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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 - 33. Chapter 33

The morning after, when the sun arose,
it was streaked with the blood of a traitor that had
forever cursed us to live with the memory of freedom.
And rising over the central plaza of our capital
the Hegemony's crescent banner was
a moon that eclipsed the sun.

-Archduke Francesco 'The Fall of the Empire'

Skyella Nebula

Darien was pacing under the tall bridge windows; it was becoming a habit and he knew it. It made people nervous as they watched him make another turn and stride back, his boots rhythmically falling to the deck as he walked. It was exactly twenty paces from one end of the bridge to another, twenty steps until he turned crisply on his heel and walked back again, his eyes fixed and focused on the menacing nebula.

Lauren wanted to comment to him, tell him that he was making the crew uneasy, but she could understand what he was going through-the feeling of helplessness for a man used to being in control of situations. He now had no choice but to sit back and wait for Kendrick to complete the salvage mission.

"Captain," Kit stated and every one on the bridge held their breaths, "Excalibur cannot see a part of herself."

Darien stopped his steady pacing, turning to face the hologram, "What?"

"Marine barracks four has been sealed and my security surveillance systems have been deactivated." He stared thoughtfully, "Excalibur assumed it was part of scheduled maintenance..."

"However, there is none going on right now," Darien said having reviewed Elias's repair schedule for the day. The engineer was adamant that no one touch his systems without his being there.

He glanced up at Shale who nodded in understanding as he and Nazzien darted off the bridge to investigate the abnormality. Darien felt the uneasy feeling seeping back into him. Something was wrong; it had been from the beginning, yet he had deliberately ignored his instincts.

"Launch the F-150's and clear for general quarters," Darien ordered marching back to his seat.

The alarm klaxon started to resound its ominous beat as crew throughout the ship ran to man their battle stations. The Excalibur angled herself presenting her forward profile to the nebula as F-150 fighters took up BARCAP positions around the ship, ready to defend her from potential attack. The young pilots of VF-54 were eager to face anything the universe threw their way.

Darien took the weapons station personally in Nazzien's absence; the young midshipman who was studying under Nazzien waited patiently as the captain brought the main cannons online and checked the readiness of the ship's pin-point defence system.

"Captain," Kit dutifully intoned, "Lieutenant Nazzien reports that the door to the marine barracks has been sealed. I am dispatching a maintenance crew to cut it open."

"Sealed," Darien said thoughtfully, glancing across at Lauren. She glanced back at him frowning. Darien squared his shoulders stepping down from the weapons console to allow the young midshipman to take the station, "Who was bunked in that barracks?"

"First Platoon-Echo Company, Kardiac Expeditionary Army," Kit reported.

"The platoon Rousseau brought aboard," Darien said musing, looking up at the nebula. "Send one of our own platoons down to back Nazzien and Shale up, full tactical gear."

"You're expecting trouble?" Lauren asked.

"They're up to something," Darien said angrily, "and we're not going to take any more chances... Can we send a message back to Tempus?"

"The time delay would mean it won't arrive for a full day," Lauren said. "We could dispatch the Raptor as a courier."

"Have her prepped for launch," Darien said. "And post a marine guard. Let's not take any chances we don't have to."

* * *

"Acknowledged, Knight Leader," Kendrick said angrily as he pulled the drop ship back into formation, rubbing his eyes. Masconi was right-Elias was dead and there were more important things at stake than the faint hope that the young engineer had survived. It didn't make it any easier; Elias had been a welcome smile and a bright light aboard the Excalibur and before that. He'd always found a way to make Kendrick smile... Darien was going to be devastated.

He accelerated the drop ship keeping pace with the F-120's as they dove back towards the Excalibur to report the bad news. Major Mayfair was fuming from Oh dash Two beside him. The major hadn't said much, beyond cursing the blue-bloods that had backstabbed him, angry about what they had done to make him look foolish, and angry about what they could do with whatever they had stolen from the Lion's Pride.

