Category: Raptors



Horrors without, horrors within. Dauculus represented the single greatest loss of Zing Tao in the history of the Order. AAR’s were never released to the public and those within say even time itself failed to wear down the gates of regret. Zeke never spoke of the matter and until the meeting with Rog, neither had Von.

“Peace is not a place Rog,” said Von. “Physical wounds heal. Sometimes the emotional ones, well, sometimes they take a little longer.”

Rog took another sip of snoot and Von continued. “We all make mistakes. We all have regrets. Hindsight is 20/20. Would we have done things different on Dauculus if given the chance? Absolutely. Mistakes were made and lives lost. The real damage, and I want you to listen to me very closely, the real damage was not what happened to us, but what we thought about it.”

Von leaned back in his chair without breaking eye contact with Rog, judging the measure of the Hynerian’s comprehension. Rog gazed down at his glass and swirled the snoot to bring the aroma into play. He wasn’t sure if Von’s words or the snoot was making him the most dizzy.

“She’s going to make it Rog. And she was right; if you had interfered you would have put her life at risk.”

“How do you know that Von? How do you know she is going to wake? How do you know I shouldn’t have done something when I could?”

“Trust me Rog. Matters of this nature happen for a reason.”

“Speaking of reasons, you never did say why you, a mighty Zing Tao, are onboard our ship?”

“I owed a debt.”

“What kind of debt?”

“Dauculus Rog. Why do you think I told you that story? I screwed up. My career should have been over. I thought it would be. The Hynerian that should have been most angry, I’m talking about Zeke, took the blame for me. He never reported to Ji nor told anyone else that I was the one that failed the others. Hynerians, some of the most highly trained Zing Tao, reporting directly to Zeke lost their lives because of my mistake.”

Rog sat stunned.

“My Kestrel crew failed to provide covering support. Zeke’s deployment got ripped to shred’s by chaos engineered Raptors. They were defenseless. Caught in the open waters. I can still here the distress signals and radio chatter in my head as if it were yesterday. By the time we arrived it was too late. The damage had been done.”

“I’m sorry Von.”

“When we landed and I exited my Kestrel, Zeke was the first one to greet me. I expected court martial, on the spot.” Von paused, looked down at his drink and then back up at Rog.

“And?”

“With tears in his eyes he hugged me.”

Rog looked askew at Von.

“Only a Zing Tao with the ability to make it to the ninth order could have responded with that level of compassion in the heat of the moment. I learned more in that one embrace than my entire training up to that time. And I owe everything else I accomplished because of that Hynerian.”

“And how does that lead you to our little ship?”

Von laughed and standing up slapped Rog across the head. “Maybe you should lay off the snoot a bit. I’m here because of Kyra bonehead. Zeke asked me to look after her. I knew it was my chance, my chance to repay the debt.”

A loud knock at the door interrupted Rog’s response. Yul had found her Hynerian.

Raptors in the Morning

Zeke didn’t tell Kyra everything.

_________

The above image was found in Zeke’s old notebooks. It is believed to have been drawn by him shortly after the events in the first image. He never spoke about that fateful day on-planet and his notes were sketchy at best as to what happened. The family requested the official after-action-report but were told the records were sealed.

Stormy Weather

“John, what the hell just happened?” Commander Rogers’ voice trailed off in a sense of surreal bewilderment. Every sensor display tracking Zeke and his drone was blank, nada, nothing, as if neither existed. Full data one moment, nothing the next.

Simultaneously, the three Raptors disappeared off the same monitors. No Zeke, no Vanguard, no Raptors. Minds raced for an answer, yet the echo back was the same. Command had miscalculated. The Vanguard was no match for three Raptors. Zeke never saw them coming and Command, well, Command had miss calculated.

“Sir,” John hesitated. “Sir, we, we have no explanation. All vector calculations estimated four minutes to impact. That data . . .” Rogers cut him off. “That data John was wrong. How else do you explain all four entities disappearing at the same exact moment?”

The question hung in the air. No one could ever remember such silence in Central Command. Rogers starred straight ahead. Empty monitors mocking his competence. “So this is it,” he mused. Thoughts of notifying Ji, thoughts of history lessons on what not to do next to his name, thoughts of court martial, thoughts of a career in ruins, thoughts of returning home in disgrace, the sight of his wife and children and not being able to look them in the eye. Rogers was full of thoughts, lost in thoughts, consumed by thoughts.

Zeke, likewise had been in his own world. If not for the blinding flash and electrical shock that stung him like a giant willow wasp, he would have still been in that self-absorbed world. Wringing the sting from his fingers and rubbing the blindness from his eyes, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

Zeke had studied all the scientific logs transmitted by Outpost 643. Their mission was to study the duality of Zaels, yet, as scientists are wont to be, they tended to study anything that struck their fancy. The Zael system was unique for more than just its magnificent creatures. Electro-magnetic solar storms occasioned the confines of Zael space in ways the Hynerians had never seen.

These storms had been studied during “down-time” and very little was known or at least very little data transmitted. Zeke guessed no one wanted to document time spend on a subject not commissioned. This much was known. The storms were massive. They were spontaneous and apparently unpredictable. Charged with electrical power, any and all communication became impossible for the duration. The few storms documented had lasted from one to five minutes and then they were gone as quickly as they had materialized.

Command had not miscalculated the vector. The blinding flash Zeke had seen was the three Raptors exploding as they sailed straight into the solar maelstrom. Zeke would live another day and Commander Rogers would not have to make that long solitary walk down to Ji’s chambers. Sometimes it was better to be lucky than good. And today, they were all lucky Hynerians.

“Sir, exclaimed John. We’ve got data on the Vanguard. Zeke is alive. Lieutenant Zeke, this is Central Command, can you hear me?”

“Lieutenant Zeke reporting. Did you guys see that unfricken believable solar storm? I’ve never seen such incredible beauty and massive power all in one package. Holy fricken molasses.”

“That’s our boy,” exclaimed Rogers with a grin big enough to light the deepest caves in the central regions. “Zeke, I’m not sure what the hell you’re talking ‘bout but it sure is good to hear your voice. You ready to proceed?”

“Yes sir. Like a pampus on his pappus, let’s get this show on the road. I don’t plan on freezing my ass off all day in this Janus forsaken contraption. By the way, give my regards to the engineers. Tell them I’ve got a little sumthin sumthin for them when I get back.”

“Will do Lieutenant. Will do my friend.”

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Four Minutes

“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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