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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 - 35. Chapter 35

The religious fervour spreads through the Empire like a disease. I am uncertain what I can do to curb the bloodlust that spreads along with it. It seems the Bishops and clerics of the Imperial order are revelling in the chaos they have wrought.

-VonGrippen 'Excalibur Logs'

Tempus System

The glittering planet hung framed in the windows of the captain's stateroom as he sat counting the dead. Each was a blow; Excalibur would take time to return to full combat readiness. To make matters worse, she'd lost half of her F-150 fighter compliment; the valuable tactical fighters would be difficult to replace, if not impossible.

The best they could do was to replace the marine equipment directly from the Tempus garrison; Mayfair was already making arrangements to recruit draftees from the Tempus army. Payment, Darien mused darkly, for helping crush the revolution.

It simply meant he would have to make do with less. He'd taken Eisenhower station with an untrained crew, he could rebuild again, be ready for the arduous task of liberating Earth from the Amsus.

He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the headrest of his chair. But there were some people that just couldn't be replaced. Small smiles and bright eyes in the depths of the night that...

He had to stop thinking like that, stop thinking about the past, stay fixed on the future. There was a reason captains maintained emotional detachment from their crew. The pain of losing the one constant brightness in the whole mess of an ordeal welled inside of him, demanding an outlet, something more than the few scribbled lines in his logbook... something that justified Elias's sacrifice beyond Rousseau's betrayal.

The door opened and Darien's eyes snapped open as he sat upright looking over at Major Mayfair as he walked into the room. The major had been injured in the battle for Tempus Base; his was arm cradled in a sling where he had sprained his shoulder, and a nasty black eye decorated his face. But there was still a twinkle in the man's eye and a light smile on his face.

"Skipper," he said, saluting with his off hand, "just wanted you to know we got the buggers out of the barracks."

Darien nodded, that was one less problem he would have to worry about. Rousseau's marines had fortified themselves in the barracks holding marines as hostage, but when it became clear their forces on the planet had begun to surrender, they in turn capitulated.

"I also wanted to pass along an idea one of my techs had," Mayfair said, crossing to the desk and putting down a clipboard containing a report and schematic plans.

Darien picked it up, recognizing the EV-II design on the paper in front of him. "Elias's fighter," he said looking up.

"I know we lost a bunch of F-150's we can't replace, and I was taking a look over the garrison stores down on Tempus and they have dozens of crates of these things. Seems no one down there has a real use for them-too light, too slow and generally useless."

"However..." Darien said remembering the race and how the EV-II with modifications could be easily made a match for the impressive F-150's, at a lower cost and a few spare parts from Mechs, spare parts that Tempus also had in abundance.

Mayfair folded his arms, "I take it requisitioning all of those fighters the moment I saw them was a good plan?"

Darien smiled for the first time that day, "You, Major, are a godsend, remind me to thank the Archduke repeatedly for you..."

"You know, I'm overdue for promotion," Mayfair said wryly and waggled his eyebrows, grinning.

Darien blew out a sigh, scooping up his pen as he flipped open the log and made an addendum to the action report he had written concerning the battle for Tempus. He finished, turning it so the newly promoted lieutenant colonel could see it.

Mayfair gaped for a second then looked up at Darien. "I was joking, sir," he said in wonder.

Darien shook his head, "I'm not, and you earned it. How's the recruiting going?"

Mayfair nodded, "We're pulling together what we can but it's still a bit of a mess down there. I should be able to reinforce my men in a few days; the bonus is they are already trained on the Imperial equipment."

* * *

Rousseau stared at the wreckage of his encampment, the shattered fighters, and the smouldering wreck of his stolen courier. He picked himself up out of the snow, struggling to his feet as he glanced towards the silver-cased missile sitting untouched at the other end of the hard-packed runway.

He looked up and offered thanks to the Emperor for his watchfulness, taking stock of the other survivors of the attack. He's lost a large portion of his special operations team and the command tent was a burning crater. It was a setback, he accepted that, but he still had the weapon, and that at least counted for something.

