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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 77 - By the Horns[]


Injustice at the Detention Center[]

Prisoner Detention and Processing Facility
Tabernas Wastelands, New Vallis
Taurian Concordat
February 9th, 3026


"We built this in two weeks?" asked Edward as he walked through the rows of hastily erected barracks, storage rooms, guard quarters, and mess-halls that had sprung up here on the northern edge of the Tabernas Wastes. One side of the facility bordered the Glitterstream, and pipes drew up the water from that rushing river to be purified for the prisoners—and guards—to drink.

Jon Kincaide nodded, even as Corey, Erwin, and Ardan trailed along behind them. "Most of these structures are pre-fabricated buildings that the Constabulary had in storage. To the west we have the DropShip landing zone and the vehicle park where we interned their gear. As the men and women came here to surrender, we took their weapons, got their names, ranks, and serial numbers, assigned them living quarters, and provided medical care to those in need."

"And that area?" Edward pointed toward a collection of larger buildings and several tents.

"The Medical Facility, sir," Jon answered. "I believe that Doctor Tyrell is supposed to meet us there and finished the tour."

"Good," said Edward brightly. "Uncle Corey, I want to meet those cavalry troopers you told me about last night—see how things are going from their perspective."

"Of course, Edward."

Edward turned back towards the medical facility where he spotted Moira Tyrell exiting one of the buildings and heading in his direction. He smiled and began to wave . . . but then he saw the look on her face and his smile faded.

"Is this how the Calderons keep their word?" she snapped as she walked right up to Edward and pointed her finger at his chest.

"What are you . . . Moi—Dr. Tyell, what is wrong?" Edward asked.

"This morning, we were told by the new commander of the facility—a Constabulary officer appointed by Governor Dupont that the prisoners no longer required any further medical care. We have been ordered to pack our things and leave camp."

She stared at Edward with accusing eyes and he shook his head. "I didn't know," he whispered. "Corey?" he asked in a louder voice.

"Not my doing, Edward," the old man answered. "Dupont insisted that the Constabulary take over running this facility . . . and my infantry have more than enough to do cleaning up after that battle." He paused. "First I've heard about the medical staff being dismissed, though."

"Jon," Edward spoke to his aide and bodyguard. "Tell the commander of the facility that I want to meet with him—at once. Take a squad of the Guards with you in case he doesn't want to come."

"Sir," Jon Kincaide replied with a nod and he began to trot away, speaking into handheld radio as he went.

"Lord Edward," Erwin began, and then he stopped. "Look, I know Fredrik Dupont; the man is an ass, but he is also a loyal Taurian. I'm sure he had his reasons for this."

"I gave these folks my word, Erwin." Edward snapped. "They would be taken care of—that includes medical care for those who need it. And I have no doubt that Governor Dupont is a loyal Taurian and is trying to do what he thinks is best, but he is undermining my given word. As not only an officer, but as a Calderon!"

Erwin shook his head. "Let's not jump to conclusions. We are going to be moving these men and women to one of our colony worlds pretty soon—maybe everyone that needed medical care has received it."

Corey sighed. "Fredrik Dupont is a rabid Davion-phobe; he was very much in league with Shraplen and his ilk. I've got a feeling he is trying to find a 'better' solution than sending then prisoners to work on building up a colony on the frontier."

Edward frowned and then he set his jaw. "Marshal Calderon, if you would please inform Brigadier Montoya and the remainder of my Guard detachement, I would like their presence—and that of the Red Hand—here as soon as possible."

"I can have the Foxhounds here in fifteen minutes," Ardan spoke up, a worried look on his face.

Edward shook his head. "No. Having your troops—what with their former allegiance—thrown into the mix might just ignite a spark, Colonel Sortek. We'll deal with this with Taurian forces."

He paused and looked a Moira. "I will fix this, my lady," he said softly and she smiled.

"I do think I believe you . . . my Lord." she answered.

Behind the two, Corey smiled again and Erwin put one hand on his face. "Edward and I are going to have a LONG talk after this, Corey. You are a bastard, you know that?" he whispered.

"Yep." the old man whispered back.

A jeep turned down the gap between the buildings and drew up close to the visitors. From the passenger side, Jon Kincaide exited, while a thick, short balding man pulled his way out of the back. An armored personnel carrier followed, disgorging a maniple of troopers from the Taurian Guards.

