Chapter Eleven

VIP Quarters

Asari Dreadnought Resplendent Justice

A Few Hours Later

Matriarch Benezia T'Soni listened intently as the life sized holographic projection of Spectre Telia Halos gave a full account of the battle between the ships of the Vesuvius battle group and the massively outnumbered Minbari that had attempted to defend what by all accounts was one of their largest fleet storage facilities. As she'd expected the battle had been short and very one sided after all three Minbari battlecruisers, their fighters and a handful of relatively lightly armoured defence satellites had never truly had a chance of delaying let alone stopping the assault.

That being said the battle had revealed some very intriguing surprises especially the devastating effect the dark energy warheads of disruptor torpedoes had on hyperspace. An effect that had been completely unknown to the Council races until a few hours ago – though the very fact that they'd used the tactic and Captain Turners words to the Spectre before the torpedoes were fired indicated that the Terrans had been aware of it for a considerable period of time and had used it to their advantage when they'd attacked the Dilgar to end that races invasion of the League. It made Benezia wonder what other technologies or knowledge of mass effect physics the Terrans had that they hadn't told the Citadel about. What else could they have learned from the Prothean facility they'd found on the forth planet of their home system that they hadn't shared with the Council.

Not that my people can really say anything about hiding technology and knowledge from the other races, she thought remembering what was hidden inside the Temple of Athame back on Thessia. A secret known only to the Council of Matriarchs - which naturally included Councillor Tevos - select scientists and the most senior members of the High Command; a secret that had made the Asari the powerful race they were today and even now continued to guide their technological development most recently in the development of the weapons systems of the Resplendent Justice.

Mentally she shook off those thoughts and to continue paying attention to the Spectre's report. She was pleased to learn that the Terrans hadn't destroyed the Minbari battlecruisers after they'd disabled them and that the Terrans were allowing the Minbari on the shipyard's supervisor station to evacuate. Most races in her experience would not be so generous.

"How is the evacuation proceeding, Spectre," she asked.

"Very smoothly," Telia replied. "The Minbari are being extremely efficient about it and the station will be completely evacuated of all Minbari personnel within another thirty minutes. I have noticed that the Terrans have sent a large group of engineers and systems specialists over to the station with additional marine units as an escort. I believe they are probably mining the stations data banks for information before they destroy it."

"Admiral Hague did indicate in my meeting with him that they would do that," Benezia replied recalling the conversation she'd had with Admiral William Hague about the mission to attack Na'vel. While it was true the Terrans had gathered a great deal of information on the Minbari already that data came from the memory banks of captured warships like the Dark Lance and the Black Star and thus was mostly of a military nature. While it had given the Terrans the information they'd needed to attack the Na'vel Yards it didn't give them what they really wanted, information on the Minbari Federation in general and in particular a map of their shipping lanes and beacon transfer points. Having that information would allow them to launch a full scale commerce raiding campaign as well as surgical strikes of facilities like quantium forty mining stations bringing the Minbari economy to its knees, allowing them to force a peace out of the arrogant aliens if her negotiations failed to bare any fruit.

She quickly but concisely explained as much to the female Turian. "An interesting strategy," Telia replied when she was finished, "potentially very effective as well. Though while we are on the subject of the war I have a question? It relates to our mission to find away to end this war before it gets any worse."

"Oh? What is it Spectre?"

"Why did you allow this attack to take place," Telia asked. "Surely allowing the Terrans to launch such a raid is contrary to the Council's desire for a peaceful resolution to this issue."

"It was necessary," Benezia answered, she'd honestly expected that she would be asked this very question at some point, ever since she'd allowed the Terrans to mount their strike. "The Salarian STG has done a psychological analysis of the Minbari species and come to the conclusion that the Minbari have a very deep seated belief that they are invincible and that their space is impervious to attack from anyone other than the First Ones."

"And this attack very effectively shatters that illusion."

"Precisely the Minbari will now know that their territory is as vulnerable to attack as any other species," Benezia answered. "That will make them cautious. We know from captured data that the Minbari have gathered a large fleet with which to invade Terran space. This attack will force them to redeploy some if not all of that fleet to defensive positions around their worlds and the other shipyard facilities considerably weakening their available offensive forces. It gives us an opening that we can use to convince them that a peaceful resolution is far more preferable to facing armed invasions of their worlds. That is why I allowed the attack to proceed as planned."

