A/N: Thank you guys for the reviews and feedback on the chapter, although I was hoping for more but judging from what I am seeing in regards to the changes I have made so far I am going to guess that it is acceptable and reasonable so I am going to roll with it.

The poll is still proceeding well with twelve votes at the time of this posting, and I am surprised with some of the choices so far, although I won't say who is winning I am kinda surprised so far. Poor Chigara is not getting a lot of votes.

Anyway, this is the first chapter of the Rise of the Black Knight's arc, so without further delay enjoy.

I apologize in advance for the heavy use of text in this chapter when it comes to me describing something or explaining the history of specific events and planets to help those reading this story who might not be familiar with the lore of Sunrider to better follow events of the story.

Edited: 1/13/2019

8/8/2019 – Special Thanks to Greatkingrat88 for editing, improvements and overall clean up of the chapter.

Chapter 5

The Black Knights Rise

(Three years later)

Within the private confines of his cabin, Lelouch was seated behind his desk. It had been a busy three years, most of it spent salvaging the ancient Ryuvian graveyard in space. Lloyd had had a field day with it- multiple, consecutive ones, in fact- and thanks to the generous funding of their patrons in the Solar Alliance, they had been able to construct all they needed for deep space military operations. A cruiser of their own, Ryders, support craft… and of course, while their spacecraft was building, Lelouch had taken to directing his new Black Knights. In the Silverfly, they had cut their teeth on the local pirate population. Lelouch had learned everything he had needed about space navigation along the way, and through careful study of his enemies, they had outmaneuvered and outwitted their prey each time. There had been deaths, yes, but the new members of his Black Knights had soon realized the worth of their leader. Many of them had lost friends and family to piracy, and to see them brought down where the law could not help them had inspired them all, pilot and soldier alike. It didn't hurt, of course, that the bounties they brought home were high.

Soon, word had spread about the Black Knights in the system, about an organization committed to justice, to punishing those who abused their power, one that was open to all, regardless of race, religion, gender or anything else- all who valued justice were welcomed. People had rallied to Lelouch's banner, as one victory followed another, as dozens of pirates were brought to justice, killed in space or brought before the local magistrates. A handful of followers had soon grown into dozens, into hundreds.

Lelouch had made clear from the start the ultimate goal of their cause; to end the tyranny of PACT. They weren't short-sighted bounty hunters interested in profit. As soon as their new ship was operational, they would start to aim higher. Still, even with this transparency, their numbers had swelled. There was no shortage of impoverished young men and women crying out for justice, for better opportunities and a brighter future. Anyone who wanted it, as far as Lelouch was concerned, was a worthy addition to his cause.

So he had spent three years rebuilding the Black Knights, recruiting the essential crew for a larger spacefaring vessel, while constantly honing his skills as the commodore of a vessel and a military leader. It had been three years of hard, constant work, but Lelouch had thrived on it. It had led him here, to the cabin of a new vessel to call his own, ready to take the next step in their journey.

Currently, he was looking at a holographic projection of Ava through a faster-than-light, communications device for Lelouch's personal use. As a precaution, the communications device in Lelouch's office was designed with considerably security measures in place, including a displacer signal hiding his true location, and measures to prevent anyone from listening in. An added feature was that Ava would see him wearing causal clothing like a black suit, but in reality Lelouch was dressed as Zero, minus the mask, cape and top revealing the white dress shirt underneath.

Ava now wore the traditional black and yellow uniform of the Ceran Space Navy. She had let her hair grow to waist length. She had matured, grown from a teenager into a beautiful young woman.

"You have been doing quite well," Ava complimented.

"We had some close calls initially, but in time things improved. In fact I dare say things have begun to move much more smoothly than I could have expected. If I have the opportunity, perhaps I'll show you something you might find interesting," Lelouch said with a smile. "Our work with the Mining Union has been especially useful."

"I would imagine so," said Ava, "they represent most legal business in your sector, don't they?"

"We've entered into a partnership of sorts," said Lelouch, "we defend their interests from piracy, and in return we get weapons, fuel, all sorts of useful necessities."

Despite not being a galactic power, the Mining Union was without doubt one of the most prominent and influential conglomerates. They had considerable reach; they supplied fifty percent of the galaxy with space-grade ore used for starship construction. The Mining Union had begun as the result of a collaboration between a number of different mining companies and firms located on low-class habitable planets. Although most of these planets were not hospitable enough to support a large population like Cera where they could become their own nations, they were extremely rich in resources.

One of these planets was Tydaria, a class three planet. It was known for its dry, desert-like hostile climate, filled with an endless sea of mountains and barren landscapes. If not for the very rich ore deposits it had, the planet would've been omitted from most star maps, but because of its natural resources, every person of the planet's four million population was involved in some shape of form with the mining industry, the planet's only profitable export. As a result, Tydaria served as a stronghold of the Mining Union, to the point where its government officials were all part of the Union in some shape or form.

"The Union is naturally interested in profit. Our relationship is mutually beneficial, of course- and their arsenal of weapons is highly useful."

