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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 - 24. Chapter 24

The knight's cross was the highest decoration
presented by the inhabitants of the Apilon Rift
to their heroes.
When they presented it to me, it wasn't a badge of honour,
but a severe reminder of the blood that was on my hand,
In the name of a dead Emperor.

-VonGrippen 'Excalibur Logs'

HMS Excalibur

The repairs were progressing well; the Excalibur had commandeered one of Eisenhower's repair docks and was under going a full repair. It was an excuse for Elias to retrofit some of the Excalibur's systems as well; the advanced Imperial systems were good, but there had been some improvements made on technology in the years after the fall.

Darien walked through one of the decks, access panels were open and crew members were busying themselves with repairs. The aftermath of a battle was always the hardest. He had wounded in the Excalibur's sickbay, too many for his liking. The damage had been extensive, but the Excalibur herself had weathered the battle well.

He bowed his head to a couple of crewmen that saluted him as he walked past, awe and respect in their eyes at the captain that had led them through the battle. He shook his head with a half-smile of pride at his men, this was his ship, and their successes were his successes.

Major Mayfair had successfully secured the station, waiting for relief from the Karin Guard. Arriving in transports fresh from their victory on the Imperial world they had taken residence onboard the station, hoisting von Karin's colours over the station triumphantly. He was present on the marine deck looking up as Darien passed overhead on the upper catwalks, offering a salute as he briefed some new recruits, drawn from the populace of Eisenhower station to replace the marines he had lost.

The citizens of Eisenhower, not objecting to von Karin's occupying force taking up residence, had hailed them as liberators. The Empire had returned, and it had driven off the Amsus invaders when the Commonwealth had failed. Already there were ships arriving at the station to begin trade again, some of them flying Karin colours and boasting their loyalty to the new regime.

Darien descended the steps onto the Excalibur's flight deck, the shuttle from von Karin's personal ship arriving only a few moments before. The Archduke walked down onto the deck of the Imperial flagship and offered a warm smile to Darien.

"Captain!" he greeted warmly, shaking hands with the man who had delivered Eisenhower to him.

Darien smiled and shook hands with his friend, nodding to a pair of older men wearing Imperial uniforms marked with von Karin's sigil. "Welcome aboard the Excalibur."

Walker looked above him to the magnificent vessel and shook his head in wonder, "It's everything it should be." He stopped and smiled, "Come, my friend we should find a quiet place to talk."

Darien nodded in concern, gesturing the way and falling into step beside the Archduke. "What's the matter?" he asked as they walked.

"The Commonwealth is collapsing," von Karin stated sweeping his great coat behind him as he stepped aside to allow a couple of repair techs past. "I control one of their major worlds and their only gateway to the rest of the universe," he motioned to the two men behind him. "Two of the former Commonwealth ruling council, Captain Kingston and Captain Dreb have both pledged their loyalty to the Empire and have brought across their factions with them."

Darien shook hands with the two men as they all entered the elevator. "Pleasure to meet you both," he stated warmly.

"It is an honour to meet you as well, Captain," Kingston said with a slight bow of his head. "You are becoming quite a famous man, all things considered."

Darien smiled grimly. "I'm just doing what needs to be done," he said, leading the three men into his stateroom and offering them seats. They took them as von Karin remained standing and Darien leaned against the edge of his desk.

"The key point is that more worlds are coming under the Imperial banner. We have ten so far, two capital worlds and a collection of smaller mining and agricultural colonies." Von Karin continued, "There are a further five worlds seeking admission."

"You've been busy," Darien said with a smile as he folded his arms. "What does this have to do with me?"

"I like to keep my officers informed," von Karin replied. "I am establishing the regional assembly on Karin, I feel that we should nominate a provisional government for the interim until proper elections can be held."

Darien blinked, "Elections?"

"Yes," von Karin replied, "but you needn't worry over the politics, that's my problem. The key issue is we are getting ships, resources and men all stepping forward to the Imperial cause. And that, Captain, is because of you."

Darien nodded, "You're welcome." He was growing a little uncomfortable; he had never intended to be a pivotal figure in a revolution, he was just ... He gave up, there was no arguing against it, he was an Imperial Captain, he had led his men into battle and he had won against astounding odds.

"You're becoming a symbol to a lot of people," von Karin stated lifting a flat black box from under the folds of his coat. "Which is why as leader of the interim government it is my solemn duty to present you with the Knight's Cross." He opened the box and presented the white Maltese cross supported by golden lions. It was old-Darien glanced over it and realized it dated from the old Empire, lovingly preserved, a museum piece.

"I can't..." he started.

