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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 - 32. Chapter 32

How do you defeat fear?
Turn and face the Demon.

-VonGrippen 'Excalibur Logs'

Skyella Nebula

The Excalibur's armoured prow hung menacingly over the boiling green gases of the Skyella Nebula, the last battlefield of Kardiac's forces, the final resting place of the Imperial dream of conquest. Electrical discharges lit the nebula's murky depths as gases reacted with one another creating storms within the darkness, flickering lightning to add to the menace.

Darien studied the stormy depths from his command chair, his hands rested on the arms of the chair as he stared ignoring the data readouts and displays floating around him, his eyes searching the darkness ahead of them worriedly.

"I wouldn't recommend taking Excalibur in there," Nazzien stated, stepping down from his weapons console and moving to stand beside the captain. "We're tough but Excalibur would act like a giant conductor in there; we stand the chance of frying every system on this ship..."

"How did Kardiac take his ships in there?" Lauren asked, her hands skimming the controls as she kept the Imperial warship just beyond the nebula's beckoning embrace.

"They were insulated against it," Kit appeared cleaning his glasses, an odd habit considering they weren't real. "Kardiac felt the nebula would give his ships a key advantage over the Polian warships and ordered all of his ships outfitted with special conductors that channelled the electrical discharges around his ships instead of through them."

"Can we modify the Excalibur the same way?" Lauren asked, glancing at Elias who was standing beside her.

Kit brought the modification schematics up onto a display and Elias whistled shaking his head. "I'd need a week and a repair station to do it," he said looking over the complicated network of conductive cables and ceramic plating. "And we don't have half the things we need to retro-fit a ship this big..."

"Well there goes the original plan," Lauren murmured. "If we can't get the Excalibur in there how are we supposed to tow a ship out?"

"We think smaller," Darien stated quietly, thinking through the options. "Do we have the parts and time to make these modifications to our drop ships?"

"We should," Elias murmured. "The F-120's from Tempus were from this fleet so they are probably already configured for this..."

"Right," Darien stated, "that's how we do it. We send two drop ships in with engineering crews, repair the transport as best we can and fly it out under an F-120 escort."

"Our own fighters won't be able to go with them," Lauren said in concern. "The new flyers should be fine but..." She sighed knowing what that meant.

Darien nodded, "It'll mean that we will have no control over what goes on inside that nebula." He stood up, "I have no intention of handing control of this mission to the Kardiacs; tell Kendrick I want him and his best pilot flying the drop ships." He glanced back to Major Mayfair, "Two squads of our marines, one for each drop ship escorting the engineers. We'll let them fly escort, but we control the boarding teams."

Mayfair saluted, "Yes sir."

Darien sat back down uneasily staring at the nebula and the shadows lurking in the mist.

* * *

Elias checked the field safety vest he had kept from R-403, tools slotted into pockets of the bright red vest that was ideal for carrying them. They had finished retrofitting the drop ships a few hours before, his teams getting help from some of the service techs VMA-23 had brought up from the surface of Tempus with them. It was good to have trained plane captains onboard-they took charge of the flight deck and the half-trained grease monkeys working there, teaching their trade as they worked to bring the Excalibur's flight deck up to the standards expected of an Imperial warship.

Elias blew a sigh as he re-tucked the black fatigue cap he'd borrowed on his head and checked the side arm he was supposed to carry. He didn't expect to need it, but you never knew, especially not with the way their luck had been.

He walked across the hangar deck to the farthest of the two drop ships watching Major Mayfair load himself and his squad into the other drop ship, baby-sitting a group of young engineers who looked scared and out of place alongside the cheerful Karin marines in their combat gear who joked as they boarded.

The hatch behind him slid open as the second squad marched out, professional in tight ranks, helmets on and visors pulled low as they began to board Elias's drop ship. The lieutenant turned and tossed a salute across the deck to Major Mayfair who returned it and boarded his drop ship.

Elias shrugged, looking about at his five techs that were travelling with him and nodded for them to go on board. The drop ship was spacious, used for shuttling to and fro in the absence of Imperial shuttles; they weren't designed to be comfortable, but they were definitely functional. The marines had all been strapped in, their lieutenant checking and pulling harnesses tight as Elias moved forward to slip into the co-pilot's seat beside Kendrick.

The Wing Commander ran through the pre-flight checks as he spared a glance back into the body of the drop ship. "We all set?" he asked.