"Subaltern Calderon," Jon announced, "may I present Brigadier Liam Cochrane, commander of the 17th​ New Vallis Infantry Battalion, Concordat Constabulary."

"Brigadier," Edward greeted the man. "What the devil are you playing at here?"

"Excuse me?" Cochrane sputtered. "What do you think gives you—a Subaltern—the right to question me—a Brigadier?"

"In that case, what the devil are playing at here?" snapped Corey Calderon. "As the Commanding Marshal of I Corps, I do believe I outrank you."

"Sir," Cochrane answered and came to a position of attention—a very loose position of attention. "I am doing my duty to the Concordat, sir."

"And how exactly are you doing that, Brigadier?"

Cochrane paused and then he looked down. And then he raised his head defiantly and stared Corey Calderon square in the eyes. "By not letting these Fed Sons-of-Bitches get it easy, Marshal. They don't deserve to be treated any better than pirates and bandits—you hanged some yourself!"

"I—and Lord Edward, heir to the Protector—hung those who refused to surrender without a fight. And we—the two of us—promised those who did they would be well treated. Are you breaking our word, Brigadier?"

"I'm doing my duty, Marshal. This facility is a civilian facility, manned by Constabulary assigned by the Governor—you have no say here. Not since we took over."

"Really?" asked Corey in a mild voice. "Okay then. Subaltern Kincaide, may I borrow that radio?"

The Subaltern handed him the hand-held device and Corey clicked it on. "All units of I Corps, Taurian Defense Force. This is Marshal Corey Calderon. Assemble at the Prisoner Detention and Processing Facility as soon as possible to quell by force an armed insurrection by the Concordat Constabulary against the Taurian Concordat. All those who refuse to lay down arms will be shot."

Cochrane blanched and he shook his head. "You can't do that!"

Corey looked down at the radio in his hand and then back up at Cochrane. "But I can—and I did. So. If you want to keep on breathing, Brigadier—soon to be Private—Cochrane, you will have your men stand down. NOW. The Taurian Defense Force is resuming the operation of his facility—your Constabulary will stand down," and Corey smiled, "or they will be gunned down. Your choice."

"The Governor won't stand for this, we aren't under your command! We're under his!"

"Brigadier, Governors come and governors go. But the long silent sleep of death is with you for eternity. So which is it going to be?" Corey answered.


Latrine Digging[]

Prisoner Detention and Processing Facility
Tabernas Wastelands, New Vallis
Taurian Concordat
February 9th, 3026


"Put your backs into it!" the Taurian soldier snarled at the gaggle of former Federated Suns troopers struggling to dig the long narrow trench under the heat of a noon-day sun. The ground was baked, virtually desiccated, and the rocky soil resisted the dull and pitted blades of the shovels that the prisoners had been issued.

Henry Barksdale, once-upon-a-time Leftenant in the Armored Forces of the Federated Suns, stood upright and he rested for a moment to wipe away what little sweat his body could still produce from his forehead. For a moment, he considered keeping silent, but as he looked over the surviving men and women of his platoon—his platoon, his people—he shook his head.

"We need water, Corporal," he said in a parched voice through lips cracked in the blazing heat. "we've been digging this latrine for three hours straight, and you haven't let us have a sip of water the entire time."

The Taurian hustled over to him and he stopped three feet away, a sub-machine gripped in his hands pointed at Henry's chest.

"You want water, you Fed-Rat scum? Dig, or I'll water the ground with your blood," the trooper snarled. "The rest of them are thirty enough, they can lick it up from the ground, afterwards."

"LT," Joshua Franks whispered, "it ain't worth it, sir."

Henry looked at the SMG and then he looked at his men and women—his men and women—and he threw the shovel to the ground. "Okay, fine. Three-Echo," he shouted in a hoarse voice, "we are done. Put the shovels down."

All of the digging came to a halt at the other nineteen soldiers that had formerly belonged to 3rd​ Platoon, Echo Company, Cavalry Scout-Recon Battalion, 6th​ Syrtis Fusiliers RCT stopped their digging and stared as their platoon leader.

"Tell them to keep digging, Fed-Rat," the Taurian guard snarled.

