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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 - 21. Chapter 21

Are you going to stand by and watch them
take away hundreds of years of tradition, and freedom?
Are you going to allow petty squabbles to
destroy everything that has been built here?

-Walker von Karin 'Address to the Commonwealth'

Imperial Fortress Karin City

R-403 swept down as it came in for a landing at the Fortress itself, its wings folded neatly as it touched down on the landing pad high above the city plateau below. The Excalibur was sitting in a high orbit far above them, a lone guardian watching over the last Imperial world.

Darien walked down the ramp as it descended to the snow-covered platform, Shale marching with him, the Taïrian adamant that the captain should not go to the rough planet unescorted. Fighting had broken out in the wake of the Amsus retreat, various factions trying to capitalize on the confusion to gain more power.

Darien had chosen to continue wearing the Imperial fleet uniform, his old leather jacket thrown over top and his PKD strapped to his thigh. It sent a clear message to anyone that saw him, reminding them of the powerful starship that he controlled. He wasn't expecting trouble, he had just grown used to the way things worked in the Commonwealth.

Archduke von Karin was waiting for him standing wrapped in his heavy greatcoat to ward out the chill of the night's air. His lip curled in a confident smile as he shook his head at the young man who had proven to be a loyal friend. "You certainly know how to make an entrance, Captain," he stated, walking forward out onto the platform to shake Darien's hand in a firm grip.

Darien inclined his head to the playboy turned politician. He'd been watching the news feeds and he was aware of how outspoken against the Amsus Walker had become since they had last met. "Call me old-fashioned but it's a tradition, friends help friends out."

Walker continued to smile as he placed a hand on Darien's shoulder and gestured back to the beckoning warmth of his citadel high above Karin city, "Come, we should get out of this damnable cold, a lot's changed."

Darien allowed himself to be guided inside, Shale an ever-present shadow, silent and imposing in the Taïrian uniform and carrying his shotgun balanced in the crook of his arm.

The first change Darien was aware of was the increased number of soldiers and guards inside the residence. They were dressed for battle, moving with purpose to and fro from rooms that had been converted from parlours and sitting rooms back to their original purpose. The palace had become a fortress once again.

Walker noticed Darien's eyes, and he gave a short nod, "When the Amsus battle group first appeared, Karin's ruling council loaded as much as they could aboard their ships and fled the system. The cowards seem to believe that it was prudent to abandon Karin to its fate. It was fine to plunder my planet of its riches, but they weren't willing to die for her."

Darien stared a second at one of the side rooms where officers in battle dress uniforms were directing troop movements. The Karin guard were the ones responsible for the attacks. Darien nodded, "So you're capitalizing on their absence."

"Naturally," Walker stated, leading the way into what had once been his library. The tables had been pushed together and a large tactical map had been set up to give a tactical overview of the planet and the units that were being moved around on the surface.

Walker crossed his arms and nodded down to the map, "Aside from some minor annoyances here and there I now control most of the planet as well as its defence batteries. When the captains return they are going to find my guns pointed at them with a stern warning that Karin is an Imperial world once again. And that I am not returning it to those cutthroats!"

Darien studied the map, looking over the sporadic fighting that had sprung up in the wake of the Amsus retreat-von Karin's army wasn't large, but it was well-trained. The council's remaining forces lacked leadership and were being swept aside by von Karin's lightning-fast raids. He already sat on all of the planetary defence batteries, and he was moving now on the economic and industrial centres.

"But enough of my woes," Walker stated, accepting a tankard one of his servants held out for him and taking a drink sweeping his great coat off as he sat down in a comfortable easy chair. "I've been hearing rumours that you've been busy. And suddenly you show up in the nick of time in an Imperial warship."

"I found VonGrippen's fleet," Darien stated sitting down across from the archduke, and smiling triumphantly. "It was amazing, right where you said it would be."

Walker nodded, an eager light in his eyes, "The entire fleet?"

"Right down to Earth's defence platforms," Darien stated looking at the Archduke meaningfully.

Walker shook his head in amazement, "I told you to prove me right, I never expected..." He looked down into his tankard and back up at Darien, "We can't make a move on those ships yet, we're not ready. Give me time to secure my position here and we can start figuring out how we can use them..." He shook his head, "The whole damn fleet..."

