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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 - 43. Chapter 43

Captain Taine's actions to defend the Arcanis system from a doomsday weapon may have gone unnoticed by some, but I was there, I watched him risk everything to pass under the guns of Arcanis to save them from certain destruction.
Is he a hero? Yes!

-Captain Tirana 'Orion News Broadcast'

HMS Excalibur

Darien walked into the Captain's stateroom for the first time since it had been attacked around Tempus. The engineers had replaced the windows; the chair and desk were new as well. And even though the room had been repaired to the best of their ability, it still felt empty; everything that had given the room VonGrippen's personality had been sucked out into the vacuum of space or destroyed by the missile.

He set the logbook on the edge of the broad desk, realizing that it was a fresh start, it was no longer VonGrippen's Excalibur; it was his. Like VonGrippen who had built Excalibur into his ship, Darien had, in turn, had built her into his own.

He sat down in his chair, staring at barren shelves where books and small pieces of artwork had sat, the brackets in the corner where the old style telescope had been mounted. The couches that had been completely replaced and somehow the engineers had managed to find leather from somewhere to re-upholster them.

They had been moving constantly for almost twelve days, the Excalibur making rapid jumps that pushed her out of Polian space well ahead of the defence fleet that was hunting them. They were technically in the outer reaches of Hegemony territory, the backwater sectors at the far end of Taïrian space, Darien adamant that he was going to keep his promise to Shale, navigating a direct course for Taïr, the Taïrian home world.

They had intercepted a Taïrian bulk freighter, slipping into the system long enough to capture the news feed before they had leapt on and Darien turned, dreading what he would find. They had been out of contact for several weeks, the ordeal of crossing Eelim space and Polian territory had kept them too far away to hear the news and he drew a breath turning to look at the area over the couches, activating the broadcast.

It started with the standard Hegemony news, dry facts listing off events, of the withdrawal from Commonwealth space in the face of an Imperial uprising and the fortification of the Haligonian system in readiness for the imminent invasion.

He stared in disbelief as the Inquisition wanted reports scrolled across the holographic display; he was listed at ten million credits. 'For crimes against the hegemony including inciting revolution and terrorist activities.' He swallowed in surprise, realizing how desperate the Amsus were growing not knowing exactly where he was, but knowing ultimately he was coming for them.

The news changed to an "Imperial" news broadcast, and Darien sat upright in surprise, realizing that the Archduke was playing a propaganda campaign, something the Amsus were unable to control or understand.

"Welcome to the Imperial Galactic Service." The announcer boomed in his strong Karin accent, "I am Paul Schofield broadcasting from Karin city capital of the New Imperium."

Darien smiled as he gave it his full attention.

"Archduke Walker von Karin and the newly convened provisional government have instituted a number of reforms through out Imperial territory, including the formation of a fleet of Imperial warships gathering at the Eisenhower staging point, poised for an inevitable invasion of the Haligonian system and the long march to Earth for the ultimate liberty for the Human race. General Jefferson Iver has been placed in command of the combined fleets, the General has been instrumental in the formation of the new Empire and is a veteran of a number of Commonwealth campaigns before pledging his allegiance to the New Imperium."

The camera shifted angles, "In other news, Orion recordings of the battle of Arcanis have been successfully smuggled out of Polian territory, they clearly show the HMS Excalibur valiantly struggling to save the Polian Alliance from an attack by rogue elements of the House of Kardiac. This follows on the heels of the Excalibur's daring run through Eelim territory, our best wishes go out to the brave crew of the HMS Excalibur and her intrepid Captain Taine..."

The screen changed again, to show Walker seated in an office, Imperial banners behind him, looking every inch the interim leader of the Empire, "We have had no reason to find true heroes before now, that the Amsus Hegemony, and even the Polian Alliance will do anything in their power to vilify a Human bold enough to step up to challenge them. We are not about to allow that to happen, to Captain Taine I send this message, 'see you at Earth, good luck!'"

Darien sat for a long time watching the rest of the broadcast, political analysts debating the impact that the Excalibur was having on the Galaxy, the shifting tides of war, or the stirring dissent on Human worlds still under Hegemony occupation. He rested his chin on his hand as he stared thoughtfully, trying to work out what his next step would be. Where he would go from there. He had reached Hegemony space, he'd defied the odds and the cost had been dear indeed, but he had made it.

He sat up and encoded a broadcast of his own, encrypting it and attaching it to the news packets destined for Walker and the newly formed Imperial command, burying it and knowing that it would reach the Archduke inside of the week.

