Casus Belli – 49

The lights shifted on the bridge to allow better focus to the viewscreen and the duty stations, signifying the shift to Critical Alert. Van popped a window up on the viewscreen. Behind him, the Captain could see whirling lines. “Yes, Ensign?”

Van gestured to the screen behind him. “I’ve got transitional radio feed on the graviton surge. Would you like me to overlay the viewscreen?”

Captain Spitzer nodded. “Do so, Van.” She watched as the screen shifted, swirling, coiling lines emanating from a singular point. “Where are we looking, Van?”

Van popped out a window, and showed the overlay of the ecliptic of the Sol System. He gestured to the map, and for a moment, Captain Spitzer felt like she were watching a TV weatherman. “It’s just here, on the edge of the system, just beyond the heliopause. I’m not sure how far into the system the Plasmoids are going to come, Captain, at least, not until they’ve engaged us in battle.”

Captain Spitzer nodded, and smiled at the crew coming into the bridge. “Good timing. The Plasmoid fleet is about to arrive.” She turned to Van. “Do we have any sense on whether this information has been sent onward to the Leviathan?”

Van stood stock-still for a moment, then looked at the Captain. “I’ve fired of a string of communications buoys. Once they’re established, we should have a faster line of communication to the Leviathian, even in the heat of battle.”

The bridge crew had settled and Captain Spitzer grabbed the speaking tube. Van spoke to her from the tube. “I’ve set it for general address, Captain.” She was off-put for a second, then tossed her hair and addressed the crew. “My crew, we are on the verge of battle. You have proved your skills and abilities in the past. I know you’ll serve with distinction.”

Birgit turned and keyed the screen over as she did so. “We’ve got transit vortices and massive graviton fluctuations.”

Aquico chimed in. “Confirmed, Captain, and it’s looking like we’ve got more Plasmoids coming in than we’d ever expected. We’re looking at nearly triple the amount reported at Heimaey, and the markings on the ship only match with two of the ones we saw at Loesø.”

Birgit gripped the raillngs, and the rest of the crew showed some strain. “We’ve got a tsunami of gravitons across the local brane, but it would seem that the modifications we’ve made are having a leveling effect. Gravity across the ship is holding steady in a band between 1.2 and 1.5 g. Engineering is reporting that the prior fluctuations caused by the phlogiston aren’t nearly as bad.” The gravity intensified around the bridge, and Birgit groaned. “That’s the next wave of Plasmoids coming through.” The gravity dropped again to prior levels as the first wave of gravitons moved past them.

Aquico chimed in. “Captain, we’ve got movement from the oort bodies around us. A number of them have been knocked from their orbits, and they’re heading in-system.”

Captain Spitzer looked at her. “Can we notify the Leviathan?”

Van chimed in. “It’s been done, Captain.” He glitched for a second. “We don’t have Transititional Radio confirmation from them. They could be affected by the arrival of the Plasmoids. Our relays look like the only systems functional out there right now because of the graviton wash.” He paused, his expression a little dark. “I don’t have any word from any other ships, which means we could be facing this threat on our own.”

Captain Spitzer shook her head. “If I know Betsy Schwann and the other Captains, they’re putting out the appearance that the Plasmoids are going to be expecting – playing ‘possum, as the saying goes.” The gravity shifted again. She gestured to Birgit. “Flicker the power of the ship – power down any external systems that would draw their attention.” Jimmy’s image appeared on the screen, with Van gesturing to it.

“Jimmy?”

He smiled. “Captain – we’re ready to jettison the damaged baffles and phologiston mixers.”

Captain Spitzer nodded. “Do it, and then drop power to minimal life-support for a moment – but let’s keep the passive optics functional.” She looked at Birgit. “Have we been able to find a nexus for the information? Are they a hive mind like the Queliquot, or are they going to behave like the captains of Starmada, each on their own?”

Birgit shrugged. “Captain – I don’t have enough data yet. Prior interactions with The Director and the others suggest that there’s something of a collective consciousness. I’ll keep you posted – but in the meantime, they seem to follow a typical naval approach with picket ships ringing the command vessels.”

Captain Spitzer looked to Quil. “Can you give any insight into the Plasmoids? Their behavior in battle?”

Quil shook his head. “They are a strongly fragmented society. No group fights the same as the others. I would have to watch this battle to be able to discern it. With enough action, I should be able to help you pinpoint their weaknesses.

Birgit chimed in again. “That seems to be the last influx, Captain. The Plasmoids are moving in toward us and the rest of the fleet they’ve been able to detect.”

Captain Spitzer smiled. “Wide-system broadcast, with as much power as we can throw behind it. ‘Olley, olley, oxen free!’ Jimmy, power to full, Birgit, run out the guns, Marie, pilot like you’ve never done before.”

The lights of the ship came up to full, the systematic illumination of the auxillary stations around Birgit showing the deployment of the weapons aboard the Vanguard. The screen shifted and Van highlighted the Starfighters that had been launched against the Plasmoids. Van gestured to the screen. “That’s the signature of transit of most of the other ships of our fleet.”

Captain Spitzer looked at Aquico and back at Van. “Do either of you have a calculation on their flanking maneuver of the Plasmoids? How long do we have to fend them off?”

Aquico scrabbled at the Autabacus, and Van spoke from the viewscreen. “While she’s calculating, Captain, I’ll explain. With the gravitons flooding our brane, there’s a high degree of variability in the arrival of the ships.” He pointed at what seemed to be large clusters of the gravitons. “It could be that the ships are causing these dimples all around the Plasmoids, Captain.” He revised the screen’s display. “Correction, from the data we’re seeing from optics, that’s exactly what’s happening. The transit of the ships are serving to sequester the Plasmoid gravitons at the exit.” Van smiled. “I’m going to have to submit a paper to the Lundgren Institute. It would seem, Captain, that the exit points of the transits are allowing the gravitons to more quickly exit the brane – short circuiting the attack method of the Plasmoids.”

Van jumped up to view. “We’re genuinely losing connection with the Leviathan. It seems like they’re overwhelmed with the graviton surge.”

Birgit stepped forward. “Captain, the Plasmoids are deploying fighters. We’re going to have to move, and fast.”

Marie stepped forward, slipping her goggles on. Captain Spitzer gestured at the screen. “Ready or not, here we come!”