A sergeant, clad in the Imperial arctic uniform, offered up a salute as he reported that the other vehicles were still intact, the sentry Mech and the assorted Jeeps and trucks had fortunately been spared the air assault by the stray 120's.

He glanced at the wreckage of the shattered 150-he would have to find a replacement for it, and there was only one place to do that. He glanced upwards towards the new star in the Tempus sky.

* * *

Lauren lay in her cabin, the grey metal bulkhead over her head filling her vision as she stared up at it. She pulled the blanket tighter about her as she turned, staring at the digital readout of the clock that sat on the small side table. She was supposed to be sleeping, and all she could think about was the ship, of the battle, of him...

She lay there awake; the last time she had felt this way about someone she'd gotten hurt, Logan taking that small piece of innocence inside of her and throwing it away along with all the rest of his empty promises. Was this going to be the same? She couldn't survive that kind of pain again, she'd never let anyone that close, until now.

What was she doing? Shipboard romances were trouble; she just needed to look at the confusion Elias and Darien were causing each other to know that. Darien was trying to be a captain, aloof and distant, and Elias had tried desperately to hold onto what tenderness they had... Both of them failing miserably in the one place it counted: communication.

The thing that was developing with Kendrick... a thing because she didn't want to admit it was more than that... was going to get ugly. Mayfair had made his intentions towards her plain and there had been one fight already, but was she willing to admit that there was more going on between her and Kendrick and end it with Mayfair? How would the marine take it? How would she?

It wasn't fair on either of them. She felt like she was caught in the middle, all because she was too afraid to admit her feelings and accept what they meant.

She got up, pulling on her uniform and heading out to the mess hall, tucking her blonde hair under a ball cap as she went in search of some kind of distraction, something to take her mind off of things for a while.

The ship was in a state of chaos; technicians and mechanics from both Tempus and onboard ship were labouring to repair the damage that had been done, replacing broken turrets and collapsed bulkheads. She moved aside to let a couple of techs past carrying a piece of armour plating along the hall, before she turned into the mess hall.

Even that late at night, it was business as usual for Chef. He was serving up his usual bland concoctions making sure the masses were fed while they worked. She picked up a tray and gestured to the thick pan of oatmeal that was bubbling away miserably. Not the most appetizing of meals, but she wanted something warm.

Poking at it with her spoon she didn't notice Nazzien until he sat down across from her. "You're up late," he observed, tucking into his own oatmeal, mixing it with some eggs he had on another plate.

She looked over at his forkful of eggs dripping oatmeal and up at him, "You know, that's a disgusting habit."

He looked down at his spoon and up again, "Well to me, eating food plain is disgusting. At least this doesn't taste as bad as peanut butter and jelly..."

"I love those," she said. "How can you not like peanut butter and jelly?"

Nazzien screwed up his nose. "It sticks to the roof of my mouth..." he shuddered. "So, think the Tempus pilots will stay onboard?"

"Masconi?" Lauren asked picking up a cup of coffee and taking a sip. "Why would they?"

Well, they still want to help us liberate Earth, right?- at least half of them do, the other half are just bug nut crazy..." Nazzien shook his head, "But we need the help and," he lowered his voice, "we are lacking in replacement pilots."

"I don't know; Skip will probably be reluctant to trust them after what happened at Skyella."

"Yeah," Nazzien admitted, looking depressed thinking about the little engineer they had lost, the friend.

Lauren was quiet as well, looking distant, thinking about all the lives they had lost, needlessly. It wasn't fair, it was just not fair at all...

"And she is..." Nazzien said trying to change the subject.

She caught it and gave him a tight smile, "Does someone have a crush on a certain Squadron Leader?"

Nazzien looked up, "She's a Terran..."

"That's not an answer," Lauren replied, teasing him half-heartedly.

"She's just..." he grinned, "ok, so the leather flight suit and the scar, she's kinda hot."

