Monday, June 16, 2014

Frankenstein's World, Chapter Four

Chapter Four
There were five clerks standing over Miss Krempe looking stricken, eyes wide, hands trembling.  Remembering the lesson in Lay Resuscitation that Mr. Day had insisted everyone at the Sun attend, Locke dove toward Miss Krempe, shoving a clerk aside.  He felt at her neck for a pulse and didn’t find one.  He took hold of her shoulder and hip and gently rolled her onto her back.  He didn’t remember to support her head until it lolled and bumped loudly on the floor.  Locke winced but finished turning her onto her back.  He bent over her, his ear to her nose, his fingers to her throat.  No pulse, no respiration.
He looked up at the clerks.  He pointed at a blond man.
“You.  Go get the rescue heart.”
His finger swiveled toward a dark-skinned clerk.
“You.  Get a doctor.”
He knelt beside Miss Krempe and tore open her bodice – there was no time for niceties.  He exposed the area of her chest just below the ribs, thankful that she wore no corset, and probed until his fingers located a lump which he thought must be her motionless heart.  The blond clerk stood by holding a white box with a large red Valentine heart painted on it.  Locke opened the box and pulled out a large glass jar.  He unlatched the wire bail that held the glass lid in place and lifted out the heart inside.  He took hold of the pair of foot-long blood vessels, each ending in a bevel-pointed steel tube, and jabbed them home beneath her breastbone.
Locke was surprised at how quickly he’d done it, without any hesitation, even though he’d never done it before, and even though the Lay Resuscitation master had stressed that once the tubes went in, the victim’s life was totally dependent on the rescue heart.  The heart which had stopped now had sharp objects plunged through its walls.  It would need to be mended at least, more likely replaced.  It felt as though he had successfully penetrated her heart with both tubes, but he’d never actually done it before.
After kneading the rescue heart a few times, he felt a gratifying throb as it began to beat on its own.  He watched it pulsate until he was confident that it was indeed pumping blood, and then moved to Krempe’s head.  He pressed on her forehead with one hand and gripped her chin with the other as he’d been taught, pinched her nostrils shut and after a moment’s hesitation covered her mouth with his and blew.
He turned his head and saw her chest sink a gratifying inch or two.  Okay, he wasn’t inflating her stomach or rupturing her eardrums or whatever it was happened when you blew into the mouth the wrong way.  He gave her another breath and saw her chest fall again – and the backup heart cease to pulsate.
Locke reached over and tried to massage the heart back into life, but with that awkward reach, and trying to work the heart one-handed, he could see it wasn’t working.  Locke reluctantly moved away from Krempe’s head, grabbed the heart and squeezed it with both hands until it began pumping on its own again.
Locke moved back to Krempe’s head and resumed inflating her lungs.  When he saw the heart begin to stop again, he looked up at the gathered crowd and saw the blond clerk who had brought the heart.
“Would you please kneel down here –”
Locke almost laughed as the entire group knelt together.  Were they expecting him to lead them in prayer?  He pointed directly at the blond clerk.
You.  Take that heart in both hands,” he said in a voice he hadn’t known he could muster. “Make sure it goes on pumping.”
The clerk obeyed.
As Locke lifted his mouth from Krempe’s and watched her chest fall once more, he noticed the blonde clerk handing the heart over to another.  As the new heart man began working the heart with his hands, the blonde shook his head. 
“The heart keeps on stopping, and I haven’t seen any sign of life from Miss Krempe.  I don’t think there’s any point in—”
 “We will continue until we are relieved!”
Locke honestly didn’t recognize the voice as his own.  It sounded more like some barrel-chested actor portraying Mad Anthony Wayne in a stage drama.
A dozen breaths later, Krempe coughed and began breathing on her own.  Finally feeling able to relax for a moment, Locke sat back and looked up.  He saw Dr. Lavenza looming over him.
Locke quailed instantly, feeling as though he were a child who had been caught going through his mother’s underwear drawer.  He backed away from Krempe rapidly.
“Uhhh....  Doctor, I, er, didn’t see you.  I....”
Lavenza smiled.
