“We need more guns,” Teddy Koala said, standing back from the array before them.
Teddy was the more aggressive of the pair while Rudolph, a year older, was the planner and dreamer. He was the one who insisted he’d once read an article that had identified the brothers as the most feared killing machine in Australia’s notorious Northwest Territory in the last hundred years.
Teddy liked the idea that they were men to be feared. His only concern was that, if the newspapers were so determined to help run them down that they might use an old photo that cast the damaged right side of his face in a poor light, making him look less like a predator and more like a victim.
Rudolph knew Teddy was right. “What exactly are we missing?”
“More long-range firepower. Even if we do everything exactly as planned, and even if this is a flawless job and we get the cash and jewels and no one gets in our way and we buy a little luck here and there, the pussy Feds and Interstellar Regional Authority are going to come after us with everything they’ve got. We might need to fight them off, maybe at great distances, especially if they’re using the new infrared drones.”
“How the hell are we going to know if we are being hunted by tracking drones flying at 10,000 feet?” Rudolph all but stammered.
“Shush, lower your fucking voice.”
“We are not going to get caught.”
“I know but…”
“Have we ever gotten caught before?” Teddy asked.
“Not on the Reinhold job we pulled off in 2122, or the job over in Beaverton a month later, where the guards came out of nowhere and we blew their fucking brains with the Rizzoli Automatic 454s. Four of them. Bang, bang, bang, bank?”
“That was my favorite.”
“Mine too,” Teddy said. He looked around suspiciously and moved closer to his brother. “We walked away with a bloody fortune, and that was a year ago and they still haven’t the faintest fucking idea who hit them.”
“And they never will.”
“No, man, say it like we practiced.”
“And they never will,” Teddy finally answered.
Rudolph reached for a device he had been working on for weeks, in secret mostly, as Teddy could be more of a distraction to the creative world in which he lived. “This sensor will pick up drones as high as 30,000 feet without the limitations of binary repeating radar,” he said, gently handing over the shoebox-size device to his brother as if he were holding a newborn baby. He had always thought he would be a father, but that dream quickly vanished in his late teens, along with most of the rest of his and his brother’s future.
“How does it work?”
Rudolph reached out to the tiny green ON switch then pulled away quickly. “Romeo Ventura’s coming.”
Both brothers knew the drill. Rudolph hid the cardboard device under the table while Teddy pulled the sheet they painted over to look like camouflage until it covered the entire cafeteria table.
“What are you two up to?”
“We were talking about what life on earth was like a hundred years ago. What a God-awful shithouse it was.”
“And it’s not much better now,” Ventura said, scrutinizing the tattered red-and-green painted sheet. “You two be careful not to get into trouble now,” he chortled and walked away.
Ventura was built like his namesake, a steroid-induced American wrestler famous during his grandfather’s life. He was a fan of ancient poetry and had changed his last name as well to identify with a man who he considered his inspiration. As Chief of Patient Security, the six-foot-five, 320-pound Romeo Ventura roamed the Fairview Institute’s compound twice daily, as was his practice.
Teddy could feel his body shrink when Ventura was around, while Rudolph had found a way to manage his fear. Watching his brother was a painful thing, more difficult for Rudolph since he was at the driving console, testing the new series of Rapid Deployment Vans that the Army was developing when he agreed to let his baby brother stowaway.
An investigation after the terrible crash where the van shot off course was deemed a system failure. It left both young recruits physically and mentally incapacitated. Fairview was their third Patient Dedication center in the last ten years, and both seemed grateful just to have a home after the third alien attack in 2118 decimated what little population remained of their beloved outback.
“You think he knows?” Teddy asked, carefully tracking Ventura to the far end of the rec room, and as he had always done, quickly pivot ninety degrees and move ahead on his appointed route. There were no fences, no patrolling security, only Ventura and his assistant responsible for the eighty-three remaining, psychologically impaired patients surrounded by a thousand square kilometers of scrub, despair, and death.
“Only if one of these pricks informed on us. No other fucking way he could know.”