"True, but don't they extend those offers to everyone?" Ava asked. It was well known among those familiar enough with the Mining Union that they generally considered themselves neutral, and would conduct business with just about anyone- including PACT, as long as there was a profit to be had for the Union.

"True. But rest assured, I have taken steps to ensure they won't try to sell us out," Lelouch answered.

Yet. It's all the more reason for us to become more self-sufficient as soon as possible, Lelouch thought to himself.

Despite the growth of the Black Knights in recent years, from the small group Jeremiah had brought to the much larger coalition they now were, they still were dependent on support from the Mining Union and Solar Alliance, which was something that concerned Lelouch. Although he was more comfortable trusting the Solar Alliance than the Mining Union, Lelouch wanted the Black Knights to have access to alternative sources of funding and supplies as a precaution, should one side or both become unable or unwilling to support them.

Admiral Grey and the Alliance supports us for now, but things could always change once PACT is no longer a threat, he thought to himself.

All in all, Lelouch had much to do before the Black Knights could truly come into their own, but the Ryuvian Technology had proven more critical to their efforts than first believed.

"Enough about that. How have you been doing?" Lelouch asked.

"My own career path has been progressing smoothly, although unlike you, nothing too noteworthy has really happened yet."

"I see. But haven't they been training you for much longer than what would been expect for a new member of the Cera Space Force?"

Ava seemed uncertain, but she answered with what she knew, "I noticed that… I heard military HQ is apparently planning on fielding a new ship in the future, so they are planning to train a crew specifically for that vessel. It seems I have been chosen as one of their candidates for its crew, but I don't have any other details."

"Interesting," Lelouch thought, wondering what Cera could be planning to go to such lengths.

"I should go. They'll be expecting me back," said Ava, knowing it was best to likely end their conversation for the time being. "And I think you have work to do?"

"I do, so keep an eye on the news when you have a chance," Lelouch said with a knowing smile, before Ava ended the transmission.

Ava's holographic avatar disappeared from view, leaving Lelouch alone in the cabin that doubled as both his personal quarters and his office.

Reclining in his chair for a moment, Lelouch took a look around his office. It was large enough for a desk and bookshelf, with a holographic screen projected from his desk, showing diagnostic information of the ship and its location. A smaller space was connected to the cabin, where Lelouch had his bedroom along with his bathroom.

A red light on the holographic screen displayed over his desk notified Lelouch that he had another call; according to the communication officer on the bridge, it was from the Mining Union.

"Speak of the devil, I suppose," Lelouch mused, before picking up his mask and putting it upon his head before he answered the transmission.

Upon accepting the call, a new holographic avatar of the caller began to take shape, displaying the image of a woman with blonde hair. She had blue eyes, and wore glasses. She wore a blue business suit with a skirt.

"I am grateful you returned my call, Miss Brooks," Lelouch said.

Sophita Brooks, the Vice Secretary of Operations for the Mining Union, looked at Lelouch with a calm and composed stare, before addressing him in a very businesslike manner.

"Zero, I have received your message and I am forwarding an information packet of everything we have on the pirates you requested information about. As you suspected, they have been causing the Mining Union problems by harassing some of our cargo transports over the last three months."

"I see. We'll deal with them."

"Very good. As usual, if you eliminate the Orion Pirates you'll be paid a considerable bounty for their destruction," said Sophita.

The Orion Pirates were among some of the more notorious pirates operating in the Neutral Rim. They usually attacked cargo freighters, like those belonging to the Mining Union, or passenger ships. But they also engage in human trafficking, abducting people from passenger liners. Lately they had been involved in targeting civilians from the planet Versta, a independent planet suffering from civil unrest and war that has lasted for decades since its independence from Ryuvia, following the end of the war almost a hundred years ago.

Thus the Black Knights had decided to seek out the Orion Pirates and eliminate them once and for all. The ideals Lelouch had once proclaimed- justice above all- was never more appropriate than when dealing with murdering thieves and slavers.

Lelouch opened up the information packet on the computer built into his desk. He parsed through the data quickly, and as he did, a smile crept across his face.

"Yes. This matches up with what we have learned, and it fills in the last few blanks," Lelouch said after he finished reading it, "we're already in pursuit. They'll be destroyed within one standard terran day."

Sophita smiled.

"Very good, Mr. Zero. We have already come to expect good results from you. Contact me when it is finished, and we will transfer the money."

With that, Sophita ended the transmission.

Thanks to their business arrangements with the Mining Union, not only had the Black Knights obtained licences for their weapons, but they were able to operate as freelance bounty hunters. Their freelance status had made it easy for the Black Knights to operate without crossing most Neutral World governments, but Lelouch knew they would have to be careful to avoid any confrontations with them.

Time to go to work…

Lelouch rose from his desk to leave his cabin taking his cape and the coat of his attire with him. The automatic door opened as Lelouch headed for the bridge of the ship while putting the coat followed by the cape as he went.

