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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 17 - By the Horns[]

ComStar Class A HPG Station
Samantha City, Taurus
Taurian Concordat
October 24th, 3025

Thomas gritted his teeth as the robed figures searched him—physically patted him down! But he endured the indignity without a word as the Adepts and Acolytes completed the check for weapons, and their leader nodded.

“Your guards—they are not needed within the confines of this Holy Structure,” the man spoke from behind the folds of his hood. “Only you have authorization to pass this point, Protector Calderon.”

John MacLeod—the head of his security detail—bristled, but Thomas held up one hand. “Taurian law requires that the Protector be escorted, Adept.”

“Taurian law does not apply here within the Sanctum, Protector Calderon—only the Holy Writ of Blake and the will of the Primus. They shall remain at this juncture or you shall all be required to depart.”

Thomas glared at the man, but he forced himself to swallow the first answer that boiled to the surface of his brain. Telling the man to have intercourse with himself would not, after all, be in the best interests of the Concordat.

“Agent MacLeod,” he said at last, “you and the detail will remain here until my return—that is a direct order!”

“Yes, my Lord,” the body-guard answered through gritted teeth of his own.

“Then if you will follow me, please, Protector Calderon,” the Adept said with a wave of his arm.

The Adept led, and Thomas followed, trailed by three beefy looking fellows, who—despite their robes—obviously were security. Winding passageways led them deep within the domed structure that stood in the center of the ComStar compound—and Thomas inhaled deeply at the sight before him. A massive piece of machinery being swarmed over by Adepts and Acolytes, chanting lines of liturgy as they made adjustments to the control systems, filled the room to capacity; one long arm—resembling nothing else so much as a cannon of some sort—almost touching the hemi-spherical ceiling high above.

“That is the Hyper-Pulse Generator?” he asked.

“Indeed . . . it is the Sanctified and Divine Device through which communications is made possible—designed by the Blessed Blake as he wrote down his teachings which guide us to this day.”

Thomas stood there, and he gawked—until one of the three beefy men behind him pushed him forward. The Adept lowered his hood and he shook his head. “None of that, Acolyte—the Protector is a guest. Still, guests must abide by the restrictions their hosts place upon them. You are no Servant of the Blessed Blake, Protector Calderon—the Engines of his Magnificence and Holy Power are not yours to observe; you have had sufficient privilege to cast a merest glance upon them. This way,” he said, pointing towards a chamber set to one side.

The chamber was dim and the Adept ushered him within—to where Precentor Taurus stood waiting. “Ah, Protector Thomas; thank you for answering our request to attend us at this hour.”

“It was an offer that I literally could not refuse, Precentor,” Thomas answered slowly.

“Of course, you could have—if you wished to sign the death warrant of the Concordat,” the leader of the Taurus A Station replied with a smile. “If you will stand there,” and the Precentor indicated a circle upon the floor, “we are ready to proceed.”

Thomas stepped into the circle and the lights dimmed still more—then a light began to emerge from the darkness. It coalesced into the image of a man dressed in the purest of white robes—Julian Tiepolo, the Primus of ComStar.

“Thomas Calderon, I greet you in the Name of the Blessed Blake. Peace be upon your House this day.”

“Primus,” Thomas said simply with a bow of his head.

“Ah, you are almost a stereotype of Taurian intransigence and refusal to bow down to anyone. It has been too long since I have personally experienced such, Thomas.” And then the Primus’ face grew cold and somber. “But that is not what we are here to discuss this day, is it?”

“No, Primus, it is not. I can assure you that no orders originated on Taurus calling for an attack on the Jansen’s Hold compound—further, all those responsible will be identified and they will be punished for their actions; severely, I might add.”

“It is good to know that you take your responsibilities so gravely, Thomas—however, ComStar cannot allow such an affront to take place without . . . retribution.”

“We are prepared to offer restitution to ComStar for the facility and the loss of life,” Thomas said through jaws almost locked into place by his tense muscles.

“What value do you place upon a soul, Thomas? Eighty-eight of my people perished—eighty-eight souls who might have accomplished miracles in the future; now all have been cut short. Our neutrality has been violated, our territory intruded upon, our blood has been spilled. What price would you place on such?”

“That is for you to determine, Primus; we will, of course, offer to share all of our investigative findings with you on this matter.”

“Too little, too late,” Julian said with a grim smile. “My own advisors on the First Circuit tell me that you threaten the balance of power within Known Space, Thomas—combined with this attack, whose order most definitely originated from Taurus,” and Thomas hissed in shock, “these two together make Us question as to whether or not you desire to see peace . . . or if you are as blind as your fore-fathers and only want to see the Inner Sphere in flames?”

“This order—I did not authorize any such thing,” Thomas growled.

“Thomas, your name was not upon it; but I doubt that anyone would have dared to authorize such an action without your approval. Still, a Holy Interdiction of the Taurian Concordat will cause great pain and suffering to your people. Especially as we inform your neighbors that you are under Interdiction for Crimes waged against this Holy Order. Liao and Davion and the pirates of Tortuga will have a field day—and your forces will be isolated and alone; easy prey as they fall one world after the next.”

Thomas bit his tongue and he nodded. “What price do you demand as a starting point?”

“Am I a merchant to haggle, Thomas? No. I am PRIMUS of ComStar. You will pay full restitution for the reconstruction of the Class B HPG station on Jansen’s Hold—and pay full cost for the construction of a new Class B facility on another world. You will compensate the families of the dead for all of the future efforts which those Holy Servants were capable of making—and you will surrender unto US this WarShip which draws unto you greedy Successor Lords like flies drawn to honey.”

Thomas clenched his jaw. “The ship is ours—it belonged to Taurus before, it belongs to us now.”

“The ship will be the cause of your destruction, Thomas—I seek only to spare you and your people. ComStar does not desire this vessel for ourselves; indeed, we intend to cast it into your sun at the center of the Taurus system—to destroy it and remove from you the instrument which your enemies so greatly desire. With it gone, Peace shall have a renewed chance to flourish. Retain it . . . and you shall have more War and Pestilence and Famine,” and Julian smiled again, “and Death, oh, yes, Death; you shall have more of these things than you can possibly imagine, Thomas.”

The Protector swallowed and Julian raised his hood. “It is great burden, leading the Taurian people, Thomas. And it is difficult for you to accept that this must be done—but it must. And it shall be. If it is not, then a Holy Interdiction shall I declare upon your people and your worlds. Still, it is a shock to you, after all. I give you . . . four days—ninety-six hours in which to make your decision. I trust that you will come to the realization that only one course is the correct one—the true one; the one which will preserve the lives of your people, Thomas. Precentor Taurus will remain here to put you in contact with me at any time before the expiration of that dead-line. But my patience is not finite, Thomas—come the passing of that dead-line and Excommunicated from all messages you shall be.”

The image flickered and then it winked out. Thomas blinked, and he glared at Precentor Taurus, who just smirked—SMIRKED—at him. “Escort him out of this Holy Sanctum.”

Thomas didn’t say a word when he rejoined his guard detail; he didn’t say a word as they walked across the flag-stone lanes of the manicured ground; he didn’t say a word until after the ground car was sealed and swept for bugs and driving quickly away. When he did speak, it was but a single sentence, and then Thomas sat gazing out upon the capital city of his realm as the car traveled to home.

“Assemble the War Council—make certain that Helena Vickers and her people are present.”

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