Chapter Three

Commandants Office

Earth Force Orbital Base

Jericho IV, Sometime Later

General Patrick Newman sighed softly as he finished reading through the formal orders that had recently arrived from Earth Force Command. Orders that confirmed the instructions and information that General Lefcourt had given him earlier via high priority, encrypted stellar comm. transmission. Now that he had the formal orders from Earth Force he would be able to act upon the information, he'd been given and the knowledge of what was tearing through hyperspace towards the Jericho System right now.

Captain Jankowski and the Prometheus, along with the Persia and the exploration/survey vessel Northern Horizon were inbound, escorting a refugee fleet from the first Code Sabre contact for twenty-three years. A refugee fleet that astoundingly was composed not of aliens but Humans, albeit Humans who spoke a dead language, which combined with the fact that they had come from beyond the rim of known space, made them an enigma. A potentially very dangerous enigma as there obvious enemies had already engaged Earth Force in battle inflicting serious damage to the Prometheus and destroying the Enola Gay with all hands. I'm going to have to put out a message to all frontier fleet ships informing them of Enola Gay's fate, he thought, the men and women on that ship were there colleagues, their brothers and sisters in arms. They should hear about there deaths from me not over ISN as those bloodhounds are bound to find out about this soon.

Thinking about the frontier defence fleet that was based here at Jericho he couldn't help but wince. He knew that there would be a lot of grief and anger among the crews when they learned that Enola Gay had been destroyed, vaporised with all hands by an alien nuke. The crews would want revenge and Newman wouldn't blame them, hell he wanted it himself, wanted to make whoever the alien monsters that destroyed Enola Gay were understand that they could not go around nuking Earth Force ships into oblivion without enduring the most serious of consequences. However, it's going to be impossible to get revenge, he thought, not unless the aliens show themselves again. Thankfully, the order to bring the frontier defence fleet to defcon three is going to help there, but if only those murderers show themselves again.

After a few moments, he shook off his thoughts, reminding himself that he had a lot of work to do, before tapping the link on the back of his right hand. "C&C contact all Earth Force units in the sector and advise them to go to defcon three, also advise the captains that a full statement for their crews will follow shortly," he ordered. "Then have all base and shipyard senior officers' report to my office immediately."

"Aye sir," the lieutenant who was the duty officer in C&C answered.

"Then get me Governor Roberts on the planet," Newman added, even though he had a lot of resources up here in orbit both on his Orion-class space station and in the shipyards something told him that they would need access to the resources of the Jericho IV colony, especially the hospital, when the refugees arrived. "Tell him that it is a matter of the utmost urgency."

"Aye sir."

As the suddenly busy lieutenant signed off Newman leaned back in his chair and considered how he was going to explain everything to Governor Jason Roberts. The two of them didn't exactly see eye-to-eye on a great many things, they came from completely opposing sides of the political spectrum as well as completely different social backgrounds, which made things frequently very tense between them. He could only hope that the would-be senator didn't try to turn what was coming into a political issue. Roberts shouldn't but he wouldn't put it past the arrogant man to try.

After a few moments, the screen on his computer terminal changed from the main directory to the face of Governor Roberts back dropped by the window of his office, which gave a nice view out on Jericho City – the only settlement on the Earth-like Jericho IV so far. There was a sour expression on the governor's face, obviously he had been about to leave his office and didn't appreciate his plans being disrupted by an unexpected call from Earth Force an impression that was further enforced when Roberts spoke.

"Alright general what is so important that I had to delay my afternoon meeting schedule, there were important issues to discuss," Roberts snapped, annoyance dripping from his voice. Important issues my ass, Newman thought knowing Roberts was really off to a fundraising meeting for his plans to be Jericho IV's first senator.

"Governor a situation has developed that is about to land on our respective laps," Newman replied keeping his voice calm and professional, letting none of his contempt for politicians in general – and the governor in particular – show. "There has been a Code Sabre contact situation involving the Prometheus."

Roberts face went still and the annoyance vanished as his eyes widened in surprise, before narrowing in concern. Like most politicians and senior military personnel, the governor was well aware that there hadn't been a Code Sabre contact situation for twenty-three years, since before Earth joined the war against the cruel, ruthless Dilgar.

"Go on," Roberts said.

Newman nodded and began carefully explaining the situation that the Prometheus had encountered in The Eye and the refugee fleet that she was bringing to Jericho IV. As he spoke a frown of concern appeared on the governor's face.

"Are you equipped to handle so many refugees up there, general," Roberts asked.

