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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 - 4. Chapter 4

Some say the Empire reaches too far; I say we haven't reached far
enough! There are places in this galaxy not blessed with the light
of civilization, it is our task to bring them such enlightenment,
and if they refuse this gift it should be thrust upon them.

-Kardiac 'The Templar's edict'

The Dragonfly completed its final jump into the red giant system. Darien powered up the thrust drive as he checked the navigation computer. From what he could tell they were on course, but beyond that he was lost; even after Elias had explained the system to him it was taking him awhile to get used to the Polarin script.

The system was a complex mess of irregular planetoids and debris fields, a couple of massive gas giants orbited the dying star broiling with their own storms flickering and catching the light in the cockpit windows. It was a place of death.

Darien kept his eyes peeled, the collision monitor on the HUD keeping him appraised of the situation around him as he guided the small ship deeper into the system, using the two sticks linked to the rotating engines to keep pinpoint control. The Dragonfly was in her element, a side effect of her heritage making her ideally suited to navigating through such a system; nimbly she swept through it with precise burns and rolls that allowed her to avoid any debris that strayed too close.

He checked the map again, turning to look back at Elias who was strapped into the engineering console bucket seat and holding on to the console in front of him.

"This is fun!" He shot Darien a broad grin as he pushed his dirty-blond hair out of his eyes.

Darien had to agree; there was something altogether liberating about testing the limits of his piloting skills. He weaved the ship around a large asteroid and pushed it a little faster, grinning to himself as he went. They were approaching the inner system and he throttled back a little, guiding the ship with gentle taps to the engines as they emerged from the debris field.

"I think I got it," Elias said from the rear, tapping his hand on the top of a radar set. "Yeah, I have something at the co-ordinates bearing..." he checked his instruments, "330 mark 043."

Darien angled the ship and steered her along the bearing Elias had just fed to him, the outboard engines trimming back into cruise mode as they powered up and the afterburners kicked in propelling the ship to a quarter light speed. It wouldn't take them long to reach their target, and Darien found himself growing a little apprehensive. What were their options once they got there? What would they find, if anything?

Time seemed to tick by slowly until the computer automatically disengaged the cruise mode, firing braking engines to pull it back down and slow it. Darien sat forward a little, the belts of the seat keeping him secure as he stared out of the windows to get his first glimpse of her.

"We're almost on top of it," Elias stated encouragingly.

And then there it was; the local sun caught its hull and lit it up in a warm glow, the sharp angular lines of a small warship, about the size of a corvette or an escort frigate. Darien couldn't tell, he'd never seen a ship like it.

"What is it?" Elias asked, unbuckling and walking forward to stare out of the windows at the old vessel.

"No clue," Darien replied as he manoeuvred the Dragonfly in for a closer inspection of the ship. It was configured like nothing either of the young men had seen before; heavily battle-damaged, it looked like its engineering section had been shorn clean off, but the bow section and most of the superstructure seemed intact.

"They abandoned her," Elias gestured to a row of empty escape pod bays along the starboard side.

Darien steered the ship even closer and turned on its external floodlights. "See that?" he pointed to a large sigil emblazoned on the hull, a dark green arrow with a black sword inside it.

"Unit insignia?" Elias guessed. "Could be anything."

"Perhaps," Darien stated as he repositioned the Dragonfly over its hull. "So what do we do now?"

"Well," Elias said, still staring at the elegant ship, "ordinarily we would go across in EVA suits, take what we want and be gone, but this ship isn't exactly a salvage vessel."

"True," Darien said, an idea already beginning to form in his mind. "We don't have the equipment for a deep space salvage, but the Dragonfly was designed to tow larger objects into and out of orbit; we could secure our tethers and just tow her to wherever we want, set down and go nuts."

Elias chewed his lip as he stared out of the window thinking about the plan, "She's pretty banged up, she might come apart if we try to tow her through an atmosphere..."

"She's still structurally sound," Darien gestured. "Only the drive section was destroyed, and unless you have an idea where we are going to get a couple of EVA suits and the gear to salvage that ship in space, I think we've got to chance it."

Elias nodded, knowing there really wasn't any other choice, especially not with a hold full of stolen goods, not that Darien had actually realized there were goods in there, let alone that they were stolen. "Should I attach the tethers then?" he asked, returning to his console at the rear of the cockpit and strapping in again.

"Go for it; take your time and pick the best places," Darien offered, keeping one eye on the HUD.

