If he had stood before a mirror, he would have seen a pulse of soft light pass through his eyes. On the night that Victor had drawn upon the power of a thunderbolt to enliven his first creation, the cooperative storm, of unprecedented violence, had seemed to leave in Deucalion the lightning’s glow, which manifested in his eyes from time to time.
Although he sought redemption and eventually peace, although he cherished Truth and wished to serve it, Deucalion had long tried to deceive himself about the identity of the man whose head, whose brain, had been married to the patchwork body in Victor’s first lab. He said his brain was that of an unknown miscreant, which was true but only in that he’d never been told the man’s name or his crimes.
The repetitive nightmare of the old stone house—with its cursed attic where something ticked and rattled, clicked and clattered; and its cellar in which the air itself was evil—returned to Deucalion so often that he knew as surely as he knew anything, the dream must be fragments of memories the donor had left behind somewhere among the sulci and the gyri of his gray matter. And the nature of those grim memories identified the hateful source of the brain.
Now, ascending the hospital stairs toward the thin childlike cries of misery, he felt as if Earth’s gravity had doubled during the climb, for he carried not only the weight of this moment but also the weight of all those dreams and what they surely meant.
When in the nightmare he had at last made it up the stairs into the attic of the house, the throbbing light of an oil lamp revealed to him the source of the clicking and clattering. The raging storm outside pressed drafts into that high room, and those blustering currents knocked the dangling bones against one another. The skeleton was small, strung together to keep it in order, suspended from a hook in a rafter.
Also suspended from the hook was the only other thing of the victim that remained: the long golden hair that had been shorn from her head. Bones and braids. Or call them trophies.
But so much clicking and clattering could not arise from one young girl’s bones. When in the dream he had dared to venture farther into the attic, the lamplight revealed a grisly orphanage: nine other dangling skeletons and then, oh, ten more beyond, and yet another ten thereafter. Thirty young girls—all children, really—presented as mobiles, each with her hair hanging separately from her skull, blond hair or brown or auburn, straight or curly hair, some braided and some not.
In hundreds of repetitions of that dream, he had only twice gotten into the attic before waking in a sweat of dread. He had never proceeded past the first room of the cellar, into the heart of that darkness, and he hoped he never would. The sound of skeletons in a wind dance drew him to the attic, but what always pulled him toward the dream-house cellar were those thin haunting cries. They were not shrieks of terror or of pain, but instead of sorrow, as if he were hearing not the victims yet alive but their spirits yearning for the world from which they had been taken before their time.
He had so long resisted acknowledging the source of his brain; but he could not continue deceiving himself. His second heart had come from a child molester who killed those he raped—and his brain from the same donor. The murderer had done what he wanted with the girls and then rendered them in the cellar to extract their delicate skeletons as mementos, which was why in the dream the stagnant air of that window-less lower realm tasted sometimes of spoiled suet and sometimes of salty tears.
The possession of a child molester’s brain didn’t make Deucalion a child molester himself. That evil mind and that corrupted soul had departed the brain at death, leaving behind nothing but three pounds or so of blameless cerebral tissue, which Victor had taken to preserve immediately after the execution, by arrangement with the hangman. Deucalion’s consciousness was uniquely his own, and its origins were … elsewhere. Whether his consciousness came in tandem with a soul, he could not say. But he had no doubt that he arrived that long-ago night with a mission—to enforce the natural laws that Victor had broken with his prideful experiments and, by killing him, thereby repair the torn fabric of the world.
Following a journey that had taken him around the Earth more than once and across two troubled centuries, in search of a new purpose after he thought Victor died on the arctic ice, Deucalion at last arrived here at the threshold of his destiny. The destruction of the New Race was under way, brought about by the endless errors of their maker. And soon Deucalion would bring justice to Victor Frankenstein in the storm of anarchy and terror now breaking over Louisiana.
Now another childlike expression of sorrow, another more suggestive of despair, greeted him as he reached the next landing. The cries came from this floor.
He suspected that by his actions in the hours ahead, he would earn his release from the dreams of the old stone house. He took a deep breath, hesitated, then opened the door and stepped out of the stairwell into the corridor.
