Dekker's Dozen: The Last Watchmen

The Mechnar Revival

Dekker’s Dozen #001

The amber warning light blipped on Margo’s instrument panel. There hadn’t been any contact with the Osix Station for many hours past the mandatory check-in. Only silence came from the moon base.

Margo bit her lip. Only an intern with Halabella Mining Company, her superiors always seemed to hold her personally accountable for bad news. The moon had long proven to be rich in resources. Her mind wildly speculated on what might have happened as her finger hovered over the internal communications device.

Maybe it was the Krenzin, she thought. After all, the theocratic Krenzin had once petitioned the MEA government for its use as a religious commune, before the Company began its mining. Halabella, barely managed to retain its rights. Now, the entire moon had fallen mute save the crackle of an open com signal.

That the Krenzin might somehow seize the property and evict its occupants seemed a crazy notion. The felinoid race rarely used aggression and favored diplomacy above all else; passivity interweaved their central, theological tenants. Following the heinous criminal Prognon Austicon’s ravaging of their planet, the Krenzin populated Earth, invading human politics. Margo shook her head, this just wasn’t the Krenzin’s style.

Besides, a query from the nearby Krenzin outpost opened on her data screen. They’d expressed their own concerns regarding their suddenly quiet neighbors—in fact they’d sent a crew for a safety check. Margo activated the com unit and dialed her boss. They would have to call in a licensed Investigator.

The Mechnar Revival

Formerly a battleship, the interstellar, colony-jumping galleon Requiem brought relief efforts, free traders, sightseers, religious pilgrims, and every other type of tourists imaginable to popular ports of call. Luckily for Dekker, Requiem‘s route brought it past Alpha Centauri.

It proved more financially sound for him to transport his crew, ship, and equipment on the Requiem than it was to pilot it from Earth, especially in light of the Investigators’ current fiscal woes. With all the clearances and the tariff needed to make a jump from Earth, it could be cheaper to shuttle out-system on a commercial liner and jump from there. It depended on what the job paid and the state of his credit accounts.

The crew itched for a good score like Halabella offered, but the jump drives were in dire need of repairs and their ship desperately needed parts. Dekker had even been on his way to Earth’s moon to see Doc Johnson about repairing his ships engines when the urgent notice about the job came over the wires. Dekker and his partner Vivian “Vesuvius” Briggs, rounded up their team of licensed Investigators: one part mercenary, one part detective.

Licensed Investigators became necessary for certain jobs “neo civilization” found too distasteful following a Krenzin renaissance. The crippling legal system as well as growing public distaste for conflict paved the way with gold for those with skill enough for the hot-ones, and then the government did their best to tariff those profits back into nonexistence.

Dekker paced around the exterior of his ship and muttered about his missed rendezvous with Doc Johnson. He paid no attention to the crowd of spectators that stared at his crew and drew his battered duster close about his body, making sure any personal armaments stayed concealed; their legality depended on the current jurisdiction, but they were all illegal somewhere. He scowled at a male oggler whose eyes lingered too long at his partner.

Vesuvius’ tight, leather pants and flak jacket certainly hugged her form, practically teasing the male eye. She earned her nickname by her tendency to violently explode. Dekker’s warning scowl might just save this man’s life. Turning to inspect an old hull crack, she threw her hair red back as if it were a lava plume.

Vesuvius shouted above the jostling crowd in the docking bay. “Listen up! This is the final briefing before we make contact!”

Many of the travelers who milled about cast disapproving glances at her, Dekker noted. Their disdain might have been born less from their love of Krenzin philosophy and more because the Investigators had inconvenienced the pilgrims with a stop so near to home. Vesuvius stared them down and gave Dekker the floor.

“Exterior check looks good,” he hollered. “Doc Johnson said she’d hold for another mission or two before we were risking any significant danger.”

Vesuvius shrugged playfully. She’d been at that meeting—and knew that Dekker and Doc had different opinions on where the threshold to “significant danger” lay.

