Chuck Wendig has a flash fiction challenge on his blog. (No matter how I try to keep up, I always miss the release date for these things, but at least this time I found it before the challenge expired.) This challenge was The Random Title Jamboree. Rules were pretty simple: use a random number generator to pick an element of the title from each column. 1500 word limit. Addition of “The” allowed. I cheated a bit on that last bit; I added “A” instead. Guess I won’t win the trophy.
My numbers were 4 (Fist Full of) and 18 (Hearts) and I added that illegal article, A. Oddly, I got the story I wanted in only 1154 words. ENG 246 would be shocked that I came in under word count. Since I’ve been on a western kick lately I was pretty surprised with what the little voices in my head dictated.
Anyway, here it is.
A Fist Full of Hearts
Inquiry into the Creation of Artificial Humans, Vol. I
A scientific record by Amanda Stevenson
June 30th, 1887
The creature struggled against its restraints, but they held. After so many failures, one of the few things I am sure of is how strong my creations are. I placed the syringe next to the thing’s neck. “This is your fault,” I said. “I told you the rules. You chose to ignore them.” The creature roared its defiance as I slipped the needle beneath the skin, into the carotid artery. I pushed the plunger, sending the amber poison into the creature’s bloodstream. It jerked, and roared again, this time in pain. The massive body jerked against the restraints, then sagged limply. Its hands clenched spasmodically, once, twice, then stilled. I replaced the syringe on the instrument tray, rinsed my hands with a sterile wash, and left the operating theater.
I inspected myself in the mirror of the antechamber. The last time I terminated an experiment the creature somehow managed to get blood on the hem of my dress. I hadn’t noticed it until later, when I was preparing to receive guests for tea. This time, however, there were no unwanted fluids on lab coat or frock. I spent a few minutes adjusting my lace cuffs, and tidying my hair, and then left the lab for the day.
The afternoon was devoted to social calls; they are a dreadful waste of time, but necessary. Papa warned me when I announced my intention to follow him in the practice of medicine; society would not approve if I deviated too far from normal, and without society where would I find my patients? Unless I want to spend my time ministering to the poor, I would do well to attend to society’s demands as much as possible. At times it seems that I might do better to work among the lower classes; it might afford me more subjects for my research. Unfortunately, that research requires a great deal of money, and so I continue my career as a doctor among the pampered wives and daughters of society, who are so willing to pay a hefty fee to someone with a sympathetic look, who “truly understands how they suffer.”
The first few households I visited were a complete waste; I spent a few minutes listening to the latest gossip while trying to avoid dispensing free medical advice. It’s a delicate balance; I must be willing to listen and make small, helpful suggestions, but nothing that will allow “my friends” to avoid a professional visit for very long. Midway through the afternoon, though, I visited Mrs. S—. This was the social call which I most dreaded; Mrs. S— has children.
She isn’t the only member of my social circle with progeny; indeed, for a woman to be married for longer than a year and without children means that if she is not under my professional care it is because her husband prefers the services of one of my colleagues. Mrs. S— is unique among my acquaintances in her treatment of her children. Normally, when one calls on one’s acquaintances the children aren’t a factor. Nanny may, on occasion, lead the little darlings in for a quick inspection and then whisk them back upstairs, but for the most part one only sees the girls when they are being prepared for their introduction into society, and the boys, not at all.
Mrs. S—, however, has several small children of whom she is inordinately proud. When one calls upon her, instead of lengthy discussions of the latest scandals one receives a brief sharing of the highlights, and then Mrs. S— calls upon the children to entertain. One daughter sings, another plays the pianoforte; the boys, at their mother’s direction, recite, perform gymnastic feats, and on one memorable occasion, unsuccessfully attempt to demonstrate the various tricks they have taught the family dog.
Today was no different; over tea we exchanged news of the most trivial sort, and then “You must see the children!” Mrs. S— said. “It’s been so long since you last called, and they have all made such progress.” In short order the children were called, and the exhibition began. It was obvious, from the children’s expressions and attitudes, that they no more relished the ordeal than did I, but they made no complaint. In order, oldest to youngest, each child demonstrated some perceived skill or talent on maternal command. They were quiet, biddable, and even when fiercely embarrassed, they were obedient.
As I watched them I reflected on how Mrs. S— was able to command each of these, her creations, as it were, while I, who have brought forth vastly more complicated life in my laboratory, struggle and ultimately fail to control a single creature. So intent was I upon the problem that after all of the children were finished, and were hopefully awaiting the reward of a teacake and dismissal, I asked if they could repeat various bits of the performance. Mrs. S— happily agreed, and though I received dark looks from the children, they each reenacted their parts with the same obedience, and apparent enthusiasm.
When at last the children were released, I asked Mrs. S— how it is that her children are so exceedingly well behaved. She seemed surprised at the question and after a bit of thought said that it was due to love. “They know that I love them, and they love me. Because of that, they are willing to do things they dislike, just to please me.” We talked for only a few minutes more, then I apologized for taking up so much of her afternoon and left. So excited was I with what I had seen, I dispensed with the rest of the afternoon’s calls and returned home to consider.
Inquiry into the Creation of Artificial Humans, Vol. II
A scientific record by Amanda Stevenson
July 7th, 1887
I have at last solved the problem of how to control my creatures. Always before I have demanded their obedience through duty; after all, without me they would not exist. Each creation has, at some point, rebelled against this obligation and forced me to destroy it. If I replace obligation with love however, they will, as Mrs. S—‘s children do, obey me at every instance. For a while I was puzzled as to how to command the love of my creations, but again, I found the answer in Mrs. S— and her children.
The hearts that I designed to power my creatures do not love, but it took only a small modification to make room for a second, smaller, heart, one capable of love.
Tomorrow I will announce the opening of a free clinic, serving the needs of the city’s poorest children.
Love is, after all, the product of an innocent heart, and who has a more innocent heart than a child?