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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 - 30. Chapter 30

I will destroy every home world you have. You cannot stop me.
I will destroy every colony you have. You cannot stop me.
I will destroy every fleet you have.
You. Can. Not. Stop. Me!

-Warlord Kardiac 'Broadcast at the battle of Skyella'

Tempus System

Tempus III was an immense gas giant, clouds and storms boiling across its massive surface; easily five times the size of Jupiter, it was the largest planet Darien had ever seen. It was orbited by five moons, which passed into and out of the shadow of the immense planet. The smallest, Tempus III-b was the only rock in the system that was capable of supporting life.

The Excalibur swung into orbit of the moon as the Raptor detached itself from the rear deck, its wings unfurling as it swept down from the vessel. The full Paladin fighter squadron shrieked up to take up escort positions around the Raptor as it began its descent through the atmosphere to the small settlement on the northern hemisphere.

Darien sat at the controls of R-403; it was like being reunited with an old friend and he realized how much he missed the feel of controls under his hand. Swinging her on an approach vector, he smiled as the Raptor began to feel the pull of atmosphere. The Paladins matched his course change in perfect formation and Darien blinked as he checked his instruments.

"I'll give them one thing," Mayfair stated from the chair beside him, "Kendrick really taught them to fly those fighters well."

Darien glanced up and smiled as he tapped the comm. headset. "Raptor-Four-oh-Three calling Tempus Tower," Darien stated staring out of the cramped bridge window. It was beginning to rain as the group of craft winged their way northward.

"For once," he murmured, "I want to go to a planet where it isn't raining, or snowing, or generally miserable."

Mayfair chuckled at his skipper as they continued downward, Darien repeating his call to the tower.

"Raptor-Four-Oh-Three this is Tempus Tower, you are cleared to land," the radio crackled back. "Wind zero-niner-zero at one-five, altimeter 30.01."

Darien continued his descent watching his HUD as he flew the approach. He couldn't see anything out of the windows due to the worsening storm, and he continued to make his altitude calls. "A thousand above decision height... five hundred above decision height... two hundred above decision height..." if he reached the DH without the runway environment in sight he would have to pull up and try his landing again. At twenty feet above the DH he saw the approach lights. "Approach lights!" he called into the radio, smiling as the white lights flashed the path to the runway.

"Gears down, three green, no red. Boards, flaps, spoilers, slats," He guided his hands across the controls, as the wings locked back into their landing position, the thrusters engaging as the main drives relinquished control.

He pulled back on the controls, pulling the power off, his thrusters idling. The bumps followed immediately after, the Raptor scoring a perfect landing on the landing field.

"Raptor-Four-oh-three to ground, see ya," Darien stated, unbuckling himself from the pilot's seat and pulling on his leather jacket as he walked back along the length of the frigate. Looking at him with an expectant look, the marines were readying their pulse rifles and strapping on their body armour.

Mayfair walking along behind him, tucked his helmet on his head as he looked around at First Platoon Alpha Company and smirked at his men, "Right then," he bawled at them as he accepted a pulse rifle that was passed to him, "your job is to protect Falcon-One." He clapped Darien on the shoulder, "Get moving!"

Darien shook his head, slid his PKD from its holster and checked its charge as he walked down the rear ramp and into the rain soaked night, F-150 fighters powering down and coming into VTOL landings around him. He squinted through the gloom to a group of figures clustered waiting for the fighters to land, the Karin marines coming down the ramp to take up escort positions around Darien as he crossed the rain-soaked field.

Darien approached the group of men all wearing black Imperial combat fatigues and carrying pulse rifles looking grim. Darien eyed them as he approached, standing patiently as one of them, dressed in a long black coat, a major's insignia on his collar and the blue-gold lion's head on his arm, stepped forward and offered a salute.

"Captain Taine?" he called out over the din of the storm, offering a salute.

Darien ignored the rain plastering his hair to his head as he returned the major's salute.

The major turned and gestured towards a couple of small buildings clustered a short distance away. They walked as a group towards the buildings, Darien noting that Kendrick and his pilots were jogging to catch up behind. It was an impressive show of force from the Excalibur.

Darien stopped as an ominous whirring clank had him turn his head; emerging from the gloom an Infantry Mech was making a slow and steady circuit of the compound. And Darien reassessed his assessment of what constituted an impressive display of military might.

They climbed a set of broad concrete steps as Major Mayfair nudged him and nodded towards a broad single-lane bridge separating the main compound from a smaller man-made island rising up from the water of the river running through the northern end of the compound, lights lighting the structure's heavily reinforced walls. It was built to survive orbital bombardment; there was no question that this was one of Kardiac's outposts.

