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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 - 28. Chapter 28

What is a person capable of?
Test him and find out.

-Warlord Kardiac 'comment made to reporters'

Eelim-Polian Border

The Excalibur executed her jump, Darien coming forward from the CIC into the main bridge as alarm klaxons began to resound. He scanned the tactical displays lighting up around the bridge as Nazzien sprinted to take his station and activate the weapon systems.

Kit materialized, as ever the herald of dark news, "Excalibur's sensors tell her the Eelim are here."

Darien studied the displays, cocking his head to the side, "What the hell?"

Kit resolved the holographic display into a three-dimensional model floating above the quarterdeck. It showed the system they were in, the Excalibur and a cloud of swarm ships spreading to engulf the system.

"That's a lot of ships," Lauren said from her position beside him. "What are they trying to do?"

"Surround us," Darien stated flatly. They had the numbers to do it-the millions of small ships remained just beyond the Excalibur's weapons arcs as they took up positions around the large Imperial vessel, content to just sit for the moment, letting their true strength become evident.

Darien swore inwardly as he sat down in the Excalibur's command chair, resting a hand on the arm as he stared at the ships. "All ahead, flank speed!" he commanded quietly, a deadly note in his voice.

"You're going to fight them?" Nazzien sounded incredulous.

"Would you propose we just sit here and let them tear us to pieces?" Darien stated. "I've had just about enough of these creatures hounding us while I try to play nice."

"Captain," Mayfair said, trying to sound diplomatic, "it's a million to one odds..."

Darien glanced up. "Not quite," he replied, sitting still and watching as the Excalibur surged ahead while the swarm altered its course, diving to keep up with the fast Imperial vessel plunging deeper into the system.

"Helm, turn us two points to starboard," Darien commanded glancing over at Lauren.

Her hands glided over the controls adjusting Excalibur's trim as the mighty vessel came over, cutting through space towards a large gas giant. Lauren looked at it, frowned and glanced at Darien. "You're going to try to lose them in the atmosphere?" she guessed.

"No," Darien replied flatly, activating a display and tapping away on it making some quick calculations.

Mayfair exchanged a look with her and shrugged. Standing from his vantage point it looked like the captain was trying to figure something out, his eyes continually darting to the holographic display and the Eelim descending upon him. The Excalibur had a lead, but it was diminishing as the outer Eelim ships moved to cut her off, the bulk of their swarm moving to head the Excalibur around the horizon of the gas giant.

Darien smiled at the tactical manoeuvre and shut down his calculations.

"He's up to something," Nazzien murmured to Shale who was standing at his side staring out of the large observation windows.

Shale grunted his assent as the ships roared on their courses.

The sleeker Excalibur outpaced the Eelim swarm as she swept down on the gas giant. Every inch of her was a proud symbol of Imperial glory, from forward her gun ports, protective armour plating, to her long slender neck with its maser cannon batteries mounted there. She broadened back from there into the main body of the vessel with its trefoil engine mountings and the bridge conning tower superstructure nestled inside protruding radar sails. And finally came her rear deck and the Amsus Raptor sitting riding piggyback on the courier pad of the Imperial vessel.

"Arm a missile," Darien ordered, standing up.

"Arming missile banks," Nazzien stated.

"No," Darien corrected, "just one missile please, Lieutenant." His voice remained flat, neutral and calm.

Nazzien gaped, "One?" He shook his head and did as he was told, "Arming one single missile, Captain..." His displays trilled as the weapon responded to the commands, one of the forty missile ports along the upper hull of the ship's back flipped open to reveal the thermonuclear weapon.

Darien nodded sparing a glance up at the holographic display; the Eelim were rounding the planet's hemisphere and would head him off in minutes. He nodded grimly. "Target along this vector," he stated, leaning down and reactivating the command displays and feeding the vector across to Nazzien.

"But that's..." Nazzien began.

"If you please," Darien replied with a grim nod.

"Done, Captain," Nazzien replied, glancing past Darien towards Lauren helplessly. She merely shrugged having no idea what Darien had planned.

"Fire!" Darien commanded.

The missile exploded from its tube, roaring away from the Excalibur as it streaked towards the Eelim swarm ships ahead of them, the agile vessels easily dodging the missile as they kept coming towards the Imperial warship, setting their gun sights and letting the fast vessel come to them.

