It was not my fault.
I saw hope in his chest, turning under the skin, a glass ball with ground surface. The tips of my fingers passed through his soft sternum. The surface was velvet to the touch. He looked away in quiet pain. Muscles twitched in his neck like plucked cords.
I cupped hope and lifted it away, leaving a spherical space that welled up quickly with black blood. Then I turned to the half-circle of judges who watched, gloating, as the orb spun in my joined palms.
There was no choice. I handed it to the one wearing a ruby-robe. The judges nodded in slow unison; warhead or source, touchstone or packed ejecta of seven billion souls, its weight brought them reassurance. For a moment, they were vulnerable. But I was powerless.
Behind me he woke like a patient from anaesthesia, not knowing yet if the findings were grave, if his groove in time was to be filled with sand and glazed by the dying sun’s expanding reach.
I murmured reassurance that he no longer carried our fate; that it was out of his hands, my own still humming with the memory of its body-warmth and unearthly density. That the judges were content. That its core, when read in another place would tell a story of good intentions overtopping harm. He tried to smile. He did that to make me comfortable.
But already the chill of the glass-heart’s absence was spreading, hardening his skin where my lips brushed the place where ear runs to cheek. His eyes, taking warmth from a deeper hearth, remained mobile and anxious, horribly aware as the feeding nerves died back like ash on a discarded cigarette, blown away in the street breeze.
The judges left.
A little later the state found me kneeling by his shadow, a carbon layer adherent to the hard ground, held close by molecular bonds that no scrubbing party or whitewash detail could hope to delete.
They accused me: a quisling, reared in duplicity, resentful surely of the comfort I sniffed, floating off the horizon towers. Surely, they decried, that was why I gave hope away.
No, I whispered.
Then why you, why you? After an eon of peace, why did you lure him onto this cemented desert, where any passing intelligence could sense a hinge in time? You let them in.
I showed them my wrist. The tattoo left by his disintegrating grip. Black atoms fixed by faith, in me.
I was released, cleverly belittled, erased from history like the heart itself. Lost to politics, and myth. Nothing now. An eccentric belief.
They told me this. You know this.
It is history, it is written. Hope was an illusion. The future depends on harder things. The consequences, if we are wrong, will not be felt for ten generations.
So, I was not to blame.
by Philip Berry