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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 11 - By the Horns[]


Sanctum of the Primus
Hilton Head Island, North America
Terra
October 13th, 3025


“Tell me, Demi-Precentor,” Julian said as he sipped his tea, “what would keep the Taurians from seeing this weapon coming at them?”

The young Omega Division researcher lowered his head and then he looked the Primus directly in the eyes—even as Nicholas Cassnew felt fresh beads of sweat forming. The six hour break had devolved into over two days, but maybe this was the solution that the Primus would favor, thought Precentor ROM. Certainly, it might be enough to save his own neck.

Demi-Precentor Walter Manson sighed, “I cannot guarantee that they won’t detect it, Primus,” he said bluntly. “However, they cannot watch ALL of their surrounding space. The drive package that our engineers will attach to the asteroid will create a visible plume for a very short time as it accelerates—that is our window of vulnerability. Afterwards, our chosen approach vector comes along a corridor where few asteroids originate. I might add, this method will be completely deniable.”

“And will they NOT detect the drive plume?” Julian asked as he sat down the cut of tea and rubbed his jaw.

“They will . . . but there are so many small craft and mining vessels in the Taurus system that the odds of them zeroing in on this single plume—far from any of the known jump points AND identifying the asteroid upon which the drive section will be installed is very remote.”

Julian nodded and he continued to rub his jaw. It was audacious; Manson had proposed selecting a nickel-iron asteroid some two hundred meters in diameter—and accelerating that piece of rock on a collision course for the Taurian WarShip. It was elegant and brutal . . . and it might well work.

“This will take time, Demi-Precentor—what if the Taurians move the ship?”

“Unlikely, Primus. For the next few months, their techs and engineers will be swarming over the vessel examining in a vain attempt to rediscover the secrets of that lost technology. They will training crews, mapping out the ships systems and wiring, taking weapons apart to learn how to construct them. And yes, it will take time—but so to will deploying our forces from here on Terra to Taurus in a raid that cannot be denied.”

“And if the asteroid misses?”

Manson and Nicholas exchanged a look, and then the Demi-Precentor shrugged. “If we aim the Sledgehammer correctly, it will not—but there is a . . . possibility that Taurus itself will hit by fragments afterwards—fragments that will impact with the force of a fusion warhead.”

Julian waved off that concern. “No one can make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, Demi-Precentor Mason. And the Core, Nicholas? What do you propose about that?”

Precentor ROM swallowed heavily. “I have alerted all available ROM teams within a hundred light-years of Taurus. We will find the Core—and destroy it.”

“Before they unlock it?”

“That is . . . unlikely, Primus,” Nicholas answered. “Taurian Cores of this era were designed with great paranoia—if the wrong access codes are entered, the entire Core will wipe itself clean. Destroying all data. They have to search their . . . incomplete,” Nicholas said with a smile, “archives to find the correct codes for the specific core that they have—or the overrides; information which the Star League mostly destroyed. It is possible that even possessing the Core, the Taurians may never be able to access it.” And Nicholas held up a hand as the Primus began to interject. “And it is possible, Primus, that they might—which means we must destroy it ourselves. I believe that we have a good chance of success on both fronts with this plan.”

Julian frowned and he leaned back, lifted his cup and saucer and took another sip. It was a complete plan of action—and far less risky to ComStar than attempting to use the Fleet. But would it be enough? He nodded his head. All things were risk—he knew that well after climbing the ladder of ambition in these treacherous ranks. The First Circuit would approve it—and Julian smirked, although Myndo would insist on using multiple rocks, probably to scour all life from the planetary surface. She was that blood-thirsty; even so, she still had her uses.

“Very well, and I intend to turn up the heat on Protector Thomas myself. Perhaps we can scare him into surrendering that vessel with the mere suggestion of an Interdiction.”

Nicholas winced. “Thomas will not give up the ship, Primus. He can’t, not even under that threat.”

“In that case, he will learn anew the lessons in a War where his enemies can communicate swiftly and his forces cannot.” Julian nodded, a crooked smile on his face. “Nicholas, I’m impressed—frankly, I thought you were a dead man two days ago. Now, I see there might be some small benefit to salvaging you and your career.”

“Thank you, Primus,” Precentor ROM whispered.

“Don’t thank me yet—you still have to brief the First Circuit, including Precentor Dieron. And she wants your head mounted on her wall—literally, Nicholas.”


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