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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 - 14. Chapter 14

Darkness descends, but you must hold!
The devil beats at our gates, but you must hold!
You have been betrayed, but you must hold...
For the all our sakes, you must hold!

-Kardiac 'Last signal transmitted to Earth'

Imperial Outpost Theta-10

R-403 was buffeted by wind and rain as he swept low through the storm clouds towards the remote Commonwealth outpost on the edge of nowhere. Behind them Kendrick's fighter was lining up to land on the open shuttle bay. They didn't have much time for that kind of manoeuvre, but given that the pirates had to be close on their heels, eager for blood, Darien was hoping that if he could get the fighter stowed and the Raptor down under the storm they might be able to go unnoticed.

The Raptor's great turbine intakes roared as he ploughed through the cover of a dark storm that was brewing across the tropical hemisphere. Given that the Pirate's sensors were probably nowhere close to being sensitive enough to pick up a power source under an electrical storm Darien was hoping to get lucky.

Lauren had her comm. headset on, calling ahead to the outpost, hoping they would offer them some level of sanctuary from the warship that would be entering orbit behind them. "...This is the independent privateer vessel R-403 calling outpost Theta-10, come in please..."

Darien shook his head, gritting his teeth, "There's no guarantee they're going to help us, I should find somewhere to put the ship down and we can hope Ra'sha'gar lost us under these clouds."

Lauren shook her head, "We need help..." They'd only just made it to the planet ahead of the destroyer; the pirate hadn't given up easily in his chase, following them through the jump and hounding them every step of the way to the planet.

They both started at the comm. as a voice replied to Lauren's calls. "What do you want?" it snapped irritably.

"...Outpost Theta-10, this is R-403... requesting landing clearance..." Lauren sat back in her seat and looked out the bridge observation ports at the rain slashing down.

"Request denied," the voice snapped. "Approach any closer and we'll open fire..."

Darien shook his head, "That answers that." He checked the scanners, looking about for a place to land the Raptor, but breaks in the canopy of trees were few and far between. He cursed again, looking up at his gauges.

"Outpost Tehta-10, we are declaring a state of emergency, you must let us land here," Lauren insisted.

"R-403, you are not, repeat, not cleared for landing..."

"Screw this bullshit," Darien swore again, angling the ship for the outpost, already keying in the landing sequence. "We don't have time for this," he stated, knowing full well that the longer they were airborne, the greater the chance of the Jakarta picking them up on its scopes.

The captain ignored the outraged demands from the radio as he extended the landing gears settling the Raptor in for a vertical landing on the massive landing platforms that rose out of the rain forest. A massive construct that sat adjacent to a massive radio telescope pointed towards the sky. Theta 10 was the only inhabited section of the planet. It was rich in vegetation but after the fall of the Empire, few of the settlers had remained, leaving the planet to return to a more natural state, a galactic planetary reserve left to grow wild and develop on its own.

The Commonwealth maintained the outpost, mostly as a listening post in case anyone decided to attack. It was manned by volunteers and paid for by a communal fund established by the Commonwealth's cut of privateering money. They were taking a gamble that the outpost would help them, but it was their only real choice.

After he had touched down, the rear ramp of the Raptor swung down on the rain-filled day, Nazzien and Shale disembarking first, Elias hopping down a few moments later. He'd pulled on one of the old Imperial oilskins to keep the torrential rain off of him, as he squinted up at the damage wrought by the marauders.

Darien stepped down from the ship, strapping his PKD on, standing under the shelter of the ship as Lauren joined him a moment later as she gave him a nod that meant she had powered the ship down. With a little luck the Jakarta wouldn't know where they were.

Lightning rent the sky making even the stoic Shale flinch; they were on a solid metal structure poking above the canopy of trees in the middle of a thunderstorm...

Darien shivered and glanced about for shelter, looking past the crates scattered about them flanking a set of doors where a man wearing a mismatched uniform was beckoning to them. Darien waved back as he led the way across the slick, water logged platform towards the door. It seemed like an invitation to him, but as he drew closer, he frowned; there was something wrong with the uniform the other man was wearing, the Ter-sec officer's training tickling his instincts. He frowned again looking at the officer noting that the grey upper part of his uniform had just the hint of carbon scoring on the material in the middle of the chest and as they neared he picked out the telltale sign of a weapon burn.

