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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 104 - By the Horns[]

Henderson Space Port
Port Sheridan, New Vallis
Taurian Concordat
August 2nd, 3026

Edward passed through the doors of the arrival concourse and his smile faded as he noticed who was waiting for him.

"Eddie, my boy!" Corey Calderon said loudly. "Welcome back to New Vallis."

"Uncle Corey." Edward forced a smile on his face and shook the older man's hand. Since Corey hadn't addressed him as Brigadier, Edward hoped that it meant this meeting was neither formal nor work.

Corey shook his head with a grin. "Not planning on ruining you spending a few days with your young lady, Eddie." he said with a chuckle. Then his happy expression faded. "But, first, we need to talk." and he motioned with one hand towards one of the security rooms where customs inspectors—on occasion—questioned visitors to New Vallis.

Edward frowned, but then he nodded. "Okay then." and he walked over to the door which was guarded by four men—but these weren't customs agents or standard spaceport security. No, these men were serious and expressionless and their eyes flitted from one passerby to the next. Edward had grown up in the care of men and women just like these—and the tension he already felt ratcheted up another couple of notches.

One of the agents opened the door, and Edward walked in, followed by Corey and Jon Kincaide, then the door was closed behind the three. A fourth person was already seated in the room and she rose as they entered.

"Sir Edward." she said politely, "Marshal Calderon thought that perhaps it would be for the best if you and I met here and now. I am Special Agent in Charge Abigail Carnes and I work for Henri Jouett."

"Special Intelligence and Operations." Edward replied.

"I am the station chief here on New Vallis—the last two times you were here, we didn't meet. That was because both of those times there was no reason for you to be aware of my identity and no real benefit to brief you on intelligence matters not within your purview." And she paused.

"That has now changed." she said sadly.

"How so?" asked Edward.

The SAIC for New Vallis motioned to the seats and Edward sat, followed by Corey and Abigail, although Jon remained standing just behind and to the side of his charge.

Corey sighed. "It's the damn CRP, Eddie. They have been flooding the airwaves with talk of how you are a traitor to the Concordat, that you remain in your position and as Heir-designate only because your father doesn't want to cause a scandal by throwing you out—they believe and they are trying to make others believe that you sold out the Taurian people to Hanse Davion and the Federated Suns."

"And those broadcasts and editorials and town hall meetings where the CRP has been spewing this crap has fallen on a few people easily influenced. Special Intelligence and Operations has intercepted a number of communications between members of the CRP and people not previously associated with that party. Communications that discuss the solution to the 'problem of traitor and turn-coat Edward Calderon' in most vivid detail." Abigail added.

Corey nodded, his jaw set and a furious look in his eyes. "When they got word that you were being posted here, the crazies and fanatics dialed up their rhetoric even higher. SIO has uncovered both voice and text signal traffic that indicate they intend to kill you, Eddie."

Jon stiffened behind him, but Edward forced himself to remain calm. After all, threats against the Protector and his family were nothing new. But this wasn't Taurus. And while his security detail was good—the best in fact that the Concordat could offer—it was only a small fraction of the Protector's Own: the men and women entrusted with keeping the Protector and his family alive and well.

"I take it that the means through which SIO acquired the signals intelligence means we can't go through the Courts?" Edward asked.

Abigail smiled. "Actually, we have arrested almost everyone implicated and they have been charged, arraigned, and are awaiting trail—all in accordance with the law."

"Almost everyone." Edward pointed out the key words from her statement, and she nodded.

"Seven of the suspects managed to elude our capture teams—we think when we started rounding up those members of the CRP and their followers, they got just enough of a warning to vanish. We are hunting them down—but, Sir Edward, you are in grave danger here on New Vallis."

Corey leaned forward and he sighed. "And so is anyone in your company, Eddie."

Now Edward did sit and his face whitened. "Moira." he whispered.

"Moira Tyrell." Corey confirmed. "We've got her a protection detail shadowing her around the clock, but all it takes if for one of these fanatics to get lucky once, just like that attempted assassination of Melissa Steiner on Tharkad showed us. Erwin is worried, Eddie, and so am I. So is Abigail."

