Chapter 25
Light at the End of the Tunnel
ESS Ticonderoga, Martian Sphere
Date: Wed 19 Nov 122
Time: UST 2008

Commodore Frazier had come to hate the captain's chair. It was supposed to be a position of power but nowhere else had he ever felt so powerless in all his career. The Ticonderoga had only directly engaged the enemy a couple times so far, all the while thousands of his brothers in arms were dying all around him. Did it even make any difference for them to rush back from Erebus if all they were going to do was be held in reserve with all the fifty-year-old junkers?
Try as he might, Admiral Mfume couldn't prevail against Admiral Vicetti and his backers in SupCom. Their stonewalling grated on the Commodore more and more as the battle raged on. Part of him wondered if it was less about safeguarding the best ship in the Fleet as it was about keeping people like himself and Admiral Mfume from outshining the prevailing leadership.
It wasn't that he craved fame and glory. He already had plenty of that, far more than he deserved. No, what bothered him was the thought of all these politicians in uniform manipulating the situation with an eye on their careers after the service. How many were eyeing civilian MOD slots, governorships or even World Council seats? The thought of someone like Fleet Marshal Van Daan as the next Chairman made the Commodore's skin crawl.
It's hard to say how much longer Commodore Frazier would have continued to brood when an excited communications operator turned from his console and exclaimed, "Sir, we've got an incoming transmission from the Brasidas! They just sank the Cocytus!"
All the Commodore's bitterness was blown away in an instant.
"Outstanding!" he replied, slapping the arm of his chair. "That's what I wanna hear!" He then turned to his XO and asked, "Where does that put us, Yuen?"
"Very nearly at a two-to-one advantage," Yuen replied.
"Would you call this the pivot?"
"I would argue the pivot was last week, but I'll leave that for the military historians to decide."
Commodore Frazier wasn't so concerned about the precise timing. The main thing was that they had clearly passed the turning point. Yes, the Union side had suffered significant losses, but the Shellies were losing more and losing them faster. It wouldn't be long now.
"It's close," the Commodore said. "It's so close I can taste it."
"Don't get too hasty," Yuen replied. "They still have the Hades and two other dreadnoughts. They can do a lot of damage yet."
"How are things on the surface?"
"As you know, they cleared Elysium yesterday and according to estimate, Argyre will be clear in the next two or three days."
"So long as we don't let any of the Shellies get away, the war'll be over soon."
"It doesn't look like the Shellies mean to escape."
That was a sticking point. Although the Shellies were never completely predictable, they had an established MO that was fairly consistent over the twenty-plus years they'd been fighting. If they were going to throw everything away in an all-or-nothing attack, why did they attack Mars and not Earth? If they made it this deep into Union space without being detected, surely they could've bypassed the Martian Sphere.
Commodore Frazier found himself asking the questions in his head aloud, "Why now? Why like this?"
Yuen didn't bother to speculate--he never did--, only saying, "That's something for Intel to puzzle over."
"Well, I guess it doesn't matter much so long as they're all dead," the Commodore replied.
It wasn't that simple and he knew it. What if SupCom wasn't just being paranoid. What if this wasn't all the Shellies? What then?
Then again, even if this was all the Shellies and the war was going to be over soon, what would that mean for the Union? It had been so long, how were they going to adjust back to peacetime? Could they even adjust to peacetime?
The Commodore shook his head.
"Ah, I'm psychin' myself out. This is a big win for us and I don't plan on spoiling it. I need to spread the good news."
Tapping on the controls on the arm of his chair, Commodore Frazier accessed the intercom and announced to the ship, "Attention all hands, attention all hands, this just in. The Sheolite dreadnought Cocytus, the flagship of the Frank Fleet, has been sunk. I repeat, the dreadnought Cocytus has been sunk. Stay sharp, ladies and gents. We're almost through this."
They needed to enjoy this moment. Even as things were looking up for them, there was bound to be a lot of blood, sweat and tears to be shed before this was all over. There was no telling what tricks the Shellies might still have up their sleeves and that was what worried Commodore Frazier most.