Title: Jumping at Shadows (12/?)

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: Again, thanks to Ash's Boomstick for basically writing the Centauri scene.

January 12, 2246

Trade station, Comac 4 orbit: The Star Bar

Ever since the war broke out, news of it spread like wildfire across known space. The mysterious, aloof warriors who, legend held, had fought off the terrifyingly powerful Shadows a thousand years ago against the odd newcomers who had utterly crushed the Dilgar, then extended a hand of mercy to them. The League worlds owed their lives to both sides of the Earth-Minbari War and paid avid attention to it.

Comac 4 was no exception.

Saphak drummed his fingers on the table as he waited in the bar. The Brakiri businessman was here for an informal meeting to touch base with one of Ak-Habil's clients. With the uncertainty of war, business was booming. There were even rumors the Drazi were planning to send a fleet to aid the humans. Given who he was waiting on, it appeared those rumors had some weight to them.

"Ah, Karzon!" Saphak said cheerfully as he rose to greet his client. "A pleasure to see you again."

"Sorry for being late," the Drazi said, returning the greeting. "Some last minute changes from my superiors."

Saphak frowned. "Nothing too severe, I hope." The Drazi had ramped up warship production and needed a vast laundry list of vital components.

"We'll take half the original order," Karzon said, almost apologetic.

"Ah," Saphak said, hiding his disappointment. Half was the minimum purchase as per the contract already signed in order to avoid triggering the breach of contract clauses; it was enough to cover Ak-Habil's expenses for the order but not much more. "I had heard the Drazi would be sending a fleet to assist the humans. Was I misinformed?"

"The humans insisted we stay out of this war," Karzon answered, clearly dissatisfied, "and with their latest victory, it would seem they have the Minbari well in hand."

"What victory?" Saphak had heard rumors, of course, of a devastating blow to one of the Minbari's major colonies, but those were just whispers in the wind.

"Ha! Just watch," the Drazi said, pointing to a monitor over the bar. "The humans just gave the press official confirmation. The news should be breaking soon."

The Brakiri watched as the "breaking news" interrupted the rather insipid program. His eyes widened as they cut to the footage of the devastation wreaked on the Minbari shipyards. There was a moment of silence, broken as a ragged cheer erupted, mostly from one large table occupied by a Balosian tramp freighter crew.

Gears turned in his head as he considered how this was going to affect the Brakiri Stock Exchange and, in turn, the balance of power in the Krona.

January 14, 2246

Imperial Palace, Centauri Prime: Centaurum chamber

"Don't be a fool, Refa!" shouted Londo Mollari, Centauri ambassador to the United Earth Alliance. Londo had been recalled due to the war that promised to shake the galaxy to its foundations, his knowledge of the humans and their empire was unsurpassed by anyone within the Centauri Republic outside the Centauri Secret Service. "The Narns have ingratiated themselves with the humans. If we attack them now, the humans will take offense."

"Which is why we must strike now, while the humans are occupied," Refa responded reasonably, his silky smooth voice turning on the charm. "Once the war is over, the outcome will already be decided."

"And leave us weak when the humans turn their ire to us. The humans will-"

"What, Mollari?" Refa interrupted. "What will they do? Will they seek to avenge a race already lost?

"Yes! You do not know humans like I do. They seem a most forgiving people, but they can nurse a grudge like a newborn infant over the strangest things, most especially betrayal or attacking their friends. Look at what they did to the Dilgar."

"You yourself said the humans lack confidence in this war. That this is a fair fight."

"Between Earth and Minbar, yes, it is a very fair fight," Londo replied mockingly, "and if they fought alone, neither would win this war, and the rest of the galaxy would then swoop down like pak'ma'ra to pick over the remains." He shook his head. "But they are not alone, Lord Refa. The humans have turned down a Drazi battle fleet, a force of a size capable of facing one of our own border fleets. They have half a dozen races with technology equal to their own on the far side of the galaxy just waiting to join the fight. The Minbari have no one, and that why they will lose."

"So you would have us curry favor with the humans, then? Follow the Narn example?"

"No. The humans will win this war, but the humans are merciful, even to their enemies. The Minbari are not. They will remember. This war is no business of ours, and we should keep it that way."

"Gentlemen, silence," a voice boomed from a guardsman as the Emperor gestured. "Your Majesty."