Kendrick gritted his teeth as the drop ship glided around the wreck of a Polian frigate; he'd failed, he'd had a chance to shoot Rousseau and he had hesitated. He was supposed to be an Imperial officer, the closest thing to an ace the Excalibur had-one more kill and he would have the coveted title-but he couldn't shoot one man who had betrayed them all and killed one of his friends.

"Why?" he murmured staring at the flashing strobe of Masconi's navigation lights ahead of him. What could it possibly serve? Rousseau had a point about the Polians, he knew that, but the ends surely didn't justify the means.

Elias was dead.

His mind kept returning to that one jarring fact, Lieutenant Elias, chief engineer of the HMS Excalibur killed in action under his command. Killed because he hadn't taken a shot. Dead because he had failed.

He closed his eyes, fighting down the emotions as he tried to stay focus.

"E dash X dash Oh dash One, Knight Leader," Masconi's voice cut over the radio. "You are drifting out of formation, sir."

"Roger, Knight lead," Kendrick responded, touching his controls as he put the drop ship back into formation. He wondered how many others were going to die because he didn't know what he was doing.

* * *

Darien looked up as the tactical displays lit up across the bridge, seeing the threat as Kit dutifully appeared to make Excalibur's report.

"Excalibur reports there is a small fast moving ship emerging from the nebula cloud bearing zero-four-two mark zero-one-six. Size and configuration match an Imperial courier vessel."

"A courier?" Darien asked in surprise looking at the tactical data, walking over to accept the tactical headset Lauren handed to him.

"Paladin Five-Four-Two, this is Excalibur control. Emergency!" He stated watching the F-150's on the outer picket, a trio of fighters itching to be cut loose. "Come right heading zero-four-two, target designation Sierra zero-four-two mark zero-one-six, 140 miles. Buster." Buster was the fighter direction code that directed the Paladins on an intercept to use full military power to stop the target.

He stood and listened as the squadron leader responded, "Paladin Lead, roger, vectoring zero-four-two. Paladins starboard zero-four-two." The fighters on the tactical display swung right and dove towards the fleeing courier.

"You're going to fire on the courier?" Lauren asked in surprise.

"She's running," he said, pointing to the tactical display. "If it was one of ours they'd be heading towards us." He glanced at Kit, "Are they radioing us?"

"Negative," Kit replied shaking his head, "I am receiving nothing from the courier."

"Give me a general broadcast," Darien stated, turning to look up at the hologram as he rested a hand on the back of his chair, the other hand pressing transmit on the headset he was wearing. "Imperial Courier, this is the HMS Excalibur." He drew himself up to his full height, "I have three fighters converging on your position with orders to open fire once they are within range; heave to and prepare to be escorted back to Excalibur."

"Target Sierra One is powering its jump pods," Kit warned.

Darien stared up at his fighters, they weren't going to intercept the courier in time. He turned his eyes back to the observation windows and the nebula hanging there with his drop ships and missing fighters... for all he knew they were all dead and the courier was about to get away."

"Orders, Captain?" Lauren pressed, seeing the same thing he was.

"Damn!" Darien cursed slamming his balled fist down on the back of his chair. He couldn't just sail off and leave the drop ships, not when there was a chance they were still out there. "Stand down," he ordered angrily, pulling off his headset and tossing it into the chair.

* * *

Darien stood at the rear of the hanger deck as the plane elevators descended lowering the drop ships from the flight deck. He had his arms folded and an angry expression etched on his face as he waited for the two drop ships to taxi to the middle of the bay, their drop ramps falling to the deck as marines and shaken engineers spilled out of them.

Mayfair's expression mirrored his captain's. The marine slung his assault rifle as he offered Darien a tight salute. "Mission was a complete fucking disaster, sir!" he reported, turning to look towards the second drop ship as Kendrick walked down looking pale and shaken.

"What the hell happened?" Darien demanded, his arms folded.

"Rousseau, Skipper," Mayfair explained. "He switched a squad of his marines for mine and..." he shrugged looking over at Kendrick.

Kendrick looked up, pain evident on his face, and Darien realized someone was missing. A cold hard knot tightened in his stomach as he realized who...

Kendrick shook his head slowly;"He was on the Pride when they blew it..."

