Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Frankenstein's World, Chapter Thirteen

Saturday: Chapter Thirteen
In the morning, Brown and Locke were served breakfast by Ross, Mrs. Carnacki’s hoover servant.  Over the table, Brown asked Locke to recite his itinerary to make sure he knew it well, and cautioned him once more not to write it down in his notebook.  Breakfast completed, he offered Locke his hand and wished him success.
“You will find safety and freedom in Kanawha,” Brown said loftily, “though not as much comfort as you are used to, I’m afraid.”
The same hoover drove Locke to the small railroad station just outside Grover’s Mill. The last time Locke had travelled by train, he had boarded at the magnificent Seward Terminal in Jersey City.  The Grover’s Mill station was a far cry from that, just a small wooden platform adjoining an even smaller building. Locke bought a ticket to Pittsburgh and was told the next westbound train would not arrive until one o’clock in the afternoon. Accordingly, and since Brown had not admonished him to hide himself from sight in Grover’s Mill, he went for a walk around the town.
There wasn’t a lot to see, but Locke hadn’t expected much.  The most noteworthy sight was the municipal water tower, which raised water to a huge tank six storeys above street level, easily twice the height of any other building in town.  The water tower stood on three long metal legs, one of them with a vine crawling up it.  No, it wasn’t a vine; it was a long rubbery boneless limb of some sort.  As Locke watched, pulsations rose up it like a series of rabbits going down the throat of a greedy python.  His eyes followed the pulses up the long gray tube of flesh, until it reached the top of the water tower.
The tube went over the top of the tower, presumably to the body of some strange kimmer built for raising water -- Locke looked down and saw that a stream ran right by the base of the tower, and the tentacle reached into it.  The kimmer’s body must be on top of the tower, leading Locke to imagine something resembling a tick but the size of a bear, endlessly drinking through its snout and filling the tank from -- what?  Not its bladder, surely.  A hole in its belly, he supposed.
A bizarre and perhaps unsanitary way for a town to get its water, but of course the Bible did declare being made a drawer of water to be a terrible curse, and supposed that it did save a great deal of labor -- well, for everyone but the kimmer up there.
What did it eat?  Perhaps it had baleen which seined algae and minnows from the stream water.  Perhaps it did, in fact, filter the water through its kidneys to purify it.
Locke allowed his fancy free reign, imagining the bloated gray kimmer glaring down on Grover’s Mill with envious eyes, slowly but surely drawing its plans for revenge.  How would it do that, Locke wondered?  By poisoning the water that passes through it?  Or by releasing accumulated wastes from its belly in the form of a heavy black smoke that would asphyxiate the whole town?
Locke looked up at the tower, still trying for a glimpse of the kimmer, remembering a story in an early issue of Tales of Mystery and Imagination in which a vampire, having preyed upon a town until there was hardly anyone left in it, climbed to the top of the church steeple and called out the names of the residents one by one, ringing the bell once after each name, causing the named person to drop dead, “until the pall of death fell upon the entire town.”
Locke shook himself and lowered his eyes to street level.  He did enjoy spinning wild speculations -- he had made his name with one, after all -- but they weren’t normally so morbid.
A chestnut tree spread its branches over a small building of some sort.  Locke heard the huffing sound of bellows and knew it was a smithy.
In the heat of the forge, the blacksmith was wearing only his apron. Locke saw a Leyden jar hanging from the back of the apron’s belt.  Wires ran from it to spots on his back.  Peering more closely, Locke saw that the wires ran to terminals embedded in the man’s flesh, clamped onto them with sawtoothed clips that reminded him of the jaws of alligators.
There were four wires, but there were at least a dozen terminals, running in pairs down the middle of the blacksmith’s back.  Locke heard a faint rhythmic sound whenever the smith was not hammering.  There was a small clockwork mechanism at the top of the Leyden jar, turning the current on and off every second or so, small sparks flashing as the clockwork brought a copper arm down on a terminal.
The smith turned around, and abruptly they were face to face.  Locke started back.  He hadn’t realized he’d gotten so close.
The smith grinned.
“Admirin’ my tickler?”
He chuckled deep in his throat.