"Thank you, Centurion." The Emperor looked up at the group surrounding him, the war between the humans and their Minbari enemies at the forefront of his mind. "This is a vexing conundrum, my friends."

"Indeed, Your Majesty," they agreed.

"Urza, old friend, the humans. Can they succeed where so many others have failed and fallen?"

"In all honesty, my Emperor, the humans are as much an unknown to the galaxy at large as the Minbari have always been. Their technology, their numbers, even their doctrine during combat is as mysterious now as it was to us when we initiated first contact," Jaddo explained. "The humans almost alone were capable of destroying the Dilgar war machine and fending off several attacks from the Narn and others, and their losses were infinitesimal compared to the vessels used.

"But the Minbari have remained undefeated for a thousand years and have been amongst the stars for many years before that, the humans less than two hundred and fifty years if they are telling the truth." The Emperor looked out the window and across Imperial Centre.

"Even at the height of our power, we never pushed the Minbari into conflict," Malachi, the emperor's most trusted advisor counselled. "Lord Jaddo is correct in his view of the humans, but the Minbari are a dangerous enemy and one that no one in two hundred years has even tried to do battle against."

"Yes, I am aware. The humans say that the Minbari attacked and murdered their people for nothing. The Minbari claim that the humans are responsible for the death of their leader in an unprovoked attack on their flagship."

The Centaurum had sent representatives to both the humans and Minbari as to the reasoning behind their war, and both had politely requested that the Centauri stay out of the war and that the "incident" was wholly the fault of the other side. What little could be accessed or smuggled out pointed towards the Minbari somehow destroying a larger human ship while other footage showed the humans firing through the Minbari stealth and crippling several Minbari ships.

Now the decision before them was what to do now. Several races had approached either the humans or the Minbari and offered their aid, drawing invisible battle lines throughout the Orion Arm, even though each of the offers had been politely but firmly declined, much to the chagrin of those races and the relief of the Centauri. With the Narn and Drazi offering their help, the humans could and very likely would come in on the side of their allies should the Centauri decide to destroy them.

Turhan sighed silently as he turned to his advisors. "The humans will win this war; they are unlike any other race in the area. My last meeting with Lord Mollari and the latest briefings from the CSS have allowed me to realize just what a dangerous time we live in. We have been allies with the humans even after the foolish debacle that came with our first contact, and now, they face an enemy that they neither fear nor hate. Unlike the rest of us, they will fight until they do not wish to. The Dilgar, the Ch'lonas, and the Vree have found themselves on the very wrong side of an angry Earth, and I do not wish for our people to face that kind of threat."

"We can not allow either the Narn or the Drazi to become allied to the humans!" Refa exclaimed before remembering himself. "My apologies, Your Majesty. We cannot allow our enemies to become complacent with their inevitable assistance from the humans, yet we cannot allow ourselves to enter this war on humans' side."

"We cannot simply sit and wait for the end of the war," Jaddo shot back. "Either race may look to us and wonder why we would not assist them during their time of need."

"The Minbari will turn their eyes on anyone who they see as having helped the humans with the war, and when that happens, the rest of the galaxy will look on and stay out of that battle," Mollari argued. "We have already washed our hands of this war. Let that decision stand."

"The Narn will make the most of the Minbari attack and try something themselves. The humans are powerful, but I do not believe for a moment that the Earth Alliance will continue to frustrate the efforts of the Minbari. So I offer a compromise: When the humans begin to lose the war and are forced back, we then strike at the Narn and remove them from our borders and from existence." Refa smirked. "They will have no allies and no chance at survival; it will force the other lesser races to notice our power and to think twice about trying to force conflict with the Republic."

"If... if the Minbari are victorious, but what if they are not?" Mollari countered. "The humans have caused more damage on a wider scale, and the Minbari have no defence against their strange faster than light drive or their energy barriers. If the humans win this war, then the Narn and the Drazi will have their thanks and their protection... gods, they very possibly already do. We attack either, and we will face a two-front war against enemies that we could do without."

"Then what should we do?" Refa snarled. "Follow the Brakiri example and sell our wares and our skills to the highest bidder? Or scrabble for the few scraps of technology that we can gain through an alliance like the Narn? Is that what you want the Republic to become, Londo?"

