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    Topher Lydon
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

The Falcon Banner - 10. Chapter 10

Embrace the light; see it in your soul.
Follow the path before you and carry the
word of his glory to the farthest reaches.

-Religious Text 'Benediction of the Emperor'

Eisenhower Station

The Raptor was sitting on a landing pad, its 'wings' folded upwards and its outboard engines cold and quiet. It had been a simple task moving the small frigate to the station, but Elias suggested he go over the vessel carefully in order to remove the safety guards the Amsus kept in place to ensure their ships were never stolen.

Darien was sitting in the cramped bridge of the vessel which had four main stations set two forward and two behind. There was a standard pilot's seat with HUD and displays around keeping the pilot advised of the situations going on around him. Beside that was the weapons station, with its tactical grids and weapons readouts. The rear two were set aside for engineering and the other was the radar station. For the size of the vessel, the bridge wasn't much larger than the Dragonfly's cockpit gondola.

The controls were unfamiliar, and he felt like he was sitting in a sports flyer, low to the centre of mass as he sat in the pilot's chair. The single stick controls felt comfortable, but he had grown used to the Dragonfly's double stick-it was going to take some getting used to. He looked above his head to the atmospheric gauges that would let him keep control flying through atmospheres; they were all set out so that he could get information at a glance. Even the black leather chair was designed for maximum efficiency.

"Hey," Elias said coming through into the bridge, ducking down under the overhead instrument panels as he clambered into the seat next to Darien. "I looked over the engines and they're in pretty good shape as near as I can tell. The weapons are exactly at spec... he's exactly as the engineering manuals say he should be."

"He?" Darien asked turning with a smile and leaning on the console. "I thought ships were she's?"

"The Amsus have real gender issues, warships are always 'guys'. In fact, he has a name: R-403."

"Let me guess," Darien said. "R is for Raptor?"

"Not very original, were they?" Elias conceded.

"Nope," Darien said. "How long until we are good to go?"

"I want to spend some time making some modifications, but I get the feeling we should get the hell away from Eisenhower soon." Elias shrugged, "Kendrick's got everything stowed in the hold, and our bags are tucked into our quarters."

"So we're good to go then?" Darien said sitting back into the chair and glancing over the controls one final time.

"Not quite," Lauren said coming forward into the small bridge, smiling at them both warmly as she sat down in one of the rear seats. Behind her Nazzien came in and Shale blocked the hatch. "We need to talk," she said firmly.

"You know," Darien said turning, "we've got to stop meeting like this."

Lauren smiled at him and shook her head. "No, we don't need help. It's..." she sighed and looked up at Shale for support. The behemoth simply shrugged his shoulders and smirked at her.

"The Protania's laid up," Nazzien cut in. "The next Orion ship isn't due through here for weeks, and even then there's no guarantee of work."

"What?" Darien asked in surprise.

Lauren held up a sheet of paper. "They paid us off," she said soberly. "The captain had no choice; with the ship laid up they can't afford to keep us all on so he discharged most of the crew."

Darien rubbed his temples looking over at her. "I can't afford to hire you..." he said softly. "We don't have that kind of money."

"No," Lauren said exchanging a look with Nazzien, "but you're probably going to end up at a port where we can find some work. In the meantime we work our passage..."

Darien looked over at Elias who shrugged, "I've got no problem with it."

"Well," Darien said thoughtfully, and simply nodded, "stow your gear; as soon as you're ready we'll be departing."

Lauren smiled, and Shale chuckled his enthusiasm as they walked back into the body of the frigate. Nazzien watched them go, looked down at Darien and up-nodded. "I don't wear Terran uniforms," he said with a firm look, turning to join his crewmates.

"Well skipper," Elias said from beside him, "I think you just got a crew."

"Seems like it," Darien replied, flexing his fingers as he pulled on his comm. headset and signalled Eisenhower control for departure clearance. "This is R-403 on docking platform 96 requesting clearance to depart."

"Granted R-403, good luck out there, Eisenhower out."

Darien waited long enough for Lauren to give him the signal that they were all aboard before he powered up the Raptor's engines. The frigate lifted from its perch atop the docking bay, and descended towards the great launch doors, his wings folding down and locking into place and his main drives powering up.

Once he cleared the station the main drives kicked in and the frigate powered ahead through the fleet of Commonwealth ships, some of them flashing signal lights in deference to the prize ship.

R-403's jump pods slipped out of their protective mountings powering up to full charge and kicking the Amsus vessel away from Port Eisenhower and the Jump Nexus.

