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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 37 - By the Horns[]


General Headquarters, Taurus Defense Force
Mount Santiago Defense Complex, Taurus
Taurian Concordat
November 10th, 3025


“Henri, I think your plan to dangle irresistible bait in front of everyone has managed to work rather too well,” Thomas Calderon growled after his Minister of Intelligence completed the briefing on the incident just off-campus of the University last evening. “We have ROM agents still unaccounted for on Taurus, and now you’ve got teams from the Maskirovka, MI-4, MIM, and SAFE running around shooting officers of the law and trying to kill each other in a public store! All we are missing is LIC and the ISF.”

“Actually, we’ve identified the Lyran Intelligence Corps team—they are taking the slow and methodical, but traditional, approach of attempting to bribe several of our senior research scientists. And I am quite convinced that an ISF is present . . . we just haven’t seen them yet, Protector Calderon. And you left out the Outworlders,” Henri finished with a smile.

Thomas buried his face in his hands. “We have a team of spies from the Outworlds Alliance that are trying to get to the Core as well?”

“Two of their agents—Fitz-Hume and Milbarge—landed on Taurus three days ago. Right now, they are convinced that the facility at the University is a decoy and that we are actually hiding the Core in the Calderon Nature Preserve on Gamma Continent.”

Thomas blinked. “The preserve is uninhabited and untouched—there aren’t any people living there!”

“Yes, and they are convinced the entire Nature Preserve is a cover to shield a secret facility dedicated to recovering lost technological secrets—I believe that they are in the process of hiring a boat to carry them across.”

The Protector groaned. “Henri, I want them all identified—we’ve got dead Taurians on our hands and I want these teams shut down hard.”

“If we do that, my Lord, then they will be back—and we will not have as much of an opportunity to identify them ahead of time. Last night’s incident was not planned—that much I am certain of. Messer Krogh was the triggering catalyst, but he is the SAFE liaison to the Marik Embassy—not a part of their team. After speaking with Messer Krogh for some hours last night, I am convinced that his own people shut him out of the loop, leaving him to try and abduct one of his competitors to find out what is going on in his backyard.”

“Henri,” Thomas growled, but he quieted as Henri held up one hand and bowed his head.

“If you insist, Protector Thomas, I will comply. However, none of these teams have yet made a run at the Core. I would suggest that we wait—perhaps even allow one of the teams to be ‘successful’ in their attempt—until they are convinced that one of the others has succeeded or the Core has been destroyed.”

Thomas grunted as he slowly shook his head. “I’d rather see them hung.”

“We can arrange that if you wish, Protector Calderon,” Henri answered with a laugh. “Starting with Messer Krogh.”

“Erebor?” asked Thomas.

“Quiet as a mouse—that information has not leaked. And our teams report that they have finished making the first copy of the Core’s data.” Henri shook his head. “The amount of information is staggering, Thomas. It will be years before we manage to process it all—if not decades.”

For several moments neither man said a word, and then Thomas sighed. “I’m not happy with this, Henri. Taurian citizens are dying—I’m not happy one bit. But for now—for now—we will play it your way. How’s Commander Fletcher coming with the HPG?”

Henri smiled broadly. “He is cursing all Terrans ever born, my Protector. But he believes that by tonight, he should have the HPG on Taurus fully operational,” Henri paused. “Not to the quality standard that ComStar had, perhaps, but good enough. In fact, last week he dispatched a team to New Vandenberg to rebuild their HPG as well—if both of the modifications prove workable, we can begin to restore communications between our worlds that possess an HPG—without relying on an outside source that will read our mail.”

“Good. The sooner we get reliable communications back up and running the better I will sleep at night,” Thomas said in a tired voice. “Any word from Ed- . . .,” but the Protector was interrupted by a stream of officers flooding into the room. “What is it, Brenda?” Thomas asked.

“Protector Calderon. Commander Fletcher’s rebuilt HPGs apparently work—we have just received a transmission from New Vandenberg . . . courier ships from Laconis and MacLeod’s Land have reported that those systems are under attack by forces of the Capellan Confederation—multiple regiments of McCarron’s Armored Cavalry, supported by a handful of Capellan House troops.”


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