[] Dark Mode

Three Million CE - Episode 6

(posted in fiction)

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The station’s docking bay doors soundlessly swung open on Dak’s viewscreen, like the gaping maw of a hungry rust-covered space creature. Dak hated mining colonies–they stirred up too many unwanted memories. Under normal circumstances Dak wouldn’t have so much as farted in the colony’s direction as he blinked past, but for some reason they had gone out of their way to hail him.

It wasn’t normal. Mining colonies in the Orubus Belt were xenophobic to the point of madness. The one Dak had grown up in would have preferred mass suicide to dealing with outsiders. That this colony was hailing passing strangers meant they must be in trouble. Real trouble. The kind of trouble that paid well.

“Initiating automatic docking procedure.”

The ship’s voice reminded Dak of his sister, to the extent that he had started calling it by her name. He didn’t believe in reincarnation, but the fantasy that Aylix somehow lived on in the ship’s computer brought him comfort.

“What do your scans show, Aylix?” Dak asked out loud.

“There are three thousand seven hundred and three humanoid lifeforms on board,” replied Aylix. “Two are present in the docking bay. Neither armed with conventional weapons.”

Dak nodded. The station grew larger on the viewscreen at a steady pace.

“I recommend caution,” Aylix added. “It could be a trap.”

Dak changed into his carbon fiber bodysuit while Aylix finished docking. He pulled the hood up and slid its visor down over his eyes, and clipped his weapon harness across his chest. Two men in grime-covered overalls were waiting for him in the docking bay.

“Best watch yourself here, stranger,” said one of the men. “We appreciate you answering the hail and all, but know that we got our eye on you.”

“Appreciate the warm welcome,” said Dak. “Your message mentioned a reward.”

The miner who had spoken–a toothpick compared to his silent companion–nodded, then looked Dak up and down. Unimpressed, he turned his attention to Aylix. “Never seen a ship like yours before,” said the miner. “She got any firepower to her?”

“When she needs to,” said Dak. “Will she need to?”

“I reckon she will,” said the miner. “Come. The Foreman will give you the details. Give my friend here your weapons while on board.”

The taller, heavier, less talkative miner stepped forward and held out a hand that was larger than Dak’s head. Dak glared at him.

“No weapons, no job,” said the smaller miner. “No job, no reward. Your choice.”

Dak sighed.

The interior of the station was hewn from rusty metal pipes. The walls, ceiling, and even the floor beneath the grated walkways were one big snaking maze. Dripping stalactites glistened in the station’s dim lighting. The air smelled of smoke and dampness.

The two miners led Dak up a set of rattling stairs to a catwalk overlooking the refinery–a cavernous reservoir of smoking machinery and crisscrossing walkways and conveyor belts. The indistinct silhouettes of miners lining the walkways were visible through the haze. There was a door at the end of the catwalk; the two miners ushered Dak through.

In the room, sitting behind a desk, was the most obese man Dak had ever seen. Presumably the Foreman. Dak recognized the symbol tattooed across his face at once–the mark of a Takkah agent. An unexpected sight; either Dak was further from the outer rim than he thought, or the Takkah Empire had expanded its control over mining operations in the Orubus Belt considerably.

The miners waited outside the office. They didn’t bother introducing Dak.

“I take it you’re interested in the reward,” the Foreman said. “What should I call you?”

“Syphon,” said Dak. “Dak Syphon.”

The Foreman leaned forward in his chair. “We can’t offer currency, Mr. Syphon. But you’ll get a full tank of fuel and a crate of this if you can help us.” The Foreman slid a half-empty bottle across his desk toward Dak. Dak picked it up and sniffed at it. Mining colony moonshine was the stuff of legends–near impossible for outsiders to get a hold of.

Dak put the bottle back down on the desk. “What’s the job?”

“There’s a large debris field on the other side of our planetoid, orbiting in opposition to the station,” said the Foreman. “Hidden in the debris is an old but functioning freighter ship.”

