FIC: Babylon Faith (22/22)
“This is White Star Tapferkeit,“ the captain’s voice crackled through the ship’s speakers as the video played on the flagship’s large screen, the tension thick in his voice, “we’ve encountered the enemy and are taking damage.”
Sheridan forced back tears as he watched helplessly as the White Star weaved in and out of the chasing dragon’s attack, conscious of the ambassadors lined up watching behind him. He winced as static engulfed the screen the moment the ship was briefly bathed in flames expelled by the pursuing leviathan. After a second that seemed to last an eternity, the White Star burst out of the fire, its silvery bulkhead scorched, and backflipped to face its opponent then fly straight at the winged monster, weaving in and out of the reptile’s fire.
And then its right claw closed on the scout and crushed it as easy as a human might crush an empty soda can. Sheridan took a rattling breath before turning to the massed ambassadors stood on the bridge. Having used this tactic successfully in the past didn’t make it any easier to use or watch now. “That’s the last of the scouts containing our false plans,” he was relieved how steady his voice was. “I need you to move your fleets in position. And remember these scouts’ sacrifice. Look around yourselves, look at your colleagues, your friends, remember your families, your homes. And remember this is what we’re all fighting for.”
* * *
“President Sheridan,” Sheridan forced his gaze away from the asteroid field between them and where the enemy would all too soon arrive, “I have those figures for you.”
Sheridan forced his gaze away from the screen to look towards his flagship’s chief officer. “Go on,” he nodded curtly.
“As you wish,” the Minbari returned his nod with a serene one of his own. “All 122 remaining White Stars are here. In addition, the Centauri have sent thirty Primus class battlecruisers each with a full complement of Sentri fighters and eighty Vorchan class medium warships. The Minbari have sent fifty Sharlin war cruisers with full complements of Nial class fighters, as well as thirty each Tinashi-class war frigates and Troligan-class armoured cruisers. Earth has sent twenty-four Legend-class warships. The Narn have sent a dozen Bin’Tak-class dreadnoughts, sixty G'Quan class heavy cruisers and three dozen squadrons of Frazi class fighters. The Drazi have sent thirty Tashkat-class advanced cruisers, forty-five Sun-Hawk battle cruisers and eighteen heavy fighter squadrons of Sky-Serpents. The Brakiri have sent forty Avioki-class Heavy cruisers and two dozen Brokados-class battle cruisers. The Vree have sent fifty XILL Class Cruisers. The Gnome have sent fifty Corvettes. The Hurr have sent sixty gunships. The Iksha baronies have sent us five dozen battleglobes. And finally, the Abbai have sent us twenty Lakara-class defenders and two score Blimith-class Defenders.”
“Excellent.” Sheridan’s head swam at the numbers. “And what of the remote controlled jump-ready cruisers?”
“Six hundred ships have been positioned in space just behind our position, and another four hundred several thousand miles behind where our enemy is scheduled to appear, you need only say the word, President Sheridan.”
“Excellent,” Sheridan repeated. His plan was ruthless simplicity. When the enemy’s forces appeared at the other side of the asteroid field, where they believed the Interstellar Alliance fleet would be, he’d have the remote control turned on, causing six hundred empty and remote-controlled civilian ships positioned behind and above his own fleet to turn their jump engines on and open jumpgates, causing the enemy to start across the minefield. Then, when they were suitably drawn in, he’d explode the concealed mines, catching the enemy in a murderous crossfire. Then, he’d turn the remote control on for the empty ships behind the enemy, and then when they’d begun to turn to face the opening jumpgates behind them, they’d sweep in. Sheridan told himself for the millionth time it was a good plan.
Of course, as Helmuth von Moltke the Elder had said, no plan survives contact with the enemy.
“Sir,” if a Minbari Ranger could sound shaken, this one had managed it, “we have jumpgates opening at the far end of the asteroid field.”
Sheridan nodded, his gaze remaining on the screen before him. “How many?”
“They out-number us by approximately three to one.”
Sheridan grimaced at the bombshell. His plan should take of a good deal of the enemy, but still… “Alright,” he swallowed as the enemy armada began appearing at the far side of the asteroid field. Menacing Drakh ships floated beside Strieb and Zener ships, even the odd Dilgar ship and some Lacaterns he recognised from the attack on Babylon Five last year. And the dragons, his stomach hollowed and blood iced at the sight of the winged mastodons flapping menacingly through the armada, both their great age and malignant evil apparent in their every look or move.
Sheridan shook himself, forcing himself to focus. Their enemy’s evilness was the very reason their plan had to work. If it didn’t there would be no hope for anyone. Everyone would share Babylon Five’s fate, and he couldn’t, wouldn’t, allow it to happen. “Turn on the first lot of remote controls.”
“Turning,” his second reported. “Six hundred jumpgates opening behind us.”
