Chapter 24
Cutting Off the Head of the Serpent
ESS Ticonderoga, Martian Sphere
Date: Tue 18 Nov 122
Time: UST 1140

It was frustrating to be held in reserve when the second largest population of the Union was under attack, but Commander Joachim understood that his squadron was the Union's trump card and could not be played early. Professionals of the first rate though they were, his men were getting even more restless than him. He kept them busy with PT and simulator time, but that could only go so far.
Speaking of PT, the squadron just passed the one kilometer mark on the Deck 6 track and Commander Joachim shouted, "Quick-time, march!" As they were doing the cooldown march, he said, "That makes twenty, Triple-Nine. I think I'll let you off the hook with that."
"Spoil us too much and we won't be good for shit, boss," Aswani replied.
Aswani was one of the few who would smart-talk him to his face, but the Triple-Nine was an elite unit and could afford to be a little more relaxed than a conventional squadron. Commander Joachim was known for being strict, but even that had a time and a place. So long as his people showed the requisite discipline when and where it counted, that was what was most important.
After a couple hundred meters at quicktime, the Commander was ready to wrap things up. You were not generally supposed to halt your unit on the track, but these were odd hours for PT and there were no other units on the track to collide with them.
"Squad-ron, halt! Left, face! Alright, Triple-Nine, you didn't embarrass me too badly out there. Fall out, hit the showers and get some chow. Be in the simulator room by 1300. Aswani, you're in charge until I get back."
"Aye-aye, sir!"
The squadron fell out and Commander Joachim returned to his quarters to get a shower. He skipped chow, though, and instead went straight to his office. Maybe it would have been better for him to join the rest of the squadron in the simulator room, but something compelled him to be there. However, once he was there, waiting was about all he could do. There was no paperwork to sort through or anything like that to keep him occupied. Waiting was all he had.
Even for someone with his mental control, he could feel the space around him closing in as the minutes turned into hours. Try as he might, he could not help but remember his weeks of captivity at the hands of the Seven Deadlies. He started to feel like he was in that crate again. His bones ached just at the thought of it.
He took a deep breath.
Keep it together, he told himself. All you're doing is waiting. You can handle waiting. You've done it this long. Your time will come.
As if to answer the unspoken prayer buried deep in his heart, the red terminal at his desk blinked. This was it.
On the screen appeared a short, simple text message.
Operation Golgotha. The name was not quite to his liking, but that was a mere triviality. His squadron was charged with perhaps the greatest mission of the entire battle. To sink the Hades could well be the decisive blow that ended the war. It was a great honor and an even greater responsibility. There could be no mistakes. He had to trust in the superiority of the Tigerhawks and most of all, that of his men.
His answer came without hesitation.