Authors: Mark Wayne McGinnis
Tags: #Science Fiction
A SCRAPYARD SHIP NOVEL
Mark Wayne McGinnis
There were too many of them, and they were winning. At stake was not only the lives of the crew of
, but two others on board. The most important people in his life: Mollie, his eight-year-old daughter, and his ex-wife Nan.
He’d decided he’d rather destroy the ship than let the Craing take her. Now, perhaps, there was a glimmer of hope. In mere seconds, Jason went from reviewing
’s tediously slow self-destruct procedure to realizing he might yet find a way out of this mess.
’s systems had started to come back online. Slowly—not a second too soon.
Exhausted, Jason closed his eyes and massaged his eyelids. He blinked the ship’s bridge back into focus. Crewmembers scurried from one station to another—necessary, given that they were undermanned and responsible for two or even three jobs. They were not out of the woods yet, but they had accomplished much. What was left of the Craing fleet, somewhere around two hundred and fifty warships, was now adrift in space. Even though their propulsion systems had been targeted, many of those vessels still had fully-functional weapons. Weapons that now bore down on
“Charging rail guns,” Orion reported from tactical. “Both guns charged. AIs targeting and … firing.”
Jason felt the deck plates beneath his shoes begin to vibrate.
’s JIT rail munitions were being phase-shifted directly to each of the internal gun-ports. In a frenzied blur, both forward and aft gimbal-mounted guns acquired firing solutions. The meter-long projectiles—projectiles configured with unique anti-matter characteristics—flared into space and devastated their targets with swift efficiency.
Craing warships had long dominated space—not because of their tactical or particularly advanced weaponry; their advantage lay in their shields. Typically the Craing decimated their adversaries—simply outlasted them. But even Craing warships were no match for the advanced weaponry of
. Jason and his bridge crew watched the display.
“Captain, Craing shields are failing,” Orion, the ship’s gunny, reported. “A Destroyer off our bow, and the two battle cruisers aft … all three have hull breeches.” The display went white with three consecutive flashes. Nothing remained of the enemy ships.
One by one, the Craing fleet was being ripped apart. But the question remained: was it happening fast enough?
“Multiple contacts, Captain!”
Jason spied smaller icons now filling the empty spaces between the Craing warships.
“Craing fighters, hundreds of them!” the gunny announced.
The XO, rushing back and forth between several stations, looked up and said, “They’re all drones, sir. No live pilots.”
“Gunny, deploy plasma cannons,” Jason commanded.
The Lilly’s AI spoke up for herself. “Captain, our four plasma cannons deployed as soon as that system came back online, and they are now targeting the enemy fighters.”
Again, all eyes went to the display where vectors of crisscrossing yellow and blue firing solutions were constantly updating.
have been engaged—both warships and fighters are concentrating their weapons, sir.”
“Move to intercept—”
Only moments ago the four Craing battle cruisers had joined the fight. Days before,
Jason and his assault teams had boarded these same ships in Earth’s higher orbit. Now, The
were the bulk of the newly formed Earth Outpost Allied fleet
outpost personnel, the skeleton crews could barely maneuver these massive warships—let alone go into battle.
’s shields are down to twenty … now ten percent … Their shields just went down, sir,” Perkins said.
“Put us right in front of her—move!” Jason barked.
“Hull breech on The
… casualties reported,” Perkins yelled from comms.
“Tell them to get out of there—head back to Earth.”
“They’re trying, sir, but their drives are being targeted,” Perkins replied.
The forward display segment zoomed in on The
. Multiple Craing warships, as well as numerous fighters, had concentrated their combined energy weapons on her. Within seconds, white flashes appeared and The
blew apart—first breaking into several large sections, then into smaller ones. The Craing fighters continued their onslaught. Anything larger than a few meters in diameter was targeted and destroyed. The Craing quickly shifted their combined arsenal onto
. Maybe it was because so many crewmembers had lost their lives, including those who’d fought to rescue these two ships away from the Craing in the first place, or maybe because Mollie had named them, but the flood of emotion Jason was experiencing was unexpected and debilitating. Forcefully clearing his mind, Jason brought his attention back to the present.
“Lilly, target the closest Craing vessels to
,” Jason ordered.
moved to escape, but the Craing fighters stayed in close pursuit. Jason watched the display. She was already in trouble.
“Her shields just went down, sir.”
As with The
, the display flashed white as
blew apart. The Craing fighters relentlessly targeted the remaining remnants of the ship.
“Status, XO?” Jason asked.
have been destroyed, no survivors.
has destroyed one hundred fifty enemy drone fighters, along with seventy-six Craing warships. Our own shields are down to sixty-eight percent and falling fast, sir,” Lieutenant Commander Perkins reported. “Both The
are now coming under attack,” he continued.
“XO, get our own fighters out there,” Jason commanded. He figured it was just a matter of time before both The
would be lost as well, but he had to do something. “Helm, do we have phase-shift capability back online yet?”
Ensign McBride checked his console. “Just now. Yes, sir. All systems are operational—though shields are down to fifty percent.”
