“Watch it!” was all I heard.
A bizarre caterpillar the size of a dachshund scrambled onto my tray in the mess hall. Instead of legs though, it had about twenty sets of tentacles it used for locomotion. Instead of an insect face, the head was that of a baby human, but complete with wicked mandibles.
The horrible creature looked at me … and exploded!
Even as the electronic sound of a plasma launcher reverberated in my ears, I could hear Ascheya laughing. Orange goop and stringy entrails dripped off of my face and fell into the puddle on my tray. Sure, the salisbury steak was dry and the potatoes were instant, but they definitely wouldn’t go good with giant caterpillar goop.
Around me I heard my team yelling, “Clear!”
“Lieutenant Carlson …” Asheya laughed, “you … gonna eat that?” Her laugh was like the song of angels. How could someone so foul have a voice so beautiful?
But I had to pause for short moment. She called me Lieutenant! I guess I earned some modicum of respect by getting my ass kicked by the woman.
“What the hell was that!?” I laughed with her, wiping my face.
“I got three more in the hall!” Fernando yelled, looking out the door.
Handing me her rifle, Asheya helped me up, “Space herpe?” she shrugged. “This is Charon, you never know what’s gonna run across your plate.”
“Literally,” I chuckled. “So what’s the deal?”
“Hey Sarge!” Fernando yelled, “We’ve got about five more in here!” he said looking into the hall.
“Some idiot let a prostitute on base,” Ascheya responded, looking over her shoulder.
We both approached the hall door and looked through the window. They were swarming. Since Fernando had yelled, they had been joined by twenty or thirty more of the caterpillar things.
“Space herpes?” I asked.
“Pretty much,” Ascheya nodded. “They’re the Charon version of VD.”
I bumped Eric, “Can you clear that hall for us?”
Laughing, the big man kicked the door open, “Oh hell yeah.”
Lowering his KS-16, a multi-barrelled plasma cannon, he pulled the trigger. Streaks of bluish light shot through the hall, exploding into the caterpillar creatures and blasting holes in the walls. The smoke grew as he sprayed plasma rounds all over the hallway like a gardener watering a garden. The walls exploded and orange goop fell like rain.
“Whoa hoss!” yelled Ascheya shortly after none of us could see through the falling plaster and smoke.
Her long claws wrapped around the wicked knives at her hips. They were shaped like the ancient tonfa with one blade extending along her forearm and the other curving out from the bottom of her hand. Her internal battery lit up the blades with a blue-black hue and they hummed happily in her hands. Two children excited to be let out of the house.
“Lieutenant Jake,” Ascheya whispered in her bedroom voice, “You hear that?”
Her long ears wiggled slightly as I strained to listen above the crumbling plaster of the walls. There was a strange hissing sound that I thought was the sound of plasma burning the walls, there was the dropping sound of caterpillar blood falling from the ceiling; nope, nothing.
I shook my head.
“What hell? she sneered, “Do they even give you guys a bio-fusion battery or just pump you up and send you out?”
“You’re out of line Sar,” I started to say, but caught myself. She obviously had a problem with authority so I tried a new tactic.
“We weren’t all born with those big ole’ Dumbo ears Sarge,” I laughed, punching her in the arm.
Ascheya must have been stunned. She just stared down at the spot I had punched, her lip curled slightly.
“You know … Dumbo ..?” I chuckled uncomfortably.
I was dead.
But then I heard a funny little giggle find its way out of her fangs, “What the hell is a Dumbo?”
“The little elephant you know?” I laughed, “Disney? You know, they lock it in their vault all the time?”
Eric pushed past, “How many times do we have to tell you two to get a room?”
“Not a clue Lieutenant,” Ascheya smiled, elbowing me in the ribs.
Pushing our way through the smoke and rubble, we paused outside doors to the rec room. Now I could hear what Ascheya was talking about. Someone was crying.
“There’s someone in there L-T,” Kelly whispered.
“Think we found our hooker,” Ascheya barked, kicking open the doors.
We all took our positions instantly. Eric and Fernando secured the corners and Kelly and I fell in behind the malachite-skinned woman.
In front of us was a woman, but not like anyone we had ever seen. Her skin was immensely bloated as if she was stretched and filled with fluid. The poor thing was nearly eight feel tall from all the swelling and her gut had spread nearly ten feet. She was sobbing and her hands wiggled from inside the folds of flesh around her arms.
“H … help … m-me,” she gasped, but then heaved as if she was going to vomit. A few more heaves and she vomited one of the big gross caterpillars.
The instant the caterpillar was out of the way, Kelly shot it, splattering its goop on the wall.
I should have been paying more attention, but I was too focused on the woman, “Alright! Kelly. Emergency medi …”
I heard the echoing electronic sound of a KS-16. As fast at the plasma cannon would fire, I watched round after round slam into the woman. Stunned, I turned to see that Ascheya had taken Eric’s weapon and was unloading it into the prostitute.
“No!” I yelled, but Ascheya’s mind was made up.
After blowing the poor woman to kibbles, the dark woman handed the weapon back to Eric, “Well that’s that,” she commented, smiling to herself.
Stepping in front of her I thumped the woman on her chest with my finger, “I’ll have you court-martialed for that. That woman …”
“Was dead!” she yelled back at me. “There was nothing we could do! But instead you wanted to let her suffer.”
“I wanted to save her!” I barked back.
“For who!? Her or you?”
“I …” I couldn’t respond. “Wha ..?”
Leaning close to me, Ascheya thumped me in the chest as I had done to her, “You want to be the hero. It’s about you!”
“How could it be about me? My duty is to protect people.”
“By making them suffer?” she groaned and pushed past me.
“Don’t worry about it,” Kelly said, patting me on the shoulder as she passed.
But … she was right. The woman’s internal organs had been destroyed, her body devastated. Compassion is great, but compassion without wisdom, without understanding can be the cause for more suffering. A lesson I would have to learn the hard way.