City of Night / Page 5

Page 5

His jaws and teeth, however, were as formidably enhanced as the density of his finger bones. Otherwise, the task would have been not merely difficult but impossible.

Having amputated the little finger, ring finger, and middle finger of his left hand, William was at work on the forefinger.

The three severed digits lay on the floor. One was curled in such a way that it seemed to be beckoning to Erika.

Like others of his kind, William could by an act of will repress all awareness of pain. Clearly, he had done so. He did not cry out or even whimper.

He mumbled wordlessly to himself as he chewed. When he succeeded in amputating the forefinger, he spat it out and said frantically, “Tick, tock, tick. Tick, tock, tick. Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tick, tick!”

Had he been a member of the Old Race, the wall and carpet would have been drenched with blood. Although his wounds began to heal even as he inflicted them on himself, he had still made a mess.

Erika could not imagine why the kneeling butler was engaged upon this self-mutilation, what he hoped to achieve, and she was dismayed by his disregard for the damage he had already done to his master’s properly.

“William,” she said. “William, whatever are you thinking?”

He neither answered nor glanced at her. Instead, the butler stuck his left thumb in his mouth and continued this exercise in express dedigitation.

Because the mansion was quite large and because Erika couldn’t know if any member of the staff might be nearby, she was reluctant to cry out for help, for she might have to get quite loud to be heard. She knew that Victor wished his wife to be refined and ladylike in all public circumstances.

All members of the staff were, like William, of the New Race. Nevertheless, everything beyond the doors of the master suite was most definitely in public territory.

Consequently, she returned to the telephone in the bedroom and pressed the ALL-CALL function of those buttons on the keypad dedicated to the intercom system. Her summons would be broadcast to every room.

“This is Mrs. Helios,” she said. “William is biting off his fingers in the upstairs hall, and I need some assistance.”

By the time she returned to the hallway, the butler had finished with his left thumb and had begun on the little finger of his right hand.

“William, this is irrational,” she cautioned. “Victor designed us brilliantly, but we can’t grow things back when we lose them.”

Her admonition did not give him pause. After spitting out the little finger, he rocked back and forth on his knees: “Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tick, TICK, TICK!”

The urgency of his voice triggered connections between implanted associations in Erika’s mind. She said, “William, you sound like the White Rabbit, pocket watch in hand, racing across the meadow, late for tea with the Mad Hatter.”

She considered seizing the hand that still had four fingers and restraining him as best she could. She wasn’t afraid of him, but she didn’t want to appear forward.

Her in-the-tank education had included exhaustive input on the finest points of deportment and manners. In any social situation from a dinner party to an audience with the Queen of England, she knew the proper etiquette.

Victor insisted upon a poised wife with refined manners. Too bad William wasn’t the Queen of England. Or even the Pope.

Fortunately, Christine, the head housekeeper, must have been nearby. She appeared on the stairs, hurrying upward.

The housekeeper did not seem to be shocked. Her expression was grim but entirely controlled.

As she approached, she took a cell phone from a pocket of her uniform and speed-dialed a number with the pressing of one key.

Christine’s efficiency startled Erika. If there was a number that one called to report a man biting off his fingers, she herself should have known it.

Perhaps not all the downloaded data had found its way into her brain as it should have done. This was a troubling thought.

William stopped rocking on his knees and put his right ring forger in his mouth.

Other members of the household staff appeared on the stairs—three, four, then five of them. They ascended but not as quickly as Christine.

Every one of them had a haunted look. That is not to say they appeared to be ghosts, but that they looked as if they had seen a ghost.

This made no sense, of course. The New Race were atheists by programming and free of all superstition.

Into the cell phone, Christine said, “Mr. Helios, this is Christine. We’ve got another Margaret.”

In her vocabulary, Erika had no definition for Margaret, other than that it was a woman’s name.

“No, sir,” said Christine, “it’s not Mrs. Helios. It’s William. He’s biting off his fingers.”

Erika was surprised that Victor should think that she herself might be inclined to bite off her forgers. She was certain that she had given him no reason to expect such a thing of her.