"To be honest governor no, this is really going to strain my resources to breaking point. That's why I would like to use groundside medical facilities should the need arrive, from what little we know so far the refugees are going to be in quite a bad way having travelled for along time in ships that are slowly but surely falling apart."

"I will give the orders to make them available to you," Roberts answered promptly. "I'll also marshal up as many emergency supplies and personnel as can be spared ready for transport up to the fleet. It won't be much but anything is better than nothing."

"Indeed it is thank you."

"It's no difficulty. I am concerned however about the colonies security tell me general if the unknown forces that destroyed the Enola Gay come here can you defend us effectively?"

"No need to worry there, governor," Newman answered. "Between the fleet and the orbital defence grid we could repel all bar a full scale assault. Even if the aliens mounted one we'd certainly be able to hold on long enough for reinforcements to arrive."

"Good. Now if you'll excuse me general I will start making the arrangements down here."

"Of course, governor."

Roberts nodded and broke the connection from his end. The main directory returned a moment before the office doors opened and Newman's senior staff came into the room.

"Please be seated," Newman, instructed them. "People we've got a bit of a situation heading our way. I don't have a lot of time to explain all this so I ask that you hold your questions until the end of this briefing."

"Yes sir," one of the officers replied for all of them as they sat down.

"Good. Okay here is what happened and what is going to happen."

ISN Regional News Studio

Jericho City, Jericho IV

That Same Time

Junior Interstellar Network news reporter Daniel Randall sat in stunned silence in the small cubicle that was his office. He could barely believe what he'd just heard over the tap the editor had managed to get installed in the comm. arrays of both the orbital station and the governor's office. They couldn't use the tap often or for long, not without Earth Force or the governor's security people spotting the illegal tap and beginning a trace – so it didn't often yield any useful or newsworthy information.

This time however it had.

Ironically, he'd almost missed it, another few minutes and he would have headed down to the cafeteria for lunch. Now he was glad that he'd taken the time to check the tap again and noticed that a high priority signal was coming in from General Newman's office on the orbital station to Governor Roberts's personal office. What he'd discovered when he'd listened in blew him away. There had been a Code Sabre contact situation, the first in over two Earth standard decades, and to make it even more interesting the contact involved Humans. It was going to be the story of the decade.

Moreover, it was all his.

That knowledge finally pierced through his stunned state and got him moving again. His hands quickly danced across his console, saving the recording of the conversation to a spare data crystal. After pocketing the crystal, he stood up. He would have to have a word with the editor but he had no doubt that he was about to break a big story; one that would get him a long overdue promotion and possibly even a flight on a transport back to Earth and the main ISN studios in Geneva.

Calmly hiding his nerves he walked through the small regional news office, ISN presence on this recently colonised world was so minimal that they only warranted two levels in a building that barely deserved to be called a skyscraper. Consequently, it didn't take long to reach the door to the editor's office nervously he knocked for admittance.

"Come in," a powerful voice called from inside.

"Hey chief you got a minute," Randall asked pushing open the door.

"Depends," Editor Kieran Bates, responded. "What do you want, Randall."

"I was monitoring the computer when I noticed a high priority call from General Newman to Governor Roberts," Randall answered. "I listened in," he took the crystal from his pocket. "This is what I found."

Curiosity peaked Bates accepted the data crystal, slotted it into a free port and played back the recording. Bates eyes widened in shock as he listened and heard the term Code Sabre it had been a long time since he'd heard that term. Shock turned into amazement and delight as the recording went on before morphing into horror and anger at the news of the Enola Gay's destruction by nuclear weapon; before changing to shock again as the governor was informed that the frontier defence fleets all across the Earth Alliance were going to defcon three. Finally, silence reigned in the office once again, as the recording came to an end, reporter and editor lost in there own thoughts for a few moments.

"Very interesting," Bates said at last, swallowing a lump in his throat at the thought that after twenty years of peace Earth could once again be heading for war. "Put together a report, Randall. We're definitely going to put this on the news, after this, those spoiled folks in Geneva won't be sneering at us out here on the frontier anymore. Let them be jealous for a change."

Daniel Randall grinned at the prospect of getting one over on the somewhat snobbish reporters and correspondents back in Geneva. It would serve them right for exiling all of them to this backwater. "Yes sir," he said.

Prometheus Shuttle

In Hyperspace Approaching Battlestar Galactica

A Short Time Later

The first thing that occurred to Captain Michael Jankowski when he saw the battlestar Galactica with his own eyes was that the ship looked like it had been through hell. The Colonial warships hull was in bad shape, badly scorched and pitted from weapons fire in more places than he could clearly count. The ship had clearly taken one heck of a pounding – possibly even repeated poundings – during its long flight from wherever it was beyond the rim that these so called Colonials came from. Given the amount of hull damage he could see it was amazing that the ship was still flying – an Earth Force ship with the same level of hull damage wouldn't be, in fact would have been destroyed long before reaching such a state.

