Read on for the final part of our Evolve fan-fiction, Something Wicked…
FIVE | The Goliath
The sun was almost up. Warm light trickled slowly into the canyon, glinting from rain-polished stones and glittering on wind-blown puddles. The scene from the research station shutters was tranquil, almost hypnotically calm.
“Lovely day for it,” Val said, joining Cabot at the window.
“It is that.”
“What’s the play?”
Cabot turned from the view. It wasn’t the time for tranquillity. “We have three trimmer mines left. I’m going to drop them roughly fifty yards apart all around. When it comes, and it will, we need to coordinate our attack. Val, you’re gonna have a position up top providing cover fire; try to pop a few holes in its armour. Jimmy, you’re gonna be on the right – I want you to hit it with everything you’ve got, but you gotta get under it. If shit gets hairy, pop your suit and go super-soldier on its ass.”
“Meantime, I’ll be on the left, lasing it with this little beauty.”
“What’s that?” asked Harker.
“Well, it’s kind of cruel actually. It excites receptors in the brain and nervous system to amplify the target’s pain. I’ll keep this on it for as long as I can, and you guys do the rest. As soon as we get it pinned, Hank will drop an orbital barrage right on its scalp.”
Abe grinned. “Nice plan. And what about me?”
“You, Abe… you need to think of yourself as a little worm on a big hook. You’re going to be front and centre, drawing it in.”
“If I’m bait, say fuckin’ bait.”
Parnell grinned. “Don’t take the risks, don’t deserve the rewards. Right, partner?”
Abe grunted. “Stupid fuckin’ motto.”
Cabot clapped him on the shoulder. “Stasis grenades, mobile arena if it tries to run, okay? Keep it in one place. That’s all we have to do.”
Abe looked at Val. “You keep an eye on me, alright? I come away from this with scars I ain’t gonna be happy.”
Val gave him a dead-pan stare. “Face like yours, Pressly, a few scars can only be a good thing.”
“Well fuck you, too, sweetheart.”
“Not today,” she smiled. “We’ve got work to do first.”
Cabot slapped his shoulder again. “Head in the game, Abe.”
“My god,” said Harker, exasperated. “I might have been better off alone.”
“You stay here and sit tight, Doctor,” Cabot told her. “If worse comes to worst, it’ll finish with us and leave.”
“Well,” said Abe, “ain’t you all sunshine and rainbows.”
With a final gear check, Cabot opened the station door. He accepted the trimmer mines from Harker, who showed him quickly how to arm them. Val jetpacked onto the roof of the research station and took a knee, sighting down the scope of her anti-material rifle.
“Eyes on the Goliath,” she reported immediately.
Parnell headed off to the right, pushing through the undergrowth at the base of the canyon wall. Cabot handed a mine to Abe and then knelt to set the first one himself. He sprinted around fifty yards and set the second, then looked back to see Abe give him a thumbs-up. He tapped his earpiece. “I’m getting into position. Abe, just hang tight. Val, let us know when it sees him.”
“Oh, it’s already seen him,” she said. “It’s cautious. Smart.”
He ducked behind a half-buried boulder. “Give it a sting. Rile it up. It needs to come for us.”
The rifle barked and the monster roared, but didn’t charge. “Hitting it again!” Val shouted, firing a second round. This time the roar was louder. “It’s holding,” she reported. “It’s not stupid, Marshal.”
“Luckily,” said Abe, “I am.”
“Abe!” Cabot warned, but the trapper was already moving towards the ridge where the Goliath lurked. At a few hundred yards away, obscured by trees, the ridge was almost invisible to Cabot, but he knew it was there, waiting, hurting, and getting angrier.
Abe fired his shotgun in the air twice, scattering a flock of leather-winged birds. “Hey!” he shouted. “We ain’t got all day, you big motherfucker. Let’s get to it!” He fired again.
Val cocked her rifle and shot the Goliath a third time. “Okay, it’s working,” she said. “Well, we’re pissing it off plenty, anyway.”
“Alright,” Cabot said. “Keep doing what you’re doing. Parnell, cover Abe. Crazy bastard’s getting it done.”
Val fired once more, then swore. “It’s coming!” she shouted. “Abe, move!”
Cabot watched as the trapper froze, crouching in the mud. After a moment, the Goliath came into view, charging on all fours towards Abe’s position. It was a freight train, a few tonnes of flesh and bone and fire, churning up mud and splinters of rock as it galloped across the clearing. The impact of its paws and claws echoed through the ground under Cabot’s feet. “Abe! Get outta the goddamn way!”
The trapper held his ground, and the Goliath swept towards him. Sparks flashed in its open mouth, and a jet of flame spewed down at Abe. Just as the flames licked at him, the trapper boosted backwards, hurling a pair of blue grenades that burst with white light and wrapped the rampaging beast in tendrils of buzzing energy. The Goliath staggered, bellowing in its rage, but it was only slowed. As Abe scrambled to his feet, it bore down on him with a terrifying fury – and Parnell cannoned into him, jetpack screaming, smashing them both into the mud.