Elias nodded, "Seem to be."

The drop ship taxied to the deck elevator riding it up to the massive flight deck under Kendrick's expert guidance. The F-120's were already rocketing off of the deck two by two, catapulted spaceward by the launch systems as deck crews in their rainbow colours rushed to reset the catapults for the drop ship launch.

"Boss; E dash X dash Oh dash One. On deck," Kendrick glanced out of the heavy canopy window, "L-1, taxi." He waited patiently for the air boss, the flight controller for the deck, to acknowledge him.

"E dash X dash Oh dash One, taxi cat two, squawk zero-five-four-two," replied the air boss.

Elias shivered realizing this was his first time taking off from the Excalibur's flight deck. It was a daunting prospect and he had a whole new appreciation for the rigid training Kendrick had demanded-who wanted to be strapped into two tonnes of metal and hooked up to a catapult that would fling you into space untrained?

"Cat two for E dash X dash Oh dash One, squawking zero-five-four-two," Kendrick stated as the drop ship taxied under the guidance of the flight deck crew. Hand signals from them spotted the drop ship into position on the centre port catapult. There was a clunk as the launch bar of the drop ship was locked onto the catapult shuttle. There was no turning back now, Elias realized.

Kendrick completed his final checks, taking deliberate care; it was the first time Elias had seen the man take care and caution at anything. He looked out the window at the cat officer standing in her coloured space suit, the flight deck open to space, and flashed her a thumbs up. She nodded sharply in return, spinning her lighted wand in a rapid back and forth motion over her head. With that he advanced the power of his drop ship to Full Military and placed his head back on the headrest. He glanced at Elias and reached out a hand to push the nervous engineer back into his seat before taking the controls again. He curled his hands around the thrust leavers, quickly saluting the cat officer with his right, and grabbed the control stick once again. Elias held his breath as the cat officer pointed her wand to the deck and then forward.


Elias felt as if his eyeballs were trying to work their way back into his head and poke through to see what was going on behind him. He wondered if his stomach was still sitting somewhere on the deck. The cat stroked them off the front of the Excalibur like a ping-pong ball, and before he realized what had happened they were nearly a mile from the ship.

"You can stop screaming now," Kendrick said dryly as he glanced at Elias.

Elias closed his mouth with a sharp snap, some of the marines in the rear of the drop ship still laughing at the inexperienced engineer. So much for respecting an officer.

"E dash X dash Oh dash One, requesting right turnout," Kendrick stated into the radio.

"Oh dash One, right turnout approved. Button four, good day."

"Switching," Kendrick stated turning the radio to the new frequency as he pulled the drop ship into a starboard bank moving to where the F-120 fighters were floating waiting to escort them at the marshalling pattern. Kendrick retracted the landing gears and powered their flight as they moved into formation with the elements of Knight squadron. The Orca fighters looking like a school of killer whales floating in space.

They were joined a few moments later by EX-02 being flown by Kendrick's Exec, Flight Lieutenant Katz. Elias ducked his head to glance over at the other dark-green drop ship with its polarized windows, wondering if he could see Major Mayfair over there.

Squadron Leader Masconi's voice broke over the radio, "E dash X dash Oh dash One this is Knight Leader with you. We are outbound zero-four-two, three-five-zero, fifteen miles, you have seven one-twenties flying escort."

"E dash X dash Oh dash One, roger. Good afternoon, Knight Leader." He checked his instruments as the F-120's swooped into positions, the bulky-looking support fighters reassuring company as the flight of small ships slipped down towards the edge of the 'storm'.

"Excalibur control to E dash X dash Oh dash One," Darien's voice cut over the comm. chatter.

"E dash X dash Oh dash One to Excalibur Control, go ahead." Kendrick replied.

"E dash X dash Oh dash One you will be out of radio contact once you enter the nebula, be advised our navigational beacons will be active to give you a point of reference, try not to get lost in there."

Kendrick smiled, "Acknowledged, Excalibur control, wish us luck."

"Roger E dash X dash Oh dash One, good luck." Darien's voice cut off of the channel and Elias suddenly felt very alone as the drop ship began its descent into the murky depths.

* * *

It was slow going, the flight incredibly taxing on the pilots; navigating half by instruments and half by visuals they charted a course through the nebula. Electrical storms raged around them as hulking twisted wrecks emerged from the darkness in their path causing the fighters and drop ships to flow around them and altering their courses under Kendrick's direction. Occasionally the F-120's opened fire with their pulse-Maser auto cannons to send a piece of debris spinning off into the green depths.

