones were connected and the skin was unmarred. Her head was completely attached.
"Is her quickening gone?" Aria asked, holding her nose as she bravely returned.
Methos got unsteadily to his feet and caught Alastair's eyes from across the room. He didn't know what to say. Methos had never seen or heard of anything like it before in all his five thousand years of living. Nobody could remove a quickening without also removing the head.
Alastair's shoulders began to shake and his voice broke as he answered her, "I think so. I think she's really dead."
- o0o -
"I heard in the mess hall that this ship fought for Clark."
"Didn't they end up surrendering to Sheridan?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"But I thought the Nemesis was at Mars at the end of the war."
"Maybe they slunk back to Clark when Johnny wasn't looking."
"That's enough chatter," Catherine Sakai said as she stepped into the room full of pilots halfway into their flight suits. "Hurry up, we launch in ten minutes."
Her squad shut up as ordered and quickly grabbed the rest of their gear. As she dressed, she couldn't help but worry about this mission. Technically, her assignment to the Nemesis was temporary, as a means of being transported in comfort and as a suitable cover story. Normally, this wouldn't bother her overly much. It was the nature of her job to make her team blend in. In her more cynical moments, she reflected that it gave Earthforce better deniability.
She climbed into her Thunderbolt class Starfury and began the preflight preparation. It hummed reassuringly and the display sprung to life. She liked the newer ships, they started up quicker, were a bit more comfortable and they were atmosphere capable.
When she'd rejoined Earthforce she'd known that the only reasons they'd taken her back was for her experience as a Ranger and because the Minbari thought she was dead. She was transferred to Earthforce intelligence at once despite that, as far as they knew, she'd spent a mere four months on Minbar. They expected her knowledge to be limited, but better than anything they currently had. It put her in a quandary of what she could tell them without revealing she knew far morethan she should.
She held no illusions as to where her loyalty lay. Jeff always talked about Minbari and Humans becoming one people someday. But as far as she could see, that day was in the very distant future. To walk through Minbari society over the centuries, she'd lived under various pretenses. The 'alien merchant,' or 'alien assistant', even 'an unfashionable Centauri' on occasion and she had no choice but to train her own children to pretend she was the 'alien nanny' in public. It only emphasized that she was never one of them. Catherine knew better than most what the Minbari were capable of and how eagerly the warriors would like another war even after all these years. Anything she could do to improve Earth's survival should that happen was fine by her. Like Jeff, she was determined to make Earth a completely unappealing opponent, she simply didn't use his methods.
Earthforce had no compunction in sending her on dangerous spying missions into Minbari territory. She had no choice but to put her extensive knowledge of Minbari space, their technology and customs to use in order to keep her team alive. Looking back, Catherine realized it was an effective way of establishing her trustworthiness. Though more often than not, the information she acquired for them wasn't new to her, she was glad for every chance she got to give it to them in a way that could be easily explained.
A deep rumble, only really noticeable upon its absence, suddenly ceased and the glimmer of orange she could just see out of the corner of her cockpit changed briefly to blue and then the blackness of normal space. They were out of hyperspace.
"Iota Squadron and Sheepdog," came a voice from her console. "You are clear for launch."
"Acknowledged," Catherine replied and then said to her squad. "Okay kids, let's move."
They dropped away from the destroyer and watched a large metal contraption that looked rather like a squashed paper ball clumsily exiting the large hanger. The Nemesis turned around, immediately opening a jump point back into hyperspace. It was a massive expenditure of energy to exit and return to hyperspace without using a jumpgate and all to simply drop off one ship and a few Starfuries, but it was necessary to avoid being noticed by the Minbari. Catherine's team was going to set off the Minbari's alarms in a short while and they didn't need to find an Earthforce ship here.
"Okay people," she said into her com unit as she watched her timer counting down. "The big fish on duty should be at maximum distance and our little target is hopefully on schedule. Let's head for the edge."