Darien studied the archduke, sitting back into the chair and folding his arms, "We have to liberate Earth."

Walker glanced back up at him. "Of course," he agreed. "But we need to make sure those ships aren't abused. If we bring them into play too soon and they fall into the wrong hands..." he shook his head, "that would be disastrous. If the Amsus were to learn we were planning to field a fleet of Imperial vessels they'd stop at nothing to take them from us." He stared up at Darien, "For the time being they should remain where they are..." He stood up and walked back to the map, "As it is we're in a dangerous position-the Amsus seized Eisenhower and its Jump Nexus."

"The Amsus seized Eisenhower," Darien said, staring in disbelief at the data scrawling across the holographic display. "How?"

"They were somehow able to shut down the station's defence platforms, blind our ships and take the station with marines." Walker leaned against the edge of the table and gestured to the holographic display that had changed to show the Jump Nexus and the surrounding Amsus vessels. "They dropped three battle groups on us before we knew what was happening. One remained to secure their beach head, the second started to sweep through the Commonwealth systems heading for here, and the last one..." Walker shrugged helplessly.

Darien smiled, the situation wasn't as dire as he had first thought. He looked up at Walker, "We defeated the third battle group at the Orion Guildhall. From what my engineer could tell they were piggy-backing some kind of computer virus on a news feed; it shut down the station's targeting arrays and completely disabled their defences."

"That would explain why they are able to just walk through the fleet at Eisenhower," the Archduke stated as he gestured for one of his officers to approach. "Pass the news along to our news service, make sure that it gets circulated, accept no Amsus Newswire broadcasts and purge all our existing systems of the virus."

The man nodded and began to notify the ships in orbit, hoping the news would spread quickly.

Walker smiled thankfully, "Again you come to our rescue. We at least stand a fighting chance now, though dislodging them from Eisenhower will be a major problem." He looked up as the guard officer from the tactical war room entered the room and saluted his liege lord.

"General Iver, if I may present Captain Taine," Walker smiled as he gestured, "Captain Taine, General Iver the head of my guard."

The two officers shook hands, both leaning in to examine the map table.

"How many ships can the Commonwealth muster?" Darien asked staring at it intently.

"It's not exactly that simple," General Iver said walking around the map table so that he stood on the opposite side of it to the Captain. He looked up at Darien on the far side of the map, "We're a loose alliance of free traders, privateers and marauders, we're not a cohesive fighting force. As long as we held Eisenhower we were able to keep the Amsus out of the Apilon Rift. Any attempt they made to invade us could be beaten back to their side of the Jump Nexus. Now I fear with them in control of both sides it's only a matter of time until they field enough ships to overrun us."

"Not if the Amsus willingly leave the Station," Darien stated leaning down and pointing to the holographic station.

"Why would the Amsus willingly leave Eisenhower?" Walker asked sceptically.

"The same reason that allowed them to take it in the first place," Darien replied, "They're going to be blind and defenceless."

"The Amsus computer virus?" Walker asked in surprise.

"My Engineer can probably recreate the code. The Amsus don't know we have it, or even that we are aware of it, and if we can act quickly enough..." Darien smiled, "Then it won't matter the size of the fleet you can muster, just the amount of men that can board Eisenhower station, seize the control centre, and how fast the station's weapons can be brought back online."

General Iver stroked his chin and looked over at his Archduke, "The Amsus wouldn't have had time to reinforce, especially if you defeated one of their battle groups and the second one is tied up regrouping for a counterattack on Karin. The station would probably have a handful of troops on board; the rest of their troopers would be with the second battle group. They'd be relying on the first battle group and the station's weapon systems to defend them." He folded his arms and swept steel grey eyes over the map, "The problem would be getting enough men onto that station while the Amsus are blinded."

"If I can pull this off," Darien stated, "and you give me the men I need, you will not only control Karin, but Eisenhower as well." Darien rested a hand on the edge of the map table, "And from my calculations that's damn close to controlling the entire Commonwealth."

Walker stared down at the map and back up at the captain, "You're talking about returning the Apilon Rift to Imperial rule."

"Yes," Darien stated firmly.

