The Invasion Ian K. Farscape-Babylon: A Farscape/Babylon 5 Crossover Saga Book Three: The Invasion By: Ian K. Rating: R Spoilers: Yes. Note: This is a crossover story of Farscape and Babylon 5. Disclaimer: I did not create Farscape, the universe of Farscape, or its characters. Nor did I create the universe of Babylon 5 and its characters. I merely borrowed them for this story, for which I will receive no monetary compensation. No infringement of copyright intended. Some of the characters in this story were created by me. There use by any other writer is prohibited without my permission. Time Frame: Takes place 18 years after "Flying Colors". Farscape: Twenty-four years after end of Season 2. Babylon 5-Earth Year 2286, five years after "Sleeping in Light". *********************************************** Chapter 1: The Beginning * Admiral Scorpius, commander of the Peacekeeper Research and Development Division, made his way through the corridors of Peacekeeper High Command on Sebacea. It was rare that he was called back to High Command, but the Peacekeeper Command Council ordered him back on an urgent matter. So, the Scarren/Sebacean hybrid stalked to his destination, as usual earning many a stare from the other Peacekeepers around him. When he got to his destination, he was ushered right into an office by a Lieutenant. Greeting Scorpius was Admiral Talkron Mattoc, the leader of the Peacekeeper Command Council. "Ah, Scorpius," the older Sebacean man said. "Come in and sit down. I've been waiting for you." "Yes, sir," said Scorpius, and complied with the order to sit in one of two black chairs in front of a large desk. "Sir, perhaps you can tell me why I have been brought here?" "Yes, of course," said Mattoc. "Scorpius, you may recall an encounter you had with a group of warships from Earth approximately twenty-two cycles ago. The one in which you were defeated, and your command carrier destroyed." "Yes," said Scorpius quietly. He did not like to remember that day, when Crichton's people had gotten the best of him and his command carrier. Scorpius' loss of that engagement did not sit well with High Command, and it cost him much support on the Council. "You may also recall that the Humans used a technology which allows them to open a portal, a doorway, into a parallel universe called hyperspace. A universe were distances relative to our own universe are much shorter, and thus makes star travel much shorter in duration." "I have been working on the problem of how that technology works for cycles now," admitted Scorpius. "I'm afraid we haven't had any success in making it work." "Yet, somehow, the Humans and other aliens in that area of the universe use this technology as a common form of star travel. They have a whole system of devices that open portals into hyperspace, and their larger ships can open portals themselves. This technology would be very useful to the Peacekeepers in their efforts to 'pacify' threats to our order. We want that technology." "So I have known for cycles," said Scorpius. "How would you propose we get it, sir?" "From the source," said Mattoc. "That is where you come in. The Council is ordering you to take command of a fleet of 50 command carriers and support ships, invade the area of space where this technology can be found, destroy any opposition, and take it." "You want me to lead a full scale invasion just to get hyperspace portal technology," replied Scorpius. "It sounds like we are overdoing it a bit. Why not..." "We are not just launching this invasion for hyperspace access tech," interrupted Mattoc. "This Interstellar Alliance could pose a very strong threat to Peacekeeper dominion in this part of the galaxy. They have already begun expanding their contacts in the Uncharted Territories. The Sebacean Royal Colonies regularly trade with Interstellar Alliance worlds. It will only be a matter of time before they will be able to establish a stronger military presence near our region of the galaxy. They would not just be one world or one race against us. Their alliance represents a number of worlds that could threaten Peacekeeper dominance of this part of the galaxy. War between our two sides is inevitable. We can not tolerate such an organized alliance of worlds not under our control, nor can they expand their influence in this part of the galaxy with us in their way. The Peacekeepers will be the first to strike." "What is the ultimate goal of this invasion?" asked Scorpius. "Aside from acquiring hyperspace jump technology." "Our ultimate goal is the conquest of the planet Earth," replied Mattoc. "We have been sending operatives into Interstellar Alliance territory for some time now. From all reports, the Earth Alliance is the centerpiece of the Interstellar Alliance. Without them, the ISA will be half as strong as it is now. If we can take Earth, we can force the other worlds to sue for peace. Besides, it has been the Humans who have been by far the most eager to open up relations with worlds in this part of space. Eighteen cycles ago, one of our reconnaissance vessels followed the Earth Destroyer Indefatigable to the Royal Colonies. That was where their incursions into our part of the galaxy continued. Now that they have opened hyperspace travel access to the Royal Colonies, more incursions have followed. They must be stopped. You have had more experience with Humans than any other Peacekeeper, thanks to your personal battles with John Crichton. You are the best choice to lead this invasion." "Hmm," said Scorpius. "The Humans are similar to Sebaceans biologically. They could also make useful slaves for experimentation in comparative biology. Excellent! When shall I lead this invasion." "Your fleet is being assembled. It will leave in one weeken. Can you be ready?" "Yes. Oh, may I request that Captain Braca be assigned to me as my second in command. We have worked well together in the past." "It shall be done." Mattoc and Scorpius rose, and the half-breed bowed before the member of the Peacekeeper Command Council. "May this expedition be a crowning glory for the Peacekeepers," said Scorpius. ** Five Months Later General Robert McGregor sat at his desk in his spacious office at the headquarters of the Earth Alliance (commonly called Earth Dome), in Geneva, Switzerland, on Earth. He was going over the last of the many pages of paperwork that went with the job of being the Chairman of the Earth Force Joint Chiefs of Staff, the services' highest military officer. McGregor generally disliked paper work (although he got used to doing it long ago as a ranking Earth Force officer), but on this evening, he filled out the documents with a feeling of almost fondness for it. He knew in a way that he would miss it, just as he would miss all of the other aspects of being an Earth Force officer after his impending retirement from the service tomorrow. Robert had served for 34 years in Earth Force, five years as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He had assumed the job after General Susan Ivanova had retired from the service five years ago to become the head of the Rangers. She had recommended McGregor to succeed her, and the President had agreed to the decision. To General McGregor, it felt like that it was only yesterday when he had officially relieved Ivanova as Chairman. Now, at 12 hundred hours tomorrow, someone else would relieve him of the duty. He knew that he would miss Earth Force, but he was also looking forward to spending more time with his wife, Jenavia, and with his children. Of course, their oldest, 18 year old Katherine (or Katie as her father liked to call her) was away training to become a Ranger. But his second daughter, Elisa (16), and his son, Michael (12), were both still living at home. The McGregor family lived in a huge, two story ranch house in Virginia that Robert had inherited from his Uncle. He and Jenavia commuted to and from work by shuttle each day (one of the advantages of being the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was access to a personal military shuttle craft. Jenavia McGregor worked as a security consultant at the Earth Offices for Edgars/Garabaldi Industries. She would also be leaving her position there to be with Robert more now that he was retiring. As if she were summoned, Jenavia walked into Robert's office. He looked up at the woman who he loved more than life itself, still looking much as she did when they had met in the Sebacean Royal Colonies 18 years before. This was due to the fact that Sebaceans age much slower than Humans do. Robert sometimes thought about how someone who still looked so young was saddled with a 54 year old man with graying hair and a few wrinkles. He was still an attractive man by any standards, but Jena could attract any young suitor she desired. When he mentioned that to her once, she walked up to him and made him take her in his arms. She told him that he was the only man she had ever loved, and that she always would love him. "Robert," she said. "Aren't you ready yet?" She was dressed in a beautiful, conservative white dress. Robert and Jenavia had been invited to some reception that night that the President was giving. "And hello to you too, beautiful," replied Robert as he got up from his desk, walked across the room, and kissed his wife. He put his arms around her and rubbed her back. "All I have to do is put on my dress coat and saber, and I'll be ready. Besides, its just over in the next building, it won't take us long to get there." "What have you been up to?" asked Jenavia. "Finishing up some last minute things." Robert then sighed. "Getting ready for the big day tomorrow." Jenavia placed the palm of her hand on her husband's cheek. "I know," she said. "No second thoughts about retiring?" "No, honey. No second thoughts. I will miss it, but...its time to go." McGregor walked over to a coat rack and removed his dress uniform coat from it. He put it on, followed by his saber. Jenavia walked over to Robert and helped him fix his uniform, checking to see that the many ribbons and insignia that adorned it were in perfect alignment. His left breast was covered with dozens of ribbons, which marked his many years of distinguished service to Earth Force. "There," she said. "That's my proud General." Robert put his hands on Jenavia's shoulders. "Remember when we first met. I was wearing my dress uniform, and you were wearing a stunning white dress." They looked deeply into each others eyes for a few quiet moments. Robert and Jenavia McGregor then embraced each other in a passionate kiss. He held her close to him and spoke softly to her. "Eighteen years later, and you are still the brightest star in my sky." They kissed once again briefly. "Come on, my love," said Jenavia. "We should get to the reception." They left McGregor's office arm in arm and walked to the reception hall. The couple made their way out of the building they were in and walked across the courtyard under a setting sun. Robert and Jenavia entered another building, and walked up several flights of stairs to the reception hall. When they walked into the room, they heard a voice yell out. "Officers, ATTEN-TION!" They were greeted by the sight of one hundred Earth Force Officers in full dress uniform snapping to attention. The officers were formed in two lines facing each other, with an open area in between them. General McGregor stood in stunned silence at the sight. Jenavia merely smiled, having already known about this before they walked in. They looked around the room, and saw a number of other guests who began to applaud. Ahead of them was a stage, where a group of government officials stood waiting (including President Schroeder himself). Above the stage was a banner that read "Farewell, General McGregor. Earth Force Honors You." Captain James Hancock stepped forward to greet the General and his wife. When the applause broke, the Captain saluted and said. "Sir, assembled Officers are ready for your inspection." McGregor, still stunned, was slow to reply with a salute. He finally did, and spoke to his former Executive Officer. "Thank you, Captain." General McGregor walked in between the two lines, seeing officers he had served with since he graduated from the Earth Force Academy thirty- four years ago. Many of them had since retired, but had put on their uniforms one more time for this day to honor a man they admired. As he walked down the line, a military band played "Ruffles and Flourishes." The last two officers in the line were two he had come to know very well over the years. Captain John Crichton and Commander Aeryn-Sun Crichton had been back to Earth a number of times over the years, and they and their son had become close with the McGregor family. Robert shook hands with the Crichtons, and thanked them for being there. He then walked up on stage, Jenavia on his arm and Captain Hancock just behind him, and shook hands with the President. "Congratulations, General," said President Schroeder. "Thank you, sir," said McGregor. He was still in a bit of shock, as the President walked up to a microphone with General McGregor at his side. "Ladies and gentlemen," he began, "Officers of Earth Force, honored guests. We are here tonight to celebrate the retirement of a man who many have described as the best of his generation. His rapid rise through the ranks was not the result of political connections or family name or currying favor with the right people. McGregor earned every promotion and every decoration through his exemplarity conduct, personal courage, and ability to command. General Robert McGregor's career has made him a legend among the officers of Earth Force and among the citizens of the Earth Alliance. From his actions as a young fighter pilot in an engagement with raiders that earned him the Earth Force Medal of Valor, our highest military honor. His service under such officers as MacDoughan, Lefcourt, and Sheridan prepared him for command. Promoted to Captain just in time for the Drakh War, McGregor played a critical part in fighting the war and saving every man, woman, and child of this planet from the Drakh plague. As a Captain, and then a General, McGregor commanded ships and squadrons and fleets with unwavering ability. This ability would eventually bring him to the highest position in Earth Force, Chairman of the Earth Force Joint Chiefs of Staff. Now, he is ready to sheath his sword and retire from Earth Force. Let us show him tonight that although he may no longer be in Earth Force, he will never be far from the hearts and minds of the officers who serve in Earth Force. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to introduce General Robert McGregor." The audience cheered as General McGregor took the podium. He was happy for the long applause they gave him, not because it was in honor of him, but rather because it gave him a few moments to think of something to say. When the applause died down, McGregor spoke. "I have to say that...I am deeply moved by this honor that you have granted me. I'm not sure if I deserve all of it, because every accomplishment of my career has been made possible only by the good service of so many other officers I have served with. They deserve the eternal thanks of the people of the Earth Alliance for their service." The audience applauded in response to these remarks, and then McGregor continued. "I have worn the uniform of an Earth Force officer for over thirty years. When I first put it on, it was the fulfillment of all of my childhood dreams. While wearing this uniform, I lived a life of adventure and excitement beyond the wildest dreams of my childhood, always staying true to the axiom of 'duty, honor, country'. Tomorrow, I will take off this uniform for the last time, and I will begin a new chapter in my life. I welcome retirement, but I do so with heavy heart because of the knowledge that I will never again command such fine officers as all of you. Goodbye, and God speed." The audience applauded, and the proud General barely held back tears as he looked out and saw so many faces he had come to know over the years. Yes, it would be hard to leave, the hardest thing he has ever had to do. But, it was time to do so. Nothing lasts forever. Robert and Jenavia mingled with the crowd, shaking hands and renewing old acquaintances. Eventually, they got to the Crichton family, who had been informed about this party by Jenavia months ago. They came to Earth on Moya as soon as they had heard, to be here for Robert's retirement. The McGregors and Crichtons embraced each other as old friends. Robert and Jena noticed a young, blond woman hanging on the arm of Jack Crichton, John's and Aeryn's son. "Well," said Robert to the young woman. "I don't think we have been introduced." "Oh," said Jack. "Allow me. Uncle Robert, Aunt Jenavia, this is my wife, Elana Crichton. Elana, the McGregors." "An honor," said Elana, as she shook their hands. "I've heard so much about you." "A pleasure," said Robert. "Well, boy, when did you get hitched?" "A few monens...months ago." "You're Sebacean, aren't you?" asked Robert of Elana. "Yes," she replied. "How did you know?" "The accent," said Robert. "I would know a Sebacean accent anywhere." "Of course you would," said Jenavia. "You've only been married to a Sebacean for 18 years." The two families talked for a while, before the McGregors were pulled away by other guests who wanted to congratulate the General. Several hours into the party, General McGregor slipped out of the room and onto a nearby balcony. John Crichton noticed him leave, and followed him with a couple of beers. "I hope I'm not disturbing you," said John, as he joined Robert on the balcony. "No, John. Not at all," replied Robert, taking one of the beers from John. "So, your son is a married man now." "Yeah, sure is. There's quite a story about how that happened, too. She was a Peacekeeper technician, and they....well, I'll tell you some other time. How are your kids doing?" "Fine. Elisa and Michael are in school back home in Virginia. Katie has joined the Rangers, and is training on some world on the deep range." "I thought she wanted to join Earth Force," said John. "She did at one time. But, she decided not to for two reasons. One, her old man being a famous General, she was worried that she would always be judged in comparison to me. Then, there is the fact she is half Sebacean. I told her it didn't matter, but she felt that it would. Katie still wanted to be a warrior and serve a higher purpose. That was in her blood, I guess. So, she decided to become a Ranger. Since they are warriors who represent all of the races of the Interstellar Alliance, she felt she could belong there. I'm proud of her for being her own person, and for choosing a life of service." They stood there, and drank their beers quietly for a few moments. Then, McGregor asked Crichton a question. "So, have you given up on trying to find a way to your own time?" "Its sort of been put on the back burner," Crichton replied. "I work on the problem from time to time, working with wormhole theory. But, I wonder...I know I wouldn't belong there anymore. Hell, I don't even choose to live on Earth in this time. My home is on Moya, with my family. If I did ever find a way, it would just be for a visit. To see my Father, my sisters." "You know, I've done some research on your Father. If you're ever interested in finding out..." "No," interrupted Crichton. "I don't want to know what happened to him. That's why I never did the research on my own on visits to Earth. I want to remember him the way he was the day I left. I don't want to know his future, his fate." "I understand," said Robert. The two of them talked for a few more minutes, before they decided to return to the party. **************************************** Chapter 2: First Strike (Day 1) Earth Force Military Outpost, Vega System. 06:00 Hours EST (Earth Standard Time) "Do we have an silhouette identification on those ships?" said the commander of the outpost to a Lieutenant. "Running it through the computer now, sir. It..." The Lieutenant was shocked by what he saw. "Sir, computer identifies them as Peacekeeper Command Carriers." "Are you sure?" "Confirmed, sir. Silhouettes match historical data files. Ten command carriers at least, escorted by Marauders and Prowler class fighters. Approaching on attack vector from outer sector." "Send orders to the destroyer squadron to intercept. Launch all fighters. Raise defense screens and activate defense grid." The orbital defense stations at the military outposts raised their defense screens, and activated their plasma cannon and missile defense weapons. Starfury fighters streamed out of their docking bays. A destroyer squadron of 3 Omega class destroyers and 2 Hyperion class heavy cruisers moved to intercept the incoming command carriers. They too armed weapons, raised defense screens, and launched fighters. Ten years ago, they would have had very little defense against incoming enemy fire. However, in that time, all Earth Force ships and military outposts were equipped with defense screens originally based on specifications provided by Moya's crew over twenty years ago. As required by the Interstellar Alliance treaty, all other alliance member worlds were also provided with the defense screen technology. However, even with the added help of defense screens, the defenses at Vega are no match for ten command carriers with full Prowler and Marauder escort. The two forces moved towards each other, and the Peacekeepers were the first to open fire. ** Earth Dome, Geneva. Earth. 