Dekker's Dozen: The Last Watchmen

The Finger of God

Dekker’s Dozen #011

Dekker slammed the chamber shut and locked both cartridges into the reliquary. He pointed the barrel at the surface of the Osix moon and fired, clutching the artifact tightly against the bucking, shuddering recoil.

A thin ruby beam shot out and stuttered. Wreathed with winding, silvery lightning, the beam grew in width and potency. The reliquary’s constant recoil pushed harder against the force of the blast and the beam bucked and shook Dekker as it slammed against him like a hammer drill, thrusting its fierce energy beam deep into the surface of Osix. Vesuvius ran to Dekker and helped steady him so he wasn’t flung from the open edge of the landing ramp.

Mounds of blackening soil swelled and rose like superheated blisters across the Osix crust; they crumbled and shot flames skyward as they suddenly imploded and burst open at other random locations. As the beam grew in width and intensity, a shrill cry rose up from the very moon itself.

The sky darkened momentarily and the air crackled; pockets of ribbon lightning upwards from the ground and dissipated as the godlike energy released from the reliquary dissipated. The electronics on the Rickshaw Crusader flickered and momentarily faltered before the EMP failsafe circuitry cycled the power-loop back around and restored functionality.

Finally, the smoke cleared from the hole blasted by the weapon. A massive crater smoldered and burned miles deep into the face of the moon.

The groan rose again as the crust cracked and split. Giant tendrils crept from the crevices and crawled like giant, hungry worms across Osix’s surface. Like carnivorous fronds of some massive Venus flytrap, two of them reached out and swatted the air in their general vicinity.

“This is more than just a moon,” Dekker whispered to himself. “Matty! Get us out of here, and fast!”

The Finger of God

Salvation hung closer to the orbit of Mars than to Earth’s. Cut off by their enemies, battered and bruised, the ship had proven herself. As the last remaining Earth battleship, she represented mankind’s last chance for defensible survival. The weight of that notion carried enormous burdens.

Dekker looked out the viewport. The red planet rotated in the distance, reminding Dekker of the futility of human occupation on other planets without the support of Earth. Down on the surface of Mars, old colonization structures still remained from humanity’s early attempts at off-world population, centuries ago. Without the advances in space travel, they’d been left to try and sustain themselves in the unsuitable Martian environment—the sparse supply drops weren’t enough and entire colonies died slow and miserable deaths, even despite terraforming which had given Mars a sustainable atmosphere and ecosystem. While habitable, it was no Earth and the stigma of past failure had been enough to dissuade future colonists from settling there.

Without the blue planet, Dekker could not see the future survival of his race. The ease with which all the other human colonies fell only reinforced his point. Earth and the human race were intrinsically linked; humanity was made for her and could not truly live without her.

Dekker sighed. Nearly a day had passed since they’d fled Osix. The moon had somehow corrected its close orbit so that it wouldn’t destroy the planet under tsunamis caused by a close proximity. It fell into a nearly synchronized revolution opposite of the moon. Only a few arbolean ghost ships remained alongside a couple Valkyrie units; the real threat was Osix.

The Mechnar forces hung close to the moon, using the Earth as a barrier. While their numbers had also been substantially depleted, they still outnumbered the arbolean space forces. But the moon still posed far too great a threat; its full power remained a largely unknown factor.

Dekker stepped into the command center and went to work. “Hull integrity?’

“One hundred percent,” replied one of his live-aboard refugees. Their numbers included a plethora of tradesmen; they’d formed a perfect corps of repair and maintenance workers.

“Shield systems?” Dekker asked.

“We’re running about eighty-five percent,” replied another. “It’s not a power issue; the generators output is probably stronger than it needs to be. Our shield-energy transmission towers were damaged in some areas by those grappler vines. Eighty-five is our new maximum shield threshold.”

Dekker asked, “Weapons systems?”

“Laser turrets are beyond repair. Output energy banks are fine, we just can’t fire them. Torpedo and flak ammo are around twenty percent. We have maybe a dozen rail gun cartridges left. We’ve got plenty of explosives if we had a way to fire them; that acid bath we got from the Valkyrie flagship did a real number on us. Gunneries are just too slagged to operate.”