“They call it an Arrowsmith Painkiller, or . . .” he furrowed his brow in thought.  “A ‘galvanic antalgia device’, one of ‘em called it.  For m’self, I call it a tickler, and that’s that.”
“Er, I see.  I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to gawk.”
The smith stretched his back.
“I’ve heard folks say any harm doesn’t kill a man makes him stronger.  I don’t think much of that sayin’.  Sometimes, harmin’ a man makes him weaker, and that’s that.
“I worked hard all my life, and it’s given me arms like iron bands, t’ be sure, but it’s also given me an old man’s back.  The tickler takes away the pain, ‘least enough so’s I can keep on workin’ at my forge.  It’s been a life saver, and that’s that, an’ that’s that.”
There was nothing to be said in response to a statement of such finality, so Locke simply nodded and continued on his way.
At noon, Locke broke his dollar buying turtle soup from a street vendor for five cents.  His carefully-managed diet was going to Hell, but he was hungry and the food was there, so he ate.
It wasn’t as good as the turtles fresh out of Turtle Bay, of course.  These were modified turtles grown in an aqualon.  Decapitated  -- or thrown alive into boiling water if the cook was lazy -- they cooked in their shells and were carried out into the streets still steaming.
Locke made his choice from among the turtles on the top of the cart.  The vendor used a small prybar to loosen the turtle’s plastron from its belly, revealing the cooked flesh inside.  The vendor reached in with tongs and pulled out the turtle’s lower intestine, then invited Locke to choose seasonings from a row of jars.  He stirred the inside of the shell with a wooden spoon and handed it, the spoon still sticking out of it, to Locke.
Locke found that the outside of the shell was merely warm, but the contents were quite enjoyably hot.  He spooned up turtle muscle and turtle organs along with the meaty broth that had cooked from them.  When he was done, he placed the shell and spoon alongside the curb where they wouldn’t be tripped over and a hoover street sweeper would have no trouble picking them up.  Locke always tried to be a responsible citizen.
At a bookshop, Locke spotted the latest issue of Tales of Mystery and Imagination and fell upon it with a glad cry.  He happily paid a dime for the booklet and stuck it in his pocket.
Finally, Locke had made a complete circle of downtown and was back at the train station.  He sat down on a wooden bench and opened his magazine to read until the train came.
When the train arrived, Locke was startled by its team.  He had seen trains pulled by stalwarts and brontopedes, but the three kimmers which had pulled the train to Grover’s Mill were unfamiliar.
They were pacing forward slowly while the brake-hoovers carefully tightened the brakes on the cars.  They moved past the platform and came to a halt.  They were larger than mokes or stalwarts, but smaller than brontopedes.
Rather than board the train directly, Locke first ran down to the end of the platform, where he could get a good look at the rearmost animal.  It had four legs with cloven hooves, massive legs that looked as though they had both stamina and speed, a thick and businesslike torso.  Its head was like a Hoch-Toggenberg made a good deal more “hoch”.  It had horns which backswept as though to suggest speed.
The kimmer turned its head and looked at Locke with yellow eyes that had bar-shaped horizontal pupils.
“Er, good job,” Locke said to the kimmer, unnerved by its bland yellow stare.  “You’re right on time.”  Locke walked back, past the driver’s box, to the passenger cars.
The conductor nodded to acknowledge Locke’s ticket and he boarded.  The car was crowded but not impossibly so.  He found an empty seat, got a nod from the man sitting by the window, and dropped into it.  Most of these people had boarded at Jersey City that morning, and had traversed in three or four hours the distance that had taken Locke and Brown more than a day.
Locke sat on the upholstered seat, squirming in spite of its softness.  The train driver blew a long, piercing note on a whistle.  This was echoed by the rearmost kimmer, then the middle one, and then the foremost.  Locke noticed suddenly that he needed to relieve himself, and rose from his seat just as the train suddenly lurched into motion.  Evidently, the cries of the kimmers indicated that they were just pulling out.  Startled by the sudden movement of the floor under his feet, he stumbled and fell, driving the back of the seat in front of him into his belly.  The sudden pressure on his full bladder was extremely painful, and his vision darkened for a moment.  When he came back to himself, he was surprised to find himself still standing, and even more surprised that he had not wet himself.