"I understand," Telia replied with a nod.

"Has Captain Turner given you any indication of when the Terran fleet will be ready to return to base?"

"Not at this time matriarch, however from what I am told the effects of the disruptor torpedoes on hyperspace will dissipate sufficiently for any Minbari reinforcements to navigate hyperspace around the system within another two to three hours," Telia replied. "I believe Captain Turner plans for the fleet to leave before that time."

"Very well contact me again when you're ready to depart. We will be departing for the Minbari border within an hour. We will provide rendezvous coordinates at that time," Benezia instructed.

Telia nodded in acceptance. "As you wish," she replied before obviously pressing a control on a console that Benezia couldn't see as the Turians hologram momentarily rippled with rainbow colour before fading into nothingness as the comm. link with the Vesuvius was broken.

Benezia leaned back in her seat and considered the report that had just been presented to her. In particular the fact that the Terrans were allowing the Minbari civilians on the supervisory station to evacuate to unarmed transport vessels. She was well aware of the fact that the Minbari considered the Terrans to be barbarians for killing their leader – even though it had been an accident and Captain Jankowski had ceased firing on their ships as soon as he'd realised his mistake when he could have easily kept firing and destroyed both dreadnoughts and been gone long before their reinforcements had jumped out of hyperspace.

The evacuation gave her grounds to prove to the Minbari leadership that their enemy was not the murderous barbarians they believed them to be. Especially as she could contrast it with the Minbari's own tactics and actions, in particular their habit of targeting and destroying helpless craft like escape pods and civilian transports, brutally massacring any survivors or witnesses to their attacks. Tactics that had sent a ripple of shock and horror across much of the civilised galaxy and brought forth a tidal wave of condemnation, and started many whispers that the Citadel should military aide the Alliance against the Minbari, whispers that would only grow louder the longer this war dragged on, eventually reaching a crescendo that the Council would have no choice but to act upon.

"Mistress," a familiar voice said breaking Benezia out of her thoughts and prompting her to look up to see Shiala standing nearby.

"Yes Shiala?"

"Forgive me for disturbing you but Commander Teylena wishes to see you in the CIC," the commando answered.

"Then we should not keep her waiting," Benezia replied getting back to her feet and leaving the room, Shiala falling into step just behind her ready to protect her should anyone try to harm her. Not that that was likely to happen here in the safe and secure surroundings of the Resplendent Justice still the protocol had to be followed and truth be told it pleased Benezia that her followers were always so concerned for her safety. She would likely need such vigilance when she eventually met with the Minbari leadership.

Pushing those thoughts from her mind Benezia considered why the fellow matriarch who commanded this ship had asked to see her. They had yet to leave Beta Durani and thus it wasn't likely to have anything to do with some external threat to the Resplendent Justice or the frigates assigned to escort her. After a moment of thinking about it she mentally shrugged, whatever the reason she would know soon enough.

It took only a few minutes for Benezia to travel between the VIP quarters she'd been provided and the command centre of the Resplendent Justice, a facility that in a kinship with Terran warships was located deep within the armoured core of the vessel, where it would be safe from all but a mortal blow. Unlike the rest of the Ascension-class dreadnought which was brightly lit increasing the feeling of space on the already gigantic warship the CIC was dark – the illumination reduced so the crew could better focus on their holographic displays.

In another commonality with Terran warships the CIC was a circular room with two different levels. Crew members stood at an outer ring of stations mounted in between raised illumination panels that curved up towards a large round light in the centre of the ceiling. The larger lower level of the split was taken up by the main situation table at which more crew sat operating consoles. Standing at the head of the situation table Commander Teylena stood, her figure slightly more trim than Benezia's own while clearly still matriarchal, a testament to the nine centuries Teylena had spent as first a commando and now a ship mistress.

"You asked to see me commander," Benezia asked as she stepped down to join her fellow matriarch.

