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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 - 23. Chapter 23

We have always had peace with the Empire,
sought trade, built strong relations, and shared technology.
But now we find there is a new trade crossing our borders,
a commodity Kardiac seeks in abundance
If it is war that you want, then we shall deliver you war.

-Polian Ambassador 'Declaration of War'

HMS Excalibur

They were as ready as they would ever be. Darien leaned an arm on the back of the warship's command chair staring down at Lauren who was navigating the ship into its final jump position. The rest of his officers were clustered around the bridge, nervously anticipating what was to come.

Darien exhaled as he looked across the deck, "So the plan is the marines take the Raptor into the Eisenhower system, the virus gets automatically delivered; if the Amsus ship's systems shut down you go for the station while Excalibur jumps in to finish them off."

"They're going to need a pilot," Lauren said shutting down her console and turning to look up at her captain, "and I'm the only one on ship aside from you familiar with the Raptor."

Darien nodded slowly, "Right."

Mayfair flashed his award-winning smile at her, "Going to be good to have a lady along, might make my boys behave themselves for a change."

Elias looked uncomfortable for a second before he stuck his hand into his pockets and stepped up beside Lauren, "I should go too, the virus is my baby and... well, they're going to need an engineer on the station to get those weapons up and running."

Darien opened his mouth to protest, but the resolute look on the young engineer's face, and the light shining off of the single bar on his uniform silenced him. Darien nodded, "You're right. As for the rest of us..."

"The Amsus Capital ships will be blind, but their fighters will still be a problem," Nazzien warned. "I've got crews on all the anti-fighter batteries..."

"The fighters won't be a problem," Kendrick stated resolutely. "My squadron can keep them busy, Captain."

"I would recommend the fighters stay within a protective arc of the Excalibur," Kit suggested. "The Amsus fighters are going to be all they have once the shooting starts. If we can cover our fighters we should be able to keep them under control until Lieutenant Elias can get the station's weapons operational."

"Agreed," Darien stated, despite Kendrick's look of protest. "I don't doubt your squadron's abilities, I just want to play it safe."

Shale cleared his throat, placing a beefy paw on Elias's shoulder making it very clear where he intended to be in the coming battle. Nazzien shook his head at the big creature, patting his weapon console. "I'm staying right here where it's safe," he said firmly.

"We should get started," Darien decided as he took his chair feeling Excalibur's own eagerness mirroring his own.

* * *

R-403 jumped into the Eisenhower system amidst the hulking warships of the Amsus Navy. Flights of raptors curled about the larger ships, dark and deadly patrol frigates intent on protecting the larger hawk-shaped capital vessels.

"BB-03, CV-201," Elias, sitting beside Lauren, strapped into the weapons console, read off of the hulls. "You'd think these Amsus would come up with something more original for their ship names..."

"I don't think the Amsus care," Lauren said, angling their Raptor so that it passed under the spread winds of one of their heavy cruisers, "They don't strike me as the type that appreciate the nuances of a good name."

"Shame," Major Mayfair said ducking down to get a better look over Lauren's shoulder. 'I think 'Bloody mechanical monstrosity' would make a great name for one of those ships."

"I'll be sure to suggest it at the next Women of the Amsus Military committee meeting," Lauren replied. "How's that virus coming along?"

Elias waved her off as he continued to tap into his computer, configuring the transmission and hit a switch to feed it into the news relay system. "Done and done!" he stated with a grin. "Told you I would be useful..."

"Undesignated Raptor, this is DD-89," the harsh Amsus voice cut over the comm. channel. "Explain why you are not transmitting a valid Amsus transponder code or be fired upon!"

"Oh, that's not good," Elias murmured, as Mayfair tapped his shoulder and exchanged seats with him, his hands quickly resetting the weapons systems in case they had to fight their way clear.

"Undesignated Raptor, this is DD-89," the voice broke in again. "You are not following the correct procedure, if you do not respond you will be classified as hostile."