"Helm hard over!" Darien commanded, grabbing hold of the chair as the missile slipped into the gas giant's outer atmosphere and detonated. The resulting explosion was titanic, the missile igniting a fusion reaction fuelled by the hydrogen composition of the atmosphere and briefly turning the gas giant into a miniature star.

The Eelim swarm ships didn't stand a chance. Caught in the outer edge of the blast radius, a firestorm shaped like a solar flare erupted from dense gases, incinerating the ships instantly. Excalibur, turning ahead of the blast, swept past the planet and through the now very empty section of space. The pursuing Eelim ships curved after them, murderous intent on their minds, trying to stop a ship that showed no signs of slowing to oblige them.

On the bridge Darien shielded his eyes from the solar flare as the bridge observation ports polarized protectively. There was dead silence on the bridge, shock settling in over them as they realized what their captain had managed with a single shot.

Darien shut down his displays, blew out a sigh, and turned to walk from the bridge silently.

* * *

Darien was staring out of the great stern windows of his stateroom when Lauren entered the room. She watched him quietly, his pen resting against the rim of his glasses as he stared, not at the desperate Eelim ships that were trailing far behind them now, but towards the ones he had destroyed.

"You had no choice," she said after the silence became oppressive.

"I know," he replied, not turning.

"You saved the ship, gave us a way out, you did what you had to do," she pressed, stepping down and across the deck.

"I know," he replied again in that same neutral tone.

"You won..."

"Forgive me," Darien bit off each word as he rounded on her, "if I don't feel like celebrating, killing... people.... because I couldn't talk to them. You are dismissed!"

Lauren worked her jaw, knowing that it wasn't anger directed at her. She swallowed and saluted him rigidly, "Aye Captain!" turned, and crisply marched from the stateroom and left Darien to his thoughts.

* * *

The officers of the Excalibur watched as she walked from the room, trying to read her face and her emotions as she took her post at the helm, relieving the young midshipman who was manning the station in her absence.

"I can't believe it," Nazzien stated again for the hundredth time. "That was..."

"Bloody amazing!" Mayfair summed up walking up beside Lauren. "How's the old man taking it?"

She blinked, old man? Mayfair had to have a good ten years on Darien. "He's fine," she lied. "He is planning our next move."

"What the hell...?" Kendrick demanded walking onto the bridge. "Rumour has it the skipper blew up a star?"

"Not quite," Lauren replied. "We should stand down from General Quarters and secure weapons."

Nazzien nodded, closing the open missile tube as the crews were permitted to stand down from their point defence and main batteries. A sense of relief flooded through the ship as they counted their blessings.

* * *

They were getting close to being able to jump clear of the Eelim Enclave and Elias had just set his tray down on the battered metal table in the mess hall, when the doctor joined him.

Elias smiled politely as he sat down and glanced at the young-looking doctor. Out of everyone on the crew, Kyr seemed to be the closest to his own age, and that was reassuring after a fashion, even though the doctor was an alien.

"I'll trade you;" the doctor said looking over his tray, "my cake for your bacon." He looked up and grinned hopefully.

Elias frowned, "Huh?"

Kyr waved at the tray in front of him which contained the same meal supplied to every crewman regardless of who or what they were-Chef was fast earning a reputation for being an inflexible dictator over his mess hall. Kyr, for his part, had no real taste for the sponge cake covered in hot syrup-he was sure it was good, but he had about as much use for it as he would a big turnip, which was to say none at all. "Bacon for the cake," he grinned again, lifting the small insert tray and waving the cake tantalizingly under the engineer's nose. "Mmm, cake..."

Elias chuckled and lifted his plate to sweep his bacon onto Kyr's plate. "Happy now?" he asked with a grin.

Kyr handed him the sugary cake and happily began to chew on his newly acquired bacon, "So..." Kyr said after a moment or two, "what's all this I'm hearing about the captain blowing up suns and fleets?"

Elias shrugged. "I don't know," he replied honestly. "I was down in engineering, but one of the marines was talking to Alvin Katz-you know, one of the fighter pilots-and was saying that he heard..."

"I love good gossip," Kyr winked conspiratorially as he bounced his chair a little closer. "You were saying?"

Elias grinned at the enthusiastic alien grinning at him with blue eyes shining out from under his thick wavy brown hair that he kept trying to push out of the way, "Well, according to the marine, Darien used a missile to blow up a gas giant and take out the swarm..."

"Nice," Kyr said, making the word sound like it was pronounced 'noice'.