"Yes," Teylena replied giving her a nod in greeting which Benezia returned. "We were just completing our departure preparations when our sensors detected a new contact dropping out of translight flight at the edge of the system. Follow up scans revealed the contact to be three ships flying in close formation."

"More Terran warships coming to join the assault fleet," Benezia asked.

"No," Teylena replied before pressing a control in front of her. Immediately the central holographic display came to life drawing in images of ships that Benezia had only seen in person a few times in the last few centuries.

Each ship was shaped vaguely like a wheel stood on end, bisected by a small ring connected to a long tapering tail that mounted the ships engines and some of its weapons systems. Though the metal of the hulls was tarnished by the constant exposure to cosmic radiation, micrometeorites and space dust all three ships were well maintained and cared for, which was understandable considering they were the only home their makers and occupants had had for nearly four hundred years.

The ships were Quarian.

"Quarians what are they doing here," Benezia wondered aloud.

"I don't know," Teylena replied. "We've identified their transponders as the Migrant Fleet vessels Neema, Alerai and Suwelen. Our records indicate that the Alerai and Suwelen are research vessels while the Neema is a heavy cruiser and serves as the flagship of Admiral Han'Gerral.

"As soon as they arrived a group of Terran warships moved out to meet up with them. They're now being escorted towards the starbase. From the lack of alarm among the Terran fleet I believe that all three vessels were expected."

"They may well have been," Benezia replied, "it is well known after all that the Terrans have a better relationship with the Migrant Fleet and the Quarian people in general than any other species in Citadel Space. They've even been known to gift the Quarians entire ships on occasion as well as resources and equipment. With the Terrans at war with the Minbari it is no real surprise that the Quarians would come to help their only real ally."

"You think they plan to join the fleet?" Teylena asked. "Wouldn't that be extremely risky for the Quarians? Their population base is very low, second only to that of the Drell; they can ill afford to take any heavy losses from combat especially combat against a race as powerful as the Minbari."

"I doubt they are here to join the fleet," Benezia answered, "it's likely they are here to help in another capacity. And it is time we learned exactly what that was, hail the Neema please commander."

Teylena nodded and made a hand gesture to one of the crew who immediately hailed the lead Quarian vessel. For a few moments nothing happened then a holographic screen blinked into existence in front of Benezia showing the helmet covered face of a Quarian. The Quarian spoke immediately in the powerful voice of a male of the species, though naturally the voice had the familiar odd resonance to it created by the voice module of the environmental suit the being was wearing.

"This is Admiral Han'Gerral vas Neema," the Quarian said gruffly, "what do you want Asari?"

"Admiral Gerral," Benezia began. "I am Matriarch Benezia head of the Council's diplomatic mission to the Minbari."

Gerral snorted. "I wish you luck with that," he said. "From everything we have heard about them the Minbari are not the most rational of species."

"Thank you."

"What do you want from me Benezia," the Quarian asked, Benezia ignored the slight snub caused by the admiral not using her title in addressing her. The Quarians had never forgiven her people for refusing to aide them reclaim their worlds after the Geth Uprising forced them to flee Rannoch and the few colonies the then Quarian Commonwealth had claimed. After nearly four centuries that anger had become an almost institutionalised dislike for her kind and the other species with Council seats, especially those like her who were in positions of power.

"I would like to know why you're here admiral," Benezia replied, "our last reports place the Migrant Fleet near the Exodus Cluster in the Attican Traverse."

"Not that it is your concern but as you know the Terran race has long been a friend of my people. How could we not aide them now in an hour of need," Gerral answered.

"I am afraid it is my concern, admiral. I am here after all to find a peaceful resolution to this unfortunate war."

"As I said I wish you the best of luck with that," Gerral answered, "the sooner this war ends the better for all concerned. Very well I will give you this bit of information we have developed an improved targeting VI for use on Terran warships. Once added to the tactical array every Terran warship will be able to target and fire upon a Minbari warship with one hundred percent accuracy as opposed to the current sixty percent accuracy rate."

