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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 - 18. Chapter 18

The Amsus were no match for the Imperials
their ships trailed behind in technology,
their strategists unoriginal and uncreative...
how were a people so inept at war able to bring
down the mightiest Empire ever to exist?
There was no one left to stop them.

-Archduke Francesco 'The Fall of the Empire'


They'd been jumping steadily for five days, the small Raptor pushing its engines hard, Darien not willing to stay too long in any one system. He didn't want a repeat of what had happened the last time he'd dallied too long.

He was tired; he was pushing himself too hard. He stared down at the mug of cold coffee and then up and out of the bridge windows. They would make another jump soon, following the course of von Karin's map, through the Apilon Rift towards the far reaches.

The end of nowhere.

He glanced back along the length of the ship; Lauren was sleeping, as were most of the others. Only Elias was up, working on general maintenance to keep the ship running smoothly. The young engineer glanced up from the engineering station and smiled at him a moment before bending back to his work.

Darien scratched his temple, wondering if it was fair what he was doing, setting a course for the edges of known space and following a ghost. He was keeping Lauren and the others from getting work, Elias would go wherever he went-that much he could rely on, and Kendrick seemed obsessed with the idea that the answers to the greatest mystery lay out there somewhere.

Darien shrugged mentally, reaching down to perform the next set of calculations, then reaching up and activating the jump pods. He would keep going until someone asked him to turn back, it was only fair.

The Raptor shivered and leapt across the light years, slamming back into normal space a second or so later. Darien glanced over his sensor displays idly.

He stopped and stared again, "Holy shit!"

* * *

"What is it?" Nazzien asked leaning on Lauren's shoulder as she sat at the sensor console. The crew had been roused reluctantly from their sleep, but the excited look on Darien's face had piqued their curiosity; they all clustered in the cramped bridge, Darien at the controls as he steered the ship closer towards the mammoth structure hanging in space.

"It's a jump nexus," Lauren said shaking her head. "At least I think it is, it isn't set up like the others... its just a single gate..."

"What does that mean?" Kendrick asked curiously.

"Every jump nexus is interconnected," Lauren explained. "They each have gates connecting to gates on another nexus, like pan-galactic highways that connect the universe together."

"Like the gates at the Haligonian Nexus," Elias stated nodding. "The one that was dark..."

"The one to the Geldan jump nexus," Lauren explained. "When VonGrippen blew that one up he essentially cut off an entire section of the Empire, all the jump gates corresponding to Geldan went dark, useless."

"But VonGrippen didn't go to Geldan," Kendrick said slowly, "he came here."

"And the Amsus believed he fortified himself in an unreachable fortress of the systems around Geldan," Darien concluded, "so they didn't come looking for him."

"VonGrippen must have been planning this for years," Lauren marvelled. "To have built his own jump gate without anyone knowing..."

"It is active?" Darien asked as the Raptor swept in closer.

"I can't tell," Lauren admitted. "We don't know much about the jump gate technology, but the Orions believe they are powered by zero point energy, which means they theoretically can last forever."

"So..." Darien said turning his head to look back at his small crew, "do we follow them?"

There was silence for a moment, each staring at the other-before them was a gateway to the unknown; it was beckoning them towards the answers. But there was no denying the possibilities awed them all.

"We can't just turn back," Kendrick said firmly, gesturing towards the gate. "Whatever's on the other side of that gate, we're supposed to find it... it's our destiny."

Lauren folded her arms and shook her head, "We don't know that, for all we know that gate could lead nowhere, or worse, dump us in the middle of trouble far worse than we are already in."

"I agree with Lauren," Nazzien stated. "We don't know where it leads, how do we know we're going to be able to get back?"

"We can't just turn around," Elias said quietly, resting a hand on the engineering console.

Shale nodded his agreement with Elias and Darien looked down at the controls. That decided it-the votes said they went through. He glanced over at Lauren, nodding to her as he powered up the Raptor's drive and sent the ship towards the jump gate. His crew climbed into seats or braced themselves expectantly as the Raptor flew across the jump gate's threshold.

They were catapulted across space, the small warship arcing out of the Jump Nexus, curling upwards as its sensors came back online, and Darien turned to look back at Lauren who was staring in some confusion at her screens.

The system, from Darien's sensor readouts, was cluttered, he could pick up the planets on their orbital paths but he was also picking up ships, lots of ships, all arrayed around in defensive postures protecting floating space stations, hanging dark and dormant in the night.

