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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 - 27. Chapter 27

She is beauty, like the stars,
She is grace, like the moon
Beware her kiss, it is death.

-Imperial Poet Laureate 'Ballad of the Excalibur'

HMS Excalibur

Her power came back on to the cheers of her crew. The Excalibur slipped out of her frozen hiding place, shedding the ice as her hull began to warm and trailing ice particles as she shook herself free. Her jump pods began to recharge as she slipped closer to the cold star in an effort to be free of the last of the ice.

Coats and blankets were being shed as the temperature inside the cold ship began to return to normal and Darien leaned across the CIC situation table examining star charts. The Eelim had abandoned their search, the last of their ships leaving the desolate system an hour before. Darien was adamant to avoid another encounter with them.

"We can make a jump to the pulsar," Lauren suggested, pointing to the gently glowing star on the holographic chart which was rhythmically pulsating in time to its rotation.

"No," Darien shook his head. "If they spot us it is always an option to fall back to, but I want to be as far away from here as we can get; the sooner we're out of their space, the safer I'll feel."

Lauren nodded, staring thoughtfully at the charts. "The Eelim have a lot of ships, they can cover a lot of territory and if they are still looking for us and we happen across their path..."

"We're back to running and hiding," Darien surmised resting his hands on the flat situation table. "We need to find some way of convincing them we aren't a threat."

"I don't see how," Lauren stated, sitting down on one of the stools and absently playing with a strand of her hair as she stared thoughtfully at the charts. "We don't speak their language and they like taking pot shots at us when they get frustrated."

"Then we need to avoid them completely," Darien stated. "We could make a couple of jumps to deep space, navigate that way."

Lauren winced at the thought of the risks involved with jumping to the middle of nowhere-no fuel, no chance of passing ships if their jump drives were to malfunction; they'd be stranded a long, long way from anywhere.

Darien looked grimly across the chart at her, "We don't have much choice, it's either that or we play hide and seek with the Eelim swarm." He pointed and highlighted a direct course through the Eelim Enclave and straight into Polian space, "Short jumps. If we give enough rest to our jump drives we should be able to make it in ten jumps, and we'd only pass..." he zeroed in the map, "one system where we might encounter more of our little friends."

Lauren nodded. "You're the captain," she said firmly. It was a big gamble, especially with a ship they didn't fully understand, but Darien was right, she couldn't argue there, it was hazard jumps through deep space, or run the Eelim gauntlet again. She didn't fancy the odds of getting lucky and escaping a second time.

"Very well," Darien said gesturing forward to the helm, "let's get under way." If they were lucky, in a couple of days they would be clear of the swarm entirely.

* * *

They were taking it very slowly. On Elias's suggestion they had taken to powering the jump pods down completely after each jump, allowing the engineer to examine both of them to ensure that they were showing no signs of failure. This entailed a lot of work from the engineering team, and resulted in a lot of dead time for the rest of the crew.

Excalibur was supposed to be a man'o'war, and Darien decided that to alleviate boredom he would continue to drill the crew, competing different deck watches against one another in an effort to improve their response times. He would race them to General Quarters at random points through the day keeping time and keeping score. Nazzien's gun crews were demonstrating a marked improvement and the Orion was cockily boasting that they were the best section on the ship.

Naturally the other sections worked harder. And while Elias's engineering team toiled, competitions were springing up throughout the ship. Darien had been walking through the ships bays when he caught sight of Nazzien passing Shale, the Taïrian reluctantly extending a twenty-credit note that the Orion took with great pride.

It was at that point Kendrick approached him with an idea.

The self-styled Imperial Wing Commander had become very distant from the rest of his former shipmates, preferring the company of his own squadron. It was beginning to worry Darien mildly, the amount of faith they were placing in the man that led them was bordering on fanatical loyalty. They dressed like him, acted like him and swaggered about like they owned the ship. Lauren had complained once or twice about a couple of the fighter jocks who had ignoring her authority until Kendrick had cuffed them across the back of the head pulling them back into line.

Darien had been on his morning jog through the ship, Doctor Kyr smiling at him as he passed the halfway mark taking malicious delight, no doubt, in the pain he was inflicting. Kendrick had intercepted the captain on the catwalk suspended over the Mech bays, lounging against a rail, his arms folded and a cocky grin on his face.

Darien slowed to a stop, catching his breath as he looked up at the former colonist, "What?"

