The Line of Duty

Random fragment of a story I started a while ago…not sure if I’ll lengthen it or if it’s a standalone. Inspired by Ender’s Game.

He’s staring at the boy.  There’s a special kind of detached intensity in his eyes, and the boy wonders if that’s what had carved the deep lines around his mouth.  His thoughts were purposely irrelevant and flippant, because he wasn’t going to justify the man’s intensity by answering it.

“Eighteen.”  Somehow, his voice was always a surprise.  His face was harsh and worn, but his voice was light and soft, though it had a strange guttural dip at the end of every sentence.  “Eighteen. This isn’t something to laugh at. Why are you smiling like that? Pay attention to what I’m saying.”

“Yes, sir,” Eighteen says, his clear italics untouchably negating all of the man’s authority.

He notices.  His voice becomes quiet and even softer.  “You are to call me Colonel.”

“Yes sir, Colonel sir.”  Eighteen is smiling as the Colonel strikes his face.  “Would you like to apologize, sir?” he asks.

The Colonel just raises his eyebrows.  “Your mouth is bleeding.”

“Yes.  Yes, it is.  Would you like to be the one to explain that to your superiors or shall I?  I’m worth more than you, you know. You can’t afford to hurt me.”

He doesn’t bother answering the question.  “You were absent today, Eighteen, when you were summoned to your duties.  Explain yourself.”

Eighteen shrugs laconically.  “I didn’t want to do it.”

“You didn’t want to?  Didn’t want to do your duty?  Didn’t want to protect the lives that were put in your hands?”  He takes a step closer, another. Eighteen can feel his breath on his face.  “Do you know how many people died because of you today?” His voice is too soft, almost caressing.

Regretfully, Eighteen remembers what it feels like to have remorse flood his body.  He can’t conjure the sensation. “No, I have no idea. I’m sure it’s nowhere near the number of lives I’ve taken so far, though.”  The Colonel doesn’t say anything for a few moments. Eighteen’s mind begins to wander. “Is there anything else you wanted? I was busy.”

The Colonel curls his lip, shakes his head.  “You’ll be dealt with by someone else.” He smirks.  “I have the idea…no one’s too happy with you, yes?”  He leans even closer; their faces are almost touching. “So good luck, J-”  Before he can finish his sentence, Eighteen has shoved him from the room and closed the door.

Eighteen’s face remains impassive, a tiny smile curling the edges of his mouth.  He turns back to the screen he had been manipulating before he was interrupted.

Outside, the Colonel marches stiffly down the hall, ignoring the few people he passes.  Now he appears angry instead of threatening. A smooth white door slides back for him on the left side of the hall, and he steps inside.  It closes, and he types his security number into the door, locking it. He sends a precursory glance around the room, ascertains its emptiness, and sinks down to the ground.

Exhaustedly, he presses his hand to his eyes.  “I’m so sorry,” he whispers. “You’re dead. Inside, you’re dead.  And I helped do that to you. I did, James, I helped kill you. Some days, I can’t even remember why it was necessary.  If you asked me right now, I couldn’t tell you what our goal is. I just know I have to keep killing you. I have to grind you into the ground, stamp out every spark of feeling, every shard of sympathy, every single human instinct you’ve ever had.  Even your name. You hate your name now, don’t you? You’re welcome. I did that to you. I’m sorry. But I’m still proud of you, James. You’ve become such a good machine.” Tears are sliding down his face, falling unchecked on his chest.

Dimness slowly creeps across the white walls, and he quietly greets night in that room.  He doesn’t move, and perhaps he doesn’t stop crying either.

Down the hall, in Eighteen’s room, he’s still working tirelessly, patiently, fully engaged in his task.  Finally, as his room grows dark as well, he sits back, satisfied. He types a short command into his screen, and his room suddenly explodes with pinpricks of light.  Around him, brilliant, tiny, and painstakingly detailed, the stars and planets shine. He surveys it for a second, unsmiling. Then he quickly swipes his hand across the computer, and the lights disappear.

He pulls on the boots that go with his dark uniform and exits the room, locking the door behind him.  He knows that the lock won’t do any good if someone really wants to get into his room. Striding down the hall, he looks neither right nor left.  His destination appears to be a type of conference room. Another man, softer-looking than the Colonel, is sitting at the head of the large table.  He’s watching some sort of video on the screen at the other end of the room.

“Ah, Eighteen,” he says, his voice rolling lazily over the vowels.  “What do you have to say?”

Eighteen jerks his head in a semblance of a gesture of respect.  “Following up on my absence from duty today, General.”

Skeptically, his eyebrows twist together.  “So what do you want? Just to tell me you weren’t there?  I knew that. Do you have an explanation or were you just making sure I’m not senile yet?”

“No explanation.”  He keeps his eyes straight ahead.

“You know that’s not acceptable.  Somebody’s gotta be the one figurin’ out the facts.  You made the facts, you figure ‘em out.” The Southern accent that’s been almost trained out of him slips through a little.

Eighteen shrugs.  “No explanation, General.”

4 thoughts on “The Line of Duty

  1. Interesting story idea. I’ve never read Ender’s Game…but now I’m thinking I should, even if it does sound like dystopian lit


  2. This is awesome, Ellery! It really does remind me of Ender’s Game… I need to read that again. Then watch the movie so I can mock the differences. Anywho. It’s awesome.

    (Speaking of, if you were in the Ender’s Game world, do you think you would be one of the kids chosen for the battle station? Also, which of the characters in the book would you be? For the second question, I found it helpful to take a quiz. I couldn’t find one for the other question, but my answers are Yes and Ender, both that fit me well.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Hope!

      Yes, I think I’d probably be at the battle station. Anddd I took a test and it tells me I’d be Ender, too! I’m not sure if that fits me completely…I could see me being Bean instead. But high five anyway!


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