"No, but I do not want to see the Republic fall under the heels of either the Minbari or the humans; this war is between them and their allies. The time for us will be after the war; both sides will require resources to rebuild and financial assistance from outside. That is the time that we will strike; the Republic is in no condition to fight a war against anyone short of an isolated Narn, so we shall fight the peace, with words instead of weapons. If we are able to help both sides with reconstruction, then we will be in a better position than anyone else to reap the rewards."

Malachi looked thoughtful. "Several of the battlefields we know of are close to or may come close to our space. If some of their ship debris were to fall through our borders, we would be within our rights to salvage them. If necessary, we might... arrange... for that to happen."

"It is a risk, but possibly one worth looking at," Turhan allowed.

"Both human and Minbari technology is beyond our own," Refa said, pressing the matter. "The latest CSS reports from the Narn research facility at Bor'Goth indicate they have somehow managed to obtain a nearly intact human Shadowfury. We cannot allow them to gain that edge."

"We will not go to war with the Narn," the Emperor declared firmly, putting his proverbial foot down. "We will make every attempt to salvage what we can, prevent a technology gap from disturbing the balance of power." He rose from his throne. "I will not end my reign with the destruction of my people by interfering in a war that is no business of ours. Both sides have requested we stay out of it, and I see no reason to interfere where we are not wanted. Should that change, should either side ask us to join the battle, then we will have to consider it very carefully, but until then, this war is not ours."

Both the Minbari and humans would take the fight to the very homeworlds, Turhan knew, their weapons capable of annihilating all life on the surface of a world or turning the surface from solid into molten rock in minutes. He could not allow that to happen to the Republic; they had made many mistakes over the centuries, and even now, still paid for them. He would not add to that debt of blood.

January 18, 2246

Imperial Centre, Centauri Prime: Outskirts

"Yes, I believe the Emperor is quite serious. He has refused to send any help, even humanitarian aid, into human or Minbari space."

"Excellent. Continue to inform us of anything that may be of use. We have to stop this war before it goes too far."

"We live for the one. We die for the one."

January 18, 2246

Imperial Centre, Centauri Prime: Outskirts

"Word just got in. The Centauri will be keeping their noses out of the war."

"Good to hear. Last thing we need is someone else jumping in on either side. Keep me informed. I'll pass this on to Earthdome."

January 23, 2246

Robotech Military Academy, Mars: Parade ground

"Welcome to the First Alien Volunteer Group," the dark-skinned human said, pacing in front of the crowd of Dilgar standing at attention. "I am Colonel Tyler Grant of the Earth Foreign Legion, and I want to make a few things clear. This is not the Foreign Legion. This is a temporary unit. You will not be earning citizenship in the United Earth Alliance for your service in this unit. You will, however, be fairly compensated, you will be on the sharp end of this war, and you will get to fly the deadliest fighter in known space. If you have a problem with any of that, this is your last chance to walk away."

He stopped and turned, settling into an at ease posture to survey the crowd. No one moved. He gave a sinister smile.

"Good. Welcome to hell."

February 2, 2246

Valen'tha: Hallway

Satai Delenn slowed to a stop as she walked past her late mentor's chambers. She could hear something...

"...why can we not tell them...?"

Delenn frowned and keyed entry into the room. She recognized the voice. Dukhat had been dead for months, but while they continued this crusade in his name, it did not feel right to clear his room yet. It felt too much like they would be... intruding.

"Lenonn?" she called. "What are you doing here?"

The Anla'shok Na turned in surprise. "Ah, Satai Delenn. I was seeing what I could find to help us prepare for the war."

"The war has already begun, Lenonn. The humans have devastated us, slaughtered thousands of our people, tore out our heart and soul."

The Ranger looked kindly upon the tired and frail-looking woman. She had seen far too much far too quickly for one so young. Walking to her, he had her sit down next to him. Dukhat had made a both a good and a terrible choice in his successor, one who could undo everything he and his forebears had worked a thousand years for. "I do not mean this war, Delenn, not at all. This war is but a shadow of the one to come."

"And what have you found?" she asked.

"That this war is a crucible, Delenn," Lenonn said gravely. "The warriors who are unfit to fight the Shadows will die, and the warriors who are victorious will be better prepared for that war."

Author's Postscript:

A bit of downtime. This war isn't being fought in a vacuum. Except literally.