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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 18 - By the Horns[]


ComStar HPG Station Prime
Hilton Head Island, North America
Terra
October 24th, 3025


“And now we wait,” said the Primus as the transmission ended and the lights slowly brightened in the central hub of the HPG network. “Your thoughts, Precentor ROM?”

Nicholas sighed. “I am worried that we went too far—pushed Thomas too much. You all but admitted to him that we are reading their mail, Primus!”

“In a conversation which he has no proof of—no copies, no data. Just his word against that of ComStar . . . following an incident in which his troops slaughtered our people.” Julian smiled. “That was nicely done, by the way, Nicholas—how long have you had Boris Tharn on our payroll?”

“A few years, now, Primus,” Precentor ROM answered with a grateful bow. “Although he wasn’t expecting the retirement package he received—still,” Nicholas mused, “it would not have been possible if you had not altered Shraplen’s message to push him into attacking the facility. Certainly his troops would have not have followed him without that order.”

Julian smiled. And then the smile faded as another—bitter—voice spoke up.

“Yet, you did not address the Data Core,” Myndo Waterly spat. “We could have wrapped up this entire operation in one fell swoop had you insisted upon that as well.”

“THAT would have pushed Thomas over the edge, Precentor Dieron,” Julian snapped back. “And it would have risked revealing to the entire human race that we—ComStar—are engaged in stopping technological progress of all of the Houses both Great and Minor alike! ROM will destroy the Core, preventing the dissemination of technology—demanding that it be surrendered would have been one demand too many, yes?”

“I disagree,” Myndo said as she shook her head. “We are talking about the Taurians here—a minor power with little, if any, ability to defy you. A Great House—perhaps. Perhaps, a Great House would have stood against you, but Thomas Calderon? A broken man leading a broken people, clinging to delusions of greatness from four centuries ago? No. He would have complied with your demands because he knows that is the only way he can preserve his Concordat.”

“They fought the Star League for twenty years when all they had to do to stop the conflict was to join the League, Precentor Dieron,” Nicholas said. Myndo Waterly spun around, and she sneered.

“I did not ask for your opinion, Precentor ROM—speak when you are spoken to! Unless you wish that tongue removed!”

“I am pleased with Nicholas at this moment, Precentor Dieron,” Julian snapped again. “In fact, I would hear more—Nicholas?”

Nicholas swallowed and he nodded and then composed his thoughts. “Thomas might be no Nicoletta or Henry or Mitchell . . . but he is a Calderon. If we push him too far, too fast, there is a good chance that he will simply say ‘fuck it’, and strike back at us—the consequences be damned. Threatening an Interdiction against a Great House with four or five hundred star systems is one thing—the Concordat has just twenty-eight inhabited star systems outside of the Hyades Nebula. Twenty-eight, Primus, Precentor Dieron. Half of those lack HPG Stations to begin with. Because of that, Thomas already maintains a courier system in place—inefficient, yes. But he has enough JumpShips that he can keep one or two stationed at every system. I fear that our Interdiction threat might not be received in the same light as a Great House where you can cut the communications lifeline on ten or twenty times as many worlds.”

“You fear too much, Precentor ROM,” Myndo sneered. “Thomas will be cowed by this threat—and even if he is not, his friend Grover was certainly . . . vocal enough about his displeasure over Thomas’ brat and his covert mission to New Avalon. Though I do wish that he had complained about the specifics more to Tharn—still, it is enough to know that Edward Calderon is en route. If Interdiction will not deter Thomas, then perhaps holding his eldest son and heir as hostage will,” she mused.

Nicholas winced. “Precentor—Primus. My personnel are already occupied with planning operations against that ship and the Data Core—adding another high-risk mission . . .,” he began.

“I wasn’t asking for your personnel, Nicholas,” Myndo cooed. “I am handling this particular tangent myself. With the permission of the Primus, of course.”

“Of course,” Julian answered with a slight frown. “Alive, Myndo,” he enunciated very slowly. “Alive and unharmed—Thomas Calderon is already unstable, and I doubt that news of the death of his eldest son and heir at our hands would result in a change of this situation to our liking.”

“Oh, do not worry, Primus,” Myndo answered with a smile. “Soon enough he will be in our clutches—and then, whether or not Thomas chooses to cooperate, we can . . . instruct Edward. Make him believe in Blake and the supremacy of ComStar.”

“Brainwash him,” muttered Nicholas. “Not a reliable technique.”

“Where is your faith, Precentor ROM?” Myndo hissed. “Once we have Edward and he is one of us, then we have little need of Thomas should he prove . . . intransigent, I believe was the word that you used, Primus.”

Julian nodded. “We have many arrows in our quiver—best to use them all to make certain that this Memory Core does not spur a technological renaissance.” He sighed. “Very well, Myndo. Edward is yours to toy with—do not make me regret this.”

“Why, never, Primus,” she chuckled, and then left the two men behind her. For a moment there was silence, and then the Primus said a single word.

“Nicholas?”

Precentor ROM sighed. “Yes Primus. I will have my people watch hers—closely.”

“Good, Nicholas.”

“I remain concerned about the ultimatum you delivered, Primus,” Nicholas pressed on. “I’d like permission to increase the threat alert of all of our operations in the Concordat—just in case.”

Julian considered. “You think Thomas might—in truth—attack ComStar, Nicholas?

The younger man sighed. “I don’t know—and that scares me. He can’t run the HPG stations—but he can certainly abduct our people and tear their knowledge from their bodies before dumping their corpses in the nearest star. Damn, I’d feel better if we had a few battalions of the ComGuard and Militia out there.”

The Primus nodded, frowning. “Do it. Put all of them on alert—but without being able to work the HPGs, I think we can discount an all-out attack. Your other idea—that sounds like Thomas to me. And no, we can’t deploy the CGM so quickly, but . . .,” the voice of the Primus trailed off. “We have hired mercenaries in the past to defend our installations. And there are some out there who would jump at such a safe contract. I will contact them, myself.”

“Yes, Primus,” Nicholas said with a bow as the Primus turned to go, but the older man stopped and stood in the entrance way.

“And despite what Myndo wants, Nicholas—I believe that we will leave the pot alone to cook for a while. We have too many spoons in the pudding as it is. Too many cooks arguing about the recipe. Time to leave it alone and trust our agents to do their jobs.”

“Yes, Primus—by your command.”


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