“Does it have to be Taggart?”
As Deuce sat beside Zeke on the underground rail transport, he remembered the serious tone to Kyla’s voice. The conversation he overheard this morning, before leaving with Zeke, hadn’t been meant for his ears. He glanced at his bearded traveling companion and recalled Zeke’s response.
“Might as well start at the beginning, and besides … he’s in the business of forgiveness.”
Kyla’s final statement lingered most in his thoughts. “I don’t think he normally needs to forgive something so personal.”
Deuce was pretty sure what she’d meant. His entire life had been devoted to combat. When he defected from his creators to join the ranks of those who sought to liberate themselves, he hadn’t been readily accepted into this society.
Many tolerated him because he offered assistance to help them win this long-fought war, but losing friends and family to troops he’d led made that acquiescence more begrudging.
Deuce wondered how much more personal the dislike, which he was accustomed to, would be for this Taggart fellow.
The transport slowed to a stop at the station where they disembarked. It had taken a couple of hours to travel halfway across the continent, so the artificial lighting that mimicked the sunshine above ground was brighter than when they boarded. They walked from the station into the subterranean city.
Swift and silent conveyers delivered them to a different level of the municipality, a manufacturing district where the rattle and bangs of machinery were more apparent. Zeke led him into a facility to the side, and they entered a room where a handful of people were discussing a three-dimensional, projected digital display of conduits.
Most of them glanced casually toward the newcomers, but Deuce took note of the auburn-haired woman whose expression shifted into a subtle glare when her gaze fell upon him.
“Didn’t you get the notification?” Her eyes softened only slightly as they shifted back to Zeke, but she had an accent that Deuce identified as a brogue. “Grandpa is still out on a service call.”
“Something that always takes longer than expected.” Zeke’s smile expressed an impertinent bravado Deuce had become accustomed to. “I figured we could still begin the orientation with you, and Oswald could catch up to us.”
Her eyes narrowed. “That’s a bad idea.”
His smile remained. “Which part?”
“All of it.” Her gaze hardened again as it returned to Deuce. “This whole affair is against my better judgment.”
“You aren’t questioning your grandpa’s judgment, are you?”
Some of the spark in her green eyes subsided. “If the two of you weren’t friends, he wouldn’t have agreed to this, either.”
Zeke’s smile warmed. “But aren’t you and I friends also, Ita?”
“That’s what I used to think.” She glanced at her cohorts and excused herself before strolling toward the two men. “But since I know the only other way I’d get you to take that thing out of here is to draw a blaster, I’ll take you to the office instead.”
“Is that where you keep the blaster?”
This was one of those times Deuce wasn’t sure if Zeke’s question was serious or a joke.
Ita hesitated as she drew near, and slid a sideways gaze toward the bearded man. “Don’t tempt me.”
Zeke followed her as she brushed past, so Deuce fell into step with him. As they accompanied her into a corridor, he wondered why his companion hadn’t told him about this young woman. She certainly seemed to know who he was.
Ita turned right, through a doorway, and they stepped into a room lined with various computer components. She turned and locked her gaze on Zeke.
“How much did you tell it?”
Deuce was accustomed to being referred to as it by people who knew he was genetically engineered.
“No more than Oswald said I could.” Zeke continued smiling. “But why don’t you ask Deuce himself?”
“Deuce?” Her gaze snapped to him, and then back to Zeke. “How appropriate. I have nothing to say to it.”
“Surely your grandpa asked you to be nice to him?”
“I am being nice. I’m not blasting it.”
Although he still wondered if a blaster was hidden in this room, Deuce decided it was time to speak, and it should be conciliatory. “I’m sorry.”
Her glare shot to him before locking on Zeke. “You weren’t supposed to tell it!”
“I presume he didn’t,” Deuce continued. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. I do know I’ve instigated anguish for many people, so I assume I’ve committed some form of distress to you.”
This time her glare stayed locked on him. “How dare you speak to me like that? After all the times I’ve thought about this moment, about telling you who my dad was … just before you die. But that’s not the way it’s going to work, is it?” She frowned at Zeke. “Sort through the files if you must. Grandpa will deal with you when he gets here.”
She swept out from the room. Zeke sighed as Deuce regarded him.
“Sorry how that introduction worked out, but Ita won’t get the anger out of her system unless she confronts it first.”
Deuce studied his companion as he decided to confirm if he’d added all the clues correctly. “She’s Oswald Taggart’s granddaughter?”
“And I killed her father?”
Zeke pressed his lips together. “Yes … it was you personally.”
“And is her father Oswald Taggart’s son?”
Zeke drew a deep breath before replying. “Yes.”
Deuce was out of clues. “So what was this meeting supposed to accomplish?”
“Our … alternative to annihilation … is Oswald’s brainchild. But he’s getting on in years and Ita is overseeing the project now. You can’t help them unless she agrees to it.”
“You still haven’t informed me what this alternative is.”
Zeke smirked as he shrugged. “I can’t tell you that yet, either. Oswald wants to evaluate you himself … and unlike Ita, he’ll have plenty of questions.”
The word to this month’s #BlogBattle was actually easy: It was Liberate! I’d expect there will be lots of entries for a prompt word like that, so don’t miss out on checking into them.
Time is running out for the special lower pricing on my latest book, Cast into the Fire. The e-book is available at online retailers, and the paperback can be found at Amazon. I wouldn’t want you to miss out on that opportunity, either….