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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 52 - By the Horns[]

DropShip, FSDS Damien Hasek
Inbound for Drop, New Vallis
Taurian Concordat
November 21st, 3025

Michael cursed as the recorded voice of his brother-in-law finished its damning indictment of the Sixth Fusiliers—and of Michael himself. But the receiver was silent for just a moment; it crackled and then came to life once again.

“I am Edward Calderon, the eldest son of Protector Thomas Calderon, and the man charged with defending New Vallis against all threats, foreign or domestic. I offer one chance at life to the raiders who are now entering our atmosphere—one opportunity to avoid committing suicide. As that recording shows, you are now stateless men and women—pirates and mutineers, renegades and traitors. Your reinforcements have already been stopped—the Eighth Fusiliers will not arrive to provide you with relief. Your intelligence reports are in error—there are not two Taurian battalions of ‘Mechs on the surface—there are instead TEN of your own battalions worth of BattleMechs. And should you, somehow, manage to overcome all of the odds against you and prevail; should you manage to accomplish this miracle—where will you go?”

Edward’s voice paused. “Take a good look at your sensors—look at your JumpShips . . . oh, wait, those JumpShips no longer belong to you. The Taurian Concordat Navy has seized them and is prepared to give unto my command orbital fire support should that be required.”

Michael ground his teeth together, and he slammed one fist against the console of his ‘Mech.

“Surrender and you will be tried—the vast majority of you will be sentenced to five years of labor in a Concordat penal colony. After which, you will be free to return home; need I remind you that dead men have no need to ever again return home? Those who choose to accept my offer of surrender will divert and land at the following coordinates . . . ,” and the voice gave a series of numbers that indicated a point on the map some two hundred kilometers from Michael’s drop-zone.

“Should you not accept this most gracious offer made by the Concordat to men and women who are actively engaged in assaulting one of our worlds . . . should you not desire to live for tomorrow, your wish will be granted. We will wage war against you to the knife—each and every one of you will die . . . whether that death comes on the battlefield or on the gallows will make no difference.”

Once again the voice paused, and then it resumed. “All of this, I swear upon my honor, my name, and my authority to be true—I am Edward Calderon and I await your answer.”

Michael’s mind raced and then he nodded and opened his own transmitter. “Fusiliers! My own Sixth Syrtis Fusiliers,” he cried out. “The First Prince of the Federated Suns has finally revealed his true colors as a despot—an event of which I have warned time and time again. We know the Taurians by reputation . . . we know that they are liars and murderous scum; do you think this offer is genuine? Your tanks, your weapons, your ‘Mechs, your fighters—they will keep these and send you to carve out a new world from a verdant Hell. And in five years, just one in ten of you, if that, will survive to be released—penniless to make your way home.”

Fusiliers! The House of Hasek is much loved in the Marches—my people will answer our need. They will not permit this atrocity—they will rise up and support their rightful Duke! They will support YOU whom my accursed brother-in-law has slandered with this deliberate LIE! Aid will come; reinforcements will arrive. The Taurians have not ten battalions to deploy on this world below us—this is still a fight which we can win through. A fight that is but the first step in returning home to New Syrtis and deposing the Tyrant of New Avalon!”

“You know me, my Fusiliers—my beloved Fusiliers. And I am with you today, not shirking my duty in a Palace far from the frontiers. Here, now, I am with YOU. They fear us, my Fusiliers—and they seek to diminish our strength by diluting it to defeat us in detail. NEVER! They will FAIL, my brothers! They will FALL, my sisters! Because this system belonged to us the moment we arrived—they cannot hope to stand against our skill at arms—a strength and skill of arms not equaled by even the vaunted Brigade of Guards!”

Fusiliers,” he pleaded in his most charismatic voice, “I ask you to stand with me in this hour of our—all of our—need. But no tyrant, am I—no despot sitting on a distant throne and sending men and women to die in my name. If it is your will that I die at the hands of these Taurians, if you trust this Prince Edward will enslave you for five years and then send you along your merry way as if nothing had happened; if it is these things that you believe, my Fusiliers, my brothers, my sisters, then offer them your surrender. Give them your ancestral ‘Mech, your tank, your fighter, you guns and knives.”

“I do not believe that you are such meek sheep—to fold at the first signs of impotent bluster coming from an untested boy! But I will abide by your decision—today, you determine my fate, Fusiliers. Make. Your. Choice.”

And with that, Michael cut his transmitter and began to hold his breath. For long seconds, no one spoke, but then a tenor voice cut into the net.

“The Second Syrtis ‘Mech Battalion stands with Duke Michael.”

And then another. “As does the 217th Syrtis Armored Regiment!”

“And the 344th Strike Wing!”

“The Syrtis Carronades!”

“The First Syrtis Royals!”

And then a chorus of voices came over the receiver—and Michael smiled. He keyed the transmitter.

“Very well, Fusiliers—today we may dine in Hell, but our foes will be there before us! Glory or Death, Honored Sixth!” Michael roared as the bay doors began to open and the howling wind entered the DropShip bays. “Let us show these Periphery barbarians the true might of The Duke’s Own!”

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