"I don't under stand this," Lauren said tapping instructions into her console. "I'm reading ships but no power readings, no life signs, nothing; just the ships, the stations and dead planets."

Darien frowned as he set a course towards the desolate fleet, pushing the Raptor's engines as it slipped through a graveyard of Imperial vessels.

"I'm seeing no traces of a fight," Lauren said, "and no signs that they abandoned the ships." She shook her head, "There's hundreds of them."

Darien nodded as the Raptor drew in close over the bow of a massive vessel, a Human battlecruiser by its armaments, the red sigil of a shield and sword upon them. Everyone who had studied human history knew it, the sigil of the Red Guard, VonGrippen's infamous fleet.

"My god, look at them!" Kendrick said as he ducked down to get a better look. "They're... it's... my god!"

Darien turned the Raptor from the battlecruiser, sweeping it up and over a broad diamond-shaped space station, the black and gold of the massive double pyramid bristling with weapons, one of the orbital defence stations that had once guarded Earth; VonGrippen had left nothing behind when he had left. Nothing at all...

"What's that?" Kendrick tapped Darien's shoulder and pointed: a large black monolith sat in the centre of a cluster of ships, like it was carved from obsidian. It turned its broad petal-like fans towards the dull orange star, floating majestically in the midst of its own honour guard.

"I don't know," Darien said, angling the ship in for a flyby, everyone holding their breaths as the Raptor gave them all a better look.

"I'm detecting a power source," Lauren said squinting at her console. "And I think it's some kind of station."

"There's an Imperial ship docked with it," Kendrick observed.

Darien looked up at the delicate vessel with its forward swept wings. Its prow was angular, sweeping back like a narrow knife blade towards its heavily fortified bridge superstructure. The same alien black crystal reflected dully beneath heavy armour plates bristling with weapons ports; it held an imperial design, but was unlike any of the other vessels around it which looked clumsy alongside that vessel. She was undoubtedly built for speed, and was possessed of a singular beauty, but like a well-crafted blade there was no doubt that she was deadly.

"VonGrippen's sigil," Darien said, nodding to the Striking Falcon on a red circle-the same as in VonGrippen's book-that was emblazoned upon the upper hull of the vessel. "That was his ship."

"What do we do now?" Kendrick asked eagerly.

"We find out what happened," Darien replied, looking back at Lauren. "Is there a place to dock?"

Lauren nodded, "There's a landing platform on the far end of the station, it'll give us access to a docking port."

The Raptor came about again, its wings folding upwards as its landing gears extended, a bird coming in for a tight landing. The Amsus warship looked small and fragile alongside the advanced Imperial warships.

The underside hatch extended its docking sleeve and mated with the station's hatch; there was a whirring of pressurization and everyone glanced at Lauren.

"The station's power systems just went active..." she said, and they all looked up at the black monolith, at dull red lights coming on along its length, forming like cracks along its surface.

Darien slid a hand through his hair as he stared up at it. "God, look at it..." it was radiantly beautiful, like someone had stencilled pure light in an intricate pattern over the structure.

"Who gets to go?" Lauren asked quietly, even she was awed by its beauty.

Darien turned in his seat, "The people who wanted to be here, it's only fair."

Nazzien nodded in relief, "Damn right, I'm not risking my neck on some alien station..."

Lauren smiled at the skipper;"I'll keep the engines warm in case we need to get out of here in a hurry."

* * *

Darien was first down the ladder, his PKD sweeping the corridor, as he made sure there were no hidden surprises waiting for them. It was an inherent paranoia born of too many things shooting at him.

Shale was next down, the broad-shouldered Taïrian carrying his shotgun and keeping his eyes peeled as the oversized creature covered Darien, looking about him at the black walls. It was like they stood in a corridor carved out of obsidian and polished to an almost mirror-like quality.

Kendrick dropped to the deck a few seconds behing, the leather flight suit jacket hanging open and his hand resting on the pistol butt he had stuck through his belt. "Wow," he commented looking around him at the magnificent hall.

"Wow what?" Elias asked scrambling down after them, shrugging on his backpack and checking to make sure he hadn't dropped any of his tools. "Wow!" he echoed, looking about him as well chewing his lip.

"What is this place?" Darien asked as they started up the hallway. There were no side corridors, no doors, just a long tunnel that seemed to go on towards the heart of the station.

