"Steady as she goes, Mr Nyta," The Centari Admiral talked to the Captain, "We don't want Sheridan to think we can run a simple recon mission."
"Yes Sir," Agreed the Captain, "Wouldn't want the Narn to outperform us."
The Admiral had volunteered to recon in force for Sheridan. Even after the fall of Centari Prime, he was still thought of the ideals behind the Alliance were good. He was quite relieved that the Republic and the Alliance were on the same side for once.
"Admiral, I've got a time delay message from the Emperor." The communication officer reported.
"It's coded for your eyes only."
"Very well, I'll take the briefing room."
"Sir, there's a package with it as well."
The Captain smiled at his superior officer, "Looks like somebody's been given a new medal."
The Admiral smiled at the captain and retreated to the briefing room. Two minutes later, the communication officer arrived with a small package. He placed it on the table with a small data crystal. The officer then stood back, saluted and left.
The Admiral stood up, picked up the data crystal and placed it in the reader. Lando Mollari, the Centari emperor, appeared smiling on the local monitor.
"Admiral, The service you and the fleet are performing on behalf of the Centari Republic, is appreciated beyond measure and just as critical as any you been on before."
There was a flicker on the older Centari's face. The Admiral couldn't make his mind up if it was regret or something else.
"I'm sorry that I'm not there to give you this gift in person. I hope you find it as useful as I do."
With that, the screen went blank. With a puzzled look on his face, the Admiral leaned forward and opened the package.
The Captain noted that the Admiral had been in the briefing room for almost an hour before the officer emerged. He seemed a little disoriented but he walked over to the communication officer. He then picked up a communicator.
"Attention all hands," The Admiral announced. "I have just received a message to pass onto you from the Emperor. He is impressed with our performance and will have us assigned for special shore leave when we've completed our current tour. Until then I expect ever one of you to perform to the best of your abilities. That is all."
The Admiral walked back over to the Captain.
"I've just received some worrying intelligence. Raise our alert level and notify our escorts."
The Captain knew better to ask but he also knew this was in direct contravention to Sheridan's orders.
Jefferson Clay was a frustrated man. Dreadnaught was leading a flight of four corvettes on small recon patrol. The frustration was with the communication system. Standard communications was down for interstellar communication. They had to resort to using the new emergency FTL transmitters, which had just fitted to the fleet.
Short messages of 200 characters could be sent but that was it could manage before the signal was disrupted. Patrols had been started in the closest system to find the source of the Jamming. Intelligence was guessing that it had to be close to the Quad system, the power requirements for such a powerful jammer must be huge.
"Sir," the gunner turned to him. "I'm picking up a number of ships, bearing 085, 000."
"Hmm," Clay pondered this for a moment, "Order the flight to go stealth, we're going to take a look."
Dreadnaught and her sister ships dropped out of LDS, They slowed to crawl and approached the contacts. At the slow stealth speed, the vessels took an age but eventually the gunner spoke.
"Sir, I'm getting five contacts. The first four are the white stars, the last one is big."
"I don't think so," replied the gunner, "The engines sound wrong"
"I think its Centari and it must be big."
"Centari eh? Keep the weapons powered down for the moment."
"Aye Aye Sir."
The flight approached the larger ship slowly.
"Admiral, I think we have company." said the sensor's officer, "Four very faint contacts coming in off port bow."
"Run to battle stations," he ordered.
"Sir!" The Captain sounded, "That's against our orders from Sheridan."
"I have received new instructions, Captain."
"Very well," replied the Captain, who looked very unhappy about it. However he relayed the order.
"All hands to battle stations."
"It's Centari alright," confirmed the Engineer.
"Maybe it is part of this interstellar alliance," said Clay. "If it is, then we might not have to go though all this after all."
"Sir, I'm not sure if we've been made," said the Navigator.
"Very well, put me though to the Centari Cruiser."
"Aye Aye Sir."
"Sir we are receiving a transmition." announced the communication's officer.
"Put it on speaker," ordered the Admiral.
A human voice came though the speaker.
"This is Fleet Captain Jefferson Clay of the Commonwealth Navy to Centari vessel. Vessels of the same type that are escorting you have been making attacks against our home systems. We ask what you're intentions are?"
The Admiral turned to his sensors officer.
"Do we have a fix on their position?" he asked.
"I've locked it down to a small area."
"Pass those details to gunnery."
"Gunnery, load charges and target the area passed to from sensors."
The Captain looked at the Admiral and realised that he didn't look ok. He was sweating and he was really issuing the orders through clenched teeth. He quickly walked over to him.
"Charges loaded." reported gunnery.
"Sir? Are you ok?" asked the Captain.
"Fire Charges!" ordered the Admiral.
"No Sir!" yelled the Captain.