Elias powered up the tether system. It was simple really, a series of cables that secured themselves to a hull by strong electromagnets; he had eight of them, enough to give a firm grasp to the strange vessel. He examined his video feeds looking for hard points; finding what he was looking for, he secured the tethers.

"That's the last of them," he called out looking up at Darien.

Darien nodded, manoeuvring the ship again, and feeling the resistance given by the pull of the ship on its tether. The lines pulled tight and the two ships, the cripple and its liberator began the steady journey back into the outer system and open space.

* * *

"More coffee?" Elias called down from the crew compartment.

Darien glanced behind him from the controls. "Sure," he said, guiding the ships steadily through the debris field. It was a lot trickier than it looked; the Dragonfly was still highly manoeuvrable, but the corvette on the tether was still being towed and had a tendency of maintaining its own momentum until it ran out of cable and was forced along with the other ship. It was almost like trying to control a kite, and combine that with the debris field and it was slow going indeed.

He steered again as Elias came back down the ladder, clipping the travel mug into the cup holder on the pilot's consol. Darien nodding his thanks as he kept both hands on the sticks. They'd been travelling for hours, and still had another good hour or so before they were clear.

Elias wandered back to his station; setting his own mug down he glanced over his instruments and jumped in alarm. "We got company!" he called out, watching the radar as it showed a pair of steadily moving blips that had appeared on the scopes.

"Who are they?" Darien asked, glancing behind him.

"Don't know," Elias replied. "They aren't flying with transponders so it's unlikely they're anyone friendly." He sat down and buckled in again, glancing at the scopes watching the two blips closing on them.

Darien chewed his top lip as he reached out and slipped the headset on, thumbing the general broadcast on, "This is the Amsus Raptor Interdictor to unidentified vessels, activate your transponders and identify yourselves or be fired upon!"

Elias choked from the back; he'd never thought about it, they weren't flying with a transponder switched on either, and towing the crippled corvette their radar signature would match a small capital ship like a Raptor.

"I repeat," Darien forced the accent remembering the Inquisitor that had almost shot him in his own home, only a couple of days ago...was it really only a couple of days? "This is the Amsus Raptor Interdictor to the unidentified vessels on our scopes, if you do not identify yourselves at once you will be considered hostile!"

"What happens if they don't?" Elias whispered from behind him.

Darien looked back. "Then we're just screwed," he replied.

The radio crackled and Darien sighed with relief, "Interdictor, this is the salvage craft Whiskey-Tango-four-four, we apologize, our transponder system is offline..." Darien looked back at Elias who mouthed the word 'Jorten' confirming his suspicions.

Darien thumbed the transmit button, "Whiskey-Tango-four-four, this is Interdictor, you are still on an intercept course with no transponder in open violation of Hegemony regulations; I suggest you heave to and prepare to surrender your vessels." He was gambling again, but he needed the two vessels to break off their intercept before they got into visual range.

He held his breath.

"They're running!" Elias called out in relief. "They're making a break for the outer system."

Darien smiled, sounding indignant as he called into the headset, "Whiskey-Tango you are in direct violation of Hegemony law..."

He clicked the transmitter off and settled in to navigate the two ships out of the debris field, mindful to put as much distance as he could between himself and the two salvage ships. He wiped his forehead and re-tucked his ball cap accelerating just a little to make the trip a little shorter.

"That was close," Elias said, actually allowing himself an opportunity to breathe as he checked all the mooring lines; their prize was still safely secured. "Jorten's going to be pissed when they go back empty-handed."

"That's their tough luck," Darien replied, relaxing in his seat.

They emerged from the debris field well ahead of schedule, Darien wasting no time in punching in the jump co-ordinates of a remote world Elias had selected from the chart database. A small colony world where no questions would be asked, the kind of place ideal for the kind of downtime they were going to need.

He flipped the switches, and with one last glance back at Elias to confirm their prize was still attached, he engaged the jump drive.

* * *

The ride down through the atmosphere had been harrowing. Darien had decided to keep the slow and steady routine that had seen him safely out of the debris field. This time it was the crippled ship leading the way, dangling from the Dragonfly, threatening to wrench it groundward should the Dragonfly's engines fail for even a second. But the Dragonfly was designed to haul greater weights than the corvette; she handled it with ease, her powerful engines keeping the two ships aloft and easing into the atmosphere at a slow and steady rate to avoid a steep re-entry.

