Title: Jumping at Shadows (1/?)

Author: Cyclone

Feedback: Please be gentle.

Distribution: Gimme credit and a link.

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

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

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

Summary: First contact between the United Earth Alliance and the Minbari Federation goes horribly wrong.

Author's Note: Consider this a sort of AU to The Thin Grey Line. Not exactly, as I've changed how some of the technology interacts, but sort of.

January 3, 2257

Babylon 5

The retired human commodore stood up on podium and waited for the noise to die down. This was it, the big moment. He looked out over the crowd. There were humans and aliens of all sorts, some species he knew, some he'd never met before, some he didn't even recognize, but that didn't matter. Or rather, that was the point.

"You probably know who I am," he began, "and you all know why we're here, why this station exists. Babylon Five is our last, best hope for peace, a neutral zone where diplomats can meet and talk in safety, so mistakes like the Earth-Minbari War do not happen again. I am here to remind you of those mistakes, how it happened, how that war started. Because I was there."

He let the crowd digest that for a moment.

"We - humans, that is - had gone nearly two hundred years without war - that mess with the Dilgar hardly counted - and it was even longer for the Minbari. In the end, that's how it all started, with a tragic misunderstanding on an epic scale. You see, we had fought and defeated the Children of Shadows, and we've been waiting for their masters to return... but so were the Minbari. My name is Michael Jankowski, and this... this is my story."

July 12, 2245

Suspected border of Minbari space

Four ships emerged from the jump point and began moving toward the suspected Minbari border at a cautious rate. The task force was small but potent: three Hyperion-class cruisers - the UES Amundsen; the aging class leader, UES Hyperion; and one of the new command variants, UES Prometheus - accompanied by the looming presence of a Nova-class dreadnought, the UES Norman Schwarzkopf, bristling with eight turreted synchro cannons alternating with ten double-barreled particle beam/laser cannon turrets. This was a recon mission, to probe the borders of Minbari space and, if possible, get a read on their military capabilities and disposition, but the United Earth Defense Force - or EarthForce for short - believed in preparing for the worst on any mission.

Humanity was paranoid, and their history had repeatedly borne out that paranoia.

"We're getting some readings on gravitics, sir. Profile suggests ships, heavily stealthed."

"I thought this area was supposed to be well outside the Minbari transfer points," murmured Captain (Capt) Michael Jankowski, commanding officer of the task force

"Yes, sir, it is," his XO, Commander (Cmdr) Alan Chafin said, nodding. "There's no reason they should be here."

"Unless they're looking for us."

"Well, there's a cheery thought."

"All ships, engage Shadow cloaks and take us in on an oblique angle, sensors on full," Michael ordered. "Engineering, be ready to execute an immediate fold." Intel indicated the Minbari used jump gates, so he felt confident that, if something unexpected happened, a fold would let them escape without pursuit.

"We're supposed to avoid first contact scenarios, sir," Alan reminded him.

"Are you suggesting the Minbari can penetrate a Shadow cloak, Commander?"

"No, sir."

"What have we got?" Michael asked quietly as the small task force approached the unidentified craft they had tentatively labeled as Minbari.

"Not much," his sensor operator said, shaking his head. "We're getting decent locks on optical and faint blips on gravitics, but we're getting nothing but sensor ghosts with everything else. They're running some pretty impressive active stealth systems." He paused. "Wait one. Their gun ports are open, sir."

"Recommend condition one," Alan said.

"Negative," Michael said, slicing his hand through the air horizontally. "They may not even have retractable guns. Set condition two."

"Sir, they just cranked up their scanners; we've completely lost everything on them except optical and gravitics. They see us." He paused. "Reading an EM spike!"

"Engineering to Bridge! We've got massive power spikes all across the board! Synchro cannon overloading! Engaging manual cutoffs!"

"Damn it!" Michael swore. "It's a disruptor wave! Sound battle stations, condition one! All ships, disengage all Shadow technology!" At that moment, he hesitated, the order to fold on the tip of his tongue, then closed his eyes in thought. His mind raced. If the Minbari - assuming these ships were Minbari - had disruptor technology, then the odds of them having fold drives with which to pursue had just markedly increased. It could be a mistake, a coincidence, something environmental... or it could be an unprovoked attack from an aggressive new enemy.

Possible diplomatic incident versus leading the enemy home? Maybe he should just open a comm line and talk? He was supposed to avoid first contact if possible, but that was obviously no longer an option, and first contact protocols dictated-...

