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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 33 - By the Horns[]

JumpShip, FSJS Bonecrusher
Nadir Point, New Syrtis
Federated Suns
November 6th, 3025

Stephan Cooper drummed his fingers on the arm of the observer’s chair aboard the Monolith-class command JumpShip Bonecrusher, assigned so many decades ago as the lead transport for his Assault Guards. He snorted. His. Yeah, in name only—and only until Marshal Ashley managed to come running and take it away again. But what choice did he have? In the absence of orders from New Avalon, Field Marshal and Duke Hasek-Davion was the command authority in the Capellan March.

Damn it. He wasn’t supposed to be the one making these decisions; Winston Ashley would have told Michael Hasek-Davion to go fuck himself—he had the connections with the Court on New Avalon that would have kept him from facing a courts-martial. But not Stephan Cooper, Coop thought as he sighed. No, I just started my climb on the ladder of rank—hell, I’ve been a Colonel for only four bloody months! Other officers—Generals Ames and Gavin, the COs of the Infantry and Armor Brigades, respectively—outranked him, but tradition held that in the absence of the RCT commander and executive officer (Major General Erin Sorensen having retired last month and had yet to be replaced), the CO of the BattleMech Regiment at the heart of the Guards RCT was the acting commander. Cooper’s Regiment.

“Sir,” a rating called out from his station. “The final transport from the Sixth has completed their jump—we are next in the queue.”

“Very good,” replied the commanding officer of Bonecrusher. “Time to scheduled jump?”

“Three minutes with all transports jumping in sequence.”

“Start the clock—Bonecrusher will take the rear.”

“Status change! Emergence in the entry lane—clear of our safety perimeter, Sir!” tracking snapped.

Coop breathed a sigh of relief—the vast majority of ships were well aware that New Syrtis, indeed most civilized systems, had a designated area of the two major jump points for incoming and a separate one for out-going vessels. But there were always morons who violated the protocol . . . and when that occurred, if the incoming JumpShip emerged too close to an outbound vessel BAD THINGS tended to happen.

The communications Tech tensed at her station, and then she rotated her chair. “Skipper! The new arrival is broadcasting an omni-directional radio signal—SWORD encryption protocols, attention all AFFS vessels.”

“Authenticate, confirm, and decrypt!” barked out Stephan Cooper as he spat out a swallow of coffee. SWORD protocols were used only for dispatches directly from the First Prince of the Federated Suns.

“Authenticated and confirmed—computers are decrypting transmission . . . now.”

Over the ship’s speakers, a very familiar voice—that of Hanse Davion—began to play. “All AFFS units of the Capellan March—this is the First Prince of the Federated Suns. Stand down any and all offensive action into the territory of the Taurian Concordat effective immediately. Return to your normal garrison stations and await further instructions—disregard this order at your peril; I will consider any unit of the AFFS that violates this instruction to be in the act of mutiny against the Federated Suns and will pursue action against that unit and their officers accordingly. The Federated Suns and Taurian Concordat remain at peace—any offensive action against worlds of the Taurian Concordat is in direct violation of my authority. In addition, Duke Michael Hasek-Davion is to be immediately placed under arrest and transported to New Avalon on the first available transport. There he will be tried for conspiracy with Maximillian Liao against the Federated Suns and their rightful Prince. To repeat, . . .,” and the words began to repeat themselves.

“SIR! General Ames is demanding to speak with you!” the comm Tech shouted. “General Gavin, as well!”

Cooper closed his eyes. “Put me on the all-ships frequency,” he ordered. “All Crusher elements—this is Crusher Alpha-Six. Abort jump. I say again, abort jump! Stand by to receive new jump coordinates to our garrison station on Frazer.”

The Davion officer opened his eyes and turned his chair to the commanding officer of the JumpShip—that man nodded and snapped his fingers; techs and specialists raced to recalculate the jump coordinates.

“Commander Hale,” Coop said quietly. “Are all units complying with the message from Prince Davion?”

1st Dragoons and New Syrtis CMM have stood down—the Fifth and Eighth Fusiliers are arguing with the courier over the legitimacy of the order.”

“Open mike,” he commanded. “All Crusher and Lion elements,” he began, referring to the Dragoons and his own Assault Guards, “launch ASF contingents and prepare to embark boarding parties to take the Fusilier JumpShips. Syrtis Fusiliers,” he continued, “you will stand down or you will be fired into.”

Calls of protest arrived over the speakers, but Stephan Cooper just shook his head. “Marshals Hasek, I don’t give a shit if you think that the First Prince cannot issue those orders—he has! And by God and Davion, madames, I will fire nto the first one of your ships to attempt to make a jump—stand by to be boarded! You will receive new navigation coordinates to return to your assigned stations.” And with that, Coop made a slashing gesture, and the comm tech cut the radio broadcast.

“What about the Sixth? And Duke Michael? They’ve already departed,” asked the CO of Bonecrusher in a whispered voice.

“Frankly, Commander Hale, I don’t give a damn what happens to them,” Coop answered just as quietly.

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