“You want me to retrieve it?” asked Dak.

“Hardly,” said the Foreman. “I want you to destroy it, and ideally the damn necromancer who lives there too.”

Dak blinked. “The… necromancer?”

“Yeah. The necromancer. A magister of the dark arts,” continued the Foreman. “He’s been a thorn in my side and a blight on this station for a hundred kilocycles, ever since we banished him from the colony. But now he’s taken it too far.”

Dak crossed his arms. Was the Foreman pulling his leg, or just stupid? Necromancers were the things of old spacefarer’s tales.

“He’s been sabotaging the station, making us look like fools when Takkah comes to collect the ore,” said the Foreman. “And now he’s started kidnapping our younglings!”

“Kidnapping?” asked Dak.

“Aye,” said the Foreman. “Two younglings went missing from their beds not a hundred cycles ago. Plus their matron and another boy, nearly younglings themselves.”

“The necromancer took them?” Dak asked incredulously.

“Look,” sighed the Foreman. “I don’t need you to believe me. Just destroy the ship and you’ll get paid.”

“And the kids?” asked Dak.

“The ship is the job,” said the Foreman. Then he shrugged. “If you happen to return the kids, alive and still of use to the colony, I’ll throw in a second crate of moonshine.”

It seemed like a simple enough task, despite all the nonsense about necromancers. Dak nodded and stood up. “We have a deal.”

Dak shook hands, then returned to the catwalk where the two miners waited to escort him back to Aylix.

“Dak, can you hear me?” Aylix’s voice sounded in Dak’s head. She spoke through his endermic lattice–a net-like subspace communications relay embedded in the back of his neck. It allowed Aylix to speak to him privately.

Dak sighed loudly.

“Never mind, don’t answer,” said Aylix. “I know how much you hate it when people think you’re talking to them when you’re actually talking to me. I heard the whole conversation through your lattice. I don’t trust the Foreman. Why is he so unconcerned about getting the children back?”

If this colony was like the one he grew up in, then Dak knew the answer. “How young do you start your kids in the mines?” Dak asked, speaking loud over the ruckus of the refinery.

“If they can walk, they can work,” the skinny miner shouted. “Younglings are better at getting in them tight nooks in the mine.”

Dak gritted his teeth.

“Those poor kids,” Aylix said through his lattice.

“Yeah,” whispered Dak, hoping that the clattering and hissing machinery would drown him out. “Those four missing are probably the lucky ones.”

“Did you say something?” the skinny miner shouted.

“God damn it,” said Dak.


Calling the debris field “large” had been an understatement. The discarded machinery, wrecked ships, and other refuse took up ten times the volume of the planetoid it orbited. The colony must have been dumping its waste there for generations. Dak guessed less than a megacycle before the accretion disc reached around the planetoid and engulfed the mining station.

“Any sign of the freighter, Aylix?” asked Dak.

“Scanning,” said Aylix. “It may take a while, there’s a lot of trash out there.”

Dak leaned back in his seat and put his feet up on the cockpit dash. “Better than the trash back on that station,” he said, then spat on the floor.

“Was that anything like the colony you grew up in?” Aylix asked through his lattice.

“Mmm hmm,” said Dak. “Not as bad though. They didn’t send us to the mines until we turned fourteen.”

“Did you work in the mines?” asked Aylix.

A distant memory forced itself into Dak’s consciousness. His Foreman glowering down at him through a haze of smoke, tinted red by flashing lights; a ringing in his ears.

“I… left before I turned fourteen,” said Dak.

“What happened?” asked Aylix.

“An accident,” said Dak. “My sister, she…”

“You mean Aylix,” interrupted Aylix. “My namesake.”

“She… died. I didn’t want any part of the colony after that.”

“And they let you leave?” asked Aylix.

“No, it wasn’t that easy. I had to…”

“Are you telling me the truth, Dak?” interrupted Aylix.

