HeartSteel

Ayesha Boison

“Good evening, it is January 21st, 2189, 7 p.m. My name is Bastian Greene, and this is Channel 99 News. In just two days, the annual EVOlution festival will be taking place at the City Square. It’s been one hundred years since the evolution of technology changed the world, thanks to the eager participation of various companies. We want to give a special thanks to the Prodigal Mechanization Corporation, who initially began this life-changing project.”
     Neve Maravelle overheard the faint voice on her TV, so she hurried over to grab the remote on the coffee table, and quickly upped the volume. She sat cross-legged on the sofa and listened intently to the newsman.
     “Eighteen years ago, these enormous advances introduced programming that promoted the sole use of the English language. This simplified relations in global trade, especially in business, and led to automatic and instant translation. As the demand for them grew over time, these new technologies were installed in every country in the world. Over the years, people gradually adhered to the singular language, making communication much easier for anyone visiting a foreign place. Individuals from far and wide have certainly had a smoother time immigrating from their homelands…”
     Neve muted her TV when she heard her cell phone ring, and saw “Mom” flashing across its screen. She shifted in her seat and answered.
     “I didn’t expect you to call at this time. Usually you and dad are caught up with your online socialite groups—especially now when it’s so close to the festival,” said Neve a bit sourly.
     “Well, when you left us so early on Christmas, we finally decided that we would try extra hard to reach you and get you out of that lonely comfort zone you enjoy being in so much,” answered Mrs. Maravelle lightheartedly. Neve rolled her eyes but kept listening as her mother’s tone grew more serious. “Speaking of which, your father and I have been talking and we agreed that we could definitely help out if you wanted to leave the school teaching days behind, and head back to college to pursue something else—”
     “Don’t do that! I’ve told you time and time again that I wasn’t ever giving up.”
     Pumpkin, it’s been ten years. You always tell me that you’ve had no luck in reaching out to any kids—sooner or later, someone’s going to shut your class down. Teens these days don’t care about learning any new language.”
     “Neither the school board nor the government can forcibly take away my class—they have no legitimate grounds to. I have the right to keep my class going. And it’s not that kids don’t care, it’s that they’re not interested. Therefore it’s my job—as a teacher, and probably the only linguist—to help them get interested, no matter how long it takes. You and dad always used to say something very similar when you were teaching French to me and J.J. when we were nine.”
     “That was then, pumpkin, this is now. Times have changed, and we must change with them. And not just your career, Neve, but starting your own family too. J.J.’s been married for 2 years and is on his way to being a father—he’s moved on from our family’s ridiculous linguist phase.”
     “That phase lasted generations in our family. It’s not ridiculous. I refuse to start a family in a world that’s so engulfed in technology. If that’s all you want to talk about, I have to prepare my lesson for tomorrow morning.”
     “Just…promise me you’ll think about attending the festival this year. Your father, brother, and I have all missed you…”
     There was a moment of silence before Neve finally answered, “I’ll think about it. Goodbye mom.”
     Neve hung up her phone dolefully and picked up a stack of papers from the coffee table drawer. It was labelled Language and Communication worksheets—Grade 12, followed by a long list of various languages. There was also an opened folder with a few sheets that read “Type Z Blood Phenomena,” which she decided to leave in the drawer. Is it really possible that EVOlution could be connected to this? she thought. Then she grabbed the remote again to turn off the TV, and headed up to her room to work. It was past midnight when she heard a loud ping coming from her opened laptop. She tiredly left her bed to go click on a highlighted email that had “heartsteel” on the sender line.
     The message read: I think I found something about all this new tech—something big. Can we meet? It’s better to show you what it is.
     Neve yawned loudly before she replied:
Mace, it’s late. I’ve already stayed up too long preparing for lectures. We’ve both got school tomorrow, so show me after the day’s done—I’ll be around. Get some sleep. Our mission won’t be successful if we’re both exhausted. Good night.
After clicking send, she closed her laptop. Putting away all the sheets spread out on her bed, she nestled herself in and quickly drifted off to sleep.