They'd been on several missions together now, but none were as dangerous as this one. After months of preparation and practice, it'd been suddenly put off and they were sent on other missions. It kept being rescheduled and when the orders finally came they'd had no extra time to prepare. Of course, Earthforce had to choose now, while the Interstellar Alliance was in confusion over the Immortal crisis, to send them to invade Minbari territory. Her squad was quiet as they cruised through space, nervous about the mission and what was at stake should they fail, no doubt. They were a good team, the best she could ask for, but like her they couldn't help but be nervous about being caught by the Minbari.
"We don't have to start radio silence yet," she reminded them in as cheerful a voice as possible. "Come on, now's the time to ask and say what you couldn't onboard the Nemesis. Nobody is eavesdropping out here."
"Why haven't the Minbari fixed the holes in their early warning system?"
Catherine smiled. She could always count on Terry to ask the obvious, for the benefit of the rest of the squad who might be too nervous or too worried about looking bad to ask. "Good question, Iota Five. I can think of a number of reasons besides the expense, but I think the main reason is that these holes are so far away from their planets or anything else of value that they believe it is inconsequential. Their sensor grid will tag us in a few minutes, but at this distance it isn't precise. An object can travel hours in normal space before it is close enough for their system to differentiate whether it is a probe, ship, asteroid or some other space debris."
"A cruiser always shows up before that," he pointed out, but he was careful to maintain a respectful tone. "They investigate every intrusion."
Catherine understood why he was saying this. None of them had backed down from this mission, however now that they were committed he was letting her know the doubts running through everyone's minds… that this was a suicide mission at best and that they'd cause another war at worst. He was asking her to reassure the squad.
"True, none of our probes have lasted long. That is why we will be flying like drunks," Catherine reiterated, though they already knew it. "By destroying those probes, the Minbari gave away how fast – and how slowly – they respond to different configurations of objects entering their space which in turn revealed their patrol routes."
She'd been pleasantly surprised to discover that Earthforce was already aware of this potential weakness. They simply had not found a way to exploit it. Shortly after the Earth/Minbari war, they began a spying campaign. They sent unmarked probes made of materials commonly used by all races in the hope that they'd be untraceable. If the Minbari guessed they were of Human origin, they never did anything about it other than to destroy every probe sent.
The lack of repercussions emboldened Earthforce and they sent more. Over the course of seventeen years and during the absolute chaos of the recent Minbari civil war in particular, they mapped the paths and holes between the Minbari held solar systems where their sensors didn't quite reach. At first the probes were destroyed within hours of crossing the border, before they could broadcast more than one report to listening posts outside the Minbari border. But with time, stubbornness and a lot of money spent on disposable equipment, they calculated how much time they had to run for the next hole before a warship showed up to investigate. So long as the probe was out of the arriving ship's long-range sensors, it survived to continue deeper into their territory.
Catherine suspected that if the Minbari had ever bothered to map the holes in their grid, they still wouldn't have done anything about them. What for? Guards belong on top of the outer walls of the castle, not under the trees in the forest. Whether an intruder moved in hyperspace or normal space or a mixture of both, the moment they crossed into the sensor grid they would be detected long before they could threaten their worlds. It'd be like worrying about a few boulders in the middle of a field far outside your castle. Sure, someone could hide behind them, but you'd see them crossing the field to the rocks. Even if they dodged your archers on their way to the boulders, you'd know they were there and you'd have plenty of time to kill them in the long stretch of exposed ground between you once they came out of hiding. It'd be suicide for any attacker.
That didn't stop Earth from sending probes anyway. Eventually they discovered the gaps twisted in odd directions with little trails running off them and smaller holes peppered the edges that ran from the borders of Minbari space and across much of their territory between the solar systems they possessed. Even a capital ship could follow the beacon in hyperspace corresponding to the longer holes which was how the Nemesis had come this far into Minbari territory and opened a jump point without being detected. However, once the first trail ended they couldn't go any farther in hyperspace or normal space. They'd be seen the moment they left the hole.
The holes were useless, unless being seen didn't necessarily mean you would be caught.
"You've all seen the flight plan," she continued, "seen how it is mapped down to milliseconds, which is why our computers will do most of the flying. While exposed we won't behave like a squad of ships. Even if the Sharlin on duty jumps into hyperspace immediately to head our way, we'll reach the next blind spot before they can arrive.
