“How do I know this wasn’t your plan all along?” Although his voice was thin and the brogue accent further stilted by flat inflections, Oswald Taggart’s gaze seemed to bore into Deuce. “We’d be foolish to believe the Elite haven’t caught wind of our plans.”
The question was like a right cross, delivered without warning after Deuce spent a half hour explaining his defection to the elderly man. Oswald’s gaze was not antagonistic, but Deuce could have sworn it possessed the ability to stretch into his core and twist out his soul, revealing how wretched he really was.
They sat only a meter apart, files and computer components surrounding them as silent witnesses to this interrogation. Oswald still wore the light overcoat he had on upon entering the room, and Deuce figured he was one of those seniors prone to feeling chilly.
He decided to try a method learned from Zeke, his mentor who Oswald asked to leave when their discussion began. “So you believe I’ve refined my skills of infiltration to uncover your alternative to this war?”
Oswald studied his face while simultaneously watching the screen of the communication device he held between them. The man had gone deaf a decade ago – a detail Zeke didn’t tell him until they met – and the device rendered Deuce’s speech into text.
The hand-held device was both anachronistic and a testament. These people commanded the technology to insert an implant that would enable Oswald to hear. But their ongoing war with the Elite precluded such conveniences.
This conflict began decades ago with the Elite designing androids that perfectly mimicked people. These imposters attacked members of the population who refused to accept the enhancements made mandatory by the authoritarians. The resistors developed means to detect the hidden technology. But that made using it on themselves for medical reasons, which they accepted, compromising to their own people.
So the Elite next developed fully biological infiltrators to evade detection, super soldiers genetically engineered to carry out orders, but proving to lack necessary skills to adapt to deviations. Deuce himself was a representative of their next innovation, retaining physical prowess but also designed as a strategist.
Oswald’s gaze focused on his face. “Is that an off-hand confession?”
“I’m not sure there’s anything I can say to ease your suspicion.” Deuce’s conscience writhed. Earlier today he discovered he’d killed this man’s son, but didn’t know if Oswald had been informed of that inadvertent disclosure.
The elder’s lips twitched. “Surely you aren’t going to admit defeat already?”
“Defeat is not an option. But why should you believe any of my claims, that my life is now dependent on the success of your resistance?”
“You seek to save yourself?”
His guilt over the death of this man’s son made Deuce reconsider his motivation for defecting from the Elite. “That was my original intention. But the time I’ve spent among your people has … opened my eyes. I thought I understood why you didn’t want to be integrated into the central data core that binds the Elite together. But I was wrong. My reasons weren’t your reasons.”
“I questioned their authority. You … deny it. They taught me compassion and mercy are weakness, yet that makes you strong. I came to you, counting on that compassion, with the offer to show you how to be as ruthless as your enemy.”
Oswald studied him but said nothing, so he continued.
“I now know that if good stoops to evil, it was never good to begin with. So the way good stands up to evil must be … different. Those are details I’m still working out.”
“You believe the Elite is evil?”
“How can they not be?” His conscience stirred again. “They demand the destruction of all who refuse to conform to their standard. I carried out that task for them. I … was an instrument of their evil.”
Oswald leaned forward. “Was?”
His guilt surged. “I know what I’ve done to you. To your son. The assistance I offer will never be able to wash all the blood from my hands. I can’t fathom why Zeke suggested I should assist you with this project, when I only remind you of your loss. I regret what they’ve made me, and what I’ve done, but that can never change the past.”
The senior leaned back and stared at Deuce. During the silence that elapsed for several seconds, Oswald’s gaze softened and he blinked a few times.
“I agreed to this meeting not so much to challenge your offer of assistance,” he murmured, “but to challenge myself if I could truly forgive you. Part of me wanted you to fail, so I could justify dismissing your humanity. But this old, deaf father can tell the difference between contrition and blowing smoke, and I see Zeke’s good judgment of character proves him right about you.”
There was nothing comforting about the man’s words. In fact, Deuce’s conscience cringed even more.
“I don’t deserve your forgiveness.”
“None of us deserve forgiveness, yet it’s always offered. But you are no more evil than the Elite … and if you can seek redemption, so can they. This alternative I developed to ongoing war, it’s not only for our survival, it’s also for theirs.”
He stared at Oswald. “I don’t understand.”
“Some days, neither do I.”
The elderly fellow stood and shrugged off his coat. Deuce recognized the black shirt with a white collar, but it took a couple of seconds to realize that Oswald wasn’t just an astrophysicist – another detail Zeke left out. The revelation caused a tremor at the pit of his stomach he couldn’t explain.
“Just what is this alternative?”
Oswald studied him for a few seconds before replying. “How familiar are you with the story of Moses?”
Here is this month’s contribution to #BlogBattle, and for me the word for this round turned out to be the exact opposite of its meaning: Wretched! Ooh, you know there’s got to be some great stories with a prompt like that, so don’t miss on checking them out.