Captain Wilkes brought up the holographic keyboard and typed the shutdown commands at a hundred words per minute. When Unit 03 slumped to the deck, she approached with the med kit in hand. She opened the emergency port on her armor's left shoulder, a built in IV line that connected to the vein in her left arm.
She worked quickly. She brought out a syringe from the med kit underneath her command seat and drew no more than 0.4 milliliters of Unit 03's blood at a time. She then rolled up her sleeve and injected herself and the bridge officers with the substance, taking care to sterilize the syringe each time with the field kit to avoid cross-contamination.
It was a desperate treatment without any scientific basis, but she was willing to try anything. She hoped the immunity Unit 03 had in her blood against the infection would pass to her and the bridge officers.
Captain Wilkes remained by Unit 03's side. She awoke four minutes later. Her vitals were still dangerously low, but the brief downtime had given her body a chance to start rapidly healing.
"Did we win?" She asked Captain Wilkes. "Is everyone okay?"
Of the Vidar's complement of three hundred, little more than thirty remained. There were survivors she had to treat. Someone had flushed the lower decks with clean oxygen before the infections manifested.
They'd lost the Second Battle of Earth, but on the Vidar at least, they'd won. What Captain Wilkes said wasn't the complete truth, but she felt Unit 03 deserved to have a small victory.
"Yes," she smiled. "We won, but we still have a lot of work to do."
For the next three hours they treated the wounded. Captain Wilkes beckoned them to the bridge, where she personally administered the treatment under the watchful vigil of her armed bridge officers.
If there were any infections left, they remained latent during the journey. They began work after the treatments. The crew re-flushed the Vidar's atmosphere and cycled a batch of new oxygen throughout the decks.
They gathered the bodies in the launch bay. The Vidar made a brief stop when they were half a light year away from Earth, just far enough from the beaten path of Locri bioships. There they paid their tribute to the dead.
They stood in the open launch bay, rifles at the ready, ironclad within the sealed, self contained JAW-200 deep-sea diving suits. Only the emergency force shield remained to seal the bay against the void.
A purple gas giant was nearby, its moons silver disks in the desolate void. The angle at which starlight crashed through the bay's shimmering force shield cast their long shadows across the cold metal deck.
Unit 03 was there too in her vacuum-hardened JAW-1221 restraints. Standard procedure mandated she be stored in cryo to circumvent aging, but Captain Wilkes was willing to overlook that protocol.
"And so we commit our fallen comrades to the void. They ennobled all of us, and their sacrifice shall not be forgotten." The ceremony complete, Captain Wilkes and the survivors raised their rifles with Unit 03.
As one, they all angled their aim at the brightest star, and the crack of thirty-nine rifles echoed the cavernous launch bay. Captain Wilkes remembered Admiral Limbani, Staff Sergeant Velasquez and the others.
After they committed the bodies into space, Captain Wilkes imposed a mandatory down time on her crew for the remaining week-long journey to Alpha Centauri.
Captain Wilkes remained awake, however. She could not hold her peace. Over the week long journey, she sat on the bridge and planned goals to prolong the plague from catching them, but questions still lingered.
Were they aboard this ship the last surviving humans left? What would become of them? What was waiting for them at Alpha Centauri? Once again, she could only vest her hope to the fickle hands of fortitude.
"Captain," the shipboard AI finally announced. "Estimated time of arrival is three minutes. We'll leave subspace and arrive at the outer edge of the Alpha Centauri system. Please authorize the action."
Captain Wilkes typed on her keyboard: hundred_thousandYearsWar.
Bands of pale starlight, invisible during a subspace jump, appeared on the Vidar's monitors. The light streaked alongside the vessel as it slowed, finally becoming billions of stars when it fell beneath superluminal speed.
The Vidar emerged from subspace at extreme range. Captain Wilkes flared the alarm clocks in the sleeping quarters. The dozen bridge officers assembled on the command deck and eased into their consoles.
The Vidar's propulsors flared and they continued to accelerate toward the system's center. They passed half a dozen outer colony worlds, nothing but dust and echoes on the vessel's optical and communication arrays.
Planet Chiron appeared as a single dot. The dot then became a grey orb hung against a backdrop of stars, choked beneath corpselike yellow smog. A thousand kilometers above this cloud, pearlescent detonations flashed and sparked.
A terrible battle raged in the distance; acid streams etched fine lines against the velvet black of space. Captain Wilkes couldn't see any Coalition starships or any active orbital defense platforms. Who were they shooting at?
Near the south pole, the swollen husks of a hundred pre-evolved Locri tumbled freely in the void, smoldering in their vacuum hardened exoskeletons. Some wounded bioships reeled upwards relative to the planet, trying to escape. Something was wrong.
Fifty evolved Locri emerged from the dark side of the planet. Lightning leapt from their shrouds, arced forth and struck the fleeing bioships. So intense was their lightning that vivid aurora coruscated in their wakes.
The lesser bioships lit up like flares: a blinding flash, and then seconds later fell toward the planet below. Chiron's atmosphere caught them and set them ablaze.
The evolved Locri pack advanced toward the remaining lesser bioships strewn across the equator. The shipboard AI clocked them at over fifteen thousand kilometers an hour.
Across the equator, three hundred lesser bioships ignited and lost their hulls. Some disintegrated into heat convection currents and thermal blooms, while many froze: stunned or killed by the lightning. Captain Wilkes could not tear her gaze from the destruction.
Why were they attacking each other?
Fifty evolved Locri arrowed forth toward the wounded bioships, diving for the kill. Their jaws split wide, unnatural heat aglow within their open maws. Each coiled about a wounded bioship like a python.
The lesser creatures sprang to life and thrashed to tear free, but the constricting force crushed their chitinous hulls. Open jaws snapped shut against bare flesh. The evolved Locri were cannibalizing their lesser kin.
A lifetime ago, Captain Wilkes learned that all life forms inevitably engage in competition for survival. Long ago, humanity's species fought for food and resources. Did the plague have a familiar process?
"Move us toward the dark side of the planet," she told Hastings. In space, at least, the plague had its attention elsewhere. "Prepare our last Raven drop ship and one of the SCARAB nukes. Unit 03 will go to the surface and clear a landing zone."