HAB 12(Scrapyard Ship)
Author:Mark Wayne McGinnis

    Chapter 1

    There were too many of them, and they were winning. At stake was not only the lives of the crew of The Lilly, 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 The Lilly’s tediously slow self-destruct procedure to realizing he might yet find a way out of this mess. The Lilly’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 The Lilly.

    “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. The Lilly’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 The Lilly. 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.

    “Captain, The Trickster and The Last Chance 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 Trickster, The Last Chance, The Surprise and The Gordita were the bulk of the newly formed Earth Outpost Allied fleet. Manned by inexperienced outpost personnel, the skeleton crews could barely maneuver these massive warships—let alone go into battle.

    “The Last Chance’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 Last Chance … 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 Last Chance. Multiple Craing warships, as well as numerous fighters, had concentrated their combined energy weapons on her. Within seconds, white flashes appeared and The Last Chance 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 The Trickster. 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 The Trickster,” Jason ordered.

    The Trickster 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 Last Chance, the display flashed white as The Trickster blew apart. The Craing fighters relentlessly targeted the remaining remnants of the ship.

    “Status, XO?” Jason asked.

    “Both The Last Chance and The Trickster have been destroyed, no survivors. The Lilly 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 Surprise and The Gordita 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 Surprise and The Gordita 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 The Lilly. 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.

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