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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 65 - By the Horns[]


Command Lance, 1st Hyades Light Infantry, TDF
Tabernas Wastelands, New Vallis
Taurian Concordat
November 23rd, 3025


Smoke rose from the shattered hulls of scores—hundreds—of armored fighting vehicles strewn across the rocky and broken ground. Brigadier Tanis Verbet shook her head, sending droplets of sweat flying across the cockpit of her Griffin. The Fusiliers might be idiots to follow that idiot Michael into the grave, she thought, but none here today could deny their courage. Fountains of dirt showered into the air as their artillery landed yet another barrage—piled atop the craters left by the supporting aerospace fighters.

Griffin

Griffin Medium 'Mech

She hadn’t thought—not really, not in her heart—that the Fusiliers would press the assault, not after Edward had destroyed their headquarters in nuclear fire. But they had. Four regiments of armor had thrown themselves forward . . . and if they had gutted themselves in the process, they had managed to shatter the armor and infantry defenders of the New Vallis garrison—and no few of her BattleMechs as well. She had started the day with forty-six BattleMechs under her command . . . all lights and mediums that she had thrown into the fire again and again to support the tanks and entrenched infantry. Of those, just twenty-three remained; all were short on ammunition and many had little-to-no armor remaining.

But the relentless waves of former Davion tanks—Manticores and Von Luckners, Shreks and Demolishers, Vedettes, and Bulldogs and Scorpions—had done their job. The minefields had been cleared, the defenders were exhausted . . . and now the full force of the Fusilier’s ‘Mechs were approaching. Untouched heavy-weight BattleMechs.

Demolisher (in spring bobthedino)

Demolisher Assault Tank

“Nomad Alpha Six Actual,” she broadcast over the radio. “They’ve started the real assault—we can’t hold for long.”

There was a crackle of static, and then a voice answered her. “Roger that, Nomad Alpha Six Actual; you are authorized to bug-out when your position becomes untenable. Be aware, the hammer is about to drop.”

Tanis chuckled grimly and she didn’t answer the Marshal—she just double-clicked the transmitter to let him know that she had received the message. Untenable. Twenty-three heavily damaged ‘Mechs, low on munitions and armor, less than forty tanks (out of the three hundred which had begun this fight), and a few handfuls of shell-shocked infantry. No more minefields, air support was all but fought out, and her artillery support had exhausted their stocks of shells. It was already untenable.

“Nomad Alpha and support elements,” she croaked through a painfully dry throat. “Pull back—fighting withdrawal. Let’s suck them in a little bit more,” she paused. “Lord Edward and Marshal Cory are closing the jaws of the trap on these bastards—payback is incoming, people.”

Mutters of exhausted voices answered her as the tracks began to reverse down the slope of the ridge and infantry piled into the few remaining transports, her ‘Mechs covering their retreat . . . and in the distance, the Fusilier ‘Mechs began to pick up their pace.

Tanis smiled. They think we are running—damn fools, she thought. Brave fools, but fools nonetheless. And then she snorted. It won’t matter how foolish they are if they catch you, Tanis, she thought as the first ignitions of long-range missiles blossomed among their point-guard. Time to go, and she stood on her jump jet trigger and took cover behind the sheltering ridge.


TDF Field Headquarters
Tabernas Wastelands, New Vallis
Taurian Concordat
November 23rd, 3025


“I thought she would have taken less casualties,” Edward said quietly as he stared at the map; the map where Taurian staff moved markers representing Colonel Jameson’s force of Wylie’s Coyotes and two Taurian ‘Mech battalions down from the Glimmerstream . . . they almost in range to fall on the northern flank of the advancing Fusiliers. From the south, Colonel Erwin Tyrell and his volunteers of the combined noble’s regiments of New Vallis advanced as well. And in the center, moving towards the retreating Taurians under the command of Tanis, the Calderon Red Hand and the Foxhounds were moving as well—the anvil on which the Sixth Fusiliers would break and die this day.