"What's the correct procedure?" Lauren hissed looking about her blankly, around the Raptor two others broke their formation, descending to take a better look at the unidentified Radar contact.

Elias grinned, sprinting back through the ship and pushing his way into Darien's old cabin, pulling down Amsus procedural manuals from the wall until he came up with three or four relating to fleet operations. He tucked them under his arm as he ran back past slightly confused marines staring at him.

"Here we go," he said pulling open one book and setting it on the console in front of Lauren. He continued to leaf through others.

Lauren scratched her head and picked up the radio, "DD-89 this is R-711..."

"Seven-eleven?" Mayfair mouthed in surprise. Lauren simply shrugged, it had been the first three digit number to come to her mind.

"...We are experiencing a malfunction in," she glanced over the schematic Elias pushed under her nose, "Relay Twelve-ninety stroke Alpha-Alpha-Two-four-one; correct procedure states that..." Elias changed manuals again and tapped the one appropriate to their situation, "while our transponder signal is unable to transmit, we dock with the nearest facility and undertake repairs."

"Procedure states that we make a visual confirmation of identity," the voice from DD-89 replied.

Mayfair eyed his tactical displays warily. "If they get much closer they're going to start noticing we're not exactly up to factory specs here..." he murmured.

Elias continued to flip through the manuals tossing another one aside as he shook his head helplessly.

"If your Raptors move to flanking positions DD-89," Lauren stated, "they can escort us all the way to Eisenhower station, as per procedure..." she glanced at the manual, "Two-Charlie-Nine paragraph fourteen."

"Confirmed R-711," DD-89 responded. "Proceed with caution..."

Mayfair breathed a sigh of relief as the two Raptors swung about to escorting positions several kilometres away from their Raptor, still outside of a full visual range. "How long till that bloody virus works?" he asked nervously looking back at Elias.

"Hey," Elias said with a shrug, "these things take time."

"We're not going to know until we dock with Eisenhower," Lauren said, checking her systems and beginning an approach to Eisenhower's docking bays, the large sweeping tunnel that led to the insides of the station and the multitude of landing platforms within.

The two other Raptors peeled off, screaming up the length of the gargantuan station, rising up and over some of the ships still docked to the outside.

"There's the Protania," Elias said pointing.

"Looks like the Amsus locked the station down when they seized control," Lauren said shaking her head, guiding the Raptor inside and up the long, pressurized docking bay. She guided the ship expertly, taking it towards the very top, ensuring that passing Amsus ships didn't spot them. The last thing any of them needed while they attempted to seize control of the station's command centre was more Amsus dropping by.

The Raptor's wings swept upwards as her landing gears extended, perching on the top platform as was his right, Lauren shutting down its running lights to further obscure the Imperial markings on her hull.

Mayfair was up and out of his chair jogging back the length of the ship gesturing to his men to grab their gear; it was show time.

The Karin marines, armed with Imperial weapons taken from the Excalibur and dressed in flak vests, looked nervous but determined, eying their sergeants waiting for the orders that would send them spilling down the cargo ramp and into the station.

Elias felt a helmet being pushed onto his head, and he glanced up at Shale, the big Taïrian smiling fondly as he loaded his shotgun, the two marching back towards the ramps, ready to accompany the marines as they stormed the station.

"Hey, short stuff," Lauren called and Elias turned. "Kick some ass." She grinned hopping back into her chair, ready to provide a fast getaway should the need arise, wishing she was going with them.

Major Mayfair accepted the pulse rifle he had been handed by one of his men. He checked the weapon by rote, tucked a comm. headset on and tapped it to make sure it worked fine. He gestured with the rifle to one of his marines, the young private triggering the ramp as the rest of his men took up firing positions.

The platform was deserted, the major making a hand signal that sent one of his squads down the ramp to secure it while the others hung back to provide cover should they be attacked.