Benezia blinked for a moment at that information. She was of course aware that only six out of every ten shots from a Terran warship struck its Minbari equivalent as the sensors were partially refracted or jammed by the Minbari's stealth systems. Anything that improved that ratio would only tip the balance of the war into the Terran's favour, which made it all the more important for this war to end sooner rather than later. Still she was somewhat startled that the Quarians had come up with something like that given the limited technology and resource base they had to work from. After a moment though she mentally kicked herself for being surprised, the Quarians had always had a knack for programming and technology. There creation of the Geth was evidence enough of their skills in those areas, skills they hadn't lost in their long exile from Rannoch.

"I see," she replied at last. "I am sure they will greatly appreciate your assistance. Thank you for answering my question admiral. Now if you'll excuse me I must break off this discussion. My mission to contact the Minbari has been delayed long enough it is time to 'get going' as our Terran friends would say."

"I understand. On behalf of the Quarian people I once again wish you good luck in your endeavour matriarch, keelah se'lai," Gerral answered before breaking the communications link from his end.

"Commander I believe it is time we resumed our original mission," Benezia said as the holographic screen disappeared with all the fuss of burst soap bubble, "please take this ship to the Minbari border."

"As you wish," Teylena replied politely before turning to her crew, "communications contact the starbase and request permission to depart. Navigation plot a course to the Minbari border."

"Yes commander," came the replies from two of the stations.

"If you'll excuse me commander I would like to return to my chambers to meditate," Benezia said.

"Of course," Teylena replied with a polite nod, which Benezia returned before turning and leaving the CIC. Teylena watched her fellow matriarch – accompanied as ever by one of her commando bodyguards/followers – leave the CIC before turning her attention to the task at hand. The task of taking the Resplendent Justice and her escorting frigates to the Minbari border where they would goddess willing put an end to the war between the Terrans and the Minbari.

"Commander, system traffic control has acknowledged our departure request," communications reported. "They are providing us with an outbound vector to follow they also say 'good luck and god speed'."

"Acknowledge the vector and transfer to navigation," Teylena ordered, "navigation as soon as we're clear of the fleet and shipping lanes make the jump to translight flight."

"Yes commander."


Quarian Migrant Fleet Vessel Neema

Sitting in his command chair at the back of the bridge Admiral Han'Gerral watched with concealed envy as the mighty Asari dreadnought and the frigates escorting her began making there way clear of the fleet of warships, shuttles and transports that surrounded the Terran starbase. If only we had a few ships like that amongst the fleet, he thought watching the Resplendent Justice move with a grace that seemed utterly effortless with them we would have surely reclaimed our homeworld from the Geth long ago.

"You didn't tell her about the deal the Admiralty Board and Conclave made with the Terrans when we agreed to make this VI software for them," the familiar voice of his old friend Admiral Rael'Zorah said from beside him. Han glanced over at his old friend standing in the shadows of the bridge.

"She did not need to know," he replied, "by telling her about the VI I told her enough to deflect suspicion from our real purpose here."

Rael nodded in understanding. "If the Council knew they would certainly move to stop us," he said, "they have after all gone out of there way to make sure we continue to wander the stars as a living example of what happens when someone breaks their almighty rules."

"Indeed my friend," Han replied, "though even with this agreement we're still quite away from being ready to retake Rannoch from the Geth."

"I know though we're getting closer, I just hope we can do it in our lifetimes. I haven't forgotten the promise I made to Tali when she was born."

"That you would build her a house on the homeworld one day a worthy goal," Han said with a nod and a smile – though naturally it was hidden by the opaque faceplate of his helmet. "We'll honour that promise Rael you need not worry."

"Admiral, station control has just transmitted docking instructions," one of the bridge crew reported, "all our ships are to dock in bays D22 to D25."

"Very well," Han replied noticing idly the sensor screens which showed Resplendent Justice and her escort vanishing into translight flight, "relay the instructions to the Alerai and Suwelen then take us into dock."

"Yes sir."

Combat Information Centre

TSV Vesuvius

Na'vel System, Eye of Orion Nebula

A Short Time Later

"Captain our engineering teams onboard the Minbari space station report that the last of the Minbari firewalls have been cracked and that they have gained full access to the database," a communications officer reported, "they have begun the download."

