Chapter 31
The Rain in Spain
ESS Ticonderoga, Martian Sphere
Date: Fri 15 May 123
Time: UST 1524

Division in the enemy ranks tipped the scales even further in their favor. Once the Raziel was destroyed, the remaining enemy ships turned on each other. At Admiral Mfume's order, the fratricidal shooting match was allowed to play out and when the dust settled, only two ships remained.
Commodore Frazier wondered if their old friend Mika Otonashi had returned to lend them a hand once more, but that didn't seem to be the case. If it was her, she would have contacted them. No, it seemed like a simple matter of the survivors being split between those who were committed to staying in the fight until the bitter end and those who either had a mind to bug out or throw themselves on the Union's mercy. The only question was which side the last men standing belonged to.
"The Empyrean cruiser is hailing us, sir," the communications officer said.
"Patch it through to the Admiral and me," Commodore Frazier said.
"Patching through, aye, sir."
It was an audio-only feed, a habit of the Empyreans that hadn't changed. In stilted Standard, a man's voice said, "We surrender. Please... show mercy."
There was always a risk that it was a trick to get them to lower their guard, but the decision wasn't in the Commodore's hands. He looked to Admiral Mfume, who simply nodded. It was all he needed.
"Marques," he told the communications officer, "get Captain Rivkin on the line."
"Aye, sir," Lieutenant Marques replied.
Captain Rivkin was one of the so-called Three Wise Men, Navy linguists who decoded the Empyrean language and acted as interpreters during Operation Heaven's Door. When they saw that they were facing an Empyrean remnant, one of the first things Admiral Mfume did was try to reassemble the Three Wise Men just in case. Captain Rivkin was closest, being on Earth, but even with the signal being boosted through the Gates, there would be about a ten-minute lag.
"Ready, sir," Captain Rivkin said when he was brought on the channel.
Admiral Mfume then told the Empyrean, "Empyrean vessel, this is Admiral Mfume of the Earth Union Navy. We accept your surrender. Power down all weapons systems and go to the coordinates we transmit to you. We will be sending men to secure your vessel. Be prepared to surrender all personal weapons and obey all instructions. If you comply, I give you my word that none of you will be harmed.
"This message will be repeated in the Empyrean language shortly. If you understand what I have said, acknowledge."
"A, acknowledge," the Empyrean replied awkwardly. "We do as you say."
Mfume then told the communications officer, "Contact Captain Rivkin's superiors and get him on a shuttle to the Martian Sphere as soon as possible. Try to get Commander Mizrahi here as well. We will need them here if we are going to process prisoners."
"Aye-aye, sir."
He then told the navigator, "Commander Rymer, transmit coordinates to the Empyrean ships out of the line of fire but still within range."
"Transmitting now, sir," Commander Rymer replied.
The Admiral then told Commodore Frazier, "Assemble two teams to take control of the Empyrean vessels. Helm, weapons, communications, engines. Contact Colonel Grozny and Colonel Vasquez. Their people can provide security."
"I'm on it, sir," the Commodore replied.
There were a lot of calls to be made and all this was while the battle was still ongoing. The Empyrean side had been neutralized, which meant the Tico and her battle group could reinforce the Saratoga against the Sheolites and the mutinous ships of Command Battle Group Five.
Other than a handful of fighters and the few Mobile Armor units led by Marshal Graves himself, Battle Group Five had been largely passive throughout the battle. None of the ships actively engaged either the Ticonderoga or the Saratoga. The most they did was intercept the occasional missile. This lent further credence to the idea that the mutineers' grip remained tenuous, forcing the Empyreans and Sheolites to do most of the work. There was hope yet of saving the hostage crews with minimal losses.
The Commodore was still making arrangements for the boarding parties when Marques said, "The Iberia is hailing us, sir."
"I've got to hang up, Gunmoontree," Commodore Frazier said hastily. "Something's come up. If you have any questions, call me back." He then hung up and said, "Alright, Marques, open a channel."
"Opening channel, aye, sir."
A rather gaunt and disheveled-looking Naval officer appeared on the screen.
"Ticonderoga, this is Commander Wangchuk of the Iberia. We have retaken the ship. I repeat, we have retaken the ship. All systems are back under our control."
"Glad to hear it, Iberia," the Commodore said. "You and your battle group disengage while we finish mop-up."
Though he looked like he'd been through hell, Commander Wangchuk didn't leap at the chance to get clear.
"With all due respect, sir, we'd like to get in the fight."
Commodore Frazier could respect his resolve, but they had other priorities at the moment.
"Our orders are to bring you back in one piece, Iberia. You can provide fire support after you've put some distance between you and the hostiles."