"That's going to piss off a whole hell of a lot of people, not just the Amsus; the Polians are going to go insane..." General Iver smiled, "But if we control Eisenhower, it will give us time to begin reactivating the Imperial fleet."

"Exactly," Darien stated. "And the Amsus will be too busy to even contemplate taking back Eisenhower."

Walker stared at him his brow furrowing, "You have a plan?"

Darien nodded, "If you give me the men, I can take Eisenhower for you. Once that is done you worry about the politics and leave the Amsus to me."

"You're putting an awful lot of trust in a man who until today was nothing more than a figurehead ruler of a backwater Imperial colony," Walker said.

"You supported me when all I commanded was a commandeered frigate," Darien stated. "You're a good man, and right now we all need good men."

Walker sighed as he extended his hand, "If I re-establish the Empire it's going to be done on my terms, no Emperors or deities, or warlords..."

Darien nodded, "This is your planet, I'm just a captain."

Walker nodded as he shared a look with the General, "Very well, captain, I can spare two companies of guards, a handful of pilots, the rest you're going to have to recruit from the general populace yourself..." He looked up again and shook his head. "For the Empire," he murmured in disbelief.

* * *

The Karin guard were ferried up to the Excalibur by the Imperial drop ships. The heavily armoured craft landed on the Excalibur's flight deck and discharged their troops to the deck, forming up into ranks as soon as they disembarked. Karin had dispatched two companies of fresh-faced young men that looked nervous and intimidated by their surroundings. The archduke had spared what he could, drawing from the planetary reserves and selecting a couple of veteran non-coms and officers to round out the units.

Darien stood watching them fall in from across the bay, his hand resting on the PKD and staring over the faces of the troops that had been placed at his disposal. Kids, really, drafted from wherever the Karin guard recruiters could find them, stuffed into a uniform and loaded up onto the drop ships.

"This is a joke, right?" Lauren murmured in his ear.

Darien shook his head. "This is what we get," he replied quietly.

An officer, identified by his Karin crest and the major insignia on his collar stepped down from the drop ship and marched round to the front of his men, his eyes sweeping over them. He was a dark-haired, energetic man greying at the temples who nodded his satisfaction and turned to salute the captain.

"Major Marty Mayfair, sir, Alpha and Bravo Company, first Karin Expeditionary awaiting your inspection, sir!"

Darien inclined his head turning and nodding to Nazzien, who was lounging languidly against a crate. "My weapons officer, Nazzien," he introduced, and turning to look at Lauren, "And my first officer. Welcome aboard the HMS Excalibur."

The major nodded in greeting. "Good to be here, sir," he replied with a warm smile. "Just tell me where my men can stow their gear and we can get them settled."

Nazzien shrugged, standing upright. "The barracks are this way," he said gesturing beyond the flight deck towards the Mech bays and the marine barracks beyond. The major turned, bawling orders at his men, the raw recruits looking lost as they shuffled into rough lines grabbing their packs and moving to follow the major as the debarked the deck.

"This is going to be...fun..." Lauren said with a sigh.

"We'll make do," Darien said with a smile as he turned from the dropships to head back towards the bridge. "How are we looking for crew?"

Lauren shook her head as she fell into step with him, "There's no shortage of volunteers, with von Karin seizing control of the planet a lot of... people are getting ideas about joining the Imperial military, it's just..." she shook her head, "they aren't much better than those marines."

Darien folded his hands behind his back as they climbed a set of metal steps, working their way through the secondary bays, Darien noticing that the major and his men had found the infantry Mechs and were experiencing their own realization that they were indeed on an Imperial warship.

He stared at them thoughtfully, bracing a hand on the railing, glancing at Lauren. "The slave markets," he said quietly.

"What?" Lauren said in shock.

"I don't mean buy them, I mean set them free and bring the best-trained, those that were grabbed from merchant ships and freighters, and offer them a chance for a better life." He looked down at the marines and back at Lauren, "We have a large group of untrained marines on ship looking for some experience storming ships; I say we solve both our problems at the same time. It gives them experience, gets the slavers off of Karin once and for all and gets us a motivated fighting force."

Lauren shook her head, "You really are insane, Skipper."

"I'm a starship captain, I'd better be," he replied jogging the rest of the way up the flight of steps with a confident smile on his face.

