I gallop on the steep pathway that leads to Red Hearts Inc. The dewdrops on the rolling meadow down the slope cradle the newborn sunshine in them. On reaching the plateau sprouting the giant facility, I canter towards the entry gate. The blooms have fired up the trees close by and fill my breath with fragrance. Only after I punch in do I ease into a trot and make my way along the cold labyrinth of the facility. I manage to take my position in the assembly line before Mr. Eagleye begins his rounds.
In the division where I work, the demand is high. On average, we get orders for around 3000 hearts per month. Usually, it is athletes in their late 30s who want to give their careers a fresh lease of life. Most of the time they are sponsored by corporates or the government. So, it’s a win-win situation for all.
I drown myself in the humming of the machines in a chilled unit lit by electric blue neon lights. I am a mid-assembly line worker. So, the hearts that reach me are already checked for their basic structure, pumping capacity, and genetic content ratio. My job is to check their base, extreme, and optimum run efficacy and log it. The workers up ahead will cross-check it with the declaration of intent by the individual, financial compliance, and medical viability.
My job isn’t very exciting. But it gets me by. I press the blue button in my booth. The whoosh of the conveyer belt brings in the first heart of the day, embedded in a web of arteries and veins. It is sealed in an airtight transparent container. I take a rotational view, plug the extension of my heart into the socket on the side panel and give a jumpstart to the product. The simulator interface springs to life.
I walk on the treadmill. The product thrums and starts pumping the blue liquid. The formula spurts out in acceptable trajectories. So far so good. I trot. The product progresses to a vibration, steadily pumping. I continue to trot for the standard prescribed time. Then I canter. The product jumps up as if in a shock, squirting the sticky fluid all over the insides of the case, and then stops. I shake my head. It is the second product this week to fail the test. The company doesn’t compromise on quality. So, I put a discrete blueheart stamp on it- the codeword for a rejected piece and lower it onto the conveyor belt. I often ask myself, why can’t these products be refitted. Discarding them outright seems such a waste.
After that, I have a good run till lunch. Close to lunch hour, a message from Catheart pops up on my phone. “Meet me at the warehouse during lunch break?”. I don’t know if it is a dare but decide to play along.
I go out to the ground with my box of oatmeal and greet other Horsehearts. We are content with sitting on our high stools with rustic tables by the side of a fountain. The Lionhearts, sitting at the Cave Café and tearing into their food, enjoy the best view of the cascading meadows. The Jackalhearts keep changing their spot often and seem to know things they shouldn’t.
I can’t spot Catheart. Has she already reached the basement?
During my days as a Humanheart, I dabbled in many things. Frustrated with my lack of ambition, my father chose one thing I should stick to- cricket.
I was an above-average spinner at high school. I almost made it to the district under19 team. But a random shoulder injury threw me off track. Still, I didn’t go to college and continued to play. After trying his best, my coach gently let the truth drop on me. I had no future in cricket. I would have felt relieved had my father not heaped a mountain of guilt on me.
With time on my hands and troubles on my mind, I slipped down a spiral I couldn’t climb up from. And I didn’t care. When my mother passed and my father didn’t want to see my face anymore, someone got me into a rehabilitation center. I was making gradual progress but my human heart gave up somewhere along the way.
That’s when Mr. Eagleye took pity on me and donated a horseheart. I couldn’t even afford a mouseheart. He was also kind enough to train me and keep me in his employ.
When I met Catheart at an orientation for recruits, I knew the gods were finally smiling upon me. She pawed into my heart and purred sweet nothings before I could sense what was happening to me. I was just grateful that she paid attention to me; made me feel alive.
Five minutes into the lunch hour, I trot casually to the lift, careful not to raise any suspicion. My heart races as the lift descends 3 floors. The lift dings and I get out. I check the surveillance cameras, assess the window for a blind spot, and gallop to a 3-tonne truck. I can’t believe my luck as it’s unlocked and jump headlong into it. Then, I share my live location with Catheart and wait.
Fifteen minutes have passed by and I’m beginning to question myself. I get up and nearly open the door. Then rush back inside as I hear the lift doors open. Muffled voices on foot pushing a trolley approach the truck. I let out a silent curse.