***

     The next morning, Neve woke up tired from staying up so late the previous night, but was prepared to teach. Her classes went by quickly, until it was the last five minutes of the day.
     “Czech, Thai, Sundanese, Uzbek, Igbo…What are these?” Neve carefully eyed each of her students in the classroom and patiently awaited an answer.
     “Weird types of food?” guessed a boy way in the back row. A wave of chuckles erupted throughout the classroom. Neve sighed heavily and shot him a less-than-amused expression. She pushed back the light brown hair shrouding her eyes.
     “No, Carter, languages—they’re all types of languages. And there are more than six thousand in the world.”
     And yet the entire world has forgotten about each and every one of them, she thought to herself.
     “Sorry Ms. Maravelle,” a student closer to the front of the class interrupted, “but why does this even matter? I mean, I looked it up online over the weekend—some of those languages could be extinct in a few years, so why even bother?” The entire class began whispering amongst themselves.
     Neve heavily sighed once again, suddenly feeling a rush of hopelessness consuming her, but she leaned back on her desk and continued undeterred.
     “You’re right, Sally, but that gives us even more reasons to learn something new, to understand it better now, before it becomes completely irrelevant and forgotten. Learning a new language can give us a better understanding and appreciation of other cultures. It can even enrich your vocabulary, as well as your listening and memory. There’s also sign language, and even the language of music. By knowing only one form of language, it implies that we’re all the samelike robots. But we’re all different, and that’s more than okay. We learn more valuable things from each other that way, because there’s a whole other world outside of your smartphones…” Neve drifted off as the bell rang loudly, signalling the end of class.
     For the third time that afternoon, Neve heaved a heavy sigh. She collapsed in the chair behind her desk and rubbed her forehead. She gloomily picked up a picture frame of her and her family standing together. They all wore white shirts with blue lettering that read, “National Linguists Champs.”
     Suddenly, she heard a firm knock on the classroom door. Neve looked up to see a tall boy with dark hair, dark blue eyes, and a restless expression briskly enter the classroom.
     She quickly abandoned her troubled feelings and placed the frame back on the desk, an expression of shock on her face. She met him halfway across the room.
     “You weren’t in class this morning, Mace. Where have you been?” Neve asked worriedly.
     Mace rolled up his sweater sleeve, revealing a mechanical armband that had a large screen and touchpad programmed into it. He began typing something on it and soon after pressing one final button, a soft ring came from Neve’s phone. She picked it up from her desk, and swiped the new notification, making a message appear on the screen. She read it aloud:
     I was at school today, just in the library. I was busy trying to decipher this journal I found on the ground outside. That’s what I needed to show you.
     Neve sighed quietly and said, “As long as you’re okay. But don’t make a habit of missing classes for any reason, especially this one.”
     Mace nodded in agreement.
     “Anyways, what kind of journal needs deciphering?” she asked.
     Mace pulled out a tattered notebook and handed it to Neve. When she opened it, she found all the words were written in Latin. Neve was skilled in the language, so she read aloud in English. Something caught her eyes as she read: “I didn’t believe her when she said her newborn son’s blood was different. It wasn’t until she finally convinced me to look at the blood test she’d done on him, that I started believing her crazy ideas about EVOlution. I asked if I could conduct a few other tests on him, and she allowed it. It was then that we discovered that the boy was also deaf in one ear. It didn’t take long to discover that this mysterious blood was the cause of it. I decided to call this situation the type Z case.
     Neve stopped there and blankly glanced at Mace. “This child…whoever they are, had, or has, the same blood as you.”
     Mace nodded seriously. He then began typing again on his armband. Neve looked at her beeping phone and silently read the message:
     I couldn’t get so far in reading it because I’m not as skilled in Latin as you are.
     Neve sent a determined glance at Mace before she returned to the journal and flipped through a few more pages.
     Suddenly, a girl barged into the classroom, startling Neve and Mace, who stared at her in disbelief.
     “So you do have it! That’s actually a relief,” the girl breathed as she gaped at the journal in Neve’s hands.
