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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 - 47. Chapter 47

Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys. Look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death!

-Sun Tzu, 'The Art of War.'

HMS Excalibur

The fleet completed its fold manoeuvre, jumping another step closer along the long road to Earth. The mighty Excalibur was surrounded by her newly acquired battle group, the captured Amsus battle cruiser on point flanked by the two escort destroyers as Imperial fighters flew BARCAP around the mighty ships and the precious transports they protected.

It was early in the morning, Darien pouring over his star charts back in the CIC, sipping his coffee from a worn travel mug as he plotted the most direct course back to Haligonian Station. It was his next goal, so many plans hinging on the battle that was to come.

He rested his hand on the Peligian diary, so many answers hinged on it as well.

Once the stations guns were silenced Archduke Walker would send through the Imperial fleet, securing a beachhead and allowing the final assault of Earth to begin. Imperial warships with fresh crews joining the struggle forcing the Amsus war machine to crumble. The question still remained, how exactly to shut the guns down.

Hours of studying schematics, looking for some kind of weakness to exploit had garnered nothing. He'd been to Haligonian Station; he'd seen its defences with his own eyes... The months separating the former TER-SEC police officer on the run and the Starship Captain who was returning seemed like years. So much had changed in his life.

He struggled to focus again, taking off his glasses and tossing them on the back-lit CIC table with its maps and charts spread out haphazardly. And he frowned at the station with its sentinel guns, starship bulwarks and patrolling fighters. Not to mention the garrison of men with enough firepower to reduce his fleet to slag in short order. To even attempt an attack on Haligonian Station was tantamount to suicide. But then so was attacking Eisenhower, navigating Eelim space and running under the guns of Arcanis.

He had to wonder if his luck would hold.

He was the closest the fleet had to a tactical specialist, and reading through VonGrippen's logs he had desperately searched for something to give him an edge. VonGrippen had earned a reputation for achieving the impossible through applied tactics, skill and guile. The man had been as cunning as a fox when it came to finding a psychological blind spot and exploiting it against the enemy. But in this one incident his logs offered no insight, on this battle Darien was truly on his own.

If there was no weakness in the station itself, what about the Amsus?

He decided to review what he knew, walking around the holographic tactical table studying the map of the Haligonian system. The Amsus were paranoid, xenophobic, totalitarian, but lacked basic creativity. They followed a rigid and uninspired hierarchy that, when confronted by situations they didn't readily understand, caused them to fall back upon detailed manuals that had been written centuries before to cover every eventuality.

But what would happen, Darien wondered, if they were presented with a situation that wasn't in the manual?

What would cause an Amsus pause long enough to allow him to gain the upper hand? If he arrived in the system guns blazing, they would respond in kind. It was a puzzling thought.

To establish a beachhead and allow the Imperial forces time to enter the fight he would have to remove the guns from Haligonian Station. How did someone remove the guns from a fully operational space station, surrounded by a fully armed and ready Amsus battle group commanded by a being trained to defend that system.

How to remove the guns... take the gate... and...

Take the gate...

Darien looked up at the holographic charts, examining the systems around the Haligonian system, trying to find one that would meet his criteria. He needed a narrow approach system, something with only a few possible hyperspace vectors. Maybe something tucked close to the Haligonian Nebula that would force the Amsus, when they came, along a single jump route, something he could...

He spotted it, picking up a clipboard to make some notes as he turned. Noticing Lauren watching him quizzically. She'd returned to duty the day before, settling into her old routines, grateful to just be back at work. She leaned simply against one of the plotting boards, her arm folded and her tunic undone watching her skipper drink his coffee and plan.

"You have that look," she said, her lips curling into a smile.

"I do," Darien replied, scrawling more notes across the clipboard before he set it down and looked over at her.

"I'm not going to like this idea of yours am I?" she said, summing up Darien's expression.

"I think you're going to love it," Darien said with a nod and a tight, grim smile.