* * *

Darien sat in his stateroom, turning the pen slowly through his fingers as he stared up at the holographic screen floating in the middle of the room. It was displaying the latest news feeds gathered by the Commonwealth. It was talking about the thwarting of the Amsus Battle group and the arrival of Captain Taine and the Excalibur.

"...Whether or not the resurgence of Imperial technology and iconography on the world of Karin is actually indication of the return of the Empire. Or nothing more than a propaganda tool employed by Archduke von Karin in his attempt to solidify his rule of the planet Karin. No one, not even the Amsus, can deny that Captain Taine commands an Imperial warship. Historians have poured over historical records that have survived the fall of the Empire and the general consensus is that it is VonGrippen's legendary flagship the HMS Excalibur..."

Commander Durham, standing patiently behind the captain looked down. "You'd think seeing it with their own eyes would be enough," he murmured.

Darien reached up to rub the bridge of his nose as he set the pen down. "It takes more than seeing something to believe in it," he said leaning back. "The universe has been through hell and back, and for a lot of people the last time they saw an Imperial warship it was hovering over their world incinerating entire cities."

"Excalibur never..." Kit protested.

"I know she hasn't," Darien said standing up and walking around the desk to stand before the holographic screen showing the recordings of their battle with the Amsus, the blade like ship streaking in and firing a single shot from one of its batteries, blowing through the two Amsus ships. "I just realize we have a long way to go if we're going to restore faith in what we stand for."

The doors slid open as Kendrick marched into the stateroom, a flight helmet tucked under his arm and a grin on his face. "First test flights of the F-150's fighters went well," he said with a nod to the holographic commander. "We should be able to begin flight training tomorrow."

"How do they handle?" Darien asked turning to face the former colonist turned wing commander.

Kendrick bobbed his head, his intense eyes gleaming with pride, "Like nothing I've ever seen. They're true assault fighters; the controls are similar to the light recon fighter I've been flying, but the Azazels are... they're built for war."

Darien folded his arms. "How many pilots?" he asked carefully.

"I have five so far, but Lauren and Shale are out with Major Mayfair raiding the slave markets so I expect to grab a few more when they get back."

Darien nodded looking up through the stern windows to where the Commonwealth freighters were sitting. A culture built upon slavery, marauding and thievery, he was just playing their game by their rules. He didn't like it, but he had little choice, it was the nature of the times.

"Take what you need, we're going to need those fighters operational," Darien stated reaching a decision. "We don't have much time."

Kendrick's eyes met Darien's, "You will have your squadron, I give you my word." He smiled, "They used to be called Paladin squadron...."

"The fighter squadron on Excalibur," Darien said, remembering from VonGrippen's logs.

"Seems apt," Kendrick replied. "If you don't mind, Skipper."

"It seems to fit," Darien replied.

"Excellent," Kendrick stated, smiling happily as he turned and walked from the stateroom.

"He's a very dedicated individual," Kit remarked as Darien returned to his chair.

Darien looked up towards the door the Wing Commander had gone through;"He's very impulsive as well, a good trait in a fighter pilot, but a bad trait in a leader." He picked up his pen again tapping it on the edge of the desk thoughtfully.

"If you forgive the observation, Captain, all of your crew are... very individual," Kit said uncomfortably.

Darien reflected on that thought a moment: Elias was a bright, if overly emotional engineer. Nazzien was as self-serving as any Orion, but put a weapon in his hand and he became walking death. Shale was a stoic and silent Taïrian whose loyalty never wavered. And Lauren was a confident, if overtly friendly, officer.

He shrugged as he bent back to making notes in his log, "They do their jobs, and they do them well. They aren't military officers, they've never been through that kind of training, I can't treat them like rank and file and expect them to salute every time I give them an order."

"No," the Commander nodded in agreement, "but they don't follow you because you're a military man, they follow you because you're their leader and you've earned their loyalty."

Darien nodded, "Maybe..."

"Ahh," Kit said looking distant for a second, "the Raptor just docked, and Lauren is bringing onboard our new recruits."

Darien stood up, picking up his leather jacket from the back of his chair and slipping it on, checking the charge on his PKD as he marched from the Stateroom. He was intent on meeting his new crew members, and setting an early impression on them.