The two ships swept towards the ground gracefully as the Dragonfly set its precious cargo down in an open stretch of prairie Darien had selected for the purpose. As the tethers released, the thrust-lifter curled around setting down upon its landing gears a few hundred feet away from the derelict, its engines powering down with a whine.

Darien was up and out of his seat, walking back through the cockpit gondola and extending the boarding ramp, Elias joining him a moment later.

"Kid in a candy store," Darien said, glancing at Elias's wildly grinning face.

"Damn right," Elias replied with a flash of his sapphire blues as he buckled a tool belt around his waist. "She looks in pretty good shape considering what she's been through," he observed.

"Hmmm," Darien mused, walking back into the ship and pulling his PKD out of the weapons locker. He checked its charge as he rejoined Elias walking to the other ship.

"Worried about ghosts?" Elias asked with a wry grin as Darien jogged up.

"Nope, natives," Darien replied, holstering the weapon and looking up into the lazy morning sky. Colonists were unpredictable at the best of times, and were eternally curious. If they had spotted the distinctive passage of the two ships across the sky they could decide to investigate, and Darien had no particular desire to be caught unprepared.

"Should I close the Dragonfly up, then?" Elias asked.

Darien glanced back at the open ramp, "Wouldn't hurt, I guess."

Elias nodded and pulled out a small remote; he pointed the device and depressed a button, grumbling when nothing happened. He smacked it a couple of times before the ramp ascended back into the ship and the hatch sealed.

They continued forward, rounding under the towering bow of the ship and Elias whistled as he looked up at the bristling sensor package she was mounting. "She's advanced, that's for sure. I doubt even the Amsus have a system like that."

"Is it useful?" Darien asked, staring up at the system.

"Some of it maybe," Elias said. "If I break it down to its components and strip out the Dragonfly's radar array... we wouldn't need it with that."

Darien nodded watching the grease monkey as he salivated over the sensor array, glancing about at the rest of the ship. The corvette was resting on its damaged hull, the rents in its hull plating evident from where it had fought some battle in ages past. He had to admit he was growing excited to see what secrets this ship contained; they'd certainly earned the right to some answers.

The hatches were out of reach, but considering there was a massive hole where the engine mounting had once been it was easy to get inside. Clambering over twisted and blackened metal Darien scrambled up into what had once been a connecting corridor, facing an airtight door that had slammed closed to stop the atmosphere from venting to space.

He blinked at it, wondering if it was still airtight, if indeed the people inside were really dead, or if they were waiting, trapped. He knew it was silly, but he drew his PKD and armed the weapon anyway as Elias scrambled up beside him.

"Boy, you are afraid of ghosts," the younger man said, his blue eyes sparkling as he popped the manual override to the hatch and pried it open. But even he hesitated peering into the gloom beyond, not wanting to go first.

Darien arched his eyebrow at his companion, thumbing on the Tac-light of the PKD, sweeping it to and fro as he cautiously made his way inside the vessel. It was a mess of ruptured conduits and collapsed bulkheads, a side affect of being so close to the exploding engine compartment, Darien figured, as he continued up the slanted corridor, peering through open doors into what had once been a cargo bay.

Elias stayed close to him, and Darien felt the younger man draw even closer as they entered the ghost ship, Elias's hot breath and distinctive scent tickling his nose as he jostled against Darien from behind each time the former police officer stopped to sweep a room.

"Thought I was the one afraid of ghosts," he said in amusement over his shoulder.

"Yeah, but you're the one with the gun," Elias fired back, sticking close behind his skipper, looking about him nervously, "and this place just gives me the creeps."

The ship was larger than the Dragonfly, although it was still small by warship standards. It comprised five decks, the lower two obviously for engineering spaces, the central one for cargo and weapons magazines, the next up was the crew quarters, mess hall and finally the top deck was what passed as the bridge of the small vessel.

Darien swept the whole ship to ensure there was no one aboard, and he fortunately found no one. The ship was deserted, abandoned so very long ago to the vacuum of space. Once he was sure the ship was empty Elias began to relax; on the bridge he was glancing over consoles, studying their darkened displays with interest.

"It's in English," he said after a moment.

"What do you mean, English?" Darien asked, leaning over his shoulder to look down at the console.

