Category: Zael


Marauders

Carnage equalled Marauders in the Zael system. No such creature existed around Hyneria and what Zeke saw next had never been seen by Hynerian eyes.

Sitting in front of the baby Zael with John’s words of dispair ringing in his ears, the purplish vultures of the subsystem swooped into sight.

Zeke sat helpless. Unknown emotions flooded his being. No words could describe the horror of what he saw next.

Back on Command, Rogers monitored Zeke’s vitals. All numbers spiked to personal highs. And then, as if by exhaustion, each number started dropping. Slowly at first, then faster and faster. 210, 190, 170, 130, 80, 40. Zeke’s heart rate dropped. 40 beats per minute was a new personal low.

Rogers sensed movement. Turning, and snapping to attention, he greeted Ji.

“Captain,” smiled Ji, “bring our Zeke home and have him report to my quarters. We have much to discuss.”

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Epiphany! Part 1

“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)

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The Last Paragraph and Bonus Commentary:

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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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Before

Vanguard drones normally flew without pilot, but Ji had them modified for this mission. Zeke held more potential than any recruit Ji had ever seen but potential did not mean actualization. Potential was a fool’s game and Ji was in no mood to play. The Order needed a successor and no suitable candidate had emerged, yet.

The Tragedy of Zael provided the test Ji needed. He would learn, and so would Zeke, just how far this young Hynerian could take Zing Tao. Saving a few Zaels was important but uncovering the next leader of the Order was paramount. Ji was not getting any younger and all great movements demanded leadership. Contrary to popular bedtime stories, leaders, Ji knew, were born, not made. The knife could be sharpened but a pen knife, no matter how sharp, was never going to be a bowie knife, much less a samurai sword capable of greatness.

Vanguards were always first in battle. They possessed thousands of delicate sensors capable of gathering more information on the field of battle in an hour than a commander could process in a week. Seen as an engineering marvel, they were the pride of the Southern Scientific institute. Zeke would be the first to ever actually fly in one.

“This way Lieutenant,” motioned the tech. “Watch your step sir, we’ve had to make some rather interesting modifications.”

Zeke ducked his head and settled into the drone. Pilot not needed. He would be a passenger on this ride. Price of admission—his future. “Lieutenant, if you look this way you will see the main control panel. We’ve modified the display so that you will be able to see all the data normally beamed back to central processing. Any questions sir?”

“I think I got it,” Zeke said to no one in particular. “When will she be ready for launch?”

“She’s ready now Lieutenant. Should we initiate the launch sequence?”

“Yes. Initiate the countdown. No time like now,” Zeke intoned with an unintended edge.

Less than twenty minutes to the surface. Three hours until return. Never before nor ever after would Zeke experience such a dividing line of before and after. The Hynerian that left on that Vanguard drone was not the Hynerian that returned.

A Rare Encounter

“Lieutenant Zeke, this way please.” Lampré didn’t walk, didn’t fly, but rather glided.

“Master Ji will see you in his private chambers. He’s expecting you.”

Zeke drew a slow steady deep breath. Letting the air out at a slightly faster nervous cadence, he stepped into Ji’s private quarters. Immediately his mind felt like mush, time seemed warped, and his thoughts slowed. His eyes took in light in the dimly lit room, yet even light seemed to move at a different tempo. An unusual lightness lifted his body as if Ji’s room operated at a different gravity than the rest of the ship. Zeke felt like a Hynerian who had checked his wits at the cloak room. He had them but they weren’t here now.

“At ease Lieutenant.” Words registered. Ji had spoken. Body failed to respond. Then laughter. Ji could manifest as either body or spirit, and preferred his spirit form whenever possible. Invisible to the normal eye, Ji employed an ocular oscillator so that others could visually interact with him.

“Sorry Master Ji. I . . .” and then nothing. Zeke felt like his vocal cords were frozen. More laughter. Ji always seemed to know how to break the tension. “Everyone reacts the same the first time they use the ocular Zeke.”

