Dekker's Dozen: The Last Watchmen

Dead Planet

Dekker’s Dozen #012

Dekker fell and tumbled through the air. He’d dived through the hull breach without a thought for himself, and he’d make the same sacrifice in an instant to give his friends—his family, a better chance at landing the spacecraft.

He tightly gripped the reliquary and fired the double-load. The enflamed magenta beam panned and expanded, writhing with hot, electric energy. The air crackled under the red gaze of the ancient weapon—heat lightning flashed and vaporized the cloud of pursuing gunships.

The force of the blast rocketed the Watchman towards the planet’s surface, flinging him towards the ground faster than his terminal velocity warranted. Dekker’s duster flapped around him like an impotent parachute as the powerful beam sputtered and subsided.

So this is how it ends! Dekker grinned. Have I cheated destiny? Was Ezekiel wrong? He flipped around and pointed his face to the charred Jerusalem landscape below. It rushed to meet him with slowing speed as terminal velocity gripped him; with the blast force gone, the physics of gravity resumed and slowed him: still dropping him with more than enough force to kill any human.

No. It doesn’t end here. Not Yet. Not with Austicon undefeated!

Dead Planet

Inertial compensators failed aboard the Rickshaw Crusader as it screeched toward the planet. The cabin filled with smoke and the passengers felt the g-forces slam them back against their seats.

Matty screamed against the shuddering controls as he desperately tried to guide them to a relatively safe landing. He flipped switches, rerouting power to the VTOL engines and retro-thrusters, desperately trying to break their fall. The rear engines were gone, bleeding smoke and fire, but at the current velocity, survival without casualties didn’t look likely. Matty frantically worked the flaps, but most of them had already burned away or broke off.

As the ground rushed up to meet them, Matty turned to look at Vesuvius. “At least they’re not shooting at us anymore.” He smiled as the ground reached up and kissed the Crusader like a prizefighter’s mean uppercut.

Everything shook with such violence that it strained every molecule of the Watchmens’ bodies; the crash tore through Matty’s crash webbing and ejected him through the front view-shield of the Rickshaw Crusader, flinging him into the unknown faster than an eyeblink and leaving behind only a ragged streak of blood. The damaged ship skidded across the withered landscape, plowing a smoky, superheated furrow in its wake.

Finally slowing and barely remaining intact, the damaged craft jostled to a stop near a broken wall at the edge of the annihilated Jerusalem complex. The ruins of the once great fortress still smoldered.

Blood trickled down Vesuvius’ face, pouring from her brow and streaming a line down past her eye. She felt certain she’d broken a rib; her breath came short and painful. Ignoring the pain, she unstrapped and ran into the Crusader‘s main hold.

Vesuvius found Corgan lying against a bulkhead, gritting his teeth against the pain. His broken fibula pierced through the skin, gruesomely twisted through his calf muscle. It took all his self-control just to breath.

“Medic!” she yelled. “Ahmed! Where are you?”

Corgan pointed to the opposite side of the room. Ahmed lay on his side, with his face swollen. Their medic’s head lay turned at an odd angle, contorted with a bulging neck. His spine had obviously fractured when his body dashed against the unyielding steel.

“Status report!” Vesuvius screamed. “Who is still alive?” She ripped Corgan’s pants at the knee and tore the fabric into strips. Wadding one piece up she jammed it into his mouth. “Bite down. This is going to hurt—a lot.”

Vesuvius grabbed the foot of his broken leg and pulled. Corgan’s eyes rolled back in his head as his muffled scream punctuated by sobs. She pulled the bone back inside where it rested against the other broken end and reset.

Corgan’s ragged breaths came in painful snorts, like an angry bull, about to charge. “Thanks,” he spat out with a wince. “There’s no way I’m missing the big show.”

While she wrapped his leg with a makeshift splint, Rock crawled down a ladder from the gunnery and bandaged the front and back of his shoulder with a spray-on adhesive bandage. He didn’t say anything, but something had obviously punctured his torso.