Dak remained silent.

“What did you do, Dak?” asked Aylix.

Dak shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut.

“What did you do to me?” Dak’s sister’s voice pleaded over his lattice.

“Shut up!” cried Dak. “We’re done talking about this.”

“A probe has located the freighter,” said Aylix, no longer using the lattice. Her voice had returned to normal.

Dak leaned toward the viewscreen. “Show me.”

The viewscreen flickered, then centered on a large shadow, slowly drifting against the thick backdrop of glittering debris.

“Looks like a derelict,” said Dak.

“The probe detects five humanoid lifeforms aboard,” said Aylix.

The math added up. One kidnapper plus four kids. Dak grimaced. Firing off a couple guided missiles to take out the freighter felt like the safest course of action, but that would mean killing the kids and–more importantly–missing out on the second crate of moonshine.

“Move in,” said Dak. “Let’s see if necromancers answer their doorbells.”


They had stolen the smallest mining skiff they could find, figuring it would be a while before anyone noticed it missing. Jotu sat in the cramped cockpit next to Sh’ren, staring at the advancing stars on the viewscreen. The two younglings slept in the cargo bay behind them. Sh’ren was leaning forward in the co-pilot’s seat, rocking back and forth and wringing her fingers.

“Relax, Sh’ren,” said Jotu. “If anyone was following us, they would have shown themselves by now.”

“Did we do the right thing, Jotu?” asked Sh’ren.

“Of course,” said Jotu. He reached over and stilled her fidgeting hands. “We had no choice.”

Jotu placed his hand on Sh’ren’s belly. “You’ve started showing Sh’ren. You know as well as I what the Foreman would have done if he found out.”

“But we have nothing, Jotu!” said Sh’ren. “Where will we go? How will we survive? We are as good as dead. And we have doomed not only ourselves, but the younglings as well! I think we should turn ba…”

The door to the cargo bay flew open, and Taila and Koru burst into the cockpit.

“No!” Taila cried as she climbed onto Sh’ren’s lap. “We don’t want to go back!”

“Yeah!” said Koru, puffing his chest out. “I hate the colony! I want to go have adventures!”

“What have I told you two about eavesdropping?” Sh’ren scolded the two younglings. “Return to bed at once!”

“Yes, Sh’ren,” the two children said together. Taila slunk to the floor, and Koru’s heroic pose deflated. They shuffled back to the cargo bay, taking one last longing look before closing the door behind them.

“Such brats,” said Sh’ren, though her warm smile revealed how she truly felt about the younglings. “Oh Jotu, I love them so much.”

“I do too,” said Jotu. “That is why we can’t go back. What life is there for them in the colony? Koru is not strong like the other boys his age, you know what they do with boys like him. And Taila? The way some of the Overseers leer at her I think they want to take her as a breeder already…”

“Stop it!” said Sh’ren. She started weeping. “Just stop!”

Jotu squeezed Sh’ren’s hands. “When you became their matron you agreed to see to their needs,” he said. “That is what we are doing.”

“But where will we go?” Sh’ren asked, staring hard at Jotu through the tears in her eyes.

Jotu let go of Sh’ren’s hands and looked away. It was time to tell her.

“Jotu? What is it?”

Jotu closed his eyes. “Before we left, I was in contact with… With someone who can help us. He gave me coordinates to the nearest trade route. He gave me this.”

Jotu retrieved a small object from a pouch on his belt and held it out–a black diamond-shaped device, glowing red along its edges. Sh’ren took it from him, holding it up to study it.

“It’s a communication device,” said Jotu. “I can use it to signal a ship on the trade route, then exchange it for passage to… To somewhere safe. Where we can start a new life with the younglingss. Where you can…”

“Who gave this to you, Jotu? Who in the colony would dare keep such a device secret from the Overseers and the Foreman?”

“He is not of the colony,” said Jotu. “Not anymore.”

