This had been the longest week of her life, every hour a century, every minute a lifetime, every single tick of the antique clock making her feel like she was wobbling on some precipice perpetually on the point of losing her balance but not quite falling into oblivion yet. She had power, more than she had wanted and all the responsibilities that came with that. She was popular with the public, charismatic, well liked by the media, everything had come together with surprising beauty making her Presidency so much better than she could have hoped.
Naturally she knew most of that wasn't directly attributable to her leadership, mostly it was a reaction to the economic boom and expansion Earth was enjoying after the Dilgar War. Many referred to it as a golden age, the final realisation of Humanity's place in the galaxy and all President Elizabeth Levy had to do was helm the ship of progress, not interfere in the day to day business of expansion, and reap the benefits that came with association.
For fifteen years it had worked and worked magnificently, her first term had been one of the easiest rides any EA President had enjoyed and this second term had been going the same way. There had been a bit of a confrontation with the Gaim, a few minor border incidents, but in general the golden age had lived up to its name.
Ten days ago the golden age had ended in spectacular style, careening over a cliff like a runaway train impossible to halt or recover. A border patrol and reconnaissance operation to identify the limits of Minbari space had gone catastrophically wrong and Levy was staring a full scale war in the face. As Earth had expanded into uncontested space the explorer divisions had become aware of an encoded jump network at the edges of their range indicating a major civilisation, most likely a race known as the Minbari, a name that had cropped up now and again in dealings with other powers. Information on them was scarce and shrouded in myths about ancient wars and demons of the dark making an accurate assessment impossible, Earth had to find out for itself who the Minbari were.
The first stage was a very simple mission that in theory could not possibly go wrong, a straight forward scout force that would head outside EA space and look for the Minbari border. They had a good idea where to start in the beacon network, it wasn't a long way from the EA border and the whole region was quiet. It was a cake walk.
The Explorer division offered to do it themselves, they even stated they wouldn't have to use one of the brand new gigantic deep range explorers, for a quick hop like this an old Oracle class scout would do the job, but the military objected. With the amount of mystery surrounding the Minbari and their apparent martial culture the Joint Chiefs recommended a military patrol be diverted instead, just in case. A standard task force built on a Dreadnought and two cruisers could be quickly deployed as an escort for an Explorer ship in case the Minbari were not friendly.
While the naval presence was not considered necessary it was ultimately approved, as was giving overall command of the mission to the task force commander, one Michael Jankowski.
His appointment was met with mixed views. There was a strong but fruitless move to appoint a solid XO to his command as a form of balance, a promising young officer who happened to be the son of the Foreign Secretary David Sheridan, but the post was refused and an officer of Jankowski's recommendation was appointed instead. As son in law of the former Secretary of State Jankowski was well connected politically with a lot of friends, glossing over his mediocre and at times downright reckless military career. It was an open secret that the only reason the Joint Chiefs accepted the pressure to put Jankowski in charge was because it was seen as a fool proof easy patrol and that it would finally allow them to promote him to a desk where he could gather dust with all the other useless things the EA had to endure thanks to political meddling.
The mission was approved, it departed with extremely strict rules of engagement including an absolute cast iron order that under no circumstances was Jankowski to approach any ship, structure or colony he may find and was to immediately depart if he saw anything resembling civilisation. First contact would be handled by a professional team at a later date once the location of Minbari space was confirmed.
What nobody had expected was that Jankowski would not only ignore his orders, but violate them so spectacularly that nobody in the chain of command could have predicted what would follow. It was so far beyond a worse case scenario it simply had not crossed the mind of anyone in the military or government, the sheer cavalier disregard for his orders struck dumb everyone who saw the truth, something which had taken a few days to unravel after Jankowski's initial after action report had turned out to be the most convoluted work of fiction in recent memory.
The arrogance of one man had put not just President Levy but every human in the galaxy in the middle of a vice that was just about to squeeze. In her office sat in a semicircle before her desk waited four men, all of them drawn and grim looking. None of them looked like they had slept much since the incident, appearing instead to have added a decade to their ages these past few days. She probably looked the same.
These men were her link to the Alliance in the current crisis, Foreign Secretary David Sheridan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Ari Ben Dayan, Director of the Earth Intelligence Agency Victor Chapel, and the local commander of Earth space's Minbari facing border Robert Lefcourt.
