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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 - 11. Chapter 11

The glory of the Empire is sometimes lost in the memories
of its splendour. The Imperial palace was the scene of
a massive court, a convergence of nobility from throughout
its borders that met and entertained, loved and danced all
beneath a massive crystal dome Did they dance on that final night?
When Amsus weapons rained death down upon their capital?

-Archduke Francesco 'The Fall of the Empire'

Karin city

The city was brightly lit; despite the snow falling down there was a feeling of warmth emanating from the bars scattered throughout the city streets. It was a place of lights, of life, of sound and celebration.

Darien walked through the streets with Lauren, the two 'officers' of R-403 making their way towards the citadel that sat above the city. There was an air of age about the place as they walked, of a time long past. Of how Earth was, and how Humanity had once been as well.

Some of the Karin soldiers, recognizing his uniform, offered up crisp salutes, puzzled expressions on their faces as their eyes glided down to the blood-red lapels of his uniform. Darien felt uneasy, again reminded that he was wearing something he had not earned.

The citadel was an old fortress, one that no longer served a purpose of a frontier outpost. It had been built during a time of strife in the Apilon Rift, a bastion of Imperial might and a bulwark against the storm of war. But the wars were long past, and it had become the formal residence of Karin's governor, the Archduke.

The ceremonial guards at the broad gates snapped to attention as they walked up the approach road; they were expected it seemed, and they were ushered inside the great walls.

Darien was glad to be out of the cold, brushing down his tunic to remove the snow that had collected there as he looked around him at the entry hall. It resonated old Imperial majesty, great stones and a smooth floor, readily defensible yet still functional. The Wolf's head banner hung on either side of the doors that led deeper into the fortress. It wasn't a palace, it had never been designed for that purpose, and even the artwork reflected that as the two officers were escorted through the halls and chambers of the mountain fortress towards the residence.

There were rugs and tapestries, all depicting events in the von Karin family history, portraits of men in Imperial uniforms, all wearing dress uniforms with yellow lapels; it seemed to be the mark of the house of Karin, and Darien idly touched his red ones, wondering what house they marked him as.

They were shown into a great hall, low tables set up in a banquet style, the upper class citizenry of Karin of all races standing around in clusters talking amongst themselves as a small band played in one corner providing simple music that added to the background chatter.

"Not much of a party," Lauren murmured, and Darien grinned. They had passed some bars on the way up to the fortress that had sounded lively and exciting; compared to them the one at the Archduke's residence was sombre and sedate.

Darien looked about him, at the Karin officers watching him questioningly; they weren't the only ones dressed in uniforms, and there was a great assortment of dress costumes and outfits, from the outlandish to the simple. There were a number of Orion uniforms in the mix judging from their distinctive cut-at least Lauren blended in.

"Captain Taine?" a tall man with a black Vandyke beard and grey hair at his temples approached. He was wearing a Karin military uniform without adornment or rank insignia. But braced over his shoulders was a heavy wool and leather greatcoat with gold brocade, the wolf's head set on each dull yellow lapel.

The Archduke inspected Darien with mild amusement, taking in the uniform, insignia and distinctive reds. "It's been a long time since a member of the house VonGrippen has made its presence felt in the Apilon Rift," he announced formally.

There was a murmur through the crowd and a couple of individuals, who wore more ornate uniforms than the others, came forward to inspect the newcomer. Darien squared his shoulders, and felt a need to explain.

"I..." he began.

"This is the infamous Captain Taine who helped the trade-liner Protania escape the Amsus at the Haligonian jump nexus," the Archduke stated turning to face his guests, resting a hand on Darien's shoulder. "The same man who captured an Amsus warship in the process and has been branded a terrorist and pirate by every Hegemony news broadcast..." He smiled with a broad and expressive grin, "Which makes him welcome in my house." He clapped Darien's shoulder, "Come, someone fetch this man a drink, by god he's earned one."

Archduke Walker von Karin was a gracious host, a boisterous man who listened to Darien's tale with interest as they sat at the head table, waiting for the meal to be brought forward. For the figurehead leader of his planet, the archduke was a jovial man with a keen eye and a sharp intellect. He asked pointed questions throughout the story, grinning like a madman as Darien explained about the boarding action aboard the Protania.

