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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Prologue - By the Horns[]

TCS Samantha Calderon
Omega Anchorage, Hyades Cluster
September 27th, 2596

“Jack, we need that drive back on-line,” pleaded Helena Vickers, the last remaining flag officer of the Taurian Concordat Navy . . . the last one qualified for a command in space, at any rate.

“Aye, Admiral, that we do.” the sandy-haired engineer answered with a sigh of his own as he ran his hands across the thinning crown.  “But I’m an engineer, not a miracle worker.  Saucy Sam here needs a full ship-yard, instead I’ve just got my own boys and girls down below decks.”

“And the engineers from the other ships in the Flotilla.” Helena added.  Jack Fletcher held up a placating hand and he nodded.

“More trouble than they are worth, truth be told, Admiral, despite being there to turn to a wrench or lift a cable.  I cannot change the laws of physics, Ma’am,” he pleaded, “you have to give us the time to track down that fault in the drive core.  And that means we cannot jump.”

Helena closed her eyes and she shook her head.  “Jack, if we don’t jump before the Terries come out here to picket the Anchorage, we won’t ever get the chance to jump.  We—and those other ships out there—we haven’t complied with Marantha’s surrender.  In their minds, that means we are pirates and can be shot on sight.  If they realize how many of our people are escaping, and just how many ships of the Fleet remain intact as their escorts?  Jack, they will spend the next hundred years tracking us down to destroy our children and the new homes we are supposed to be building out there past the borders.”

“I know,” Jack Fletcher said in a very quiet voice.  “But right now, if we jump we die.  That means, Admiral, that you are going to have to give the order for the Flotilla to proceed without us.”

Helena winced . . . but she nodded at the engineer.  “Can they accommodate any more of our personnel?” she asked quietly—already knowing the answer.

Calderon Class Battleship (Classic)

TCS Samantha Calderon, Calderon Class Battleship

“No, ma’am.  But the good news is, if I can find the damned fault and repair it before Satan’s Legions of Damnable Fornicators gets out here, we might be able to catch up with the rest.”  If the long-abused Kearny-Fuchida faster-than-light drive managed to hold together went unsaid.

The Taurian Admiral knew well that the odds of that were . . . remote, to say the least.  But for the morale of her people, she nodded.  “There are always possibilities, Jack,” she whispered, as she leaned back in her chair.

The War—the twenty-year long Reunification War—was finally over and done with.  Well, most of it was over and done with.  And it was a war that Taurus has finally lost.  Not due to a lack of courage; no, the Taurians may well have lacked many things, but courage was never one of them.  No, the Concordat simply had too many enemies; too many foes; and whether in space or on the surface of a contested world, the Star League and its member states had sent millions to fight and die.  All in an effort to make the Taurian people accept membership in the Star League against their will.

Helena sighed and she looked out the armored plexi that covered one of her bulkheads; she gazed upon the thick, red, roiling clouds of gas and dust and micrometeoroids that comprised Flannagan’s Nebula.  The thick armored hatch that covered the view-port was retracted at the moment and she gazed upon the clouds that—in all likelihood—she would never again see.

She stood, and she laid her hand upon the desk of the ship that she had served upon for the past two decades—the Flagship of the all-but-annihilated Taurian Concordat Navy.  The first—and now last—battleship of the TCN.  “She deserves better, Jack.”

“Aye, ma’am; that she does.  She needs another half-a-year in the repair slips to set everything right—but we don’t have a half-a-year; nor even a quarter.”

“No.  Jack,” she said with a sudden gleam in her eyes, “you know, the more I think about it, the better a chance the rest have at escape is if we take the fight to the Terries one last time.  The K/F Core will not last forever; not without more spare parts than we have on-hand—if you can get me one more jump out of her, Jack, . . .,” and Helena’s voice trailed off.

“Aye, ma’am,” Jack Fletcher whispered.  “We’ll do the Old Girl proud.”

Helena pressed the transmit key on the intraship comm and she waited until her bridge crew answered.  “Order the Flotilla to proceed without us, Commander Stiles,” she instructed crisply.  “Have Navigation compute an FTL jump to Gateway—when Commander Fletcher and his people get the Core back on-line, we are going back to kick ass and take names.”