It was like navigating through green-pea-soup fog; Elias nervously glanced at the engineering readouts, praying that his modifications to the drop ships would protect them from random electrical discharges.

"We're approaching the heart of the nebula," Kendrick murmured as the drops ships powered forward. The fighters shifted back into their perfect formation as great shapes began to emerge in the fog. The remnants of the Imperial war fleet. It was nothing like what they had found of VonGrippen's fleet. The ships were rent open, damaged or derelict wrecks.

Polian vessels with swept-back designs mounting missile launchers and rakish hull designs floated alongside the larger Imperial vessels, in equal states of disrepair. (If you didn't mean to be describing Polian vessels with the swept-back clause, take the "with" out) Elias shook his head in wonderment, "Look, the Lion's Pride!" he said pointing out of the canopy."

There was an audible click-clack from behind them, Elias turning as he faced down the barrel of an Imperial pulse rifle and looking up into the hard-eyed face of a marine. He gaped in shock as Kendrick turned and dove for the radio controls.

"Stop!" Rousseau ordered, setting the muzzle of his pistol into the base of Kendrick's skull.

Elias took a deep breath, steadying his nerves from the shock, eyes travelling down to the Lion's head patch on the uniform. He hadn't noticed it as they boarded, he should have seen it...

"Move." The marine with the rifle gestured for Elias to get out of the co-pilot's chair as Rousseau took it, still training his pistol on the Wing Commander. Elias stared at the Tempus marine, holding his hands up as he was roughly pushed back into the rear body of the drop ship where the other marines had their weapons trained on his startled engineers, all looking to their chief for direction.

"Just sit tight," he said as he was forced to sit down on the deck with his hands on his head as another marine liberated him of his sidearm.

Rousseau strapped himself into the co-pilot's chair of the drop ship, his pistol never wavering as he fastened the buckle and pulled it tight. "I want you to do exactly what I tell you to," Rousseau stated firmly.

Kendrick glanced at him, the pistol between them, and then back to the marines holding rifles on the engineer hostages. He swallowed, his shoulders slumping, "What do you want me to do?"

Rousseau glanced at the broad hull of the Lion's Pride they were navigating around, "Call the escorts, tell them we're experiencing a malfunction in the flight stabilizers."

Kendrick reached for the radio, licking his lips nervously as he took a deep breath.

Rousseau moved the pistol slightly causing Kendrick's eyes to focus on it, a reminder of who was in control. Kendrick flicked the radio channel open, "Knight Leader this is E dash X dash Oh dash One, we are experiencing a malfunction."

"E dash X dash Oh dash One, Knight Lead, what kind of malfunction? Over." Masconi sounded impatient.

"Knight Lead, E dash X dash Oh dash One, it's a stabilizer failure." Kendrick looked to Rousseau as he clicked off, "What now?"

"Tell them you have to set down, that your engineer back there can fix it but you have to set down to do it." Rousseau glanced up at the fighter ahead of them nervously.

Kendrick shrugged, "Knight Lead, am setting down on Lion's Pride to perform repairs."

"Negative E dash X dash Oh dash One, deviation from the flight plan is not ordered," Masconi began.

"I suggest," Rousseau stated flatly, "you remind her who is in command of this flight."

Kendrick ground his teeth for a second flicking the transmit switch, "Knight Leader I am in command here, am setting down on Lion's Pride to perform repairs, you are to continue on to target escorting E dash X dash Oh dash Two, I will link up with you at target as soon as repairs are complete."

"E dash X dash Oh dash One, Knight leader, understood." Masconi sounded annoyed, her fighters breaking off their escort as they formed up around the second drop ship, continuing on to the smaller transport a short distance off.

Kendrick looked at Rousseau, who relaxed a little. "Set us down," the major ordered, gesturing to Kardiac's flagship.

The small drop ship descended to one of the upper docking hatches behind the bridge superstructure of the mighty dreadnaught, extending its landing gears as he connected with the derelict, powering down as its docking tube extended and mated with the ship.

* * *

"What the hell is he doing?" Mayfair asked looking out of the canopy window at the first drop ship as it came in for a landing on the Lion's Pride.

Flight Lieutenant Katz shook his head as he maintained his flight course. "I don't know," the young Paladin pilot replied. "The CO just doesn't break orders with out a reason; if he says he has a problem he must have one."

