Read on for Part Three of our Evolve fan fiction, Something Wicked…
THREE | Harker
The door slammed shut behind Cabot and he helped the woman brace it with a pair of filing cabinets. It felt as comforting as barricading the door with matchsticks.
Abe dropped his shotgun on the workstation behind them, panting. He took a few deep breaths as he eyed the bank of monitors that filled the back wall of the room. A central screen was empty save a huge yellow progress bar that currently read 76%. Val dropped her gear beside the shotgun while Parnell went straight for the shutters, peering out into the deluge.
Cabot steadily got his breath back. He straightened, facing the woman. “Madeleine Harker, I presume?”
She didn’t smile. “Doctor,” she corrected. “You’re my evac team?”
“Marshal William Cabot,” he said, offering his hand.
She ignored the gesture, but made a show of re-appraising him. “The Planet Tamer? I suppose I should be flattered they sent you.”
Abe answered for him. “We were just in the neighbourhood, darlin’. What’s all this here? Looks like a data-wipe to me.”
Harker made her way to the corner of the room, and dragged a compact jet-pack from a stow-locker. “That’s not your business,” she said sternly.
“And that ordnance outside that damn near burned the hair off our chinny-chin-chins? What the fuck was that?”
“Those are trimmer mines. Essentially they’re daisy cutters, but they survey terrain when they’re triggered and provide a workable real-time map.”
Abe whistled. “Can I have one?”
“Get me out of here and we’ll figure something out.”
Cabot half-smiled in response to Abe’s barely concealed excitement. “About that… We have a boat waiting, but we need to move now.”
Harker indicated the monitors. “As soon as I’m done.”
“I have a very specific role here, Marshal Cabot, as do you. My job is to upload this data, and the data stored at Site B.”
“Site B?” asked Val. “You’re kidding me, right?”
“That a Salveron Industries med-gun?” Harker demanded.
Val folded her arms. “Yeah. So?”
Harker pointed at the progress bar. “If we lose this data, we go back ten years on the technology that lets you do what you do. How many lives are in danger if that happens?”
Cabot swore. “Where’s Site B?”
“Two clicks east, in the valley across the ridge. The upload will take fifteen, twenty minutes, tops.”
“Sorry, doc. Our job is to get you out. No one said anything about your data. It can burn for all I care right now.”
“Hey,” said Abe suddenly, “what’s a ‘Behemoth’? Sounds nasty.”
“That’s classified. Marshal, control your man.”
Cabot grunted. “If I could do that, this would be an all-day smile.”
Abe laughed. “He ain’t lyin’.” He was peering at one of the monitors, his fingers spider-walking across a wall-mounted touchscreen. “Hey, doc, what’s a manticore? Gorgon… That’s like Medusa, right? Hydra, Harpy, Wraith… Who comes up with these names?”
Harker crossed the room and smashed the monitor with the butt of a machine pistol.
“Abe!” Cabot snapped. “Drop it.”
The trapper winked at Harker, waited for her to turn away, and flipped her the bird.
Cabot pressed his ear-piece. “Bucket? Come in, Bucket.”
“You won’t have any luck, Marshal.” Harker told him. “I popped a meteor dome the minute you got inside. I’ll drop it at Site B, and we can all go home.”
Cabot glanced at Val, then back to Harker. “You think we’re playing a game here, Doctor? Disable the goddamn shield.”
Val’s fingers curled around the grip of her rifle as Harker visibly stiffened. She raised her hand, watching all four hunters in turn, and fired a single shot into the console beside her. The hardware hissed and sparked, fizzing and belching smoke.
“Woah!” Abe shouted, jumping and grabbing his shotgun. “You outta your damn mind, woman?”
“It’s no longer an issue for debate,” Harker said, barely keeping her voice steady.
Cabot rushed forward, jabbing at the console’s keyboard. It was dead. “What the hell?” he barked.
Harker backed away from his wrath. “Colony Command should have given you the full details, Marshal. I’m sorry. This is too important.”
Cabot rubbed his face, thinking. “Parnell, looks like we’re stuck. You got any bright ideas?”
The assault specialist moved away from the window. “We hustle quick, we can make it. But Site B is under the mountain, boss. No way we get exfil there. We’ll have to cycle back to the relay anyway, and the beast will be waiting. Fact is, we’re out of options.”