“Should we move up the schedule?”
“No. I’m not going to risk everything we’ve worked for simply because that ape likes to terrorize everybody.”
“But, if he finds out—”
“Stop. Don’t say it. The more you talk about failure, the more the words get into the ether and find a life of their own, and they, and not anybody here, will find a way to betray us. And I’m not going to let that happen.”
Teddy was relieved. He needed to hear his brother say just that in just that way to feel reassured that they had a chance. All he wanted was a chance. It didn’t have to be a great chance, but it had to be something viable, something Teddy could believe in. “This is viable.”
“It’s totally viable,” Rudolph assured.
“Or else we wouldn’t be doing it.”
“We’re too smart to be doing a job like this unless it was totally viable.”
“Yes,” Teddy countered in agreement.
Rudolph had come to love that word too. He had made it one of his favorites in the last few months, cleaning out all his old favorites and accepting the fact that by discarding to many old favorites, he was relying more on “viable” than on the energy in all the old favorites combined.
Fair or not, he accepted the stress he had placed on that one word. This was something he couldn’t share with Teddy. Teddy would criticize and mock him and make him feel like his world was both foolish and stupid. Teddy knew he wasn’t stupid, or how else could he have fabricated the drone detector out of scraps of cardboard and twigs he had found in the far recesses of the patient compound.
When Romeo Ventura rounded the corner and passed out of sight, the rest of the patients at the Fairview Institute quickly returned to their own private worlds. Teddy and Rudolph folded back the tattered sheet they used as camouflage, with the paintings of forest and field they had taken so much time to craft, and corralled the dozen, hand-carved wooden guns that had been on the table into a small cardboard box.
Some guns were painted blue, a few were red, while others grey, and one was painted black, which didn’t make it look any more realistic. A few had a paper clip protruding from the bottom of their center, which wasn’t much of a trigger but lent something to their authenticity.
Teddy secured the cardboard box with a half-dozen rubber bands fashioned in such a crisscross pattern so as to make the box impregnable.
“We’re going to be OK,” Rudolph said, surveying the patients in the cafeteria and the few roaming the compound outside. “If you sweat the details, you don’t have to sweat the outcome.”
“And they never…” Teddy started to say when his mind trailed off in an unexpected direction.
Romeo Ventura made his rounds without incident. There hadn’t been an incident in so long he sleepwalked the perimeter of the facility, checked its rusted and barely working heating, and water treatment systems and returned several hours later. The cafeteria was quiet. The same handful of brave souls as yesterday and the many days before doing what was little else was left to do.
He picked one of the wooden, hand-carved guns the Koala Brother left under the table and put it in the box of guns he had collected in his office over the last few months. As soon as they realized one was missing he knew they would feverishly carve another, just as badly crafted, weapon.
With Teddy pushing 93 and Rudolph at 94, the last thing Romeo Ventura wanted was to disturb what little that remain of their functional sanity. He glanced at his watch, yanked the box of guns from his desk and deposited it on the floor next to his desk as Teddy and Rudolph returned.
Once in the morning and once in the late afternoon, they went through the same ritual, as did Ventura. They scanned the lounge for troublemakers and, after a few minutes, Teddy gave Rudolph a ‘thumbs up’ and they went directly to the same table and followed the same script.
Ventura watched with some doubt. The medication both brothers were taking was kindly keeping them alive, except Ventura hadn’t received a shipment in several months. Others at the Fairview were getting along on reduced dosages already. Soon there would be none, and one by one many of the patients would fade away in their sleep. Soon, Ventura mused, what little medication he was taking wouldn’t be adequate either.
It was almost 5 pm. Both brothers knew that dinner was not far away and started to collect the guns carefully spread out, and slipped deeper into whispers lest they be overheard and their scheme exposed.
And both the Koala brothers knew that they shouldn’t miss dinner or any meal because their mother had told them that every day until her thirtieth birthday when a massive stroke took her from the two loves of her life, and a week shy of the accident that took both boys from their future.