Another thing he quickly noticed was how heavily armed the battlestar was, she literally bristled with hundreds of individual weapons arrays. Though the sensors on the Prometheus had revealed that Colonial weapons were somewhat crude, they were just quaint old-fashioned rail and coil guns – the sheer number of them on board made the Galactica one hell of a weapons platform. He was willing to bet that Galactica could take on most warships from a number of the local races and kick there butts if she could get in the first strike.

As the pilot of his shuttle guided it in towards the ships port side hanger pod Jankowski carefully checked the seals on his environmental suit. Though the Galactica's crew were Human he couldn't take the risk of exposing them to any bacterial or virus contamination that was on his body – as they might not be immune to the bugs that commonly made the rounds in the Earth Alliance, and vice versa. After all they'd probably been through the last thing he wanted to do was expose these people to a disease they had no defence against, he didn't want to be responsible for starting a plague. Until he was, certain it was safe he would wear the suit.

Satisfied that all was in order with the suit he made sure his translator was ready. The fact that they didn't speak the same language was going to make things a little difficult between Earth Alliance and these Colonials. At least till these Colonials pick up Standard English and stop speaking an obsolete language, Jankowski thought to himself the shuttle crossed into the bay and landed on an illuminated platform.

Immediately Jankowski got a shock, when he felt his body being pulled firmly down into his seat, not being kept from floating away by a seatbelt. These people have artificial gravity, he thought in astonishment as he felt his full bodyweight for the first time in nearly a week. Earth had long sought the secret of generating a viable artificial gravity field onboard ship, it would extend the times ships could stay in space massively. The Dilgar had had the technology and they'd been examining it on captured Dilgar ships for years, trying to reverse engineer it, but so far, all attempts had failed. EarthGov and Earth Force Command are definitely going to be after this technology, he thought knowing how much a boon artificial gravity technology would be. Especially as it was probably very energy efficient as Prometheus' sensors had confirmed that Galactica's power signature was considerably lower than most Earth ships and that Galactica – like the alien warships that had destroyed the Enola Gay – was being powered by some kind of nuclear fission reactor with some kind of chemical reactors providing an additional source of power.

After a moment, he became aware that the shuttle was moving downwards, that the illuminated landing pad was a lift that was carrying them into the Galactica's interior. Here we go, he thought releasing his restraint and standing up, I hope that these Colonials are prepared to tell me who attacked my ship and killed five hundred and fifty-six people under my command back at the Eye. I suppose only time will tell.

President Laura Roslin felt butterflies of nerves fluttering about in her stomach as accompanied by Admiral Adama she watched the shuttle from the Earth ship being towed into a docked position by one of the tractors. She knew that the meeting that she and Admiral Adama would soon be having with Captain Jankowski was a historic meeting, for the first time in four thousand years or more members of all thirteen tribes would meet face to face, reunited again after so long apart.

A lot was riding on the meeting. For so long the people of the Colonial Remnant had pinned there hopes and dreams on the Thirteenth Tribe. This first face-to-face meeting since the Earth ships had pulled there collective tails out the fire at the Ionian Nebula – giving the Cylons a very bloody nose in the process – would determine the Remnant's fate. Whether the scattered, scarred survivors of the Colonies of Kobol would be safe under the Thirteenth Tribes protection – the performance of the Earth ships a few hours ago now clearly showed that the Thirteenth possessed the power to deter Cylon aggression – or if they would be cast adrift. Doomed to wander the stars for all eternity.

The Earth shuttle came to a stop and in an effort to distract herself from the nervousness, blossoming inside Laura eyed it curiously. It was an unusual design a sleek, rounded triangular shape with short stubby wings, and three large bell-like thrusters at the back. It was obviously designed to fly both in atmosphere and in space in the same way that there own shuttles were, though she had to admit the design of the Prometheus shuttle was a nice change from the box design of a Colonial shuttle.

For a moment, the shuttle remained motionless, then with a humming sound, a ramp deployed from its dull grey hull. It made contact with the Galactica's deck with a soft clang of metal on metal. Schooling her features into a calm mask he adjusted her jacket – while silently regretting she didn't have anything decent to wear, this suit was getting really battered now – and watched as a hatch slid open.

Then a man appeared and started down the ramp, moving with a strange awkwardness as if he wasn't used to artificial gravity. Which seemed a little odd given how technologically powerful the Thirteenth Tribe seemed to be if their weapons capabilities were anything to go by.