They were led inside a large lobby area, built with an upper gallery and reinforced positions, a fall-back position in case the compound was overrun. Darien folded his arms and glanced about him ignoring the fact that water was dripping off of his uniform.

Two dark-uniformed men, both wearing officer's topcoats marched down a flight of stairs. One of them was a Lieutenant Colonel by his rank insignia, his badges and colours clearly marking him as House Kardiac.

He approached Darien immediately, offering a tight salute. "Captain, sir, welcome to Tempus three b," he stated. He had a good twenty years on Darien, but the difference given to a full bird over a silver leaf was unmistakable.

"Colonel," Darien replied, glancing at the nametape on his chest, "Colonel Ramsey, a pleasure to be here."

Major Mayfair snapped off a crisp salute, "Major Martin Mayfair, First Karin Expeditionary, sir."

The Colonel glanced down the uniform at the yellow patches, his eyes frowning a little as he looked back at the major. "Good to see a yellow jacket out here," Ramsey said with a smile.

"Someone has to keep an eye out for blue bloods, sir," Mayfair replied with a nod.

"Indeed," Ramsey stated. "And you would be?" He glanced past Mayfair at Kendrick standing patiently with his arms folded and his pilots around him.

"Wing Commander Kendrick Leighton, Paladin Squadron," Kendrick stated, stepping forward and offering a salute.

The Colonel blinked in surprise. "Indeed; welcome, Wing Commander," he returned the salute and motioned. "I see you met my Exec, Major Rousseau."

Darien glanced about him. "How about you deliver a situation report?" he asked patiently. Kardiac's forces were supposed to be radicals, and despite the pleasantries he still felt uneasy.

"Of course, sir," Ramsey replied, his eyes darting to the Knight's Cross at Darien's neck as he gestured into the building. "Perhaps I can offer your men some refreshments." He looked at Rousseau and nodded.

Darien and Mayfair climbed the steps after the colonel, Kendrick hesitating long enough to nod at his men before he followed.

* * *

Darien sat across the large conference table as Mayfair paced under the windows; they'd been there several hours and Darien was sifting through historical reports completed by the Tempus base's commanding officers over the years. It was a vast volume of information.

The colonel had excused himself to attend to base matters leaving Darien with complete access to the archives. Kendrick had discovered nothing to really interest him in the historical documents and excusing himself, had instead asked for a tour about the base.

"So let me understand this," Mayfair said turning back from the window as one of the patrolling sentry Mechs stalked by. "They've been stuck here for hundreds of years, and these are just descendants of the original troops that were stranded?"

Darien scrolled his way through the files looking up at the major, "That seems about right; our Lieutenant Colonel Ramsey is the descendant of a Private Ramsey who served in the Fifth Army. It appears they have a small colony on this planet about..." he checked the records, "about forty thousand people. All military-trained and all belonging to House Kardiac."

Mayfair turned and sat down at the conference table and looked over at his skipper. "So, what do they want from us?" he asked carefully.

"As yet," Darien replied, "we don't know. So far they are offering to help us, and we could use the help; re-supplying Excalibur with Imperial parts would go a long way to helping us traverse Polian territory."

"It's fortunate you outrank the good base commander," Mayfair muttered shaking his head.

Darien glanced up, "It's not as easy as that; I'm an Imperial Naval Captain and this is his base. He has to show me respect, but if I start barking orders that could cause problems."

"You should have asked the Archduke for a promotion when he gave you the fancy cross," Mayfair said with a glib wink.

Darien shook his head continuing to work his way through the base archives, "It seems this was a forward base for Kardiac's attack on the Polian Fleet; a lot of the crews that weren't killed and couldn't fit onto the surviving ships made it back here." He read across the long list of reports from the survivors describing the deaths of their ships, shaking his head, "My god, the battle lasted three days! The Polians threw everything they had to stop Kardiac..."

"And didn't succeed," the Colonel stated returning to the room. "I've made arrangements for your accommodations on the base, we can begin the tactical briefing in the morning."

Darien shook his head, "I should be returning to my ship."

"Nonsense, Captain," the Colonel replied with a warm smile. "I won't hear of it. You're a guest of House Kardiac tonight."

Darien stood, uneasily glancing at Mayfair who nodded his head. "There are security precautions I must take," Mayfair said resolutely. "Falcon-One is my responsibility on the ground."

The colonel glanced at the major, weighing the request, but eventually nodded, "Naturally, Major, whatever arrangements you deem necessary."

* * *

"F-120 fighters," the Kardiac pilot stated with a smile. "Best aero-space fighters in existence. " He walked under the fuselage of the broad-winged craft painted with its army aviation colours and temperate camouflage pattern.

Kendrick nodded as he stared up at the aircraft. In space his F-150 would tear it to pieces, but the F-120 was a true multi-purpose fighter unlike the dedicated assault fighters. "VMA-23?" Kendrick asked, nodding to the squadron insignia.

