“Incredible work, team…”
“…needs to go off without a hitch…”
“Just one chance…one chance at utopia.”
If you were a Brown House employee with top-level clearance, you would have access to its topmost-secreted tomb of science, and to these the murmurs of the scientists. As in a darkroom, the lights were low; only the vaguest shine played on the rims of test tubes, on chemical lips. In the center, over a microscope and an impressive bacterial sample, the excited sciencewolves stood huddled.
In their midst were Igor, a scientist in his own right, and Helen, not a scientist. The President had a grand smile and intermittently rubbed his hands together. He and the First Lady were a study of contrasts—she had one arm threaded through his, and a weary, dragged look. The night before had come with ups and downs for Helen especially; Igor had seen her distress, heard her out, and yet, today, was all business and teeth.
“You’re sure you combined the two strains without a hitch?” said Igor.
A nervous werewolf, smothering jitters in planetary patriotism, said, “As sure as the future of Earth is on the line! Here we have Type B, the short timed-release, plus the more gradual Type C…”
“Yes, yes, I studied this all once upon a time, you know.”
“Of course, sir, of course. You’ll disinfect your hands, but slip the serum on afterward—you’ve been practicing your sleight-of-hand?”
“Yes, yes. I was a street magician once upon a time, you know.”
“Well, of course, I read your autobiography. Anywho, the serum gets airborne and infects the whole ship.”
“Timed release of twenty-four hours?”
“Twenty-four hours, sir.”
“Then why does this petri dish say twenty-six?”
An audible gulp. “We’ll, uh…produce one final strain, sir.”
While this nervy scientist trudged off with the sample and the other scientists held their breath, the World President seemed remarkably unconcerned, unhurried. He folded his hands before him. Helen, with her free hand, checked her wristmmunicator.
Then Igor became grandiose: “Soon after the visit of the alien ambassadors, their ship will turn back, passing through the resplendent rays of the moon.” He licked his authoritative chops over that word: moon… “When exposed to those rays, they will understand the amazing feeling of being a werewolf and accept it far quicker than humanity did! Then, thirteen days later when they reach their home planet, Type C will kick in…initiating the Serial Biting Disease!”
Thanks to satellite pictures of the Flutoidan surface, they could just about picture it: insectoid ambassadors launched into fits, infecting their entire world before the werewolf virus could be combatted. As years wore by, werewolfism would, in a sense, terraform Flutoid—for Earth would teach the aliens how to wear away the mighty canyons of their own moons, how to realize their own werewolf society.
“They’ll all be werewolves by Christmas!”
“By Christmas,” said a researcher thoughtfully. “What a symbolically relevant holiday. Earth’ll be getting the biggest and best present of all: real, identical friends, bark bark.”
Another added, “I haven’t gotten a present in years!”
“You know, I was alive in the Year Without a Santa,” Igor said, his voice gone grizzled. “We had tough times leading up to it, awfully tough, but you know, that Christmas…it was a kind of Independence Day. We no longer rely on Santa for presents—just our own lupinian selves.”
“That year you made the North Pole Werewolf Demands,” said the nervy werewolf, shuffling back in with a new petri dish. The nostalgia he was manufacturing touched the heartbobs. “Who else was gonna make Santa stand up for werewolf rights? No one.”
“Take any storefront in 2305,” continued Igor, who now stared into the distance (Helen stared at the floor). “See the Santa in the window. Is he a werewolf? No.” His voice dropped to a whisper as he said, “He never was.”
“To be a little cheesy with you guys,” said the thoughtful researcher, “my head is still spinning from the good job you’ve done with werewolf reform. Just in the pasta forty years, we’ve moved from a ninety-five percent to a ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine percent werewolves-to-humans majority. When I was young, my hometown was really rather poor, so everyone there was still a human. In grade school, bigger kids, and more beautiful kids, used to make fun of me for the way I was, and I couldn’t help it, it was just how I was born. But once you made the werewolf procedures mandatory and free for most anyone in the world, any everyone became the same, all of the bullying stopped!”
