Joeyray

This derelict is gonna be a doozy.

The looming wreckage utterly dwarfed Joeyray's one man utility craft, the armored frame dimly reflecting the light of the nearby sun right into Joeyray's visor as his vehicle scooted towards it. The remnants of a massive burnt out laser battery drifted by, and Joeyray's chest began to lighten.

"Whatcha got for me out there, Joeyray?" said Captain Jem, his ugly mug dominating the feed into Joeyray's helmet.

"Pay-dirt, fellas!" Joeyray hooted. "Jem, you magnificent son of a gun, you done found us a wrecked up battlecruiser!"

Jem exhaled a torrent of smoke from his nostrils, adjusting the cigarette in his mouth.

"Aww yeah," said Jem, cigarette burning in his lips, "told you we was gonna be rich. Them devices always was trouble."

Joeyray spared a glance for the unidentified alien object beyond the derelict, still spinning away in an uncaring sky. It was positively enormous, a large core of energy visible in the "eye." Its shape reminded Joeyray of the pasta shells his mama used to feed him back on Shiloh, though the coloration put him in mind of the shellfish he used to catch there with his dad. Jem said they looked like tunin' forks, but I ain't never seen one of those. Pasta shells and shellfish for me. Perhaps it was those familiar images that left him feeling very little trepidation at being so close. Confederacy tells us to leave 'em be and stay clear – they can shove it. Time to cash in.

"Alright Jem, you sure the feed's gonna hold up?" Carlos's utility craft slid into position near his, getting ready to haul the most valuable crap back to Jem. Joeyray was the one who got to determine just what was valuable.

"So long as you don't pick at it, like you always does," said Jem. "Just take your time, fellas. No one ever comes out near here. And I want this job done right."

"How much of this stuff you think we can get home?" asked Carlos. "Might take two or three trips."

Joeyray stood and shambled towards the airlock, hooking himself to his lifeline on the way. His breathing came deep and steady. Just another job – even if it was a crazy lucrative one.

"If it takes two or three trips, it takes two or three trips," Joeyray said. "Rome weren't built in a day, whatever the hell Rome was. We ain't all gonna get rich in one trip."

"You sure we won't be noticed out here?" asked Carlos, "I feel pretty exposed, man. Feds find us scavenging one of their ships-"

"Confederate law," said Jem, stubbing his cigarette in the ashtray outside of Joeyray's feed, "says not to come near them alien doohickeys. They'd be in violation, just like us."

"Yeah, but they'd have guns, man," said Carlos.

"I am detaching," declared Joeyray, inwardly marveling at how his two partners could still bicker even during the score of a lifetime, "and approaching the derelict."

The airlock opened with a hiss, letting out the atmosphere in seconds. Joeyray felt himself lighten significantly as the gravity departed as he moved forward; the unseen drag his hairy chest and beer belly carried disappearing with the sucking air. He stepped awkwardly out on to the lip of the 'lock and bounced on his heels at the edge, looking into the void.

And here's the leap. Momma, see how far I come?

Joeyray leaned forward and propelled himself out of the craft, drifting lazily through space as the cord trailed behind him. Jem's fat bespectacled face was practically squashed against the feed while he did this, his beady eyes darting all over their new prize. Joeyray angled his vision so that Jem could get a better view.

"I'm thinking we all gonna smoke some cigars when this job's done," said Jem, rubbing the stubble on his chin. "'Cause I think these jobs are the last we'll ever have to do."

"Hey, now," said Joeyray, grinning. "Momma always told me that life ain't nothing without work."

"Yeah," said Jem, rolling another cigarette, "think I recall her saying that to me right as I bent her over."

Joeyray shook his head wearily as Carlos jeered and Jem just smiled at him through the feed. Jackasses.

The battlecruiser had been scored with dozens of scorch marks along its hull, deep black gouges made by incredible heat. Pieces of rebar and the odd bit of human gore floated idly by as Joeyray continued to make his slow approach to their prize. The bridge, broken from the rest of the ship by an incredible amount of force and heat, came into full view on the slow approach, its remnants fused and twisted together in the blast. Probably a Yamato. Wonder who the hell got the drop on these feds? He didn't see other wreckage around.

"Hey, guys?" said Carlos, his voice quivering. "How the hell did this cruiser get all the way out here? And if this is a case of big fish little fish, uh…?"

Where's the big fish?

"Coulda been a squadron of Wraiths," said Jem, a new lit cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. "Wolfpack of them, cloaked and dangerous? Wouldnta stood a chance."

