AN: Unlike what was posted at the beginning of the last chapter, this is indeed the part of the Epilogue. Thank you to everyone for enjoying my little idea that took off with this story.
Epilogue Part 2
Centauri Royal Navy Flagship
'Why hasn't this system been pacified yet?' remained the sole thought by the Fleet Admiral of the Centauri Royal Navy as his fleet of ships came through. The Royal Navy had been given the go ahead by agents within the Centaurum for the invasion of the Terran Hegemony and then given them carte blanche in how they would carry out the invasion. Scout ships traversed the frontier between the Republic's border with the Hegemony and they found the way closed off to travel. Only a small opening was found in hyperspace and it lead directly to one of the Hegemony's Babylon Stations. No other safe route through hyperspace could be found and after several scout ships were lost, the search was called off.
House Syma's previous attempt to invade the Hegemony's space had ended at the same Babylon Station and it remained an embarrassment to the Centauri Republic. The ships used to defend the station had been brutally effective against the House Syma fleet and he didn't want to experience them either. Even though those defenders had been destroyed when the Royal Navy had come in force to the system, incidentally using the last of their Morados for the task, they had been continually attacked by other Terran ships. No two were identical and that fact surprised the admiral greatly.
Numerous attacks had come in multiple shapes and sizes and all of them had been repelled, but with high casualty figures for the Centauri. Numerous ships still bore the scars of Terran weapons fire and the lack of repair facilities left a number of ships derelict in the Epsilon Eridani system. All attempts to bring in repair facilities or supplies resulted in numerous attacks that destroyed the supplies. Throughout it all, the attacks were carried out by small numbers of Terran attackers. No large formations were used and that surprised the Royal Navy mightily. They were being attacked by pinpricks and they were slowly being bled dry, but the anticipated follow-on attack still had not happened.
'Where is the vaunted HAF Navy?' It wasn't like the Terrans to not have their Navy around somewhere. They had showed the galaxy the folly of the Dilgar's attack on yet another Terran spacestation and the League as well when the League had tried and failed to acquire Terran technology. It was unnerving for him to contemplate just where the HAF Navy was and he knew that they would be planning some kind of counter attack. The years of growth of the Hegemony had showed the Centauri that it had been a good thing that their previous war had come to a peaceful end, but the admiral also knew that too many captains didn't understand that fact. The young firebrands, most of whom were second and third sons had been filled with all manner of propaganda of the might of the Centauri Royal Navy and their previous status as "Lion of the Galaxy."
Those thoughts were foolish and it had already moved so many of them away from his flagship that parts of the Royal Navy were almost as unprofessional as the House Navies. His thoughts came to an end as he looked out over the Epsilon Eridani system.
"First officer, where are the OSATs and the spacestations?"
"Admiral, I regret to inform you that we've lost contact with all of them. Every time we put a new one in place, the Terrans send in a warship probe that then destroys them."
This had happened numerous times as one or two small Terran ships would come out of hyperspace within a visible vortex and they would set loose several missiles into the area before jumping away. The varied types of Terran graviton missiles had proved to be dangerous and the close-in weaponry and interceptor grids were hard pressed to defend against these tactics. The interceptor grids were based on the Mk I model that had come into the hands of the Centauri following the Treaty of Vega and work done to create the Morados. That the Centauri had not advanced further was telling since it appeared as though the Terrans had a far more advanced model on their ships.
"Have you found where they're staging from? Do they have one of their infernal Inside out worlds in this system?"
"We don't know. We have found a couple of areas that look to be experiment areas and they're marked as such, but nothing else. We know that the Babylon Station here was big into experimental ship types and it could be that we haven't found their primary shipyard or it could also be anywhere in this system. We have several scouts out trying to find anything out of the ordinary in this system, but they still haven't found out why the Terrans are able to insert ships so easily into our perimeter."
It was true that the Babylon Station 4 had a number of engineering stations secreted around the Epsilon Eridani system, but all of them had been "turned off" when the Centauri had been detected on approach to the system. The presence of six Inside out worlds and the Ring Worlds complex around the system was the reason why the Terrans had been able to carry out numerous raids on the Centauri in the system. Had the Centauri known that the Terrans were "simply" using Provider systems to create warships for their attacks, they most likely would have left the system behind and sued for peace.
"Send to all ships to keep their point defenses fully charged and have a watch set on all ships for their sensor operators and point defense gunners."
"Roger that Admiral. Any other orders?"
'What orders could he truly give?' The Centauri admiral thought long and hard. There wasn't much else to be said and any further attempts might be fruitless. He was still trying to deal with the losses his scouts were incurring as they tried to travel to Proxima Centauri along the only jump route and any further losses against his fleet were getting harder to reconcile. Repair parts were becoming scarce and soon food would become a problem as well.
"No, not at this time."
His thoughts went back to the lost satellite weaponry and stations that they kept trying to build in the "conquered" system. The Hegemony had been the masters of this system for quite some time, at least several centuries, and it was very much like them to know the intricacies of the system. It came as no surprise that they would be using hit-and-run attacks, but the lack of heavy warships attacking in their usual squadrons was unnerving to him indeed.
