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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 50 - By the Horns[]

Transient Mercenary Reservation
Port Sheridan, New Vallis
Taurian Concordat
November 21st, 3025

“I don’t like this, Marshal,” muttered Major Ann Adelmana as she took a seat next to Ardan Sortek and picked at the plate lunch that her hosts had delivered to the mercenaries of the Foxhounds—otherwise known as the 2nd Battalion of the Davion Heavy Guards RCT. “I don’t like this one bit.”

“The slaw is good, Major,” Ardan snorted with amusement, “and the sauce that they drenched this meat in is delightful,” and then his voice turned serious. “Although, I do think it would behoove us to remember that I am no longer a Marshal in the AFFS—just the Colonel commanding this mercenary venture . . . at least while we are here on the surface of a Taurian world surrounded by TDF formations.”

Ann winced and she nodded. “Sorry, Colonel,” she stressed the second word heavily. “I wasn’t talking about the food, however,” she said as she lifted a forkful of the shredded meat and took a cautious bite. Her expression changed and she nodded as her eyes grew wide. “That is good,” she expressed in surprise after she swallowed. “Lamb?”

“Some local critter, I’m given to understand,” Ardan answered. “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to—that is my philosophy in life, Major.” Ardan sat back and he sighed. “I know the boys and girls aren’t used to this, Ann—being grounded here in this segregated area, walled off from the rest of the city and the other defenders. And yes, the Taurians have manned those turrets on the walls and the bunkers—and they are watching us, not the approaches.”

“If they decide to turn hostile,” she whispered, “we’ll take heavy damage even before we can begin to mount a response.”

“They won’t—I have Edward’s word on the matter and Thomas gave him carte blanche . . . Edward sent me a copy of the message.”

“They are all so bloody paranoid,” she whispered after chewing another mouthful of the dish Taurians had called Sheridan’s BBQ (whatever that stood for) Mash, followed by a quick sip of the ice cold tea (with floating slices of oranges instead of lemons!) to kill the heat from the spices.

“Can you blame them? Trying mixing it with the slaw—it cools it off a bit.”

Ann frowned. “What the devil is slaw anyway?” she asked as she mixed some with the meat and beans.

“The servers said it was a salad of shredded cabbage, carrots, apples, plums, remoulade, vinegar, and soured cream—it isn’t bad and serves as a good counter-point to the spiciness of the meat.” Ardan chuckled. “This is the New Vallis variant—apparently, there are as many slaw configurations in the Concordat as there are planets. It seems to be a common side dish.”

“Different,” Ann mumbled as she chewed it slowly, “and you’re right, Sir. It does kill the heat.” She paused and then whispered. “Michael’s late—and many of those TDF officers I met yesterday are half-convinced this whole thing is a ploy to get Thomas and Edward feeling obligated to Hanse.”

“I know,” Ardan sighed. “We know that Iona Hasek and her Eighth Fusiliers were scheduled to begin landings five hours ago—but Michael and the Sixth hasn’t shown up yet. I’m hoping,” and Ardan winced as he said it, “that it was either a delay in transit or Michael was trying to be clever.”

Ann frowned.

“Knowing Michael Hasek-Davion—who is the greatest strategist since Alexander Davion, according to Michael Hasek-Davion—I don’t doubt that he was planning on having the Eighth hit planet to get the attention of the defenders, and then pop out at one of the pirate points and come burning in as the cavalry to the rescue. If everything went perfectly, he would be hitting the TDF from two sides with forces that should have grossly outmatched the defenders.”

“That looks good on paper, Colonel,” Ann said shaking her head, “but on the field? Against an opponent that doesn’t always respond in the exact manner you are depending on? That’s a recipe for defeat in detail—unless you are the second coming of Alexander with the tactical acumen of a Napoleon to boot.”

“Michael thinks that he is,” Ardan answered. “Like I said, I wouldn’t put it past him.”

“And what if it isn’t a delay or some grand scheme? What then? What if Michael has received word of Hanse’s proclamation from a courier that we don’t know about?”

“Then if he is smart he will stay the hell away from New Vallis,” Ardan said after a moment. “He will have three choices—first, he can go back to New Syrtis and dare Prince Davion to try and remove him. It would be civil war in that case because Michael has a lot of support in the Capellan March. Second, he can go renegade and turn pirate or mercenary—although that is a long shot. Third . . .,” and Ardan’s voice tapered off.


Ardan sighed. “Major, we have . . . suggestions . . . that Michael is in bed with Max Liao. Not hard proof—just indications. He might well jump across the border with the Sixth and take refuge in the Confederation—possibly as an overture to trying to wrest the March away from the Federated Suns and form a splinter state of his own . . . which would, in effect, be nothing more than an appendage of the CapCom.”

“If he turns traitor, the March won’t follow him,” Ann protested.

“Not all of it, no,” agreed Ardan. “But some worlds will—and so will some AFFS units. Not just the Fusiliers, Ann.”

She began to open her mouth but at that moment a Taurian officer approached the table and handed Ardan a folded note. Ardan took it, read it, and then he nodded.

“Tell him I will be there in five minutes,” he said as he patted his lips with his napkin and stood. Ann stood as well. “FOXHOUNDS!” Ardan bellowed. “The Sixth have just arrived at the L4 Trojan jump-point. Ann,” he turned to the Major, “get them saddled up—I have to meet with Edward and his command people.”

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