Darien looked up at the man, his eyes widening. And the other man, recognition lighting his own eyes, drew his other hand from behind his back and levelled a pistol at them. He let out a small yell, and from around the crates came a whoop of noise as a ragtag bunch of aliens burst forth holding an eclectic collection of weapons and surrounded the group.

Darien raised his hands without even attempting to make a run back to the Raptor. There were too many assault weapons pointed at him for him to even consider it. "You know," he said looking at Lauren who had also surrendered, "I am really getting sick of everyone we meet thinking it's a good idea to point guns at us."

* * *

He was hanging upside down; he had lost track of how long he had been hanging there dangling from the edge of the landing platform where he had been tied. The raiders, pirates...or whoever the mysterious assailants were, had taken no chances with him. He didn't know where Lauren or the others were, and as he swung two hundred feet above the forest, he hoped they were all right.

He was dizzy from the blood rushing to his head, but he could hear the roar of engines and strained his head to look over at the other landing platform a half-kilometre away. It was lit up with spotlights and in the twighlight the unmistakable shape of Ra'sha'gar's destroyer touched down looking resplendent.

He swore; from a daring escape, right into the hands of another band of cutthroats only to be handed back to the ones he had just escaped from. That was the story of his life lately. If it wasn't one person after him, it was another. He was fast growing unimpressed with the whole situation. Being unimpressed led to anger, anger led to him kicking the crap out of something.

The rope groaned as he swung lazily over the forest, soaked to the skin, one of the pirates having already stolen his jacket before they tied him up so he was cold, wet and pissed off, a great combination.

So the pirates/raiders/whoever had decided to make a deal with Ra'sha'gar. Fine, he could live with that, bide his time. An opportunity would come up, he would escape, he just needed to figure out how he was going to accomplish that. He didn't want to let his mind focus on the other possibilities.

Suddenly hope blossomed within him, he was going to escape! He began to struggle to get his hands free. Hopefully if he could do something, there was only him and he wasn't about to just give up and die, hanging upside down like meat in a butcher's shop.

* * *

He felt the rope jerk as he was pulled up over the edge of the platform by a pair of aliens who roughly hauled him to his feet and laughed as he fell down again. He wasn't a multi-linguist, he spoke English and bad English, so whatever it was they were saying didn't make much sense, something about him being a weakling...

He tried to stand again, "I am Darien Taine..." His eyes bulged as one of the aliens drew his energy weapon and fired.

The blast hit his shoulder with enough force to send him catapulting off of the edge of the platform and into a two hundred foot drop.

* * *

He awoke in a pile of brush, his entire body aching from the tree branches that had broken his fall. He felt cuts and bruises all over him, his arm didn't move right, and every time he breathed there was a sharp stabbing pain in his chest. His shoulder was a mess, but luckily the alien weapon had cauterised the wound so he hadn't bled to death. He was just in a lot of pain at that moment, and as he struggled to his feet he felt the rush of agony wash over him.

He looked up at the thick and spongy trees over his head. They'd saved his life and he couldn't help but feel awed over the fact he was still alive. He didn't have time to dwell on it though. The alien pirates that had shot him had presumed he was dead, or else he would actually have been dead by now. He had that advantage at least, being dead was not something he generally saw as an advantage, but it was the only one he had at that time and so he was going to make full use of it.

He cradled his useless arm against him as he struggled towards the base of the landing platform and the heavy bunker doors that would let him inside. His boots slipped on the mud, churned up by the constant rain, his body protesting in agony to every step he took. He was in no condition to stand, let alone mount a rescue on his own.

The bunker door was secured, latched shut, and he stared uselessly at the keypad sitting beside it, wondering how he would get past them. He looked down and leaned against the wall as he tried to pry the access panel off from beneath the key pad, taking a moment to catch his breath and spit out some of the blood that was oozing from a cut on his lip.

He fiddled with the wires, wishing he knew more about picking digital locks, but he was a former cop turned ship's captain. He coughed again as he felt something awkward. He bent down a little, as far as he could manage, looking at the small jerry-rigged black switch, and he flipped it, watching the doors cycle open. He blinked again, and noticed the bullet holes just inside the door; this had been how the raiders had gotten into the Outpost... They hadn't bothered to disable it, why should they? They hadn't expected anyone to disturb their raid.

