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Raven Number 9. My streets, my city, my prey. Mine. I alone defend it now. For the ancestors!
“It was all black!” Rona pushed herself against the wall behind a dusty, bannerless stairwell and sobbed.
“Relax.” Dane tapped his ear. “Wolf to Roundhouse. Come in.” He paused but no answer came back.
The deep guttural throom of the floating vehicle zoomed toward them.
Rona threw herself into Dane. “You said it would be in and out. You said—”
Dane pushed her back into the corner behind the stairwell and grimaced. He charged his weapon. “I’ll take care of it.”
I bear the mission of the ancestors. Will defend, destroy, wipe out. Do you approve, ancestors? Respond.
After the noise stopped, Rona peeked an eye out from behind the staircase. Dane’s body lay in the debris-strewn street like a flat tire, its legs folded back on themselves, its face a rubber mask of anguish, black tire treads running across the forehead and cheeks. Puddles of goo oozed from razed eye sockets. She recoiled deeper into her hiding place.
You’re gonna die here!
Her hands jittered. She stood up, her balance precarious, and walked the few steps to the edge of the darkening street. “You worthless heap of scrap! He was a good man! They all were. You’re evil! Bad! Wrong!”
Raven9 requires guidance. Destroyed invaders per orders. Told did wrong, was bad. Need instructions, confirmation. Ancestors?
Rona peeked an eye around the corner. The sleek black beast hung millimeters above the rubbly ground, still and silent. She stuck her arm out and waved. No response. Her heart fluttered.
You’re going to get yourself killed!
The short, busty scientist burst out of her hiding spot and ran towards the beta site. She tapped her chest. “Rona to Arclight. I need transport!”
Her chest rose and fell. Fetid dust permeated her mouth and desperate breath burned her throat.
A circular pool of air shimmered ahead of her. Her energy flagged, legs heavier, lungs aching. She urged her small legs on.
The atmosphere rattled around her. Dust flew and the planet spun. All feeling lost, her mind struggled to assign meaning to the black four-legged thing entering the shimmering pool.
Lights. Too much. Hurt. No sky, hard cage. Not the ancestors. Hate me. Destroy them. Consume. Kill and destroy.
Rona spit dust from her mouth. She moved her knee to stand and a cacophony of pain erupted from all parts. The portal. My team. My God!
It sparkled not ten meters from her. She jerked her hand forward into a pile of powdery rubble. A shining disk reflected the light of Beta Persei into her eye and she flinched.
She crawled forward. The thick, heavy disk filled the palm of her hand. The beast, its four legs fully extended, its head upright and proud, occupied the center in relief. Squiggles surrounded it.
The dark giant of the binary system passed in front of its smaller blue brother. Night fell over the street, shadows reaching their misshapen arms to grasp her.
Rona bit into the pain, limped forward and threw herself through the portal.
Done, masters. Enemies dead. What’s this? Another? Again? Destroy. Con–
The beast flew at Rona from across the bridge, its deep throom vibrating, a solid, rectangular block of glowing pitch blackness.
Her teeth clacked. The sound seemed to come from inside her now.
Her palm faced outward at the dog, her fingers grasping the heavy disk.
The beast smoothed now. Curves emerged. A thin rectangle cropped up out of the front of its snaky torso. Four legs extended down and alighted on the bloody metal deck of the ESS Arclight.
A wave of nausea blew up inside of Rona and she crashed to the floor.
The words intruded on her mind. At rest. The thought popped into her awareness and she willed it at the beast.
Its legs retracted. The torso descended to the floor. The stick-like head remained attentive.
Rona grinned. She lifted the disk to her face. The beast’s head followed.
Ancestors returned! New master. Serve you. Yours. Love you, worship you. Do what you say. Only you. Forever. Beautiful. What now? What now? What now?
Adventure coming. Rona directed the thought at the prostrate beast.
Its torso rose slightly and its head quivered.
She stepped over Offner, the navigator. Dead, his neck ripped open and crushed. Blood still trickled from the gaping wound. She punched up the navigation charts, her back turned to the creature.
A chill breeze hit her from behind and she froze. Is this it? It glided past her and took up station again in front of her, waiting, guarding.
Is it living? Machine? Does it have feelings? Rona set those worries aside. Only one course now. She found the planet, programmed the Navcomp and engaged.
A shower of sparks erupted on the viewscreen, then the cloudless, empty brown surface of MZ458-C.
Rona glanced at the beast. Master. What now? Its words and frenetic emotions beat like a drum under her temples.
She opened a portal, the air shimmering behind the beast, a dry heat searing her eyes.
Go through. Check for enemies. Will follow. She willed the words to it. Her stomach throbbed and her hands shook.
The beast rose, its legs hit the floor and its head took a proud angle. Will protect Master. Love Master. Alone no more. It turned and jumped through the opening without hesitation.
Rona’s relief mixed with the creature’s transferred joy. She tapped the nav panel, then collapsed next to it.
Raven9 analyzed the blue star. It was hotter than the previous one. He adjusted his operating parameters to maintain a safe internal temperature.
Master? He sat and awaited her arrival. He had a good feeling about this one. He’d already proven his worth. She was different.
The shimmering circle closed, disappeared. Far above him, sparks exploded.