Unlike the Silverfly, the vessel he was traveling on was brand new. It had been constructed using what was salvageable from the Ryuvian Ships they had found at the Mnemosyne Abyss. Even though they restored some of the more intact ships from the graveyard, it had been decided that the Black Knights, until the inevitable war in the future ahead of them comes, should use vessels of their own design.

Lloyd had already drawn up some drafts following their discovery, but once they had recovered as many ships and parts they could, they had moved to a secret base that they established at an old Solar Alliance outpost. It had stood abandoned almost a hundred years ago after their war against the New Empire ended, offered to them by their supporters within the Solar Alliance proper. Mostly unknown to the wider galaxy, and near enough to most relevant locations, it made for an ideal base of operations for the time being.

Either by luck or design, the base had remained untouched, but Lelouch had no intention of making a permanent headquarters out of it. He would make use of it until a more remote and secure location could be found to serve as a more permanent base. He also hoped to find the resources to become more independent, to avoid over-reliance on those who were supporting him and the Black Knights.

Leaders can change, and so can their agendas… they could turn on us once we stop being useful.

The Solar Alliance was discreetly supporting them, and their help was, for now, invaluable. Even so, Lelouch couldn't help but notice the similarities between the Alliance and the United Republic of Europia, which had a similar system of governance, but on a larger scale.

The Alliance was a democracy, and while that was by far preferable to the alternative of an oligarchy or a dictatorship, it meant a fair deal of bureaucracy and red tape to deal with.. The Solar Congress moved very slowly, and if popular opinion turned against them, they could lose their support quickly, and regaining it would take a long time, if it happened at all. Furthermore, the Alliance was, as far as Lelouch could tell, stagnant in its military development. Its military had not grown much, nor had it developed many new ships as of late.

Its military, he knew, was by and large in support of them… but for how long? They would expect results, and if they didn't get what they wanted, they might turn against his newly formed Black Knights. As far as allies went, the Solar Alliance was less than ideal. Unreliable.

The sooner we can be independent of the alliance and able to sustain ourselves, the better, Lelouch thought, as he finally reached the bridge of the prototype and the first ship of the Order of the Black Knights dubbed the BKA-01XA Excalibur.

It had been developed based on reverse engineering the Ryuvian Assault Cruiser, using the data salvaged from one of the restored vessels for further improvements to the design.

The ship was the first of a new kind of assault cruiser designed for guerrilla warfare. It was smaller than a carrier or a battlecruiser, its sleek design and lighter armaments being modelled after the old Ryuvian Cruisers it had been salvaged from. The vessel's kinetic armaments were built upon the Variable Ammunition Repulsion Impact Spitfire- VARIS- rifle concept, used by Lloyd's greatest creation: the Z-01 Lancelot. It gave it plenty of firepower with laser batteries, pulse guns, missiles and flak cannons for defense against incoming projectiles, while retaining a fair bit of mobility.

Aside from being well protected with armored hull plates, it had a shield system installed to weather and weaken incoming energy based attacks, but Lloyd also included Blaze Luminous shielding to protect the entire ship from a devastating attack at the price of being unable to fight back while the Blaze Luminous shields were up.

The most unique aspect of the ship was its Ryder carry and development system. Although the vessel was limited to four Ryders, a quarter of what most carriers could carry, the design of the ship allowed either Ryders to be launched from the front of the vessel like a standard carrier when the armored bow of the cruiser unfolded to enable Ryders to be deployed launch, or they could be dropped from behind the ship during an attack. The Excalibur would attack enemies while dropping off its Ryders in its wake to either resume the attack while the ship would prepare to make another pass, or could attack any enemies behind it.

Upon entering the bridge, Lelouch found Jeremiah present with the bridge crew.

"Commander on the deck!" Jeremiah said as the bridge personnel got up and saluted their superior. Aside from Jeremiah, who wore the same black coat and dress shirt underneath, the other members of the bridge crew wore modernized black and gray trimmed Black Knight uniforms.

"At ease, everyone… Jeremiah, has there been any changes?" Lelouch asked, the voice modulator inside his mask distorting his words as he spoke.

"None yet, sir. The intelligence we got has proven accurate so far."

"I see," Lelouch said taking a seat in the commander's chair, before using the holographic console that appeared to display the information the Mining Union had had promised to provide him with.

"I am providing an update to go with our intelligence on the enemy, but continue monitoring FTL channels for any suspicious transmissions."

Lelouch examined the latest on the situation, while monitoring the bridge crew within the circular-shaped bridge.

Unlike previous ship designs back on earth, the bridge of the Excalibur was nested deep within the ship itself, where it could be well protected from direct attacks. The screens showing space and everything else around them were possible thanks to holographic displays receiving data and information from miniature cameras and sensors scattered about the hull of the ship.

Even the windows seen in the cabins including Lelouch's cabin were holographic projections of what was outside the ship. The only place with any windows into space was on the CIC observation deck to be used in the event the cameras around the hull were disabled to assist with navigation.