"Black Knights," the pilot said proudly. "We have a history predating the Empire. We're some of the best drop ship and support fliers the Empire has to offer." He stopped thoughtfully, "We're probably the last drop ship and support fliers the Empire has to offer."

Kendrick looked over to the rest of his pilots who were working to stow their F-150's out of the rain in the large hangar, being towed by plane crews actually trained to service the fighters. It was the first time they were getting the kind of maintenance they deserved.

"What's your squadron code?" the pilot asked brightly, looking over at the Paladins.

Kendrick shrugged, "We don't have one; we're an ad-hoc unit thrown together on the Excalibur."

The pilot grinned. "Should be easy enough to look up, if you want, sir," he said dropping his clipboard onto a table and walking around to a computer terminal, punching in the fleet manifests that hadn't been accessed in hundreds of years. "Excalibur, you say, old VonGrippen's flagship... here we go..." he ran his finger across the screen. "VF-54," he said with a smile. "Congratulations, Wing Commander, she's a proud unit. Served under Wing Commander Lanford during the Apilon Rift Campaign, earned several unit citations, too."

"VF-54 Paladin Squadron," Kendrick nodded, "I like it." He turned. "Hey Katz," he waved over his Squadron Exec.

The young flight lieutenant jogged over, nodding to his CO and glancing at the Kardiac officer. "Yeah WC?" the Karin volunteer asked with a rakishly charming smile as he tossed off a very Karin salute, his accept crisp and clear.

"Turns out our squadron's designated VF-54," Kendrick said with a proud smile. "We should see about having the planes painted properly." He clapped the Kardiac pilot officer on the shoulder, "Take a bit of pride in our appearance."

Katz grinned and nodded. "Yes sir," he said with a smile, jogging off to fill in the rest of his pilots. Within minutes the pilots of VMA-23 and the pilots of VF-54 were as thick as thieves crawling all over their fighters, showing off their different planes and bragging to each other what they were capable of, while Katz oversaw the repainting of the old F-150 camouflage patterns with the appropriate paint scheme, adding the VonGrippen striking falcons to the tail fins over top of bold white letters declaring them VF-54.

* * *

Darien sat on the edge of the comfortable bed in his temporary quarters; he'd undone his tie and was sitting in just his shirtsleeves talking to Lauren over the comm. link.

"It seems they expect us to stay the night," Darien stated, loosening the Knights Cross at his collar as he got up to lift the blinds and look out across the Tempus compound to where the Mechs made their steady patrol.

"Do you want me to send down the second platoon?" Lauren asked from high above him.

"Shouldn't be necessary," Darien said shaking his head. "They seem to be treating us like guests for the time being. This just seems like it's going to take longer than I thought."

"Right," Lauren stated. "Should I pass a message on to someone that you won't be home tonight?"

Darien chuckled, "Let me guess, short stuff is standing directly beside you listening to every word."

"I am not!" Elias fired through the radio causing Darien to chuckle harder.

"I'll check in with you tomorrow morning," Darien reported. "I'm going to need an engineering team down here so you can find what you need for the ship."

"All right," Lauren stated. "I'll make sure all the kiddies are tucked away up here, Skipper, you just keep yourself in one piece down there."

"Night," Elias called cheerfully into the radio.

"Captain Taine out," Darien replied with a smile, setting the comm. link down on the bedside table as he lay down, hands behind his head staring up at the ceiling and enjoying his first night on solid ground since they had left Karin.

* * *

Elias tossed and turned in the empty bed, pushing up from it as he awoke with a start. It was no use, he should know better than to bother trying. He grabbed the heavy afghan that smelled so much like Darien and got out of bed. Walking through the side door into the main stateroom he glanced up at the titanic Tempus gas giant turning slowly above them, mighty guardian of the cosmos protecting his children

He padded out of the stateroom sleepily; walking into one of the elevators he passed one of the crew members who just stared at the engineer who was stumbling around half asleep. They were growing used to his eccentricities, from loud music playing in the engine room through to his rappelling down the inside of Mech bays to service hard-to-reach systems.

He walked through the corridors of the lower decks until he poked his head into sickbay. Doctor Kyr was working away in his small office wearing an oversized lab coat with its sleeves rolled up that made him look like a kid playing doctor. He was running a series of blood tests through an analyser.

"Hey," Elias said sleepily walking over to one of the infirmary beds and crawling up into it.

"What's keeping you up?" Kyr asked setting down some of his work and leaning on the bulkhead beside the bed.

Elias shrugged quietly, and Kyr had to admit it was the first time he had ever seen the engineer so quiet. He looked down, and then thought about the anomalous readings he had gotten from the blood tests.

