“Lieutenant Zeke come in. Lieutenant this is central command, please reply. Sir, he’s not responding. We don’t know why, but it appears he’s turned his receiver off.”

“Goddamnit John, fix the sunavabitch. Override the drone’s communication matrix. Do whatever you’ve got to do, just do it now!”

“Sir, we’re doing everything we can. The modifications were not spec’ed for this contingency.”

Damn it John, if you were doing everything, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I can find any idiot on this ship who can tell me why it won’t work. You’ve got less than five minutes to make it work, or the Lieutenant won’t be the only one up shiott creek. Is that clear.”

“Yes sir. Very clear.”

Zeke was lost in thought. The sight of 643 stuck in his mind. Twenty-nine Hynerian scientists, just like his mom and dad, out to do good, not an unjust bone in their bodies, murdered. Murdered in deep space, murdered in silence, murdered where their screams could not be heard. An yet, there was the last distress signal, playing, over, and over again.

643 was a living tomb. A tomb with a horrific voice. A voice crying out in desperation. A plea they must have known could not and would not be answered in time. Every living fiber of Zeke’s body cried out in sympathy with those words “revenge our souls.”

Zeke couldn’t divorce himself from the image of those Hynerian scientists surrounded, desperate, crying for help. Help that would never come. He couldn’t divorce himself from the image of his mom and dad, both research scientists, the image of them on this mission, on that station, in those last hours. Could have been them. Instead it was their colleagues, their friends, with a request. A request made in blood. One word. Revenge.

Sitting alone in the cold silence of space, his heart beat with a different timbre. Deep. Heavy. Brooding. His blood felt thicker as if his heart had to work harder to keep the life flowing within him. Life itself felt heavy at the moment. Just lifting his arm seemed like a monumental task.

“Lieutenant Zeke come in please. Lieutenant Zeke come in please.”

Zeke had turned his receiver off. He couldn’t bear to hear the radio distress signal anymore. Besides, that signal lived in his head now, had taken up residence and wasn’t leaving anytime soon.

“John, status report.”

“We have three Javalina Raptors bearing down on Zeke’s location. ETA, four minutes.”

Javalina Raptors were drones left behind like boobie traps. Their only purpose was to inflict additional pain and suffering on first responders. Small vessels with a single central cannon, they were “single use” killing and maiming machines.

Vanguard drones relied on stealth and silence to navigate the battlefield. The tradeoff was lack of armor or any significant defense mechanism. To lose a Vanguard was to lose a machine. Data was transmitted simultaneously so only potential was lost. This Vanguard, however, was different. It carried a life. And not just any life but the potential successor to Ji. And now it appeared that life had less than four minutes. Four minutes to find a way or four minutes to infamy. No one wanted to be carved into Zing Tao history like this.

“John, I think we need to notify Ji.”

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