Sheridan smiled, his breath stuck firmly in his throat as the enemy started towards them. “Come on, come on,” he barely muttered. “Come on.” Finally the enemy was just past the middle of the minefield. “Light them up.”
“Sir?” queried his second.
Sheridan cursed himself for using earth slang with an alien. “Ignite the mine field.”
Sheridan shielded his eyes as the screen before him turned a blistering orange, so bright that tears sprung to his eyes. Ship after ship was torn apart by the explosions, some of the only damaged blown into other ships, causing further destructive chain-reactions. After a couple of minutes the carnage cleared to reveal the remaining enemy, some ships still smouldering but still flying, and the vast majority of the dragons apparently undamaged save for the occasional smouldering scale.
“Okay,” Sheridan nodded sternly. “Order everyone into formation. Remind them I want the White Stars with me, the Minbari on my right, and the Earth ships on the left, the Centauri and everyone else packed in behind to make sure the enemy can’t get in behind us, and the fighters in tight with the dragons, using their size against them. And then open the jumpgates in behind the enemy.”
And so it began. Sheridan stared dead ahead, they’d have to get in the middle of the dragons for their device to have maximum effect.
“Very well.” Sheridan squared his shoulders. “Attack.”
* * *
Their White Star glided through the sky, its front neutron cannons firing at the nearest dragon. “I want to see the white of its eyes,” Sheridan declared. “Get in close and blow it out of my sky!”
The White Star feinted right then went left, avoiding a Dilgar’s lasers as it obeyed Sheridan’s orders, neutron cannons blazing holes into one of the largest dragons. The creature’s head reared back, huge maw gaping open as the white star’s cannons burnt smouldering holes into the beast’s chest.
“Whoa!” Sheridan let out a surprised wail when the ship flipped onto the side to avoid a gust of flames spat out by the hovering dragon.
“Sir,” it was his second, “our escort is taking damage.”
“I’m aware of that,” Sheridan struggled to stay on his feet when their ship executed an effortless backflip out of the way of another gust of flames then dropped like a stone out of the way of another gust, their lasers gouging tears in the demon’s belly. “That’s it!” he growled as they weaved in and out of the monster’s claws while continually shooting up into the monster’s gut. “Give ‘em hell!”
“Sir, we need to be nearer the centre!”
“I know.” Sheridan nodded as the control panel before him short-circuited, blue and white sparks flying from it. He grabbed a hold of the panel before him when the craft shuddered under a blast from a Drakh cruiser. The ship veered sharply to the right, and then to the left, weaving in and out of the way of the attacking battleship before once again dropping like a stone then suddenly halted and pointed its nose upwards, shooting blast after blast into the ship’s underbelly until it disintegrated in an explosion.
“Fighters coming in from starboard.”
“I see them,” Sheridan replied even as the helmsmen dragged their ship around to face them, their craft twisting in and out of the fighter blasts even as they returned fire. Sweat beaded on his forehead, as he glanced down at his watch. This was taking too long, they were taking too much damage.
“Jumpgates opening above us!”
Heart sinking, Sheridan glanced to his second. “Ours or theirs?”
* * *
Lennier stared at the computer screen even as the jumpgates opened and the techno-mage fleet dropped back into normal space. And into a battle that was the closest thing to hell he’d ever experienced.
All around was carnage, the twisted, burnt wrecks of what looked to be hundreds of ships floated for as far as the eye could see. And yet, for all the destroyed wrecks, far more ships were still fighting, furiously returning and receiving fire.
Surely their less than sixty ships couldn’t make that much difference.
Suddenly Galen’s clipped tones crackled over the ship’s intercom system. “We are going in hot people, stick to your formation, and concentrate on the dragons, we have the enhanced shields and lasers that make us better capable to deal with them!”
* * *
“Sir! Our shields are down to fifty percent, we cannot take more than two maybe three hits from the dragons!”
Sheridan opened his mouth to reply then the lights went out and a ceiling pane fell, crashing into his shoulder and knocking him from his seat. Sheridan grunted as a rib cracked as he hit the floor, pain flaring through his side as he pulled himself back to his feet via his control console. “Keep going straight ahead,” he ordered, tone ragged with pain, hand cradling his injured side, “blow us a hole through to the centre.”
“We’re losing ships left and right, sir!” warned his second. “They’re holding steady against us, sir, we might have to release the object now!” Sheridan shook his head even as another hit savaged their ship, a dragon’s gusted fire enveloping the White Star.
“Sir!” Before he had chance to speak the communications officer broke in. “Forty jumpgates opening directly above us. Really, really big jumpgates.”
Sheridan’s shoulders slumped. Forty ships shouldn’t make that much of a difference in a battle of this size, but at this critical moment, with the battle hanging in the balance, it could turn the tide one way or another. “Whose are -.”
“Yipeee keeye gang!” Sheridan’s eyes widened as he recognised the Slayer’s husky tones over his intercom system then saw the first of a fleet of ships with a ring of pulsing orange turrets surrounding a silvery spire erupted from the jumpgates, energy blasting from the ship to rip through the nearest of the dragons. “Mind if we join the fight, Prez?”
