Chapter 22
Timeo Danaos
ESS Ticonderoga, Martian Sphere
Date: Tue 11 Nov 122
Time: UST 1723

Not content to remain sitting in his chair, Commodore Frazier paced back and forth on the bridge. Captain Yuen stood there stoically by the captain's chair, looking straight ahead like a statue. Eventually, Admiral Mfume took it upon himself to speak up.
"Stop pacing and take a seat, Commodore. You are making the bridge crew nervous."
"Aye-aye, sir," the Commodore replied and returned to his seat.
As they say, waiting is the hardest part. The Ticonderoga wasn't being utilized to her full potential even though the need was dire. The 41st MEU and the 78th CAD were deployed to the surface, but the Tico herself had been judiciously held back from directly engaging the enemy fleets. What was the point of having the Navy's most advanced warship there if they didn't use her?
A sensor operator broke the tedium of the wait, saying, "Sir, we have activity at the Gate."
"I sure as hell hope it's good news," Commodore Frazier replied.
"It's the Arrakis, sir!" the operator exclaimed. "Task Force Orpheus must have finally made it here!"
Commodore Frazier grinned and said, "That is good news. Not a moment too soon."
Admiral Mfume said to the communications operator, "Open a channel once the carriers come through."
"Aye-aye, sir."
After a few minutes, the communications operator said, "Onscreen now, sir."
Once the viewscreens displayed the commanders of the three carrier battle groups, Admiral Mfume greeted them, saying, "Good to see you, ladies and gentlemen. I realize you just got here, but we need you to hit the ground running, as it were. Head to the coordinates we are sending you. The remnants of the Visigoth Fleet have slipped through the net and we need to take them out before they can do any significant damage planetside. We will meet you there."
"Copy that, Ticonderoga," Admiral Vargin replied.
The communications operator then said, "Sir, we have an incoming signal overriding the feed."
Admiral Vicetti of Fifth Fleet appeared onscreen.
"Belay that order," he said. "We don't have the luxury of sending three carrier battle groups against one busted Shelly fleet. I'm redirecting the Two-Seven and the Four-Two. The One-Seven will be sufficient. Ticonderoga, you will hold position."
"But, sir, we--"
Admiral Vicetti quickly cut off Admiral Mfume with a blunt, "No buts, Admiral. This isn't up for discussion. Vicetti, out."
Admiral Vicetti must have learned a thing or two from Marshal Van Daan's experience because he didn't even bother to engage Admiral Mfume. He could certainly make Commodore Frazier's blood boil as much as the Marshal did.
"The One-Seven's going to have a hard time on their own," the Commodore grumbled. "Why the hell do they insist on leveling the damn playing field in the Shellies' favor?"
"Mind what you say," Admiral Mfume said. "This is not the appropriate venue to air these complaints. I will try to speak with Admiral Vicetti. Until then, hold position as ordered. You have the bridge, Commodore Frazier."
"Aye-aye, sir."
Admiral Mfume got up from his seat and left the bridge. Contacting Admiral Vicetti in private, he might be able to negotiate a modification of their orders that would still allow the commander of Fifth Fleet to save face. Admiral Mfume certainly had more skill with diplomacy, but that was no small part of the reason Commodore Frazier didn't expect to see another star in his career.
Though he longed to act now and act directly, the Commodore abided by Admiral Mfume's orders and tried to make the most of the current situation.
"Alright," he said. "The least we can do is watch over them. Give me the play-by-play."
"Aye-aye, sir," the assorted operators replied.
The radar operator was the first to speak up.
"The One-Seven is moving in, sir. Sheolite formation is repositioning to meet them."
The Commodore brought up the different feeds on his chair's console and cycled through them. It was almost like being back in the cockpit again.
"The One-Seven is opening up with some pulse fire," the sensor operator said.
Commodore Phuong had always been the cautious type, so it wasn't surprising that she wanted to probe the Shellies' defenses before going all-out. The Visigoth Fleet acted as the tip of the spear in the Shelly offensive into the heart of the planetary sphere and it was the first to suffer major losses, its flagship the Acheron being the first dreadnought to go down. The surviving Visigoth ships were damaged, no doubt, but the extent of that damage was unclear. Just because you didn't get a reading on Shelly shields didn't always mean they were down, so an opening salvo of pulse fire was always a good idea before committing the more valuable missiles or torpedoes.
"Both the Laocoon and the Sheolite carrier are scrambling fighters."
The radar screen lit up with dozens of new contacts. It wouldn't last that way for long. The Shellies were losing their superlights almost as fast as they deployed them, but the losses among Union pilots were also pretty high. It made the Commodore want to be flying again all the more. Even though it wasn't true in fact, he felt like he could be making more of a difference in a Wakizashi than on the bridge of the Ticonderoga.
