Chapter 19
ESS Saratoga, Earth Sphere
Date: Fri 08 May 123
Time: UST 0418

The end of the war meant that career advancement would slow to a crawl for many. It would be incentive for a number of officers to retire sooner than later, doing their part for the postwar drawdown. However, this was not the case for Rear Admiral Olivier Xenopoulos. His star continued to rise and there was the opportunity to go even farther now that the Navy was looking to trim the fat.
In all honesty, commanding a carrier battle group was quite a respectable way to cap off a military career, but Admiral Xenopoulos had the distinct honor of being only the second officer to command one of the new heavy carrier battle groups.
It was a shame that the ESS Saratoga--the sister ship to the Ticonderoga--was not yet out of space trials during the Battle of Mars. She missed her chance at battlefield glory and would never match her elder sister's fame. Perhaps it was just as well. If the Union's history was any indication, they were not due for another war for seventy years.
The Admiral was woken up by an urgent call from SupCom. He quickly got dressed and headed to his office. He had to connect via the red line, which did not bode well. Perhaps it was only a drill, a test of the system.
When the connection was established, an operator's voice said, "Please state your name, rank and serial number."
"Xenopoulos, Oliver, Rear Admiral, 925-Xray-Bravo-Hotel-1818."
"Thank you, sir. Patching you through now."
After a moment, Marshal Van Daan appeared on the screen. Admiral Xenopoulos sat at attention, greeting him with a simple, "Sir."
"Admiral Xenopoulos, we have a Priority One alert," the Marshal said. "The Ticonderoga has gone rogue. Abandoned her escorts and went off God knows where. Heavy Carrier Battle Group Two will rendezvous with the remaining elements of Heavy Carrier Battle Group One. Extract whatever usable intelligence you can, then pursue and detain."
Admiral Xenopoulos wondered if he was still only half-awake. He had to have misheard something.
"Sir, did you just say the Ticonderoga has gone rogue?"
"Did it sound like I stuttered, Admiral?" the Marshal asked harshly.
"That can't possibly be right. Sir, a ship with Ticonderoga's record, she--"
"Mfume and Frazier have always been insubordinate," the Marshal said bitterly, "and now it looks like they've taken it to the next level. I want their heads on pikes for this."
"Sir, you're talking two Heroes of the Union."
"I don't give a damn about that bit of tin they wear around their necks!" the Marshal snapped. "It'll take more than a PR smokescreen to fool me! You get them or I'll find somebody who will."
Xenopoulos was not going to let his objections cost him his command. Under the circumstances, there was only one answer.
"Aye-aye, sir."
Assured of the Admiral's compliance, Marshal Van Daan continued, "Rendezvous with the Brasidas at Jurawski, then proceed with the mission. The operation's codename is 'Bounty Hunter'. Are we clear on this, Admiral?"
"Yes, sir."
"I realize you have a long history with Mfume. That isn't going to be a problem, is it?"
"No, sir."
"Good. That's what I want to hear. Get the Tico back at all costs. Van Daan, out."
The feed was cut and Admiral Xenopoulos sank back into his chair. How could this be happening? He had served with Admiral Mfume for most of his career. There was no way he would condone any actions that would get the Ticonderoga labeled as a rogue ship. Something was very wrong, but perhaps that was all the more reason for him to be at the helm to uncover the truth.