Returning with an old shoebox full of papers, Jelly halted when he saw Deucalion tinkering with the projector. “Makes me nervous, you messing with that. It’s an antique. Hard to get parts or a repairman. That thing is the life’s blood of this place.”
“It’s hemorrhaging.” Deucalion replaced the cover to protect the delicate parts. “Logic reveals the secrets of any machine—whether it’s a projector, a jet engine, or the universe itself.”
“Ben warned me you think too much.” Jelly set the shoebox on a stack of entertainment-gossip magazines. “He sent you one newspaper clipping with his letter, right?”
‘And it brought me halfway around the world.”
Jelly took the lid off the box. “Ben collected lots of this.”
Deucalion picked up the top clipping, scanned the photo, then the headline: VICTOR HELIOS GIVES ONE MILLION TO SYMPHONY.
The sight of the man in the photo, virtually unchanged after so much time, jolted Deucalion as before, in the monastery.
scimitars of lightning gut a black-bellied night, and then crashes of thunder shake darkness across the tall casement windows once more. From flickering gas lamps, light capers over the stone walls of a cavernous laboratory. An electric arc crackles between the copper wire-wrapped poles of eldritch equipment. Sparks spray from dangerously overloaded transformers and piston-driven machinery.
The storm grows more violent, hurling bolt after bolt into the collector rods that stud the tallest towers. The incredible energy is channeled down into—
He opens his heavy eyelids and sees another’s eye magnified by an ocular device resembling a jeweler’s loupe. The loupe flips up, and he sees the face of Victor. Young earnest, hopeful.
In white cap and blood-spattered gown, this creator, this would-be god…
HANDS trembling, Deucalion dropped the clipping, which fluttered to the floor of the projection room.
Ben had prepared him for this, but he was shocked anew. Victor alive. Alive.
For a century or more, Deucalion had explained his own longevity to himself by the simple fact that he was unique, brought to life by singular means. He might therefore exist beyond the reach of death. He never had a cold, the flu, no ailment or physical complaint.
Victor, however, had been born of man and woman. He should be heir to all the ills of the flesh.
From an inner jacket pocket, Deucalion withdrew a rolled sheet of heavy paper, which he usually kept in his carryall. He slipped the knot of the securing ribbon, unrolled the paper, and stared at it for a moment before showing it to Jelly Scrutinizing the pencil portrait, Jelly said, “That’s Helios.”
“A self-portrait,” Deucalion said. “He’s … talented. I took this from a frame in his study . . . more than two hundred years ago.”
Jelly evidently knew enough to receive that statement without surprise.
“I showed this to Ben,” Deucalion said. “More than once. That’s how he recognized Victor Helios and knew him for who he really is.”
Setting aside Victor’s self-portrait, Deucalion selected a second clipping from the box and saw a photo of Helios receiving an award from the mayor of New Orleans.
A third clipping: Victor with the district attorney during his election campaign.
A fourth: Victor and his lovely wife, Erika, at a benefit auction.
Victor purchasing a mansion in the Garden District.
Victor endowing a scholarship at Tulane University.
Victor, Victor, Victor.
Deucalion did not recall casting aside the clippings or crossing the small room, but he must have done so, for the next thing he knew, he had driven his right fist and then his left into the wall, through the old plaster. As he withdrew his hands, clutching broken lengths of lath, a section of the wall crumbled and collapsed at his feet.
He heard himself roar with anger and anguish, and managed to choke off the cry before he lost control of it.
As he turned to Jelly, Deucalion’s vision brightened, dimmed, brightened, and he knew that a subtle pulse of luminosity, like heat lightning behind clouds on a summer night, passed through his eyes. He had seen the phenomenon himself in mirrors.
Wide-eyed, Jelly seemed ready to bolt from the room, but then let out his pent-up breath. “Ben said you’d be upset.”
Deucalion almost laughed at the fat man’s understatement and aplomb, but he feared that a laugh would morph into a scream of rage. For the first time in many years, he had almost lost control of himself, almost indulged the criminal impulses that had been a part of him from the moment of his creation.
He said, “Do you know what I am?”
Jelly met his eyes, studied the tattoo and the ruin that it only half concealed, considered his hulking size. “Ben… he explained. I guess it could be true.” “Believe it,” Deucalion advised him. “My origins are a prison graveyard, the cadavers of criminals—
combined, revitalized, reborn.”