It was hard to make out precise details of the man. He was dressed in what was obviously a flight suit and wearing a helmet that could have easily belonged to a Colonial pilot, as the design was so eerily similar. Through the faceplate, she saw his face clearly; he had brown eyes and short mousy hair that was also brown. Slight lines in his face showed the burden that he was under; there was no doubt that the man was Captain Jankowski.

Standing beside her Admiral Adama cleared his throat before stepping forward. "Captain Jankowski," he asked.

The figure nodded and raised a hand and in it, Laura noticed a strange ball-like object. Jankowski said something in a language that she didn't understand, only for the ball to pulse white.

"Yes," Jankowski's voice said from the sphere speaking bad Colonial Standard. "Are you Admiral Adama?"

"I am," William replied.

Jankowski smiled. "It is a pleasure to meet you face to face," he said, the translator echoing his words a few milliseconds later. "We have much to discuss."

William Adama smiled slightly, liking the attitude he was getting. Clearly, Captain Jankowski was not one for beating about the bush and just wanted to get down to the business that had brought him here. He supposed if he were in the captains position he would be acting the same way, after all the man had saved all of there lives. At the cost of one of his owns ships and the lives of the hundreds of people that had probably been on board it.

"That we do," he agreed before gesturing to Laura. "Allow me to present, Laura Roslin, president of the twelve colonies."

"Hello, captain," Laura replied stepping forward and offering a hand. "It is a great pleasure to meet you the contact with your ships has given us cause for hope. Though I wish to extend my sympathies for those you lost on the ship the Cylons destroyed."

"Thank you, madam president," Jankowski replied bringing himself to attention as well as he could with a translator in his hand, it was the only proper response he could give to a head of state. At the same time he made a note of the word Cylons – clearly the name of there mysterious new missile loving adversary. "Though I don't understand why the Cylons opened fire on us the way they did."

"It's a long and complicated story," William replied. "Though the quick answer is they attacked because your Human and the Cylons are programmed to kill Humans, they will not rest until every last Human in the universe is dead."

"Programmed," Jankowski, repeated. "Are the Cylons machines then?"

"Yes and no," William admitted. "Like I said its complicated though there objective isn't. They intend to destroy all Thirteen Tribes of Man. They already destroyed our colonies, nuked them flat in less than a day. Billions died, the people in this fleet are all that's left."

"Dear God," Jankowski whispered to softly for the translator to pick up. He was horrified at the thought of billions of Humans being slaughtered in mere hours, wiped from existence in a blaze of nuclear fire. It was a horror that could be barely envisioned, but it had happened to these people from what the admiral was saying. If it were true then the Cylons were no better than the Dilgar. That was when something else the admiral had said finally registered with him.

"What do you mean by Thirteen Tribes of Man," he asked and noticed the looks of surprise and confusion that appeared on the faces of the admiral and the president alike. "What?"

"You are from the Thirteenth Tribe correct, from Earth," Roslin asked, feeling dread beginning to settle in her stomach.

"I'm from Earth yes to be specific I'm from Canton, Ohio. But I've never heard of anything of humanity having thirteen tribes."

William Adama and Laura Roslin both frowned and exchanged looks of concern. This was something they had never anticipated, that the Thirteenth Tribe wouldn't remember who they were or where they were from. That was going to make things difficult, especially if the more religiously inclined of their people got wind of the fact that the Thirteenth Tribe didn't remember Kobol, which was very likely to happen in the very public environment of the hanger bay. It was therefore imperative that they take this discussion to a more suitable location before proceeding further.

"I see," William replied at last. "It's a long story."

"We're twelve hours from Jericho Four's jump gate," Jankowski answered. "We appear to have plenty of time."

"Then please come with us and we can explain things," William said before asking the question that had been bothering him since the moment the Prometheus' master had stepped out of his shuttle. "By the way why are you wearing a spacesuit? The environment on this ship is perfectly safe."

"It's for your protection and mine, admiral," Jankowski answered. "I don't want to run the risk of exposing you to any bugs or viruses that I might be carrying that could prove devastating to you if you have no immunity to them. The reverse is also true. History tells me how very easily it can happen and how devastating it can be."

"I see that is very thoughtful of you," Roslin replied, what Captain Jankowski had said made sense when you really thought about it. Earth had been separated from the other Twelve Colonies of Kobol for four thousand years or more – it was hard to be certain how long it had actually been as the sacred scrolls were cryptic about the exact time of Kobol's demise and the exodus of the Thirteen Tribes. Who knew what bacteria and viruses the people of Earth had encountered in that time and become immune to but which the people in the Colonial Remnant would have no defence against? An illness that could be common on Earth could prove devastating to the people of the fleet and vice versa.