As if nothing had happened, Rock picked up the heavy chain-gun with his good arm and slung the ammo canister over the other, along with a spare canister for backup. The others slowly crawled from the wreckage in various states of damage.

“Are you all ready for this?” Vesuvius challenged. The agonizing pain of the crash-landing still reverberated through their bones making the passing seconds feel like ages. “Push onward until we get to Austicon. Stick together and don’t worry about the fallen—no time for that now. I’ll see you all on the other side.”

They rattled their guns to the ready, the most appropriate form of salute for this team. “Let’s do this!” Juice yelled, ducking under the crumpled shell of the Crusader‘s armor; the damaged exit ramp couldn’t fully open.

Rock lowered his chain-gun and opened fire, providing cover for his teammates as they escaped behind him, darting for the defensible ruins on the far side of the wreckage. The rotating gatling barrels sloughed off the heat and shook between his usually steady hands.

Bullets zipped by and ricocheted off the distant gravel, cutting down mechnar units that as they converged on the broken vessel. Rock sprayed deadly projectiles across the landscape. His last teammate escaped behind him as his hands faltered under the vibrations and his bandages ripped free. A laser blast struck him in the other shoulder, knocking him to his side. He staggered to his feet and whirled a drunken circle; the gunner tried to maintain his balance while firing wounded. His cover fire mowed down another group of cyborgs; he took three more shots to his midsection. Rock howled with rage and pain as he toppled again, maintaining fire until the bitter end.

Behind their valiant friend, the Watchmen skirted the edge of the ship, firing their weapons at the onslaught of mechnar warriors, using the broken terrain for cover. The noise of blaster and firearm reports were deafening. Vesuvius, Shaw, Nathan, Britton, and Juice each hopped over the crumbling wall. Corgan struggled to get over with his broken leg. He’d almost gotten over when he yelped like a kicked dog.

Corgan slumped and went limp; a hole smoldered in his back. His eyes rolled back in his head, this time permanently.

His friends howled with rage. Leaning around their cover, they poured hell and fire into their oncoming enemy even as a dark cloud overtook them.

The darkness rolled in like a sandstorm. Haze and ash blew all around them—the detritus and fallout from the death of Osix. Portions of the shattered moon hailed across the distance, falling through the horizon like massive meteors. Colossal chunks dashed themselves against the crust of the eastern continent, spewing dirt and debris across the planet in the aftermath: ripples of damage and darkness.

In the darkness, they fired blindly, aiming for the source of the blaster fire that targeted them. “Brit!” Vesuvius screamed as the warrior fell over, rocked backwards with a jolt, his neck torn wide by a disruptor beam. She screamed with righteous fury.

A bright light shone behind them, obscured by the blowing haze. It glowed crimson in the center of the Jerusalem crater behind them, shooting vertical like a powerful beacon and flinging lightning off its center like a malfunctioning reactor core.

* * *

Dekker plunged downward, belly to Earth, spreading his arms and legs to create as much resistance as possible. He reached into his satchel and pulled out two more shells from his dwindling ammunition pool.

He loaded the reliquary with the cartridges and aimed the weapon straight down. Praying the idea would work, he locked the chamber and fired straight into the middle of the Jerusalem crater.

The force of the blast slammed into the earth like a perpetual bolt of lightning. Resisting the descent, the reliquary’s recoil pushed against the falling Watchman’s velocity. He continued the descent, but at a much reduced rate, slowing the plunge.

The ground loomed, rushing up fast; Dekker gritted his teeth and braced himself for impact as he fell into the blast crater that the enormous erubescent beam pounded even deeper yet. Ground to air lightning shot skyward from the surface as he fell and an intense, hot updraft of wind blasted him into an awkward tumble. Dekker’s back scraped against the jagged edge of the newly plowed hole, spun him into a roll, and sent him skittering down a deep ravine. He bounced down the jagged, stony gorge and clawed at the craggy stone; the friction tore his hands. Dekker finally seized an outcropping and hung over a ledge, dangling above a crack in the crust opened wide by the power of the reliquary. Below the overhang, a river of magma bubbled, swallowing the broken shale that slid past him.