     “I know you, you’re Symphony! Sally’s sister—older sister!” Neve called out. “But wait, is this your journal? And how did you know where we were?”
     “Oh, not my journal—it’s my late grandad’s. And Sally called me a while ago, told me what you two were talking about. Got here as soon as I could.”
     Sally then entered the room and said exasperatingly, “Thanks for ratting me out, sis.” Symphony playfully rolled her eyes and smirked at Sally.
     “Sally, how long have you been here?” Neve asked.
     “Ah, just a little while. I came back for my notebook, when I heard your conversation. Sorry for eavesdropping, but you mentioned type Z blood and I couldn’t believe someone else had it.”
     Neve raised an eyebrow. “Someone else?” Her eyes then widened in realization. “Do you also have type Z blood?”
     “Nope, that would be me,” Symphony interjected. All eyes fell to her at the revelation. “Look, I can prove it.” She bent to roll up the hems of her pants, revealing two different coloured socks—one purple, and the other green. Mace unconsciously took a step closer.
     “I’m colour blind,” Symphony explained. “I have no idea what the actual colour of these socks are. Every morning I’m always grabbing a random pair. I’ve been like this since birth. Just like you’ve been mute since birth, Mace. And just like that kid from the journal has been deaf in one ear since birth.” Mace’s face was suddenly wary but attentive.
     “Symphony, have you actually read this whole journal?” Neve asked.
     “Yup. The first time I found it, I had no idea what it was saying, but I kept it anyways. Days went by and I just couldn’t get my mind off it, so I tried to learn Latin. It took a long time, but it was really interesting to learn, and eventually I did get it. I found out my grandad used to work for the place that started EVOlution—Prodigal Mechanization, I think they’re called. While working there, he befriended a woman who was his lab partner. At some point she got pregnant, and when she had her baby boy, she discovered that his blood wasn’t normal. She told my grandad ’cause he was the only person, aside from her husband, she could trust with this, since she knew what had caused it in the first place.
     “They realized the baby contracted some kind of infection while in the womb. After investigating for a while, they knew about the problems brought on by the new tech, and they took their case to the heads of the company, which only angered them. To prevent losing any business, my grandad and the woman were fired and threatened to keep quiet. The woman moved her family to another town, but grandad had a way of contacting her. He didn’t, however, because he thought it might put her in danger. I guess that’s another reason why he wrote all this down in Latin. He always preferred writing in his native Spanish or Latin.”
     Neve cautiously leaned against her desk. “So EVOlution has not only caused the dissolution of languages, but it also caused these biological defects. Unbelievable. It seems our suspicions weren’t as far-fetched as I thought. This might also explain your heart.” Neve glanced hopefully at Mace, which made Symphony to do the same.
     “What do you mean?” Symphony asked curiously.
     Mace turned to face Symphony and began typing on the armband again. Her phone beeped, and she read the message aloud: “When I was nine, my heart became too weak, so I needed a transplant. But because of my rare blood, I never got a match. Eventually, the doctors decided to give me an artificial heart made of steel.” Both Symphony and Sally were now at a loss for words as they sympathetically gazed at Mace, so Neve stepped in.
     “Symphony, I know it might be too much to ask, but is there a way I could have that woman’s contact information? It’s a long shot, but I must try as much as possible to preserve languages. And who knows how many have been affected by this new technology.”
     Symphony looked at Neve earnestly. “Wow, Ms. Maravelle, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you sound so determined. If that’s the case, then sure. But only if I can help out, too.” Sally stared at her as if she were crazy, but Symphony continued, “I wanna become a linguist one day and teach people new languages, but it’s pointless nowadays. And it’s not so easy or as fun when you’re doing it on your own. I almost gave up on learning Latin because it took so long, and when I finally succeeded in doing it, there was no one to share that enjoyment with. Some months ago, I finally gave up on that dream, but then I couldn’t believe it when Sally called me. Helping you guys take these tech bozos down would be a trillion steps closer to my dream.”
     “You never told me you wanted to become a linguist,” said Sally.
