“John, can you read me.”

“Loud and clear Zeke,” replied John.

“Check your monitor. Can you ID this object? I’m zooming in now.”

“Zeke, that appears to be the remains of a Zael space station. We’re picking up a transmission and what appears to be a life form of some sort. Signal is very weak but your drone should be picking it up. Can you check that out?”

“Roger, moving in now,” replied Zeke. “John, I’m picking up that same transmission but the language decoder seems not to be working. Can you override this Vanguard’s system and patch me in to your signal?”

John hesitated. “Be just a minute on that Zeke.” Command had been jamming Zeke’s signal awaiting Ji’s consent. Timing was important. Rogers nodded. “Zeke, sending. You should have it now on channel 6.16.”

Ji mentored and taught like a master sculptor, and in this case, Zeke was his prized piece of marble. Just the right break required a hundred small hammer blows on the end of the chisel. From the outside, nothing appeared to be happening, and then, well, and then on the hundred-and-first blow, the perfect break. To the uneducated eye, it seemed that the last blow created the perfect break, but Ji knew otherwise.

The looped distress signal from 643 was one series of small hammer blows. The serendipitous arrival of the Raptors created several more. This transmission amplified the steady hammering, building to a break. Each event created stress, created opportunity. Yet, the stress had to come at the right pace. Not too fast, not too slow, but such that each event build upon the other.

The signal was faint. Reaching forward Zeke slowly turned up the volume. There were actually two signals, one loud and clear and another much fainter. The adrenalin from earlier in the day had worn off. But like a second wind, what Zeke heard . . . .

Command monitored his vitals. Heart rate up. Blood pressure up. Breathing became rapid. Untranslated, Zael language sounded like whales or even dolphins. The creatures were as peace loving as any species in the known universe and their language sounded more like relaxing music than urgent communiqués.

Zeke sat stunned. Tears rolled down his cheeks. His visor fogged over. Arms fell limp by his side. The Zael’s had not resisted. They went to the slaughter like lambs, knowingly lying down their lives before the Javalina onslaught, in the hope that a few of their kind could escape unnoticed. The attack had been merciless. The scale of destruction and wholesale butchery of every living Zael exceeded comprehension. To read about such things in history books was one thing; to hear the plaintive cries of children and babies were another.

“Sir, should we alert Lieutenant Zeke we have a clear feed on the second signal?”

“Proceed John.”

“Zeke, we’ve got new information on that weaker signal. Tune to channel 6.17. Tell me what you hear,” said John, his tone as somber as Zeke had ever heard him, which was saying quite a lot for a “blank voice.”

If a transmission could whiplash one, Zeke was there. This signal was not a recording. All indications pointed to someone, something that was still alive.

“John, what is the vector on that transmission.”

“Zeke, you’re two minutes away on a heading of 345.32S.”

What Zeke saw next turned his tears to anger. A baby Zael, fatally wounded was cuddled in its parents dead remains. Zaels, like whales, were huge creatures. Javalina gunships had ripped them apart with ease. Floating debris of this scale and size caused Zeke’s gag reflex to kick in.

Excitedly Zeke, hit his comm. “John, we need rescue vacs out here now!”

Silence.

“John, do you hear me. We’ve got a baby Zael that needs immediate attention. Over.” Zeke always ended his communication with “over” as a form of emphasis.

“John, damnit! Come in.” Zeke caught himself. Everything he had been taught about the gap was here, or in this case not here. Whiplash was the right word. And he knew it. Circumstances and stimulus had seized him like a bouncer’s hands on a drunk and rowdy patron. Taking a deep breathe, focusing his mind, he hit his comm. Again.

“John, Zeke here, come in please.”

John looked at Rogers for the okay. “I’m here Zeke.”

“John, we –“

“Zeke,” John’s voice broke ever so slightly, “Zeke, this little one is lost. Nothing we can do.”

No training on Hyneria had prepared Zeke for this. And the worst was yet to come. Ji sat in his private chambers monitoring events. He knew what was coming next and he knew the time was right for that final hammer blow. Perfect break or find a new piece of marble. He would know soon.

(to be continued)

Commentary Part 1:

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Commentary Part 2:

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Commentary Part 3:

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Reading:

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The Last Paragraph and Bonus Commentary:

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