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A short story by

Micky Neilson

Isaac slammed against the wall. He reoriented himself, fighting in the zero-G to get his boots realigned with the ground, trying desperately to see what hit him....

There stood Trevor "Smokin' Joe" Jacobs in all his black-stained crimson glory.

That same gravelly voice broke through the firebat's external speakers. "Let's burn!"

TJ turned to set the explosives ablaze. Isaac bum-rushed Jacobs, dislodging him just as twin jets of flame shot outward. Both men ended up in a clench in the haulageway.


Isaac reached his right hand down to one of the large air hoses protruding from TJ's chest armor and closed his fist around it. He twisted and pulled, but to no avail.

"Smokin' Joe" swung his right arm in a downward arc onto Isaac's headpiece, the power of the blow dropping the marauder to one knee and forcing Isaac's hand loose.

Isaac rose to his feet and kicked at the air hose coupling, damaging it, but not enough.

The two metal behemoths continued trading blows. TJ slipped backward as Isaac swung with all his might, throwing himself off balance. Jacobs turned toward the entryway. Isaac shot out his hand and clutched at one of Jacobs' rear-mounted fuel tanks.


Jacobs spun around and threw a knee that Isaac deflected.

TJ raised his right arm. Flames engulfed the marauder armor. Isaac leaned down and in, allowing the flames to bake the suit's top and back and creating a barrier for his hand as he reached for the ventilation hose once again.

The neosteel skin of Isaac's suit blistered. His HUD flared a furious red.

It wasn't about to end like this. No way. Isaac had found his path to redemption at last, and he'd be damned if some podunk weevil exterminator was gonna take that from him.

Systems reached critical.

He wouldn't give up. Not now. Now it all came down to these final few seconds....


Isaac yanked the hose with all of his remaining strength. At last it came free. He kicked out. Jacobs sailed down the haulageway, pedaling with his legs to try to get his boots back on the ground, the escaping ventilation propelling him backward as the gouts of flame from his wrist died out.


Isaac rushed back into the room. No time to pull the det. cord. He grasped the charge...


... and ran for the access. It would end here, one way or another. He gained the haulageway. Jacobs was nowhere in sight. Isaac threw the charge as hard as he could.


It was a gamble, he knew. The final charge's explosion could still set off the other ordnance....


But it was his only play. All or nothing. His chance to steal thunder...




Isaac ducked back into the room as-BOOOM!!-the world around him threatened to come apart. A massive wall of flame shot past, billowing, spreading outward.... If the charges were going to blow, this would be it....

Isaac had a brief, horrific vision of the passage around him disintegrating, of his lifeless form pinwheeling through the emptiness of space.

The flames dissipated. Seconds later the rumbling stopped, and at last, mercifully, it was over.

There was a burst of static followed by unrestrained whooping and hollering from the other end of the line. Sammy's voice nearly blew the speaker. "We're alive! HA HAAA!! We're alive! You did it, you magnificent son of a bitch! You did it! You saved us all!"

Isaac backed up against the wall and took a seat. Yes, he'd done it. He had saved them. He had stayed cool. Just as he was born to do, just like the old Isaac. No more weight of the world bearing down on him, no more hatred in his heart.

He had saved them. He leaned his head back inside his helmet, closing his eyes, waiting. It would take the KMs a while to dig his ass out, but that was okay....

He had time.

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