Kendrick shrugged, "I wanted to toss an idea past you."

Darien frowned and nodded wiping his forehead, "What is it?"

"A race," Kendrick said, "out to three kilometres off the bow and back again."

Darien eyed the wing commander as he fell into step with him, walking through and down onto the flight deck. "A race for your squadron?" Darien asked thoughtfully.

"Naturally," Kendrick responded, nodding to a couple of his men who were working on one of the F-150 Azazel fighters-the downside to having all the engineers working on the jump drives was that the pilots were left to service their own birds.

The Excalibur's skipper eyed the fighter craft sitting on the flight deck, weapons and armour, boosters and balls. He'd often though anyone bold enough to strap themselves into a fighter for an extended period of time had to be a little crazy.

"How about this," Darien supplied staring at one of the fighters, his brow creasing as an idea started to form, "You versus a pilot of my choosing round the outer nav point and back-loser has to serve dinner in the mess hall to the winner."

The Wing commander tapped his narrow chin, thoughtfully eyeing the fighter craft he had trained on and had become an expert at flying, "You're on, Captain."

"Good," Darien stated. "One-on-one fighter race, I like it; it should do something to ease the boredom around here."

Kendrick patted the undercarriage of his precious 150, "Yeah, that it should."

* * *

"You can't do it," Lauren said as Darien sat in the relative quiet of R-403's lounge. The small Raptor docked to the Excalibur's courier pad beneath the main bridge was as close to true privacy both officers could have onboard ship.

Darien said across from her with a mug of coffee having explained to her his idea.

"Some one has to rein that son of a bitch in," Darien stated flatly.

"True," Lauren said, "but you're the captain; if you lose to Kendrick that's it, the damage it will do will destroy discipline on the ship."

Darien sat back into his seat rubbing his temple;"Same thing goes for you-if you lose it will totally ruin what little respect you do have with the fighter pilots. That leaves Nazzien."

"Nazzien?" Lauren blinked, "He's a decent pilot in his own right, but Kendrick's got more experience on the F-150's than he does."

"So we don't strap him into a 150," Darien said, getting up and walking to the rear of the compartment and sliding open the door on the Raptor's bay. The old Imperial recon fighter that had been recovered from the salvaged corvette was still sitting there, abandoned by its former master in favour of the tactical fighter.

Lauren blinked, realizing she had forgotten completely about the small fighter that sat tucked away in the rear of the Raptor, it was smaller and lighter than the F-150's, built for recon missions where speed was vital.

"Now that's an idea," she murmured walking into the bay and hopping up onto the ladder to look down into the cockpit. "I bet Kendrick has forgotten about her as well."

"I'm counting on it," Darien replied ducking under the snub nose of the fighter and looking up at her. "I'm going to get Elias to take a look at her when he has some free time, see if there is anything else we can do to give Nazzien an advantage."

"You know Kendrick's going to cry foul," Lauren grinned.

"Let him," Darien replied. "Really doesn't matter so long as he loses, besides this should keep Elias from becoming bored."

Lauren chuckled, "I love the way you think, Skipper."

"That's why I sit in the big chair," Darien replied with a grin.

* * *

Elias stared up at the small snub-nosed recon fighter, his arms folded. Nazzien was walking around the small hanger bay of the Raptor shaking his head at the idea.

"He's lost it," Nazzien complained glancing over at the engineer. "Thinking I'd let myself be strapped into that in the hopes that I can outfly 'I'm a god-dammed Wing Commander' Kendrick..."

"I don't know," Elias said chewing his lip. "You know, there's a few things I could do to this fighter that'll leave Captain Fantastic breathing your exhaust fumes." He clambered up the ladder and looked across the fuselage of the craft-it was a standard Recon model, port mountings for an AWAC's rig on the upper fuselage that they didn't have... He stopped and looked at the mountings and grinned-it was designed to securely strap the airborne warning and control package to the top of the fighter, providing additional surveillance and command functions to a fighter squadron... The ports looked like they could take a lot of stress.

"Why is it I always feel sick when you get that glint in your eye?" Nazzien asked quietly, noticing the maniacal grin on the young engineer's face.

"Trust me..." Elias said with a grin.

* * *

The buzz about the race infected the ship; boasting and bragging taking place between the factions showed that a lot of the crew put Kendrick as the odds-on favourite. Darien had caught some of the rumours that Kendrick was expecting his dinner to be served by Nazzien wearing nothing but a small French maid's outfit.