“We could kill the big sum’bitch,” Abe suggested. “That is what you brought us here to do, right? Kill these things?”
“Not in this storm, in these conditions. We can’t plan for this.”
Parnell held his gaze. “We don’t have a choice. We can do it now, or later, but we’re gonna have to kill it eventually.”
The progress bar was at 97%. Cabot picked up his rail-cannon and went to the door. “Grab your gear. If we’re going, we’re going now.”
“I’m sorry, Marshal,” Harker told him.
“Don’t be sorry, be efficient. I lose anyone because of you, I’ll bury you out here. Clear?”
Harker ignored his question and shouldered the jet-pack. “The one that followed you here, the Goliath, is particularly aggressive, but it’s not as smart as some of them. Hurt it, and it will back off.”
“Good to know,” he said, bitterly.
The progress bar beeped, flashing green. Harker slid a small black device from a pocket of her jumpsuit and stuck it to the nearest monitor. She pressed the centre and it hummed, displaying a readout of red numbers, counting down. She fully zipped her dark blue jumpsuit and grabbed a second machine pistol from the storage locker.
“Time to go,” she said.
FOUR | Priorities
The rain began to lessen as they made their way up the ridge behind the outpost, soon leaving the satellite tower behind as they jet-packed up the steep incline. Cabot kept checking their back trail, but so far the Goliath hadn’t reappeared. Around halfway up the ridge, Harker called a halt.
“What’s the problem?” Cabot asked.
She knelt in the rain, unclipping a small grey disc from within her jumpsuit. “I’d rather continue the morning without surprises, Marshal.” She lay the device in the dirt and held a small red button in for five seconds. The mine whirred once and went silent.
“There’s a lot of wildlife around here, Doctor,” Val said. “Anything could set that off.”
“No. This is rigged to respond to a certain weight. Nothing will set this off but the Goliath. It’s an early warning system. After all, the only way over this ridge will bring him right through our position.”
Cabot surveyed the trees below them. “And the explosive you left in the research station? How long do we have on that?”
“Long enough. We’ll be gone before it troubles us.”
Abe gave a sour little chuckle. “Told you it was a data-wipe.”
Cabot swung away. “Come on, people. It’s not much farther.”
By the time they began to descend, the rain had stopped completely. The rapidly rising temperature caused pockets of steam and fog to form here and there; in the distance, ruddy orange light heralded the coming sunrise. Ahead of them, a shear rock-face disappeared into the clouds above, a wall of solid stone hundreds of miles wide. Depressions riddled the face: phantom caves, no doubt. Cabot glanced up at the dark sky; it was clear for now.
Across a vast clearing, nestled at the bottom of the canyon wall was a second research station, similar to the first but without the strange containment tank. They picked their way to it carefully. There was spoor everywhere: trapjaw tracks wound around the area, signs of a territorial pack, and Cabot spotted chewed leaves on a tall gelder tree, recently snacked on by a Nomad. The area now was quiet and still, but he kept his gun up until they reached the door. Harker ran a keycard through the reader and the door clicked, swinging open.
She walked straight to the bank of monitors and began flipping switches and pulling levers. The screens buzzed and blinked to life. She pressed a few buttons on the central command console and it beeped at her a few times.
“There,” she said. “The dome is down.”
A progress bar appeared on the station’s central monitor, just as before, and started to slowly fill. Cabot tapped his ear-piece, but could hear nothing.
“Give it a moment,” Harker told him without looking round. “Could be some residual interference.”
“Could be.” He looked at the monitors over her shoulder. “So what are you people doing down here?”
“That really is classified, Marshal. Company business is company business. Our primary concern here is the distillation of Generyst, but Shear hides a wealth of secrets, both natural and unnatural.”
“And these things?” Parnell asked her. “These Alphas? Where did they come from?”
Harker looked at him and sighed. “There was a tectonic shift, a few months ago. Disturbed all sorts of data. Biggest earthquake we’ve seen since we arrived on Shear. Shortly after that, we started to see reports coming in of outposts going dark. A few weeks ago, the slaughter started. We’ve catalogued whatever information we can, but we still don’t know where they come from.”
“Or how they evolve so fast…” Abe said, swinging up to perch on the workstation. “Caira, our researcher, thinks it could be the Generyst. Might have… mutated them in some way.”
Harker shrugged. “It’s a theory.”
“The good Marshal here, he thinks they might have been engineered. Right, Marshal?”