Dekker nodded, ready to conclude the briefing on essential systems. He stood to leave.

“Aren’t you forgetting life support?” a woman asked.

So preoccupied with offense, it had slipped his mind as vital. “Yes, proceed,” he placated her. But he couldn’t make plans beyond the next battle.

“Air cyclers are at a hundred percent, now that hull integrity has been restored,” she said. “The remaining systems and ratios are all fine.”

He nodded and thanked them all, then went to his Watchmen. They’d set up a war room in the conference hall just off of the command center.

They reviewed the scenario briefly and quickly determined that a frontal attack against the cumulative forces arrayed against them amounted to suicide. Earth seemed a lost cause, by consensus.

“Our planet is fully seeded with the apothecium spores,” MacAllistair stated. “The natural immunity factor is there, of course, but given what we saw in District Three, the survival of that minority is not a strong bet.”

“Osix is alive, just as you thought,” Shaw stated. “Or at least, there’s some kind of massive life form living inside it. Sensor patterns closely resemble that of plant-life. Your last blast to the surface did do major damage, just not nearly enough. It opened the surface up so wide that you could hide three Salvations inside it.”

“You don’t happen to have any other tricks up your sleeve, do you?” Guy asked. “Maybe another time-traveling friend or ancient artifact of mass planetary destruction?”

“No. Just this.” He set the reliquary on the table and the shell satchel next to it. The cartridges rattled against the ancient container inside. Dekker withdrew the long, decorative container Ezekiel had given him.

The box sat there like pure temptation. “We should open it,” Guy stated.

Dekker shook his head, resolutely. “No. The old man said not to until the end… until my destiny arrives.”

“Yeah, what was that about? The creepy old man said that the other day.”

Vesuvius put her hand on Dekker’s shoulder. She was the only one he’d told, and only recently at that.

Dekker sighed and leveled with them. “Ezekiel claims that it is my destiny to destroy reality. I’m the triggerman, although the real culprit is clearly Prognon Austicon, or whatever is living inside of him.”

“How is that even possible,” MacAllistair asked.

“Austicon claims to be the embodiment of a powerful demon. My family has battled him for generations now.”

“No, not that. I mean, how can you destroy reality?”

Dekker’s throat was dry when he thought back to his encounter with the great engine. “I don’t know how to describe it. But think of existence as a by-product of a divine machine.”

“Is the machine God, or is creation the machine?” MacAllistair asked, genuinely intrigued.

“I have no idea,” Dekker stammered, trying to put his experience into words. “I only know that it is beautiful beyond description—pure life and love; I’ve seen it, been inside it. If Austicon succeeds, the machine will seize—its function cease. All facets of existence, all dimensions and reality, will grind to a stop.”

Dekker’s impassioned statement left them all speechless. “There’s a lot riding on us, Watchmen. It’s not about revenge or justice anymore; I don’t think it ever was. It’s about the continued existence of all life.”

Vesuvius squeezed him. “Then whatever is inside this box can only be used to that end: a self-destruct for the universe.”

An emergency channel notification chirped. The Watchmen looked at each other.

“Could there be other survivors?” MacAllistair hoped aloud.

Dekker pressed the button. The video screens filled with Prognon Austicon’s snarling face. And yet, something had changed in him—he looked even more sinister, if possible.

“I broadcast on all available human channels. I am Dione, the only god you survivors will ever know, and I am a god of death. If you hear this message, despair and take your own life; it shall be a more merciful end for you than my wrath.

“Also, I desire to speak with you Dekker Knight. I so yearn for your presence here on Earth. Come down. Come down that I may finally kill my enemy and God.” As he spoke, the Mechnar ships in the far distance began their descent; realigning their individual trajectories, they entered Earth’s atmosphere.

“I can sense that you have grown; your Watchmen have multiplied—I can feel it, sense it in my spirit.” The demon giggled, as if it were funny. “You are too few and you have none left to proselytize. Humanity is painted death macabre and I am her artist.”

Austicon—Dione scooped up a handful of dust and made a show of sniffing it. “You see the apothecium, these beautiful spores? This new breed is an evolved variant—exactly the same in every way, except that it incubates so much faster: twelve hours at most. The last of your race to fall under the arbolean thrall is currently blooming: nervous systems shattering as spikes burst through craniums. Hear me Watchmen! You are too late; mankind is cut off!”

