Head and Heart (Sci-fi Week Version)

My name is Taryn Lykos, and this is how my battle ends.

(This was originally for Project Remix, but I republished it for the sci-fi week competition.)

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2. Head and Heart

It's five in the morning when the phone vibrates within the adamant clasp of my hand, and if I possessed the power to feel, I might be feeling dread.


I answer instantly.

"Purebloods in the forest. Still got the detonator?" Ikshu's thickly accented voice greets me.

"We lost half our team getting the explosives," I snap, scrambling from the sleeping bag. "You think I'd lose the detonator after that?"

"Just hurry up," Ikshu replies, and moments later my ear is filled with silence. Thick, putrid, deathly silence.

Shoving the phone into my pocket, I kick Arcas's shin, tearing away the comforting blanket of sleep. His eyes flutter wearily.

"Let's go," I mutter. "Purebloods." This has the desired effect: Arcas's expression fills instantly with dread. I've long since stopped trying to scrutinise emotions. A Head should never try to understand affairs of their Heart.

Arcas draws a shaky breath as I push open the door. We've gone over the plan so many times that it's burned into my mind with letters of searing monstrosity. Get within range. Detonate. Wait for the soldiers to run to the town. Escape.

Beneath the cloak of darkness, we slip from the abandoned shack and into the forest.

Abandoned buildings. Sleepless nights on the freezing floor. Even that's a luxury, now.

Snapping, rustling, shadows. My eyes flicker about, every movement catching the attention of my vision. Pureblood soldiers are here, somewhere, and it is my job - my duty - to keep Arcas alive. There is no alternative. I need him. Not emotionally, of course, but because I'd die without him. We are intertwined: two bodies, one person. Tipping the scales of logic and emotion would mean anarchy.

I strain to hear above Arcas's heavy gasps, and by the time I realise there are shadows descending upon us, it's too late.

Before I can so much as reach for my gun, something collides with me, and suddenly there's cold ground and thorns digging into my face, and Arcas is screaming and I need to get to him, need to reach him!

"You deserve worse than death, Lowblood!" my captor hisses, and in the moonlight I see his face. Cold - as cold as the knife that digs into my neck, as cold as the night air that jabs at my skin with frosty daggers.

"Taryn!" Arcas screams.

The Pureblood boy sneers in triumph.

Hesitation is his death.

I push my weight forwards, and in the confusion he loses his power. Only a moment ago, he was the victor. The next, my gun is in my hand and there's a bullet through his skull.

"NO!" His Heart screams in anguish, and, as she staggers away from Arcas, it seems as though she's the one who was shot. Her features twist into an expression of horror, and I can almost feel the agony as it undulates from her writhing body.

Another bullet. Another death, to end the pain. She wouldn't last long without her Head, anyway.

If I were a Heart, it might have awed me - that a single movement is capable of stealing a life. I think it would sicken me, too.

"How?" Arcas's voice trembles. Fear - another intricately designed factor that both weakens and fuels the Heart. "How can you pull the trigger?"

"You know how. I cannot feel."

And yet I almost want to feel. I almost want to know what it's like, to shed the tears that glow silver in the moon. But that will never happen, and I do not quite want to feel, because that is illogical, and I am the logic. Besides, it must be horrible. Worse than physical pain, Arcas has told me. Worse than the stones of the school playgrounds; worse than the knives from the street fights.

"You're lucky!" he hisses. "You don't have to go through all... this!"

His breathing is laboured with shock, horror, resentment. But that cannot, and will not, stop us. Soon, the Pureblood soldiers will find the body of the scout. Unless we've detonated the bomb by then, we won't reach morning.

"We need to keep moving," I say, grabbing his arm and dragging him along. "We have to survive."

He snatches his arm away.

"No. We don't."

"What the hell are you talking about?" I demand. "Arcas, we have to leave! We're nearly in range! Half our team died to get the explosives," I snarl, trying to scare him into moving. "Are you saying they'll have died for nothing?"

"No. They'll have died for nothing if we give in to them, Taryn. Don't you get it?" His face is set in determined lines of steely persistence, and yet there are tears swelling within his eyes like fountains of sorrow. "This is what they think we are! They think we're monsters, but we have to show them that we could have all the bombs in the world, but we wouldn't kill innocent people, even if they're Purebloods. We can't let them turn us into real terrorists!" The tears are falling shamelessly, now, but still he does not stop. "I would rather die myself than live a monster. If there is one thing we should fear, Taryn, it isn't dying. It's losing. Let me die winning."

I grit my teeth, trying to battle against his words. "We can't win if we're dead."

"We," Arcas echoes, "are Lowbloods, and Lowbloods will never defeat them in battle. They have better soldiers, weapons, numbers. We have to show them that they're wrong. That we don't deserve this."

"Your fear is corrupting you," I growl, trying to drag him away, trying to ignore his words. He has to come. He has to come, because if he doesn't, we'll die.

"It isn't, Taryn, and you know it! We've been together since birth - don't pretend you're oblivious, because you're not!"