Cabot grunted, glancing at Harker. “It’s a theory.”
“And what about you, doc?” Abe pressed. “What’s your theory?”
Harker was about to answer when her wrist-reader beeped. She flipped the screen up, visibly shaken.
“It tripped the mine,” she said.
Abe leapt down from the counter-top as Cabot clicked his earpiece. “Bucket, come in. Cabot to the Laurie-Anne: please respond, over. Goddamn it. Val, Abe, Jimmy, there’s only one way into this canyon; I need eyes on that access point.”
Val cocked her sniper rifle and Abe drew his shotgun. “No problem, hoss. Let’s go, big guy.”
“Hey Parnell,” Cabot said as they opened the door. “No heroics. It shows up, you get inside, clear?”
Abe smiled. “Don’t sweat it. ‘No heroics’ is my forte. You just get that damn robot on the mic.” He paused at the door and smiled at Val. “Ladies first.”
She elbowed him in the stomach as she passed and he doubled up, coughing. “See what I get for being a gentleman…”
As the door closed, Harker came up beside Cabot. “It will have our scent by now, Marshal, and we have nowhere else to go.”
He rounded on her. “Now you’re thinking ahead? Whatever happens today is on you, you understand me?”
“Do you think I don’t know that? I have a job to do, Marshal. Just like you.”
“My job doesn’t involve getting my people killed.”
She scoffed. “Really? Chasing Moby Dick for a paycheck doesn’t get people killed? If that’s truly the case, why employ a Lazarus Man?”
“Very good, you read my file. Zivkovic is here in case anything goes wrong. And just so we’re clear: I’m not Ahab. My crew aren’t stuck with me. They get paid like anyone else. They want off the ride, they only have to say.”
Cabot gritted his teeth, holding his temper. “You’re going there? Really?”
“I don’t want to ‘go’ anywhere, Marshal, but the fact remains that you and I are no different. Your own daughter left your team because of your obsession with your work. What remains are misfits, criminals and psychopaths.”
“Who are currently in the process of saving your ass, let’s not forget.” Cabot’s earpiece buzzed. “Bucket? Finally. Where the hell are you?”
“Marshal? I could ask you the same thing. We lost you completely; we’re in a holding pattern at the power relay.”
“We’re minutes away, as you fly, at a research station by the canyon wall. Can you get in for a wagon-jump?”
“Not close enough; that canyon is sitting on a giant borium deposit. The dropship’s navi-comp could short out, or worse. We shall have to rendezvous. Can you get to the relay?”
“Negative. We have a… wildlife problem. There’s an Alpha here, a Goliath. It’s been tracking us since we dropped.”
“That’s not your only problem,” Bucket replied. “Colony Command are about to Light-wash that area. We picked up their chatter a while ago.”
“Fuck.” Cabot tapped his earpiece. “Abe, back inside. We need a new plan. Bucket, stay where you are. We’ll find a way to get to you.”
Cabot glared at Harker. “That’s what you rigged at site A?”
“My orders were clear–”
“Fuck your orders!”
The door opened and the other three entered. “It’s out there,” said Val. “Right by the ridge. It knows we’re here, but it’s wary of the Doctor’s mines.”
“That won’t buy us a lot of time. Bucket!”
“We’re going to have kill the Goliath to get by it. Tell Hank to get a barrage ready, and wait for my mark.”
“Affirmative. Marshal? Someone wants a word.”
Cabot smiled as he heard Griffin Halsey’s gruff tones on the comm. “Boss. Sounds like you’re in the shit down there?”
“Something like that, Griff. How are you feeling?”
“Like a giant octopus fucked me to death and then an angry Ionian brought me back to life with a magic glove full of bad juju. Listen: some advice. You wanna kill this thing, you’re gonna wanna get around it. I’ve been analysing the data Caira gathered. It has weak points, under the chin, tail and armpits; anywhere else and you’re not gonna pierce its armour. Surround it, get under it, and hit with everything you’ve got. But listen: something that big and pissed off is only gonna go where it wants to go, right? So you need to make it think it wants to go where you want it to go. Bait it, and kill it.”
“Thanks for the intel, Griff. We’ll see you soon.”
“Right boss. Oh, and Markov sends hugs.”
Cabot clicked the earpiece and ended the call.
Read Part Four of our Evolve fan-fiction, Something Wicked, tomorrow…