An agent tracks an escaped experiment.
Agent Delia Melki studied the ground, her hands resting on her hips. The crater was massive, big enough that she could have filled it with water and made it into a swimming pool. It was also astonishingly deep, the soil in the bottom compacted and the vegetation crushed flat. Strange patterns were pressed into the dirt, diamonds and ovals that were as large as tombstones. To an uninformed passerby, the huge hole would have been a mystery, but Delia knew exactly what had caused it. Gazing up, she saw the other craters that formed a meandering trail.
From the look of the footprints, she could tell that he had been here recently. In fact, he was probably still in the area. Almost unconsciously, Delia touched the plasma rifle strapped to her back. It wasn’t an ordinary weapon; this gun was capable of puncturing her target’s telekinetic shield with ease. But Delia knew that taking down the creature wouldn’t be easy. He was fiendishly clever, created to be the perfect supersoldier, and she knew that the others had resisted before they had been destroyed. There was no doubt in her mind that he would be dangerous as well.
Delia followed the footprints through overgrown fields, the scarlet grass waving in the wind. Elpis II had been one of the first colony worlds that humanity had settled, and it had also been one of the first planets that humanity had abandoned after the material resources had been depleted. There was still evidence of the first colonists, though. Delia passed by the remains of farmhouses and rusting water towers. And in the distance, she could make out a refinery, the skeletal remains of buildings outlined against the grayish-purple sky.
The footprints led there.
She approached with caution, entering the outskirts of the old refinery with her heart thudding in her chest. Her ears strained to catch sounds, but all that she could hear were the chirps of songbirds. The sparrows weren’t native to this world; they had been brought along with the colonists and then left behind. Delia watched the little birds as they flitted along the exposed steel bars. When she glanced down again, she saw the immense storage container.
Delia recognized the Zhōng Sys Corp logo on the side, and she knew that the company had been one of the major food distributers in this system. This particular container could have lasted for centuries if it hadn’t been torn open. As Delia stepped closer, she saw something startling: the container was warped, and along its sides were five gigantic furrows, like the imprints made from a hand. Although she knew that the giants were strong, this evidence of their strength was unsettling. The container looked like it was made from soft clay instead of nearly indestructible metal.
The ground shook beneath her boots, and she dove behind the container. She remained motionless as something titanic moved by overhead, and she caught brief glimpses of it through her peripheral vision. There was a leg, wider than her shuttle, and above that, the colossal expanse of a torso. Delia’s eyes followed the giant until he strode out of range. So this was it. After weeks of tracking the creature, she had finally found him. How he had come here remained a mystery, although he may have used one of the functioning Gates. Not that it mattered. He was the last of the rogues, and once she had killed him, the Grand Council of the Enlightened could rest assured that there would be no more giants running around the system.
Delia waited one breath, then two, then sixty, before she cautiously stood and headed in the same direction as her target. There he was, seated with his broad back to her, taller than the refinery buildings surrounding him. He was dressed in the same charcoal-colored Eterfiber bodysuit as she was, the material designed to absorb and recycle sweat and other fluids during space flight. Delia inched closer. She could see the dark red of his hair, but she couldn’t see his face. What she needed was a clear shot of his eyes. If she shot him almost anywhere else, it probably wouldn’t do much except irritate him.
Luckily, she had a plan.
She darted toward one of the decrepit cooling towers, hoping that the giant wouldn’t turn his head and notice her. He didn’t, and she grabbed onto the ladder bolted into the side of the tower. With the nimbleness of an acrobat, she climbed upwards. Delia wasn’t afraid of heights, although she was keenly aware of how high up she was going, and how the ancient ladder creaked and groaned under her feet.
Clambering to the top of the tower, she positioned herself and unslung the rifle. The hot, dry air stirred her hair, a few stray wisps falling from her black braids. Delia pushed those strands aside, lifted the gun. Come on, turn your head, she silently urged.
Almost as if the giant could read her mind, he swiveled his head to look at her. Delia saw his pale, almost colorless eyes, and then she fired. She had always prided herself in being one of the best snipers in the system, and if her target had been a normal man, the blast would have blown through his right eye and into his brain. But he wasn’t a normal man, and he moved with superhuman speed, jerking his head away. The white bolt of plasma pierced his telekinetic shield and clipped his ear, searing the flesh. Hissing in pain, the giant cupped his ear and launched himself toward her.
“Oh, shit,” Delia cursed just before he slammed into the tower.
The impact threw her from her feet, and she lost her grip on the rifle. She hit the metal platform, her face striking with almost concussive force. There was pain, bright and blinding, but Delia was more concerned with the fact that the tower was leaning crazily. Metal screeched loudly as the structure slowly toppled, and she tried to grab onto something, anything. Her fingers wrapped around the side of the ladder, but then the giant pushed hard and she was catapulted out into the air.
