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They Do It with Robots

A Hugo and Nebula Award nominee and a winner in the Writers of the Future Contest, Eric James Stone has had stories published in Year's Best SF 15, Analog, Nature, and the Blood Lite anthologies of humorous horror, among other venues. Eric is also an assistant editor for Intergalactic Medicine Show. His website is www.ericjamesstone.

"Ladies and gentlemen, although all of the participants are consenting adults, the final act of the evening is illegal under United States law," said the announcer. "Fortunately, our ship has passed the twelve-mile limit, so we are in international waters."
Guillermo turned his attention from his frozen strawberry margarita to the stage as the ceremonial drums ushered in the feather-clad dancers. At the center of their multicolored whirling, the black-masked priest stood behind the altar. The drums grew louder, slower, and the dancers parted to allow a young man to walk step by step to the altar. Face painted crimson, he was stripped to the waist. Sweat glittered on his chest.
Focusing on the young man's face, Guillermo tried to imagine what he looked like without the makeup.
Could it be Ogden? It could.
Was it Ogden? Hard to tell at this distance. Guillermo didn't have enhanced senses.
The young man lay down on the altar. The drums accelerated, then stopped at the moment the priest plunged the knife into the young man's chest.
At the table next to Guillermo, a woman gasped.
After several cuts with surgical precision, the priest reached into the chest cavity and pulled out the heart, quivering.
"That's sick," the woman said. "I can't believe you made me watch this."
"It's not real," the man next to her said. "They do it with robots or something."
Guillermo stared at the lifeless body on the altar. Blood oozed from the gaping wound. As part of the League of Heroes, he'd seen dead people before--and dead robots. If that was a robot, it was the most lifelike dead robot he had ever seen.
A well-muscled security guard stood at the entrance to back stage. Guillermo strode purposefully toward him.
"No admittance," said the guard.
Guillermo stared into the guard's eyes. It was easier with firm eye contact. "Forget I was ever here."
The eyes went glassy. Guillermo slipped around the guard and went through the door.
The young man lay motionless on a gurney in a dressing room. He smelled of blood. Guillermo approached and looked closely at the face, the lifeless eyes in particular.
It was Ogden, all right. Poor kid. Why had he run? How could this be better than staying with the League?
Guillermo sank into a chair. Now there was nothing to do but wait.
Three hours later, Ogden took a few choking, raspy breaths, then eased into the even breathing of heavy sleep.
Guillermo got up and checked on him. The chest wound had closed up, although it still looked pretty nasty. An hour or so more of healing, and there probably wouldn't even be a mark.
Forty-five minutes later, Ogden said, "I thought Frankie would be the one to find me."
Guillermo hadn't noticed him wake up. "No, he lost your scent in Miami. But I heard about the show. FBI's puzzled as to where they get all the young men who volunteer to be sacrificed, and I started thinking maybe it was just one young man. I came down to check it out."
"Just leave me here. I'm no good to the League anymore," he said.
Guillermo sighed. "Kelli absorbed a one-megaton nuclear blast. Nobody blames you for not being able to heal her."
"She counted on me to save her, and I couldn't."
"I know, kid. But I can fix that. You don't have to remember--"
"No!" Ogden sat up and turned away. "We were in love. Don't take that from me."
"Oh." Guillermo winced. He always had been kind of oblivious to the personal lives of the others in the League of Heroes.
"Being back there, with the League, without her..." Ogden's voice broke. "I just can't handle it."
"But this? You really think punishing yourself like this is a good idea?"
"Punishing myself? Is that what you think I'm doing?"
"You're letting someone literally rip your heart out. The symbolism's pretty strong."
Ogden remained silent for a long while. "You know how they say your life flashes before your eyes just before you die? That's not true. At least, not for me. But when I'm coming back to life, as my brain starts back up, it's like I experience my whole life again. That's why I do it. For a while, I have Kelli back."
Frankie answered the phone when Guillermo called in to League of Heroes HQ. "So, was it our boy being sacrificed?"
"No," Guillermo replied. "It wasn't anybody. They do it with robots."
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Author Comments

I wrote this story for a flash-fiction writing contest with other members of CodexWriters.com. We each had to write a story of no more than 750 words in a weekend--each weekend for five weeks. This story was my entry for week five. It was based on the following prompt: "Write about a stage performer who seems to be doing one thing, but is actually doing another." I decided to write a superhero story, for no other reason than the fact that I like superhero stories. The fact that superhero stories tend to do well in Codex contests had nothing to do with my decision. Honest.

- Eric James Stone
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