This chapter had an unexpected difficulty. Given I'm basing the Romulans here on Diane Duane's version (please read the Rihannsu novels, or any of her novels), I had an unexpected problem: they're fixated with proper names, and I had to search the proper variant of the word 'Rihan' (the name they give to themselves) every single time they spoke about themselves. That, and I just had to try and imitate Diane Duane (don't cry for me, I deserve the headache). Anyway, this is the second part of the prologue. Next chapter we'll get to the action.
by lord Martiya

Prologue part 2: Improbable allies

Lucio Panaccio was not happy. He was responsible for defending a squadron of civilian ships, to try and save them from the Wind Swords he had got both the civilians and his own ship stranded far enough he didn't even know where, and he had just encountered an unknown vessel with at least twice his firepower. At least they were hailing him...
"This is the battleship Exploding Star, of the Rihannsu Star Empire. Earth Alliance vessel, explain your presence in this part of the galaxy."
That explained where he was. And he didn't like it one bit: the Rihannsu were grammar nazis (at least regarding their name) with heavy firepower whose small Raptor Ships (so called as they were painted to resemble birds of prey), equipped with a stealth technology that put the Minbari one to shame and obscenely powerful plasma weapons, had appeared at random intervals for about fifty years before abruptly disappearing just before the Dilgar War. And in the period they had interfered in the local affairs in more than one occasion, showing hostility to Earth Alliance for a while (a case of mistaken identity, they said), possibly helping the Narn into becoming indipendent (there had been a lot of Raptor ship sightings near Narn in the months before the Night of Bleeding Stars, and the Narn rebels had been armed with too many Centauri guns for them being all stolen) and serving as one of the best deterrents against Dilgar expansion after their invasion of Alaca (a Raptor Ship appearing over Alaca, destroying their newly completed space station and then disappearing had quite an effect, at least until the sightings stopped). And now he had encountered one of their battleships, that could probably obliterate his cruiser even without her plasma weapon.
"This is Lucio Panaccio, captain of the Earth Alliance cruiser Medea. I ask sanctuary for the civilian ships of this convoy." he replied, trying to save at least the civilians. "We are currently at war with a technologically superior race called the Minbari, who have sworn to exterminate all humans.
"The Minbari? They are isolationist. Your story is rather improbable. Can you prove i-"
"Jump points forming. It's those Minbari." Hasegawa called from the sensor station.
True to the announcement, two Tigara-class attack cruisers, one Teshlan-class long range cruiser and one Leshat-class long range scout left hyperspace. But where the Leshat, the Teshlan and one of the Tigaras stopped and started scanning, the Wind Sword Tigara powered her weapons and approached the convoy.
"Power all weapons, and put us between the bonehead and the civvies!" Panaccio ordered.
"Minbari vessels, stand down and identify yourselves." a woman's voice came from the Rihan vessel. "You too, Medea. Canchika is neutral space protected by both the Rihanh and the Klivam, and I will not tolerate this nonsense."
At the same time of the warning, Exploding Star moved between the Minbari and the Earth Alliance convoy, locking on both Medea and the attack cruiser.
"Hasegawa, how is Exploding Star's defense?" Panaccio asked.
"Heavy armor of unknown strength and thickness and a low-powered shield." she replied.
"How much powerful?"
"Enough to deviate uncoherent particles at high speed. And there are various devices on the hull, similar to the shield projector but bigger."
"All weapon power to the E-web. Let's enjoy the show."
"Getting a message from the Wind Swords to the Rihannsu." Blazic announced. "They say they're in a holy war and to not get involved."
"And the other Minbari?"
"They want to know the situation first."
"Wind Swords fir-Holy shit!"
The Tigara had opened fire on Exploding Star with all weapons, only to have all beams stopped with no damage by the newly activated shields of the Rihan vessel activating. At the same time, Exploding Star hit the Tigara with a luminescent globe that exploded on contact, smashing its victim like an eggshell hit by a sledgehammer.
"So that's their famous plasma weapon..." Panaccio commented, more than a little scared.
"Negative: it was an antimatter-based projectile. Estimated yield: fifteen megatons." Hasegawa stated, her voice trembling in surprise and fear. Then came the scary announce: "Exploding Star is powering up."
"Minbari vessels, I must express my gratitude to you for helping me in the difficult decision of taking the Earth vessels under my Empire's protection. As a thanking gift, I will allow you ten minutes to vacate this system and return home before considering your continued presence an act of war." announced the woman from Exploding Star, causing the Minbari to open a jump point and run.
"Her empire?" Geoffrey Boothroyd, the helmsman, wondered out loud.
"That's what I heard too..." Panaccio replied. "Those imbeciles attacked the Rihanssu Empress..."
"Captain, the empress wish to meet you on her ship." Blazic announced. "Now, if possible."
"Tell her I'm coming."