“Our time is short and there is little to say,” laughed Ji. “No need to speak my son, I know your mind and I know your heart. If I didn’t have faith that both were exactly where they needed to be, you would not have been invited on this mission.”

“Javalina Destroyer’s will attack before we will arrive. The planet is lost but our objective is to save the Zaels we can and bring them back to Hyneria. For you, my friend, this mission has a different purpose. You will see things your eyes have never seen before. Your heart will feel vibrations and tremors of terror new and alien to anything you have felt before.”

“The days ahead Lieutenant determine where you go from here within the order. First contact has a way of blunting growth. The heart grows callused in some, and a callused heart becomes dull with anger and bitterness.”

“Watch your heart. Let it grow not in revenge, not in justification, but let it expand in compassion for our adversary. Hate begets hate. Watch your heart. Cultivate love and compassion. Only love is truth and only truth conquers. Zing Tao, Lieutenant. Prepare yourself. Much is expected. Much you will do. Dismissed.”

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Bad News


Javalina Crawlers

Dropping from the sky, Javalina Crawlers fell on Zael CIC. Only twelve hours had passed. Javalinas were not known for keeping their word. At least one could say they were consistent.

__________

Crawler Prototype
for Terry

Twenty-Four Hours

Zael CIC could not believe their eyes. Broadcasting on Zael’s formerly ultra secure comm channel z9 with a signal as clear as next door, Javalina General Jarzuphis demanded unconditional surrender of the entire planet. Zael command had twenty-four hours to comply or be annihilated from the universe.

Outgoing comms were jammed. Decisions had to be made and no information had arrived from Ji’s task force with an ETA. Best estimates put the time of arrival several hours post surrender deadline. With secure communications compromised and Javalina jammers effectively in place, Zael was all but surrounded and isolated. One could only hope Ji had received their last urgent communiqué.

Could they play for time? Was there another option? No one knew, but Zael command worked like condemned prisoners on death row. In a sense, that’s exactly what they were. Sweat poured, minds cracked, and tempers flared. Javalinas took no prisoners. Annihilation mean the compete destruction of their species. All options were now open for discussion.

Scatalinas

Priority: Urgent
Location: CIC Zael
Dateline: 30:567:0982 M23

Message: Zael under intense attack. Stop. Wigglinas have attacked in the North and the South. Stop. Javalina command ships have launched wave upon wave of Scatalinas against CIC. Stop. Situation dire. Stop. Please advise on ETA. Over.

North

The sound of a heavy boot on metal never harbors good tidings. Zeke walked like a man on his way to execution, each step planned, deliberate, slow and heavy with trepidation. Clanging out a metronomic pace, there was no other sound in the corridor but the steady slapping echo of metal on metal. Nor was another soul in sight. Zeke felt the coldness of his worry silence even the normal buzz of the hallway lights.

Several parsecs ahead, a more ominous thudding could be heard on Zael. Massive, lumbering Javalina Wigglinas had arrived in the north. These elephantine monsters descended from the sky with a deliberate slowness that mimicked Zeke’s pace. Each mammoth limb sought solid ground to imbed its metal jaws. Upon contact with the planet, ice cracked with the sound of a whip, shards flew in all directions slaying anything in the path of flight, and the planet shook as if the very land was under attack. And so it was.

Wigglinas were the cruel invention of a warped mind. Designed to destroy the very land of the enemy, they gave a whole new meaning to cruelty in warfare. Destroy the land, poison the water, and retreat to watch the local population die a slow and merciless death of starvation and thirst. The machines and the minds that put them to use were heartless bastards. Wigglinas made the land inhabitable for decades. They were only used when one just didn’t care.

Metal clang in the corridor. Metal thud on Zael. One could imagine the two sounds moving in parallel, in unison, the twisted humor of fate, smiling at the opening act of destinies forever to be joined.

_____________________

And South



Priority: Extreme Level 10 Code Red
Location: Outpost 643 Subsector 5
Dateline: 24:567:0982 M23

Message: Outpost surrounded. Stop. Situation desperate. Stop. Transmitting all scientific logs. Stop. Last rites performed. Stop. May Ji Qong revenge our souls. Over.