Thankfully, Commander Wangchuk didn't look like he had a mind to fight Commodore Frazier on the subject.
"Acknowledged, Ticonderoga," he said. "We'll pull out, regroup and give you some cover. Iberia, out."
No sooner had the Iberia and her escorts began to disengage that one of the sensor operators exclaimed, "Sir, the Shellies have switched targets! They're now focusing all fire on the Iberia!"
If the battle group was in decent shape, they could stand up to the Shellies, but as they were, they stood to take a lot of damage. There was no time to lose.
"Get in there!" the Commodore shouted. "We gotta back 'em up! Have the Galahad hang back and babysit the Impies! Everyone else, hammer those Shelly bastards!"
Combat systems and communications were abuzz with all manner of orders and echoes. The Commodore hastily cycled through the views on his displays to get a better handle on the situation and how they could maximize the effectiveness of their resources.
As he was watching the radar blips move on the radar screen, one of the radar operators told him what he could already see.
"The Iberia's escorts are moving into defensive position," she said.
While the Commodore was pulling up scan data on the escorts to measure the strength of their shields and hull integrity, he said, "They can't take that kinda fire for long. Hit 'em with everything we got!"
Of course combat systems was already doing everything they could and hopefully the rest of the battle group was doing the same. Unfortunately, though, the Saratoga's battle group was in disarray, never properly reforming after losing one of her cruisers.
"Dammit, Xenopoulos, get your shit together..." Commodore Frazier muttered under his breath.
As if on cue, the radar operator then said, "Battle Group Two is reforming."
A sensor operator added, "Concentrating fire on the Phlegethon."
No doubt it was the Shellies turning their attention to the Iberia that gave the Saratoga the breathing room she needed to get back into formation, but Commodore Frazier wanted to pretend Admiral Xenopoulos heard his grumbling somehow.
"We have confirmed torpedo hit on the Phlegethon."
"Don't let up," the Commodore said. "Keep hittin' 'em."
"Another torpedo hit. And another. Four hits now. The Phlegethon's engines are offline. Target has gone silent."
"We can worry about finishing it off later," Commodore Frazier said. "There are still six more ships and helluva lotta superlights still out there."
As much as Commodore Frazier wanted to believe that taking down the Phlegethon would cause the Shellies to buckle like the Empyreans did, it wasn't happening. He could only watch helplessly as the Iberia's escorts started reading red.
"We just lost the Kenshin!" the sensor operator cried. "Hanzou's hurting pretty bad. Nekkar's gone."
Commodore Frazier pounded the arm of his chair with his fist, shouting, "Don't let up! Make those bastards pop!"
As hard as Command Battle Group Five was being hit, the Shellies were far outnumbered by this point and it was only a matter of how much damage they could inflict before the inevitable. Agitated, the Commodore listened to the results trickle in.
"Sheolite carrier is down. I repeat, Sheolite carrier is down. A patrol escort, a destroyer. The Rigel just took a torpedo hit!"
"Come on! Come on!"
"Shelly cruiser down... No signal from the Seginus... Another Shelly cruiser... Patrol escort... The last Shelly cruiser has taken a torpedo hit... Two hits. It's down. That's it for the Shellies."
The Commodore couldn't breathe easy yet. There was no guarantee the Shellies were completely out of the fight yet.
"Keep an eye on 'em," he said. "Make sure none of 'em get back up. Get SAR in the air ASAP. Let's save who we can."
"Aye-aye, sir."
New orders cascaded down the line and only then did Commodore Frazier realize that he'd coopted the battle group ever since the Iberia started taking fire. He looked back to Admiral Mfume and said, "Sorry, sir. Didn't mean take the reins like that. Looks like I got a little carried away."
The Admiral held up his hand and replied, "No, no, it is quite all right. You did well, Commodore. A battle group command may yet be in your future."
Commodore Frazier could feel the tension leaving his body. The worst was behind them.
"We did it, sir. It's over."
"I would not be so hasty as to say that," Admiral Mfume said, "but it does seem that the worst is behind us."
The Commodore chuckled to himself for thinking the exact same thing. Meanwhile Admiral Mfume told the communications officer, "Lieutenant Marques, connect me to Admiral Xenopoulos via a private channel."
"Aye-aye, sir."
"There is still much that remains to be settled," the Admiral said, mostly to himself.
Indeed there was a lot that remained to be settled and not just here. Though the Commodore was quite preoccupied overseeing rescue operations and such, in the back of his mind he was thinking of all the matters that still needed to be resolved and at the top of that list was squaring the injustice committed to a particular nine members of his crew.