Chapter 20
The Bearer of Bad News
ESS Ticonderoga, Martian Sphere
Date: Thu 06 Nov 122
Time: UST 1044

Admiral Mfume waited patiently for Marshal Van Daan to respond to his call. He had been on hold for over two hours, but he would wait as long as it took. Finally, the terminal beeped and the Marshal's face appeared onscreen.
"What is it, Mfume?" Marshal Van Daan asked, sounding both tired and irritated.
The Marshal was no doubt under considerable stress at the moment, but the Admiral could not muster too much sympathy for him. It was far worse for everyone fighting for their lives in the Martian Sphere and it was for their sake that he was making this call.
"You should know, sir," the Admiral replied.
"The decision has been made," Marshal Van Daan said. "There's nothing you can say that will change that."
Admiral Mfume did not leave it at that and pushed the request he had been agitating for ever since open combat broke out.
"Sir, we need reinforcements."
"We've sent reinforcements," the Marshal said. "Three carrier battle groups."
"It is not enough. We need more."
"More?" Marshal Van Daan scoffed. "How much more do you think we can take from the other fleets?"
"There is one fleet that has not provided reinforcements yet."
"Fourth Fleet is our last line of defense," the Marshal said harshly. "Humanity's last like of defense. Do you think I or anyone else here in Atlantis City will risk the 8.8 billion people of the Earth Sphere for the 950 million on Mars?"
Admiral Mfume was well aware of the numbers game, but two could play at that.
"Force multiplication is not linear, sir, and you know it. The more ships you send our way, the sooner we can end this with fewer losses all around."
"And what if the Sheolites launch an attack on Earth while we throw all our resources at Mars?"
"The whole of the Sheolite Imperial Navy is here now."
"We don't know that."
"We have the Sheolite data--"
The Marshal cut him off, saying, "That could easily be false. For the last time, Mfume, no reinforcements will come from Fourth.
At first, it looked like Marshal Van Daan would hang up then and there, but he paused for a moment before saying, "What about Task Force Orpheus? That's three carrier battle groups right there."
"They are at least three days away from Union space, sir," the Admiral replied. "And it would take them another two days to get here in even the best case scenario."
"Task Force Orpheus will be your reinforcements," the Marshal said with an air of finality. "You'll have to make do until then."
"Sir, that--"
"Enough, Mfume! We're done talking about this."
Were Commodore Frazier here, he would no doubt have something intemperate to say that would anger the Marshal further. In his absence, Admiral Mfume found his own way to achieve the same effect.
Not relenting in the slightest, in the face of all good sense, the Admiral said, "If I have to go to the Chairwoman herself, I will."
This fresh provocation did not make Marshal Van Daan's face go red or induce him to scream curses at the Admiral. Instead, it stirred a quiet, simmering anger, one that was much deeper and far more dangerous.
"Go over my head and I'll have you relieved of your command. Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir," the Admiral replied.
"I don't want to have this conversation again. Van Daan, out."
The Marshal hung up and Admiral Mfume sat there in his chair, mustering his resolve. He only told the Marshal that he understood the threat, not that he would abide by the implicit order. Millions of lives were at stake. His career would be a small sacrifice. If he could get the reinforcements they needed, he would even be willing to face a court-martial at the hands of a vindictive Marshal Van Daan.
He dialed up the number and after a few rings, an operator answered, "Office of the Chairwoman of the World Council. How may I help you?"
"This is Admiral Mfume of Heavy Carrier Battle Group One. I must speak to the Chairwoman at once."
"One moment, sir."
Again the Admiral had to wait, though only for about half an hour this time. However, it was not the Chairwoman who picked up but rather her chief of staff. His wife.
"Hello, Ibrahim," Mariangela replied.
She looked a little frazzled, but her work took quite a toll on her even when things were relatively quiet. Even so, she was still able to give him a smile, though it was the sort of smile you put on as a mask to hide some unpleasant task.
"I need to speak to the Chairwoman," the Admiral said.
"The Chairwoman isn't going to speak with you, Ibrahim."
"If she would only hear me out..."
"She knows what you're going to say and it won't change anything. Vladikov, Varger, Cartaglia, the department secretaries, and all the Joint Chiefs except Graves back Marshal Van Daan's decision. Councilor Vincentez has been trying to agitate for more aid, but not even Councilor Nilsson is taking his side on this. It's a lost cause."
While Marshal Graves was a powerful ally for Councilor Vincentez to have in his corner, it would not be enough to sway the Chairwoman when the rest of the World Council and all the major players in the Ministry of Defense and Central Intelligence were behind Marshal Van Daan. It was clearly a lost cause, but Admiral Mfume could not in good conscience give up now.
"I have to try," he said.
With a pitying smile, Mariangela replied, "You have, Ibrahim."
"Am I supposed to give up then?"
"No," Mariangela said, "you're supposed to keep fighting, but this is one battle you have to withdraw from."
A tactical withdrawal may indeed have been necessary, but it was not something Admiral Mfume wanted to do. Had he just risked his command and not even gotten the chance to speak with the Chairwoman directly? Were his efforts all one big waste?
He could almost taste the bile in the back of his throat as he said bitterly, "This battle with the politicians, including those in uniform, could cost us the battle on the ground."
"There isn't a war in history where that hasn't been the case, Ibrahim," Mariangela said, trying to sound sympathetic but only coming off as tired. "Look, I'll see what I can do on my end. You do what you can on yours."
The Admiral nodded quietly. It was all he could do at that point.
"Stay safe out there, Ibrahim," Mariangela said.
The line went dead. Admiral Mfume thought on his wife's words and wondered. Was this just a battle he lost or had he lost the war?