Darien shook his head as he returned to charting the next jump destination, it would put them about half way through the jumps needed to get clear of the Eelim Enclave, and so far they had managed to avoid most of the Eelim listening posts and patrols. With a little luck they'd be free and clear soon enough.

"Are you busy?" Major Mayfair asked leaning around one of the plotting boards with a questioning look on his face.

"Not at all," Darien said, setting down his plotting instruments and giving the major his full attention.

"I actually wanted to talk to you about this EV-II," The major said, taking one of the stools at the plotting table.

"EV-II?" Darien asked, mildly confused.

"Yeah, the secret fighter Elias is working on." Mayfair glanced about him to make sure no one was overhearing them, "I know it's supposed to be a secret but your engineer needed some parts from the Mech bay and one of my men got to talking with him. Jones is rather technically minded and has been going over a lot of the Imperial infantry tech we have... Anyway," the Major smiled, "according to Jones your boy Elias is building one hell of a ground attack fighter."

"I don't follow," Darien said. "You're telling me that the Recon fighter Elias's modifying is becoming a ground attack fighter?"

"Yes," Mayfair replied simply. "Look, the 150's are excellent space fighters, they manoeuvre well in Zero-G, but when they enter atmosphere they become flying bricks; the solid state boosters Elias is strapping to that Recon fighter make it faster than..."

"Liquid state boosters?" Darien's eyebrow shot up; he'd told Elias to improvise, not turn the Recon fighter into a ballistic missile.

"Well anyway," Mayfair offered a shrug. "When you're done with this thing can the marines have it? I mean we could use the air support once we hit the ground and this thing sounds perfect."

"Sure..." Darien replied cautiously, "I don't see why not..."

Mayfair grinned, "Then consider the marine corps official sponsors of the EV-II project."

Darien nodded, excusing himself and making his way down to the Raptor. He rubbed his jaw as he walked into the Raptor's hanger bay, stepping aside as a couple of grease monkeys jogged by carrying a piece of armour plating.

"Dare I ask?" Darien said looking up at what had once been the recon fighter now boasting a pair of liquid state boosters mounted to where the AWAC's assembly would have belonged. The boosters had been designed specifically for Infantry Mechs allowing them rapid transit across rough terrain, short hops instead of long arduous marches. They looked out of place strapped to the small fighter.

"Hey Skipper," Elias replied, slipping down off of the fighter and jogging across the deck. "We used to do something similar to Orion Raiders when we wanted to give them a bit more punch back at Jorten's; when a Ter-Sec patrol cutter thought they had us... boom! We were outta there."

"Right," Darien said, blinking at the cobbled together craft that barely looked space worthy, let alone capable of winning a race against one of Kendrick's 150's.

"Trust me," Elias insisted grinning like a maniac.

* * *

Nazzien wasn't quite so accommodating.

"He's fucking insane!" he insisted, pacing Darien's stateroom gesturing with his hands, "If he thinks I am going to be flying that oversized missile he's got another think..."

Darien walked into the stateroom, a couple of charts tucked under his arm. He slid them away in their appropriate racks, glancing over at Lauren and Nazzien who were waiting for him.

"Uh-oh," he commented taking a seat behind his desk and looking up at the pair of them, "I take it word's out about Elias's idea."

"A rocket?" Nazzien gestured expressively, "He's crazy!"

"It's not crazy," Lauren replied placatingly. "Elias is just...enthusiastic; besides, it gives you an advantage over Kendrick."

"An advantage that will blast me out into the depths of space never to be heard from again! I don't know about you crazy Terrans but we Orions value our lives!" He shook his head firmly, "I'm not doing it!"

Darien glanced at Lauren who in turn winked back at him. "Too bad," she said resting a hand on the desk, "because Kendrick was planning on having you serve him dinner in a..."

"French maid's outfit was the latest idea floating around," Darien supplied.

"...Mmm," Lauren stated looking down at Nazzien's legs. "Little black number... Very in this year..."

"Don't think I don't know what you're trying to do," Nazzien said still shaking his head frantically. "It's not going to work..."

"I think I have a set of black pumps somewhere," Lauren continued to muse looking at Nazzien's legs.

Darien shrugged, folding his hands and saying nothing.