Sh’ren’s eyes opened wide, and the color drained from her face. “Jotu, no!” She shoved the device back into Jotu’s hand and shrank back from him. Jotu returned the object to its pouch.

“He is not what they say he is,” said Jotu. “He is my… He wished to end the injustices…”

“He is a necromancer!” shouted Sh’ren.

“That is not true,” said Jotu, trying hard to remain calm. “The real reason Kareth was banished…”

“Do not speak his name!” Sh’ren cried in horror. She put her head in her hands and moaned. “No, Jotu. What have you done?”

Sh’ren’s quiet weeping pierced Jotu’s heart. His confession had gone worse than he feared, and he hadn’t even fully explained the device. She will come around and accept the truth about Kareth, thought Jotu. She will have to.


After a cycle of careful navigation through scattered wreckage and detritus, Aylix had approached close enough to illuminate the freighter with her external spotlights. It dwarfed her in size, and had the same rusty eroded look to it as the mining station. The lifeform scan was up on Dak’s console–all five blips were clustered together. One was much brighter than the others. Dak opened his mouth to ask why, but was interrupted.

“We’ve been spotted,” said Aylix. “The freighter’s hailing us.”

“Bring it up on screen.”

A man’s head appeared on the viewscreen. A hood obscured the top half of his face in shadow; the lower half sported a long white beard that extended down off screen.

“Go away,” said the man.

“I’ll be happy to,” said Dak. “Once the children are safely returned to the colony.”

“The children are none of your concern,” the man barked back. “Leave, or I’ll destroy your ship.”

Aylix spoke through Dak’s lattice. “He’s bluffing. The freighter has some energy weapons, but they’re depleted.”

“I’m not leaving without the children,” said Dak. He meant it. He had no intention of leaving without that second crate of moonshine.

The man on the viewscreen fidgeted with his beard, then his expression hardened. “The children are dead,” he said. “Didn’t they tell you? I’m a necromancer–just destroy me and be done with it.”

“I know they’re not dead,” said Dak slowly. “I scan all four of them with you.”

The man’s steely expression gave way to panic. “What? No, those aren’t the children, damn it. The children are dead.” The man gave a frustrated grunt. “They sent you to kill me, right? Allow me to make your job easier.”

The viewscreen blinked off.

“He’s powering up the freighter’s engines,” said Aylix.

“He’s running?” asked Dak.

“Unlikely. The freighter’s propulsion systems are too structurally unsound.”

Dak stroked his chin. “What kind of engines?”

“Primitive combustion tech,” replied Aylix.

“If the propulsion systems are shot, where does the energy go?” asked Dak.

“Nowhere,” said Aylix. “It stays in the engines.”

Dak’s eyes opened wide. “Does that mean what I think it means?”

“Yes,” said Aylix. “Judging from the energy accumulation rate, I estimate nine hundred millicycles before they explode.”

Dak nodded. “Hypothetically speaking, how much time would we need to get to a safe distance?”

“Hypothetically,” said Aylix, “a hundred millicycles should be sufficient to escape the blast radius.”

“So, another hundred fifty to cut through the freighter’s hull. We could do it here, near the lifeform readings,” said Dak, pointing at his console and thinking aloud. “Plus fifty or so at the end to detach… That would give me six hundred millicycles to get those kids off the freighter.”

“More like five hundred and eighty, now,” said Aylix.

“Do it,” said Dak.

“What happened to hypothetical?” asked Aylix.

“Shit’s about to get real,” said Dak.


After she calmed down, Sh’ren left to tell stories to the younglings in the cargo bay. Jotu listened to her from the cockpit and smiled. When he was a youngling, Jotu’s matron never told him bedtime stories. She never spoke to him at all, except to scold him. Sh’ren was different from anyone he had ever known–she had somehow avoided the insidious languor that infected every person in the colony old enough to work. Jotu had nearly succumbed himself, but meeting Sh’ren brought light to his life. She had saved him. Now it was his turn to save her.