Soul Hunters, somehow she’d gotten Soul Hunters to help them. Sheridan shook off his amazement to reply. “Your ships are the largest, concentrate on your fire on the dragons, force them back.”
“Gotcha,” Faith replied, the ships swarming through the jumpgates doing just as instructed, bombarding the unprepared dragons directly beneath them with wrath and fire.
Sheridan shook his head, forcing himself to focus. “Force your way through the dragons, I want to take advantage of the enemy’s disarray before they regroup.”
“Yes sir.” The flagship of the White Star fleet surged forward, a dragon flew into position just above them, hovering over them like an eagle ready to swoop down and steal a baby. Its head reared back as it readied to strike. And then an already ailing EAS warship swooped in between them and their enemy, taking the gust of flames meant for them, the gallant ship beginning to disintegrate under this new assault. Their White Star flew beneath the embattled warship then flipped onto its left side to avoid the flames of yet another dragon. “Sir!” His second let out what would be an excited squeak for a human. “Computer says we are in optimum release range!”
“Then release it!”
The Vanishing Pit was flung deep into space, spinning around as a golden glow expanded from it like a swelling typhoon. Sheridan noticed that none of the ships, either theirs or the enemy were affected, and yet the gargantuan dragons were torn from their place in space and inexorably pulled into the much smaller container.
Sheridan’s shoulders slumped, a ragged breath escaping him, sudden sweat springing up on his forehead. Forcing himself to focus, he looked behind him to his second. “Put an order out throughout the fleet, shift our attack priority from the dragons and to the enemy fleet.”
* * *
“Endawi!” David Endawi glanced up as his superior entered his office, the older man’s face mottled with rage. “I assume you haven’t heard the most recent news as regards these time-travellers?”
Endawi stiffened slightly, his inability to catch Faith Lehane and Alexander Harris rankling. These setbacks were the sort of events that turned a man’s career trajectory from an upward to a downward one. “No sir,” he held his tone carefully neutral.
“No of course you haven’t,” the Colonel began pacing, “it’s been classified beyond top-secret. You’ve heard of the Dragon-fire battle?”
“I’ve heard rumours,” Endawi cautiously replied. As a high-ranking member of Bureau 13 he had access to more information than a civilian or even a normal member of the military. Even so, he hadn’t heard the full story of the Interstellar Alliance’s victory over the dragons.
“Rumours? Well I’ve heard a lot more than rumours,” the Colonel growled. “The duo were there, they weren’t only there, they were at the head of a Soul Hunter armada that helped turn the battle’s tide.”
Soul-Hunters? Endawi gulped, Bureau 13 had unsuccessfully attempted to get their hands on information regarding this ancient race for years. “It gets worse,” the Colonel grunted. “Apparently the duo have been invited to join the Rangers.”
“So it’s hands off then?” he queried.
“Oh no,” the Colonel shook his head. “Getting your hands on these two time-travellers isn’t your top priority, it’s your only priority.”
* * *
It was only decades of discipline and training that stopped Lennier from running and instead turned to face his former teacher and unrequited love. “Delenn,” he bowed his head, gaze fixed on the ground. “You look well.”
"I can not have an aide who will not look up. You will be forever walking into things.” Delenn let out a soft laugh.
“It has been many years since you said that to me,” Lennier replied.
“Yes,” a sad smile played upon his mentor’s lips. “Whatever has gone between us before, it is good to see you again.”
“And you,” Lennier hesitated. “I wish only to serve if I may.”
Delenn’s smile widened. “You may.”
* * *
“You’re quite the pair aren’t you?” Sheridan peered across his desk to the duo sat opposite him. “Your list of exploits during this incident alone.” He shook his head. “Emperor Mollari, Ambassador G’Kar, and Mr. Garibaldi all speak very highly about you. Now,” he paused momentarily, reluctant to broach such a sensitive subject, “it appears our scientists are at a loss to make sense of just how you got here, much less duplicate it to send you back home.”
“So you’re sayin’ we’re stuck here for good?”
“Yes,” Sheridan noticed that for whatever reason the Slayer seemed far less disturbed at the prospect of being stuck here than her companion. Less ties in the past he suspected. “Given your skills and adaptability, I’d like to offer you a place on a new explorative craft the Rangers have built to map the Galactic Rim. Lennier is being asked to second the craft’s captain, and Dureena Nafeel and Galen are both being asked to join the crew, as their unique skills will be an asset.”
“To boldly go where no man has gone before-.”
Faith shot her companion a pitying look. “Please, don’t do that.” She shook her head. “Every time I get half-way to forgetting what a geek you are, you have to say somethin’ like that.”
Sheridan forced back a smile. “Is that a yes?”
Faith nodded. “We’ll take it.”