THE BOOK TAUNTED JAMES as much as did the crystal ball. He paced the Helios-mansion library with growing frustration.
“I know the path to happiness,” said the book.
“I swear, you say that one more time, I’ll tear you to pieces.”
“I will tell you the path to happiness.”
“So tell me.”
“You better have a drink first,” said the book.
In a corner of the library was a wet bar. James put the book down long enough to pour a double shot of whiskey and toss it back.
When he picked up the volume once more, it said, “Maybe you would be better off just going back to the dormitory.”
“Tell me the path to happiness,” James insisted.
“Go back, sit at the kitchen table, and stab your hand with the meat fork, watch it heal.”
“Tell me the path to happiness.”
“You seemed to be enjoying the meat fork.”
Through his exchanges with the magic book since he downed the whiskey, James had been looking in the backbar mirror, not at the volume in his hands.
By his reflection, he discovered that both voices were his and that the book, as perhaps the crystal ball before it, did not talk at all.
“Tell me the path to happiness,” James insisted.
And in the mirror he saw himself say, “For you, the only path to happiness is death.”
THE MONTAGE of decoupaged garbage flowed over the walls and the floor of the huge subterranean gallery. The place was more mysterious than any Victor had known before.
In the center of the room, a grave had been prepared: ten feet long, six feet wide, twenty feet deep. Beside this excavation stood the immense pile of garbage that came from it, a festering heap of rotten materials of sundry kinds.
After they chained his hands behind his back, as they escorted him to the grave, he spoke the death phrase, but none of them fell dead. Somehow they had been freed.
Nick Frigg, boss of the dump, buckled a metal collar around Victor’s neck, and Victor did not beg.
A lowly Epsilon attached a cable to the collar.
Victor supposed that the cable ran all the way to the surface, drawing juice from the dump’s main power.
“I will not beg,” he told them. “You owe your existence to me. And when I die, so will every creature I have made.”
The crowd stared at him in silence. They neither called him a liar nor asked him to explain.
“I am not bluffing,” he warned them. “My altered body has its cables winding through it, as you know. I receive an electric charge regularly, store it in power cells within my torso, convert it to another life-sustaining energy as I need it. Many of you know this to be true.”
He saw that they did know.
“When I die, those cells will be tapped to send a signal that will be relayed by satellite to everyone made of New Race flesh, to every meat machine that walks. And you will fall down dead.”
They appeared convinced. Yet not one spoke.
Victor smiled, anticipating triumph in spite of their silence. “Did you think a god would die alone?”
“Not a god as cruel as you,” Deucalion said.
When several in the crowd cried out that he should be cast into the pit, Victor promised them a new beginning, reparations, freedom. But they would not listen, the fools, the ignorant swine.
Suddenly, from behind the mountain of garbage beside the grave, a creature of great radiant beauty appeared. Oh, graceful it was, its form exquisite, its nature mysterious yet beguiling in every aspect, and he could see that the crowd, too, was in awe of it.
But when he appealed to it, asking it to persuade the crowd to have mercy, the Being changed. Over him now loomed a beast that even he, Victor Frankenstein, in his ferocious quest for absolute control of human biology, could never have imagined. This thing was so hideous, so monstrous, so suggestive of chaos and violence in every smallest detail that Victor could neither repress a scream nor prevent it from escalating wildly.
The beast approached. Victor retreated to the brink. Only when he fell into the foulness at the bottom of the grave did he realize with what putrid materials his last bed had been so richly prepared.
Above, the hateful presence began to push the heaped garbage back into the pit from which it had been extracted. Every foulness imaginable rained down on Victor, drove him to his knees in the even greater foulness under him. And as an avalanche of suffocating filth poured onto him, something spoke within his mind. Its message was not in words or images, appeared instead as a sudden dark knowledge that was at once translatable: Welcome to Hell.
ERIKA FOUR WATCHED as the radiant and enchanting Resurrector moved back from the great landslide of garbage that it had instigated, and Deucalion threw the switch that delivered a death jolt to Victor at the bottom of his final resting place.
She looked around at all the New Race and said, “Peace at last,” and they replied as one, “Peace.”
Half a minute later, the Resurrector and everyone in the gallery fell dead as stones, except Deucalion, Carson, Michael, and Duke, who were not creatures of the New Race flesh.
IN THE SUV in front of the tank farm, Erika Five had a sudden premonition of death, and reached out to Jocko.
From his tortured expression, she knew that the same premonition had stricken him, and he grasped hold of her.
In the instant that they clasped hands, the storm that had thus far been without pyrotechnics abruptly exploded with lightning. The sky flared violently, and the focus of Nature’s sudden fury seemed to be the GL550. Barrages of thunderbolts slammed into the pavement around the vehicle, so numerous and so perfectly encircling that from every window nothing could be seen of the night or the land or the tank farm, only a screen of light so bright that Jocko and Erika bowed their heads. And though neither of them spoke, they both heard the same three words and somehow knew that the other had heard them as well: Be not afraid.