'Before we go anywhere else, just clarify this Jankowski situation for me.' Levy requested wearily, the name capable of inflicting actual mental pain every time she heard it.
'The initial tribunal has placed full responsibility on Jankowski for the incident.' General Dayan informed. A squat Israeli with prickly grey hair that seemed to be the current cut for military officers Dayan had earned his reputation in the Dilgar war. He was an Army Officer, his khaki duty uniform heavy with ribbons and braid advertising his skill and success. 'At the moment he is under house arrest pending full Court Martial.'
'Someone leaked the story to ISN, the media is going wild.' Chapel told the group in his usually steady voice, deliberate and clear. A heavily built man Chapel had been a successful field agent and protege of the Dilgar war era Director Karl Durban, currently Levy's Vice President. Chapel was less diplomatic then his mentor, much more plain speaking and to the point, but also quick witted and insightful. He also had a darker reputation for ruthlessness and bypassing the law if it got the job done. 'All of Jankowski's political allies have gone very quiet. He's getting hung out to dry.'
'He admits lying on his report claiming the Minbari fired first without provocation.' Lefcourt added. 'That in itself will get him stripped of rank and thrown in jail. Violating orders on this scale would see him imprisoned and then dishonourably discharged. Firing on an alien ship' I don't even know if we have a punishment for that.'
'Death of personality.' Dayan informed flatly.
'He has no personality.' Chapel grunted. 'We should deal with him the old fashioned way.'
'I'd suggest another option.' The fourth man spoke. 'Extradition to Minbar.'
David Sheridan was one of the most influential men in the Alliance, quietly spoken, unassuming in appearance and largely unthreatening it was a carefully crafted image that drew from his naturally easy going attitude. Sheridan's instincts were almost supernatural, his skill as a negotiator virtually unmatched by anyone. He had achieved significant success during the period of expansion securing Earth's borders with existing powers, building on the goodwill of the Dilgar Conflict and ensuring humanity's expansion was largely free of interference from Alien governments. His talents as a negotiator also translated rather handily to the poker table, half of Earth Dome owed him money.
'Give Jankowski to the Minbari?' Chapel folded his lips into a grim smile. 'I like that.'
'It might take the edge off their anger, open the way for talks.' Sheridan expanded the point. 'All we need to do is get them to the table, even one session of negotiations will give us at least something to work with. Right now we've got nothing.'
'Still no communication with the Minbari?' Levy asked.
'Nothing.' Chapel confirmed. 'We know they can hear us, the Centauri offered us their archives including frequencies they've used to talk to the Minbari in the past. They're just ignoring us.'
'My people haven't been able to crack their military communications yet, but we have sent probes into Minbari space to monitor civilian broadcasts.' Chapel told the group. 'We picked up their version of ISN, apparently Jankowski managed to kill their President.'
Levy buried her face in her hands. 'That's all we needed. Is there anyway he could have screwed us more?'
'Dukhat, their leader, was more than just a President.' Sheridan expanded the point. 'He was held in great reverence, more so than any Minbari leader for generations as far as I can tell. It's hard to get a clear picture without context, but according to the Markab Ambassador he was both a leader and a Religious Icon, virtually worshipped. Jankowski might as well have put a bullet in Jesus or Mohammed.'
'From what we've seen is hysteria.' Chapel continued. 'From all accounts Minbari are very cool and calm, but when they heard about this Dukhat guy they were literally rioting in the streets. Almost completely unprecedented.'
'To say they're pretty pissed is an understatement.' Sheridan grunted. 'It's a Crusade, a Jihad. They're calling for our extinction.'
Levy sighed heavily, her easy run was definitely over.
'Is there any chance of a diplomatic solution?'
'At this point, with the Minbari not even taking our calls?' Sheridan shook his head. 'We can try Jankowski, see if they bite, but otherwise we need a different response.'
'Then we come to you General.' Levy directed her view to Dayan. 'Have we heard anything from the Cyrus battlegroup?'
'No Madam President.' Dayan returned sombrely. 'To the best of our knowledge they have been destroyed completely.'
'Ten Dreadnoughts and thirty Cruisers plus escorts.' Lefcourt provided the details. 'Our main combat force in the area, a rapid reaction fleet to hit any surprise attack with overwhelming force.'