* * *

Darien secured the ship's auto-navigation as it glided across the busy Roderin system. It was one of the Commonwealth's capital systems, a centre for culture and learning as well as massive shipyards where the Commonwealth's space-borne culture built its ships and set out on its voyages of discovery.

The Commonwealth had formed from some of the Empire's fringe and subject worlds. There were Terran colonies within the Commonwealth as well as an assortment of other races all spread out across an area of space called the Apilon Rift. The backwater Empire remained independent through a common idea that to stay that way every one had to be willing to fight for it.

The ships charting the space lanes were all independently owned and operated, even the larger ships, and all were armed. The Amsus didn't have the firepower it needed to take on a sector of space populated by armed privateers-it knew better than to try.

Darien slipped out of his seat and walked back along the central corridor of the ship, passing the two crew quarters and entering the common area, an octagonal room with bunks recessed into the bulkheads. It reminded Darien of a barracks, stark but functional with its recessed seating.

Shale was sitting happily on one of the two couches cleaning what looked like an Amsus assault rifle. He looked up from field-stripping the weapon and nodded. Darien returned the nod and carried on through the ship to the small shuttle bay. It wasn't large, designed to fit an Amsus courier shuttle that would ferry officers and crew to and fro when the ship wasn't able to dock. It was empty save for Kendrick and Lauren working to reassemble Kendrick's fighter.

He smiled as he realized Lauren had borrowed one of the old Imperial camouflage shirts, complete with its sword and arrow patch. It was becoming the makeshift badge of his crew. He wasn't sure if that was a good idea or not, but he couldn't' stop them from wearing what they wanted.

He wanted to get a good feel for the ship he was piloting so returned to the common room and climbed a metal-rung ladder up into the engineering spaces on the deck above.

It was cramped, dark and it smelled of engine oil-perfect for Elias who was tucked back between the two jump pods tinkering with some machinery. He grinned up at Darien leaning over him as he wiped some grease on his nose.

"Hey Skipper, I decided to get these engines a bit dirty, see what kind of power we can get out of them." He smiled, "I think if I add a turbo charger to the engines..."

"Where the hell are we going to get one of those?" Darien asked, smiling as he rested against one of the jump pods. "You know what, I think with you it's best not to ask."

Elias sat up and exchanged his tools, "If you can find us a station or something, I can see about upgrading some of these systems. First thing I want to get rid of is the radar suite, it's complete junk..."

"I'll see what I can arrange," Darien replied turning. He paused and looked back, "Does that include the Auto Masers?"

"Hell yeah!" Elias emphasized. "The turret on this thing is so old it's a wonder the Amsus haven't bothered to update it."

Darien nodded, turning and climbing back down into the common room, and carrying on down into the cargo hold beneath the common room. It was also cramped, but mainly because it was filled with containers, mostly seized contraband. The Amsus usually waited until the hold was full before they off-loaded. Nazzien was busy sorting through the crates trying to get an idea of exactly what they were carrying.

He was off towards the rear of the cargo bay by the rear loading ramp that was used to load and off-load cargo. He had the main armoury locker open and was inventorying the weapons stored there. He glanced up at Darien and waved with his pencil, scribbling some more notes on his clipboard.

"We have five assault rifles, two light machine guns, assorted pistols, nine suits of ceramic body armour and one helmet." He tapped the helmet sitting on a crate in front of him, "It's not much but should keep us going for awhile."

Darien nodded as he followed the Orion around the hold, "What are we carrying?"

Nazzien shook his head, "If it's illegal in the Hegemony then we have some of it. There's honey mead, cocaine, assorted narcotics." He paused and smiled as he tapped another crate with his pencil, "This one's full of Polian porn... you know this stuff will fetch a fortune on the black market."

"I wouldn't doubt it," Darien said as he passed by the small brig, really a large box of metal bars, chains and a couple of bunks. It made him shiver thinking about how the Amsus treated their prisoners.

"I can give you a better inventory once I crack the Amsus inventory code," he gestured to a computer on the wall. "Or, we land and I can crack open some more of these crates. For the time being I can say we have a lot of stuff that will get us into a lot of trouble if we try to off-load it somewhere reputable."

"So we want somewhere where questions won't be asked," Darien replied, realizing he had been saying that phrase a lot lately. He shook his head as he climbed back up to the main deck and walked back towards his cabin.

There were two cabins onboard the ship; it had been an unspoken decision that Lauren should have one, being the only woman on ship meant she needed her privacy. The other had just been assumed as his. He waited for the blast door to slide back and entered his cabin.

