“Now aren’t you a sight?” The man with a trimmed, gray beard and streaks of gray in his tousled hair sat on an upturned log. “All that’s missing is a bow on your head. And I don’t even know what the occasion is.”
On both knees in the dust and brittle grass, IMP17 stared back. His arms were bound behind his back with synthetic ropes coiled around his chest, and cable shackled his ankles. Twenty-two men stood behind and beside him, and also in two rows between him and the fellow on the log.
It didn’t escape his notice that all of them aimed blasters, rifles, pistols, and even bows and arrows at his head. That was only one of the reasons his heart thumped against his chest.
“Oh, yes, of course you have.” The bewhiskered man smirked. “That’s the only reason we were capable of getting you into custody. But why did you surrender, my dubious sir? Right now I can only believe it’s some kind of prelude to the next wave of attack.”
“You’re correct there will be another attack. The lords will desire to investigate why they lost an entire battery of troops. But I can help you defend against them.”
Whiskers raised an eyebrow. “The lords? Not your lords? Is that supposed to have something to do with why you turned against all those cyborgs you led up here?”
IMP17 tilted his head in the direction where he knew corpses of both cyborg and unimproved humans lay scattered. “My actions have sealed my fate. I can never return to my masters if I want to live. In exchange for my life, I offer my services to you instead.”
“Offer?” He sat upright, pursed his lips for a few seconds, and then one corner of his mouth curled upward. “And why would you think we’d be inclined to spare your life? Your so-called masters did an excellent job genetically designing you, using you to mercilessly harp against us for refusing to mutilate ourselves in the name of their progress. You’re called an IMP, right?”
“Intellectual Militant Prototype. I am the seventeenth of twenty-four products, thus my designation is IMP17.” He’d determined volunteering information would help to win their trust.
Whiskers’s brow furrowed as he leaned forward. “We have a designation for you, too, but we can’t repeat it in front of the children. You’re beyond a little devil. You’re a murderer, a kidnapper, and a vandal. Our blood drips from your hands. Killing you doesn’t even begin to strike a balance against the damage you’ve done to us.”
IMP17’s heart picked up in tempo. He knew he was taking a risk by trying to defect to the Rabble of humanity, but he still stood more of a chance with them than his Elite overlords.
“My intellect is devised for strategy, which must be based upon knowledge. The information I’ve gathered on your society displays a quality that is absent among the Elite. You tend to your impaired members. You share resources with deficient individuals. You risk your own lives to rescue one incapacitated person.”
The bearded man gazed at him for several seconds. His eyes squinted and his lips pursed, and then he clasped both hands between his knees.
“You don’t know squat about us. You think you can waltz in here and perform a cutesy song and dance about po’ li’l ol’ me and expect us to pat you on the head while treating you to milk and cookies?”
“That’s not -”
“There’s at least a dozen people in this camp that would relish getting a piece of you, and that’s this camp. There’s plenty more who think the same thing in the other communities. It’s for their sake, not yours, that I don’t tell these gentlemen to ventilate you with extreme prejudice right now.” He waved one hand dismissively. “Get the deuce out of my sight!”
So many men jumped on him at once that even IMP17 would have had to struggle in overcoming them. But although he had the capacity to defeat them, he squelched his first impulse to burst free from the ropes, to pummel them down, to slice them with the cable between his ankles….
Someone slapped a canvas bag over his head.
As they lifted him from the ground, his battle with himself proved more intensive than any physical combat. These people knew that although he was technically as human as they were, he was engineered to be stronger, faster, and more agile.
The fact they didn’t kill him outright was an encouraging sign … he hoped.
Reflexively he did still keep track of where they carried him by noting where he felt the sun’s warmth, and distance by the length of time that passed before they stopped. He heard a clank and a screech, and then he was tossed into someplace that was slightly cooler, but hard and saturated with the aroma of earth … and something … rotting….
IMP17 sat up, and again subdued his impulse to break his bonds and uncover his head to examine his prison and determine how to escape. He had to prove to them he wasn’t going to resist. One wrong move on his part, and they would kill him as surely as the Elite would execute him if they ever got their hands on him again.
As he crouched in the dark, determined to wait on the Rabble to come to him, he questioned the wisdom of his scheme. That quality he was counting on was one of many traits the Elite had trained him to despise. But in a way he’d grown to admire it, suspecting it was one of the reasons these people had resisted and evaded the Elite for so long.
If the Rabble didn’t accept him, and if he escaped from them, he had only one option left: exist alone and as everybody’s enemy. And that would be extremely inefficient.
So here is the second installment of what will be something of a novella in progress, written under the guidelines of the monthly #BlogBattle challenge. This month the prompt word is Harp, which in its verb form wasn’t hard to work in. I’m glad I didn’t have to stick to the noun, although I suppose a harp could be used as weapon of opportunity.
If you’re just joining in and want to read the first installment, By Design gives the initial introduction to IMP17. I still think I’m nuts for doing this serialization (I think I’m nuts about a lot of things, so what’s new?), but this is also kind of fun. And don’t forget to check out the other stories at Blog Battlers!