“I didn’t interfere because you were doing a fine job.  There was nothing more I could do other than interrupt the care you were giving her.”
Lavenza clapped Locke on the shoulder as he knelt beside Miss Krempe.
“But now it’s time for me to attend to the patient.  Thank you, Locke.”
Locke noted with a corner of his mind that by leaving off any honorific, Dr. Lavenza had paid him the compliment of addressing him the way he would have a fellow physician.
As he walked away, it occurred to Locke just how extraordinary the entire scene had been.
He had been told in the Lay Resuscitation class that the person in charge of a resuscitation was whoever reacted up first.  He had never pictured himself in that role, but it had been thrust upon him when he saw that no-one was acting.
“Don’t leave just yet, if you please, Locke,” came Dr. Lavenza’s voice from behind him.  Locke stopped as though he’d come to the end of his leash.  A leash around his heart, it would seem, given the way his chest suddenly constricted.  Grimly, he went and stood to one side while Lavenza continued to work on the still and silent woman on the floor.
A pair of hoovers in white coats and caps politely shouldered past Locke.  One of them carried a long bundle which they unrolled on the floor next to Miss Krempe, and when Lavenza nodded and moved back, they gently took hold of her and lifted her onto the stretcher.  The rescue heart went right on beating on her chest, the long aorta stiffening and slackening with each pulsation.  As the hoovers carried Miss Krempe to a waiting wagon to convey her to a hospital, Dr. Lavenza clapped Locke on the shoulder and said, “Thank you for staying, Locke.  I wanted to issue you an invitation.
“There is a tradition in my club, the Osiris, of considering the leader at a Lay Resucitation an honorary vitalogist for the day, and an honorary Osirian.  I would be very pleased if you would honor me by joining me for supper at the Osiris Club, with a fine entertainment after.”
They agreed to meet at Lavenza’s clinic at five, when he would be leaving for the day, and walk the four blocks to the Osiris Club.  Locke set off then for his scheduled meeting with Dr. Genessier.
[Genessier scene missing]
The Osiris Club was housed in a three-storey building with a façade that seemed almost Classical, but not quite.  It took up the entire block of Elm Street between Franklin and White, with a splendid view of the Collect Pond and the park on its other side.
Above the building’s entrance was a nude statue of a woman, on one knee, feathered wings hanging from her outspread arms.  She wore a crown which supported a large disk.
Locke pointed at the statue.
“I suppose that is Osiris?”
Lavenza smiled.
“Quite possibly half the people who pass here suppose so, but Osiris was male.  That is Isis, his wife.  When he was dismembered, she reassembled his parts and resurrected him.  You can see, perhaps, why we thought it was an appropriate reference.”
Lavenza led the way up the stairs, where he knocked at the door in an odd pattern: one rap, a brief pause, four quick raps, a long pause, and then two raps a bit more widely spaced.  It was evidently the correct knock, because a tiny hatch at eye level opened, just big enough that Locke could see an eye and part of a nose.
“Lavenza, and an honorary member.”
The hatch slammed shut and the door opened immediately.  A man in slightly old-fashioned evening dress bowed them inside and closed the door just as quickly.
To Locke’s surprise, they were in a tiny chamber, hardly bigger than a closet.  The man who had opened the door then knocked at a door opposite to the first, in a different pattern: four quick raps, a short pause, then two, and repeated.  The inner door was opened without any check, and they were passed through to another man in a similar outfit.  Lavenza leaned forward and whispered something into the man’s ear.  The man gave a sharp little nod and looked at Locke.
“Do you ask that this person be admitted as an honorary member?”
“I do.  I, Horatio Lavenza, member, pledge that Richard Adams Locke will tonight conduct himself as a member ought.”
The man gave that same sharp nod and then took a step back to position himself with his back to the door.
“That’s quite the procedure,” Locke said softly as they walked into a large parlor where at least a dozen vitalogists stood and sat talking and reading.  “I feel as though I have joined a secret society.”