"Please come this way," William Adama, said before leading the way off the hanger deck, Jankowski took a deep breath and followed the older man. Something told him he was about to get answers that would only lead to more questions, questions that he wasn't sure he really wanted to know the answer to. Nevertheless, he was here now and General Lefcourt had ordered that he get answers so he would listen to what Admiral Adama and President Roslin had to say, however bizarre or confusing it turned out to be.

Laura Roslin brought up the rear of their little procession as they made their way up off the bustling hanger deck towards one of the crossover corridors to the battlestars main hull. The fact that the Thirteenth Tribe didn't seem to remember Kobol – if Captain Jankowski's reaction was anything to go by – did not sit that well with her. Some massive catastrophe must have befallen them in the past, a catastrophe that had wiped out their true history. It was a turn of events that could have never been anticipated, and it was going to make relations that much more difficult to establish.

After a moment's thought, she sighed in resignation. The last three years had been nothing but hardship for all of them, overcoming the hurdle of the Thirteenth Tribe not knowing who they were was just the latest obstacle put in their way. They would overcome it as they had all the obstacles and challenges before them. They had to, as the only alternative would be to sit in space and let the Cylons leisurely blast them from the sky.

And that was unacceptable.


That Same Time

The solar system that was home to the ancient, dark world of Z'ha'dum was a barren, silent place, seemingly devoid of any form of sentient life. Few spacefaring races ever even attempted to make the journey to Z'ha'dum – even those species who were technologically advanced enough to detect and bypass the powerful, ancient defence systems seeded throughout the sector by the Shadows. Across the galaxy species knew unconsciously that Z'ha'dum was a forbidden place, a haunt of darkness that would consume anyone who dared to land on the planet from which the system took its name.

Abruptly the systems long silence was disturbed as sixty-five thousand kilometres out from the word of Z'ha'dum space abruptly warped and distorted. Two glowing blue funnels of energy burst into existence with silent roars of power. Out of the rents ripped in the fabric of space came a small fleet of ships, the jump points folding closed behind them as if they had never been present at all.

Anyone who saw the fleet of ships would have though them elegant and beautiful. Dozens of small tri-winged fighters constructed of a light blue polycrystalline material darted with effortless grace around two massive capital ships. Moving in closer formation with the two capital ships were small, sleek armed transports and gun ships that looked more like aquatic animals than spaceships. All of them however were dwarfed by the two capital vessels, each was a massive ship over sixteen hundred metres long and close on a kilometre tall. To Human eyes, the ships would have resembled angelfish crossed with some gigantic ribbed whale. Each was covered with projections that marked them as warships. Warships that were a combination of elegance and predatory fierceness, a combination that would strike fear and awe into almost anyone they encountered.

Propelled by their gravitic propulsion systems the two Minbari war cruisers glided towards Z'ha'dum with an effortless grace that would fill most species with undisguised envy as every movement of the cruisers and there escorts proclaimed the technological supremacy of the Minbari for all to see. Invisibly, silently the powerful and sophisticated sensors on the two cruisers reached out across space and began probing the area around Z'ha'dum – searching for any sign that the dark ones they had fought a thousand years ago were beginning to return her as had long ago been prophesised by the greatest of them to ever live.

Deep within the slightly larger of the two war cruisers, a vessel called the Valen'tha, a mysterious – even to the Minbari – group of individuals wearing hooded dark grey robes stood in a darkened room. Each figure stood in the centre of a cone of blue light – the light cones being the only illumination in the entire chamber. Which suited them as it reminded them constantly of there role, the role Valen himself had chosen for them a thousand years ago, the role to stand between the candle and the star. To be neither of the darkness or of the light, but to be of the middle, to be of the grey.

A tenth figure appeared out of the darkness of the chamber, moving to a tenth cone of light in the centre of the ring of nine formed by the others. Unlike his fellow members of the Grey Council he didn't wear the dark grey robes of there office, instead he wore simple white and cream coloured robes. In one hand, he held a silver staff topped with a strange triangular device known to the Minbari as a triluminary, the staff and triluminary were the symbol of his office, of his position over all Minbari everywhere. His name was Dukhat, and he was known as the chosen one, the leader of the Grey Council and the supreme leader of all Minbari.

Silence reigned in the great chamber of the Grey Council, its members standing silent and proud seemingly assured in their power and position. Nothing could be further from the truth, to a soul all of them were nervous about being here at Z'ha'dum – the place from which the ancient nemesis known only as the Shadows had come.

