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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 99 - By the Horns[]

Wolf's Dragoons DropShip Chieftain
Outbound to Gateway Point, Taurus System
Taurian Concordat
July 14th, 3026

Jaime Wolf looked around the small table in his executive office aboard the Command-Overlord DropShip. J. Elliot sat to his right—as usual—and Natasha to his left. Stanford Blake was on Natasha's left, while Jason Carmody sat between him and J. Elliot. The rest of his senior command staff was deployed with their regiments—and Chieftain was en route to New Vallis to rejoin Alpha Regiment and Zeta Battalion there.

"What did we learn?" the Colonel commanding Wolf's Dragoons asked.

"First off, Colonel, there is no way in hell that they salvaged that battleship." Jason said in a sour voice.

Wolf raised an eyebrow and he nodded at the middle-aged man who commanded an independent aerospace fighter group—and one of the few remaining Dragoons with knowledge of WarShips and their operation. "Go ahead, Jason—tell me why it isn't salvaged."

Jason snorted. "I spent eight years in the Clan Wolf Naval Reserve Cache, Colonel. Mothballed ships take time to restore to service—derelicts take even more effort. But that ship? She's too clean."

Natasha frowned. "They've had her for over eight months—what is so wrong with it being clean?"

"Not clean as in spit-polished, 'Tasha." Jason said as he shook his head. "The control systems—sure some have been replaced, probably from battle damage. But most of them are still original equipment—just like the spares in their parts locker. You leave a WarShip or a JumpShip floating out in the deep black for a century or more without power, without crew to maintain systems." he shook he head again. "Too many of her systems have never been replaced—and those systems are precisely the ones that should have required replacement if she's been drifting for more than four centuries! Second, they found her in the Hyades, didn't they?"

"That was certainly implied, but I do not believe anyone actually said those words." J. Elliot said slowly, his mind working on the problem that Jason had presented him with.

"Okay then. Where are the micro-meteoroid impacts? Sure, she's got some armor burns on the outer hull—one damn big crater too—but the whole hull should be covered in impact points. You can't drift through this nebula for four centuries and not be hit once. And the damage she does have on the outer hull? That's recent—no more than a year old. That crater in starboard side aft armor plate? That's a direct impact from a NAC/35. The scoring and deterioration of the armor isn't more than one year old at the most."

"Impossible." whispered Stanford.

"And look at the crew. Colonel Wolf, Colonel Jameson, you both know just how hard you have to work to get the kind of esprit de corps we saw in that crew three days ago. Those spacers aren't new to that ship—they know that ship inside and out. They know each other and know they can rely on each other when there are lives hanging in the balance. It's right there in plain sight, Sirs."

"It is not possible." Stanford insisted. "If she's not a derelict, where did she come from? Where did she get the crew? How did she get that damage if it is no more than year old?"

"Where do you think?" Jason answered, and for a moment there was silence at the table, and then Stanford barked out a burst of laughter.

"Are you mad? You can't be seriously suggesting that this s-ship." he sputtered, "came—somehow!—through time from the last days of the Reunification War!"

"Why not? We know misjumps happen. We've seen ships displaced by one or two weeks sometimes if the misjump is severe enough. What's to say that they had one hell of a severe misjump and ended up here?" Jason answered.

"That would mean," J. Elliot said in a slow voice, "that Helena Vickers wasn't named for one of Concordat's naval heroes, that she is in fact . . .." his voice trailed off.

". . . that Helena Vickers." Natasha finished and she chuckled and shook her head. "She's a firecracker, that is for certain—hell, she intimidates me, and that takes some doing! It also explains this Calderon Red Hand." and she paused.

"Their new 'Mech battalion?" asked Stanford. "What's so strange about that?"

"Not much. I mean, Stan, even in the Concordat I am sure you can find forty-eight or fifty dispossessed MechWarriors and given the opportunity to get back in a cockpit, they'd just be all over it. But you did read their Inspector General's evaluation of that unit, right?"

"They just about maxed their eval, 'Tasha. So?" Stanford asked in a puzzled voice, and J. Elliot and Jaime both groaned as it came to them simultaneously.

"Major Blake," Jaime said in a patient voice, "you can always finds MechWarriors to put into a cockpit. But you can't put together four dozen or so and make them anywhere nearly as effective as this evaluation suggests the Red Hand is. I read it too—just was not thinking about what it meant. But this battalion scored higher—across the board!—than the 1st​ Battalion, Taurian Guards did on their last eval. And that should be the Bulls best unit. Period."

"So if they put this battalion together in the last year, why do they have four companies—forty-eight 'Mechs—all of the same tonnage, all of the exact model, all consisting of a design—the Typhon—that everyone thought was dead and extinct for over four hundred years?" Natasha added. "Not saying I believe you, Jason, but it does explain this Red Hand—what unit today has forty-eight Archers or Grasshoppers or Warhammers and not another damn thing?"

She shrugged. "And talking with some of their people who came back with Edward—Sir Brigadier Edward Calderon—from New Vallis, the Red Hand kept up with that battalion of the Davion Heavy Guards posing as mercs when the two were released to counter-attack the Sixth Fusiliers and put paid to Michael's ambitions. The battalion that was under Ardan Sortek's command. That's impressive, folks."

"A ship that shouldn't be here, a battalion of 'Mechs long extinct and better than any other in TDF service." J. Elliot said softly. "You know, when you eliminate the impossible, whatever you are left with, however improbable, tends to be the truth."

Stanford just stared at the others his mouth opening and closing without saying a word, and then Jaime sighed. "And this affects us . . . how? How does this change our operation out here? To evaluate the Concordat as a possible base—industrial, at the least—to defend against the Homeworlds when they finally decide to come and invade."

"It doesn't." J. Elliot said bluntly—but firmly. "So they came forward in time. They don't have tech better than ours and we will see just how good their Red Hand really is on New Vallis."

"They fought the Star League, Colonel Jameson!" snapped Stanford.

"And they lost. Then the Star League fell, Major Blake, and not even General Kerensky could keep it alive. Which in turn is why Nicholas founded our society in the Homeworlds and led us back to the Pentagon for Klondike. Putting an end to the rotting corpse of the Star League once and for all time." J. Elliot replied in a bitter voice.

"My, aren't we a ray of sunshine, today, old man." chimed in Natasha with a smile.

"Keep on, Natasha—I know exactly how old you really are." J. Elliot replied. "And I am not that much older than you."

"It's not the years, Colonel Jameson, Sir. It's the damned mileage." and she chuckled. "Okay then. I'm good with this—it has the potential for not being boring at least. I can always take the Black Widow Company out to Tortuga for some target practice if I get antsy and don't see any action for a while."

"Thomas might even pay for that, 'Tasha." Jaime said with a chuckle of his own.

"God, I love this job. I get paid for breaking things and blowing shit up."

"And don't forget—Thomas is planning on going into the CapCon in a year or two." Jaime said more seriously.

Natasha's face stilled. "Good." she said flatly. "I still owe Max a debt for handing our contract over to Anton." She paused for a moment and then looked up. "Okay, Jay-El." and she smiled. "What's say my Black Widow Company, a company from Zeta, and two from Alpha take on the Red Hand in wargames when we unload on New Vallis? If you can keep up that is—old man."

"One of these days, Natasha." J. Elliot growled, "I am going to put you over my knee and give you a spanking you will never, ever forget."

Natasha smiled suddenly. "Promises, promises, promises, Jay-El. Always with the promises but you never follow through."

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