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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 - 22. Chapter 22

The walls are crumbling,
the foundation is cracked and the roof leaks.
But it's still my home

-Anonymous 'Songs of Home'

HMS Excalibur

Excalibur slid out of her jump, her gravitic drives engaging as she came about on a graceful tack heading deeper into the Tancred system. Darien was experiencing what the ship was feeling as he sat in the command chair; chin resting on his hand and staring up at the displays floating around him.

It was the perfect staging area, remote, virtually no traffic and only two jumps out of Eisenhower. It would give them plenty of time to start training the crew and preparing for what was to come.

The ship was feeling something other than his anticipation. Kit had explained it shortly before their last jump; she was feeling maternal. She had life aboard her once again with all the vibrancy that it brought along with it. Darien was beginning to understand the sentience behind his ship-just like any creature she existed to serve a purpose, and when she was serving that purpose she was happy and content.

"Kendrick's asking permission to launch," Nazzien stated, his hand resting on the earpiece of his comm. headset.

"Wish him luck," Darien stated rising from the chair and walking down onto the quarterdeck to watch as the fighters roared off of the Excalibur's flight deck. The agile fighters launched from their berths on the underside of the vessel arcing around the ship's Knife like prow and out across its bow, forming up into two wings of seven fighters apiece.

Kendrick was adamant that his pilots be ready; they were inexperienced, some of the former slaves never having flown in years. The formation was ragged at best, but then Darien wasn't expecting miracles, it would take time for all of them to get used to their new roles.

Major Mayfair walked forward from his position back in the rear CIC area. He had taken to mirroring Darien's style of dress wearing a leather jacket with its yellow wolf's head patches and major's insignias on the collar. He folded his arms, his eyes following the assault fighters.

"A farm boy trades a pitchfork for a fighter," he said with a slight shake of his head.

"Kendrick knows how to fly," Darien replied absently, watching as the fighters began to perform the basics of formation flying, ducking and weaving through the black sky.

"Of course, Captain," Mayfair replied. "I meant no disrespect..."

Darien didn't smile as he turned back to his officers, "Commander?"

Kit materialized and cocked his head quizzically, "Yes, Captain?"

"Sound general quarters," Darien ordered.

Throughout the ship klaxons began to sound as the lights switched from full intensity to a lower blue. Crew members who had spent most of their time on backwater worlds or in Karin slave markets looked about each other in confusion as to what was going on.

Elias poked his head out from one of the engineering crawl spaces that he had been working in and threw a confused look up at the flashing alarm as equally lost as the others.

The marines weren't much better; at first they stood and stared, wondering what it was they were supposed to do, but their sergeants began to scream and bellow orders for them to grab their equipment, using fists and harsh prodding to get the men moving.

Darien watched the ensuing chaos with a dispassionate eye, standing on his quarterdeck waiting for sections to report their battle readiness. His officers were staring with shock at the total lack of response time the ship's crew possessed as they stared blankly over the various different consoles and displays before them.

Darien glanced at Major Mayfair who was trying hard not to laugh; the jovial marine suppressed a grin as he tried to recover some of his professional composure. "That...was different," he stated, watching the digital readout passing five minutes and still none of the sections had cleared for action.

"Well, I guess that shows us exactly where we are," Darien mused looking over the confusion. "Commander, you can cancel the general quarters."

The alarm klaxons fell silent and everyone on the bridge looked towards the captain for some kind of reaction. There was a tension in the air, each of them trying to appear busy, like they were doing something so as not to be the first one he spoke to.

"I think I am going to make a few changes," Darien said slowly, crossing his arms and leaning on the bulkhead behind him. "Starting with assigning responsibilities: Kendrick's already handling the fighters, and Major Mayfair's got the marines, Nazzien you have weapon systems, Elias engineering, Lauren helm." They nodded and he continued, "I want to start drilling the crew; that means showing them where their battle stations are to start with..."

"I can help there," Kit volunteered. "I have a complete list of duties and roles for the ship, and I can assign duties based on Lauren's crew manifest."

Darien nodded, "Good, let's get started on that then." He glanced at his watch, "Five hours and I run another drill, let's try to have everyone at their stations and reporting readiness." He glanced at the major, "That goes for your men as well."

The major nodded his head, "Aye, Captain."

He settled into his command chair resting a hand lightly on the arm and feeling the ship's confusion over what had just happened. He reassured her as best he could; it was going to take time but they would turn the crew into a fighting force. He just needed to have patience.

"Soon," he reassured quietly to the ship as he settled back into his chair; it was going to be a very long day.