Locke stumbled along the aisle down the middle of the car, quickly learning how to anticipate the jostling of the car as its motion increased and decreased as the three great kimmers paced forward, gradually gaining speed.  Fortunately, as the train’s speed increased, the motion of the car became more predictable.  He made his way to the rear of the car, but found that the car simply ended in a final set of seats and a door leading toward the next car.  Where were the...facilities?
“Looking for the jakes?” a man said, speaking from a seat that was right about where he would have expected the “jakes” to be.  Locke was glad he didn’t need to ask the man’s name.
“On the B&O, they’re at the front o’ the car.  Dunno why.”
Locke winced at the thought of walking the entire length of the car with his bladder in such dire condition.  He looked toward the exit door.  If the privy was located at the front end of every car, then presumably the next car’s was a good deal closer.  This was a modern train, where cars were connected by a sort of accordion-folding section instead of simply having a pin-and-ring coupling and open air between them.  But there was some rule, wasn’t there?  You couldn’t cross between cars...some times, anyway.  Locke felt entitled to break quite a few rules just at the moment.
“I wouldn’t,” the helpful man said.  “I hear tell a girl lost all the toes on her left foot steppin’ between cars.”
That sounded like nonsense to Locke, like one of those gruesome stories in Davy Crockett’s Almanac about a frontier girl cutting off her foot with an axe, then using the same axe as a crutch as she carried her foot ten miles to the vitalogist who reattached it.  Locke said nothing, though, merely pushed the door open and stepped from the clatter of the car to the thunder of the interstitial space.
The floor under his feet was a set of overlapping flat metal plates that did look a bit like blades, although he was sure the railway would prefer to speak of them as being like the joints of a suit of armor.  There was a carpet laid over them, though, and Locke was quite confident about getting to the other side unharmed.  Anyway, he was wearing well-made shoes of vitalogically enhanced leather that would be no more than scuffed even if the blades -- the plates -- did scissor his foot.
There was not the slightest danger.  Certainly one who had escaped from the clutches of Mellonta Tauta should be able to cross three feet of carpet, especially when he was in such a state of distress that he truly had to do it.
He took a step, feeling the plates sliding underfoot, hearing the incredible noise as the cars rattled.
Take another step, witling.  If there is any danger, it’s in standing in the middle of all of this roar and shaking with nothing to hold onto.  But there isn’t any danger, not in the slightest, so quit being a Boeotian poultroon and take another step....
And then he was frantically trying to turn the handle on the door of the other car, and then he was in the other car, with the door closed behind him, with the rumble of the rails muted once again, and with the privy door standing right before him.  It was occupied, of course.
The wait until the door finally opened was a miserable one, of course, but it was surely not as long as it had seemed by the time the door opened and a woman emerged.  She turned beet red as she saw he was waiting.
As he moved quickly past the woman, Locke wondered what the precise rules were regarding the use of the privy aboard a moving train.  Had he committed a faux pas by standing so directly in front of the door?  Was the situation made worse by the fact that a man was following a woman? Perhaps she was distressed that the person who followed her would associate the stench of the little space with her.
Actually, Locke was pleasantly surprised to find that the privy had only a pleasant watery and leafy smell as of a pond at midday.  He found that rather than the usual chamber pot, there was a horseshoe-shaped metal seat above a drop into a body of liquid from which the pondlike smell was coming.  Locke bowed to the unsteady footing of the train and sat down, covering the steel seat with one of the soft horseshoe-shaped parchments dispensed from a box in the wall.  At last he could relieve himself, and he did so, contemplating the odd sensation of hearing his stream fall into water, rather than porcelain or ivory.He imagined the vitalogical algae or fungus which would be at work below, digesting the waste of passengers.  Perhaps there were even fish swimming about in it, derived from bottom-feeding creatures like catfish.  He’d heard travellers say catfish were good eating....
Locke shook himself.  He had become a stitchpunk, all right: the time he had spent delving into the secrets of vitalogy had done his mind harm, leading him to morbid thoughts.  He needed a vacation, even if it was only a summer spent working on a farm in New Jersey or the Hudson Valley.  To get away from the city for a while, and from a job which required him to do the equivalent of peering into privies, with the risk of being seized and dragged down inside one.