* * *

"The question is can we get them small enough?" Darien asked, ducking under a section of conduiting as he followed Elias through the engineering section back towards one of the connections that linked it to the support carriers.

Elias turned a little, taking a moment to look over the clipboard with the hastily scrawled design on it, before he handed it back to Darien. "I don't know," he admitted, "...I..."

"If any one can do it," Darien pressed, reaching out a hand to touch the small engineer's shoulder.

He felt Elias stiffen at the touch and he made to withdraw his hand. He stopped himself, realizing that he didn't want to. His hand belonged there, he wanted his hand there, he... needed it there.

Elias turned to face him. "W-what?" he stammered, looking down at the hand that was moving up to caress his face, his blue eyes, in the dim light of Engineering staring up in a mixture of hope and fear at Darien.

"I love you..." Darien murmured quietly, feeling his own emotions surge as he pulled Elias close against him, wrapping him up in his arms and squeezing him tightly.

"You're just saying that 'cause you want something," Elias whispered, his voice husky as he tried to keep a check on his own emotions.

"Yep," Darien agreed resting his chin on top of Elias's head. It was days after their relationship had changed and Darien found he craved the simplest of touches, or a moment looking into blue eyes.

He shook his head realizing he needed to get a grip. "Sorry... this is still new to me."

"Yeah," Elias sighed as he reluctantly stepped out of Darien's embrace, straightening, as best he could, the rumpled uniform with its customary grease stains earned from tickling the underbelly of the Excalibur's reactors. "I can do it -- build them, that is." He tapped the clipboard. "But they aren't going to have much fuel. To make them that small I'd have to..."

"I want one per fighter, the EV-II's... speed's our only advantage." Darien smiled grimly.

"But these," Elias patted the schematic, "there's not going to be much room for anything else, and..."

Darien nodded. "I know," he replied, turning. "I need to talk to Masconi."

* * *

"It's a suicide run," Masconi said leaning on her podium at the front of the pilots' ready room looking down at her Captain sitting in the front row. "If we jump in, we'd have to run the guns, gain a clear firing solution on EV's... the speed on those things..." She shuddered remembering how hard it was to get a weapons lock on Kendrick while flying an EV-II.

"You're not going to have time to manage anything else," Darien replied. "Excalibur is going to jump into the system, launch her fighters and then jump..." he stood and walked to the map, "to the Basra system here," he tapped the screen behind her, "where the rest of the air group will be launched to screen the fleet ready for the Amsus counterattack."

"Yes," Masconi nodded turning to follow where he was pointing. "But the attack squadron is going to have to run through the heart of an Amsus battle group with a pair of jump pods... this new toy of yours, and a prayer..."

"Fast, swift and dirty." Darien said with a nod. "Get close enough to drop the missiles and then jump. Trust Elias's guidance systems to..."

"No," Masconi said firmly shaking her head. "Fire and forget is all well and good, Skipper, but for this to work we need to be absolutely sure we hit. Only way to do that is to laser guide the missiles all the way in. With the amount of ECM an Amsus battle group can put up, not to mention those bitch Aegis Destroyers... every missile has to count."

"That means a fighter has to stay right to the end." Darien closed his eyes, knowing that it wouldn't be that easy.

"I can lead this attack," Masconi said reassuringly, folding her arms across her breast and chewing on her bottom lip, her beautiful eyes sweeping over the map, and the elaborate plan.

"I'm going to need you back with the fleet," Darien said firmly. "I can't risk losing my top pilot on this, not when the Amsus come pouring into the Basra system pissed as hell..."

"Lauren..." Masconi began.

Darien shook his head. "Lauren's remaining on the bridge, it's too early for her to be involved in the planning and execution of something like this..."

Masconi frowned at her Captain, tilting her head to one side. "You're not telling your command crew what you have planned?"