'And the Minbari just wiped them out?'
'It appears so yes.' Dayan fought to keep a straight face. 'So far we've lost two bases, twelve Dreadnoughts and thirty six cruisers.. more lives than in every battle since the end of the Dilgar war.'
'We've also lost contact with Cyrus Colony, it's either under siege, in the process of being stormed?' Lefcourt exhaled heavily. 'Or they just wiped it off the surface of the planet from orbit.'
'Eight thousand civilians.' Sheridan informed. 'A mining colony.'
'We're arranging a recon flight, quick jump in and out.' Chapel said. 'Be a few days to get out there though, most of our assets were watching the Narn.'
'At this point we know relatively little about Minbari capabilities.' Dayan said. 'What we do know is we are massively outclassed in all aspects of space warfare.'
The statement drew glances from the rest of the room, all of them increasingly worried. Dayan did not exaggerate, he didn't panic or use hyperbole, he spoke only in hard truths.
'How bad is it out there' Sheridan asked with a heavy frown.
'We have data from the loss of Spartan Station and from the Prometheus Task Force.' Dayan shared. 'Just as powerful is the lack of data from Cyrus. Based on our beacons we know roughly how many Minbari ships jumped into the Cyrus system, we had them outnumbered. There is nothing I've seen that can take ten Dreadnoughts in a straight fight, not without heavy casualties, not even the best Centauri fleets could go in there and win without crippling damage. Whatever the Minbari did they did it so fast those ships couldn't even send a distress signal.'
'Spartan station was an Orion base, build to act as a fortress. In the past they've defeated whole fleets of ships, they're the keystone in any defensive operation.' Lefcourt proceeded. 'The Minbari killed it with one ship, and a damaged ship at that. One of the vessels the Prometheus struck.'
'Just sliced it to pieces from range.' The Army General concluded. 'Their weapons go through our armour like it doesn't exist, an Orion base can soak up massive firepower and it didn't help one bit. They out range, out gun us and can run down our ships with their superior speed. And that isn't the worst of it.'
'They use some form of active stealth that negates our targeting sensors. We know they are there but we can't get a clean lock.' Dayan grimaced, shaking his head. 'Without a lock given the ranges of regular combat its virtually impossible to hit the enemy. The Prometheus managed it because they were at point blank range, nobody else has lived long enough to get that close again.'
'Our people are working on it, trying to figure out what it is.' Chapel said. 'It's still too early to know for sure.'
'Alright.' Levy rubbed her heavy eyes. 'Alright, that's the bad news. Give me some good news.'
'We've begun mobilising the reserve units.' Dayan answered. 'Given the apparent scale of this conflict I want to ask the Senate to approve total mobilisation and a recall order for former personnel.'
'How many Personnel?'
'Enough to crew the mothball fleets. It is my recommendation, and the recommendation of Admiral Ferguson that we reactivate the vessels we put into storage after the Dilgar war.'
'It'll take at least two months to bring those ships to active status.' Lefcourt mentioned. 'We're also looking to recall our ships from League space and redeploy them to the Minbari Front.'
'The League patrols have been a major diplomatic boost.' Sheridan offered. 'But I think the League has recovered enough to hold its own by now. I'd expect to see some friction with the Narn but nothing major if we bring our people home.'
'Given the possible scale of this war I strongly recommend it.' The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs echoed.
'What about our allies?' Levy asked.
'The League has offered us diplomatic support and what economic aide they can spare, which isn't much.' Sheridan shrugged apologetically. 'The Dilgar inflicted massive damage on League infrastructure during the war, they can barely support themselves.'
'So noted.' Levy affirmed.
'But on a positive note the Brakiri, Markab and Drazi have said they are prepared to deploy warships to support us if required.' Sheridan added with a smile. 'I wouldn't expect more than token fleets from Brakir and the Markab, their forces are still weak, but the Drazi could be a major help.'
'What about the other main powers?'
'So far not much. I have meetings with Ambassador Mollari and Ambassador G'Kar set up. The Centauri are already back peddling hard, you should se ehow many are suddenly finding they have urgent business far away from Earth Space.'
'Like they know something we don't.' Chapel grunted in disgust.
