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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 98 - By the Horns[]

General Headquarters, Taurus Defense Force
Mount Santiago Defense Complex, Taurus
Taurian Concordat
July 10th, 3026

"You know, never thought I would say this, but I'm liking these Taurians,. Natasha Kerensky happily said to Jaime Wolf who stood next to her in the descending elevator. "Talk about raising saltiness to an art-form!" She chuckled. "A national—an interstellar!—holiday celebrating the day that the SLDF left the Inner Sphere."

Stanford Blake, the head of the intelligence section of Wolf's Dragoons snorted. "They are bloody paranoid buggers, 'Tasha. You saw the hoops we had to jump through to get through those asteroid defense platforms surrounding Gateway Point."

A deeper voice broke in. "Just because you are paranoid does not always mean you are wrong, Stanford," J. Elliot Jameson interjected sharply. "I do not think they are right—the hard-core ones who fear another imminent Davion invasion—but they are also not completely in error. Still, I think we made a mistake coming here, Colonel. Most of the original Dragoons are not happy we are here."

"I know, Elliot," Jaime Wolf said softly. "You have told me that at least one hundred times during the trip out here. But we took the contract, signed it and pledged our honor to it, and took the money—you want me to tell the Protector, sorry, but we changed our minds?"

Jameson scowled and then he shook his head. "Neg, Colonel. We are here, so we might as well get on with what we are going to be doing. Garrison the border worlds? Do a bit of training, like we did in the Combine for the Ryuken?"

"That is what we are here to find out, now that we are officially on the payroll." Wolf paused as the elevator continued to descend—he shook his head. He had seen Castle Brians back in the Homeworlds that had not been dug this deep. These Taurians were serious about their fortifications. And finally, the descent slowed to a halt and the doors slid open. Their escort—a Brigadier—who had stood apart from the Dragoons, giving them some privacy during the trip down on the elevator, gestured towards the hallway before them.

Jaime stepped forward and he nodded to himself. The walls and floor were immaculate, strongly built, well lit, and to either side there were doors leading to offices and storage rooms. Two more men were waiting for them, and Jaime smiled.

"You owe me fifty C-Bills, 'Tasha." he whispered.

"Damn it. He's uglier than his pictures—who would have thought that?" she answered and passed the Colonel a 50-note.

"Welcome to Taurus, Colonel Wolf," Thomas Calderon said warmly as he extended his hand. "I hope that your journey here was a pleasant one—I'm not too fond of jump travel myself, not over long distances, anyway."

"It was good enough, Protector Calderon," Jaime answered as he took the man's hand and shook it. "You get used to it when you are a mercenary and always moving around."

"I imagine so," Thomas said and then he stared—glared—at Natasha Kerensky, who stood there shaking her head and smiling. "So, I'm uglier than you thought I would be, Captain Kerensky?"

She didn't even blush, but her smile got wider. "In my experience, people with your power and wealth tend to, ah, have their features enhanced—you like 100% natural, Sir."

"Vanity. The downfall of many men and women. I am me—and yes, I'm not as pretty as some; was never the belle of the ball, even before I had the accident that took my eye and left these scars. Why hide who I am to please someone else that I don't even know?"

Natasha laughed and she extended her hand; the Protector took it and they shook. "Can I keep him, Colonel, Sir?" she asked. "I think I like this one."

And Thomas chuckled at that, as did Jaime and Stanford, although Elliot just shook his head without even the hint of a smile on his face. "And you must be Colonel Jameson—Zeta Battalion, right?"

"I am." the older man said simply and he too took the Protector's hand—but J. Elliot never smiled and his eyes were cold.

"And this is?" the Protector asked, turning to Stanford.

"Major Stanford Blake, the head of my intelligence section." Colonel Wolf answered.

"Ah. I believe that Henri has a briefing ready for you—but first, why don't we head down to the War Room?"

The Protector gestured down the corridor and he turned and began to walk, Jaime keeping step by his side, as the three remaining Dragoons, the Taurian Brigadier, and what must have been Thomas personal bodyguard following in their wake.

"A very impressive facility, Protector Thomas," Jaime said bluntly. "And I have seen a few command centers in my time."

"We try, Colonel Wolf. We try. Mount Santiago is the headquarters for the entire Taurian Defense Force, Taurian Aerospace Command, and Taurian Concordat Navy. It is probably the most secure site on the entire planet." Ahead of the two, a pair of guards opened a set of double doors and Jaime and the Protector entered the spacious War Room. It was octagonal, he noted, with high vaulted ceilings, walls lined with display screens, but in the center was a round table, with leather seats arranged around it. Each seat—each place on the table had its own computer station, screen, and—as archaic as it may sound—a land-line telephone!

IIt was well lit, and besides the movement of the staff assigned here to this room, six seats were occupied—and those occupants stood as the Protector entered.
"Marshal of the Armies Brenda Calderon," Thomas said bluntly, pointing at his younger cousin, "Fleet Marshal Helena Vickers," he continued quickly, "Henri Jouett, head of Special Intelligence and Operations, Semyon Cantrell, Exchequer of the Concordat, my brother and chief advisor Raoul Calderon, and my son and heir-designate—Brigadier Edward Calderon."