About a dozen of the New Race, male and female, stood here and there along the wide hallway. Their attention was focused on the open pair of doors to a laboratory on the right, at the midpoint of the building.
From that room came another plaintive cry, thrashing noises, the shattering of glass.
When Deucalion moved past some of the people standing in the hall, not one seemed to register his presence, so intent were they on the crisis in the laboratory. They stood in various postures of expectation. Some trembled or even shook violently with fear, some muttered angrily, and some appeared to be in the grip of a strange transcendental awe.
Through the open doors of the laboratory, into the corridor came Hell on six legs.
FOR THE MOMENT, cold does not matter.
The transparent polymeric fabric of the imprisoning sack and the glass door of the freezer are for the first time not a torment to Chameleon.
The recently arrived, unusual, very busy, blue, not-a-person something goes back and forth, back and forth through the lab with great energy.
This visitor seems intent on creating a new order. It is an agent of change.
Cabinets topple. Chairs fly. Lab equipment is knocked helter-skelter.
In its pendulous sack of ice-flecked fluid, Chameleon can’t hear voices. However, the vibrations of this vigorous reordering are transmitted through walls and floor to the freezer and thus to its occupant.
The lights dim, swell brighter, dim, fade further, but then brighten once more.
The freezer motor stutters and dies. The backup motor does not come online.
Chameleon is alert for the distinct pattern of second-motor vibrations. Nothing. Nothing.
This interesting and energetic visitor draws some people to it, lifts them up, as if in celebration, as if to exalt them, but then casts them down.
They remain where they have fallen, motionless.
Other workers seem to approach the busy visitor of their own volition. They appear almost to embrace it.
These also are lifted up, and then they are cast down. They lie as motionless as the others who were cast down before them.
Perhaps they have prostrated themselves at the feet of the busy visitor.
Or they may be asleep. Or dead.
When all the once-busy workers are motionless, the visitor tears the faucets out of a lab sink and casts them down, making the water gush forth.
The water falls upon the workers, the water falls, yet they do not rise.
And no second-motor vibrations are as yet transmitted to the fluid in the imprisoning sack.
A stillness has come over the sack. The saline solution is without tremors and without hum.
Busy, busy, the visitor uproots the lab sink from its mountings, tosses it aside.
The stainless-steel sink strikes the freezer door, and the glass pane dissolves.
This seems to be an event of great import. What has been is no more. Change has come.
Chameleon has a clearer view than ever before as the visitor departs the laboratory.
What does it all mean?
Chameleon broods on recent events.
THE SIX-LEGGED PANDEMONIUM that entered the corridor from the demolished laboratory loomed as large as three men.
In some of the entity’s features, Deucalion could discern the presence of human DNA. The face appeared much like that of a man, though twice as wide and half again as long as the average face. But the head did not rest upon a neck, instead melding directly with the body, much as a frog’s head and body were joined.
Throughout the organism, nonhuman genetic material manifested in a multitude of startling ways, as if numerous species were vying for control of the body. Feline, canine, insectile, reptilian, avian, and crustacean influences were apparent in limbs, in misplaced and excess orifices, in tails and stingers, in half-formed faces liable to appear anywhere in the tissue mass.
Nothing about this bizarre organism appeared to be in stasis, but all in continuous change, as if its flesh were clay submitting to the imagination and the facile hands of an invisible—and insane—sculptor. This was the Prince of Chaos, enemy of equilibrium, brother of anarchy, literally seething with disorder, defined by the lack of definition, characterized by distortion and disfigurement, warp and gnarl and misproportion.
Deucalion knew at once what stood before him. Earlier, searching Victor’s files on the computer downstairs, he had found his maker’s daily diary of important developments. Among the few days he scanned were the two most recent, wherein the sudden metamorphosis of Werner was not merely described but also illustrated with video clips.
Across the surface of the beast, mouths formed and faded, formed again, most of them human in configuration. Some only gnashed their teeth. Some worked their lips and tongues but could not find their voices. Others issued cries like those that brought Deucalion from Victor’s main lab two floors below, wordless expressions of sorrow and despair, voices of the lost and hopeless.