'Just what are they planning on? What are they going to do next?'
Centauri Royal Navy Transfer Point
While the vast majority of the Royal Navy was laying siege to the Epsilon Eridani system other parts of the Royal Navy still had vast swaths of the Republic to protect. The Transfer Point at Quadrant 17 was an especially important location as it had a direct line access to homeworld. Several jump routes all met at Quadrant 17 and from there shipping could travel directly to Centauri Prime. The vast majority of the races out here were lesser races (at least to Centauri thinking) and the lion's share of Royal Navy ships had been sent elsewhere. Only a small number of ships remained behind to defend the system and most of them were small warships of the destroyer classification.
With so few ships to defend the system, Quadrant 17 instead had a large number of fixed defenses. While fixed defenses had been shown to have a weakness against a large and determined enemy, the relative lack of discernible "foes" out here kept the orbital defenses in place. Several large spacestations formed the basis of the defensive line there at Quadrant 17. Combining Worthus Starbases with the smaller Daverous Civilian Bases, the defensive line was sufficient for most foes. Unfortunately for the Royal Navy defenders they had picked the worst kind of opponent.
Fully capable of different actions and tactics, the Angels of Death under John Sheridan made their appearance in a unique way: masquerading as another race's freighters that were already under contract to deliver civilian supplies. The ruse would be vital in securing the important transfer point.
"Pak'ma'ra freighter repeat last transmission."
The Royal Navy Flight Controller was very nearly off shift and hated to delay his down time. There was a Pak'ma'ra convoy en-route to the area, but they had lost contact with it.
"Engines damaged… request emergency activation of Jump Gate…"
A damaged freighter was never a good thing, especially one set to carry food stuffs for the military base. Like so many worlds in the Republic, this area was selected more for the strategic value than an actual habitable planet. The Flight Controller hated that the Terrans had not given the Centauri the ability to make their own Inside out worlds. This system could certainly use them. The garbled transmission had the Flight Controller wondering if the freighter convoy had been attacked and that was his next transmission.
"Pak'ma'ra freighter, this is Flight Control. Have you been attacked by raiders?"
The silence was deafening for the short while it took for the transmission to travel to the freighter in hyperspace. A return reply took an equally long time to arrive back at the Starbase.
"No… engine fire… faulty system… need immediate help."
That last bit ruined his evening. He would have to scramble one of the precious few ships that had a tractor beam on it to haul in the freighter toward the main repair station. It wouldn't be cheap and he knew that most Pak'ma'ra could barely afford to keep their current ships operational. He hated having to give "charity" out.
"A rescue ship has been dispatched to the Gate and the Gate is activating now."
No response was received and the Flight Controller watched as the Jump Gate activated with the usual flash of light. Several ships came out of hyperspace in a convoy formation that he knew to be typical of the Pak'ma'ra. One of the four ships was moving far slower and didn't seem to be able to keep up with the rest of the ships. His attention wavered as the small cruiser went alongside to take up the tow on the damaged ship. He turned back to watch as a convoy from Orillan waited its turn to use the Gate to come into the system.
With another flash of light, four Corillani ships came through the Gate from the world of Orillan. They too were in a loose formation and began to maneuver towards one of the civilian bases. He wasn't concerned at all about the routine nature of the ships until the unthinkable happened.
Just as suddenly as the damaged Pak'ma'ra ship was taken under tow, it erupted in a massive explosion. The explosion was large enough that it damaged the cruiser towing the freighter and blanked the sensor screens across the system.
"Great Maker! What just happened out there?"
No response was given and it took several minutes for the after-effects to clear up before Flight Operations could get a picture of the damage from the blast. What appeared on the display made the Royal Navy officer wish that he could have gone off shift sooner. A strange spherical craft was seen with multiple smaller spheres orbiting the main sphere where the Pak'ma'ra vessel once was found. It was moving erratically (at least by the perspective of the Royal Navy officer) and had just launched an attack against the cruiser that had been towing it. The Flight Operations officer could only watch in horror as the Royal Navy ship was ripped in half by a massive beam of energy that was extremely powerful. His horror turned to pure fright when the other Pak'ma'ra ships began to explode outward and showed three more of the strange ships in their place.
'Why oh why did this have to happen now of all places?'
Terran Attack Ship
John Sheridan smiled for a moment as his ruse as a Pak'ma'ra freighter allowed him unfettered access to the Centauri Transfer Point. His shell of a ship had been taken under tow by a Centauri cruiser and they were none the wiser about his Squadron. The last half had arrived from Corillani space right on time and their masquerade was in place. Looking at the holographic display that filled the spherical command chamber on his ship, John saw that everything was in place. He only had to key the explosives that held his shell together and then release the graviton missiles to release a bit of havoc. The only problem was the Centauri cruiser that was towing him on to the repair station. He had half a mind to allow his ship to be towed over, but dismissed it just as quickly as the repair station would keep him bottled up and he needed all of the agility that his ship had to offer.
