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Flash. Flash. Flicker, flicker, flicker, flicker. Flash. Blue. Blue. Red, green, yellow, purple. Purple.
Two Earth hours he’d spent now, watching the communications board. No interference with any communications. Not that it mattered, as no one was communicating. Blue. Blue. Red, green, yellow, purple. Purple.
He laid his stylus on the table. It was a bit old-fashioned, but he was drawing in clay. He kept a water shield over it – a piece of Aldebaran material – until he had finished, when it would dry and be preserved long enough to be sent as a message. Or kept as art. He had been drawing idly, his thoughts elsewhere. Occasionally, Sun-Men would appear in the drawings as wrathful, as merciless, because he felt alone. The Sun-Men were real enough, all right, but they were bored. They were not cruel, but boredom encouraged them to do cruel things.
The Sun-Men had taken his heart. They had spirited it away one night whilst he had slept, and locked it away in a jeweled box with the diseased hearts of other men he’d once known. He’d awakened the next morning feeling free. He’d lain in bed, breathing deeply, stretching his aching muscles with an entirely carnal pleasure. Three minutes, four, five he’d lain there, until an hour had passed.
At last, had risen and begun to cook. Nobody cooked anymore, but he took a metal plate of his ancestors’ and made it hot with artificial flame. He coated it in animal fat and broke three eggs into it. He’d kept the chickens for their appeal to tourists, but the rooster had died and the eggs laid were useless, except for cooking. He had a synthesized vegetable cream, and spices, and he had cooked the eggs. Eating them was, again, a carnal pleasure. There was no sense of accomplishment for having cooked a good meal, for having been self-sufficient….only the sensations of taste, of smell, of the texture of the eggs against his teeth, of the way they looked, of the way his ancient bone sticks sounded when they clicked against each other through the eggs.
Four days, he had passed like this. He did not work. He did not produce anything of value. A friend had come to visit, to talk, but shortly, the sound of the woman’s voice was boring to him, and he had wanted to experience the smell of her hair, the feel of her robes, the taste of the scented cleanser she used on her hands, the sight of her bare feet. And so she had gone.
And that night, the Sun-Men had grown tired of watching the man without a heart, and they had returned half of it to him. And so in the morning, he had known only sadness - he knew only how much his missed his heart. For he considered his heart to be the beauty, to be the happiness and joy and simplicity and pride for having cooked a good meal.
But he could find no pride. The eggs were never cooked perfectly. Friends who came to visit had news to tell which he’d already heard. When he awoke in the morning, the sun burned his eyes.
He stayed at home.
But he worked again, or he tried to. His heart would have wanted him to. Beyond that, though, he could see no purpose in it. He did monitor the communications, but what did it matter to him if someone couldn’t get through?
And then it came.
Blue. Blue, red, green, yellow, green. Purple. Someone wanted him.
He knew he should move, should respond, should put the information through the system, because there was interference. A second green, not a first purple.
But it didn’t matter, not really. A dying man would die whether or not he’d spoken to his wife at that precise moment. A war would be a war despite any messages of peace treaty or surrender. But his heart would have wanted him to respond.
He was gripped not by paralyzing indecision, but filled with cooling lead. He was filled with apathy, with sadness. Tears welled up in his eye, just one, and flowed across his cheek. His breath came slower, and he looked away from the board.
His hand twitched, but he couldn’t raise it. Not enough to respond. The Sun-Men had stolen his heart.
His hands fell into his lap. His gaze met the utilitarian blank wall in resignation, and the stylus and the clay and communication board remained untouched.
They found him three days later like that, and they found the list of messages he should have heard, printed in miniature glyphs on vegetable-based paper. They managed to convey all but one to their intended recipients. That one, the mystery, they burned with him and the clay and his dead chickens:
We are the Sun-Men. If you are strong, tonight we shall return your heart.