"Yeah," Elias admitted, "everyone's talking about it." He nodded over to a group of Paladin fighter jocks that were laughing and cheering as one of them did an impression of the captain.

"Fry-her!" The jock said, imitating Darien's soft tones, and they began to laugh again whooping amongst themselves.

"Well that's good," Kyr remarked idly. "They should respect him more now."

The cheering and the hollering calmed down as Kendrick marched into the room. The Wing Commander scowled about him as he took a seat with his fighter pilots, the fighter jocks swinging their chairs around and going quiet at his arrival.

He waited a few minutes and began to talk loudly again about how he would have handled the Eelim. There were a few dark looks from some of the crew, and Kyr narrowed his eyes.

"We should be clear of the Eelim in about twenty minutes," Elias commented glancing at his watch.

Kyr frowned at his plate and picked up his tray, "Come on, let's find somewhere quieter to eat."

"Sure," Elias replied with a shrug as he picked up his tray and followed the doctor through the ship to the noisy mechbay and machine shops. The marines were busy affixing armour plating to the EV-II in an effort to make it more combat-efficient; a gauss gun, spare parts from one of the Mechs had been strapped to the fuselage to give it a bit more punch.

"I thought you said quieter?" Elias yelled above the din.

Kyr shrugged as he grinned and gestured to one of the marine drop ships, the two young men climbing up into the back of the thing as Kyr tapped the door controls with his knuckles sealing them inside and cutting off the noise.

"See, quiet," he replied with a grin as he set his tray down and sat down in one of the pilot's seats.

"Cool," Elias replied, joining him and sitting down in the co-pilot's chair, balancing his tray on his lap as he began to attack his extra piece of cake. "So why'd you want to leave the mess hall?"

Kyr shrugged. "I don't like loudmouths," he replied with a shrug chewing on another strip of bacon.

"Kendrick's not so bad once you get to know him," Elias replied with a smile. "He's just a bit...intense. He saved my life on Theta-10."

"Yeah?" Kyr answered. "Well, either way I usually like to eat in peace."

"So why go to the mess hall?" Elias quizzed.

"Had to get rid of that cake," Kyr replied screwing up his nose. "I don't know how you Terrans can eat that stuff, it's so sweet."

* * *

"You remind her of him," Kit stated materializing the centre of the stateroom.

Darien hadn't moved, continuing his vigil, "I do?"

Kit nodded coming around to stand under the windows, the ghost of a memory looking thoughtful, "He was a very compassionate man; he hated killing, but knew that it had to be done."

Darien looked up at the hologram, and blew out a long sigh. "That was the hardest thing I have ever done," he admitted truthfully.

"I know," Kit stated. "If it were easy..." the hologram shuddered, "you'd remind her of Kardiac."

"They were really so different?" Darien asked quietly.

Kit nodded, "Night and day. VonGrippen used reason and calm temperance like tools, Kardiac's were turmoil, chaos, and hate." He stared off into the distance remembering, "I remember an argument between the two men before the end. Kardiac wanted to turn the Excalibur into a delivery system for his new project, some kind of super-weapon that would grant him victory over the Polians..." He shook his head in disgust, "VonGrippen refused; the weapon had only one purpose, to destroy an entire world. Kardiac wanted to send the Excalibur, the fastest ship they had, against the Polian capital world Arcanis." Kit turned and looked down, "One point nine trillion souls call Arcanis home." He shook his head, "Kardiac was advocating xenocide."

Darien nodded, "The reason why VonGrippen abandoned Earth."

Kit nodded, "That's the difference between an soldier and a war-monger-the abhorrence of death."

Darien's fingers brushed the Knight's Cross at his neck as he turned back to the Eelim fleet, "I doubt they see a difference right now."

"But you are beginning to," Kit responded. "We're nearing full power on the jump drives and we should be clear after this one."

"Tell me about the Polians," Darien stated. "It sounds like they have every reason to hate the Empire."

Kit frowned as he looked thoughtful, "The Polians were once close allies of the Empire, back in the days when the Emperor was still alive. They were wonderful scientists and thinkers and were actually the ones that gave the Terrans Zero-point technology that allowed them to build the Jump Nexus and VonGrippen to install a reactor onto this ship."

"Right," Darien stated. "What happened?"

