It wasn’t her grandfather Ita was upset with … at least not directly. Although he was somewhat to blame for the mangled mess of emotions that wrestled within her, she kept a tight rein on the anger that threatened to steamroll everything else.
“I refuse to work with that thing.” She spoke even as her hands gestured the words, and had to focus on not signing too quickly. Although Oswald had a communication device that translated her speech into text, her deaf grandfather preferred to give her his full attention.
“He is a man.” It was only in the last decade he lost his hearing, so Oswald had no trouble speaking, except the inflection of his words tended to fall a bit flat.
“It’s a genetically engineered –” Ita caught herself nearly making the mistake of using the term human. “– creature. We can’t trust it.”
Her grandfather leaned back in the easy chair and sipped from the cup of tea she’d given him. The upholstered seat was one of the few furniture items in the rather Spartan quarters they shared. When she first gave it to him as a gift a couple of years ago, he’d gently protested she was spoiling him. But it pleased her that he enjoyed the subtle luxury it offered.
His gaze leveled over the cup and on her. “We must.”
“The Red Sea was coming together just fine without that thing’s involvement.”
His lips twitched. “The Elite haven’t discovered our project … yet. If they do, Deuce may be our last chance to keep them from destroying it.”
The Elite … barely human themselves anymore, yet representing the worst humanity had to offer. When Oswald was a young man they began their tyranny of demanding every person submit to the biotechnical improvements they deemed necessary. During the ensuing war they engineered several atrocities to capture or kill those who resisted, including this thing that now called itself Deuce.
It was one of several Intellectual Militant Prototypes, more commonly called IMPs. She admitted technically it was a man, but designed to be stronger and faster … and as cunning as a serpent. This one in particular killed her father three years ago.
Her father … Oswald’s son. On a certain level, his loss was greater than hers, yet somehow he managed to discover enough grace to forgive that … brute.
And now it claimed to no longer believe the Elite ideology, and offered to help her people….
“It’ll betray us. How do we know it’s not here precisely to sabotage the Red Sea?”
“He’s cast his lot with us. Only a handful of IMPs have ever defected to our side before, and the Elite immediately targeted and killed them. He’s already lasted longer than the others because he’s laid low, helping to train and plan instead of getting involved in battles.”
How unfortunate it had learned from its predecessors’ mistakes. “That sounds like a convenient scheme to destroy all our work. It already knows too much.”
“He yearns to atone. Understanding the project in more depth will help him to best develop the means to defend it.”
“I’m not going to help it bring us to ruin. Have one of the other team members do it if you insist on taking this gamble.”
Oswald’s features loosened. “Working with him will be helpful to you.”
“I don’t need its help!” As soon as the words burst from her, Ita wished she could retract them. She didn’t like showing anger to him.
His somber expression swelled her remorse, and Oswald drew a deep breath as he set his cup on the broad arm of the chair. He held out both hands, palms up, and she placed her own there. The warmth from the tea seeped from his skin into hers.
“I ask this of you not only because I know you can do it, but because I pray it will also help you find peace.”
Ita couldn’t imagine how any of this could work. The IMP couldn’t be trusted and she had no interest in making peace with it. Yes, she understood she was supposed to forgive it … but what practicality was there in forgiving the snake that struck down her father?
Still … as much as she wanted to spurn her grandfather’s request, the awe and respect she’d always regarded him since childhood had wavered little over the years. His mind was still sharp and intellect undimmed, but that wasn’t why she reconsidered giving in to his request.
Ita softly pulled her hands from his in order to sign her words. “Is it worth taking this chance?”
He regarded her steadily. “Is it worth saving humanity?”
Ita drew a deep breath and shrugged her shoulders before locking her gaze on his. There was no getting out of this. Well, there was, but continued refusal would wind up haunting her. She thought of that reluctant prophet who stood before an unfathomable fire and argued with God that He’d picked the wrong man for the job. That was an event she could really relate to now….
“All right, I’ll do it,” she grumbled, “but only because you’re the only person who could ever get me to say yes. But if that Deuce so much as fidgets in a way I don’t like, I won’t be held accountable if he stumbles off a catwalk.”
“I know you’re a better person than that.”
Truthfully, she wasn’t so sure herself. “Let me freshen up your tea.”
As Ita carried the cup into the kitchen, she pondered how much civility she would have to maintain around that creature. Maybe her grandfather was right. Maybe practicing patience around a personification of the devil would be restorative for her.
But she was still going to carry a blaster at all times while it was around.
The word for the short story this month on #BlogBattle is Tea, which turned out to work in quite nicely with this installment of the serialization I’m writing. If you’re new to these stories, you can go to my BlogBattle Short Stories page to catch the previous chapters. And be sure to check out BlogBattle for all the other tales using this prompt!