'The Narn are a bit more receptive, probably looking to fill the vacuum the Centauri are leaving as they run for home.' Sheridan reasoned. 'I wouldn't expect warships but we might have something to gain from them.'
'That just leaves the wild card.' Levy looked to Sheridan. 'What about the Dilgar?'
It was the obvious question. The Dilgar had torn the league apart, only the intervention by Earth had prevented the feline species becoming the biggest single power in local space. The Dilgar had been pushed back, the main worlds freed, but a sudden fierce counter attack at Balos had stalled the offensive. The war turned into a massive grinding battle that pushed both sides to breaking point, leading to a stalemate as both sides found they didn't have the resources to break through.
With the war paused and both sides rebuilding the unthinkable happened, the Dilgar requested a truce for negotiations. Realising they could not win a protracted war but that they were also in a position to exact a huge toll in blood on the Allies the Dilgar proposed a compromise. They would withdraw from all League member worlds provided they could maintain control of the seized independent worlds of Alaca, Tirrith and Balos.
The initial proposal was rejected, but after the massive casualties suffered at Balos there was a strong popular groundswell on Earth to reach a settlement. In order to placate the League's demand for blood and Earth's commitment to liberating the league President Hauser offered different terms. The Dilgar could keep Alaca and Tirrith, but not Balos. They must also leave Drazi, Hyach and Abbai space at once and withdraw any guerrilla forces left behind allied lines. Finally, and crucially, they must surrender all known war criminals for trial on Earth.
To almost universal surprise the Dilgar agreed with one caveat, they would not turn over Jha'dur, most wanted of the war criminals. The Drazi rejected the treaty and launched an immediate attack against Omelos that failed spectacularly, leaving the Drazi virtually defenceless and unable to do anything to prevent a Dilgar counter attack except accept peace. The armistice was signed, and the war ended. A few years later the Dilgar sun somehow went Nova, ripping the heart from their Imperium but not apparently dooming them.
While greatly reduced the Dilgar population survived, hundreds of millions of them living on their newly acquired worlds. After the Nova the Drazi took another shot at ending the grudge with a limited invasion that was easily turned aside. Despite being much smaller the Dilgar remained exceptional soldiers with a new generation of surprisingly powerful warships that made their borders secure enough. They seemed content to hide behind their borders and tend their weakened population, but nobody had forgotten their actions in the League and Earth Force maintained strong formations in the League to counter any second invasion.
'I'll be speaking with a Dilgar representative when we're done here.' Sheridan said. 'Low key, no need to let the League know.'
'Very well.' Levy affirmed. 'Director Chapel?'
'Enigma section is working on the Minbari transmissions, trying to break into them. They haven't seen anything like this before, it'll take a while.' He reported. 'I'm getting teams put together, working with Naval Intelligence on recon missions and infiltration, but I don't know if we can find sympathetic Minbari to help us. We need to know more about their culture first, the lack of basic knowledge is going to hold us back on a clear course of action. We'll deal with that first, then find weaknesses to exploit.'
'I've also asked the Skunkworks to give me a full report on our advanced weapon programmes.' Dayan added. 'As it stands our existing systems are inadequate, anything we can acquire to add some punch to our ships would be useful.'
'Might be worth asking the Narn and League for weapons.' Levy suggested. 'Anything else gentlemen?'
None of them answered.
'Very well. This looks bad, but we're only a week into this crisis. Do what you need to do and keep working towards a solution. The Dilgar were considered unbeatable but we still fought them to a standstill and forced them to negotiate. We need to make the Minbari see reason, and if we can't we need to hurt them badly enough that they'll have no choice but to listen to us. That will be all gentlemen, keep me informed.'
Her office emptied, her people at least knowing what they had to do next. Levy did not know what she had to do next, she didn't have that clarity of purpose or that ability to bury herself in work. All she could do was wait and worry about the next step, hoping that the next meeting might give her something to cheer for.
Later that day.
Negotiating with the Dilgar was never something David Sheridan relished, it always left him feeling like a lawyer with a serial killer as a client. The war had been fifteen years ago now, the new batch of voters, soldiers and students had only vague memories of those violent days and the brutality that stalked the galaxy. To many older people, especially those in power who had largely earned their reputation in that conflict the bitterness was still easy to uncover.