Dekker checked his timepiece and then ushered his crew into the Rickshaw Crusader for the debriefing. The battered, but powerful Class B cruiser was their mobile base of operations, and so far, their schedule held intact. “Matty, you’re on the stick,” he barked.

The stoic, square-jawed man nodded and left the room as Dekker slid a headset over one ear and positioned his microphone. A chime signaled in his earpiece alerting him of the connection. Matty wouldn’t miss the mission details while he disembarked the ship during the Requiem‘s brief layover.

“Osix Station Beta is completely cold.” He played with a mini projector and a three-dimensional holograph of the Alpha Centauri system formed. “We’ve been hired to check it out and have absolutely zero intel on what it might be. Halabella has a lot of enemies—you’ll remember some of the past litigation and ethics violations—but none of them really have the means or desire to strike at the company like this: eradicate the local population.” Dekker manipulated the zoom function, panning through the primary twin stars, and displayed the proper coordinates.

“Unless we’ve got an Austicon copycat,” Guy piped in, under his breath. Vesuvius elbowed him; they’d long put the subject of that mass-murderer to rest and it was a sore topic for Dekker.

“We’re here,” Dekker pointed at the holo map. “The Osix moon orbits Rico, the first planet at Alpha Centauri A. Osix is composed of mostly rocky terrain; it’s rich in minerals and new heavy metals that are still being discovered.”

He zoomed the map in to focus on the planetary satellite. “Osix Station Alpha, Beta, and Gamma are at these points nearby. Alpha is the mine network; Beta and Gamma are the residential and commercial sectors. Communications with Beta and Gamma have been rendered impossible, and Alpha does not respond to hails; the channel is open, but has been completely silent.” Dekker was silent for a moment. “An entire colony of miners doesn’t simply disappear without a trace, and with no emergency beacons. The Krenzin orbital station near Osix sent down a relief team just in case… they disappeared as well.” None of his crew had any love for the Krenzin—but their effort initiated a brief moment of silence.

“We have no clues to go by, no information to reveal the nature of the incident. All we can do is play this by ear, folks. Assume full hazmat protocols, possible contagions, and the like until I say otherwise.” His team nodded grimly.

A klaxon wailed briefly and the mercenaries heard the distinct whining, like giant turbines spinning up. In minutes, the FTL drive would spit the galleon back into regular subspace.

“One more thing,” Dekker said, “I want to thank you all for sticking with the unit through our current… money troubles.” Dekker’s Dozen had recently received heavy fines for excessive property damage during an earth-side mission, plunging their finances into ruin.

“Ain’t nowhere else I could have this much fun,” quipped Guy. The rest of the crew assented. Guy, an explosives expert who loved to see things blow up, may have been a wisecracker, but he packed it where it counted.

“Thanks, Guy. Remember I promised that we’d all come out of this one with credits in the black, but if we don’t, Guy owes you all a round at the nearest cantina.” The crew cheered.

Moments later, the Requiem reverted to realspace. The Rickshaw Crusader spun on its axis, angled away from the giant galleon, and departed.

* * *

Massive tree trunks formed the ceremonial circle on the face of the planet Rico. Osix glowed brightly overhead with the light from the twin suns of the Alpha Centauri system.

The Arbolean council, a ring of ancient timbers, made up the elect—the eldest that would lead their species to conquests planned since long before the dawn of man. They had reawakened a century ago to reassess their battle plan.

Those unassuming bipeds scattered across the galaxy paid little attention to the arboleans. None could see past their own xenomorphic viewpoints and recognize the arboleans’ sentience. That fact only played into their strengths.

Pieces long in motion finally begun to bear fruit. They could feel the arbolean presence strengthen on the seed-world of Osix every day. With every cycle they gathered more information about their enemies. The arboleans would remain in the shadows, undetected until the mighty seed finished germinating; soon their most ambitious sowing would be obvious to all—and stopping it at that point should prove impossible.