Dione smiled wickedly and took a step back from the camera. The demon keyed in a combination on an electronic lock that had been fitted to an archaic, stone ossuary. With inhuman strength Dione tossed the lid aside; a thick cloud, writhing and buzzing emptied from the box, flitted around the room, and dissipated.

“These are my arbophage scarabs. Tiny little beetles: hungry things! They’ve been dormant, resting in torpor for many thousands of years—since the last time they feasted on their only natural food source, arbolean xylem fibers! They will devour spore and victim alike, the woody flesh of the arboleans. A great feast is upon them and they will annihilate my enemies present. For you, Watchmen, this is the end. Come down. Come down to Jerusalem that I may kill God!” The demon ended the transmission.

A pall hung over the room. “Earth, humanity, is dead,” Dekker stated. His voice was steel and his eyes were fire. “Our mission remains unchanged. Today Prognon Austicon, Dione, dies and reality lives. Watchmen, prepare for what might be our final battle.”

* * *

“This is Dekker.” His voice echoed slightly as he spoke through the Salvation‘s shipboard speaker system. “I wanted to update all humans aboard my vessel of the current situation. Mankind has fallen; Earth has died. To the best of our knowledge, the human settlements on all other worlds have fallen to one of two enemies camped in orbit.

“Our home has been poisoned by the invaders from Rico. Salvation can no longer hold her own in battle. Shields are reduced and our weapons systems have been fully compromised. We cannot retake the planet; there is little hope for survival.

“However, life refuses to quit. Death maybe unyielding, but life is also relentless. I consider it your duty to life to abandon ship. Mars may be an alien world, but there is an old settlement below; it may spawn life anew. We have jettisoned all supplies, rations, and equipment; it should be easy to locate these packages once planet-side.

“I know we’re only dropping you with a promise and a prayer, but it’s the best we can do at this point. We, the remaining Watchmen of earth, plan to take this battle to our enemy. Perhaps we can bloody their nose enough to give you a chance, a new genesis. The Salvation will not survive our next move.

“Man the lifeboats. Anyone left after thirty minutes can plan to die alongside us. Thank you all for your service and devotion; may God help you all.”

* * *

The Watchmen stood in a half-circle around an open lifepod. They filled it with the last of the weapons and munitions they hadn’t planned on arming themselves with. Guy slapped the release and jettisoned the pod, sending it streaking towards the distant, red planet.

Dekker pulled Guy aside and handed him a data disc. “A parting gift from Doc Johnson. This’s got all the keys, codes, and file backups from Darkside Station. Since the Mechnar ships have all left, you might be able to get in there and find something you can do some damage with. I need you on this one, Guy. I need the biggest explosion you can manage. Do something to take out that alien moon!”

“It’ll be my masterpiece,” Guy grinned, despite the complaint in the pit of his gut.

Dekker walked up the ramp of the Rickshaw Crusader. Vesuvius ran past him and embraced Guy.

“Whoa,” Guy protested. “You guys are acting like we’re not gonna see each other again.”

Vesuvius squeezed even harder. “Just in case.” She turned and walked back up the Crusader‘s ramp.

“Later, Red,” he said, the reality of their desperate plans hit home. Later was an unlikely event.

Dekker gave his friend a final, resolute nod, and then closed the boarding ramp.

* * *

Guy plugged the data disc into the proper receptacle and began scrolling through the files. He nearly jumped at the sound of another voice.

“You need help there? What are we looking for?”

“Doctor MacAllistair? I thought you went with the refugees,” Guy said.

“Refugees? Why would I do that? Dekker said this was a fight for the Watchmen. Well, I’m a Watchman, now, ain’t I?’

Guy grinned. The scientist had a point. “I’m looking for something to blow Osix up with. We’ve got some explosives here, a lot, actually, but we can’t fire them, and it has to be enough to kill that thing.”

MacAllistair sat at the neighboring terminal and joined the scanning process. Precious minutes trickled by and they hadn’t uncovered anything useful yet.

“This place is loaded with all sorts of top secret things, but nothing that will help us destroy a moon,” Guy complained.

