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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 63 - By the Horns[]


Taurian Concordat Navy GuardShip Titan
Local Space, New Vallis System
Taurian Concordat
November 23rd, 3025


Sweat poured off the face of Space Master Liam Zahra as the immense—and aerodynamically unstable—DropShip plunged down into the atmosphere. Titan shuddered and she groaned with a metallic shriek as she was buffeted by the unyielding atmosphere.

“Main radar dish off-line!” a rating reported, then he paused. “The dish is gone—it tore off the hull.”

“Secondary arrays?” asked Zahra.

“Resolution degraded—but still with us, skipper.”

Alarms were beeping and hooting and emitting shrill tones, amid the red and yellow flashing lights of warnings and cautions. “Keep it together, baby,” he muttered, and then there was a ripping sound and a massive thud.

“We’ve lost turrets Six through Eleven! Hull breach on Decks Three, Four, and Five!”

“Maneuvering, shallow our descent angle . . . raise the nose seven—no nine!—degrees.”

“Increasing positive nine degrees on Z axis, aye, sir,” the helm crew chief answered. “Just tap the forward ventral and stern dorsal RCS, Perez—easy now,” he paused and looked over at the commander. “She’s wallowing like a pig in slop, skipper.”

“She’ll hold, Chief—she’ll hold. Reduce mains to ten percent power,” Zahra ordered. “Let gravity finish bringing us in.”

“Mains at One Zero percent military power,” the chief answered. And the rough shaking began to subside. “She’s settling down—we are dropping like a rock, skipper.”

“Understood, Chief. Tracking, do you have a fix on the FedRat strike?”

“Rough locus, Space Master,” the technician answered. “No hard fix—twenty birds . . . intercept in thirty seconds.”

“Tie the tertiary Targeting and Tracking Arrays into the sensors—get me a lock, damn you!”

“Aye, sir—TTAs are on-line . . . negative weapons lock, sir.”

“Guns,” Zahra growled.

“We’ve lost half the forward battery, Skipper, and the nose tracking arrays took heavy damage from reentry—recommend we rotate thirty-five degrees to port to unmask the starboard battery.”

“We ain’t in vacuum, Guns.”

“I know that, Skipper—fifteen seconds to weapons range.”

Zahra clenched his fist and then he nodded. “Maneuvering, rotate thirty-five degrees to port—maintain descent angle and take the mains to standby.”

“Rotating ship Three Five degrees to port, mains on standby,” the helm crew answered . . . and the severe shaking resumed. “Rate of descent is increasing—she’s fighting me!” And in a softer voice, the man continued. “It’s like flying with a herd of bloody damned rhinos on your back!”

“Starboard TTAs are LOCKED!” targeting cried. “Starboard battery is clear!”

“GUNS!” Zahra barked.

The gunnery officer twisted a key and then pressed a single button. “Take this, you sons-of-bitches,” he muttered.


Headhunter Lead, 80th Syrtis Aerospace Wing
Inbound to target, New Vallis
Taurian Concordat
November 23rd, 3025


“Headhunter Able,” Major Fred Larson called out as he armed the two Alamo missiles beneath the wings of his Stuka, “go hot on the special ordnance. Headhunter Baker and Charlie, keep those Taurians off our ass.”

“Baker Two to Headhunter Lead,” the radio crackled, “I’ve got incoming descending from orbit . . . got a lot of clutter here, but it looks like eight medium-weights and a shit-load of debri- . . . HOLY SHIT! Incoming DropShip!”

Larson looked up from his sensors and he sucked in a deep breath as he saw the massive fireball that surrounded the DropShip plunging down through the atmosphere—and then it swung around and he recognized it. Oh fuck, he thought.

