The following is an exclusive excerpt from the upcoming novel Gears of War: Aspho Fields by Karen Traviss, the first in a trilogy of official novels based on the hit shooter from Epic Games, Gears of War.
SOVEREIGN BOULEVARD, JACINTO.
Dom could hear firing long before Delta reached the junction with the boulevard. Marcus broke into a faster run, then sprinted toward the sound.
“He’s going to get us killed,” Baird muttered, maintaining a steady jog. “Asshole.”
Cole gave him a playful shove in the back, which was a hefty blow from a guy built like a brick shithouse. Baird almost fell. “Come on, baby.” Cole overtook him. He could still sprint like a pro. “You don’t want to get an ugly one.”
There was only ugly and uglier to choose from when it came to Locust. Dom switched comm circuits to pick up Echo’s sergeant, Rossi, swearing a blue streak as he emptied his magazine.
“Delta, you took your frigging time.”
Marcus’s voice cut in. “Yeah, well, we’re here now. Want a hand?”
“We’re two men down. What d’you think? We’re holed up in the mall. Soon would be good.”
They said the world was divided into those folks who ran away from danger, and those who ran toward it. It was funny how you could overcome that instinct to get the hell out if you were trained hard enough. Dom’s legs were moving independently of his brain, and as he rounded the corner behind Cole, he saw what was giving Rossi’s men problems: it was the biggest Boomer he’d ever seen, and a squad of its drone buddies.
The boulevard was a big, open space with precious little cover. Dom and the rest of Delta made their way up the road by darting from doorway to doorway, and laid up for a moment behind an overturned dumpster.
The whole area south of the House of Sovereigns had once been full of manicured trees, expensive stores, and pavement cafes beyond Dom’s pocket, but he’d window-shopped here with Maria before the kids were born. It was hard to tell that it had ever been a nice place except for the shattered stone façades. All the white marble statues that stood in the wall niches had gone; Dom couldn’t even see where the raised flower beds had been.
The Boomer and accompanying drones were preoccupied with the entrance to the mall, another converted period building.
Its weather doors were long gone. But the security shutter – a huge steel portcullis suspended between fluted columns – had been lowered. The Boomer was rattling it as easily as a night watchman checking a flimsy door. The shutter wasn’t going to last much longer.
Marcus had his don’t- say- anything- I’m- calculating face on. “Rossi,” he said, finger on his earpiece. “Rossi, is the mezzanine floor above the entrance still intact?”
Rossi’s voice was almost drowned out by gunfire. “Yeah. All the way around the atrium. Height’s about five meters.”
“Have you got control of the shutter?”
“Sphincters – no. Shutter – yes.”
“Raise it on my mark.”
“We’ve got grubs inside, too. I wasn’t planning on letting reinforcements in.”
“Just raise it when I say.”
“Want to share?”
“Let the Boomer in and leave the rest to us. We’ll go in from the top.”
Rossi went silent for a moment. Dom heard a voice in the background urging someone called David to hang in there; they had wounded to evacuate.
“Haven’t got much choice, have we?” Rossi said. “Standing by.”
“Keep your channel open.” Marcus turned. “Okay, we’ve got two exits at the rear of the mall, accessible from the loading bays. Up the fire escape, along the mezzanine, and then Dom and I drop the Boomer from above.”
“What do I do, then, catch up on my knitting?” Baird said. “And how do you know the layout?”
“My mom used to go there a lot when I was a kid,” Marcus said quietly. “I explored.”
“And that’s what we’re banking on? Your mom’s shopping trips?”
Dom was certain that Marcus was going to punch Baird out sooner or later. He’d never seen Marcus lose his temper, but nobody could take Baird’s whining every day without wanting to kick the living shit out of him. The longer
Marcus took it in silence, the bigger the eruption Dom expected.
“Yeah,” Marcus sighed. “So you and Cole give us covering fire if the grubs spot us moving. Once we’re in and the shutter lifts, close up and go in behind them.”
Baird was still muttering over the comms channel about what a crap plan it was, while Dom followed Marcus back the way they’d come and slipped down a side road to circle around the block. Just as Marcus had said, there was a rear entrance to the mall. The walls were still intact. The doors were missing.
Dom checked his Lancer and followed Marcus into what was obviously familiar territory to him. “When you say drop the Boomer, Marcus, define drop.”
“Jump him. Take his head off.”
Boomers were so big and powerful that they could carry small artillery pieces. They were also as dumb as planks, nowhere near as smart as drones, so one way to beat their sheer power was to outthink them and get close in so they couldn’t use their weapons.
As long as they don’t rip your head off first, of course . . .
Marcus shot up the stairs two at a time, running on some childhood map that was obviously still vivid in his memory.
Dom had spent much of that childhood with him, but he’d never been here. Maybe it hadn’t been a happy place for him.
“Yeah, I thought that’s what you meant,” Dom said.
“He’ll break our fall.”
Yes, Marcus meant jump, too.
What the hell am I going to do if he gets killed?
Losing the kids had been bad enough. But when Maria went missing, Marcus had somehow held Dom together, whether he realized it or not. The guy was his friend, and his last link to happier times. He wasn’t replaceable; not in a ravaged world like this. The only upside was that everyone, absolutely everyone, had lost family and friends. You didn’t grieve alone. You were understood.
I’m not going to let him get himself killed.
Marcus, oblivious to Dom’s worries, kicked open a door at the top of the stairs. The two men stared into pitch blackness.
