The Falcon Banner - 1. Chapter 1
standing watching the towers crumble
tears in his eyes.
-Archduke Francesco 'The fall of the Empire'
Darien sat on his couch watching TV, occasionally lifting the remote to change the channel. He owned a holographic one, displaying its picture vertically from its base. Beyond total immersion the TV was really the only way to enjoy mindless entertainment. The Amsus, for all their faults, really didn't do much to curtail civil liberties. It kept the populace happy to have the illusion of freedom, and they had no desire to enforce curfews upon the Terrans, so that left very little changed after their occupation. The status quo was wonderfully cultivated-it kept the masses in line better than any iron fist ever could.
It wasn't that they took anything away, more that they kept everything the same. Preserving the status quo was an art form, a new kind of repression for human beings. Stagnating on their own world unable to evolve either technologically or otherwise.
He found the 'Niner's game and turned it up, getting up from his couch to fetch himself a beer. The ten-foot screen sensing his movements automatically sharpened its focus to allow him to see it better from the kitchen. At least the improvements on existing technology had been permitted.
He didn't take his eyes off of the screen as he twisted the cap off of the Budweiser, returning and sitting down again re-tucking his hair under his hat as he watched his team make a decent run towards the end zone. He could have ordered a pizza to go with the beer-mushrooms, pepperoni and quizart cheese would really go down well-but as he reached for his comm. it began to trill for attention.
"Yo," he called at the screen as it switched over to show the face of Detective Bobby Jensen, a friend of his from the precinct where he worked.
"Hey Darien, you got a problem," Bobby stated glancing about him nervously. "Inquisition was here looking for you, something about your case."
Darien set his beer down, sitting upright and staring in surprise. "But I filed it away like I was supposed to," he protested, knowing it was useless to protest to Bobby; once the Inquisition got it into their minds they wanted you...
He swallowed and stood up shakily; it meant trouble, and it always meant trouble. They didn't come looking for you unless you had done something wrong, but he hadn't done anything wrong, only his job...
"Thanks," Darien said, shutting down the comm. panel wondering what he was going to do. You couldn't say no to inquisitors, you couldn't run from them either, but if he went with them the chances that he wouldn't come back were high.
He steeled himself and grabbed his jacket, a gift from his parents last year at Christmas; it was warm and shapeless, it would at least give him something to hide in as he slipped out of the building. He swallowed twice, steadying his nerves; it was his job to uphold the law, not run from it. If he ran now, then he would be hunted down, driven into the ground, and executed in the street. Only the guilty ran.
He threw open the door and drew to a halt, the inquisitors in their nondescript black-on-black uniforms were standing on his doorstep.
The Amsus were standing easily, always looking like coiled adders about to strike. Their coal black eyes and unflattering oily black hair added to the sinister air about them. They were humanoid, but about as far removed from humanity as they could make themselves. No emotions played across their faces, no body language. They were ghastly pale, firm lipped and deadly.
"Detective Inspector Taine." It wasn't a question, the Inquisitors didn't make mistakes.
He quickly assessed his options, he could slam the door on them, make for the window, but he was nineteen stories up. He really had no choice, he stepped back and threw a sure smile onto his face. "Come in," he offered.
The taller of the two aliens stepped through the door, his long black coat sweeping as he stepped through. Amsus preferred simple clothing in unimaginative styles and there was very little distinguishing one from another. Darien guessed that was his own human prejudices showing through.
"You were investigating a case," The taller inquisitor stated, driving straight to the point. As aliens went, Amsus were remarkably abrupt, preferring not to waste time with pleasantries.
"A double murder, yes," Darien stated; he knew he should be nervous, but then he hadn't done anything.
"And you traced it back to one of our," the Amsus looked at his partner, "people."
"I pursued the investigation up until that point. I knew to turn it over to my superiors..." It was about the investigation, maybe some error in his report, some angle he had missed perhaps?