A mental command went out that opened the subspace channel to the other ships of the Squadron and John spoke quickly to his command.
"We're in place and I'm ready to begin the operation. Anyone who has an objection let me know right now, but the plan is still in place and we're ready to go."
Silence greeted him and John knew that his squadron was ready for combat operations.
"Ok, here we go."
At that last transmission the shell of the Pak'ma'ra freighter broke apart in a blinding explosion. The explosion was more theatrical than anything else, but would serve to blind the Centauri sensors in the system. He released the graviton missiles he had onboard and sent them towards the repair facility and to several of the OSATs in the system. John knew that the rest of the squadron was also releasing their missiles and while only the four ships of his Scavenger demi-squadron were out in the open, the Shade demi-squadron would be available to support him in sowing some chaos.
The main cannon on his ship activated (one of four he had onboard) and sliced through the hull of the Centauri cruiser as it reeled from the explosion so close to the ship. The side of the ship was lightly damaged by the spray of hull parts that had been caught by the tractor beam when the shell exploded. The main cannon finished it off. All around the system ships exploded as beam weapons caressed their outer hulls as the Scavengers used their deadliest weaponry on the Centauri stations and ships. Unlike the Deterrence Fleet ships engaged in combat operations against the Royal Navy in Hegemony space, the Scavengers were not using "non-lethal" weaponry, but instead went for the high power approach. It was hoped that this approach would pull the Royal Navy away from Hegemony space, but like all plans had several backups that would unfortunately escalate the conflict.
As the last Centauri Royal Navy ship was destroyed by weapons fire, the graviton missiles began to explode against the now activated OSATs. Taken completely by the surprise, the OSAT operators were slow to reposition their satellites for optimal fields of fire. Minefields were detonated from long distances by saturation nuclear attacks and the massive Starbases began to take damage as well. For the Centauri on the stations they knew that their defenses were weak, but never thought this kind of attack would happen. They quickly sent off a series of distress messages and included how Pak'ma'ra ships were attacking the bases. The first part of the Terran ruse was working.
Had the Centauri been thinking clearly, they would have wondered why no ECM was being detected and their transmissions allowed to leave the system. As each Starbase was methodically destroyed and the civilian stations suffered the same, a roving patrol of the Royal Navy made an appearance. They had been "relatively" close by at Nefua and had been able to use their jump engines to make a quick trip to Quadrant 17. As expected, the Terran ships were prepared for this event as they began to move further into the system among the destroyed OSATs and Starbases. The unique design of the ships precluded them from having to maneuver to bring their main weaponry to bear as the orbiting spheres could move to where they were needed.
The patrol squadron of four Vorchans and a single Morado exited out of the Jump Point into a scene of pure chaos. Quadrant 17 was an important transfer point, especially as it was a direct line to Centauri Prime for "standard" jump drives, and it was of vital importance to the Republic. That the heavy OSATs and Starbases could be destroyed so easily did not bode well for them. The more advanced sensor package on the Morado began to detect movement among the destroyed Starbases and a number of odd profiles began to take form in front of the squadron's commander.
"Just what am I seeing here?"
"Captain, the sensors are building a profile as we speak."
"Ok, but I'll ask again, what am I seeing here?"
The ships appeared to be made up of innumerable spheres around a central sphere. It was an arrangement he had never seen before and was rather frightening to him. He thought at first it was a First One, but the recent reports showed that they all had left the galaxy behind. His next thought was more of a plea: 'please don't let them be Terrans.'
"Pass this on to the rest of the squadron, weapons free, but do not fire until we have a positive lock on the targets."
"Aye sir, the computer is trying, but failing to determine more about the ships."
"Keep recording all that you can. If necessary, we'll break off and return to Centauri Prime with the information."
"You mean we'll abandon the rest of the squadron?"
"Yes, dammit. This is more important to get information than to stay and die. Carry out my orders."
The ship's crew was rattled by the appearance of the alien ships and most hoped that they would not have to carry out the Captain's orders to them. Some of the more pragmatic hoped that they would be able to carry them out in the first place. The destruction around them was almost total and they really hoped that they wouldn't have to deal with an opponent who had caused such widespread destruction.
"Captain, the ships are moving toward us!"
The strained cry from the main sensor operator caught the Morado's Captain by surprise. He had not expected them to move so quickly and especially out of the gravity well from where they currently were.
"Bring all weapons online and remove the safeties on the nuclear missiles. Signal to our escorts and have them close with us and prepare for a saturation strike."
The five ships began to close together into a mutually defensive formation. Hard lessons learned by House Syma had taught the Royal Navy to never depend solely on their hull armor. Interceptors were just as important and while the Vorchans did not have the best of weaponry, they did have some impressive secondary systems that could in a pinch double as interceptors. The Morado with the Terran systems already featured purpose built interceptor batteries and would be the centerpiece of the squadrons' efforts if they had to face off against a missile strike.
