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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 81 - By the Horns[]


SLDF Signals Intercept Station TC-01
Calderon Nature Preserve, Gamma Continent, Taurus
Taurian Concordat
February 22nd, 3026


"Junk." the worker grumbled as he slowly catalogued the items discovered within the hidden facility. "It's all obsolete junk."

"Oh, I don't know about that." said a second worker as he placed a carefully wrapped piece of equipment into a carrying case and sealed the top. "How much has communications and surveillance equipment really changed in the past two hundred years? Sure, we've got tons of archives to go through, all from before the fall of the Star League and most of that data is out of date and useless; well, except to historians. But, the actual comms and surveillance devices and computers? All of that is still in pretty good shape."

"All we are doing here is cataloguing this stuff, damn it!" the first one snarled. "I'm a researcher, for god's sake . . . and there isn't anything here worth researching!"

The second man sighed and he shook his head. "You are a junior researcher, just like me, Bradley. And the only way to get to be a senior researcher, doing the research you want to do, is to do a good job doing the things you are told to do. So get on it with and quit your bitching, man."

"Easy for you to say, Esteban . . . you belong to one of the Founding Families. You got a leg up the day you were born."

"So? Where am I right now? Right here in this hole in the ground on Gamma doing the same exact job that you are doing. My family doesn't mean squat—if I can't do this job well, how can the bosses trust me doing something more important?"

Bradley shook his head. "It just isn't fair. I had a hot date set up for this weekend and then they fly us out here on just an hour's notice! And we are going to stay here—no restaurants, no feminine companionship, no booze!—for at least two weeks!" He was so worked up that he punched the wall. "It isn't fair!" And his second punch broke through the dry wall.

"Brad? You okay, man?" Esteban asked in a more concerned voice.

"What the hell? This is a false wall—there's a room back here!"

"What about your hand? You punched the wall pretty damn hard."

Brad looked down and finally noticed it was bruised and cut, but then he shook his head. "I'll live—let's take a look back here. They must have hid something. Maybe something more important than the rest of this junk."

Esteban sighed. "More likely, they sealed it up because they were down-sized and didn't need the extra space. You want to clean an extra dozen rooms when you don't have to?"

Brad just glared at his partner. "You take all the fun out of everything."

"I try," Esteban replied with a grin. "Are the lights in there working?"

Brad put his eye down near the hole and he nodded. "Yep. Doesn't seem like they would have left the lights connected if they didn't need the room or rooms, does it?" he asked hopefully.

"Maybe you are right." Esteban answered slowly.

"Hand me that pry-bar," Brad said firmly. And few minutes later, there was a man-sized hole in the wall of the store-room.

Brad stepped through, followed by Esteban and the two of them looked around. No exits---just more shelves lined with dusty travel cases, some small, some large.

"More junk." Brad said and then cursed softly.

"Maybe not." Esteban said just as quietly. "All of these cases are marked CLASSIFIED—SPECIAL CLEARANCE. And have two seals, one from SLDF Communications Command and the second from SLDF Intelligence Command."

Brad snorted. "Intel files from two centuries ago—special clearance, my ass."

"I don't think all of these are files, Brad," Esteban said as he wiped the dust off one of the largest cases—a heavy black armored case. "I think we need to get the bosses down here."

Brad stepped up and he looked at the case and letters stenciled on it. "What the hell is a Model K-0 Transmitter?"


Cháteau des Calderon
Samantha City, Taurus
Taurian Concordat
February 26th, 3026


"A what?" asked Thomas Calderon.

"The item appears to be designated as a Model K-0 Transmitter, Sire," answered Henri Jouett. "It is almost unremarkable in appearance—about the size of a large suitcase. But the case itself is armored and the equipment inside," Henri paused and he smiled. "We weren't certain what we were dealing with, but there was a file attached to the outside of the travel case it was stored in."

Henri slid a file folder—containing copies of the original file—onto the Protector's desk and Thomas began to read.