12:00 Hours EST "Under Article 101 of Earth Force Regulations," began General McGregor. "I herby turn over command of this post to General Jonas Achebe." General Jonas Achebe was a distinguished, though lesser known Earth Force Officer, originally from Kenya in Africa. McGregor recommended him to the President because of his unparalleled ability to manage and organize. He knew very well that those were the traits that a Joint Chiefs Chairman needed. McGregor also knew that he was a quiet man who wasn't flashy, and thus did not get as much media attention as other more flamboyant officers did. At the same time, with quiet ability, Achebe had led men into battle with courage and capability. McGregor recognized this, and that was what finalized his decision to recommend him. "Under Article 102 of Earth Force Regulations," said Achebe. "I herby assume command of this post from General Robert McGregor." Achebe saluted McGregor. "I relieve you sir," he said. "I stand relieved," said McGregor. It was a quiet ceremony, with only the President and a few other officials present, although it was covered by cameras from the Interstellar News Network. Afterwards, Achebe said a few words to the camera and guests. "It is with a great sense of honor that I accept this post, and I will do my best to fill some very big shoes." He said this last part looking at McGregor. "I will strive to serve well in the post that I have been appointed to. Thank you." With that, the ceremony was over, and General McGregor was officially relieved of all official duties. His retirement would be final at midnight that night. McGregor walked into another room, where he was greeted by Jenavia and two of his children, Elisa and Michael. "How do you feel, Daddy?" asked Elisa. "I'm fine, darlin. It was hard...but, it was time to go." Those were the same words he had said to Jenavia the night before. She now looked at her proud husband and hoped that they could be happy together in retired life. "I need to pay my respects to General Achebe before we go," said Robert. "I'll only be a few moments." "We'll be waiting," said Jenavia. Robert kissed his wife on the cheek, and walked over to the Chairman's office. A few minutes before, it had been his office. Now, it belonged to Achebe. McGregor had to remember to knock before entering. Achebe greeted his predecessor with a smile when McGregor entered the room. "So," he said. "Have you come to say goodbye to the office or me?" "Both, I guess," said McGregor. "How do you feel?" "A bit overwhelmed at the moment," said Achebe. "I just took a glance at my appointment calendar for the week. I don't know if I will have time to take a piss." McGregor laughed. "You have to get your secretary to pencil in some appointments to the latrines," he said. They were interrupted by the comm unit. "Yes," said Achebe into the comm. "Sir, we have an urgent message from fleet command. Ultra violet priority," said the voice over the comm. "Thank you," said Achebe. "I'd better go," said McGregor. "Good luck." "And to you," said Achebe. As McGregor walked out the door, he heard Achebe say "receive" into the comm unit. He was slightly curious as to what the message was about, but he put it aside. It was no longer his job to be concerned with such matters. McGregor reentered the waiting room where his family was, but was not able to say a word before an officer walked in to the room. "Excuse me, sir," said the Lieutenant. "You are needed in the President's office immediately." "What? Maybe you haven't heard, but I am not longer..." "Sir, the President and General Achebe both asked for you to come. It is very urgent." McGregor wondered what could be so urgent for the President to call on the retiring Chairman. "Very well," said McGregor. "I'll be right there." He turned to Jenavia and his children. "You had all better go on home," he said. "No telling how long this will take." "Alright," said Jenavia. Robert kissed his wife and children goodbye, and headed for the President's office. *** Admiral Scorpius' Command Ship. Same time. Scorpius stood on the command deck of his flag ship, and watched his massive fleet of warships on the viewscreen. He was a scientist by nature, but the sight of his armada stirred the warrior spirit in the Scarren/Sebacean half-breed. Captain Braca, his second in command, walked over to Scorpius from the communications console. "Sir," he said. "We have just received word. Attack fleet 3 has just taken Earth Force primary target one. The one they call Vega colony." "Excellent, Captain. Give the fleet's commander my complements on a job well done. Is the rest of the fleet deployed per my orders?" "Yes, sir," said Captain. "But, there has been a problem." Scorpius turned to look at Braca. "Oh really," said Scorpius. "Before the Earth outpost fell, one of their ships destroyed the local hyperspace portal gate," he said. "We destroyed the ship along with all of the other Earth ships in the system, but it was not in time to prevent the destruction of the gate." "That could set us back some," said Scorpius. "But we shall just have to be sure to capture the gate in the next system." "Yes, sir," said Braca. "Any prisoners taken?" asked Scorpius. "Very few, sir," said Braca. "About 13 all told." "Thirteen out of an estimated 2000 Earth Force soldiers. Our forces were very thorough." "That was part of it, sir," said Braca. "But the Earth Force ships refused to surrender. We had to destroy them all. The one's we captured were a few stray fighter pilots who ejected from their fighters." "Hmm," said Scorpius. "Have them interrogated, questioned about their defenses at our next targets." "Yes, sir." Braca left to implement his master's orders, while Scorpius sneered as he turned back to look on his fleet. **** Earth Dome. 12:45 hours EST As soon as McGregor arrived at the President's outer office, he was ushered right in to see the President. He walked in to be greeted by the President, several cabinet officials, General Achebe, and the entire Joint Chiefs of staff. Of course, McGregor knew them all well, and thought at first that this was some kind of farewell get together for him. But the startled looks on their faces quickly dispelled that idea. "General McGregor, good," said President Schroeder. "I'm glad we caught you before you left. I'm afraid that your retirement will have to be put on hold." "I don't understand," said McGregor. Achebe spoke next. "At approximately 06:00 hours EST, our outpost in the Vega system came under attack by a fleet of Peacekeeper Command Carriers." "What?" asked McGregor with shock. "Are they sure that its Peacekeepers?" "Yes," said General Nicholi Zuchov, the Chief of Fleet Operations. "The ships were positively identified. At least ten command carriers, escorted by Marauders and Prowlers." "My God," said McGregor. "That could only mean one thing." "A full scale invasion," said the President. "What's the status of Vega outpost?" asked McGregor. "They were overrun about an hour ago. We just received the report on the attack not long ago," said Achebe. "Let's take a look at the situation, shall we," said the President. They moved over to a display screen which had a star chart of that region of space on it. "Here is Vega," said Achebe, pointing to the chart. "And this is the approximate position of the Peacekeeper forces. We have received other reports of command carriers moving towards the Minbari border, as well as towards Signet and Delphi systems. Our current estimates put their fleet at somewhere between 30 and 50 command carriers." "They've moved in at a vulnerable area of our border," said McGregor. "We don't have a lot out there, and they are driving a wedge between us and our closest allies, the Minbari." "They're not stupid," said Zuchov. "I can't believe they would attack the Minbari, at least not while they are in offensive actions against us." "No, but they realize the Minbari will be the first to come to our aid," said McGregor. "After all, it was the Minbari that helped us defeat that command carrier at JL-327 twenty years ago. They are probably moving some of their forces to hold off any Minbari forces that may try to join the fight." "What can we estimate as they're probable line of invasion?" asked Schroeder. "Well," said Achebe. "If they can take Signet and Delphi, they can then move on Cook and Ross systems. Then there's Proxima 3, and finally Sol system. Earth." "They've chosen their invasion route well," said McGregor. "It's the most open area of space on our border, not a lot of military bases. Its also relatively close to our innermost systems. We've just never fortified that area because there was never a threat from there before." "Until now," said President Schroeder. "What are your recommendations?" "We need to assemble a primary fleet to move to intercept the Peacekeeper fleet before they can take Signet and Delphi systems," said McGregor. "Luckily, at normal space hetch drive speeds, it will take them about a week to get to the closer of the two systems, Signet. That gives us some time." "Who will command this fleet?" asked the President. Achebe looked at McGregor. "I think General McGregor would be best to command the fleet." "Wait, I mean...General, you are now the Chairman..." "And that is why I am needed here to coordinate the services. Zuchov can't do it because he has to coordinate fleet operations throughout the alliance. We need an experienced fleet commander, and one who has experience with the Peacekeepers. That, Robert, is you." "I agree," said President Schroeder. "Your retirement is herby held back, and I herby appoint you to command the fleet. That is, if you will accept the job." "I will, sir," said McGregor. He could feel the old feeling rise within him again. This was one final service he could perform for his country, and he jumped at the chance to do it. "Very good," said the President. "Sir," said McGregor to Zuchov. "Might I request the Indefatigable as my flag ship." "It shall be done," said Zuchov. **** Interstellar Alliance Headquarters. Tuzanor, Minbar. Same time. President Delenn of the Interstellar Alliance read the reports on the invasion of Earth Alliance territory by the Peacekeeper fleet with a great deal of alarm. More than ever since his death, she had wished for her husband, John Sheridan, to be there. He always knew what to do in times of crisis. Now, she had to rely on her own judgment and that of one other. She activated her comm unit, and called her aid. "Shrelan," she said. "Request an immediate audience with the Grey Council. And call Entilza Ivanova. I wish to see her on a most urgent matter." "At once, Madam President," said the Minbari aid. ***** McGregor walked into the hallway outside of the President's office. He saw his wife, Jenavia, waiting for him in the corridor. "Robert," said Jenavia as she approached him. "I just heard. Is it true? Has a Peacekeeper fleet really invaded the Earth Alliance?" "Yes," said McGregor. "Its true." "What did they want to see you about?" "To provide one last chance for an old warrior to serve his people," said McGregor, as he took his wife into his arms. ************************************* Chapter 3: Drawing Swords * (Day 2) Hyperspace: Beacon 33456-Marker for System Bravo 40 (Uninhabited). 13:00 hours EST Captain Joshua Peabody sat in his command chair aboard the Earth Alliance Destroyer Yeager, waiting for his squadron to reach its jump coordinates. The 43 year old Captain from Connecticut was the senior Captain commanding a squadron of 4 Omega Class Destroyers dispatched from Signet system to attack the forward elements of the Peacekeeper fleet. Their job was to fight a delaying action to delay the Peacekeepers as long as possible before they could get to Signet system. The plan was to jump into the uninhabited system Bravo 40, wait for the Peacekeepers to pass through it, and ambush them. Peabody's Executive Officer, Commander Leslie Marcus, reported to Peabody. "Sir, we're ready to jump." "Very good, XO," said Peabody. "Order the squadron to jump." "Aye, sir," replied Marcus. Four jump points opened in system Bravo 40, and the 4 destroyers jumped into normal space. The planet before them was capable of supporting life, but it was pretty far off the normal hyperspace transit routes, so it was never settled by Humans. Now, the planet would act as cover for the Earth Force squadron as it waited for its prey to arrive. ** On Board the EAS Yeager. 13:50 hours. The fighter pilots of the Yeager filed into the briefing room to be brought up to speed on the battle plan for the upcoming operation. Among them was Lt. Joe Taylor, the commander of Delta Squadron, and a gifted fighter pilot. Taylor was a handsome young man with light features, fair hair, and brown eyes that hails from Dallas, Texas. He and the rest of the pilots got the run down on deployment, what was known about the Peacekeeper Prowler class fighters they would be coming up against, and the goals of the mission. When the briefing was over, Taylor headed for the locker room to suit up. He put on the bulky pressurized flight suit and helmet, said a quick prayer, blew a kiss to the picture of his Mother taped in his locker, and headed for his fighter. Taylor climbed into the cockpit, checked over his systems, and contacted the other pilots in his squadron. "Delta squadron, report status." All of the other pilots in the squadron reported that they were standing by to launch. When they had all reported, Taylor contacted flight ops on the Yeager. "Delta squadron, requesting clearance to launch." "Delta squadron," came the voice of Commander Marcus. "You are clear for launch. God speed." The ten fighters of Delta squadron streamed out of the forward bay of the Yeager, and headed out into space. They joined other squadrons already in formation from the Yeager and the other destroyers, and were joined by more squadrons still. The Earth Force squadron was ready for the Peacekeepers. *** ISA Headquarters. Tuzanor, Minbar. 15:00 hours EST "I don't care, dammit," said Entilza (Ranger One) Susan Ivanova into the comm unit at her desk. "I want those white stars standing by and ready to rendezvous with the destroyers in 48 hours or I will get in a ship, fly there myself, relieve you of duty, and find someone else who can get the job done! Am I perfectly clear?" "Yes, Entilza," said the shaken voice at the other end of the comm. "This is the real thing, Captain Na'Goth. Get those ships ready." She deactivated the comm, and went to see President Delenn. Ivanova got to her office, and was ushered right in by her aid, Shrelan. "Ah, Susan, good," said Delenn, when Ivanova came through the door. "I have just returned from speaking to the Grey Council. They have voted to join Earth in the war with the Peacekeepers. The Minbari fleet has been put on a war preparation status. What about our fleet?" "I have ten destroyers and 25 White Stars being prepped now. Have you been in contact with Earth Dome?" "Yes," replied Delenn. "They are mobilizing a primary fleet now. General Robert McGregor has been placed in command." "Good," said Ivanova. "He's a fantastic choice." "There is more good news," said Delenn. "The Crichtons are on Earth. They will be serving as advisors to McGregor's fleet." "Right now, we can use all the help we can get. What are your people planning to do?" "The Minbari will move against the Peacekeeper command carriers sent towards our space, and make sure they understand the DEPTH of their MISTAKE. How do you plan to deploy the ISA fleet?" "We're going to go to Myoto system, and move against the Peacekeepers' right flank. But, we still don't have enough ships to make an effective move on our own. Earth can't probably spare the ships because they are all going to McGregor's fleet. The Minbari are going to hit the Peacekeepers heading towards the Minbari border. The Narn have agreed to join the war, but their space is pretty far from the war zone and it will take their fleet time to mobilize and engage. And even if we do get help, we won't be in position to move until after the Peacekeepers have already gotten to Signet system. Its up to McGregor to stop them for now." "I have an idea," said Delenn. She activated her comm unit on her desk. "Shrelan, open a channel to Centauri Prime. I wish to speak with Emperor Cotto." **** Earth Dome. Same time. Generals McGregor, Achebe, and Zuchov were all in a meeting, going over the plans for engaging the Peacekeepers at Signet. Captain John Crichton, Commander Aeryn-Sun Crichton, and several other officers were also present for the meeting. McGregor's fleet was being assembled at Proxima 3, and it was the largest Earth had deployed since the Drakh War over 15 years ago. It would consist of a total of 55 warships of various classes. The newest and toughest warships in the fleet were the 20 Warlock class destroyers, while the rest of the fleet was made up of 25 Omega class destroyers, and ten aging Hyperion class heavy cruisers. The Hyperions were the oldest class of ships still in service with Earth Force, a design which went back to the 2250's. They had been updated with gravimetric drive systems for artificial gravity, so they were at least no longer zero G. The Omega class destroyers still maintained gravity through rotating sections, since it was felt that it wouldn't be worth the money and redesigns to the structure of the ships to convert them to gravimetric drive. The ships of the fleet would also be accompanied by troop transports with Earth Force ground forces ready to repel a ground assault on Signet colony. "Commander Crichton," said McGregor to Aeryn. "What can we expect from the Peacekeepers when they attack?" "They will make a full force attack against your main fleet, with the goal of blasting their way through you to get to the planet. Then, they will send in massed Marauders on an assault trajectory to land ground troops on the planet. Each carrier can carry about 4000 ground troops." "Has the colony been evacuated?" asked McGregor of Achebe. "The evacuation is underway as we speak," he replied. "We won't take any chances with the civilian population." "Well, let's hope they can return home soon," said John. "How long until my fleet can be assembled?" asked McGregor of Zuchov. "At least another 12 hours," said Zuchov. "Then its another 2 days through hyperspace to get to Signet," said McGregor. "The timing will be close." "A squadron has been dispatched from Signet to intercept the forward elements of the enemy fleet," said Zuchov. "They should engage any time now. Hopefully, they can delay them." ***** System Bravo 40. 1627 Hours EST. "It's confirmed, sir," said Commander Marcus. "Two Peacekeeper Command Carriers with full fighter escort. Estimates place the main fleet at about 4 hours behind this forward unit." "Have they seen us yet?" asked Captain Peabody. "No, sir," said Marcus. "They are proceeding on course, and making no moves for defense." "Good. Contact the other ships, visual signal only. Tell them to move on my command." "Aye, sir." Peabody was patient, and allowed the Command Carriers to move in closer and closer. He waited until the last possible moment, and then gave the order. "Captain to squadron. Jump them. NOW!" The four Earth Destroyers brought their engines to life, and they darted out of the shadow of the planet at flank speed. Their screens were up, their fighters were launched, their weapons were armed. And the Peacekeepers had just gotten caught with their pants down. "All ships, target closest carrier," said Peabody. "All missiles and forward batteries: FIRE!" The four destroyers fired their missiles at one of the carriers, while pouring out fire from their forward plasma cannons. The missiles and fire from the cannons found their target on the hull of the carrier before they could get their screens up. The impact of eight missiles and plasma fire from 8 cannons rocked through the carrier, and within a few moments, was a exploding fireball against the blackness of space. The other Carrier raised its shields, and came about to engage Peabody's squadron. Its frag cannons opened fire, and sent a barrage of fire careening into the four ships. Starfuries and Prowlers began to mix it up among the fire from the big warships, pulse cannon and plasma cannon fire finding their marks as the smaller ships attacked one another. Lt. Taylor led his squadron into a dive against a wing of Prowlers, firing away at the enemy ships and causing them to break formation. One of the Prowlers moved away from the main group and headed for the planet. Taylor saw it move away, and signaled his squadron. "Delta Leader to squadron. One of them's moving to get away. I'm on him. Stay with this group." Taylor turned his fighter to pursue the escaping Prowler. He followed the Prowler towards the planet, trying to get a decent target lock to take him out. The skilled pilot knew that this Peacekeeper was probably trying to lure him towards the atmosphere of the planet, where it could operate but his Starfury couldn't. Taylor knew he had to take him out before he got to the planet. He brought the Prowler into his line of sight, and opened fire. His shots didn't hit head on, but did strike the Prowler on one of its wing struts. It began to spin out of control and careen down to the planet. Taylor was preparing to return to his squadron, when he caught the sight of pulse cannon fire coming from the Prowler in his direction. "Oh, shit!" he said, as he tried to maneuver away, but he was too late. The fire blasted away his starboard engines, and he too went spinning out of control. "Mayday, mayday!" he yelled into his comm. "This is Delta leader. I am going down. Anyone read me." He received no response. "Ejecting!" he said. Taylor activated his ejection system, and the forward cockpit section of the Starfury fighter blasted away from the main structure of the fighter. It began to descend into the atmosphere near the crashing Prowler. *********************************** Chapter 4: Forces in Motion * ISA Headquarters. Minbar. 17:00 hours EST. "Vir, your people are the only ones who can provide aid in that area of space in a short amount time," said President Delenn over the comm. She was speaking with Emperor Vir Cotto of the Centauri Republic in an attempt to get them to join in the fight against the Peacekeepers. "I would do it in a moment if it were just me, you know that, Delenn," said Emperor Cotto. "But...my people are tired of war, conflict. We are still in the process of rebuilding after ridding ourselves of the Drakh occupation." "May I remind you who helped your people in getting rid of Drakh," said Delenn. "I could also remind you of the fact that Earth has been more than helpful in your rebuilding efforts." "I know, Delenn, and the Centauri are extremely grateful." Vir sighed and was quiet for a moment. He then nodded, and spoke again. "Very well, Delenn. I will call a meeting of the Centaurum, and do my very best to convince them. The position of Emperor is not as powerful as it used to be, and with good reason. But, I still do have a good deal of influence. I will use it." "If the Centaurum approves of the measure, how long will it take for the Centauri fleet to be mobilized." "At least a week," he said. "It would then take us another 3 days to get to Myoto system and rendezvous with your forces." "Hmm," said Delenn. "It will have to do. Thank you, old friend." "Be well, Delenn." The image of Emperor Cotto disappeared from the screen. ** System Bravo 40. Same time. The Earth Force squadron under Captain Peabody exchanged blows with the remaining Peacekeeper command carrier. It was a rough fight, and Peabody had already lost one of the destroyers in his squadron. The three that were left are finally getting the upper hand, knocking out the Peacekeepers' defense screens and starting to land well targeted blows into her hull. But before they could close in for the kill, the Earth warships picked up multiple signals on their scanners. On board the EAS Yeager, Commander Marcus reported to Captain Peabody. "Sir, scanners are detecting four more carriers entering this system at high speed on attack vector. Orders?" "Alright," said Peabody. "We've done our job. One Peacekeeper carrier destroyed, one heavily damaged, and they've been delayed for a few hours at least. Prepare to jump back to hyperspace. We won't get a chance to finish off the other piece of cheese that landed in our mouse trap, but there will be other days." "All ships report ready to jump," said Marcus. "Jump," ordered Peabody. The three Earth Force destroyers opened their jump points into hyperspace just as the four arriving Peacekeeper carriers came into firing range. As the Earth ships tried to leave, the carriers opened fire. The defense screens of the Earth ships can't operated during jump do to the power drain needed to make the jump, so they were vulnerable to the attack. The blasts from the Peacekeeper frag cannons found one of their targets, the EAS Cadmus. They Peacekeeper fire struck the Cadmus in here engines, and sent explosions ripping through her rear section. The began to loose power, and the jump point collapsed, destroying the Cadmus in its wake. The Yeager made it into hyperspace, along with the other remaining destroyer. Now safe in hyperspace, Captain Peabody and his crew took stock of their losses. "Half the squadron," he said with regret. "We got one carrier, damaged another, but lost half the squadron." "What course should we set, sir?" asked Commander Marcus quietly. "Set course for the next system between here and Signet," said Peabody. "We need to buy our people more time. Even if it costs us all our lives, we have to buy time." "Aye, aye, sir," said Marcus. *** Uninhabited Planet. System Bravo 40. Approximately 17:20 hours EST. Lt. Joe Taylor surveyed the landscape around him. The area seemed to be covered with dry grasslands, almost similar to an Earth savannah. The atmosphere was breathable, so Taylor got out of his pressurized flight suit. He retrieved his survival pack from the Starfury escape pod, checked his PPG pistol, and headed in the direction of where the Prowler he shot down crashed. Taylor decided that he had better locate that Peacekeeper before he located him. He really didn't want to have to worry about survival and playing tag with an enemy soldier at the same time. The Human would try to capture the enemy pilot. But if the Peacekeeper resisted, Taylor would kill him if necessary. He hiked for several hours, seeing nothing but more and more dry grassland around him. This worried him a little because it might make water sources scarce. There would probably be some groundwater somewhere (if there are plants, there has to be at least some water), but it might be spread out and difficult to collect. Taylor finally saw smoke coming from over a hill, and figured he had finally come upon the Prowler. He drew his PPG pistol, and activated its charge in preparation to fire. Taylor got down on his belly, and crawled over the crest of the hill. On the other side of the hill, he saw the wreckage of the Prowler he had shot down. The cockpit did not look like it had been open. He resisted the urge to rush down there, instead choosing to lay quietly and watch for any signs of movement. After several minutes, it seemed to be quiet enough, so Taylor took a chance and crept quietly up to the ship. Taylor got to the cockpit, and looked for some mechanism to open it. He found a control panel, and decided to try and use it to open the canopy of the Prowler. It worked, and the canopy opened to reveal the Peacekeeper pilot, still apparently unconscious from the crash. The Human freed the Peacekeeper from his safety harnesses, and dragged him out of the cockpit. Taylor laid his enemy down on the ground, and moved to remove his flight helmet. Before he could do so, the Peacekeeper began to move. Taylor backed off, and raised his PPG. "Can you understand me?" asked Taylor. The Peacekeeper did not respond, but moved to remove his helmet. When the helmet was removed, it was not a he that stared back at Taylor. It was a she. A dark haired Sebacean woman with brown eyes and a tan complexion. "Can you understand me?" repeated Taylor. "I can...understand you, Human," she replied with a stern tone. "I am your prisoner." "I suppose so, not that the distinction means much at the moment. We're all alone here. My name is Joe Taylor, Lieutenant, Earth Force. You?" "Officer Yalon Marst, Spearstone Company, Krelstar Regiment." She was quiet for a moment, apparently in thought. Then, a look of realization came over her face. "You are the one who shot me down?" "Yes," replied Taylor. "We're even, though. Your last volley is the one that got me. That was good shooting." "Hmmph, admiration from a Human. My life has meaning," she said sarcastically. "Sincere admiration from a fellow pilot," said Taylor. "You are not a fellow of mine," she said. "Your wounded," said Taylor, bending down. "I have a first aid kit. Let me treat you." "No thank you," said Marst. "I don't need your help, Human." "Alright, look here, Peacekeeper," he said. "Let's set some ground rules right now. We are stranded here, alone. We may need to depend on each other for survival. So let's cut the superior Peacekeeper CRAP so we can help each other. You are wounded, I can help you. Let me help you, or I will simply knock your ass out and treat you unconscious! Which would you prefer?!" Marst didn't respond immediately, but nodded after a few moments of thought. "Alight," she said. Taylor checked her for weapons to be on the safe side, then holstered his PPG. He then reached for his med kit in his pack, and began to do his best with Earth Force first aid training to treat her wounds. "Well," he thought sarcastically. "I bet this gal's fun at parties." **** (Day 3) EAS Indefatigable. In route to Fleet Staging Area at Proxima 3. 