* * *

Excalibur was a thriving community in space, the connection of the Ark Royal and the Invincible and the construction of new connecting hatches and bulwarks had brought the three crews together. The ships, their fighters and personnel compliments now served as a vital part of the Excalibur's defence network. The configurations of the two support carriers had laid them flat alongside the hull perpendicular to the hull of the Excalibur, a clever airlock system allowed the transition of one artificial gravity zone to another without the crew getting disorientated.

Lieutenant Colonel Ramsey and Lieutenant Colonel Mayfair co-ordinated the two battalions of troops with the Marine compliment, trying to get the Blue-bloods and the yellow-jackets to work side by side was a tough operation, and Darien had often caught the two men arguing over chain of command and sphere's of control.

Masconi had none of the teething problems with her flight decks. A standard shipboard Carrier Air Group was normally comprised off all the aircraft aboard a particular ship, the size of which was determined by ship type and mission. Any group of fighters larger than a squad that divided itself into two separate parts was known by the generic term "wing".

With the addition of the Invincible and the Ark Royal being now attached to the Excalibur, there were now effectively three Air Groups operating aboard the same ship. They all fell under newly promoted Wing Commander Masconi as Commander Air Group ("CAG"), she now had close to fifteen squadrons under her direct command, Seven from each of the support carriers and VMA-23. All from different service branches: Army, Fleet and Marines. She went further to break each of those squadrons down into three parts: making an unconventional, but more manageable system.

Because of the mix of services, houses and functions, the subtleties of command became blurred. Darien was undoubtedly in command, no one questioned the veteran Starship Captain's leadership and the officers of the Kardiac Territorial Army soon adopted the Excalibur's crew's reverence for the iconic man that led them into battle. Masconi commanded the flight decks, Mayfair the Karin Marines and Ramsey the TA forces.

Elias co-ordinated engineering in a more laid back manner, assimilating the technicians and engineers from the Kardiac forces without problems, his easy going approach and normally chaotic engine spaces made him easily adaptable to the new situation.

Excalibur was running at .25 light speed, a reasonable clip, preparing for her next pair of jumps. Darien preferred to do two jumps at a time, holding the last jump in reserve in case they encountered trouble. The fighter squadrons forming the Barrier Combat Air Patrol's or BARCAP's were pulling back to the ship to ride out the pair of jumps before launching again to form the protective rings of fighters around the Excalibur to screen the command ship from harm.

Darien gently rubbed his temple seated in his chair, thankful that VonGrippen had the foresight to ensure the chair was comfortable, Darien was spending more and more time sitting in it reviewing data, sitting through two watches to cover the gap in the command structure that had been left after Lauren's death. With Kit standing the third "dog" watch they were able to ensure an experienced command level officer was on duty. But Darien was becoming painfully aware of the lack of a First Officer.

He wasn't sure why he hadn't named a replacement for her yet; it had been two weeks since she had died. But he couldn't get that confident image and reassuring presence out of his mind. Trying to select a replacement for some one he cared about was like replacing a piece of his own soul. He chalked it up to him not having sufficient time to grieve, but he knew deep down it was more his own procrastination, to choose a new first officer was admitting to himself she was actually gone.

He ran over the available candidates in his mind, Nazzien had proven time and time again he was a capable officer, dedicated and efficient. Then of course there was Shale; working diligently below decks to ensure the crew's performed their tasks with skill and dedication. If he were to stick with the original officers, those that had been with him since the beginning of his odyssey, then it would have to be one of the two. Expanding his list he considered the holographic commander, a competent officer in his own right, the problem lay in his dependence on the Excalibur's power and holographic systems, and he was bound to the confines of the ship entirely limiting his capabilities. But he was still the most experienced officer Darien had under his command.

* * *

Elias found the Captain sitting staring out of the stern windows, the young engineer grinning lopsidedly as he flopped down on one of the sofas, "Well I have good news." He said cheerfully.

"Uh oh," Darien said turning in his chair. They had all felt the strain of the journey, and if it wasn't for Elias's resourcefulness they would have been dead in the water.

"Well we have a plan for easing engine strain on the Carrier ion drives." Elias said brightly, popping his feet up on the coffee table. The biggest problem encountered with the ad hock replacement engines was that they were never deigned to handle the strain of pushing their own mass combined with Excalibur's, acceleration was slow and turning was a sluggish, arduous process.

"All right, so what's the answer?" Darien asked leaning forward, folding his hands on the desk.