After spitting out his right ring finger, the butler began to rock back and forth again, chanting: “Tick, tock, tick, tock…”

Christine held the phone close to William, to allow Victor to hear the chant.

The other five staff members had reached the top of the stairs. They stood in the hallway, silent, solemn, as if bearing witness.

Into the phone once more, Christine said, “He’s about to start on the eighth, Mr. Helios.” She listened. “Yes, sir.”

As William stopped chanting and put the middle finger of his right hand in his mouth, Christine grabbed a fistful of his hair, not to stop his self-mutilation, but to steady his head in order to hold the cell phone to his ear.

After a moment, William stiffened and seemed to listen intently to Victor. He stopped chewing. When Christine let go of his hair, he took his finger out of his mouth and stared at it, bewildered.

A tremor went through his body, then another. He toppled off his knees, collapsed onto his side.

He lay with his eyes open, fixed. His mouth hung open, too, as red as a wound.

Into the phone, Christine said, “He’s dead, Mr. Helios.” Then: “Yes, sir.” Then: “I will do that, sir.”

She terminated the call and solemnly regarded Erika.

All of the staff members were staring at Erika. They looked haunted, all right. A shiver of fear went through her.

A porter named Edward said, “Welcome to our world, Mrs. Helios.”

Chapter 11

Meditation is most often done in stillness, although men of a certain cast of mind, who have great problems to solve, frequently think best on long walks.

Deucalion preferred not to walk in daylight. Even in easy New Orleans, where eccentricity flourished, he would surely draw too much attention in public, in bright sun.

With his gifts, at any time of day, he could have taken a single step and been any place west of where the sun yet reached, to walk in the anonymous darkness of other lands.

Victor was in New Orleans, however, and here the atmosphere of looming cataclysm sharpened Deucalion’s wits.

So he walked in the sun-drenched cemeteries of the city. For the most part, the long grassy avenues allowed him to see tourist groups and other visitors long before they drew near.

The ten-foot-tall tombs were like buildings in the crowded blocks of a miniature city. With ease, he could slip between them and away from an impending encounter.

Here the dead were buried in aboveground crypts because the water table was so near the surface that coffins in graves would not remain buried but would surge to the surface in soggy weather. Some were as simple as shotgun houses, but others were as ornamented as Garden District mansions.

Considering that he had been constructed from cadavers and had been brought to life by arcane science—perhaps also by supernatural forces—it was not ironic but logical that he should feel more comfortable in these avenues of the dead than he did on public streets.

In St. Louis Cemetery Number 3, where Deucalion first walked, the mostly white crypts dazzled in the searing sun, as if inhabited by generations of radiant spirits who lingered after their bodies had turned to dust and bones.

These dead were fortunate compared to the living dead who were the New Race. Those soulless slaves might welcome death—but they were created with a proscription against suicide.

Inevitably, they would envy real men, who possessed free will, and their resentment would grow into an irrepressible wrath. Denied self-destruction, sooner or later they would turn outward and destroy all whom they envied.

If Victor’s empire was trembling toward the point of collapse, as instinct warned Deucalion that it was, then finding his base of operations became imperative.

Every member of the New Race would know its whereabouts, for in all probability, they had been born there. Whether they would be willing or even capable of divulging it was another issue.

As a first step, he needed to identify some in the city who were likely to be of the New Race. He must approach them cautiously and gauge the depth of their despair, to determine whether it might have ripened into that desperation which is vigorous of action and reckless of consequences.

Among even the most controlled of slaves there simmers a desire—even if not a capacity—to rebel. Therefore, some of these slaves of Victor’s, all enemies of humanity might in their hopelessness find the will and the fortitude to betray him in small ways.

Every member of the household staff and landscaping crew at Victor’s estate would be of the New Race. But an attempt to get to any of them would be too risky.

His made men would be seeded throughout Biovision, though the greater number of its employees would be real people. Victor would not want to risk mixing his secret work with his public researches. But seining New Men from the sea of Biovision employees would take too long and involve too much exposure on Deucalion’s part.