For a few moments nothing happened then a shimmering curtain of energy came down around the assembled council, and resolved into a three dimensional holographic projection of the space outside their mighty ship, making it feel almost like they were standing in the void. Ahead of them floated the dark world they had come to investigate, a world that had not been seen by Minbari eyes in many generations.

"There appears to be nothing here," Satai Morann of the Warrior Caste said softly, removing his hood as protocol demanded so he could address the rest of the council. "This place appears dead, the Shadows are not here."

"This voyage is a waste of our time," Satai Coplann, also of the Warrior Caste, agreed removing his own hood. "The prophecy does not appear to be true, the Shadows are..."

"We should not be so quick to pass judgement," Satai Rathenn, of the Religious Caste pointed out as he slipped off his own hood. "We must do a thorough examination of this system before we can make any kind of judgement regarding the return of the Shadows."

"Satai Rathenn is correct," Hedronn – the third and final Warrior Caste Satai, – said. "It is too soon to make any judgements. We must proceed as planned." Morann scowled and was about to open his mouth to object when a soft crystalline chime stopped him in his tracks.

"Satai Dukhat," the voice of Shai Alyt Branmer echoed in the chamber, coming from the bridge far above the council chamber.

"Yes, Shai Alyt," Dukhat answered speaking for the first time since they had emerged from hyperspace.

"Primary scans of Z'ha'dum have been completed," Branmer reported. "The sensors are picking up a number of active power sources both on and beneath the surface of the planet."

"Identify power source."

"Power source is of unknown type and origin," Branmer's voice answered a second before musical alarms sounded throughout the ship. "Satai our sensors have detected ships moving towards us on an intercept course. Unknown configuration."

"Show us," Morann commanded.

"At once, Satai."

The holographic display shimmered for a moment then changed to show the ships that were approaching the small Minbari task force. There were two capital ships; their hulls were made of an amber coloured material that gleamed slightly where it caught the light of the systems distant sun. Strangely, curved edges near the aft sections glowed with a shimmering blue light obviously the engines of the three ships. Each ship was huge nearly three kilometres long but didn't seem to mount obvious weapons turrets or beam projectors in the way the Minbari ships did.

Flying along in front of the three massive ships was a literal swarm of small fighter sized vessels. Almost dart-like in form the fighters had a strange blue crystal in their bows and were made of the same amber-coloured material as the bigger ships. All of them advanced upon the Minbari ships with confident arrogance and deadly purpose.

"Satai Dukhat our sensors are picking up a sharp energy surge," Branmer reported. "Unknown ships are powering up their weapons, we are being targeted."

Morann frowned. "Are our stealth systems working," he asked.

"Perfectly Satai, the unknown ships sensors are just burning through as if our stealth fields don't exist."

"Open gun ports and bring weapons systems online," Dukhat instructed. "And prepare to transfer additional power to recharging the jump engines."

"Yes, Satai."

"Is that necessary it is only two ships," Morann asked. "We should be able to defeat them easily."

Dukhat scowled at the warrior's arrogant confidence. He started to open his mouth to remind the younger Minbari that it was only a fool who underestimated an enemy. But no words were heard as for at that, moment there came a dull rumbling boom and the Valen'tha rocked violently.

Silently the fleet of unknown fighters accompanied by two capital vessels of there own moved towards the Minbari vessels that had dared to violate there masters domain. The Shadows were still away or asleep, they were vulnerable and reliant on them to protect them until the Time of Awakening.

The presence of the Minbari now was concerning as it meant the Minbari suspected that after a thousand years of silence the Shadows were returning, but fortunately it was only two war cruisers and there support ships. To a soul the crews on the Drakh cruisers and raiders were confident that they would crush the Minbari infidels quickly – ensuring that the secret that there masters were preparing to return would stay just that a secret.

The first squadrons of raiders crossed an invisible line in space and immediately opened fire upon the Minbari. From the blue crystal in the nose of each raider erupted a brilliant, shimmering blue energy beam that sliced silently across space to smash into the Minbari cruisers despite the best efforts of the Minbari stealth technology to disrupt the Drakh sensors. Fired from extreme range the raiders quantum particle beams did no harm to the cruisers, beyond shaking both vessels, the energy of the beams being effortlessly dispersed across the hull of the war cruisers by there gravitic defence fields.

Despite being startled by the accurate fire, despite there stealth technology's best efforts, the Minbari reacted quickly. The screen of Niall-class fighters that had been buzzing around the cruisers broke formation and advanced upon the Drakh raiders – slender yellow-green fusion laser beams shooting forth from each of there triple gun arrays. Three raiders instantly crumpled and exploded in brilliant fireballs as they took multiple strikes. The other raiders ignored the loss and continued towards the Minbari, even as some of there number broke formation to engage the Minbari fighters.