Elias sweated, adjusting the helmet on his head that was entirely too large, wondering again if he should just stay on the ship; not that he was a coward, it was just, these were professional soldiers and he was just a grease monkey.

Shale caught his eye and the burly Taïrian offered a toothy grin as the second squad of marines ran down the ramp taking up firing positions at the hatch that led inside the connecting corridors. Elias grinned back and tensed as Mayfair charged down the ramp leading his second platoon, slowing down as the lead squad cycled open the hatch, poking through and into the docking complex beyond, their weapons at the ready.

The aim was to move as quickly and as quietly as they could through the docking complex, hitting the Amsus troops by surprise and moving on before they had time to react to what was happening. Mayfair had brought the full two companies, both fanning out to secure the deck, sporadic gunfire ringing out when they encountered an Amsus trooper. Quick short bursts from the pulse rifles silenced the Amsus before they could call for help.

Elias stuck close to Shale in the escort of the Bravo Company, Mayfair leading the way as they worked their way to the elevators that would take them to the higher decks. The marines of Alpha Company would follow, bringing up the rear. It was a perfectly timed operation-Elias was guided into the elevator and secured behind a wall of men with one mission, and that was to keep him alive.

He swallowed as the elevator ascended.

* * *

The Excalibur slid into the system, a graceful skater that glided towards the blinded Amsus vessels with malevolent purpose. Darien had taken the controls personally, steering his ship with a cautious eye, well aware of everything going on around him.

"Amsus vessels are holding their formation," Kit's voice echoed over his shoulder, the commander ever watchful listening to the sensor data directly from the ship herself. "They don't appear to see us."

"That'll change," Darien replied. "Tell Kendrick to launch fighters."

The Excalibur's flight deck disgorged its assault fighters, angry insects alongside the great capital ships; they swept up into their picket positions around the Excalibur ready to do battle. Darien focused his attention on a large Amsus battleship, BB-03 by her markings. "I think it's time we announced ourselves," he said quietly.

"Target lock established," Nazzien replied from the opposite side of the bridge. "I have firing solutions."

"Fire," Darien commanded.

Excalibur cut loose with her full offensive payload, Shrike missiles, her heavy maser cannons and her Zero point bore. The masers struck first on the unprepared and blind warship; they seared great gouges through the battleship's forward armour, carving a path of destruction along the back of the vessel as the Zero point bore slammed through him punching a hole clear through the centre of the vessel. The Shrike missiles slammed home shearing one of the great wings of the craft clean off.

The death of the fearsome Amsus battleship was spectacular. Broken and defenceless, he listed to one side, immobile from the damage he had sustained. The pride of the Amsus navy was little more than scrap in the Excalibur's first salvo.

"Oh my god!" Nazzien exclaimed. He looked down at his screens to make sure he was reading them correctly, staring in disbelief at what he had just witnessed.

"The Amsus are launching fighters," Kit warned as Darien threw the Excalibur's rudder over, steering his vessel away from the crippled behemoth.

"Here they come," Darien commented, looking up at the observation ports.

* **

"Excalibur's here," Mayfair said as they passed a window overlooking space and the Jump Nexus beyond.

Elias turned his head watching the Excalibur as she duelled her way through a cloud of fighters. The crippled Amsus battleship listed, broken and battered in her wake as she pushed onwards, blinded Raptors shrieking around searching for a target to shoot at as the Excalibur's anti-fighter guns filled the space around the vessel with deadly light.

Shale's guiding hand pushed Elias onwards as they crossed the connecting bridge that separated the main station from the inner core. Elias tore his eyes away from the scene and hurried to keep up with the marines as they advanced.

The marines pushed their way deeper into the station, fire fights springing up around them as Amsus began to clue-in that there was an invading force aboard the station. Elias kept his head down as they passed what had once been a large mess hall. There, marines were exchanging shots with several Amsus troopers pinned down behind tables.

One of the marines guarding him fell, clutching a bullet wound that had blossomed in his stomach, and Elias stared at the young marine in shock looking up the corridor to where a group of Amsus troops had established a kill zone and were engaging Mayfair's marines.

