Chapter 7
Launch Party

Location: ESS Britannia, Earth Sphere
Date: Sat 30 Mar 121
Time: UST 1457

Flanked by nearly two dozen escorts, the ESS Britannia hung in orbit like a silent sentinel, watching over Earth, standing between it and the Sheolite menace. Today she had an additional duty, to watch a new sister come into the world. Like Pallas Athena, she would spring forth fully grown and geared for battle. War was her purpose, victory her goal.
On the Britannia's observation deck, scores of viewscreens displayed the heavy carrier Ticonderoga from all angles. She was still docked at Armstrong, but not for much longer. A counter ticked off the remaining seconds before the big launch. There could be no mistakes. Too much was riding on this.
No one knew this more than World Council Chairwoman Liu Meifang. She had come to oversee the launch of the Ticonderoga herself, accompanied by the Minister of Defense, Fleet Marshal Van Daan, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Simply watching the event from the comfort of her office in Atlantis City would not satisfy her.
The war had been going fairly well under her administration. The Sheolites had not scored a single victory of any significance in years. That being said, the Union could not afford to let the war continue much longer. Optimistic figures gave them five more years before production would go into decline and the influx of new recruits would fall below sustainment levels. As the Sheolites had never shown any signs of slowing down after all these years, any weakening of the Union would only turn the tide back in the enemy's favor. It had to end before then and the Ticonderoga was instrumental in making that happen.
On the viewscreens, yellow warning lights flashed inside Docking Bay 24. They were sucking out the air before opening the bay doors. Any personnel wandering around in there had about thirty seconds to suit up or get out. Almost time.
Once the yellow lights turned off, smaller red lights signaled that the bay doors were opening. While the doors were sliding open, they deactivated the artificial gravity in the docking bay, causing the Ticonderoga to rise ever so slightly. Her repulsors kicked in to give the ship a little more distance from the deck while she retracted her landing struts. By the time that was done, the hundred-meter maw of the docking bay lay wide open.
The Ticonderoga's engine roared to life, her four huge thrusters glowing blue-white. Thanks to the new Six-Echoes, a large ship like the Ticonderoga could fly as fast as a second-generation space fighter, but the helmsman took it easy, gently emerging from Armstrong.
There was no need to rely on the viewscreens anymore. Chairwoman Liu could now see the ship with her own eyes. It was truly a sight to behold. Though smaller than an Imperium-class flagship like the Britannia, the Ticonderoga dwarfed everything else in the Fleet. And unlike the aging Britannia, the Ticonderoga was a testament to the state of the art in Union technology. Impressive enough from the outside, the Chairwoman knew that what lay inside was even more impressive.
As the Ticonderoga rendezvoused with her escorts, Chairwoman Liu rested her hand on the window. She watched intently as the Heavy Carrier Battle Group One assembled for the first time and then headed for the gates.
I will be expecting great things of you, she thought, my dear Tico.