Walker gave a nod of satisfaction as Darien concluded, reaching out to pick up a tankard of lager that had been poured for him. "You're a bold man storming an Amsus Raptor with only two men," he said after a pause. "It sounds like the Amsus bit off more than they could chew pissing you off."

There was a chuckle around the room from the circle of listeners that had positioned themselves on tables and chairs to hear what Darien had to say, and Darien felt relaxed enough to loosen his tie and undo his top button.

"It had to be done," he explained. "It was either take the ship or let them take off leaving a gaping hole in the hull to suck me out of."

"Good point," Walker replied with a toothy grin. "I respect an honest man, but tell me Captain, why wear VonGrippen's colours?"

Darien sighed as his tankard was refilled by one of the other guests, and he shrugged, "It seemed the only decent thing, and I didn't think you'd approve if I turned up in an Amsus dress uniform."

Walker screwed up his nose in distaste, "They're so bland; if there's one thing I can say about the Amsus it's that they have no sense of style."

Darien nodded as he drank from his mug.

* * *

Elias peeled his sweaty shirt off his wiry torso as his lithe body writhed to the pulsating music. He was in pure heaven. Nothing could bother him when he was on the dance floor. He stretched his arms upward to the sky, oblivious of those around him and just let his body move. He didn't notice the stares of the men at the bar... he didn't notice the stares of the men around him on the dance floor, men wanting to touch him, dance with him, fuck him. He didn't notice anyone else in the room. He was lost, dancing in his own world; he was free.

The crew of R-403 had decided, while the cat's away the mice would play. Since Darien and Lauren had gone up to the Archduke's residence the others felt a need to hit the town, to experience the night life, to forget who they were for awhile and just lose themselves.

Shale, never the type for clubbing, let alone on a world such as Karin, decided to remain with the ship where he could work on the small project he had steadfastly refused to discuss with anyone. Elias had naturally been curious as the Taïrian had acquired some things from town and looked content to just enjoy his night alone.

Kendrick and Nazzien were sitting up at a table watching him on the dance floor of the club as he just enjoyed moving. Nazzien engaged in innocent flirtations with his server as Kendrick stared about him intensely, the man not relaxing for a second.

Well, let him be uptight, Elias thought as he continued to dance, grinning at the couple of teenagers near him who tried to match what he was doing. One of the advantages of being a construct was a natural rhythm that came in handy when...

He pushed the thought away; tonight wasn't a night for that. It was a night to just let go, to forget about things and just... dance.

He sighed, pulling his tee shirt back on as he made his way towards the bathrooms in the crowded bar. It was a place of drugs, of sex, of anything goes. He didn't want to think about what was going on in the other stalls; he suppressed a grin as he hopped over a tentacle protruding from under one of the doors, and he dodged around another couple making out furiously pressed up against the urinals. It was funny, but bars were bars no matter what planet he was on, and the bathrooms were rarely, if ever, used for what they were designed for.

He slipped into a stall that was vacated by an overtly enthusiastic lesbian couple, one was definitely an Orion, the other looked vaguely blue but beyond that Elias didn't care to guess. He just smiled politely and used the facilities.

Done, he opened the door and nearly walked into the broad chest of a human being, gap-toothed and reeking of beer. Elias swallowed as he looked up at the massive man. "Excuse me..." he began, trying to squeeze past.

A beefy arm snaked out to block his way, "What's the hurry?" The man's breath stank, and Elias involuntarily took a step backwards realizing he had nowhere to go.

"I...I'm not interested," Elias stated resolutely, his eyes darting about for a way to get out of there, but he was trapped in the small cubicle.

The man's grin broadened. "You are a pretty one, aren't you," he stated, his eyes sweeping over Elias, drinking him in. But the frown flickered a moment to faint recognition, "Your... no, he's dead-died years ago..." He sneered, "You're a fucking construct!" He spat the words out in utter disgust, pushing away from the door and backing up. "You tried to trick me!" he accused.