"It wasn't my idea actually," Elias admitted with his customary lopsided grin, "Masconi had it, she was complaining that eating Chef's food was making her gain weight and so she had to go on a diet. I figured since Excalibur can't go on a diet I had to find another way to reduce her mass..."

Darien blinked, twice.

Elias grinned, "The gravitic drives the Excalibur was originally fitted with did something similar, except they did it by projecting a gravity fields and the Excalibur slid between them." Elias demonstrated with his hands, knowing full well Darien wasn't following, he gave up after a minute or two of trying to explain the physics behind what he wanted to attempt.

He got up and padded over to Darien's desk, pushing the chair back as he sat down on the edge of the desk in front of Darien, smiling as Darien instinctively placed his hands on the small engineer's knees and leaned forward to kiss him.

Teasingly Elias pulled back, "I'm not done yet..."

"We managed to salvage one of the gravitic drives, the one that burnt out stabilizing the ship, now I've taken a look at the specs for it and its actually two individual gravity well projectors, I can probably repair them. They won't be enough to drive the Excalibur by themselves, but if I strap them towards the forward end of the ship," he stood up and pulled a piece of crumpled paper with some notes scrawled on it and a quick diagram, "I can use them to take the pressure off of the Ion drives by changing Excalibur's gravitational constant, and it should solve our turning problem as well, we will still have an inertia problem, but since we're technically travelling inside a gravity well..." He looked up at Darien seeing the Captain's blank look he sighed. "Imagine your falling towards a planet right..." He leaned down slowly, his lips pursing slightly as he talked, knowing it was the best way to hold Darien's attention when it came to engineering, "but the planet is still travelling around a sun right?"

"...right..." Darien said shifting a bit and pushing himself forward trying to kiss Elias again but the Engineer kept himself tantalizingly out of reach.

"Well it doesn't matter where the planet moves, gravity still pulls you to wards the ground, so you move with the planet, right?" Elias's eye glittered, knowing full well Darien wanted to kiss him, enjoying the fact that their roles were reversed for a change.

"I think so..." Darien said uncertainly.

"Well the Excalibur will be falling towards this gravity well, and when you want to turn, the gravity well shifts," Elias moved his hands dramatically, "But Excalibur keeps falling towards the gravity well, because its drives are pushing it that way..."

"Ok, ok," Darien said holding up his hands, "I give, just make it work and I'll leave the why it works in your hands."

Elias grinned, "You're cute when you're confused..." he leaned down to brush Darien's lips.

Darien looked up in surprise, it was the first time in a long time that they had brought up anything about a relationship, they had just settled into that comfortable almost place where they spent nights holding each other, kissing each other occasionally, but there were still lines neither of them had crossed. And Darien realized that strangely he wanted to cross them.

"So you want to join me for supper in the mess hall?" Elias asked with a broad grin, waggling his eyebrows, "It's Mexican chilli night..."

"I can't," Darien said shaking his head, watching as Elias's face fell.

"It's one dinner." Elias protested, "It's not like I'm asking for more..."

Darien stared down at the desk, his hands touching the edges of his log book before he looked up, "I don't know what to do about..." he gestured at the air between them, "this..."

Elias set his jaw, and gave Darien a meaningful look, "you know that by the time you figure this out it will be too late."

Darien looked back down at his hands as Elias stared down at him a moment longer, sadness in his eyes as he turned and left the Captain to his solitude.

* * *

"It's an Amsus Raptor patrol," Kit stated sanding at Darien's shoulder as the Captain watched the two blips on the tactical display weaving their way through the system searching for pirates, privateers or smugglers. They didn't expect the Excalibur to be this far behind their lines.

"Have they detected us?" Darien asked his arms folded as he studied the display carefully.

"No, they are using passive radar, trying to keep a low profile and we are outside of their radar range." Kit smiled fidgeting, as always, "Should I sound general quarters?"

"No," Darien said shaking his head, "If a pair of Raptor's fail to report in, it will tip the Amsus high command off to our presence." He glanced back at the helm, "Alter course, four points to port, keep us out of their range..."

"I am detecting multiple Jump events." Kit reported dutifully, "Ship's inbound."

Darien watched as the tactical display lit up with new target designators, Amsus vessels; a small battle group a large battle cruiser escorted by four raptors and a dozen or so fighters. He watched as the two original Raptor's peeled off of their search pattern to link up with their command ship, falling into formation alongside the ominous vessel, It's giant wings sloping forward protectively over engine housings, the main body and the beak like bow that housed it's bridge and heavy cannons.