It boasted a double bed: surprising, but there were perks to being an Amsus officer, it seemed. Its last tenant had been fastidiously neat and the room was very clean. Charts and Amsus fleet operations manuals lined one wall above a metal desk. Paperwork was neatly filed away along with a log computer sitting idle upon it waiting for the next entry.

Darien looked down at his bags that had been set upon the end of the bed ready to be unpacked, ready for him to settle in to the new vessel. His new vessel. An infamous Amsus Raptor, scourge of the Hegemony space lanes. It was a hunter, he could sense it in the walls about him, in the vibrating of the deck beneath his feet, and he was its master.

He slid open the side door and checked out the small bathroom, everything in its place, a working shower and wash basin, a wardrobe on the other wall which was packed with Amsus uniforms. He shook his head pulling them out, adamant that he was going to get rid of them. There was something rejuvenating as he hung the salvaged Imperial uniforms up in the Raptor's captain's quarters. Something that felt like poetic justice.

Feeling better he walked back into the main part of his cabin and smiled as he noticed Elias had left his afghan from the Dragonfly on the edge of his bed. A small gesture that made him smile as he spread it out on the bed. There, now it felt more like a home.

He finished unpacking his bags, setting VonGrippen's meditations and the Imperial corvette's logbook on the desk, tapping the logbook thoughtfully. VonGrippen had written in his meditations about the battles that had taken place in the Apilon Rift. He had made his name fighting on the edge of the frontier, returning as a hero to an Empire that elevated him to champion its defence. It made no sense that a man who had spent so much time fighting for the Empire would turn his back on it.

He turned the chair around and sat down at the desk, picking up the meditations and flipping it to the place where he had stopped, continuing to read the thoughts of a man long since dead and gone.

* * *

He glanced up at the gentle tap at his door, and he checked his watch, yawning; he'd been reading for hours, and it had crept towards being very late. He got up from the bed, yawning again as he slid open the door on a bleary-eyed Elias wrapped in a blanket.

"Can't sleep?" Darien asked, and as the young man nodded he stepped back to let Elias in.

He shook his head with a fond smile as he went back to his book, closed and marked the page and slid over so that Elias could sleepily climb into the bed. The young engineer didn't say anything, and Darien didn't ask him as his breathing eased and steadied into a set rhythm. All it seemed to take was for him to touch Darien and he was out like a light.

Darien reached out and turned out the light, bathing the cabin in the light from the observation port in the bulkhead that showed the stars travelling by. He lay there for a time with one hand behind his head, staring up at the bulkhead above him listening to his companion sleep and thinking about the strange turns his life had taken since that last night on Earth.

Elias rolled to move closer, throwing an arm across Darien's chest, and Darien idly played with the young man's strawberry blond hair, accepting the intimacy of the moment, wondering what it was that afflicted the engineer that kept him from sleeping. Some unmentioned horror of the past that still haunted him, a memory that Elias couldn't talk about, but could never forget.

Darien heaved a sigh, just another person whose life had been torn apart by the uncaring universe intent on inflicting nothing but misery. He'd become close to Elias since their flight from Jorten's chop shop, their time together making them fast friends, close in ways that would never be permitted under the Amsus Code of Morality. Ways that Darien wasn't ready to acknowledge, but instead was content to just ignore.

He settled down to sleep, turning his head inwards and falling asleep as the stars drifted by.

* * *

R-403 in the morning was a place of utter chaos that would have made the former occupants shriek in dismay. Gone were the days of orderly lines waiting to use the shower, coffee pot or kitchen facilities. It became every man, Orion, Taïrian or woman for themselves. It all started when Darien had woken up and noticed Elias was already up and using the shower... willingly...

He realized at that point, sitting up in bed, his hair in disarray, that Elias always woke up first. He put that together with the grease smell he could remember smelling on him every morning, and the relaxed look on Elias's face. He looked down at the empty bed beside him and shook his head with a chuckle.

"You little bastard," he said aloud getting up and straightening the bed as Elias sheepishly poked his head out of the bathroom.

"Coffee?" Elias offered, his eyes looking a bit timid; it was the first time he had really been caught, and he really had nowhere to scamper off to.

Darien chuckled, deciding to just drop the matter, "Sure, I'll be there in a few minutes."

After he showered and dressed he wandered back to the common area. Nazzien and Kendrick were arguing over who got the communal shower cubical next behind Shale who had been smart enough to set his alarm five minutes before the other two.