I grip his shoulder. Our eyes lock.

"Arcas, I don't think you understand. What about the others? Your emotions are making you weak."

He pulls away, refusing to listen. "Emotions can be our downfall, but they're our humanity. Suppress them, and you suppress all that makes us human," he spits, and in his voice is every feeling that swells within him. Desperation. Fear. Hope. "There are four people hiding. They might be able to escape, but at least fifty people will die if you detonate the bomb. Fifty people, Taryn. Fifty people who might not even like being Pureblood."

Every word he says is so impossibly illogical. Everything within me should be repelling his insanity. I am the logic, after all. I am the reason; the strategy; the survival. But that's why there's both a Head and a Heart, I suppose, and that's why I cannot fight Arcas any longer.

Logic can save us, but deep within my mind is the knowledge that only morality can drag us from the dark. Sometimes, conscience must stand above survival.

I sigh.

This will be the last time I ever get to make this choice, but Heads must recognise emotion at its purest every once in a while.

"You're sure?"

Instantly, Arcas's face contorts into an expression of relief, and suddenly I am within his arms, inhaling his familiar scent. It would be comforting, if I were a Heart.

"Thank you," he breathes, joy dancing through his voice. Not because we've escaped, but because we've won. Because we have not succumbed to the people they want us to be.

As Arcas pulls away, I take my phone from my pocket to call Ikshu. He's smart. They'll make it from the forest if they follow him.

"Taryn?"

"Try to escape. We'll distract them for as long as we can. And tell the other Lowbloods: don't let them make you monsters. That'll only give them victory."

Hanging up before he can ask anything, I turn to Arcas. "We're going to die proudly. Don't give them the satisfaction of seeing you cry."

He nods. "I understand."

I remove the detonator from my bag. It seems too small to be the death of fifty people. Then again, can anything ever be big enough for death? Slowly, carefully, I set it on the ground a few feet away.

"Dawn is arriving," Arcas says softly.

I look up. The first fingers of light brush the sky with a gentle caress of orange and pink and gold, like a beautiful palette of colour: a soothing, melodic concoction of Arcas's favourite shades. Celestial light casts a golden blanket over the forest, each ray illuminating the natural elegance that has been concealed within darkness.

Light. Glorious, hopeful, alluring. Light that I will never see again.

And yet Arcas wasn't speaking of the sky, but the Lowbloods. If they can remain themselves, they can escape the inky darkness, and pass into the comfort of sunrise.

In the distance: footsteps. Shutting off the sound, I close my eyes.

The succulent kiss of morning air greets my open lips. Fresh. Relaxing. Almost sugary, as it dissolves upon my tongue. This is how the morning should taste: delectable and new, carrying with it the flavours of the forest around us.

Air. Pure, enticing, crisp. Air that I will never taste again.

When I open my eyes, I can see soldiers. Hatred is written deep into their features: a script of spite that seems impossible to rewrite. As they draw closer, they raise their guns, and I notice how their Hearts follow like lambs. We are not separated from our Hearts so we can dominate and control them. We are separated from our Hearts so there's a balance of morality and rationality. No superiority - just equality.

I inhale. The familiar scent of pine fills my nose, and instantly a tirade of memories hits me. Home had the same sweet aroma, before the segregation. When everything was perfect.

Pine. Gentle, familiar, homely. Pine that I will never smell again.

"There's a detonator to my left," I call out. "We haven't used it, because we're not the monsters you believe us to be."

For a moment, their commander studies me, as though evaluating my worth as a hostage. A shudder of cold ripples through me, but I do not buckle beneath his metallic gaze.

"On my signal!" he calls eventually, and the soldiers ready their guns.

A squall of silence suffocates us, but the melody of birdsong begins, rising in volume and breaking through the soundless tension that engulfs the soldiers. Soon, it becomes a symphony of melodious sound.

Birdsong. Soft, hopeful, sanguine. Birdsong that I will never hear again.

Somehow, my hand finds Arcas's, and the warmth seeps from his fingers to mine.

"Thank you, Taryn," he whispers, and in his voice is every emotion he refuses to show.

"Any time," I say, and my grip on his hand tightens. These are my final words. I do not want to waste them.

Beyond the guns, the warmth from the sun stretches outwards, and I bathe in its comforting embrace. The sun has a gentle warmth, but that of Arcas's hand is stronger. Stronger, but just as gentle.

Warmth. Welcoming, cordial, tender. Warmth that I will never feel again.

We are surrounded. Not just by soldiers, but by victory. We will not die monsters. The cry comes to shoot, and like tigers the bullets leap from the guns in an orange blaze of power.

And then the pain kicks in and we're both falling, but it doesn't matter because we've won.

Victory. Sweet, luscious, exultant. Victory that I will never sense again. But I don't need to - because just once is enough. One small victory in an ocean of loss is enough to turn the tides. And this time, the tides will turn not just for Lowbloods, but for every single human being who can accept difference.

My lips part in Arcas's name, and when all else fades to black, his hand is still warm.

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