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The ‘ol rock didn’t have a name back then. Just like most rush-colonies out in the Verge, nobody had thought of it as a permanent settlement, a home. Far as most were concerned it was only good for one thing, and that was the ore nestled deep beneath it’s weathered face. So folks had come from as far as the Council Worlds to dig up its innards and make off with riches, and a fair number even managed such. But then Boss Knossos came.

An ex-Legionnaire, Knossos had come to the Verge after the Uprising petered-out and he was left with no one more to kill. Didn’t take long for him to make a name for hisself, puttin’ the laser to any ore freighter or frontier trader unlucky enough to drift past his fleet. But the more ships and silver he amassed, the more he hungered, and when he heard of our rock, prosperous and under-defended, it didn’t take more’n a few weeks for him to make it his own. Once it was, gone were the days of any miners making off with their hard-earned riches. The ore belonged to Knossos, and no matter how many years you toiled in the mines for him, he and his posse made plenty sure the cut you got would never be enough to get you off his thrice-damned rock. And so it went for many years until, one day, a stranger in a long, ragged duster strode into the bar at the base of the Settler’s Spire.

No one noticed him at first, we were all too busy drownin’ our woes in pisswater. But once a few eyes caught sight of the heavy contraption hanging form his hip, the rest of our heads turned and by the time he’d stepped up to the bar, the whole place was quiet enough that we could all here ‘ol Moe wheezin’ as he stared up at the stranger from behind the counter.

Thing was, the moment Knossos and his posse had landed on our rock they’d taken a hardline policy against colonists wieldin’ weaponry. Any common man found with so much as a sharp stick was promised a one way trip down the mine’s deepest shaft, and the few fools that had taken Boss up on that offer had found he was good for it. But the thing strapped to the stranger’s hip looked like a good deal more than just a sharp stick. It was a gun, or at least it sorta looked like one.

Fashioned from what was clear to us older folks as the compression hammers we’d used before Knossos tossed them in an abandoned shaft with everything else vaguely weapon-like, the thing was only similar to a gun in shape. Otherwise, it looked like a very poorly fashioned, very crude piece of machinery with an uneven weight and an alarming lack of safety shielding.

But while we all got a fairly decent look at the gun on his hip, no one managed to get half as good a look at the stranger. His long duster covered most of him, and where it didn’t reach, a wide-brimmed hat and scarf took care of the rest. A narrow band where the two met was the only bit he left exposed, a few tufts of black hair and his pale-grey gaze all he was willing to let us see.

“Where’s Boss Knossos?” the stranger growled. It wasn’t a voice any of us could place, though all of us were trying.

Moe stared at the contraption on the stranger’s belt, “Uhhh—he—ubbb–”

“He’s right here,” said a voice from the high balcony that overlooked the bar. Boss Knossos hisself was perched up there, peerin’ out from behind the curtains of his silver hair. “What’s that on yo’ hip, boy?” he called down, baring his yellow teeth.

The stranger adjusted his hat and turned up toward Boss. “This?” he shouted, giving the hulking contraption at his side a pat. “I figure this right here is gonna be your undoing, Knossos.”

A wave of whirs, clicks, and whistles swept across the room as every man, woman, and ET sworn to Knossos trained their weapons on the stranger. But before they could turn him into a pile of dust, Boss’s voice came boomin’ from the balcony again. “Hold your fire. This fella had enough swinging ‘tween his legs to waltz in here and get my attention, why don’t we all listen to what he has to say?”

“I’m callin’ you out, Knossos,” said the stranger. “Consider this your only warning. Either you load your posse back on them ships and find a different rock to raise hell on, or I’ll pump a hole straight through you.”

There were a few caws of laughter from the more intoxicated members of Knossos’s posse. Boss, however, wasn’t laughing. “And are you gonna give me a reason why I oughta give you a chance to raise that mess of a thing against me?” he shouted. “I could make a puddle outta you right now, ‘fore you so much as cleared leather.”

The stranger nodded, considering Knossos’s words before speaking. “Well, the way I see it,” he said, “If you’re hands really are that quick, the only reason you’d refuse is if your liver had gone lillied. But you ain’t lily-livered, are you Boss?” And though no one could see the stranger’s face, there wasn’t a soul in that bar who didn’t hear the smile in his voice.

“One hour, the square outside,” growled Knossos. “You try pullin’ anything funny and my boys’ll make sure you’re turnin’ up daisies ‘fore I get there, y’hear?”

The stranger bowed.

