For those wondering what became of Jessica, we’re just going to give her a little break with her family while we follow a few of the (mis)adventures of Harold the Cat and I take a moment to introduce you to a few characters from Charon.
Please note that the following contains adult language and violence.
I like to think I joined the military to help people. You know, defend them. But never in my wildest nightmares did I think I would be defending them against the shit that lives on Charon. Hell, the Earth government abandoned that planet almost immediately. But you can always count on corporate greed to get everyone in trouble.
Biocorp Inc. decided they could make insane money off the natural resources on Charon by giving people places to live there, free land, everything. The problem was the indigenous lifeforms … if you want to call them that. Since the government wouldn’t help them out, Biocorp started making cyborg soldiers, but machines made out of dead people were nothing but food for the monsters on Charon. So they started paying for volunteers, slaves really, indentured servants to go through genetic and physical protocols so they were faster and stronger than any living person.
Still not good enough. Honestly, the stuff on Charon is tough. They went through two generations, the Beta and Gamma units, before they rolled out their better than everything; the Delta Prototype.
Grown in a lab through genetic recombination of two different species and then going through their genetic and physical protocols, it was supposed to be a killing machine without equal. Turns out they made a pretty girl that the world fell in love with. One nosy reporter made it to Charon and all hell broke loose.
And I mean literally.
Nobody is completely sure what happened, but she died and killed the sky with her. You heard right, killed the sky. Told you Charon was messed up. The Earth government moved in and started dismantling Biocorp, taking them through trials … all the legal stuff. They also stated sending military squads to Charon to help the people living there.
My squad, Earth Special Forces Squad 4, was the first to go. We had all signed up for the military version of Biocorp’s hunter/killer program … which meant we got to keep our memories, families and everything that made us human. It also made us the perfect choices to go to Charon. We were the best there was.
Until we met … her.
It was a simple extraction mission. A convoy of supplies had been attacked and we were to go in, rescue the drivers and get out. Simple right? One little snag was that our explosives expert had been killed by a skrill and we had a new squadmate on the way.
As our transport rumbled across the barren, cracked ground my sniper, Kelly Spafford, tapped me on the shoulder, “Hey Lieutenant, what do you know about this noob we got coming?”
I looked up a the sky, it looked almost like it was made out of rotten flesh and on the skyline I could see the gangrenous tear in the sky, parts of it hanging just like a vicious wound. There was always something moving above it, like the sky was alive, like worms were digging though its rotten flesh and threatening to tear through and fall to the earth at any moment.
“Dunno,” I shrugged, “You know the whole drill …”
“Do and die,” she chuckled and sat back, “Yeah, yeah. He screws up I’ll frag him you know.”
“He screws up, you won’t have to,” I tapped Fernando on the shoulder and pointed to a gap in the weathered stones we could drive through, “He’ll be dead before you get him in your sites …”
As we entered the pass in the stones, something landed on top of our armored vehicle. It was light so it wouldn’t be able to tear through the armoring, but oddly enough it wasn’t scratching around.
“Road hog?” asked Eric. Eric was our heavy weapons expert. A frighteningly large black man with an equally frightening love of killing.
“Doubt it,” Fernando responded, “I would have hit his buddy by now.”
There was a knocking on the roof. Shave and a haircut … seriously!?
“… And road hogs don’t knock,” added Fernando with a grin.
There was a second, heavy thump and then the sounds of a struggle. We could all hear claws digging into the metal of the roof of our vehicle and we all quietly watched the roof like a bunch of idiot turkeys staring at the sky while it rains. The thumps quickly ended with three massive bangs that left dents in the roof and then everything went silent.
Someone keyed their communicator and a gentle, sultry feminine voice filled the body of the vehicle, “You fuck-sticks wanna let me in or do I have rip this damn hatch open?”
Eric started twisting open the mechanism and smiling, “Welcome aboard noob,” he replied into the microphone of his own communicator.
The hatch swung open and was quickly replaced by the bloody head of a terrordeer, it’s dead, multi-faceted eyes staring in at us, “Noob my ass,” the gentle voice responded, “I kill these things for fun.”
The head withdrew and a woman in full military hazardous operations armor dropped into our vehicle. The armor was cutting edge and composed of black heavy high polymer plates over the spine and vital organs with gray light polymer over the rest of the body. All of it used a person force field making the wearer nearly invulnerable … except on Charon.
I never thought I would be surprised by anything, but when the woman pulled off her helmet I have to admit that I was stunned. Kelly even gasped a little. She was a Delta!
She had black hair that gleamed a violet-blue and cascaded to her shoulders. Her skin was the color of malachite and her ears were at least a foot long and pointed, dropping playfully on the ends. Her eyes were black where the white should have been and her irises were a frightening shade of bright purple. She evidently had fangs because one had gotten caught on her upper lip.
“Yeah, yeah,” she sighed. “Delta Unit, only production model. My sister was the one you all heard about.”
I quickly composed myself, “Name, rank and serial number soldier,” I ordered.
“Oh, aren’t you cute,” she cooed, petting my flat-top like I was a puppy, “Got your military haircut and orders and all.”
The woman then dropped her head ever so slightly so she was looking directly into my eyes from under her bangs and brow. Her mouth was slightly open so I could see she had four fangs; two upper and two lower.