"They refused the Bishops' council's demands that they join the Empire," Kit replied slowly. "The Polians are a conglomerate of races from a multitude of different backgrounds, much like the Hegemony, except a true democracy. They didn't like the idea of coming under the dictatorship of an Empire ruled by theologians."

"Heresy," Darien replied rubbing the bridge of his nose under his glasses. "And when they refused?"

"VonGrippen refused to lead the war the Bishops called for," Kit stated. "He would have been relieved of his sole command of the Imperial navy, had the Emperor himself not named VonGrippen his Warlord. So the Bishops created a new fleet, and placed a young leader at its head, Kardiac Aul'Jakaram, former head of the Templar order-the Bishop's personal guard."

"A zealot to lead a crusade," Darien concluded.

"Indeed," Kit responded. "He took his fleets and swept into Polian territory, bringing war and death to our one-time allies. They had little choice but to bring their own fleet to battle, a costly battle that Kardiac won...."

"The Polians were beaten?" Darien asked in surprise.

"Almost. Both fleets lay in ruins, a massive graveyard in the Skyella Nebula on the edge of the Tempus system. The exact count showed that out of a fleet of two hundred ships, Kardiac limped back to the Empire with five vessels." Kit folded his arms, "If he could have returned with VonGrippen's fleet..."

"He would have won," Darien finished, scrubbing a hand through his hair, the realization setting in. "We were really that close to controlling it all?"

"It would have all come under one banner," Kit shook his head. "A banner controlled by fascists and religious zealots, and history taught us the cost of such a rule... The first thing Kardiac planned to do was to go back to the Polians, and for their insolence, destroy Arcanis and grind their resistance beneath his heel."

"What of the Polians now?" Darien asked.

"My information is hundreds of years out of date. I know that the Hegemony didn't invade them, but they were a defeated people, unable to put up much of a defence after what Kardiac had done to them." The hologram looked distant, "I know the Orions trade with them, but more than that you would have to ask them."

Darien stood up, slipping his worn leather jacket on as he walked out onto the bridge crossing to where Nazzien was working. He glanced up at his captain's approach, a new look of respect in his eyes. "Skipper," he greeted.

"If I needed to find an Orion Trade liner, how would I do it?" Darien asked in a low voice leaning on the weapons console.

Nazzien stared a moment, mulling the question over, "They chart standard courses, the caravan routes we call them. It takes a specific number of weeks to complete a run and then they start back along the same course; this allows anyone that wants to trade with us the chance to do so...."

"I need to make a rendezvous," Darien said, walking back into the CIC and activating a local star chart and standing back. "I need you to show me where."

Nazzien licked his lips and glanced at Darien, "You know my people are grateful for all you've done for us... it's just that every time you come near an Orion ship or outpost, you bring trouble with you..."

Darien nodded, "Unless the Amsus has the capacity to follow us into Polian space..."

"It's not the Amsus I'm worried about," Nazzien replied. "The Polians... when they find out..."

"We'll be long gone," Darien reassured. "We need information, I need to know what I'm taking my ship into."

Nazzien inclined his head. "Here," he said, pointing. "The Million Tears should be in transit on its run to Arcanis..."

Darien smiled and clapped his friend on the shoulder, "We won't stay long, and look at it this way, at least it's not Eelim space."

"I almost wish it was," Nazzien fired back. "At least I know that you can beat them."

Darien smiled as he joined Lauren at the helm. "I'm sorry," he said honestly.

"Oh I know," Lauren replied. "Our friends, by the way, are still chasing us."

"Let's hope they know better than to follow us where we're going," Darien replied. "Nazzien just gave us the co-ordinates of a Trade liner, the Million Tears."

"Captain Tirana's ship," Lauren replied, "the Arcanis run. She's a good captain and the Million Tears is one of Orion's biggest ships."

"Then we'd best hurry," Darien replied with a smile

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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One system transit complete. Next the Polian's space.  What is in store for the Excalibur there?  Why the need to contact the Million Tears?

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Darien shows why he should be the Captain.  This Kardiac sounds like a soulless monster, but that has been done in the name of a multitude of religions.  

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As the leader, Darien will have to make some difficult decisions and take upon himself full responsibility for those decisions. That is the lonely lot of a leader. Darien is up for it though and shows that he is capable of making the tough decisions, although he does not do so lightly. 

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Darien made the most difficult of decisions...as a good commander should...why do I see a bit of Kardiac in Kendrick??

Elias and Kur...friends??

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