Waking the Dead.
Tesla stood staring. It was incomprehensible, this long row of dead heroes—enemies of Punchinello and Frankenstein—hanging by their chained wrists. The entire hall, from front to back, glowed with strange light—not electricity, and not gas, not even fire—a steady, shining brightness without heat, that seemed to come from everywhere, and nowhere. Adam moaned. Even from here, at the entrance, twenty feet before the first two victims hung facing each other, Tesla recognized many faces—great men, greater women, the authors, the artists, the inventors, the thinkers, all the creators. There must easily be two hundred bodies hanging here. Punchinello, aided by Frankenstein, had slain the best and brightest minds, and hung them here, as ghastly trophies in some odd suspended animation, like a fairytale, Snow White, Rose Red, and Sleeping Beauty. Tesla cocked an eyebrow. He ought to send Adam to kiss each of Punchinello’s victims—the horror of that kiss might possibly raise the dead, if anything ever could.
If he had any real power remaining in his capacitors, he would light up this hall, burn it to the ground—let it come down about them, for Tesla was at least partially responsible for this travesty, this real-life horror, this holocaust. He had provided Punchinello with the tools. He had even supplied that hack, Frankenstein, with the necessary answers to solve his problems with reanimation. Eliminate Tesla from the equation, and the math collapsed—none of this could have happened. Frankenstein would have only the one success, Adam, and never this dark underground utopia.
Without speaking, Tesla and Adam began their journey, grimly marching along the lines. Ah, George Bernard Shaw, poor George, hanging there peacefully between Balzac and Zola. Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, and other great authors chained side by side, their faces slack, criminally devoid of their characteristic intelligence and wit. Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, side by side, as they often were in public, probably taken together by Punchinello. Jane Austen, dear lady, bracketed by three empty spaces, evidently Punchinello was unable to capture the Brontë sisters, for here were waiting and ready labels, shackles dangling and open, as well as a reserved spot for the Baroness Orczy, also thankfully absent.
There were very many people that Tesla did not recognize—he did not have the time to read novels, but he did read and know their names on the fancy labels above their silent heads. He would remember every one of them, these great minds.
Tesla recognized the policemen, Inspector Javert, Detective Porfiry Petrovich, Inspectors Lestrade and Bradstreet—thankfully, Tesla had yet to spot Sherlock Holmes. If any man might elude Punchinello, it was fearless and brilliant Holmes. Inspector Bucket was chained next to the detective Hercule Poirot—Punchinello’s black humor was evident, grouping the great men of the law together as he had the literary greats. Ah, even the old man, Sergeant Cuff, whom Tesla knew well, sharing a love of roses—the sergeant had contacted Tesla more than a few times to brainstorm details on various enigmatic cases.
Adam moaned as they plodded forward on huge feet—a gentle, almost compassionate moaning, as if the creature was as upset about this travesty as was Tesla. And perhaps the brute understood something of himself, and his origins, as they traversed the long hall, especially his maker, Frankenstein.
A part of Tesla’s mind was devoted to watching for any signs of electricity—if he could find anything, anything at all that crackled with sparking power, he had the means for recharging his capacitors. He had planned for this, running out of power, he had built charging cables into his belt, but sadly, as of yet, this whole underworld seemed devoid of electricity. Everything seemed gas-based, for lighting, or wood-based for heat. And it was chilly down here in the bowels of Olde London. But they kept moving, and each step he took sent a trickle-charge of power into the capacitors in his metal boots, and this voltage transferred up into his belt.
Tesla was exhausted. They had been at this business now for hours, either in bringing down Punchinello’s Theatre—distant explosions still echoed, as well as grim rumblings in the earth—and save for a spot of tea just prior to the beginning of the attack, Tesla had not eaten anything today, nor yesterday. When he got to tinkering, his mind racing ahead of him, he was never hungry. He rarely ate, even on a good, boring day. Painfully thin, and exhausted, he now felt wild pangs of hunger. Plus, there was the internal bleeding, oh, yes, there was internal bleeding.
Set apart from the other empty shells, Tesla slowed and viewed the shackled body of Cyrano de Bergerac. Unlike the other bodies, Cyrano was not shackled to the wall, but was instead lying out, coiled with chains all about his body. The legend above him read: Nose. Peculiar. The poet seemed to demand a very different kind of respect. Tesla had always suspected there was something more to the puppet Cyrano, a certain spark, and ferocity.
They were nearing the distant side of the great hall, and Tesla moaned, sounding eerily like Adam, who echoed his audible lament. For up ahead, Tesla recognized Sherlock Holmes, apparently provided a place of honor near the head of the hall (or was this the back, and thus the least glorified places?). Perhaps here, at the back of the hall, Punchinello reserved these places for his most hated enemies.
Tesla felt like giving up, yes, he ought to just sit down right here and now, for if Punchinello was able to take down Sherlock Holmes, what hope was there for a poor boy from Serbia? His body felt especially heavy.
Tesla stopped. He seized Adam’s huge wrist. The giant peered down at him, blinking.
“Are you hearing his voice again?” Tesla queried, trembling.