As the fighters and some of the raiders began dog-fighting, yellow-green and blue beams flashing back and forth and occasionally resulting in a fighter or raider going up in a brilliant fireball, the remaining raiders fired upon the cruisers for the second time. Once again, there beams did no damage to the Minbari – the gravitic screens absorbing and dispersing most of the energy of the beams over a wider area to dissipate back out into space, this time however, some energy got through to strike the polycrystalline armour covering the cruisers metal skins. Instantly the armour soaked up the energy, dispersing it and like the gravitic defence field radiating it back out into space.

Instantly the cruisers secondary weapons arrays responding, slamming out fusion laser beams and bolts of coherent electromagnetic energy from electro-pulse arrays, even as additional Niall squadrons emerged from the noses of the war cruisers. Dozens of Drakh raiders vanished from existence being wiped from the sky with effortless ease by the powerful Minbari weapons. The remaining raiders veered off – trying to move out of the angle of fire of the capital ship guns – only to be pounced on by the Niall's and gun ships that tore into them with a vengeance.

For a moment, the battle swung against the Drakh as the raider assault was driven back, pushed away from the war cruisers by an intense wall of firepower. Then the slower Drakh cruisers came into firing range themselves and instantly opened up. Wider and brighter quantum particle beams blasted forth from there main cannons while smaller pulse cannons began firing at the fighters and gun ships, swatting several from the sky immediately.

The beams from the Drakh cruisers smashed into both Minbari ships with white-hot force, but in a testament to the engineering skills of the Minbari, the gravitic shielding blunted the weapon impacts, absorbing seventy percent of the beams energy. The remaining energy of the beams slammed into the polycrystalline armour and was immediately absorbed and dispersed though small carbon scoring appeared on the armour as a thin film of polycrystalline material burned away at the points of impact.

Both the Valen'tha and the companion cruiser the Ingata shuddered violently with the attacks but immediately retaliated with the neutron beam cannons that were there main armament. Emerald green beams of raw power and with bores measured in metres smashed into the Drakh cruisers – ripping through there own gravitic defences to flay at the armoured hulls. Both Drakh ships visibly shook with the impacts even as plumes of molten metal erupted from there hulls as the neutron beams attacked the metal at the sub-molecular level tearing atoms apart.

Startled and much more respectful now the Drakh cruisers changed tactics. There pulse arrays ceased firing upon the Niall's, giving the pilots time to start re-establishing shattered formations and instead fired upon the war cruisers, simultaneously both cruisers fired there main quantum beams again – this time focusing all fire on the Ingata while sending energy pulse after energy pulse into the Valen'tha.

The combined beams smashed into the Ingata, sending plumes of melting crystalline material into space as the powerful beams overwhelmed the polycrystalline materials deflection and absorption capabilities. Even as she rocked violently and visibly with the impact, the Ingata hit back, neutron beams smashing into a single Drakh cruiser tearing away huge chunks of armour but failing to penetrate to the hull underneath.

The Ingata struck again with her neutron beams and this time her secondary fusion lasers added their own formidable firepower to the assault, every beam firing upon the same cruiser. Drakh armour shattered and vaporised allowing the powerful Minbari weapons to cut into the hull beneath. Jets of molten material and escaping atmosphere shot out of the gashes ripped in the side of the ship. Though now heavily damaged the Drakh cruiser refused to give up and with its companion fired its main quantum beam cannon at the Ingata once again.

Crystalline armour shattered and vaporised allowing the beams and energy pulses to burn deep into the core of the Minbari warship. Secondary explosions erupted throughout the Ingata, burning and severely damaged the Sharlin-class cruiser began to tumble helplessly out of control. Sensing victory both Drakh cruisers fired upon the near helpless Ingata again, twin beams of blue death burning right into the very heart of the vessel, the artificial quantum singularity that powered the ship, rupturing the containment field with devastating results.

In a titanic blast of energy and fire, the Ingata disintegrated as its singularity blinked out of existence, releasing all of its energy in a single cataclysmic burst of energy and hard radiation that tore the whole ship apart in an instant.

No sooner than the blast of the Ingata's violent death faded than another explosion shattered space as the Valen'tha hit the already damaged alien warship with a full alpha strike from every weapon that it could bring to bear. Under the immense concentrated firepower of a Shagotti-class war cruiser the damaged ship had no chance, it broke in half midway down its length before exploding.