"Excellent," Captain Yvonne Turner replied with a smile before taking a sip from the steaming mug of coffee she was holding in her left hand, "how long until the download is completed?"

"There are nearly twelve hundred zettabytes of information stored in the Minbari stations computers," the officer answered, "the engineers estimate that they'll have it all transferred into their data crystals within five minutes. They will then be able to return to the ship."

"Good. Are the demo teams in position to destroy the station?"

"They are just finishing up setting up the nuke ma'am. Once everyone's off the station we'll be able to detonate the device by remote, the team is also setting up a backup detonator on a timer just in case."

"Understood," Yvonne replied calmly before turning her attention to the Turian Spectre who'd returned to the CIC after speaking privately with Matriarch Benezia in one of the comm. rooms just outside the room. She understood why as the Spectre was here after all as an observer, Benezia and the Council's eyes and ears during this mission. "What," she asked seeing the way the female Turian was looking at her.

"You're using a nuclear device to destroy the base," Telia asked.

"A thirty kiloton demo nuke yes, based on our analysis of Minbari construction methods and materials it will be more than sufficient to destroy the station," Yvonne replied, "the device is being placed near the fuel storage cells for the station's fusion reactors which will amplify the blast."

"I thought the Minbari used artificial quantum singularities as a power source."

"That is their main power source but as advanced and capable an energy source as it is the gravitic reactors don't provide all the necessary power the Minbari need to run their technology. Particularly their artificial gravity systems as like all non-eezo based systems they're serious power hogs," Yvonne explained, "so they use a network of fusion reactors to make up the difference."

"I see," Telia replied nodding. "I'm just a little surprised that you're not going to use the Vesuvius' weapons systems to destroy the station. This ship has more than enough firepower to reduce the Minbari station to scrap metal."

"It's tempting," Yvonne admitted as it really was tempting to hammer the station apart with plasma bolts and mass accelerator rounds, but she had her orders. "But it would be a waste of ammo and power to do so, using a single nuke planted in a strategic location is a far more efficient use of our resources."

Telia nodded in understanding and started to open her mouth to speak again. However before any sound could emerge alarms began to sound throughout the Vesuvius and the whole task force. Yvonne whirled around to look at one of the sensor stations.

"Report," she ordered.

"Captain long range sensors are picking up multiple jump points opening eighty thousand kilometres out from our current location," the officer answered. "Multiple Minbari capital ships emerging tally eighteen dreadnoughts. They're launching fighters and are advancing upon our position. We'll be in the fighter's weapon range in four and a half minutes, capital ship weapons range four minutes after that."

"I thought the Minbari wouldn't be able to access this system for a least another hour," Telia commented with her species equivalent of a concerned frown on her face. While they still outnumbered the incoming Minbari forces two to one eighteen Minbari dreadnoughts easily gave the arrogant aliens a massive advantage in the raw firepower department, advantage enough to destroy most of the task force – though the Minbari would pay a heavy price in blood for such a victory.

"That's what our intelligence analysts believed," Yvonne replied. "Though the fact that they've returned to normal space so far out from us shows they weren't entirely incorrect in their assessment; still it's obvious that ANI has underestimated the sophistication of Minbari sensors and hyperspatial navigation systems."

"Such are the fortunes of war," the Turian said.

"Indeed," Yvonne agreed before turning to the rest of the crew. "Communications contact the engineers, demo and security teams on the station tell them that there time is up. They need to return to their shuttles and get back here immediately. Tactical instruct fighter groups two through five along with frigate squadrons one and two to move to intercept the Minbari fighters. All other ships assume tactical formation delta one and prepare to commence long range bombardment of the Minbari fleet."

"Aye aye ma'am" came the response from several officers around the CIC.

"With their ECM systems we won't have much chance of hitting them at this range," Telia pointed out as the crew around them burst into activity as the dreadnought once again began to make ready to engage the enemy.

"True," Yvonne replied as the ship began to manoeuvre to bring her main cannons to bare on the approaching Minbari warships, "but any hits we score should make their commander cautious, force them to slow down so they can manoeuvre better. After all we only need to buy enough time for the teams to return then we can destroy the station and leave here."