They were a ragged group, standing loosely in a wide array of outfits, surrounded by Mayfair's nervous marines, all armed with Imperial pulse rifles and looking uncomfortable.

Darien looked at the mixed group, mostly humans, that Lauren had managed to liberate from the Karin slave markets. There were a scattering of aliens in the bunch, but all of them were rumbling and looking about them, wondering no doubt who their new 'master' was, not quite aware that they were no longer property. Darien blew out a sigh as he walked out onto the deck before them.

The arguments and protests got louder, until one or two of the humans noticed him standing there and began to nudge the others; soon the group fell into an uneasy silence.

Darien rested his right hand on his PKD and glanced over each of them. Lauren had grabbed indiscriminately-so many ages and ethnicities, men and women-and he nodded and cleared his throat.

"Welcome aboard the Imperial Starship Excalibur." He began to pace the length of the group, speaking in an even tone, firm but fair. "You were freed and brought here to serve on an Imperial ship of the line, under my command." He stopped, "I am Captain Taine and this is my ship. This is not a Commonwealth vessel and there are no slaves here; if you comport yourself with dignity and honour you will learn your trade and be paid well for it..."

"We're not slaves?" One of the Aliens pushed forward through the ranks.

Darien squared his shoulders, "If you don't want to serve, you'll be shipped back to Karin, where you will be set free to make your own lives. However on this ship I can offer you warm beds, hot food and a chance to earn some real money."

"As I was saying, this is an Imperial warship and I am in command, you will be well paid for your services. If you choose to serve, my first officer will make a record name in our crew manifest and arrange a fair pay rate for you. Those that excel will earn commissions in the Imperial fleet and may even go on to command your own Imperial ship of the line." He folded his arms, "On my ship I don't care if you are Terran, Taïrian, alien, man or woman; you're crew members and I expect you to do your duty, in return you will be treated like free citizens."

There was a rumble, a couple of the humans were nodding, more looked confused and a few looked frightened at their sudden shift in circumstances. But there was little doubt, Taine was offering them a chance for freedom, on the condition they fought to free others.

He looked at Shale. "Mister Shale," he stated, "I put them under your care to whip into shape."

The Taïrian offered a savage smile, his sharp teeth glistening as he turned to face the new crew members, gesturing for the marines to relax. He was eager to get them settled and started with their training.

"This is going to be fun," Lauren said smirking at her Skipper.

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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And so the rebellion grows. It is an item in the history of the United States that as the Civil War proceeded, freed slaves who were recruited into the armies  of the North after proper training became a dedicated and effective fighting force, and during the Second World War a group of pilots consisting of Negroes who previously had been classified as being unable to comprehend the techniques of modern warfare was one of the most aggressive units of the Air Force. Minority citizens, including women and gays when properly trained quickly recognize that becoming an effective fighting force is a way out of their second class status and an admission ticket into full citizen status.

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Damien's decision to free the slaves and recruit them into the navy seemed insane to Lauren.  However, these are the people who had the most to gain if given the chance.  They will be strong and loyal fighters if Darien fulfils his promises to them.  Darien's speech is not charismatic and idealistic.  It is an explanation of why they were liberated, and what was expected of them. It lets them know that they are allowed to decide, but also tells them of the rewards they can earn for their efforts, freedom, respect, and the prospect of a more prosperous life.  Excellent speech for these people who have been beaten down and left with little hope.  

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Those poor souls have no idea what they have gotten themselves into...  They should have all run screaming away.  I so want to trust the Grand Duke...

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I like the idea of a restoration of the empire that has a less "absolutist and clerical" system of govt. A major shift is happening and we see our rag tag group becoming an effective and efficient efficient fighting force. 

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When someone has something worthwhile to fight for, they become an implacable foe...

And I thought the following heralded the new beginnings...

You're putting an awful lot of trust in a man who until today was nothing more than a figurehead ruler of a backwater Imperial colony," Walker said.

"You supported me when all I commanded was a commandeered frigate," Darien stated. "You're a good man, and right now we all need good men."

Walker sighed as he extended his hand, "If I re-establish the Empire it's going to be done on my terms, no Emperors or deities, or warlords..."

Darien nodded, "This is your planet, I'm just a captain."

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