An incoming message beeped on his console. Jotu reached back and closed the door to the cargo bay, then answered the hail. Kareth appeared on the viewscreen. His hood was up, obscuring his eyes in shadow.

“Father,” said Jotu. “We’ve reached the coordinates. Are you on your way?”

Kareth shook his head and frowned.

Jotu shifted uneasily in his seat. “What’s wrong, Father?”

“I can’t join you as planned, Jotu. You must use the stone as I showed you…”

“Why!?” interrupted Jotu. “You said you’d join us! We can’t do this alone! We’ll wait here, however long you need to…”

“Jotu!” Kareth commanded. Jotu fell silent.

“It is no longer safe to wait,” continued Kareth. “Signal a ship with the stone, but do not trade it. I have its sister stone–it will allow me to find you across any distance. I will join you when I can.”

“I don’t want to leave you, Father,” said Jotu. He fought the tears welling in his eyes. “I’m scared.”

“Fear is a transient thing,” said Kareth. “You mustn’t let it govern you. You were afraid when you found the stone and I spoke to you through it for the first time. But you overcame. You were scared when I told you I was the necromancer.”

Jotu sniffled. “Yes, but you’re not…”

“But you overcame,” interrupted Kareth. “You were scared when you gathered Sh’ren and the younglings and stole the mining skiff.”

“Yes, but…”

“But nothing,” said Kareth. “Fear must drive action, not inaction. If you wallow in it your fear will consume you, and then you will be truly lost. That is not who you are. You are Jotu. You are my son and you will do what you must to protect those you love.”

Jotu thought back to the night he first found the stone and heard Kareth’s voice. It took time, but Jotu came to trust and care for that voice. In the colony, fathers and sons did not have relationships–child rearing was strictly for the matrons. But Jotu found a comfort in his bond with Kareth that rivaled even his feelings for Sh’ren and the baby in her belly. The thought of continuing on without his father filled Jotu with a profound sadness.

“Very well, Father,” said Jotu. “I will do as you say.”

Kareth nodded. “Jotu, my son. Before you go, know that I…”

A sound from behind Kareth interrupted him. He turned, facing away from the viewscreen.

“Father? What happened?” Jotu said, leaning forward.

“Why are you here?” cried Kareth, stepping away from the viewscreen toward the center of the room. “I already told you, I killed them! And now I’ll kill you!”

Jotu’s heart raced. He slammed his fists on the console. He watched Kareth fling his cloak back and reach for the blaster at his thigh.

There was a flash. Kareth toppled backwards and his arms flailed. For a brief, sickening moment, Jotu thought he could see light through a fist-sized hole on Kareth’s back. Then Kareth collapsed out of sight, leaving a thin wisp of white smoke trailing up from the bottom of the viewscreen.

“Father!” Jotu screamed. His breath came to him in short gasps. He felt the veins in his neck and forehead throbbing. He slammed his fists again in frustration.

The smoke cleared, and a figure moved forward into focus–a man in a black jumpsuit with a visor over his eyes, holding a pistol. The man looked up from where Kareth’s lifeless body would be. Jotu gritted his teeth and seared the man’s appearance into his memory. The jumpsuit, the visor, a scar running below his left eye across the bridge of his nose, the hint of a miner’s tattoo peeking above the suit’s neckline.

Jotu’s eyes narrowed. Once Sh’ren and the children are safe, he thought, I will find this man again. And I will kill him.


Dak didn’t like the look the kid was giving him. He knew that look. He’d used it himself on occasion. Dak thought about telling the kid he was sorry–that the old man had given him no choice. But he knew it wouldn’t change anything. Instead he leveled his pistol at the console beneath the viewscreen and squeezed the trigger. The viewscreen went dark.