Darien glanced at the Kardiac Wing Commander whose eyes were showing concern. He took a deep breath and nodded. "No," he replied, straightening up as he turned. "Find me a pilot to lead this assault," he nodded to the map. "We keep the missile specs between you, me, and Elias, and keep the rest of this need to know."

"Paranoid?" Masconi murmured.

"Lately?" Darien replied as he walked to the door, "it's paranoia that keeps me from getting shot."

* * *

Alvin Katz clambered down from the cockpit of his fighter, stripping off the helmet and unzipping the leather flight jacket as he yawned. He'd been out on patrol for the past six hours, sweeping the outer CAP until they had been relieved by the second watch.

His plane captain was pouring over his fighter, making sure that the F-150 was fully functional. With the constant struggles, the Excalibur's supply of the superiority fighters had dwindled to just one, Katz's was the last available on deck aside from the slower 120's and the EV-II's that were still being assembled.

Sure the EV-II was fast, but one or two lucky shots and that was it, he preferred the fighting machine he'd come to love to fly. It was a true superiority fighter, the perfect balance of speed, armour and weaponry.

Somehow Katz felt it was ironic that it had once been Kendrick's fighter, the same fighter that Katz had used to shoot down his former mentor and leader. The first F-150 to fly in three hundred years was also the last one left. Its distinctive markings, the VonGrippen striking falcons painted over Kendrick's green arrow and sword, the last of VF-54... he was the last of the old guard.

"That's the one," Elias said pointing with his wrench as he came round a plane tractor, his little pack of grease monkeys swarming towards the F-150, fiddling and opening up panels and examining systems.

"What's going on?" Katz demanded, watching them go to work on his plane.

"Wing Commander Masconi requisitioned the 150, she needs it ready to go in," Elias checked his watch, "twenty hours."

Katz frowned, handing his helmet off to one of the technicians as he stormed across the deck -- they were taking his plane? He had no objection to sharing it, hot seating in fighters wasn't that uncommon, especially when there were fewer fighters than pilots. But you didn't send a full engineering team to overhaul a fighter you were only going to borrow.

He found the Wing Commander in the ready room finishing up her assignments for the alert team, the fighter pilots that would wait anxiously close to their fighters ready to jump in and support the CAP should all hell break loose. He waited, lurking at the back of the large room until they were dismissed, laughing and joking amongst themselves as only pilots did.

Masconi was watching him, leaning on her podium reaching out a long and slender hand to scoop up her mug of coffee and taking a sip. "Squadron Leader," she said with a nod.

Katz stood easy, realizing he was still in his flight suit, he hadn't bothered to change; he shrugged and decided to forgo the formalities.

"You're taking my plane?" he protested.

"The Skipper's got a plan," Masconi said, knowing that she didn't really owe the young man an explanation, but she could understand that he hadn't been trained in the same way she had. Kendrick's loose style was such a stark contrast to her own that she often found herself clashing with the old pilots of VF-54, but she did her best to accommodate them. She needed every pilot they had, half-trained or not.

"We're going to need every fighter we have in working order out there." Masconi stood up straight. "Your plane's the best one we have..." She looked at him levelly. "Besides, you're going to be flying something else..."

Katz shivered at the way she said it, his brow knitting together as he moved to follow her out onto the hangar deck and back towards the machine shops. He swallowed as he rounded the corner and stared down the barrels of the boxy Amsus Predator class interceptor.

"You're joking..." he said, shaking as his hand reached out to touch the pitted metal of the vaccu-vormed fighter armour. It was shaped, to him, like a bat, its wings curved in that ominous shape that once you knew it was behind you, you were dead. They may have been outclassed by the Imperial fighters, but anyone that had flown in combat against an Amsus Predator knew they were far from ineffective.

He looked around the machine shop, the marine guards, tight security... and he looked back at the Kardiac Wing Commander who was watching him keenly as she hopped up a short ladder to walk across the fighter's wings.

"You think you can fly this, hot shot?" she asked him, resting her hands on her hips, with a smile.