OUTSIDE, THE NIGHT was hot and humid. In Victor Helios’s library, the air-conditioning chilled to the extent that a cheerful blaze in the fireplace was necessary.
Fire featured in some of his less pleasant memories. The great windmill. The bombing of Dresden. The Israeli Mossad attack on the secret Venezuelan research complex that he had shared with Mengele in the years after World War II. Nevertheless he liked to read to the accompaniment of a cozy crackling fire.
When, as now, he was perusing medical journals like The Lancet, JAMA, and Emerging Infectious Diseases, the fire served not merely as ambience but as an expression of his informed scientific opinion. He frequently tore articles from the magazines and tossed them into the flames. Occasionally, he burned entire issues.
As ever, the scientific establishment could teach him nothing. He was far ahead of them. Yet he felt the need to remain aware of advancements in genetics, molecular biology, and associated fields.
He felt the need, as well, for a wine that better complemented the fried walnuts than did the Cabernet that Erika had served with them. Too tan-nic. A fine Merlot would have been preferable.
She sat in the armchair opposite his, reading poetry She had become enthralled with Emily Dickinson, which annoyed Victor.
Dickinson had been a fine poet, of course, but she had been God-besotted. Her verses could mislead the naive. Intellectual poison.
Whatever need Erika might have for a god could be satisfied here in this room. Her maker, after all, was her husband.
Physically, he had done a fine job. She was beautiful, graceful, elegant. She looked twenty-five but had been alive only six weeks.
Victor himself, though two hundred and forty, could have passed for forty-five. His youthful appearance had been harder to maintain than hers had been to achieve.
Beauty and grace were not his only criteria for an ideal wife. He also wished her to be socially and intellectually sophisticated.
In this regard, in many small ways, Erika had failed him and had proved slow to learn in spite of direct-to-brain downloads of data that included virtual encyclopedias of etiquette, culinary history, wine appreciation, witticisms, and much else.
Knowledge of a subject did not mean that one could apply that knowledge, of course, but Erika didn’t seem to be trying hard enough. The Cabernet instead of the Merlot, Dickinson …
Victor had to admit, however, that she was a more appealing and acceptable creature than Erika Three, her immediate predecessor. She might not be the final version—only time would tell—but whatever her faults, Erika Four was not a complete embarrassment.
The drivel in the medical journals and Erika reading Dickinson at last drove him up from his armchair. “I’m in a creative mood. I think I’ll spend some time in my studio.”
“Do you need my help, darling?”
“No. You stay here, enjoy yourself.”
“Listen to this.” Her delight was childlike. Before Victor could stop her, she read from Dickinson: “The pedigree of honey/Does not concern the bee / A clover, any time, to him / Is aristocracy”
“Charming,” he said. “But for variety, you might read some Thorn Gunn and Frederick Seidel.”
He could have told her what to read, and she would have obeyed. But he did not desire an automaton for a wife. He wanted her to be free-spir-
ited. Only in sexual matters did he demand utter obedience.
In the immense restaurant-quality kitchen from which staff could serve a sit-down dinner for a hundred without problem, Victor entered the walk-in pantry. The shelves at the back, laden with canned goods, slid aside when he touched a hidden switch.
Beyond the pantry, secreted in the center of the house, lay his windowless studio.
His public labs were at Helios Biovision, the company through which he was known to the world and by which he had earned another fortune atop those he had already accrued in earlier ages.
And in the Hands of Mercy, an abandoned hospital converted to serve his primary work and staffed with men of his making, he pursued the creation of the new race that would replace flawed humanity Here, behind the pantry, measuring twenty by fifteen feet, this retreat provided a place for him to work on small experiments, often those on the leading edge of his historic enterprise.
Victor supposed that he was to arcane laboratory equipment what Santa Claus was to gizmo-filled toy workshops.
When Mary Shelley took a local legend based on truth and crafted fiction from it, she’d made Victor a tragic figure and killed him off. He understood her dramatic purpose for giving him a death scene, but he loathed her for portraying him as tragic and as a failure.
Her judgment of his work was arrogant. What else of consequence did she ever write? And of the two, who was dead—and who was not?