* * *

The Rickshaw Crusader passed the Krenzin deep-space outpost and entered Osix’s orbit around Rico. Dekker, from the copilot seat vectored his approach and toggled on the communications equipment. If any new signals emanated from the silent community, the sensors would pick it up.

Angling for the landing bay, the Rickshaw Crusader cut a jet-stream through the atmosphere. It berthed within the massive geodesic dome near Osix Station Beta. The unmistakable form of the Krenzin skiff sat parked nearby; it must have belonged to the team that came to explore and offer support. Several other vacant crafts lay dead, moored to the surrounding tarmac; none of them emitted so much as a transponder signal. Aside from a creeping, foreign vine sprouting from near the landing pads, everything remained completely placid and painted in shades of drab grey and brown: typical for a mining planet.

While there had been much interference in the sensor sweep, life signs had registered in the community, lots of them. The readings made the situation that much more peculiar. Dekker tightened his grip on the pilots’ yoke—it likely meant trouble.

With breathers on, Dekker’s team exited the vessel with weapons drawn. Muscles tight and senses alert for whatever this unseen threat might be, they spread out through the sphere and secured the area, assessing the current situation.

Dekker partnered himself with Vesuvius and Guy. All of the Investigators joined up in groups of three and linked comm frequencies.

Guy pointed to an airlock with a closed set of blast doors. Dekker nodded and clicked his communicator. Guy trotted to the entrance to check it out.

“Shaw, Nathan, scope out the perimeter of the landing dome and look for access doors, breaches, anything like that. According to the schematic, there should be a maintenance tunnel leading to Beta station, but the map was outdated. Try and use the service routes to find a secondary route in—just in case we need flanking support.”

“How convenient,” Shaw responded dryly. “Why are the maps always outdated?”

Dekker almost chuckled. “Just keep your eyes open; you never know what you might find. Remember the Dromeus incident.”

“You really think it might be like that?” Nathan’s first mission with the team had been the investigation at the former military installation-turned refugee camp on Dromeus. He shuddered, remembering the grisly massacre scene created by the vicious insectoid race previously unknown, but now extinct courtesy of the Dozen.

“Matty, monitor our progress from the Crusader. Give us ten minutes, then follow my path and watch my six.”

“I got your six,” Matty confirmed. Former military, Matty was the driest of the team leaders. What he lacked in personality he made up for with skill.

Dekker jogged over to the blast doors where Guy fidget with a wiring system to rig explosive charges on the doors hinges. Dekker pulled him back.

“We don’t need to blow up everything,” he chided as he pressed the control panel. The doors slid apart with slick, hydraulic ease.

“Well maybe you don’t.” Guy muttered.

Vesuvius chuckled as she cut in front of them, entering the black tunnel nonchalantly. The sensors registered her presence; the lights flickered twice and turned on.

“You know,” she commented to Dekker, pushing a suggestive nuance into her voice, “I remember Dromeus. Do you remember after Dromeus?”

“Not now, Vees.” The brief romantic involvement complicated things. Dekker had managed to sidestep this particular conversation for almost a year, so far.

“And why not, now?” She drew the disruptor pistol at her thigh and covered a long hallway that spread before them. She stalked down the corridor to scout ahead. “‘Not now,’ don’t talk about it, or ‘not now,’ you’re not interested in us anymore?”

“Ya know, I’m not sure, but let’s not talk about it right now.”

“There’s no harm in talking, you know.” She checked the hall, and then swung around to clear a nearby service closet.

“Well, there could be. I seem to recall how our break-up went.”

Guy, the third wheel, laughed, “I remember that; it was hilarious. But seriously, Mom and Dad, you gotta stay together for us kids,” he teased.

They ignored him. “You stabbed me. Right in the arm,” Dekker shot Guy a glare as he spoke to Vesuvius, “and it wasn’t funny!”