"BC-27," Kit identified, "according to the identification manuals from our captured Raptor, she is designated the outer sector command cruiser for Marshal Ja'jenn, Amsus Inquisitor third order."

"That's one ugly ship," Colonel Mayfair said with a tight smile as he came forward to join them studying the tactical data. The Colonel was wearing his standard combat fatigues; leather jacket with wolfs heads almost mirroring the one Darien wore, and a side arm, a constant presence on the Colonel's thigh since they had linked up with the two support carriers.

"It's a dangerous one as well," Darien replied, "With our engineering teams still working on the gravitic system we're not exactly in a place to fight her, let's keep an eye on them and jump as soon as we are ready. I want to make Taïr in the next couple of days."

"What is the plan once we arrive at Taïr?" Kit asked, "It is an occupied world, the Amsus would have vessels and listening posts in and around the system."

"They do," Darien replied, "Excalibur will enter the system from the far side of Taïr's star, cross through the heart of the system and approach it that way. The Amsus are arrayed in the outer system defensively on the far side of the planet in case of attack from that direction, so long as Excalibur can keep the planet between it and the Amsus forces we should go relatively unseen."

"And if we are spotted?" Mayfair asked.

"We will still have enough time to scramble our fighters and move Excalibur out of orbit," Darien said with a grim smile. "In the mean time I want the Raptor prepped for launch, I'll be taking that down to the planet surface, hopefully the Amsus controllers won't object to one of their own ships attempting to land."

"Understood captain," Kit replied.

"I'll go rustle up some Marines to escort us." Mayfair said firmly, indicating there was no way Darien was going to a planet with out him.

Darien nodded returning to his chair, glancing down at the midshipman manning the conn, "Jump when you're ready." He ordered realizing he still half expected to hear Lauren's musical "Yes skipper..."

Midshipman Galadriel looked up from her station, hand pressed to the ear piece of her headset, smiling at her Captain and giving him a short nod, "Aye Captain, jump drives spooling up to charge." One of the members of House Kardiac, she was already proving to be a good helmsman.

Darien would just have to get used to the changes.

* * *

Darien found Shale in his quarters; the hulking Taïrian had been remarkably quiet over the past few months, abnormal even for him. The Taïrian officer preferring his own solitude, grieving in his own way for his lost friend, and continuing his silent vigil over the remains of the dead Imperial Taïrian he was escorting home under an Imperial honour guard.

The Alien didn't move as Darien entered the candle lit quarters, standing back a little respectfully he cleared his throat, "We've arrived in the Taïr system, and we're making our final approach to the planet now."

The large creature made no move, but a change in his rhythmic breathing told Darien that he had heard him.

"Do you need help with...?" Darien asked respectfully.

Shale rustled and rose, moving to a locker, pulling out a heavy dress uniform coat, pulling it on over his tan fleet uniform and adjusting the cap on his head, turning to shake his head at Darien.

The Captain inclined his head formally, leaving the Taïrian to prepare to bring a lost brother home.

* * *

The Raptor glided down through the clouds towards Salenica, the capital city of Taïr. Darien stood holding onto cargo webbing as the Raptor bounced its way through the rough turbulence, adjusting the Imperial crush cap on his head and taking a moment to pat the trusty PKD at his side. They were making for one of the Raptor Landing platforms that jutted out of the mountain city of Salenica. Taïrians were a subterranean race, digging and carving out homes for themselves beneath mountains and plains, extracting the rich resources their planet had to offer as they grew and expanded inside their own warrens

He felt the familiar double bump as the Raptor set down, Colonel Mayfair and his marines forming an honour guard around the coffin, draped in VonGrippen's Falcon Banner, lifting it as the rear ramp of the Raptor swung down, Shale taking the lead as he led the way down past startled Taïrian technicians who had came out onto the high platform believing they were servicing an Amsus vessel, not expecting the Imperial uniforms marching down the ramp, a platoon of armed Marines flanking Shale and the two officers leading the honour guard down to the ground.

It was a glorious summer day, even at that altitude and Darien found himself smiling, even the Taïrian planet seemed to warmly greet the returning Imperials. Shale grunted and snapped a couple o orders in Taïrian to the shocked technicians, each of them dropping their tools as they came forward to touch the coffin, resting hands on its flat surface before they scuttled off.