Before the enemy ships could move into a formation against them, the closest ship was set as the target for a massive strike using the vast majority of the squadron's missiles ordinance. The launch tubes on the Morado were capable of doing an "Alpha Strike," that is launching all of the onboard missiles at once and the Vorchans were capable of launching both missiles and torpedoes at an enemy. From the five ships came a large salvo of missiles. Unlike a typical Terran strike, the missile launch was not properly staged, but came out in several groups as the ships struggled to launch all of their ballistic weaponry. A last second command to fire off their Ion Cannons added to their long range assault.
For the Terran ship, the AI onboard had already detected the launch. The missiles were uniformly a mix of high explosive with a few nuclear thrown into the mix. The threat assessment was minimal in nature, especially with the staggered launch. Had the missiles been launched together in a coordinated time-on-target barrage it would have been a different position. Fourth generation Gravitic Dissipaters came online and extended a goodly distance away from the body of the ship. Rotating spheres were brought into position that held a number of "unique" payloads and those selfsame payloads were released to make life more "interesting" for the Centauri ships.
The missiles and torpedoes arrived in their waves and they were met with a large sphere of energy shielding that protected the Terran ship. The high explosive missiles were useless and even the nuclear warheads were too weak to even put a dent in the powerful shield. The Ion weaponry proved to be very effective against the shield and reduced the effectiveness of the shield rapidly, but the barrage was too short and the shield held long enough for the Terran ship to return fire.
John Sheridan's ship was a bit "further" away and watched as his demi-squadron began to reorient to support their fellow. A quick word to the Shades let them know to keep their shells in place and that they would have the chance to have some fun when they got to Centauri Prime. He was a bit appalled at the weakness of the shielding, especially as this was the latest generation of shielding, to Ion weaponry and prepared a communications dump to the HAF High Command as soon as the battle ended. His view of the coming slaughter was good enough for him to take a few pot shots as well using his main cannons.
The response from the Terran ship came swiftly and suddenly as numerous beams of a multitude of hues struck all around the Centauri ships. Several of the smaller beams collected much like that of a Triad Hyperplasma Cutter and sliced through two of the Vorchans as if their armor never existed. A swarm of high speed projectiles shattered hull plating across the Morado while a beam weapon of a hugely powerful nature came from the other "side" of the battlefield that sliced the front section off one of the Vorchans. The sole undamaged Centauri ship, a Vorchan began to maneuver wildly as the pilot tried to bring the ship out of the weapons arc of the enemy ships. The Morado quickly joined the smaller ship as both tried to escape out of the system.
With seemingly contemptuous ease, John Sheridan's ship fired off the Fuser Array and stripped the Morado of all of its external features. The roiling cloud of Plasma energy was enough that the outer layers of the ships were completely destroyed and the horribly scarred form of the once proud ship began to tumble as the attitude thrusters were destroyed along with all of the external features of the ship. The crew compartment remained intact, but that was of little consequence to the crew as their ship tumbled through space. The Vorchan was able to escape with little damage, aside from a long range laser shot that destroyed their primary communications antenna, into a Jump Point.
The panicked crew chose to head directly to Centauri Prime, without realizing that their ship had been tagged with several stowaways. These stowaways were advanced AI controlled projectiles that had become embedded within the hull armor of the warship. The projectiles would provide a real time picture of the defenses around Centauri Prime and would relay that information back to the Angels of Death Squadron so that they could prepare their attack plans. The attack on the Transfer Point here at Quadrant 17 was deemed a great success and the ships formed up and began to move into hyperspace for their final destination: Centauri Prime.
Centauri Royal Navy Headquarters
The axiom of "bad news travels fast" was felt throughout the Royal Navy Headquarters as news of the attack on Epsilon Eridani bogging down by numerous Terran strikes and the attack on Quadrant 17 and the Transfer Point Starbases. That Quadrant 17 had been quickly and effectively been destroyed made many pause as the initial reports came in. A panicky report from a small group of Corillani merchantmen who had been there at Quadrant 17 reported that a group of Pak'ma'ra merchantmen had been the ones at fault for the attack there. The reports from a single Vorchan that came through the Jump Gate without any attempts at communication almost saw the ship destroyed before someone noticed the battle damage across the ship and the lack of the main communications antenna. After communications were established a panicked report of First One quality ships made the report of Pak'ma'ra ships being the culprit was dismissed as misinformation.
With so many of the Royal Navy ships sent off to deal with the problems at Epsilon Eridani, the conspirators in the Centaurum were justifiably concerned with their safety at Centauri Prime. They began to at first covertly, then overtly as the Royal Navy left for the Hegemony, to move warships with crews loyal to them to around Centauri Prime. Several large formations began to form as the various Houses involved in the Civil War began to plan to either betray their companions or to support others in the confusing mélange of Centauri political intrigue and games.
It was into this atmosphere that the Shade demi-squadron appeared. In order to keep up appearances, they stayed in the civilian traffic lanes and were set far back in a line of ships trying to gain access to any of the civilian starbases that handled merchant traffic. Their position was an insult of the highest order by the Flight Operations staff, but the Terran ships stayed there to keep the ruse of being Corillani ships. Besides, the position had an excellent view and the strong ELINT systems on the ships were busy cataloguing the ships in system. The AI controlled observation systems were also doing a brisk catalog of available targets and were passing them over a subspace channel to the rest of the squadron.