Technically Earth had won the war, it wasn't a total victory, the Dilgar had not been completely crushed, but nobody could argue that the result was not a foregone conclusion. It might have taken another year to replace warship losses and launch a fresh offensive but in the end Earth would have prevailed. Unfortunately by then the casualties in the League would have been even worse than they already were. Sheridan had been on the negotiation team and what had transpired was a classic case of real politik. Alaca was gone, there was no way the Allies could liberate it before the Dilgar simply murdered the population. It served only as a bargaining chip, as did Tirrith. Balos was the same from the Dilgar perspective, they couldn't hold it so used it to sweeten the deal, offering it up to Earth in exchange for other concessions.
In exchange for galactic peace Earth had abandoned those worlds closest to the Dilgar border, the fate of their populations likely to be slavery and death. Naturally the Dilgar had signed an agreement that they would respect the rights of the sentients in their domain, a sentence that had eased the mind of the EA Senate, but it was a promise precisely no one expected them to keep. Earth signed the document anyway, and to this day a vocal slice of the public regarded it as a betrayal.
Never the less the war ended and Earth found itself with a vast amount of influence. The DIlgar were too weak to and too distant to be a serious threat, the League was smashed and needed Earth's help to rebuild, and while the victory was not total Earth Force had clearly demonstrated its potency on the international stage. Respect was quickly turned into wealth as human companies move din on the League, helping them rebuild while snapping up contracts with the Narn and Centauri corporations who found their League business partners either dead or ruined. For most people the economic and political prowess Earth attained from the war far outweighed the slightly unsavoury deal that ended it, and when Omelos' star partially exploded scouring several billion Dilgar from the universe most considered it payback enough for the war.
Since that point diplomatic contact had been sparse. Aside from marking out the borders and a few communiqu's over Narn expansion Earth had no contact with the Dilgar. A few merchants traded across the borders and some ridiculously optimistic missionaries sometimes tried and failed to gain entry to Alaca which had been designated the new Dilgar Homeworld, but as a rule the Dilgar were recluses. This meeting was unusual.
He paused at the door, hand on the handle, steeling himself. Sheridan made sure he was in full control of his composure, calmness descending over him like a curtain of rain driving any emotional or impulsive thoughts from him. The Dilgar were reviled, but he was as concerned as the President with the developments on the Minbari front. If the Dilgar had something to offer he'd sit down, play nice and let them talk.
It still felt like he was about to cut a deal with the devil.
He opened the door with his best expression of sincerity, the representative of the Imperium standing to meet him. Sheridan had not been informed who was coming and was immediately surprised to see the uniform of a Warmaster. It was extremely rare to see a Warmaster outside Dilgar space, especially this far away. While the galaxy was technically at peace most League nations ran bounties on the head of any Warmaster running into the tens of millions of credits. The bounty on the head of the most famous Warmaster of all was over eleven figures at last count.
'Mr Sheridan.' The Dilgar spoke in clear English. 'I am glad you chose to see me, I realise it is an awkward situation given our history.'
That was an understatement of biblical proportions.
'Earth is always ready to talk to other governments.' Sheridan replied diplomatically, sifting the feline face through his memory. 'Warmaster Dal'shan.'
'You remember me.' The Dilgar officer inclined his head in a gesture of slight appreciation. 'We met briefly at the armistice, my father was the Supreme Warmaster.'
'I remember.' Sheridan gestured for the man to sit. 'Please.'
'You made a favourable impression, calm and even tempered in a very tense and emotional cauldron.' Dal'shan settled. 'My father respected you, something few can claim.'
'How is Gar'shan, didn't you make him Emperor?'
'Yes, largely ceremonial of course. The war ruined his health, he could no longer serve as our leader but he remains our spiritual ruler. Sadly his health is growing worse, I fear his time is short.'
Sheridan felt precisely no sympathy.
'And Deathwalker? I'm sorry, I meant Jha'dur?' He asked, making no error in his phrasing of words.
'She is well, she keeps a low profile.'
Sheridan bet she damn well did.
'Alright Warmaster, now the fake pleasantries are over lets get to the point.'