An Amsus technician walked past them as they ran past him into the city, turning to look after them as he frowned at his clipboard, turning back to address what he had expected to be Amsus officers. His eyebrows shot up as he stared down the barrel of a dozen pulse rifles trained on him. The normally impassive Amsus realized he was out numbered and outgunned and surrendered immediately.

A couple of marines bound and gagged him, carrying him up into the hold of the Raptor and stuffing him into the brig cage at the rear of the cargo hold, Mayfair nodding to his Skipper when the job was done.

Darien gave a nod for the honour guard to lift the coffin again, the group moving through the great stone doors and into the underground city. The marched through broad halls and concourses heading for the depths of the city and the temple located there. Taïrians poking their heads out of doors spied the Imperial uniforms, weapons and flag draped coffin, the older males coming out of their homes completely to rest their paws upon it as they trailed behind the honour guard, marching dutifully behind the honoured dead.

A small Taïrian boy, jogged alongside Shale, looking up at the proud Taïrian wearing battle stripes and his officers insignia, before he began to march as well, trying to copy Shale's purposeful strides.

Their numbers grew, and Darien glanced behind him at the hundreds of Taïrians forming up behind them, hundreds swelling to a thousand as they came out into the main roadway that wound down through the heart of the mountain, word spreading throughout the mountain city that the Empire had returned.

Desperate Amsus sought orders, calling up to their battle group and defence fleet, unaware that from the moment the word had began to spread the Taïrian operator of the planetary communications net had shut down the entire grid, the Amsus calls went unanswered.

An industrious garrison commander tried to send his troops out into the streets to block the passage of the march, setting up a squad of troops to block the road they levelled rifles and shotguns at the marching mass of life washing towards them. Mayfair signalled to his marines, forming a protective screen of men in the forefront of the Taïrians as they lifted their pulse rifles continuing to march forward, daring the Amsus to start firing.

The industrious Amsus called for orders that would never come, as Taïrians swept from side streets to surround the small squad of men, the Taïrians, some from their own security forces liberated the Amsus of their weapons, securing them as they were pulled off to the side to make passage for the dead.

Darien stared in amazement, shaking his head as they continued onwards mounting the granite steps leading to the circular temple in the centre of the city, the heart of the mountain, carved in an age long past. The Imperial honour guard following Shale as the Taïrian populace held back, Mayfair stopping the rest of his marines as well, all watching as the casket was carried into the holy place and set upon a stone dais.

The Marine honour guard fell back, resplendent in their dress uniforms as they took positions at the compass points around the casket, bowing their heads and standing at attention.

Darien stepped forward, mounting the lower step of the dais he snapped a formal salute and held it for a moment before he stepped back down, turning to the collection of ancient Taïrians that entered from the north of the temple, and he offered them a tight salute, aware that Shale was kneeling along side him.

"The Empire returns to you one of its loyal soldiers," Darien intoned formally, "And thanks the Taïrian people for their sacrifice."

A female wearing a simple white dress and heavy robes over top came forward, her ears pierced with heavy jewels and earrings walked forward, "The Taïrian people respect the honour you bring by returning the honoured dead to us Captain Taine."

Darien nodded his head as he stepped aside, the female walking up to the casket, resting her paws upon it reverently, her claws tracing the Striking Falcon of the VonGrippen family. "It has been a long time since this has been seen in these hallowed halls..."

"What is the meaning of this?" an imperious voice cut in, disturbing the moment as an Amsus officer pushed his way past the crowd and barged his way into the temple.

Darien held up a hand, staying the pulse rifles that his Marines were lifting. Turning to face the Amsus officer, "You're rule of Taïr is at an end." He said quietly, "You and your kind have twenty four hours to leave, before I start eradicating you."

The officer glanced, first at Darien, then to the Knight's Cross at his throat, recognition gleaming in his eyes as to who was standing in front of him. And his eyes slid to the Falcon Banner on the casket and travelled up to the female Taïrian resting her hand upon it.

"If you betray the Hegemony, you and your people will be exterminated Prelate..." He threatened.

She looked up, "Archduchess," she corrected, "Prelate is an Amsus title, and this has never been your world."

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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And so the Imperial Navy returns to take on the Amsus.  Tier is just the first of many I believe.  

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Looking forward to Lauren's return.

A moving scene and one that has captured the hearts of the Tairians. 

A new order is dawning. 

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A great start on Tair but there is a small Amsus battle group not too far away...and...will Lauren Be brainwashed or somehow, otherwise, controlled?

Edited by drsawzall
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