"You're a construct," he clued in at that point; that explained the strange scent about the young engineer. The one that even now was distracting the doctor.

Elias nodded, wide blue eyes staring out from under his spiky blond hair as he pulled the afghan tighter about him, "I..." he began.

Kyr shook his head. "Kaynin pups go through the same thing, they have to sleep with their mothers until they're ready to be weaned," the doctor stated with a small smile. "I can finish up tomorrow, come on," he said walking towards the doors, shutting off the analyser and not noticing the results that flashed on the screen detailing an Amsus DNA string.

Kyr glanced back at Elias, "Coming?"

Elias groggily got up and followed the doctor back to his cabin.

* * *

Shale and Nazzien were playing cards in the deserted mess hall. It was late at night; most of the crew were either on shift or asleep. It was just the two of them, a pizza sitting on the table between them, Shale smoking a cigar as he tossed a pair of his cards down and drew another one.

Nazzien looked thoughtful as he stared at his cards, looking up into the Taïrian's eyes, trying to figure out what the cunning creature had in his paws. He looked down at his again; the game had been pretty intense, and a lot was riding on it.

"Do you have any threes?" Nazzien asked, looking up again.

The smirk on Shale's face caused Nazzien to utter a curse as he was forced to go fish. He swore as he drew another worthless card, glaring across at the smug Taïrian.

"I swear, you have to cheat," he said grumbling as he set his cards down. "What do you think of this House of Kardiac business?"

Shale shrugged.

"Yeah," Nazzien agreed, "makes me uneasy, too. These Humans haven't had a chance to remember what the old Empire became at the end. I read the histories, the convert-or-die speeches given to worlds they came across, Kardiac's forces sweeping down to destroy infidels..." He shuddered, "Very bad for business."

Shale looked up, meeting his friend's eye.

"I know Darien's not like that;" Nazzien agreed, "it's all these other Imperials. At least von Karin was a part of the Commonwealth, so we know he's progressive, but what about this lot?" He shook his head, "For all we know they're itching to pick up where they left off, looting, burning and pillaging their way across the stars-all for some Immortal Emperor the Amsus killed ages ago."

Shale puffed on his cigar thoughtfully.

"We just need to make sure the skipper makes it through this," Nazzien said reaching a decision as he wrestled with himself. "No matter what, so long he's about he won't allow that to happen again." He grinned, "He'll kick their asses."

Shale chuckled.

"Blow up their gas giant with a single missile, cook their little planet if they so much as breathe a conversion speech." Nazzien chuckled. "It's your go," he said looking up.

* * *

Lauren sat in the Excalibur's command chair, her hand idly brushing the lines of VonGrippen's greatcoat as she watched the displays. Excalibur was maintaining a geo-synchronous orbit high over the Tempus base, her missile tubes locked onto target. If they so much as twitched she was ready to send the whole northern continent straight to hell.

Commander Durham was standing watching her, the polite hologram measuring her face with his eyes trying to read her emotions. As usual he was having little luck.

She glanced up at him from the chair, enjoying the oneness she felt with the ship while she sat there. Excalibur was picking up on the worry of her crew, and her own wariness of House Kardiac oozed through her consciousness. The Ship was worried about her captain but at the same time she was standing ready to do her duty as an Imperial ship of the line.

"How do you do it?" she asked looking over at the Commander.

"Talk to the ship?" Kit replied.

Lauren shook her head, "That's easy, you just have to read her emotions correctly-no, I mean how do you remain so calm; you're tied more closely to her than any of us, your skin must be crawling considering her feelings towards Kardiac."

Kit smiled as he looked up at the planet hanging framed in the windows, "Kardiac, like me, is nothing more than a memory. It's been a very long time, and there's an old saying where I come from, you can only sharpen a sword so many times before you wear out the blade." He nodded to the planet, "I doubt they've had much of a chance to think about conquest eking out a survival on such a remote world in the middle of hostile territory."

"I don't know," Lauren replied thoughtfully, "hatreds have a way of festering, sometimes lasting generations."

"Maybe," Kit said adjusting his glasses.

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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I too have a feeling these Kardiac Imperials still hold true to their religion.  That religious belief is the danger.  If they get their hands on the Imperial Fleet, no one is safe.

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I cannot believe that Darien was stupid enough to stay on the base, not even sure that it was smart for him to go down.

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I hope that Elias and Kyr remain friends only. I don't like the idea of them sleeping together even if it is just for comfort. 

If Excalibur is wary, best everybody be wary. Let's see. Darien is more than a match for any of these Kardiac chaps, but if he is caught unawares it will be a problem. 

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For me, it is a sense of anticipation, not really knowing how the cards you're playing will work out...and as noted above, how rooted to the past is the current generation and the current state of their religious ferocity...

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