“It might seem a bit much, but it’s not just for show,” Lavenza replied, also sotto voce.  “Some of our number are wealthy enough to make kidnapping a matter worthy of consideration.  And there have been times when vitalogists were not held in such high regard as they are in America in the 19th Century.”
Beyond the portal, they entered a large common room, a fireplace at one end and a spinet at the other.  Couches and chairs were arranged in small groups.  There were a dozen or so men around the room, the largest group being four men gathered around a man in a dark yellow suit, with a red satin stole draped over his shoulders.  The stole supported a large triangular pendant that gleamed on his chest.
Locke indicated the man with his eyes.
“That’s L’Espanaye, the President of the Club -- the Horus, as we call him.”
“He looks as though he’s ready to carry out an altar sacrifice.”
Lavenza rolled his eyes and chuckled.
“Oh, no, Locke, when we conduct our blood sacrifices, we wear white aprons – and we come here to get away from all that.”
A hoover in a spruce outfit approached Lavenza.
“Doctor Lavenza,” the creature said softly, “La Violeta is ready for you.”
Lavenza nodded and when the hoover turned, he followed, and Locke followed his host.
The hoover led them up a narrow flight of stairs to a corridor, and opened a door halfway down it.  He let Lavenza and Locke into a room with purple flocked wallpaper and a table wlaid with a purple cloth.
Straight-backed chairs upholstered in purple velvet were arranged around the oblong table.  A chalkboard took up most of the wall behind the head of the table, marked with the names of the party:
 Five circles of paper lay in front of five seats, each symbolic plate lettered with the name of a guest.  Locke saw that the calligraphy of his own name was as tidy as anyone else’s.  Each place also had a glass fingerbowl, empty and upside-down.  Locke had heard that the fashion among the upper middle class was to distribute sterilized flatware in brown paper parcels, but there were only small rings of paper printed SANITIZED around the linen napkins.
At the opposite end of the room, a tall and slender old man was apparently telling a joke to a man as fat as a butcher.
“So the Indian said to the missionary, ‘This all good, but now is time to talk turkey.’”
The fat man threw back his head and laughed loudly.
Lavenza introduced Locke to the other guests: the thin man, Dr. Moritz, had a youthful glow to his face that contrasted with his white hair and beard.  The fat Hallmeier also had a butcher’s black moustache.  While Locke was shaking Hallmeier’s hand, young Jekyll (the name turned out to be pronounced “Jee-kull”) arrived.
Jekyll was surprisingly young, thin and blond, with a British accent.  He looked barely old enough to have finished school, but he evidently had made his mark on the field already, judging by the liberties the older vitalogists allowed him.
It turned out that Moritz had been telling Hallmeier jokes in hope of getting him out of something of a state: Hallmeier had just heard that a fellow member of the club had attended a lecture by the Abolitionist John Brown, who proposed to free not only the Negroes still held as slaves in parts of the South, but even the hoovers.  Jekyll actually chuckled at how worked up Hallmeier was at the very idea, the very suggestion . . . .
The waiters, all exquisitely-constructed hoovers made for domestic service, moved with silent efficiency.  They righted the fingerbowls and filled them with distilled water.  They unwrapped the linen napkins and unfolded them.  They pulled out the chairs for the guests and seated them.  Another hoover entered with a silver soup tureen.
One of the hoovers picked up a piece of chalk and wrote
The tureen, made to resemble a sea turtle’s shell, held well more than five plates’ worth of soup. The broad shallow plates were set before the diners as the tureen moved around the table widdershins, while a wine hoover went dersail with a bottle, pouring brilliant red wine into glasses.  Last of all, a hoover pulled soup spoons from a small sterilizer and distributed them.
Locke happened to be very fond of turtle soup.  Indeed, he sometimes spent weekends in a cottage on Turtle Bay and watched the fishermen bringing in their catch.
As soon as the soup was distributed, the waiters peeled off their linen gloves and put on fresh ones.
“It’s ridiculous to suggest that hoovers are people in any meaningful sense,” Lavenza said impatiently, gesturing at the hoover who was gathering used gloves in a bucket from the other servers.
“They’re not even really alive.”
“Nonsense,” Moritz retorted. “They move, they breathe, they eat.”