Arrived on Exploding Star (translation from the original Rihan name Morlalasi Stelam), Panaccio was not surprised to discover it had artificial gravity, or that he had been given a 'honor guard' of vampiric-looking soldiers. What surprised him was that the Empress (a diminutive alien woman with elven ears, looking in her fifties and wearing a military uniform), guarded by three other 'vampires' and another 'elven' woman, received him in a very spartan office.
After giving him permission to sit, the Empress presented herself as Ael and demanded to know what had happened to cause the war.
"We have known of the Minbari for years, but never tried to contact them after the first approaches were rebuffed." Panaccio started. "Then, after the Dilgar War, Earthforce command started being interested in the Minbari, I didn't need to know why. For a while it was done nothing, as the Alliance was too busy rebuilding and upgrading the fleet. Then, five years ago, we started checking the uncharted systems between Earth space and the known Minbari settlements. We al had orders to avoid any first contact situation unless strictly necessary, and about two years ago one of our exploratory squadrons was sent to the uncharted system Gamma Omega, near Centauri space. Given the orders and the location, the mission was considered foolproof, so the high command gave him to Michael Jankowski, who was a known fool."
"Why was that?" Ael asked.
"He was good with numbers but was too arrogant and unable to form a working relationship with anyone, so he had been given an administrative job. Then he married the daughter of an high government officer, who got him command of a frigate before the Dilgar War. He screwed up big time, and warmaster Jha'dur saw us coming and ran. We destroyed her fleet at Second Markab and nearly killed her, so his father in law was able to save his neck, but Jha'dur's managed to kill billions of civilians and nearly cost us the war before we could nail her at Balos.
"With his skills and help from his father in law, Jankowki managed to rise the ranks and get a new command, so Earthforce gave him that mission to justify his promotion to commodore and reassignment to a space station, where he'd be useful."
"And what happened instead?"
"Gamma Omega was a Minbari system, they call it Drala Toth. Worse, Jankowki's task group had left hyperspace near two Minbari cruisers, and decided to take a look. The Minbari didn't like that and activated their stealth, and started scanning to see who the intruders were. Then, as tradition for the Minbari Warrior Caste, they opened all gunports in sign of peace and respect. At that point Jankowki realized he had screwed up and tried to run, but the Minbari scans had jammed his jump drives. And he opened fire, damaging their ships and hitting their scanners. At that point he ran, but his fire had killed Dukhat, their political and religious leader.
"Since then we've been at war. Our ships can destroy theirs, we can build ships faster than them, and we use better tactics, but with their stealth we can't hit them at anything but point blank range, and their weapons have superior range.
"At the very start they just charged at us and fired. Then we had the two only actual victories so far: their flagship and her support vessels were raiding our homeworld's system when the Lexington improvised an ambush with nuclear weapons and blew them up with their supreme commander, and their fleet en route for Beta Durani was lost when we deactivated the beacon as they passed near a black hole.
"After that they got a new military leader, Bramin or something like that. Much more prudent, smart and methodical, enough that we can slow them by raiding their supply lines and hitting the depots, but if we fight an actual battle with them he counters everything we try, and he's forcing his warriors to smarten up. Some, mainly the Wind Swords and the Blood Knives, still charge head first and die a stupid death, but there's less and less of those..."
"I see..." she stated. "I don't know if we can help. The last years have been troubling, and my Empire is on the verge of a war. That, and we could lose an ally due some imbeciles. What I can say is that we'll accept refugees. Anything else will have to wait. Assuming, of course, that you let Xiomek check your story."
One of the 'vampires', who wore a white uniform with no helmet instead of the purple with helmet of the other two, stepped forward.
"He's a judiciary telepath, obliged, by law and conditioning for the job, to only check if your story is true and wipe the memories of what he learned after testifying." she explained.
Given the desperate situation of Earth, Panaccio let the telepath check, after which the empress ordered the starship Blacklight (part of Exploding Star's invisible escort) to lead the civilian convoy to the planet Artaleirh (location of major shipyards) for repairs, while Medea was invited to follow the empress to the planet Khitomer.