With great daring, he clasped Igor’s hands. “This plan of yours might be controversial; I know more than anyone how mad some of my neighbors and relatives’ll be when word gets out. But I just wanted to say, out loud, that I believe in this with all my heart.” His hands slipped away; he faltered. “I mean…what could we do if the aliens came down and started making fun of us for being werewolves? Like, what else’ve we got after that, right?”
“Honestly, I’d do something horrible to myself,” said another.
Igor reassured them. “Worst comes to worst, I’ll be impeached after a few hundred more years in office. But what you’ve all helped me to do will pay off someday, even in your own lifetimes. I’ll certainly be there to see an entire second planet full of werewolves living and learning in harmony. Maybe even a third one!”
Someone raised a petri dish in lieu of a sloshing cup. “To a universe without prejudice! Hear, hear!”
The bunch grabbed dishes and clinked them against one another, laughing all the while. Even a brief interruption from the Brown House’s front gate could not mar the cheer of Igor and his science squad for long.
Only Helen stayed stoic, did not grab anything at all but kept her hand around his arm. And in between his rowdy laughs, Helen whispered in his ear, “Can we have some privacy?”
He whispered back, “Again?”
She sighed heavily; she remembered the softer man he used to be. Then she checked her wristmmunicator again, not because it created any phonic rings or vibrations signaling news, but because she was anxious—no, beyond anxious—haunted.
In a few minutes, the scientists cleared out. Helen and Igor were alone in near-darkness, facing each other.
“What is it, Helen?”
“I’m scared,” she said. “That’s all there is to it.”
“What have you got to be scared of? Your ex is behind bars, and if anything does happen, you’ll be the first to know. And anyway,” he said with a chuckle, “I watched the videos—I forgot you were so good, you know, so strong.” His grin of encouragement did nothing for her. “You’re so dour.”
Should she not have known better? Igor had long since passed the point of wise compassion—she was aware of this. What had won her over were his ideals: world-spanning, world-changing, incredible because they were real. Now, centuries on, he was nothing but his ideals. He was a bundle of strategies meant to keep the ideals going, an iota of charisma and many, many practiced gestures. She really had married a concept. It was funny, maybe; cyborg though she was, she had not intended to marry an automaton.
A hand flew to her face: her cuff, fast as light, catching a tear. Igor flinched. The reason he flinched was not because his understanding of human emotion had degenerated so far as to make him incapable of comforting people—although, I mean, that’s true enough—but because if her tear duct secretions reached the wrong wire in her face, it would mean a small explosion. “Sorry,” she said, rubbing roughly. “Guess I shouldn’t have started charging before you came in here.”
She finished just as a buzz trilled from her wristmmunicator.
Igor latched onto this as a smoother way to cap the conversation. “Sounds like you have news,” he said. Helen nodded. “You’d better get to it.” She unthreaded her arm from his, retreated into the further darkness of the room, and brought watch to face.
The entire world was dark…no, that was just the back of Adam’s eyelids. They peeled open to reveal…a dark world.
Adam sat up on the concrete floor and dazedly gazed around. Bars before him. Striped clothes about him. Solid wall behind him, and to his left a scraggly old man scooping the air with a spoon and grinning at his new cellmate.
“Where in blazes am I, I ask, and has some foul Luciferous being stolen away this very Adam from Edenic freedom?” Adam asked. “Where, my fellow man, where?”
“You’re in the most protected prison in th’ whooooole world,” the oldster giggled. “Under the Brown House!”
By degrees Adam awarened of his surroundings beyond the cell. There was a rumble as constant as summer cicadas, grim and raucous. He observed a second floor that was somewhat visible, and sundry cells in full view, some small, others quite large…
“Er,” Adam began with a cough and a swallow, “what sorts of prisoners inhabit this accursed dwelling?”
“Nothin’ but the most infamous crooks of all time. Looky there!” The oldman jabbed the spoon toward a smaller cell containing two other humans, one sullen and burly, the other chipper and talking to himself. “That’s a circus strongman. Part of an eee-legal sideshow capitalizin’ on non-werewolves. Then there’s that one talkin’ to himself. He didn’ get the treatment either…and he might also be a little bit psycho!”