Mayfair set his jaw; technically the Wing Commander outranked him, but Kendrick's rank had never been confirmed, it had just been assumed. He wanted to reach out and tow the other man into line, remind him of the captain's strict orders about the Kardiac warships, but it would undermine the Wing Commander in the face of the pilots of VMA-23, and if he did have a problem...

"No way to get a radio message out to Excalibur is there?" he asked hopefully.

Katz shook his head helplessly, "We have radio up to a couple of miles, but beyond that the signal gets bounced back by the nebula."

"Right, then," Mayfair stated. "Looks like we have to trust in Mister Elias's ability to fix the problem while we continue on to the transport."

Katz nodded his agreement, "Knight Leader, E dash X dash Oh dash Two, am going to begin my docking procedure with the transport."

"Acknowledged E dash X dash Oh dash Two, good luck," Masconi replied, fully professional over the radio.

* * *

Elias breathed heavily through the space suit's respirator as he was prodded forward by the pair of Kardiac marines as he walked through the vacuum-exposed decks of what had been the most feared vessel in the Imperial arsenal. He shivered at the oppressive heat of his suit and the fact that one wrong move meant he was dead. He tried to stay calm; Rousseau had sent him and the marines to see if they could restore power to the ship, sealing some of the breaches in the hull and restoring life support to the crippled vessel.

He swallowed trying not to think about the dead bodies he was pushing past, his head swimming as he fought against the urge to vomit. They had been hundreds of years dead, but being exposed to vacuum and left in an airless environment had wrought havoc on them and preserved that horror in grizzly detail.

"I..." he struggled closing his eyes as he brushed past a body floating overhead, shivering and shaking as it stared down at him with bloodless eyes, its face twisted into a scream.

"Move," the marine commanded, prodding him forward again, and Elias fought past it into the small engineering substation. He knelt down to check the ships reactors which were conventional fuel-based reactors and not as advanced as the Excalibur's. They appeared undamaged, still partially fuelled; it was the Lion's Pride's engines that had forced Kardiac to abandon his massive flag ship.

Elias moved to wipe his sweaty brow; his gloved hand slid across the faceplate of his suit and he cursed, leaning down and trying to ignore the trickle of sweat rolling down his nose. He had to get the power on.

It didn't take him as long as he thought it would, finally hitting the appropriate command sequence. The ship's lights came on and emergency bulkheads slammed down sealing off the broken sections of the ship, allowing the centuries-inactive life-support system to begin to engage.

* * *

"What the hell?" Masconi uttered as the dormant Lion's Pride awoke. Her running lights came on moments before her view ports and windows lit up, a floating city in space turning on its lights once again. The spotlights lit the nameplate on her hull and picked out the Blue and Gold Lion proudly.

She shook her head angrily, flicking on her radio, "E dash X dash Oh dash One, what the hell do you think you are doing?"

The Lion's Pride looked resplendent hanging in the fog, ominous, powerful. It was a mighty centurion of an era long past, the champion of a war long thought forgotten. Masconi stared at it as wonder replaced her anger. This was Kardiac's ship; this was the sword of the Immortal Emperor, the same ship that had sought the eradication of the non-believers, the one that had spelled doom for her ancestors. Anger slid back into place, disgust at what the Empire had been, what it had wrought.

"E dash X dash Oh dash One, if you don't respond I will open fire!" she snarled angrily into the radio.

Her radio crackled, "Knight Leader this is Major Rousseau, you will hold back-that is an order, Squadron Leader."

Masconi stared in open shock at her radio.

"Major Rousseau?" Mayfair cut into the comm. channel from the drop ship docked with the transport. "What the hell?"

"This is none of your concern, Yellow-jacket!" Rousseau bit off.

"What happened to my men, Blue-blood?" Mayfair demanded.

Masconi blinked, staring from the transport to the mammoth Lion's Pride, trying to think, "Major Rousseau what is going on, what are you doing on that ship?"

"Stand down, Squadron Leader, we have orders from Colonel Ramsey..."

Masconi's frown turned into a scowl; her father was capable of a lot of things, but to launch some kind of mission without telling her? He would never do that. Whatever Rousseau was doing, it wasn't under orders from her father.

She sat there helplessly, trying to work out what she could do, what she should do. Her fists balled an inch from her controls as the rest of her knights looked to her for instructions.

