Location undisclosed, the roof of a military complex:
An agitated General Combest strides ahead followed by some soldiers. Why are there no helicopters in his &/§@ helicopter field? he demands from the guards. One of them explains that General Ulysses took them for a Black Diamond mission. Get him a radio, Combest orders.
General Ulysses and his men are in the copter still in New Mexico with their prisoner, Pixie. Ulysses examines her soul dagger. One of the soldiers tells Ulysses that Combest is calling them. Put him through, he orders. A furious Combest shouts Ulysses was ordered to leave the mutants alone. He will have Ulysses’ butt! He will be court-martialed!
Cargo is secure, Ulysses tells his men and gives the order to move out. Combest orders him to return directly to base. Does he understand? Yes, sir, Ulysses replies, sill more interested in the soul dagger, his thoughts in the past…
Four years ago:
A younger Ulysses, still two ranks lower, tells General Combest that he understands that his assignment has something to do with the mutant problem. Amused, Combest remarks a month ago he’d have been censured for not calling it the mutant “presence.” Things change when one of you opens a portal to hell in New York City. Combest agrees, it’s all over the news that Ulysses is getting a third star for keeping the peace in New Jersey.
Combest takes out a black card with a circle in a triangle and uses it to open a steel door. What’s not all over the news, he continues, is that, during that business in New York, they came into possession of a cache of mutant weapons. They step into a room full of babies and scientists. This is the best chance they have at a contingency for… as he said, the mutant problem. What are they? Ulysses asks. The weapons, Combest replies with a dark smile. Babies? Ulysses asks. No, a scientist, Dr. Noc, replies, mutants.
He takes up a baby and uses a device to take a small triangle-shaped piece of flesh from the child, who cries in pain. Combest explains that the genetic payload is priceless. Dr. Noc is doing work that could weaponize them in a few short years. Ulysses points out that the X-gene is dormant until puberty. Have they isolated the genetic trigger? No, Noc explains. These mutants are special. He leaves the crying baby in another’s hands as he looks at the sample he took, a triangle-shaped piece of flesh. Their flesh is the key, he states. They had only to reverse-engineer the door. It did not take long. He shows them to a hermetically sealed doorway. He puts the flesh triangle into a tube leading to it. He’d like to offer General Ulysses a new job, Combest announces.
Mission day 1,553.
Elapsed Earth time: 263 days.
Ulysses, in his quarters, now with four stars… He is told that the recruits have arrived. He joins the new soldiers outside under a red sky. One of the soldiers swears at something biting his neck. They stand to attention and salute as Ulysses arrives. Welcome to the hatchery, he tells them, referring to the military complex they have built within the demonic world of Limbo. They will be spending six months in hell. To the outside world, they will only be gone a matter of weeks. They will see &%$$ that will make their /&%/ cry, but listen to him and he’ll have them home, before their girl can &%$& their best friend.
They may be wondering why they were asked to turn in any religious iconography before they rolled out. That is because there is no religion allowed in the Hatchery. He doesn’t give a /&% what their race or creed is, they say grace before they eat and they’ll agitate the natives! He is unaware that one of the soldiers is holding a rosary behind his back.
Pointing to a building behind him, Ulysses explains that is the Hatchery. Even if he asks them to die protecting it, they will not ask him a &%&/ thing about it! If they hear someone mention it, they will cut off their ear before…
He is interrupted as a screeching demon flies toward them and grab the soldier with the rosary. Soldiers from the guard tower begin to shoot at the flying demon. Yep. Ulysses remarks, that will happen.
He calls Dr. Noc in his lab, announcing that one recruit had a close encounter with a native. He was collected but is minus an arm. Examining the corpse of a demon, Noc replies that they will see if the native’s symbio-aggressive cell structure makes its limbs suitable for transplantation. Place him in pre-surgery, he orders his men while he finishes running stress triggers on weapon three. He’s started stress triggers? Ulysses asks. The weapons aren’t mature. Yes, Noc admits, the chance of triggering their powers early is slim, but he wanted to get a head start. He looks a crying little girl in a cage, beset by demons from all sides.
Mission day 1,673.
Elapsed Earth time: 287 days.
Soldiers take out a nest of demons that have taken their supplies. One of them discovers the desiccated corpse of a blonde girl lying on an altar. In her skeletal hand hangs a golden medallion. They wonder where the demons got her from, as they take the medallion.
Later, Dr. Noc examines the opened medallion which displays a pentagram. At three of the five ends are red stones. His Geiger counter clicks. He explains to Ulysses that the medallion is giving off energy but the waves operate at an unknown frequency. It shouldn’t be in his base, Ulysses worries. Noc agrees, it should not have been brought here by Ulysses’ men. They broke protocol. Further, Noc should have destroyed it as soon as he got it. Yet, here they are, drinking in its beauty, unable to look away. They are in trouble, he thinks.
General Ulysses is informed there is a native at the gate. He gives orders to follow protocols but is told that this one is different. It’s a woman. A red-haired woman with glowing eyes and fangs announces that she is Ananym, though she has taken the name Witchfire for the pain it suggests. They, however, must only concern themselves with the fact that she is the daughter of Belasco, heir to all that was is. The amulet. She will take it now! Dalcke Carribitt! she orders the demon horde behind her.
Pandemonium is unleashed as the demon horde attacks the settlement including the Hatchery where Doctor Noc is still holding the amulet. “Hello,” he says non-plussed.
Ulysses is informed the natives are attacking the Alpha portal. They are trying to strand them here, Ulysses realizes. What the hell is going on? Combest is demanding via comm-link. Are his weapons secure? They are not after the children, Ulysses begins to explain but is interrupted as Combest swears, demanding the security of his weapons.
Ulysses calls Noc, asking if the mutant payload is secure. Shocked and covered in blood, Noc stares at his devastated lab. There was an incident, he almost whispers… the amulet… Check the hatchery, Ulysses orders. There was an incident, he repeats as he opens the door to the Hatchery. Did the natives compromise the Hatchery? Ulysses demands. Oh my, Noc sighs. Yes the demons have been here… Are the weapons secure? Ulysses asks. They’re dead, they’re all dead, Noc breathes.
Having heard this, Ulysses requests permission to retreat through portal Epsilon. Combest replies he knows the contamination protocols. He’s ordering portal Epsilon sealed. How will he get his men out? Ulysses demands. The observation portal will remain on for their return is the reply. That portal is location-transient! Ulysses snarls. How the &%$& are they supposed to find it without Earthside vectoring? Saluting Combest replies that the weapons were their priority. The base is now secondary concern. Everything else is secondary.
Ulysses’ reverie is interrupted as they have arrived and are expected by Combest and armed men. They are in trouble, the pilot observes. They are fine, Ulysses replies and hands him the Souldagger.
Surrounded by armed soldiers, Ulysses is forced to kneel, hands behind his head. He has lost his mind on his tour, Combest announces. As soon as he found his way home, Combest should have court-martialed him for losing the weapons.
About those mutants, Ulysses remarks, they really don’t like being called weapons. What did he say? Combest asks. Moments later, he is torn apart. Surprise, the leader of ten teenage, extremely monstrous mutants announces.