Elias took this as an opportunity to sprint for the door and get out, but those gigantic hands came down and caught him neatly, "No, you'll fetch a pretty price, I think. If not at the slave market then the game wardens will want you."

* * *

The evening was wearing to a close, a number of the guests had returned to their ships or to their homes, and Darien kept glancing at his watch thinking it was probably time he and Lauren did the same.

Lauren, however, had very different ideas; she was draped across the arm of the Archduke's chair laughing along with his jokes as he described yet another anecdote of childish misadventures. She was obviously enthralled with the man; he was charismatic, bright and very charming. Darien contemplated just leaving her at the fortress and letting nature take its course...

"You know," Walker stated turning to face Darien, "this is probably the last corner of the Empire left, a rotten little hole filled with the dregs of the galaxies." He chuckled, obviously drunk, "The grand Empire that was supposed to last a thousand years..." he shook his head taking another drink, "Done in by one man's pride, or by another man's treason-there are always two sides to every story...."

"Yeah," Darien replied, his fingers tracing the red lapels of his tunic, "what do you believe?"

Walker laughed, "My father would have you believe that Kardiac was right, we could have ruled the entirety of known space..." He saluted a portrait on the wall, "I, however, have a more pragmatic view, that VonGrippen, that wily old bastard, knew something the rest of us didn't. And wherever he went with his Guard... Well ours is not to know, we're just the poor sons of bitches stuck living their legacy."

Darien looked up at the portrait, at the stern old man staring back down at him, Walker's father. "Yeah," he agreed after a moment's pause, "you think it'll ever change?"

"The universe? Or our lot in it?" Walker replied musing on the question. "I think that no matter what happens it'll never be the same. The Empire is dead, and with it all of this..." he gestured about him again with his tankard. "This place is a shadow of a memory kept alive by tradition. I have no real power, I sit in a room rubber-stamping documents fed to me by the Karin ruling council... We have no military past my ceremonial guard who I wouldn't trust to know the firing end of a rifle from the stock... If I am all that's left of an Empire then it is truly over."

Darien shrugged, "I don't know, as long as there is something to believe in there is always hope..."

"Hope in the form of a young man in a scavenged uniform in a shanty town in the middle of nowhere." Walker laughed again, "You want to make it official? By the authority vested in my by the immortal emperor (who's dead by the way) I grant you a commission in the Imperial Navy and the rank of Captain." He chuckled and gestured for one of his servants and instructed him to fetch the appropriate writs. "Now Captain, take your fleet of one ship and bring some hope to us wayward wretches."

The papers were brought forward and Walker signed them, affixing his seal and handing them over to Darien. "It's a futile gesture," he laughed. "I could make you an admiral and it still wouldn't do you any good..."

Darien stood up, slipping the commission into his pocket. "I should get back to my ship," he stated firmly.

"Go, Captain," Walker said setting his boots up on the edge of the table and leaning in to steal a kiss from Lauren. "Go."

* * *

Darien walked up the boarding ramp and onto his ship, his mind elsewhere as he thought about the decadent ruins, the shadows of a memory as the archduke had so poetically put it. He climbed the ladder into the crew compartment and walked past Shale who was busily sewing patches onto a coat, the Taïrian looking up at him, pins clenched between the lips of its muzzle and a questioning look on his face.

"Long story," Darien replied, pouring himself a mug of coffee as he swept the dress tunic off and tucked it over his arm. "What are you doing?" he asked, puzzled.

Shale held up the jacket he was working on, in his size, with the Imperial patches borrowed from a spare set of fatigues. It was an old Taïrian-style uniform the creature was putting together, taking his time and ensuring it looked correct.

Darien stood staring at the jacket awhile, a knot in his stomach. Was everyone around him insane? He wore the uniform because he had nothing else, but the rest of his crew were adopting it as well, from their own choice. Darien opened his mouth to say something, but one look into Shale's proud eyes made him pause. The Taïrian wasn't trying to make a fashion statement; he was sewing the uniform because he had chosen to do so.

A matter of faith.