08:00 hours EST. General Robert McGregor sat on the bridge of the Indy, the ship that had been his home for most of his time as a Captain, and was later his command ship as a squadron commander, and his flag ship as a fleet commander. It was now his flagship again, and he was again taking her into fire. He looked over at Captain James Hancock, the Captain of his flagship. He had been with him as a first officer, and then a flag Captain for many years, ever since the mission to the Sebacean Royal Colonies. Hancock had proven to be a most able second, although McGregor was sure that he was happier when the old man wasn't looking over his shoulder. But James Hancock never complained, never objected. On the contrary, McGregor and Hancock shared a relationship marked by mutual admiration and genuine friendship. Also on the bridge were the two people that McGregor called his "two Crichtons". Captain John Crichton and Commander Aeryn-Sun Crichton were with him as highly valued advisors in the battle that was to come. They both had more experience than any other officers in the service with the Peacekeepers. Aeryn was once a Peacekeeper herself, so her experience had proven in the past to be extremely valuable. They had left their son, Jack, and daughter-in-law, Elana, back on Earth. They had both wanted to come and lend their aid to the fight, but Elana had just found out that she is pregnant. Jack wouldn't risk her or their baby's safety, and he didn't want to leave her at this time. So they stayed on Earth where it was safe, but Elana would still work with Earth Force technical personnel in providing information about Peacekeeper systems. The Crichtons had said some tearful goodbyes the night before. They weren't the only ones. Jenavia McGregor had thought she had seen the last of sending her husband to battle. But fate had intervened, and Robert was again off to war. The night before, Robert had embraced his children and kissed them goodbye, and then took his wife into his arms. She had wanted to come with him. Being a former Peacekeeper disruptor, she too would have had valuable information to provide. But Robert insisted she stay with the children, both for his peace of mind and to protect the secret that they had never revealed to anyone on Earth about Jena's past. So she stayed, and once again said goodbye to her husband as he headed out on deployment. McGregor remembered something that he wanted to do, and rose from his command chair to leave the bridge. "Captain Hancock, I'll be in my quarters. If you would, please have communications open a channel to the Ranger training facility on Drathnor 2." "Very well, sir." The General walked through the familiar corridors of the Indy to his quarters. When he got there, he sat as his desk and waited for the bridge to inform him that his call was ready. After about 7 minutes, the bridge informed him that a channel was open. General McGregor activated his visual comm unit. The face of a Minbari Ranger appeared on the screen. "This is Ranger Training facility 4 on Drathnor 2. How may we assist you, General?" "I wish to speak to Ranger trainee Katherine McGregor, my daughter." "Please wait a few moments," said the Minbari. The screen switched to a standby image, while they looked for McGregor's daughter. After a few minutes, the face of a lovely young woman with brown hair appeared on the screen. "Hi, Daddy," said Katherine McGregor. "Hey, Katie girl," said Robert. "My God, honey. You're a vision of loveliness, you know that. I hope those guys at the facility aren't coming on to my little girl too much." "Ha, as if we would have time for that," said Katie. "They keep us so busy with training, and meditation, and more training and more meditation. Then of course we eat, and then we..." "Let me guess, meditate some more, right?" "You guessed it," said Katie, with a chuckle. "How are you, Daddy? I've heard what's been going on. Is it really a massive Peacekeeper invasion?" "I'm afraid so," said McGregor. "Vega system has fallen, and if we don't move quickly, Signet will be next. I'm kind of worried about you, though. Part of the Peacekeeper fleet has headed towards the Minbari border. Drathnor is on the border." "The Minbari fleet's mobilizing, from what I've heard," said Katie. "They'll handle it. Don't worry about me. How does Mom feel about you being back in the saddle?" "She's not thrilled," said Robert. "But she understands." Just then, Robert's hand link activated. He activated it. "McGregor here," he said into the link. "General," said Hancock over the comm. "Signal from Earth Dome, General Zuchov with an update on our mobilization time table." "Thanks," replied McGregor. "I'll be just a moment." He looked at the face of his oldest daughter on the screen. "Honey, I've got to go." "I understand," said Katie. "Please, Daddy. Be careful. I love you." "I love you, too, Katie girl. Goodbye." The screen blinked off, and the General sat quietly for a moment, thinking about how much he missed Katie. He shook himself out of it, and opened the channel with Zuchov. ***** ISA Headquarters. Minbar. 12:00 hours EST. "Have we heard from Vir?" asked Ivanova of Delenn, as they walked down the corridors of the ISA headquarters towards the shuttle pad. "No," said Delenn. "But I'm sure he is doing his best to get the Centaurum to approve intervention. If he can do it, the Centauri fleet should be able to join you at Myoto in ten days." "Well, it will still take us a few days to get our forces mobilized and in position at Myoto. Once that's done, we'll make some thrust at the right flank of the Peacekeeper fleet, try and draw away some of their forces from Signet and Delphi, and maybe strike at their supply lines." When they got out to the shuttle pad, a Minbari flyer was already waiting to take Ivanova up to her command ship, the Excalibur. "I wish I were coming with you, Susan," said Delenn. "I know," replied Ivanova. "Me, too. It would have been just like old times. But you're needed here to coordinate with the other alliance worlds." "Good luck, old friend," said Delenn. "To us all," replied Ivanova. They hugged briefly, and Ivanova headed for her flyer. *************************************** Chapter 5: The Wall of Ships * (Day 5) Centauri Prime. 12:50 hours EST "Majesty," said one Counselor Duross, leader of the Centaurum. "We grant that the Humans have been very helpful in helping us to rebuild after the end of the Drakh occupation. What we question is whether that is reason enough to justify the use of so much of our military resources, not to mention lives, to join their war against the Peacekeepers?" "Its not just THEIR war," replied Emperor Cotto. He had been in discussions with the Centaurum about Centauri intervention against the Peacekeepers for a day and a half. They made the arguments against the move that Vir expected from them. Opposition based on weariness of conflict, the cost and expenses involved, whether or not it was the Centauri's war to fight. He decided to put all of his cards on the table. "Do you truly think the Peacekeepers are only a threat to the Humans? I was on Babylon 5 twenty years ago when testimony was presented about the Peacekeepers from those who have been victimized by them. Everything we know about the Peacekeepers tells us that they will not stop with Earth. They will do their level best to pacify, to dominate every race in this part of the galaxy, and they have the military might to do so. Only together: us, the Humans, Minbari, and even the Narn. We can only defeat the Peacekeepers if we stand together. It is better to face them now before the Humans are defeated, conquered. Then, we will face them much weaker. We must move now! As the Emperor, I make a formal request for the Centaurum to approve a declaration of war against the Peacekeepers." There was a great deal of murmuring among the members of the Centaurum. In the old days, the Emperor would merely had to have ordered a declaration of war, and it would have been carried out. But since the reforms instituted by Emperor Cotto himself, the Centaurum must now approve any move such as this. "A measure has been put before the Centaurum," said Counselor Duross. "I move that we stay all further discussion, and put the measure to a vote." ** Signet System. 15:05 hours EST. Fifty-five hyperspace jump points opened up in space near Signet colony, and out of those jump points came the 55 warships of General Robert McGregor's fleet. They streamed into normal space like a swarm of bees, and took up positions near the planet. "All ships report entry to normal space," said Captain Hancock to McGregor. "Very good," replied McGregor. "Get me a channel to Signet Base." "Aye, sir" said Hancock. Within a few moments, the face of the commanding officer of Signet outpost came on the main bridge view screen. "Signet outpost, General Walter Bradford," said the man in a thick Scottish accent. "This is General Robert McGregor, commanding primary fleet." "Thank God you got here, sir," said Bradford. "We thought we might have to face those bloody Peacekeepers alone." "Have all of the civilians been evacuated?" asked McGregor. "Every last one," said Bradford. "Its just Earth Force down here now." "What about Peabody's squadron?" asked McGregor. "When are they due back." "I'm afraid...they're all dead," said Bradford. "The last two remaining ships of the squadron were lost in a second holding action against the enemy fleet. Both the Yeager and the Medusa were destroyed. But they took another enemy carrier with them." McGregor and the other officers on the bridge of the Indefatigable were quiet for a moment, thinking about the price their fellow officers paid for delaying the Peacekeeper fleet. They bought the primary fleet valuable time to mobilize and get here. Finally, McGregor broke the silence. "What's the last known ETA for the enemy's arrival?" "Fourteen hours," said Bradford. "Good. Report to the Indefatigable ASAP. We need to go over the battle plan. McGregor out." The view screen blinked off, and McGregor turned to Hancock. "Order all squadron commanders to report to flag ship ASAP," said McGregor. "Aye, aye, sir," replied Hancock. *** EAS Indefatigable. 16:00 hours EST. "Before we begin," said McGregor. "General Bradford, if you would be so good as to give us a run down on the latest intelligence in regards to what the Peacekeepers are coming at us with?" McGregor, the fleet's squadron commanders, General Bradford, Captain Crichton, and Commander Sun-Crichton were all gathered in the briefing room of the Indy to go over the plans for deployment and strategy for the upcoming engagement with the Peacekeepers. The enemy was now a little over 13 hours away from Signet colony. "Before Peabody's squadron was destroyed," began Bradford. "they did send us the latest information they had gathered on Peacekeeper ship deployment. Apparently, the fleet numbers, or rather numbered, 50 command carriers total, two of which have since been destroyed by Peabody's ships. Twelve of these command carriers were sent in the direction of the Minbari border. That leaves 36 carriers heading for us." "That means a ground force of at least 100,000 troops on board those ships," said McGregor. "Is that correct, Commander?" he asked Aeryn. "Yes, sir." "Our total force facing them is made up of 55 destroyers and heavy cruisers, Signet Base's defense grid, and 35,000 troops," said McGregor. "So far," began General Chan, the youngest of the generals present, "for every one of their carriers we have destroyed, they have destroyed two of our ships." "That makes our two sides about even in most ways," said John. "Agreed," said McGregor. "We need to deploy our ships to make best use of the strengths each class of warship has to offer." He activated a holographic projector, and brought up a schematic of the fleet and the planet. "This is what we are going to do. We'll divide the fleet up into three sections, each one separated based on class of ship. The Warlock class destroyers are the most heavily armed and armored ships in the fleet. They are also the fastest and most maneuverable. I will take command of that section of the fleet. The Warlocks will mix it up with the command carriers in direct assault, with the goal of destroying as many of them as we can." He looked up at General Kemal, a 45 year old officer from Turkey. "General, you will take command of the Omega destroyers. I want your 25 destroyers to form a wall of ships between the Peacekeeper fleet and Signet. Deploy in 5 sections of five ships, spread out in a wide deployment. Your job will be to pour in fire on any Peacekeeper ships that head for the planet, stop them any way you can." "Very good, sir," replied Kemal. "General Chan," he said, turning to the younger General from China. "You will take command of the ten Hyperion heavy cruisers. I want you to deploy your ships in various stations in orbit around the planet. Your task will be to shoot down any Peacekeeper ships that may get past Kemal's forces. Hopefully, it will be just Marauders and Prowlers, or some other larger transports that get through trying to land ships. But a carrier or two may bust through, so be prepared to deal with them." "Yes, sir," replied Chan. "Our goal is to do everything humanly possible to keep the Peacekeepers from setting foot on Signet. General Erwin Rommel said before the allied invasion of Normandy that the battle would have to be won on the beaches, not letting the enemy get a foothold. That is our task here." "Sir," said Kemal. "What is to guarantee that the Peacekeepers will not simply flank our wall of ships?" "You'll have to be prepared to alter deployment if any enemy ships try to get around you," replied McGregor. "But they should head right for you. Commander Crichton, if you could explain." "Peacekeeper commanders typically will make a frontal assault against the enemy," said Aeryn. "Command carriers are built with this in mind. They are massive, heavily armed warships that are made to overrun and pulverize enemy opposition." "They aren't very graceful," added John. "But, like elephants, they don't have to be. They are big enough to run over you instead of going around you." "I see," said Kemal. "Our job will be to stop the elephants before they can trample us." "Hopefully the Warlocks can whittle them down to size before they get to you," said McGregor. "Make the odds a little better. If the enemy does manage to land, we fight them tooth and nail to drive them off of Signet quickly. General Bradford, you will command all ground forces and instillations." "Yes, sir," said Bradford. "We stop them here, ladies and gentlemen," said McGregor. "For us and for the Peacekeepers, this will be 'the longest day'." **** Uninhabited Planet. System Bravo 40. 16:30 hours EST. Lt. Joe Taylor had been stuck on this planet with a bad tempered, wounded Peacekeeper for two days now. He had managed to treat Officer Yalon Marst's wounds, but nothing seemed to improve her demeanor. Even after he had treated her wounds, not to mention found fire wood in the form of small bushes spread out on the grassland, cooked meals, and found some limited supplies of water, Marst had shown little in the way of gratitude. Taylor handed a plate of food to Marst. She took it without a word, sniffed it, and then began to eat. "Your welcome," said Taylor sarcastically. He sat down and began to eat his food. Stubborn Texan that he was, Taylor decided to make another attempt at talking with his companion. "So, how are you feeling?" asked Taylor. "My wounds are healing," said Marst coldly, in between bites of food. "Your first aid skills do seem to have been adequate to the task." "Well, is that a compliment I heard?" asked Taylor. "My God, is it some special holiday when the high and mighty Peacekeepers are actually allowed to compliment those lower life forms that save their asses." "Save our asses!" yelled Marst. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you shooting me down." "Well, if you and your jackbooted friends hadn't invaded our space, then neither of us would have been here now!" "You will thank us one day, Human, for bringing peace and order to your chaotic world!" "BULL SHIT!" yelled Taylor. "That is the biggest ration of bull shit I have ever heard! Bring order to chaos. Honey, you and your people are HARBINGERS of chaos. You cause it, then pacify it when it suits your own ends! You expect us to thank you for that! You're nuts, lady. N- U-T-S, NUTS!" "Frell off, Human!" "Oh, why didn't I just shoot you when I found you?!" yelled Taylor. "Oh, no, I had to let a little thing like decency get in the way. Next time I'll know better." He said the last part to no one in particular. The two enemies, now forced together, sat and ate in silence, both frustrated with the other's company. ***** EAS Indefatigable. 18:00 hours EST. John Crichton sat in his quarters, thinking about the chain of events that had brought him here. He thought about how Earth was now in danger from the Peacekeepers, his greatest fear come true. Even though it was not the Earth he grew up in, not the Earth of his own time, it was still the home of his people. John couldn't help but wonder if all of this wasn't his fault, if he hadn't brought all of this on the Earth Alliance by his trip to Babylon 5 20 years before. "So many what ifs," he thought. The door to the room opened, and Aeryn stepped through it. She smiled at her husband, and walked over to sit next to him. "You are lost in thought," said Aeryn. "I can tell." "When did you get so smart?" asked John. "I've always been smart," said Aeryn. "Well, maybe not always, but...living with you for over twenty cycles has given me a unique insight into your moods." She put her hand on John's shoulder. "Tell me." "I can't help but think, Aeryn, that this is all my fault. That I brought the Earth Alliance and the Peacekeepers into contact with one another." "John, it would have happened eventually. Have you ever thought that maybe by our being here that we have helped your people be better prepared for meeting the Peacekeepers on even terms?" "Yeah, I guess, I don't know." "You once told me 'no what ifs,'" she said. "Follow your own advice." Aeryn brought her face to John's and kissed him lightly on the lips. "Thanks, baby," said John. "Your welcome," said Aeryn. "Actually, there is something I need to talk to you about. I've been meeting with General McGregor, and I told him that....John, I want to command the Earth Force fighter squadrons in this battle, at least the ones going in with the Warlock destroyers." "NO!" said John. "Absolutely not! Aeryn, its too dangerous!" "I am an experienced combat pilot, John, and I have knowledge of Peacekeeper fighter combat techniques that could be invaluable in coordinating our fighters. I am needed out there." "You are needed on the bridge, with McGregor, advising him. You are needed with ME!" "John, I have already approved this with McGregor, but I wanted to have your blessing as well." "No," said John. "I outrank you....I order you not to." "General McGregor will override you," said Aeryn. "I am going whether you approve or not. I would much rather have your approval." They were silent for a moment. "Please," she said. John sighed, and nodded his head. "Alright," he said. "Dammit, I should know not to argue when your mind is made up." "Yes, you should," she said with a smile. John looked deeply into Aeryn's eyes. "I love you more than life itself," he said. "You had better come home to me when this fight is over." "I intend to," said Aeryn. They embraced each other, and kissed each other passionately. The couple then moved to the nearby bed, and spent several hours loving each other before being plunged into the fire of battle. ************************************ Chapter 6: The Longest Day * (Day 6) Signet System. EAS Indefatigable. 