“Other than explosives, how else can one kill a planetary body?” MacAllistair wondered aloud. “Spores? Poison? Poisonous spores?”

“Or poisonous explosives?” Guy wondered aloud. “I have an idea. SHIP, I have some coordinates for you. MacAllistair, follow me,” Guy led the Doctor to the docking bay. “Help me program these loader drones. We want them to dump their loads in the bays nearest the rear of the ship.”

Guy and MacAllistair activated the small fleet of mechanical units and laid in the retrieval parameters. They’d just finished programming the units as the Salvation slowed to a crawl, arriving at their destination under SHIP’s guidance.

The vessel stopped at the edge of a deep-space quarantine zone beyond the moon. The Gehenna Waypoint held geostationary orbit with Earth; it had become a hellish, cold-storage dump zone for radioactive and unstable materials. Gehenna Waypoint was the worst sort of interplanetary trash heap where humanity had stored unstable weapons, nuclear energy and fusion experiments, and failed biological research.

Watching on closed circuit video, Guy watched the drones deposit sealed modules containing countless toxins; the containers wore the various warnings of radioactive and biological contaminants. The robotic loaders dropped their cargo with cold indifference. Old warheads and reactor cores lay strewn across the floor as if they were carelessly tossed childrens’ toys.

MacAllistair joined Guy at the monitor and watched the progress. The drones worked quickly and efficiently, pulling the worst remnants of the last three-hundred years into the cargo bays. Two mechanized units worked in tandem to drag aboard the earliest unsuccessful models of a thumper drive system: an FTL engine that initiated Faster Than Light travel through contained and directed nuclear fusion detonations. The initial prototypes killed thousands before suitable fail-safes had been developed to contain failed fusion reactions and safely implode them without consequence. The current models, such as those on the Salvation, were hardwired against such failures.

Guy nodded, pleased with the progress. “Doctor, you’re not going to like what comes next.”

“How so?”

Guy placed Dekker’s tome, the sacred text that the order had protected for thousands of years, into MacAllistair’s hands. “Hold this.”

MacAllistair hugged it to his chest. Guy grabbed him suddenly and forced him through the door of the nearest escape pod. MacAllistair banged on the window while Guy sealed the door; it would stay sealed until the pod landed planet-side. “You can’t do this to me! I’m a Watchman, too!”

“Yes,” Guy replied. “After today you will be the last one. If hope exists beyond today, this will be your duty! Protect the book; share the words. It’s what Dekker would have done.”

Guy slapped the release and the shuttle shot off, bound for Mars. If any hope remained in this reality, it would land upon the red planet after a few hours. Guy didn’t know if he really believed that hope remained, but duty certainly did.

Hope or no hope, he knew what needed doing. What little time was left he dedicated to a purpose far beyond himself.

* * *

The Rickshaw Crusader looped far around in a wide arc. Timing was imperative to their descent. A straight flight would have been quicker by hours, but would have opened them up to attack by the arbolean ships. Their descending arc put them on an arrival course with Jerusalem as the curvature of the Earth eclipsed Osix. It left them free for atmospheric insertion before their enemies could respond.

As the clock ticked down, the restless Watchmen eagerly anticipated planet-fall. The irony didn’t escape notice: so eagerly they rushed headlong into certain death.

They’d just broken the apogee of their arc and began suiting up. Vesuvius, always favoring speed and aggression forwent heavier armor and finished quickest. She’d strapped a blaster tightly to each hip and slung on her pair of matching swords, the set Muramasa had passed to her cousin, Shin, and finally to her, the last Muramasa—the last Briggs. She reflected momentarily that being the last of something was not all that special; for all she knew she might be the last living human female on Earth.

Her mind raced with a million things; she glanced at Dekker who strapped weaponry to his body, methodically preparing for the battle. It might be the last of their moments together; if so, she wanted to tell him how she really felt. How did she really feel?

She walked over and cinched his gun belt for him, double checked the straps on his light body armor. A bandolier of canister explosives hung across his chest and she helped him throw on his dark overcoat, the duster that had always been his trademark feature.

Dekker threw his satchel over his shoulder and strapped the reliquary after that. Over the other shoulder he hung a beautiful broadsword his friends had never seen outside of Dekker’s collection of artifacts. A bright jewel glowed on the pommel.