Telia nodded in understanding before they both turned their attention to the tactical hologram hovering over the main situation table. The approaching fleet of Minbari warships was represented by a mass of red chevrons indicating active enemy capital ships while driving ahead of them like a swarm of extremely angry ants was a dense red mass of dots that indicated the Minbari fighter squadrons. A far smaller group of paler red chevrons off to one side represented the three battlecruisers disabled in the earlier battle as well as all the evacuation transports launched from the Minbari station.

Moving out to meet the mass of Minbari fighters was a far smaller mass of pale blue dots representing the fighter groups assigned the interception duty, with eight blue chevrons representing the frigates that had also been assigned to hold off the enemy. The rest of the blue chevrons representing the task forces capital ships were forming up into two parallel lines facing the approaching capital ships – the dots of their fighters moving into a combat space patrol around them, ready to intercept any Minbari fighters that made it past the interception forces.

"Captain all ships report ready to engage the enemy," a communications officer reported. "The engineering, security and demo teams on the station are retreating to their shuttles as ordered but they need another few minutes to leave the station and return to our ships."

"Then that's give them that time," Yvonne replied straightening her shoulders. "All ships open fire."

Tactical Centre

Minbari War Cruiser Trigati

A Few Minutes Earlier

Shai Alyt Sineval couldn't stop the gasp of shock and disbelief that emerged from his lips as the Trigati and seventeen other cruisers made a rough transition back into normal space from a still tortured hyperspace that had bounced ships and crew around as they fought through the fading remains of a monster hyperspace storm to reach the besieged Na'vel Yards. When he'd first heard that the shipyards were under heavy attack from Terran forces he had been more than a little incredulous. While he would not deny the fact that the Terrans were proving themselves to be a very capable and formidable enemy the thought that they had the ability to hit a target so far inside Minbari space without any advanced warning had been absurd and very hard to believe.

He believed now.

Tens of thousands of kilometres ahead of the fleet – they hadn't been able to jump in any closer to the shipyard due to the dying but still ferocious hyperspace storm that would have shredded them if they'd tried – the Na'vel Yards were just gone. Where there had once been great ranks of docked warships there was now nothing but a steadily spreading cloud of irradiated metallic and crystalline dust. Centuries of work had been completely and utterly obliterated in mere hours. Nearby – floating helplessly amidst the dust – were the badly battered and battle scarred remains of the three Tinashi-class war frigates that had been assigned to the shipyards defence.

All three frigates looked like they'd run at high speed into asteroids, their bows and forward sections torn, ripped and completely gutted. All of being damage he had seen an uncomfortable number of times since this war had begun and he knew that was just the tip of an iceberg, the internal damage to the ships would be far worse. Yet amazingly the three ships still had some lights on, there was still at least some power to the vessels, power that would keep any survivors onboard alive, even though the ships were clearly dead in space. Strangely hanging in formation with them was what looked like every cargo ship, transport and flyer that had been on the supervisory station – which itself seemed intact but abandoned. Abandoned that was for the fleet of thirty-six Terran warships hanging in formation around it. No doubt they'd sent warriors over to the station and taken it, forcing the workers onboard to flee for their lives. Something he couldn't fault the worker caste crew for doing, they weren't warriors and trying to oppose enemy boarding parties themselves would only result in them getting themselves killed.

The sight of the Terran fleet filled him with a familiar fury. These were after all the beings that had not only taken Dukhat away from the Minbari before his time, but who had killed or taken prisoner tens of thousands of his fellow warriors who'd attempted to avenge their leader's murder. A part of him couldn't help but wonder how much more Minbari blood had they spilt here today. The fact that they were still here, obviously up to something on the station, gave him a chance to exact at least some measure of vengeance not just for Dukhat but for all his brothers and sisters who'd died in this war.

"Shai Alyt Sineval to all ships," he ordered raising his voice slightly so the intercom would pick up his words and relay them not just to the Trigati's bridge but to the entire fleet, "launch all fighters and advance upon the enemy at flank speed, open fire as soon as we're within firing range."