“But they don’t grow or mature.  They heal poorly if at all, they learn poorly at anything more than the most basic tasks . . .”
Lavenza grinned, certain he could end the discussion with a single crushing point.
“And they certainly don’t reproduce themselves.”
Moritz shrugged.
“Are you quite sure?  Most hoover makers have hoover assistants, and it’s quite possible that a clever hoover -- especially one made with the brain and hands of a surgeon -- might be able to build hoovers on its own.”
Locke allowed a hoover to take away his soup plate from his left, while another reached in from his right to place before him a dish of thumb-sized shrimp and a tiny bowl of red sauce.
Locke found the “ataraxic” sauce so peppery that he consumed quite a lot of the water and rolls provided.
Young Jekyll raised an eyebrow.
“I think hoovers are on the border between living and unliving, and proof that there is nothing inherently unique about life as opposed to unlife.
“But whether they are alive or not has little bearing on whether we should treat them as people.”
Lavenza twitched his lip.
“What sort of word games are you playing at, Jekyll?”
“I’m saying quite simply that when a rational being asks you for bread, or for his freedom, or simply for mercy, the first question should not be whether he is charged with some sort of vital force, but whether he thinks and feels and suffers and desires.  And since hoovers undeniably do all these things –”
“To some extent,” Hallmeier interjected sullenly.
After the appetizer came a ham salad whose “eutectic” dressing seemed to contain quite a lot of sugar and more than a little bacon.
“Since hoovers can be shown to do all of these things,” Jekyll persisted, “and since no-one has ever demonstrated even the existence of any vital force, any more than anyone has trapped and measured a soul, I think that any discussion of what is life and what is unlife is irrelevant and useless.”
The men around the table all looked aghast, as though he had firmly declared some blasphemous heresy.
“For God’s sake, Jekyll,” Lavenza complained, “if you deny the existence of the vital force, can you even call yourself a vitalogist?”
Jekyll shrugged.
“Perhaps we need to find a new name for the field, as we relinquished the name astrology in favor of the humbler astronomy.
“I recently read an article by an alienist who said that as we cannot view the processes of the mind directly, but only observe a person’s behavior, that the field should not be called psychology but merely activology.”
Hallmeier had endured enough.  Now he pounced.
“There, you see?  Just as a vulgar behaviorism is corrupting psychology, this mechanistic attitude of yours will debauch vitalogy.  Bad enough that the behaviorist denies the existence of the mind, let alone the soul, but now you would deny the existence of life itself.”
He rose, red-faced, to his feet.
“You, Jekyll, are not merely misguided, you are poisonous!  You say that you are too humble to distinguish between Life and Unlife, but your true doctrine is an arrogant Anti-Life!
He stood in trembling, red-faced silence, then composed himself and said quietly, “I will leave you to the company of those who are fool enough to allow you to pollute them with your mechanistic, mathematical anti-life equations.”
Hallmeier turned and left the room, almost colliding with the hoovers wheeling in the main course under a huge domed cover.
The hoovers ignored Hallmeier’s exit, of course.  One efficiently removed the cover, another began to carve, a third wrote on the chalkboard.
Cuy Brava” proved to be a guinea pig which under vitalogical tutelage had grown to the size of a lamb.  It was crusted in corn meal and surrounded by potatoes, and had a stuffed bell pepper in its mouth.
“Actually,” Jekyll said, breaking the silence in a calm voice, “the fact that every phenomenon in the universe, including life, follows the same natural laws and can be described in clear mathematics, is one of the comforts and consolations of my life.  It gives me great pleasure to see for myself that Galileo was right to say mathematics is the alphabet in which God has written the universe.  I don’t understand why Hallmeier thinks it is some sort of insult to God, or perhaps to Man, that we have a language in common.”
After that there was a long silence until Lavenza cleared his throat.
“Well, Gentlemen, I do not agree with everything Jekyll says, but I also do not agree with Hallmeier’s, er, violent rejection, either.  I would prefer that we continue this discussion at, er, a later occasion.”