"Where..." Katz began, blowing out an amazed smile as he ducked under the fuselage to examine its undercarriage.

"We recovered a pair of them aboard the Battle Cruiser after we captured it." Masconi slid down and joined him under the fighter. "That crazy engineer..." she shook her head disapprovingly, "has made a few modifications, fitted it with a guidance system and one of our IFF's... but this..." she tapped a box shaped device about the size of a missile strapped in close to the fuselage, they'd done their best to paint it to resemble the rest of the fighter, but any one that got up close to it could see it wasn't Amsus technology.

"What is that?" Katz asked leaning in, glancing over the device, squinting guessing that it was some kind of weapon.

"It's a marine issue Tag system." Masconi patted the box reverently. "And is the reason we need this ugly-assed son of a bitch..." she thumped the heavy armoured fighter. "I need you to fly him for me..."

Katz stepped back and clambered up onto the wings to get a better look inside at the cockpit controls, like a kid in a candy store; it was his first real chance to get up close and personal with an enemy fighter. It wasn't until he stepped back that he realized he was admiring a machine that had slaughtered so many of his friends.

"Where am I going?" Katz said, looking down, reading Masconi's facial reaction, as he looked up and past her out into the hangar deck where they were working on his F-150. He looked back down at her, as he took a long breath. "Whereever it is, I'm probably not coming back, am I?"

"You're coming back," Masconi said resolutely, "even if I have to come get you in that sweet little ride of yours," she winked up at him. "Get familiar with your new toy; when you've proven you can fly it, we'll talk about your mission."

* * *

"It looks more like a manta ray," Darien murmured, trying to see the bat shape everyone else saw when they looked at the stubby fighter that was curling through a long test flight coming in for another trap on the Ark Royal's carrier deck.

Colonel Mayfair watched from the other side of the desk, looking past his Captain. "They're ugly," he replied, shaking his head. "Are you going to tell me what's going on?" he asked, waiting for instructions.

Darien turned chewing his lip. "If this works I'm not going to need your men. If it fails, well... we'll have other problems."

"When did we start keeping secrets?" Mayfair inquired, looking again back out at the enemy fighter that was weaving through some tight manoeuvres.

"We have a lot of secrets," Darien said taking his seat and opening his logbook, pausing as he looked at his last entry, the one that contained his doubts. He looked up at Mayfair, who was still waiting patiently for an explanation. Darien sighed knowing it was too late to change how he had decided to run the ship; they were a family more than they were a traditional command structure, and that meant things had to work differently. "I can't risk putting you in a position that will cause you to lose perspective," he said after an indefinite pause.

"What's that supposed to mean, Skipper?" Mayfair inquired. "I'm a professional..."

Darien nodded. "I know. As am I. But I am not about to put one of my officers into a clear position where he must make a choice between duty and love."

Mayfair closed his eyes and opened them again. "What?" He looked down at the log on the desk and then back at Darien. "Lauren?"

Darien clicked his pen and dropped it onto the desk scrubbing his eyes with his hands. He was so sick of being the Captain, being the one that had to constantly think of everything, every possibility, every dark doubt. He opened his eyes again and looked up at the colonel. "You know I can't risk it, not until I'm sure she's not some kind of ticking time bomb the Amsus sent here to betray us."

"But Kyr..." Mayfair said, gesturing towards the door, incredulous that Darien could ever think that Lauren could... He stopped himself immediately realizing that was exactly the reason why Darien was keeping his plan to himself. That his relationship with Lauren clouded his judgement. If he stepped back he could see Darien's caution was warranted; it sucked, but given the stakes... And that meant he too would have to sit that one out. "Sir." He snapped off a perfect salute, his way of saying that he understood and would obey Darien's orders.

The young Captain nodded, wondering at the possibility of making a choice between his duty and the young man he was in love with. He pushed the thought away, returning to stare out of the window at the young pilot and the enemy fighter that was the key to Haligonian Station.