"This was an symbol of respect from the people of the Apilon Rift to any that excelled in valour in their name. You stopped the Amsus invasion and helped restore order to this small corner of the universe." Von Karin lifted the cross from its box and leaned up to clasp it around Darien's neck, "The only other Human to receive this decoration was VonGrippen when he united the Rift and brought it into the Empire. You should consider yourself honoured."

Darien nodded mutely, feeling the weight of the cross about his neck. It was the mark of a warrior, and he knew he was honoured to wear it. He bowed his head formally, "Thank you, your Grace."

Walker nodded with a smile, "Now let's discuss the future, shall we?"

* * *

Elias wasn't used to the looks. He caught them doing it when they thought he wasn't looking, or busy. Crew members or marines would stare at him with a look in their eyes that was unsettling for the young engineer.

"It's respect," Lauren said leaning across the table as she noticed Elias's paranoid flicker of annoyance towards a couple of marines in the mess hall.

"Huh?" Elias blinked at her.

"Respect," Lauren said. "You know, 'cause you earned it?"

Elias screwed up his face, as he went back to his cereal, "No way-it's 'cause I smell or something...even though I took three showers this morning..."

Lauren laughed at him as she poured herself another mug of coffee, "You just don't know how to take a compliment."

"Oh I do," Elias replied. "'Elias, good job fixing the engines', or 'Elias, way to go with the broken light bulbs on deck nine'... just 'Elias, good job firing one lucky shot...'" he shook his head.

"What's wrong with super squirt?" Nazzien asked setting his tray down and joining them at their table. Elias flashed him a dirty look.

"He's complaining because everyone gives him respect now," Lauren explained.

Nazzien chuckled, "Respect? Him?" He laughed.

"See," Elias said gesturing with his spoon. "Now that's normal behaviour for anyone that knows me."

There was a burst of laughter from another table and everyone turned their heads to look at Kendrick sitting with his squadron mates recounting again the story of the battle for Eisenhower. It didn't matter that everyone at that table had been there in fighters along with him, that they had seen his infamous dogfights, or battled to get an Amsus fighter off of his tail. The way he told it they were all sitting with rapt attention hanging on every word.

"Here he goes again," Nazzien grunted poking his runny eggs. "Think he ever gets tired of the sound of his own voice?"

"Leave him alone," Lauren said draining her coffee cup. "He's earned the right to brag a bit."

"A bit, yes," Nazzien stated. "But from the way he tells it you'd think he was the only one fighting the Amsus."

Lauren tsked at him as she collected her tray and walked off to stick it into the recycler. Nazzien continued to grumble as he glared over at the self-indulgent fighter pilot. Elias rolled his eyes and excused himself as well; he had a repair list as long as his arm, and wanted to get started on fixing the bridge before the captain got ideas to put out again.

* * *

Darien sat staring out of the stern windows at the Jump Nexus hanging above Eisenhower station like a malevolent creature. The gateway to the rest of the universe, connecting to all the other jump nexus's scattered across the universe, with its single dark gateway, like a black eye on a beautiful jewel.

He glanced up at Lauren as she walked into his stateroom carrying a clipboard with her. She descended the steps to the sitting area and climbed the second set to the desk. "Morning," she said smiling at him.

"Morning," he replied uncurling himself from his position and sitting upright. "How go the replacement interviews?"

Lauren shook her head, "There's too many, so many people want a chance to serve on this ship it's nuts. I replaced a number of.." she swallowed, "our losses with experienced gunners, we should start to see a noticeable increase in performance over the next few weeks..." she trailed off glancing at his neck, "...Is that...?"

He touched the cross and nodded, "Von Karin and the Imperial interim government seem to feel I earned it." He shook his head.

"Wow," Lauren mused. "Anyway, repairs are going well and..." she looked up again, "Interim government?"

"Yes, von Karin and a number of Commonwealth politicians are forming an interim government out of planets that are switching allegiances to join us. Given a bit of time and some careful negotiations von Karin thinks he can restore the Commonwealth to Imperial rule."

"Is that a good idea?" she asked, scratching her arm and frowning.

"He's proposing a number of reforms, and we're discussing ways to reactivate the Imperial fleet. They're already training crews for them, give it a month or two you're going to see a very different Apilon Rift."

"I bet," Lauren said shaking her head in wonder. "It's about time someone started to put some order back into this place. What about Earth-are they still committed to that?"

"Yes," Darien replied. "They are going to field a fleet from here, while I take the Excalibur through the Jump Nexus and try to rally some support."

"We're going back to the Hegemony?" Lauren asked quietly.

"We're not going back through the Haligonian Nexus, the Amsus have that entire system blockaded," he stood up activating a great starmap that hung in the centre of the room above the sitting area. "I intend to take us through the Kree Jump Nexus and back through the Eelim Enclave."