Delia understood that she was about to die, that she would crash into the hard ground far below. She plummeted down, arms and legs flailing helplessly, and she tried to prepare herself for the end.
And then she landed on a soft yet firm surface, the breath knocked from her lungs. Confused, she rolled herself over. The alien sky had been replaced by her target’s face, his eerie eyes watching her. Surrounding her were the curved, fleshy pillars of his fingers, and she realized that she was in his hand, that he had caught her.
She had a sidearm and her personal dagger, but neither would do much against the giant. At that moment, Delia felt a stab of fear, especially when the mammoth fingers curled inward. She had read the history of these creatures, and what they did was terrifying. Rebellious worlds had been brought to heel, and although the dissidents had certainly deserved it, some of the reports had been almost too much to read.
The giant spoke, and it took her translation implant a second to make sense of his thunderous voice. “Who are you?”
“I’m Agent Delia Melki,” she answered, trying to sound calm and in charge. Which was proving to be difficult, considering that she was being held several hundred feet in the air. His gargantuan body stretched downwards, the unnatural perspective playing all kinds of tricks on her mind.
“I don’t need to ask what you’re doing here,” the giant said, and his pale eyes shifted to glance at the rifle on the ground. As Delia watched in horror, he ground the weapon to dust beneath his boot. That was it. She was dead. He would snap her neck like a toothpick, toss her body aside like a piece of rubbish…
“Why can’t you leave me alone?” He demanded.
Delia drew a trembling breath. “You and the others escaped. We can’t have you running around the system, killing innocent people.”
He laughed, a deep, rumbling sound that made her eardrums ache. “And how many people have I killed, besides those whom the Grand Council forced me to slaughter during their damn missions?”
Delia couldn’t form a reply. His pupils were the diameter of basketballs, and they were so strikingly black against the paleness of his irises. They were focused on her, and she felt a burst of fear.
“Why do you think that we escaped?” The giant reached up with his other hand, and Delia flinched. But he just rubbed wearily at the bridge of his nose as he continued, “I am not a monster, despite what you think. We were forced do monstrous things, though. Entire worlds obliterated, and for what? And when we weren’t annihilating their enemies, they kept us in stasis tanks. Our minds were supposed to be inactive. But my mind kept replaying the same scenes of destruction, over and over again…”
He seemed to be staring at something unseen, and she hesitated, unsure whether he was telling the truth. She had been anticipating many things, including a deranged, bloodthirsty beast. But not this.
Before Delia could say anything, his fingers coiled tightly around her, her head forced up between two of them. There was some pain, particularly when he squeezed, but her focus was mostly on the animalistic terror that she was experiencing. She remembered what he had done to the storage container, how he had shredded metal with his bare hands.
“I can’t go back to that. I won’t go back to that,” the giant snarled, and Delia wheezed in his fist. He noticed how her cheeks had darkened into two crimson splotches, and the tremendous pressure eased as he loosened his grip. The hand quivered around her as she looked up into the giant’s face. His angry expression crumpled, and she saw only sadness.
“The others are dead, aren’t they? I can’t sense them anymore,” he said quietly, and she wondered about that. Did these beings have some sort of telepathy? That would explain how he had seemed to anticipate her actions…Delia squirmed uncomfortably in his hand, his warm flesh pressing up against her from all sides.
“Yes,” she told him, then she added, “I’m sorry.”
The giant’s odd eyes narrowed. “A prudent man would kill you, so that you didn’t go back and tell the other agents about what you found here.”
Delia winced, expecting the final blow; instead, he lowered her down, the sudden dropping sensation causing her stomach to twist. His hand opened and tilted, and she rolled off. As soon as she was free, she scrambled to her feet. The fact that he hadn’t killed her yet was puzzling. He had no reason to spare her; if he so chose, he could have squashed her like an insect.
“Like I said, I’m not a monster,” the giant repeated, still crouching. Delia wasn’t sure what to say; out of the corner of her eye, she could see the smashed remains of the rifle embedded in his footprint. Even if the weapon had been intact, would she have reached for it? A few hours ago, she would have said yes. But now, doubt gnawed at her, and she slowly glanced up at the giant.
“I know,” she replied at last.
“I hope that we meet again under different circumstances, Agent Melki,” her former target said as he stood up. Delia swallowed hard as he turned and strode away, the ground shuddering beneath his incredible weight. She contemplated many possible actions: contacting the nearest military base before he found another Gate, following him, trying to reason with him to return with her. But Delia found that she didn’t want to do any of these things.
She watched him as he disappeared over the horizon.