Exiting warp, the Excalibur was now entering the Astral Expanse, a remote area of space that had become a hot spot of criminal activity ranging from pirates, slave traders, and smugglers. None of the planets and small nations existing in the Neutral Rim had the means to enforce any kind of interstellar law in the area for a number of reasons. The vast uncharted region of space and limited resources, to name but a few.

"Prepare to launch our Ryders and change to condition yellow," Lelouch ordered, as he entered some commands on his chair to bring up a small holographic display, including radar and sensor screens to keep him up to date on the progress of the pirate fleet they were hunting.

They weren't in sight yet, but Lelouch knew if their information was accurate they should be in a ideal location for an ambush.

"Changing to condition yellow. Pilots are standing by in their machines." A bridge personnel member announced.

"Change over to silent-run mode and proceed to the coordinates," Jeremiah ordered, as the bridge crew began working. The ship started to slow down before moving towards a debris field consisting of asteroids and various space junk. Hopefully, it would help mask their approach.

Moving through the debris field, the air on the bridge became tense with nervous anticipation.

Finding the Orion Pirates in the Astral Expanse was akin to finding a needle in a haystack. The space was thick with asteroids, dwarf planets and massive astral debris belts that provided ample hiding space for the nefarious pirates. However, Lelouch was determined to hunt them down, to put an end to their slave trading business, to stop them preying upon the people of Versta.

The constant state of civil unrest and wars on the small class-seven planet it made it an easy target for pirates and other groups to steal kidnap people to sell as slaves. It was a planet rich with dignified history; it had been the location of the signing of the Treaty of Vespa, which had marked the end of the war and Versta's independence from Ryuvia. It was an independent and noble place, and it deserved better than to be preyed upon by slavers.

One of their election hopefuls could put an end to the fighting and give Versta a chance to truly become its own nation- but first, these pirates need to be put down, Lelouch thought, hoping they were in time to catch their prey.

Due to how vast the Astral Expanse was, the only chance the Black Knights had were to catch the Orion Pirates entering the system before they could vanish deeper within unexplored space.

"I hope we are in time to intercept them. If all of our information is correct, then a group of them, fresh from abducting new victims, should be passing through here," Lelouch said. They had done their best, gathered intelligence, followed their leads.

Now they just had to wait for their quarry.

"We should be nearing the location, but finding their base without the proper coordinates will be problematic," Jeremiah noted as he checked the navigation console from the Executive Officer's command station near Lelouch's command chair.

"I know, which is why we must beat them here. We'll get the location from the ones we capture," Lelouch answered.

Trying to track them all down in a remote and uncharted region of space like the Astral Expanse was almost impossible to even if he had an entire fleet at his beck and call. The intelligence Garbiabli had collected, combined with what he had received from the Mining Union, could be the break Lelouch needed.

I just need to hope this pays off.

The pirates were, based on the intelligence reports, both numerous and heavily armed. Fortunately, the Excalibur possessed a few aces up its sleeve, besides its considerable armaments. They had brought new Ryders, which were developed not only through reverse engineering of Ryuvian technology, but they also used the combat data collected from the pilots using the ancient Ryuvian scout units they found.

One of the two Ryders they had created was, like the Excalibur, designed by Lloyd. They had been assembled at their secret base, using Ryder parts salvaged from Ryuvian wrecks at the Mnemosyne Abyss, and parts constructed at other locations by various manufacturing companies. Due to Lloyd's involvement in their design, they bore a certain resemblance to his prized creation, the Lancelot, but their construction was such that their parts could be interchanged effortlessly and become a good base for future mass production once the Black Knights could obtain the resources and means for that.

Named the BKR-01M Knight, it drew inspirations from the Vincent Ward of the Holy Britannia Empire to be Ryder exclusive to the Black Knights designed for engaging enemy Ryders and attacking smaller ships. In fact, the Knight was similar in appearance, but the differences were that it was intended for use in space like all Ryders, with shoulder-mounted machine guns for dealing with units with weak armor and defense as well as missiles. It carried a lance for close quarters combat with other Ryders, which used Maser Vibration Swords technology now adapted for use with Ryders by Lloyd.

For ranged combat, they used a laser rifle with a single-use missile attached to the barrel, which could be carried on their rear hip armor when not in use. Mounted on the machine's forearms were pulse guns for dealing with weaker targets while they possessed a backpack including thrusters for quick movements and on the feet as well too.

The second unit was a more substantial unit, with both of its arms possessing massive cannons in place of hands. Like the Knight units, the BKR-02H Attila was inspired by heavy Ryder units meant to serve an anti-ship role, but its weapons were more than capable of dealing with enemy Ryders.

The Attila units were based upon the RPI-V4L Gareth of the Holy Britannian Empire, but heavily redesigned and updated by Lloyd. They still possessed the Hadron Cannons in place of hands, but improved and stronger thanks to the cannons drawing power from a second fusion reactor installed into the Ryder along with a primary reactor to provide power for the rest of the machine. It had missile launchers on its chest and legs while a pair of rotating machine guns for flak against missiles were included. Then on their shoulders were a pair of VARIS rifles and lastly on the forearms were emitters for Blaze Luminous Shields.