“Young Edward,” Cory answered just as quietly, “just because a man fights for a cause you consider wrong, it does not necessarily follow that he will fight ineptly. Those boys and girls out there are skilled and experienced—and they have no lack of courage. They know they are going to die—and they want to drag as many Taurians down to Hell with them as they can before they fall.” Cory sighed. “She’s held at bay more than four hundred tanks and three thousand infantry for four hours—with just forty-six ‘Mechs, three hundred tanks, and two thousand infantry of her own. Outnumbered in artillery—and outweighed, since most of the guns supporting Tanis are Thumpers, whereas all thirty-six of the ones that the Fusiliers have are Long Toms—and ground-strike ASF and conventional fighters . . . no, Edward,” Cory sighed again. “She did damn good to pull as much out as she has—and she shattered the conventional elements of the Fusiliers in the process.”

Edward didn’t answer, he just nodded, and Cory laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “It’s never easy to watch and wait from the sidelines, Eddie boy. You have to put your trust in the men and women out there now—Colonels Jameson, Tyrell, and . . .,” Cory winced as he shook his head at the irony, “Sortek will end this invasion today. We’ll be picking the pieces, though, for months to come.”

“Do they have enough?” Edward asked. “If they are bound and determined to fight us to the last breath—do we have enough?”

Cory snorted. “The enemy has a standard FedRat ‘Mech regiment over there—around one hundred and thirty-two ‘Mechs at full strength, boy! We have damn close to three hundred and fifty fresh ‘Mechs of our own about to hit them. Plus the fighter reserve, and the artillery that we held back until theirs exhausts their stockpiles of munitions—and they must be scrapping the bottom of the barrel. No,” Cory shook his head. “We have enough, Lord Calderon—enough, at least, that I am not about to throw you and your company of bodyguards into the fray,” he finished with a chuckle.

Now Edward sighed. “It was worth a shot,” he said in a quiet voice. “Should I give them one last chance to lay down their arms?”

“These are the hard-core fanatics that followed Michael of their own free will, Eddie. You’ve given the FedRat assholes more chances than I would have—and a good number abandoned the Sixth to accept your offer. All another warning would do is give them a chance to try and escape before we spring this trap shut on them,” Cory answered and then he shook his head. “Fleet Marshal Vickers is in orbit now,” he mused. “We could pull everyone back and let her bombard the shit out of them—we could win this without losing another Taurian life.”

Edward shook his head sadly. “We’re going to need that salvage to recover our losses, Marshal Calderon. Ortillery, if the lectures at the Ècole Militaire I sat through were correct, doesn’t leave much usable material behind. But I wish that we could—too many of our own are going to die out there today. Too many already have,” he finished in a quieter voice.

“They were, and we do need the salvage,” Cory replied. “Just wanted to see if you would admit that to yourself, Eddie—or if you are still viewing the world through those rose-tinted glasses. People die, son. We do our best to cut the losses to the minimum—but we don’t always succeed. We fuck up; we make mistakes—and people die. Our people.” Cory paused. “Even if we get everything right—people die in war, son. As a commander on the field, you can change a good many things—but you can’t change that one simple, sad rule: no matter how you try to prevent it, people will die. Others lose limbs. Some lose their souls. And you can’t stop that—no matter how hard you try. We do our best to give our boys and girls every last chance . . . but in the end, it is their bravery, their courage, their willingness to risk life and limb in defense of the Concordat; in the end, they are the willing sacrifice that we have to place on the altar. And pray that God sends us a ram before the knife falls.”

There was no answer—no verbal answer, anyway—but Edward nodded.

“Sirs,” one of the staff officers interrupted. “Colonel Tyrell reports his command is in position—so is Colonel Jameson. Colonel Sortek and Brigadier Montoya are ready to commence their assault upon your final authorization—artillery and close-air-support are standing by.”

Edward stood straight and he nodded. “Marshal Calderon, will you pass the final orders?”

Cory nodded. “Send to all commands—finish it.”


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