Chapter 13 - Prototype

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Immediately, the sound ended and a projection of the Dawnhammer flared into life, silver jets sparkling along.the fuselage as the ship righted itself. The damage to the hull was extreme. The starboard wings were completely gone. Only two stumps of metal brace work remained, jutting from the exposed superstructure like the remnants of a botched amputation. Terris spun around and saw the debris of the wings in their wake. The rear stabilizers were mangled, but intact.

Terris swept his eyes over the surrounding view of space and found his attacker. The other ship was banking in an upward arc, coming around to either view the results or attack again. Terris didn't know which, but wasn't about to find out. He paused briefly to take in the strange structure of the other fighter. It was long, like most attack vessels, but instead of wings, only curved bladed protruded on all four sides, each perpendicular to the hull. He saw no cannons on her back.

"Weapons?"

Haden was staring at the starboard side in horror, but Terris' voice snapped him back. "All port and fuselage batteries are online and ready. Starboard are gone."

"Thanks. I can see that for myself." His sassy tone was an attempt to make up for his nervousness. He didn't think anything could damage Gaurdian ship. Well, he thought that until about one minute ago.

He ran to the center of the command deck and flexed both wrists, assuming manual control of the ship. He swept his leg around in a semincircle and throttled forward. The Hammer shot forward and spun under the attacker. He leaned backwards and the ship angled up. The targeting reticle outlined the enemy ship and Terris simply clenched his left fist. Every remaining cannon on the Dawnhammer opened fire. The power consumption was high enough to superheat the entire forward surface of ship. That familiar hellish glow descended upon the command deck and a searing storm of violent light reached out to claim their attacker.

The opposing ship erupted in a cloud of green flame, pieces of it hurling outward from the force of the explosion.

"Where's Dawn?" He demanded, barely registering the color of the explosion. Why green? Always green .

"Infermary. Tyronden, as well. No casualties. One and the AI extraction team are safe in the cargo hold." Haden's voice was mechanical. "Damage to my hull and superstructure is heavy. Deploying drones."

She was okay, thought Terris, feeling a moment of tension release. Drones?

"What drones?"

"Cargo bay. Twin drones. They can be equipped for combat, rescue, or repair." The two smaller ships appeared in space, both moving to the destroyed wings. On the smaller projection of the Dawnhammer, he saw miniature versions of them.

"Alright? What hit us, Haden?"

"Unknown. I am cycling through data files. No matches to that type of weaponry, Terris. Whatever it is, I've not seen it before."

Fascinated, Terris watched one of the drones begin to systematically disassemble the other. It cut through the steel beams that protruded from the fuselage, sending sparks of white hot metal out into space, before using the cannibalized ship for repair materials. The studs and braces were formed from the drone's skeleton, wiring and tubes were then removed and installed. A hundred other operations followed, too fast for the young man's eyes to follow, before the skin of the drone was cut and used to reskin the newly formed wings. Cannons were removed from the remains of the drone's own bay and socketed into wing rails. When the work was complete, a process taking less than five minutes, the repair drone collected the remnants of its counterpart and returned to the cargo bay. The Dawnhammer appeared as if the short battle had not even taken place.

Terris was stunned. "That was incredible!"  He whispered, eyes scanning the surrounding space for signs of more attackers.  Apparently, there had been only the one.

Haden nodded. "All Gaurdian ships can self-repair any part but the core drive, given the right resources. The drones are built using the same technology and parts for just that reason. I won't be able to do it again until the drone is replaced, so if it's all the same to you, I would rather not risk an encounter with our attacker's friends."

"Agreed."  Terris stated, eyes still scanning.

"Setting cruise to Octet 3." Haden glanced at Terris. "And activating camouflage."

Apparently, the hull was equipped with it's own holographic emitters, because the surface of the ship simply went black, indistinguishable from the space around them. Terris just sighed. There was so much he still didn't know.

"You survived." Dawn walked onto the command deck, rubbing the back of her neck gingerly. He spun on his heel.

"It would seem so." Terris smiled, replaying the battle in his head. The weapon used against them was terrifying. It crippled a Gaurdian ship with a single shot. There was never even a rumor of something that powerful existing. Not even a prototype. His brow drew tight.

"Schematics." He said aloud, to no one in particular, a memory flitting through his mind.

"What?" She paused, leaning her head to the side. Terris watched her golden hair slide away revealing her ear. From the distance of a few feet, he could see the subtle lighting differences that demarked the sensitive area behind her ear and the hollow of the tendon that went down her slender neck. He felt a breeze of longing course through him as he traced the curves and angles of her jaw line with his eyes. The hammering of his heart sent audible pulses through his ears. He forced himself back to the moment.

"Valeri." He stated, looking away. As her name left his lips, Dawn straightened. "She said she was looking for blueprints."

"Anything else?" Dawn asked, a slight edge to her voice.

"If there was, I didn't hear it. I blew the electronics out of her ship and squadron right in front of their command carrier." He chuckled.

Dawn smiled slowly. "So that's how you know her? You humiliated her?"

"Wasn't my intention. I hope she doesn't hold a grudge."

Dawn's smile did not increase in size, but in warmth. "Let's hope." She muttered sarcastically.

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