“I perceive you responded promptly for a coward.” IMP2 sounded the same although he looked considerably different from the last time Deuce saw him.
They stood about a decameter apart, facing each other in a field of shriveled weeds and stirring dust. Deuce had a force of three hundred men concealed all around them in the barren trees and dry boulders. He could spy the ranks of cyborgs lined half a kilometer behind IMP2, but his estimate of their numbers was only a hundred, although that was more than enough….
His opponent had previously been a man like him – generated from the same DNA foundation for physical superiority, but as biologically whole as the soldiers crouched around them. Now IMP2 resembled the troops he led. Half his face was outfitted with technical components to enhance vision and hearing, and his left arm resembled a weapon more than a limb.
“I see you’ve put on some weight,” Deuce deadpanned.
The split-second pressing together of IMP2’s lips offered a gram of satisfaction. Deuce figured there were plenty of other enhancements he couldn’t see, but had a good idea what they were.
It occurred to him they were, in a sense, brothers, although the concept of family had been alien to him until a year ago, after he defected to this faction who still embraced their total humanity. Despite IMP2’s so-called improvements, they even shared familial features, with the same russet skin and brown eyes and dark hair.
He was also fully aware the playing field between them was no longer level. If he wasn’t very careful, this encounter would end in blood and screams and fire for the people behind him, who comprised a community beyond the soldiers….
“Your sojourn among the rabble has dulled your intellect.” IMP2 raised his weaponized arm slightly, but Deuce remained still so as not to give away which direction he would dodge if needed. “Instead of blathering nonsense, you should inquire why I requested this conference when I could simply assail the habitation.”
Did he really used to talk like that? “I figured you’d get around to it.”
Hopefully his incongruous responses would disconcert IMP2 enough to make him start second-guessing that Deuce was no longer the IMP17 he used to know … and therefore less predictable.
“I’ll allot you credit on the difficulty in tracking you down. In the interim since your departure, the regents have granted asylum if you return and divulge the relevant datum they require.”
The Elite weren’t practitioners of forgiveness, although they would feign it if that achieved their objective. “You do believe I’ve gone bonkers if you think I’d swallow that tripe.”
But what type of ruse was IMP2’s offer? Everybody agreed this was a trap, but Deuce consented to the meeting because of the chance he could discover what agenda hid behind it. That also gave the people in the now-threatened city an opportunity to evacuate.
So he didn’t come out here alone, and his troops had new weapons and supplementary training that the Elite and IMP2 didn’t know about….
“I anticipated your obduracy,” IMP2 replied. “But apply logic to the facts. What purpose does it serve me to approach with only adequate forces, when I possess the option to overwhelm and devastate you?”
What purpose, indeed? Facts and truth weren’t always the same thing. Deuce had accepted this invitation partly to give the citizens time to escape. IMP2 also seemed to be stalling for time … and if that was the case, Deuce should deny him that option. Besides, an engagement would still allow the inhabitants to withdraw.
He cocked his head to the left and muttered the code to attack.
Blaster fire and grenades shot from the sheltering trees and boulders. Deuce took a blaster crack at IMP2 the same instant his opponent’s weaponized arm fired at him. Both successfully evaded, but Deuce retreated behind the lines of soldiers that pressed closer to the enemy.
He didn’t like trying to command from behind his troops, but knew he was the most sought-after target on the battlefield. Even from this lesser vantage point he ascertained the ambush had been expected, so their forces hadn’t gained any surprise advantage.
Something wasn’t right….
The com patch near his left ear crackled with a voice on the edge of panic.
“Troops have breached the city! There’re still citizens on grounds!”
Deuce swore under his breath. Of course – this whole encounter had been a distraction. While he was out here with most of his forces, a skeleton-crew guard remained in the city to facilitate evacuation. And now those defenders were both outgunned and outnumbered by the cyborg ranks.
IMP2 predicted he would do this….
Not only were there vulnerable children and elderly, Ita might still be there, too. She and Deuce arrived only yesterday to negotiate about some components for a certain project. And Ita was much too important to that project to fall prey to the Elite in any manner.
“Withdraw to the city!” Deuce knew his command couldn’t be obeyed effectively. IMP2’s cyborgs would try to hold them here while the larger enemy force razed the city.
But maybe at least he could do something to atone for his blunder….
He sprinted across the cracked earth and scattered gravel, outdistancing any of his troops that tried to follow. Behind he heard the continuing cacophony of battle, and it seemed to swell toward him, as though the combatants were caught in his wake. Those who could were in pursuit, and he knew who would be in the lead.
Deuce tried to run even faster.
This month the prompt word for #BlogBattle was perfect: Conceal! You probably noticed this installment has the feel of a two-parter, so never fear, more will be divulged next month. And with another great word there’s bound to be plenty of great stories, so feel free to check out the rest!
And I suppose this is something of a one-year anniversary for the serialization I’ve been posting since this is episode number twelve. Where has the time gone? If you’ve missed the earlier installments, you can find them here. Happy Reading!