Casus Belli – 56

Birgit called out “We have coordinating scans from SUM Leviathan. The Starmarines are plotting vectors against the Plasmoid world ship.”

Captain Spitzer folded her arms in frustration. “The world killers they used against Gascognia. Make sure we have full coordination of Starmada ships. I don’t want to lose any of them to the sloppiness of the Starmarines.”

“You want me to help with that, Captain?” Van’s face beamed from the corner of the viewscreen.

“Yes, Van. Assist all science officers throughout the fleet. You know how careless they are for collateral damage.” Van’s window winked out of the viewscreen, and Captain Spitzer patted Marie. “Fly your heart-out, Pilot – and give them every barrel we’ve got, Birgit.”

The viewscreen switched from a live-view of the stars to a tactical view, showing the trajectories known, and projected of all ships and weaponry. The bolts of the Vanguard creaked in the rapid-fire turns that Marie Bouc laid down, and the gunnery turrets blasted at every Plasmoid ship that crossed their sights. The attack was coordinated, and every near miss of friendly-fire miraculously ended in the assault of a Plasmoid frigate or the world ship. Captain Spitzer knew that her crew and the rest of the Starmada gunnery corps were not that good of shots in this tight-quarter battle. Rather, it was Van doing his part to win the day.

The battle unfolded in quick succession. The individual efforts to strike and retreat succeeded in taking off some of the Plasmoid pickets, but it wasn’t long before they began to adapt to the battle tactics. Captain Spitzer called out to the other Captains via the transitional radio. “I’ve transmitted a battle planning subroutine to your ships. It’s something we’ve developed in our time in deep space. It has an avatar-based interface. It’s called Van. With your permissions – signaled by the Transitional Radio – I’ll send the activation signal. It will allow us a tighter coordination in the fleet. It may require your pilots to hand over control.”

She turned to Aquico. “Responses?”

Aquico nodded. “All ships reporting acceptance, Captain.”

“Van – activate.”

Van appeared in the lower corner of the screen, highly stylized, and hardly looking like himself, offering a strong thumbs up, before vanishing. The battle plan began to re-order itself. Quil stepped forward to the Captain. His voice boomed as the Locus spoke. “We wish to coordinate. Provide the program to our systems.”

Captain Spitzer looked at Quil for a moment, until Van popped up in the corner of the viewscreen. “Captain, I don’t know that I can adequately interface with the Queliquot systems.”

Quil reached a hand to Captain Spitzer’s arm, and grabbed her, strongly. “Provide us with programming access. We will input the necessary programming. Your tactical program can review and adapt all that we send. Time is of the essence.”

Birgit called out. “That was two of the Queliquot fighters that just blew up, Captain. Three others are heavily damaged and limping away from the battle zone. Support ships are moving on intercept to take them toward the shipyards in Jupiter orbit.”

“Provide the access.” Quil was more and more in the thrall of the Locus, and less like himself. His voice was harsh, alien, and nothing like the man she’d gotten to know.

She gestured toward Aquico’s alcove, but the ship lurched under sudden acceleration. As Quil wrapped his arms around her, the two of them falling to the floor, she vaguely heard Van cry out, “Sorry – sudden blast of some new weapon from the world ship. They’re frantically adapting Captain.”

“It’s fine, Van.” She tried to rise, but Quil’s arms held her tight. His voice had changed. “You okay, Captain?”

She looked, and could see that the Locus was on the edge of his mind, but Quil was once again in the driver’s seat. She patted his arm. “Let’s get over there and program the necessary files. I’m going to guess that this is something the Locus has been working on?”

Quil smiled. “Put it this way, Captain. The Queliquot have more biological computing power than anything we could arrange with all the computers in all the stations and ships within the Space Condominium.” He rose and offered a hand, helping her quickly to her feet.

She engaged the phlogiston cells that grav-locked her feet to the floor, and strengthened the fibers of her clothing, making it more resilient to the jerky motion the ship had begun to take, in the throes of battle. Quil programmed furiously at Aquico’s secondary Science Station. Aquico was watching the code, annotating points for Van to look at in the microseconds he had free while coordinating the attack.

The pickets of the Plasmoids began retreating further and further, closer to the worldship. They flattened themselves as if providing an ablative layer, and were likely feeding more and more of their own essence to the world ship, giving it the necessary materials to repair itself and prepare for escape.

“Van!”

“On it, Captain. You forget that I’m watching this battle from nearly every angle, and with the Transitional Radio, I’m virtually omniscient. We’re coming at it, and I’ve sent a version of myself into the Radio network that’s surreptitiously breaching the security of the Starmarines so I can suborn their Apocalypse Cannons and use them against the world ships – and more accurately than they could ever dream.”

His image glitched, faded and returned, a sheen appearing on his avatar. “I’m bound into the Queliquot Hive, Captain.”

She turned to look at Quil. “What does that mean?”

Quil shrugged. “He’s in contact with them, like the nations of Earth are in contact. Consider it diplomatic treaty organization level conversation. Whatever he suggests, the Queliquot are likely to do. Having seen the recent ship behavior becoming more and more unified, I think they’re likely to comply.”

Captain Spitzer watched the viewscreen. Queliquot ships merged into squadrons with Starmada ships, and each moved with fluidity, like a flock of birds assaulting a would-be predator … but as she watched, it was more like a pod of dolphins, ramming an ill-fated shark to death. Just as she began to hope for a lossless victory, a Starmada ship flashed red, and began spinning off, toward the orbit of Neptune, but out of the ecliptic of the solar system.

“Report – what ship?”

Aquico’s voice faltered. “The Vigillaton. Heavily damaged. They’re reporting stable phlogiston reactions, and life-support is strong. They just ask we keep the battle away from them long enough to set their course away from the battle, and toward Jupiter.”

Van appeared on the mainscreen. “Captain – I’m cycling the Distortion Fields. We’ve got another fleet incoming.”

“Yrgoan? More Queliquot?”

“Van shook his head. The signature’s Plasmoid.”