"Or what? You will shoot me?" Henry asked in a soft voice. "Go ahead. Shoot me. We were told we would be treated fairly—and you want us out here working ourselves to death with no water in this heat? We are done."

The guard pulled back the bolt on his SMG and chambered a round.

"Tell them to dig, Fed-Rat, or your body won't be the only one at the bottom of this trench."

Henry shook his head. "This isn't a latrine, is it?" he asked. "You brought us more than a kilometer outside of the camp, why do you want us digging a latrine this far from the camp? You don't plan on any of us going back do you?"

The guard smiled. "They hanged over two hundred of you yesterday; what's twenty-one more?" He looked around. "Okay, boys. Time for some target practice!"

And he sneered at Henry at he raised the SMG. "Never did like officers, ours or theirs. And a Fed-Rat officer? Why that is just a bonus."

"Corp?" A voice called out from among the remaining Taurian Guards. "We've got company—armored transports. Looks like a platoon."

The leader of the guard frowned and looked in the direction the other soldier pointed—and sure enough, there were six armored vehicle driving their way. Fast.

"Cover the prisoners," he ordered. "I'll see what all this is about."

The six armored vehicles came to a halt just meters away, and disembarkation ramps on the rear opened, letting a full platoon of Taurian infantry—infantry bearing the shoulder flash of the elite 1st​ Battalion, Taurian Guards. And trailing behind them was Edward Calderon and Colonel the Baron Tyrell, along with two other men and a woman.

"Sirs!" the guard corporal snapped as he came to attention.

Edward stepped forward and he looked at the long line of men and women, their sweat-stained clothes, the long, narrow trench they had been digging, and the shovels laying on the ground. And the squad of guards that held sub-machine-guns pointed at the prisoners.

"What are your orders, Corporal?" Edward asked.

"Sir?"

"Your orders? You do have orders to have these prisoners out here and away from the detention facility, don't you?"

"Ah, sir, well, we were told to come out here and dig a new latrine."

Edward frowned. "A new latrine? For the detention facility? All the way out here? Must be a kilometer and a half back to the camp—and weren't the existing latrines dug just a week ago?"

"They were finished six days ago, my Lord Edward," interjected Jon Kincaide.

"Ah. Six days old. Yet we needed a new latrine so far away from camp—far enough that the gunshots wouldn't be heard, right Corporal?" he asked in a voice that was absolutely devoid of any feeling.

"Well, sir, I-I," the corporal stuttered. "We were just doing what we were told, Sir."

"Just following orders, right?" Edward sighed. "Corporal, you and your men are relieved. My guards will escort these men back to the facility."

"Sir, we have our orders," the guard began, but then he stopped as Edward just glared at him and thirty soldiers of the Taurian Guards clicked off the safety on their rifles. "And you just gave us another one, Sir. I stand relieved."

The five Constabulary guards quickly left and Edward sighed again. Beside him, Erwin shook his head. "This is going to get worse, Edward," the New Vallis noble whispered.

"I know, Erwin. But we have to stop this right now, right here."

"Won't be any better on the penal colony, my Lord," the Baron added. "And you won't be there to save them the next time."

Edward nodded. Then he turned around. "Doctor Tyrell, can you make sure these men and women are not injured. Jon, get them some water and put them in the shade of the vehicles."

The two began to carry out his orders and Ardan walked over to join him and Erwin. Corey had remained behind to try and defuse the situation in the detention center itself.

"I hadn't even given any thought to this." Ardan said quietly. "The Constabulary is your volunteer militia?"

"Sort of," answered Edward. "They are volunteers and they have had training, but their primary role is to assist in natural disasters, search-and-rescue, and providing the police with assistance as needed. In an emergency, they are usually called out to support the regular TDF armor and infantry battalions assigned to a world, but they seldom see actual combat. They didn't here on New Vallis; we left them to garrison Port Sheridan and the other cities."

"And they are under civilian command," added Erwin. "Whereas the Nobles Regiments are under the command of a former TDF officer ennobled by the Protector and mostly consist of former TDF and mercenary personnel who want to have a home life without worrying about packing up and changing planets on a moment's notice. My retainers would never have done this—but the Constabulary is much less disciplined."

"If I had assigned your retainers to this guard detail, they might have strung me up yesterday, Erwin." Edward said softly as he watched the Constabulary guards march off into the distance in the direction of the detention facility.