Lelouch was confident they would be more than a match for whatever the pirates had.

The ship lurked in a small debris field, waiting for its quarry to arrive. Whoever came by would not be innocent; you'd have to be mad to take a civilian freighter to this region of space.

Lelouch and the Black Knights waited for an hour before an alert went off, signaling that the sensors were picking up a ship coming out of warp. Jeremiah and the bridge crew sprung into action, as they quickly began using the sensors to identify the vessels entering the area.

"We've got eight contacts, sir…" A young bridge operator with brown hair and a tanned complexion announced. "We have confirmed two Pirate Ironhogs, three Pirate Destroyers, two Ryder Carriers and one transport."

"Can we identify them?" Zero asked.

"Checking pirate markings with the library now…" The bridge personnel answered as he ran an image of the pirate's markings. "We have a positive match. They are the Orion Pirates."

"We got them. Finally," Lelouch said as his right hand formed into a fist. "I want a full scan of the vessels. Which one contains their prisoners? Depending on how it looks, we may need to tread carefully."

"Scanning…" one of the functionaries muttered. A couple of minutes passed in agonizing silence, as each ship was scanned from a distance. The Excalibur, Lelouch knew, had more than enough armaments to take on these pirates, but if he had to cripple them rather than destroy them to protect the innocent captives, it would make things rather more difficult.

"Scan complete," said the functionary at last, "commander, it appears there is a large concentration of people in the transport vessel at the middle of their formation. Their combat vessels appear to have numbers consistent with the average crew you would expect for a ship their size."

"Excellent," said Lelouch, relieved. "Helmsman, bring the ship about. I want a course set, combat speed. Prepare to engage. I want all battle stations manned and at the ready, all weapons primed and ready to fire. Make ready to deploy our Ryders as we close in! Engage their combat vessels at will, but do not attack the transport!"

"Aye, sir!" The helmsman of the ship replied, as the ship began slowly moving out of the debris field while trying to use the cover they provided to mask their approach from the pirates. The vessel was still operating in silent mode as the dense field of debris and asteroids worked to their advantage, but it would only last for so long. Soon, they'd be out of the debris.

"Once we clear the debris field, I want us to move at attack speed towards those pirates," Lelouch said as he began laying out his plan of attack. "Target the Ironhogs with our forward Lightning Batteries, then shoot down those Ryder Transports with our VARIS cannons with impact rails set to level nine once we're in range."

"Shall I order our Ryders to deal with the destroyers?" Jeremiah offered respectfully.

"Yes, but also order them to pick off any remaining enemy Ryders they might launch during our initial attack," Lelouch said taking into account the possibility those make-shift Ryder carriers might be able to launch their Ryders before the ship could get close enough to destroy them. "Disable the transport once we're in firing range by taking out the engines."

As they approached, Lelouch observed the pirate ships closely. To somebody new to void combat, the oncoming pirate fleet might have looked formidable, but Lelouch knew better. The vessels were crude, overloaded with weaponry, built ramshackle by scroungers rather than professional engineers. Their numbers would not give them a significant enough advantage.

Their so-called destroyers were a perfect example. They were primarily a refit of other older ships, put together consisting of a frame, a reactor and fitted with as many guns as could be fit on it. They were generally green and black in color, but looking at the ships it was a marvel they were able to run as well as they did, all things considered.

The Pirate Ironhog, however, was something of a different story. It was the size of a destroyer, but despite its enormous almost blimp-like hull and the weapons piled on, it was surprisingly fast. Mounted on the ship itself were powerful rockets and missile batteries designed for taking out larger vessels and space stations. They also had a surprising amount of flak guns capable of quickly dealing with missiles fired at them. But for all of their firepower and anti-missile defenses, they had one severe weakness.

They didn't have shields to protect them from energy based weaponry like the fire-linked Lightning-Type Laser Banks of the Excalibur.

"FIRE!" Lelouch commanded as the ship cleared the debris field. The Excalibur fired up its engines accelerating to attack speed, alerting the pirates to their presence.

The Excalibur began its attack. There was a hum of power as the ship's laser banks powered up. Lelouch saw firing solutions being plotted in real-time, as the gunners adjusted their aim and locked on target. The laser battery severely outranged the target Ironhog, and the first shot struck home. Judging by the hit, it looked as if they had ignited its missile siloes. It exploded soundlessly, a bright, temporary flower of fire in the emptiness of space.

"Closing in on target…" The helmsman said, as the ship's twin Spartan K55 Dual Barrel Variable Ammunition Repulsion Impact Cannon took aim.

"We're in range…lining up the target." The Gunnery Officer replied, as another burst of lasers from the Excalibur sunk the second Pirate Ironhog before it could come about to launch a counterattack.

The cannons fired a green beam of high-speed kinetic-based projectiles at the destroyers. When the shots hit the pirate destroyer, it wrought absolute havoc on it, almost rendering the ship into two. The first destroyer went up in a ball of fire as the reactor onboard went critical due to the extreme level of damage it had suffered. Another shot sunk a second destroyer.