“Oh yeah,” she giggled. “It was kinda funny.” She flipped her crimson hair playfully and turned her back to him, trying, as ever, to tempt him back into her arms. Her carefully manicured persona belied the fact that she was one of the deadliest persons in the home sectors.

Matty’s voice crackled through the airwaves. “Full sensor sweep complete. Whatever the threat is, it’s not airborne.”

“Alright,” Dekker sighed, knowing that it narrowed the potential options into a more pressing sort of danger. He took his mask off. “You can remove rebreathers if you like.”

Static momentarily crackled from Dekker’s comm unit, again. “We’re in the service corridor,” reported Shaw. “Nothing out of the ordinary here. We’ll see you guys inside Beta Station.”

* * *

Guy peered around the corner of the passage, leading with the barrel of his disruptor rifle. He pulled back quickly and signaled for the others to join him.

“We’ve got bodies around the corner,” he whispered. “Big splatter. Cover me while I check it out.”

Guy ducked around the corner as Dekker and Vesuvius covered him, but all remained silent. They lowered their scopes and joined him at the scene. The hallway straightened so there was no way they could come under attack without having time to respond.

Dekker stepped into the middle of the morbid scene. Little distinguishable pieces remained to identify the poor creatures that had been ripped apart. Blood and gore splattered the metallic, corrugated walls of the main passageway like some sick avant-garde painting.

Vesuvius crouched down and examined the remains more closely. She traced a finger through the blood; it had congealed since spilling. Much of it had dried and the bits of shredded flesh had browned at the edges. Dekker reported their find to the other teams as Vesuvius sorted sifted through the mess. Patches of torn, feather-like hair stuck to the refuse.

“My best guess: this was the Krenzin relief team. I don’t think they had a very warm reception.”

“I guess that we’d better be on our best behavior, then,” quipped Guy.

“That’s right,” said Dekker. “You’d better play nice.”

Vesuvius nodded with a macabre smile.

* * *

The trio worked their way through the passage that connected the landing pod to the main colony. Just before coming to end of the hallway, unmolested, Shaw reported in.

“Entering Beta Station, now. The lights are dim, but everything is on, and it’s quiet. Like there’s nothing here.”

“Same conditions here,” Dekker responded. He, Guy, and Vesuvius exited their passage just after the report. The dim lights provided just enough light for visibility.

“Keep your eyes and ears open. Report in if you find anything.”

They fanned out and scouted ahead in an overlapping pattern. Osix Station Beta was little more than a small, company mining town: the ever-growing home to about five hundred souls who either worked in alternating shifts or served the miners and their families in some way, providing them with some semblance of a normal Earth life.

Beta Station, the hub of the Osix mining network, linked via monorail to Alpha station where the mines and industry were located. Gamma station also linked to Beta by another large, highway-tunnel. Gamma contained the main operations and mechanical divisions while Beta Station held all the living quarters for all workers; everything outside of Beta was the property of the Halabella, which held a century-long lease from the Mother Earth Aggregate.

Guy turned over an MEA propaganda sign with his foot. The MEA, Earth’s political body asserted that if you were human, you were subject to its rule by heritage. And even though Halabella had a lease, the MEA owned Osix. Guy scowled at the sign; his thoughts had always leaned towards conspiracy

Dekker noted the surroundings. A multifaceted, geodesic bubble spread overhead providing a greenhouse-like atmosphere. An alien flora unlike any he’d seen before sprouted through cracks in the liquirock. Vegetation had taken over so quickly in the absence of man.

Through the transparent metal panes, a weak sunrise peeked over the horizon. An orange-toned, hollow light emanated through; the system’s second star, Alpha Centauri B, did not offering significant illumination on Osix. Proxima Centauri, the system’s red dwarf star, nearly always hung in the sky like a crimson beacon. Soon, the moon would rotate enough to start the sunrise of the system’s primary.

The trio continued to scout the settlement. They passed shops and dwellings also molded from the same kind of liquirock as they walked upon. Everything appeared abandoned—eerily silent.