“Lights,” Marcus said, sounding as if he was talking to himself. He always did, from the moment Dom first met him. The corridor had no natural light. “Why can’t they give us a damn flashlight? Okay, this passage runs past the management offices and opens onto the mezzanine by the elevator.”
“What if they changed the layout since you were last here?”
“It’s a protected historical building. They had to preserve the internal walls.”
It was the kind of obscure stuff Marcus was good at remembering, and it always came in handy. After fifty yards, feeling their way with their hands against the walls, they turned hard right. Dom could see a bright rectangle ahead. The corridor filled with the noise of an intense firefight.
“Doors onto the mezzanine,” Marcus said. It was just an empty gap now, without even the hinges left intact. “You okay?”
“You think I’ve got a death wish.”
“No.” Well, maybe . . . sometimes. “Hey, we do this together, okay? We always have, always will.” Dom held up his fist, fingers extended. “Okay . . . one, two . . . three.”
Dom was first through the doors this time, even though he didn’t know the layout. The noise hit him like a brick wall. Once he was on the mezzanine, it all became clear. He could see the whole ground floor of the mall from here, from the carved drapes that flanked the interior entrance to the blackened shells of shops that lined the ground level, lit by sporadic muzzle flash. Rossi was crouched behind a retaining wall of stone by the stairs to the basement level, and a Gear – David? – was slumped on the ground near him, surrounded by dark stains. Marcus sprinted to the far end of the floor, overlooking the entrance.
“Rossi,” he said. “Rossi, raise the shutter. Now.”
“Shit, can he get to the controls?” Dom put one hand on the stone balustrade, preparing to vault over the edge. It was only five meters. Yeah, but it’s onto a frigging Boomer.
He was so pumped with adrenaline now, so set on sticking with Marcus no matter what happened, that everything he looked at was sharp, intensely colored, and somehow both slow-motion and flashing past him. “Can he reach them?”
“That used to be the security desk,” Marcus said. He had his rifle in his right hand; he leaned on his left hand and slid his left leg onto the edge, gaze darting between the entrance and Rossi’s position. “He’s right on top of the hand-operated controls.”
The shutter shook. It started to lift.
“Stand by,” said Dom.
“I go first, and you cover me, okay?”
“Okay.” Boomers took a lot more stopping than drones. “And if you don’t take him out in one, I’m backup.”
The entrance was way too close to Rossi’s arc of fire. As Dom got ready to drop over the edge, it occurred to him that he could easily be caught in crossfire, but by then he was too pumped to stop. The shutter lifted high enough for the Boomer to enter. It crouched under the barrier, almost squatting, then paused for a split second to look up.
Marcus put a burst of fire through it. It didn’t even slow the thing down. Boomers didn’t seem to feel pain. Then he crashed down onto its back.
This was a two-man job. Dom jumped too, boots first, and for a moment he wasn’t sure if he’d hit Marcus or the Boomer, but either way it felt like slamming into concrete. The Boomer went down, face- first. The force of the impact winded Dom; he tasted blood in his mouth.
As the Boomer rose to its knees to shrug them off, Dom was aware of deafening fire over his head, but nothing else. He caught the Boomer in a choke hold, his arm closing around its squat neck, while Marcus emptied a clip into its gut.
He fell back to reload. Dom jumped clear and carried on firing. Shit, those things really did take some stopping. Not even chainsaws did the job on them.
Ordinary grubs, though . . . that was another matter. A drone came at them out of the rubble just as the Boomer sank to its knees, riddled with rounds. Dom turned to fire, but the grub jumped Marcus first.
“Shit – ” Dom couldn’t get a clear shot as Marcus struggled with the grub. He revved up the chainsaw instead. Down through the shoulder, right through the main plumbing. Get off my buddy, you bastard. “Marcus, hang on.“
But Marcus was already doing some carving of his own.
His chainsaw screamed and stuttered against armor. There was a precise technique to the saw: you had to put your weight behind it, or else the blades skidded and didn’t bite. The best action was a downward slice, leaning into the target, but Marcus was pinned on his back, cutting upward, and the grub was still thrashing around, even though it couldn’t use its weapons close- in. Dom sliced into its shoulder – and still the thing kept moving.
But the Boomer was out of the game now, just a shaking mound of meat on the floor. Somehow, Dom kept it in his peripheral vision as he sliced into the grub on top of Marcus. He was sure it was never going to die until it bellowed and threw back its head, hurling him clear. As Dom scrambled to his feet, he saw a spray of arterial blood, Marcus rolling clear, then everything ground to a sudden, silent halt.
The Boomer was down. It still wasn’t dead – how could it hold out like that? – but it would be very soon. The things bled out like any other creature.
“Any more?” Marcus said, jumping up. “Is that all of them? Baird? Cole?”
“I’m mopping up, baby.”
Cole rose up from behind a shattered column and opened fire almost casually, aiming his Lancer onehanded. Dom turned in time to see a drone falling backward a few meters away, still firing in a neat arc that tilted up to punch into the vaulted ceiling.
“Nice.” Marcus wiped his chin and stared at his palm. “Shit . . .”
Cole looked down at the dead grubs with faint distaste, and prodded one with his boot to check for movement. Then he inhaled.
“I hate that smell.” He sounded muffled, but it was just Dom’s ears recovering from the noise. “It ain’t putting me off my dinner, though. Are we done here?”
From the upcoming novel Gears of War: Aspho Fields by Karen Traviss, in stores everywhere October 28, 2008. Copyright © 2008 by Epic Games Inc. & ® or ™ where indicated. All rights reserved. Published by Del Rey, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.