The crewmates carried forward, Darien slipping his headset on and checking in with the Raptor as they pressed on, relieved that they could still transmit and receive through the structure.

"It looks ceremonial," Kendrick muttered, looking about him, the history student in him showing through as he ran a hand over the smooth walls. "But what purpose it served..."

He stared at the walls, filled by plaques with names upon them, carved out of the walls, thousands of them, each holding a pride of place along the corridor. Kendrick traced his fingers over them as they walked, rounding the curve to a great set of doors.

The doors looming before them slid aside as they approached, intricately worked black and gold lattices that parted on a circular chamber, a stone altar in the centre and a desiccated corpse lying upon it in a column of light.

"A tomb," Darien stated with his heart pounding.

The bones were undoubtedly human; withered and mummified the corpse had sat for an age wearing the black and red dress uniform. There was nothing that marked who it was, and yet Darien knew instinctually, there was no one else it could be. The Archduke Admiral Alexander VonGrippen, the last Warlord of the Empire.

Kendrick dropped to a knee, bowing his head the second he clued into who it was, and Shale reverently bowed his head and kneeled as well, his beefy paw guiding a confused Elias to do the same.

Darien stood a moment, hand sliding the PKD back into its holster as he stared down at the remains of the most infamous man in Terran history. The man who had betrayed them all to the Amsus, the man who had left them to be slaves. The same man he had come to know through his writings, a wise and competent leader of men.

"Virtutis gloria merces," he read carved into the black stone beneath the body.

"Glory is the reward of valour" a heavily accented voice said from the far end of the room. The lights played tricks as they danced around the shadows, but there was no mistaking a figure that stood there, faint and ghostlike, dressed in an Imperial uniform, the heavy greatcoat balanced across his aged shoulders.

Darien jumped, his PKD in his hands as he took a step backwards, his other crewmembers reacting in similar surprise; even the unflappable Shale was shocked.

VonGrippen stayed exactly where he stood, unconcerned by the weapons that were pointing at him. He stared down at his own body thoughtfully before looking up at the men who had come so far to find him.

His image flickered and repeated itself, "Glory is the reward of valour..."

Darien blinked looking over at Elias who stood up and ducked across to a wall where the projection was coming from. He lifted a panel, prying it loose with the blade of his knife, then fiddled with something, pulling out a screwdriver and making a few adjustments.

"You're from the Empire," VonGrippen stated quietly, his voice a rumbled purr.

"No," Darien stated, blinking to make sure his eyes weren't deceiving him, "but I'm from Earth."

"Humanity," VonGrippen began slowly, "had reached the pinnacle of its evolution, and sought to reach beyond," he looked down at his own corpse, "the limitations of the flesh."

Darien glanced sceptically towards Kendrick, who hadn't moved. He remained kneeling, his head bowed.

"Our science created wonders," VonGrippen looked upwards a faint note of pride in his voice. "It created the Emperor, a mortal man who went beyond the limits of evolution to become something far greater." VonGrippen sighed, "But he was the only one permitted this divine gift of science. His clergy sought to use a legacy that was the Terran birthright to elevate him and subjugate all beneath the banner of his new...religion."

Darien shook his head, "I don't understand."

"He sought godhood, and he attained it," VonGrippen stated flatly, "but it was never meant for just one man, it was meant for our entire race, the next step, to grow beyond our own mortality and become one with the divine." He looked sad, aged, tired, his eyes met Darien's, "I would not let them become a part of an insane crusade..."

VonGrippen rubbed his tired eyes and looked up, "They would have burned their way across the universe, destroying any who didn't convert to their banner, the fanaticism... the death. It had to stop. There was only one way to stop it; I stormed the Imperial Chancellery, stole the Emperor's secrets and ran, leading my guard and as many of our people as I could here..." he looked about him, "the end of nowhere, and I gave the gift to all of them, mankind's birthright, the stars..."

He looked up again, "Where we are now, we are beyond the reach of our enemies..."

"What about those you left behind?" Darien said. "What about us? What are we supposed to do now? You can't just abandon us to the Amsus..." Darien stepped forward, pointing at the apparition, "You can't just leave us to them!"

There was a flickering, and the figure was once again behind the altar, "Glory is the reward of valour...." VonGrippen repeated.

Darien stared in disbelief shaking his head, "What the hell?"

"It's a hologram," Elias stated quietly. "A recording, he isn't really there."

"No," Darien stated shaking his head. "You can't just leave us like this!"

