It had been flushed out of the forest. It had been hounded downhill, bullets smacking at its heels and whanging into the trunks of oaks and other mountain broadleafs on either side of it. It had been shepherded by gunfire into the village and driven along the streets. At last it had been corralled in a cul-de-sac with high, ancient walls on either side.
Cornered, panting, torso lathered in sweat, the monster turned.
Two of its pursuers were approaching from the open end of the cul-de-sac. Above, in the upper storeys of the stone-built houses, shutters opened a crack and villagers peeped out. Their faces were fearful but hopeful. The monster had been terrorising the Corsican interior for months, killing at random. Now it itself was the one being terrorised. The villagers were eager to see the monster get its comeuppance. It was long overdue.
But the monster was still dangerous. Just because it was trapped, that didn’t mean it was helpless. It was, after all, the Minotaur – seven feet tall and 400lbs of hyperdeveloped muscle and skin-straining sinew, with the strength of several oxen. Lowering its head, the Minotaur fixed its blood-red eyes on its foes and pawed the ground with one foot. Breath snorted from its nostrils in short, thick gusts.
“Tethys, Hyperion. What is your status?”
Sam did not take her gaze off the Minotaur – specifically, not off the pair of huge horns that were now pointing towards her like two ivory spears.
“Hyperion, Tethys. Mnemosyne and I are in range of target. It’s about to charge.”
“Do you have line of sight?”
“Do you have a clear shot?”
“Then what are you dicking about for? Take it.”
Sam raised her recoilless .45mm submachine gun. It was boxy and lightweight, a skeletal weapon. Blisteringly effective nonetheless.
The Minotaur saw it, understood its purpose. It was familiar with guns. It knew what they did.
In those red eyes Sam saw the flash of comprehension, and something else. She couldn’t be sure, but she thought it looked like resignation.
Which was impossible. The Minotaur was an unthinking creature, a mindless force of destruction. There was nothing in that bull head but malevolence and the basic animal cunning needed to survive.
Or so she’d been given to believe.
The Minotaur couldn’t know that it was about to die.
“Tethys?” Hyperion’s voice. “Do you copy? I said take the shot.”
Sam’s finger curled round the trigger.
The Minotaur bent low, tensing. It would charge, for all the good that would do. These armour-clad enemies were like nothing it had come up against before. It knew it was outclassed. For the first time in its life the Minotaur was staring defeat in the eye, and defeat’s shadow, death. But it would not give in meekly. That was not in the nature of this beast.
“Tethys?” said Mnemosyne. She had her coilgun aimed at the monster’s centre of body mass. “Sam? What are you waiting for? This is our chance.”
“Tethys!” barked Hyperion over the comms net. “Why am I not hearing a kill-shot?”
The Minotaur was ready, Sam could tell by its posture. One last attack, a final act of defiance against the inevitable.
“Mnemosyne,” she said, “I want to try and take it alive, if I can.”
“What?” said Mnemosyne.
“Wha-a-at!?” exclaimed Hyperion. Sam’s GPS transponder sensor was registering his presence nearby, lower in the village, 200m southeast and closing. She had to do this before he got here. Hyperion – Ramsay – would have no qualms about making the kill. This was not any kind of retrieval op. This was supposed to be an execution.
“I’ll use the stun-dusters,” she said to Mnemosyne.
“You’re crazy. Why?”
Sam couldn’t say why. She wasn’t totally sure herself. “Trust me. Please?”
Mnemosyne left a moment of silence to convey doubt. Then she said, “All right. Go on.” She firmed her grip on the coilgun. “But I’m keeping this trained on it at all times.”
“Cronus gave us nonlethal offensive capability for a reason,” Sam said, fitting a pair of ridged metal knuckledusters onto her gauntlets.
“Let’s hope the reason wasn’t to kill ourselves,” Mnemosyne replied.
Sam grunted. Already, a little over a month after the commencement of operations, two Titans were dead. Today at least one more could be about to join them, and this time it would be their own fault. Her fault, to be exact.
Abruptly, the Minotaur charged.
Sam braced herself. Mnemosyne, meanwhile, stepped back and took aim.
Hyperion was yelling, “Don’t be stupid. Kill-shot! Motherfucking kill-shot!”
The beast came fast – so fast – barrelling at them like a runaway goods van.
Sam knew that if she fucked this up, it was all over.
Then don’t fuck it up, she told herself, and ran to meet the monster.
- The Age Of Zeus [Solaris pbk, April 2010] – ISBN 978-1906735685