We grieved for both our lives, in which we were both more dead than alive.
In a land called Elysia, there existed revised version of the old world.
A viral disease that had attacked the grey matter of the human brain years ago had caused massive change in the world order. This germ triggered violent emotions till the overwhelmed person seized and died.
A few hundred who survived the pandemic developed a coping mechanism. Their brain cells no longer responded to the chemicals which evoked emotions in the brain. These beings, called the neu-humans were automatons. They woke, accomplished their assigned tasks and lay with their partners as per their assigned roles. This society was a well-oiled machine that functioned without a glitch.
Elysia was overseen by elected representatives called the Council. The most important task of the Council was to supervise the ‘Co-Hab Program.’ The Co-Hab database contained the genomic horoscope of the neu-humans, down to their last amino acid. This software was the way of life for Elysia, that analysed and paired two individuals with most compatible ‘essence’/genotype. This resulted in an ‘acceptable’ offspring in Elysian society.
When a person applied for the program (at the pre-set age), the database matched their attributes. Once signed, the neu-humanoids were legally, morally and financially bound for life in a binding and non-revocable contract.
The virus that had wreaked havoc years ago, however, lay dormant in the right half of their brains. All inhabitants were required to undergo periodic brain scans to screen for a significant right brain anomaly. Any activity that increased the right brain mass or stirred an intense emotion was a risk factor for the pandemic reactivation and was expressly forbidden. It was illegal in Elysia to engage in copulation for pleasure, pursue music or arts in any form or stream any activity that had a potential to hyperstimulate the right brain.
Here existed no bard to praise the auburn sunsets and no lover to liken the eyes of his beloved to the deep Aegean of the oceans. The neu-humans responded to only certain chemical stimuli. The ‘flight, fright, fight’ response existed. The instinct to survive was present as well, so were the left-brain functions like rationalisation and analysis.
But as always, there existed a few souls, those deviants, who grew weary of the emptiness in the seemingly full schedules.
And this is where our story starts.
Âme lay beside her assigned partner clutching a plum vellum tome to her chest.
Life is a flower, of which love is the honey.
It’s the dove and the eagle united in the sky.
It is grace trembling at insistent force,
It’s your hand sweetly forgotten in mine.
She turned expectantly towards Amour, who closed his eyes and looked away.
Âme’s muscles tightened. Once again, she suppressed her tears and resisted an impulse to scream.
He thinks about her.
Âme tore a few pages from the vellum in fury. “He is mine. He cannot forget.”
Ardente walked into Amour’s cabin and came straight to the point.
“Âme’s right brain cells have increased by five percent in the last two months. She is approaching the critical mass.” She displayed the scans.
As always, Amour’s gaze lingered for a moment on her eyes before he took in her words and processed the implications. “Well, at least now there is a concrete reason for her absurdities.” He said in a flat tone.
There had always been something off about Âme. Her separation anxiety, her episodic rages, her secretive behavior ranged from unpleasant to frightful, at times. In the older world, she would have been termed a ‘borderline personality’ motivated by the extent of control she could impose on those around her. He found it very off-putting.
“Âme was born with a larger than average right brain cell count. We always knew that. She has been well controlled on medications since childhood.” The slump in Amour’s posture disturbed Ardente more than expected.
Amour looked at Ardente’s form and his pulse quickened. He had always found himself attuned to Ardente’s essence. Perhaps they shared compatible pheromones. Unbelievably, the Co-hab has disagreed and matched him to her twin, Âme with whom he never bonded, in spite of diligent efforts by both of them.
Their ‘essences’ were the proverbial chalk and cheese, irrespective of what the Co-hab proposed.
Ardente’s voice brought him back to his present problem.
“If the changes progress at this pace, she risks a psychotic episode in a month. You know how it will be received in Elysia. I recommend that she be isolated at present. We can monitor her and if required selectively lobotomise her.”
Amour nodded and closed his eyes.
“We have to help her.” Ardente felt uneasy about her sister. She had tried to bond with Âme in the past, but Âme always pushed her away. Sometimes, she wished she and Âme spent more time doing activities Âme liked, but that meant being in Amour’s vicinity and those encounters always left her befuddled. Not for the first time she wondered what governed her strong physiological responses to that one man.
“I am not Ardente’s lab rat.” Âme screeched. Rubbing his thumb over the forehead, Amour tried his best to pacify Âme. “She has your best interests at heart.”
“Convenient. Isolate me quoting health reasons. Leaves you both free to frolic around.” Âme’s face was livid.
“You know very well what happens when your right brain cells reach a critical mass. The Council will be notified. Listen to your twin.” Amour tried to make her understand. “And there is more. I have seen you throwing stones at the birds in the gardens and plucking away their feathers. You ramble in your sleep and your garbled thoughts distress me. I have found software in your personal computer that potentially links you to untraceable IP addresses on Darknet. This is not a normal conduct Âme.”
