With a grunt Captain Spitzer and Mistelsbog loaded the contraband vine’s capsule next to that of the log, and shut the door to the torpedo tube. They walked in silence back to the lift where they began the ride back to the bridge. Captain Spitzer turned to her Yrgoan friend. “I think we’ll have enough time, and if I can convince Command to allow us to emulate Sun Tzu’s teachings, I think we may make it through this battle yet.”
Mistelsbog looked at her. “Sun Tzu? What specifically are you thinking of?”
Captain Spitzer leaned against the wall of the lift. “We must protect the ships that won’t have Quil’s vines and Jonesey’s generators. The only way that I can imagine would be successful is if we were to hide them in the Oort Cloud, very near to the different bodies. They’re of large enough size and mass that they may be able to absorb some of the graviton wave. That may protect their systems, especially if we can convince them to power down to emergency fusion reactors until the Plasmoids have settled in.” She looked at Mistelsbog. “I’ve been reviewing the data on the graviton wave that assaulted us. It would seem to me that our phlogiston reacted to it, drawing the gravitons in.
“Sun Tzu is known for saying ‘when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.’ We need the Plasmoids to think they have the upper hand, if only for the time it takes the ships to engage their phlogiston generators and transit to us. We’ll need to play the sitting ducks – but with the S.U.M. Leviathan likely to be completely incapacitated if the graviton wave propagates that far, someone’s got to take command of this fleet, and I’m going to do it. We don’t have a choice. We must be victorious.”
Mistelsbog smiled. “I have much admired the theories presented by Sun Tzu. They are truisms for any sentient race, oddly enough.” Mistelsbog adjusted his unruly hair. “I miss my Appraiser’s garb.” His hair settled, he continued. “In addition to seeming unprepared and unable to defend, he also suggested ‘he who is skilled in defense hides in the most secret recesses of the earth, making it impossible for the enemy to estimate his whereabouts. This being so, the places that I shall hold are precisely those that the enemy cannot attack.’ This goes right in line with your suggestion of hiding the ships behind the Oort bodies. It protects them and deludes the Plasmoids into thinking that they have the upper hand.”
The doors to the bridge opened, and Mistelsbog and the Captain walked to their accustomed positions. They were alone on the bridge, and not even the Circumbridge showed any signs of life. She expected that her crew were dutifully following the orders she’d given, and she was grateful, for that moment of quiet before the storm that bore down upon her.
She waited a moment, looking at the schematic of Sol System, showing the planets, the ships and the increasing number of Starmada vessels that were moving toward her location. She could see the Star Marines holding a picket line around the three inner planets, protecting the heavily populated center of the system against the invaders. She hoped not to rely on them. She knew they had the weaponry to help stop this fight early, but if the Starmada couldn’t stop them, she knew it wouldn’t matter – there wouldn’t be a human culture left worth saving before the Plasmoids were done with the galaxy.
Captain Spitzer grabbed the speaking tube, and keyed a ship-wide address. “My crew, this is your Captain speaking. You have completed your readiness drills with highest marks. I am honored to serve with you. As previously ordered, enjoy a meal with your friends here aboard ship, then take some time to write a letter to those not aboard, or to express your deepest thoughts to those you hold dear here aboard. I am confident we will succeed in our venture, but should any of you be required to make the ultimate sacrifice, I would want you to have made your peace with those who surround you. From this time, you have one hour to do so.” Mistelsbog flashed a projection to the screen showing the latest estimation of the Plasmoids’ approach. “We will reconvene at our duty stations and prepare for the arrival of the Plasmoids in one hour. Captain out.”
She adjusted the controls at Aquico’s station, targeting the S.U.M. Belligerent, which was orbiting the fledgling colony around Europa. She could feel Mistelsbog standing behind her. She turned to look at him. “Whether you would do the same thing with Sariadzu or not, Mistelsbog, I would encourage you to go to her now. You have served here for quite some time. Go and care for her. She is your wife, after all. Care for her and make sure that you don’t leave anything unsaid.”
Mistelsbog looked at the Captain, unreadable emotion on his face. He began to place his hands together in the practiced bow he had presented to her so many times. As the hair on his shoulders slipped forward and brushed his face he was reminded of his discommendation. He rose stiffly, adjusted his jacket to crisp perfection, and stared pointedly at the Captain. After a moment of silence, he nodded, the oh-so-human gesture, and left the bridge again. No secondary crew came from the Circumbridge, leaving the Captain alone, the ship entrusted in part to the care of Van.
She quickly keyed up the transmission software and keyed in a note to Commander Dostoyevich aboard the Belligerent. If she could contain the Plasmoids at the heliopause, or in the Oort cloud, that would leave her with some options, and maybe the Starmarines could be of some use.
Her message sent to the Belligerent, and receipt acknowledged, Captain Spitzer keyed up the optics at the rear of the ship and focused in the direction of Earth, only able to see a fuzzy bluish spec in the optical spectrum at their great distance. With practiced key-strokes and lever pulls, she cleared the viewscreen and brought up archive footage of the Earth, focusing on the North American continent. She refined the image more and more, looking at her childhood home of the Great American Plains. The video image she could see showed a large weather disturbance strafing across the Mississippi watershed, sparking thunderstorms and tornadoes the length and breadth of the storm front. She realized that the scene closely paralleled what she foresaw here in space, and she stood at rapt attention, watching the progress of the storm as it moved eastward.