Jump Points continued to open and close in the Centauri Prime system as more and more ships came and went. The number of military ships continued to rise with examples of pre-Orieni war ships all the way up to the latest in dreadnoughts, the Adira Royal Dreadnought (named for the Emperor's most favored wife), began to arrive in the system. All of the warships were tagged with targeting identifiers for the Terran ships and opposing faction-controlled ships were given priority. It was hoped that using weapons fire from a particular direction could bring each of the factions into open warfare with each other to make the seemingly impossible situation that much more possible for the heavily outnumbered Terran ships.
With the rest of the squadron travelling at much slower speed than usual (at least by Terran standards), the Shade demi-squadron remained on overwatch. They quickly finished cataloging the ships in the area and were working on a series of battle plans for the eventual attack on Centauri Prime. The goal was not destruction of the planet, though many thought highly of that aspect, but rather a quick surgical strike that took out most of the ships above and around the planet. It was hoped that a direct strike here would pull the Royal Navy back, if they weren't already on their way from the Hegemony. The plan was for simultaneous strikes to happen when Sheridan's demi-squadron made their way out of hyperspace into position and for the Deterrence Fleet to make their awaited strike on the Centauri in the Epsilon Eridani system.
It all came down to waiting on the plan in place to happen and the Hegemony was willing to bank on the long odds to succeed.
The Great Machine
Epsilon Eridani IV
Plans were coursing through the mind of the current Keeper of the Great Machine, Susan Ivanova, as she saw through the sensors of the Great Machine. Numerous Centauri warships and several small and large stations had sprouted up like mushrooms in the Epsilon Eridani system. The advanced sensor systems showed her the disposition of the numerous Deterrence Fleet ships hiding out in hyperspace and Susan knew that a counterattack would be coming soon enough and they would need up-to-the-minute intelligence on where the Centauri would be in-system.
Getting the information was easy enough, especially as the Centauri chose to base their largest Starbases directly around Epsilon Eridani IV. That meant that Susan had a commanding view of each ship that came in and every cargo ship that arrived was immediately scanned by the Great Machine's sensors and the cargo assessed for strike potential. Already several hundred tons of supplies had arrived for the Royal Navy ships and many more was set to arrive (those ships that could arrive that is) in the system.
Hyperspace outside the system was another matter entirely as every attempt to force a salient out was met by the Deterrence Fleet hiding out in numerous dimensional layers. Each attempt was allowed out, but none allowed to return to Epsilon Eridani space or on to Proxima Centauri's space. Susan knew that a truly massive gathering of fleet ships were forming up at Proxima. Everyone with a military model Provider was preparing for the coming assault here at Epsilon Eridani and any other assaults on the Centauri. Her subspace sensor net could reach across most of the galaxy and she knew that John Sheridan had his Angels of Death Squadron in place for a lightning raid on Centauri Prime. She hoped that it would be enough to force the Centauri back to their own space, but also knew that a decisive military engagement would be necessary as well.
So, here she was counting ships as they came into the system. The Great Machine had some formidable defenses, but the planet it was on was limited in where it could be in the solar system. She knew that the other Inside out worlds had similar defensive systems, but they were in the same quandary as she was and they had to remain hidden for the good of the civilians and families staying there. Her own family was here on Epsilon Eridani IV, but they were well protected by the Great Machine. As she stayed there counting ships (thinking of counting clouds, such a strange thought to have) she received a subspace signal from another HRAD station.
A new AI control interface was sent across for the Great Machine to debug and fault-find. Nothing new for her to deal with and one of those routine tasks that she normally enjoyed allowing the Machine to do on its own, but Susan decided to take an interest in the process. She understood some of the underlying principles and saw that it came from ATA (Ancient Tech Agency) itself. 'That must make it First One in some way' went through her mind. As she delved deeper, Susan saw that she could create several nano-scale ships that could be controlled from this interface. Each one would be nothing more than a high yield graviton warhead married to a small recon craft. That thought intrigued her as she sent out a response with a few tweaks to the overall setup and sent over the specifications to the Inside out worlds in-system.
'Here I can do some good'
Susan began to smile to herself as the avatars of her physical form winked out of existence and the foundries deep within the Great Machine came to life. They began churning out thousands of the small AI controlled craft. Hidden with advanced stealth technology and fully gravitic drives they would be perfect for the role she was thinking of: Gremlins. Each of the small ships were programmed to attach in a precise way to a multitude of Royal Navy ships with anywhere from eight or nine per small ship (i.e. Vorchan) and as many as twenty on a larger ship (i.e. Morado or Centaurum). Each of the Starbases would get the same treatment and by the time the Deterrence Fleet arrived in-system most of the Centauri ships would be tagged with these limpet-like devices.