"Fine!" Nazzien bit off. "I hope Kendrick likes that outfit, because he's the one going to be wearing it, not me!" He turned and stalked from the Stateroom.

"I think this whole thing's beginning to get a bit out of hand," Darien stated looking up at Lauren.

"They're just boys being boys," she replied. "Besides, as far as distractions go, since this race idea was put out there I haven't heard a single complaint about us jumping through deep space."

Darien flipped open his log book and shook his head, "That's something to be grateful for."

* * *

Race day came quickly, a couple of days from the end of their jumps Elias announced that his 'EV-II' project was ready and that they were good to go. The smaller fighter had been moved down from the Raptor's hanger during its flight trials, being tested late at night in order to preserve the surprise. Darien had watched in awe as the small fighter had blasted to and fro around the Excalibur, a firefly in the night that screamed about and performed agile manoeuvres that Darien hadn't considered possible. It seemed to hold together well. And when it had finally docked, Elias was down on the flight deck with a broad grin of pride on his face. His engineering team clustered around him high-fiving each other over the fact that their creation hadn't blown up.

Shale collected a twenty from Nazzien on that fact.

Darien walked down onto the flight deck, the Paladins clustered on one side around Kendrick's fighter, on the other side Elias's engineers and Mayfair's marines were clustered around the EV-II hidden beneath a tarp. There was an atmosphere of excitement on the ship, and bets were being taken and accepted throughout the Imperial warship as sides jeered and cheered for the two teams.

Darien shook his head, chuckling; there was no denying the fact that he was looking forward to the race as well. He had put on his leather jacket, Lauren insisting that he change the green arrow and sword patches for VonGrippen's striking falcons. Darien hadn't minded the change much; it gave him another tie to the Excalibur and declared his neutrality in the race.

"Right," Darien stated loud enough to quieten the two sides. "You all know why you're here," he said with a grin and cheering began again, "and I'm just going to state some rules."

Nazzien stepped forward doing up his flight suit, a marine style with the wolf's head insignia painted on the helmet he had tucked under his arm. Kendrick matched him from the other side, the green sword and arrow on his.

"First rule," Darien said, "keep it clean, no cutting each other off or bumping or anything that I consider un-sportsmanlike, do that and I disqualify you and name the other the winner."

Both heads nodded.

"Second rule, if I call off the race, for any reason, you get back to the ship. No trying to finish if there's a crisis."

Again they nodded.

"Last rule, then," Darien said with a firm smile, "have some fun."

There were some more cheers as the pilots walked back to their fighters, Elias tugging the covering off of his special project, Mayfair salivating over the new craft like an expectant father. Kendrick took one look at the oddly designed craft with its marine markings and glanced back at Darien.

"What the hell is that?" he laughed, shaking his head looking it over.

"The EV-II," Elias replied with a grin at the self-styled wing commander. "It's gonna kick your ass..."

"That thing isn't even gonna get off the flight deck," Kendrick said confidently. He climbed up into the cockpit of his heavier fighter and strapped himself in, reaching up to accept the helmet passed down to him by one of his Paladins.

Nazzien shook his head again as Elias and his grease monkeys began to push the unenthusiastic lieutenant towards the ungainly craft. He cast a final look towards Darien, vainly hoping that he would be able to get out of it. Darien simply shook his head with a smile as he motioned for Lauren up on the upper catwalks. She hit the alarms, ordering the flight deck cleared as the deck crews took their positions, manoeuvring the two fighters onto the deck catapults that would hurl them out into space.

Darien offered a tight salute to both fighters, walking down between them to the far doors, heading for the bridge where he could watch the race. He looked up at the EV-II, a cat about to pounce, a mustang ready to burst from the starting line and never look back. He grinned and winked at the grim-looking Orion, still totally convinced he was going to die.

The captain emerged on the bridge of the Excalibur, walking forward to the quarterdeck where a collection of crew members were clustered. It was the best view on the ship and Darien had granted special permission for those that excelled at the recent drills to have places at the huge observation windows.

Darien nodded his head to a couple of the crew members as he took his place beside Doctor Kyr and Elias, the two sharing a bag of popcorn the doctor had thoughtfully acquired from Chef and watching eagerly for the race to begin.

"You'll need this, Skipper," Mayfair stated, handing Darien a tactical headset as he rested on the rail and grinned. "It's direct to the Cat crews and the fighters so they're ready to go on your order."

