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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 9 - By the Horns[]


The Palace of the First Prince
Avalon City, New Avalon
Federated Suns
October 12th, 3025


“Christ,” whispered Hanse Davion as he stared at the image, “that is a Taurian Concordat Navy Calderon-class Battleship.” He looked up at the two men seated before his desk and he gave them a wry grin. “Please, tell me that this is archival footage; that this is some sick joke.”

“Unfortunately, Sire, it is neither. A free trader who is rather . . . indebted to my agency,” Quintus Allard said with a grim chuckle, “managed to record that as he was leaving the Taurus system. She’s real and she’s mobile—real-space, at least,” the Intelligence Minister cautioned, “but as she was on course from Gateway Point—the sole known jump-point into the interior of the Hyades, by the way—to Taurus orbit, it is a good bet she has a working K/F Core as well.”

“Never figured you for a historian, Hanse,” the third man said with a smile. “But you recognized that ship quick enough—it took some digging before the two of us were able to identify it.”

“Ardan, that is because neither of you built the models of the Ships of the Reunification War that I did as a child. I had them all, but I most especially loved the battleships—the Terran Hegemony Monsoon and Farragut, the Federated Suns Golden Lion, the Marik Atreus, the Kurita Mikasa, and the Taurian Concordat Samantha Calderon. Truth be told, as much as my inner Davion denies it, the Taurians made a damn fine ship in those old battle-wagons—more aesthetically pleasing as well.”

The Prince’s Champion—Ardan Sortek—laughed, and even Quintus broached a smile, but then First Prince leaned back in his chair and he rocked as the smile on his face faded into a frown.

“First, that free trader is no longer indebted—his remaining sins are now forgiven, Quintus,” Hanse said bluntly, and Quintus nodded, making a note on his pad. “Second, where the hell did they find that? The histories that I read,” Hanse pointed out, “said that the Taurians scuttled every surviving Calderon at the end of the War—specifically to keep them out of the hands of my fore-fathers and the Star League.”

Quintus sighed. “There have been rumors for four hundred years that the Taurians faked that scuttling, Sire. An entire mythos has arisen about a hidden pirate point deep within the Nebula where the Last Taurian Fleet sleeps, waiting for a just ruler to find them. No one has ever found anything, though, so pretty much we dismissed those rumors as wishful thinking. Now?” Quintus shrugged. “The rumors may have been right—even if exaggerated.”

“I hope that they were exaggerated,” whispered Ardan. “Because according to the story I read this morning, there are supposed to be four of those battleships in that cache, along with a baker's dozen of lighter vessels.”

Hanse held up one hand. “We’ll panic if another ship suddenly arrives over Taurus—I presume that you have already arranged for near constant surveillance of Gateway?”

Quintus just smiled and Hanse nodded. “If they salvaged her, that means they need a crew—trained JumpShip engineers and technicians, as well as specialists for weapons that no one has used in a century and a half. She’s damaged,” Hanse pointed out as he replayed the tape again, “see those pockmarks on her port armor—that is the impact point of shells from a NAC-35,” and he smiled again, “if my memory serves me correct. And she’s got hull burns from Naval Lasers and PPCs. Odds are, she is going to take a lot of work to make serviceable—and I seem to recall that the Calderons are very dependent on munitions. No one manufactures that type of munitions these days.”

“All true,” answered the Champion. “But even so, this is a game-changer.”

“Is it?” asked Hanse. “She is one ship, probably lacking ammo for her guns, that can be in one place at one time—and gentlemen, we all learned during the First Succession War that enough fighters armed with nuclear weapons can kill ANY unsupported WarShip.”

“She’s a morale boost, Hanse,” Ardan pressed on, shaking his head. “With her in his possession, Thomas might just get more aggressive than he has any right to be.”

“Thomas Calderon is many things, Ardan,” answered Quintus, “but a fool is not one of them. Hanse is right—the ship alone doesn’t change the balance of power on the Taurian Rim. But this might.” And with that the Intelligence Minister handed across a document folder stamped TOP SECRET—SPECIAL ACCESS.

Hanse took the folder and he began to read. “My God,” he said a few moments later, and he looked up at Quintus. “Is this confirmed?”

“Yes, Sire. We have an agent on Taurus and he managed to get us this précis on what they are calling the Vickers Memory Core.”

“Who?”

Quintus winced. “Sire, it endangers the life of these agents with every single person who is aware of their identity—even you. One slip is all that it takes, and this man is dead.”

“Who, Quintus?”

“Three years ago, we were contacted by a middle-level TDF officer, Sire,” Quintus answered, shaking his head. “Since then he has been a regular conduit for information on their government—not their military. Information that has helped defuse tensions on a number of occasions.”

“Who, Quintus?” Hanse snapped.

“The personal bodyguard and military advisor to Edward Calderon—heir of Thomas Calderon. Subaltern Jon Kincaide.”

“Bloody hell,” muttered Ardan, and Hanse slowly nodded.

“And you think that Kincaide is a middle-man for Edward—that Thomas’ heir is actively passing us information?”

“Edward Calderon is advocating—by all accounts—for a . . . normalization of relations between Taurus and New Avalon. He has pushed for an end on the embargo against the sale of Taurian goods to our consumers—and for a free trade agreement between the Concordat and the Suns. Sire, we do not know for certain if Edward Calderon is funneling us information—but if he is, then . . .,” and Hanse cut off Quintus.

“Yes. And now I see exactly how sensitive this is. If Thomas finds out, he will disown Edward; his paranoia will amplify if such a betrayal—and that is exactly how he will see it, gentlemen, a personal betrayal—comes to light. Damn,” Hanse whispered as he shook his head.

The antique clock on the mantle slowly ticked and tocked as the two men waited on their Prince. Hanse stood up and he nodded. “We need to try and get a look at that Core, gentlemen—but I am not authorizing the invasion of Taurus to do so.”

“Thank God,” whispered Ardan.

Hanse glared at his Champion for a moment and then he chuckled. “Don’t worry—I’m not going to feed the Heavy Guards into the nuclear maw of the Taurians at Gateway. Quintus, can you and DMI get an MI4 team on the ground?”

“Already done,” Quintus said as he laughed. “I’ve got MI4 teams on most capital worlds, Sire.” MI4, the Covert Operations Division of the Department of Military Intelligence, was tasked with gathering what was once called ‘hum-Int’; intelligence garnered from the real live traitors that every state had waiting in the wings, Quintus thought with a smile. You just had to find them first.

“Good. They may need some backup though—can you sneak in a team of the Rabid Foxes?”

Quintus winced. MI6—Special Intelligence Operations—was known as the Rabid Foxes for a reason. An elite commando force—one on par with Kurita’s DEST or Liao’s Death Commandos—the troopers of MI6 were renowned for accomplishing their mission . . . but the body counts they often left behind were considerable. And Quintus much preferred . . . quieter means of gathering information.

“I do not advise that, Sire,” he answered quietly.

“MI4 will need backup on this, Quintus. This is like . . . Takashi trying to sneak someone into the NAIS and make off with our data. The Stealthy Foxes aren’t going to be able to do it alone.”

The Intelligence Minister sighed and then he nodded. “I can get them in—getting them out might be a problem.”

“Volunteers only, Quintus,” Hanse ordered in a very somber voice. “And make it clear to them, they cannot be taken alive.”

Ardan winced, but he nodded, and Quintus said, very quietly, “Yes, Sire. They will understand.”


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