"The Eelim Enclave?" Lauren's eyes widened, "That's going to take some time." She pointed to the Enclave that was highlighted on the map, a tightly ruled sector of space that adamantly retained its neutrality even after the fall of the Empire, "It also means you have to go through Polian space to reach the Hegemony."

Darien nodded, "Right, but at the same time it puts us squarely into the Taïrian sectors of the Hegemony, semi-friendly space so long as we can avoid Amsus patrols. By the time we get there von Karin will have enough time to field a couple of battle groups of Imperial ships and if we can convince the Taïrians to back us we can launch a two-front attack against the Terran Occupied zone, tossing the Amsus out on their ass and securing Earth before they know what hit them."

"Yes, but the Eelim aren't exactly a benevolent race, they aren't going to appreciate an Imperial warship cutting through their territory; and when the Polians find out..."

Darien nodded, "I know, which is why we need to do this as quietly as we can. Stock as many supplies as you can onboard ship, we have a long voyage ahead of us without much chance for re-supply along the way."

"Yes, Captain," Lauren said, still sounding daunted by the planned journey as she turned to walk from the stateroom.

Darien glanced up at the chart, studying it while rubbing his jaw. There really was no other way, short of trying to punch through the Haligonian Nexus or spending nearly two years charting a course around Polian Territory.

Excalibur was fortunate, the ship didn't operate off of conventional fuel, and it didn't require a ramp scoop system. It relied instead on Zero-point energy that gave him an unlimited range. His biggest concern would be parts and supplies, and finding friendly ports along the way would be crucial.

He set about plotting the individual jumps they would have to take, researching through the old Admiral's books for clues, no matter how out-of-date, that would help him with the journey.

* * *

Mayfair leaned on the rail and smiled at her, a charming smile that seemed wholly out of character for a marine. "I wanted to say thank you."

Lauren looked up from her displays and at the marine quizzically, "For what?"

"For your radiant smile," he grinned at her and hopped down to the deck walking forward, hands in his pockets, as he glanced over the navigational displays.

"I don't think that's appropriate," she replied with a blushing smile.

"Sir," Mayfair corrected her with a cocky grin. "Major outranks a lieutenant, even a senior one."

"I'll remember that, Major," she tipped off a lopsided salute as she smiled, returning to her charting.

Work was still underway to rebuild the damaged command deck, a couple of crew members welding the new bulkhead into place and another one polishing up the new plotting board that had been installed to replace the shattered one.

"So where is our intrepid skipper taking us next?" Mayfair asked.

"The Eelim Enclave," Lauren replied absently as she tested the responses from the forward thruster arrays, happy with the modifications Elias was making because it would make Excalibur a little more responsive to the helm. "From there back to the Hegemony."

"Excellent," Mayfair said grinning at her. "I was wondering, before we leave the station if you'd care to have dinner with a jarhead."

Lauren blinked at the major's forwardness, "I..."

"I'll make it an order," he said with a grin.

"And that would be abusing your position," Lauren said smiling back; there was something infectious about his smile, and she had to give him points for persistence. "All right, dinner on the station, you're buying, and you'll have me back before ten."

"Eleven and we go Dutch," Mayfair replied with a nod. "Great, meet you at the airlock at five."

"Six," she said with a shrug. "A girl needs extra time to look beautiful."

At the rear of the bridge, Shale held up a twenty-credit note. Nazzien looked at it, and across the deck and pulled out a twenty of his own.

"What are we betting on?" Kendrick asked coming out of the elevator. "Has Elias asked the Skip out on another date?"

Nazzien nodded to the front of the bridge where Mayfair was laughing with Lauren, "He just asked her out."

Kendrick's face darkened as his eyes narrowed, turning and marching off the bridge.

"What's up with him?" Nazzien asked Shale, turning to watch the Wing Commander stalk off. Shale merely shrugged.

* * *

"Hey," Elias called as Darien walked into the stateroom. The young engineer was curled up on the couch wrapped in the old afghan and watching the news feeds. It was nothing new, more on the new Empire, von Karin's reforms and the victory at Eisenhower. Darien pointedly ignored it as he sat down on the couch and stretched his feet out.

"Well, a couple more days and we should be good to go," Darien stated, loosening his tie and adjusting the Knight's Cross clasped at his neck.

"Lauren's out on a date with the major," Elias chimed up suddenly.

"Huh?" Darien asked looking at the grinning young man.

"He asked her out today," Elias smirked.

"That's..." Darien shrugged; he could honestly say he tried not to delve too closely into the personal lives of his crew.

Elias shook his head. "Doesn't faze you one bit does it?" he asked. "I could tell you Lauren was on the bridge having Nazzien's illegitimate love child and you still wouldn't care."

"Oh I care," Darien replied. "Just never really been one for gossip. So Lauren's on a date with Marty, good for them."

Elias frowned, leaning around and resting his head against Darien's shoulder, "You should spend more time with them, get to know them better; they're great people."