He ached everywhere; the pain in his body reinforced the fact that he’d miraculously survived. Grabbing the earth with raw hands, he dragged himself up the slag-strewn blast well.

Nearing the top, Dekker braced against the ground and ejected the two emptied shells of his reliquary. He dug his hands into the satchel: three cartridges left. Ramming another two loads into the device, he looked at the last remaining cartridge and identified it by its alpheric character—the Omega load. He sprinted up past the mouth of the hole; he would save the final shell for his nemesis.

* * *

“Do any of you see Austicon?” Vesuvius screamed over the howling noises and rushing billows of haze. “He ought to be zeroing in on us!”

“I don’t know about him, but his forces are all around us!” Juice yelled. He popped up and fired a flurry of shots, spotting Leviathan in the crowd. “Wait. I got something! That assassin that attacked us on the Salvation, the one that got away, he must be leading this army!”

“I took him out once before,” Vesuvius challenged.

“I got him,” Juice said. He grabbed a canister grenade from his belt and stood to hurl the explosive. Juice’s entire body erupted with flames; the force of the detonation knocked his limp body backwards in a heap.

Vesuvius peeked over the wall. The psynar assassin knew exactly what to expect, even at that range. He lowered the scope-mounted laser rifle with body language that communicated glee.

“This is nuts!” Nathan shouted. “We’ve got to come up with a way to kill that thing! And we’re running low on ammo.”

“You got any ideas?” Shaw queried.


“Good,” Vesuvius stated. “Cuz he’d already know em if you did.”

“If only we could even the playing field,” Nathan said.

Out of the dust behind them, a figure cloaked dust limped directly towards them. As the smoke cleared, Dekker leveled his flak cannon and dropped a group of flanking mechnar berserkers.

Vesuvius’s eyes beamed. She simply nodded to him; hugs had no place on a battlefield.

Dekker collapsed against the crumbling wall and caught his breath. His tattered coat barely concealed the nasty cuts and scrapes he’d sustained. Both his hands had bloody rags wrapped around his palms.

“If we time it right, I’ve got that equalizer: one last double-loaded shot. I think the blast also emits an electromagnetic pulse.”

“You mean we might be able to shut these things down?”

“That depends on how strongly they’re shielded—and on how strong the EMP wave is. At the very least, we can kill their energy weapons—those blasters won’t be good for anything but clubs,” Dekker winked.

Dekker tried to whirl around the edge of the barrier; a flurry of blasts rang off the edge of his cover, sending him back for safety. He tried to pop straight up but met the same result. He went back the first way and the edge of the wall exploded into hot, blasted stone.

“They’ve got that psy-nar down there,” Vesuvius warned. “He’s pinning us down.”

Dekker bit his lower lip with frustration, and then he furrowed his brow. His stubborn resolve won out and Dekker jumped straight up, but pushed back as Nathan jumped in front of him, taking the burst of laser fire to the chest in Dekker’s stead.

“No!” Dekker screamed. He’d never anticipated such a sacrifice—and neither had the psychic. Dekker pulled on the trigger as the cyborg army futilely dove for cover against the titanic, crimson blast.

The colossal energy-wave arced and crackled as Dekker waved the beam back and forth, anticipating the duration of the burst from his previous experiences. He washed it in a wide ellipse, letting its vicious beam sow death and destruction across the enemy. The ground shook and split, cracking the ground like drying mud tiles in the springtime sun; magma boiled up between the shingles. Lightning erupted vertically from the Earth; it crawled across the ragged ground like hungry, electromagnetic snakes. The force of the blast pushed Dekker backwards steadily while he leaned into the deafening discharge. Shaking the Earth, the crater at Jerusalem’s center erupted with lava; spewing molten rock skyward it bubbled to the surface. Then, the beam sputtered—and all stopped.

Dekker sank to his knees. The sudden silence was incredible. Even the wind died.