Âme clawed at her own palms till she drew blood leaving Amour repulsed.
“I have to inform the Council about your condition and your refusal to consent to the treatment. They will have no alternative but to let you move on.”
Âme paled. ‘Move on’ was the term used in Elysia to destroy her corporeal form.
Amour was the star around which her world revolved. Hazed, distorted mess that her brain was, that much she had always known.
She would find a way to keep Amour latched to her and she had the exact medicine for it.
Five years ago
From the time she could comprehend, Âme had craved her father’s attention. All he ever gave her was a sachet of medications to keep her ‘condition’ under control and occasional condescending glances. Unlike her, he was ‘normal’ brained. Demonstration of affections was out of his scope.
He is disgusted by you. Look at Ardente, his pet. You can never be her. Âme often heard voices in her head.
That nerdy young man, her father’s protégé had visited again. The one father praised sky high.
“Amour is applying for co-hab arrangement.” Their father was speaking to Ardente in his den while Âme sat nearby.
Ardente’s breath hitched and that piqued Âme’s interest. “Shall I also apply in the program daddy?” Âme was eager as always to please him. Disregarding his other child, he continued to talk to Ardente and Âme felt talon of jealousy scrape her insides.
Again. Ardente will get what she wants. No one wants you.
“What should I do?”Âme acknowledged the voices for the first time.
Co-hab with Amour. Father likes him. He will approve of it. Then you will be important to them both. They have to give you their time and attention.
Unlike the other neu-humans, Âme had a lot of love to give, had someone cared for it. Her parents had a hectic schedule. Her ambitious sister was busy with her research and training. Over time, all that love she carried inside her soured and began poisoning her brain.
She had been fourteen. In exchange for a few unsavoury pictures and distasteful acts, a school friend had introduced her to the Dark Recesses of the Internet. He had created for her, a proxy profile with an undetectable trace.
She had no idea who controlled these sites, but it had its uses. In exchange for some cryptocurrency and online fondling, one could procure what one wanted.
And Âme had managed to get the ‘ program virus’.
Install it in your home intranet system and it will exchange your genetic tracer with Ardente. The instructions were clear.
Ardente found it surprisingly easy to be with Amour. They had met many times at their workplace and she was intrigued at the physiological responses he triggered in her. Realising that they were inexplicably drawn to each other’s company; they had discussed nominating each other in the Co-hab application.
On that expected day of announcement, Amour smiled as he saw Ardente sit next to her father fidgeting with her glasses. Uncharacteristically impatient, Ardente picked the purple vellum that was displayed in the library. It was a family heirloom Ardente had hitherto no interest in. Her eyes fell on the first entry.
“La vie est une fleur dont l’amour est le miel.
C’est la colombe unie à l’aigle dans le ciel,
C’est la grâce tremblante à la force appuyée,
C’est ta main dans ma main doucement oubliée.”
Surprisingly, she heard Amour translating the lines in his mind.
“Life is a flower, of which love is the honey.
It’s the dove and the eagle united in the sky.
It’s grace trembling at insistent force,
It’s your hand sweetly forgotten in mine.”
Ardente sighed. Oh, the power of pheromones!
Amour’s tab rang aloud and Ardente stole an expectant glance at him.
Amour had paled. He handed the tablet to her father and left without another word.
Her shocked father looked at Ardente as he announced that Co-hab had paired Amour with Âme.
Ardente tossed and turned that night trying to make sense of the distressing emotions that flooded her brain.
“No one is happy that I made a match.” Âme thought. She had genuinely believed her father would approve of her companionship with Amour. And why was Ardente so distressed? Wasn’t her research her only love? Her hatred for Ardente tripled that moment.
With Co-hab, there was no going back. Âme and Amour signed the binding declaration two days later.
Âme thought she looked radiant, but neither Amour nor her family noticed. Mechanically, they finished the formalities and went home. The procedure was drab and sterile and, in a way, set precedent for the ensuing relationship.
Âme tried hard to please Amour, but she found him cold. She tried to keep him company every moment, but he called her clingy. She dressed for him, but he never noticed.
“I feel a disconnect with you.” He once confessed.
He thinks you are dim-witted and vacuous.Has Ardente been poisoning him against you? The voices whispered.
Her insecurities and the delusions eventually got stronger. Armour’s indifference did not help.
She inflicted pain on plants in her garden and birds in an attempt to transfer her suffering. As months progressed her pain curdled her emotions, pushing her deeper in an abyss of misery.
As her fits of jealous rage and instances of self-harm presented more frequently, Armour informed Ardente and they both began extensive screening and therapy for her.