I peer through the dark coversheet I have pulled over myself as the doors of the truck open. I see a couple of Jackalhearts. Soon, the truck is loaded with crates filled with products. Then the doors are shut and locked. I curse once again.
I kick the sheet away. And look for an escape. Yes, the doors are latched from the outside. The container is already beginning to grow icy. My only chance of not being frozen to death is to somehow cut off the refrigeration and wait for the doors to open. But then it would destroy the consignment. Nausea overtakes me.
Maybe I should somehow warn the receivers. I look at the shipment closely. My head spins. Is hypothermia already getting me? I peer at the batch of horsehearts I had rejected through the week. They have the blueheart stamps but are repacked with fake readings. And their destination address takes the wind out of my lungs.
The doors crack open. I am caught red-handed and red-faced. And there’s nowhere to hide. “Come on, hurry up”, purrs Catheart as she leaps in and pulls me out.
The hot coffee in the mug begins to warm my hands. My head still hurts. After the fiasco at the warehouse, Catheart’s ardour for me seems to have turned to pity, befitting a loser. Thankfully, lunchtime is over. I head towards my workstation.
A small wheel in my head starts whirring, slowly at first but gaining speed with every step I take. It dredges up a reservoir of doubts behind the floodgates of reason.
Does Mr. Eagleye know what is happening with the damaged products?
Should I warn him?
Does it concern me?
I decide to follow Mr. Eagleye after his evening rounds. That way, it wouldn’t look too suspicious to anyone. I plod through the rest of the afternoon and follow Mr. Eagleye as he leaves my division.
“Mr. Eagleye, may I have a word with you?”
He nods without making eye contact.
“Mmm… maybe somewhere more private.”
He gestures at me to follow him.
We get to his cabin on the ground floor. I have come here only once before; when he shook hands with me on my first day at work. He settles down in his chair and motions for me to sit down. So far, he has not uttered a single word. Unease starts bubbling up in my stomach. I continue to stand.
“Sir, I happened to…uh… stumble upon something. I thought it’s important you are informed about it.”
“Okay,” He looks at me intently and I break into a cold sweat.
“Today…. umm…I saw a couple of Jackalhearts loading a consignment that had failed the quality test.”
I am thrown off guard by his unsurprised tone. Does he already know about it?
“So, I thought I should bring it to your notice…” I mumble.
“Okay, thank you. You may leave now.”
The floodgates burst open. A torrent pushes through.
I neigh recklessly, “Sir, it’s going to the state-run rehabilitation center. Aren’t you going to stop it?”
Mr. Eagleye’s eyebrows shoot up.
“Oh! I see, you seem to have collected a lot of information already. As I said, thank you, you may leave now!”
My heart drops to my hooves. He knows about the whole thing!
Two options lie in front of me. Quietly leave the cabin and resume my work. Or quietly leave the facility and report it.
I turn towards the door to shield my face. Too late. Mr. Eagleye’s shrill voice rings in my ears.
“Don’t forget you owe your second life to me, young man! And it’s good enough for those wastrels. How does it matter if it’s damaged or not? Moreover…”
My blood begins to boil. I turn back to face him.
“Moreover…what Mr. Eagleye?”
“I have the research results by my team that says, even damaged products, put into hopeful humans, have 85% chances of functioning well. You know what they say- what you don’t know can’t hurt you!”
His wings begin to spread. His eyes look sharper than ever.
If I know what is good for me, I should trot away. Now!
“But that’s cheating!” I bray.
“Careful, boy! Look at you. Haven’t you done well for yourself?” Mr. Eagleye taps his talons on the table.
I feel faint. The walls begin to close in on me.
“I’m sorry sir,” I whisper. But my eyes betray me.
Mr. Eagleye takes flight towards me, his eyes gleaming, brandishing his talons.
I dodge him, clip his wings, shove him into the display unit with trophies and lock him up. Then, I jump out of the window.
I gallop down the hill, through the meadows, all the while hoping my mind makes up where I should go before my heart gives up.