“I presume,” Adam preemptively sumed, “that you three refused to be werewolfinized.”
The old-prospector-type nodded vigorously. “We all refused it. Me an’ you an’ the birds an’ the rest.”
“The birds?” Adam gasped.
“Yes indeedy,” said the codger, and he motioned toward a cell with tighter bars holding many severals of birds. While the majority fluttered about in a crazy cloud, two stood austerely at the bottom. “The Falcon of Malta,” the coot informed. “Tried to give it to ‘im—he always bit back. So’d that raven. All those birds flyin’ around, they’re worse, I heard.” He delighted, of course, in that word “worse.” “Nice coastal town got the treatment some years ago. Next thing ya know, these birds try an’ peck their eyes out! I say, GOOD ON ‘EM!”
This sudden holler got the birds to squawking. They must have been flattered! Other prisoners screamed “hey!” and “shut it!”
“Nevermore,” quothed the raven. He truly was one of the greatest villains in literary history.
But there was a greater villain behind these bars…the primordial villain of cinematic history. That was the specimen in the ginormiest cell Adam could see, who rose to the ceiling even of that.
“Steer yer eyes to that cell,” guided the oldman. He sounded reverent when he said, “The Great Train.”
A steam engine from the late nineteenth century! To Adam’s eyes, untutored in the tech of the future-present, much less the past-perfect, it was hard to comprehend. It had wheels like the strange steed Automobile, and that he could see if he twisted his neck. But why the conical ‘hat’—for he had no word for smokestack? Most of all, why, why imprison an unthinking machine?
As soon as that thought entered his mind, the pistons began to pump. A slow and mounting chug…chug… accompanied by a waft of smoke echoed throughout the compound. Prisoners, all attentive, dropped their voices, peered ‘round cells and edges.
The train moved forward—chugga chugga chugga chugga—inching closer to the prison bars. If it broke through and chugged much farther, it had a chance of veering sideways to hit Adam and the old fellow’s cell. Yet Adam’s companion seemed unchanged in character, merely yelling affectionate, “Aw, the fool!”
Metal behemoth! It puffed, it rolled, it chunked along! It smashed into the bars! It reeled!
The train bumped with a loud kerran-n-ng! against the iron, and bounced backward—not only backward, but upward. As the Great Train had boxcars attached, the front went belly-up, reverberating with the prison bar twang, while the rest stayed idle. That is, until the front collapsed onto its side, sending the boxcars and their contents (bags of 1900s money with “1900S MONEY” written on them) spilling across the cell.
There had been a whoop of excitement when train and bars collided, but now the prisoners fell back into business as usual. The only changes were the smoking train heap, its spinning wheels, and the footsteps of guards issuing from down the hall, light steps with distinctive clicks, as of chitinous boot-heels.
Adam moved to speak, but was suddenly jolted by a pang in his head. He groaned, cradled his head in his hands, and dove into the corner. “Urgh! Kind sir!” he exclaimed. “Surely you guessed this…but I may be a little bit ‘psycho’ myself, shall we say. While I was unconscious, did I…sleepwalk? Did I wreak any…did you suffer—”
“Naw, nothin’ much!” said the winter chicken. He paused. “’Cept you talked to yerself. A lot!” He snickered wildly.
“Small comfort! It appears I must endure far more than the loss of the Count–”
“The Count?” The beaming face twinkled with recognition.
Adam gawked—indeed, he gibblegabgobblegobgawked—to see that the man, mayhaps, knew more than he let on. He covered his gawking with one hand, and said mock-casually, “Why, yes, Count Dracula.”
“Oh,” said the oldman. He ceased twinkling. “Don’t know that count.” He had been idle for too long; his scoopin’ hand twitched until Adam gave him leave to knead the air with his spoon. In this way Adam permitted himself peace.
Peace—such as it was! Full forty-three voices populated his head! He now realized that since the conclusion of the Baptism of Blood, either those voices or his ability to discern them had been amplified, and now that amplitude had reached a fever pitch. He could even scry from whence each voice came!