05:00 hours EST. The ships of General McGregor's fleet were in position for the defense of Signet Colony against the coming Peacekeeper assault. Aboard those ships, around 30,000 Earth Force Officers and Crewman watched, waited, and prayed, as did another 35,000 troops on the planet below. Aboard the Indy, General McGregor stood and watched the viewscreen, doing his best to present the appearance of a calm man, while he was in reality battling the rattlers in his stomach. He had never commanded a force so huge before, and certainly not in combat. Robert had led men and women in combat before, but never at these kind of odds and stakes. In his mind, he said a quick and silent prayer that General Robert E. Lee had often said before going into battle. " 'Blessed be the Lord my strength that teaches my fingers to fight, and my hands to war,'" he thought. "Amen." Just then, Captain Hancock spoke. "Sir," said the Captain. "Scanners report hostiles entering the system. Orders?" McGregor activated ship-to-ship communications. "Generals Kemal and Chan, do you read?" "Online, sir," said Kemal. "Ready, sir," said Chan. "Throw down the gauntlet," said McGregor. "Deploy your forces. Command to all Warlock destroyers, form up and move to attack vector. Captain Hancock, take us into the fire." McGregor watched the scanner display, and the multiple blips that appeared on the screen indicating Peacekeeper warships. "Alright, you sons of bitches," thought McGregor. "You want a war. I'll give you a war!" ** Admiral Scorpius' Command Ship. Same time. "Sir," said Braca to Scorpius. "We have detected a large number of Earth Force warships in the Signet system." "To be expected, Captain," said Scorpius. "How many?" "At least 50, possibly more," replied Braca. "How are they deployed?" asked Scorpius, as he and Braca walked over to a viewscreen tactical display. "They are deployed in three main sections," said Braca. "Their twenty largest warships are moving to intercept us and launching fighters. Twenty-five of their ships, the ones I believe they call Omega class destroyers, are deployed in a staggered/fixed formation between us and the planet. Ten more smaller warships are orbiting the planet itself." "I see," said Scorpius. "Interesting. The Human commander is combining a strategy of both attack and defense. Creative, to say the least." "What are your orders, sir?" asked Braca. "Have all carriers commence with a full force frontal attack," he said. "But tell them to be prepared to shift lines of attack at my command." "Yes, sir," said Braca. *** The twenty Warlock class destroyers of McGregor's fleet closed ranged with the in-coming Peacekeeper command carriers. Both sides had since launched their fighters, and they to were closing to do battle with each other. Leading the fighters from McGregor's ships was Commander Aeryn Sun- Crichton. She activated her communications system. "All squadrons, this is Commander Crichton," she said. "Follow the battle plan outlined in your briefings. Do not engage the enemy in formation, attack them one on one, allowing you to take advantage of our superior maneuverability." She waited a few moments, and then gave the command. "All ships, break and attack." Like a giant swarm of insects, the 840 Starfuries launched from the Warlock destroyers scattered, and moved in on individual targets. The Earth fighters began one-by-one to open fire on the enemy Prowlers, busting up their formations and forcing the Prowlers to break and defend themselves individually. Stafuries and Prowlers danced across the starscape in deadly tangos, engaging and destroying one another in games of tag. Earth Force and Peacekeeper fighters exploded as fighters from each side found their targets. The 20 destroyers in McGregor's section closed on the Peacekeepers and opened fire with the plasma cannons. The enemy carriers were deployed in three lines of twelve carriers each. The first line of Peacekeeper ships took most of the brunt of the bombardment from McGregor's destroyers, and returned fire on the Earth ships with their frag cannons. The Warlock destroyers increased to flank speed, and charged the Peacekeeper carriers until they were at point blank range. McGregor's ships then opened fire with their missile batteries and laser cannons, as the Peacekeepers responded with every frag cannon at their command. It became a pounding match as the Earth destroyers and Peacekeeper carriers reigned down murderous fire on one another. The first casualty was one of McGregor's destroyers, the Titan, as she was pounded to bits by the Peacekeeper frag cannons. The Earth destroyers were not slowed down by the loss, and continued their assault against the enemy. As the two sides exchanged fire, four of the command carriers increased speed and moved to bust through McGregor's destroyers. Occupied with other carriers, the four enemy ships got through, pulverizing another one of McGregor's destroyers in the process, the Sophocles. These four ships now closed on Kemal's wall of Omega class destroyers. As soon as the enemy vessels were in ranger, Kemal (on board his command ship, the Suleiman) gave the order for all ships to open fire. All twenty-five destroyers under Kemal's command opened fire simultaneously with plasma cannons and missile batteries, pounding away at the incoming Peacekeeper ships. To the Peacekeepers on those fours ships, it seemed as if a meteor shower of missiles and plasma fire streaked its way across space and crashed into their ships' defense screens. The forward most carrier of the group took the most severe punishment of the bombardment from Kemal's destroyers. It wasn't long before its screens collapsed and the ships exploded under the fire from the Omega destroyers. The remaining three ships returned fire with their frag cannons, sending fire cascading into the shields of Kemal's forces. Meanwhile, McGregor's Warlock destroyers and the Peacekeeper carriers he faced engaged in their deadly pissing match with one another. The Indefatigable and four other ships (the Lexington, Ares, Foxfire, and Harpies) concentrated their fire on one of the carriers, blasting through its shields and sending a barrage of fire into its hull. The carrier's hull collapsed under the fire, and the ship exploded. McGregor then ordered all of his ships to concentrate their fire on one target at a time. His destroyers closed on another carrier and opened fire. The other carriers nearby closed in and attacked McGregor's destroyers, hoping to distract them. Another of McGregor's ships, the Nelson, was destroyed, but the Earth destroyers continued their attack on their target. The carrier fell under the fire from McGregor's ships, and they moved on to the next Peacekeeper target. Kemal's forces destroyed another carrier of the group that had moved in on their formation. However, two more Peacekeeper ships joined the assault and laid waist to the Earth destroyers Gorgons and Charybdis. Earth destroyers and Peacekeeper carriers exchanged fire, as the Starfuries from Kemal's ships mixed it up with the Prowlers from the attacking carriers. Another Earth destroyer, the Orion, fell under fire from the Peacekeeper frag cannons, but another carrier was also destroyed by Kemal's forces. **** Scorpius watched the battle unfold from his command ship. Things were not going well, as five of his ships were destroyed after only destroying six of the enemy ships. The Humans were putting up a determined wall of defense and an equally spirited attack. He decided that creative action must be taken to break the enemy's defenses. He activated his comm link to the other ships. "Carriers 13, 27, 29, and 31: break from the attack and move around the flanks of the central section of Earth destroyers. Surround and destroy that section of ships. Carriers 4, 8, 9, and 12: standby to also move around the flanks of the enemy ships and proceed to the planet." ***** McGregor's Warlock class destroyers were chewing up Peacekeeper carriers, as three more fell to their assault. But in the process, they were taking a beating, loosing the destroyers Pandora, Hades, MacArthur, Argus, and Tisiphone. Kemal's Omega class destroyers were holding off the Peacekeeper carriers (destroying another two carriers), but were also taking a beating in doing so. Four more destroyers from Kemal's section (Olympus, Charon, Achilles, and Geneva) fell under fire from the Peacekeeper frag cannons. While the Earth destroyers were occupied with the ships they were directly engaged with, they didn't notice at first that four Peacekeeper carriers break from the rear formation of enemy ships and move around the two sides of the battle line. These forces, under the command of Fleet Captain Jani Atrios, moved to attack the section of Omega class destroyers from the rear. Atrios was an officer who rose through the ranks faster than most of her contemporaries due to her skill and ability to motivate those under her command. But she was also somewhat looked down upon by her fellow Fleet Captains for her tendency to show more compassion than most for those under her command, making many think her a weak Peacekeeper. Yet, it was this compassion that she showed for her people that made her a well loved commander and motivated her people to follow her anywhere. "Fleet Captain," said her second in command, Lt. Meltra. "All ships are moving into striking positions." "Good," she said. "Have all ships move to attack when we are in range and position." "Yes, ma'm," said Meltra. Aboard the Suleiman, Kemal observed the scene with a keen eye for detail. His group was doing the job of holding back the enemy ships, but it was a costly one. He had already lost seven of his ships for the four Peacekeeper carriers that they destroyed. Now, the scanners were reporting four more carriers that were apparently joining the other two currently before them in the assault. He expected them to turn and fire, but they continued on their current course trajectory. Sensing danger, Kemal walked over to the tactical display and did some rough calculations of their trajectory in relation to the fleet. That's when he figured out what was going on. "Allah be merciful," he said to himself quietly. "All ships," he said into the comm. "Break formation. We are about to be flanked." The Omega class destroyers in Kemal's section altered course to defend against a flank attack. Several of the destroyers came about to meet the new threat, as Atrios brought her carriers around and increased speed to get behind Kemal's group. She then gave the order to open fire, and the four Peacekeeper carriers under her command opened up with their frag cannons. Now surrounded by six carriers, Kemal had his 18 ships move to attack the enemy ships to break through their ring. The ships from the two sides pounded away at each other, as another Earth destroyer, the Powell, fell under the fire from Peacekeeper forces. The wall of ships that Kemal's forces had formed now became a melee of Earth and Peacekeeper warships as both sides engaging each other at point blank range. Seeing this occur, Scorpius ordered the second group of four carriers to proceed to the planet, destroy the forces defending it, and begin landing operations. Four more carriers from the rear Peacekeeper formation broke away and skirted the battle zone to proceed towards the planet. On board the Indy, McGregor watched with horror as his wall of ships fell to confusion and left the door open for the Peacekeepers to move on Chan's section of Hyperions class cruisers in orbit around Signet. Just then, he received a communication from General Chan. "Sir," said Chan. "Kemal's forces are taking a beating. Shall we break orbit and attack?" "Negative," said McGregor. "Your primary duty is to defend Signet, and the enemy is sure to send something your way soon now. Defend that planet at all cost. Kemal's forces will have to fend for themselves." "Aye, sir," replied Chan. McGregor's destroyers continued to engage carrier after carrier, destroying two more of the behemoths, and loosing two more of his destroyers in the process. It was a primarily a fight between the big guns, since Commander Crichton and her fighters had drawn away the enemy Prowlers. Captain John Crichton stood on the bridge of the Indy with McGregor, and watched the scene play out before them. "Sir," said Crichton. "Can't we send any forces to help Kemal?" "No," said McGregor. "As you can see, we're a bit occupied at the moment with our own problems. Kemal is going to have to fend for himself. So much for the Peacekeepers keeping to frontal assaults. Any explanation for that, Captain?" "None, sir," said Crichton, shaking his head. "The Peacekeepers don't normally operate this way. They don't go around to the back door, they kick in the front door." "Then the Peacekeeper fleet commander must not be your typical Peacekeeper," said McGregor. It was then that the realization hit Crichton like a ton of bricks. "Oh, frell," thought Crichton. "How could I have been so stupid? Of course it would be him. It has to be." "Captain," said McGregor. "You look like someone just walked over your grave. What is it?" Before Crichton could respond, Hancock broke in. "Sir, we just lost the Harpies. Four more carriers have broken formation and are heading towards Signet. The remaining carriers are moving between us and them." "Dammit," said McGregor. "Have all Warlock destroyers push their attack, break through them. Signal Chan to expect company coming his way." "Aye, sir," replied Hancock. ****** General Chan stood on the bridge of his command ship, the Amundsen. He watched the tactical display that indicated the silhouettes of four command carriers heading his way, flanked by flights of Marauders and Prowlers. Chan's ships had launched fighters, and were preparing to meet the enemy. The odds did not look good for Chan's forces. Even with the help of the orbital defense grid and the fighters from Signet Base, it was still ten aging Hyperion class cruisers against four command carriers with full complement of Prowlers and Marauders. They had the dual job of stopping the carriers and preventing the Marauders from landing Peacekeeper ground troops. Chan activated ship-to-ship communications. "Chan to fleet," said the General. "The defense grid and fighters from Signet will be charged with destroying any Peacekeeper vessel that tries to land on Signet. The Coeus and Roosevelt will assist with this task. The other eight ships will move and engage the enemy carriers." Eight of the Hyperion class cruisers formed up to meet the incoming carriers. When the enemy was in range, Chan gave the order to open fire. The plasma cannons from his ships released the destructive force on the enemy carriers, while the Peacekeepers returned fire with their frag cannons. Meanwhile, waves of Marauders and Prowlers attempted to make entry into Signet's atmosphere, but were mowed down by fire from the orbital defense platforms, starfuries, and two of the Earth cruisers. Kemal's forces were in a desperate struggle with the command carriers that surrounded them. Atrios closed the noose around her enemies, destroying two more destroyers as her carriers closed in. Now down to fifteen destroyers, Kemal realized that his ships had to bust through the ring of carriers surrounding them. He ordered all ships to concentrate their fire on one of the carriers. The destroyers formed up and closed in on the carrier with the weakest defense screen and opened fire. The carriers came about and opened fire with every gun they had. Another destroyer, the Aegis, exploded under Peacekeeper fire. Another destroyer, the Archimedes, suffered a severe hit to her midsection, causing the ship to loose rotation and go zero gravity. The Captain of the Archimedes saw an opening in the defense screen of the carrier they were attacking. His ship was in the best position to take advantage of it, and he ordered the Archimedes to ramming speed. The ship took fire from the Peacekeeper ships, and explosions ripped through her hull, but they were not enough to stop the Archimedes on its last mission. Fleet Captain Atrios watched from the command deck of her carrier as the Archimedes crashed into the command carrier it had targeted, both ships exploding in a ball of fire and debris. She was stunned by the bravery of these aliens, who were willing to sacrifice themselves for each other so selflessly. It would be a sight she would remember in the days ahead. Kemal's fleet now had an opening, and escaped the noose of Peacekeeper ships. The thirteen remaining Omega class destroyers regrouped to face Atrios' battle group. Things did not fare so well for Chan's Hyperion class cruisers. They were simply no match for four carriers, and the Peacekeepers were quickly pulverizing Chan's fleet. Four of the eight Hyperion cruisers that attacked the carriers had already fallen, and the Peacekeepers were now pounding through the shields of the Amundsen. Despite the best efforts of the other ships, Chan's command ship could not be saved and was destroyed. The five remaining Hyperion class cruisers were forced to retreat in the face of the forces arraigned against them. McGregor watched the four carriers close on Signet, their Marauders moving into the atmosphere to land Peacekeeper ground troops. The thing that McGregor's forces had most tried to prevent had come true. The Peacekeepers would set foot on Signet. Now, it would be up to the ground forces to prevent them from getting a foothold. But in case that failed, McGregor was already developing a new plan of to implement if all else failed. ********************************* Chapter 7: Scorched Earth * Signet Colony. 11:50 hours EST. A formation of ten Marauders landed on Signet in a valley just outside the colony's main city. Out of these Marauders came 100 Peacekeeper ground troops, charging out at a run in full battle gear. A Lieutenant commanding the unit formed up the Peacekeepers in formation. They formed a staggered formation of ten lines of ten soldiers each. At the Lieutenant's command, they moved forward towards the city. These men were one of four units that would make up the initial assault group. The four hundred Peacekeepers in the initial group would be followed by 10,000 more troops after a landing zone was secured. The unit moved forward speedily, making their way across the ground at a break neck pace. About a mile ahead of them, 40 Earth Force soldiers waited in a camouflaged entrenchment line. They waited until the Peacekeepers came into range, and then opened fire with their PPG rifles. Several of the Peacekeepers fell to the ground as the rest of them returned the fire with their pulse rifles. The battle began. As the rest of the units of Peacekeepers came down in landing fields around the city, more and more Earth Force soldiers were deployed to defend it. The Earth Force troops defending the city were supported by laser cannon batteries, missile launchers, and low flying air assault craft. The Peacekeepers deployed Prowlers to support the ground forces with strafing runs and to take out the Earth Force air assault craft. Although powerful machinery was brought into the fight, this was primarily an infantryman's battle. Peacekeepers killing Earth Force soldiers with their pulse rifles, while the Earth Force troops blasted Peacekeepers with their PPG rifles and machine guns. The fighting was in close quarters and very brutal. Peacekeepers would charged an Earth Force defensive line as the Human soldiers mowed them down with their weapons. But as wave after wave of Peacekeepers attacked, eventually they got to the line. Then, the battle became hand-to-hand, as Peacekeepers lunged at Earth Force soldiers with their battle knives and buts of their pulse rifles. The Earth Force soldiers defended themselves with rifle and bayonet, and fighting knives. Peacekeeper and Human fell on the same field, their blades cutting into each other, their hands around each others' throats. The field became strewn with the bodies of Peacekeepers with PPG burns in their chest and Earth Force soldiers with the bodies blasted apart by pulse rifle blasts. Although the battle was hard fought, the Peacekeepers slowly began to get the upper hand and pushed through the defenses of the city. ** 15:00 hours EST In orbit, McGregor reformed the remaining ships in his fleet. The Peacekeeper command carriers had broken through his lines of defense, and were now closing on Signet. Within and hour, the General knew that the Peacekeepers would have the entire planet surrounded. He still had twenty-six destroyers and cruisers under his command, which could stand a fighting chance against 23 command carriers. But McGregor also saw how the battle was progressing on the ground, and he knew in his heart that Signet was lost. He gave the order that he was dreading. "Communications, get me a channel to the entire fleet and to Signet Base." "Channel open," an officer replied. "This is General Robert McGregor. Your signal is buster. I say again, your signal is buster." That was the signal to evacuate the planet. "We have to buy some time to evacuate our forces from the ground. All ships will commence an attack on the Peacekeeper fleet, to temporarily draw them off to give time for our transports to evacuate all personnel. Signet Base-some kind of delaying action must be fought to delay the advancing Peacekeeper troops as long as possible. General Bradford, I leave that in your hands. Let's get this done, and leave the Peacekeepers with a bloody nose they won't soon forget. McGregor out." He deactivated communications, and turned to Captain Hancock. "Captain," he said. "Get me the Captains of the Foxfire, Caesar, Ares, and Sydney on secure link. I have special orders for them." *** General Bradford stood in the briefing room of his headquarters looking over a live action holographic map of the battlefield. The Peacekeepers were coming in all directions around the city, and he was trying to figure out the best place to make a last ditch defense to secure the evacuation. Finally, he made a decision. "We'll make an attack towards the Peacekeepers advancing on the Northern airfield," he said in his thick Scottish accent. "That will be the best airfield to defend for an evacuation. One regiment, 1000 men, will make the attack." He looked up at his regimental commanders, and all of them knew what was coming. "Sufficed to say, the casualties in the unit fighting the holding action will be extreme. This must be a showy attack, one with a lot of pomp and circumstance, one that will distract the Peacekeepers long enough for the evacuation. Are there any volunteers?" "Sir," said one of the officers. It was Colonel Stuart, the commander of the 44th Infantry Regiment. Known as the "Highlanders", the men of the regiment were made up mostly of recruits from Scotland, as well as other parts of the British Isles. Stuart continued in his Scottish enunciated verbage. "The Highlanders would be honored to make the attack. If any regiment here can make more of a show of themselves, let them step forward." None of the other officers could respond, knowing that the Highlanders were a regiment of great renown for their courage as well as their class in battle. Bradford nodded his head. "Very well," said Bradford. "But since this attack will be made by Highlanders, its only right that I go with you. I will lead the attack myself." "But sir..." objected one of the officers. "Signet Base was my installation," interrupted Bradford. "I will be the one who will lead the last defense of it. Colonel Legrasse," he said, turning to one of his officers, "you will supervise the evacuation." "Yes, sir," said Legrasse. **** "Are these orders understood?" said McGregor into his link headset. The officers he was speaking with all replied in the affirmative. "Good. McGregor out." The General then turned to Captain Hancock. "Captain," he said. "Have the Indy's missile batteries load with nuclear payload. The use of nuclear weapons has been authorized." Hancock stood stunned, but then asked slowly. "Sir, what's...the target." "Signet Colony, coordinates targeted on the largest concentration of Peacekeepers." "What?" asked Crichton in amazement. "You're going to fire on our own colony! Sir, how..." "Its not ours anymore Crichton," said McGregor. "We've lost it. But we're going to make sure the Peacekeepers have bought nothing but scorched earth." ***** 16:30 hours EST. One thousand Earth Force soldiers formed up in long lines by companies on the field near the North airfield of the Signet Base. At the head of the unit was General Bradford, accompanied by Colonel Stuart. At the center of the line were several bag pipe players. Bradford came before the regiment, and turned to command them. "Highlanders!" he yelled. "Forward!" The regiment advanced in lines, as the bag pipes played the tune "Scotland the Brave". The one thousand soldiers of the regiment advanced slow and steadily at first, swarming over the hill to meet the Peacekeepers. On the other side of the hill, the advancing Peacekeepers stopped as they heard a strange sound coming from over the next hill. Within a few moments, they saw movement coming over the hill. The movement became better defined, and the sight of 1000 Earth Force soldiers in lines of advance fell before their eyes. They marched to the sound of the strange music that filled their ears. General Bradford yelled "charge!", and the 1000 men broke into a full force frontal assault. Stunned at first, the front line of Peacekeepers attempted a belated defense, but soon turn and ran before the face of the oncoming rush of Earth Force troops. The Highlanders kept charging until they came upon the main force of Peacekeepers, about 5000 strong. The two sides opened fire on each other, and the Peacekeepers countercharged until the two forces were a mix-up mass of struggling forms. ****** 18:00 hours EST. General McGregor received a report stating that all personnel and prisoners had been evacuated from Signet. The 44th Infantry Regiment's delaying action had been successful, though extremely costly. Of the 1000 men who went into the attack, about 150 returned. Two of those men who did not return were General Bradford and Colonel Stuart. The Earth Destroyers had fought a tough delaying action against the Peacekeeper fleet, taking out another command carrier in the process. However, the Humans too lost another ship, the Zethus. Now, the Earth Fleet began its retreat, except for five of the destroyers, including the Indefatigable. Four of these five remaining destroyers took up stations near the planet, while the other headed for the local hyperspace jumpgate. Watching from the command deck of his carrier, Scorpius saw these ships move into position, and pondered what they could be up to. A sudden realization as to what was happening came into his head, and he showed a rare expression of panic. "STOP THEM!" he yelled. "BRACA! Order all ships to stop those destroyers. NOW!" But Scorpius' orders were too late. The four destroyers around the planet each fired four missiles towards the now evacuated colony. When the missiles impacted, numerous thermonuclear explosions appeared on the surface of the planet, annihilating the facilities of Signet Colony and the Peacekeeper forces that had just secured it. Meanwhile, the fifth destroyer launched its missiles towards the local jumpgate, sending it to its destruction in a ball of flame. As the explosions still rocked the surface of Signet, McGregor's fleet jumped into hyperspace, leaving the Peacekeepers with their hard won "prize". Scorpius stood and watched as the nuclear mushroom clouds enveloped the Colony's main city and base, and eyed the remaining debris left from the now destroyed jump gate. He growled with frustration, and could feel the cooling rod in his skull begin to overheat. Scorpius stormed off of the command deck, searching for his nurse. ******* Aboard her command carrier, Fleet Captain Jani Atrios also viewed the carnage left by the final nuclear assault. Her second in command, Lt. Meltra, walked up slowly behind her. "It doesn't feel like much of a victory does it," he said quietly. They both viewed the nuclear eradiated colony on the planet, and the wreckage strewned space nearby. The debris left from destroyed Earth Force and Peacekeeper warships mingled in the field of carnage. "Don't say things like that too loudly, Lieutenant," said Atrios. Other officers would have had Meltra executed for such remarks, but she respected such honesty from her officers. Atrios always knew that she could trust her people to tell her the truth. "But I agree. This is a hollow victory. Fourteen command carriers lost, nearly 100,000 killed. And all we have to show for it is a destroyed colony that is useless as a base." "Ma'm," said Meltra. "What if the Humans fight for every colony like this? What happens when we get to Earth?" "I don't know," said Atrios. "It seems that in our victory, we may have seen the instrument of our future defeat." ******** Aboard the Indefatigable. 