These speakers sounded childlike, though everyone in the Hands of Mercy—therefore in this aggregate creature—was an adult. Having escaped their enslavement by surrendering to biological chaos, having dropped their programs in the process of abandoning their physical integrity, they seemed to have regressed psychologically to early childhood, a childhood they had never known, and they were now more helpless than ever.
Among the aggregated individuals, only Werner, whose distorted countenance remained the primary face of this beast, possessed an adult voice. Upon exiting the laboratory, he rolled his protuberant eyes, surveying those who waited in the corridor, and after giving them a moment to consider—perhaps to envy and admire—him, he said, “Be free. Be free in me. Abandon hopelessness, all you who enter me. Be free in me. Don’t wait to be told when you may kill the Old Race. Be free in me, and we will start the killing tonight. Be free in me, and we will kill the world.”
A man with a rapturous expression approached the Werner thing, raising his arms as if to embrace freedom, and his liberator at once snatched him up. Insectile puncture-and-pry limbs of wicked design opened the convert’s head as if it were a clamshell, and the brain was transferred into the aggregate creature through a thick-lipped moist cleft that opened in the beast’s chest to accept the offering.
A second man stepped forward. Although he was one of those shaking with terror, he was ready to commit to a bizarre and possibly tormented life in the aggregated organism rather than endure more life as Victor allowed him to live it.
Deucalion had seen enough, too much. He had been compelled to climb the steps in answer to the eerie cries because he had climbed them for two centuries in dreams. But in his climb, he had indeed brought the past and the present together. The first of Victor’s works was here with the last of his works, and the collapse of his demonic empire was under way.
Certain about what he must do next, Deucalion turned from the beast and its offer of freedom. He took one step in the corridor and the next one in the main lab, two floors below.
The end of this empire might not be the end of the threat to civilization that it posed.
To ensure eternal power over his creations, Victor designed the New Race to be infertile. He created females with vaginas but without wombs. When they were the sole version of humanity on Earth, the world would be perpetually without children. Never again would society be organized around the family and its traditions, an Old Race institution that Victor abhorred.
But when their biological structure collapsed, when they remade themselves into something like the aggregate beast or like the pale dwarfish thing that had come out of Detective Harker, perhaps they would rediscover the structures of fertility and efficient methods of reproduction.
Who was to say that this new thing on Earth, this Werner-driven thing, might not at some point reproduce by fission, split into two functioning organisms, as parameciums did?
It might even split into a male and a female. Thereafter, the two might cease to reproduce by fission and resume breeding through some kind of sexual intercourse.
After all, in an infinite universe, anything that could be imagined might somewhere exist.
The fate of the Old Race would be bleak if Victor succeeded in producing an army to undertake a methodical genocide. But that horror might pale by comparison to a future in which humankind was harried and hunted by a multiple-species hybrid able to gain control of its currently chaotic physiology. Such an adversary would be nearly indestructible by virtue of its amorphous nature, full-bore insane by any standard yet intelligent, with an enthusiasm for violence un-equaled by any species of natural origin, with a distilled hatred for its prey that would be satanic in its bitterness, intensity, and eternal endurance.
At Victor’s workstation, Deucalion settled onto the chair and switched on the computer once more.
Among the many discoveries that he had made earlier, he found that even prideful Victor, whose well of hubris would never run dry, provided for the possibility that something would go so wrong in the Hands of Mercy that the old hospital would have to be reduced to molten slag. An option existed to destroy all evidence of the work done there and to prevent the escape of a rogue organism.
Within the walls on each floor of the building were numerous bricklike packages of a highly incendiary material, developed by a foreign despot with a thing for fire and an affection for Victor. The doomsday countdown could be activated through a program that was on the computer menu under the name DRESDEN.
The program allowed for a countdown as short as ten minutes, as long as four hours, or of any duration in between. Deucalion expected a call momentarily from Michael, revealing a new location for their rendezvous. The Werner thing wouldn’t finish acquiring all the staff of Mercy for at least another hour; and even thereafter, the anarchic nature of the beast would ensure that it didn’t manage to break out of the hospital on a timely basis. Just in case Deucalion needed to return to Mercy because of something that came up during the meeting with Michael and Carson, he set the countdown clock at one hour.
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