* * *

Rousseau sat in the cockpit of the drop ship looking over at Kendrick thoughtfully, "You know why I am doing this, don't you?" he said quietly, checking on the status of his men.

"You betrayed us," Kendrick shot back.

"I'm following my orders," Rousseau stated calmly, "following a plan left to us by a great man, a man who wasn't afraid to do what had to be done in order to ensure the safety of our race."

Kendrick shook his head, "You have us at gun point, and you betrayed the captain's trust, you..."

"I'm going to make a choice you and I both know he would never be able to make," Rousseau said his eyes locked onto Kendrick's. "I am going to stop the Polians before they have a chance to join forces with the Amsus and crush any chance our people have for freedom."

"That's..." Kendrick stopped staring into the man's eyes, "What are you going to do?"

Rousseau holstered his pistol and clapped Kendrick on the shoulder, "You'll see." He started to move back down the length of the drop ship past the bound engineers, nodding to his men that it was time to go.

"Stop!" Kendrick ordered, reaching into a service locker and pulling out a side arm he always kept there, levelling it at Rousseau's back.

Rousseau looked back over his shoulders as his men tensed; he shook his head nodding for them to leave the drop ship as he turned back to the young Wing Commander. "You're not going to shoot me," he said simply, confidently staring into Kendrick's eyes.

Kendrick lifted the weapon threateningly, moving to pull the trigger, looking into human eyes and swallowing, lifting the weapon to try again. His arm dropped to his side as he looked away, Rousseau nodding as he descended the ladder into the Lion's Pride.

* * *

Mayfair slipped back into the co-pilot's seat as the engineers and the Karin marines strapped themselves in, glancing up at Katz. "Get us over there!" he ordered.

The young pilot nodded his head as he powered the drop ship off of the transport, arcing it across to the Lion's Pride. Mayfair stared nervously up at Masconi's fighters; if Rousseau was up to something then VMA-23...

* * *

Masconi warred with herself, her hands flexing as she watched the second drop ship curving on course for the dreadnaught. She had to make a choice, do nothing and see how it played out, open fire on Mayfair's drop ship and butcher human beings... or...

She swallowed, "Knight Leader to all Knights, form up on E dash X dash Oh dash Two and provide escort." She touched her controls and swept the 120 into formation covering the Imperial drop ship as it went to kill one of their own.

* * *

Elias stared at them as the marines lifted a large weapon from the armoury they had forced him to open. A space-to-surface torpedo, heavily modified and undoubtedly very powerful. He stared at the weapon as they marched past him, heading for the rear of the large derelict ship.

"What do we do with him?" the sergeant asked gesturing to Elias.

Rousseau glanced at the young engineer, and smiled. "Leave him here," he commented, gesturing for his men to carry on.

Elias swallowed. He was still wearing his space suit with his helmet tucked under his arm as he watched them go, his mind thinking about what he could do to stop them

Once they were gone he grabbed his helmet and slipped it on, sprinting back the way they had come to the engineering station; if he was lucky he could vent the ship, space the bastards before they got away with their stolen prize.

He skidded to the console and stared in shock, seeing the self-destruct countdown had been initialised, its large numbers cycling through the last few minutes as on another screen he saw the second drop ship and the 120's closing to come to the rescue. He shook his head; there was no time to deactivate the sequence, he pressed the comm. radio and prayed it still worked.

"It's rigged to blow!" he bellowed.

"Who is this?" Masconi snapped over the radio.

"The Lion's Pride, it's a trap!" he bellowed, knowing he didn't have much time. None, really, to make it to the drop ship; he gripped the helmet of the space suit, slipped it on, tapped a console and prayed louder.

* * *

Kendrick stared at the alarms flickering across his instrument panels, Elias's warning ringing in his ears as the ship beneath him depressurised. One of the engineers yelled as another sealed the hatch lest the air from the drop ship be sucked out along with the air on the dreadnaught.

He didn't have a choice, he had no time to wait; he hit the power, tearing the docking tube away from its mounting as he lifted off of the Lion's Pride as it began to detonate. The F-120's and the second drop ship scattered in every direction to avoid being pulled into the blast.

On the rear deck of the dreadnaught, an Imperial courier frigate released its docking clamps powering away from the stricken flagship, turning and roaring from the scene at full speed as the other vessels ran for safety.

Seconds later the Lion's Pride died.

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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