As Locke wiped his hands on a moist and feathery towel and hung it back on the bar for the next passenger, he felt compelled to glance once again into the darkness beneath the seat, and imagine a creature like the gray kimmer on the water tower, its huge lipless mouth opened wide to receive its ration, and perhaps sending up a long wet tongue to clean the patron off....
Locke cursed aloud and shook himself.  Definitely, time for a vacation.
The Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad depot was not as magnificent as Jersey City’s, but immense compared with any of the platforms in the rest of New Jersey.  Also extremely new, possibly just opened.
“You’ll find the going much easier while you’re in Pennsylvania.  We’re very proud of our Main Line,” the smiling hoover ticket clerk said.  Locke thought he recognized the face as being the work of the firm of Strange and Pepper, and then shook his head, wanting to avoid thinking about vitalogy whenever he could manage it.
Two familiar-looking women in identical black travelling cloaks stood near the ticket window, admiring a weary abacot just being unhitched from a train.  A glimpse of red hair under the hat of one woman confirmed to Locke who they were.
“Doctor Foster!”
Both women turned at the sound of his voice, and Locke was stunned by what he saw.  Dr. Foster and Helen had become much closer to being identical.  As he stepped towards them, he could not for the life of him say which was the hoover maker, and which the hoover.  They were dressed identically, in cloaks and hats which were respectable but not too fashionable or expensive, and could plausibly have been worn by a woman in either position.
Locke had once bedded twins at a whorehouse in Saratoga.  They had not been as like to one another as Dr. Foster and her Helen.
“Good afternoon, Mister Locke,” the doctor said at last, after relishing his discomfort for another moment.  “I am waiting for a train to Cincinnati, and have about another hour to wait.”
“I’m, er, going into Virginia.  Would you have time to take a cup of tea with me?”
“Oh, that sounds most agreeable.  Thank you.  There is a tearoom over that way which looked quite pleasant.  Shall we go there?”
Locke offered Foster his arm, but she kept to her hoover’s.  This would not have been considered improper even if anyone could tell at a glance she was a hoover, which he was quite sure no-one would.
A well-made hoover showed them to a table and took their order.  This being a train station’s tearoom, there was no time taken with things like printed menus.  Offerings and prices were chalked up on a huge board along one wall.
Locke ordered a “galvanic preparation of takwin,” which he’d had before and liked, and was surprised to be offered a choice of having the substance dissolved in water, beer or “Priestley’s water”.  Locke chose the latter, since it was new to him.  Dr. Foster and Helen both had a cold herbal tea he’d never heard of before, made with coca leaf and cola nut.  He made a mental note to try it some time.
Locke looked across the table from one woman to the other.
“Well, Doctor, you have...made some progress since last we met.”
“Indeed yes, as you can see.  I believe I can safely say I have perfected my technique, and will now be able to replicate any human being flawlessly, or make a new hoover to even the most exacting of specifications -- and some clients do have a very specific sort of hoover in mind.”
Locke remembered the bizarre forms of hoover he had seen in recent days, including the exotic whores at Madame LaLaurie’s and the mole-men he had seen in Building 101, and suppressed a shudder.
“I am meeting with Heidegger to discuss opening a school where a select group of students would study my methods.  What brings you to Philadelphia?”
Locke considered his options and finally said, “I’m still working on that same article.  I’m going to visit the Franklin House to interview someone there who worked in the same field as Dr. Bullivant.”
It was improbable that a reporter would travel so far just for an interview, but not totally implausible.  The arrival of their drinks interrupted the conversation, and Locke recommenced it with a change in subject.
“So, I expect you’ll make some money from teaching your methods, but what about your invention?”
“I still haven’t found anyone to manufacture Foster’s Sang Vera here in the States, but I have licensed my formula to the firm of Demikhov and Bryukhonenko, in Russia.  The Russians seem to be inordinately concerned there that hoovers might pass for human, and there’ve been a series of proclamations from the Czar and various Imperial and provincial officials requiring that they be marked with facial tattoos, built only with equine ears and tails, sometimes even with alterations that inhibit their function, like donkey hooves.  My representatives have already received assurances that in the next meeting of the Duma, a new law will be enacted requiring all hoovers -- they call them Myortvyje dushi in Russia -- to be infused with colored elixir.”