The ship rumbled. A twang sounded above Dak’s head, and he ducked to avoid an electric cable swinging down from the ceiling. The freighter was shaking itself apart. If Dak were to believe the spacefarer’s tales, he would have expected to find it filled with the scattered remains of sacrificial victims, blood runes scribbled on the floors and walls, and stale air that smelled of death. But it was just a regular old ship. And the man he had killed was just a regular old man.

Dak took a closer look at the body on the ground. The so-called necromancer clutched something in his white-knuckled fist, refusing to let go even in death. Dak pried the fingers open. A small black diamond-shaped object clattered to the floor. Dak picked it up and studied it curiously. It glowed red along its edges.

“Time’s almost up, Dak,” Aylix said through the lattice. “Grab the kids and get out of there.”

The ship rumbled again. The ceiling in the corner of the room collapsed with a deafening roar. Dak pocketed the object and looked around.

“I don’t see any kids,” said Dak.

“You’re right on top of them,” said Aylix. “The engines are beyond critical. Forget the kids and get out of there.”

The fog of dust from the collapsed ceiling thinned as it settled. Dak spotted four pods leaning against the far wall. They looked big enough to hold a person each. “I may have spotted them,” he said.

“The engines have melted through their housings,” warned Aylix as Dak approached the pods. “Structural integrity is falling fast. Even if the engines don’t blow for a few hundred millicycles, the ship won’t last that long.”

Through a small rectangular window on the nearest pod, dark-skinned with her eyes closed like she was sleeping, Dak saw not a child, but a woman. Curls of dark brown hair framed her tranquil face. Dak pressed his hand against the window. He had never seen anyone with skin so smooth.

“They’re in some kind of pods,” said Dak. “Too heavy to move.”

“Come back,” said Aylix. “If the engines don’t blow first, and assuming you make it here alive, I’ll see what I can do about the pods.”

Dak ran his hands up and down the sides of the woman’s pod, failing to find a release mechanism. Beads of sweat ran down the back of his arms. The temperature on the ship was rising at an alarming rate.

“Dak, you don’t want to die like this. Not like I did.” Aylix was speaking with his sister’s voice again.

Dak pounded his fist against the coffin-like pod in frustration. He took one last look at the woman behind the glass, then sprinted out of the room.

Running as fast as his legs could take him, lungs burning as he gasped the hot air, Dak lurched through the buckling hallway until he reached the hole Aylix had punched through the hull. As soon as he collapsed through, the airlock slammed shut. The ship shuddered as Aylix detached herself from the freighter.

“Plotting a course for anywhere-but-here, top speed…” Aylix’s voice came over the intercom.

“No!” cried Dak. “Not yet!”

“Those engines are going to explode any nanocycle now, and take us with…”

“Wait!” Dak struggled to his feet. He felt faint, and his skin was on fire, but he managed to stumble to the cockpit. The freighter–or what remained of it–was visible on the viewscreen. The blinding white glow of the overloaded engines burst through the freighter’s ruptured shell in a hundred places.

“Use the pulse cannon, cut away the hull of the room I was in,” said Dak, breathing heavily.

“Dak, this is crazy,” said Aylix. “You’re putting yourself in extreme danger. For what? Another woman?”

“Do it!” yelled Dak.

The viewscreen lit up with the pulse cannon’s blast. A section of the freighter’s hull shattered. The glow from the freighter’s engines intensified.

“Zoom in,” said Dak. The viewscreen magnified the blasted section of the freighter’s hull.

“Dak! You don’t want her! She’s not worth…”

“There!” Among the floating shards of hull, Dak spotted two of the pods spinning away from the freighter–one intact, one charred black. Dak’s heart raced as he stared at the intact pod. Was it her?

“Emergency protocols activated,” came Aylix’s voice.

A slight vibration rattled through the ship. The viewscreen became a blur.

“Wait! What the fuck are you doing?” cried Dak. “The pod…!”