“Understood, Admiral,” the voice of her XO replied.  “She deserves a better ending than the scrap-yards, and we’ll take more than a few of the Terries to Hell alongside us.”

“Jack,” Helena began, but the engineer simply nodded.

“I’ll get us there, Admiral.  Come Hell’s Heart or High Water, I’ll get us there,” and with a nod of his head, he turned and left the Admiral’s stateroom set on one of the Saucy Sam’s four grav decks.

TCS Samantha Calderon
Omega Anchorage, Hyades Cluster
October 1, 2596

“All hands, prepare for jump drive activation.  Repeat, all hands, prepare for jump drive activation.  Jump drive initialization is set for . . . one minute from my mark . . . MARK,” Helena tightened the restraining belts that held her in her command chair as the sober—somber—crew quietly attended to their duties.

“Admiral, all weapons are standing by,” Commander Daniel Stiles reported from his station.  “Nuclear warheads are loaded in tubes Five through Twelve and are ready to armed upon your command.”

“Make it so, Mister Stiles,” Helena answered as the jump clock slowly ticked down.

“All hands, stand by for jump,” the petty officer at the master helm station announced, “in five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one . . . JUMP!”

The massive drive core at the center of the ship began to receive the tremendous amounts of stored power hoarded by TCS Samantha Calderon over the past eight days . . . and with that power it tore open a hole in the fabric of the universe.  Just as it did every single time the jump drive was activated, this very short-lived hole allowed mankind to traverse interstellar distances in . . ., well, no one had ever actually managed to measure elapsed time during a jump.

But any feat of engineering that allowed humanity to bypass Einstein’s speed limit had within itself the potential of doing far, far, far more than merely displacing the ship thirty or so light-years.  And despite Jack Fletcher’s attempts, not all of the drive core damage suffered by Saucy Sam had been found—and repaired. 

This jump, Helena realized with a start, seemed to last forever—and then the ship emerged into real-space once more; it emerged with a BANG and shudder and red emergency lights lit up the bridge as desperate voices clogged the comm channels. 

“GUNS!” she snapped.  “Target all SLDF vessels in range!”

But only shocked silence greeted her order.


“Ma’am,” the young officer finally answered, and he swallowed heavily.  “Admiral, I am reading no WarShips within range—and Gateway Station is gone.  Gone.”

“Impossible,” whispered Helena and then she looked down at her own consoles.  Sure enough, the massive space station that had for so long guarded the path into Hell’s Heart was missing—but then she detected the transponders coming from within the asteroid fields that surrounded the jump-point.  The troopers of the Special Asteroid Support Force—the SASF—were on the ball at least.

And then her eyes noticed a . . . discrepancy in the transponder data.  She gasped; her eyes grew wide, and she barked out a hurried command.  “SAFE ALL WEAPONS!  NOW!”  Helena unbuckled her straps and she flew across to the communications station and she hit the transmit keys.

“This is the Taurian Concordat Navy ship Samantha Calderon—hold your fire!  We request a communications link to the Protector of the Taurian Concordat, over.”

For several seconds only static emerged from the radio, but then a voice—a very quiet and disturbed voice—came through.  “Hold our fire?  Lady, I hope to God you are holding your fire!  I’ve sent a message to Taurus, but it’ll take a while to wake up Protector Thomas—who the hell are you again?”

“Thomas?” Helena asked; Marantha Calderon had been Protector until her suicide just days ago; no successor had yet to assume the throne.  She picked up the microphone.  “SASF, this is the TCS Samantha Calderon,” she paused and closed her eyes, “Admiral Helena Vickers, commanding.  Confirm today’s date.”

A new voice, stronger and more in control came over speaker.  “Admiral Vickers, this is Commodore Ethan Mendoza . . . today is the 17th day of November in the year 3025.  I believe that we need to have a serious chat. You and I—until the Protector manages to get out here, at least.”

Utter silence fell upon the bridge, and Helena swallowed the lump in her throat.  “Agreed, Commodore Mendoza.  I will be expecting your shuttle.”

She sat back down and made her trembling hands stop shaking as she grasped the arms of her chair.  “Intra-ship.” she ordered, and Daniel Stiles nodded after a moment.

“Shipmates,” she started with as she began to inform the crew that their ship—HER SHIP—and all souls within her mighty hull, had been displaced more than four centuries into their own future.

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