Lauren was seated on one of the couches sipping a cup of Elias's coffee and watching the Commonwealth news feed; she looked pristine and refreshed. Holding her mug she looked up at Darien as he fetched his own mug and joined her.

She gave him a knowing look, glancing over at Elias who was poking through a refrigeration unit for some breakfast. She blessedly didn't say anything, turning her attention to the news broadcast that was talking about the Protania and its daring run through an Amsus blockade.

"We made the news," she observed, tipping her mug at the wall monitor.

"I see that," Darien replied watching as the alien broadcaster described the events as reported by people interviewed. Apparently the Amsus government was furious, blaming the Fifth Column and one of its resistance leaders, a Captain Taine, for the incident.

"You're famous, captain," Lauren observed in mild amusement.

"You'd think I was the only bloody person on the ship," Darien grumbled shaking his head and standing up. "I'm going to the bridge to figure out where we're going."

Lauren nodded and got up as well, following him forward and sliding into the chair beside him as he took the helm. "What is our next move, Captain?" she asked pointedly.

"I have no idea," Darien admitted after a moment's thought. "We need to set down somewhere. Places with refit facilities and where we can sell our cargo."

"Let me guess," Lauren said with a smirk. "No questions asked?"

"Got it in one," Darien replied taking a drink from his coffee mug and setting it down in a slot that vaguely resembled a cup holder. It was probably a brace for some piece of equipment, but for the time being Darien was content to improvise.

"Well, this is the Apilon Rift, the Commonwealth doesn't usually ask any questions. But considering Nazzien was telling me what we were carrying I think we still need to find a less... savoury port." Lauren thought a moment and leaned down to the central navigation console, calling up the star charts for their region of space. "We have a couple of options-Tameric station or the Karin outpost. Tameric is a little more mainstream, but Karin is the kind of place we can get everything we need and the only question asked is how much credit do you have."

"Karin..." Darien said thoughtfully. "That was a former Imperial world."

"High seat of the Archduke Walker von Karin," Lauren replied. "It was rough even back then if I know my history. It's now a major privateering port, lots of retired... individuals have settled there. It is supposedly a great place to go hunting."

"Do I want to know what?" Darien asked.

"Just don't go outside of the city," Lauren said inputting the coordinates into the navigational computer.

Darien computed the jump and settled back as he engaged the jump drive.

* * *

It was winter in the Karin capital as R-403 descended through the dark snow clouds to land at the large spaceport network that seemed to spread for miles around the city's suburban sprawl. Its wings folded back as its landing gears extended touching down on the let pad, the engines cooling and the rear ramp sliding down.

Darien powered down the vessel, moving back through the ship as his crew made ready to disembark. Darien grabbed a pair of gloves out of the equipment in the main hold as he walked down the ramp checking the charge on his PKD.

One look showed he wasn't the only one that felt the need to be prepared-Shale had a fully loaded tactical shotgun tucked under his arm and a belt of extra ammunition slung over one shoulder. Lauren was carrying one of the assault rifles, and even Kendrick had strapped on one of the pistols.

Elias looked at them in surprise as he remained at the top of the boarding ramp. The agreement was for him and Nazzien to remain with the ship while the others went off to find the parts needed for the refit. Nazzien was anxious to get rid of some of the cargo and sort through the rest of it, and it didn't hurt to ensure the ship was properly guarded.

Darien tipped his hat to Elias as he led the way out of the walled landing area into the spaceport complex. Karin city was built upon a plateau high above a beautiful snow-scape below. It was the kind of place Darien had read about-high walled cities with towering sky scrapers intermixed with smaller buildings, and further up the mountain was the Archduke's fortress, one of the last to survive the fall of the Empire.

It still flew the yellow wolf's head banner of the von Karin family, fluttering in the grey sky proudly a testament to a legacy long dead. Darien looked up at it as he led the way through the cold streets filled with people hurrying to their destinations or to various bars scattered about the city.

Kendrick smiled and separated from them at that point, off to run his own errands, leaving the three others to carry on while he crossed the street heading for the central merchant's district.

A couple of Karin soldiers, dressed in arctic gear and carrying heavy-looking rifles marched past them, their officer taking enough time to spot the patches on Darien's jacket and the insignia on his collar, before he snapped off a crisp salute that was mirrored by his men.

"Someone's popular," Lauren said with a smile stepping up behind him. "You sure you're not a resistance leader?" she teased.

