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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 61 - By the Horns[]

Sixth Syrtis Fusiliers RCT Field HQ
Tabernas Wastelands, New Vallis
Taurian Concordat
November 22nd, 3025

“How many are following Slocum?” Michael Hasek-Davion gritted his teeth as he asked his staff the question.

There was a pause and the men and women in his command center looked at each other before one sighed. “Your Grace, every unit—except for your own command headquarters—has reported at least a few desertions. The ‘Mech battalions and armored regiments have the fewest . . . but we have lost the entire support command and nearly half of the infantry.”

“Damn that traitor Russert,” Michael hissed as he stared down at the map. Then he glared at his aerospace commander. “Can your fighters get to his DropShips while he is in the air?”

“No, Your Grace—they have already lifted off and should be landing at Edward’s surrender coordinates now.”

Michael didn’t respond; he just looked at the map and then he nodded. “We need to show those peasants that Edward’s offer is false—that he means to kill them all. Otherwise, gentlemen, we will piss away our strength to the point where we stand no chance of taking Port Sheridan and holding until relief arrives.”

“Relief, my Lord?” one of the armor commanders asked in a sudden start.

The corners of Michael’s mouth twitched. “Relief, Tom. Whether it comes from my supporters in the March or from . . . other avenues, we will receive reinforcements. But we must hold the Sixth together until they arrive,” he finished as he considered the map. And then he nodded.

“How will our soldiers react if they see Edward has used this surrender point as a trap to eliminate our assets? If say, the boy prince of Taurus instead of putting them to work in a POW camp or penal colony instead just drops a nuclear weapon atop of them?” Gasps erupted from the staff and line officers alike, and Michael ginned. “We know that the Taurians have an obsession with weapons of mass destruction—what happens if Eddie boy drops one right atop of Slocum?”

“He won’t, Your Grace,” stated Karl Oldendorf bluntly. “He’s not that stupid—if he did, the Fusiliers that survived would never surrender; they would fight to the death because that would be the only choice they had.”

“Yes, they would, wouldn’t they?” Michael agreed with a broad smile on his face. “I want an ASF strike package assembled—if the Taurians play true to form, they will intercept us as we head to hit Slocum.” Michael paused and he smiled. “And who’s to say which side drops the nuke atop of that traitor? Am I understood?”

Nods answered the Duke and Michael sighed. “Of course, we open ourselves up to counter-attack . . . which is why we must launch our ground offensive immediately. The Sixth must break through the Taurian defenses and secure Port Sheridan to keep Edward’s people from nuking us in retaliation.”

“That won’t be easy,” the Fusiliers executive officer, Major General Orville Corn said slowly. “The scouts are reporting dense minefields and prepared positions between us and the Port—with ‘Mechs and armor in place defending, along with infantry and artillery.”

“We aren’t going to charge in like the Light Brigade, gentlemen,” Michael shook his head. “We have enough anti-mine munitions in the field artillery to clear a path—and every fighter, both aerospace and conventional—that isn’t delivering our message to Slocum and Edward—will be concentrated here,” he said pointed at the map.

“There are weaker points on their defensive line,” one of the armor battalion commanders mused.

“Which are intended to draw us into a trap—those weak points will let the Taurians catch our formations in an enfilade with entrenched forces on our flanks . . . and more defenses on the far side. No,” Michael ordered as he tapped the map. “We won’t play their game—we will hit them here and smash right through them after the artillery clears us a lane. If we are fast enough, if we are good enough, we can get inside Port Sheridan before they redeploy and hold it until our relief arrives. Make no mistake, gentlemen,” Michael said in a grim voice. “If we fail to accomplish this task, each and every one of us are dead—we have to take those civilians as shields and secure the parts and provisions in their warehouses or we have no chance whatsoever. Between the simple fact that we are in a vise and ‘Edward’s’ first use of nuclear weapons on Slocum, you should have all that you need to amply motivate your men.”

There was a moment of silence and then—one-by-one—the senior officers began to nod their agreement. “Then let’s get cracking.”

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