Erwin snorted. "Not a chance. Oh, they would have burned you in effigy and cursed you whether or not you were in the same room, but they would have followed my lead, no matter how much they disliked doing it." He paused and sighed. "Best bet is to assign the Marshal's regular TDF garrison. Shouldn't take more than a company or two of infantry to guard these folks."

"Bit of a short-term solution, though," interjected Ardan. "Once they get loaded up and moved, how likely is it that it will be the local Constabulary guarding them again? That time without you to put a stop to it?" he asked Edward.

"I think I may know a more permanent way," whispered Edward. "Did that engineer from the Samantha Calderon manage to get the New Vallis HPG back on-line?"

"I think he did," Erwin answered.

"Then it is past time for me to call home and talk to my father."


Calling Home[]

Taurian Concordat Class B HPG Station
Port Sheridan, New Vallis
Taurian Concordat
February 9th, 3026


The two-way real-time transmission was somewhat garbled and static laced, but Edward and his father could see each other—and, perhaps more importantly, understand each other.

"Are you certain about this, Eddie?" his father asked. "I know we agreed to let their families ransom them out from their sentence early, but . . .," his voice trailed off.

"Pop, we have to face facts. Odds are, no matter where we send them, we are going to get the same thing happen. There won't be any of them left to ransom within a year. And that is an affront to both our honor if that happens. We gave our word."

Thomas scowled and he shook his head. "I can't. I cannot do this, Edward," and then he paused. "I won't you tell you that you can't however." he finished in a quieter voice.

Edward nodded and he swallowed. "How much have you decided to set their ransom at, Pop?"

The old man sighed and he ran one hand through his thinning hair. "Hadn't really thought about it—hadn't actually set a price on the damn thing." He thought for a moment and he sighed again. "I can't go under 10,000 Bulls apiece. Not and keep this looking like I mean it, Eddie."

The young man winced and then he nodded again. "I can work with that, Pop.
"

Thomas snorted. "I know your finances, son. You can do this, but you will have almost nothing left except your pay as a Subaltern."

"So be it." answered Edward as he raised his head and looked his father squarely in his one remaining real eye. "You can't put a price tag on the honor of House Calderon, after all."

For a moment, there was silence and then Thomas nodded, one tear flowing ragged along his cheek. "In case I have not told you, son, I'm proud of you. I'm proud of the man that you have become—in spite of me."

"Because of you, Pop. It's because of you I am who I am."

Thomas inhaled sharply and he nodded. "Best you be going then. You've got some more calls to make—and then an announcement, so you best be after it." He paused one last time. "You come home, Eddie. After you get Hanse Davion to sign that paper, you come home."

"High water or Hell's Heart, Pop. I will."


Last Night on New Vallis[]

Taurian Defense Force Military Reservation (I Corps HQ)
Port Sheridan, New Vallis
Taurian Concordat
February 11th, 3026


The ranking officers of the TDF on New Vallis—and their mercenary associates, plus a handful of guests—all sat around a number of tables in the dining hall of the Officer's Club. This would be their final meal together, for tomorrow, Fleet Marshal Vickers would be returning to Taurus . . . and Edward, along with Ardan Sortek, his Foxhounds, and Wylie's Coyotes would be heading into Federated Suns space.

As the stewards finished taking away the last of the plates, Edward Calderon stood and he faced the assembled crowd. A hush fell over them as conversations came to a halt.

"As this is our last night on New Vallis, I wanted to thank Marshal Corey Calderon for allowing me to assist in the defense of this world," Edward said as he smiled down at his distant cousin—an uncle in all but name. "Even though he kept me in the command bunker instead of letting me go out to fight."

And there was laughter throughout the room at that.

"Hell, boy," Corey bellowed, "I'm more afraid of your father than I ever was of the Sixth Syrtis Fusiliers! Those Sassy Fools!"

And more laughter, as Edward smiled.

"He had reason to keep me safe, though, and I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from him. And from each of you as well, I have learned much. Colonel the Baron Erwin Tyrell taught me many things . . . some of which were actually worth learning," Edward added with a broad smile and there was still more laughter and Erwin nodded at the slight dig made against him.

"Colonel Jamesen and Brigadiers Verbet and Montoya have taught me the meaning of patience and the value of resilience. Of knowing when a fight has to be fought and to witness the courage it takes to fight even against the odds, knowing you are doing the right thing."

