Chapter 1
The New Future

Location: Armstrong ONB, Earth Sphere
Date: Wed 27 Mar 121
Time: UST 0900

The Armstrong Orbital Naval Base was the nerve center of the Union Navy Space Forces, a gigantic space station over ten kilometers long with the capacity to support the dozens of ships charged with the defense of Earth. In Docking Bay 24, the latest vessel to be added to the Fleet, the heavy carrier ESS Ticonderoga, lay waiting for its first mission. The large craft was more than twice the size of the light carriers that had served as the backbone of the Navy for so many years and not much smaller than the massive Imperium-class flagships. Equipped with all the latest technology, the strategic planners at Supreme Command were eager to deploy her as soon as possible.
Although the Ticonderoga had been completed nine months ago, the Chief of Naval Operations insisted on a six-month shakedown to ensure the reliability of the new design and the rest of the time had been spent assembling a crew from posts across the system. Although dozens of designated crewmembers had yet to arrive in the Earth Sphere, enough had been gathered to hold the formal commissioning ceremony. More than nine thousand men and women were assembled on the upper flight deck of the ship, one of the most varied assortments gathered in military history.
The America-class heavy carriers had a unique mission unlike any other vessel in the Navy. In order to achieve its assigned mission of taking the battle to the enemy, a joint operation force involving all branches of service was formed. Air Force pilots experienced in close orbital combat and Army soldiers skilled in long-term stabilization and peacekeeping operations were added to the Marine detachments that typically accompanied Navy crews. All decked out in their dress uniforms, every one of them stood at the position of attention in the wake of a speech delivered by Fleet Marshal Van Daan, the Supreme Commander of the Union Armed Forces.
He was succeeded by Vice Admiral Ibrahim Mfume, the newly appointed commander of Heavy Carrier Battle Group One, the unit that would be headed by the Ticonderoga. The stately old officer was clad in his dress whites, his right breast stacked with many rows of medals from his long and prestigious career. He had the dark complexion of his West African descent and a lean frame that came with his age. Both the hair on his head and his beard were close-cut curls of whitish grey, giving him a grandfatherly appearance, while his dark eyes showed the hard determination of a man willing to take the battle to Hell itself if it meant victory for the Union.
The order cascaded down the ranks to salute him and after the command of order arms was given, the units stood at parade rest while he spoke. The Admiral did not wait long to begin his speech, nor did he intend to speak a long time, for he could remember the discomfort of such ceremonies from his days as a young officer. He addressed those before him in a loud and clear voice well used to speeches such as the one he was about to deliver.
"Twenty-six years," he began, "it has been twenty-six years since the Sheolite scourge first struck the people of this Union. We have fought against them ever since... and we have lost much along the way... Many of our precious colonies... the even more precious lives of citizen and comrade by the thousand... We have lost so much..."
Mfume stopped his speech momentarily. Although it was not common knowledge, his own son had been killed when the Sasaki Kojirou was destroyed in a failed attempt to defend Iapetus sixteen years ago. It took considerable effort, even for one who had endured so many battles, to hold back his tears. Looking out at the sea of faces before him, the Admiral knew he was not alone. Regaining his composure, he continued.
"The tide of the war is finally turning in our favor. At both Titan and Ganymede, we fended off the enemy with no harm to the civilian populace. The time has come for us to hunt down our elusive foe. They strike like the barbarian hordes of ancient history, but unlike those old empires of ages past, we will not allow them to destroy our civilization and overthrow our way of life.
"This ship will prove to be a mighty weapon in our fight for survival. Joined by a host of venerable comrades-in-arms who have confronted the enemy many times before, this battle group will scour every corner of the system until the last Sheolite is defeated. Let there be no doubt in your hearts. Together we will overcome. Trust in that and victory will surely be ours."
The Admiral's speech ended there. If military protocol would have permitted it, a hearty round of applause would surely have followed. Instead, the honor of a salute from the entire of assembly had to suffice. A few more of the senior officers and NCOs delivered speeches of their own before the ceremony concluded with a standard pass in review.
Noticeably missing among the senior officers was the designated commander of the Ticonderoga herself, one of the many who had not yet arrived. Supreme Command was growing impatient, however, and would only allow three more days to wait for stragglers before launching. Any who remained would have to attempt a rendezvous at another naval base on the battle group's way to its post on the Frontier. For the time being, the crew could become accustomed with their new home and enjoy a brief reprieve from the battles to come.