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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


2. [Plate 2]
Elena's Heart

Not all mad scientists are men. Not all are young. Some are mad old women, disappointed in life and in love, and determined to wreak their revenge upon the race of Men. Such were Eleanor, Enid, and Annaprudenzia who, old and brilliant and ugly, decided to build the young woman they all wished they had been: Beautiful as the dawn in springtime, lusty as a summer afternoon, and cruel as the harshest winter's night.

The creation of Elena's form and features was but a trifle. Eleanor was a bioengineer and an accomplished graverobber. Enid was a neurosurgeon, chiefly, but capable of a little plastic surgery on the side. Annaprudenzia knew how to sew. She got out the wedding gown she had never found need for, and cut it down to fit their new ward's exquisite shape. Finally, all was ready.

All was ready, save one thing — a heart! What sort of heart must she have? A woman's heart would never do. It was too kind and rational for what they had in mind. The three learned ladies consulted long and hard. Finally, they gave her the heart of a fox.

"Suppose you met a man, a perfect man, one in a million, the only man for you. Suppose you had it in your power to destroy him. Would you let him live?"

"Of course not!" she said. Then, "But, well … I can imagine a certain sort of man, one with stiff red hair and a cynical smile. A liar, a thief, and a rogue, and yet faithful to me to the death. Him I might permit to let live a year or three. Just in order to prolong his torment, you understand."

"Too merciful by half!" the three scientists cried. They took out the fox's heart, and put in the heart of a wolf.

Then they asked the question again.

"Preposterous!" she snorted. "Still … supposing I were to meet a savage brute of a man, with sleek black hair and a murderous look in his eyes. Him I might take decades to kill."

"Not cruel enough, not cruel enough!" the old women wailed.

They gave her the heart of a man.

"Who cares?" Elena said when they asked her the question a third time. "There's plenty of fish in the sea. I could find as many like him as I wanted."

So, joyfully, the three mad scientists introduced their creation to the world.

A man, having decided to destroy everything, would have created something that would do the job all at once. They, being women, were more patient. Their weapon would destroy the world one man at a time.


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This is the second of 80 stories by Michael Swanwick written to accompany Francisco Goya's Los Caprichos. For a listing of the most recently available stories, go to The Sleep of Reason.

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