A man is nothing without his honor. When I enlisted, when I received my commission, I made a public oath that I would defend the Earth Constitution and honor the ideals it represented against all enemies foreign and domestic.
After the deaths of over forty soldiers, I regret that oath. I regret doing what I had to do. I regret that I wasn’t smart enough to find a better way.
* * *
We pulled back into the base with our new “survivor” ready to start a new life. Ascheya … er … Hanna Thompson would be hired on as a native consultant. She would have all the rights and privileges of an Earth citizen. I was already trying to figure out how to start an underground railroad for clones when Fernando stopped the truck.
Where was everyone?
Asch … Hanna stepped out of the truck and I followed her with the rest of the team dragging behind us. But she froze after only a few steps.
“What?” I asked, “Is the Bardo coming again?”
“Uh,” she mumbled, “Yeah, but that’s not it.”
“Wha ..?” I started, but the MP’s came out of the barracks.
They were followed by what seemed like the entire base. Everyone was armed and in full armor. General Vishay emerged from the crowd with an older civilian man next to him.
Grabbing Ascheya by the shoulder, I stepped in front of her, “General Sir.”
“Step away from the clone Lieutenant,” General Vishay ordered. “Orders are that its supposed to report for disposal.”
“What’s going on sir?” I asked. Why was the whole base waiting for us? I reported that Ascheya had been killed. They would have had to have known she didn’t actually die …
I turned around and looked back at Kelly. It was her. She had let them know through the mobile terminal.
“Look at it,” Kelly said. “It’s a monster Lieutenant. Fangs, claws.”
“She’s one of our own!” I barked. “She’s a soldier just like us!”
The general motioned to the MP’s, “Disarm it.”
Ascheya grabbed the blades off her belt, “You think you’re man enough guys?” she hissed.
“No!” I yelled. “You took an oath Kelly! To protect all citizens regardless of the circumstances of their birth!”
“She wasn’t born!” Kelly yelled, “Look at it! It was grown in a lab!”
I looked over at Ascheya who was eyeing me closely. She was thin as I said before. Almost anorexic thin, much like a French model. Her hands were monstrous and her ears were almost cat-like, but over a foot long and extremely pointed. I had always focused on her voice, her scent. I never thought about how she looked like so much like demon. But even now, I didn’t care.
The civilian stepped forward, “Son, I’m Doctor Cashen. That thing behind you, it doesn’t have a soul. It’s an animal that doesn’t even know its an animal.”
Asheya watched me. She just stared at me. It was like she couldn’t decide whose side I was on.
“Step back Lieutenant,” the general ordered, “That’s an order!”
I looked back at Eric and Fernando.
“Look at her skin,” Eric said. “Look at how it shines. It’s like metal.”
“Eric,” I groaned, “Really?” Eric’s family had descended from Africa. They had been taken as slaves and a civil war had been fought over them. And here he was talking about the color of her skin?
I looked back at the general, “No sir. You know this isn’t right.”
“We have our orders Lieutenant,” the general sighed, “Kill it,” he nodded to the MP’s.
One of them placed his plasma launcher against Ascheya’s temple as she slowly lowered her weapons. She was giving up! I could see her holding her breath.
In the distance I could hear the rumbled of a thousand thunderstorms on the horizon. Ascheya closed her eyes tight, preparing herself for the coming plasma round. One pull of the trigger and she would fall into darkness.
The blanket of the Bardo rolled over us like a tidal wave of pitch. Just as the world went black she opened her left eye … and smiled at me!
The compound was alight with the blue glow of plasma rounds and I felt the splash of warm life hit my face. It was like watching her move through a strobe light. Each instant that my eyes could catch her, she was slicing another soldier. They fell one by one, their blood spraying into the air and their intestines dumping onto the ground.
Kelly moved and pulled my rifle off my shoulder, “Don’t even think about it. Don’t make me do this,” I told her.
The sounds of battle surrounded us. Ascheya was wading through the soldiers, killing everyone in her path while I held my squad back.
“It’s gonna kill them all!” Kelly yelled.
What the hell was I doing!? This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen! We were supposed to work together. We were supposed to be a team! This was right, it was the right thing. How come everyone was dying? Why?
“Ascheya!” I yelled, “In the truck!”
Holding my team back at gunpoint, I waved Ascheya into the truck. We both bailed into the front and I gunned the throttle. Crashing through the gate, I finally remembered to breathed out.
“Well Lieutenant,” the blood covered woman next to me started, “I’m used to this, but you’re a criminal now.”
“I know,” I groaned, “I … I guess it’s just Jack now, no more Lieutenant.” Plasma rounds slammed into the truck and careened past us into the blackness of the Bardo.
“You were always Mr. Orders, by the book,” she giggled, “What made you change your mind?”
Driving through the curtain of the Bardo I shrugged, “I’m still by the books. I took an oath of service and I’m following it through to the end.”
“So now what?” she asked, leaning the seat back a little.
I stared into the palpable blackness around us. I had just wanted to do what was right.
Smiling, I snorted, “Remember why they made you?”
“To protect people,” Ascheya groaned.
“Yep,” I nodded, “to protect people. We’ll just have to do it our way.” I was out of ideas at the moment, ” Well, this is your planet. Point the way.”
“Ever had a holiday on Charon?” Ascheya giggled.
A holiday on Charon? What had I gotten myself into?