Sorry it’s been so long since my last update. Work has been … well, the last two weeks have been quite an eye-opener. So without further ado, the next Tales from Charon.
She did it on purpose. Had to. Stepping into the front doors of the foundry, I was still wiping the blood and entrails of two guard lizards off the armor I borrowed from Jacob. Jacob? He was still covered in crusted muck, but nothing new. Ascheya was as clean as a whistle, but I was covered in gore. Like I said, she did it on purpose.
“So Jacob,” I was still asking questions, “What was the deal about the landmark getting us lost?”
The long fluorescent bulbs above us flickered and snapped. They cast long dark shadows from the dried blood and dirt that covered them and our footsteps echoed through the tile hall.
“The deal is shut up or they’ll know we’re here,” Jacob whispered from inside his helmet.
“Shit moves,” Ascheya answered, still seething from her mistake. “Nothing is static on Charon. Objects move around. They’re always about the same distance away, but if you miss one, you’ll get lost ’cause all the other stuff has moved.”
Jacob shook his head.
“What?” I gasped. How was that possible? The terrain moved around? That didn’t make sense at all.
“You ever look at the sky Lieutenant?” Jacob said, looking around a corner. “Ever see the monsters living here? Shit, why would rocks moving around surprise you?”
Jacob’s hand shot out and caught me, putting his hand on my chest, “Hang on chief.”
Ascheya stopped next to us, “Wha ..?”
A door clicked far down the hallway. It had just closed.
Shouldn’t Ascheya have heard something else? She always seemed to smell or hear things that most of us couldn’t. But she had missed something moving around a few doors down?
Jacob motioned for us to follow him and, with dexterity surprising of a man his size, he slunk silently to the door. Pausing next to it, he leaned close to it as if he was listening.
Clumsily drawing the sword he had given me, I motioned for us to enter. In one smooth motion, Jacob kicked the door open and drew his own sword. With red and blue bolts of energy coursing up and down his blade, the big man charged into the room.
There were two saurian beasts, like those we had seen at the site of the ambush. The turned away from a cage and rushed toward Jacob, but he caught them unready. He brought his blade down through the skull of the first dinosaur-like creature, nearly splitting the beast in half. Before he could withdraw his sword, the man grabbed the next creature around the neck. Wrenching his sword freed, Jacob twisted the neck and head of the second monster, nearly pulling its head off and crushing the vertebrae of its neck.
I was ready … not that it mattered. When I was in the military, I was a badass. But with Ascheya and Jacob, I was a tag-along. The truth on Charon was that I was the exact opposite of what I had been on Earth. On Earth I was strong, decisive and physically dangerous. On Charon I was confused, weak and slow. I was once a leader of men. Now I followed people like a lost puppy.
Wanting to be of use, I ran to the cage while Jacob stomped on the skull of one of the hackers. Reaching the cage I peeked inside … and dropped my sword.
There was a child inside! But not like any child I had ever seen.
She stared out at me with one eye that looked like a gleaming green human eye and one black and blue eye that looked like it had come from Ascheya; black outside and a black pupil with a sapphire sclera.
Her skin was dark, black, but oddly pale. Looked at from straight on, her skin was the color of pitch, but shined with a white reflection. Looking closer I could see tiny scales all over her body; soft, gentle scales. In contrast to her skin, the child’s shoulder-length hair was the color of polished platinum.
Asheya leaned over my shoulder, “What the hell ..?”
Jacob had said the hackers would carve pieces off some monsters and graft them onto other creatures. This poor child had suffered from their slipshod work.
The right side of her face, the part with the human eye, was covered with lightly tanned human skin held in place with rough and rusted metal staples. Her right arm had been replaced from the elbow down and her legs were replaced from the knees down. Her arm had a black exoskeleton covering her hand and the bones in her forearm. The exoskeleton had black spikes jutting out of her very long hand and fingers and around the site where it was attached her arm. Her legs likewise had the black exoskeleton and ended in two-toed feet, much like hooves.
Unblinking, the child smiled out at me.
Jacob stepped between us and raised his sword to smash open the cage, but Ascheya grabbed his arm, “Whoa big guy!”
Jacob turned and stared down the dark woman who quickly responded, “We can’t just take home every stray we find. We don’t know anything about her.”
I kept watching the child, I guessed her age at the human equivalent of thirteen, as she watched us. The same calm smile decorated her face and she would move her eyes to the person that was talking. She hadn’t blinked yet.
“One, she’s a child,” Jacob barked, “Two, she Andarain. Three, the hackers have been working on her.”
Andara was the first planet humanity had discovered after opening the jump. I don’t think anyone had ever seen a female Andarain, but a few of the males had decided to help Earth on Charon.
But this Andarain in front of us didn’t seem right. She didn’t have the body of a child, just the size. Her build was like a twenty-year-old women, complete with hips and breasts. And she still hadn’t blinked.
“We can’t leave her here …” Jacob started to say, but then the child moved.
She lifted her black, taloned hand to the lock and, smiling up at me, pushed gently on the door of the cage. The bars and lock melted like wax, dribbling and running off the edge of the steel table, they fell into a thick pool on the tile floor.
“Battle mage,” Asheya whispered in awe.
Battle mages were almost legends. Only Andarains could become battle mages. They had a strange, psychic ability to warp and change reality around them. They were horrifically dangerous and only a handful had ever been documented.
The child crawled out of the cage and stood next to me. Without blinking, she took my hand in her creepy, long and bony fingers and smiled up at me.
“Uh,” I stammered.
“Put her back,” Ascheya whispered.
But Jacob chuckled and shook his head, “Looks like you just adopted a battle mage there Jack.”
“What do I do?” I asked. The little girl was really, really giving me the creeps. Her unmatching eyes wouldn’t blink!
Jacob shrugged, “I’ve only known three battle mages and one was her sister,” he said, pointing at Ascheya. “Looks like she’s taken a liking to you L-T.”
“Why’s she looking at me like that though?” I asked as she laid her head against my arm. Her skin, even with the gentle scales, was as soft as cotton.
Jacob plodded back to the door, “My understanding is that their minds fracture. They don’t see reality anymore, just potential and I’m thinking she’s completely gone.”
“Possum venire vobiscum?” the little girl said to me. Still not blinking!
Sighing I shrugged, “Okay, let’s get Samantha and get this kid back to her parents before she completely creeps me out.”
If we were going to be one big happy family, we might as well have a Wednesday Addams with us.
“Parvulus sum, sed amicus ero tibi in praesidium invenerit,” the little girl said in her cherubic voice.
“Yes, we’ll get you a kitty after we kill the bad monsters,” I chuckled, leading the girl into the hall.