The response to his orders was immediate as squadrons of Niall's began launching from the noses of all the Sharlin's visible on the holographic field. The cruisers themselves also noticeably increased speed as they advanced towards the enemy forces, forces which were already beginning to react to their appearance if the movements in the distant fleet were anything to go by.

Holding up a hand Sineval made a section of the holographic display zoom in on the Terran fleet. To see a sizeable contingent of fighters and eight of the smallest capital ships – the ones that time and time again had proven themselves to be spectacularly lethal fighter killers – were breaking off from the fleet and moving to intercept the Nialls. The rest of the fleet was also moving, beginning to assemble itself into two parallel lines their bows and the muzzles of the mass accelerator weapons mounted there pointing right at his Sharlin's.

Sineval grimaced at the sight knowing precisely what his Terran opposite number was planning to do. The Terran fleet commander was undoubtedly aware of the fact that he or she had a massive range advantage over the Minbari. The Terrans had exploited it often enough in battle in the last few months, inflicting heavy damage on Minbari forces every time they engaged each other in battle. Fortunately he had been drilling the crews of his battle squadron in a form of evasive manoeuvres that would hopefully prevent – or at very least – reduce the amount of mass accelerator rounds hitting his ships, at least at range.

He just had to wait for his opponent to make the first move.

A move that came a moment later as the muzzles of multiple mass accelerator cannons flickered with electromagnetic energy a millisecond before a barrage of solid metal slugs was hurled into space. The dense metal slugs glowing with friction as interplanetary gasses as well as the dust from the destroyed shipyards was annihilated against the projectiles, encasing them in small plasma sheaths as they streaked across space towards his fleet.

"Shai Alyt Sineval to all ships, initiate evasive manoeuvre Sineval-One," he ordered bracing himself.

The response to his order was immediate. With a sharp surge of g-forces that the inertial dampening systems weren't completely able to cancel out, all eighteen of his ships swerved sharply to port while keeping their main drives running at full capacity. In moments they were out of the path of the purely ballistic Terran weapons and the swarm of hypervelocity metal flew right through where they had been in a clean miss.

With the salvo successfully evaded Sineval allowed himself a small smirk as the Trigati and the rest of the fleet resumed moving towards the enemy again. The smirk faded when a dozen small explosions appeared in space as the Niall squadrons began clashing with their Terran counterparts. Several Nialls were destroyed immediately, swatted from the sky by both laser pulses from the fighters and small calibre plasma bolts from the deceptively small Terran capital ships supporting them. A handful of enemy fighters vanished in fireballs as neutron cannon fire from the Nialls ripped through their shielding to destroy them but the exchange was far from equal. An inequality that only grew worse as a full dozen Niall's vanished in a hail of highly accurate plasma and laser fire from the gunship-sized capital ships.

"Enfali, Negato break off and move to assist the Niall's against those Terran gunships," he ordered. The response was immediate as the two indicated Sharlin's reduced speed and immediately before altering course to engage the gunships, which were steadily tearing the heart out of entire squadrons of Nialls while seemingly ignoring the insect bites of the Niall's own firepower. I must really have a word with the worker caste elders next time I'm on Minbar, he thought, see if there is anything we can do to boost the firepower of our fighters. Those small gunships are definitely designed as fighter-killers and they're infuriating good at it. We need to find away to counter them and fast.

The enemy however wasn't having everything their own way. Dozens of explosions erupted in their ranks as enemy fighters were shot down, each disintegrating in a violent but short-lived fireball as their engine fuel and weapons detonated. The Niall pilots were at least making the enemy bleed, even as they worked hard to keep up with the enemy fighters which were considerably faster than a Niall, though it was comforting to know that the Niall had the advantage in both firepower – its tri-neutron cannons were a lot more powerful than the dual pulsed lasers the Terran's seemed to favour - and agility.

Sineval's attention was abruptly drawn away from the fighter battle when a deep rumbling boom echoed through the hull and the Trigati shuddered violently under enemy fire, knocking him off his feet. Cursing softly as he picked himself back up he realised he'd made an elementary mistake and focused on the fighter battle to long as opposed to the wider battlefield. A mistake he would have chewed a junior warrior out about doing. I've gotten so used to having Durann in here with me to help keep an eye on the progress of a battle, he thought thinking of the younger warrior. Unfortunately Durann was back on Minbar at the moment with her clan, preparing for the funeral of one of their highest ranking members who'd been mortally wounded in battle a week ago.