Voyaging ahead, Vesuvius planted herself against the corner of a building. She waved her comrades off, signaling for them to take cover. After a second, lingering look, she regrouped with them.

“Central Square’s up ahead, some kind of park—where the life signs came from. Something really weird is going on there. Bodies: hundreds of them, all lying down.”

Dekker pressed the mic button. “Matty, you on your way?”

His voice crackled in, “Be right there.”

* * *

Dekker and his team crept into the park. Nothing jumped; nothing shot at them; nothing moved. Regardless, they readied their weapons before tiptoeing over the bodies as they tried to understand the situation.

Two hundred and six men, women, and children lay strewn about. Face up and eyes wide open, they breathed shallowly; only the occasionally twitch deviated from the pattern. An electrical cord protruded from the base of each human’s head, and a black, honeycombed solar-plate was riveted to each ones’ clavicle. Dekker and Vesuvius traced the cords to their source while Guy continued investigating.

At the center of the park they located four cabinet-sized boxes. Obsolete flash-tower processing drives strobed intermittently on the cabinet’s exterior as they accessed the synthetic memory crystal cores. Each linked hub connected to the cables and also coupled to a single monitor. A small black box with a telescopic antenna towered high above the jimmy-rigged system.

Dekker leaned over to examine the unit. Its monitor and analog keyboard appeared oversized and bulky compared to the pocket-sized, collapsible terminals most technicians carried now. The entire system looked archaic at best. Several dozen floppy data chips littered the ground; the text on the screen scrolled with commands faster than Dekker could read.

He radioed his computer expert. “Nibbs, I have a computer question for you.” Dekker described the thing to him.

“That’s an ancient unit,” Nibbs replied. “And it sounds like a very old programming language: the self-writing kind.”

Dekker stared at the screen and grimaced. “I thought auto-programming was outlawed—even impossible.”

“The MEA certainly restricted it after the Mechnar Contra. But, that’s been so long now that very few can even come close to programming AI to run sentient androids. All post-MC hardware actually has hardwired fail-safes.”

“Could that be what’s happening here?”

“On an old, cobbled together heap like you described? I dunno. It sounds antique; without seeing it, I couldn’t tell ya what’s goin on.”

“Ok, then. Nathan, take your team over this way and replace Shaw. I need Nibbs’ expertise on the computer thing—I’m sure it’s important. Shaw, check out Gamma Station. Matty, how close are you?”

“Almost to Beta, now.”

“When you get here, take the west corridor and investigate Alpha Station. We’ve got two hundred bodies here; that’s less than half of the population. I want to know where the other three hundred are.”

* * *

Nibbs squatted in front of the bulky interface. He scratched his head. “This thing is just a front-end. Underneath the hood here,” Nibbs peered below the machine where several self-contained hardware modules had been soldered and wired into each other and finally into the ancient machine.

“See here, this command that keeps repeating? This program is replicating something over and over.”

Dekker looked over his shoulder. He had no idea what the techie meant and he couldn’t distinguish one line from the next.

Nibbs got up and traced cables and connections from their terminals and ports.

Vesuvius took over with Nibbs as Dekker’s comm unit crackled. Dekker paced a few steps away to take the report.

“Alpha station’s completely shut down,” said Matty. “Massive cave in, everything is rubble, piled up right at the mouth of the cavern.”

“The other exits?” Dekker hoped that the workers might have evacuated.

“They’re all on the surface and end in airlocks. Report from control says they’re still sealed. Logs show that they haven’t been cycled in three weeks. The whole crew must be dead inside.” Matty paused for a moment of silence.

“We found a text, logging terminal. Lots of entries: the men inside pleading for help, but it never came. They get more and more desperate and then they just cease entirely.”

“All right,” Dekker said. “See what else you can find.”

“How could a mining operation of this caliber have a collapse right at the main mouth of the mine?” Dekker wondered aloud. Only if it was done intentionally, he recognized.

