Thursday: Chapter Ten
“I am afraid we will be conspicuous if I am seen standing beside you talking this way,” the creature said. “I would propose that we sit, but that also would be conspicuous.”
Locke was shocked to hear a hoover offer to sit beside him. He was surprised at how shocked he was, in fact.
“Therefore, Mister Locke, I would impose upon you to walk with me. As I am carrying a burden, we will not appear odd walking side by side -- people will presume I am your servant.”
The hoover seemed somewhat amused at the idea.
Locke stood, folding his newspaper to an advertisement with a lot of blank space so that he could take notes with a pencil and appear to be merely marking items he wanted to buy.
“Mister Locke, my name is John Greenleaf Whittier.”
Locke was stunned by the assertion, but dutifully jotted down the name.
“That’s the name of the abolitionist who was lynched outside the Pemberton mills in Massachusetts last year, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Mister Locke, I was.”
The strange hoover sighed.
“I am aware, Mister Locke -- quite well aware -- that when the elixir vitae first infused my veins, and my brain quickened to its second life, that should have been the very beginning of my awareness and my memory.
“I do not know how it came to be that my brain retained its memories. It may have been that there was something unique in the incorruptant that preserved my brain, or the elixir vitae that awoke it – the Railway has taken samples from my veins for study. I am quite sure it was to my benefit that my brain was saved mere moments after my death.”
Whittier nodded, smiling in a way most people would not when contemplating their own violent death.
“Normally, a lynched man will be left hanging for the edification of the community, or else dismembered for souvenirs.”
“Are you surprised? My, yes, I have seen people pay five cents for a splinter of bone, twenty-five cents for a crisply fried piece of a man’s liver.”
In spite of all the ways he had seen the human body degraded and mistreated in the last few days, Locke still found this particular abuse disturbing. The things humans did to one another....
Locke was so struck by that new horror that he almost missed what Whittier said next.
“None of that was done to me, however. One of my killers was a hoover-maker, and he urged the mob to give him my remains. He was probably just eager to make thrifty use of my fresh carcass, although I understand he waxed quite poetic about what an appropriate and humiliating fate it would be for a man who wanted to end the making of hoovers to become one or more hoovers himself.”
“And you woke up a hoover, but still knew you had been John Greenleaf Whittier.”
“I am John Greenleaf Whittier,” he corrected with a nod.
“It still seems strange to say so,” Whittier said, “but undeniable: I am John Whittier, and the elixir vitae does flow through my veins. But I am no man’s ouvrier. I work for my own benefit.”
“If your body was largely unharmed, why was your head moved to another body?”
Whittier shrugged his borrowed shoulders.
“I don’t know. It may have been intended as an additional insult, or there may have been an urgent need for part or all of my body. It may have simply been that my neck was damaged during my hanging, and switching bodies was the easiest way to deal with it.”
“I’ve heard hoover makers talk of lastery, the trouble a severed part causes if it is improperly removed.”
“Yes. The term originates from agriculture, where it refers to a graft that is cut too short.”
Whittier looked around, as though to check his path for an exit.
“Mr. Whittier, before you go – is Mellonta Tauta another name for the Illuminati?”
Whittier stared at Locke, shocked, then grinned.
“Mr. Locke, the Illuminati is a spectacularly uninteresting fraternal order whose only connection to vitalogy is that it happens to have been founded at the University of Ingolstadt while Victor Frankenstein was a student there. Neither Frankenstein nor any of his intimates ever belonged to it.”
They had reached the Decatur. Whittier handed Locke his bag and wished him a good night. Locke automatically did the same, barely noticing the oddity of exchanging pleasantries with a hoover (or whatever the resurrected man wanted to be called).
Locke stood on the sidewalk, not yet approaching the Decatur’s door, watching Whittier disappear into the fog, whistling.
Friday, June 15th, 1837, dawned bright and clear, just a few clouds on the western horizon as though to emphasize the brightness in the East, in some allegorical image like the masthead of the Sun.
Locke had many more appointments to get through that day, interviewing Doctors Mabuse, Moreau, Seward, Savage, McCoy, Watson, Clitterhouse and Merkwerdichliebe.
As he stepped from the Decatur, Locke noticed a carriage parked directly in front of the entrance, two large dark hoovers standing by its open door. The sight was anomalous, and his mind worked rapidly to think through the possible implications of such an expensive vehicle in his neighborhood, the type of hoover the two represented (it was unfamiliar to him in spite of his recent studies), the possible benefits and dangers of whoever it was had caused this odd apparition, &c.
He tried to take in every detail of the scene in front of him, but completely failed to notice the person whose foot shot out from Locke’s left to trip him.
Hands were on Locke’s back almost before he hit the ground.
“Here, Richie, let me help you,” said a stranger’s voice as he put a hand on Locke’s shoulder and another on his wrist to ensure he could not rise on his own. A moment later much larger hands, the hands of those hoovers, took hold of him and hurried him into the darkness of the carriage.