Turning his attention to the wider battle Sineval scowled as he saw one of his ships fall out of formation trailing debris and venting atmosphere from multiple breaches in its hull where several mass accelerator rounds had struck home. Strangely the Terran ships hadn't fired another salvo of mass accelerators to inflict yet more damage to his ships while they were still far out of range of any retaliatory fire.

A moment later he saw why.

A dozen boxy shuttles were leaving the supervisory station and hurrying to dock with the three largest Terran ships. The enemy fighters were also veering off, heading back towards their motherships, with the gunships providing covering fire even as they too started to retreat. Clearly the enemy had finished whatever they were doing on the station and were now preparing to leave, escaping righteous Minbari vengeance.

Sineval seethed at the injustice of it but was well aware that he could do nothing to stop them leaving. His ships were still minutes from even extreme weapons range let alone optimum firing distance. He could only watch as the Terran shuttles fighters landed aboard their motherships. Then the entire Terran fleet turned away and began to rapidly accelerate away from the Minbari fleet. A familiar blue glow began to appear around them and Sineval knew that in moments at most the entire fleet would disappear using whatever system it was they used to travel faster than light without leaving normal space.

And he could do nothing to stop them.

Abruptly a brilliant flash of white light filled the holographic display forcing him to raise an arm to protect his eyes from the glare. Slowly the glare faded and he lowered his arm and noticed that the Terran fleet had vanished…

…and it wasn't alone in that regard.

Where the space station had been there was now nothing but a massive, spreading and cooling cloud of radiant plasma and torn metallic fragments. Clearly the Terrans had either sabotaged the stations power plant before they left or had planted some kind of nuclear explosive device onboard. Either of which had only one purpose, to finish off the complete and total annihilation of the Na'vel Yards.

"Shai Alyt Sineval to all ships," he ordered after a moment of silence, "stand down from battle stations and move to assist the disabled Tinashi's and the worker caste transports."

"Bridge to Shai Alyt Sineval, sir we're receiving a message from the Enfali they report that they've found a single Terran fighter drifting at the edge of the fighter battlefield," his second in command Alyt Kalain reported over the internal comm. "The fighter appears to have taken a glancing blow from a Niall's cannons, its disabled but life signs indicate that the pilot is alive but unconscious."

Sineval blinked in surprise. "Interesting," he said fighting down the impulse to order the fighter destroyed. He had a better idea, "have the Enfali take the fighter aboard and place the pilot in a holding cell until our superiors decide what to do with him. Then contact the Valen'tha I need to speak with the Grey Council."

"Yes Shai Alyt," Kalain acknowledged before signing off.

Very interesting maybe the universe has finally decided to give us a break, Sineval thought to himself as he mulled over what he'd just been told. A Terran fighter damaged but largely intact would surely enable the worker caste to divine at least some answers on how Terran technology worked. The pilot might also be potentially very useful once he or she had been thoroughly interrogated – though Sineval didn't doubt that the Grey Council would probably want to do the interrogation themselves. Satai Delenn especially would no doubt like to see into the face of one of the species who'd killed her mentor and deprived the Minbari of their greatest leader in generations.

Sineval couldn't help but smile as he suddenly thought about what they could potentially learn about their enemies from the prisoner and the fighter. After all Valen himself had said that to truly defeat an enemy you first had to understand them, and that understanding was something the Minbari currently lacked in regards to the Terrans. We may have suffered a major defeat here this day, he thought, but maybe just maybe this fighter and pilot will be able to turn the tides of this war firmly into our favour. Time alone will tell…

it always does.

Authors Notes: Whoa I can't believe that this story is a year old now. It still feels somewhat like I just started it the other day, hard to believe it was a year ago that the Babylon Effect first came into being.

I know people were hoping to see some Narn and Centauri interaction Londo and G'Kar but that scene is still refusing to cooperate so I just went on with the war.