Footsteps rang through my ears, overpowering and filling the room with its sound. The two men in front of me were escorting me to the Colonel. They marched mechanically, like all these high-level escorts. We walked down a metallic hallway that had deep contrasting shades of the natural darkness and the lights that had driven it to the corners of the room. The men stopped at a door and parted to either side of it in a choreographed fashion. I quickly dialed the code into the keypad. The door gave a release of air, signaling that it was ready to open.
When I walked in, the Colonel greeted me with his trademark warm face. He sat at a table, the same chrome color as the rest of the room. I sat myself down across from him. He didn’t look like he usually did. A worried glower had now replaced the smile that had greeted me only moments before. He stroked one finger slowly through his beard as he sat there in contemplation. “Aimee,” he began finally, looked away from me and to some off corner. “There’s some,” he seemed to be lost in his words, “I don’t even know how I can explain this.”
“Tell me,” I saw the cool and calm Colonel Hertzmann himself in a strait.
“Last night we received a distress signal from a scout car.”
“Yes, I remember that,” I told him, “I had a group go out and check what had happened.”
“And they did,” the Colonel looked at me, and rested his chin onto his latticework of fingers, “They came back with a homunculus.”
“A-a,” I was speechless. “Why would they bring a homunculus with them? Was it a parasite?”
He exhaled deeply. Colonel Hertzmann got up from his seat and took a step away. He immediately turned his head back towards me and motioned for me to follow, “Come with me.”
I walked with him over to a draped window. He pulled it back to reveal the ledge and glass. On the ledge was an intercom. It was a well-lit room, with a single crib in the middle, and a few dressers at the side. “Is that a child?” I looked at him with wide eyes and my mouth gaping wide open. Leaning forward to get a better look, I could only make out the small arm that was visible from the horizon of the crib.
The Colonel did not answer the question, but merely pressed on the intercom button, “Nurse, could you turn the crib toward the viewing window.”
From outside the vision of the window a middle aged woman in pink scrubs slowly made her way to the crib. She herself seemed to have a hesitance in her step. Her hair had flyaway strands in every direction like it was a flock of pigeons setting off to the skies. She slowly moved the crib to face us.
He was just a cute little baby. He had tan skin and a dollop of black hair on top of his head. His body was wrapped in cloth. He must’ve been pretty young. He seemed an innocent thing, nothing at all like a homunculus. “This is the homunculus?” I asked him finally, holding back a laugh.
Colonel Hertzmann only looked back at me again with that face that looked unnatural. His eyes were dug into his countenance, and he bore straight lips. “This is our homunculus, Aimee.”
“But he’s a child!” I blurted out.
He looked up for a moment, closed his eyes. Looking back to me he said, “The distress call that we responded to was one hundred kilometers off the Paris border. When we got there, we found him.”
“This little baby laying there all alone?” I looked at the infant in the crib. Without even thinking I tried to reach for the child, my hand only tapping against the glass.
“Oh,” Colonel said matter-of-factly, turning back to the child, “He had company.”
I looked over to the Colonel, staring down the child with a steely gaze. “The scouts?”
“Not the scouts,” he licked his lips, and let out a low exhale, “their corpses.”
I looked back at the child, confused. What sat in front of me did not fit the description of something that could kill grown soldiers. “Are you sure it was this baby?”
“The place was clear of homunculi, Aimee, it was about to be colonized for agricultural purposes,” I turned to me, arms behind his back, acting like I was the absurd one here, “Those soldiers were definitely killed by homunculi, and this child is the only homunculi that we could even fathom having to do with their deaths.”
I couldn’t speak. I could only open my mouth, unable to form a single sound. I looked back onto the child. He was sleeping peacefully, unbothered by anything.
“We’ve never seen this before,” the Colonel as I gazed upon the child, a sense of pity deep in my heart while my hairs stood on their ends. I wanted to go in there and comfort the child, but I could feel myself go cold at the thought.
“We’ve seen human form homunculi before, Colonel, a lot of them are like that,” I gave him a response like I was reciting it from a book, my thoughts still focused on the child.
“Yes, we have, I Know. He has functioning human organs to the very last capillary. But we’ve seen nothing capable of this sheer force,” he countered. “This is what it can do now. I can only imagine what it’s capable of years from now. It must be a True Homunculus, not just some human infected by homunculi—and infant would be crushed by the power. And it’s even more impossible considering where we found him--”
“And not to mention he’s a helpless infant,” I cut in with a musing smile, “nothing like normal homunculi.”
“Yes, the True Homunculi are never children as far as we’ve seen,” I could hear the tinge of frustration with me cutting in being held back.
I paid no heed to him. I looked the sleeping baby for a moment. He wrinkled his nose, and soon gave a frown. It all quickly culminated in a crying fit, his face turning red and tracks of tears running around his tomato face. The nurse, who had apparently left, came back right to the baby. She didn’t pick it up, she lightly patted it through the blankets. I could see her sweat as her lips stuttered through a song indiscernible through the sound-proof glass.
The Colonel finally came out with it, “Some have suggested disposing of the child.”
I looked straight to him, my face as red as the baby’s, “Of course we can’t kill him!”
“You think the scouts didn’t try?” he chuckled, looking at me with a disbelieving smile.
“Th-they tried to kill him?” I took a step away from him, abhorred by the very idea.
“And he lived. 231 bullets. And he recovered completely,” the colonel had beads of sweat along his forehead. I could see his hands folded behind him shaking.
“I don’t think that letting him out into the wild will do us any good.”
There was a moment of silence. Of bewilderment. Cluelessness.
“What shall we do with him,” he finally asked softly.
I didn’t take a moment’s uncertainty, “We keep him.”