'I assure you Mr Sheridan I am sincere.' Dal'shan spoke with a hint of wounded feelings. 'Many of my people are hated, many of them deserve it, but some of us adhere to old concepts such as honour, professionalism, even compassion. I am sure you have read my war record, your spies were very efficient. You know I am not lying.'
He had a point, Dal'shan had been arguably the most skilled Dilgar warship Captain, his warship fighting hard and well in several major battles. As far as anyone knew Dal'shan had never fired on a target that couldn't fire back and had never ordered a strike on civilians.
'I accept your war record.' Sheridan nodded. 'But a few good officers don't balance the atrocities of that war.'
'No they don't, but I assure you the current leadership of the Imperium is made up of those who have no blood on their hands. Supreme Warmaster Dar'sen for instance is afforded respect by all of his enemies, even the Drazi.'
'She is an advisor only, she holds the rank of Warmaster but is not part of the council.' Dal'shan clarified. 'She does not make policy. Lately she has returned to her scientific studies.'
'I think we are all aware of what her interpretation of 'scientific study' gave the galaxy.' Sheridan kept his voice steady. 'We had to use an orbital strike to seal the mass graves on Balos.'
'I'm not here to make excuses, the war had many crimes and many criminals. We surrendered the senior officers to you for trial and punishment. Very violent punishment.'
Sheridan winced slightly.
'Earth favoured death of personality for the sentence, but the League outvoted us.'
'As I recall the punishment was to be thrown in a pit with a mob of drug frenzied Drazi.' Dal'shan spoke eloquently. 'Not a pleasant end, beaten and torn limb from limb by a pack of animals.'
'Not what we would have advised.' Sheridan fixed his eyes on the Dilgar. 'But not exactly altruistic on your part either. Don't think we didn't notice that every officer you sent us for trial also happened to be political rivals including the old Warmaster Council.'
'They were guilty.'
'They also stood in your way. You just took the opportunity to purge your government and military of rivals, a coup to ensure your faction retained power, and you had us do it for you.'
'This is why my father respected you Mr Sheridan.'
'Was it his idea or Jha'dur's?' Sheridan asked. 'Clear out your problems at home and win currency with your enemies at the same time' Very efficient Warmaster.'
'it was.' Dal'shan agreed. 'We knew what was coming, we knew the majority of the Dilgar would die sooner or later, so why not die to help the survivors' We were given an unusual opportunity, a way to sort out the strong from the weak and ensure the survival of those best suited for the future.'
Dal'shan did not flinch as he spoke, believing his words entirely.
'The people we saved from Omelos were the best of our race. Those who looked to the future, visionaries, radicals, those who wanted a change. The Imperium you fought against was shaped by war, by the need to fight for our survival, to prevent our extinction. But now that war is over, we can live on as a new Dilgar race shaped by a need to prosper, not simply conquer. We are still warriors Mr Sheridan, but we have what we needed to fight for. We are no longer enemies.'
The Dilgar relaxed his posture a little.
'You have other enemies these days.'
Sheridan nodded, there was no way to hide that fact.
'We do, but if you think this presents an opportunity to squeeze some sort of concessions from us?'
'You misunderstand me Mr Sheridan, as I have said we have no need to expand.' Dal'shan spoke openly, Sheridan paying attention to the more subtle hints his body language offered. 'I am here to offer you some assistance.'
It wasn't exactly what Sheridan expected, it took years of training to keep his expression neutral.
'You want to help us?'
'In a way.' The Warmaster confirmed. 'I understand the League are offering warships, that is not our goal.'
'How would you know that?'
'I'm sure you remember our intelligence agencies during the war. As I understand one infiltrated this very building.'
'Before he was detected and neutralised.' Sheridan also reminded. 'What is it you are offering?'
'My people are not much older than yours, like you we have no real experience with the Minbari. There was a brief altercation after Balos which went poorly for both sides?'
'We have no record of that?'
'It was a brief skirmish, a Minbari ship attempted to abduct Jha'dur. We drove them off but at a high cost, so we know what it is to fight a Minbari ship.'
'By this point so do we.' Sheridan replied. 'I don't think there is much more you can tell us.'
'Except that the biggest problem fighting Minbari is their stealth systems, their jamming technology.' Dal'shan arrived at his point. 'We can give you the means to defeat it.'
Sheridan did not react at once, very carefully weighing his words.