Darien's shoulders fell; he stared blankly into the face of the Wing Commander, realization seeping in as he wrestled through his utter disbelief. "No..."

"They boarded the Lion's Pride, used him to secure something from its magazine and took off..." Kendrick looked down, "They left him behind..."

Darien's mind swam, he couldn't accept it, not Elias, of all of them he was the last one... He found himself breathing heavily, reaching out to grab the first thing he could find to steady himself. The major caught his arm gesturing to a couple of marines to keep back and give their captain some room. Darien shrugged out of the major's grip, straightening up and steadying himself mentally; he couldn't break down, no matter what. "Tell me everything that happened," he said quietly.

Kendrick explained about Rousseau's betrayal as the fighters of VMA-23 were lowered to the hangar deck. Darien inclined his head, nodding. It explained why the barracks containing the rest of Rousseau's men was barricaded, the rest of his force bunkered down with the missing Karin marine squad as their hostages.

Darien rounded, seeing the Black Knight Squadron leader hopping down from her fighter, and he pushed his way through the cluster of marines lunging for her, catching the fighter pilot by surprise as he grabbed her bodily and threw her against the fuselage of her fighter. Some of her fellow pilots stepped forward, only to be met by Mayfair's marines dropping packs and cocking their assault rifles menacingly.

"Did you know about this!" Darien demanded furiously.

"No!" Masconi replied shaking her head, "I wasn't told..."

"What did they take off of that ship!" he spat out, ignoring her protests of innocence.

"I- I don't know..." she said desperately, looking about for help.

"Skipper," Mayfair threw himself into pulling his captain off of the Kardiac pilot, "she didn't know, she could have turned on us in the nebula, but she didn't..."

Darien released her flight suit, throwing her backwards against her plane again as he stormed away, seething with rage.

* * *

"The fighters are all down," Kit reported to Lauren.

She stood stock-still staring at the nebula, the news still sinking in. He was dead.

Bright and bubbly, smart and witty, big blue eyes and scruffy blond hair... she fought the urge to cry, realizing how close to the crew she had become, how close she was to the confused little engineer and his wacky style that seemed to infect the crew with a smile.

"Your... orders, Lieutenant?" Kit pressed wishing he could touch her shoulder and offer her some kind of compassionate gesture.

She remained standing still, her eyes locked on the boiling green mass that had become such an embodiment of evil. She had known something was wrong, she had never guessed the cost of ignoring her own instincts would be so high. She'd lost people in her life before, but Elias was like family, a little brother to her.

Darien reentered the bridge. A dark mask had settled across his face. Cold fury. He had to be taking the loss the hardest, but she knew that if he was to act in grief, commanding enough fire power to level an entire planet...

She stepped down from her console, throwing herself into his arms and letting her emotions get the better of her.

Darien looked down at his first officer, wrapping his arms around her as he closed his own eyes a moment, fighting back his urge to order a jump back to Tempus and a counter attack. It would serve no purpose until they knew more; his best bet was to blockade the planet. He stood there comforting Lauren putting aside his initial thoughts of bloody vengeance, rational thought returning to him as he offered her support.

He was a Starship Captain; he was the strength the ship depended upon. The crew were looking to him for leadership, he had to put his personal grief aside, no matter how much it tore at his heart, and he needed to be their captain.

Lauren stepped back drying her eyes as she looked at his grim face, and he nodded to her that he was okay.

"Set a course for Tempus Three Beta," he ordered to a midshipman who had taken Lauren's station. "Jump when ready..."

He hated himself at that moment for giving up. If Elias was still alive out there in the nebula Darien knew that to jump would be the same as signing his death warrant. But Rousseau was loose with what ever he had stolen, time had run out. It tore his heart out to give the order, but he knew that he had no other choice. It was the difference of one life against the countless lives Rousseau could hurt.

"Execute the Jump." He ordered.

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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Too late for Elias??? He is very resourceful, but how would he get out of this mess.  Will Damien come to rescue him? How long can Elias last?  I hope Damien can stop Rousseau and maybe get the Polians on his side.

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I have to believe that Elias will find a way back. Darien is not whole without him. 

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