With the thoughts of ships exploding for no other reason, but reminded greatly of one of her friend's fascination with ancient two dimensional cartoons, Susan shifted gears once more to other duties. The thought of a small cartoon gremlin pounding a wooden mallet against a bomb's nose stayed with her for quite some time and led her to think of where Michael Garibaldi was at this moment in time.
Michael Garibaldi was thinking, once again, just 'why did I have to say yes to John?' His ship was hidden within the shell of a Corillani merchantman and he was getting a bit stir-crazy. Even with a Provider and a large culinary menu, he was getting frustrated with the waiting. John and his demi-squadron had already had a chance to pay back the Centauri a bit and he was waiting on his turn. Not for the last time did he think about joining his old friend Jeff Sinclair in gallivanting off around the galaxy exploring what was out there. Instead he had been roped into being the brain for a warship in a reprisal raid on the Centauri.
At least he had been able to recreate the "classic" ship from the cartoon his father so loved. The shape of his ship was that of a 40's –ish starship with the elliptical lines to match. The fins and other parts brought back old memories of watching the old cartoons with his father after he had retired from the 4th RCT. It really was some good times back then and he even remembered watching the same cartoons when he had been stationed at the Great Machine and helped to "corrupt" the current Keeper just before she took the position.
'I wonder what Susan is thinking right now.'
His thought train was derailed when his main display chimed showing that John's demi-squadron was almost at the inner reaches of the Centauri Prime system. Each of the main systems on the Provider-created warships were syncing up for a massive first salvo of weapons as Michael watched dispassionately. The raid wasn't much to him and didn't have too much meaning even though they did face the prospect of death. The splitter charges on the shell around his ship were set to blow and the graviton missiles that had been packed within the ship were set for immediate launch across his demi-squadron. Other bays were opening across the hull of his ship and his own graviton missiles were being readied. The vast number of Centauri ships here at Centauri Prime made the numbers seem almost superfluous, but a massive saturation strike would be necessary to make even a small dent in the numbers.
Michael certainly hoped that John Sheridan was thinking straight, but he gave the go-command anyway to his demi-squadron.
The one word command caused immediate chaos in the travel lane where the four ships were keeping pace. They had been packed between a Drazi merchant hauler and a minor Centauri house. Keeping the profile recognition system to only Centauri warships was easy enough to do and the Hegemony had a long history of using "brilliant" weaponry. Each of the shells that had once showed the ships as being Corillani split apart at the seams and a flood of graviton missiles spilled into the traffic lanes seeking out a multitude of Centauri warships. To make matters worse, the members of the Shade demi-squadron were magnum launching as many missiles as they could as well. As the system defense ships began to respond to the wave of missile launches, all four ships slipped away into hyperspace and for a rendezvous with the rest of the Angels of Death squadron.
The graviton missiles had all be pre-programmed to use their myriad of modes in the assault on Centauri Prime. Instead of the "usual" explosion that stripped away armor; the missiles exploded in spherical bursts, as cones, and in the dreaded diverted energy function. Space around Centauri Prime was lit up by the numerous teraton and exaton explosions that were going off. It didn't matter that only a few of them were striking Royal Navy ships. The sheer volume was frightening to the Royal Navy controllers and even more so for those ships from the former League of Non-Aligned Worlds. Everyone could only watch in horror as missiles were flung all around the space above Centauri Prime and ships began to die.
The first horrific casualty was the first Adira – class Dreadnought. It was the flagship of the Royal Navy, having been named after the Emperor's most favored wife, and the first of a new series of warships in the Royal Navy. John Sheridan's Provider created warship phase shifted back into realspace directly behind the ship and cut it apart with his Heavy Molecular Slicers before the warship's crew could return fire. All across Centauri Prime, the largest ships were caught by surprise as Terran ships came into realspace and sliced apart the combatants. The addition of four more ships into the maelstrom made it even tougher for the Centauri to understand what was going on. The Emperor would have been horrified to see that only eight ships had thrown the remnants of the Royal Navy into a tizzy.
It was even worse for the conspirators who had warships at Centauri Prime. Moments before the supposedly Corillani merchant ships erupted in Terran missiles; they had just started to maneuver to answer attacks happening on them. The attacks had come from behind and from the side and were traced back to opposing Houses. Centauri politics had struck again, or at least that was the thought in the minds of many of the captains of the warships. As they tried to maneuver to bring to bear their own weapon systems, they were caught off guard by the massive explosions in the system. Instead of trying to talk it over, they assumed (incorrectly) that the attacks and missiles were not related. Their attacks further sowed chaos as the various Flight Controllers tried to bring order to the chaotic situation.
The oldest (and still functional after all these years) spacestation put into orbit by the Centauri, Starbase 1 was the center for orbital defenses of the Centauri Republic. It had seen good years and bad ones and through it all it provided the Centauri people with centuries of dedicated service. It housed the principal orbital Flight Controllers and the primary admirals of the Royal Navy had offices in the massive station. It was considered to be the most effective posting for any young aspiring careerist officer of the Royal Navy and as a result the Royal Navy did have to deal with a number of "Social Admirals" clamoring for this particular posting. It remained true to form that many of the junior officers were far from being the "cream of the crop" for the Royal Navy's officer corps, but enough senior officers who had actual combat experience kept the more inept from being in charge.