"Shut up," Darien groaned back at her as they crossed the street heading for the address of a reputable... well, about as close as they could expect on Karin, parts dealer.

The warehouse was large, ships tucked about it in the process of being stripped down, all makes and models, parts scattered about all over the place, including a large-bored Ion cannon that took up an entire corner and dwarfed even the largest ship inside.

Darien whistled, it reminded him of Jorten's chop shop, but on a grander scale. They walked past the salvage teams working to junk a Polian vessel that had seen better days. The dealer was a wiry Terran woman who sat in an office overlooking the shop floor. She greeted them with a curt nod as they entered, clearing space in front of her as she leaned forward to inspect them.

"What do you need..." she asked, driving right to the point; her eyes flickered in surprise as they drifted over Darien's uniform and his insignia, "...Captain?"

Darien nodded and lifted the clipboard he was carrying with Elias's list on it; he scanned it and handed it over to the dealer who in turned blinked as she scanned it over.

"You're looking to modify a Raptor?" she asked, guessing from the technical information on the parts specified-she knew her craft very well.

Darien nodded, "That's right..."

She nodded, "You're that Fifth Column Resistance leader, Taine, the one they keep talking about on the news broadcasts, the one that captured an Amsus Raptor single-handedly."

Lauren suppressed a giggle, and even Shale barked out a short laugh.

Darien rolled his eyes at them, "No, I had some help. But I'm looking to fit her out properly..."

"Of course," the dealer replied. "Give me a day or two and I can get you most of what's on this list, provided you can pay."

"I have the money," Darien reassured.

"Glad to hear it; welcome to Karin, Captain. It's nice to have a bona fide hero in our midst for a change instead of cutthroats, pirates and privateers."

* * *

They were making their way back to the landing pad when a couple of Karin officers intercepted them; the two soldiers saluted and held the traditional imperial salute until Darien returned it.

"With respects, Captain Taine," the first of the officers said-a lieutenant from his rank insignia. "The Archduke bids you and your first officer join him for dinner at the citadel."

Darien glanced at Lauren who shrugged. "Very well;" Darien replied, "we'll be there."

The two officers saluted again and marched off in a whirl of great coats and brass buttons, leaving a rather surprised Darien to stare after them.

"And friends in high places," Lauren mused. "So which one of us is your first officer?"

Darien shrugged. "That would be you," he said with a smirk. If he had to go to a formal dinner, she sure as hell would have to suffer alongside him. He walked back to the ship finding the Raptor already unloaded and Nazzien in the process of negotiating a fair price for some of the merchandize.

The Orion glanced up and smiled as Darien boarded the Raptor heading for his quarters, wondering how on earth he was going to look presentable for dinner with the Archduke. He settled into his quarters, throwing his leather jacket over the back of his chair and walking through to the wardrobe, pulling out the captain's dress uniform that Elias had saved from the corvette.

The uniform, with its sharp blue lines, gold brocade on the sleeves and blood red lapels, was pressed neatly and had stood the passing of years well. He set it out and showered again, taking the time to shave carefully before he tried the uniform on. His hands nervously buttoned the top button of the collarless white shirt up and slipped the heavy tunic over the top.

He blinked at his reflection. An Imperial Captain, straight from a history book staring back at him with the bearing of a man born to wear the uniform. He barely recognized himself. Brass, medal ribbons and golden wings. None of which he had earned, he knew, but it was all he had to wear that would pass for appropriate for the occasion, and he nervously fiddled with the collar.

When he stepped out of his quarters the crew of R-403 were standing around the common room staring at him in shock. Even Lauren who had donned the Orion dress uniform she had worn on the Protania, swallowed and stared at him openly.

"Holy crap!" Elias exclaimed, summing up the feelings in the room.

"Do I look ok?" Darien asked, self-consciously brushing down the uniform, feeling very aware of what he was wearing.

Copyright © 2011 Topher_Lydon; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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Having gained a reputation, Damien seems to be a bit surprised by his reception in the Commonwealth.  He is now perceived as a hero and a leader.  Elias is still very focused on him as is Lauren.  There are some very interesting relational dynamics at work.  I wonder where Kendrick will fit in all this.  I am very much enjoying this engaging crew of many talents.  Also a plot that flows nicely and compellingly.   

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A melting pot of relational dynamics to be sure. Kendrick has gone quiet. An Archdale as a friend will be good for Darien, the new hero of the 5th column.

A most engaging tale. Thank you Topher.

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Captain Tain...what have you wrought...One can be sure that images of him in the dress uniform will make the news feed...

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