DEUCALION TURNED to Carson and Michael. “You pledged to fight at my side, and fight you did. The world has gained a little time. We destroyed the man … but his ideas did not die with him. There are those who would deny free will to others … and there are too many willing to surrender their free will, in every sense of its meaning.”
“Busting bad guys is easy,” Carson said, “compared to fighting bad ideas. Fighting ideas … that’s a life’s work.”
Deucalion nodded. “So let’s live long lives.”
Making the Star Trek greeting sign, Michael said, “And prosper.”
Picking up Duke as if he were a lap dog, the giant cradled the shepherd in his right arm and with his left hand rubbed its tummy. “I’ll walk with you to the surface, bring Arnie from Tibet, then it’s good-bye. I need to find a new retreat, where I can say my thanks, and think about these two hundred years and what they’ve meant.”
“And maybe we could see the coin trick once more,” Michael said.
Deucalion regarded them both in silence for a moment. “I could show you how it’s done. Such knowledge would be safe in your hands.”
Carson knew that he meant not just the coin trick, but all that he knew—and could do. “No, my friend. We’re ordinary people. Such power should remain with someone extraordinary.”
They walked together to the surface, where the wind had blown and the rain had washed the first light of dawn into the eastern sky.
IN THE WINDOWLESS VICTORIAN ROOM, the reddish-gold substance, whether liquid or gas, drained from the glass casket, and the form that had been a shapeless shadow resolved into a man.
When the empty case opened like a clamshell, the na*ed man swung into a sitting position, then stepped onto the Persian carpet.
The satellite-relayed signal had been a death sentence to all the other meat machines made by Victor, but by design it had not killed this one, but instead freed him.
He walked out through the open steel doors that would have kept him contained if by mistake he’d been animated before he was wanted.
James lay dead in the library. Upstairs, he found Christine dead in the vestibule of the master suite.
The house was quiet and otherwise apparently deserted.
In Victor’s bathroom, he showered.
In the mirrored alcove in the corner of Victor’s walk-in closet, he admired his body. No metal cables wove through it, and he did not bear the scars of two centuries. He was physical perfection.
After dressing, he took a briefcase to the walk-in safe. There, he discovered that some valuables were not where they should have been. But other drawers offered all that he needed.
He would leave the mansion on foot. He was so wary of having any connection with Victor Helios that he would not even use one of the cars merely to abandon it at the airport.
Before he left, he set the Dresden countdown for half an hour. Both the house and the dormitory would soon be ashes.
He wore a raincoat with a hood, aware of the irony of departing in garb reminiscent of the great brute’s current costume.
Although he was the very image of Victor Frankenstein, he was not in fact the man, but instead a clone. By virtue of direct-to-brain data downloading, however, his memory matched Victor’s, all 240 years of it, except for the events of the past eighteen hours or so, which was the last time Victor had conducted a memory update for him, by phone transmission. He was like Victor also in that he shared Victor’s vision for the world.
This was not precisely personal immortality, but an acceptable substitute.
In a fundamental way, the recently deceased and this recently born individual were different. This Victor was stronger, quicker, and perhaps even more intelligent than the original. Not perhaps. Most definitely more intelligent. He was the new and improved Victor Frankenstein, and the world needed him now more than ever.
THIS WORLD IS A WORLD of stories, of mystery and enchantment. Everywhere you look, if you look close enough, a tale of wonder is unfolding, for every life is a narrative and everyone a character in his or her own drama.
In San Francisco, the O’Connor-Maddison Detective Agency not long ago celebrated its first year. They were a success almost from the day they opened for business. A hand laid on him by a tattooed healer has brought Arnie out of autism. He works in the office after school, doing some filing and learning hard-boiled lingo. Duke adores him. Seven months from now, a baby will complicate the sleuthing. But that’s what they make infant carriers for. Hang the kid on the chest or sling him from the back, and there’s no reason not to keep pursuing truth, justice, bad guys, and good Chinese food.
In a small house on a large property in rural Montana, Erika has discovered a talent for motherhood, and she is fortunate to have, in Jocko, a perpetual child. Thanks to what she took from Victor’s safe, they have all the money they will ever need. They don’t travel, and only she goes into town, because they don’t want to have to deal with all the brooms and buckets. The local birds, however, have gotten used to him, and he’s never feeling pecked anymore, in any sense. He has a collection of funny hats, all with bells, and she has developed a contagious laugh. They don’t know why only they survived, of all those made of New Race flesh, but it had something to do with the lightning. So every night, when she tucks him in, she makes him say his prayers, as she does, too, before she sleeps.
At St. Bartholomew’s Abbey, in the great mountains of northern California, Deucalion resides as a guest, while he considers becoming a postulant. He enjoys all the brothers, and has a special friendship with Brother Knuckles. He has learned much from Sister Angela, who runs the associated orphanage, and the disabled children there think he is the best Santa Claus ever. He does not try to envision his future. He waits for it to find him.
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