He had no heart. Whatever he’d once had in that department had been shot out in the attack that had taken his manhood along with everyone he’d ever cared for. All that remained was a mechanical heart, mechanical hands, mechanical eyes that searched the data, over and over, seeking for its next target.
“Most were soldiers already,” Admiral Brandt said over his shoulder as he entered the surveillance room. “The mind’s intact and preserves all its strength of purpose, while the biomechanics enable them to continue their mission with minimal food and sleep. It’s the perfect solution.”
The pair paused near his station. “This is Captain Harris, one of our chief trackers. Captain, Mr. Phillips is from the public relations department.”
He turned, saw yet another colorless voyeur in the relentless string of observers.
Phillips gazed with fascination. “It’s good to meet you, Captain.”
Harris stared, then returned to his work.
The visitor murmured, “Can he hear me?”
“Of course! Captain Harris is merely focused on his task.” Admiral Brandt peered at the screen, then straightened. “Very good, Captain. Carry on.”
As they moved away, Harris caught the whisper, “The skin looks almost real.”
“3D printing,” Brandt said proudly. “We can restore almost any appendage right off the field. I can show you some charts…”
The closing door snuffed their whispers. Harris’ gaze never left the screen, where a network of dissipating heat trails dispersed from the smoldering shell of a school bus. Patiently methodical, he followed the next trail in the series.
This track led him to a man standing on a dirt street, outside the open door of a hut. His clothes were dusty from the journey, but he smiled. In his arms, he held a white cat, its head rotating in pleasure as he scratched.
Mechanical hands twitched. Slowly, a mechanical finger stroked the air, remembering the softness. No hands anymore, no heart. No heart.
He waited until the man put down the cat and went inside. The heat trace showed his movements behind the wall. No one else there, just the man and his rainbow image.
Harris waited until the little cat wandered around the corner. Only then did fingers twitch; the hut exploded in a bloom of orange flame. Firelight flickered against unfeeling eyes.
People ran from neighboring huts. Futilely they threw sand upon the flames, rushing in before skittering back from the conflagration. He remembered similar heat searing his own skin, the desperate acts that he, too, had undertaken, just as futilely, back when he had a heart.
He navigated the targeting system back to the bus. One last heat trail to follow. One more target to deprive of hands and skin and heart.
The heart was key, of course. It was the seat of all love, all longing, all rage. The mind held onto these things, remembering the love and the rage when it could no longer feel them, when all that was left was the memory of the heart. It was almost enough.
The trail led to a village in celebration. It took a while to identify the perpetrator among the men dancing in the street, but trace particles gave him away. He danced with his arm about the shoulders of a boy—his son?
He swallowed. Here was the recipient of heart, the object that Harris no longer had. The only way to stop the love and the rage was to stop the heart. It wouldn’t stop the longing. It would never stop the dreams that played mockingly behind unseeing eyes. It was an imperfect solution for a world devoid of warmth and softness and touch.
He waited until the boy—someone else’s boy—was safely away. Then he reached again to do all he had left to do, with all that he had left.
He had no heart. He had no heart.
His finger moved. The screen flickered against his eyes.
One day, the memory of heart would fade. Then mechanical hands would undo all the genius that these admirals and makers of skin had wrought with their hands of flesh. But for now, today, he swallowed unseen tears down the back of his throat.
BIO: Marie DesJardin writes science fiction, fantasy, and alternative history in Denver, Colorado. Works range from humorous to dramatic and include flash fiction, novels, and screenplays. Credits include Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Apokrupha, Compelling Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds Magazine, Story Quest (contest winner), and a humorous science fiction novel, For the Time Being. Marie enjoys travel, animals, and hiking in the mountains when they’re not on fire.