Deuce examined the weapon Quint handed him. It resembled a rifle-style blaster, except the barrel was too thin and the magazine too thick. He found it disconcerting to not recognize this particular instrument of war.
“What is its designation?” Deuce asked.
“I call it an atrocity,” Kyla muttered as she gazed down the field the three of them stood upon.
The artificial sunlight from the ceiling of the manmade cavern they occupied cast shadows beside them, distorted by the remaining stubble of harvested grains adapted to this environment. Fifty meters away at the other end of the field, the carcass of a coyote, exterminated during a livestock raid above ground, hung between two poles.
Quint shrugged. “A correct designation would be disintegrater. But we just call it a grater. Fact is, shoot something with this thing or run it through a grater, you get the same result. Go ahead, fire it.”
Deuce aimed the weapon at the carcass and tapped the trigger. The coyote burst into a cascade of bite-size pieces, hide and meat and organs raining down in a two-meter radius around it. Only the main part of the skeleton remained hanging.
Kyla’s demeanor was unchanged. “That’s just nasty.”
Considering she was a doctor, Deuce found her remark incongruous.
The grater was effective, but he realized its shortcomings. “This is highly efficient on organic matter, but the fact several of the heavier bones maintained integrity indicates limitations on dense materials. And a coyote is lighter than a cyborg.”
“Yeah, we never bothered to improve the original models before,” Quint replied. “The reason we’re bringing them back to the drawing board now is because we all know the Elite will change the central control module locations on the cyborgs’ tech. We need to be able to kill them once, not have to do it twice like before.”
Something the colonel didn’t say stood out to him more. “This isn’t a new weapon design?”
“No … we developed these a couple of decades ago. But they’re … too messy.”
Kyla rolled her eyes as she fingered a malachite brooch on her shirt collar. “Any new weapon can fall into enemy hands. I’d like the chance to save my patients, thank you.”
Deuce studied them as he contemplated the explanation. “So you could have utilized these against the ameliorated soldiers I commanded before defecting to your camp, but decided not to?”
“Not using them was the lesser evil.” Quint shrugged. “You should be grateful that was our choice. Otherwise you might not be here now. Anyway, we want to restructure the charges to an entirely electrical basis. Shut down the cyborgs’ hearts and tech.”
He was still grappling with the notion that his former enemies had developed an effective weapon they decided against using. The organization Deuce defected from, the Elite, would have implemented these graters with no hesitation.
“At least I can restart a heart.” Kyla’s gaze locked on him.
Quint stated the obvious. “We want your expert opinion on what firepower we’ll need against these new cyborgs.”
“I can’t claim expertise on the next method of attack.” Deuce studied them both. “It’s possible they won’t deploy cyborgs again.”
His two comrades looked at each other. Kyla, who was in her early sixties but only streaks of gray in her upswept hair betrayed age, returned her gaze to Deuce.
“What could be next?” Because of her years, she’d witnessed this entire, ongoing war. “First they used androids. Then they developed super soldiers, which they later supplemented with strategists like you. Now they’ve combined android and soldier into cyborgs. Do we suspect flying monkeys that spit venomous fireballs?”
“I wouldn’t put it past them,” Quint grumbled. He was in his thirties and had only ever known war.
Deuce stared at the grater as he considered why he was here. Chronologically in his twenties, he had been trained for warfare by the Elite as long as he could remember. They had created him for warfare. Unlike the genetically improved soldiers who could only follow orders, the Elite engineered him to think strategically.
But they considered his creation, and the twenty-three other prototypes like him, to be a failure. Creations that could think for themselves were considered a potential threat, which was why so few were produced.
And some of those thinkers had defected before him, joining forces with these people he used to know as rabble. Those predecessors were now dead. Defective prototypes were overwhelmingly targeted in battle. But in his case, joining the rabble became his only chance to continue living.
Like the grater he held, the prototypes were judged to be undesirable for service. He and four others who still survived were given one option to remain practical to the Elite. They had to submit to biotechnical modifications that included interfacing with the core data system.
By this time Deuce started considering Elite philosophy to be incorrect, and having those private doubts made public would get him executed.
He’d been created to bring a war to its end, and failed. And now the rabble looked to him to help them end this war. His new society believed in Rules of Engagement. How does one defeat an opponent who doesn’t share that outlook?
“Utilize both.” Deuce returned his attention to them.
“Both of what?” Quint asked.
“Both designs.” He held up the grater. “Implement your modifications. But also increase the charge yield on these models. They could prove advantageous.”
“They could be suicidal.” Kyla frowned.
“You must be prepared for anything if you want to end the war.”
“I want to end it.” Her gaze locked on his. “But not by getting us all killed in the process.”
“Let’s not forget we’ve got an alternative,” Quint muttered.
Deuce’s attention shifted to him. “What alternative?”
“That’s a discussion for another day.” He shrugged.
The only alternative Deuce could think of was retreat. But there was nowhere in the world safe enough to retreat to … was there?
Here’s is this month’s submission to #BlogBattle, and the word of choice this time was Brooch. I know other writers can get more creative with that prompt, so feel free to check them out!
This story is sort of a prelude to next month’s installment, which is why it leans toward being a philosophical recap. If you want to check out previous submissions to this serialization, here’s a link to last month’s entry and you can work your way back. Since I plan to compile these into a novella when they’re completed, I’m not highly motivated to organize them now…!