As Parnell swung to his feet and started unloading his rocket launcher at the Goliath, Cabot leapt up, training the amplifier on the roaring beast. Val’s rifle tore chunks out of its hide, but it wasn’t slowing down. The stasis effect of Abe’s grenades wore off and the Goliath pounded its chest, belching a plume of fire in a wide, wild arc. Cabot dropped the amp and raised his rail-cannon, blasting white-hot coils up the monster’s flank, trying to draw its attention away from Abe and Parnell.
The rage-trooper switched to his shotgun and ran towards the Goliath, but he misjudged its speed and it swung one great claw, swatting him away like a fly. Parnell engaged his jetpack to compensate for the blow, but Cabot could see he was shaken. Abe popped another stasis grenade, but the Goliath shook it off almost instantly, leaping up into the air and smashing back into the ground with impossible force. Abe was caught in the shockwave and sent hurtling backwards to slide through the mud and shale before laying still. Worryingly still.
Cabot leapt up, charging forward, firing blast after blast at the beast. It swung on him, but as it did Val hit it twice in the head on her way to the unconscious Abe. It roared and turned on her, but Cabot triggered his cloak; the camouflage drive refracted the light around the Hub Marshal and his allies, confusing the Goliath long enough for Val to trigger a burst of Generyst and get Abe back on his feet. Howling in frustration, the Goliath dug its claws into the ground, tearing out a huge boulder that rained mud and dirt and chunks of rocky shrapnel on them. With a roar, it hurled the boulder, which exploded into the ground beside them; they scattered, using their jetpacks to evade the impact radius.
“Hero time!” Parnell shouted, engaging his rage-field and leaping recklessly onto the Goliath’s back. The monster staggered, raising its arms, and Cabot activated the amp. Val peppered it with shots, while Abe dragged the last of his grenades out and hurled them, wrapping the beast – and Parnell – in white coils of energy.
Cabot boosted back out of reach, pressing his communicator. “Bucket! Is the Laurie-Anne in position?” he shouted.
“And where are you with that dropship?”
“We’re holding the same position, three clicks west of you, at the relay.”
“Acknowledged. Hank, how long do you need to drop the barrage?”
“Seven solid seconds or a clear marker. What’s easiest?”
Cabot swore. He had nothing. Their weapons were barely breaking through the beast’s carapace, let alone hurting it. He looked up to where Val and Abe were running rings around it while Parnell clung grimly to its back. They were close to gone. He was about join them, as fruitless as that was, when he had an idea.
“Harker! Ping your wrist-reader.”
“What? Why? You need to get inside! Now!”
“Just do it! Bucket! Patch into Harker’s reader.”
Cabot swung. “Abe! Lead it to the mines!”
“The mines! We gotta give Hank a map!”
Parnell leapt to the ground and they formed up, laying into it with everything they had, slowly pulling it forward. The stasis field wore off suddenly, and it catapulted at them with a burst of speed. Val outmaneuvered it, Abe ducked its swing, but Parnell caught the brunt of it and tumbled past them to the ground. Fire blasted from its mouth, but as it took a step forward it triggered the first mine. The device launched into the air like a firework and the beast staggered as though it had been hit with a wrecking ball.
Cabot grabbed Abe and led him to the downed rage-trooper. They turned Parnell onto his back, but even together they couldn’t drag him away. The Goliath howled, dropping to all fours to charge at them. As it neared, it triggered a second mine and the impact sent it careening to the ground in a tidal wave of dirt.
The medic jetpacked over and together the three of them boosted backwards, dragging Parnell with them. The Goliath rose to its feet and bellowed at them, fear of the mines forgotten. All it wanted now was blood and death. They boosted again, and its swiping claws just missed them. It leapt forward, and Cabot shouted “Right!”, dragging them to one side. The Goliath changed direction and came at them, only to be blasted back by the third mine.
“Hank! You got that!?”
“You’re damn right I do!” came the reply. “Payload in 5! Happy trails, you big ugly bastard!”
There was a flash from above, and half a dozen orbital breaker rockets dropped from the belly of the Laurie-Anne, somewhere in orbit, directly onto the Goliath. The beast roared as fire engulfed it. Cabot, Val and Abe, clinging to Parnell, tried to boost away but the blast got them, picking them up like leaves in a storm and hurling them into the air.
Cabot jack-hammered into the mud, the air smashed out of his lungs, and rolled to his back. Smoke obscured the morning sky, great drifts of it that smelled like success. He half-rolled, saw the monster some way to the right, struggling to rise. It was on its belly, one massive claw dug into the dirt, trying to lift its head. Its thick armour was all but gone, its face unprotected. As Cabot watched, Val limped towards it, right up close to its steaming snout, raised her rifle, and shot it directly in the eye. The huge head bucked backwards, then splashed into the mud. The crimson light in its remaining eye slowly faded.