Shale pushed Elias to one side, his shotgun coming up and barking loudly as he unloaded a couple of shells at the troopers using the bulkheads for cover as Mayfair's men hammered them relentlessly with pulse fire.

Elias swallowed as he tried to press himself back behind a bulkhead support column, the gunfire raining around him. He swallowed a few times as he watched Shale and the Marines try to make a dent in the Amsus defences.

Mayfair patted his pulse rifle, secure behind the opposite support column to Elias, counting slowly to himself as he swung out from the wall and fired with the under barrelled grenade launcher. There was a dull boom from up the hallway and silence from the Amsus weapons.

"Now that's cooking with gas," the major replied tossing Elias a friendly wink as his men got up from their firing positions to press forward. "We don't have much time, if the Amsus warships figure out how to get their weapons back online Excalibur's in trouble...."

Elias stuffed his helmet a little further back on his head to stop it from falling over his eyes as he jogged ahead with them, trying not to think of the dead marines littering the corridor or the charred remains of the Amsus troopers.

It was horrific, the smell of death thick in the air as his mind swam and he felt his stomach rebelling. Mayfair allowed him time to empty his stomach in the corner before grabbing the engineer and pushing him forwards again, a few of the marines chuckling about the 'delicate' fleet officer.

* * *

The Excalibur continued to drive deeper into the Amsus fleet; its maser batteries swatting Raptors from the sky as its missiles took out targets of opportunity left and right. The fighters were a problem, Darien instinctively ducking as one of the consoles behind him detonated from a power surge.

"That's a lot of ships," Nazzien commented in awe as the Excalibur's Zero point bore cleaved a destroyer from stem to stern, her missiles raking across it to finish the job. The Amsus were pressing everything they had into their fighter attacks, a couple of the larger capital ships opening fire with their own point defence weapons hoping to get lucky and hit the deadly Imperial vessel that was carving a path through them.

Kendrick's fighters were dealing with as many of the Amsus fighters as they could. Keeping to the cover of the Excalibur's own point defence weapons, they darted out for sorties luring the Amsus fighters back in after them only to have them shot down by one of Nazzien's gun crews.

Darien scanned the Amsus battle group, looking for openings and taking the ones that he could. The Excalibur was wreaking havoc, tearing apart whatever it could get close to.

"Captain," Kit said suddenly sounding grim, "Excalibur's sensors are picking up multiple jump events... It's the second Amsus battle group... they just arrived..."

"This isn't going to be good," Darien said, looking over at where the new arrivals were pouring back into normal space. Unaffected by Elias's virus, the Amsus ships were closing rapidly, intending a furious reprisal against the Imperial ship that had sought to humiliate them.

"I'm turning to meet their attack," Darien stated, angling the Excalibur to present the smallest profile he could to the onrushing ships. "This is going to get rough."

* * *

They were pinned down again. A large flight of stairs led up to the doors of the command centre, but it was a well-defended position and the marines were outgunned. The Amsus knew from taking the station where the best positions were to defend it. They had been waiting, setting up their barricades in the deadly kill zone, using the upper gallery of the stairwell to control the Imperial marines.

Mayfair cursed as he leaned up to fire off more shots. Grenades had proven ineffective- the Amsus were picking off anyone that stood long enough to try and fire one. They were trapped and running out of time.

Elias pressed his back up against the bulkhead of the doorway to the stairwell, Shale covering him as best he could with his shotgun. But the situation was fast growing hopeless.

"We need another way," Mayfair commented grimly as he fired again, sending a hail of shots into the stairwell.

Elias swallowed looking about him, up to the narrow vent in the wall over their head. It curved up through the ceiling, and he cocked his head to follow it as it led through the stairwell and connected to the floor above.

He coughed. "The vents," he pointed.