The pirates tried to fight back, despite being outgunned. Cornered by the superior Excalibur, they had no other choice- but a rat, Lelouch knew, could be deadly when it was cornered. The remaining ships assumed battle formations, and launched salvoes of missiles and torpedoes at the Excalibur, readying their own kinetic weaponry on the advancing cruiser.

"Activate the main shield and continue to maintain present speed and course," Lelouch commanded, smiling under his mask as the front of the ship became covered in a light green field of energy as the first pirate missiles impacted. Blaze Luminous Shielding held strong, deflecting or disintegrating the incoming missiles.

As the pirates fire ad the oncoming Excalibur, the only part of the ship unshielded was its rear, where a launching hatch was opening up.

Launching them in the wake of his ship's passing, three black Ryders were deployed from the rear of the vessel. Thanks to the Pirate fleet being focused upon the Excalibur, it gave the three newly launched Ryders a chance to close in with their preoccupied targets before their presence on the battlefield could be noticed.

The Excalibur launched two Knight Units accompanied by a Attila Unit.

"Sink the last of their carriers and disable the transport while we come around for another pass," Lelouch commanded the three Ryders over an open channel.

"Yes, sir!" The pilots responded in unison.

Upon being receiving their orders, the Knight units began their attack, going after the Ryder units that had managed to launch before the Excalibur could sink their carriers. The Attila unit began targeting the last of the Ryder Carriers, which was still in the process of deploying its Ryders. Opening up like their Gareth predecessors, the Attila units fired a powerful Hadron Cannon blast. The shot tore through the rear of the ship where its engineering compartment should be, crippling the vessel.

Just as it launched one last unit the carrier exploded, only moments after the Attila opened fire on the ship with its shoulder-mounted VARIS guns to destroy the vessel, following it up with another shot from its forearm-mounted Hadron Cannon.

The average unit used by the pirates was an archaic basic Ryder model, used by the Solar Alliance and New Empire during the war a hundred years ago. Similar to their ships, it was made from whatever they could find in a junkyard and piece back together using obsolete and mismatched parts. As such, the pirate Ryder had no real armor to speak of. It did have a very light frame, however, making it reasonably quick. Unfortunately, its delicate design and ramshackle build meant it was inefficient, poorly assembled, which hampered their evasion capabilities considerably. Even though the pirate units had some shielding, it didn't offer much protection.

Like the pirate fleet it had been attached to, it had as many weapons fitted to it as possible, leaving it armed with twin-barrel lasers and a machine gun, and some missiles.

But there is another problem… Lelouch thought, as a smile graced his face under his mask.

Since the Alliance-Imperial War, there had been no significant military action. The Solar Congress had focused more on its own internal issues and less on developing their military, while the New Empire was forced to deal with its own set of internal problems. As a result, Ryder development virtually came to a standstill. Some places continued Ryder development in one form or another, as did the Solar Alliance, but not on a large and meaningful scale. Not on a scale that would see new units and technologies rolled out, nor new tactics to utilized as well.

Lelouch and Lloyd, on the other hand, sought to capitalize on that when laying the groundwork for their own military force of the rebuilt Black Knights.

Just like everyone else, these pirates have made no effort to develop anything new but relying on whatever they can get their hands on and using old, outdated tactics. Lelouch thought as his ship was already beginning to make another attack run while his Ryders had started their attack. I'll develop new tactics and new Ryders to revolutionize space warfare, using these building blocks we have made.

The pirates had numbers, but Lelouch's ship and Ryders were superior to the pirates' machines and ship in almost every possible way, giving Lelouch and his Black Knights an overwhelming technological advantage over them. It only made matters even worse for them that the Black Knights' machines and tactics were something new, recently developed, rather than the standard law enforcement units they were used to fighting.

Even with their backs against the wall, the pirates kept fighting as the Black Knight Ryders went to engage the two Knight units, firing their laser cannons at them as they approached.

The transport attempted to flee, but the Attila unit quickly locked on and opened fire, disabling their engines with a grazing shot of its Hadron Cannons. The Pirate Ryders had no melee weapons to speak of, so when the Knight Ryders closed the distance, they used their dual-ended MSV Lances to cleave through one of the opposing Pirate Ryders.

Three pirate Ryders remained, as one of the last destroyers had just been destroyed by the Excalibur on its second attack run, leaving only the crippled transport.

The second Knight, designated P1, unit engaged in an exchange of laser fire against one of the pirate Ryders, while the first one, dubbed P2, fired its rocket-propelled grenade into the shield of a pirate Ryder trying to defend itself. It was for naught as the explosion inflicted crippling damage upon the pirate machine allowing the Black Knight Ryder to swiftly finish it off.

Lelouch approached from behind in his ship as pulse cannons were being fired to pick off the remaining Ryders to help in the mop up.

The last pirate Ryder tried to flee. It was was a pointless effort; it had nowhere to go. The Attila finished off with a single shot of its Hadron Cannon, vaporizing the entire torso section of the Ryder before its remains exploded.