The hoovers served cuts of cuy brava and poured white wine.  The guests ate in silence, allowing Locke to discover that guinea pig did not taste like pork at all, nor like chicken or beef.  It was its own flavor, and Locke hoped he would get another chance to eat it.
After a long period of quiet eating, Lavenza sighed and said, “So, gentlemen, have you seen Joel Barlow’s latest dispatch on the Texian War?”
He pulled a newspaper page from an inside jacket picket.
Locke tuned out most of what Lavenza was reading.  He found the war news incomprehensible with its minute descriptions of battle tactics, and he hated even worse the sort of conversation that war news inspired, with endless wrangling over whether the Texians were honorable men fighting for their rights under a tyrannical regime, or cynical proxies for the imperial ambitions of business and political interests in the United States.  For his own part, Locke thought they could easily be both, and plenty more things besides -- a country was a complicated thing, after all.  For that matter, so was a single man.
As the guests began chewing over the Texas news, however, Locke realized that the war was of interest to vitalogists mainly for the large role hoovers and other products of modern vitalogy were playing in the war.  The Texians were fielding huge levees of hoovers from their plantations and factories.  Armed with pikes, the hoovers died in droves but were proving effective against the Mexican army.
The latest news was that Texians had gathered the bodies of hoovers and dead Mexicans in a makeshift workshop inside an old mission house in San Antonio, to be reanimated as quickly as possible and sent back into the field.  When the building was surrounded by Mexicans, they held out for a number of days, repairing their hoovers again and again from their stores and from the bodies of their own dead comrades.
When the mission finally fell, the last hoovers and humans were shot, and all of their bodies, along with their stores of limbs and organs, were piled up together and burned, supposedly to prevent the Texians from using any of them again, but the Texians were calling it an unChristian desecration of human remains, intended to break Texian morale.  Instead, it seemed to have inspired them to a new fury, and the mission house’s name had become a rallying cry.
“This is the first truly modern war,” Lavenza said when he had finished reading, with the air of the consummate armchair general.  “Napoleon never had more than a handful of hoovers in his armies, von Blucher had fewer, and Wellington I think none at all.  Now, the Texians have thousands of hoovers.  The Mexicans are slaughtering them in droves, but the Texians are willing to sacrifice ten hoovers for one Mexican killed.  So long as they have hoovers, they’ll only lose an occasional human officer.”
The fruit course following dessert sounded absurdly rustic, but the huckleberries were grape-sized and exquisitely flavorful, and the acorns were Chapmans, soft and sweet.
Jekyll indicated his agreement with Lavenza’s pontificating but added, “It won’t really be a modern war until both sides have hoover armies.  Mexico is backward in that regard, at present.  Now, when both sides are fielding hoovers, things will really get interesting.  Whoever holds the field after a battle will glean corpses and parts and haul them off to be made into new hoovers.  The occasional human or mule killed will just be more material for them.”
Lavenza burst out, “Good Christ, man!”, but Moritz indicated he agreed with Jekyll.
“Mexicans have what I can only call a deeply superstitious fascination with death,” Moritz said.  “Their art is decorated with skulls and skeletons, even in their churches.  They have a holiday in the fall, dia de los Muertos – the Day of the Dead!  It’s like that thing they do in Ireland, All Hallows Even, only a hundred times more gruesome and morbid.  They feed their kids little skulls made from sugar – with the children’s own names on them!
“I tell you, when Mexico finally has as many hoovers as we do, God only knows how they will fit them into their culture, but it will be...interesting.”
Jekyll asked, “Is it true that the hoovers of Mexico are not considered slaves?”
Moritz nodded.
“Slavery is illegal in Mexico -- that’s one of the issues they’re fighting over in Texas, after all.  Hoovers are considered more or less the same as the lower classes of Mexicans, and I have to say that personally I’d rather be a slave in Texas than one of the peones of Mexico.”
The guests took demitasse standing.  The coffee service was more elaborate than Locke had previously seen.
After a moment’s hesitation, he chose merely sugar and light chocolate in his own.  The hoover who mixed his cup handed it to him saying softly, “Café mocha.”
