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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 93 - By the Horns[]

The Heritage Opera House
Tharkad City, Tharkad
Lyran Commonwealth
April 4th, 3026

Aaron Bell came fully alert as the alarm began to flash—silently—beside him. He reached over with one hand and pressed the key that turned the alarm off and he took a moment to collect himself. It was time, he thought.

For four days, he had hidden here and waited. He had waited while the teams of security had swept the building, looking for explosives or people who should not have been there . . . but his hide had been well selected. The false wall behind him had taken a week to construct . . . but the Heritage had already been closed for refurbishment during that time. Isolating this tiny two-meter by two-meter area had been simple enough and the sneak suit he wore had defeated the sensor wands carried by the advance security teams.

Four days, he thought as he took a sip of water from an almost empty bottle—his last bottle of water. But it was almost over. In a very short time he would be able to finish his mission, and Aaron mentally shrugged in recognition that his life would end very quickly afterwards.

Alone in the darkness he checked again his weapon—satisfied that all was in readiness, he fed one bullet into the chamber and then slowly closed the bolt. And he looked out the ventilation grill set into the wall in front of him . . . and the sight of the Archon's Box which lay directly in his view. And Aaron Bell—loyal man-at-arms to Michael Hasek-Davion . . . or at least that is what those who would investigate would find—smiled.

Robert Monroe stood straighter as the procession of cars approached the entrance to the Heritage. For six months now, the building had been closed for renovation and repairs—after all, it dated back almost four hundred years as a landmark of Tharkad. And now, thanks to Archon Steiner, the building had been restored to its former glory. And tonight—in just a few moments—was the grand reopening with a production of Carmen. It was an auspicious night, the more so because while the Archon could not attend, her daughter—her heir—Melissa Steiner would do so in her place.

He smiled. The young woman had been one of the primary patrons of the refurbishment, and her appearance here had been planned for almost three months—the selection of Carmen as the performance tonight had been chosen specifically because it was her favorite opera. Unfortunately, the Archon herself had sent regrets—affairs of state would prevent her appearance, but to have Melissa here! On the night of the grand opening!

His musings were stilled as the cars slowed and then stopped and guards positioned themselves around the car before the door opened and the Archon's Heir stepped out. She was dazzling, even wearing the hooded cloak that protected against the cold chill of the early spring night.

He stepped forward and knelt with a bow, "Your Grace," he said. "Welcome to the Heritage."

"Thank you, Herr Monroe," she answered in a soft voice. "I am looking forward to the performance tonight." she continued as Robert stood and offered the young lady his arm.

"The Archon's Box awaits you," he said as she took his arm and the two walked into Opera House, Robert proudly pointing out various items of interest among the paintings and statuary that lined the halls.


The lights had dimmed and the performance begun before Aaron stirred again and he slowly, carefully raised the rifle, taking aim, and he put his eye against the scope attached above the barrel and bolt.

Yes. There she was. Sitting within the Archon's Box, guards surrounding her. Her rapt attention focused on the music and the singing on the stage. His thumb slid off the safety on his rifle and he made one final adjustment to his stance as he placed his finger on the trigger and slowly began to apply pressure. One shot. There would not be time for a second, after all.

And the bark of the rifle, the flash of light at the muzzle as it discharged came almost as a surprise as he fired.


The sharp CRACK of the rifle shot echoed throughout the Opera House, and Russell Dorne jerked his head to the flash of a rifle shot that spat from a ventilation grill—but he was already moving and he yelled, "SHOT!" into his comm as he dived in front of the young woman sitting in the Archon's Box . . . but he was a split second too late and blood exploded from her chest as the bullet tore into her.


Aaron had just enough time to see the blood spurt from the chest of the Archon's Heir and he nodded. It is done, he thought, even as the Lyran Security sprayed his hide with bullets of their own and pain tore through his own body.

Royal Palace, The Triad
Tharkad City, Tharkad
Lyran Commonwealth
April 4th, 3026

"Where is she?" demanded Katrina Steiner, Archon of the Lyran Commonwealth, as she strode into the Trauma Ward of the medical facility built within the palace.

Simon Johnson, his face the grey of ash, pointed one hand towards a hospital bed upon which lay a young woman—her body covered in a sheet from head to toe.

Katrina paused and then she nodded and she walked over to the bed and took down the sheet and she sighed.

"It was well planned, my Lady," Simon said quietly. "The assassin was sealed into a small room isolated from the rest of the Heritage by a false wall—he had been in there for several days, at least. He wore a sneak-suit, so we did not detect his presence electronically. We have identified the gunman—Aaron Bell, a native of New Syrtis who has been here on Tharkad on 'business' for the past six months. It appears, according to our people who have torn apart his residence that he was a follower of Michael Hasek-Davion who wanted revenge on Hanse Davion for his death," and his voice trailed off.

Katrina turned her head to glare at Simon for a moment and then she nodded. "But?"

"It's too neat. The planning that went into this," he paused and shook his head, "it took months, Archon. That false room was constructed at least two months ago—before Michael was killed on New Vallis. And the gear that this man had—it takes time for someone not supported by a government agency—or a major corporation—to gather such things. A sneak suit? Not the most easy piece of equipment to acquire."

"You think there is more here to this than it seems, Simon?"

"I do, my Lady." he said with a sigh as he looked at the face of the young woman lying dead on the hospital bed again.

"Jeana?" a trembling voice asked from the door, and Katrina winced and then she turned around and held open her arms to take her daughter as Melissa entered the room.

"She's gone, dearest," Katrina whispered as Simon quickly—but gently—pulled the sheet over her head. "She did her job, and she kept you safe," she whispered as she held her daughter tight.

And Melissa sobbed against her chest. "It should have been me." she cried. "It should have been me."

"Shh. Shh," Katrina whispered. If Melissa hadn't come down with the flu yesterday, it would have been her, and not her body-double. Her head twisted around to glare at Simon one last time as she pulled her daughter towards the door. "Find out who—and why." she ordered and then she and her grieving daughter were gone.

"You can rest assured of that, my Lady," Simon whispered to the empty room as he looked down one last time at the body of Jeana Clay.

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