The Greater Good Protocol Part I is a short story by our regular contributor Ramona Darabant.
The safe sign and the notification flash on the screen shield, blink and then fade away. The pressure sensors in the seats activate the engine. Gently purring, the rover comes to life, instruments flare up on the dashboard and project unto windshield. The underground magnetic guidance system pings back on it’s navigation, showing their position on the southern hemisphere of the Moon.
“Great booty, innit?” Terry nudges Larry’s elbow, as they take their helmets off. Larry, Terry’s twin brother, is paler than usual. His grey eyes scan the inside of the cabin. No Chinese or Cyrillic characters, he sighs with relief. Blue arrows project unto the screen, showing the routes to the nearest landmarks. Tycho Crater is eighteen kilometers away. Surveyor Tycho City is six point seven, and Surveyor Seven fourteen kilometers north-to-northeast. “Lots of bucks.” Terry pats and kisses the console affectionately. He pulls his thin lips into a satisfied grin and straps into his seat. In the knowledge of a job well done, he holds out his palm, and awaits the high-five.
Terry’s palm hangs in the air, exactly like rocks don’t. He throws a long quizzical look to his tensed-up brother. “Larry?” His face lights up with the sick fluorescent glow of the instruments. He looks more worn out, than usually. “Are you okay?” Terry whispers concerned. No reaction.
A troubled expression crawls over Larry’s forehead. A rotten feeling nests in his guts, feels like rats scurrying around in his insides. Nausea tunnels into his consciousness. He needs a drink. He needs a drink badly. Not now. Some part of his brain screams at his body. He notices his hands and his plans waiting for directions from his fluttering, unreliable brain. Something is wrong. He can’t seem to get a grip on his thoughts.
The driver’s seat lifts itself to the controls. A headache starts from the back of his head. His hands tremble to the rhythm of the Vela Pulsar, as he tries to buckle up. Third try is the charm. His fingers gravitate towards his breast pocket. The cool smooth flask snuggles into his palm. The cap comes off, as if by itself, and the scent bites his nostrils. The tremors drown in the liquid extinguished fire. His head clears with the first gulp. Larry breathes.
Terry’s palm dawns in his peripheral field of vision, waiting for acknowledgment. He looks away. The whiskey cannot wash away the acidic taste of disgust. Suddenly, his left hand finds the control stick. They need to leave the spot right away. The rover lurches into barely confident motion, slowly eating away the distance to Tycho Crater. A tiny, peculiar ivory-white rock formation grows in the lower left corner of the screen shield. The muscles in the back of his throat knot themselves into a steel trap. The third gulp of liquor refuses to go down gently. It stops at the tight raw spot and dissolves into harsh stinging pain. He forces it down. Something is awfully wrong. Tears burn in his eyes. The bone and ash colored dirt plane outside washes into the glow of the instruments.
The last words of a poet ring in his ears. How easy it is to love something, that goes away forever. They belong to Terry, his real twin brother, not to the soggy-brained husk of a human being beside him. The chicken-head in the passenger seat cannot grasp the depths of these words, nor the meaning of their lives, their roles in this world. Larry’s mouth goes dry. Sweat beads glisten above his brows. The real Terry dies in his arms, over and over again. In his nightmares, his last labored breaths keep him company, as a lullaby of their shared struggle. Choked pleas spill down his chin, and pool in the depression above his collarbone. Eventually, begging becomes calm consent, defense transforms to powerless stirring and then inertia. Two final tears mark the end. Their shared time ends with the greatest sacrifice.
Sometimes, he remembers clearly, it’s the other way around, and he is the one who died. He feels life running through his fingers like sand. First he panics, but then Terry’s wise face eclipses over him. His saddened eyes bright with so much love, that they calm him. He feels Terry’s arms crushing him, squeezing the breath out of him. His brother’s fingers around his throat are desperate iron. The world blurs to a red pulsing mist and Larry understands, that his reality’s the thinnest skin over the empty darkness beneath.
The impossible memory of his own death drills through Larry. It pierces him between his shoulder blades, and air refuses to enter his lungs. His left hand goes numb with shock and pain. For a horrified moment, the darkness sweeps him from his feet. The current pulls him under, and there the emptiness swarms him, whispers at him in the voice of his dying brother. Let your nightmares lead you to salvation.
Nervous giggles and the sound of a clap yank Larry back into the driver’s cabin.
Terry’s tired arm homes in on his other palm. He high-fives himself, and throws a curious glance back. He puts the helmets carefully behind his passenger seat. The helpless silhouette of the man behind the rover looks like an “I”. Terry’s heart shifts gears with euphoria. A hot wave from his stomach licks at the base of his skull, intoxicated dizziness sloshes through his head. Every delicious moment of their heist lifts him up, till he finally floats. Flickers of their prey’s surprise, fear and fury surface with a kick of joyous energy. Terry knows, the luscious tingling in his crotch is power.
This time, their victim is the most handsome man he has ever seen. The taser shakes the consciousness out of him pretty fast. And oh, how he falls… Terry bites his lips. He falls like a butterfly, that remembers it’s made of marble. The motion is heavy, rich and graceful, all at the same time, like a ballet. The lovely face behind the visor looks so vulnerable, Terry feels himself reminded of a sleeping puppy. The urge to protect and to caress flash through his mind. With a hand over his mouth he suppresses a warm smile, and a soft moan. That beautiful face reaches into Terry’s fantasies with thousand glistening fishhooks. Terry needs to caress those cheeks, lips and eyelids. The fantasies roll into the hooks with delighted shrieks. “Can I look?” He asks feebly.