21:00 hours EST. General McGregor sat in his quarters, looking over the casualty reports with a sense of depression the likes of which he has never known. His fleet went in with a force of 55 destroyers and cruisers, and came out of it with a force of 25. The total casualties were around 35,000 killed, thousands more wounded. The list of destroyed Earth warships scrolled across the screen on his desk. Harpies, Pandora, Sophocles, Sun Tzu, Titan, Triton, Hades, MacArthur, Nelson, Argus, Tisiphone, Orion, Zethus, Gorgons, Charybdis, Olympus, Charon, Achilles, Geneva, London, Powell, Archimedes, Cerberus, Aegis, Amundsen, Phobos, De Gaulle, Deimos, and Uranus. Among the casualties were distinguished Captains, men who he had known as junior officers, some of whom had directly served under him. They had all served under him when McGregor was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Among those killed were Generals Bradford and Chan, both flag officers who had rose through the ranks for their individual skill and ability. McGregor himself had approved Chan's promotion to General when he was Chairman, part of one of his favorite duties in that position. Now, they were numbered with so many dead. He thought about the fact that they had died only to loose Signet to the Peacekeepers. The fact that the colony and its jumpgate were now destroyed, thus handing the Peacekeepers a useless prize, did not bring back those men. Meanwhile, John Crichton laid on the bed of his quarters, thinking about what he now knew in his heart to be true. Scorpius was in command of the Peacekeeper fleet invading the Earth Alliance. It had to be him. He kicked himself mentally for not thinking about this possibility sooner. Aeryn came out of the bathroom after just having a shower. She had led the Earth Force pilots effectively in battle, though many of their number were lost. McGregor had already put in Aeryn's name for a commendation for valor in the battle. She laid down next to her husband on the bed. "Penny for your thoughts," she said, using one of John's Human expressions. "I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner," he replied. "Think of what?" she asked. He turned, and looked at her. "Honey, think about the battle strategy the Peacekeeper fleet used. Was that at all typical of Peacekeeper combat tactics?" "I've been thinking about that," said Aeryn. "It certainly wasn't. I've never seen Peacekeeper forces use that kind of strategy." "That means that someone other than your typical Peacekeeper was in command," said Crichton. "Three guesses as to who it was." A look of understanding came over Aeryn's face. "Scorpius," she said. "Bingo," said John. "Old cadaver face himself. That son of a bitch has always wanted me, now he wants my world. I should have realized." "John, there is no way you could have known," said Aeryn. "Have you told McGregor?" "Yeah," said John. "He agrees with my suspicions, and has added it to his report to Earth Central. I just...I just can't help but wonder if I had thought of it before the battle, if...if things would have been different." "No what if's, remember," she replied. "Look towards the future, and how we can use what we know in the battles to come." "Yeah," said John. The two of them lay there for a long time until exhaustion finally kicked in. They then fell into a troubled sleep. ****************************** Chapter 8: Counterstrikes * (Day 7) Earth Force Transport La Salle, bound for Cooke System. 10:00 hours EST. Medical Technician Trayvar Rel finished the dressing on his patient's leg. He and his patients were among the Peacekeepers captured at the Battle of Signet. Rel was with a forward unit of Peacekeeper ground troops when they were ambushed by a unit of Earth Force troops. Now, Rel and the other prisoners were aboard an Earth Force transport bound for the Cooke System. Trayvar Rel was a young man with blond hair and fair features. The Peacekeepers in his unit had always respected him because of his skill at treating injuries in the field. They looked to him again to treat their wounds from the brutal battle they had just completed. "I'll come back in a few arns to check your dressing," said Rel to the man he just treated. "Thanks, tech," said the Peacekeeper soldier. The Peacekeepers were being held in groups of five in cells aboard the transport. Rel had just finished with the five in this room, so the guard let him out to go to the next cell. He had been surprised when the Humans had allowed him to treat the Peacekeeper wounded, even providing him with medical supplies. If the roles had been reversed, a Human med tech would never have been allowed the same. As the guard escorted Rel down the corridor, they were stopped by an Oriental Human woman in an Earth Force uniform. "Excuse me," she said. "Are you the Peacekeeper medic treating your wounded?" "Yes," said Rel apprehensively. "Good," she said. "My name is Kumiko Takagi, Corpsman Third Class. I'm an Earth Force medic. I was wondering if you needed any assistance?" "You are offering me help in treating Peacekeeper wounded?" asked Rel, perplexed. "I'm a medic," she said. "Its my job to treat the sick and wounded. Would you do any different for Human wounded?" "It would not be allowed by my superiors," Rel said. "As to your offer, I....I could use the help, but I'm not sure the Peacekeeper wounded would accept help from a Human medic." "Convince them," she said. "Let's go." The two of them walked down the corridor to the next cell. ** Peacekeeper Fleet. Near the border of Minbari Space. Same time. Fleet Captain Tralker Yusanan stood on the command deck of his carrier, eyeing the deployment of his fleet with an expert eye. Admiral Scorpius had given him command of the twelve Command Carriers sent to the border of Minbari space to keep Earth's ally at bay while Scorpius invaded Earth space. Yusanan was a Peacekeeper officer known for his viciousness in battle and his cleverness at strategy. He would not only destroy his enemies, he also did his best to break and humiliate them. To Yusanan, no strategy was off limits as long as it ensured victory, even if it involved savagery and brutality that would appall civilized beings. The Minbari border had been quiet. Yusanan had deployed his 12 carriers in formation within striking position of several Minbari colony worlds. If the Minbari made the slightest move to help the Humans, he would strike at those colonies. This, it was hoped, would cause the Minbari to redirect their forces to protect their own territory. "Sir," said his second officer, Lt. Astaraus. "We are detecting a ship bearing just within Minbari territory." "Can you identify it?" asked Yusanan. "Scanners show it to be a Minbari War Cruiser, sir," said Astaraus. "Just one," said Yusanan. "Curious. Scan for others." "No other ships are detected, sir," said Astaraus. "It could have been sent on Reconnaissance." "Hmm, too bad for them," said Yusanan. "Our first chance at a battle prize. Order Carriers 5, 7, and 9 to attack. Capture the enemy vessel if possible, destroy it if necessary." "Sir, they could jump to hyperspace before our ships get there," countered Astaraus. "Not if our carriers close quickly and efficiently," said Yusanan. "Now, if you will, stop your whining and give the order." "Yes, sir," replied Astaraus. The three carriers ordered into action increased speed to maximum, and moved rapidly towards the Minbari Cruiser. As the Peacekeeper ships closed on their target, the Minbari ship made no attempt to jump or run from the advancing threat. Yusanan watched the image of the Minbari ship on his screens, and of his advancing carriers. He was perplexed by the lack of concern that seemed to be shown by the Minbari Cruiser. "Sir, carriers closing into firing position," reported Astaraus. "Enemy vessel is making no attempt to attack or retreat." "What are they doing?" asked Yusanan of no one in particular. He continued to watch as the carriers closed on the cruiser, and entered firing range. As Yusanan continued to watch, he noticed several disruptions forming in the fabric of space right on top of his carriers. Within less than a second, small explosions began to rock through the three carriers. Four hyperspace jump points opened up right on the coordinates occupied by the three carriers. These jump points ripped the three Peacekeeper ships apart, leaving nothing but shattered remains within a matter of moments. Yusanan watched as four Minbari War Cruisers came out of the jump points through the wreckage of his carriers, and joined formation with the other cruiser. They then began to advance on the position of the nine remaining carriers of Yusanan's fleet. The Peacekeeper Fleet Captain, barely able to contain his rage, screamed out his orders. "ALL CARRIERS! FULL FORCE ATTACK! ANNHILATE THOSE SHIPS!" The carriers came to attack speed, and closed on the five Minbari Cruisers. But before they could get very far, hyperspace jump points formed all around Yusanan's fleet. Out of these jump points came 30 Minbari War Cruisers, all of them firing their beam weapons as they exited their jump points. The Peacekeeper carriers and Minbari War Cruisers engaged each other with all of their weapons firing. The Peacekeepers found targeting the Minbari Cruisers difficult thanks to the Minbari stealth technology. Since the Minbari ships did not register on Peacekeeper scanners very well, they had to rely mainly on manual targeting. As the large warships engaged each other, Peacekeeper prowlers mixed it up with Minbari dart shaped fighters. The Prowler pilots ran into the same trouble the carriers did in targeting the Minbari fighters, and were being quickly overcome by their adversaries' superior numbers, speed, and maneuverability. Two command carriers fell under the fire of the Minbari ships. Yusanan's fleet was able to take out one of the Minbari cruisers by focusing the fire of their frag cannons. But the odds were certainly not in their favor. The two fleets battled each other for an hour. At the end of that hour, Yusanan saw seven of his nine command carriers fall, while only claiming six of the thirty-five Minbari ships destroyed. The combination of surprise, superior numbers, and Minbari stealth technology had won the battle for the Minbari. Now, in desperation, Yusanan tried to save what was left of his fleet. "Order all remaining ships to concentrate their fire on one part of the Minbari line," said Yusanan. "We have to break out of here." His two remaining carriers brought their frag cannons to bear on two of the Minbari Cruisers in a weak section of the line. They opened fire with every gun they had, blasting away at the Minbari's defense screens. The Minbari ships closed in on all sides, and sliced through the Peacekeeper defense screens with their beam weapons. But the Peacekeepers quick actions had bought them an escape route, as their concentrated fire destroyed the Minbari Cruisers they targeted. "Full speed," said Yusanan. "Get us out of here!" The two carriers made their way through the opening in the Minbari line, and increased speed to full Hetch speed to get away. But as they did, the other carrier with Yusanan's took heavy fire and was destroyed before it could get away. Yusanan's ship made it to full speed, and left the non-Hetch drive equipped Minbari ships far behind. Yusanan now took a deep breath, and made a mental tally of what he had lost. Of the twelve carriers that were in his fleet, only his own was left. He had to make it back to the main fleet, but realized the Minbari would be tailing him through hyperspace the entire way. They had to find some way of evading the Minbari to survive. "Lt. Astaraus," said Yusanan. "Are there any Minbari bases in the area that could monitor and report on our retreat vector?" "Checking, sir," said Astaraus. After a few moments, he reported. "Yes, sir. There is a training base used by the enemy forces called Rangers. Its on a planet called Drathnor 2, about 10 arns away from here." "We must get away unseen," said Yusanan. "Assign a detail of ten Marauders with full compliment to move on that planet on a stealth trajectory. Seize the Minbari base on that planet." "And its occupants?" asked Astaraus. "Silence them," said Yusanan coldly. *** Uninhabited Planet. System Bravo 40. 13:00 hours EST. For nearly a week, Lt. Joe Taylor and Officer Yalon Marst had somehow found a way to keep from killing one another. Her wounds were healing fast, and she was up and moving around now. Taylor felt it was time for her to start sharing some of the workload. Marst had other ideas. "I am not taking orders from you, HUMAN!" yelled Marst. "They are not orders, you stubborn BITCH!" replied Taylor. "They are SUGGESTIONS! Oh, I forgot. Peacekeepers don't understand the meaning of suggestions because they are the most fucking hard-headed beings in the whole damn UNIVERSE!" "You should do the work, anyway," said Marst. "Considering that you are my prisoner." Taylor burst out laughing. "What fantasy world are you living in? I am the one who captured you. I am the one with the gun. If anyone's a prisoner here, its YOU babe!" "That will change when my comrades come for me," said Marst. "When will that be?" asked Taylor. "Its been 5 days. Who knows what the hell is going on up there! No one probably even knows we are here." He sighed with frustration, and looked at Marst with a softer expression. "Look, Yalon. Can I call you Yalon?" Marst noticed the change in tone, and cooled off a bit. "I prefer Officer Marst," she replied. "Fine, Officer Marst," said Taylor. "Let's drop the hostility, call a truce. Neither of us are anywhere near any of our forces, and we can't contact them. We have a better chance of surviving to be rescued in the future if we work together. Look, we can talk about how to divide up the work. But, I think its only right that we both do it." Taylor held out his hand. "What do you say? Truce?" "Why are you holding out your hand?" asked Marst with confusion. "Oh, sorry. Its an Earth Custom, when making an agreement. It's a gesture of goodwill. You shake the hand, if you are in agreement." Marst stood stark still for a moment. She was debating in her mind what to do. Finally, she decided more could be gained from cooperation than conflict. The Peacekeeper raised her hand, took the Human's hand, and shook it. "Truce," said Marst quietly. **** Between Signet and Delphi Systems. 14:30 hours EST. "Continue firing!" yelled Entilza Ivanova. "Keep pouring it on!" The ten Victory class destroyers and twenty-five white stars in her fleet were attacking a Peacekeeper carrier. Badly outgunned, the carrier was quickly loosing the battle. The destroyers and White Stars of Ivanova's fleet were about to bust through its defense screen. When that occurred, Ivanova gave the command she had been waiting to give. "All destroyers, fire main guns!" The Victory class destroyers activated brought their main guns to full charge. On each destroyers, three energy beams converged together, and then sent their blast of destructive energy towards the carrier. Within moments, the carrier exploded into a fireball. On board her command ship, the Excalibur, Ivanova watched the enemy ship explode on her forward view screens. Her second in command, Ranger Captain Lennock, a Minbari, spoke to her. "Main power off line. Fifty-five seconds to power build-up." "As soon as we have main power back on line, make the jump to hyperspace," said Ivanova. "Yes, Entilza," said Lennock. Whenever the Victory class destroyers fired their main guns, they had to wait 60 seconds for their main power to build back up. The weapon was based on Vorlon designs, and was made to be used on ships with a much greater power reserve. Since sixty-seconds could be a lifetime in combat, the main guns were only used in ideal conditions. As soon as power was built back up, Ivanova's fleet jumped back into hyperspace. Ivanova turned to the communications officer. "Get me the EAS Indefatigable. I want to speak to General McGregor." Within a few moments, a channel was open. McGregor's face appeared on the screen. "Entilza," said McGregor in greeting. "General," she replied. "We've got some news for you from our little rabbit hunting expedition towards Signet. The Peacekeepers seem to be moving in the direction of Delphi." "Well," said McGregor. "That seems to answer the question as to whether they will be moving on Cooke, Ross, or Delphi. It would make sense. If they could secure Delphi, they could then be in a much better position to move on Ross. From there, they could move on Proxima 3. With Proxima in their hands, they could then move on Earth itself." "We'll rendezvous with you at Delphi," said Ivanova. "What about the Narn and Centauri?" asked McGregor "The Narn have just arrived in Earth Alliance space," said Ivanova. "I'll send word to them to meet us there, but it will take them a few days. The Centauri are, sufficed to say, an open question at the moment. If they decide to intervene, they should be diverted from Myoto to Delphi when they arrive." "I'll get word to Myoto base to relay the message," said McGregor. "By the way, I'm sending Aeryn over to your ship as your advisor. John's agreed to stay here with me." Ivanova smiled. "Good, I could use her insight. And it'll be good to see her again." "I'll see you at Delphi, Susan," said McGregor. "McGregor out." The communications screen blinked off. "Tell the fleet to make best speed to Delphi," said Ivanova to Lennock. "Yes, Entilza," he replied. *********************************** Chapter 9: The Massacre * Ranger Training Facility. Drathnor 2. 