'As far as our people can tell nobody has found a way to defeat Minbari technology. Not the Centauri or even the Abbai and Hyach, races with much older technology and far more resources than the Dilgar.'
'And yet we have the ability to scan, target and lock Minbari ships.' Dal'shan reiterated. 'The war is young but your Generals are no fools, they must already be aware of how this war will go if you cannot hit the enemy at normal combat ranges.'
'They do.' Sheridan confirmed, no point denying it.
'With our help you can at least fight back. We can't help you with much else, the Minbari are still old and powerful, but what we offer could make the difference.'
'How do you have this technology?'
'I can't tell you. All I can tell you is that it does work. Of course you can try it yourself, we will provide samples and blueprints. We won't even charge you for it beyond the cost of materials and labour.'
'You're just giving us this? Why? Why help us? We beat you in the war, why aren't you cheering on the Minbari?'
'Because while we don't exactly like humanity we do respect you. You matched us, fought us fairly. Your victory came from skill and determination, something we didn't think any other race could match us with. It was a fair fight and we lost fairly. This war with the Minbari, it isn't a fair fight.'
'That isn't really answering my question.' Sheridan pressed.
'Then perhaps this will.' The Dilgar spoke seriously. 'They tried to kidnap Jha'dur, sneaking in while we were weak to snatch her. Nobody knows why. At least you met us face to face, the Minbari did not. They made a lot of enemies that day, killed a lot of good soldiers who would have sat beside me on the council. The Minbari spilled the blood of our friends and tried to take our most innovative leader as some sort of prize.'
Dal'shan scoffed angrily at the notion.
'We chose to take it personally. If you want to know exactly why we are making this offer, it is because Warmaster Jha'dur personally proposed it. She wants to see Minbari pay in blood for their raid on us, and can think of nobody better than you to do it.'
'So that's it?' Sheridan chuckled. 'It's payback? Petty revenge?'
'Jha'dur can certainly hold a grudge.' Dal'shan accepted. 'But what does it matter to you what the motives are' The result is the same, you will have the ability to beat their stealth systems.'
'And you want no concessions? No extortion?'
'Our reward is watching Minbari die.' Dal'shan replied coldly. 'We are a reformed species, but we are still Dilgar and we can still take pleasure in the suffering of those who have wronged us.'
Sheridan studied the Warmaster carefully, selecting one of the known honourable Dilgar could have been a trick, a way to create a false sense of trust, but there had been nothing in his manner to suggest a lie. Sheridan was damn good at reading people, including aliens, and his instincts were telling him that this man at least believed what he was saying. He also knew from the EIA that Dal'shan was considered the second most powerful man in the current Imperium and probably the next Supreme Warmaster. Nobody would be fool enough to send him all this way with a fake story.
'I can take your offer to my superiors.' Sheridan answered. 'I'll need to get this from the top.'
'Understood.' Dal'shan said. 'How long will it take?'
'Probably a day, first to check the details, then to get a decision.'
'I'd suggest keeping it quiet. Your allies may not like you cutting a deal with us.'
'I'll have my people put you in a suite until we're ready, maximum security. You have my personal guarantee of safety.'
'I trust your word Mr Sheridan. And I hope the degree of trust I have shown by travelling here underlines how serious we are.'
'I think it does Warmaster.' Sheridan stood, the Dilgar leader doing the same. 'I should go talk to some people.'
'I am glad they sent you, it was agreeable to see you are well.' Dal'shan spoke. 'We did monstrous things as a people, but who can claim they have never done so' Don't judge us by what we were, but by what we are.'
'Some of you deserve that title.'
'Some of us, but we need still need some of those monsters for their other skills. You have done this before in your past, forgiving your worst enemies, those who committed terrible crimes, because they helped you afterwards in other conflicts. Humans are practical enough not to refuse a gift like this because of where it comes from.'
'We'll see if that is true tomorrow.'
Dal'shan nodded. 'Until then Mr Sheridan.'
'Warmaster.' Sheridan nodded a farewell and left the room, exhaling hard as the door clicked shut behind him. He took a long moment to consider the situation, discern what had happened, then tapped the link on the back of his hand.
'Sheridan to Earth Dome Chief of Staff. I need an immediate meeting with the President and her core advisers. I think hell just froze over.'