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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 13 - By the Horns[]

Field Headquarters, Wolf’s Dragoons
Eisner Plateau, Capra
Draconis Combine
October 17th, 3025

Jaime Wolf leaned on the balcony railing as he stared out at the distant stars. Although well past sunset, the sounds of activity filled the mercenary compound. After all, there were always jobs to see to; repairs to be made; personnel to be replaced.

And Jaime sighed. Too many of his personnel had to be replaced over the years—far too many.

“Okay, Colonel, what the hell is wrong now?” the worried voice of Natasha Kerensky snapped Jaime Wolf out of his reverie.

“Not much, Natasha,” he said softly as he nodded at her and turned to look at the stars again.

“Like hell! The staff pukes are avoiding you like the plague and you are up here—where you always go—commiserating with the stars instead of a bottle.”

“I am not that bad . . . am I?” asked Jaime in a bemused tone.

Natasha frowned and she looked left, then right, then up, then down. Satisfied that no one was lurking in earshot, she cleared her throat and began to softly sing. “Gloom, despair, and agony on me—deep dark depression, excessive misery. If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all . . . gloom, despair, and agony on me,” she finished and cleared her throat again. “That’s you in a nutshell tonight, Jaime.”

“That bad, eh?”

“That bad, boss. So what’s got you looking towards home?”

And Jaime glared at Natasha, but the woman just smiled at him. And Jaime Wolf sighed again.

“I had a meeting with Indrahar earlier today.”

“Thought so, I saw him and his retinue leaving the compound. What did the good old half-fossilized Director of the ISF, Subhash Indrahar, want with you this time?”

“He was here on behalf on Takashi—to discuss a possible new raiding mission for the Dragoons.”

“Oh?” Natasha asked brightly. “I’m game, as long as it is more challenging than Quentin was—what’s the target?”

“Challenging . . . definitely the right word.”

“Come on, old man—what’s the target?”


Natasha Kerensky blinked. She opened her mouth and then she closed it again. Then it opened, and still without a word, she closed it once more. She blinked again.

“Taurus? Taurus? TAURUS? As in the bloody damned capital of the Taurian Concordat, that Taurus?”

“The one, the same, Widowmaker,” Jaime said, his lips twisted in a grim smile.

“Is Takashi absolutely insane?” she blurted.

“No, and someone has given him coordinates to an undefended jump point in the Taurus system . . . three guesses who, ‘Tasha.”

“Don’t need them. The not-so-local phone company, am I right, Colonel Sir?”

“That’s what WolfNet believes. And no, he’s not crazy; he’s actually . . . concerned, Natasha. Seems like the Taurians have hit the jackpot—they found and salvaged one of their Reunification War era Calderon-class Battleships; it jumped into Taurus sixteen days ago.”

Natasha sputtered. “I’ll bet ComStar is having FITS right now!”

“No wager, ‘Tasha. Everyone wants that ship—or at least wants to be sure if they can’t have that no one else does either. To make matters worse, the Taurians also have recovered a Memory Core from the same era.”

Natasha stepped up beside Jaime and leaned on the rail as she nodded. “That . . . might make carrying out Kerlin’s orders a bit easier, Jaime. Depending on what information is stored away inside there.”

“According to Indrahar: an idiot’s guide for building pre-Reunification War's WarShips—the Taurian edition; among other things.”

The Black Widow exhaled sharply. “Damn. Look, Jaime, I know I said I wanted something more challenging, but . . .,” she was interrupted by Jaime Wolf.

“I told him no. Then he asked about using the Kommando along with DEST in a run at the Core and I said again NO. He didn’t care for that. I do not expect that he hears that word used too often in his presence.”

“Yeah, I kinda of doubt it too,” she paused and then grinned. “Jaime. You know . . . we haven’t yet taken a contract with a Periphery state—I’m thinking Taurus is kind of lovely in the late spring/early summer months.”

“We already have a contract with the Dragon, Captain Kerensky.”

“Like they haven’t already given us a dozen reasons to invoke our escape clause; if we stick around, Samsonov is going to try and own us—damn me if he isn’t dumb enough to try it.”

Jaime snorted in agreement.

“You know,” Natasha said impishly, “if we were still sending reports back home, the Snow Ravens would go ape over the chance to fight a real-live Taurian battleship.”

“Yeah, until the Taurians break out their nuclear stockpile—then the Ravens would go absolutely berserk.”

“There is that,” Natasha said with a smile. “Why don’t people just like a good fight anymore?”

“Because most people are saner than you or I, Natasha.”

“True,” she answered with a smile. “Come on, Jaime, let’s go get drunk. And then we can go kill something—I don’t care what or who, just something!”

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