24:00 hours EST. Ranger Trainee Katherine McGregor was with two of her comrades, attempting to figure out what was going on. They had been in meditation when their instructor was called away on an urgent matter. He told them to continue their meditations before he left. That was half an hour ago, and since then the three trainees had begun to hear commotion in the hallways. This was followed by a blackout of the lights, and the sounds of shots. Now, the three of them made their way through the corridors of the darkened training facility, trying to find out what was happening. They came across the body of a Ranger, a Drazi, laying on the ground. He had been shot. The three trainees pulled out their Minbari fighting pikes, and continued forward through the corridors. They kept hearing sounds of struggle, gunfire, and shouting. But by the time they got there each time, all they found were a few more dead Rangers. After the third time this happened, they found another body with those of two more Rangers. The dead being was clothed in a black and red uniform, with a dark helmet covering his face. The other Rangers did not recognize the uniform, but Katie did. "Peacekeepers," she whispered. "How do you know?" asked one of her comrades, a Gaim. "Trust me, I know," she replied. Just then, they heard the sounds of footsteps coming down the corridor. The three trainees took cover in the shadows, and watched the corridor. Within a few moments, four Peacekeepers marched down the corridor with their pulse rifles at the ready. Katie nodded to the others, and they all knew what to do. When the Peacekeepers were close enough, the three trainees ambushed them. One Peacekeeper was felled instantly by the Gaim Ranger with his fighting pike. Another Peacekeeper raised his rifle at the Gaim, but Katie knocked it from his hand with her pike. She then struck another blow to the Peacekeeper's ribs, causing him to fall to the ground groaning in pain. Another blow to his back knocked the Peacekeeper out. One of the Peacekeepers managed to get a shot off, but Katie expertly dodged the blast from the pulse rifle. She then added another Peacekeeper to the ranks of those on the deck, while her comrades dealt with the fourth. They stood for a momentary glance of victory over their enemies, but the moment was short lived. Several pulse blasts came from down the corridor, killing Katie's two comrades. She took cover, and threw her gaze down the corridor. Ten Peacekeepers were advancing towards her. Knowing a fighting pike would not be very effective against ten Peacekeepers armed with rifles, she pulled out a PPG pistol from her cloak. It had been a gift from her Father when she was a teenager, and she always carried it now as a backup weapon. He had taught her how to handle a pistol starting when she was 13. Katie armed the PPG, took cover, and fired twice. Her shots found their mark, as two Peacekeepers fell to the ground. The others took cover down the corridor, and returned her fire. The blasts from their pulse rifles and Katie's PPG lit up the dark corridor, as they exchanged fire. After a few moments, Katie decided on a strategic retreat. She took off down the corridor at a run, as the fire from her attackers impacted on the walls around her. She came around a corner, and heard a shot from a pulse rifle come from in front of her. Then, she felt a sharp pain in her stomach, and looked down to see blood coming from her abdomen. Katie then looked up, and saw a Peacekeeper soldier pointing a pulse rifle at her. She fell to the ground in a heap, still conscious but badly hit. The Peacekeepers chasing her joined the one who shot her. They stood over Katie, and spoke to each other. She listened to them speak. "Too bad," said one of them. "She was a pretty one. Not like some of the ugly things that we have found at this base." "Shall we take her?" asked another. "No," said another. "Let the trelk bleed to death. We've been ordered to the central courtyard. The base is secure." The Peacekeepers moved on down the hallway, leaving a wounded Katie laying on the deck. She could feel the blood oozing out of her, and felt herself begin to get weaker and weaker. Katie was strong, and fought for life, determined not to go down like this. Eighteen years is not nearly long enough to be alive. ** The commandoes that had landed on Drathnor 2 in Marauders had done their job thoroughly. They arrived on a stealth trajectory, and were not detected on landing. The commandoes had infiltrated the base, killed many of the Rangers inside, and had taken many of them prisoner. Now, the Peacekeepers lined up their prisoners in the central courtyard of the base. The prisoners, whose hands were tied behind their backs, represented a number of different races from the Interstellar Alliance. Humans, Minbari, Narn, Drazi, among others. A squad of 30 Peacekeepers faced them on the field, led by a Peacekeeper Lieutenant. The Lieutenant's second in command approached him. "Sir," he said. "Wish to report the base is secure. Sixty-two prisoners taken, the rest were killed." "Good," replied the Lieutenant. He eyed the lines of prisoners before him, and noticed something inconsistent with his subordinate's report. "I only count 55 prisoners here. Where are the others?" "Well, sir," said the Officer. "The other seven were Human females. Our men have been in space for some time, and some of them requested to have some...recreational time with their battle prizes." He said the last part with a sardonic smirk. As if on cue, they heard a woman screaming from a nearby building. The Rangers in the line balled up their fists in fury at the mistreatment of their comrades, but knew they could do nothing about it. "I see," replied the Lieutenant with a similar grin. "The Human women can wait, I suppose. Allow each man a chance to rape one of the females before executing them. But tell them to make it fast." "Yes, sir," said the Officer. The Lieutenant then called out orders to his men. "Stand ready," he said. The thirty Peacekeepers raised their pulse rifles at the lines of prisoners. He looked at a Minbari prisoner in the front line. "Any last words, alien?" he asked. The Minbari responded in a calm, but firm voice. "We are Rangers. We walk in the dark places where none may tread. We stand on the bridge, and none may cross. We stand between the darkness and the light. We live for the one, we die for the one." "Fire!" yelled the Lieutenant. The Peacekeepers opened fire on the prisoners, leveling the lines of Rangers with pulse rifle fire. It was all over within moments. When the sound of firing stopped, the scene was quiet and all of the prisoners were dead. *** (Day 8) EAS Indefatigable. Delphi System. 09:30 hours EST. General McGregor went over the chart displayed on a bridge viewscreen. He took a glance over the deployment of his and Ivanova's fleet, as they settled into assigned positions. His forces had been the first to arrive at the Delphi System, followed by Ivanova's forces about an hour later. They had already met in person to discuss battle strategy and command structure. Ivanova would have overall command of the fleet, while McGregor would command the Earth Force ships of the fleet. The Narn were on their way to join them, but still no word about the Centauri. "Kemal," said McGregor into the comm system. "Be sure to keep your Omega's in position on those coordinates." "Will do, sir," replied Kemal over the comm. "Good. McGregor out." The General turned back to Captain Hancock to speak to him, when the communications officer spoke. "General McGregor, sir," said the officer. "We're receiving a call from Ranger One Ivanova." "Put it through," replied McGregor. "Sir, she is asking to speak to you in private," said the officer. "Very well," said McGregor. "Pipe it through to the briefing room." He turned and stepped off of the bridge. He headed down a corridor a short distance to the briefing room. When he got there, the General activated his comm. "Receive," he said into the comm viewscreen. The image of a shocked and concerned Ivanova came on the screen. "What can I do for you, Susan?" asked McGregor. "Robert," she said. "I...I don't know how to tell you this. Robert, I....I just received a report from the Minbari fleet. Apparently, about 12 hours ago, an elite unit of Peacekeepers attacked and seized the Ranger training facility on Drathnor 2." McGregor felt like he was going to collapse. As soon as Ivanova said Drathnor 2, McGregor felt a wave of pain surge through him. "What happened?" he asked urgently. "Katie! Has she been captured, is she alright!?" "Robert, it...it was a massacre. They killed all of the prisoners they took, and...some of them...those BASTARDS!" "What happened to Katie!?" "She's alive," said Ivanova. "The Peacekeepers knocked out the base, and left soon after. Before the base was taken, our people were able to get a distress call out. The Minbari came quickly, and found what was left. Katie has been severely wounded, Robert. She is on a Minbari Cruiser being treated now." "Where?" asked McGregor. "At Drathnor. But..." "Susan, I'm appointing General Kemal in temporary command of the Earth Force fleet," interrupted McGregor. "Coordinate with him. I'm taking the Indy to Drathnor." "I understand," said Susan. "I hope she makes it alright. I'll send you the details on what the Minbari found at Drathnor. It...it was a massacre. Those bastards!" "Thank you, Susan. McGregor out." As soon as the comm screen blinked off, McGregor went to the bridge. "Captain Hancock," he said. "Prepare to jump to hyperspace. Destination Drathnor 2. Tell Engineering I need all the speed they can give me." "Aye, sir," said Hancock perplexed. "What's going on, sir?" "The Peacekeepers have hit Drathnor," said McGregor. "Dear, God," said Hancock. "Katie..." "Alive, but hurt. I need the Indy to get me there. Fast!" "Will do, sir," said Hancock. "Communications," said McGregor. "Get me General Kemal on the Suleiman." **** Minbari Cruiser. Drathnor System. 21:00 hours. General McGregor shuttle touched down in the landing bay of the Minbari Cruiser in orbit around Drathnor. As soon as the bay was re- pressurized, he opened the shuttle hatch and stepped down on the deck. A Minbari honor guard came to attention, and rendered a Minbari salute to the visiting Earth Force General. McGregor returned the salute absent mindedly, his thoughts focused on Katie. He was greeted by a Minbari officer. "I am Captain Nenon," said the Minbari. "Commanding this vessel. Welcome, General." "Thank you, Captain," replied McGregor. "I only wish that we were meeting under better circumstances," said Nenon. "Likewise," replied McGregor. "Forgive me for my impatience, but I want to see my daughter." "Of course," said Nenon. "I'll take you myself." The two of them made their way down the spacious corridors of the war cruiser. "I read the details about what you found down there," said McGregor. "I...I understand some of the Human women were raped before they were killed." "Yes," said the Minbari with quiet fury. "Those animals raped some of the Human females before they killed them. We found them...we found them stripped naked and brutalized. The other prisoners were massacred in the courtyard. General, my people join yours in outrage at such a dishonorable act committed against your women! On behalf of the warrior caste, I give you my word that the carrier that sent those men will be hunted down and eliminated!" "I would like to talk to you about that after I see her," said McGregor. "Offer you assistance in that task." "You would be welcomed to come with us," said Nenon. "We can avenge this act together." They entered the medical bay, and were greeted by a Minbari Doctor. Nenon introduced him. "General McGregor, this is Doctor Kaplon." "Respects, General," said the Doctor. "Hello," said McGregor. "My daughter. How is she?" "General," said Kaplon with a dark expression. "I'm afraid that she has lost a great deal of blood. She was shot in her abdomen, and we did not get to her for many hours after it had happened." "What are you saying?" asked McGregor with desperation. "Will she live?" The Doctor was silent for a moment, but then spoke quietly. "No," he said. "I am sorry." McGregor shook his head, his eyes filling with tears. "No," he sobbed. "Look, there has to be something. I'll bring my surgeon over from my ship. Perhaps a Human Doctor..." "I am fully qualified to treat your people, General," said Kaplon. "There is nothing to be done." McGregor was confused, and started wandering around the room in a daze. "Was she....like the others..." "No," said Kaplon. "She was not raped." "Apparently," said Captain Nenon, "she was shot while fighting the Peacekeepers. She was found with a fighting pike and armed PPG pistol next to her. They didn't have a chance to take her prisoner, so she was spared rape at least." "Can I see her, Doctor?" asked McGregor. "Of course," said Kaplon. "She is through here." The Minbari Doctor took the Human General to another room. Katie was lying on a bed in that room, resting very still as machines monitored her vital signs. "I'll leave you two alone," said Kaplon. Robert walked up to the bed, and reached out to touch his daughter's forehead. She looked so much like her Mother. He remembered when Jenavia had been shot, while she was pregnant with Katie. Now, it seemed, things had come full circle. Katie stirred, and opened her eyes. She smiled. "Daddy," she whispered. "Hi, Katie girl," said Robert. He bent down and kissed her cheek, as a tear fell down his. "How's my little girl?" "I'm not going to make it, Daddy?" "Don't you talk like that, darlin," said Robert with a sob. "You are going to get better. You are going to survive." "Daddy," she said. "I know I'm not." Robert tried to protest, but Katie interrupted him. "Daddy, remember when I was little, and I came home crying because those kids made fun of me at school for being part Sebacean. I waited on the porch for you to come home. When you did , you walked up and saw me crying. You sat down on the porch swing, and took me in your arms. You took off your uniform coat, and wrapped it around me. We talked until dark, and you comforted me, told me I was your special little girl." He nodded. "I remember," Robert said. "You sang that song you always used to sing when you tucked me in at night. Daddy, hold me." She sobbed. "Sing that song to me. Sing me to sleep, one more time, Daddy." Robert bent down, took off his uniform coat, and wrapped it over his daughter. He then put his arms around Katie, and held her tight. In a voice broken by tear filled sobs, Robert sang. "Hush little baby, don't you cry. Daddy's gonna sing you a lullaby. And if that lullaby won't work, Daddy's gonna buy you a mocking bird. And if that Mockingbird won't sing, Daddy's gonna buy you a diamond ring. And if that diamond ring won't shine, Daddy's gonna give you lots of his time." Katie closed her eyes, and drifted into unconsciousness, as Robert continued to sing. "Hush, little baby, don't you cry. Hush little baby, don't you cry." With those words, Katie McGregor passed into unconsciousness, and never woke up again. Robert watched helplessly as his Katie girl died in his arms. He broke into open tears, and screamed at the top of his lungs. At that moment, Robert McGregor changed, and would never be entirely the same man he was before. ****************************** Chapter 10: Retribution * (Day 9) EAS Indefatigable. Drathnor System. 11:00 hours EST. General McGregor stepped onto the bridge of the Indy the next morning with an aura of calm that no one could have expected. He had spent an hour with Katie after she had died, refusing to leave her. Hancock had to come over from the Indefatigable to urge Robert to leave her side, and to come back to the ship. As soon as McGregor entered his quarters, he collapsed onto the bed and fell into a deep sleep. He awakened the next morning with a sense of cold purpose that needed to be fulfilled. Captains Hancock and Crichton watched him enter the bridge. They nodded to each other, and Hancock approached McGregor. "Sir," whispered Hancock. "Are you alright? Shouldn't you get some more sleep?" "No," said McGregor with firmness. "I've slept enough, Captain. Update me on the situation." "Three more Minbari Cruisers jumped in to Drathnor overnight," replied Hancock. "Their fleet commander, Admiral Lakhat, would like to see you when you feel up to it." "Good," said McGregor. "I'll go over to his ship now. Make the arrangements, and fire up a shuttle." "Sir, are you sure..." "Just do as I say, Captain!" said McGregor angrily. Hancock stared at him for a moment, and McGregor took a deep breath. "Jim, I'm sorry..." "Its okay, sir," said Hancock. "I understand." "I'm alright," said McGregor. "I need to do this. Now, obey my orders." "Aye, sir," said Hancock. ** Minbari War Cruiser. 11:30 hours. General McGregor stepped into a room on board the War Cruiser, where he was greeted by several Minbari Officers. One of them was Captain Nenon, the Minbari officer he had met last night. Another of the Minbari introduced himself as Admiral Lakhat. "General," said Lakhat. "Your reputation precedes you. I only wish we could have met under better circumstances. My condolences on your loss." "Thank you, Admiral," replied McGregor. "Captain Nenon has informed me of your desire to aid in the destruction of the Peacekeeper Command Carrier that launched this vicious attack." "That's correct," said McGregor. "I place myself and my ship at your disposal for this battle. Have your forces located the carrier?" "We have an approximate position," said Lakhat. "It is heading for the Signet system to apparently rendezvous with the rest of the Peacekeeper fleet. We think that we can intercept them at a set of coordinates along that trajectory." "Good," said McGregor. "Admiral, I wanted to be clear on our battle strategy, what...what quarter will be given to the Peacekeeper carrier." "No quarter will be given," said Lakhat evenly. "No quarter is deserved. These Peacekeepers have acted as ravenous animals. They will be put down as such." "We are of like mind in this, Admiral," said McGregor. "When do we leave?" *** Earth Force Transport LaSalle. In orbit around Cooke Colony. 12:00 hours EST. Peacekeeper Med Tech Trayvar Rel sat down on a chair in his cell, exhaustion overwhelming him. He had been treating Peacekeeper wounded for arns, and he was ready for a break. The Earth Force medic, Kumiko Takagi, had been a big help in treating the wounded. It had taken some doing on Rel's part to convince his comrades to allow themselves to be treated by a Human, but she had proven her good intentions to them and they finally accepted her help. The door to Rel's cell opened, and Takagi stepped through the door with a couple of trays. "I thought you might be hungry," she said. "I know I am. Its not gourmet, but I bet its better than what they serve you guys." Takagi set the trays down on the table in the cell, and Rel came over and joined her at the table. They sat down, and began to eat. "Thanks," said Rel. "My pleasure," she replied. "You do good work. I'll say one thing, you are one hell of a good medic, Rel." "Call me Trayvar," said Rel. "And you are very skilled, as well." "Thanks, and call me Kumiko," Takagi replied. "Tell me," said Rel. "You're name, you're features. You are from the Earth country called China, correct?" "No, Japan," she replied. "How did you know about China?" "We were briefed about your people on the way to your territory," said Rel. "Most of it was pure, propagandistic dren, but some real information seeped through. I also did some extra studying about your people in spare time." "I wouldn't think a Peacekeeper would be interested in our culture," said Takagi. "From everything I've heard about your people, I thought you would only be interested in military information." "Most Peacekeepers are," said Rel. "But some of us allow ourselves to explore beyond the boundaries that are set for us by High Command. I am one of those. It just had to be done very discreetly." "I see," said Takagi. "Well, it seems there is more to you than meets the eye." They sat and ate together, and talked about a variety of different things. Human and Peacekeeper had found common ground in a world where the two races were at each other's throats. **** EAS Indefatigable. In route through hyperspace. 14:00 hours EST. The officers and crewman of the Indy readied their ship for battle, as they along with four Minbari War Cruisers set out to hunt down and destroy the Peacekeeper Carrier that had launched the raid at Drathnor. News of what happened there had spread, and it impacted on the crew like a lightning bolt. This impact was brought home by the fact that one of the victims in the raid was General McGregor's daughter. The Humans on board the Indy, like their Minbari comrades on the War Cruisers, were enraged, and sought retribution for the acts committed by the Peacekeepers. McGregor sought more than retribution. He was already formulating a plan in his mind as to a course of action when they intercepted the carrier as he stood on the bridge of the Indefatigable. The look on his face was one of determined fury, so no one dared to approach him. No one said a word to him, until the ships neared their destination. "Sir," said Hancock to McGregor. "Approaching coordinates. Orders?" McGregor came out of his contemplation, and spoke up so everyone on the bridge could hear him. "I want everyone here to understand something," he said. They all turned to look at McGregor. "There will be no quarter given. NO MERCY GRANTED! We...I will make them PAY for what they have done!" Every officer looked at him with a stunned expression. They had never seen McGregor enraged before, and his words had shocked them. If any other officer in the fleet had told them what he just did, they would have questioned it. But this was General Robert McGregor. No one questioned his orders, or the correctness of them. McGregor turned and walked over to the command chair. Hancock and Crichton followed him. "Sir," whispered Hancock. "Are you sure you are thinking clearly?" "Are you questioning me, Captain?" asked McGregor. "No, sir," replied Hancock. "I would never question your orders. Its just...are we doing this for the right reasons?" "I think what happened at Drathnor more than warrants this response," said McGregor. "What about you, Crichton? Do you agree?" "Yes, sir," said Crichton. "Peacekeepers understand brute force. I say an eye for an eye." "Good," said McGregor. "Anything else, Captain Hancock?" "No, sir," said Hancock. Hancock turned around and spoke to the officers at the helm. "Prepare to jump to normal space. Sound general quarters. All hands man battle stations." A few minutes later, the Indefatigable and the four War Cruiser jumped into normal space. They took up formation, and moved on course to locate and attack the Peacekeeper carrier. It took about a little over 30 minutes, but the carrier was finally located. The five warships went to flank speed, and closed on the carrier. Both sides raised their defense screens, launched their fighters, and opened fire as soon as they were within range. The battle raged for about 40 minutes. The four Minbari War Cruisers and the Indefatigable surrounded the Peacekeeper carrier, and fired every weapon they had into the enemy vessel. The Peacekeepers gave as good as they got, returning fire with their frag cannons. One of the Minbari Cruisers was destroyed, but it did not slow down the Humans or Minbari in their deadly task. They kept up their fire, determined to blast through the Peacekeeper defense screen. When they finally did so, the four remaining Human and Minbari warships spared no weapon in firing on the Peacekeeper ship. They sent plasma cannon fire and missiles crashing into their hull, while they sliced into the Peacekeeper warship with their beam weapons. At one point, the carrier tried to bust through their enemy's line of attack, but the determined Humans and Minbari allowed them no escape. They pounded the Peacekeeper carrier until its hull finally began to collapse. As the Peacekeeper warship exploded, a number of escape pods were seen launching from the ship. McGregor, on the bridge of the Indy, gave his next order without flinching. "Forward batteries, target those escape pods. Give me firing control." "But, sir..." said the weapons officer. "Do as I say," interrupted McGregor. Hancock considered intervening, but held back. Crichton stood by and watched the whole scene quietly. McGregor walked up to the firing control panel, and pressed a button. The forward plasma cannons of the Indefatigable fired into the Peacekeeper escape pods, destroying them one by one. McGregor kept pressing the firing control, until all but six of the escape pods were destroyed. He finally removed his finger from the fire control button, and spared the remaining six pods. "Captain Hancock," said McGregor. "Have those pods brought aboard. Take the prisoners to the Cargo Bay. And have a detail of Marines standing by in the Cargo Bay." "Aye, sir," said Hancock. ***** McGregor stepped into the cargo bay less than an hour later, and took in the scene before him. Sitting on the floor of the bay were about 14 Peacekeeper prisoners, with about twenty-armed Marines watching them. He walked up to the Marine sergeant with a determined stride. "Sergeant," said McGregor. "Have the prisoners stand." "Yes, sir," said the Sergeant. He and his Marines got the Peacekeepers to their feet. At the same time, Hancock and Crichton came into the cargo bay with another officer, a Lieutenant. McGregor turned to the three officers that just walked in. "Lt. Mendoza, correct?" "Yes, sir," said Mendoza, as he came to attention. "Mendoza, I'm told that you are a level P10 telepath," said McGregor. "That's correct, sir," said Mendoza. "Lieutenant, scan those prisoners. Find out which ones, if any, participated in the raping of the Human women on Drathnor." "Sir," said Mendoza. "With all due respect, that is in violation of the regulations regarding telepathic scans." "I'll take full responsibility," said McGregor. "Do it." Mendoza was hesitant, but finally nodded his head. He approached the Peacekeeper prisoners, and scanned them one by one. Each of them squirmed in pain as Mendoza subjected them to the telepathic scan. Finally, when Mendoza came to a Peacekeeper Officer with dark hair, and a scar on his right cheek, Mendoza pulled back with a start. "Him, sir," said Mendoza to McGregor. "He took a VERY active part in the raping," said Mendoza angrily. "The sick son of a bitch enjoyed it!" "Thank you, Mendoza," said McGregor. "You can go." As Mendoza left, he turned to the Peacekeeper Mendoza had indicated. "Identify yourself," said McGregor. "Officer Jaltra Trolt," said the Peacekeeper nervously. McGregor snapped his fingers, and two Marines came over to McGregor. "Pull this man out of the line," said McGregor. The Marines complied, and pulled Trolt out of the line of prisoners. McGregor backed away from the prisoners. "Marines," said McGregor. "Raise your weapons!" The Marines looked at each other, and hesitated. "DO IT!" yelled McGregor. The Marines raised their PPG rifles at the line of prisoners. "Fire on my order!" said McGregor. The Peacekeepers in the line of prisoners showed a mixed reaction. One or two of them adeptly hid their fear, while the others trembled with terror at their impending execution. A young Peacekeeper got down on his knees, and began to plead for his life. McGregor eyed the line of prisoners coldly. "Marines, ready," he began. After a few moments, he continued. "AIM!" But instead of giving the order to fire, McGregor pulled out a PPG pistol. It was the one that had been recovered with Katie, the one that Robert had given her. He armed the pistol, and turned to Officer Trolt. McGregor aimed his pistol, and fired. The Peacekeeper let out a high pitched scream of pain, and collapsed to the ground. He writhed in pain, and cupped his hands over his now destroyed sex organ. McGregor had fired his PPG directly at the Peacekeeper's crotch, burning it away instantly with the blast. Trolt continued to scream in agony, as McGregor turned back to the line of prisoners. The usually stern Peacekeepers were all shaking with shock and fear. Some of the male prisoners actually covered their crotches with their hands, as McGregor faced them. "I'm sending you back to your people," said McGregor. "In case this bastard doesn't survive his wound. You take a message with you. If any Peacekeeper ever again executes a Human prisoner, I will hunt them down and kill them! If any Peacekeeper ever rapes another Human woman, or woman of any other race of the Interstellar Alliance, I will personally do to them what I did to this man! Your days of acting without consequence are now OVER! IT ENDS NOW! This will be your last warning! My people will not tolerate such acts of barbarism as were committed against the Rangers on Drathnor 2! If such an atrocity is ever committed by Peacekeepers again, those Peacekeeper will face my WRATH!" McGregor turned, and walked over to Hancock and Crichton. "Get a Doctor down here to treat this bastard," he said, pointing to the now sobbing Officer Trolt laying on the deck. "I want us to do our best to make sure he has to live with his 'consequence'. We'll take these prisoners to Signet, and release them in their escape pods to normal space. Then, we'll return to the fleet." Hancock nodded, unable to speak. Crichton was also speechless. Neither had ever seen Robert McGregor act like this, with such cold fury and viciousness. McGregor didn't wait for them to speak, nor did he say another word to them. He holstered his PPG pistol, and walked out of the cargo bay, never once looking back. ******************************** Chapter 11: Drawing the Line * (Day 11) EAS Indefatigable. Delphi System. 