He was grateful when he was finally inside and able to sneak through the corridors, dripping on the floor as he desperately searched for an internal schematic of the outpost. He needed to find their infirmary and fast; the pain was beginning to become too much for him, and he needed treatment. He limped up a flight of stairs and froze as a pair of the raiders walked past the stairwell chuckling amongst themselves.

He needed a gun...

He shook his head as he struggled across the corridor and through the doors into the darkened infirmary. The bodies that had been left there were days old. Most of them wore the same uniforms that the man on the platform had, and Darien suppressed an urge to throw up as he grabbed a med kit and fled into the doctor's office.

His wound was in an awkward place, and he had to strip off his shirt to get to it. A quick patch job and a dermal patch would hold for the moment. He had no bandages so he tore his undershirt to bandage the wound, slipping the blood-stained Imperial camouflage shirt back on, leaving it to hang open.

He stared at his reflection in the window and saw how he looked like he had gone five rounds with the current interspecies heavy weight champion. He was a mess of cuts, his body was red and swollen from bruising and a quick and light probing told him he had broken ribs. He was lucky to be alive, even if he did hurt like hell.

The infirmary had been mostly cleaned out of its supplies as he ransacked his way through the drawers and cupboards looking for painkillers. He had to keep going, his crew was depending on him and he couldn't just give up.

He threw open the last drawer, and tossed its contents on the counter; picking through it he lifted up an adrenalin injection. It would keep him going... he knew that from his days in Ter-Sec, one of those emergency first aid briefings that he had been forced to sit through. The paramedic had made it sound so simple, you just take the needle, plunge it in and...

He gasped as he writhed in agony, his nerveless hand reaching up to pull the needle out of him as he cast it aside. It wouldn't last long, the rush of natural chemicals set his body on fire, numbing down his senses. He had to move, and he glanced around the room again for anything that would help him. All the outpost officers had been stripped of their side arms, but he was able to grab a key card before he re-entered the halls.

His mind was on weapons, and he struggled to remember the diagram of the outpost he had seen earlier. He limped up the hall to the armoury, using the key card to gain access and closing the door behind him. The Armoury had been stripped bare; the raiders valued the weapons and had probably already loaded them onto their ship. He was growing frustrated until he remembered the weapons locker on his ship. It was still on the platform, or had been when he had been shot. If he could manage to get up there quietly, avoiding the raider patrols... They weren't on guard, he realized; they had no reason to be since they believed he was dead.

He cradled his arm again as the doors to the platform slid open, the rain continuing to fall as thunder rumbled in the distance. He stared across at his ship-the lights were on in the cargo bay and he could see people moving inside it. The raiders, or pirates seeing what they could strip from the ship. It pissed him off-that was his ship, he'd fought for it, his crew had worked to rebuild it, and now those vermin were going to strip it down.

He hobbled forward, crossing the platform, glancing over to where the Jakarta sat; the vicious alien destroyer looked like an armoured warthog, but ugly with teeth. He sneered at it in disgust as he reached the edge of the ramp, looking up at the two aliens that were picking through one of the supply crates.

One of them was wearing his ball cap, his leather jacket was tossed carelessly on the floor... and the other was holding up a pair of Lauren's underwear triumphantly, their new booty. Spoils of war, all rightfully theirs by the laws of the Commonwealth.

Darien's uninjured hand clenched into a fist as he crept as quietly as he could up the back ramp of his ship, reaching up to unlatch the door to the small arsenal tucked to one side of the hold. He kept his eyes on the two aliens, gritting his teeth as he fumbled around in the weapons locker. His hand closing on one of the Amsus pistols, he checked the weapon, clicking back its hammer.

One of the two raiders heard the click and turned to see what it was. The shot ended his curiosity. The other, caught by surprise as well, tried to find cover. Darien's pistol swung to follow him and acting out of instinct he pulled the trigger, shots ricocheting off of the bulkhead and crates. The alien tried desperately to draw his own pistol and fire back, but Darien marched forward, ignoring the pain from his leg as he levelled the pistol again and emptied the clip into the creature.

He breathed heavily, his finger still pulling the trigger despite the gun being empty, and he caught himself, the gun dropping to his side as he wavered, reaching out to steady himself as he dropped the gun to the deck.

"Darien!" Nazzien's accented voice hissed at him, and Darien focused again, staring from his blurred vision towards the small brig cages at the rear of the hold. He could make out the two shapes inside, the burly mound of Shale and the smaller wiry Orion. He swallowed again, coming across and fumbling with the lock, pulling the door open as he staggered.