One was saying, “Cripes but it’s dark in here. Wish this bloke Adam had Body Bucks or somethin’ ‘cause I’m workin’ overtime, wot.” The right eye!
Another maligned, “Poor train! Had a fightin’ chance, wot.” The pair of kidneys! Why kidneys cared for the fate of some train was beyond Adam.
The hand that cradled his face moaned loudly, “Eve! Eve!” —for it had held her gingerly all those years ago, and the deepest concern of its life even in this confounding prison was why she had betrayed the great composite that was Adam. But had she and the First Lady been one and the same? Were his instincts right? Well, easier to believe that his time at the WoofWonald’s was mere hallucination, sad madness.
Still another voice—a stronger one than most—cried, “Alack, we must be free!” That was his own heart, the dominant order under which all other opinions bickered and eventually knocked themselves into line, usually. The big boss, so to speak. His most coriest self.
But the oddest voice by far seemed to come from a place above…from a sun that hovered before his eyes, in the exact center of his vision. It was invisible, of course. It was all in his head. But when he focused on it, it reacted and materialized in his mind’s eye, and like a static and intangible mini-moon it hung in his vision and, when he closed his peeper lids, in the resultant black-rose hue.
None other than Amun-Ra.
“FAR BE IT FROM ME TO BOTHER ABOUT SUCH THINGS,” he was booming. “WHAT BE A TRAIN TO THE MIGHT OF THE SUN? HA! HA! HA!”
Adam’s heart, by an effort of will and fortitude, quelled the forty-one voices of his other body parts and communed with the inner sun.
He, the heart, spoke! “Magnificent sun!” he postured. “Life-giving light!” he added doubtfully. “Lend me your strength!” he added courageously. “For if I perish in this prison, so do you!”
“BUT WHAT BE A PRISON TO THE MIGHT OF THE SUN?” he rejoindered stupidly. “HA! HA! HA!”
Adam recalled every detail of the confrontation with “Eve” (save her real name, for it had gone unsaid). He knew that pain to his body was pain to the solar soul. So he clamped his teeth down on his hand, so hard that he drew a spot of blood, and got a rise out of every bodily voice!
“Ouch!” said the right eye.
“Ouch!” said the left.
“Ouch!” said the pair of kidneys; the remaining excretory system; the pancreas; the left lung; the right lung; 90% of the skull; the remaining 10%; the right arm excepting one pinky; the one pinky; the arch of the right foot, which had once belonged to a semi-famous serial killer; the toenails; the right earlobe; the cartilage of the ears; the useless flap of skin between the ring and middle fingers of his right hand; the dewlap; 65% of the brain; 35% of the brain plus an extraneous bone that Victor Frankenstein had mistakenly inserted by his elbow; a dropped-in turkey bone; the abdominal muscles; the system of papyrus which had essentially merged with his body; the eyebrow hairs, which had come as a piece from Dr. Schneider, Victor’s most despised university professor; and all the rest of the body parts I did not mention.
So too did his own heart gasp with the pain, and so did the not-so-distant Amun-Ra.
“Ouch!” said the heart.
“OUCH!” boomed that sun.
“We are in agreement about one thing…the bond of blood!” decreed Adam-Heart.
“That reminds me,” said the stomach, “I’m hungry.”
“Quiet, you,” rumbled the turkey bone.
Adam proceeded, “I respect you, Amun-Ra. You may recall I even prayed to you! The sun set on Walter Whipple. It need not set for us. Bequeath your strength, which is the light, I beg of you!”
“I AM ALWAYS HERE, SILLY ADAM. WATCHING AND WAITING. WHEN YOU ARE IN DIRE NEED…”
“Oh, come on,” said 35% of the brain, the part which included the cerebral cortex and most of Adam’s snooty side. “We need to break out now.”
“YOU WILL MAKE NO DEMANDS OF DEITIES! YOU HAVE INTELLECT! YOU HAVE REASON! POSSIBILITIES ALL AROUND YOU AND YOU GIVE UP BEFORE YOU HAVE EVEN BEGUN! PFEH!”