Unfortunately, during a crisis the inept have a chance to make themselves known. In this case, a group of junior officers from several of the Houses that had brought war to the Centauri were in residence in one of the main warfare coordination centers. They knew some of the proposed attacks had already been carried out against the Hegemony and they were trying to shunt additional forces for follow-on waves. Ships were going into the Hegemony's space, but were not able to go any further or to return back to Centauri space easily. Already word was filtering back of numerous ships being allowed out from Epsilon Eridani, but none made it back or on to Proxima Centauri.
Rumors had spread from the occupied system of Epsilon Eridani that the Fleet Admiral in charge of the Royal Navy was contemplating abandoning the system. They had very little time to relax and all searches for the damnable Inside out worlds had failed to find anything. It was still unknown how the Hegemony had been able to insert covert teams into the various Starbases and sabotage critical systems. Power armor had been issued to all guards and it should have stopped the various base invaders, but even those measures didn't stop the continual attacks by small ships. No one knew where the once vaunted HAF Navy was and many expected them to come calling upon the Centauri.
The ships in system now were more than likely from the Hegemony, but there were so few of them! The junior officers didn't understand why so few of them had been sent and if this was only a raid or the main attack. They didn't have any answers and it appeared as though their commanders didn't know either. It was infuriating to them and their train of thought ended when a message was received across all audio channels.
"This is a message to the Centauri people; the Terran Hegemony has been invaded and attacked by your Royal Navy. This is your only warning to leave our territory behind. You have two days or the reprisal raid here will seem like a mere pinprick."
The communications line shut down completely, but all there were left with the final reminder of the Terran threat as all eight of the ships began to destroy the Royal Navy stations in orbit. How they only knew which station from another would continue to haunt the dreams of many of the junior officers. Missiles of incredible yields smashed aside both warships and stations in nuclear fury. Beams and solid projectiles finished off those ships or stations that had been damaged. All through the assault, Starbase 1 remained intact.
Just as quickly as it began, the attackers faded away and the Royal Navy was left with chaos over homeworld. To make matters worse for the Centauri government, especially for those ships part of the rebellion, the message had been sent to all Centauri worlds and outposts. It was rumored that the Minbari on their cold homeworld had heard the same warning and were cowering behind their defense grid and fleets. Having all of their citizens knowing of the attacks on the Hegemony had made things even worse for the conspirators. They had hoped to finish up the election of a new Emperor (with their candidates in mind for the post), but the Terran raid had made many of their positions untenable. The very public deadline was even worse as they had just recently lost all contact with Epsilon Eridani and it would take longer than two days for a ship to travel there in enough time.
The situation was grim, but those selfsame junior officers didn't expect much to change. If change came; it would more than likely be for the worst for them, but they were holding out hope. Already ships were starting to arrive from some of the closer systems as those who supported the previous Emperor Mollari began to arrive and some even had the audacity to open fire on their warships. Space above Centauri Prime erupted in weapons fire once more as the multitude of factions took their grievances to the fore once again.
Win or lose, the situation had changed again.
Hyperspace near Centauri Prime
"That was a bit over the top wouldn't you say John?"
"It had to be said and we needed to send a message to the Centauri."
"I noticed that the power on your transmission was strong enough to reach to the core of the Milky Way."
"Would you believe that it was an oops?"
"Not a chance in hell John. Even a Vorlon has a chance of being 'right' before that was a mistake on your part. Gutsy move and pretty damn impressive."
"Well Michael we came and conquered. Get your demi-squadron back to Hegemony space and we'll link up with the rest of the Deterrence Fleet at Epsilon Eridani. They're getting ready for the big push by the time the deadline comes and we need to be with them to render support."
"On our way."
Michael Garibaldi took a moment to relax for a bit before putting his ship on a course to Epsilon Eridani. It would take his demi-squadron and John's as well a bit over thirty six hours to make it from Centauri Prime. It was because of an extremely high energy plane that had been found in hyperspace that wasn't capable of being reached without a jump drive like what the Walkers used. This made their transit times much lower than ever before. He could use the time to relax and catch up on some old cartoons and get the ship ready for battle once more.
Hyperspace near Epsilon Eridani
As Michael's ship began to move from the high energy plane to the "normal" channel in hyperspace an hour prior to arriving in the Epsilon Eridani system, it came across an anomaly. Sensors had been released into hyperspace by his ship to help study the currents in this high energy region along with the "normal" parts of hyperspace. One of the probes had found a strange energy source and alerted the Duck Dodger's AI. Processing the information at a speed that even augmented humans had a problem with, the AI studied the strange energy source before deciding to wake her ship's master.
Materializing into a holographic form that differed highly from the actual body that he could use, the cartoonish form of Daffy Duck in full Duck Dodger uniform appeared next to the bed of Michael Garibaldi.
"Up and at 'em Space Ranger!"