"You ok?" Nazzien asked as Shale caught their skipper before he fell, the Taïrian setting him down carefully and propping him up against one of the crates. His beefy paws peeled back the edge of the wet shirt and his nose flared as he saw the welts and bruises there.

Nazzien shook his head, "We should get the hell out of here..."

Shale straightened up and lumbered back towards the weapons locker.

"No..." Nazzien protested, "We got the ship, we're free, we should just cut our losses..."

Shale didn't answer him, he merely reached into the locker and drew out one of the Amsus shotguns, pumping the slide and turning a baleful glare at the Orion, pulling out an assault rifle that he shook at Nazzien.

"Oh no... I'm not going..." Nazzien shook his head.

Shale arched an eyebrow, and Nazzien caved striding forward and grabbing the rifle, "Okay, okay, we go and get the others." He paused and looked back to where Darien was laying, "What about him?"

"Go," Darien managed, struggling to his feet again. "I'll close up the ship..."

Shale nodded and marched down the ramp and into the rain. Nazzien gave Darien a worried look, before he jogged down the ramp after his crewmate.

The ramp sealed behind them, Darien hobbled to the ladder, stopping long enough to recover his hat and put it on. It was his damn ship; no one was going to take it from him again.

He took a deep breath and struggled up the ladder, feeling every rung jar through him, and limped into the common room trying not to think about the mess the raiders had caused in their search for anything of value. He came forward, slid into the weapons console and coughed as he sat there catching his breath. The adrenaline was wearing off and he was feeling the pain returning. He knew he didn't have long before he would be unconscious.

The Raptor was undamaged; the raiders hadn't had time to do anything to it. No doubt supremely confident in their prize, they felt the need to keep it intact.

He stared out of the window at the bridge that connected the second landing platform to the radio-listening post. He could see the great doors opening and the raiders began to emerge. At the far end, standing in the overshadow of the pirate ship, a group of pirates stood clustered around a broad-shouldered alien wearing gold... Ra'sha'gar. Darien squinted, activating the Raptor's sensors and glancing at the digital image it constructed for him at the fire control station.

The raiders were moving out of the main complex on to the connecting bridge and he caught sight of Lauren sitting in a one-meter cubic cage on the back of the sled surrounded by raiders. He adjusted the angle of his scope picking out Elias and Kendrick walking behind the sled being prodded forward at gunpoint.

The Commonwealth, he snarled, a collection of thieves, brigands, slavers and pirates cutting deals with each other, and hiding beneath a banner of freedom. He shook his head in disgust at it, the pain in his shoulder making him wince. He wasn't going to let them sell his crew in the slave pits of Karin or a similar world.

He stared at the destroyer, the powerful vessel with all its armour plating and weapons; his small frigate wasn't a match for it, not one-on-one. But its size and armour was also its biggest disadvantage, and Darien reached out to activate the Raptor's targeting systems.

Across from the Raptor the raiders on the bridge turned as the Raptor's twin plasma cannons swung around, powering up and hurling out a pair of blasts, smashing into the base supports of the landing platform. The cannons discharged again, shocking everyone on the bridge into action. Ra'sha'gar spun and started screaming at men around him, charging back towards the hatch of the destroyer as the platform heaved beneath their feet.

Darien kept his finger on the trigger, bolts of plasma slamming home, searing through the base, incinerating great chunks of it, watching as it began to tilt to one side. The destroyer's engines began to fire up, but it was too late as the platform began to collapse.

The destroyer slid from the platform, crashing back into the forest. Its heavy engines impacted against the ground, rupturing the fuel tanks as the engines were forced forward into them and the destroyer erupted into a ball of flame as it exploded.

Darien released the firing controls, collapsed back into his chair and watched the survivors on the bridge retreat back towards the doors to the main complex. He wished there was more he could do, but he couldn't risk firing on them with the Raptor's cannons. It was now down to Nazzien and Shale.

* * *

The Raptor's first shot caused everyone to duck; the raiders that had captured them began to yell frantically as the pirates stared in shock at the other ship on the platform across from them fired a second barrage.

