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Beating Heart of Machine

By S.P. Johnson Jr. All Rights Reserved ©

Drama / Scifi


Hemaut hated the quarterly inspection, watching someone disassemble, clean and reassemble his heart, occasionally with a new set of screws or gaskets. All the while Hemaut would be tethered to the wall of the city. Tubes that coiled from the rivet-studded walls joined with tubes that dangled from his chest. These Umbilical tendrils made Hemaut an infant and the city his mother. All-loving, all-providing, all-dependable Machine. She keeps her citizens safe from demise. As long as they checked in every couple of months to get their organs cleaned, that is.

The process had become more bearable ever since Wenn had gotten her license. She seemed to handle Hemaut's dismantled body with more care than the other med-mechs, although she might have been more careful only because she knew Hemaut and knew she was going to have to see him more than four times a year. Or she might actually show that much respect to everyone. More likely, everyone else didn't care whether or not their aortic valve got knocked around a bit during routine maintenance. After all, they were only prosthetics, and if the med-mechs damaged one, they'd simply go get another from a store room in the back.

An elderly woman waited beside Hemaut. She was the only other patient in the medical maintenance house. Her lungs rattled around in a sanitation chamber while the attending med-mech scrubbed at her couplings with a wire brush. The lungs crashed against the chamber a few times, but their owner simply read her book, unconcerned at the possible damage. Hemaut shuddered. Wenn once told him that the older you get, the more comfortable you are with your prosthetics. If not for Wenn's occupation and field of study, Hemaut would have dismissed her assurances entirely. How would someone as young as her know anything about how it feels to be old? Even with her years of experience as a student med-mech, Hemaut didn't fully trust Wennn on the subject of how likable a prosthetic was. He liked his heart well enough while it was in its proper place, hanging on the carabiner clipped to the steel ring on his suspenders. He also didn't mind setting it aside in its priming solution while he hooked into Machine for the night. It was only when someone else was handling his heart, taking it apart to it's smallest bolts and gears, that he ever felt uneasy about his prosthetic.

“You're all set,” Wenn said, closing off the valves on Hemaut's external arteries, and with deft precision, attaching them to his heart. 

Hemaut smiled appreciatively while he hung his heart on its clip and secured his arteries behind the protective leather suspenders.

Wenn wiped a spot of blood from the heart. “Will we be seeing you tonight in the archive?”

“Not tonight,” Hemaut said. “I've got to meet with Old Man.”


“He's helping me with my project,” Hemaut said, searching Wenn's eyes for some signal of disapproval.

“I thought you said you were asking him for ideas,” Wenn said, turning her head a little and squinting one eye. “Is he helping you further?”

“Just with the idea,” Hemaut admitted with a small shrug. “I know he's taking his time with it, but we both agree it has to be an idea worth having.”

“It had better be good. You've only got two months to finish a project you've known about for four years. Reinventing a reinvention is not an easy task.”

“I think it's going to be a concept,” Hemaut confessed.

Wenn grimaced. “Even worse. The Directors haven't supported any philosophical entries in over two-hundred years. I don't want to line up with all of the other nay-sayers, but maybe you should consider some kind of back-up entry. The last thing you want is to stand in front of all of Machine and those Directors – who have no sense of humor, I should add – and give a presentation that sounds like it was made up at the last second.” 

“In that case,” said Hemaut, “I would be better off with a well-considered concept than to waste time and energy on a project that really is done up at the last minute.”

“Maybe if you pick something that hasn't had a lot of attention paid to it in a long time,” Wenn said, frowning thoughtfully.  “You might have an easier time of it that way. Of course, you'll have to come up with an explanation for why you picked something so obscure and why you thought that needed your attention. But that's still better than what you've got now.” She began nodding as if she had doubted her own words, but was now seeing some sense in them. “You know, even if you have just the plans, you can sometimes get an extension to build a working model. Especially if your reinvention will call for a lot of expensive materials. A graduate from a couple of classes before ours did that with an improved efficiency valve pump.” 

“And a graduate from the next class made a new improvement that rendered the previous valve obsolete,” Hemaut reminded her.

“That's how it goes,” Wenn said with a sympathetic smile. “Every improvement is just a rung in the ladder for the next class to climb. And don't start in on all of that lasting legacy business.”

“I won't.” Hemaut pulled out his pocket watch and sucked air between his teeth. “No time. Old Man won't help me if I'm late.” He threw a hand up behind him as he dodged through the door of the medical maintenance house. “See you tomorrow. Maybe.”

“At least see if you can learn Old Man's real name!” Wenn shouted just before the door clicked neatly closed behind him.

Hemaut smiled. He did know Old Man's name, but felt like it was private information for the secluded, secretive elder. Only those in his confidence could call him Ollivan. 

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