* * *

The second time the alarm sounded the crew jumped, men and women rushing to find the quickest way to man the ship's batteries or damage control stations. A group of crew members rushed through the compartments sealing hatches as they went, clearing the decks and securing for general quarters.

It wasn't smooth, it still took time, but Darien smiled confidently when the final section reported that it was cleared and ready for combat. He nodded his head as he walked around the bridge verifying everything with his own eyes. The ship's weapons were powered up, her engines were running smoothly, her blast doors were sealed, the marines were in their positions. Excalibur actually resembled a ship of war.

"Stand down from general quarters," he ordered with a smile and nod. "Let your sections know that is what I want when those alarms go off. We may not be fast, but right now I just want to get it right."

The crew began to relax as they returned to normal operations, Lauren shutting down her displays as she turned the helm over to one of the other crew members that were being trained in its operations. As she crossed the deck she intercepted Darien as he walked back towards his stateroom.

"Skipper, a word?" she said, and Darien nodded as he led the way into the room.

"What's up?" he asked, pouring himself a much deserved mug of coffee from the coffee pot sitting on a shelf. He offered her one which she accepted greatfully.

"It's..." she sighed, "Don't take this the wrong way, it's just that you need to start instilling discipline on ship if you want to take her into battle."

"Right," Darien said cautiously, resting on the edge of his broad desk. Lauren was an experienced officer having served on Orion vessels most of her life and she was the best trained of all of them on ship operations. He was simply adapting his old Ter-Sec training as best he could, he knew her advice was invaluable.

"You need to start assigning officers," she continued, "not just me and Major Mayfair. This is a large ship and the crew need to know who to look to for orders; if anything, today just goes to show how important it is."

Darien nodded his head thoughtfully, "Suggestions, then?"

"On Orion warships, a captain has four lieutenants-one senior and three subordinates, each responsible for a specific aspect of the ships functions." She reached into her pocket and pulled out some old imperial insignias that she set carefully on the desk: one double bar and three single bars. "We also train replacements-midshipmen who serve under their appointed officer and... learn how it's done."

Darien glanced down at the bars. Picking up the twin silver one, he reached out and affixed it to Lauren's collar. "I think that's only fitting," he said with a nod.

She reached up to brush the bars and smiled, "I've spent most of my life on ships, and the Orions don't allow mercenaries to serve on their warships... I never..." She gave him a smile and saluted him in the typical Orion fashion, a closed fist touched to the opposite shoulder, "Thank you."

"I'm just making it official," Darien stated, returning the salute with a lopsided Ter-Sec one. "I'd best give the others out, as well." He glanced down at them.

"You're going to make Nazzien an officer?" she asked reading his expression.

"It might just provoke him into putting on a uniform," he said, scooping up the pins and walking towards the door to his stateroom.

"You'll be raising him above his social class," Lauren said with a smile. "For an Orion, to become an officer is a high honour."

Darien found Nazzien showing a couple of humans the fire control system, the Orion lecturing like an old pro on weapon systems he was only just beginning to understand himself. The dark-skinned Orion paused his lecture when Darien approached, leaning against the pedestal console and nodding.

"Skipper," he greeted.

Darien held up the single silver bar before pressing it into the Orion's hand. The two men looked down at the simple piece of metal and all it symbolized. It bestowed rank, prestige and honour. Nazzien looked up and flashed Darien a look that was his way of asking why.

"You earned it," Darien replied with a nod, clapping his friend on the shoulders as he continued on.

Lauren paused only a moment to take the silver bar from Nazzien's shocked fingers and affixing it to his collar. "You're a part of something bigger than just you, now," she said quietly.

Nazzien nodded. "I always was," he replied, his voice filled with emotion. The Orion shook his head to clear it and returned to his lecture.

"He's happy," Lauren concluded as she joined Darien in the elevator. The pair whisked their way down towards the lower decks and central engineering. "Who are your other two choices?"

Darien frowned as they both stepped out into the corridor below decks. His choices had seemed so natural a moment ago; he was going to give one to Elias and the other to Kendrick, but then there was Shale and all he had done for the ship, for the Empire and for him.

He turned and looked at her, and realized she was making a point. "Ouch," he accused, leaning back to allow a couple of crewmen to walk past pushing some parts from storage towards one of the machine shops.

"It's something you need to be aware of," she said sadly. "You're the captain, you need to think like one and not let personal relationships get in the way."

Darien nodded thoughtfully. "They've all earned it," he said quietly, "but..."

Lauren looked past him down towards the blast doors sealing Engineering, "But you're not sure if you give it to him you're doing it because he's earned it more or because..."

"This is tough," Darien admitted. "What would you do?"

