Saturday: Chapter Fourteen
Locke had a frightful headache. It was so bad that for a little bit he didn’t even notice how bad the rest of him felt.
It was as though an iron spike had been driven through his head, and he was hanging by that spike in a tub of scalding water up to his neck. It was absolutely the worst hangover he’d ever had in his life, and that was saying a good deal.
He reached for his face to rub it, but for some reason nothing happened. He forced his gummy eyelids open and saw only vague blobs of light. His eyes wouldn’t focus.
He tried to sit up, and noticed that it felt as though he were standing up already, but was somehow weightless. Maybe that feeling of heat was because someone had dunked him in a hot bath?
He looked to left and right, blinking over and over to try to clear his eyes. He tried again to raise his hand to look at it, to give him some idea of how bleary his vision actually was, but again, he felt his hand moving but couldn’t see it.
He could hear sounds from outside, sounds like wind through tree branches and birdsong. He could also hear his own heartbeat, which seemed abnormally loud. There was a slight smell of incorruptant. He tried to clear his throat, but nothing happened. He tried to take a deep breath, but nothing happened.
Locke heard a door open, and tried to look towards the sound, but his head remained immobile. A white shape appeared from his right, and by blinking rapidly he was finally able to resolve a tall, slender, silver-haired gentleman with a broad forehead and deep-set eyes. The whiteness proved to be a surgical tunic, one which was so spotless that it had to be purely for show -- the man was probably a vitalogist, but one who hadn’t performed any surgery himself in many years. The whiteness of the fabric made a very strong contrast with the man’s deeply-tanned face and hands.
“Hello, there,” the man said in a deep, rich British accent. “Awake, are you? Excellent.”
He leaned in close to Locke’s face, reaching forward. Locke waited to feel the man’s hand on his chest but felt nothing. He heard a creak from below his field of vision, and then there was an uncomfortable sensation in his throat, as though he were trying to cough but was unable. He opened his mouth and belched. The smell of incorruptant grew much stronger. He started to apologize, but found that the belch seemed to just go on and on in an unnatural and disturbing fashion.
He tried to say, “What’s going on?” but it came out as a drawn-out, “Whaaaaaa?” that only ended when he closed his mouth, at which point his impossibly extended belch went snorting out his nose. He opened his mouth to let the air pass as quietly as he could manage.
“I’m afraid it will take a bit of practice before you can speak readily, Mr. Locke.”
“Hyoooou . . . haaaavvve . . . vvvheee . . . .”
“I have the advantage of you?”
He gave a chuckle that made Locke’s skin crawl, or probably did -- Locke had a hard time telling what his body felt like.
“I’m afraid that I still will, by quite a bit, even after I tell you that I am Dr. Boris Savaard.”
The man bowed, grinning, his eyes glinting like well-sharpened scalpels.
“Whaaat izzssss haaapeeeniiing?”
“You are a guest, once again, of Mellonta Tauta, Mister Locke.”
“Yezz, I vviguurred vhaat muudge.”
“One of our agents intercepted you in your flight, and brought you here--“
Savaard turned and pointed at a carpetbag on a nearby table, with a two-gallon jar beside it, partly full of incorruptant.
“Well, the portion of you necessary for our purposes.”
Locke said nothing. He closed his mouth and allowed the rushing air to blow through his nostrils. After a long moment, he said,
“Down vhere, zhust a rezcue heart.”
“With oxygenator in your blood, circulation is all you need.”
“And a pump to blow air shrough my mouf.”
“Dass how I wivv, but how can I remembeh? Dass onwy happen once.”
Savaard nodded, grinning.
“Yes, just once. But Mr. Whittier wanted to know more about how his own mind had survived, so he had several samples of his peculiar elixir drained from his veins, and sent them to Abolitionist friends for study. One such sample was obtained by Mellonta Tauta, and we have now created large quantities for our own experiments. One of the first ways that our research has borne fruit is in our ability to revive a man’s head and query it for information.”
“Vhass very crever of you, Docdor, vhut vhy in fwaming bwue Heww zhould I answer your infernal kvestions? At vhis point, I don’t have a gread deal to lose, do I?”
“But Mister Locke, you now have everything to gain.”
Savaard began pacing back and forth, passing in and out of Locke’s view but always audible as he harangued the prisoner.
“If you answer all of my questions fully and truthfully, the finest vitalogists in the world will build for you a body which will allow you to pass as a human being. A stronger and handsomer body than you had before, and one where its scars would be such as would require a strong light and a magnifying glass to detect. We will give you documents which will enable you to establish a new identity. And....”
Savaard turned and favored Locke with a smile which he no doubt intended to be both ingratiating and witty, but which really made him look all the more like a violent madman.
“You will be a member of the world’s ruling elite, the masters of the new world order.”
“Mellonda Dauta,” Locke said with as much contempt as the air pump would allow.
“Mellonta Tauta no longer,” Savaard said with a chuckle. “For we will no longer be speaking of future things, but acting in the present.”
“And ivv I don’d, you zhust unpwug me.”
“Of course. We might save your head in incorruptant for further study, or to build a new hoover, but this will be your one and only chance to join us.”
Savaard pulled a chair close to Locke and sat down. His head was now just a little bit lower than Locke’s, but they were still making eye contact.
“So, my dear Mister Locke, what shall it be?”
Locke heard loud noises from outside the room. Savaard noticed also, but took his attention off Locke for only a moment.
Savaard knew how to menace a fellow, Locke had to grant him that. Even so, he felt he was as good as dead anyway, with only the promise of a flatigious miscreant that he might live, and even then, not as a man.
Locke consulted his memory for a reply appropriate to the situation. He cast his mind back to an overheard conversation, when he was interviewing resident of Seneca Village.
He locked eyes with Savaard and said, “You can go ead shid an die, muvveh-fuckeh.”
Locke had never thought he’d repeat such a phrase out loud, but it seemed absolutely perfect for the moment. It felt pretty Goddamned good, in fact. In that moment, he was at peace with himself, even if they weren’t especially inspiring last words.
Savaard could not have looked more shocked if Locke had slapped his face. His scowl was like an oncoming thunderhead as he reached forward and yanked hard at something that gave Locke a sharp pain and then caused the world to gradually blacken around him.
The oxygenator was still in his brain, so Locke didn’t lose consciousness immediately. He was still able to see and hear as the door flew apart into shards and a huge human shape entered the room. Savaard gasped but then turned briskly back to Locke and began working to his left and right. Locke understood that the vitalogist was trying to remove him -- remove his head -- from whatever was holding it up, and then darkness closed over him.