Locke found himself in the carriage, a hoover sitting next to him and another directly across from him. In the fourth seat, a man smiled at him. He was very ordinary-looking, except for having soft, thick lips which seemed made especially for smug, segnotic expressions like the one he was showing to Locke.
As the carriage pulled away from the curb, Locke looked at the man resignedly and said, “I do hope you’re not going to keep calling me ‘Richie’.”
“Of course not, Mr. Locke. I’d never dream of doing anything so vulgar unless the situation made it necessary.”
That struck Locke as being a bit like saying you never stole unless you needed money, but he said nothing.
The carriage’s windows had been obscured with waxed paper, giving it a gloomy yellowish atmosphere. Locke could tell they were heading north at a normal pace, not making an effort to confuse Locke or any pursuer with a series of confusing turns, but he doubted he would be able to tell where they were going, even so.
After a few minutes, the carriage pulled into a shed of some sort, the light coming in through the windows becoming so dim that the fungi on the interior began to glow. The yellowish light was replaced by the soft white of a healthy and well-maintained light-garden.
The door opened and instantly both hoovers seized Locke’s arms. Since they hadn’t tied his hands or blindfolded him, he’d been hoping they would allow him to simply walk between them, but they took hold of him as though he were a piece of furniture.
A chair, I suppose, since they’re holding my arms, Locke thought. He was surprised and somewhat alarmed that he actually felt an impulse to giggle. He must really be frightened, he realized.
The two hoovers carried Locke up several flights of stairs and down a hallway to an office, where they brought him in front of a large and splendid desk. A small, muscular man with a nearly-bald head sat behind it, barely looking up from paperwork.
The hoovers lowered Locke into a Louis XIV chair and then stood to either side of it, their faces and bodies perfectly immobile, making no effort to interfere with Locke, but close enough that they could seize him in an instant if he tried to rise from it.
The man behind the desk continued to study the papers in front of him, dipped his pen and made a small note before looking up. The whole performance, clearly intended to make Locke feel unimportant, was so similar to how Mr. Day often treated him that he almost laughed.
Locke passed the time by looking up at the hoovers who had brought him in. They were dusky gray in color, but of a darker shade than he normally saw in domestic servants. Their facial features were likewise more strongly Negroid than were usually seen in New York. And their expressions were not merely placid, as was typical. These faces were positively lifeless: slack-jawed and glassy-eyed as though they truly were walking corpses.
At last the man looked up and regarded Locke with a pair of steady brown eyes. Locke noted the eyes were not quite the same shade of brown.
“Good day, Mister Locke. I am Dr. Samuel Gall, of Mellonta Tauta.”
It was a strange feeling, to have someone say out loud that he was a member of the organization about which he had learned so frustratingly little over the last week.
Locke tried to put on a show of being as comfortable and casual as Gall, and reached out to offer his hand, rising slightly from the chair and leaning forward, but one hoover grasped his extended arm, while the other put hands on his shoulders and pushed him back down.
“Good morning -- Ah! -- Doctor. I have been looking for a member of Mellonta Tauta all week.”
Gall nodded sharply.
“Indeed you have, and I congratulate you upon your efforts. You probed so deeply that there was finally no choice but to bring you into our circle.”
Gall gestured briefly at the hoovers.
“I apologize for the way you have been . . . handled in your arrival, but I hope most sincerely that you will leave these offices as a friend of our society, and willing to co-operate with our goals.”
Locke had no need to ask what the alternative would be.
Gall stood by his desk, looking Locke in the face at first, but soon moved to pacing the room as he delivered his speech.
“It was a painful necessity throughout all former ages that the vast majority of Mankind must be relegated to the lower orders, the mudsills of life. Now, however, an alternative has finally been granted to us: the hoovers. Now, at last, we can envision a time when every son of Adam will be a king. That is not the situation that prevails today, obviously, but we have a plan for reforming, for rationalizing the world.”
“Everyone, Doctor? Every human being?”
“Well, the population of the reformed world is yet to be determined. It will be subject to revision as things develop, of course, but I would estimate a world population of about four hundred millions of hoovers, and four millions of human beings.”
“Few, yes, but every one of those millions will live in greater luxury than any Oriental potentate.”
“And what will you do for parts, when your hoovers wear out?”
“Actually, hoovers seldom do wear out. More often they break down. If hoovers are made in a truly logical way, they will indeed wear out, but only after centuries of service. In any event, the bodies of animals would still be available, as would the bodies and brains of humans as they die. Some parts, such as the bones and fascia, can already be replaced with artificial substitutes made from plants and stone.
“Then of course, there would also be convicts. Death by dissection is already the routine form of execution in Austria-Hungary. We might make dissection the penalty for every misdemeanor, and have a scrupulously polite, law-abiding society.
“And if necessity spurs us, there are always babies.”
“There are always foundlings no-one wants. And children could even be conceived for the purpose of providing hoover material. To avoid needless emotional distress, semen can be artificially conveyed from anonymous donors to anonymous females who would be fairly compensated for their service.”
“That’s . . . quite a prospectus you offer for the future,” Locke said carefully, trying to control his nausea. “How long do you expect it to take to accomplish your . . . rationalization?”
