Chapter 16: Planet Killer

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Alone for the last time.

Allan watched the miles of sun-drenched wasteland roll by as he sped along as quickly as the jeep would allow. There were no structures. No people. No vehicles. Nothing to indicate that anyone had ever lived on this miserable planet. Only the desert and another mountain rising up in the distance, presumably where he had to go. He'd activated Poet's database and pulled the information from it. The final Destabilizer was in another cave system.

He tried to stop looking in the rearview mirror, but it was a difficult reflex to break. He kept expecting to see a cloud of dust, a speck of a vehicle on the horizon. The killer was coming for him. Somehow, someway, he was coming. And if Allan died, so did everyone else. For a moment, he lamented his task.

It wasn't just not fair, it was insanity. He hadn't asked for this crap, didn't want to do anything more than have a normal life. But what was a normal life? Trying to find it here, on backwater Lindholm, had failed utterly. But what could he do? What was there to be done? Part of him was angry. This was the fucking twenty three hundreds, for fuck's sake! How did they not have answers to problems like his at this point!?

But what was his problem, anyway?

He couldn't quite pinpoint it, except that anything resembling 'life' grew harder and harder to maintain, even on a basic level, while the job got easier. Fear was important to have in a job where there was a good chance you were going to die at any moment. But there had to be a balance of it. Not too much, not too little. Too much, and you froze. Too little and you ran off like a dumbass into the field of fire because you thought nothing could happen to you. Sometimes Allan thought he'd found that equilibrium.

But now he wondered if he'd gone too far into the other side. He still afraid, but even the most gut-wrenching moments of blind terror didn't feel as powerful as they should have. It was less fear he was feeling and more the memory of fear. Allan could distinctly remember thinking, several times in fact, that he didn't care whether he lived or died. Was that still true? Examining the notion during a quiet period, he reluctantly decided it was true.

But...reluctantly?

How did that make any kind of sense? If he was reluctant about not caring about dying, didn't that very reluctance mean the exact opposite?

Allan wondered if this is what insanity felt like.

He realized that he was nearly at the base of the mountain, and that someone had beat him there. A jump ship was nestled not far from the entrance of a cave. It leaned lazily to one side, and Allan realized that one of the landing struts had been broken. The cargo ramp was down. As he drew closer, he saw a body, encased in black-and-silver armor, leaning half-in, half-out of the back of the ship. Allan stopped the jeep a few feet from the ship.

He hopped out, hurrying over to the corpses. In all, he counted four. He found one in the pilot's seat, another local like the man who had been flying his own vessel, a Security-Investigations man. His neck was crushed to the point of ridiculousness. Besides the body hanging aslant along the ramp, there was a third on the floor of the main cabin. Both Spec Ops troops. One man was missing his head, another both his arms.

He patted them down for any kind of weapons, hoping that Montgomery might have gotten them some of those special nano bullets, but found no such luck. He stepped out and began making for the cave entrance. There, he found Montgomery, her faceplate broken, one green eye, cloudy with blood, staring up into the sunshine.

"I'll get it done," he said quietly to her as he passed.

No time for grief, no time to hesitate. The killer was coming. He'd be lucky if he could get down and back up again.

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