Mayfair ducked back down and stared to where Elias was pointing; he glanced across the system and nodded. "Someone might be able to get through there," he said looking towards Elias. "If I get one of my smaller men to strip off their body armour they might..."

Elias shook his head. "Give me a boost," he said gesturing to Shale.

The Big Taïrian shook his head, looking helplessly at the major. Mayfair shrugged and pulled out his pistol; checking its charge he handed it to Elias. "Don't be a hero," he warned. "If you can get around them go for it but you won't have any backup."

Elias shivered, but accepted the pistol as Shale boosted him up to the vent; the young engineer tucked the pistol into his belt as he pried off the grill and slithered inside. Crawling forward on hands and knees, he prayed as he clambered up and around, working himself through the narrow space.

He reached the end of the crawlspace peering through the grill and noting the back of the heads of the Amsus troopers. The vent spat him out on the other side of them, and he couldn't just pop out of the vent and avoid them. He swallowed, trying to think.

The Amsus were setting up a machine gun, readying to keep the Imperial marines pinned down with superior firepower. He leaned forward a bit and glanced about at the rest of the corridor. The Amsus had been busy since taking the station, throwing together makeshift barricades and welding them using sedaline torches. One of the sedaline canisters was sitting propped up against a bulkhead behind the Amsus, well out of the range of stray marine fire... Elias on the other hand, had a clear shot.

Down below Mayfair jumped as a huge explosion erupted from the upper stairwell, his marines ducking as secondary explosions flared from ammunition cooking off. In moments the explosions stopped and the marines could step into the twisted ruin of the stairwell.

Mayfair stared in disbelief up at Elias's grinning, soot-stained face as the young engineered waved at him. He glanced at Shale, "Remind me to use my pistol more often..." he murmured.

There would be no more derisive comments from the marines about the 'delicate' officer after that.

The remnants of the Marine Company placed a breaching charge on the doors to the command centre, blowing them open cleanly as they swept in shooting anyone that so much as lifted a weapon. In moments the Command Centre was secure and Elias was sitting in front of a tactical console plugging in his override codes to shut down the virus in the station.

* * *

Excalibur rocked from another impact, the missile slamming into its shields. Darien was again thankful for the Imperial technology that was keeping the ship in one piece, even if it was doing so by the skin of its teeth.

The deck heaved beneath his feet, more fighters screaming in to overwhelm them; they were holding their own, but even still that was a push. The Excalibur possessed a formidable arsenal, but she was a wounded bear, and while still a threat to the wolves surrounding it, they knew they would eventually pull her down.

The bulkhead behind him collapsed under an impact, shattering one of the glass plotting boards and sending a shower of sparks across the deck. Darien winced, knowing they were running out of time. Excalibur was taking a lot of punishment, but she wasn't equipped to fight so many Amsus ships alone.

Kit strode forward, "Captain, the station..."

The rotation weapons batteries of Eisenhower station spun to life. A rain of death ploughed its way through the Amsus ships that were in range, rending two cruisers asunder in a massive volley of missile fire. Raptors spun and began to run as the larger capital ships turned as well, struggling towards the Jump Nexus and the freedom of the far side.

They didn't make it.

The second battleship was raked stem to stern as the Excalibur came about, eager for vengeance for the damage wrought upon her by those ships. She hammered relentlessly on the mighty warship, detonating its engines and carrying forward to its fuel supply, the massive warship keeling to one side as it ploughed through one of its escort cruisers, both ships dying explosively.

Darien leaned forward on the helm console and released the breath he had been holding. The Amsus that didn't make it to the gate died fiery deaths, and those that did limped back to the Hegemony in pieces.

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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Another great battle, another great win.  I would love to read the news tomorrow about this fight.

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Elias did what he had to do; as did the rest.  The problem is so far they have won every battle without losing anyone; but that just can't continue.

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The gates of Hell have been opened, this will have gotten the attention of Amsus unlike any other incident...Three battle fleets mangled...it won't be easy from here on out...

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