Gall shrugged, his head going to one side in yet another type of unpleasant smile.
“Modernization operations on Haiti took us almost twenty years, but of course we were inventing the system as we went along, and didn’t have much of the technology we have now.”
“Why, yes, didn’t you know? The Quisqueya Company is one of our largest public elements -- a ‘front’, as we call it.”
Locke struggled to conceal his astonishment. Napoleon had granted the secretive Quisqyeya Company a charter in 1802, to reclaim Haiti from the rebellious slaves “by any means necessary”, and they had done so, although the details of what was presumed to have been a truly savage campaign had never been made public. Ever since, they had ruled over Haiti with absolute power and absolute secrecy, with visitors allowed only to conduct business, and only within the city of Port au Prince.
Gall crossed to a bookcase and pulled a thick volume from a shelf. He handed it to Locke, who looked dubiously at the binding (its bristly leather resembled Inspector Smith’s coffee coasters made from Indian scalps), then opened it to see a drawing of blank-eyed hoovers carrying bundles of sugar cane bigger than a human being could ever lift, feeding them into a grinder to extract the cane syrup from which molasses would be boiled. To one side, a hoover sat impassively while another hoover put a tourniquet around the stump of her arm, which evidently had been lost to the cane grinder. Both of these hoovers also showed the same dead-eyed indifference.
“Peruse this book, if you care to, Mr. Locke. And you may resume your study of these hoovers, if you wish. I brought them with me from Haiti, and they are typical of the sort of hoover we make there. The Haitians call them zuvembis.”
Locke leafed through the book. It was a sort of scrapbook into which letters, ledger pages and sketches had been pasted. Even a brief glimpse told Locke that it contained more information about Haiti under the Quisqueya Company than had been revealed over the last 35 years. If he could take this book with him when he escaped, it alone would allow him to write a report that would be carried in every newspaper on Earth.
“Before we began hooverizing the plantation workforce, productivity was dropping and unrest was increasing. There had been five servile insurrections in the preceding ten years, each larger than the last.”
The book fell open to a scene of naked men and women strung up by their ankles, hands bound, above a river. Their ropes were just long enough that their heads would be underwater unless they twisted and jackknifed their bodies to reach air. Some had already given up the struggle and hung limply, their heads fully submerged. Locke presumed this was an example of the savagery of the rebellious slaves, until he noticed that the executioners standing by were wearing French army uniforms.
“And how far, er, hooverized is Haiti now?”
Gall smiled with grim satisfaction.
“There is, so far as I know, not a single human slave in the entire colony. What few well-loved retainers were spared conversion into hoovers were manumitted.”
“And you intend the same fate for the slaves of the United States?”
“You sound shocked. You should thank us, actually. You may feel that our... methods are distasteful, but who is really causing the most suffering – the operator of an efficient evulsatorium, or the overseer of an old-style Southern plantation who degrades hundreds of living, breathing human beings all their lives?”
“Better to put those slaves out of their misery, I suppose?”
“Yes, actually. I know you speak in irony, but why not? Them, and the generations of wretches who would be born from their loins.”
Gall turned and looked out the window, speaking in a different tone of voice, evidently repeating a lecture he had given many times before.
“And the same for the Indians remaining on the plains. The nobility of which Cooper wrote is gone, their glory has fled. Their spirit broken, their manhood effaced, what remains of the copper nations are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them.
“We have wronged them for centuries. Now, for our own safety, we should follow it up by one more wrong and wipe them out entirely. Better for their dignity that their bloodline should end in our organ vats than in a dwindling population of drink-ruined scum.”
Gall turned to Locke, his eyes bright.
“But enough of lecturing -- let me show you what the future of America looks like! We have a facility where you can see for yourself, a good deal closer than Haiti!”
Locke nodded slowly. Then, since it was clear Gall wanted him to, he asked, “How close?”
Gall actually giggled.
“Oh, let’s call it the corner of Seventh Avenue and Ninety-Seventh Street!”
Locke frowned. Maybe Gall really was mad. “There is no corner of 97th and 7th. That would be right in the middle of....”
Locke couldn’t blame Gall for his bizarre laughter as Locke trailed off, comprehension dawning on his face. He must have looked quite comical to Gall.
“You have a . . . facility . . . on the Central Farm? In the middle of Manhattan?”
Gall nodded once, sharply, his smile still appallingly self-satisfied.
Locke and Gall rode in a closed carriage drawn by a moke and driven by a tiny, dwarfish hoover. As they rode, Gall continued to lecture while Locke paged through the scrapbook.
“The Central Farm was always at least as important as a way of displaying the latest advances in vitalogy as it was as a convenient place to raise the city’s groceries and meat.”
“So, you’re planning on showing your facility to the public?”
Gall smiled, nodding.
“Yes, at the appropriate time. Quite soon, I should think. Once the public has been prepared, in stages, we can present the evulsatorium to them. You suppose that people will find our system repugnant, don’t you? I expect that when they see how efficient and humane our processing is, the evulsatorium will actually serve as an advertisement for rationalization.”