Prompt: Love is discovered to be a limited/nonrenewable resource.
Tobias had to wait for the tours to be over, and he had to wait for everybody else to leave. That was more difficult than it sounded, because he worked at the Valentimber love processing facility. Those lucky enough to work there never wanted to go home, just like the tourists never wanted to leave. Sometimes people finished a tour, looped around the front of the building, and bought another ticket.
They all wanted to be close to the product, to swear they could feel the warmth radiating from it. Tobias had third level clearance, so he was allowed to handle the product directly, with gloves on of course. He hid under his desk once all his work was finished. He sat perfectly still for four hours, crumpled under it, with nothing to do. He knew the security system would pick up his signals if he tried to distract himself with his phone or smartwatch. All he could do was stare at the pink carpet and count the fibers until the lights went out.
When they did he waited a little longer. He was a sheepish man with a thin weak neck, big glasses, and hands that probably fretted nervously when he was five hours old. He was already sweating, but it had to be done. He couldn’t live with himself if it wasn’t.
Tobias scurried out of his office and along the route for the tour. Everything in the halls was pink, purple, lacy, or some combination of the three. It was all part of the corporate image; the workers and scientists were nothing but pixies mucking about in the guts of the purple frog-like love god. Tobias couldn’t stand the theme, but then again he was the sort who never got Valentine cards back in the days of free love.
Now the love was rationed, structured, and owned. He wasn’t on the team that made the discovery fifteen years ago, but after he heard about it he did whatever he could to get close to the efforts. He switched majors, from chemistry to the newly-created emotional chemistry. He got himself on the next team, the one that had to work out a way to distribute love now that its supply was limited.
They called the principal the maximum threshold for biological empathic capacity, or Matbec for short. Once they had an acronym the rest of the world would acknowledge it. There was simply a point where the population overwhelmed the human desire to feel affection for all the other humans. Once they were past that point, 9.8 billion, the love stopped flowing. Marriage rates dropped. People lived alone. Violence skyrocketed.
There’d never been such an initiative in the world before. Valentimber was one of the crucial companies. They, with the help of Tobias and a few others, had found a way to skim the atmosphere for the remaining love, all released before the threshold but never absorbed, and condense it into a consumable form. It left them with a reservoir to keep the world supplied with love, empathy, and affection for the next two hundred years or so. After that, well, it would be a lonely time.
Tobias snuck into the laboratory. They had a supply there: a box with thirty valentines. He pulled one out, gloveless, and stared through its transparent red form. It was heart-shaped, looked vaguely like a skin of burnt caramel, and smelled like heaven. It was love, with a matrix of glucose and ash to hold it to solidity of course. If he took a bite he would feel incredible euphoria and go in search of a beautiful amazing person, which would be anybody at that point.
He would also be fired and arrested as soon as they saw the bite mark. He got a more generous ration than most, but there were still people who could afford to hoard it. He knew, from his own two eyes, that the wealthy were stockpiling it while everyone else’s supply grew thinner.
Tobias placed the hearts in a melting chamber on the counter and returned them to a liquid state. He pulled out samples of other emotions that were not in short supply: guilt, bitterness, giddiness… He added them bit by bit, cutting the pure love, diluting those Valentine candies, because the rich didn’t deserve to be more loved.
“What are you doing?” Tobias dropped a Valentine and it shattered across the floor. A coworker stood before him: Lucy. She was a little older, a little more assertive, and at least a little sneakier when it came to stealing love.
“I…. I….” Tobias stammered.
“You’re cutting it,” she said, moving close and examining the emotional imperfections in the candy he was in the midst of reforging. “What is this? Only 97% pure now? And they don’t notice when it goes out this way?”
“It’s not what you think…”
“You’re stealing it. I know everybody deserves it, but we can’t just take what we want. I have to report you Tobias. I’ve seen this. If they find out I saw and did nothing, it could be a life in prison with three squares of sorrow a day and a drop of love every two years. I can’t live on that.” She turned to leave.
“It’s not for me!” he declared. She stopped, but didn’t turn back. “I give it out. There’s an emotional clinic a state away. I have to take it that far so they can’t trace it to any residents here. I… give it away. And I know it doesn’t seem possible, but I get a little back when I do. Not a lot… just a drop on the tongue that’s gone in a flash, like a mint in the mouth of Mercury.”
“Prove it,” Lucy said. Her voice quivered. “People can’t just make love anymore. There has to be someone in the middle, someone holding the wallet closed before two people can jump in and roll around together.”
Tobias took a deep breath, one his thin body could barely hold, and concentrated. His brain burned. A bruise grew on his soul, but he had to keep going. He had to make himself vulnerable. Lucy turned and panicked when she saw his red face. She ran to his side, thinking he was going into cardiac arrest.
She smacked his chest to force his breath back out. He held it. She begged him to stop. Tobias gasped, his face flushing purple, and held out a closed fist as they both sank to the ground. She cradled him. He opened his palm and revealed a bead of fresh love. She eyed it like it was the glowing core of the Earth. He’d done it. They were past the threshold, but Tobias had always made due with less love than everyone else. He could still produce.
Slowly, Lucy reached out and took it. He had to be selfless if he could still do something like that. She asked permission with her eyes, and he gave it. She swallowed it down and felt the love spread through her body, bouncing on her hips and sizzling on her lips. She ran a hand across Tobias’s face.
Tobias and Lucy got to work making their own supply of love. He was a criminal, and now she was too, for they were connected by the hand and they would never let go. Clasped inside was the fragile candy, the dew of their togetherness.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by logantrundle during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!