"This weren't Wraiths, Jem," said Joeyray, whose cord grew more taut by the second. "This ship was hit by some kind of powerful energy blast. Probably Yamato, or something I don't know about."

"Wraiths have them burst lasers," said Jem, rolling his eyes.

Joeyray shook his head, even though Jem wouldn't be able to see it.

"Wouldn't scratch a cruiser, Jem. They use Gemini missiles for AA. Usually reserved for big suckers." Joeyray jerked and then hung suspended in space, safely attached by his lifeline. He stared at the cruiser, a bead of sweat trickling down his forehead. "That there? That was a big sucker."

"Well then who in the hell could-" Jem cut himself off with a curse as the feed died in a hiss of static. Joeyray tapped his helmet, which naturally did nothing.

"I told you not to pick at that damn thing, Joeyray!"

"I ain't been pickin' at it! I told you to spring for some maintenance on that dang thing back on Mar Sara and-"

"Hey! Hey! Would you two idiotas just shut up for one moment and-"

The three of them bickered loudly while Jem tried his best to fix the feed back on his end. Carlos eventually swapped to yelling in rapid-fire Spanish while Joeyray just dangled aimlessly in front of the wrecked ship. He could hear Jem grumbling as he began rattling in nearby drawers for his tools.

Joeyray sighed and stretched, wondering why it had gotten colder all of a sudden. Then he noticed that the heavens ... weren't quite as bright as they had been a few seconds before. A shadow had been cast over him … and the entire cruiser wreck.

Joeyray looked up.

"Uh." Joeyray gulped, grabbed his lifeline with his right hand, now sweating profusely. "Uh, uh, guys? Guys?"

Carlos, who had mercifully swapped to English, was still drowning him out, swearing on God, his mother, and his sweet sister that he would be founding his own planet free of idiot gringos with his share of the fortune. They couldn't hear Joeyray, who really didn't want to raise his voice.

"Guys?"

"Feed's back up." Jem's dirty face reappeared in the corner of Joeyray's vision – and his jaw, set in anger at the technical difficulties, immediately dropped.

A massive circular ship, gleaming resplendently in gold and silver, had appeared above them. Its hull was smooth and shiny, and its inner workings were connected by some kind of shining blue energy membrane. It shifted with terrible purpose towards Jem's recovery vessel, bringing itself almost directly above Jem.

"What the – holy shit! What is-"

"Guys? Guys? Hey, do you – oh." Carlos had seen it as well. He fell completely silent.

Joeyray cleared his throat.

"Uh, I think it's time to go! Like, right now!"

Jem was flipping switches, powering up engines, his jaw left so slack in shock that the cigarette had fallen out.

"I'm gettin' the fuck out!" he yelled, glancing up at Joeyray briefly, beads of moisture on his forehead shining in the dim light. "I'll make a pass for you fellas! Joeyray, get back in your ship, I'll-"

Jem never got a chance to finish. An incandescent beam of blue light shot directly under the alien craft. With a horrifying rumble, a ripple spread out from the impact, shifting the debris as the blast effortlessly penetrated the recovery vessel.

Jem screamed as the beam moved further up the craft, the explosions moving closer and closer to him.

"Oh sweet Jesus, no … " Carlos screamed, and Joeyray could only utter that sentence over and over again. The last thing he saw in the feed before it went dark was Jem's face exploding outward in a shower of blood, brains, and bone as the heat and shrapnel reached him.

Their pride and joy and source of income, the vessel known as Lady Lou, was gone. Its captain-and their friend-was dead. The shockwave sent further ripples throughout the wreckage site, shaking the almost sobbing Joeyray. He grabbed the cord and tugged it twice, which propelled him backwards with a reassuring and familiar force. The massive craft hung above him still, its energy beam having been turned off.

What are you?!

Two more alien ships of a similar coloration appeared suddenly above the circular one, materializing as if from nowhere. Their color scheme was still gold and silver, but their design was lengthier, more like a zeppelin. Joeyray thought he could see smaller ships emerge from them, pouring towards where he and Carlos were stranded.

Dammit dammit dammit, no …

"There's more of them..." Carlos said, his voice quivering through the radio. "We ain't alone, Joeyray, God saw fit to make more than just heaven and earth."

Joeyray almost wet himself when he slammed into a side of the airlock, having finally been pulled to relative safety. Planting his boots as best he could on the floor, he hit the airlock button and then rushed to the cockpit.

"Joeyray? Joeyray? You there? Tell me you're still there!"

"Carlos! I'm here. Stay calm!" Joeyray wasn't sure why he said that. He certainly didn't feel calm – and he didn't see a single way to get out of this alive.