“Name, Ascheya. Rank, Badass. Serial Number, Foxtrot-Uniform-Charlie-Kilo-Uniform,” she sneered.
It was weird, she smelled like desert flowers. Even though she had been sweating under her armor and should have smelled like sweat, instead of the stank, she smelled lovely. Of course her attitude pissed me off.
“You listen up soldier ..!” I started to bark, but she cut me off by poking me in the chest.
“OR WHAT!! HUH!?” she bellowed in her strange bedroom voice. ‘YOU GONNA SEND ME TO CHARON!? I FUCKING GREW UP HERE!!!”
“If you two love birds wouldn’t mind breaking it up, we’re here,” Fernando chuckled.
Nobody gave me lip. Nobody.
“Perfect timing,” Ascheya smiled a wickedly. “The Bardo is coming.”
The Bardo. In an ancient and dead religion, the Bardo was what they called the period between life, death and rebirth. On Charon it was just the period between life and death.
Everyone grabbed their helmets and Kelly kicked open the back door. On the horizon, we could hear the sounds of thousands of thunderstorms, a menacing rumble that was the harbinger of things to come. It wasn’t just the darkness that the Bardo would bring. No, it was something worse. Terrordeer, gorehounds, road hogs, all of them were just pests. No, the real shit came out during the Bardo.
“Let’s move people!” I yelled, but was immediately halted by Ascheya who stopped in her tracks.
“Seriously?” I could hear her ask through the communicator in her helmet. “No, I thought we were all just going to stay in the truck and hope it all worked out.” Shaking her head, she unstrapped her MR-7 plasma launcher from her back, “Dumbass …” she mumbled.
Ignoring her insubordination, I lead the group to the trashed trucks of the convoy. One man was sitting by the wheel of his rig with wounds covering his body. The darkness was coming, we had to get them into the transport.
“Are you all right sir?” I asked. “Can you …”
Ascheya swooped in like an eagle and grabbed the man up, “Of course he’s not all right idiot, those are gorehound scratches. We’ve got infected people here.”
Gorehounds were born by biting victims but letting them live. In a few days, a newly formed monster would rip its way out of the host and if she was right, the drivers only had a few hours.
In moments, the whole area grew as dark as pitch. Without our helmets, we wouldn’t have been able to see our hands in front of our faces, much less whatever would be chewing on our legs. Fernando stood over us as we moved the injured, with his KS-16, he was an imposing figure; a big man with a multi-barrelled automatic plasma launcher. But he was nothing but lunch to what was coming next.
With the last truck driver over her shoulder and the rest of the team in the transport, Ascheya stopped suddenly next to me and cocked her slightly. She resembled an Earth dog hearing something outside. Handing the man over to me, she knelt and put her hand on the ground.
“You got something?” I asked. Secretly I prayed she wouldn’t just lip off again.
She turned her head again, “Get him in the truck,” she said sweetly. Even under duress, her voice was like the song of an angel.
“What ..?” I started to ask, but she cut me off.
“Goddamn thunder worm!” she yelled, “Get in the truck!”
I bolted for the transport as she pulled a grenade off of her belt. Pulling it and tossing it over one of the convoy trucks she dove behind a boulder as I tossed the man to Kelly inside our truck. Looking back, I saw the plasma grenade detonate and then the ground erupt around it.
“Go!” I yelled to Fernando, “We’ll catch up.”
It was huge, massive. Like a gigantic centipede, the thunder worm blasted out of the soil, throwing trucks like they were a child’s toys. Its carapace was rotten and oozed fluids and its mandibles were as large as our transport and wickedly sharp. But most disturbing was its face; a human nose and eyes looked down on us before a snake-like head came out of its mouth.
While I stood there gawking like a teen girl at a boy-band concert, Ascheya emptied her first clip into the monster. I’d never seen anything that big in my life and the second head emerging from the mouth of the first was horrifying. The rapid electronic pulse of the automatic plasma launcher jarred me out of my stupor.
“Fuck this,” Ascheya barked, throwing her rifle to the ground and grabbing the hooked blades she kept strapped to her sides.
Wicked weapons, they were like long, hooked knives made from hyper-alloy metal. The second her hands touched them, they lit up happily, glowing with a blue-black hue. She was pumping power into them, charging them and turning them into plasma blades.
“Eat me!” she yelled, running into the open.
What!? She couldn’t be serious.
The beast obliged, dropping down and swallowing the woman whole. That was it, she was gone. One damn mission and we already lost our new team member. But why would she ..?
The beast shook once. Then again. Then its gut exploded in a torrent of blood, torn flesh and stomach fluid. As the beast collapsed, I saw the armored woman step out of its gut and could hear her panting into the communicator.
“Only … soft spot …” she sputtered, “It’s gut.”
Patting her on the shoulder I started to lead her toward the road. We had a long walk back.
“So you knew Draghixa?” I asked.
The woman nodded, “Yeah. She was my sister … so to speak.”
“Well welcome aboard soldier,” I smiled inside my helmet.
* * *
Remember how I said we were the best there was? Now we’re a jumbled up dysfunctional bunch of misfits trying to save the world, but we’ve got the deadliest weapon on Charon with us. A Delta Unit.