"Figures you'd go for the dominatrix type," Lauren said over the rim of her coffee cup. "All leather and bondage and..."

His eyebrows shot up as he glanced around to make sure no one was listening in. "Hey!" he protested, "I never said that."

"So what exactly is it about a woman in leather, then?" Lauren asked, burying her emotions, her sense of loss, locking onto some small distraction to take her mind off of all the thoughts rushing through it...

* * *

The Wing Commander stood before his desk, the Imperial captain sitting in his chair, his fingers braced along his jaw line as he stared levelly up at Kendrick over the rims of his glasses. The Imperial greatcoat was draped over the shoulders of the chair and the panorama of Tempus's night side filled the tall windows behind him.

Darien studied the arrogant man standing at attention before him, his jaw set and eyes staring back defiantly.

"I have five pilots dead, and another injured in sick bay," Darien said coldly, "all because you wouldn't cut them loose to engage the enemy, corralling them up against the ship's batteries while you played hero."

"I was being cautious," Kendrick snapped back.

"You were being stupid," Darien countered. "While you were off throwing yourself into every dogfight you could find your men were being cut to pieces unable to manoeuvre."

"I was in command out there, I did what I had to do to keep the men under my command alive."

"Just like you did everything you could to keep Elias alive?" Darien bit back.

"I wasn't the one who left him in a nebula," Kendrick returned.

"I don't risk lives by playing hero when there's a job to be done," Darien said angrily. "I weighed the cost of one life against the cost of doing nothing. It's the difference between an officer and a high school jock with an attitude problem."

"Fuck you!" Kendrick exploded taking a step forward menacingly.

"Case in point," Darien stated coldly. "Get the hell out of my stateroom, you're in hack until further notice."

"Grounded?" Kendrick stared in disbelief. "You can't do that..."

"I just did, Wing Commander," Darien pronounced the rank as he set his pen down on the deck. "Lieutenant Katz will take over as Squadron Leader until you're reinstated. Until then," Darien stood, "consider your self damn lucky I'm not stripping you of your Wing Commander duties and giving them to someone who actually knows what the hell they are doing!"

"Like you, Captain?" Kendrick spat.

"Like me," Darien stated without hesitation.

Kendrick blinked looking into those cold, hard eyes, balking under Darien's stare; his eyes flicked to the Knight's Cross at Darien's throat, and back up to those eyes. Kendrick's argument died on his tongue as he swallowed his anger, offering a tight salute.

"Sir, yes sir!" he said turning on his heel and marching from the stateroom.

* * *

Shale sat in the cramped forward fire control centre, his feet up on the console, soft music playing away in the background as he thumbed his way through a well-worn copy of Pride and Prejudice he had found tucked away in a forgotten corner of the ship.

His boot tip tapped along to the salsa beat of the music as he turned the page and reached for a tall glass of milk. The hatch slid open to admit a young technician who stared at his senior officer in a moment of repose and gaped openly until the Taïrian had turned his head and jerked a thumb indicating that the tech should bugger off and find something else to do.

The tech didn't need to be told twice; he backed out of the control centre and darted off to tell some of his fellow crewmates about what he had just seen. Knowing full well none of them would believe him about the hard-as-nails Taïrian's soft side.

* * *

Sarge Collins found him sitting in the pilot's ready room reviewing the battle. The Wing Commander scribbled notes as he reviewed performances and tried to analyse every moment of the action as recorded by the Excalibur's sensors.

He was still burning from Darien's rebuke... There was already enough blame to go around. But to challenge how he led his men into battle, how he fought, to take that away from him...

The sarge had come up with the last shuttle run, using the confusion of techs, medical staff and marines to slip aboard the Imperial strike cruiser. His mission was to simply deliver a message. Rousseau had been clear: get in and get out-nothing more.

Kendrick looked up at the unfamiliar sergeant who had interrupted him, and he lifted a remote to stop the playback on the screen. "What do you want?" he demanded, turning.