"That is all I needed to hear," the Amsus stated, drawing a weapon from beneath its black coat; it calibrated the cylindrical weapon and Darien felt a knot rising in his stomach. He was going to die.
He closed his eyes and found himself searching for a prayer; his mother had whispered most of them to him, telling him as a child they dated from a time before the Amsus, back when God had walked the earth...
There was a sharp crack, and the smell of ozone, and Darien opened a single eye as he realized he hadn't been the one shot. He saw the second Amsus look down at the hole in his chest and look up in surprise at his partner holding the gun before he collapsed to the carpet.
Darien stared in shock, looking back at the other one, who again recalibrated his weapon, taking long and very deliberate motions. He looked up at Darien, "For the crime of murdering a member of the Inquisition, I find you guilty."
Darien blinked, "But..."
"For the crime of hindering an investigation, I find you guilty. On the charge of being a member of the Fifth Column Resistance, I find you guilty..." He finished calibrating his weapon and lifted it, "You have been found guilty of crimes against the Hegemony, and your sentence is death."
Darien began to back up in abject shock, feeling his back pressing against the kitchen counter as the Amsus calmly levelled the weapon at him, his hands searching behind him for something, anything that could help him. His hand closed over the butcher knife...
* * *
San Francisco, Earth
He sprinted, knowing there was probably nowhere to run to. The Inquisition would track him down in short order, cutting off his avenues of escape one by one till he was forced to surrender himself to them. He had no choice but to run, he had only injured the inquisitor, buying himself enough time to get away, but now what?
He jogged along the streets in the early morning; people would be getting up and ready for work by now, commuting from the suburbs into the heart of downtown, bringing the city to life with them. How long had he been running?
He had to stop soon, figure things out, a course of action that would at least allow him to keep his life. If he called the station and turned himself in there it wouldn't save him. The Inquisition would have him in minutes, performing an execution on the spot. There would be no help there. His choices were limited, he needed to find a way to escape the Amsus. The Amsus-controlled earth, and that meant finding a way off-planet, vanishing into one of the backwater colonies.
He blew a sigh; the Amsus would have blockaded all the major spaceports. And they would expect him to try for the docks, sneaking aboard a commercial freighter was one of the oldest tricks in the book. No, Darien knew he would have to try something a little more unconventional.
The Amsus Military Garrison up on the Presidio overlooking San Francisco had been the natural site for the Amsus base-plenty of open space and it conveniently had facilities already in place for the Amsus to commandeer. Their Raptor-class frigates sat tantalizingly on the other side of a heavily patrolled fence.
He stuck his hands into the pockets of his coat as he walked up the perimeter road, trying to look inconspicuous as he strolled; by now his face had to be all over the news nets as everyone tried to track him down. He'd done the unthinkable; he'd attacked a member of the Inquisition and supposedly murdered another, which had to make him one of the most wanted individuals in San Francisco. And now he was contemplating how he was going to steal a ship.
He had to be insane; there was no other explanation for it.
Even if he could get to one of those Raptors, how on earth was he going to fly the thing? He had basic piloting skills, but all on the Terran police patrol cutters; they were nothing close to as sophisticated as an Amsus warship. He considered abandoning his idea, finding somewhere else to hide until the heat died down. But it didn't work like that, not with the Inquisition.
He was trapped by circumstances, alone and unarmed in the dim morning light trudging up the road, his shoes clicking a little on the asphalt. So close to a means of escape, the only thing that separated him from the ships was a double fence topped with coils of razor wire. There was going to be no way through that way, and the front gate was out of the question; they'd shoot him as soon as he attempted it.
What he needed was a miracle.
"Hey, Detective!" the voice nearly made him jump out of his skin and he squinted through the fence to see who was calling for him. He gaped in surprise as he recognized one of the patrol sergeants from his precinct waving to him from the far side of the fence.