“Boom!” Abe shouted, staggering over and slumping down beside Cabot. “You fucked with the wrong motherfuckers, motherfucker!”
Parnell groaned and pushed himself up. “We get it?” he asked groggily.
Abe spat blood into the mud. “We got it! While you were friggin’ sleepin’. As usual.”
“Well I get tired runnin’ round all day savin’ your sorry ass.”
“Haha! Keep dreamin’.”
Cabot pushed himself onto his elbow as Val wandered over. “I’m almost out,” she said, but she triggered the med-gun anyway, for what it was worth. The relief was slight, but welcome.
The Marshal raised a hand to his ear. “Bucket, how long?”
“Not long,” the robot replied. “13 minutes. I’d advise a sustained sprint, Marshal.”
“No shit. Stay put. We’re coming to you. Doctor Harker?”
“Marshal,” she said over the communicator. “That was… incredible.”
Abe huffed. “Finally some appreciation.”
“Grab your shit,” Cabot said. “We’ve got to get out of this valley.”
SIX | No Rest For the Wicked
She left the research station and hurried towards them, still speaking through the comms. “Where’s your ship?”
She reached them at a run, and they headed as fast as they could manage across the clearing. They jetpacked up the ridge, and the newly-risen sun drenched the forest below in golden light. Cabot smiled despite himself. Shear really was beautiful.
He could see the dropship in the distance, hovering above the trees. “Bucket, I see you. Prepare for exfil.”
In response, the dropship banked, thrusters firing as Bucket positioned it above the glowing extraction point beside the relay. They descended the ridge at a dead run, boosting whenever it was clear. The power relay wasn’t far, but the undergrowth here was thick and heavily tangled in places. Cabot and Abe cut a path through with machetes, but it was slow going.
“Three minutes, Marshal. You are cutting it a little fine.”
They crossed the river airborne, avoiding a lazing twenty-foot tyrant, and alighted on the far side in unison. The tangle of foliage was thicker here, and pushing through it took up precious time they didn’t have. Finally clambering from the trees, they found the dropship waiting above the extraction point. Beside it, the enormous dome of the power relay stretched into the sky. As everywhere, the space around it was littered with debris, bodies and burning vehicles. The people here were losing the fight.
“Ten seconds, Marshal!”
Cabot pushed Harker into the exfil beam first, followed by Abe, Parnell and then Val. Finally he leapt in, and the dropship swung about, blasting away just as a beam of white light powered through the research station and exploded, swallowing the clearing in blazing silver fire. The dropship rocked, buffeted by the sudden, savage wind.
Cabot reached the cargo pad in the dropship and staggered into Caira’s arms. The ship lurched, rattling like it was tumbling downhill. “Bucket, get us out of here!”
“Really? I was rather hoping to stay…”
The dropship banked, and the crew had to steady themselves as Bucket engaged the thrusters and blasted back towards the atmosphere. After a moment, the ship levelled out and slowed.
Half-exhausted, Cabot dumped his rail-cannon and dropped to lean against a worktop, panting. Abe and Parnell sat opposite him, while Val was already at her locker, stowing her gear. Caira bent down beside him, tapping the screen of her wrist-reader.
Cabot shooed her away. “Not now, Diaz. Gimme a minute, would you?”
She smiled and backed off, wandering over to Val instead. Harker sat beside Cabot, running her fingers through her hair. “You saved my life, Marshal Cabot. I’m sorry I made you work so hard to do so.”
He chuckled, glancing over at Abe and Parnell. “You two, go get some rest. You did good this morning.”
Standing, Abe forced a smile, then touched the brim of his hat. “Marshal,” he said, as he and Parnell left the bay and headed to the common room.
“Approaching the Laurie-Anne,” Bucket told him in his ear. “We’re home, sir.”
Cabot looked sideways at Harker. “You can stick around a while, Doctor. You’ve got some talking to do.”
Harker laughed bitterly. “So gallant, Marshal Cabot, and so clueless.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“How well do you know your team?”
“I trust them with my life,” he told her.
“I didn’t say ‘trust’; I said ‘know’.”
He snapped. “If you’ve got something to say, say it.”
Harker pointed to Val, currently undergoing Caira’s examination. “You saved my life, so I’ll give you some advice for free: if you really want to know what’s happening on Shear, talk to her.”
“If it’s about her being CIG9, forget it. I already know.”
“Really? But how much do you know? About her? About Shear, NORDITA, what they – what we – are doing down here.”
He was about to reply when Bucket cut in. “Marshal, don’t get comfortable. Colonel Green is hailing us.”
Cabot looked at Val for a while, then Harker, then swore and dragged himself up by the worktop.
Harker smiled up at him, but it was humourless. “No rest for the wicked, right?”
Cabot didn’t smile back. “Right. Val, Diaz, let’s go. We got work to do.”
That’s all, folks. We hope you enjoyed that as much as we did. Thanks for reading!