"I know they are," Darien replied. "It's just not my place to become too involved. I'm already too involved with you..."

Elias sat up, giving Darien a look, "Too involved?"

"I..." Darien protested, "I didn't mean it like that..."

"No," Elias said getting up, "I get what you mean, you don't want to be involved..."

"I didn't say that," Darien replied tiredly-he didn't need this now. Sometimes all it took to set off the overtly emotional engineer was the wrong thing said at the wrong time. He rubbed his temples.

"No, it's fine," Elias stated, off on a tear. "I'm going to go, spend the night in the engine room or something..."

Darien got up and caught Elias by the shoulders, "Stop... okay?" He turned the young man towards him and shook his head staring into his azure eyes, "Stop...please?"

Elias blinked up at him. "What... why do you want me to stop?" he said almost angrily.

"You know why," Darien said calmly. "You don't need me to say it, just sit down and accept it..."

"No," Elias replied shaking his head, "Not good enough; either you say it or..."

Darien smiled at Elias, reaching up to brush the strands of blond hair from his eyes, the hair he hid behind because he was too scared of the whole world, "I..."

"Excuse the intrusion, Captain," Kit stated, materializing awkwardly in the middle of the room. He coughed and adjusted his glasses, a nervous habit of the hologram when he was uncomfortable.

"What is it, Commander?" Darien asked with a reluctant sigh.

"Eisenhower Station, Captain; port authorities have arrested Major Mayfair and Wing Commander Kendrick." The hologram shrugged, "Apparently they started a brawl in a restaurant."

Darien frowned shaking his head as he clapped Elias twice on the shoulder, turning and leaving. Elias rounded on the hologram, "Of all the lousy timing... I am so reprogramming you to only appear after pivotal moments in my life!!!"

Kit shrugged helplessly, "I'm sorry, Lieutenant..."

* * *

Darien had slipped the heavy and warm great coat on, turning up the collar so it wasn't so prominent as he walked into the security office onboard the station. The marine behind the desk looked up and blinked twice recognizing the notorious starship captain who had just walked in.

"C-captain..." He stuttered nervously.

"I'm to take my crew members off your hands and settle any damages," Darien replied, nodding when the desk sergeant fumbled through some paperwork, still awed by the man standing in front of him. Darien signed the appropriate documentation and was shown back to the holding cells.

Mayfair and Kendrick were both in cells. Lauren sat looking frustrated on a bench, her arms crossed and a dark expression on her face.

Darien chewed his lip as the guard stepped back to give them some privacy, the captain standing looking at his two crewmen questioningly. They both stared back at him, and sheepishly looked towards the ground.

"Do I have a problem here?" Darien asked, folding his arms and furrowing his brow.

"No sir," Mayfair said quickly. "Just a bit of nonsense that got a little out of hand."

"A little out of hand?" Darien stated, reaching out for the papers the guard had carried with him, taking it and flipping through the list of charges. "Drunk and disorderly behaviour, brawling... you all but destroyed that restaurant. And then when the MP's came to arrest you, you assaulted them as well..." He looked up, "I'd say it was a little more than a little out of hand."

"Sir, yes sir!" Mayfair rang out, his head slumping forward.

Darien glanced over at Kendrick who, aside from a raging bruise on his face that looked set to become a nice black eye, didn't look very repentant, "And as for you, I thought picking you up off that dust ball of a planet you called home, traipsing halfway across the universe and helping to restore the Empire would have had some kind of an effect on you. I can see now you'd rather be a colonist than an officer!"

Kendrick looked down as well mumbling something.

"What was that?" Darien asked, taking a step forward.

"Sir, yes sir!" Kendrick stated, mirroring Mayfair's tone and posture exactly.

"You're damn right yes sir!" Darien stated angrily. "Now I'm going to have this guard release you and you two are going back to the ship where you are to remain until we depart. No more of this nonsense or I'll bring you back here and toss you back into these cells myself."

He watched the guard release the pair of his officers, and show them towards the door. Lauren got up to follow, but Darien cleared his throat, stopping her in her tracks.

"Just a moment," he said, waiting until the two men had gone and affixing her with a concerned look. "Are you going to tell me what this was about?"

Lauren shook her head, "It was my fault, I... should have stopped them."

"Anything I need to know about?" Darien asked in concern.

Lauren shook her head, "Nothing, Skipper, just men acting like boys..."

"Right," Darien stated holding open the door for her and walking back towards the ship. They were all going to be cooped up onboard ship for a long time to come, and if there was a problem...

He sighed, wondering what he was in for in the months ahead.

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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Saw that coming from the moment Major Marty asked Lieutenant Lauren for a date.  I wonder if Lauren deliberately was trying to make Kendrick jealous?  

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