Rolling Nathan over, Dekker’s blood boiled. Clearly a fatal shot, another friend had sacrificed himself for Dekker’s cause. However worthy their mission, the heavy toll made him see red. “Austicon!” he howled into the silence.

A slow, mocking clap sounded just beyond them in the settling haze. As the smoke settled, the gnarled landscape came into plain view. The blasted warscape glowed with smoldering lines of magmic trickle; the bodies of deactivated and destroyed mechnar units littered the ground.

“Austicon!” Dekker spat again, plainly recognizing his archenemy. “It ends today!”

“I am Prognon Austicon no longer! I’ve evolved beyond that persona; I am Baal Dione—god of destruction!”

The cackling demon sauntered slowly towards them as the ground rumbled underfoot; the planet felt as if it were coming apart. Clad in a flowing white robe the androgynous Dione gestured to it and asked, “Do you like it? Is this what you expected your god to look like?”

“You are no god!”

“No? Then I shall kill him and take his place!” Dione bent over the body of his fallen psy-nar general and removed the unit’s onyx faceplate revealing a surgically twisted and mutilated visage. “Foolish mortals. You cannot kill my beautiful Leviathan. He cannot be permanently switched off by an EMP, no matter how powerful. This cage of flesh houses my brother.”

The demon prodded the beast’s sutures until the silent Leviathan spastically awoke and stood to his feet. Leviathan drew his blaster pistol on Dekker and ineffectually squeezed the trigger. Tossing the useless device aside, he drew his swords from their scabbards.

“I am quite surprised,” Dione continued, “that you’ve managed this long, Dekker Knight. I hadn’t expected a toy powerful enough to disable my shielded units. The newer mechnar units were shielded against that, you know. But I shall quite enjoy one final feast—the blood of Watchmen tastes almost divine, and how long have I prepared for you?”

“You’ve got it backwards,” Dekker called over the wall. “All these years I’ve been hunting you.”

“Well, then that’s settled. The onus is on you—the failure is not mine, but yours. All have served my purposes: the arboleans, the Watchmen, the foolish MEA. Today was inevitable. Today I claim my destiny. Today I destroy the great machine and claim my own throne—built upon the rubble of its destruction!”

Shaw poked his head over the wall. “They’re just standing there,” he whispered to Dekker. “Blast them with the big gun,” he urged.

“It’s the last cartridge. I’ve got to be sure,” Dekker said. “They’ll get closer. They won’t leave until we’re dead—and dying’s just not an option for me.”

Dione continued, “Do you know the taste of blood, son of Jude, husband of Aleel? I tasted the blood of your loved ones while you were too impotent to stop me! Just as you were too feeble to prevent the annihilation of the off-world colonies—I’ve sent my forces to mop up those stragglers you sent to Mars. Can you feel it? Do you taste the despair in your soul? Your precious book was destroyed; I felt it an hour ago: the sudden absence of light.” She cackled, trying to draw Dekker out into the open.

“At least your father succeeded in protecting the book. You failed him… his mission. You couldn’t even keep a single book from destruction—no wonder you couldn’t protect your unborn child!”

Dekker whirled around the edge, drawing the archaic, illegal firearms he always kept strapped at his lower back in reserve. Firing from each hand, Vesuvius and Shaw followed suit. They emptied the last of their ammunition as their bullets trailed after the two enemies.

The demons ran wide, opposite circles around the Jerusalem wreckage, their own blades in hand. Dione leapt across the pile of stone and sliced through thin air—where Dekker had just stood.

Leviathan jumped, flipping over Shaw and Vesuvius. He bent backwards inhumanly, swinging his blade at the Watchmen’s vitals. Vesuvius blocked and pursued. Shaw threw his empty weapons aside and drew huge knives from their boot sheaths, each the size of a forearm, and ran to press the attack.

Dekker yanked Solomon’s sword from its scabbard and clashed with his enemy. Dione eyed the pommel. “I recognize that weapon—the bane of all my ilk—but even it can’t save you. That old technology is long since forgotten; no one alive can wield the Ring of Aandaleeb.”