The driving consumes Larry’s attention fully. Terry knows by the look on his face, that his brother is far away submerged in dark thoughts. He is not supposed to interrupt. He reaches out and punches buttons, because that isn’t talking. The radio comes to life with screaming ads and thumping beats. The twins jump.
Larry kills the radio and shoves his brother hard. „No!“
The fuse is lit.
Buzzing adrenalin burns up the promises Terry has made. It softens the remaining bit of self-control, and he almost loses grip. His chest and his crotch almost burst into their own ravenous forest fires. The coiled up beast in his thorax raises its head. It’s almost time to monster out. It whispers sweet little ideas into his veins. He listens to it, like one listens to the ticking of a time bomb. Terry trembles. Is it fear, or is it anticipation? He cannot tell the difference. The violent poisonous dreams his blood circulates through his body grow to squirming desires.
He knows, Larry doesn’t approve. He jerks back from the dark longing notion. A shard of icy self-control pierces his drooling hunger – for now, he keeps control.
“But-” The beast grips Terry’s ankle and squeezes hard. “I want to see the rattle!” He mewls.
“You promi-” Terry tries.
“-I said: NO!” Larry’s stern voice slaps over his brother’s cheek, like stinging nettle. Terry rubs his ear and throws another glance back.
Caterpillar hanging on a string of silk.
The monster reaches up to his balls. He sucks his belly in, and presses against the expected touch. A hot feeling from his navel makes his knees go jello. Light heat pools in his lower abdomen. “I need the angel.” He cannot keep the longing from his voice. Terry puts both hands in his lap to protect his erection. “Please?” He whimpers. “Let me have the angel.”
“SHUT UP, YOU PERVERTED FREAK!” Larry yells. “YOU FUCKING CHICKEN-HEAD!” His right hand, a ball of rage and frustration, hits the next thing capable of pain, his brother. He punches Terry’s left shoulder, upper arm, jaw and neck harder than he intends to.
Terry moans, his hands press down to hide his painful bulge. He sobs. „Ohowowsooorrysosorry…“
“For fuck’s sake!” Larry stares ahead, blinking furiously. “Look what you made me do!” The words barely make it out through his clenched teeth. Terry is vermin, a badly made copy, equal to a handful of cockroaches. They spend too much time here, too much time together. His jaws do press ups. This is not how he wants to live… It’s time to make changes. Larry puffs at the screen.
The seven silver domes of Surveyor Tycho, and the visor of the poor sod gleam behind the rover.
Stealing is easy. It always is. They pull this trick several times around Harbisson District. People have nice gear there, lots of bucks on the black market.
Leaving no clues is easy too. Either they prevent that they are seen, or they prevent that the person who sees them, never breathes a word again. Larry doesn’t mind to get his hands dirty. Murder is the next best step. No, death is. He corrects himself and smiles at the darkness nodding approvingly.
They read the guidance system to locate lonely rovers, their favored prey, never twice on the same road. Nobody expects an ambulance to be a trap. Larry adds just one delicate compound, to create trust. The darkness licks its lips. A woman, a paramedic flags the rovers down, begs for help. Everybody slows down. Circumstances bloom into opportunity. Larry and Terry hide behind the ambulance doors, modified tasers fired up.
Everybody stops, everybody gets out, and wants to help. Kindness doesn’t save them, nothing does. Larry has no mercy and no pity at all. Altruism is a curse, that needs stamping out. That’s when they get it. That’s when pay dearly.
It’s Chichi, the paramedic, who strikes first. She jabs a long sharp needle into the side of the helpful man or woman. It penetrates the fabric of the suit, the skin and flesh far enough, so the tasers fry the com. They fry any implants. They fry their consciousness too. Ignorant little worms wriggle in the dirt… Everybody convulses with the 300 Joule burning through their muscles, bones and nerves. Immobility transforms their prey into cargo. Terry and he disposes of all evidences, they only need a deep hole. They sell everything else. Later they split the money.
All good people die before they reach the crater, that’s what Larry tells his brother. The bad ones are still alive, when they throw them down the edge of the crater.
All die. When they reach the bottom, the darkness opens its many jaws.
The holy illnesses, greater good and trust are inbuilt flaws, stigmata. Each victim confirms. The darkness in Larry smiles. Faith is how evolution hides the self-destruct button in humans, in societies. It’s a vicious thing, an illusion, like hope, or redemption. It convinces people, that everybody else is playing by the same rules, and lives in the same layer of reality.
Larry knows about the different coatings of the vast emptiness protruding into every human. Empty. Inside.
The negative space challenges the fantasy and the nightmares of all who belong to the oblivious world of positive space. Larry smiles at the idea. This piece of secret knowledge he keeps to himself. With the effortless beauty of a predator it prowl around the pools of life. Yes, the emptiness nests inside all living beings.
All humans know that bottomless pit. And all feel the urge to throw something down there. Even little children follow the impulse. First, it is a pebble that plummets into the hole, then a drink can, a bottle, more junk maybe, machine parts and finally a sacrifice – maybe a body.
That’s when the abyssal hollow answers. It whispers with the white noise between com channels. Empty frequencies filter through weird syllables, clumping together into words. They swarm and billow. Sentences scatter through the artificial atmosphere, like mutated spiders, with torn and spindly syntax. Sometimes they borrow parts from English, on other days they sound like latin, or old greek. It’s an ancient, stranger language common in all deadly things.
The Greater Good Protocol Part 2 is coming out in a week.
Author: Ramona Darabant
R. C. Darabant was born Romania and lives now near Vienna, where she works as a family physician. When she isn’t working, she writes poetry, flash fiction and short stories. She recharges her batteries during storms and night strolls. In her stories, there is a distinct lack of happy endings. It’s not pathological, rest assured, she had that checked.