"This is correspondence—from 2634!—between that hidden facility on Gamma and SLDF Communications Command on Terra. Ordering the recall of four Model K-0 Transmitters to Terra, and return messages sent citing that getting the equipment out clandestinely was not possible as it risked exposing the existence of the facility to our predecessors," Henri continued. "One of whom had decided to prove himself as able as any big game hunter in recorded history and had just moved the entire Protector's Court out to Gamma to spend a year on safari."

Thomas snorted. "Malachi Calderon—known as Mal the Mad. Harmless enough, but he left the government in the hands of his advisors and spent his time enjoying himself. Lucky him."

Henri nodded his agreement. "The next communicated then instructs the Chief of the Station to destroy the four Model K-0's that were stored at the Station; once again he protests as the facility is too small to do so underground and setting of an explosive device on the surface might be noticed by the sensor satellites of the time as well as Malachi's guards on his safari—they set their base camp quite close to this facility by accident of fate."

"Finally," he said with a smile, "Terra authorized their Station Chief to lock these devices away until he or his successor could successfully move them off-planet. After that?" Henri shrugged. "It appears as if the Star League bureaucracy simply forgot that the devices still existed. And they have sat there since 2634 in a room sealed away from the remainder of the facility, along with case after case of highly classified transmissions received and retransmitted by SLDF SIS TC-01."

"And?" asked the Protector as he looked up at Henri. "These are all blurbs—look like old telegrams out of one of my favorite Westerns."

"They do. Those are the transmissions received and passed along via the Model K-0 Transmitters, Sire."

"Received and passed along . . .," Thomas began and then he stopped. "Some of these are from New Syrtis, from Robsart, from Electra, from Victoria! How could this device have received them—and transmitted them?"

"I have no idea, Sire. But one of the devices included an Operator's Manual. According to that manual, the Model K-0 Transmitter was an early Star League attempt at FTL communication and the first prototype was tested in 2570—the same year the Reunification War began. It was a success and several thousand were produced, but the devices had just a 100 light-year maximum range and were restricted to a couple of hundred kilobytes of information—text only, no images, no holograms, no audio, no video. Like an old-style telegram or facsimile transmission."

"Why would they stop using this?" Thomas asked.

"Why would they not?" Henri answered with a question of his own. "An HPG—which they were getting ready to reveal in the 2360s—is far more capable. This thing is obsolete compared to even an HPG "B" Station. And it is slow. Whereas an HPG transmission is instantaneous to the receiving station, the messages this transmitter sends only travel 10 light-years in an hour. Getting a message here to a planet a hundred light-years away would take ten hours. At least twenty to get a reply back if you needed one."

"Now, I asked Commander Fletcher to take a look at one of these and he and several of the top scientists that were aboard the passenger quarters of the Samantha Calderon have poured over it the last two days. They don't understand the theory, but they do understand the technology. And we can build it. Not today, not within a year. But within five? Within five years, they are certain we can begin producing these for ourselves."

Thomas began to smile. "And then we can tell ComStar to get the Hell out of the Concordat and stay out," he growled.

"Two problems with that," interjected Henri, "as much as I hate to bust your bubble of glee there, my Protector. First of all, almost no one else has these. So. If Vandenberg Mechanized Industries or Pinard Protectorates Limited or Taurus Territorial Industries or any other of our industrial giants wants to communicate with customers outside the Concordat, we cannot rely on these. Second, they are omni-directional, unlike an HPG. You send a transmission and any Model K-0 within 100 light-years will receive the message—even if it isn't one of yours."

Thomas's single natural eye narrowed. "Almost no one else has these?" He asked. "And what exactly do you mean by that?"

"Over the forty-eight hours since we turned one of the devices on, we have received seven messages from systems in the Capellan March—including New Syrtis. Apparently, the Federated Suns has several of these as well. And has had them long enough that they have been distributed and are being used."

"And if we use them . . .," Thomas began.

". . . they will know we have them," Henri finished. "On the bright side, apparently they believe that they alone have this technology—and they might well have been right until yesterday . . . because none of the messages we have so far received have been encrypted."

Thomas laughed. "We are reading their mail?"

"We are, my Protector. Providing that mail originates within 100 light-years of Taurus."

"Anything I need to be concerned with?"

