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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 7 - By the Horns[]

First Circuit of ComStar
Taurian Concordat
October 11th, 3025

WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY!” bellowed Julian Tiepolo, and Nicolas Cassnew—Precentor ROM—felt beads of sweat trickle down his neck.

“The Taurians appear to have found and salvaged a WarShip, Primus,” he repeated very softly.

“Someone must pay for this,” Precentor Dieron spoke up in her acid voice. “Someone failed in their Holy duties to Blake!”

“Is this vessel operational?” asked the Primus as he glared at the commander of ROM.

“For a given definition of operational—yes,” Nicholas answered.

Several of the First Circuit snorted at the evasive answer, and the Primus shook his head. “Define operational for me, Nicholas,” Julian said very, very quietly.

“According to my source, the Kearny-Fuchida drive is not functional.”

“But the rest?”

Nicholas withered. “Yes, Primus.”

“Where is this ship at the moment?”

Precentor ROM looked up at the man who had appointed him and he shivered. “In orbit of Taurus itself. Docked at one of their military stations and heavily defended, Primus.”

“But that isn’t the worst of the news, now is it?” asked Myndo Waterly as Precentor Dieron lowered her hood.

Damn that witch! Nicholas thought. But he merely nodded. “It has not been confirmed, but Demi-Precentor Taurus believes that the vessel contained a,” and Nicholas swallowed, “a Reunification War era Taurian Data Core.”

Utter silence hung over the First Circuit.

“ROM on station decided to risk an attack on what the Taurians believe was a data-core,” Nicholas continued.

“And was this attack successful, Nicholas?” asked the Primus.

“No, Primus, it was not.”

“I see,” Julian said quietly. “What do you suggest we do next, Precentor ROM?”

“I-I,” Nicholas stuttered and then he hung his head. “Primus, we must arrange for this ship and the core to be destroyed.”

“And how? Without revealing our hands?”

“We leak information on the ship and core to Maximillian Liao. He is desperate enough—and mad enough—to risk an assault on Taurus. We give him our astrographic charts as well, showing him the undefended path into the Hyades—the one the Taurians call Back Door.”

“And if Max Liao doesn’t take the bait, Precentor ROM?”

“Then we arrange for . . . unknown raiders and pirates to attack in their place. Our own Com Guard and Militia disguised as raiders and pirates.”

“Too little, too late,” Myndo spat. “My sources indicate that the Liao, Janos Marik, Katrina Steiner, Takashi Kurita, and Hanse Davion have already been informed—or shortly will be so informed—of the existence of this ship. “We must act now to stop this travesty from going any further.”

“How, Precentor Dieron?” asked the Primus.

“Send our WarShips out there to destroy this relic—and the Data Core.”

“You are speaking of an attack upon a populated world, Precentor!” another member of the First Circuit shouted.

“Better that Taurus dies in fire than the House Lords resurrect their technology, Precentor Sian,” Myndo spat. “And I believe that Precentor ROM owes us a great deal of pain before his death.”

“Control yourself, Myndo,” the Primus said. “Precentor ROM, you have several teams close by Taurus, do you not?”

“I do, Primus.”

“Very well. You and I shall have a long conversation in private about your failings in this matter, Nicholas, but perhaps we can salvage something from this . . . disaster.” The Primus paused. “Precentor Hawke?”

“Yes, Primus,” the commander of ComStars small WarShip fleet answered.

“Prepare your ships—we may have need of them on the Taurian Rim—if all other options fail.”

“At once, Primus.”

“You are too lenient,” Myndo pushed from her podium. “This one has failed—and you give him another opportunity. He must be replaced.”

“Are you volunteering for the job, Myndo Waterly?” the Primus asked.

“You would have me give up my seat on the First Circuit? Be demoted?”

“That would be a no, then,” the Primus answered himself. “We shall meet again in six hours time,” and the Primus glared at each member of the First Circuit. “At that time, I want ALL of the information we have on this ship and any communications passed to the various Lords of the Houses. I also expect to have a plan of action,” he finished as he glared down on Nicholas again. “Until then, we are in recess. Precentor ROM—not you,” and his voice was as cold as ice.

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