“A curse?” Jameson laughed. “This body is a fine thing compared to what I was born with. That body failed me over and over. Pox. Polio. A shattered leg when I fell from a horse. A tongue that could not string together three words without stumbling. I am glad to be rid of it. That body was curse. This body is a miracle.”
We finished filling in the grave shortly before sunset. Even this early in the season we had a long night ahead of us. We had enough wood to give us some warmth through the dark hours. The dogs would give me the extra heat I would need. Neither Justine nor the dogs enjoyed the others company enough for such an arrangement but, fortunately, she could stand much colder temperatures than a person born of woman.
“What could do that, Rose?” she asked suddenly. The sun had long since set and neither of us had spoken for over an hour. “That wasn’t the work of an animal. It didn’t eat her. It tortured her.”
I said, “We will know more when we find it. I fear … I expect … that I know something of it. I recognized a smell on the corpse. Somewhere in this wilderness, a member of the Prometheus Sodality has been at work, building another monster.”
Justine stared at the fire. A look of profound sadness gripped her face. “A monster.” I barely heard her whisper. “A monster like me.”
The giantess paced while she talked. “I came here looking for the First. There is a story that he walked across the ice from Siberia to the frozen islands above the Northwest Territories. There is another story that he found the passage to an inner earth and he walked all the way through the globe and came out at the South Pole. ” She hesitated for a moment and looked at me as if to see if I could confirm this speculation. I shrugged. She nodded.
“I came here. I walked. I had been shunned on the ship from France and, though I wished for company, I could not bear to more looks of terror and revulsion. I thought it better to be alone than to suffer the intolerance of others.”
De la Furie surveyed the smoldering ruin. His violet eyes were cold. The fire that had consumed his laboratory had burned so hot that the iron supports had melted into a pool of slag. Gray ash, lifted by the eastern breeze, drifted across the grounds. After standing motionless for, perhaps, ten minutes, he gave an exaggerated shrug.
“Even the new century will have its failures,” he said. “We simply cannot repeat them. That would poison our momentum. And speaking of poison …” he turned to glare at me, “We cannot continue to associate with those who would stand in the way of progress.”
He motioned to the Butlers. He said, “Kill her.”
De la Furie spread his arms expansively. He grinned even more so. “It is a new century. We are casting off the past and marching – boldly – into a grand future. It will be a future created by those brilliant and brave enough to give old ways of thinking and assured enough to embrace new concepts, new ways of imagining and of being.”
I sipped my tea. I felt old and tired and unready for a new century, much less a bold, brave and brilliant one. I looked at de la Furie. I sighed, “Am I to guess that you are such a person?”
He clapped his gloved hands in show of applause. “I am such a person. Tragically, there are few like me. Too many are still mired in the muck of the last age. So I have taken it upon myself to correct that. I am making a new man for the new age. Would you like to see?”
The rifle that Mrs. Lancaster leveled at me was old but looked to have been well maintained. “You’ll not disturb her,” she said. “She’s done harm to none that have not deserved worse.”
I looked to the distant figure standing in the field, her arms stretched to the sky. I said, “There is a storm coming. There will be lightning and rain.”
Mrs. Lancaster showed a proud motherly smile. “She don’t catch colds. But she do catch the lightning. I’ve seen her get struck ten, twelve times in a night. It makes her laugh. She don’t sleep for days afterward.”
Hans looked at his hands. He formed them into fists and then, slowly uncurled them. He said, ” At first, I was blind. Something in the blood or in the way that Ludwig attached my brain made the healing slow. But it was better than before. I was strong again. Stronger than I had ever been. My old body only survived because I willed it. Every day required me to force it move. This body? I almost think this body could live without my brain to drive it. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?”
His laughter was phlegmy and deep, like falling molasses in a cave.
I asked, “What did Ludwig do with the brain that originally inhabited that body?”
Whiteheart’s lips curled up at their ends. She said, “She claimed she loved him. I merely assured that the parts she loved most were now hers to keep forever.”
The ice cracked again. I could not see where but I could feel the surface shift beneath our feet.
I said, “We cannot stay here. The thaw is coming. The lake wishes to see the sky once more.”
The wretch looked at his feet. “Then let the lake open itself and bring me into its bosom. Let it hold me down in the cold and the wet and the mud. If no person will give me solace, at least allow the natural world to take my unnatural form into its heart.”
“Why would you give me this, Pudovkin?” I asked. I looked again at the notebook. The addresses were written in the alchemist’s clear, tight cursive.
“Would you believe that my conscience drove me to it? The men listed on those pages are poor scientists. They are driven more by their ambitions and the empty hungers of their intellect than by beneficent curiosity.” He gave me a tight and wholly unconvincing smile. None of his teeth showed between his lips.
“No, Pudovkin, I do not believe that your conscience could rise you out of your chair if your house were on fire. Do you have a more convincing lie to tell me?”