For The Greater Good

Halfway through dessert, Mum’s communicator pinged. A few moments later, so did Ma’s. They glanced at each other, as all parents do, that one-millisecond look conveying one-thousand unspoken words.

My stomach dropped, and the warm pudding in my mouth suddenly felt cold. “What?” I mumbled. “Has someone died?”

Mum’s communicator pinged again, the transparent glass flashing red.

A glob of chocolate sauce fell, splatting onto her plate, and she put down her spoon. “The creature we discovered last week, hidden beneath the ice, its...” Mum hesitated, but after a nod from Ma, she added, “Meditec says it's alive.”

“It’s awake?” Ma had shown me photivids of the frozen creature, its dark, mangled body preserved in time.

“Not as of yet. Well, not as far as we can tell.”

Ma took my hand from across the table, her’s white and human, mine blue and furry—alien.

I used to hate being different from them, looking ‘wrong’. Every day I would wish to wake up human, try to curse away the horns on my head and the tail flicking from my back. I once shaved the fur on my arms, watched as a blanket of fluff formed on the bathroom floor, and my skin turned yellow and raw. But Ma had caught me. She didn't yell or cry; she only took me in her arms and hugged me.

It took a while, but I now feel comfortable with who I am. Horns and all.

Ma smiled almost apologetically, her dark brows curving in. “We have to go,” she said, a smidge of chocolate gracing her upper lip, “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I know it's your Hatchday, but—”

Keeping hold of Ma’s hand, I stood and walked around the table. My tail twitched, and I leaned back, using my weight to pull her out of her chair. “Go,” I said to them.

Ma eyed me warily. “Seriously?”

“Seriously serious. But one thing...” I glanced between them, trying to hide my smile. “Can I come? I’ll be good. I promise.”

Ten minutes later, I stood in the observation bay, watching as my parents climbed into their hazmat suits—Ma in pink, Mum in green.

The Lab always smelt of chemicals and artificial lemon. And today was no exception. Even safe behind a thick layer of protective glass, my nose prickled, and hot tears stung my eyes.

Inside, the lab itself was like one block of ice: white walls, white floor, and the transparent screens situated around the room reflected the stark lights like a freshly polished ice sculpture.

In the middle of the lab, Ma and Mum leaned over what I could only describe as a large, opaque coffin.

Mum’s suit groaned as she turned her banana-shaped helmet towards me. “Are you watching Squidge?” She said, using my nickname. Her voice sounded muffled through her respirator. “We’ll be the first to set eyes on this creature in over one thousand years; I don't want you to blink and miss it.”

I pressed my nose to the cool glass. “I’m watching.”

Mum gave a gloved thumbs up and then typed something into one of the surrounding screens. Sound like compressed air hissed, and the coffin on the table turned clear before dissipating, revealing the creature lying there.

To compare the creature to an Earth lizard would be wrong. Although it had all the attributes of a scaly reptile (rough, green skin, flat, almost featureless face and a long tail), it—they—was far more magnificent. Far more.

The creature laid on their side, two back legs curling into their stomach. Sharp, white claws—talons?—tipped the end of each of the six toes, and as I craned my neck, I noticed a matching set on their slender fingers.

Their eyes were shut, sleeping.

I took a long sniff through my nose, and beneath the tang of chemicals, I caught a whiff of something... Else.

“Getting the sniffles, sweetheart?” Ma asked.

“No... I think— They smell bad”—I shook my head—“not bad, but sick. Unwell.”

Mum’s helmet glinted as she looked up. “You can smell them? What of?”

The new odours scratched the back of my throat, and I took a sip of water. “Like fermented strawberries and stale week-old Earth milk.”


“Yeah, it's disgusting.”

Ma moved around the sleeping creature. I could hear them talking, but between the suits and the glass, their voices were no more than jumbled mumbles.

“What are you guys saying? What is it?”

My parent's eyes met and their second of a thousand words passed between them. Ma nodded, and without hesitation, Mum pressed something on the screen.

A high trill blared, and the Meditec’s robotic voice croaked through the speakers, “Termination accepted.”

Termination? No, no, no, no.

We were a research lab, a mouthpiece for the past. Everything my parents discovered was sent home to help widen our understanding of Earth's forgotten history. We weren't killers; we were observers. This wasn't right.

I hammered on the window. “You’re going to kill them! Stop!”

“Alexis, quiet.” I don't know which one of them said it.

“No, what you're doing is wrong,” I yelled. “I thought you wanted to help them.” Something wet slipped down my cheek. “Like you did for me.”

I didn't notice Ma leave the lab.

“You’re young, you... You don't understand it yet,” Ma said softly. “It's horrible, of course it is, but...” She wrapped her arms around me and pulled me close, but I didn't return the human gesture. I could smell the disinfectant on her. Her hazmat suit was gone, shredded like a second skin, and she rested her chin on the top of my head between my horns. “It's for the greater good, sweetheart—one life for many. It's for the greater good,” she repeated, and I didn't know if she said that for me or more for herself.

A red light flashed from inside the lab. The meditec’s speaker crackled.“Termination complete.”

“You’re a murderer,” I mumbled, but Ma only hugged me closer.

In the end, I understood why they had done what they did. The smell was a sign of Reptoria, a virus that had it gotten out; it could have ended ev—

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