Thomas smiled at the six men and women. "Wolf's Dragoons Colonel Jaime Wolf, Colonel J. Elliot Jameson, Major Stanford Blake, and Captain Natasha Kerensky.

Thomas circled the table and he sat between his son and his brother and then the other Taurians sat as well. "Take a seat—any seat you want, Colonel," he ordered briskly and the Dragoons did.

"You received the deployment scheme we have come up with?" Thomas asked.

"We have. Alpha Regiment should be setting up on New Vallis, Beta on Laconis, Gamma on Mithron, Delta on Amber Grove, and Epsilon in reserve on Illiushin."

"Good. I understand you brought along . . . what do you call it? Hephaestus Station? A modular space station—a big one, I understand. That is going to Illiushin, right?"

"That is correct, Protector Calderon," Jaime answered. "Illiushin is a central location between the four forward deployed regiments and makes a good place to let our dependents get on with their lives."

"Good. Brenda and Semyon will make certain that you have everything you need, Colonel Wolf. Now, I don't expect Hanse Davion to be crossing the border tomorrow," and he paused, because it had taken a great deal of his willpower to say that out loud! And then he shook his head. "but my people will be a lot more reassured having your regiments located in those systems. Now, what we want to do is set up five training facilities and cycle the battalions of the TDF—and some Constabulary units—through them for intensive training against your people. I've been told," and he nodded his head to Brenda and Raoul in turn, "that learning from your experience will greatly enhance our own efficiency and combat capabilities. For the immediate future, that is all we are going to be doing with you."

"The immediate future?" chimed in Stanford Blake.

"Yes," Thomas answered. "We are looking—a year, perhaps two down the road—at paying back Max Liao for what he tried to pull on us during that Interdiction. But that won't happen until our units are ready. Edward?"

"Thank you, Pop." the young man said. "Colonel Wolf, the TDF is the most professional and well-trained military force in the Periphery—and we can give many Inner Sphere units a run for their money as well." And if Jaime, J. Elliot, and Stanford disagreed, none of their faces showed it, although Natasha snorted in amusement at the statement. Edward inclined his head towards her. "However, we seldom deploy in more than battalion strength. More often than most, we deploy individual companies to deal with pirates and bandits. While the TDF has a good amount of combat experience, we are not used to operating as a unified force—instead we have concentrated on small unit action. We want you to fix that. Get the TDF—our troops, our commanders—in the mindset where we can deploy a full regiment—or multiple regiments—and operate together as a unit in the field instead of a collection of forty-eight companies not used to working in conjunction with the rest of their command structure."

"We can do that," Jaime Wolf said after a moment. "Small unit actions are the basis of larger unit integration—if the TDF formations you send out for training are any good at maneuvering and operating on the small scale, it is just a matter of training your commanders—regiment, battalion, and company COs—how to integrate their forces and coordinate more than a dozen 'Mechs at a time."

"Good." Thomas said again.

"It will take time." Jaime added quickly.

"We have time. Sometime at least," Brenda answered. "But for right now, we have a full briefing for you and your staff—the rest of whom are being shown to one of our main briefing theatres. We will go over—in detail—the deployment of the TDF, TAC, and TCN, along with what resources you will have at your disposal, how and where we are building the training facilities, and a tentative schedule for unit training on a rotating basis. Right now, we are looking good—your command alone increases the size of the Taurian Defense Force by more than 40%. At least in 'Mech units. We've got a hell of lot more armor and infantry units, but we are going to be concentrating primarily on getting our 'Mech force up to speed, along with a few of the conventional forces."

Jaime Wolf smiled. "I think the TDF is going to have much sharper horns in the very near future, Marshal Calderon. Fleet Marshal Vickers—is there any chance of getting a tour of your salvaged WarShip?"

Helena Vickers smiled. "That is entirely up to the Protector, Colonel Wolf. Sir?"

Thomas thought for a moment. "Why not? Show them your ship, Fleet Marshal."

"Vickers," mused Natasha. "I knew—I grew up with—a numbers of Vickers, a long time ago. Good stock, most of them. Wasn't there a Helena Vickers who fought in the Reunification War]]? Your parents must have named you after her, right?"

Thomas had just raised a glass of water, taken a sip, and then he began to cough as the water went down the wrong pipe at Natasha's comment. He held up one hand, "Sorry. Went down the wrong way."

Helena turned her gaze to the Black Widow and she smiled. "Shall we say, tomorrow then? 1400 hours at the space port—my shuttle will transport you aboard the Saucy Sam. If that meets with your schedule, that is?"

Brenda stood after Thomas gave her a sideways look. "If you will follow me, we can begin that briefing. After the military briefing, I believe Henri here has another intelligence briefing for Major Blake and Colonel Wolf—and then you are all invited for dinner this evening at the Protector's Château. This way, if you please." she said, gesturing towards the doors.

As the Dragoons began to follow her, J. Elliot turned his head to glare at Natasha. "Play nice—that is an order."

"I always play nice, Elliot," she purred. "Well, by my own rules, I play nice. Don't I?"

"Behave, Captain," he stressed her lower rank.

"Yes, sir, Colonel Jameson, sir." she answered with a grin. "Oh, this is going to be fun—and don't you know? Girls just want to have fun?"

Elliot sighed and shook his head, as Natasha just laughed.

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