"We're reading critical damage from one of the Shelly patrol escorts," the sensor operator said. "And it's down. One ship down."
There were a few scattered cheers, but the victory was short-lived.
"Wait," the sensor operator said. "We just lost signal from the Arkab Posterior. The Douglas MacArthur's taking a lot of fire. Shields are down. I repeat, shields are down. Torps inbound. One intercepted. Two. Three. ... ... The fourth torp has made impact. We've lost signal from the MacArthur. The MacArthur is down. I repeat, the MacArthur is down."
"Dammit..." the Commodore muttered under his breath.
The loss of the MacArthur left a sizable hole in the battle group's defensive formation and it was immediately exploited. Commodore Frazier saw one of the Shelly blips move in for the kill right as the radar operator said, "Sheolite destroyer is on a collision course. Impact. Signal lost."
"I'm getting a mayday from the Laocoon, sir!" the communications operator shouted.
"Patch it though!"
"No good, sir! I've lost the signal!"
"Try to open a channel from our end!"
"Sir, the Laocoon is down," the sensor operator said gravely.
The Commodore sank back in his chair. A carrier lost not even an hour out of the Gate. All because of the calculations of some bean counter in Fleet. But there was no time to waste on getting angry. There was still something he could do for his comrades.
"Call Nagashima," the Commodore said. "Tell him to scramble SAR to save who we can. Give them whatever escort they need. We need fighters to be running off those Shellies too."
"But, sir, our orders are to--"
"Give the order."
"A, aye-aye, sir."
Commodore Frazier stood up and said, "Get the CDC on the line. I want a lock on that Shelly carrier. Get a clear shot and finish it off."
Captain Yuen had been silent up until now but finally saw fit to intervene.
"Captain, scrambling SAR is one thing, but how do you intend to justify engaging that carrier?"
"Easy," the Commodore replied confidently. "We make the shot while holding position. Admiral Vicetti told us to hold position. He didn't say anything about holding fire."
"You think that will save you?"
"I don't care about saving myself. We still have five of our ships out there. They're the ones this is gonna save."
"So long as you understand the risk."
Yuen resumed standing silently in place. His intervention was nothing more than a token gesture. As usual, he was for the Commodore's actions but had to play devil's advocate for appearance's sake.
Through the open channel to the CDC, Commodore Frazier asked, "Do we have a firing solution?"
Commander Lombardi, the TAO, replied, "Forty-five more seconds, sir."
The Commodore then told the communications operator, "Alert the remaining ships in the One-Seven. Make sure they're prepared to take evasive maneuvers."
Commander Lombardi's voice came up on the speaker.
"We have firing solution, sir."
"Fire all missiles from Batteries One and Two."
"All of them, sir?"
"All of them."
"Aye-aye, sir. Firing all missiles from Batteries One and Two. Estimate six minutes to impact."
The Commodore sat back down to watch his view of the radar screen. The twenty-eight Starbeams raced to their target in a precisely calculated formation, close enough to quickly converge on one point but far enough away that destroying one wouldn't cause a chain reaction that destroyed them all.
When the missiles were about a minute to their destination, the sensor operator said, "Sheolite carrier is attempting to intercept missiles. The remaining patrol escort is moving to act as a shield. Four impacts. Signal lost. Patrol escort is down. Seven more intercepted. Thirteen. Sixteen. Twenty. We have seven impacts. The Galahad has fired two torpedoes. Impact. Signal lost. The Shelly carrier is down. I repeat, the Shelly carrier is down. Remaining cruiser is retreating."
There were some cheers, but Commodore Frazier couldn't take much pleasure in the kill, not with the loss of the Laocoon and the MacArthur.
"Tell the Galahad not to pursue," he said. "They can pepper it as it runs, but make SAR a priority."
"Aye-aye, sir."
The Commodore crossed his arms and leaned back into his chair. Now that the immediate threat had passed, his anger at Admiral Vicetti and the rest of the brass was starting percolate. How many had to die for their incompetence? How many more were going to die before this was over?
"The Admiral may not approve of your methods," Yuen said, "but surely he can't argue with your results."
The Commodore didn't say anything in reply. The very mention of Admiral Vicetti's name only made him angrier. Admiral Mfume was fighting valiantly for them, but he was playing by their rules and the deck was stacked hopelessly against him. Maybe it was time to stop taking orders from Atlantis City toadies, pull out all the stops and fight to win this thing as quickly as possible.
He shook his head. He knew that wouldn't work. The moment he decisively broke with his superiors, he'd be relieved of his command, Hero of the Union or not. No, as much as he didn't want to admit it, Admiral Mfume had the more sensible approach. Better to do what you could with one hand tied behind your back than get replaced with a sycophant with no hands at all.