Elias flinched, staring in open-mouthed shock at his ship. Kendrick spun beside him and lunged at one of the raiders, locking his hands together and clubbing the startled alien as the platform began to collapse. Elias ducked as one of the raiders swung at him He kicked forward and slammed into the one behind him, pushing the assault rifle up as the destroyer slid backwards.

The alien lashed out, viciously slamming the stock of his rifle into Elias and sending him sprawling across the sled, lifting the rifle to fire as the destroyer exploded. The alien flinched, spun and ran away from the ball of fire climbing up towards the dark sky.

The young engineer shivered rolling to his feet as more of the raiders began to run, the bridge they were standing on groaning threateningly as its own supports began to give way. He didn't think, he just began pulling at the bolt that held Lauren's cage shut, swearing as he threw all his weight into it and wrenched it free.

Lauren didn't hesitate; she dragged herself out of the cage and grabbed the young man by the collar of his rain coat, the two of them catching up to Kendrick, who had grabbed one of the assault rifles and was running towards the far doors.

"It's got to be Nazzien..." Lauren said in wonder. Staring at the Raptor as she ran, the three crewmates crashed through the doors into the complex, Lauren hauling Elias back tight against her as a hail of gunfire was hurled their way. Swallowing as she looked back at the bridge that had finally collapsed behind them, realizing they were trapped.

Kendrick beside them saw what she saw, and straightened his shoulders; lifting the assault rifle he bowed his head to Lauren. "On the count of three, run!" he instructed.

"Kendrick..." Lauren had seen that look in a man's eyes before, she wasn't going to...

"Three," Kendrick stated, a mad glint in his eye as he came around the corner firing. Lauren didn't have time to think, she kept a firm hold of Elias and ran for the far side of the corridor as Kendrick's automatic swept to and fro. He followed behind them keeping them covered. The raiders, pinned down by his fire, could only offer a couple of shots in return.

He was only halfway across the corridor when the assault rifle clicked on empty, and the first raider, realizing it, stood to fire at him.

They both heard the shot, both flashing a look of confusion, before the raider collapsed. Shale pumped the slide of his shotgun, standing in the hallway while Nazzien covered him with his own rifle.

The raiders didn't stand a chance. Nazzien was fluid death. His rifle swung in solid motions-confident that his single shot had killed he kept on to the next raider, lowering the rifle five shots later, rolling his shoulders as the last one died.

"Nazzien...Shale...who?" Lauren asked looking from the windows at the Raptor.

"The Skipper," Nazzien said with a shake of his head, looking about to make sure there were no more. "The guy's got more lives than a Terran cat!"

"He's alive?" Elias asked in disbelief-they had all seen it when he had been shot, forced to stand and watch as the first part of the raider's deal with Ra'sha'gar and the Jorten syndicate had been carried out.

"Come on," Nazzien insisted. "The raiders still have a ship around here somewhere, and they had to have seen that explosion..."

The crew of R-403 didn't waste time, sprinting through the complex and out onto the second landing platform. Nazzien inputted the code to open the rear ramp, watching the rain-sodden sky above them for any sign of the raider ship, the rest of the crew scrambling aboard. Seeing nothing, he followed them and sealed the ramp behind him.

Lauren and Elias were the first to the bridge, and Elias gasped in shock seeing Darien in the tactical chair, smiling up at them weakly. "I vote we never come back here again." Darien croaked, looking up at Elias, who was kneeling beside him checking to see how badly he was hurt.

"Hang on," Lauren stated leaping into the pilot's chair and powering up the engines, the Raptor's thrusters engaging to lift it skywards. She lowered the wings into place, feeding power to the main drives as the ship rocketed towards space.

"I..." Elias managed, shaking as he buried his head into Darien's uninjured shoulder and just gripped him for a moment.

"Hello to you, too," Darien said, trying not to wince as one of his broken ribs moved. "How's about you not..." he whimpered. "The ribs..."

Elias let him go, looking embarrassed and straightening up he flushed red, taking the engineering station and checking the power flow.

"How about," Darien said closing his eyes and breathing raggedly, "we go somewhere where we aren't going to get shot at, robbed, or otherwise abused?"

Lauren reached down and began searching through the navigation computer, "That's a tall order in the Commonwealth, though there is an Orion guild hall a jump from here; it's not exactly..." she shrugged lamely, "they don't exactly welcome strangers, but considering what you did for the Protania..."

"Just go..." Darien opened a blood shot eye. "A hospital would...be..."

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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