The jovial sergeant Braddock thrust his hands into his pocket and sauntered up to the fence; he was dressed in his patrol gear, and looked like he was ready to go on duty. Which meant, for Darien, that there was a chance he hadn't heard the APB.
"Morning, Sarge," Darien called through the fence willing his heart to stop pounding. If he acted cool he might just be able to get out of there.
"You going up today?" Braddock asked, gesturing to the morning sky with his thermos of coffee.
"Supposed to," Darien said affixing a smile, noticing a couple of Amsus guards walking by. They didn't so much as turn their heads, Darien's luck was holding. "Just running a bit late this morning."
"It'll take you forever to get round to the gate," Braddock observed, moving to stand beside a small load lifter. He checked the passage of the guards, glad to see them far enough away to not look back. He quickly tapped the controls of the small crane used to load ordinance aboard the Raptors, swinging it out over the fence and dropping the cable a bit.
Darien shivered a little, looking nervously about as he stepped onto the crane's hook, and in moments he was up and over again, standing next to the sly-looking sarge. "Do that often?" he asked, brushing himself off, realizing he wasn't in uniform.
"Only when I want to take a girl up, sir, you know the regs; sometimes we have to bend them a little, eh?" He clapped Darien on the shoulder and winked conspiratorially. And Darien wondered what else the good sarge lifted over that wall; perhaps it was best he not ask too many questions. He wouldn't be the first Terran patrolman to supplement his income with a little contraband smuggling.
"Going undercover, sir?" Braddock asked as they both started walking to where the Terran ships were set; away from the main port, they were sheltered in inadequate buildings and poorly maintained. It was a wonder they could fly at all given the condition of the maintenance bays.
Darien glanced down at himself-still in his jeans and tee shirt with a jacket tossed overtop, he didn't look official in any capacity. He wasn't even armed let alone carrying a badge. He shrugged. "Didn't get a chance to change yet," he offered lamely as they crossed to Braddock's patrol shuttle, a trim-looking vessel that didn't show its age like most of the others, painted in the traditional blue and whites and mounting a set of lights on the top purely for the intimidation factor. All bark, but no bite.
"I've been there," Braddock said, climbing into the cockpit of the small four-seater craft which was really nothing more than an interceptor shuttle and wasn't designed to take on anything large, just chasing down cargo freighters and personal shuttles. "We started keeping some gear onboard our patrol shuttles, you might be able to borrow some of Hudson's gear-he's on vacation this week and won't miss it." Braddock waved towards a shuttle off to one side.
Darien flipped open the small cargo compartment and fished out the uniform, a little creased from being stored so unceremoniously, but beggars couldn't be choosers as he changed tucking his clothes and jacket back into the cargo pod. He glanced about as Sarge began the pre-flight warm-up on his patrol shuttle. Darien unholstered the service pistol, a Phased-Kinetic Disruptor or PKD, checking its charge. It was a nasty little weapon, packing quite a punch by rendering anyone shot with it unconscious by overloading their synapses; crank its output to full and you could cause massive haemorrhaging, killing instantly. He slipped it away and buckled the gun belt on, strapping the PKD to his thigh.
"You need a lift, Detective?" Braddock called out as the shuttle hummed to life, its lift engines engaging and causing it to hover.
There was something about the way Braddock said it that caused Darien to look up, the man smiled at him in understanding, the headset to the control tower held loosely in Braddock's hands.
"I don't know if that's such a good idea," Darien replied awkwardly.
Braddock smiled a distant smile, "Look detective, I don't know about you, but the moment they realize it was me helping you over that fence the Inquisition's going to string me up alongside you..." he looked grim, "Least this way I can pretend I never saw you. Come on, let's go before someone else hears that." He flipped open the passenger side hatch and Darien found himself climbing in. He stared at the gruff sarge still wondering why.
Braddock glanced at him and shrugged, powering up the engines and calling for take off clearance from the tower. "You wear blue," Braddock offered by way of explanation, sending the patrol shuttle up into the sky
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