“I only need the sharp, pointy edge,” Dekker spat, lunging for the demon.

Dione swatted the attack away. “Yes? And what if you kill me? What then? What of your race, your species?”

“There are others! Humanity has dispersed over these last three hundred years—you can’t possibly find us all.”

“No? But you forget that I only need to kill you—to silence the last Watchmen.” Dione blocked Dekker’s blow and kicked him backwards. “Or perhaps you believe you can just restart the human race with her?” Dione glanced at Vesuvius.

The redheaded fury was a flurry of motion; her and the psychic Leviathan traded blows. Leviathan countered and blocked, trading attacks as if the motions had been perfectly rehearsed. Shaw stepped in and out of the fray—his assaults more easily read by the psynar.

Leviathan blocked Vesuvius’s overhead strike and batted her aside momentarily. Redirecting, he delivered a roundhouse kick to Shaw’s face. Shaw collapsed for a second and Leviathan backed Vesuvius off again with a quick step, trying to fletch her with his blade, and then he whirled and leapt back towards Shaw, plunging his blade through the stunned warrior’s sternum before Vesuvius could even react.

Vesuvius’s anger pulsed through her maneuvers. Dekker followed suit, pressing his attack against the demonic Dione. Dekker utilized the finer points of his swordsman training, parrying and counter attacking with precision, dancing through the steps with his vile enemy. Dekker blocked and spun like a whirlwind, suddenly dropping the pretense of finer skills, he swung over and over and over with wild, brawer aggression. The sudden shift caught Dione off guard and Solomon’s blade tore a wide tranche across her hybrid body.

She staggered back, momentarily. The human flesh of Prognon Austicon hung open, bleeding down the white, wool garment worn by Dione. Her inner body, a twisted, wooden thing, remained barely damaged underneath.

Dione laughed. She grabbed the flesh that hung from her form and pulled on it until the skin snapped off. She discarded the fragment. “I think you’ll find me rather uneasy to kill, human! I am more than man, more than arbolean avatar, more than demon architect of the apocalypse. I am all these combined!”

Dekker swung with Solomon’s sword and knocked the demon’s jagged, stained sword high. He swung around, chipping off a chunk of Dione’s kneecap. As she staggered under the blow Dekker sliced hard through his enemy’s neck, nearly severing head from body, splitting the wooden thing like a green log.

In tandem nearby, Vesuvius blocked with her katana and swung her swords like a bladed cyclone. The psy-nar blocked as she pushed him back, whirling again, and again—one blade blocking, the other striking.

Leviathan dove to the side to avoid her precise, mechanical strikes. He leapt back towards her, but didn’t leave the ground. Vesuvius bit on his feint, and then drew back recognizing the maneuver even while the psy-nar slid through the gravel, following latently through on the initial ploy. In a ballistra move, he stabbed upward while flinging himself under her blades.

Sharp blade met soft skin. Vesuvius cried out as the blade pierced her below the ribcage. Steel punctured the flesh near her heart. She and the demon avatar both fell to the ground at the same time.

Dekker whirled and screamed. Without thinking he yanked the reliquary to bear as Leviathan skidded to a stop. The reliquary flamed forward, erupting with a wide, emerald blast of energy. The psy-nar tried to correct against the crackling, raw energy beam; the width proved too wide to react to and the eruption eviscerated the humanoid, blasted Leviathan into smoldering pieces while only singing Vesuvius’s red hair.

Panicked, Dekker ran to her side. She lay still—much too still. Blood leaked from her torso and tears streamed down his eyes. Behind him, Dione stood to her feet and rested her wicked blade upon damaged shoulder.

She cackled; her chest and neck torn open. “You cannot kill me,” she taunted. “It is not your destiny.” The ground shook; flaming sparks and soot rose on the hot updrafts from the desolate earth.

“I’m sorry I was late,” a voice called out behind the sparring duo, near the lava flow at Jerusalem’s core. Ezekiel moved closer, “I had to walk a bit. My memory is fuzzy, I thought the battle was over there,” he pointed towards the glowing pit.