A brilliant flash of light to his right interrupted his thoughts, and his eyes snapped open. His head whipped around, and he stared through the starboard viewing port at the expanding fireball that used to be a ship under his command.

"We just lost the Schwarzkopf!"

His expression darkened. Decision made. He didn't believe in coincidence, and they'd just taken out the task force's heavy hitter. The Schwarzkopf alone had had more firepower than the rest of the task force put together.

"All ships, open fire!"

January 3, 2257

Babylon 5

"I was wrong," Jankowski said quietly. "I was so... very, very wrong. And little did I know who was on one of those ships: the Minbari Grey Council."

July 12, 2245

Valen'tha: Grey Council Chambers

The hologram descended and coalesced around the Grey Council, and four blocky starships - inelegant, ugly designs - emerged out of the starscape.

"What is it?" Dukhat asked as he strode into the middle of the chamber.

"We detected these alien ships approaching our space," Satai Morann of the Warrior Caste answered. "Our sensors cannot track them."

"I've never seen those markings before," Dukhat said, approaching the holographic representations of the alien ships. "Who are they?"

"I believe they are the humans," Delenn offered.

"They appear to have made no effort to contact us," Morann said. "As is our custom, we approaching with gun ports open."

"By whose order?" Dukhat demanded.

"Master, that is the tradition of the Warrior Caste. A gesture of strength and respect. They can see our weapons. They can see we approach them open-handed."

Delenn and the rest of the Grey Council looked to Dukhat as he turned away from the hologram to Morann, but his next words would remain forever unsaid. Something bright flashed in the hologram from where the images of the human ships hovered, then the human ships opened fire. The hologram collapsed, and the Valen'tha shook, the impacts momentarily overcoming the inertial compensators as the impacts transmitted through the crystalline armor directly into the Valen'tha's hull beneath. A beam in the ceiling, old as the ship itself, shook loose at one end and swung down, striking the Minbari leader before he could speak.

Delenn dropped to her knees and cradled Dukhat's head in her lap. Within the sudden activity, she seemed to have been over looked. "Somebody help me! Help me!" she called out in a half-sob. No! she thought. It cannot end like this! You still have to lead us to victory against the Shadows!

Dukhat struggled to speak, and she leaned down to listen, but his words were drowned out by the chaos surrounding them.

And then he slumped, eyes open and dead.

"Oh!" she cried in horror. Her world had shrunk to consist of herself and Dukhat, her mentor, lying dead in front of her.

"Delenn!" Morann's voice penetrated the haze of grief. "We need to strike back, but the Council is divided: Do we follow them back to their base and take revenge, or do we wait, try to find out what happened? Yours is the deciding vote, Delenn!"

"He was the best of us," she sobbed. "They struck without provocation. There was no reason. Animals! Brutal!" She looked up at Morann. "They deserve no mercy," she hissed she rose to her feet and approached the other Satai. "Strike them down!" she raged, beating ineffectually at Morann's chest. "Follow them to their bases! And kill all of them! All of them! No mercy!"

July 12, 2245

UES Prometheus: Bridge

"How bad is it?" Michael asked as the task force flew through jump space on a random vector, heading off the beacon network in what would be suicide for anyone without gravitic sensors and fold drives. He had revised the plan from the initial fold in order to detect and shake off any pursuit.

"Not too bad, sir," Alan replied. "They didn't get any decent hits until we took the Shadow cloaks offline, and the pinpoint barriers took care of those. Still, the Amundsen's reflex furnace is acting, quote, 'a bit twitchy'; they've shut it down and switched to fusion, just in case."

"Better than we had any right to hope for," Michael sighed. "They had us dead to rights, Alan. If it weren't for the cutoffs..." he shook his head. "Damn it, and we were so sure we'd patched that damned back door..." he muttered.

"Engineering to Bridge," that was the chief engineer, First Lieutenant (1Lt) Carla Rosamund, "got something you need to know, sir."

"Go ahead, Chief."

"That disruptor wave seems to be less effective than the Haydonite version, sir. Upon review, the effects were localized to the synchro cannon's power relays and bleedover to related systems; the Shadow cloaking device was not affected directly. Recommend you check with the Amundsen and Hyperion, see if they saw the same thing."

"Thank you, Chief," he said. He pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Captain, the last of our fans has turned back."

"Thank God," Michael said, relieved. He was beginning to wonder if the Minbari even needed the jump space beacons. "Open a jump point," he ordered. "We'll fold straight to Space Station Destiny. High Command needs to hear this."

