Colonel Quint was still deciding how annoyed to be as he strode into the recovery room. Most of his soldiers were lying in rows in other rooms not meant to accommodate so many patients. After the tortuous battle they’d been through, they deserved better.
But this IMP, this genetically modified interloper that … he had to admit … saved the day, got a room all to itself. Before today it had been as much of an enemy to them as the cyborg troops they’d just vanquished.
He didn’t know why it aligned with his battalion and nearly got itself killed. But the IMP remained mistrusted, so it was separated from the rest of the troops. By the time night fell they relocated all the wounded to the hospital zone of their underground dwelling. Far surpassing a subterranean castle, the multiple levels of their city branched in various directions for different purposes.
As he entered the room, his attention shot from the unwelcomed warrior reclining on the bed to Zeke, who sat on a chair beside it. And he wasn’t holding a blaster.
“Why aren’t you guarding it?” Quint’s annoyance increased.
Zeke returned the colonel’s gaze, his gray-streaked beard concealing nothing about his smirk. “He can barely sit up, much less pick a fight.”
Quint still couldn’t understand why the combat chaplain started calling this so-called improved soldier he. Sure, technically it was human, it looked like a man … but its DNA was altered.
“It could be trying to lull you into complacency.”
Zeke looked at the IMP. “Am I complacent?”
Its brow furrowed, which was no surprise because Zeke was notoriously perplexing. “I am unable to determine that aspect of your psychological status.”
Hearing it speak in a voice that was low and wavered caused Quint’s stomach to clench. All the bandages wrapped around it made the IMP appear as though it might consider changing the meaning of its acronym from Intellectual Militant Prototype to Impostor Mummy Perpetrator.
“We don’t know how fast these things heal,” Quint growled.
The IMP regarded him with a steady gaze. “My superior physiology does promote optimum recovery, but the extent of my injuries dictates a convalescence of several days.”
“I’m starting to enjoy listening to him talk.” Zeke shrugged.
The door opened, and Kyla stepped into the room. Gray strands in the physician’s hair hinted she was around Zeke’s age. Her expression remained as determined as it was earlier today, when she tended wounded on the battlefield.
“Oh, I see you came to check on our little problem.” She nodded to Quint.
He wished the problem was little. Although the IMP had risked its life to save his battalion, Quint was unconvinced it wasn’t trying to gain their trust only to betray them later. But he still had to do something with this thing.
“How soon until it’s on its feet?”
“Good question. His wounds aren’t as critical as they are numerous. But we can move him anytime you’d like.”
Great, now she was starting to call it he. “The problem is I’m not sure where to move it.”
“I have a suggestion.” Zeke’s gaze lingered on Kyla. “Since our deuce will need medical attention for a while, I’ll volunteer to keep him.”
She pressed her lips together as the IMP frowned again.
“Your proposal is incongruous.” It studied Zeke. “You haven’t exhibited medical cultivation.”
“No, but since the doc here is my wife, she can monitor your recovery.”
From the way its frown deepened, Quint suspected it was a word that wasn’t prominent in its vocabulary. His attention returned to Kyla.
“You agreed to this?” Quint asked.
Her eyes rolled. “Yes, he’s already come to me with the can-we- keep-him question. Zeke seems to think we can domesticate him.” She locked her gaze on the IMP. “If he gets too rambunctious, I can always sedate him.”
Quint couldn’t resist. “The IMP or Zeke?”
Her smirk matched her husband’s. “Either. But we need to call him something other than IMP71. That’s too much of a mouthful.”
“IMP17.” Its expression became quizzical as it regarded her. “Only twenty-four of us were generated.”
“I’m not calling you that, either.”
Zeke leaned back in his chair. “Mr. Popularity?”
The IMP redirected its attention to him. “I prefer the other designation you’ve utilized.”
Quint savored more enjoyment than he should have upon seeing Zeke’s brow furrow for a change.
“You’ve referred to me several times as Deuce. I will accept that appellation.”
Quint clamped his lips together to keep the rest of them from seeing him grin. Okay, the last thing he expected was amusement, but he was starting to see why the chaplain had gotten intrigued by this IMP. He cleared his throat before speaking.
“Do you know what deuce means?”
It studied him now. “It is an archaic representation of the number two, usually in application to dice or playing cards.”
Zeke winked at him, which the IMP didn’t see because it was looking at Quint. “Well, I admit that does sound appropriate for a gambling man like him, after all the chances he took switching to our side in this war.”
Kyla nodded. “I can call him that.”
Quint wasn’t sure if changing from one little devil title to another qualified as an improvement, but he could understand how that gap also existed in its vocabulary.
Although he didn’t think Kyla deserved getting saddled with this IMP, Zeke did. And if she was willing to undertake the task, they were the best people for the job. The chaplain was an irritant, but he also possessed good judgment that Quint trusted … and hated to admit.
“Then it’s in your custody.”
He left the room less annoyed than when he entered, and also dared to harbor the hope this Deuce was on the level with them. If so, it … or maybe he … could help them finally bring an end to a war that had raged for generations.
This month’s submission to #BlogBattle sort of brings us to the end of Act One in the serialization of these stories. The word of the month this time is Castle. Feel free to check out the website and see what other stories are submitted.
If you want to read the other stories associated with this novella in the works, click on the link to last month and you’ll discover the previous posts. All in all, thanks for reading!