Darien nodded. "It looks good," he said, tilting his coffee mug as he walked back to his cabin, leaving the Taïrian to his work

With the door closed he sat down at his desk, pulling the Archduke's commission from his pocket, straightening the ornate paper and looking down at the words. Were they merely words? Was the Archduke right; was the Empire truly over and done with? Everything Darien had experienced so far-the Amsus propaganda, the Protania's captain risking everything, Lauren's loyalty-it all told him that an idea never truly died as long as someone believed in it.

He flipped through VonGrippen's meditations again, rereading the section the Admiral had written about his experiences in the Apilon Rift. Of how he pulled the warring peoples together and forced them to sit and talk through their differences, forging them into an alliance, one that was ready for membership into the Empire.

It didn't read like a man who would just give up, VonGrippen was a man who saw beyond the bureaucracy and decadence of the Empire to the ideals behind it. The foundation of which was the utter failure of democracy.

He glanced up at the door as someone knocked at it, probably Elias home from wherever he and the others had gone. He closed the book and set it aside as he slid open the door and frowned at a worried-looking Kendrick.

"Have you seen Elias?" Kendrick asked.

"No," Darien replied cautiously. "Why, he wasn't with you?"

"No... Well he was, at the club, but one minute he was there and the next he wasn't..."

Darien sighed as he walked back to his chair and grabbed his leather jacket from the back of it. Slipping it over the rest of the dress uniform he walked back towards the cargo hold where Nazzien was waiting agitatedly.

"When did you see him last?" Darien asked, reaching into the weapons locker and pulling out his PKD and strapping it on.

"He was at the club," Kendrick assured, "the bar on third and main... he was there one minute and was gone the next."

Nazzien shook his head, "Fucking slaver's got him, the only explanation..."

"We don't know that," Darien replied to the Orion's pessimism. "He could have...well you know..."

Nazzien and Kendrick exchanged a look that Darien missed. "That... doesn't sound like Elias," Kendrick stated, doing up the jacket of his flight suit and grabbing one of the Amsus SMG's.

"Yeah, I agree with Kendrick," Nazzien said choosing his words with care. "Look, this world has a booming flesh market... he's a good-looking kid..."

"All right, all right I get it," Darien said, walking down the ramp and looking up at the night sky with snow drifting down.

Shale tramped down the boarding ramp, his shotgun under his arm, and the new uniform jacket on. He ignored the stares of the other two shipmates as he gave a meaningful look at the captain, one that indicated he wasn't about to be left behind.

"Good point," Darien said looking at Shale and blinking. The Taïrian had dyed his muzzle fur, broad white stripes from his snout back behind his head giving him the appearance of an oversized badger, and the look in his eyes said he had the disposition to match.

"Someone should stay with the ship," Darien insisted.

Kendrick and Nazzien exchanged looks and Nazzien went back up the boarding ramp. Kendrick had been a part of the crew longer and Nazzien had contacts with the locals he could better use from the shipboard comm. system.

That decided, the three crewmembers set out to find their missing crewman.

* * *

The Karin flesh market was a warren of cages, some hanging suspended from cables, others dug into pits allowing purchasers to see down into them. Karin was a city that never seemed to sleep, and there was always business to be found in the small hours of the morning by beings leaving bars and looking for a distraction.

Darien hated places like that. He'd seen several in his Ter-Sec days. Mars had a booming slave industry fed by its genetic cloning vats. They filled a niche market inside the Hegemony exploiting the fact that constructs, under Hegemony law, had no rights.

Kendrick shook his head in disgust. "This...this isn't right," he spat out, Shale grunting his agreement as they wound their way through the cages trying to find a single familiar face in crowds of thousands.

"We should split up," Darien stated. "Cover more ground that way. If you find him..." he was about to say contact the others, but they weren't carrying radios, "whistle."

Shale looked at him with gruff bemusement, no doubt wondering how he was supposed to whistle through his muzzle. But Darien had already struck out, desperately searching for his lost crewman.

He passed what looked like an aquarium, with sickly-looking women swimming in murky water, and a cage containing a pair of Rekar who had their wings clipped to keep them from flying away. It was appalling the treatment some of these beings had been subjected to.