"Why the hell she wants us at a peace conference?" Blazic asked after Panaccio returned.
"Influence." Panaccio replied. "This ally of her empire, called the United Federation of Planets, is relatively peaceful, and many of their politicians expect the Rihannsu to join soon and want to mothball the fleet to detout the money in a fool's errand, she says. And as the Rihannsu won't like being taken for granted, they'd kill their alliance. Our presence and appeal for help should give their navy enough political clout to save their budget and strength, at least for the moment."
"And if it fails?"
"Then we try and convince them to give us sensors that can see the Minbari and their strange stardrive, and return home."
"What stardrive? We're in hyperspace."
"It's called a warp drive. Somehow it allows a ship to travel faster than light while remaining in real space."
"Then what they even use hyperspace for?!"
"Warp drives are apparently energy intensive. Given that antimatter reactors are restricted to the military and fusion reactors that are both powerful enough for high warp speeds and compact enough for a starship are rare outside the Rihannsu military, most civilian warp ships can't go faster than about forty times lightspeed. It's over a month from Earth to Proxima."
"And with a jump drive you only need to charge it twice, and with jumpgates not even that... I'll believe it when I'll see it."
"I understand. Now, I need some advice."
"On what?"
"It would be classified, but as soon as we arrive on Khitomer the cat will be out of the bag. I'd like to break gently to the crew that there are various planets where humans have developed, and that the Federation's capital is apparently a copy of our Earth."
"Wait, what?"
"During the first explorations of space we discovered a planet that had housed a human civilization, with a similar technological level to ours, before someone pulled a Mitoc on it and scoured its moon with a plague that makes Deathwalker look a beginner.
"The ship we copied the Interceptors and the E-web from was a testbed vessel from a human civilization at war with an unknown enemy.
"You remember the dreadnought Eurystheus, returned crippled and triumphant from a scuffle with a Sharlin? The Sharlin was destroyed by an advanced alien weapon built by enemies of the Minbari protecting their human descendants. Humans who have lost knowledge of their ancestors' technology, so we have no idea on how to reproduce the thing or sick it on some Minbari world."
"I... I didn't-"
"And that's why it was kept classified: it's really shocking, and will have imprevedible effects on our society. Only ship commanders and above know, and are authorized to tell the crew if they happen to stumble on them. There's just one problem: I have no idea how."

At Khitomer things were complicated: there had been a conspiracy between elements of the Federation, Klingon and Rihan governements and militaries to try and cause a war between the Federation-Rihan alliance and the Klingon Empire, a conspiracy that had already claimed the life of the Klingon high chanchellor Gorkon (now succeeded by his daughter Azetbur) and had nearly claimed the one of Federation president Ra-ghoaratreii. After the Rihan ambassador was punished (tried by the empress and sentenced to death by disintegration. In an act of clemency, the court changed it to exile in the Klingon Empire. His expression told Panaccio that the former ambassador would have preferred disintegration), the conference actually succeeded, but during the following talks some Federation politicians talked against helping Earth Alliance, claiming it violated a Prime Directive (some others and all Starfleet officers disagreed, but most of the Federation delegation agreed) and were talking about the mothballing of Starfleet.
Then a Klingon officer announced they had lost contact with Nimbus III, giving ammo to the Starfleet officers.
"What is Nimbus III?" Panaccio asked the empress' bodyguard N'Alae.
"A joint Rihan-Federation-Klingon colony." she replied. "It was called the Planet of Galactic Peace, as it was founded to foster better relations between our states, but it almost failed. And even now it could fail. Anyway, attacking it is an act of war against all three governments."
"We are receiving a transmission on tachion signals from Nimbus III." the Klingon officer announced as a screen with an alien symbol was lowered from the roof. "We're putting it on."
"How many people on that planet?" Panaccio asked.
"About seven millions after the second wave of colonists... Why?" N'Alae replied.
"They're all dead: that's the symbol of the Wind Swords, the most militant of the Minbari Warrior Clans."
"You kidding?"
"I wish I was..."
The Wind Sword symbol disappeared from the screen, and was replaced with the image of a destroyed space station in orbit to a rocky planet.
"We are the Wind Swords, greatest clan of the Minbari Warrior Caste." the message announced. "We are in a holy war with the Earth Alliance, whose people dared to murder Dukhat, Chosen One of the Minbari Federation. All humans shall die, for this. The Rihani dared to house them here, and fired on one of our ships pursuing their warships. This is the revenge of the Minbari."
One moment later the visual showed a dozen vessels taking place over the planet and opening fire. The beams illuminated the atmosphere as soon as they hit it, and continued until they hit the surface, causing an even stronger light as everyone looked in horror.
"This was our revenge. The space station is destroyed. The settlements are destroyed, and no human nor Rihani is still living on the planet of Nimbus III. Do not interfere again, for the next time we shall not be so mercyful."
"MERCYFUL?!" Ael cried. "I'll show them mercy! As soon as the survivors are resc-"
"There are no survivors." Panaccio announced. "They used antimatter converters. Their beams convert matter into antimatter. That is what the Minbari will use on our homeworld when we'll run out of ships."
"Not on my watch." Chanchellor Azetbur declared. "The Klingon Empire is now at war with the Minbari Federation. Who is with us?"

