Locke walked through the cramped aisles of shelves groaning with bound newspapers, towards the clerk’s desk at the rear. “I need a comprehensive article or series about the history of vitalogy, and a biography of Dr. Frankenstein,” he told the tall hoover at the desk. Perched on a stool itself five feet high, the hoover’s boxy head almost brushed the ceiling.
The hoover looked down at Locke from behind his desk (some eight feet from the floor – why so high?), silently climbed down and made his heavy-footed way down one of the aisles, which held not only the five-year print run of the Sun but those of the Evening Register, the Long Island Farmer, indeed every noteworthy newspaper in the city’s recent history, as far back as Royal New-York Gazette, a collection Mr. Day had bought at auction when the Commercial Advertiser folded. There was every newspaper, past and present, that Locke could recall having seen, besides the Negro paper Freedom’s Journal.
The hoover unerringly found the volume he wanted and carried it to a lectern of a more reasonable height where Locke could stand and read it. The hoover opened the book to the right page without even having to flip through it, and even laid a finger at the top of the right-hand page, headed VICTOR CAROLUS FRANKENSTEIN in old-fashioned newspaper type.
“I can read,” Locke snapped. He might have apologized, even to a hoover, but the creature had merely turned away, without the slightest sign of resentment, or even reaction, except to the implied dismissal. He climbed his stool and bent to his desk, his quill pen scratching away.
Locke looked at the wastebasket at the foot of the stool, surrounded by wadded sheets of paper and used quills that had missed it. He had learned to write with a quill pen, but in recent years he had only seen hoovers using them. Next to the wastebasket was a cylinder held together with a worn leather strap. Locke realized with a start that it was a bedroll, presumably the clerk’s. Did the creature sleep down here? But then, why not, he was only a hoover. Still, the idea of the hoover living down here, possibly not having seen the light of day since he was brought down here . . . .
Locke shook himself and looked at the article the hoover had found for him.
Six decades before, in the same year that a terrible fire destroyed a quarter of the city of New York, Adam Smith published his essay on The Wealth of Nations, and the United States declared their independence, a medical student at Ingolstadt, Bavaria, discovered the elixir vitae, a transparent golden fluid which could animate dead tissue.
Victor Frankenstein never completed his studies at Ingolstadt. He soon became busy with other matters, and never had time to return to school. Many years later, he was granted honorary doctorates by most of the universities of the world, and was created a Baron of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (in spite of remaining a Swiss citizen all his life), but in the days when he began to transform the world, he was only the half-educated son of a Geneva syndic.
Frankenstein never revealed how he created that first batch of elixir vitae, but once he had it, he could feed it on broths extracted from human or animal tissues and grow as much of it as he needed. When the elixir perfused dead tissue, muscles would move, nerves would conduct messages, brains would awaken.
The elixir vitae might not have transformed the world as much as it had, or as quickly, if Frankenstein hadn’t also advanced the art of surgery amazingly. Most reanimated bodies would have been little use as they were upon death: damaged muscles and bones would be unable to function, damaged nerves would not be able to control a limb, and the brain deteriorated rapidly after death. Frankenstein learned to graft a healthy limb in place of a ruined one, to join the severed ends of nerves so they would function, and to give a healthy brain command over a body.
Even then, Frankenstein’s genius might have languished for years. His handful of reanimated animals might have been mere curiosities, and his first disastrous attempt to copy the human form might have led a lonely existence. It was Frankenstein’s creation of conservante, the transparent liquid which allowed him to preserve tissue against decay for months, even years. That allowed Frankenstein and his friend Henry Clerval to quickly begin producing the first ouvriers, a word which entered English as “hoover”.
Much of this was long familiar to Locke, but a good deal was new. As he read, he felt a growing curiosity that he hadn’t had before, and wished he’d taken the time to study vitalogy prior to this assignment.
It occurred to Locke that he actually did have an “in” to the vitalogist community. Freddy Waldman, two doors down from his own room at the Decatur, was an assistant to Dr. Saville, who had a little workshop or surgery or whatever it was called that turned out some kind of fancy hoovers for an upscale market. If he could get Waldman to introduce him to Saville, he could interview the man, and gain access to other vitalogists.