12:30 hours The Indefatigable had gotten back to the fleet yesterday, just in time to get ready to join the rest of the fleet in meeting the Peacekeeper forces. When General McGregor and the crew of the Indy got to Delphi, they did not just find the other 24 Earth ships and the 35 destroyers and White Stars of Ivanova's fleet waiting for them. Twenty Narn Heavy Cruisers had also joined the fleet, and they were told that a fleet of Centauri Warships were also on the way. The Minbari were sending ships to attempt to retake the Vega System from the Peacekeepers, in order to cut off their lines of supply. The Interstellar Alliance was standing together, determined to stop the Peacekeeper invasion from going any further. General McGregor was in his quarters now, finishing his report to Earth Force Command on what happened at Drathnor 2, and about the Indefatigable's part in hunting down the Peacekeeper ship. He left out no detail about his actions or the actions he had ordered taken. McGregor described engaging (along with Minbari forces) the carrier that launched the attack on Drathnor, and destroying it. He also reported his actions in destroying the Peacekeeper escape pods, and gave a full account of the incident in the Cargo Bay with the Peacekeeper prisoners. Robert was a man of honor, and he wanted full disclosure rather than an aura of secrecy follow his actions. The General had also ordered Captains Hancock and Crichton to send report to Earth Force Command with their accounts of what occurred to further disclose every detail of what happened. He felt that the actions he took were justified, and wouldn't act otherwise by trying to leave anything out about the things he did. They were things he would have never done before a few days ago, before Katie was killed, and he did realize this. But he still felt that what he did was right. A message had to be sent to the Peacekeepers that such behavior was intolerable. McGregor heard a knock at the door to his quarters. "Enter," said McGregor, and the door swung open. In stepped John Crichton. "Sir," said Crichton. "You wanted to be informed when the ETA for the enemy's arrival was one hour. Its that time, sir." "Thank you, Captain," said McGregor. "I'll be right up." "Sir," said Crichton. "Can I speak with you a moment?" "Alright," said McGregor. "What's on your mind, John?" "Look, Robert, I've....I know what loss feels like. Believe me, I know loss, and I know what hatred of the Peacekeepers is all about. But the one thing I've learned is not to let myself be consumed by loss, by hatred. When I have, they almost destroyed me." "Do you have a point to make?" asked McGregor with frustration. "There has been a change in you, Robert," said Crichton. "I've noticed it, Hancock has noticed it, the crew has noticed it. Its understandable to have been changed by loss. But, these people look on you as a leader, a hero. Hell, many of them see you as some kind of god. Be careful not to let the changes in you go too far, or it may effect your ability to lead and have others follow you." "Look, John, I didn't ask to be looked on as a hero!" said McGregor heatedly. "I didn't ask to be named to the position of godhood!" "Tough shit, Robert!" replied Crichton. "These people look on you as Jesus Christ, come to clean the temple and deliver them from the evil Peacekeepers! They don't question Robert McGregor, the great General! But unless you are careful, you could break down that worship of you and your people could become disillusioned. I'm not saying that its necessarily good that you are worshipped by the men and women of this fleet. But you are a hero to them, and the greatest leader they have ever known. Do right by them, and don't let your feelings of loss or hatred overcome you, or they will destroy your ability to command." The room fell silent, and neither men knew what to say next. Finally, Robert spoke. "Look, John, I appreciate your concern. I will consider what you have said, but right now my hatred of the Peacekeepers is all that is holding me together. Eleven days ago, I was retiring, and looking forward to spending a quiet life with Jena. Now, eleven days later, I have lost a major battle to the Peacekeepers, lost half of the fleet I started with, lost 35,000 lives and a colony system, and have lost my oldest daughter! Forgive me if I am not the rock of stability right now! Now, if you will excuse me, I need to get to the bridge!" Robert left the room in a hurry, not giving Crichton a chance to continue the responsibility. John watched him go, and thought to himself. "Be careful, old friend, or you may also loose your soul." ** Scorpius' Command Ship. Just outside Delphi System. 13:20 hours EST. The twenty-two Command Carriers in Scorpius' fleet approached their next target with an outer look of confidence and power that would seem to anyone to be undaunted. However, within the carriers, there was a growing sense of disillusionment among the ranks of Peacekeepers with the expedition they were embarked upon. At first, they were filled with confidence and arrogance after their initial victory at Vega System, and after pushing aside the Earth Fleet at Signet. But sense then, things had changed for the Peacekeepers in their cause. They had taken Signet, but the enemy fleet had annihilated the colony along with a large portion of the Peacekeepers' ground forces with a devastating thermonuclear strike. This was followed a few days later by a devastating attack on the forces of Fleet Captain Yusanan by the Minbari, which left almost all of that fleet destroyed. Then followed the events of the raid on Drathnor, and the revenge taken on Yusanan's carrier by the Humans and Minbari. Fourteen survivors were returned to the Peacekeeper fleet the previous day, when several Peacekeeper escape pods were quickly released from a hyperspace jump point in the path of the main Peacekeeper fleet. They told of how a Human destroyer and several Minbari ships destroyed Yusanan's carrier, and how the Earth ship even destroyed Peacekeeper escape pods. They also told of being taken aboard the Earth destroyer, and an interrogation by a Human telepath. Of course, the most startling events related by these freed prisoners were of the actions taken by the Human General. One of the Peacekeepers who had been returned had been mutilated in the crotch by a shot from the General's pistol. The warning that had been brought back by the prisoners spread like wildfire through the Peacekeepers in the fleet. A feeling of nervousness now prevailed among the Peacekeeper ranks, and many Peacekeepers even feared the Earth General named Robert McGregor. They began to refer to McGregor as "the Sword of Drathnor", or as "the Butcher McGregor." One thing that was certain was that every male Peacekeeper would now think twice about raping any Human female, out of worry that this Earth General might one day catch up with them. Standing on the command deck of his carrier, Scorpius sensed the changing mood in his troops, and did not like it. He was determined not just to win this next battle with the Humans and their allies, but to break his enemy in one fierce stroke. Scorpius knew that he had to win this war as quickly as possible, or his forces would eventually crumble and fail. This time, he had to capture the enemy's jump gate to gain access to hyperspace. His forces would then move on Earth directly through hyperspace, taking it in a swift strike. With Earth in his hands, Scorpius would then have a chance of winning this war. Captain Braca approached Scorpius. "Sir," said Braca, stirring Scorpius from his thoughts. "Yes, Captain," replied Scorpius. "We shall be in the Delphi System in 500 microts. Shall we launch all Prowlers and Marauders?" "Yes, Captain. Do so. And remind all ship commanders that their priorities are the destruction of the entire enemy fleet, and the capture of the jump gate. All other concerns are secondary to those ends." "Yes, sir." *** Uninhabited Planet. System Bravo 40. Same time. Lt. Joe Taylor finished shaving, as he looked into a makeshift mirror made from the canopy of Officer Yalon Marsts' prowler. Things had been going much better in the few days since he and Marst had agreed to a truce, and they had been able to put differences aside to work together on survival. They had even started talking to one another, exchanging stories and even sharing a laugh or two. It was miraculous how their relationship had changed so fast, and Taylor could only attribute it to getting all of the petty arguments out of the way and allowing themselves to get to know one another. Marst was walking up to their campsite with an arm load of fire wood. She had taken off her black uniform coat, and was wearing a black tank top. Taylor looked at her, and took notice of physical attributes that Marst displayed when she wasn't dressed all in Peacekeeper leather. "Here," said Taylor, walking over to her. "Let me help you with that." "Thanks, but I've got it," she said, as she dropped the firewood to the ground. She then winced a little, and grabbed at her left arm. "You okay?" asked Taylor. "I cut myself, that's all," she said. "Here, let me take a look." Taylor got out the first aid kit, and brought it over to Marst. He took her arm, and looked at the wound. Marst watched him examine and clean her wound, and looked into the Human's eyes for a moment. She had let herself notice once or twice that Joe Taylor was an attractive male, but she had always put the thought aside quickly, remembering that he wasn't Sebacean. Taylor bandaged the wound. "There," he said. "Does that feel better?" "Yes, thanks," said Marst with a slight smile. "How's our water supply?" "Pretty good," said Taylor, walking over to the water tank. "We've got enough to last a few days comfortably, so we have time to look for more." "That means digging more holes," said Marst with a sigh. "Afraid so," said Taylor. "I figured we could check to the northeast. There's more vegetation there, so our chances of finding water might be better." "Alright," said Marst. "Let's go." **** Delphi System. 12:30 hours EST. Entilza Susan Ivanova stood on the bridge of the Excalibur, with Commander Aeryn-Sun Crichton at her side. The two women, old friends and warriors who had fought side by side in combat before, now stood on the brink of another battle, one that could decide the outcome of this war. "Aeryn," said Ivanova. "Do you think we're ready?" "We've done everything we can to be ready," replied Aeryn. "We have 10 of your Victory class destroyers, 25 Earth Force destroyers and cruisers, 20 Narn Heavy Cruisers, and 25 White Stars. We have the weapons and ships. Now, it is a question as to whether we have the will." "Let's make sure we do," said Ivanova. "Communications, open a channel to all ships." After a few moments, the officer informed Ivanova that the channel was open. "Attention all fleet ships," she said. "This is Entilza Susan Ivanova. In a few minutes, this fleet will engage the Peacekeeper forces that have invaded Earth Alliance territory for 11 days now. The Centauri are on the way, but may not get here in time. Its up to us. We have to draw a line, and make sure the Peacekeepers do not cross it. This invasion ends here! I will remind you of some words spoken by John Sheridan just before the Shadow War began. 'From this place, we will deliver notice to the Parliaments of conquerors that a line has been drawn against the darkness. And we will hold that line, no matter the cost.' Let's do it. Ivanova out." "Entilza," said Captain Lennock. "Peacekeeper fleet has entered the system. Enemy carriers and fighters approaching on an attack vector." "Have all ships break and attack on assigned trajectories," said Ivanova. "Yes, Entilza," replied Lennock. The alliance ships launched their fighters, and moved to intercept the Peacekeepers. They would not make a stationary stand against the Peacekeepers like the Earth fleet did at Signet. This time, they would use a strategy based on mobile, swift attacks against the fortress like carriers. Their plan was to break up their fleet, and take out their carriers one by one. The Prowlers and fighters from the various alliance ships mixed it up, and began to dogfight each other across the zone of battle. Meanwhile, the carriers began to open fire on the alliance ships with their frag cannons. The alliance ships held their fire, waiting until they closed on their enemies to strike. The two fleets move closer and closer together, the Peacekeepers continuing to fire and the alliance ships continuing to hold fire. On board the Indefatigable, General McGregor watched the viewscreen as the two fleets converged. The communications officer was getting a lot of communiqués from the other Earth destroyers, requesting permission to open fire. The Earth ships were going to be to first to fire, and it would be up to McGregor as to when that would occur. "Sir," said Crichton. "When can we shoot?" "Not yet," said McGregor. "Continue to hold." Frag cannon fire impacted on the shields of the alliance fleet ships. The Indy, being at the head of the Earth Force squadrons, took a large part of the beating. Still, McGregor did not give the order. The carriers loomed larger and larger on the viewscreen, and Hancock made a request to fire. "Hold," said McGregor. "Hold! HOLD!" Then, when it seemed the Peacekeeper ships could appear no larger on the viewscreens, McGregor shouted the order into the comm channels. "FIRE!" All of the Earth destroyers and cruisers fired simultaneously, sending a barrage of plasma cannon, laser battery, and missile fire cascading into the Peacekeeper ships. The Earth warships moved in among the carriers, and exchanged broadsides with the massive Peacekeeper ships. The Peacekeepers had problems targeting the Earth ships without firing on their own ships. Scorpius watched as the Earth ships moved in among his forces, and sent them into confusion and panic. He quickly gave instructions over the comm channels. "All ships," he said. "Break up! Separate from formation, and engage those ships!" The Peacekeeper ships broke formation, and began to attack the Earth ships individually. This was exactly what McGregor and Ivanova had wanted them to do. As the carriers broke formation, and became separated from each other, the ISA destroyers and White Stars, as well as the Narn Heavy Cruisers, closed in and attacked the individual enemy targets. With this move, the combined punch of the Peacekeeper fleet had been broken for a time, and the alliance ships now only had to deal with the individual firepower of each carrier. This was still a difficult task, as evidenced by an Earth Hyperion class Cruiser, two Narn warships, and 3 White Stars being destroyed in rapid succession. McGregor's ships broke off to engage individual carriers on the left flank, the Narn ships did the same on the right. Ivanova's Victory class destroyers moved in on the front of the battle line, while her White Stars made swift attacks through the center of the Peacekeeper fleet. Two Peacekeeper command carriers fell to the alliance forces, as the battle between the two fleets raged on. Scorpius saw the error he had made in breaking up his ships, and quickly gave orders to regroup. Ivanova saw the carriers move to try to regroup, and moved her destroyers to the middle of their fleet to check that move. If they wanted to reform their fleet, they would have to get through her Victory class destroyers to do it. Meanwhile, the Earth and Narn warships pounded away at individual carriers on the flanks of the battle zone. McGregor's forces destroyed yet another carrier, but two of his Omega class destroyers also fell. The Narns were not doing as well, loosing two more Heavy Cruisers to the enemy. Ivanova sent five White Stars to reinforce the Narns. On the bridge of the Excalibur, Aeryn noticed that the Narns were not doing well. "I thought the Narns were supposed to being fierce fighters," she remarked to Ivanova. "They are, the fiercest," replied Susan. "But they have never fought the Peacekeepers before. They're commanders don't have the experience that McGregor and I do to guide their forces, so we have to give them a little extra hands. We need their guns in this battle, and they won't fold so easily." As if to back up Ivanova's last statement, a Peacekeeper carrier fell to the Narn forces. The enemy command carriers continued to give as good as they got, sending two more White Stars, another Earth destroyer, and one of Ivanova's destroyers to fiery grave. The alliance ships kept up their assault, determined to stop the Peacekeepers at all cost. The battle raged on for an hour, as four more command carriers fell under the guns of the alliance ships. But the alliance fleet was also taking a beating, loosing four more Earth ships, 5 more Narn ships, 5 more White Stars, and two more Victory class destroyers. Despite the best efforts of Ivanova's ships, the Peacekeepers had managing to regroup, and it looked like they were going to reform their fleet formation. But before they could do so, a large number of hyperspace jump points opened near the formation of Peacekeeper ships. Out of these jump points came twenty Centauri warships, firing every gun they have at the Peacekeeper warships as they darted into normal space. The Centauri had contacted Ivanova from hyperspace, and told her they were ready to jump. Ivanova had them strike the Peacekeepers right before they regrouped, to again break up their formation. The fast moving Centauri warships darted through the Peacekeeper fleet, breaking up their incomplete formation and forcing their ships apart again. Ivanova ordered her fleet to join the Centauri in stepping up the attack. The fourteen remaining command carriers now fell under attack from warships of ISA, Earth Force, the Narn, and the Centauri. All told, there were now 8 ISA destroyers, 15 White Stars, 17 Earth Force destroyers and cruisers, 20 Centauri warships, and 11 Narn Heavy Cruisers engaging the Peacekeepers. The battle again became one of alliance ships engaging Peacekeeper carriers. The two forces exchanged blows, knocking out each other's warships in firestorms of fire that seemed to light up the darkness of space. Fighters of various types engaged the Peacekeeper Prowlers and Marauders, the smaller vessels playing out their own engagements among the mass of destroyers, cruisers, and command carriers. After another hour of arduous combat, the tide of battle had turned decidedly against the Peacekeepers. One carrier after another fell, and the Peacekeepers could not break through the alliance fleet no matter how many ships they destroyed. Eventually, the battle brought the Peacekeeper numbers down to four carriers. Scorpius' command carrier was taking a heavy beating. He stood on the command deck of his ship, amazed at his apparent defeat. "Sir," said a voice to Scorpius. It was Braca. "Sir, we must retreat. Enemy forces are closing on all sides." "NO!" yelled Scorpius. "We are not defeated. I AM NOT defeated! Order all ships to attack! Break through!" "Sir!" replied Braca. "We are becoming surrounded! There are only four carriers left. We MUST withdraw!" Just then, a voice came over the comm. "Admiral Scorpius," said the female voice. "This is Fleet Captain Jani Atrios. I have coordinated with the other two remaining carriers, and we will give you a window of escape." Scorpius did not reply for a moment. Finally coming to his sense, Scorpius gave a short reply. "Very well," he said quietly. Atrios' three carriers made a coordinated attack to draw off the alliance forces from Scorpius' carrier. After a few minutes, an opening did form in the lines of alliance ships. Scorpius' carrier broke through the hole, and accelerated to full hetch speed to escape. Their job done, Atrios had her three carriers follow Scorpius' carrier in their retreat. The officers and crews of the various alliance ships watched as the few remaining enemy ships turned and ran. Aboard the Earth vessels, the soldiers of Earth Force cheered as they saw the invaders turned away. They had survived the defeat at Signet, after loosing so many of their comrades. Now, they stood victorious, having exacted a punishment from the Peacekeepers for the losses they had suffered. Aboard the Indefatigable, General McGregor shook hands with Captains Hancock and Crichton. He then made his way around the bridge, and shook hands with every officer and crewman there. The bridge officers joined in applause for their General, their leader who had taken them through hell and back again. Entilza Ivanova stood on the bridge of the Excalibur, and watched what was left of the alliance fleet search through the wreckage of both Peacekeeper and alliance warships searching for survivors in escape pods. It had been a costly victory. Four Victory class destroyers, fourteen White Stars, eight Earth Force destroyers and cruisers, twelve Narn Heavy Cruisers, and six Centauri warships had been lost. But the invasion had been halted, and Ivanova had reason to feel both success and relief. She turned and shook hands with Aeryn, and the two women looked out at a secure Delphi System. **************************** Chapter 12: Consequences * (Day 13) EAS Indefatigable. In route to Signet System. 