Closest planets? Mar Sara? No, Chau Sara's closer. Christ – that's all there is! And we'd have to go past that damn device to get there!

"Carlos? We need to push for Chau Sara. That's our only way out. We're gonna have to cut close to one of them spinners – we don't got much fuel." Joeyray blinked fast, trying to get the trickles of sweat past his eyes.

"Joeyray, you sure about this? I heard those things tear ships to pieces!"

Joeyray powered up the engines and began to maneuver himself through the debris field, the alien ships passing through his line of vision as he did so.

"Carlos, I've heard that as well. But I done seen what them aliens will do. You with me? Amigo?"

For several horrible seconds, the only thing Joeyray heard on the other end was Carlos's harsh breathing. Joeyray chugged as best he could towards the spinning alien device, dodging shredded pieces of cruiser as he did so, hoping Carlos would follow.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm with you. You got it, Joeyray. I'm right behi-"

Carlos cut off mid-sentence as the wreckage around Joeyray lit up with a violent orange. Dammit. Sorry Carlos. Joeyray couldn't see what had got Carlos, but it was safe to say he was now being hunted.

For several long, silent, horrible minutes, Joeyray watched the spinner grow larger through his viewport. He sweated horribly underneath his suit; he could feel damp patches around his groin and pits, but he didn't dare leave the cockpit to take it off. He had no idea whether he was being followed, or even where the alien ships were. He certainly wasn't going to turn his little boat around to find out.

"Come on..." muttered Joeyray, leaning forward in his seat. "How far they gonna follow ya? Not much farther..."

The ship started beeping, indicating that he was way too close to something. Normally that something would be a big old chunk of debris floating out in the void, but right now...

The engine abruptly exploded, propelling Joeyray forward against the viewport. He screamed as flames began to lick the vessel's aft. He rose unsteadily, reaching for the cockpit fire extinguisher and grabbing it with gloved hands.

Joeyray let loose with it as best he could, trying to hasten the death of the flames even as the lack of atmosphere took its toll on them. Joeyray could see the hull breach – and he had next to no way of fixing it.

When the flames finally died from the mix of vacuum and foam, Joeyray got to marvel at the massive hole where his engines used to be. His suit would last for some time outside atmo – but not long enough when the engines were shot. Now all he had was momentum – and he could see the alien capital ships in the distance through the breach … heading for him as several sleeker, smaller ships could be seen heading back to them.

They're just some kind of carrier, probably not even armed! Joeyray almost laughed, but instead he let out a dry, racking wheeze from inside his suit. I'm screwed. Sorry momma, I did my best.

Joeyray watched in horrid fascination through the massive aft hull breach as the two carriers, now accompanied by the bigger circle ship, closed the distance. The spinner went by as well, still enormous in Joeyray's line of vision, but now between him and the alien flotilla.

Past that hurdle. Maybe they won't wanna get close…?

No such luck. The flotilla was accelerating towards him with all speed. The only attention they gave the spinner was to angle themselves so that they would not directly collide with it. Joeyray's heart raced, lips moving under his helmet, offering a prayer to any deity or devil that might be listening, broken only by a single silent apology to his momma for his lapse in faith.

Momentum ain't gonna put me outta the reach of those alien engines. Damn things are probably powered by hate for all I know. Goddammit, why can't I be drunk for this?!

The carriers were apparently close enough. They were almost on top of the spinner, and Joeyray was close enough to see the first of the smaller ships emerge from inside-

A blue light leapt from the energy eye of the spinner, attaching itself to the carrier.

What the hell?

The energy continued to surge forward, leaping to the bigger ship and the other carrier as they apparently came within range. Joeyray felt static electricity build up even within his tiny craft as all too suddenly, the spinner's insides stopped turning and the alien ships disappeared, leaving behind only a quickly dissipating stream of blue and a soft ripple in space. They were gone.

"Wha- no way. Hot damn!" Joeyray clapped his gloved hands together, even though it created no noise in the vacuum. "Oh sweet Jesus, Satan, whoever, aw, I owe you fellers a damn b-"

Joeyray cut himself off with a sharp gasp. The three smaller ships the carrier had sent out before being whisked off to God knows where were still heading toward him. They looked to be careening out of control.

"Wha- no, no, no, no, shit-"

Joeyray screamed as the first one detonated seemingly without reason some ways away from the shuttle. He laughed as the second did likewise. He never had time to react to the third, which crashed at full speed through his badly damaged craft, filling his vision with soft light.