The planet of Shear, in the Far Arm of the galaxy. It may not be a swath of unforgiving forests and murderous aboriginal lifeforms but I had yet to see anything that didn’t seem to suck the hope out of a person. Its rich biodiversity and resources were exactly why the eggheads had chosen it to colonise upon, but I knew I’d give it a second thought or six if asked to stay on permanently.
And now an alien intelligence had been discovered on the island — the lives of people settling on the planet was the price we paid to discover we were not alone in the universe. Then again, I’d not have work that paid so well, or inspired the lust for battle if they hadn’t come here.
I was a Hunter, an elite member of a four-person team of specialists brought in to corral and eradicate these Monsters. At that moment, I was listening to the chatter of my colleagues, waiting for the dropship to deposit us within striking distance of our quarry.
I was the only English speaker on the team. Everyone else was clearly familiar with each other, however, giggling in some Eastern-European language or something from Earth. Cyka Blyat I seemed to hear. Rush B. What? I ignored them.
I was also the Trapper on this team of specialists, so I acted quickly upon exiting the craft, firing a command at my satellite to scan the planet. A general direction of the monster received, we set off hard on its trail.
We set off hard, indeed, and kept at it harder for a frustrating five minutes in futile search of the beast. We were mostly running in circles in the arena of engagement; the thing was evidently accustomed to evading Hunters. That didn’t bode well for us.
My faith in my team was already wavering by then and it took a bit of a dive when we stumbled into some angry plants and animals. Two of us promptly got eaten before we even saw the monster. I revived one, the other died in agony, his personality patterns already being transmitted into the clone being woken up and prepped for service already in the dropship above.
In the distance we heard a massive roar, and sure enough, the voice on the intercom calmly informed us that the Monster had reached stage 2 of evolution.
The advantage of our superior firepower had crumbled with that air-shattering bellow; the monster now had the armour to withstand our strikes even as it bat us around like bowling pins.
However, we were evidently not to be daunted, for our language barrier clearly did not stop the tone of plucky courage and determination flowing from my team. We pressed on, loosening our shoulder muscles for what would be a fantastic fight.
I charged ahead then, willing myself to catch a glimpse of it so I could tag it with my targeting pistol and begin the final leg of the hunt. Amazingly, I did catch sight of the terror, a gigantic Goliath rounding a corner ahead. I brought up my pistol determinedly but alas! As I squeezed the trigger, my eye focused like never before on the distant retreating form of the hulking beast...
A gorram plant ate me.
Thankfully, my plucky crew of English-oblivious mates came to my rescue — and promptly began moving in a direction altogether different from the tracks. Shrugging, I kept at it, trusting one of them would catch up once I tagged the beast. Then the dome shield went up around them, signalling that they had corralled the beast instead, with their Trapper several hundred yards too far away to do any good.
I cursed my inexperience. I hadn’t been at this job for very long. It was several weeks or a few hours depending on whom you asked.
Heart in my mouth, I pelted towards them, intent on doing my part before they were wiped out. As expected, it was a brutal fight, and all but one of the team was eviscerated quickly. The last man standing between survival and annihilation, we watched from our distantly approaching dropship as he boosted around with conserved efficiency, knowing one mistake would pin him into a corner and end the fight before we were back in action.
Its silverback-esque arms had pummeled us. Its short back spikes, though not at their full potential were still enough to keep us at bay. It’s breath had spat fire at us, setting our bodies and equipment alight. Its strength had given the rocks it threw enough velocity to pulp us. Its legs, though short, were sinewy enough to propel it viciously fast when it lunged at us.
Finally, the ship arrived and we plummeted back into the fray, whereupon the monster decided to fall back on its previous plan of staying out of sight. Down but not out and fresh off the adrenaline of a close call, we set off after it, whereupon another roar shook the trees and our constitution. The monster had reached stage 3 of its evolution.
Having fought so hard to reach this point, it was disheartening to know that it was now an almost unstoppable force, ferocious beyond belief, powerful enough to make the very planet rumble with its footsteps. But we were hunters and we weren’t getting paid to run away. We followed, noting with sinking hearts that it was heading to our power relay station. Were we to lose that it would be all over; we wouldn’t have a prayer of leaving this oppressive planet.
146 metres away from it ourselves, the monster reached the relay.
124 metres. Every other step we took was punctuated with the scream of torn metal. Our team was silent, grim. We had work to do.
50 metres. The relay was halfway a ruin already. We all knew we had no way of pulling it away from the station, but we had no choice. We pressed on.
Every gun on the team fired as we rounded the last plateau and beheld the monster in all its glory. We had started the match with a relatively tiny beastling, cunning but not much of a threat to us. Now, it was a stark white, the only break in colour flowing in fiery barrage from its angry maw. It ignored us for several tense seconds as we unloaded on it and then, miraculously, it decided it had better destroy us first.
The fight was desperate, I dared not get near it. Our medic fired a constant stream of healing grenades, seeking to bolster our health as the team’s brave Assault hero took it head on. Bolstered by our Support unit’s stream of protective energy, Assault and Trapper went to work. As lightning rounds and heavy calibre bullets scoured the beast’s white flesh, I lobbed ‘nade after ‘nade of stasis fields, seeking to slow the monster down and give my team enough time to maneuver around it.
Whenever it was too caught to move, I whipped out my shotgun and emptied my clip before switching back to holding tactics. I didn’t bother to reload at all, I knew it would somehow happen on its own. How, I don’t know, but why would I look a gift horse in the mouth?
Twice, the monster left the field of combat, its superior speed allowing it to leave us behind as it searched for smaller animals to feast upon and revitalise itself. The first time, it came back with its spiky armour partially restored.
The second, it came back almost immediately, evidently too overcome with battle fury to heed its better judgement — or perhaps it had a little voice in its head pulling strings the wrong way. We didn’t care, we were ready, by the gods.
If there were any gods above that infernal planet, that is.
The sign of victory came when it seemed unable to decide between attacking us, or attacking the relay station. Every time it changed its mind, it unwittingly gifted us precious seconds to continue ending its dastardly existence. Then, at the ebb of it life, it suddenly focused upon me, sensing in some way that I was the cause of its inability to move at full speed, that ending my life would buy it time to take apart my team at full capability.
It pounced, and I could not get away, stuck between foliage and rock and frothing beast. My strength dissolved under its mountainous strikes unable to take the punishment our Assault unit was bred and geared for.
Then, sparks of hope.
The Assault unit got its attention. I did not die, but I was perilously close to the end. Our Media and Support units braided their abilities, focusing on saving my life while Assault took fire. Somehow, I stayed on the brink of death. In the final edge of battle, I used my remaining burst of gas to zoom a brief distance away from the beast.
There was no point in running further, however.
So I spun around, every stasis ‘nade previously thrown still in play. I tore out my shotgun and in one crystalline moment, everyone opened fire on the behemoth. In a hail of bullets, napalm, and lightning, it was finally defeated.
We were victorious.
I should mention I dance in tone here as a representation of my immersion in the game and the moments I was taken out due to unfortunate events (seriously, a plant ate me at that instant!).
If you wish to see more of my assorted artwork, you can find me here.