A Small Matter of Life and Death

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“Please tell me it’s dead,” Quint growled as he entered the makeshift tent.

Although unable to comply with the young colonel’s request, Zeke raised an acrylic cup in greeting.  He also remained reclined in a folding chair, his feet propped on the field desk.

“Not yet.”

When Quint scowled, Zeke figured it was in response to both his reply and casual posture.  The colonel knew better than to expect military conduct from an old schmoe like him, but he still enjoyed annoying Quint.  It added levity to an otherwise apprehensive lifestyle.

And things were pretty tense right now.  Less than an hour ago they’d won a battle against a battery of cyborgs commanded by a genetically-engineered super soldier.  Except the IMP, as his kind was called, turned on his own troops and slaughtered over half of them himself.  Then he surrendered to Quint’s battalion.

Hmm … Zeke realized he’d never before thought of any IMP as he.  Like Quint, he’d always considered them all to be it.

“You were supposed to find out its motive and kill it.”  Quint sat in his chair behind the desk and reached for the drawer where Zeke knew the whiskey was stored.

“No, you told me to find out his motive and decide if he needed to be killed.  I shook him up, but he didn’t spew.  So he’s stewing in the pit now.”

The colonel scowled at him again before pouring a shot into his own cup.  “It’s probably waiting for the next wave of attack, and then turn against us like it did on the cyborgs.”

“Come now, you know how keen the Elite are on efficiency.  They won’t waste a battery of cyborgs on a smattering of intelligence.”

Quint squinted.  “Then why did it turn on its troops?”

Zeke sipped the pilfered whiskey while considering his answer.  His interrogation of the IMP had been nothing like he expected.  All the answers only generated more questions.

“He’s scared.”

“Scared?”  Quint guffawed.  “The genetic engineers probably took that emotion out of its DNA.”

“It’s not an Oh crap, I’m about to die scared.  It’s more like a … I’ve lost my mommy scared.”

The colonel’s squint hardened.  “It came out of a petri dish.  That thing never even had a mommy.”

“Mm-hmm, true, but then again we are supposed to care for the orphan, are we not?”

“Quit your mind games.  What’s that thing got to be scared of?”

“What any slave might fear.”  Zeke shrugged.  “That his masters are not true masters.”

Quint stared at him.  “Why did I expect a straightforward answer from a rabbi?”

Any title like rabbi, doctor, judge or colonel was based on experience rather than any formal training.  When the authority that became known as the Elite mandated the remaining population must merge with biological and technological improvements, anybody who wanted to retain all of their humanity was forced to break away from established society and go underground … somewhat literally.

“Because you’re young and arrogant.”  Zeke was in his late sixties, which made him just old enough to remember what life was like before the rebellion.  “And that IMP in the pit worries you.”

“That thing makes me as nervous as a naked titmouse tossed into a shed full of bony tomcats.  It can only be up to no good.”

“You know, I have heard of a few IMPs that did join our cause.”

“Rumors!”  Quint waved his free hand.  “They didn’t manufacture many of those things.  And all the stories end the same way:  They wind up getting killed.  A good IMP is like a flying saucer.  You hear about them, but you never see one.”

“I didn’t say he was a good IMP.”  Zeke took another sip.  “Not yet.”

“I sure hope you’re implying that the only good IMP is a dead IMP.”

Zeke considered the fact that Quint, who claimed to be a descendant of Comanche chief Quanah Parker, just made a statement like that to a Jew.  He allowed the irony to rattle around in his subconscious.

“Maybe you should go visit with our little devil yourself.  He’s not innocent but he’s quite cooperative.”

“I have to get us prepared for the next attack, which it confirmed is coming.”  Quint frowned again.  “Unless it lied … it might be trying to get us to reveal our resources.”

“So why didn’t you tell me to just kill him after my Q-and-A chat with him?”

His frown hardened.  “Because I’m an idiot who trusts your judgment.  Now tell me why you didn’t, and give me a straight answer.”  He held the bottle of whiskey up before returning it to the drawer.  “Or I’m cutting off your supply.”

“Oh, my, you are in a bad mood, aren’t you?”  Zeke smirked, but as he sank a little deeper into his chair he nursed a long sip from the cup to gain more time for considering his response.

An honest but unexamined answer would be that he didn’t know.  Perhaps it had something to do with the IMP speaking of mercy, although he didn’t use that word and Zeke doubted it was part of his vocabulary.  Certainly before today the IMP had never shown any mercy to them.

But he also thought about Quint’s remark of what qualified as a good IMP.  History proclaimed that others had said the same thing about their ancestors.  And despite his origin, the IMP in the pit was a man….

“Because we need to keep our humanity.”

“I’m going to start locking my drawer.”

“Let me finish.  The Elite look down on us because we’re unimproved.  That IMP out there is genetically altered, but stick his DNA under a microscope and it’s still human.  Does that give us the right to look down on him?”

Quint frowned at him.  “I hate it when you take the moral high ground.  All right, watch that thing as we prepare for the next attack.  But if it so much as twitches, kill it.”

 

###

Here is the entry for this month’s #BlogBattle and the prompt word this time is Innocent (I don’t know what the word was accused was, but I’m glad it was cleared of the charges … sorry, couldn’t resist!).  This is installment 3 of an ongoing serialization, so if you just discovered this and want to catch up, the first and second installment links are here.

Also be sure to check out the other stories.  They’re rolling in pretty fast this month!

6 thoughts on “A Small Matter of Life and Death

  1. Absolutely loving this series. I really like the character of Zeke — wise, slightly softened with old age, and with a bit of a mischievous streak. Great back and forth between him and Quint — love the feeling that we’re balancing on a razor’s edge, and it could topple one way or the other at any moment. Also, the imminent threat of the forthcoming attack feels very claustrophobic; inescapable. Great stuff, as always! Just a shame that we have to wait another month for the next part!

    Liked by 1 person

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