“Err, Doctor...?”
Green!” Foster burst out, and she and Helen shared a girlish giggle that was perfectly matched for tone, duration and the placement of their fluttering hands.
Locke found himself imagining Dr. Foster sending in Helen to substitute for him, or even in substituting for Helen, waiting upon a guest in a servant’s uniform, in a properly servile manner.  He found the idea oddly erotic.
A hoover with an immensely powerful voice walked along the calling out that the train for Cincinnati had just pulled in.  Locke rose from the table and bowed to them, then sat back down, alone with his thoughts.  He sipped at his drink, interested by the novel sensation of a sweet drink with bubbles rising in it as though it were beer.  Locke didn’t know if the supposed “takwin” was really as healthful as was claimed, but it tasted good and gave him a boost.
Not far from the tearoom was a newsstand, with papers from all over the Eastern states as well as some foreign ones.  He was pleased to see that they had the Sun, and the Saturday first edition at that.  He bought a copy from the badly-scarred old hoover vendor and sat down on a bench to see how the city was getting along without him.
The name of Dr. Ponnonner jumped out at Locke from the third page.  The vitalogist had been murdered, his brains dashed out in his laboratory.  Ponnonner’s wallet lay across his body, several hundred dollars in bills were scattered about him, but only his pocket change seemed to have been taken.  Also missing were the doctor’s lab coat and “a large item described by the police as being of little value, only antiquarian interest”.
An opium eater or some other kind of madman was being sought by police, but Locke wondered whether Ponnonner’s mysterious death might be the work of Mellonta Tauta.
The hoover announcer roared that the Pittsburgh train was arriving on Platform Four, so Locke folded his paper and made his way there.  He found a fine train, the cars obviously new and the kimmers splendid.  They were ordinary brontopedes, but just as fresh-looking as the cars they drew. Inside a car, Locke found it quite up-to-date, with luminous fungi on all ceilings and walls, the new kind which could be dimmed or extinguished by working a switch on the wall which emitted a high-pitched click the fungi would respond to.  The seats were covered in what looked like fine green velvet but were actually a great deal softer and a true pleasure to sit upon.  Clearly, this Pennsylvania Main Line was trying hard to impress.  Locke was happy to be pampered, after all he had been through.
A vendor came through and Locke bought a “chicken dinner brick”, an oblong block that did in fact taste like chicken and dumplings, with gravy.  The brick was dry, though, so from the next vendor he bought a drink.  It was also mixed with Priestley’s water, which Locke was definitely starting to enjoy.  The “syrup” in this case was actually a smooth apple brandy worlds removed from the harsh “applejack” every farmer made.
After that, he sat in his seat, watching the Pennsylvania countryside go by for awhile, until his bladder urged him from his seat.  Aboard the B&O, he found, there was a “comfort station” at each end of every car -- they really were taking good care of their passengers!  The privy, when he entered it, was a good deal more spacious, and it had that pleasant pondlike smell again.
He felt a sudden tightness around his throat, as though he were being strangled.  His hands rose upward instinctively, and it was only when his fingers found the massive fingers clasping around his neck that he realized that he was being strangled, his air being choked off by hands which were larger and stronger than any human hands -- just as Bullivant had been.
Panicked, he dug his nails into the cool fingers, but they did not react, even as he clawed frantically at them.
He heard a crackling sound, and realized that his windpipe was being crushed.
He had to get away, and had to find someone to open his breathing tube for him -- would they cut it open, or perhaps push a pipe down his throat, perhaps?  He knew how to use a rescue heart, he had used one just the other day, in fact....
Locke noticed that he was no longer feeling any pain, or anyway he felt the way he did when he was in pain from something but too drunk to really feel it.  Yes, he felt quite enjoyably drunk, but he was quickly sliding into a state of drunkenness that would deprive him of the pleasure of being so nicely drunk, so he had better not drink any more.  In fact, it would be advisable to vomit before the liquor in his stomach could get on his blood train.  If only this friendly fellow, whoever he was, would stop trying to hold him up, so he could crawl over to the privy seat and have a good puke . . . .

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