Collins reached out with a flat metal device, inclining his head as he handed the message recorder to the Wing Commander before he walked out not waiting to be dismissed. Kendrick frowned at the odd exchange, sitting back down in one of the pilot's chairs and setting the flat device down on the armrest/note table and pressing the only switch.

"Good evening, Wing Commander," Rousseau stated, appearing on the large monitor at the front of the ready room.

Kendrick stared at it a moment before he stood up, glancing at the way Collins had left.

"Don't bother," Rousseau stated. "He's gone and will be off your ship before you can alert your marines."

"What do you want?" Kendrick demanded angrily, angry at the man he was beginning to consider a friend, a man that had betrayed him and nearly killed his friend, the same man responsible for the deaths of the pilots under his command.

Rousseau nodded, "To explain."

"I think the gun to my head was all the explanation I needed," Kendrick bit off. "Or maybe the blood on your hands tells me more..."

"The blood on my hands is nothing compared to the cause I am fighting and you know it," Rousseau bit off. "You studied the Empire, and you knew how close we were. You know what the Polians cost us, and I am not going to let that happen again. Your fledgling empire has a target on it, and it's only a matter of time until the Polians come to descend on it and tear out its heart. So the question is, Wing Commander, do we stop them while we still have time, or do we allow them the time to build a war fleet and join the Amsus in smashing your Empire into shards."

Kendrick shook his head, "You're insane." He turned to leave.

"The device contains my co-ordinates," Rousseau said confidently. "You can end this right here and right now with a single salvo from that mighty warship of yours, but I have the feeling you won't betray me."

"What makes you so sure?" Kendrick said turning back, seething in rage.

"Because you're not me, you're an honourable man," Rousseau smiled. "And you know I'm right."

* * *

Darien paced behind his desk, looking over at Colonel Ramsey standing before him, the older man looking worn and haggard after the ordeal on the planet. The weight of being the leader of his people showed on his face.

Darien completed another full length of the stateroom before he chose to speak, "You want me to go back to Skyella and get you the transport, after this?"

"I was sincere in my offer," Ramsey stated again. "You need our help, and my people want to go home. We have been training an army for hundreds of years, let us put it to the use it was intended for, defending the human race."

"It seems the House of Kardiac and I have two very different definitions of what it takes to defend the species," Darien replied, his anger boiling to the surface.

"Rousseau's rebels aren't the general population of Tempus," Ramsey insisted. "You need our help, we want to help..."

"The cost of your help is a little high for my tastes," Darien snarled.

"You can escort us back to Earth," Ramsey stated. "We'll forgo the refit and leave as is; we'll complete the repairs underway and you can keep us under your guns the entire way back."

Darien stopped his pacing and leaned on the back of his chair looking down on the colonel, "We'll drop your salvage teams off at the nebula and escort your ships back to Tempus, but if they so much as twitch off course I am going to order the fighters to blow your salvage teams to hell."

"Agreed," Ramsey stated. "My teams have identified two support carriers in the nebula..."

"Support carriers?" Darien said. "We agreed transports."

"The support carriers can keep pace with the Excalibur," Ramsey pointed out, "and can house troops, fighters and equipment. They are not as large as the transports, but time is of the essence and they are both in better condition than the transports scanned by the first trip into the nebula."

Darien sat down behind his desk, rubbing his temples. Ramsey made a valid point, and support carriers were about as lightly armed as the transports. He shook his head and looked up, "They get crewed by my people not yours, and at the first sign of betrayal..."

The colonel saluted, "Sir, yes sir!"

As he left, Darien rested his head on his hands again. If he slipped he would plunge headlong into disaster, and he knew it. He was putting his trust in the House of Kardiac again, despite his better judgement and his experiences. He kept thinking about Masconi, hoping to god she took after her father.

* * *

Katz was discharged from sick bay after being treated for his minor injuries early the next day, arm still in a cast and a restriction to light duty. It meant he wasn't supposed to be anywhere near the flight deck. Naturally the moment he was out of the doctor's line of sight, he changed directions, finding the machine shop on the hangar deck, far from the doctor's prying eyes.