"But I doubt they'll act so fast. It would be different if we exited or entered hyperspace within the grid – that would call every warship in the region down on us. We'll look like something wandering in normal space, so they'll pick a more convenient time to investigate, could be minutes to hours. They'll arrive to find that whatever set off the alarm has meandered back out of range. The idea that a bunch of ships would be wandering about in the middle of nowhere is ludicrous. They'll decide we were some space detritus or a glitch in the system."
"And when we set the alarm off the second time?" Iota Two asked.
"We'll be in a worker caste region then. We don't look like threatening ships, so they won't call the warriors next door. The castes are not particularly good at communicating with each other, especially deep in their own space and will be unaware that they both experienced the same oddity today. Better still, the workers are absolute sticklers for schedules. We know exactly where every ship in their region of space will be every step of the way. We can do this people."
They answered her in affirmative and in better spirits.
"Coming up on the edge. Begin radio silence and ready your flight programs on my mark… dance."
The squad's formation split up into semi-random patterns and their ships began follow individual flight plans designed to look as much like a natural phenomenon as possible. Their trip in normal space would be a long one as they navigated the blind spots intruding into Minbari space. It was a pity there wasn't a hole large enough in the Worker's space for the Nemesis to jump in directly.
Catherine had used these spots herself long ago. She and Jeff used them to enter hyperspace unnoticed when they needed to. The early warning system recorded all jump openings whether by gate or a ship's jump engine in their grid, but otherwise it passively ignored ships in normal space by assuming they all had to be Minbari ships. The system couldn't log a jump opening it couldn't see. There were ways to fake logs, but Jeff preferred to leave no record at all especially when Catherine had made visits to Earth before the Minbari and Humans had first official contact. The only downside was the unpleasantly long journey in normal space to the nearest blind spot large enough to hide a jump opening.
The obvious way to create a practical use for these blind spots was to obtain a Minbari ship. Of course, if they had a Minbari ship then they might as well use the jump gate system instead. And while they were at it, why not pick up something handy from the barricaded and trap laden Vorlon homeworld? Which was why Earthforce had made no progress in taking advantage of the holes in the system.
The Minbari's jump capable ships were too strong and even catching one dependent on jump gates intact was insanely difficult. Also, the Minbari would notice they lost a ship and look for it. At best, Earthforce would have a damaged vessel they couldn't repair and they wouldn't have the pass codes necessary to use the Minbari jump gates much less the permits for landing on a planet. The result would be only good to study. At worst, they'd incite another war.
It couldn't be done... until now. Catherine knew how to get a Minbari ship that no one would notice had gone missing.
She shoved down the feeling that she was betraying Jeff. She was only giving Earthforce her little and rather old ship. That was all. If they did get back to Earth space – and that was still uncertain – she was sure the best they could do was take it apart and spend years reverse engineering its technology, which was perfectly fine with her. She only hoped it was still where she left it and still worked after all these decades. She tried not to think about could go wrong on the mission, but little doubts began to creep in the moment she told herself not to think about that. It was possible Jeff might have moved her ship. All it would take is a rare oddball warrior captain decided to depart from the normal procedure or a Ranger ship doing its own sneaking about out here and this mission would be quickly over.
They alternately chatted when they could, ate, slept and tried not to think about how much longer it was going to be before they could get out. A transport similar to the one Catherine had used for deep space surveying would have been more comfortable, but Earthforce insisted they go in fighters. Whether it was because they thought it would give the pilots some protection being many small targets or just the psychological reassurance of being in a ship with weapons, she didn't know.
New readouts flared across her screens as she left the grid and entered the next blind spot. A moment later, her ship ceased its slow spinning as the flight program finished and manual control restored. At last, it was time.
"Lead us lambs to the edge of the next pasture." And not to slaughter, she thought quietly.
- o0o -
Hello all, thought I was never going to update this story, didn't you? I was thinking the same and feeling bad about it. Two and a half years is ridiculous between chapters and I'm very sorry it took so long. My only excuse is that real life became very, very wonderful and therefore busy. I still want to finish this fic and always said I'd never leave one unfinished, but I can't guesstimate when I will. So, no promises of chapter nine any time soon. Hopefully it will be not be as long as this one took!