After tossing off a small but potent cup (black coffee with a dollop of essence), Moritz asked one of the waiters whether “the play” had begun.  When the hoover replied that the curtain would rise in a quarter hour, Moritz asked the others if they were of a mind to join him.  Lavenza said he would, and urged Locke to go also.  On being told the performance was Sir Walter Scott’s new play, The Sword of Parmagon, he agreed readily.
The hoovers cleared away the remnants of the demitasse service.  The last to leave the room carried the bin which had received the many pairs of linen gloves used in distributing the courses.  It was full to overflowing.
The clubhouse had a large theatre toward the rear, where business meetings and club ceremonies were held, but which mainly served, Lavenza explained, for the staging of plays in the evenings.  Many vitalogists, especially those with no dependents, preferred to take their light entertainment on the club’s premises.  Professional theatrical troupes often performed at gentlemen’s clubs after ending a Broadway run and before departing on tour.
As the lights lowered to signal that the play was about to begin, Locke thought of the author’s sad condition.
The legendary Sir Walter Scott had suffered a stroke, and all efforts of modern medicine had so far proven unable to restore his limbs to motion or his mind to clarity.  He dictated all of his work now to a hoover stenographer.
The program said there would be vignettes between acts, but hadn’t said what they were.  Once, these had always been either a slapstick routine or a popular song, but these days the fashion was for tiny dramas, such as the tearful end of a romance or the rescue of a kidnapped child.
A spotlight came on, throwing a bright circle of light onto the curtain.  An actor in clumsy makeup intended to make him look like a hoover came on, wheeling a man in a blood-stained smock on a hand truck.  The “hoover” announced haltingly that the audience would be treated to a lecture on cancer treatment by “Dr. Lackobreath”, and gestured broadly toward the other actor, who had been placed in the center of the spotlight.
The “doctor” proceeded to mime a silent lecture for almost a minute before the hoover, shaking his head sadly, took hold of the hand truck and wheeled “Dr. Lackobreath” off the stage, still pretending to speak.
Locke found this vignette incomprehensible, but the rest of the audience found it hilarious.  Then the spotlight went out and the curtains parted for the play proper.
At the end of Act One, Locke considered the circumstances under which the play had been written.  Sir Walter’s narrations to his stenographer were rambling and disjointed.  Scott’s amanuensis worked over the hoover’s notes, extracting a turn of phrase here and a subplot there, fitting them together into serviceable tales that still entertained, although sometimes the joins were noticeable.
Locke smiled sadly at the thought that Scott’s writing was now a thing of patchwork assembly, like a hoover.
The mock hoover wheeled out the mock doctor in front of the curtain again, but “Dr. Lackobreath” still lacked breath, and after a minute or so of pretended speech, he was wheeled off stage again.  The curtains then parted to reveal a shallow stage space formed by a screen painted with the image of a hoover maker’s surgery.  A woman lay upon a table, her body covered by a sheet.  The foot of the table was toward the audience, the whole affair tilted slightly so that the length of her body was visible.  The sheet was thin enough that her erect nipples were quite noticeable, and it appeared she was entirely nude underneath -- a very typical method for actors to titivate the audience while avoiding the prosecution that would come with overt nudity.
The woman’s bare exposed feet were restrained by leather straps, and small movements she made indicated that the rest of her was bound as well.  A vitalogist in a white tunic stood by, setting up bottles and tubes for some sort of infusion.
The woman spoke in a faint, tremulous voice.
“Doctor, this . . . procedure.  It will truly preserve my, er, my appearance?”
The vitalogists nodded authoritatively.
“Absolutely.  Your beauty will survive, intact, through many years of use.  You may well be passed from father to son.”
The woman giggled momentarily.
“I, who have never . . . .”
Locke smiled sourly.  Dramatists were allowed to wink and hint at terrible things, but when you got right down to it the ladies were always chaste, the heroes were heroically prim, and the villains were always foiled before they had the chance to carry out their vaguely stated but surely wicked intentions.  Doubtless this woman would be virginal and unharmed in all other ways at the end of the scene.