"The nature of the friendships you've developed with your crew go back a long way, we've all been through a lot together. You and Elias go back the longest but we can't have the same level of discipline that a regular warship would have; we're forming relationships, attachments and that may not be the ideal thing, but it's still the situation we're in. You just need to separate those relationships from what you have to do as captain."

Darien stared down at the two insignia in his hands. "I need an engineering officer," he said nodding, "and I need another officer of the watch. Kendrick's spending most of his time on fighters and the flight deck, it's separate like the major... I need to focus on getting this ship running properly..."

Lauren smiled, "That's what I was thinking, I just needed you to realize you're the captain first."

Darien smiled at his first officer. "It's a lot to take in," he admitted.

"We'll sort it out," Lauren said as they walked through the heavy blast doors into the engine room.

Elias was stripping down one of the jump pods, replacing some of its worn parts with a couple of younger crewmembers around him. A contingent of grease monkeys in training all looked to him to teach them the wonders of mechanics. He wiped his hands on an oily rag and Darien was reminded of the small bright-eyed creature that had been stuck with him on the Dragonfly and how things had changed from those desperate early days.

"'Sup skipper?" he asked, hopping down from his perch and wiping his nose on the back of his hand. "If it's about the jump pod, give me two days and she'll be good as new...."

Darien reached out and pinned the insignia to Elias's grimy coveralls. "I need an officer down here," he explained as he brushed down the collar flap and nodded proudly.

Elias looked at it, and then up at Darien grinning. "Thanks," he said with a grin. "Does this mean I get to boss Nazzien around?"

"I wouldn't suggest trying," Lauren replied, glancing at the grimy faces of the young mechanics and engineers in training. What was it about kids and messes?

* * *

Shale was taking a much-needed break; he'd sequestered himself in the bow of the ship. The forward fire control was situated between the two primary Maser batteries and the zero-point bore in bow. He had his big feet up, a large mug of something suspiciously like hot cocoa complete with oversized marshmallows floating in it. It had taken Darien asking Kit to override the blast doors just to get inside, and he chuckled when he found the sheepish-looking Taïrian enjoying five minutes of quiet time without the constant questions of crew members.

Lauren arched her eyebrow looking down at the fearsome warrior enjoying his hot drink and quiet contemporary music floating from a portable sound system, "You know, I've seen some things in my time but this..."

Darien shook his head. "Leave the guy alone, he's earned a break," he replied, walking down the small flight of metal steps and setting the single bar on top of the console before the Taïrian. "I wanted to give you this," he stated.

Shale reached out a big paw to take the delicate piece of metal and examine it, his eyes widening when he realized what it was and he tried to hand it back to his captain.

"No," Darien stated, refusing despite Shale's insistence, "I'm serious, your people have long memories... well so do I." He closed Shale's paw over the badge of honour, "Side by side."

Shale relaxed his pushing, pulling back his arm and weighing the insignia heavily. Darien took it from him and pinned it to the collar of Shale's fleet uniform. Shale waited until Darien was done before he stood to his full seven feet, brushing down his tan shirt and tie, taking a moment to adjust the black fatigue cap on his large head and saluting the captain in a very rigid manner.

Darien tipped off his customary salute back at the Taïrian officer. "As you were, Lieutenant Shale," he said with a nod to the large mug of cocoa. Shale gratefully sat back down and put his feet up again.

* * *

Darien was finishing up his notes for the day, making addendums in his log about the promotions, updating the crew response times and taking the time to mark down individuals in the new crew that had come to his attention over the course of the day.

He yawned tiredly as the door opened and Elias walked in. The young engineer flopped dramatically down on one of the couches and looked up at Darien. "That was a long day!" he exclaimed. "Repairing ships systems is one thing, trying to teach a group of kids about mechanics at the same time..." he sighed again scrubbing his tired face with his hands and smiling over at Darien.

Darien nodded as he finished his entry, closing the logbook and getting up to join Elias on the couch, smiling as the engineer automatically spread out to rest his head against Darien's shoulder.

"I'm not even going to get into what I had to clean out of one of those fighters Kendrick brought back." He shuddered, "Some dude got motion sickness and threw up all over the inside..."

"Pleasant," Darien murmured, realizing exactly how tired he was as well; he smiled idly as he played with the lieutenant's pin on Elias's collar.

"Yeah, then one of the galley stoves burnt out an element, I had to replace it... all these marines standing around completely useless... Sure, order them to break something, they're useful... the second shit breaks..." he shook his head looking up at Darien who was nodding off.

Elias adjusted his position allowing Darien to stretch out on the couch as well, and he watched as his captain closed his eyes tiredly a final time and fell asleep. He reached out and took off Darien's glasses, dropping them onto the coffee table as he brushed Darien's fine brown hair away from his eyes. For a man who had the weight of the whole human race on his shoulders, he slept so peacefully.