He noticed Vesuvius jealously eyeing the weapon. “It belonged to King Solomon who gave it to Benaiah when he formed the true Templar corps. The jewel came from Solomon’s ring and was rumored to have power over demons. But… how would Ezekiel put it? ‘Myths and Kabbalistic hooey?'”

Vesuvius stood on her tip-toes and kissed the tip of his ear. “We may be dead within the hour,” she whispered. “I think might love you all the same, Dekker Knight.”

* * *

MacAllistair had tracked his progress as the escape pod hurtled towards the red planet. Fiddling with the systems had allowed him to pick up the transponders signals from the other lifepods. For some reason, they hadn’t descended, but hung in Mars’ orbit.

As his craft turned enough for a visual check, he watched out a glassine porthole. The elliptical edge of the world rotated into view. Light reflected off the day-side of the planet, illuminating the nearer regions, but MacAllistair couldn’t spot any life vessels.

He cross-checked the transponder reports on his scanners. The signals were there, but no pods. MacAllistair squinted, trying to make out the craft that hovered in the distance. It glowed at the rear as engines lit and it moved, coming for him.

Scanners indicated that he would pass close to another of the escape pods. A brief grating rattled from the shell of his lifeboat, like he’d briefly passed through a rain shower. He recognized it as the sound of atomized debris.

MacAllistair suddenly understood. He watched the Mechnar missile-boat as it approached fast from behind an asteroid. Mars had never been a good option; Austicon’s hunters had been secretly deployed to pick off any stragglers before the skirmish had even begun and ensure that the arboleans had no chance to impregnate the vestiges of humanity with their next generation.

The scientist clutched the book tightly. “Protect the book; share the words,” he said aloud and watched as the torpedoes streaked towards him.

Closing his eyes, he offered up a little prayer for his fellow Watchmen. The book would not survive—its message would only continue if there was a survivor and the death of his teammates meant Austicon would win. MacAllistair hoped that mere survival would be sufficient.

MacAllistair blinked against a bright light, then, the missiles struck his craft and everything ceased.

* * *

Dione, no longer Prognon Austicon, sat within the ancient starship submerged below the shaggy soil. This craft had been hidden for thousands of years, the remains of the arbolean’s first encounter upon Earth—an encounter that had ended badly for his former masters. Dione suspected that the ship still worked, even if it was not still structurally stable.

Eons of struggling had passed. She’d finally come into her own and transcended her earlier incarnation—finally free and imbued with superior physical form. She could not help but wonder what The Light Bringer thought of her now; would Asmodeus be jealous?

Trapped in her form of Prognon Austicon for so long, she’d not been capable of these thoughts for millennia. But now, her demonic heritage flowed strong and imbued her with power long muted by the arbolean genetic material.

Dione could read Leviathan’s mental projections—thoughts and images of the desolation on Rico and the consumption of her enemies. His thoughts pleased her and she replayed them in her mind as she climbed up to the surface. The beetles rapidly multiplied, breeding and reproducing with such rapidity that they would completely devour their foodstuff within days.

On the hillside nearby, a group of mechnar troops held down an arbolean drone as it struggled against their vice-like grips. It was the new variety of hybrid, the kind that linked body and mind to one of the black-leaved trees of Rico—this man had underwent a very similar process that the terrorist had once underwent which connected Dione to the barren tree of the Arbolean Council. Somewhere on Rico, a tree had become sentient, mobile, and experienced momentary freedom before the painful throes of death and devourment sank its teeth in via the arbophage scarabs.

The victim’s inhuman shrieks made Dione smile. Screams reached fever pitch and the victim’s appendages flailed as its body was overrun with arbophage scarabs. The hybrid’s demise would be undeterable and excruciating. It would, however, be far too quick. A handful of scarabs could chew through an entire drone’s arbolean lignins within a matter of minutes—these creatures were worse than any locust plague Dione’s enemy god could ever devise.

Dione examined a datapad she’d patched into the planet’s sensor array. Seventy percent of Earth had been exposed to the ecological weapon. She grinned again; everything she’d worked for would soon come to fruition. Everything had a contingency plan. Nothing could stop the demon avatar—Baal Dione. Humanity teetered on extinction and the Watchmen would be destroyed within the hour. The divine machine, her former home, would finally break.