"All right," Darien said slipping the headset on and adjusting it into place. "Paladin-one, ready?"

"Affirmative, Excalibur control," Kendrick reported methodically. "Paladin Leader good to go."

Darien nodded, touching the earpiece again, "EV-II, ready?"

"Do I have a choice?" Nazzien replied and sighed. "EV-dash-Two good to go."

"This is Excalibur control," Darien stated. "Go!"

The two fighters exploded from the Excalibur's flight deck, screaming out along opposite vectors heading towards the navigation point pre-programmed into their flight computers. Darien kept his hand on the earpiece of the Tactical headset as he marched back across the bridge to the CIC situations table outlining the flight plans of the two fighters.

"It's close," Kit reported as the captain stepped down into the CIC area, "Excalibur believes Kendrick is in the lead."

Darien stared at the two lines arcing away from the Excalibur towards the Nav point; they would cross each other's flight path and arc back for the final leg back to the Excalibur, at least that was the plan.

"Come on Nazzien..." he murmured as Lauren came up on deck and joined him.

"Excalibur just detected a power surge from the EV-II..." Kit reported.

* * *


He shoved the throttle forward, through detent... he was thrown back into the bucket seat, held there by the acceleration, as the forces tried to ram him through the ejection seat and straight through the back of the fighter. The EV-II began to rattle and shake lightly as the forces worked their way through the solid frame of the fighter and sent his teeth chattering.

He glanced down at the instruments and realized exactly how fast he was going-he was already leaving the startled F-150 behind, accelerating to twice her speed with ease and he was still accelerating! The HUD lit up with navigational data, giving him a heading and distance information on the Nav point. The distance dwindled rapidly and he was past it before he knew what was happening.

"Holy crap!" he exclaimed, shaking his head and touching the stick as the agile fighter shrieked into a wide turn curling around the navigation beacon and flashing back the way it had come screaming past the F-150 that was still trying to complete the first leg.

* * *

"Captain?" Kit warned as the target diagram for the EV-II closed on the Excalibur at a phenomenal rate.

""EV-dash-Two from Excalibur control," Darien stated into his headset, "you're coming in too fast, take your foot off the gas..."

They held their breaths as the modified recon fighter deactivated its boosters, firing its braking thrusters as it tried to slow down.

"Captain..." Kit warned again drawing Darien's attention to the fact that the EV-II wasn't slowing down fast enough.

That was when Nazzien slammed the manoeuvring thrusters on, turning the fighter on its Y-axis, presenting the rear of the fighter to the Excalibur he was rushing up on, firing the boosters in short bursts, and finally a long dwindling burn that brought him to a gentle stop a relatively short distance from the ship.

Kendrick's F-150 rounded the nav point as Nazzien guided the EV-II for a landing on the flight deck amidst cheers from the crew on the bridge, and Elias's whoops of joy.

* * *

Darien reached the flight deck just as Kendrick's fighter finished its shutdown, the furious fighter pilot leaping out of his fighter and storming across the deck to where Nazzien was being congratulated.

"That was cheating!" he bellowed loudly.

"No," Darien said stepping between the two men, "that was just good engineering."

Kendrick snarled, his intense eyes locking on Darien, and the captain was certain the wing commander was going to take a swing at him. Instead, Kendrick's shoulders slumped as he looked down. "You're right..." he murmured conceding defeat.

Darien nodded his head, catching sight of the incredulous Nazzien who was checking himself to ensure that he was indeed still alive, being patted on the back by crew members who were cheering his win. Darien glanced back at Kendrick, "Besides there's always rematches."

Kendrick bowed his head. "Yes, Captain," he stated, rigidly turning and stalking off, his squadron mates following him.

Darien shook his head wondering if the tactic had worked, or if it had simply made the situation worse.

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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The race was Kendrick's idea, but I wasn't on board with Damien's idea to put the kid down.  At least it provided some relief from the crew's boredom, and inspired Elias to create an improvement on the already advanced Imperial engineering.  Damien still needs to talk to Kendrick if he wants things to settle down.

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Kendrick has never gotten over the deal with Lauren.  Plus coming from his background, there were going to be issues with trust and being ordered to do anything.

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Kendrick will need to be brought back inside. A potential loose cannon makes an unstable team - the kast thing they need as they approach Earth.

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On 2/14/2023 at 6:22 PM, drsawzall said:

A great leader loses gracefully....

And accepts blame for his failures.

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