Present time, Earth.
"As you know, sir, Rihannsu, Federation and Klingon are now at war with the Minbari, and sneaked here with me to fight and help us to become a better match for the Minbari." Panaccio said.
"And the Minbari didn't see them arriving?" Lefcourt asked.
"There's a stable wormhole that leads from Rihan space to just antispinward from Chi Draconis and rimward of Ch'lon, away enough that the Ch'lonas didn't even know its existance."
"Good for them." Lefcourt commented, knowing how aggressive the Ch'lonas were. "Let's just hope we'll have enough time to prepare and this people is good as they say..."

Minbari space, system Chi Draconis (EA designation).
Earthforce knew this system as Valen's Fortress, from the signal of the local hyperspace beacon, and considered it the gate for Minbar. But they had never dared to try and raid it for information or to attack the massive shipyards in the system, as the sheer number of vessels always present there made such a proposition suicidal.
Of course the proposition was less dangerous when the raider had a cloaking device, like the Rihan Vas'kalabam-class cruiser Memenda currently in orbit of Chi Draconis VII. After scanning the planet, the cruiser sent a message through subspace.
"Mh'riov Liviana Charvanek, ohrien ih'Shiar hiyll Memenda, Vriha'ri Ael'ri'ih u'htianasivha ehrevfevha. Ahr'Chi Draconis Minbarha."
After the offense of communicating the identity of the planet from its own orbit, Memenda left it for the lesser of the system's twin stars, waiting for the right moment to take revenge for the Rihanh people. And restore her honour.

Author notes

I wrote the Rihannsu (A.K.A. the Romulans) as having had explored the space near Earth Alliance and the other B5 powers because they would check for possible resources or threats. Why they stopped... Well, they had good reasons.

The presence of a jumpgate network for civilian ships in the Alpha/Beta Quadrant area was suggested to me by the convoy battle in the DS9 episode Rules of Engagement, that, being not at warp speed, makes very little sense if all the vessels had warp drive. But if we insert a jump gate network and restricted access to antimatter (the most powerful and volatile explosive known) the scene makes sense, as the convoy would have included a number of non-warp ships and would have been attacked between two jumpgates. Note:

Mitoc is a world destroyed by the Dilgar during the war. To deny it to the advancing Earthforce, the Dilgar hit it with mass drivers, then with its own defensive nukes to wreck the ecosystem, had their defensive satellites fire another dosing of nukes on it, and then had the satellites and a battlestation crash on the landmasses. Finally they gave it the coup de grace with biological weapons designed to kill any kind of evolved life. It's still better than what happened to that planet Panaccio is speaking of.

Isail is mentioned in the Babylon 5 RPG material, and is an ancient Shadow base. The Vorlon made the Isaili incompatible with Shadow technology (that's why they put off-worlders in the automated defense system of their homeworld), and the Centauri, while knowing of the system, never invaded, officially because the Isaili are sickly-looking and wouldn't be good slaves. The Minbari, being Minbari, think that it was a defensive system that had survived the Vorlon scourging the planet and nobody would willingly study Shadowtech, so they never bothered to check again.

The Ch'lonas are one of Earth Alliance's eternal annoyances, placed between Earth and Minbari space. They tend to attack everything and everyone (including each other while they're attacking their enemies), and the only reason they're still alive and indipendent is that Earth prefers to swat their attempted raids, the Koulani (the other eternal annoyance of Earth Alliance) are smart enough to realize how much it would cost to keep them conquered, the Centauri once conquered them but saw they weren't worth the cost, and they never encountered the Minbari.