Perhaps the members of the New Race could recognize one another upon encounter. Deucalion, however, could not tell them from real people at a glance. He would need to observe them, to interact with them, in order to identify them.

Many politicians and appointed officials in the city would no doubt be of Victor’s making, either originals or replicants who had taken the place of real people. Their prominence and the attention to security that came with it would make them more difficult to approach.

Half or more of the officers in the city’s law enforcement agencies were most likely members of the New Race. Deucalion didn’t care to search those ranks, either, because drawing himself to the attention of the police would not be wise.

As Deucalion left behind St. Louis Number 3 and moved now through the Metairie Cemetery, which boasted the gaudiest tombs in greater New Orleans, the hardest sun of the day hammered all shadows into narrow profiles and honed their edges into blades.

Victor would have his people in key positions in the city’s legal establishment—prosecutors and defense attorneys—in the local academic world, in the medical system… and surely in the religious community as well.

In times of personal crisis, people turned to their priests, pastors, and rabbis. Victor would have realized that much valuable information might be learned in a confessional or during a citizen’s most private talks with his spiritual adviser.

Besides, having his soulless creations delivering sermons and celebrating Mass would strike Victor as delicious mockery.

Even one as big and as menacing in appearance as Deucalion could expect a sympathetic ear from clergymen, whether they were real or imposters. They would be accustomed to offering comfort to society’s outsiders and would receive him with less suspicion and alarm than others might.

Because the primary denomination in New Orleans was Catholicism, he would start with that faith. He had many churches from which to choose. In one of them he might find a priest who, by identifying Victor’s center of operations, would betray his maker as daily he mocked God.

Chapter 12

The security room in the Hands of Mercy featured a wall of high-definition monitors providing such clear images of the hallways and rooms of the immense facility that they appeared to be almost three-dimensional.

Victor didn’t believe that his people had any right to privacy. Or to life, for that matter.

None of them had any rights whatsoever. They had their mission, which was the fulfillment of his vision for a new world, and they had their duties, and they had what privileges he allowed. No rights.

Werner, security chief at the Hands of Mercy, was such a solid block of muscle that even a concrete floor ought to have sagged under him. Yet he never lifted weights, never exercised. His perfected metabolism maintained his brute physical form in ideal condition, almost regardless of what he ate.

He had a problem with snot, but they were working on that.

Once in a while—not all the time, not even frequently, but nonetheless often enough to be an annoyance—the mucous membranes in his sinuses produced mucus at a prodigious rate. On those occasions, Werner often went through three boxes of Kleenex per hour.

Victor could have terminated Werner, dispatched his cadaver to the landfill, and installed Werner Two in the post of security chief. But these snot attacks baffled and intrigued him. He preferred to keep Werner in place, study his seizures, and gradually tinker with his physiology to resolve the problem.

Standing beside a currently snotless Werner in the security room, Victor watched a bank of monitors on which surveillance tapes revealed the route Randal Six had taken to escape the building.

Absolute power requires absolute adaptability.

Every setback must be viewed as an opportunity, a chance to learn. Victor’s visionary work could not be shaken by challenges but must always be strengthened by them.

Some days were more marked by challenges than others. This appeared to be one of them.

The body of Detective Jonathan Harker waited in the dissection room, as yet unexamined. Already the body of William, the butler, was en route.

Victor was not concerned. He was exhilarated.

He was so exhilarated that he could feel the internal carotid arteries throbbing in his neck, the external carotids throbbing in his temples, and his jaw muscles already aching from his clenched-teeth anticipation of meeting these infuriating challenges.

Randal Six, engineered in the tanks to be a severe autistic, intensely agoraphobic, had nevertheless managed to leave his billet. He had followed a series of hallways to the elevators.

“What is he doing?” Victor asked.

By his question, he referred to the video that revealed Randal proceeding along a corridor in a peculiar, hesitant, herky-jerky fashion. Sometimes he took a few steps sideways, studying the floor intently, before he proceeded forward again, but then he stepped sideways to the right.

“Sir, he looks as if he’s learning a dance step,” said Werner.

“What dance step?”

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