The viewscreen flashed, bathing the cockpit in brilliant white light. The vibrations rattling Aylix intensified to violent spasms as the shockwave from the explosion overtook her. The last image that flashed through Dak’s mind before he lost consciousness was the woman’s perfect, glowing face.


Two miners stood guard next to Aylix’s open cargo bay doors. The same miners who had greeted Dak on his first visit to the colony, only this time they had rifles slung over their shoulders.

“Where’s my payment?” asked Dak.

“The Foreman’s on his way,” said the smaller miner. Dak wondered if the bigger guy ever spoke.

Why was the Foreman getting involved? Dak’s business with the colony had concluded–they should have paid him and told him to fuck off as soon as he returned.

Every inch of Dak’s skin burned and itched. Daggers pierced his muscles, and his head pounded. Aylix had suffered moderate damage from the explosion–half her sensor arrays were shot, most of her armor plating had disintegrated, and her computers reported failures in systems that Dak hadn’t known existed. But none of that mattered. All that mattered was that at the last second, Aylix had managed to save the pod. To save the woman.

“I don’t like this,” Aylix said through Dak’s lattice.

Dak didn’t like it either, but he needed the fuel and moonshine more than ever. Repairing Aylix would be expensive.

“Mister Syphon,” the Foreman’s voice rang across the docking bay. Dak watched the fat man waddle toward him and the two miners.

“The necromancer is dead,” said Dak. “Pay and I’ll be on my way.”

“Ah, about that,” said the Foreman. “It’s my understanding that the necromancer destroyed the freighter himself. Overloaded the engines, as I heard it.”

Dak shook his head. “I shot him.”

“You have proof of this?” asked the Foreman. “How do I know you didn’t watch the old man commit suicide from the comfort of your ship and then fly straight back here.”

“You think this happened to me in the comfort of my ship?” Dak cried, pulling the collar of his armor down to expose more scorched flesh.

The foreman scratched his chin, a smug expression on his face. His eyes darted behind Dak toward Aylix. He frowned.

“Seems I’m mistaken,” said the Foreman. “You were on the freighter. You found something that belongs to me.”

Dak followed the Foreman’s gaze to the rear of Aylix’s cargo bay. The pod Aylix had rescued leaned against the back wall.

“I have nothing that belongs to you,” Dak sneered.

“Well, perhaps not to me,” said the Foreman. “A Takkah barge came through to collect ore a kilocycle ago. It towed the wreckage of a ship bearing the same markings as that pod. I suspect the necromancer pilfered it. I’ll make sure the Takkah Empire knows it was you who returned their missing property.”

The foreman nodded at the two miners. The smaller one aimed his rifle at Dak; the larger one started moving toward the cargo bay.

“Dak…” Aylix said through his lattice. “Dak think hard before you do anything hasty. There’s one of you and three of them.”

“Exactly,” Dak said out loud. “Three…”

The Foreman looked at Dak and cocked his head. “What did you…”

The smaller miner was the first to fall. A hole ripped through his brain faster than it could signal his finger to pull the trigger.

“Two…”

Before the first miner’s corpse hit the ground, Dak hit the second with another head shot.

“One…”

The Foreman looked wide eyed at the two bodies, then fell to his knees. Dak took a couple steps and aimed his gun at the Foreman’s head.

“Wait!” cried the Foreman. “Don’t you realize what Takkah will do to you if you kill me?”

Dak studied the dark tattoo splayed across the fat man’s face. He was a marked agent. Property of the Takkah Empire.

“I don’t know,” said Dak. “Maybe something like this?”

He pulled the trigger. The Foreman’s body slumped forward with a satisfying thud at Dak’s feet.

“Zero.”

Dak put his hands on his hips and turned to face Aylix. “Well,” he said, “that didn’t go as planned.”

“No shit,” said Aylix.

“They’re probably not going to pay me now,” said Dak.

“No shit,” said Aylix.

“We better get outta here,” said Dak.

“No shit,” said Aylix.

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