“Foolish old man,” Dione laughed. “I’ve seen you before. You pose no threat. Today, I claim my destiny.”

“Yes, and so does he,” Ezekiel stated, pointing to Dekker. He took a small, decoratively engraved metal cube from his pocket.

“The Box of Winds?” Dione questioned. “You stole it from the divine machine!

“Well, more like borrowed.”

Dione charged towards him with murderous rage. Jagged points extended from her fingers as she rushed, intent on shredding him to pieces with her arbolean claws.

The old time traveler whispered a single word and Dione toppled to her side, curling into the fetal position. “The secret word,” Ezekiel stated. “One simple name binds you with greater ease than Solomon’s jewel ever did.”

Dione shrieked and tried to stand—unable to under the invisible bonds that held her fast. Ezekiel opened the box’s lid and a rushing gale howled past them.

Dekker covered Vesuvius’s body with his own, shielding her from the dust and cracked gravel that stormed over. He checked her pulse. It was faint, barely there; the wound was critical—fatal.

The Earth groaned and the bones mixed into the gravel trembled. They snapped together at the joints and reformed human shape. An army of moaning skeletal warriors assembled from the dust of Jerusalem. A massive army reshaped itself from the rubble of the previous disaster. The mass of boney executioners converged upon the self-proclaimed god, Baal Dione.

She struggled free of the invisible binds and staggered to her feet; Dione futilely hacked and slashed at them. They reformed as quickly as they broke and overwhelmed her with their vast numbers. With no more than an indifferent groan, they dragged Dione towards the center of the destroyed city and pulled the screaming demon hybrid down into the magma pool.

The demon gave an otherworldly shriek under the heat and then silence as a bubble of lava burst and enveloped both the beast and the army that drug her below like somber pall bearers.

Silence suddenly reigned and Ezekiel walked over to the last Watchman. “I told you earlier that ‘today we would defeat this monster,'” Ezekiel said softly. He put a hand upon Dekker’s shoulders as he held the dying woman. “I’m just sorry that ‘today’ was much longer for you than it was for me.”

Dekker looked around. His body ached—but more, his was soul-weary. Everything was gone—he had no more left to give. Dekker watched the last of the skeleton army walk into the lava flow and disappear into the crevasse where it bubbled up.

“I don’t understand.” Dekker looked at Ezekiel, frustration spread across his face. “I’ve read the prophecies, the book. I know how the end is supposed to come, and it’s not like this. This is wrong—all wrong!”

“Exactly!” Ezekiel proclaimed cryptically. “And that’s why you are destined to do what you must. This reality is rogue, corrupted, though not ultimately without purpose.”

The old man spoke softly and compassionately. “Your destiny is to preserve the whole. One facet of all reality must pass, one distorted piece of a shattered mirror removed—reset, but the great reflection will persist, the ultimate must still continue—like a tree that needs pruning from a withered, diseased branch…”

Dekker cut him off mid-platitude. “Yeah. I get it. I understand.” He cradled Vesuvius in his arms. “But I don’t think much else matters to me at this moment, though—even protecting the divine machine. I’m just so… tired… spent.”

He hugged the limp Vesuvius to his chest. “I love you Vivian Briggs. I always have.” He kissed her, smudging the blood that had begun to pool at her lips’ edge.

Dekker laid her down to rest. She gasped momentarily, choked on her breath as she stiffened, and then died.

Ezekiel silently stood next to Dekker. Only the distant cracking of stone and the dissonant rumble of the quaking earth interrupted it.

“It’s time, isn’t it?”

Ezekiel nodded. He closed the box of winds and placed it in his pouch. “Goodbye, my friend.” In a puff of smoke, the old man ceased existing in Dekker’s dying plane of existence.

Dekker kneeled next to Vesuvius and opened his beat-up satchel. He pulled Ezekiel’s final gift from the bag and smashed the box against a rock. Dekker pulled a long cylinder from among the splinters: a long, triple-sized cartridge designed for the reliquary. He rotated it until he found the sigil etched upon it, a sigma variant: Final Sigma.