Darien's mind began to imagine dark thoughts about what was happening to Elias and he began to hurry faster, his hand gripping the PKD he didn't even realize he had drawn. He rounded a cage and saw Kendrick up ahead, the former colonist extended his arms and shook his head, and Darien hurried in the opposite direction.

He hated this world; he hated its fallen glory, its decay. He came around another set of cages, ignoring the desperately clutching hands reaching out to him, begging him for help, and he saw Elias.

The young man was being dragged, his hands bound behind him as he slipped in the slush and muck. He scrambled to his feet and tried to keep up with the large Terran dragging him by a leash... A human being doing that to another human being.

The PKD shot echoed around the cages, and panicked slaves scrambled away from him as interested clients cleared the way in front of Darien. The Human dragging Elias turned, a scowl on its face as it realized Darien's weapon was now securely trained on him.

"Who the fuck are you?" he spat out, spittle flying from his words as he spoke, anger and confusion on his face

"You have my crewman!" Darien stated angrily, his PKD not wavering in his hand.

Around him other creatures drew their weapons, most of them training them on Darien, and the young captain realized he was in trouble. He swallowed, ignoring the numerous weapons barrels pointed at him by slavers, dealers and buyers and kept his weapon pointed squarely at the man holding Elias's leash.

"This is yours?" The man jerked the leash and Elias gasped in pain as he was wrenched upright, his face bruised, but his eyes gleaming as he recognized Darien.

"That's right," Darien stated calmly. "He's one of my crew members."

The human slaver laughed, "Right a crew member. I see no ownership papers for this...thing." He jerked the leash again.

"I don't need any," Darien replied taking a step forward, the PKD still trained on the slaver. "I have all the proof I need trained at your head."

There was a loud clack-clack, as Shale pushed his way through the crowd to stand with his captain, the Taïrian levelling the large shotgun at the people pointing guns at Darien. A few of them backed down, putting their weapons away as they tried to get away from the brewing conflict.

"How much is your construct worth to you?" the human slaver sneered wrenching the leash and causing Elias to stagger up against him. The Slaver gripped him firmly by the back of the neck and smirked at Darien, "You have good taste..."

He froze as Kendrick emerged from the crowd behind him, pushing the barrel of his SMG into the back of the large man's head.

"I really would rather you let my friend go," Kendrick stated, his clipped accent causing his words to ring. "I would rather hate to have to pull this trigger, you see." He pressed the weapon a little harder.

They slaver's eyes darted about to see if anyone would come to his aid, but most of those so eager to help him when it was just the one man pointing a gun at him, weren't so eager now there were three. He snarled in frustration and released Elias, pushing him forward roughly and causing the young man to slip and fall face first into the muck.

"Take him," he hawked and spat on Elias as he pushed past Kendrick and rejoined the crowd.

Darien holstered his PKD, helping Elias to his feet and getting the restraints off him, unhooking the leash and tossing the thing aside. The four shipmates continued back towards the exit of the flesh market, Shale and Kendrick keeping their weapons at the ready in case someone tried to stop them.

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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There seems to be a spirit of loyalty building here, probably because of the number of disparate people caught in the same circumstances, but they certainly are strange bedfellows!

Edited by Will Hawkins
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Darien had an interesting time at the Archduke's party.  He is the first officer of the Imperial Navy in in millennia.  He now captains the only ship in the navy.  When he returns to the ship, he has to go out to rescue Elias.  I am sure that Darien heard and understood the kidnapper when he referred to Elias as a construct.  I wonder how the crew will deal with the news.  Great chapter, although a painful reminder of a broken empire.

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As I said earlier, Elias should have been honest.  I don't think the fact he did not gave anyone the right to take him.

The Grand Duke will come back into play at some point.  Darien chose to remind some of the old guard in the past, that can be a good think or a bad one; we will just have to see which.

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Well the Archduke gave Darien legitimacy as an Imperial Officer, for what that is worth. I believe those commission papers will prove important in the future.

I'm glad that Elias' secret is in the open. I don't think it will make any difference to the free/family that is developing. 

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Personally, I would have neutered the slaver but all's well that ends well...Did Captain Taine and crew just gain some legitimacy???

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