Chapter 2
Tryout Season
ESS Ticonderoga, Barton ONB, Uranian Sphere
Date: Fri 20 Jun 122
Time: UST 1400

The command staff of the Ticonderoga was gathered in the conference room with feeds from the rest of the battle group being piped in. Marshal Van Daan came online a few minutes earlier than scheduled and had already begun his briefing.
"According to your latest report," the Marshal said, glancing over to another screen at his terminal, "Heavy Carrier Battle Group One is all green and ready to go. Have there been any changes since then?"
"Negative, sir," Admiral Mfume replied "All systems are at optimal."
The Admiral, who had already passed the mandatory retirement age, was looking very old and tired. There was enough to age him from his long career, but the last campaign and the inquiries that followed seemed to add an extra ten years to him. He did not let it slow him down, though.
It was just as well, because Marshal Van Daan was not going to show any extra consideration for him.
Moving right along, the Marshal replied, "Good to hear. As you have probably guessed, I have your next assignment. I am temporarily breaking up Heavy Carrier Battle Group One."
It was a testament to the command staff's professionalism that they did not beak out in assorted muttering. Admiral Mfume spoke on all their behalf with a muted "Sir?"
"The Ticonderoga is going to Ramon SB," the Marshal said. "The latest warbird has gone into production and we want the Ticonderoga have a squadron. We have selected a list of candidate pilots and NFOs/CSOs. They will undergo an abbreviated four-week qualification course, after which we will reassemble the battle group for your next assignment."
"And what happens to the rest of the battle group, sir?" Admiral Vargin of the Four-Two asked.
"The One-Seven will be temporarily assigned to 8th Fleet to compensate for the loss of the Anchises last year," the Marshal said. "And as for the Four-Two, you will be assigned to Nadir until the battle group is reassembled."
"I though we were getting back into the fight, sir," Commodore Frazier said.
Marshal Van Daan scowled at the Commodore for his interruption. The Marshal had never quite forgiven him for their clashes last year, but they struck an uneasy equilibrium that continued to hold so long as neither one went out of his way to step on the other's toes.
"All things in due time, Commodore," the Marshal said coolly. "We don't have any specific intel at the moment, so we ought to use this time to keep you all on the bleeding edge."
Commodore Frazier crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair, not looking entirely convinced. The Marshal, as usual, was not interested in listening to differing opinions and moved right on along.
"General Pfeiffer, you have been forwarded the list of candidates," he said. "I expect them be pre-briefed before you arrive at Ramon."
"Aye-aye, sir," General Pfeiffer replied.
The Marshal's eyes swept across the room.
"Any questions?"
Even though Marshal Van Daan showed them the courtesy of asking, it was common knowledge that he did not appreciate any questions when he was done talking. Unsurprisingly, nobody had any further questions and with that, the Marshal was ready to sign off.
"Very well then. You will head out at 0800 tomorrow. Van Daan, out."
The feed cut out, leaving the command staff with the sort of awkward silence that seemed to always follow their communications with Marshal Van Daan. Eventually it came to Admiral Mfume to break the silence.
"Well, ladies and gentlemen, I realize this is all very sudden, but it is hardly the first time. Marshal Van Daan did say this was only temporary. Admiral Vargin, Commodore Phuong, I wish you and your battle groups luck at your temporary posts. Until we sail together again."
"See you in a month, Admiral," Admiral Vargin said. "I guess that does it for today's meeting then."
"The One-Seven and the Four-Two are dismissed, yes," Admiral Mfume said.
"One-Seven, out," Commodore Phuong said.
"Four-Two, out," Admiral Vargin said.
As the feeds cut out, the Admiral told the staffers in the room, "But before I let the rest of you go, there is one last thing I would like to discuss. I think we can do more to make the most of this time. I would like to see proposals for readiness drills we can perform after we get to Ramon. Have them in by 0900 tomorrow, if you would. We can start to communicate with our counterparts in the Martian Sphere while we are en route. Are there any questions?"
Colonel Vasquez raised his hand. Some critical looks were sent his way as usual, but the Admiral did not hesitate to acknowledge him.
"Yes, Colonel?"
Much to his detractors' surprise, the Colonel had not raised his hand to voice any complaint or criticism as he was generally known for.
"How ambitious are we supposed to get with these drills, sir?"
"I am willing to consider whatever can fit in the timeframe," the Admiral replied. "Perhaps a joint exercise with the Marines on Phobos or even something planetside if you can coordinate it with the local commands."
Looking to the rest of the command staff, he continued, "We have quite a few new personnel since Operation Heaven's Door. I want to see that they are well-integrated and ready for action when the battle group is reassembled. All departments, all divisions, all units should have something for me. If there is nothing else, you are all dismissed."