She shook her fist at the sky in defiance. Not even God could stop her now, she issued the bold challenge, and the rage of the Arbolean Council was laughable.

Suddenly, the ground quaked, rocking her and shaking her footing. The air crackled with raw kinetic power. Booms like thunderclaps rent the sky and the crust moaned. Vibrations shook the gravel, jostling it about.

Looking to the horizon, Dione spotted the source. Osix’s massive tendrils had latched onto Earth like stingers from an angry jellyfish. The grappler vines threatened to break the world apart. For this, Dione had no contingency. The message was clear. “If we can’t have the planet and its people, then we will destroy it.”

New tentacles broke through the atmosphere; tearing up the sky, they stirred volatile thunderheads. Those not long enough to reach the surface dangled and hung ominous in the sky. The arbophage insects would eventually eat through even those enormous tendrils, but not before Osix ripped Asia apart. If mechnar units were capable of fear, they might have lost heart—but their programming prohibited it.

Dione clambered into a small speeder craft. She had guests to greet at Jerusalem; all else were mere distractions.

The quaking continued as Dione laughed at the moon’s futile attempt to rob the demon of her victory. “I am ageless!” she screamed. “I am deathless! You only hasten my victory, you fools. It doesn’t matter if I kill my prey at Jerusalem or in the cold of space; the Watchmen will perish—the Holy Words silenced, and then—then God will die!”

* * *

Salvation‘s engines pushed hard. Already weakened from the previous battle, they groaned as Guy ran the engines harder than they were built for. He had to overdrive them in order to push the enormous Class G to the speeds he needed. The old thumper engines in his hold had given him the idea. He could push the ship to the speed he needed by disabling the safeguards that protected each system from catastrophic failure.

Disengaging the precautions, he’d successfully gotten one of three forward railguns online. Guy didn’t know if it would fire or tear off the front end of the massive vessel. As a precaution he’d moved to the rear engine room and utilized SHIP for all guidance and piloting. He didn’t know how to drive a capital ship anyway—but he knew how to make a big bang, and that was the plan.

He saw Osix loom large on the screen. The living moon grappled with Earth and clung to her, threatening to rip the planetary crust wide open. Osix’s backside was left exposed where the former mining colony was once located. Even at this distance Guy could see the canyon Dekker had split open when he’d fired a double-load into the planet, busting it open.

Guy planned on jamming the Salvation directly into the schism with all speed possible, firing the railgun at close range. If he was lucky, he’d split the moon with the force of his impact and the railgun’s deep impact. If he was even luckier, he’d survive at the rear of the ship where he’d used the foaming shots from his phlogiston gun to embed a lifepod between the engine drive turbines. If his luck failed, the impact would kill him and the bays he’d rigged to open would still unleash all manner of pestilent and biological terrors on the living moon, poisoning her. Regardless, he would kill this moon.

“SHIP. Engine status?”

“Engine output at one hundred twenty-three percent of maximum safe output levels. Velocity is one hundred seven percent typical max speed, non FTL,” SHIP stated in a flat, mechanical voice.

Guy ignored the caution message SHIP automatically followed the report up with. A rolling audio loop played every fifteen seconds with the same warning message due to the disabled fail-safes. He learned to tune out the annoyance after the first couple minutes.

Scanners showed two Valkyrie units angling for an intercept course as the moon loomed ever closer. He couldn’t risk losing any speed in his desperate gamble.

“SHIP! Can we pour any more speed into the engines?”

“An additional increase of three percent is possible,” SHIP responded. “Increase of two percent will incite a chain reaction and detonate our fuel cells within an approximated thirty seconds. Warning—precautionary systems have been compromised. Imminent danger certain.”

“Then give me one percent!” Guy had hoped for even more speed—this would be too little. “Shield status, SHIP!” he demanded.

“Thirty percent strength, evenly distributed.” The systems had been drained when he redirected the bulk of the energy to the engines. SHIP repeated her boilerplate warning, “Warning—precautionary systems have been compromised. Imminent danger certain”

There was no indecision, merely a lack of options. Guy bit his lip and watched the first Valkyrie draw close. The grappler cord shot out and seized the front of the Salvation. At full speed, the smaller Valkyrie couldn’t stop the momentum but veered the Salvation off course.