Elias pointed to the keyboard with its distinctive Roman alphabet on it, and Darien suddenly looked at the ship with a newfound appreciation. It was an Imperial warship, from before the fall. He re-holstered his PKD and crossed the deck to look out of the pitted window across the flat upper deck of the corvette; he wondered how her Captain had felt in those final few minutes before he had ordered her evacuation, had he been attacked by the Amsus, was this ship some relic from those final desperate days before the end of civilization?

"Holy shit!" Elias exclaimed. "I think we have an auto-maser turret..." he looked over at Darien who was staring at him blankly. "It's like a laser, just better; it does light, heat and radiation damage all at the same time, an auto...well it's like an automatic weapon, it has an extremely high rate of fire."

"Neat," Darien said staring down at the turret-mounted weapon Elias was pointing at. It looked in relatively good condition, if it worked it could potentially solve their firepower problem.

"Yeah, and I might be able to salvage a couple of point defence systems as well given a bit of time..." The young engineer grinned, "I'm going to have to dismantle the systems to get them over to the Dragonfly, but I think it will be better that way, gives me time to figure out how they work."

"I'm going to explore the rest of the ship," Darien said, deciding it was probably best to let the young engineer catalogue the ship's systems and figure out what he could use and how he was going to mount them to the Dragonfly. It was going to be a slow and arduous process without a machine shop or dock facilities, but improvisation seemed to be Elias's specialty.

Darien descended the metal-rung stairs, holding onto the rail to avoid the ten degree slant the ship had adopted when it settled onto the planet, looking about him at the rows of crew quarters that lined the central corridor. The ship hadn't been large, but it was still spacious compared to the cramped living space aboard the Dragonfly. And Darien wondered again about the crew of this lost ship-who were they, what were they like?

He walked to the end of the corridor and tried one of the doors; it resisted him, but he threw his shoulder into it and the hatch ground open slowly letting him inside. The quarters weren't large, but they had a full set of windows that allowed the light to spill in.

There was a bed, still made, with a book sitting on the edge of it. A couple of hundred years in the cold vacuum of space had preserved the pages and Darien sat down and picked it up, flipping through the delicate pages of the heavy book, scanning it. It read like a logbook, dates and locations he presumed were jump co-ordinates all scratched in pen. For an advanced species as humanity had been then, to find they still kept handwritten logs was amazing, some traditions had never gone out of fashion. He scanned the page of text, something about pursuit and notations about the crew. He closed the book again, making a mental note to take it back and read it in more detail later; it was a fascinating glimpse into his own history.

He got up again, walking to the desk and running his hands over a worn leather jacket draped over the back of the chair; it held an eagle insignia on either collar that he didn't recognize, and the same green arrow and sword patches that had been painted on the hull. He needed a coat, and he slipped it on, feeling it was a little too large for him, but beggars couldn't be choosers, especially considering how cold the Dragonfly could get.

He lifted a picture depicting a handsome middle-aged man with a woman and child posing for the camera. The man wore a uniform with the same Eagle insignia on his collar-the Captain of the corvette, Darien guessed, looking about him at the room again and setting the picture back into its place. The ghosts of an age past really were there with him.

He thumbed through the books on the shelf, pulling down one with a name on it he recognized from his history lessons, VonGrippen: Meditations. He stared at it, flipping through the book. Long-winded, it seemed to be a set of memoirs of the man who had betrayed the Empire, the man who had doomed them all to the merciless rule of the Amsus. The date on it was a good decade before that final cataclysmic battle and Darien tapped the spine of the book thoughtfully before he tossed it alongside the logbook. The Amsus had long outlawed books written by human strategists. The art of war was one long denied to a people that were beaten and subjugated.

"We got company," Elias called through the ship from the upper deck, and Darien jogged back through the ship, drawing his PKD as he joined Elias up on the bridge looking out over the prairie at the dust cloud approaching.

"Colonists," Darien concluded.

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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The corvette is a treasure trove from the past.  Now they have to figure out what can be used.  The arrival of the colonists may or may not help.

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I know the warship is damaged; but seems like it would be better to try and repair it instead of trying to dismantle it.

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Thank goodness Elias is there to Salvage what they can. Clever thinking on Darien's part to fool Jorten's henchmen. This is a good pair.

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Great comments on this story we all found this year, 11 years after posting!

@raven1 I'm going to guess the colonists will be less than friendly, more territorial and "we don't get many foreigners around these parts", but hopefully not.

@centexhairysubI believe the engineering section was torn off in a battle, I think it's totalled!

@DohaI was thinking the same thing about Elias.  He couldn't be any more useful, considering their circumstances.

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