No laughter this time, only applause and the three surviving Taurian regimental and battalion commanders nodded their appreciation.

"I've learned some hard lessons here." Edward continued. "I've learned that it is sometimes necessary to send men and women I know and care about into harm's way—sometimes to their death," and he saw Fleet Marshal Vickers nodding. "I've learned that it is sometimes necessary to order the deaths of others for their crimes—and that if such a thing becomes necessary to bear witness to the execution. If I give the order, I must be watch it carried out, I have found. If I am to honor the man that I want to be," Edward said.

There was no applause this time, no laughter, only a few faint cries of "Hear, hear!"

Edward paused. "But we aren't only killers, are we, my comrades-in-arms? We are human beings, men and women, each and every one of us and we are able to be more. And in being more, we often find we gain more."

Edward stepped forward and he gestured at Ardan Sortek. "Colonel Sortek, could you join me up here at the podium?" he asked.

Ardan looked at Edward, looked at the crowd, and Edward could see lips moving—a curse perhaps as he slowly stood and came up to stand beside Edward.

"Ardan Sortek didn't have to come here to New Vallis with me. He didn't have to bring his men and women—some of whom died to defend this world—with me. But he did. And I promised him that I would pay his contract and that of Enzo Wylie. Colonel Wylie has already received the transfer of funds he was promised; this however, belongs to the Foxhounds." Edward said as he handed Ardan a Secure Financial Transfer Module.

Ardan looked pained as he took it, and Edward shook his head. "Your men and women deserve this—20,000 Bulls for each and every one of them, including your fallen. I would have given you more, but I unfortunately no longer have a fortune to spend," he continued.

There was silence in the crowd. Ardan, Corey, Erwin, Helena, Tanis, Raphael . . . all of them just stared.

"I no longer have a fortune because my father decided to set the ransom on those former members of the 6th​ Syrtis Fusiliers who surrendered at 10,000 Bulls each. That is a ransom that I have personally paid in full as of today, with the full knowledge and approval of my father. It is your fortune, he told me, you may spend it how you wish."

Edward paused and there was a silence in the room; many of the officers were just staring, slack-jawed and open-mouthed. And even Ardan, up alongside the podium was shaking his head.

"Edward, that is over sixty-four million!" he sputtered.

The Protector's heir nodded. "They are free to leave New Vallis as free men. They will travel alongside Colonel Wylie until they reach the Federated Suns and be repatriated." Edward paused. "I did not do this because I refused to see Davions suffer. I did not do this because I wanted to forgive them and grant them release from their five years of service. I did this because it became clear that too many of our own people would have done all they could to kill or main or cripple them—and we did not sentence them to that fate."

"I did not. My father did not. Marshal Calderon did not. Honor demands that if I cannot keep them safe—as prisoners who surrendered to me—it is my duty to send them where they can be safe. And so I have, despite what many of you and many of my countrymen might think of that decision."

Edward shook his head and he smiled. "I would do it again, if I had to. I would give up my fortune once more to retain the honor of my House and my own self. Ladies, gentlemen, it has been my distinct honor to have served here with you all. Good fortune."

Helena Vickers and Corey Calderon rose and began to clap and then one-by-one, each of the others in the room did so as well.


Edward was shaking hands and saying farewells as he tried to make his way through the crowd to the exit—to escape. When he saw two familiar faces blocking his path, the last two to block his way to the door.

"You know," Erwin said as he shook his head, "when I first met you I thought you a fool. I learned better, but then you did this. Gave up the fortune your mother left you—for your honor." He shook his head again and then he smiled. "Seldom have I been so wrong about another man, my Lord Edward."

Erwin put out his hand and Edward took and the two shook, and then Edward looked at Moira and she smiled back at him.

"I'm not rich anymore," Edward said. "I'm not broke, but I'm not rich. Hope you weren't interested in me for my money."

"I've got money," she replied. "But you are wealthy in ways that no bank can ever tabulate, Lord Edward." She leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the lips and beside her, Edward heard her father groan. "Write me and let me know you are safe."

"I will if you will." Edward answered with a grin and then he kissed her back.

"Oh, for the love of God!" Erwin sputtered beside them, and both Edward and Moira began to laugh.


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