"Maintain a patrol course around the ship and keep your eyes open for any more enemy units," Lelouch ordered once the bridge crew had confirmed that all hostiles were eliminated.

"Prepare boarding tubes and an assault team. Along with Jeremiah, I will personally storm the ship."

"Yes, sir!" the bridge personnel said in unison.

The Excalibur lined up next to the crippled transport, its thrusters set to minimum. It was helpless, dead in the water; any attempt to fire up its engines would only prolong the inevitable.

Lelouch had taken the time to put on a flak jacket, a pistol fastened to his belt, while Jeremiah had opted for an assault rifle. In the confine of the boarding tube, a close-range assault craft designed for boarding actions, two full squads of soldiers- twenty, all told- in full armour were strapped in alongside them. They wore assault rifles of the same pattern as Jeremiah's, and they all seemed calm and collected, selected as they were from the elite of the Black Knights' infantry units. They held on tight as the tube launched, and for a couple of minutes, there was only stillness as the tube sailed through space. Then, an alert sounded, and they all braced themselves as the tube made contact with the enemy ship, its plasma cutters shearing through the hull with ease. The tube shook and rattled, until finally it halted.

"Status," Lelouch demanded.

"Airlocks sealed behind us, sir," said the platoon sergeant, "looks like we landed near their command deck."

"Open the hatch," said Lelouch, "subdue them. Don't hesitate to kill if you have to, but take prisoners if they surrender. We want something to show to the lawmen."

"Yes, sir!" cried the foot soldiers, and the hatch of the tube flew wide open.

At the moment they opened, gunfire rang from the interior of the ship, as the pirates onboard were fighting to keep the boarders off the transport ship. The Black Knight soldiers hurled grenades followed by some smoke bombs down the hallway leading further into the vessel. After a chain of explosions and the lack of return fire from the pirates, the attack squads made their way deeper into the transport followed by Jeremiah and Lelouch, enabling the two to safely board the vessel.

"Squad one, move to secure the bridge. Squad two, come with me. We're going for the captain's quarters," Lelouch ordered. The two squads promptly separated to execute their orders.

After a brief analysis of the pirate ship's interior, Lelouch had a good idea of where to look.

Near the center of the ship, they found captain of the crippled transport. He was frantically trying to gather some of his valuables as he knew his ship was being boarded, intent on getting away in an escape pod near the engineering compartment, to avoid capture. Unfortunately for him, Lelouch had contemplated that possibility. Still, with the time it had taken to download the ship's schematics, the captain might had gotten away if he had focused more on saving his own skin than collecting his notes and the credits he gathered from his previous business dealings.

The door to his cabin was violently broken open by a small explosive device Jeremiah planted on the door.

The captain reached for a gun as the door was breached, but Jeremiah leaped into the room, his superhuman speed and reflexes being no match for the pirate. He wrenched the gun away, and restrained him easily. The soldiers moved in after him to secure the perimeter. Lelouch stepped in last, walking up to the captain. The scared pirate was straining against Jeremiah's grip, to no avail. His frightened face reflected against the sleek, polished black of Lelouch's mask.

The pirate captain was tall and muscular, his green and black robes dirtied and worn; judging by the smell, he hadn't showered for quite some time.

"You should have thought more about saving yourself than some trinkets, captain," said Lelouch politely, "but could it be that you were worried we would find something else? Like… the coordinates for your base of operations, perhaps?"

"I am not saying a word to you, you bastard. I ain't talking!" The pirate captain shouted defiantly. Lelouch laughed coldly.

"Talk… no," Lelouch replied shaking his head, "I am going to order you."

A part of his mask slid back, revealing Lelouch's right eye, glowing red with the power of his Geass.

An hour later.

Deep within an asteroid field in a remote corner of the Astral Expanse, there was a well-hidden base, housed in a giant asteroid, well-fortified and naturally protected by the small celestial body itself. It was the headquarters of the Orion Pirates. Their commander was growing concerned- their last haul was four hours overdue, and none of the ships were responding to their signals.

"Where the hell is that damn ship with the new merchandise?"

He growled the words. The commander was a heavy-set man with a mop of blonde hair on top of his head, wearing a sleeveless shirt with black pants.

"They just could be running late, boss." A thinner, scrawnier pirate said.

"He knows he can't be late, not when we got a sweet deal going here!" The boss snapped slamming down a metal mug onto the table he was sitting in front of.

"Let's just him a little more time, then we can-" The skinny pirate began to say, before a beeping sound indicating a ship broadcasting the proper IFF was approaching cut him off.

"Look he's here… I guess he was just held up, that's all."

"That son of a bitch better have a good excuse, or else he is…" The pirate leader said, before his words trailed off after he tapped in a few buttons on his personal holo to bring up an exterior camera of the base, but instead of seeing the transport and the escort for it, he saw the Excalibur instead having just completed a pin-point warp jump.