“Alright then,” said Boss, turning his steely-eyed leer to the rest of us. “Now all you lot go fetch your spouses and child-folk. This whole damned moon is gonna see what happens to someone dung-headed enough to take up arms against me.”

The crowd was thicker than a flock of drumpflies on a sulfur vent. Folks filled the streets, hung out of windows, even clambered on top of roofs to try and catch the slightest glimpse of the square, but it wasn’t Boss’s words that put them there. In just the hour since the stranger had issued his challenge, the whole colony seemed to be churnin’ with life for the first time since Knossos and his posse touched down. Folks in the street tittered with excitement, murming the tale to one and tryin’ to mask their smiles while their children raced and squirmed to find a place to watch, eagerness in some of their eyes for the very first time. And when Knossos stepped out of the Settler’s Spire, the air grew thinner as everyone’s breath became hitched and shallow.

He was a sight to behold, a mountain of flesh and muscle, he dwarfed the stranger’s wiry frame. And when the two of them were standin’ eye to eye, he bellowed out loud enough for everyone in the square to hear, “Any last words, fool?”

The stranger gave his head a slow, pensive shake.

“Well then,” Boss shouted, yellow teeth bared again. “Let this boy’s manglin’ be a lesson to every last one of ya.” He shed his overcoat, tossing it to the dirt so everyone could see the two slick Mark VII plasma pistols that hung at his waist. They were the opposite of the stranger’s improvised weapon, tools tailored to take a life before the target could even see the shot coming.

They stood back to back, every eye in the colony fixated on the two of them as one of Boss’s men, a big fella with a few extra arms and char-black scales instead of skin, counted out their steps.


The world held it’s breath. Not just the colonists, not just Boss’s crew, even the wind seemed to stop as the two of them started away from one another.


The stranger walked with a straight wooden gait. He was either dim enough to be truly unafraid of Knossos, or wise enough to know he was marchin’ to his doom.

Three. Four. Five.

Boss’s thin lips stretched nearly to their limits, the ore replacements in his grin shimmerin’ purple and gold as the sun caught them.

Six. Seven. Eight.

Their hands came down, the stranger’s hoverin’ just a hair from the ugly, improvised grip. It looked so small next to the great monstrosity, hardly like a man’s hand at all. But it was steady.


But Boss’s hands? Well, they was shakin’ worse than a tin-man in a static storm.


The silence was broken with thunderous shrieks, first from guns, then from the crowd.

The stranger flew backward, dust forming a cloud as he skidded across the dirt. He hadn’t even managed to pull that lunk of a gun from its holster before Knossos sent a flurry of green cascading into his chest. And as he lay there, the acid touch of the plasma quickly chewing away the front of him, Boss’s posse began to howl with cries of victory. But just as Knossos turned toward his crew, his face twisting with ugly pleasure, a gasp from the crowd wiped the smile from his face.

“He’s getting up!”

Before Knossos could even turn around, a percussive blast stole all the sound from the square and a hole the size of a watermelon opened up his chest.

Twenty paces away, where we’d all just seen him dying, the stranger stood with the ramshackle gun stretched out before him. A crude metal chest-plate lay at his feet, the hiss of the plasma eating it still filling the quiet that followed. It had caught most of Knossos’s shots, but when the stranger’s gun dropped and his grey eyes rolled back inside his skull, it was clear it hadn’t caught them all.

The sound of his body droppin’ to the dirt might as well have been the sound o’ war horns. If there was a colonist there that day that didn’t start laying into Boss’s hench-folk the moment the stranger fell, they carried that shame quietly to their grave. They didn’t last long, Knossos’s posse. Never havin’ much sense to start with, they were directionless without a leader and the foolish few who hadn’t jumped in a ship and scurried off for distant stars were made quick work of.

When the dust finally settled, we all crowded round the corpse of the stranger. As it turned out, the chest-plate wasn’t the only secret he’d been keepin’. Not only had the long duster hidden the stilts that had given him six extra inches, it was also hiding the fact that he wasn’t a he at all. Lying in the dust, a teenage girl stared lifelessly up at that sky of that sullen moon. No one, we found, knew her name, though a handful of folk had seen her at the edges of town. Far as anyone could tell she’d been living in the old, abandoned mine shafts since Boss gunned down her ma and pa some years before. We buried her right where she fell.

A statute stands there now. Not of a founder, or politician, or some half-forgotten god we’d carried with us from Old Sol. Instead there stands the figure of an orphaned miner girl who gave our moon it’s name. Instead there stands Samaritan.


Apex Predators
Keeping Count

One Comment

  1. D D

    Nice, Hal! I liked this!

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