* * *

Guy tossed an orb in the air and caught it absent-mindedly, over, and over. He kept watch until Nibbs and Dekker figured out the computer thing, but he didn’t see the point: the whole dome was dead.

Vesuvius approached, “You’re gonna blow yourself up,” she told him as he juggled the highly explosive, metal sphere.

“Yeah, I know.” He grinned, “That’s what my mother always told me.”

“C’mon. Dekker wants us to exploring the town. Maybe we can find some answers there.”

“Which way, then?” Pleased with a less mind-numbing task Guy followed.

Vesuvius and Guy entered the tiny convenience center in the compact residential zone. “Might as well do some reconnaissance where I can find something to snack on,” he suggested.

Rummaging through the shelves of junk food, Guy lost Vesuvius. Not letting himself panic, he ran through the service doors and into the rear of the facility where he found her. She slowly crept towards a faint thumping noise that he only now noticed.

Vesuvius unsheathed a long knife. Guy leveled his disruptor rifle and nodded a ready signal to his partner as she leaned towards the cold storage unit. Vesuvius yanked the door open.

A shaking humanoid figure fell out and shuddered upon the floor. He held his hands out in surrender when he saw the rifle in his face.

“Wait, wait!” His feather-like, crimped hair stood on end from the cold he’d endured. “I am with the Krenzin relief team—surely you saw our ship?” His vaguely feline features ruffled at the sight of their weaponry. “You are mercenaries?”


“Mercenaries,” the gutsy Krenzin corrected. “Destroyers of life: men of the sword… and women.” He eyed Vesuvius cautiously.

“Wrong,” she said, “we’re advocates of life, just in a different way. Sometimes it takes a little force to maintain order, to keep the peace.” Her fiery side begged to come out. She spoke passionately, like her father, the military genius who raised her to never let her hackles down.

“Tell us what happened here,” demanded Guy.

“My name is Dachan; our team came down to investigate our neighbors’ fate.”

“So you could see if the time was right to steal Osix from the humans,” Guy added condescendingly.

Dachan rolled his eyes. “We found the horrible scene in the town park. A thing… a man, I think, was hooking up a machine to the bodies… bodies everywhere. He saw us, chased us; I split off. I thought that he might chase me and give the others a chance to escape, but he did not. They didn’t make it; I found their remains… later.”

“Why were you in the freezer?” Vesuvius interrogated.

“I’ve been hiding in this building for the last few days. Whenever I venture out, the sensors track my location. He is looking for me. He wants to finish the job. Whenever the sensors lock down my position, he comes out and tries to find me. The freezer throws off the sensor readings”


“The one who killed my team—he did it with his own bare hands. He’s unmistakable. The one who did all of this. He has a machine attached to his chest and wires hanging off him.”

“Wait a minute,” said Vesuvius, grabbing her comm. “If he could track you anywhere in the base, then he must be located in the operations center at Gamma Station!”

* * *

“Did you hear that?” Nathan turned to Dekker and Nibbs at the computer console.

“No, what?”

“I heard it too,” said Jamba, the third man on Nathan’s team. “It sounded like whispering.”

“I’ve got it,” said Nibbs, who still focused on the coding. “This is definitely Mechnar technology; Dekker’s hunch was right. The old programming here escaped the MEA’s software and hardware purge after the Mechnar Contra when they destroyed all old systems that were capable of producing the kind of coding necessary. This old machinery, the data discs, combined with this retrofitted stuff down here, it must be replicating the code. But, where is it being fed to?”

Dekker held up a hand, silencing Nibbs’ ramblings. He looked down to the bodies; they each began to whisper, almost chanting.

Just then, Vesuvius’ warning blared across the radio. “Everyone on your toes! We found a Krenzin survivor. He says something killed his teammates with its bare hands, and it knows where we all are.”

“It’s a Mechnar,” cut in Dekker. “Use EMP weapons when you see it. We’re gonna blow this ancient control unit up. Guy, get down here with your explosives.” He had to shout above the crescendoing chant.