“SHIP! Cut starboard engines to forty percent!” Guy felt the immediate shift underfoot as the two tethered ships began a circular spin, connected at the bow by the prehensile cord.

Guy anxiously double checked the systems and prayed that the sudden change of plans would succeed. As the two ships hurtled towards Osix in their wild spin, the second Valkyrie sped to her sister’s aid.

“SHIP, kill all engines and fire the designated railgun on my mark.” Lining up the shot, using the attached arbolean unit as a kind of targeting reticle, guy shouted, “Fire!”

The railgun misfired and exploded. The face of the ship tore free and the detonation consumed both Valkyrie units, sending the Salvation into a backwards free-fall. Warning sirens howled throughout the damaged craft.

“Manual override, SHIP! Remove all failsafe protocols on Thumper Drive engines.”

“Confirm? Warning—precautionary systems have been compromised. Imminent danger certain.”


“Secondary confirmation? Warning—precautionary systems have been compromised. Imminent danger certain.”

“Just do it!” He double checked trajectory one final time. Only seconds left—I hope you’re having a better time of it than I am, Dekker.

“SHIP, engage FTL drive on my mark!”

“Awaiting mark. Warning—precautionary systems have been compromised. Imminent danger certain.”

The damaged craft hurtled towards the gigantic crevasse opened in the Osix crust, plummeting directly towards the deep wound. Salvation‘s skin glowed red hot and trailed smoke as she broke through the thin atmosphere.

“Goodbye cruel moon,” Guy quipped, drawing the sticky gun from his belt and setting the detonator to ‘activate all.’ A sudden memory blinked through his mind. You’re gonna blow yourself up one of these days, Vesuvius had told him on their first visit to Osix; Guy smiled one last time and yelled over the blaring klaxons, “Mark!”

A momentary ball of contained thermo-nuclear fusion energy erupted at the rear of the falling ship. The containment parameters flickered and burst as Guy detonated the explosives adhered all around the engine drives—the torrent of released nuclear energy roared free and filled the canyon, splitting rock and plate, driving the fulmination deep into the Osix core and splitting her like shattered glass.

The living arbolean super-weapon shrieked in her death throes. Earth’s gravity snared the broken pieces of the demolished moon and they tumbled downward in colossal chunks, dragging tails of fire as they belched infernoic against the atmospheric friction.

* * *

Rocketing towards the planet, the Rickshaw Crusader barrel-rolled through the sky, guns blazing. Every atmospheric skiff the Mechnar forces possessed chased them.

Taking heavy fire, Matty had piloted the ship evasively since breaking the mesospheric window. Looping around them, their rear took the brunt of the fire, overtaxing the shields. A missile erupted behind them, ripping through one of their engines and destroying the rear shield generators.

A section of hull tore away where a disintegrating engine tore free. The sound of rushing air screamed through the Watchmen’s ears.

“We’re breached! And it’s big! Keep them off our tail!” Matty howled through the Crusader‘s shipboard comm unit. “Gunners! Get better!”

There were far too many enemies for the guns to deal with. Dekker unstrapped himself and tossed his bandolier of explosives to Juice. He bent down and kissed Vesuvius on the mouth, pressing hard in the passion of what might be his final moment.

“Kill Prognon Austicon, Watchmen!” he ordered. “Finish this for me!” Dekker dashed down the hall; Vesuvius’s worried eyes watched him go, begging him to stay and give her more.

Dekker burst into the engine room as he slammed two shells into the reliquary. The vacuum of the breach sucked Dekker through the opening and out into the open air. The propulsion wake dashed him across the sky like a stone skipping across pond-water.

While Dekker corrected his fall, his eyes barely caught the wounded Rickshaw Crusader plummeting Earthward, trailing a plume of smoke and jagged flame. Righting himself and gasping against the thin oxygen supply; he flipped over so he fell backwards and ignored the flapping of clothes as they whipped his face. Dekker snapped his weapon into position and fired the double-loaded reliquary, pointing an energy beam like the finger of God at the enemy pursuers.

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