His resolve steeled as Deuce surveyed the smoky battlefield. Withdrawing from this arena alive was a natural desire, but his concern for the lives of the score of soldiers with him finalized his decision.
Over twenty men had originally volunteered to assist him with luring the cyborg forces to this fallacious location, even though each one of them knew it was possible none would return. And the ones that had already fallen knew no more about the bomb surgically lodged inside his chest than their surviving combatants.
The people he had become part of were on the verge of escaping their tormentors. There had been enough death already. He was determined to see that these brave servicemen would rejoin the families they were fighting to keep free.
“They’re flanking to cut off our access to the chute!” The voice that buzzed from the com patch attached near his right ear disclosed strain but not panic.
Although battle hardened, Deuce was a bit struck at how calm his own voice sounded. “Retreat now, before they get there.”
“That’s an order! I’ll hold them back.”
There was a couple seconds hesitation before he heard “Yes, sir!”
He set the charges in his blaster for a cluster spread. That meant he would run out of ammunition soon after reaching the entrance of the passage that sloped down to the launch pad, but when he detonated the bomb within his chest, that wouldn’t matter anymore….
Once the soldiers cleared the chute leading to a purposefully unfinished interstellar ship, they could board the real escape vessel hidden within. Right now, in a dozen locations scattered around the Earth, completed space-bound behemoths were launching from their hitherto underground platforms.
The com patch also chattered with reports from those other sites. Some of them were under attack as well, but at least he’d succeeded in drawing the majority of the Elite’s forces here.
He was, after all, the best bait he could offer.
“Go! Don’t wait for me!”
Deuce leaped from behind the jagged boulder that was inherent to the rocky outcrop shielding the underground launch pad. Maintaining cover behind other stony features, he fired into the closest enemy troops as he trailed his soldiers pulling back to the chute.
Return fire was aimed more toward his retreating unit than him. He knew why.
Less than a minute after the last man disappeared into the downward tunnel, he darted into the entrance, but then held his ground. After only a couple more blasts from his weapon, the cyborg forces scattered as though fearing the meager obstacle he presented. They ceased fire and ducked into cover of their own on the other side of the rocks.
He wanted to hold this position for as long as possible before activating the bomb and blank off this chute. But even though he was fairly exposed here, the enemy still didn’t fire. They had to be under orders to leave him for the individual who wanted him most….
When IMP2 stepped into the clearing, Deuce figured his former ally wanted to make this confrontation really personal. Good, it gave his soldiers more time to escape.
“You’ve been wasting ammo.” As IMP2 approached, he held a blaster in his remaining human hand even though his mechanized arm was also a shooting weapon.
Deuce gripped his nearly empty blaster in the ready position. “Considering your casualties, I wouldn’t call it a waste.”
“What is your strategy, IMP17? Your speculation is consistent, but this maneuver is deviant even for you.”
Hearing his old designation churned a slight touch of nausea. “Are you sure you want to find out?”
A leering smile formed on his opponent’s face as he stepped closer. “I will deign to compliment your evasiveness, but observation of your tactics conveys desperation. Whatever ships don’t get grounded before takeoff will be terminated by the hunter satellites when they reach orbit.”
They had a plan in action for those satellites, too. But even though IMP2 was about to die with him, this was no time to tip his hand. But he might enjoy giving them something to worry about, even if was a bald-faced lie.
“Didn’t you know satellites can be remotely reprogrammed to change their targets?”
The commander hesitated and studied his face, perhaps searching for some unconscious betrayal he might let slip. With half of IMP2’s face outfitted with technological improvements, Deuce didn’t bother trying the same. It didn’t matter.
“You are too calm for somebody who knows his life is forfeit.” That statement sent a chill through him, and Deuce began sliding his left hand up the front of his uniform.
IMP2’s gaze locked on that hand. Deuce knew he was anticipating he would draw a weapon, but had no idea what was actually about to happen. Self-sacrifice didn’t register in his psyche. When IMP2 continued, Deuce was relieved to hear his assessment confirmed.
“But you will not remain so complacent. My enhancements far outweigh our biological engineering, and you owe me satisfaction for the trouble you have caused. By the time I’m through with you, you will wish you’d been executed by the Elite.”
Deuce’s index finger reached the thoracic depression at the base of his throat. The seconds began crawling, as though every cell in his body understood life in this world was about to end and wanted to savor what little time was left.
A reflection on Ita, with her fiery hair and emerald eyes, surfaced from his subconscious. More so it was her feisty personality and stoic bearing he would miss. They had only recently started to understand each other, and he regretted they wouldn’t finish working out their differences. Still, it was comforting to know he’d taken part in her ultimate escape….
He pressed hard into the shallow cavity until his fingertip sensed a small, hard protuberance that hadn’t been there before the bomb’s implantation. One more push set the device to standby, and he had only to murmur the single, five-syllable word that would detonate it.
Fired charges from behind hurtled past him.
IMP2 spun and twisted and leaped to avoid the barrage like any Intellectual Militant Prototype worth his genetic engineering should. A couple of sparks emitted from his arm, but with a few shots of his own succeeded in taking cover with the cyborg troops.
Deuce swung to one side as charges continued streaking past him. Had anybody other than the colonel who strode forward and grasped his arm performed such an action, he would have demanded they withdraw.
Quint was supposed to be back at the ship as the commander of the crew that would launch it. But considering he was one of the first people to accept Deuce when he joined their forces, he was inclined to concede to this change in plans.
“Let’s go, general!” Quint barked. “No man gets left behind.”
Arguing would only cause a delay that would endanger all of them. Deuce retreated into the depths of the passage with his troops as they fired back at the enemy resuming attack.
If you noticed this month’s story submission for #BlogBattle seemed a little longer, good for you…! The rules of the battle have changed a little this year, including we can now go up to 2000 words. This month the prompt word is Blank. And as always, be sure to check out the stories others have posted.
I confess I learned a definition of that word I hadn’t been familiar with before, but it was one that worked well for the next installment of this arc. And if you’re new to this serialization, you can catch up on my BlogBattle Short Stories page.