“They’re already down there,” Guy commed. “They’re in the brown leather satchel, it’s next to that computer tower unit… thingy.”

Before Dekker could grab the bag, bodies simultaneously sat up all over the park. The commands on the computer screen had stopped compiling. The cursor stopped at the bottom of the screen and blinked.

Bodies suddenly leapt in front of the computer unit and with vacant eyes stared down the investigators who now stood back to back, surrounded. The fighters switched disruptors to EMP mode: a setting rarely employed since the MEA’s dismantling of all Mechnar technology so long ago.

Dekker screamed commands into the mouthpiece. He issued a full retreat to the Rickshaw Crusader.

The well-trained fighters poured bolts of azure energy into the bodies; they’d shot off enough rounds of pure energy that it should have knocked back half the Mechnar force. But, the undaunted cyborg forces began shambling towards them anyway. The EMP blasts had no effect.

His team switched over to disruptor fire. The crimson bolts knocked down the Mechnar drones, but they got right back up.

Dekker threw back his duster and pulled out two highly illegal weapons: flak-casters. One in each grip, he let fire with the pistol cannons. Shrapnel shots tore through the bodies, shattering the implanted tech and blasting flesh from enemy, dropping them where they stood; this time they didn’t get back up.

A jubilant Dekker hit his comm. “They’re not androids! These things aren’t slowed by EMPs! It’s a new breed of Mechnar—cyborgs!” The human host must somehow shield the computer brain—implanted where the cable ad hooked in? But disruptor fire doesn’t stop them either. Bodies must be dead, computer brain is controlling the body function, he thought.

Dekker tossed an ancient fragmentation grenade into the crowd of bodies and passed his flak-casters to Nathan and Nibbs. Projectile weapons had long ago been outlawed by the MEA because they had only one setting: lethal.

He unslung another of his rare weapons and prepped it to fire. His teammates maintained cover fire, but kept an eye on Dekker. It wasn’t often they were privileged to see him fire the prized device; a weapon given to him by someone he’d called a “priest of some forgotten religious order,” even though Dekker was rumored to belong to it.

The Reliquary, a three-foot long tubular pistol, looked more like a museum artifact than a firearm, but it packed a punch. Its limited ammo, however, rendered it a seldom used item. Only Dekker knew where the long, cylindrical shells came from.

Dekker leveled the Reliquary at the crowd and discharged it. A bass crash echoed like a sonic boom. White lightning crackled at the mouth of the cannon and the green-hued beam, eight feet in diameter, shot forward, annihilating everything in its path, burning down into the bedrock. The trapped investigators suddenly had an escape route.

They fled the park and sprinted down the Beta Station promenade. Cyborgs split into smaller pursuit teams and fanned out to locate them.

Dekker, Nathan, Nibbs, and Jamba turned and backpedaled, firing. They tried to turn back their pursuit with smart shots. Jamba fired a pistol and tagged a cyborg in the head; the entire group erupted in a ball of flames.

Jamba looked at his gun, then at the others in awe, quite proud of himself. Guy and Vesuvius stepped around the corner, Dachan, in tow. It had been one of Guy’s explosives that took out the pursuit. As a scorched Mechnar struggled to right itself, Vesuvius planted a foot and beheaded it with ease. The Krenzin gasped.

They soon regrouped with Shaw’s team. Their teammate carried a stack of data-discs and papers that would verify their report and guarantee their payment.

“We saw the flash,” said Shaw. “Did you fire the Reliquary?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Jamba.

“And you didn’t wait for me?”

“Sorry,” said Dekker as he reloaded the weapon. “Couldn’t wait.”

“Yeah,” said Guy, “and I got dibbs on it whenever our fearless leader kicks the bucket. I’m going to make a pipe bomb out of it,” he joked.

The radio crackled. “Are you guys coming?” It was Matty. “We’re warming up the Crusader.”

