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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 14 - By the Horns[]

Taurian Concordat Navy DropShip Black Bull
Samantha City Spaceport, Taurus
Taurian Concordat
October 22nd, 3025

Space Master Anton Lefebvre stood as his passenger entered the compact bridge of the DropShip reserved for the use of the Protector of the Taurian Concordat. “Lord Calderon,” he greeted the young man with a salute. “The Protector wishes to speak with you before departure."

“Thank you, Space Master,” Edward replied with a nod—not saluting in return since he was (technically) not acting in his role as a TDF officer today. No, for today and the duration of this assignment, he was instead the Protector’s Heir and designated Special Ambassador to the Federated Suns. “Open a channel, if you please.”

Anton nodded and snapped his fingers—the highly experienced crew was already anticipating the order and in short order the image of Thomas Calderon appeared on several monitors.

“Ah, Edward,” he said as he saw Edward’s image appear on an identical screen within the palace. “I-I,” he stuttered and then paused, and Edward blinked.

“It’s okay, Pop,” he said softly. “I know how far go I’m allowed to go in the negotiations—and you’ve given me the best pack of bodyguards in the Concordat. We’ll do you proud—we’ll do the Concordat proud.” Indeed, the old Fortress-class vessel was filled to capacity with a two companies of the elite First Battalion of the Taurian Guards, one ‘Mech and one Armored, supported by ninety of the finest infantry troopers that the Concordat could fill. Plus, one of the Concordat’s rare Union-class marine assault carriers—the ‘Mech carrier heavily refitted to carry eight Aerospace Fighters, four small craft, and a company of zero-G Marines—was assigned as escort.

Thomas swallowed and then he nodded. “I know you will, son,” he whispered. “God speed—and good hunting.” Thomas paused again and then he shook his head. “Lord knows, I told myself I wouldn’t mass a fuss over this—but you come back, understand? You come back home after this is done, boy. And in one piece.”

“That’s the plan,” Edward whispered as he swallowed a lump in his throat, and Thomas nodded, his one organic eye shining with unshed tears. Then the image abruptly ended as the Protector cut the transmission.

“Space Master Lefebvre,” the young man said after a moment. “I will return to my quarters—you are authorized to lift at your convenience for transit to Gateway and docking with the JumpShip Auroch.”

“Sir,” the veteran officer said simply as he remained standing until Edward Calderon had been escorted from the bridge. “Comm, inform Taurus Flight Control that we are ready for boost to orbit—confirm that our flight-space is clear and our escort is standing by.”

“Flight confirms we are go for launch, Sir—Onslaught is holding in planetary orbit to match vectors and velocity.”

Anton nodded crisply as he sat down and secured his safety straps about him. “Sound acceleration warning and begin sixty-second countdown to main engine ignition.”

A loud WHOOP, WHOOP, WHOOP echoed through the ship as the klaxon wailed its message; alerting all of those onboard that take-off was imminent. “All hands, we are at T minus fifty-five seconds until launch—stand-by for acceleration boost to orbit,” the Comms rating broadcast.

Black Bull shuddered as fuel pumps began to circulate the fuel prior to ignition; Anton looked down at his instruments and he nodded.

“T minus thirty seconds,” the intercom broadcast.

“Power, life support, and comm umbilicals have been retracted,” reported a rating from the engineering station. “We are on internal power and comms—all systems green for launch.”

“T minus twenty seconds.”

“Set laser igniters for automatic firing,” Anton ordered, “fuel flow to maximum.”

“Aye, Sir, igniters to automatic, fuel flow to maximum.”

“T minus ten seconds. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five.”

“Ignition!” screamed a voice from engineering as the fusion drives lit off and the DropShip shook.

“Four. Three. Two. One. Lift-off!”

The building thrust from the drive pods began to lift the six thousand tons of metal and alloys, slowly at first, but increasing exponentially every fraction of a second. The ship shuddered and shook and rattled, but it lifted on columns of fire and streaked away toward the distant sky.

“Passing fifteen thousand,” the maneuvering officer reported. “All engines at max thrust.”

“Taurus Flight reports we are in the corridor and looking good,” said comms.

“Approaching Max-Q,” engineering snapped as Anton watched the altimeter climbing faster-and-faster. The most dangerous portion of any ascent, max-Q was when the dynamic aerodynamic stresses on the DropShip reached their maximum—a failure of the any system at this point could be catastrophic.

“Stand by to reduce main engine thrust to 60% power at Max-Q,” Anton ordered, “in three . . . two . . . one . . . MAX-Q!”

“Powering down to 60% on mains One through Five, skipper,” maneuvering barked. “All systems still green—passing forty-five thousand and still climbing!”

The thundering of the drives roared through the ship, but ahead of them, through the viewports, Anton could see the sky fading away to the deep black of space. And he released a breath he hadn’t quite realized he was holding.

“Approaching MECO,” engineering reported as the DropShip near the moment for main-engine cut-off and a stable orbit. “In three . . . two . . . one . . . MECO!”

And with that, the roar of the engines died and Black Bull coasted along in orbit above Taurus.

DropShips (leaving planet) (Farseer Animation)

Union Class DropShip departing

“Comm, signal Onslaught that we will await them to match vector and velocity before we begin transit to Gateway,” Anton ordered.

“Aye, Sir. Onslaught reports they will come alongside in two minutes.”

“Outstanding, people,” the DropShip commander said warmly. Now, we just have to protect the Heir all the frigging way to New Avalon—seventeen jumps.

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