Before the Captain could react, the Admiral had drawn a knife from his glove and plunged in into the captain's throat. As he collapsed on the floor, the last thing he heard before loosing consciousness was.
"Fire All Charges."
"Sir, they've launched something," reported gunnery.
A small silver projectile shot from the cruiser and headed straight for them. It split into several parts.
"Gravitatic charges." breathed the navigator.
Clay ignored him and called ship to ship. "Prepare for emergency shielding. We'll run to full thrust after that."
The engineer quickly ran his hands over his workstations, configuring settings. "Ready Sir!"
Clay put hovered his hand over the shield control. He started to count down from five. Emergency shielding would only be used in dire circumstances. It put the LDA's into shear mode.
For five seconds, they would generate a force field around the whole of the ship.
The only problem was it overloaded the shield arrays, making them completely useless.
The projectiles split again. Clay knew there was an explosive charge at the end of each of those silver lines heading towards them.
The projectiles split again. He could see the gunner clench his teeth summoning the courage needed.
"Activating Shield." reported Clay.
The projectiles came close to the fight of corvettes and then exploded. The crew in the bridge were thrown about as Dreadnaught pitched and yawed in the explosion.
"Full power to engines, Helm, full evasive."
Dreadnaught skipped forward, powering her way through the secondary explosions.
"We've lost the Coventry, " reported the gunner, "The Glasgow is still with us but the Intrepid has had to launch life boats. I'm reading two pasties and a command section."
"Oh Lord, Power surge on the cruiser." reported the engineer.
Flashes of light flew from the cruiser as she opened fire on the defenceless vessels. All three disappeared in little flashes of light.
Clay was cursing himself for not loading any of the big hitting REM missiles but he did have one ace up his sleeve.
"FTL the Sheffield for assistance."
"Aye Aye, Sir." replied the engineer.
"The White stars are abandoning their escort, "reported the gunner. "They've opened a jump point."
All four white stars jumped away, leaving the cruiser to face the corvettes. This struck Clay as a very odd way to behave; surely the commander would have ordered them to destroy the corvettes. Maybe the Captain of the cruiser wanted all the kills to himself.
Clay ordered more defensive manoeuvres. He knew that only the fact that all power being fed into the engines was keeping his ship alive as deadly streams of light flashed close to her.
There was a green flash as the Sheffield left LDS. She was massive, 1200 metre's long, eight LDAs, more gun ports than Clay had ever seen on any commonwealth vessel. However, more importantly, she carried a whole squadron of T-fighters.
The front of the Danube class Cruiser looked like a vulture's head and halfway down the vessels fuselage, wings arched out, which at their tip held the fighter launch bays and the plasma cutting rays the commonwealth had reverse engineered from the black ships of five years ago.
The Sheffield didn't waste any time, both of the plasma cutters fired. Two purple streams of light streaked into the Centari cruiser. The vessel shook, buckled and the exploded in a flash of light.
"Whoa!" breathed the gunner, "That was impressive!"
Clay had to agree, it was the first combat test of the new vessel and it had passed in a spectacular fashion. It was then he noticed another jump point form and then disappear.
"Was that a log buoy?" he wondered, as the wreckage floated past the view port. "What's more worrying, " pondered Clay. "Is the Centari against us as well?"
Sheridan was sat around the conference table with most of the Alliance's top generals. They had just reviewed the footage dropped by one of the White Star's logging buoy. They saw the Commonwealth cruiser destroy its Centari counterpart. The recording ended with the buoy jumping into space.
"Comments anyone?" said a grim faced Sheridan.
He looked round the table to observe the reactions of everybody sat there. There was a representative of the rangers, who had taken Delenn's place, a Narn general, a Drazi Admiral, Vir and fleet captain Torell from Earth Force.
"They have shadow technology," observed the Narn general. "They must have been allies during the war."
"If they were allies, " reasoned the Drazi. "Surely, they would have the organic armour as well?"
"Earth was able to reverse engineer that technology, so it should make sense that somebody else could." said Torell.
"It's obvious that the Centari fired first. It was unprovoked and against orders." said the Narn.
"We don't know what was going through the Admiral's mind at the time," retorted the Earth Force officer.
"Vir?" asked Sheridan.
"To be honest, I'm at a loss to explain it." Vir looked quite shaken by what had happened. " The Admiral in question was quite a supporter of the Alliance, one of the few I might add, and I find it difficult to believe that he'd disobey your orders."
"I must admit though, that new ship is impressive." The earth officer continued, "I hope we don't have to engage too many."
"It's my intention not to engage them at all. We need to find the motivation behind this before taking any aggressive action." announced Sheridan.
He did have a gut feeling though; he felt he was being manipulated. Circumstances always seemed to be against them, this was another first contact, which had gone wrong with the Commonwealth. How they were going to recover from this he had no idea.