* * *

Katz shivered as he stumbled to the deck, grateful for the heat in the hangar bay as he accepted the mug of hot coffee someone passed him. He guzzled it, enjoying the almost scalding heat as it flushed through him, darting glances at the ominous fighter that he'd been learning to fly most of the day.

"How's she handle?" Elias asked, the engineer tilting back his ball cap with his wrench as he began a full inspection of the captured fighter.

"S-she's cold," Katz replied, willing his teeth to stop chattering.

Elias looked worriedly up at the cockpit, scratching his temple. "I can't ramp up the life support, the Amsus use the bare minimum... cold-blooded..." He looked thoughtful again running a hand along the protruding 'mandible' gun pods at the front of the fighter. "If I try to ramp up the heat it's going to show up on the Amsus infrared... It's what -- 8-9 degrees in there?"

Katz shrugged. "Freezing..."

"The flight suit's no good," Masconi said coming across the hangar deck as the Predator was towed steadily back into its machine shop. "Get him some of Mayfair's combat BDU's... the arctic-rated stuff." She clapped the defrosting squadron leader on the shoulder. "Buck up, the cold's good for you."

"S-sure," Katz fired back, "this from the one who stole my fighter and its functioning life support..."

"Suck it up," she said grinning wryly. "Little shrinkage never hurt anyone."

Elias snickered, as he tried to pretend he wasn't listening as Katz shot him a dirty look. "Aside from that, the fighter handles like a 120," he said, forcing the change of subject. "Bit slow to get up to speed, but she can turn like a cat... They kept the controls simple, it's simpler to fly than one of ours..."

"I'm going to have to rig the jump drive into the missile ports," Elias said as he bent under the fuselage, the plane still being towed forward, as the Engineer undid the access panel and depressed the button to rotate the missile pod out. "Little creativity and I might be able to rig the jump drive in here..."

Masconi nodded her head as she gestured for Katz to follow her, away from the cluster of engineers. "You don't have to do this..."

"Yeah I do," Katz replied leaning against a bulkhead. "You wouldn't be going to all this trouble if there was another way to pull this off."

He drew a long breath and offered her a smile, brushing his hair to one side away from his eyes. He'd come to respect Masconi; she was the kind of balls-to-the-wall personality that the people under her would respond to. Cold, efficient and sarcastic at times, there was genuine love in her eyes for her pilots; they knew she valued their lives.

One of the technicians returned with a flight jacket clutched in his hands and held it up. "I found this in Mayfair's stores, the quartermaster suggested it might be better at keeping the heat in than leather."

Masconi took the jacket, an old CWU-45P, fibre insulation sandwiched between a durable nylon shell --it wasn't too heavy yet would keep him warm. She nodded her approval as she handed it back to the technician. "See that they put his name on the id tag," she replied, pausing a moment. "Command airman's wings, as well."

Katz blinked at the unexpected honour. "T-thank you," he managed in surprise.

"You've earned it," she said nodding in pride at the young man who had saved her life at Arcanis. "Besides, sage green is your colour." She nodded after the jacket.

Katz laughed. "But sage green was so last year," he fired back.

"Careful," Masconi laughed, "the crazy engineer's about, keep talking like that and he might think he's in with a chance..."

Katz cracked a smile and shook his head. "Right now I have a date," he said, fixing his eyes on the dark, pitted and scarred Amsus fighter he would have to become intimate with if he was to survive the assault on Haligonian Station.

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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So Katz is going to be the last one to leave and make sure the missiles hit their targets.  What's the rest of the plan?  Exactly what targets will the missiles hit?  

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Talk about a suicide run; Katz and the pilots are truly in for it; let's up they can pull their nuts out of the fire in time.

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Oh my...the old saying, "life's like a box of chocolates...ya never know what you're gonna get"...seems to apply here, And I suspect the Amsus don't like candy...

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