Elias shrugged as he instinctively leaned down to kiss Darien lightly, closing his own eyes and falling asleep as well.

* * *

Darien's dreams were troubled; he kept thinking about the new faces on the ship, of how unready they were for what was coming. But there was no other choice, he had to make them ready. Excalibur had a destiny to meet, one that required a crew, and more importantly one that required a captain.

There was no other man for the job, and he turned on the couch feeling Elias in his arms as he groggily opened his eyes. The young man was in love with him, but beyond that he also believed in him. Darien sat up and rubbed his eyes looking about him at VonGrippen's stateroom, his stateroom now.

Had the old man suffered from the same worries in the middle of the night preparing for battle? He got up and crossed to the desk, flipping through the logbook, trying to find something in there would make him feel better about what he was trying to do.

Careful negotiations have failed, I was told that other attempts would be made, but the Imperial Clerics want a demonstration of Imperial resolve. Bishops rattling the sabres of war. I am worried about this; the Emperor would never have condoned this type of pre-emptive action.

My crew are young, a lot of my officers fresh from the Imperial naval academies on Mars, my first officer Commander Maguire feels that he can get them into fighting form before we arrive, but I am not so certain. Time is a rare commodity for a captain of a ship of the line. We always in need of more, but there comes a point where training becomes useless and all that counts is testing your mettle in battle.

My men have faith; I overheard a couple of the young sailors talking while I walked the ship before retiring for the night. There is a nervous excitement; they are worried about what they are going to face out there. But one of my veterans eased their fears, reminding them that I was in command, and nothing goes wrong as long as the admiral is on the ship.

That, I think, sums up what I am feeling now. I am permitted doubts in the darkness of the eve of battle, but the moment the daylight breaks and I walk out onto that bridge there can be no doubt left. Justified orders or not I am committed to this fight and I will win it.

"Yeah," Darien mused, "easy for you to say, you were a legend in your own time; I'm just a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time." He closed the logbook and stood staring out at the all-encompassing night. Excalibur was charting a long loop about the system giving them time to get ready. Giving him time to get ready.

Excalibur was a powerful vessel, fast, manoeuvrable and heavily gunned. VonGrippen had turned her into an instrument of war, his sword. Darien intended to use that sword.

* * *

The Captain was leaning on the upper gallery of the flight deck, looking down at the fighters that were clustered in rows being serviced by Elias and his engineers. They were bulky shapes that looked like deadly eagles, ready to fight and die at his command.

Kendrick was briefing his pilots over in the far corner of the bay. Crates had been set up around a holographic tactical display giving them a makeshift ready room. The pilots all wore the Imperial flight suits open mimicking Kendrick's manner of wearing them. The intense wing commander infected the young pilots with his own charismatic style of leadership as he detailed the day's flight training.

It was like that throughout the ship; Elias's engineers were catching on to his lessons, Nazzien and Shale training their crews on gunnery and range finding, even Major Mayfair's troops were familiarizing themselves with their new equipment and role as marines.

The general quarters drills were speeding up; a few more weeks and they would be meeting the average response times of Orion warships according to Lauren. That had to be good news.

Darien was feeling a certain pride as he watched his crew scurry about, clean, fed and well-dressed, earning a living for themselves outside of slavery manning the first human ship of the line in hundreds of years.

He marched back through the ship working his way towards the bridge, some of his crew scurrying past about their various different tasks bobbing their heads to him as they went. He returned their nods, amazed at how productive and industrious the ship seemed. Excalibur herself was feeling content, but at the same time eager to test herself against the Amsus in a real fight.

He patted a bulkhead as he walked, "Don't worry old girl, we're nearly ready."

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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Topher, having Excaliber, be an AI with senses and emotions is a fascinating and creative type of writing. Her emotions become a part of the story of the resurgence of the Empire. Excellent writing, truly an inspiration to any new author.

Edited by Will Hawkins
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I agree with Will that the AI with emotions and senses about the crew is a unique idea.  Especially for a warship. The organisation and training of the crew is paramount to the success of the mission to reclaim the jump gate.  The selections of the officers was interesting and I am glad that Damien had Lauren there to advise him.

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At some point; the fact that the ship is basically self aware could be very important.  The selection of officers was well done; Kendrick will be in charge of the fighter pilots, that is his position and what he wants.

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They are slowly getting ready to go to war. The AI aspect of Excalibur is fascinating and opens a whole new realm of relationships.  If an AI starship went rogue, however, ...

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The best laid plans rarely hold together once first contact with the enemy is established...having the AI will be very helpful...

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