Âme had managed to secure the Love potion on the Darknet. Some confidential information from Amour’s office files were transferred anonymously in exchange for a vial. The potion was Grade I illegal drug and carrying it would amount to prosecution, but Âme was desperate.
She needed Amour.
The clear vial with an anonymous note read, “Just two drops under tongue for both partners.Very very potent.”
“And they said love could not be brought, generated or stored.” She sneered.
The plan was simple. Regular potion intake would invoke Amour’s latent lust. The potency of the potion would increase as the subjects exchanged bodily fluids. What was love but a chemical reaction and the desire for satiation was encoded in human brain. The potion would activate those dormant brain areas in Amour and make him susceptible to Âme’s charms. Amour was then hers to control.
The potion could not be swallowed. It was to be placed under the tongue for three minutes and then spitted out. She had simply added it to his vial of toothpaste. That way he would ingest it every morning. Smiling, she placed the dropper under her tongue.
The effect was instantaneous. She felt a heady rush of desire as the moisture pooled between her legs. She touched her own body and felt her nerve ends tingle with agreeable sensations.
Drunk on her potion, she sashayed into Amour’s room.
Amor was giddy. His body felt tight and his heart soar. His brain swam in a cocktail of chemicals causing an instant arousal. He saw Âme walk to him and pounced on her, his starved system eager for release. As his body heated, he bite every part of Âme he could see, her yelps of pain egging him further. As Âme grasped in terror at his coarse conduct, he forced her thighs apart and thrust himself at her till she bled.
He started gagging. He looked at Âme in horror and rushed to retch and vomit.
Feeling repulsed at what he had done, he poured scathing water over himself in his bathroom till his skin blistered. To relieve the pounding in his head, he shut his eyes and he saw a face he had loved all his life. It was the same body he had ravaged like a monster a few moments ago. But the soul was different.
Âme pushed up her bruised body and let the tears come. This was misery. The vellum had described act of ‘love-making’ as an element of ultimate pleasure, but she felt numb. And dirty.
May be this was a learnt behaviour. She could still make it work. As long as she gave him what he wanted, he would love her, wouldn’t he?
She showered herself wincing at her bruises and walked to Amour’s room.
Amour had left.
As her heart dropped in her stomach, Âme realised the error in her judgement.
Amour drove like a mad man. His physiological responses to Ardente, his need to see her daily, the quiet comfort he derived from her company had made sense in one insane moment. As the tumultuous emotions wreaked havoc on his heart, he had an epiphany. He was in love with Ardente.
Ardente sensed Amour outside her door before she heard his car. Her heart beat faster as she anticipated seeing him at this ungodly hour. She rationalised it as concern.
She opened the door before he announced himself and Amour’s heart throbbed with longing.
He touched her face with a tenderness that surprised them both and kissed her deeply, transferring the body fluids and also the potion in Ardente’s blood.
Standing at her porch, they held each other and kissed with an ardour that had bound them close despite an insensate brain. The moon and the stars bore a testimony to their love, lost long ago and found in this very moment as the potion stoked dormant passions.
He undressed her ever so gently in her garden and showered her with featherlight kisses. Ardente had flashes of them spent and sated, in another time, another life. Her body responded eagerly to his hands as a tempest of sensations erupted inside every atom of her being. They made love on the moss-covered swing in the gardens, the cicadas and the butterflies rejoicing in their union.
Âme ran towards Ardente’s house like a woman possessed.
She looked at the swing and saw them locked in an embrace looking radiant and content.
Amour never looks at you like that. He will never touch you like that.
The power of love and the love for power warred inside her broken, twisted heart. Sadly, the later won.
Driven insane by her own longing, she picked the rusty dagger in the garden and strode to the sleeping couple. She hurled it towards Ardente and cackled. Almost in slow motion, Amour opened his eyes and shifted to cover Ardente with his body. The blade made a dull thump as it embedded in his neck. A spurt of blood stained the lawns and formed a small pool.
Amour’s unseeing eyes, as life slowly ebbed from those blue orbs was the last thing Ardente remembered before she passed out.
Âme sat there looking at the pair howling like a crazed hyena until the Council took her away.
Âme had a faint memory of a man who once lay beside her and a purple vellum she had cherished. Everything else was fuzzy, as if her brain was filled with cotton. She gave a vacant smile to the Healer who helped her cross over.
Ardente sat out her window and smelled petrichor. As a Gray dove fluttered near her window, she rubbed her palm over her aching heart. The healers had told her that the love potion and the shock of the ordeal had altered her brain, but she believed otherwise. This was yearning, plain and simple. She had always loved Amour. Without ever knowing what love was. With or without a love potion.
And He had loved her back.
The plum vellum tome lay beside her. Its pages fluttered in the wind and Ardente read a line scribed in Âme’s neat cursive.
To love is nothing. To be loved is something. But to love and be loved, that is everything.
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