Jason had come to rely on the phase-shift capability of
. A capability that allowed the ship to instantly move anywhere, even through solid matter, but it had its limitations as well—chiefly, a phase-shift radius of less than three miles.
Jason activated his NanoCom to his SEAL buddy, Billy Hernandez.
“Go for Billy, Cap.”
“You and your team suited up?”
“Just need to put our helmets on. What’s up?”
Jason was watching the display as he spoke. An odd-shaped cube, the Dreadnaught was measured in miles. A devastatingly powerful warship, but more importantly, the fleet’s command ship. Taking that ship had been costly. Eventually, their emperor found his demise at the business end of a rhino warrior’s hammer. Jason chastised himself; still on board were the Craing high priests—including High Priest Lom. Ruthless and powerful, Jason realized it had been a monumental mistake to leave any of them alive. No doubt, Lom had taken charge. Hell, he may have wielded more power than the emperor himself.
“Billy, get down to the flight deck—I want you and your men back on that Dreadnaught. Bring back Lom and the rest of the priests.”
“Seems like a Hail Mary, Cap.”
“Right now, it’s all we got.”
“Captain, our fighters are directly engaging the Craing fighters. We’re outnumbered fifty to one, sir,” the XO reported.
“Tell our pilots to either phase-shift back to
or into Craing holds as necessary.”
“Shuttle #2 is on the Dreadnaught,” both Orion and Perkins reported simultaneously. That was Billy’s team — they had phase-shifted into the Dreadnaught, just as planned.
Jason answered an incoming hail. “Go for Cap—what’s your status, Billy?”
“We’re at the drop zone. Looks like the Craing have already taken back control of the Dreadnaught,” Billy replied from the shuttle.
“Damn!” Jason shouted, losing his cool. What he needed was real-time visuals. He looked up to see Ricket staring back at him. It was uncanny how he tended to show up like that—always at just the right moment. He was originally Craing. Three and a half feet tall, and a strange amalgamation of mechanical and biotic alien body,
Science Officer patiently stood there. Jason pointed to the display. “Can you display Billy’s and his team’s helmet-cam feeds?”
Ricket simply nodded.
Within seconds, the wrap-around display segmented into six new helmet-cam views. Billy and his team were on board the huge Craing Dreadnaught, and each one was staring in the same direction. Jason recognized the familiar surroundings; a smoky haze hung stagnant in the air. The shuttle had set down on the concourse in front of the Grand Sacellum—the Craing’s religious center and home to their high priests. Jason sat forward and frowned.
“Billy, what’s that approaching in the distance?” he asked.
Even before Billy replied, Jason knew.
“Security hover drones, Cap,” Billy replied. “Hundreds of them headed our way from both directions. Craing bridge must have reactivated them.”
Jason had come up against these drones before. They were white, cylindrical in shape and about three feet in length. Not only could they hover and spin in any direction, they could target and fire from their two separate mini-pulse cannons simultaneously, making it nearly impossible to get a clear shot.
“Captain, there’s no way—”
“Hold on, Billy; I have an idea.” Jason hailed the Pacesetter fighter pilot.
“Go for Wilson.”
“Need you to phase-shift your Pacesetter to the main inside corridor of that Dreadnaught.”
“I’m on it, sir.” An instant later, the Pacesetter’s icon disappeared from the overall battle logistics feed. A new segment displayed the Pacesetter’s POV within the Dreadnaught’s massive main corridor. Over one hundred security hover drones were approaching ahead. The screen blurred as the Pacesetter rapidly accelerated to intersect. Jason felt a momentary pang of envy, wishing he were at the stick himself. Energy pulses erupted from the oncoming security drones. A moment later the Pacesetter’s forward plasma cannon deployed, with a significantly more powerful barrage of plasma fire of its own. The security hover drones had little in the way of shielding and, one by one, were quickly turned to smoldering slag—falling to the Dreadnaught’s deck plating below. The Pacesetter did a quick end-over maneuver to intersect with the secondary group of drones coming from the other end of the corridor. It seemed Wilson had the security drones well in hand, so Jason brought his attention back to Billy and his men. With the arrival of the Pacesetter, Billy and his team of SEALs were free to complete their own mission.
“Ricket, best you head on down to the flight deck to be ready. You know what to do?” Jason asked.
“Yes, I believe so, Captain,” Ricket replied, hesitating a few seconds before he left the bridge.
Billy’s team was now inside the main room of the Grand Sacellum. Just hours before, the room had been in a disarrayed mess: tables, chairs, and grilling caldrons strewn about the floor. Now everything was back in place, as if nothing had happened. Fires blazed again in vessels at the center of each table. Billy and his SEAL team quickly made their way from the rear of the room to the small stairway that led to the upper levels. The assault team moved up the winding staircase towards the third floor.
“Captain, both The
have left the fight—both have taken heavy damage, and they’re attempting to limp back to Earth. Fighters are taking a beating. One has shifted back to
. Repair drones are standing by,” Perkins reported.