09:30 Hours EST. "Sir," said Captain Hancock to General McGregor over the comm. "We're receiving a message from General Achebe." General McGregor looked up from his report that he was working on in his quarters, and replied to the image of Hancock on the viewscreen. "Pipe it down here," replied McGregor. The image of Hancock was replaced by that of Achebe. McGregor noticed that the General was not in the most pleasant of moods. "General Achebe," said McGregor. "What can I do for you, sir?" "General McGregor," began Achebe. "I am in route on board the Illustrious to rendezvous with the fleet. I shall be there in one hour. I need to see you and General Kemal on board the Indefatigable when I arrive. Would you be so good as to ask Kemal to be there?" "I will, sir," replied McGregor. "Good," said Achebe. "Achebe out." The image on the screen disappeared, and McGregor returned to working on his report. He gave some thought to why Achebe was coming, but did not let it distract him from his work. ** Vega System. Same time. Twenty Minbari War Cruisers jumped into normal space in orbit around what used to be the Earth Force outpost at Vega. When they got there, they raised their defense screens, armed all weapons, and launched all of their fighters. In command of the fleet was Admiral Lakhat. He expected to meet the Peacekeeper forces left to guard the Vega Outpost. But instead, they were met by only an abandoned planet and military facility. "It is confirmed, Admiral," said a Minbari officer to Lakhat. "All Peacekeeper forces have evacuated the system. We have found some Human prisoners on the planet below. Apparently, the Peacekeepers left in a hurry and did not bother to take them." "Very well," said Lakhat. "Have the fleet jump back to hyperspace. We shall move to rendezvous with Entilza Ivanova's forces at Signet System." *** Uninhabited Planet. System Bravo 40. 10:00 Hours EST. Lt. Joe Taylor and Officer Yalon Marst were off on their daily quest to find more supplies of water and food. Some of the plants on this planet have proven edible, if not very appetizing, which was fortunate because their supply of rations was running out. They had plenty of water, but still looked for more just to be on the safe side. For both Human and Sebacean, water was life. In the meantime, the two of them talked like old friends. Divided loyalties put aside, common respect and even admiration found, the two of them left their past arguments behind and moved forward to survive. "You know, if I had just banked a little sooner, you would have never got me with that shot," commented Marst affably. "Oh, please," replied Taylor. "I had you dead in my sights." "Well, luckily the dead part didn't come true." "Yeah, well, I agree. I'm glad you did make it." Marst turned suddenly on Taylor, and smiled. "Are you really pleased that I made it?" "Well, I mean...hey, being stuck with a Peacekeeper beats being stuck on this rock alone." "Okay," said Marst suspiciously. They continued walking for a few more minutes in silence. Finally, Marst broke the silence. "I'm glad you survived as well, Joe," she said. Taylor stopped dead in his tracks. "Did you just call me Joe?" Marst turned to face him. "Yes," she said softly. "Do you mind?" "No, not at all. If I can call you Yalon." Marst nodded, and turned to continue walking. Taylor followed her, and the two of them made their way in silence. Both were lost in though about the changes that had occurred between them. **** EAS Indefatigable. In route to Signet. 10:45 Hours EST. A full honor guard greeted General Jonas Achebe, Chairman of the Earth Force Joints Chiefs of Staff, as he exited his shuttle and stepped onto the deck of the Indy's landing bay. Standing at the end of the honor guard were Generals McGregor and Kemal, and Captains Hancock and Crichton. As General Achebe approached them, they came to attention and saluted. Achebe returned the salute. "Generals," said Achebe. "With me. Captains, return to the bridge." "Aye, sir," replied the officers. McGregor and Kemal followed Achebe down the corridors of the Indy. Robert noticed the fact that Achebe was not his normal affable self, not even greeting his two Generals who had won the Battle of Delphi. The three of them entered the briefing room of the Indefatigable. A Lieutenant who was sitting in the room came to attention. "Give us the room," said Achebe. The Lieutenant quickly exited, and the door closed behind him. The three Generals were left alone in the room. McGregor and Kemal waited for Achebe to speak. "I'll get straight to the point," said Achebe. "General Robert McGregor, under Article 100 of Earth Force Law, I am herby relieving you of command of this fleet pending investigation into possible court martial charges. General Kemal, you will take command of the fleet in McGregor's absence." Kemal was flabbergasted. "Sir, I...I refuse. I will not take command from General McGregor." "Kemal," said McGregor. "You sure as hell will take command. You have been given an order." He then turned to Achebe. "What charges am I being investigated for?" "Where the hell should I start, McGregor?" asked Achebe angrily. "How about unauthorized use of telepathic scan, violations of the Articles of War regarding the humane treatment of prisoners, assault, and murder." "Murder!?" asked McGregor. "General, what the hell..." "I will not speak to you any further about an ongoing investigation!" interrupted Achebe. "You will return with me on the Illustrious to Earth. You will not be placed under arrest unless that proves to be necessary. You are herby suspended from duty pending the outcome of the investigation. Get your affairs in order, and report aboard the Illustrious in one hour!" "But, sir..." "That is all, McGregor!" yelled Achebe, as he stormed out of the room, leaving Kemal and McGregor standing in silence. After a few moments, Kemal spoke. "Give the word, sir," said Kemal. "And the fleet will follow you." McGregor turned to look at Kemal with a stunned expression. "What are you saying?" he asked perplexed. "You are General Robert McGregor," he said. "You have led this fleet to victory against the Peacekeepers. To relieve you at your moment of triumph for taking an action that any of us would have done in your place. Its not right!" "Its regulations," said McGregor. "And you will obey those regulations, General. You will obey your orders, and take command of this fleet. Am I understood?" "Yes, sir," replied Kemal. ***** "I don't believe it!" yelled Hancock. McGregor had called him and Crichton into his quarters to break the news. "Neither do I," said Crichton. "This is bull shit!" "No, Crichton," replied McGregor. "It's the regs. I don't know why....I should have seen this coming, but I thought...I still think that my actions were right. Am I am not going down without a fight!" "Sir," said Hancock. "Robert, if there is anything at all I can do, you only need to call." "I know, Jim," said McGregor. "Thanks. For everything. By the way, Captain Hancock, I have some news for you. I was hoping to tell you under better circumstances, but...one of my last acts as Chairman of the Joints Chiefs was to sign my approval for your promotion to Brigadier General. That promotion has come through, I received the report yesterday. Such promotion will take effect tomorrow. Congratulations, General Hancock." McGregor reached out his hand to Hancock. The newly promoted General took the offered hand, with a tear falling from his eye. "Thank you, sir," said Hancock. Crichton also offered his congratulations to Hancock. "Sir," said Crichton. "I hope everything works out for you." "Thanks, John," said McGregor. "I'll give your love to Jack and Elana when I get to Earth. Now, gentlemen, I have a ship to catch." The General left his quarters quietly, followed by Hancock and Crichton. They walked down the corridors to the landing bay. When they got there, and the doors opened, a line of Earth Force Officers greeted McGregor. The officers were the Captains of the Earth Force ships in the fleet, along with a number of other officers from various ships. They were joined by Entilza Susan Ivanova, Commander Aeryn Sun- Crichton, and several Rangers Officers. They all stood silently, as McGregor approached the line. He walked down the line, and quietly shook hands with everyone there. Robert said a special goodbye to Aeryn and Ivanova, who waited at the end of the line for him. "I want you to know, Robert," said Ivanova. "You have my full support." "And mine," said Aeryn. "This is a disgrace, for Earth Force to relieve their best officer..." "Aeryn," interrupted McGregor. "Thank you. Both of you. I'm not done yet, and I will stand by my actions. But whatever the outcome, it will be for the good of the service." McGregor turned to board his shuttle. As he climbed up the boarding ladder, he looked back at the landing bay full of officers. He saluted them, and then climbed aboard the shuttle. ************************** Chapter 13: The End of the Beginning * (Day 16) ISA Destroyer Excalibur. Signet System. 12:00 hours EST. "It is confirmed, Entilza," said Lennock to Ivanova. "There is no sign of Peacekeeper presence in the Signet system or in the space nearby." Ivanova turned to Aeryn. "What do you think?" she asked. "With only four carriers, and with their base of operations at Vega abandoned, the enemy would not be able to sustain itself against our forces for very long," replied Aeryn. "Excluding the possibility of reinforcement from Peacekeeper High Command, I believe they have withdrawn from Earth Alliance territory." "Turned tail and run for home," said Ivanova with a smile. "Yes," replied Aeryn with an equal smile. "We'd better make sure they truly have left," said Ivanova. "Lennock. Coordinate with the fleet ships. Have squadrons sent to reconnoiter all systems between here and Vega. Report on any possible Peacekeeper activity." "Yes, Entilza," replied Lennock. ** Earth Force Detainment Facility. Cooke Colony. 14:00 hours. Peacekeeper Med Tech Trayvar Rel sat in his cell, staring at the wall, and contemplating what he has experienced since his capture by Earth Force troops on Signet a weeken ago. In particular, he thought a lot about the time he had spent with Kumiko Takagi, the Earth Force medic who had befriended him and helped him treat the Peacekeeper prisoners who were wounded. From their talks, he began to feel that the Peacekeeper way of life was not one he wanted to be a part of any longer. Kumiko had opened his eyes to another kind of life. A life of service, but not one tempered by a lack of freedom and free thought. He had spent long arns of thought sitting in his cell, thinking about all that he had learned from his new friend. This line of thought had brought him to a decision. The door to his cell opened, and Kumiko stepped in. "Hey," she said. "Came by to check on you." "Kumiko," said Rel, as he stood up from his chair. "How would I go about defecting?" *** McGregor Family Home. Virginia, USA, Earth. 21:00 hours EST. Robert McGregor sat in his favorite chair in front of the fireplace, a blue smoking jacket wrapped around him. He was in his den, his favorite room in the home he loved so much. Robert had always felt at home in two places: Earth Force and in this house. This was the home he shared with Jena and his children. Surrounding him in the den were thousands of books on bookshelves, his personal library. The décor was very Victorian in its feel. On the wall above the fireplace was a portrait of Admiral William "Bull" Halsey, a famous American Admiral of World War II and one of many historical heroes of McGregor's. Sitting on a shelf above the fireplace was a picture of Robert's family taken about a year ago. Robert stared at the picture, and focused on the image of Katie. In the background played music, Rachmaninov's "Rhapsody on a Theme", one of his favorite musical compositions. He held a glass of wine in his hand, one of several he had consumed that night. Behind him, the door to the den opened slowly. Jenavia peaked into the room, and saw her husband sitting in his chair. She slipped into the room quietly, and slowly approached the man she loved. This past week had been hard on her as well. She would remember for the rest of her life the day when a Ranger and an Earth Force Officer appeared at the door of the McGregor home. When they told Jena that Katie had been killed, she stood in shock for several moments. Finally, she started to mumbled a sob filled "no", in denial for what she had just heard. She eventually began to scream uncontrollably, and collapsed to the floor in violent sobs. After that, she refused to weep any longer, choosing instead to be strong for her children who were in need of her support to deal with the loss of their older sister. But when Robert came home, she allowed herself to cry again, sobbing into her husband's arms. Robert had given his complete attention to comforting his wife, not even telling her why he was home for several hours. Now, Jena was trying to deal with both the loss of her oldest daughter and the disgrace of her husband. "Why aren't you sleeping?" asked Robert, hearing his wife approach him. Jena walked over, and sat in Robert's lap, leaning into his warm embrace. "I could ask you the same," Jena replied. She kissed her husband on the cheek. "I've been thinking," said Robert. "I have been questioning....I've been looking at Katie and questioning myself, my actions since her death. I've been wondering if...if I have lost my sanity. Would a sane man have done what I did?" "Robert, you acted in a way that would punish those responsible, and that would attempt to prevent any such acts in the future," replied Jena. "I think you acted correctly." "But did I do it for those reasons," countered Robert. "Did I do it for practical reasons, or did I do it out of rage?" "The ends justify the means," said Jena. "Do they? You see what I have been going through. I answer one question, but come up with ten more. Maybe...maybe I should offer to resign...." "NO!" said Jenavia forcefully. "Robert, don't you dare. You fight this." She looked into his eyes. "You have given Earth Force and the citizens of the Earth Alliance over thirty years of service. And this is how they repay that service?! I will NEVER forgive them for the way they have treated you!" "Jena, don't worry," said Robert. "I'm not done yet. I just...before I fight a battle, I want to make sure that I have everything thought out." "Well there is one thing you never have to question," said Jena softly. "My love for you and my support of you." The two of them kissed, and Jena rested her head on his shoulder. "Jena, I just....we could have been sitting here together, retired and looking forward to the future. In just a little over two weeks, we have lost one of our babies, and...our whole damn worlds been turned upside down. But the one constant in all of this is you. I know that no matter what happens, I'm going to be all right as long as I have you." The two of them sat together in front of the fire, and listened to the music play. They shared the confidence of belonging, and the security of love. **** (Day 19) Uninhabited Planet. System Bravo 40. 15:00 hours EST. They sat together talking, as they had done a lot lately. Seventeen days alone together on a planet, seventeen days of learning to get along and learning to survive. In those seventeen days, Lt. Joe Taylor and Officer Yalon Marst had gone from being bitter enemies to...well, even they didn't know what. All they knew was that the borders and walls put between them by differences in species and differences in sides in war had been broken down. "Joe," asked Yalon absent mindedly. "What are...what are Human women like?" "That's a new one," replied Joe. "And a hard one. I mean, no two Human women are alike, just as no two Sebacean women are alike I'd bet." "Well, do you...do you think I am like Human women?" "Like...how?" "Well, I mean...how would I compare to Human women." "Compare...how?" "Is that all you can say? 'Like...how, compare...how?' Compare me to Human women." "Well, I....you look Human. Your accent is different, although some Humans have similar accents. You are built like a Human woman. But, your background...the life you have led is a different one. Frankly, I've never met another woman like you, Human or otherwise." "So I am different...than Human women are." "Like I said. All women are different. Every person is different. Why? Why did you want me to compare you to Human women?" "I was...curious. I was wondering if you could...never mind." She jumped up abruptly and walked away from Taylor. He jumped right up after her, and followed her. "What were you going to say, Yalon?" "Never mind!" she yelled. Taylor caught up to Marst, grabbed her arm, and turned her around. "Dammit, woman, answer me. You are the most stubborn...." "We're back to that again, are we? Well, if they issued stubborn like rations, you would have gotten triple portions!" "You would know," countered Joe. "You are the expert." "Frell you!" "I'd love to!" They stood there in silence, trying to comprehend what just happened. Finally, Yalon broke the silence. "What did you say?" "Look, never mind. I'm sorry. Let's just forget it." "You didn't let that work for me, and I won't let it work for you. Tell me, Joe. What did you mean by what you had said?" "Answer my question first," replied Joe. "What were you curious about?" "I was curious...I was curious as to whether you would find me...appealing, as a woman." Joe's mouth opened, but no words came out. He couldn't reply for a few moments. Yalon spoke again. "Now you? What did you mean, Joe?" "I meant....I meant that I find you...attractive. You are so unlike any woman I have ever met, and I..." They were interrupted by the sound of thrusters in the sky above them. They looked up, and saw several Earth Force Thunderbolt Starfuries darting through the air. Taylor and Marst watched the ships fly over, and then looked at each other. "Looks like we've been found," said Joe. "Yes, looks like," replied Marst. "And it looks like I am your prisoner." "No, Yalon. Look....look, I want you to know something. No matter what happens, I am not going to loose you. I don't want to loose you...to loose what we've been building. Between us." "What have we been building, and how can that work now?" "I don't know," replied Joe. "But I am going to make damn sure we find out...together. No matter what, we stick together." "Together," replied Yalon. ***** Peacekeeper Fleet. In route to Peacekeeper Territory. Same time. Fleet Captain Jani Atrios stood on the command deck of her carrier, deep in thought. The four remaining carriers left from the disastrous invasion of the Earth Alliance had a five monen journey ahead of them to return to Peacekeeper territory. Scorpius had reluctantly ordered a withdrawal from Earth Alliance territory several days ago, his mind coming to the rational conclusion that their cause was lost. And Fleet Captain Atrios could have really cared less about that cause any more. For some time now, she had begun to wonder about whether what the Peacekeepers did was right or wrong. She believed in defending her people, and she believe in many of the things the Peacekeepers stood for. But privately, she had become disenchanted with many of the things that the Peacekeepers had done and the way those things had been done. Instead of being guardians of justice that their name suggested, the Peacekeepers were agents of chaos, and a feared militaristic force bent on domination. Now, after this disastrous expedition to Human space, Atrios was becoming more and more convinced that the Peacekeepers were a greater threat to her race than could ever possibly be posed by any other race. The greatest enemies often destroy from within. Lt. Meltra approached his Captain, a woman he admired greatly. He too had many of the thoughts that Atrios did, as did many of her crew. Since she was more lenient in allowing more freedoms on board her ship, her officers considered issues more deeply than most Peacekeepers did. "Captain," said Meltra. "You look like you are lost in thought." "I am, Lieutenant," she replied. "About many things. You?" "I was thinking about how High Command is going to feel when we return with just four command carriers when we started with 50. I bet that Scarren/Sebacean half-breed of a fleet commander is going to have his mivonks skewered for it." "Careful, Lieutenant. You don't want the wrong people to hear you speak like that. And as for Scorpius, I wouldn't bet on him being in trouble forever. He has an uncommon genius for sciences, and for military strategy. High Command needs him, so they will probably let him off easy." "I can't believe that," said Meltra. "His actions have cost the lives of thousands of our people, and for what?" "Yes, for what indeed. Lieutenant, answer truthfully. Do you think this expedition was a correct one to undertake, excluding consideration of the result." "To be honest, Fleet Captain...no. What was there to be gained by it? What threat was there to our people posed by the Humans?" "I have been asking these very same questions," said Atrios. "Do you think many in the crew think as we do?" "I'm sure of it," replied Meltra. "See if you can find out, discreetly, how many. We have some monens ahead to consider our futures. Let's use them wisely." "Yes, ma'm," replied Meltra. ****** EAS Indefatigable. In route to Earth. 22:00 hours EST. John Crichton and Aeryn Sun-Crichton laid in bed, wrapped in each others arms. They had reunited earlier that day, when they joined the Indefatigable in its trip back to Earth. Of course, their reunion was completed by an intimate encounter in their quarters. "So, how was that for a victory celebration?" asked Aeryn, as she lay in her husbands arms. "Hmm, the best kind, baby," said John. "I can't wait to see Jack and Elana." "Me too," replied Aeryn. "I'm just glad Earth is safe, and that your people were able to stand against the Peacekeepers and defeat them." "For now," said John. "But what about next time? Do you think they are just going to go away?" Aeryn was quiet for a moment. Finally, she replied. "No. They've been defeated, but not broken. That fleet was only a part of the massive armada of carriers that make up the Peacekeeper military structure. They could come back someday." "And next time they'll be better prepared," said John. "Aeryn, I just can't help feeling that this aint over. Scorpy's had the crap kicked out of him, but you know him. He's like a bad penny, always showing up again." "Well, let's worry about next time when it happens," said Aeryn. "For now," she began, as she curled up closer to John and spoke seductively into his ear. "I have other ideas." John chuckled slightly. "Baby, you are like the damn Energizer Bunny." "Is that a good thing?" "Oh, yeah." ******* (Day 20) ISA Headquarters. Minbar. 16:00 hours EST. "Susan," said Delenn, as she embraced Ivanova on the landing pad at ISA headquarters on Minbar. "Hello, Delenn," she replied. "Its good to be back." The two of them walked down to Delenn's office. When they got there, Ivanova presented the ISA President with a full report on the defeat of the Peacekeeper invasion. "By the way," said Ivanova, in the middle of discussing the Battle at Delphi. "I hope you thanked Vir for coming through for us. The Centauri saved the day this time." "I have," said Delenn. "He was glad to have been of help. Plus, a military victory has aided his position with the Centaurum." "We took some heavy losses, Delenn. But, at least this whole damn thing is over." "Who said it is over?" asked Delenn. "Did I miss something? Delenn, the Peacekeepers have had the clocks cleaned, and they are scampering back home. Earth is safe, the other ISA worlds are safe. What else is there?" "Are we to just let this attack, this action, go unanswered?" asked Delenn. "They have invaded our space, killed our people, caused havoc and destruction through several systems. The ISA was at peace, and they violated that peace. They must be made to pay a price for that, and they will. This is not over, Susan. This has only begun." The End "I fear we have only awakened a sleeping giant, and filled him with a terrible resolve." -Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.