* * *

Minutes later, the crew and their Krenzin refugee crawled up the boarding ramp with the ship’s powerful engine idling. Dekker stood out on the tarmac, facing the access route to Beta Station. The Investigators watched him from the cockpit.

“What is he doing?” asked Dachan.

“That corridor extends more than a klick in a straight line. I think he’s going to give those cyborgs something to remember us by.”

Dekker leveled the Reliquary at the tunnel as a mob of Mechnar pursuit formed in the distance.

“No! He can’t,” shouted Dachan. “Don’t you people value life at all?”

Dekker grinned and pulled down his breather mask, and then clicked the trigger. The weapon blasted the entire corridor with an eruption of crackling energy. The edges of the geodesic dome shattered and the air began venting into the vacuum. Dekker hopped into the ship as Matty hit the thrusters, climbing into the Osix sky.

“Smart move,” said Vesuvius. “The other breach doors must’ve closed, sealing Beta station and trapping the Mechnars.”

“Matty, take us over Beta,” Dekker requested.

The ship hovered above the dome that had once housed the mining colony’s living space. Bodies of the cybord drones were barely visible at this elevation. They moved about, trying to find a way out of the biosphere.

“Guy, how many explosives did you have in that satchel?”

“A whole lot.”

“Enough to scorch that entire compound?”

“And then some,” Guy affirmed.

“Do it,” he nodded.

Dachan glared at them with his feline eyes. “You can’t do that! Those are your people down there. You will kill them!”

“They aren’t people anymore,” said Dekker as he ushered Guy to a computer terminal where he could remotely link and detonate the explosives. “They aren’t even alive. Those people are walking husks, dead bodies animated by some soulless computer program.”

“You take life without compunction! All sentient life is precious, from the intelligent primates your own labs developed centuries ago to the near conscious trees of my home-world! Who are you to decide what life looks like? Have you no moral values?”

“How’s that judgey, moral high-ground working out for the Krenzin home-world? Incapable of ever sustaining life again, isn’t it? Completely void of even mining value?”

“And I’ll remind you that it was a human who destroyed my planet! That terrorist was one of yours.

“I do have values. I have deep values, Dachan; I must obey my conscience and act in the best interest of protecting and preserving life. That means eliminating the threats below,” Dekker said. “And let me note that mine face was the last thing that terrorist Prognon Austicon saw before his cell door closed. I might not have caught him, but I chased him for years—it wasn’t only the Krenzin who he victimized!”

“Your values are outdated,” Dachan pleaded to deaf ears. “Your philosophy should not infringe on the beliefs of others. Your morality breaks the golden rule of the great interstellar philosophy, ‘Do what you may; only harm none.’ You must respect that.”

Jamba had to practically restrain the passionate felinoid.

“I’m going to save the lives of those who might needlessly die if I let those Mechnars survive; I do what needs to be done. Jamba, either shut him up or throw him out the airlock,” Dekker bluffed. “Either way, this argument is over. Guy, Blow it.”

Dachan scowled as a fireball erupted below, but held his tongue. The Rickshaw Crusader blasted into orbit as the framework of the dome melted and collapsed, leaving only a smoking hole where Osix Station Beta used to be.

The Krenzin whimpered as they climbed. Vesuvius watched him with vengeful eyes. “Stow it, Krenzin. Just be glad that we destroyed whatever that boogeyman was you were scared of down there. He saved your life. Me? I would’ve left you to the flames.”

Dachan suddenly recognized her as the daughter of General Briggs and it all made sense. He made sure to avoid eye contact with her for the remainder of the journey.

* * *

Soon, very soon, the arbolean conquest of this sector could begin. Leaves rustled in agreement: their plan had met with ultimate success. The seed began its germination and the immediate pests had been culled, the unexpected process mattered little.

Pheromones of excitement scented the air like blooming petals. In short time, both the Krenzin and the Humans would fall. Soon, all the other races would be little more than fertilizer.

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