     “I was afraid you’d think I was crazy.” Both sisters released a tender chuckle.
     Neve huffed lightly and smiled. “Well, I’ve already let one student join me in my crusade, so why not another? But if at some point it becomes too dangerous, I’ll take the reins.”
     “Wait, seriously? What about you, Mace? You good with that?” Symphony asked. “I mean, I know we don’t exactly talk or hang out, but I guess I should’ve tried harder to get to know you all those times I’ve seen you alone.”
     In response, Mace took his fist and pounded it against the left side of his chest as if he were a gorilla, beaming.
     “That’s just his way of saying he loves something,” explained Neve, who smirked at the sisters’ confused expressions.
     The two raised their brows at Mace but couldn’t resist grinning. Mace faced Symphony and typed a message once again on his armband, and she looked to her phone and read it out loud, “Let’s get to know each other now.” She grinned at Mace, who returned it before typing once more. Symphony read, “And what I just did means HeartSteel. Like my actual artificial heart.” Symphony grinned even wider and joined in on the gesture. Both she and Mace looked at Sally, who had yet to join in.
     She let out a hefty sigh and said, “Omnes in.” They all looked at her, stunned. “What? That means ‘all in’ in Latin, right, Symphony? I overheard you in your room a bunch of times, not that you were even trying to be quiet.”
     Although he couldn’t be heard, everyone saw Mace laughing as Symphony playfully punched Sally in the arm.
     “And yes,” Sally added, “I will join in on this language revival operation.”
     “No one asked you,” Symphony said with another punch.
     Then Mace took Sally’s hand, formed it into a fist, and placed it on the left side of her chest. She rolled her eyes, but finally performed the gesture in a gentler way.
     “Hmm? I thought it didn’t matter, Sally?” Neve interrupted.
     “About that…I guess it wasn’t really that it didn’t matter, but no one’s interested. And now I’m absolutely engrossed. My parents once said that it’s a teacher’s duty to help their students get interested in something. Consider me like a job well done, or a step closer to a larger goal. Either way, I’m totally up for this.” Then Sally looked to Mace remorsefully. “I’m sorry, too. When I first saw you, I wanted to say hi and all, but then I started hearing these messed up rumors that you had a ‘heart made of stone’ or something, so you didn’t have any emotions. I actually believed them and just started avoiding you. I should’ve known better.”
     Sally averted her gaze from Mace’s, but suddenly someone grabbed onto her—it was Mace, hugging her. For a while, no one said anything, but they were all smiling brightly.
     As the kids talked amongst themselves, Neve went off to the far side of the classroom and made a call. Her phone only rang twice before someone picked up.
     “Word on the street is you and mom had another go,” said a baritone voice on the other end.
     In a hushed tone, Neve said, “You know how she is, and you know how I am, J.J. And that’s not why I called. I’m just letting you know, so you can tell mom and dad, that I’m going to be real busy for a while. So I won’t be in much contact—oh, and I won’t make it to the EVOlution festival. Don’t ask for specifics—I can’t have you talking me out of it. Just know that I love you guys, and for your child’s sake, please keep her away as much as possible from that EVOlution tech. It’s not as safe as you may think, especially for an unborn. Please just trust me on this. Along with some help, I am going to fight this and bring back languages, because no one else will. I’m not giving up, JJ. Remember that—you, dad, and especially mom.”
     There was a long pause before J.J. replied, “Good luck. Just try not to get arrested. You were voted most likely to by our relatives. I was the only one who had a glimmer of hope of that never happening. Please don’t prove me wrong.”
     Neve grinned to herself as she glanced back at the kids, who were indulged in a cheerful conversation. “No promises.”


About the writer

Ayesha Boison is a first-year student at York University and is currently enrolled in a Bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing. Since her days in middle school, she has developed a fervent passion for writing—especially of the fictional genre. Throughout the years, she has experience writing academic essays, narrative essays, and film reviews. Some of the other genres she enjoys writing are poetry, fables, and short stories. Ayesha spends her free time creating new stories and characters and is working on her first novel.

Editor: Madelaine Pries

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