Grey Council Chamber

Minbari War Cruiser Valen'tha

Dukhat and the members of the Grey Council stumbled as the shudder of another direct hit ran through the Valen'tha's deck as the remaining alien cruiser slammed another searing beam into the side of the ship. Around them, the holographic display momentarily flickered as the energy of the blast shot through the ship causing brief disruptions in the energy distribution grid.

To a soul, they were enraged by the destruction of the Ingata, though it had answered the question that had brought them here. The Shadows weren't back yet, but they were returning exactly as Valen had foretold, the alien ships that were attacking them had to be allies of the Shadows. There was no other explanation for the immediate and deliberate attack on them and the ease with which their antagonists destroyed the Ingata.

Silently they watched in satisfaction as the Valen'tha's more powerful weapons tore into the remaining cruiser, neutron beams and fusion lasers wounding it cruelly where they breached its armour.

Severely damaged by the Valen'tha's assault the Drakh cruiser remained defiant, slamming another beam into the Shagotti-class ships side, breaching armour and rupturing outer and inner hull plates in a forty-metre long gash in the ships starboard flank below the dorsal drive fin. The Valen'tha shook violently as explosive decompression tore through the affected compartments and triggered a cascade of fires and secondary explosions in surrounding areas.

Though wounded the Valen'tha lashed out again with her main guns, fierce green neutron beams tearing into her enemy. The Drakh ship crumpled under the blows as the beams tore apart a number of key structural braces and power conduits. Secondary and tertiary explosions erupted and a ripple seeming to pass along its length opening breaches that allowed gas fed flames to lick at open space. Another neutron beam hit and the dying cruiser came apart, disintegrating in a massive explosion.

The last of the Drakh capital ships dealt with the Valen'tha turned to assist the Niall fighters that were still bitterly engaged with the raiders. Secondary weapons arrays on the mighty Shagotti came alive, sending out short bursts from either fusion lasers or electro-pulse guns. Each shot striking and destroying an enemy fighter. In seconds it was all over with the last Drakh raider being sliced in half by a Niall fighter's fusion laser burst.

Silence reigned in the chamber of the Grey Council as they studied the dispersing debris clouds that were all that remained of their attackers, a number of Nail's and of course the Ingata.

"It appears we have our answer," Satai Delenn said at last removing her hood exposing a face that was extremely youthful even by Minbari standards. Indeed, she was the youngest person ever to be chosen to serve as one of the nine, it was a testament to the abilities that she had, abilities that Dukhat himself had spotted and nurtured until she was ready to become one of the nine. "The prophecy is true, the Shadows will soon return."

"That is the only conclusion that can be drawn," Satai Coplann, admitted reluctantly, being Warrior Caste, he had never really believed in the Prophecy of Valen, until now that was. These aliens whoever they were had given them a formidable fight and had no doubt inflicted considerable damage to the Valen'tha as well as destroying the Ingata, there was no doubt in his mind now that they were indeed allies of the Shadows. After a thousand years the dark ones were returning and as this battle had proven the Minbari – the chosen soldiers of the light – were not ready to oppose them.

"We shall return to Minbar," Dukhat said, though he had already known from the Vorlons that the allies of the Shadows were starting to gather here at Z'ha'dum it was still a surprise how powerful they were. "We have much preparation to make, including reinforcing the Anla'shok for the war ahead."

One by one, the nine bowed indicating their agreement and Dukhat raised his voice slightly to activate the internal communication system. "Shai Alyt Branmer," he said. "Recall all Niall's and set course back to Minbar, maximum speed. We have found out what we needed to know."

"Yes Satai," Branmer answered.

Elsewhere on the Valen'tha in the dark chamber that was Dukhat's private sanctum two beings of light floated in the air. Had any of the crew come in they would have dropped to their knees in awe at the presence of the two Vorlons, though the waves of confusion and concern coming off the two angelic beings would have had them deeply concerned.

"The Circle is changed," Kosh Ulkesh said softly.

"Yes," Kosh Narenek answered stunned by the revelation that something had inexplicably changed about the Circle. An unknown new factor was at play, a factor that had led the Minbari into a battle with the Drakh that they shouldn't have had to fight yet. They should have encountered the Humans before getting this far, but they hadn't.

Kosh Narenek was both irritated and intrigued by the change to the Circle. While a new factor was not entirely welcome, Vorlons didn't like surprises after all, he knew there was nothing they could do about it. The universe was a capricious but not directionless thing, if it had done this changed the Circle then there had to be a reason.

"We must intervene," Ulkesh said.


"But the Circle."

"What is meant to be will be," Kosh answered. "If the Circle is meant to hold it will adapt and hold, if it is not then what will be will be."

"We will not intervene."


"Very well, but we will continue to watch and wait."