The actor portraying the vitalogist pretended to attach tubes to the woman: one dangled from a hanging carboy of some pinkish liquid, to feed into a needle in the woman’s right arm.  The woman winced convincingly as the vitalogist pretended to insert the needle.  Then he went around to the other side and “inserted” another needle for a tube which went to an empty carboy on the floor.
Bubbles began to rise in the hanging bottle and the level of the pinkish liquid slowly fell, while dark red “blood” drained into the other carboy.
The woman moaned.
“Ohhh, my arm is burning.”
“Yes,” the vitalogist said briskly, palpating her arm, “that means it’s doing its work.  That sensation will spread throughout your body.”
“Yes, it’s spreading across my chest now.  It’s terribly painful, it hurts more than anything I’ve ever felt.”
Yet as she complained, she still spoke in a distant, soft, almost dreamlike tone, and her face remained calm.
“You will feel that burning all over your body as it perfuses your tissues, and then all sensation will begin to fade as your body becomes fully preserved.”
“Like this . . . all over my body?  I’m not sure I can bear that.”
“Oh, but you must, otherwise this will all have been in vain.”
“But . . . couldn’t you stop it?  Let me live?”
“No.  If I took out the needle now, you would still die, just more slowly and painfully, and your preservation would be spoiled.”
Locke was startled by this.  How was the woman to be rescued at the end?  With an infusion of some miraculous antidote, perhaps.
“Oh, Lord.  In that case, can’t you . . . dispatch me now, to end the pain?”
“Again, no.  I need your heart to pump the fluid to every corner of your body, or else you won’t be properly preserved.”
The bottle was already more than half empty.
“Then I must simply lie here.  And suffer.  And die.”
“And be preserved forever, your beauty never to fade.”
“Never to grow old.”
“Never.  You will be spared that terrible decay.”
“Yes.  This is what I wanted.  Thank you, Doctor.”
And all was silence, broken only by a low moan of pain, as the last of the fluid drained into the girl’s body, and the receptacle filled with her blood.  Locke noticed that the last blood in the tube was pale pink rather than red, presumably mixed with the circulating preservative.
The vitalogist (evidently also a thanatologist) listened at the woman’s chest with a stethoscope.  The audience heard a slow drumbeat that slowed further and finally stopped.  He unmanacled the woman’s right wrist and raised her hand, allowing the audience to see her bare arm.  He flexed her joints and squeezed the muscles exactly as though she were a mere object, a life-sized doll.  He nodded in satisfaction as the curtain fell.
Locke sat back, stunned.  The woman -- the character, that is -- had actually died, died a horrible death while the audience sat and watched.  There had been no rescue, no reprieve.  She had simply suffered the death she had solicited.  The doctor had not been stopped, had carried out his monstrous plan, and presumably now would be selling the mannequin he had created to some wealthy degenerate, and would not be punished.
That was not how drama was supposed to work.  There were rules, damn it!  Locke could hardly have been more shocked if the vitalogists had actually watched a woman being killed on their stage.
The curtain rose and the screen and table were gone, the stage dressed for the play’s resumption.
Locke almost didn’t want to see what the interval after the second act would be.  What sort of nightmarish scenario would he witness this time?  But in fact, it was merely a comic song, which he realized toward the end of the first verse was a satire of Dr. Pannonner’s experiments with his mummy.  The singer, in a dusty lab smock, sang of “my mummy” as though it were a lady whom he was courting, with the hoped-for resurrection standing in for “mummy” yielding to his suit.
Thus I found her one day, simply crumbling away
And wiped away her resinous tears . . . .
The song was bizarre, but nothing like as shocking as the vignette of embalming.
After the final act, which received what Locke thought was rather brief and unenthusiastic applause, and which made no curtain call, “Dr. Lackobreath” was brought out for a “question and answer session”.  A man at the far end of the front row stood up and was recognized, and mouthed a silent “question”.
Surprised by this turn of events, Locke finally laughed.  Meanwhile, the audience was just as delighted as before when the “doctor” made a silent reply, at which the silent questioner nodded, seeming quite satisfied, and sat down.

No comments: