Can a heart still ache after its stopped beating?
For years—I couldn’t tell you how many, for all the beginnings bled into the endings—my creator drew plans for his secret project.
Every year, he presented some new creature for the Council to gawk and pick at like crabs. They picked and picked, probing with their sharp fingers and sharper tongues, prying, finding every single flaw. One year, Evit presented a creature with clawed appendages framing its mouth of rowed, jagged teeth. They copied its design and placed a few prototypes on a distant planet. Another year, they marveled at a plated monster with a mace tail. Years earlier, their pinchers ruffled my feathers and pulled at my tail.
All of his past creations were sent away but me. All were lost to extinction. None of them were enough.
You asked me once what his greatest creation was. I said it was you. Those words escaped from my heart before I could process my answer. I always wondered if Evit spared me so I could look after you. Maybe he created me with you in mind. You could have been my purpose. But deep in my bones, I knew I had no role to play, and you were another project, another being to showoff and discard.
There was a thump coming from your pack.
Head whipping, I pictured the possessed organ beating inside. With no pericardium to anchor to, it flopped along the bottom of its container like a dying octopus. Its arteries and veins clutched the glass walls, trying to suction its way to our creator.
The thumps grew louder.
“Can you hear it, 4207? It lives!”
My eyes widened as the heart pumped inside a glass jar. Evit stabbed the poor thing with tubes to help it with pressure control. I turned away despite knowing the tubes were necessary. My tail wrapped around my legs, but they were still free to move.
“The heart powers our vessels. It pumps to give us life.” Evit tapped against the glass. “If we have power over it, we have power over life.”
Evit’s heart continued to mechanically pump.
You stirred awake and distracted me from its thumping. “Cenred?”
“I’m here, Darling.” My fingers run through your honey wisps.
Your little hands reached for mine. “Do you think Papa misses us?”
“I’m sure he does.” The lie tasted bitter and soaked my tongue.
“Where did he go?”
Ah. I overheard Evit’s colleagues talk about experiments with dead subjects. They worked on transporting consciousness to other planes of reality after their subjects’ corporeal vessels expired. I never heard if the experiments were successful.
“Papa’s gone away.”
Those little hands shook. “Did you see him before he left?”
Evit shoved me in the supply closet. “4207, wait until I tell you to leave.”
My curiosity took hold of my arm as voices flooded the room. I cracked open the door just enough to see my creator’s back.
“Viver, you don’t understand! I need more time. I am close to—”
“No, you don’t understand. Your research is fruitless.”
“I’m telling you; I almost found the perfect design. I studied its evolution from peristaltic pumps to the four-chambered hearts of mammals. And I found the genes I need to tweak. Imagine it, Viv, a heart more efficient than our own. Think of all the possibilities!”
An ugly pause dragged on for minutes.
“No such thing exists.”
My heart weighed against my ribs.
“Not yet at least.” I pictured Evit’s crooked grin as he shoved diagrams in front of Viver.
“I don’t believe you heard me.” Viver towered over Evit. “There. Is. No. Such. Thing.”
The two scientists whispered to each other, and I inched closer to the frame. “Please, don’t push it,” I begged.
Viver put on a glove. “I am asking you to forget about this project. We are Gods, and there is nothing you can improve upon.”
I didn’t hear Evit’s reply before a laser shot through his back.
“How is the heart doing?”
“I checked on it a few minutes ago, and it’s still pumping away.” I haven’t looked at the cursed thing in hours.
“Why did Papa give it to me?”
“He knew you would keep it safe.”
You yawned. “Will you help me?”
The thumping rang in my ear.
Your eyes—the same green as Evit’s—pierced into my soul.
Eyes dulling, Evit grasped my hand. “Sophia…”
“I promise, I will keep her safe—”
“The heart!” He held on tighter. “Give Sophia the heart.”
Evit’s blank eyes pinned me in place.
“Give her the heart?” I whispered.
Something inside me cracked.
“Give her the heart!” My hands shook Evit until his limp neck flopped against my chest. “Why? There must be more. Tell me there’s more!”
But there was nothing.
Your fingers grazed the opening of the pack. Inside it was a paradox, something made by a God and yet had the capability to exceed him. Tucked away in the glass was hundreds of years of research and all the love of our creator.
The heart thumped once more.
Evit’s heart mocked me as it beat so calmly while mine burst with every pump. I kept the tubes in place and clutched it in my palm. The heart fluttered. It was so trusting, so fragile. My fingers wrapped around it tighter. The heart trembled. Warmth radiated in my hand. I squeezed. The heart pounded against my grasp. That only made its ache worsen. I caged it. The heart fought for every beat as I squeezed harder.
I had the power to destroy something divine, to end life.
My fingers loosened.
Tucking the heart close to my chest, I soothed it as sobs erupted from my core.
I avoided your eyes and tucked you back into your sleeping bag. Your arms stopped me as they wrapped around my waist. My fingers run through those honey wisps as I sang some nonsense words together. The words didn’t matter. They somehow reached you and matched the thumping of the heart. You nuzzled into my chest.
Before you drifted off to sleep, you whispered, “I wanted Papa’s love. Not his heart.”