"Attention, pirates," a haughty voice declared through an open channel transmitting on an open frequency available the pirates in their base, "We are the Black Knights, servants of justice. Lay down your arms and surrender, and you will be shown mercy. I repeat, lay down your arms. We will not hesitate to open fire. We have already obliterated the fleet heading here. If you do not respond, we will take it as a rejection of our terms, and we will open fire immediately."

"SCRAMBLE OUR SHIPS AND RYDERS! WE'RE UNDER ATTACK!" snarled the pirate commander.

"As I expected," said Lelouch, watching from the bridge of his ship as the pirates scurried toward their weapons emplacements and battleships, "they aren't going to surrender. Open fire before they can have a chance to deploy their forces," The Ryders his vessel was carrying were already being launched.

"Firing main cannons, sir!" The Gunner at his station reported. A pair of large Hadron Cannons mounted on the forward hull of the ship began charging up for a few seconds, before firing into the hangar of the pirate's asteroid base. The wide crimson beams tore into the hangars, destroying docked Pirate Ironhogs and Destroyers, along with Ryder carriers as well.

The few pirate Ryders that had been out and about on patrols were already rushing back to the base to defend from the attack by the Black Knights. The Knight and the Attila Ryders moved to intercept them while the Excalibur was docking with the asteroid base. A few intense salvoes of artillery had been enough to devastate its ships and cripple its defences; the station had been caught completely unawares. The Excalibur was now too close for them to even deploy their stronger weapons without risking friendly fire to their already devastated defences.

Once the docking was complete, Jeremiah led three squads of heavily armed Black Knight members to storm the base as smoke, and various electronic fires had broken out as a result of Zero's vicious attack on the hangar.

Thanks to that captain's…. cooperation, I had all of the information I needed to launch a surprise attack on this place, including the required IFF, Lelouch thought as he strolled onto the base in the company of a squad of heavily armed soldiers.

At that moment a group of pirates came running up to them. Lelouch had already ordered his men not to open fire; he would deal with them himself. The panel on his mask slid open, and he spoke:

"I order all of you to obey my commands from this moment forward!"

His Geass quickly took effect before the pirates could open fire on him.

"What are your orders?" The pirates said together in a slow and emotionless tone.

"Eliminate all hostiles in this place, then assist my Ryders out there by using this base's defenses to shoot down the Ryders being used by the Orion Pirates."

"Yes, sir!" The pirates said together before leaving to carry out Lelouch's orders.

The Black Knights under his direct command, along with the highest ranked members, knew of his Geass and what it was capable of, which was the reason why they wore combat helmets that not only protected them from various hazards but also from potential castings of Lelouch's Geass, to avoid accidentally using it on them.

In such a short time, everything had gone to hell for the Orion Pirates. The leader of the group had just gotten reports of his own men firing on each other within the base and outside. Defense turrets and missile batteries operated by their fellow pirates were firing on their own Ryders and patrolling Destroyers. It had been twenty minutes since Zero and the Black Knights had boarded the base with the Pirates losing more ground by the second.

"Boss what are we going to do? I-I think they got us!" The skinny pirate member cried out. He looked about ready to make a run for it.

"We are not abandoning this base, especially with all of the merchandise we are keeping here!" The commander snarled, before pulling out a gun, ready to shoot his cowardly underling.

He never had the time, though, as the door to the Orion commande center was blown open. Smoke bombs were thrown in, obscuring their vision, and in their wake, masked Black Knights stormed into the room to take the commander and his underling captive.

"Pirate Boss Edward Dent, I presume…the leader of the Orion Pirates," Zero said as he walked into the room after his men had secured the command center, holding the pirate leaders at gunpoint.

"Just who the fuck are you?" demanded Dent.

"I am Zero, leader of the Black Knights." Zero responded before a Black Knight soldier just got a call from the communicator built into his helmet.

"Sir, we just got word that the captives have been found. There are a lot more than we had been expecting."

"I see. We'll proceed as planned… send word back to the ship and tell Jeremiah to call for the transports we borrowed. Let's get these people out of this hellhole." Zero ordered with a hint of pride in his voice having dismantled a pirate and slave trading ring.

"YOU CAN'T DO THAT! Do you have any idea what the merchandise is worth?!" Edward shouted in frustration which prompted Lelouch to draw his gun, aiming it at his head.

"Your so-called merchandise are people, people who were taken from their lives and their homes by force to become slaves or worse." Lelouch said angrily. The pirate's callous disregard for human life sickened him to the core; it was the same kind of uncaring cruelty Britannia had exuded. Treating people like things…

"You have no right to sell them off like cattle. Make no mistake, if the law doesn't punish you for this, then I will!"

"There are other pirate gangs out there…they won't let you get away with this!"

Lelouch only grinned under his mask at the threat.

"Let them try."

A/N: well Lelouch in the words of Gino has "come back with a vengeance." In three years he has done kinda well for himself so far, but mostly because the pirates are poorly armed and don't have very capable ships. Of course, they got a lot of numbers to make up for it so how will other pirates respond and how will the rest of the neutral rim respond to Zero's actions.

Find out next chapter, and I hope you guys enjoyed this one.

I look forward to your reviews and feedback as they are very much welcomed.