Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Catastrophe Theory: Chapter Seventeen (Tony Bertauski)

A drip of sweat fell from Jared’s nose. It grazed the gun’s barrel that was pressed against Rourke’s forehead, splashed into the man’s swollen eye.
Jared leaned into the gun, both hands squeezing the grip, pushing Rourke’s head against the floor. His left arm burned where a bullet had ripped through the triceps. Blood trickled down his arm, pooling at the base of his thumb before finding its way to his friend’s cheek, smudging his whiskers crimson red.
Former friend.
The door slammed open behind them. Jared pressed the barrel deeper into the folds of Rourke’s forehead. Boots came to a stop. Weapons snapped.
“You’re not getting out of here.” Rourke grimaced. His forearm was pinned beneath Jared’s knee and bent at a funny angle.
“Tell them to stop,” Jared said.
Rourke drew a ragged breath. Jared, straddled over his chest, refused to lift his weight to give him more air. “When he shoots me—” Rourke grabbed another breath “—kill him.”
For the greater good. That was the camp's axiom. An individual didn’t matter as much as the whole, and the whole didn’t matter as much as the greater good. Rourke had always been dedicated to the camp, to have men and women ready for survival when catastrophe arrived. He believed in the camp’s greater good as much as Jared. But his beliefs had changed.
Or maybe they were never what I thought.
“Why?” Jared said.
“You know why.”
“But this…chaos and suffering, all this death, how is this for the greater good?”
Rourke swallowed hard, twice. Sweat beaded on his pasty complexion.
Jared leaned into the gun, again, felt the muzzle press into the man’s pale flesh. It began to slip on the perspiration. Rourke could’ve used that moment to knock the pistol away. Jared’s weight was forward, the pistol pinning his head to the floor. With all the guns aimed at the back of Jared’s head, all Roarke would've needed was a shift of his hips and half a second to end this. But he was limp beneath Jared, not because he’d been beaten, not because his forearm had been shattered against the edge of a desk. He was spent, finished.
His mission, complete.
How?” Jared seethed. “How is this for the greater good?”
“It was inevitable, Jared.”
“Not this! We were preparing for it, not causing it. We were preparing to defend against men like Emerson. Like you.”
“There will always be men like me.”
“Damn you! I trusted you…the camp trusted you!”
A joyless smile flared. “The camp was all wrong. You know it.”
Boots shuffled closer. Rourke’s eyes flickered over Jared’s shoulder. He lifted the fingers on his good arm and movement stopped. With the pressure Jared had on the trigger, even a rifle butt to the back of his head would end Rourke. But that’s not why he stopped his men from charging. Something compelled him to pause this bloody end.
“We’re slaves.” He spoke in fragments to catch his breath. “The human race…we’re slaves to technology…even the camp. And men like me, like Emerson…had weapons pointed at each other…the camp wasn’t preparing us, Jared.” He forced another breath deep into his chest. “But this will.”
This wasn’t necessary! You killed men and women…children! That’s not what we were prepping to do!”
“You know what the models…predicted.”
Rourke insisted a major catastrophe wasn’t just imminent, it was near. The predictive models showed humankind’s demise at their own hands. If we didn’t destroy ourselves, then a natural disaster would. A solar flare was due to hit any day, he said. It would knock out technology and chaos would ensue. Each week he would bring a new prediction based on population dynamics, politics, economy…each one more dire than the last. We must be prepared, he would say. For the greater good.
But none of those preparations included a preemptive strike.
“You’re saving the human race,” Jared said, “by destroying it?”
“Only those…worth saving.”
“Worth saving?” Jared’s hands quivered, the barrel denting Rourke’s forehead. Nervous footsteps edged closer. “Cassie and Eve…the men at the camp, they weren’t worth saving? Not worth…you murdered them, you bastard!”
Rourke closed his eyes. “These are dark times…they have been…for quite some time.”
Jared felt the room tilt. A dark tunnel was closing around his periphery. His breath was short and choppy. He ground his teeth. An animal groan started in his throat and morphed into a whine. Fresh boots charged into the room and stopped short. Rourke lifted the fingers on his good hand. He kept them raised.
“They’re gone, Rourke,” someone announced. “Eve and Cassie got out. They were intercepted heading for the signal light, but they escaped. We can’t find them.”
“Stop them,” he answered. “You must.”
Boots left the room, but Jared could feel the remaining men and women close in around him. The weight of their weapons shifted in their hands. Their steps were careful. Rourke, though, never took his eyes from Jared. He blinked like a man exhausted from a lifetime of heavy decisions.
Of betrayal.
“Not Cassie,” Jared said through a watery veil. “Don’t hurt my daughter.”
“She belongs…to all of us.”
There was little strength in Jared’s left arm, but he no longer felt the throbbing pain of the bullet wound. There was no chance of lifting Rourke, of backing out of the room. The room was stifling, the air thick. His breath slowed and a sense of peace filled him. Finality had arrived. No more striving, no more struggling. Eve and Cassie still had a chance. Someone was flashing that signal light, calling people to it. Someone with power.
Someone that didn’t belong to the Institute.
Rourke’s heavy eyelids dropped for a long moment. The fingers on his good hand, still propped up, were quivering. All the air seemed to leave his chest at once. Jared’s weight sank into the man’s midsection.
Rourke drew one last breath. “For the greater good.”
His fingers dropped.
Before the world around Jared went black and empty, he felt the trigger beneath his finger release, felt the recoil of the weapon in his hand. Jared’s life ended suddenly, painlessly. He fell forward into the eternal dark knowing that Rourke went with him.
His former friend wouldn’t hurt his wife and daughter anymore.

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