"Which means?" Edward asked.

"For now." Abigail answered after a brief glance at the Marshal who commanded the I Corps of the TDF, "I would recommend that you and Moira Tyrell be placed in secure custody where none of those associated with the CRP or their followers can reach you. At least until we apprehend those fugitives still at large."

Edward snorted. "I'll bet Moira told you two—and her father!—just where to stick that secure custody." he said in a voice that held absolutely no laughter.

"Since I'd lose that bet if I took it, I'm not gonna take it, son." Corey answered. And he sighed. "Eddie, Erwin and I want you to talk to her—get her to do the right thing. It won't be forever, but she's putting herself at risk going back-and-forth to Port Sheridan General Hospital and working there while these assholes are out there trying to make you hurt even if they can't manage to kill you."

For a moment, Edward was silent, but then he nodded. "I'll talk to her, but I doubt she is going to back down, Corey. She won't let fanatics win by showing she's afraid of them." And he let out a soft and bitter chuckle. "Just like you or I or Pop or Erwin won't."

Corey nodded. "I figured that you might say that. So. Erwin, Raphael Montoya, and myself go together with Colonel Wolf and we moved up the FTX—it starts at 0600 tomorrow morning. And I've spoken—behind the scenes—with the administrator of Port Sheridan General, and he's agreed that we might just need a trauma team on-call out there. And do you know who he picked to lead that team?"

Edward snorted and he shook his lead. "Let me guess—one Doctor Moira Tyrell?"

"Right you are, my boy!" Corey smiled. "She can't complain because it is a prestigious posting requiring only the best in trauma care specialists—and Colonel Wolf has assigned his 7th​ Kommando special operations team to provide security for the medical detachment . . . and your quarters."

"Combined with the rest of your detail." Abigail continued, "we can keep you safe out there on the military reservation—none of the fugitives should be able to even get on the base, much less near you. And if they do, the 7th​ Kommando, base security, and your detail are authorized to respond with lethal force."

She sighed and shook her head. "It's not ideal. I'd rather have you and Dr. Tyrell down in the bowels of Fort Locke—in the deepest and most secure bunker we have here on New Vallis, with a battalion of infantry for perimeter security and my best people and your detail for close-in security. I can make certain that no one could get to either of you." She paused and shook her head again. "But if wishes were horses, everyone would ride. Having you two out on the military reservation is a good second choice, but it is still dangerous."

"What isn't in this life?" asked Edward. "Special Agent Carnes, there has not been a day in my life since I was old enough to realize reality for what it is that I haven't known that I am a target for someone who wants to hurt my father. Every day is a risk and just going outside to a restaurant for a meal might be dangerous and deadly—but I am not going to let these bastards win by locking myself and my family away from the world. They can kill me. They can hurt or kill people I love. But they won't break me and they won't stop me and mine from living our lives to the fullest extent we can and cherishing every minute of this life we have together."

"Well said, son." Corey chimed in. "Okay. I've got transport waiting out front for you."

Edward smiled, and he shook his head. "I've got a better idea, Uncle Corey. Jon?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Signal Subaltern Kennedy aboard Black Bull. Tell him that that we are deploying the 'Mech and armored companies now—and find transport for the infantry component of the detail and the close-in security detachement—weapons hot and live ammunition loaded in all magazines And have the Techs get my 'Mech and yours ready. Bastards want to take a shot at me? Well, I'll be in the cockpit of a Thunderbolt if they decide they want to die today."

Corey laughed. "Not even the CRP are crazy enough to take on fourteen 'Mechs, eighteen Rattlesnakes, and a company of the best-damned jump infantry troopers that the Concordat can field—much less the agents from the Protector's Own. Governor Hampton will have a cow about what you are going to do to the streets of Port Sheridan, but I can live with that Edward!"

"In that case, Uncle Corey." Edward replied as he stood, "I think Jon and I need to go back aboard Black Bull and get ready."

"Godspeed, son. Godspeed." Corey answered and he and Abigail stood as well.

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