Although her novel suggested his workplace was a phantasmagoria of gizmos as ominous in appearance as in purpose, she had been vague on details. Not until the first film adaptation of her book did the name Frankenstein become synonymous with the term “mad scientist” and with laboratories buzzing-crackling-humming with frightening widgets, thingums, and doohickeys.
Amusingly, Hollywood had the set design more than half right, not as to the actual machines and objects, but as to ambience. Even the studio behind the pantry had a flavor of Hell with machines.
On the center worktable stood a Lucite tank filled with a milky antibiotic solution. In the tank rested a man’s severed head.
Actually, the head wasn’t severed. It had never been attached to a body in the first place.
Victor had created it only to serve as a braincase. The head had no hair, and the features were rough, not fully formed.
Support systems serviced it with nutrient-rich, enzyme-balanced, oxygenated blood and drained away metabolic waste through numerous plastic tubes that entered through the neck.
With no need to breathe, the head was almost dead still. But the eyes twitched behind the lids, which suggested that it was dreaming.
The brain within the skull was self-aware but had only the most rudimentary personality, sufficient to the experiment.
Approaching the table, Victor addressed the resident of the open Lucite tank: “Time to work, Karloff.”
No one could say that Victor Helios, alias Frankenstein, was a humorless man.
In the head, the eyes opened. They were blue and bloodshot.
Karloff had been selectively educated by direct-to-brain data downloading; therefore, he spoke English. “Ready,” he said, his voice thick and hoarse.
“Where is your hand?” Victor asked.
The bloodshot eyes shifted at once to regard a smaller table in a far corner of the room.
There, a living hand lay in a shallow bowl of milky antibiotic solution. As in the case of the head, this five-fingered wonder was served by numerous tubes and by a low-voltage electrical pump that could empower its nerves and, thereby, its musculature.
The systems sustaining the head and those sustaining the hand were independent of each other, sharing no common tubing or wiring.
After reading the status displays on the equipment and making a few adjustments, Victor said, “Karloff, move your thumb.”
In the dish, the hand lay motionless. Motionless. And then . . . the thumb twitched, bent at the knuckle, straightened again.
Victor had long sought those genes that might carry the elusive psychic powers that humankind had sometimes experienced but had never been able to control. Recently he had achieved this small success.
This ultimate amputee, Karloff, had just exhibited psychomotor telekenesis, the control of his entirely detached hand strictly by means of mental exertion.
“Give me an arpeggio,” Victor said.
In the shallow bowl, the hand raised on the heel of its palm and strummed the air with all fingers, as if plucking at the strings of an invisible harp.
Pleased by this display, Victor said, “Karloff, make a fist.”
The hand slowly clenched, tighter, tighter, until the knuckles were sharp and white.
No emotion showed in Karloff’s face, yet the hand seemed to be an exquisite expression of anger and the will to violence.
new DAY, NEW death. For the second morning in a row, Carson chased breakfast with the discovery of a mutilated corpse.
A TV crew was at the library, hauling gear out of a satellite van, when Carson jammed the brakes, twisted the wheel, and slotted her plainwrap between two black-and-whites that were angled to the curb.
“I break land-speed records getting here,” she grumbled, “and the media’s already on the scene.”
“Bribe the right people,” Michael suggested, ‘and next time you might get the call before Channel 4.”
As she and Michael crossed the sidewalk toward the library, a reporter shouted to her, “Detective O’Connor! Is it true the Surgeon cut out a heart this time?”
“Maybe they’re so interested,” she told Michael, “because none of those bastards has a heart.”
They hurried up stone steps to the ornate red-stone building with gray granite arches and columns.
Admitting them, the police guard at the door said, “It fits the pattern, guys. It’s one of his.”
“Seven murders in a little over three weeks isn’t a pattern anymore,” Carson replied. “It’s a rampage.”
As they entered the reading foyer with the elevated main desk, Michael said, “I should’ve brought my overdue book.”
“You checked out a book? Mr. DVD with a book?’
“It was a DVD guide.”
Crime-scene techs, police photographers, criminalists, jakes, and personnel from the medical examiner’s office served as Indian guides without saying a word. Carson and Michael followed their nods and gestures through a labyrinth of books.
Three quarters of the way along an aisle of stacks, they found Harker and Frye, who were cordoning off the scene with yellow tape.
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