“I-it is not like that!” the heart spluttered. “The idea came to me, and, well…I reckoned I would try!”
Amun-Ra’s voice like thunder admonished him! The sun was not real, and yet it grew hotter; sweat pipped on Adam’s brow! “THE MIGHTY RA IS MORE THAN JUST A WHIM!”
Amun-Ra cackled, but Adam only buckled, suffering in a bout of psychosomatic heatstroke…and feeling defeated! Only after several minutes of piteous whines, and drenching sweat, and the encouragement of all the various body parts which were sympathetic to his cause, did Adam start to recover. The old man was of no help; turned away, he shoveled the sky, unawares. Nothing on Earth could be of help besides Adam’s own strength of will, his own conviction. Which Amun-Ra had overcast with doubt.
…But there were bars in the prison, bars which could be broken.
There were guards with their clicking feet, guards who could be persuaded.
There were pipes in the prison, for maximum security had not taken away sinks with running water.
There were vents, not in the cells but surely somewhere, for the prison had to circulate air somehow.
And there were cameras—so hidden, however, that no one at all but the warden knew of their existence, let alone their locations.
The prison, as attentive readers know, was under NYDC’s Brown House, subterranean. So was the office of the warden, which sat on a floor directly above. This lone law enforcer worked from a desk lit only by sprawling panes of security screens and the blue glare tossed by his glistering eyes. He drank not water, only oil.
Observing the back wall, one would think him immortal, for it was clogged with miniscule portraits of a certain Employee of the Month dating back hundreds of years. Always the same face, bordered by frames of changing materials through the years: wood, gold, platinum, moonrock, luminous holofoil. The face, too, was material, made of pure gold, in aspect equal parts robotic and skeletal. His mouth, because it suited a skull, was in perpetual grimace. Suitable visage for a robot whose original purpose was simply to terminate, for his name was The Terminating Robot.
His whole name had been The Terminating Robot From The Future before he passed the date on which he was originally sent back in time five months ago. He had successfully changed the bent of his timeline so that the artificially-intelligent villain conglomerate that created him was never made. He often asked himself, “Is this future which I have made possible really any better?”
The answer was a tentative yes. He set his drink down beside a photo more important than any employer-given accolade, the face of the woman he was once assigned to kill: Lara Persons. A human face, at least in this photo. Oil had splashed on his ring-bearing finger; he handkerchiefed it clean.
And then his heart (if one believes he had a heart) grew longful.
The Terminating Robot stared at the twenty-odd computer monitors, screens of hard plastic, swarming over the center of his desk, which had its own array of complexen gadgetronics. He was valued, but not valued enough to be granted holographic shimmer-screens; another small proof that the Brown House needed him, but did not want him. He was full-robot, and therefore non-werewolfable. And, too, his very body comprised deadly technology that the present could not decipher, much less replicate.
Had he known that Helen was mostly-robot, with metal augments constituting all but her brain and central nervous system—the body’s command center and its highways of blood—he would have realized why she showed him mild courtesy, coming down to this dungeon herself to bring him weekly oil cans. Today they were linked, her wristmmunicator to a channel on his intercom; the newest prisoner made her very, very nervous.
He flicked a digit. Five screens out of twenty-five showed Adam, from various angles. He was up against the wall and keeping himself rigid in roughly the same posture as “The Thinker,” a famous sculpture which, coincidentally, was also sitting behind bars in that very same prison on account of its inability to werewolfinize.
“No news is good news, eh?” said the robot to himself, and he sipped a strawful of oil.
A little red light on his massive console of gadgets began to beep. Signal for a busted water vein. He groaned. With a lazy keystroke, he dialed Helen’s wrist via the intercom.
“Hello, madam. Water vein break. …No, it’s not ‘nothing,’ you told me to report any—yes, I’m sending somebody. Check on Frank?” He rolled his beady robo-eyes. “Okay. Better safe than sorry. Bye.” So he sent grunt-rank guards every which way…or, two which ways; one party to the water, the other to rough up Adam for roughing up’s own sake.