January 3, 2257

Babylon 5

"It would be years before I learned of my mistake," Jankowski said, "a mistake which cost hundreds of thousands of lives, both human and Minbari."

One of the people present was Ambassador Delenn of the Minbari Federation. There was a time that simply being in the same room as That Man would have driven her into a rage, but now... now she understood. And she was so very tired of being angry.

She tried to stay focused, but her mind continued to wander.

July 14, 2245

Valen'tha: Satai Delenn's quarters

Delenn grieved.

Dukhat was the best of them, the greatest Minbari to live since Valen, destined - she had been certain - to lead them to victory against the Shadows... now cut down just as his true work was beginning.

The door chimed.

She ignored it, lost in her grief and rage. These barbarians, these... humans... were going to die, and at the moment, she didn't care. She couldn't - quite - take pleasure in their impending destruction, not for long. She had the vague feeling she should be ashamed, horrified at what her reckless vote was even now setting into motion, but she could not bring herself to care.

The door slid open.


She turned and glared. "What do you want?"

"I have... I have the recordings of the battle for your review."

"Leave it," she ordered, her voice sounding harsh and dry even to her. When had she last had something to drink? Reluctantly, she rose to her feet in search of something to soothe her throat. She paused by the data crystal and picked it up.

For my review? she thought bitterly. I have no wish to see Dukhat's death again. She barely resisted the urge to smash it against the bulkhead, instead tucking it away in a drawer.

It would sit in that drawer, forgotten, until many months - and thousands of lives - later.

January 3, 2257

Babylon 5

Delenn mentally shook herself out of her reverie. That had been a dark time, and it was behind them now.

"The mistake would go unnoticed not because there was a cover up," Jankowski was saying, "but because the misunderstanding was on a deeper level than we could imagine. My actions were investigated, dissected, and approved, but we only knew half the truth. We thought the Minbari had come to finish what the Haydonites had started."

July 28, 2245

Earthdome, New York City: Courtroom

"Will the defense and counsel please rise?"

There was a brief shuffle as he and his JAG attorney rose to their feet.

"Captain Jankowski," the presiding judge said, "while this hearing has determined you did technically disobey Standing Order One-One-Three-Eight, First Contact Protocol, by not attempting to communicate with the Minbari, given the circumstances, I am recommending this case not be referred to court-martial and a non-punitive letter of reprimand added to your file instead."

"Thank you, Your Honor."

August 19, 2245

Earthdome, New York City: Fleet Admiral Robert Lefcourt's office

Fleet Admiral (FAdm) Robert Lefcourt sighed, picked up the video phone, and dialed from memory. In moments, it made a connection, and he saw his old friend's face on the screen.

"Hey, Bob," David Sheridan greeted him. "What's up?"

"Orders just came down from Parliament, David," he said. "As of twenty-one-thirty Eastern time, we are officially at war with the Minbari Federation."

Sheridan's eyes dimmed. "Thanks for telling me yourself, Bob."

"I owe you that much," Lefcourt said. "The recall orders are going out as we speak."

"So... John..."

"Should be getting his within the hour. I'm sorry, David."

"We didn't start this fight, Bob," David said, leaving his favorite saying unfinished.

"No, we didn't," Lefcourt agreed, then finished, "but we will finish it."

January 3, 2257

Babylon 5

"Behind me," Jankowski said, "is a memorial to that mistake, a reminder of the how costly a misunderstanding can be. It's identical to one on Earth, in New York, and a third that I, on behalf of the United Earth Alliance, would now like to present to the Minbari ambassador to be placed in their capital." He held up the third memorial, a bronze plaque set against a crystal backing with a holoprojector and two sockets for data crystals embedded in it. One of the data crystal sockets was occupied, while the other remained empty.

Taking the obvious cue, Delenn rose and joined him on the podium. She accepted the memorial reverently.

"This data crystal contains the name of every human who died in the Earth-Minbari War," Jankowski explained, "and it is our hope that our counterparts in the Minbari Federation be willing to provide us with matching data crystals for the Minbari whose lives were lost in that war."

How strange, Delenn thought. Here we are, all these years later, we two who started the war, here to honor those fallen in it. Shaking his hand, tentatively at first, she said, "Thank you. On behalf of the Minbari Federation, I accept this memorial. It will find its place in Yedor, and the names of those who parted this world in war will be united in peace."

Author's Postscript:

And yes, in this universe, Earthdome is in New York City. Why? Because it's the only major city canonically confirmed to survive the first three Robotech Wars structurally intact. Not to say that others didn't, but New York is the only one that's confirmed.