"Actually, no. But there is a great deal here that validates Edward's views toward the Federated Suns and Hanse Davion. It seems that Prince Davion is absolutely furious over what Michael Hasek-Davion nearly managed to pull off—without the approval of or any authorization from New Avalon. Their Intelligence Ministry is sending out inquiries in regards to people loyal enough to the former Duke of the Capellan March to attempt to start another incident—along with orders to quash those efforts hard. In fact, Hanse Davion himself is enroute to New Syrtis to set his own people in line—with two full RCTs backing him up."

Thomas frowned. "It could be a deliberate misdirection—what if he attacks with those two RCTs and other forces in the Capellan and Crucis Marches?"

Henri snorted. "Hanse Davion would have to be the Devil himself to arrange for us to find these devices and plan on us overhearing his instructions just to lull ourselves into a false sense of security before he comes crashing over the border. No, Sire. And he is planning on meeting with Edward on New Syrtis instead of New Avalon."

"Could h-he," and Thomas swallowed. "Could he be considering taking my son prisoner in retaliation for our killing his brother-in-law?"

"Not according to these transmissions—he is instructing his people on the ground, people loyal to him personally, to ensure that Edward stays safe and secure while he is in the Federated Suns. Sire," Henri continued. "Edward was right. Not about everything, but he was right about enough that I think we can trust him to be right on Hanse Davion."

"I can't trust a Davion!" Thomas snapped. And then he sighed. "But I trust Edward. Okay. We have these, we can build more in a few years, even if we don't understand the theory. But we can't use them without letting the Fox know we have them. So what, Henri?"

"We listen. We learn. And we respond when and where appropriate to keep your realm—and your people—safe, my Protector. If Hanse Davion ever decides to invade the Concordat, we should have some alert passed along via these devices before that ever happens. Not that I believe it is going to happen, if some of what I have been reading is true."

"Oh?"

"Oh. It seems that Michael Hasek-Davion was in league with Maximillian Liao; he was a traitor to the Federated Suns."

Thomas frowned. "And Max invaded us, just as Michael did. They were working together?" he snarled.

"Unknown. But apparently, there are preparations being made by the Federated Suns for some action—not in the immediate future, but it can't be further away than five years—against the Capellan Confederation to settle this and other scores."

"And nothing about operations against us?"

"Not one word, my Protector." answered Henri. "In fact, some of the transmissions have been asking New Avalon that if the talks with Edward go well, would it be beneficial to factor into their plans a possible Taurian drive into the Periphery border of the Sian Commonality."

Thomas just sat there, his mouth opening and closing without a single sound.

Henri chuckled, "So far, all responses have been its too early to tell. Make your plans without factoring in the TDF or Wolf's Dragoons. It seems the Dragoons have informed the Federated Suns that will be in transit through the Federated Suns en route to the Concordat to take up station here as contracted mercenaries. I've seen a general advisory to that effect on one of the transmissions."

Finally, Thomas swallowed. "It's a new world, Henri," he said very quietly. "I'm not certain I'm the man to lead the Concordat into it."

"Sire, you are . . .," Henri began.

"I'm not. And you know I'm not. Even at my best, I'm not. But you think Edward is?" he asked, looking Henri square in the eyes.

"I do. He's your son—and your first wife's, God rest her soul. He's the best of both of you—and he doesn't want your job, Thomas."

Thomas snorted. "Hell, I don't want my job, Henri." And then he sighed again. "Okay. Get your people listening in on their internal communications—and let's spread these devices out a little. Send one out to Amber Grove and a second one to Althea's Choice—that will give us a little more depth to intercept any messages from the Crucis March." Thomas snorted. "We'll keep the other two here on Taurus. One in your hands and one for the scientists and engineers to dissect and figure out exactly what makes it tick."

"I'm not certain we are going to get many messages from that part of the Crucis March, Sire, Although," he mused, "we might get some information out of Panpour and their JumpShip yards there."

"Can't hurt, can it?" Thomas asked.

"It can if we lose one of these devices," Henri answered.

Thomas snorted. "So don't lose it—that's an order, Henri."

"I live to serve, Sire." the Intelligence Minister replied with a bow as Thomas began laughing.


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