"You're from the Empire." VonGrippen stated again, his voice a rumbled purr.

Darien closed his eyes as his chin sank to his chest. So much, so far, for a recording, an apology from a man long dead believing he did the right thing.

* * *

Darien sat alone on the cramped bridge of the Raptor. His hands were wrapped around a mug of coffee as he stared at the silent monolith, VonGrippen's tomb, a memorial stone to an Empire, hell to the entire damn human race.

He drank from the mug, his mind stuck on the recording's words, that he had saved all he could. Abandoning the rest and leaving them hopeless, beaten. That was his legacy, the utter defeat of hope.

You son of a bitch, he murmured coldly, I believed in you.

He didn't have to turn to recognize Shale's heavy gait as the Taïrian lumbered onto the bridge, he just stared out of the windows wondering what could have been.

Shale looked down at his skipper, bending a little to put his broad muzzle alongside Darien's face, staring into his eyes, a knowing look in them. Darien turned resting an arm on the pilot's console as he looked at the Alien.

"What?" he asked with a sigh.

Shale arched a brow, and Darien shook his head. "He left us behind, he abandoned us. That's it, we're finished, over..."

Shale smiled, a toothy grin, as he shook his head from side to side, reaching out to tap the shoulder patch Darien was wearing on the battered leather jacket. He stood up confidently and clapped Darien on the shoulder with a massive paw, the wise old creature ambling back towards the crew compartment.

Darien glanced down at the green arrow with its sword, and up at the monolith, wondering what Shale had meant, but his eyes focused past the edge of the monolith, at the bow of the Imperial ship docked there, its gun ports glistening in the light shed by the massive monument.

"You son of a bitch," Darien said sitting upright, blinking in disbelief that he hadn't seen it before. He shook his head standing up, setting his coffee mug aside as he ducked back along the length of his ship to where his crew were sitting talking quietly.

He stood in the doorway and looked at each of them, his arms crossed and a smile playing across his lips. "He may have left, but he didn't abandon us," Darien said firmly.

"What?" Kendrick asked, looking up at him from his seat.

"VonGrippen," Darien replied firmly. "He and the Imperials may have gone, but they left their ships behind..." Darien shook his head grinning, "That's his legacy, he couldn't stop Kardiac and the Bishops, but he left hope behind for us."

"You're not making much sense," Nazzien said shaking his head. "So he left his ships, it's not like we can use them."

"No, not all of them," Lauren said catching on to what Darien was saying. "Maybe only one... at first..." she smiled. "Hell, look at everything Darien's done without Imperial technology behind him. Can you imagine what he could do with an Imperial ship?"

Kendrick looked down, and then back up grinning as well, "It'd make Hegemony High Command wet themselves."

Nazzien folded his arms, "I am not helping you restore the Empire!"

"I don't plan to," Darien replied. "All I want is freedom."

Lauren sat forward in her seat, "One ship, one crew..."

Darien smiled, "Then it's a matter of choosing a ship."

"No it's not," Kendrick replied. "There is only one ship that will send the kind of message you want to send."

"VonGrippen's," Lauren stated, nodding in agreement.

Nazzien shrugged. "Make me a deal," he looked up at Darien. "When this is over and the dust settles I get to come back here, choose one of these ships and give it to my people. Equals all the way."

Darien nodded in agreement, "True equality. Agreed?"

"Yes," Kendrick stated without reservation.

Lauren nodded her head as she sipped her coffee.

Shale gave Darien a knowing look and inclined his large head.

"I'm agreed," Nazzien stated firmly.

Elias just sat and smiled, "A chance to get my hands on a working Imperial starship? 'Course I'm in."

Darien looked at each of them in turn and smiled as he shook his head, "This really does make me a resistance leader, doesn't it?"

"You always were," Elias beamed at him.

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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They got to the destination and finally know what happened to the lost fleet.  Now it is at their disposal and will have the means to build an unbeatable navy.  Can't wait for them to kick some Amsus butt.

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Well, they found the ship, and Darien figured out what Von Grippen's plan was.  Now, can they start with one ship and grow it into an actual rebellion?  Darien finally figured out what he was all along; although everyone else already knew it.

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The Amsus and the Commonwealth have already made Darien a legend amongst the people.  Now he will have the means to build on his reputation and pull others into the rebellion.

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Now we understand Von Grippen's reasoning, what steps can/will they take to keep it so as they begin the rebellion...

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