“ALL HEADHUNTERS! EVASIVE MANEUVERS!” he yelled as he jerked his own stick to the left and rolled. But at that moment, sixteen Class 2 autocannons, four LRM-15 launchers, four PPCs, four Large Lasers, six Class 5 autocannons, four Class 10 autocannons, six Medium Lasers, two Class 20 autocannons, four SRM-6 launchers, ten Small Lasers, and sixteen Machine-Guns began to spit fire as the massive DropShip plunged into range.

The staggered formation of the Headhunters broke apart in chaos as a third of the fighters either exploded or spun out of control—and then the Fusiliers pilots entered the opposite side of the DropShip and fresh weapon batteries began to fire missiles and shells and beams.


Taurian Concordat Navy GuardShip Titan
Local Space, New Vallis System
Taurian Concordat
November 23rd, 3025


“FULL POWER ON THE MAINS!” Zahra barked. “Alter course to pursuit vector—I want those survivors to have the fear of God Almighty put into them!”

Titan DropShip (Firey and fighting in Atmosphere)

TDF Guard Ship, Titan in atmosphere attacking renegade FedSuns aerospace fighters.

“Going to military power on the main drives,” maneuvering reported—and Zahra slammed back into his seat as the powerful transit drives accelerated at six-Gs. “Pursuit vector . . . stabilized,” the Chief reported with a shake of his head. “She’s holding steady at ten thousand, skipper,” then there was a groan and THUD as another piece of hull plating and armor tore loose and slammed against the hull before falling towards the ground. “But she can’t take much more of this.”

“She can. She will, Chief,” Zahra answered. “Guns?”

“We are overtaking the Feddies, skipper . . . forward battery will engage in . . . fifteen seconds.”


Headhunter Lead, 80th Syrtis Aerospace Wing
Inbound to target, New Vallis
Taurian Concordat
November 23rd, 3025


“She’s chasing us—she’s gaining on us,” a panicked voice called out over the radio.

Larson gritted his teeth . . . with full external loads, the Stukas flew much like a brick; the assault-weight fighters were slow and relatively unable to maneuver—and that Taurian bastard back there was ignoring the escorting Corsairs and concentrating on the fighters carrying the nuclear ordnance.

“Sixty seconds to target, Able Three—sixty seconds.”

“We ain’t gonna last thirty seconds, Lead!” the radio crackled with static, and then the other pilot sighed. “Who the hell put so many damn AC-2s on a frigging DropShip?” The sole remaining Stuka—other than Larson’s own bird—began to shiver and smoke as a hail of light slugs slammed home, followed by flight after flight of LRMs. “EJECTING, EJECTING, EJECTING!” the pilot cried as the hundred ton fighter’s engine suddenly died and it rolled over and began to spin towards the ground.

“SHIT!” cried Larson as he wildly maneuvered his Stuka. “Baker and Charlie—where the hell is my cover?”

“Baker Two, Lead—the Taurian fighters have arrived . . . we are keeping them off your ass . . . SIR.”

Larson looked at his scope and he shook his head. He would never survive to launch range—not with this hulking monster on his tail—and two Alamos would do jack and shit to the dispersed formations unless he deliberately aimed for the hastily erected buildings that sported the universal sign of non-combatants on their roofs . . . a big red cross in a white circle.

He cursed under his breath, and pulled back on the stick while pressing the throttle to the stops. “You want to play chicken, you Taurian SOB?” he growled as he locked the Alamos onto the oncoming DropShip. “Well let’s play.”

As the shrill tone of a lock sounded in his ear-piece, Fred Larson pulled the trigger; first one and then the second missile streaked away from the rails—just moments before his fighter ran head-long into a storm of shells, missiles, and beams.


Taurian Concordat Navy GuardShip Titan
Local Space, New Vallis System
Taurian Concordat
November 23rd, 3025


The damaged and overstressed sensors of Titan never saw the two small missiles that sped forward—not until it was too late to respond. Liam Zahra heard the cry of, “INCOMING NUKES!”, but before he could even open his mouth the Alamos slammed home against the nose . . . and detonated.


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