"Huh, what the hell?"
"Nice to see you so coherent captain. One of our probes found something in hyperspace. I couldn't identify it and I am now informing you of the find."
"Ok, I'm up now. Meet me on the bridge and take off that ridiculous avatar."
Muttering about pushy AI's and the loss of his REM sleep, Michael arrived on the bridge of his ship. The probe's information was displayed on the main wrap-around display and it was of a unique object. It was unmistakably of Vorlon origin and Michael had never seen anything like it. He moved his ship closer to the object and began to send out more probes to see what they could find out about the object. As his AI and the ship's computer began to flesh out the object, he could see that it had an extremely high energy source in it somewhere or powering it. It had an opening on the front that was closed and it was large, very large. It had been found abandoned here in this layer of hyperspace and he was a bit surprised that someone else hadn't come across it either.
This was a bit more than he was willing to handle. He would have to defer to John Sheridan. Michael knew that John's usual bias towards all things Vorlon would probably have him nuking it, but that would be John's call to make.
"John, I've found something weird out here in hyperspace. It's like nothing I've ever seen before. You need to make a command decision about it. This is over anything that I know about."
"Send over the coordinates Michael and I'll have a look. Get your demi-squadron reintegrated with mine and once you arrive I'll go take a look at it."
It didn't take look at all for the two forces to link up in hyperspace outside Epsilon Eridani. As the two formations reintegrated, the sensor data was sent over for all of the crews to view. They saw that the artifact was indeed of Vorlon origin and the consensus was that it would need to be destroyed. Most of the crews were surprised when John Sheridan was not the vociferous voice calling for the destruction of the Vorlon device, but they still chose him to carry out the task.
A quick trip using his warship brought John Sheridan face-to-face with the strange Vorlon artifact. A thought had a salvo of additional sensor satellites brought to the fore and launched around the artifact. The structure was unique, especially for something of Vorlon manufacturing, and it seemed almost familiar. The quantum structure reminded John of something from the archives of the ATA and harkened back to treatises filed at the Great Machine and deep within the Bureau's own archives.
"Computer, begin relaying all information gathered to all ships within this squadron."
This way if anything untoward happened, the data would remain within his squadron at the very least and they could avenge him and increase their knowledge base at the same time.
"Cross reference with the Sigma 957 and Great Machine archives for this quantum signature and check the Walker section for intergalactic travel."
The quantum structure of the device showed that it was a portal of some kind, but which kind was unknown to John. The sensor data showed that it had not been used in quite some time and the device was powered by a dormant power supply. The proposed energy readings showed that it also had a "sister/brother" gate wherever the gate had access to. The quantum structure was very visible under the "correct" conditions and sensor systems. A chime brought John's attention back to the main display.
The string of profanity surprised no one really as their commander was known to curse fluently in several languages when annoyed. The results of the search through the archives of the Bureau and ATA had turned up a correlation between the object ahead of them and the Vorlons. Worse it was when the Vorlons were trying to "show off" to the rest of the First Ones about how powerful they were. The gate had been unmitigated disaster for the First Ones and oddly enough this event happened prior to the Kirishiacs joining the First Ones.
The extremely hostile Third Space Aliens had been given access to the Milky Way by the Vorlons and it took a joint task force of all of the First Ones to defeat them. The Walkers had been able to visit the dark matter galaxy the aliens came from, though it took them several thousand years to fully map the galaxy out. Those maps came to the fore as John thought about the horrors that might exist if someone else had found the gate and opened it. The file included that the Third Space Aliens were extremely telepathic and could be a threat to any race that possessed such technology.
'Another reason to hate the Vorlons for trying to seed their version of telepathy. If we had it, we would be at risk to these hostile aliens, as if we didn't have enough to deal with already.'
With his mind made up, the device would have to be destroyed. Fortunately they still had several exaton graviton warheads left behind after their assault on Centauri Prime. They would have to tow the device into realspace and then destroy it. It would make a mess of hyperspace if it was destroyed there.
"Let's get this garbage towed out of hyperspace and find a point nearby to dump it. Once it comes out of hyperspace, we'll stand off and pound it with missiles until the structure is space dust."
A chorus of cheerful responses came back and the ships began to work together to power up their intergalactic jump drives. Working in concert they could, much like the Walkers before them, bring even a moon or planet out of its orbit into hyperspace. Even the large size of the artifact would not prevent the eight ships from moving it easily from hyperspace into realspace. Once it was back in realspace, they moved "sufficiently far enough away" and began to power up their weapon systems.
Few warships could stand the salvo of missiles that were fired, especially as the first series were using the diverted energy function, and the artifact began to soak up massive amounts of damage.
'I really should have taken a nuke or three over into the structure instead. This is going to take a while and we still need to meet up with the rest of the fleet when they arrive at Epsilon Eridani.'
Finally with a titanic explosion, the Vorlon gate to Third Space was destroyed completely. A warning was sent out to any Terran ships or crews in the area to avoid it as much as possible due to the debris, but the gate was no more. If another gate was found, they would have to do the same thing.