The EV-II had been moved to the machine shop where it had been fitted with armour plates, giving it the menacing appearance of a combat fighter. He had heard of Mayfair's plans to convert more of the recon fighters to the EV-II standards, and that cheered Katz up tremendously. It meant that they would have an even bigger edge in battle.

He'd poured heart and soul into learning to fly when he'd been recruited to the Excalibur on Karin. He loved the fighters, the freedom of flying, the exhilaration that it gave him. And if he wasn't allowed on the flight deck, then he fully intended to make himself useful somewhere else.

He picked up some tools, and despite the cast, set about tweaking the fighter to give it some fine tuning, fixing some of the clearing mistakes the ham-fisted marine technicians had made in their hurry to turn his work of art into a fighter.

* * *

"Are you sure you can trust them?" Kit asked as Darien stood, hands braced staring into the nebula again.

"No," Darien replied simply, "but I've ordered the engineering teams to make the same modifications they made to the drop ships to the Raptor; I'm going to send in some firepower to keep an eye on things this time. I don't trust our 'allies' as far as I can throw them, I am just hoping they think twice about screwing us a second time while a frigate stands over them ready to open fire if they so much as twitch."

"So what is your plan?" Kit asked patiently.

"I am going to supervise this one personally. I'll take R-403 to the nebula with the two salvage teams and we'll drive the support carriers out under their own power while Excalibur remains at Tempus to finish repairs. Only people I trust from our crew this time, there'll be no mistakes."

Kit nodded over the plan, "It makes sense."

Darien looked at his watch, "As soon as the modifications are complete I'll launch. Inform Lauren she is in command until I get back."

"Aye, Captain," Kit saluted and vanished.

* * *

Lauren was on her way to the bridge when Kendrick caught up to her. The last person she wanted to see right then, she tried to pretend she hadn't seen him, but he caught up to her before she could duck into an elevator.

"We need to talk," Kendrick said, a flat metal device gripped in his hands.

"I don't have time," Lauren said shaking her head. "The captain just left, I have to stand watch until he gets back..."

"This is important!" Kendrick insisted.

She closed her eyes fighting back a wave of emotion, opening them again to stare into his intense blue eyes. "Look, I know what you're going to say," she said, shaking her head sadly, "and I don't want to talk about it, it was a mistake..."

Kendrick blinked, the hand holding the device dropped to his side, "What?"

"We shouldn't have... it's complicated," she managed. "I just don't have feelings for you..."

Kendrick looked like he had just been slapped, "How could it not mean anything..." He shook his head, "No, this is about him, isn't it?"

"It's not about anyone," Lauren insisted, trying to make him understand, pleading with her eyes for him to listen while she struggled to find the right words. "This is about me, it's about what I want... or rather what I don't want..."

"What?" Kendrick snapped as he grabbed her arm forcefully. "You don't want what? Me? A relationship? What is it you don't want? Because all you give me are mixed signals..."

"Hey!" Nazzien stated coming around a corner and seeing Kendrick gripping Lauren's arm and yelling at her.

"Back off!" Kendrick bellowed, rounding on the arrogant Orion interfering where he didn't belong.

Nazzien didn't hesitate. He'd known Lauren for a long time, survived through a lot with her, and he wasn't about to see her hurt, not by a self-important blowhard like... He grabbed Kendrick by the front of his flight suit and tossed him backwards.

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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Things are heating up.  I wish that Lauren had not jumped to conclusions about what Kendrick wanted to say to her.  I believe he was about to tell her about Rousseau.  Talk about miscommunications.  Lauren and Kendrick are in the same place she thought Damien and Elias were in.  I hope when they get to the nebula, they will find and rescue Elias.  I still don't think he died.  Show me a body!

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On 7/1/2022 at 3:48 AM, centexhairysub said:

Well, f^$k, was Kendrick going to tell them about Rosseau?

Yes I think he was. Lauren may have blown it. 

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