He ejected the Omega shell casing, the one he’d used to kill Leviathan, and inserted the long, triple-shot. Dekker grinned at the shells ordering. This was the only lower-case letter in the series—the final sigma, a Greek alphabet character that only came at the end of words. Ezekiel had played a sort of ironic joke on him; did the letters indicate that he knew every detail, every shot fired, every decision leading up to this while making none of them? Was everything planned, ordered, known—or was it predestined?

Dekker still wasn’t sure that he understood much of anything. He stroked Vivian’s hair one last time—he was only sure of his feelings for her. The words of his father echoed in his ears, a triple load could destroy everything, it could break reality itself.

Dekker looked at the reliquary, then one last time at his dead Vivian. He pointed it skyward and pulled the trigger.

* * *

Ezekiel gently placed the box of winds back into its location within the divine machine and opened it, releasing the pnuemic power back into the proper channels. The realities had no doubt endured momentary chaos in its absence. He cast a gaze to the far end where the machine moaned, grinding under the intense heat—the thing neared critical state.

The infrastructure glowed red under the friction and the other parts began to screech and shudder. He watched the precarious juncture, the connectors between the arm of this reality facet and the great Ultimate. The myriad of surrounding branches also neared critical condition—and then Dekker’s branch suddenly snapped off, splintering.

It fell into the great other nothingness, crumbling into dust as the reality unwound; the heat and danger dissipated. The great machine again immediately began humming: the gentle sound of the universe in perfect motion—stability restored.

Ezekiel continued watching the broken juncture. From its shattered joint formed a new bud: something fresh. Not the same as the old reality, but not entirely different.

He smiled at the unforeseen event—unsure if he’d experienced it before or not. Ezekiel should have suspected as much, the divine refused to abandon the lost line. The machine was good, a pure product of the divine, untainted by humanity.

With stability restored, his time within the great machine had ended. He peered into another facet and saw that it was another Ezekiel’s time. The old traveler did not mind passing the mantle; he desperately needed the rest and missed Anathoth.

With a puff of smoke, Ezekiel returned to his own dimension and time—a simpler one—and as far as he was concerned, the correct one.

* * *

Dekker scooped up Vesuvius from where she lay. Cradling her in his arms, he carried her to their room and placed her in bed. She never could stay awake whenever they watched news broadcasts. The state of their planet was a mess, but such things never changed—maybe that’s why she didn’t fret and could sleep through the media’s embellished hysteria—such was the default of the world.

Covering her with a blanket, he pulled it up over her feet so they were exposed to the cooler air. She couldn’t sleep with her feet under the blankets; it was one of many quirks he loved about her. Reaching around her neck, he unclasped the chain that held an old serpent amulet, a wedding present handed down to him by his late father. His first wife, murdered a number of years ago, had also worn it. Dekker placed the item atop her dresser.

He walked over to the lamp nearest the wall to shut it off and glanced at the wedding photo that hung on their wall. Vivian remained as much a fire-haired beauty now, six months pregnant, as she was two years ago on their wedding day. He looked closer at the group shot of the wedding party, just now noticing the oddity in the background. The image captured a strange old man standing far away in the park observing them with unbridled interest.

Dekker didn’t know who he was, but he felt oddly connected. For a hazy moment, everything seemed a bit off, like his mind had emerged from a fog. It felt like a premonition, an all-too-real dream. The feeling passed, but he couldn’t quite shake the sense that something else, something otherworldly, had just happened.

He looked down at his wife. She snored ever so slightly in her sleep, like some kitten that had completely zonked out.

Brushing a stray hair from his wife’s face, Dekker’s queer feeling dissipated. He knew this was his ultimate reality. Dekker did his best to follow in his father’s footsteps, keeping to the path despite the trials of life within the corrupt system of the MEA.

They would succeed. After all, he was Dekker Knight: leader of the Watchmen.

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