“That man. Kill Tesla. Voice,” Adam murmured, staring at Tesla with gluey eyes.
Tesla bent and checked the grounding wire on the insulated box at his belt. Damn! The wire had pulled free, yet again! Punchinello was still reaching out. Even isolated as he was, reduced to his basic essence, the vile homunculus possessed more power than he was ever given credit. Tesla grimly refastened the wire, and then gave three sharp raps to the metal box.
“Damn you, stay in there, Puppet Master,” Tesla spat between gritting teeth.
He looked about. Here was the Sword Master, d’Artagnan, purportedly the greatest swordsman of all time. The legend Swashbuckler plastered above his limp body, upon a golden scroll. Here was the Scarlet Pimpernel, Trickster. Sherlock Holmes, Detective. That’s it? Just detective, that was all the honor Punchinello allowed one of the most clever men Tesla had ever met? The doctor was here, as well, Henry Jekyll, listed as Madman. Tesla knew of Jekyll’s dark half, had met the brute, and yes Jekyll was a dangerous man, but apparently his bright half was more than deterrent enough for Punchinello. Tesla supposed that Punchinello was rather enchanted with Jekyll brutish half, Mr. Hyde.
Tesla blinked. There! The boy! It was Jack, hanging as limply as all the rest. Tesla owed this boy more than the rest, for he had passed him often when visiting the Puppet Master, poor Jack, huddled in the iron cage in the front hall of Punchinello’s Theatre. And Tesla had done nothing to aid the boy. He had also met Jack’s proxy, on a blasphemous wedding day, and had attempted to reach the boy then, but Tesla feared it was too late, even then.
Tesla read the legend above the boy’s head. Funny, he had never heard anything of the like. Jack of Nine Tales, what could it mean? Then he glanced to the spot reserved for Nikola Tesla, himself—Mechagician, what was that supposed to mean? Some fanciful profession, which was probably as fine an idea as Frankenstein might manage.
He recognized the name Abraham Van Helsing, although he had never met the man, and was unsure what the legend Demonologist entailed, and he had never heard of Stacey Colton—or had he? Pugilist. That did seem rather familiar.
Pugilist. It was almost like a dream, or something remembered from another lifetime, another world, a battle raging upon the tops of the seats in Punchinello’s Theatre, a strange man, and the puppet Cyrano. It had never happened, or perhaps it had, and was fundamentally erased from his memory.
Punchinello had caught all of them, save for these three: Van Helsing, Colton, and Tesla.
Tesla knelt by Jack’s side, and peered into Jack’s dead, blank eyes. There was no gleam of gold. Tesla touched the boy’s cheek. It seemed real, not a manikin, not clockwork, or synthetic. He snapped his fingers before Jack’s eyes. Nothing. No response.
“Jack!” Tesla called, loudly, directly into Jack’s ear. “Jack! Come back!”
Tesla leaned back and stared at the boy. There was absolutely no response. He gave the boy a few resounding slaps on either cheek. Nothing. So he reared back and smacked Jack across the face, tipping his head over onto its side.
“Dreaming,” Jack said, and then lifted his head, blinking his eyes. “I was dreaming, all my life, it was a dream, a golden dream...a golden gleam...”
Adam moaned, almost happily.
“Jack!” Tesla laughed, going onto his knees, taking Jack by the shoulders and shaking him, lifting him up.
“Did you see that? It was blue lightning, it went across the sky. You were there, Tesla, reading two books, and Stacey popped in and smashed Punchinello’s head open. And, and, and me, I was there, and Anne, we were dancing, it was a party. I was in a cage—was all that a dream? I smelled the ocean and felt a warm breeze, I even heard seagulls, all of that must have been fever dreams, right?”
Jack was babbling feverishly, his eyes darting about, but he was also starting to move, pull at his chains, and in fact, he seemed entirely awake now, and on the whole—this all was good news, hopefully the same thing would happen with all the other poor souls shackled to the walls of this huge hall.
Tesla moved to Sherlock Holmes and woke him, much easier than he had with Jack. The detective’s eyes glanced about slyly, and he did not speak, but quirked an eyebrow as he studied Tesla, looking him up and down, and then glanced over at Adam.
“I was in the park and I thought he was a famous writer, but Stacey, he’s my father—wait, just wait, no, he’s not my father—I’m his father, can you believe that, that some old guy, like in his thirties, is my son, but that’s what Old Ben said—was he a dream as well?” Jack continued to babble, drawing his knees up close to his chest, hanging there from his shackles.
Meanwhile, surreptitiously, Sherlock Holmes was testing his own chains, staring Tesla in the eye, willing him to maintain eye contact. It was like a contest of wills, even though Tesla had no plans to participate in the competition. He smiled at Holmes, nodded, and then moved on to Dr. Jekyll, who came awake surprisingly easy, at just a touch.
“Where’s Anne—Anne? Anne! Mr. Tesla, did you see her, Anne? Anne Brontë?” Jack queried, finally coming to his senses. At least Tesla hoped he had finally come to his full senses.
Tesla glanced at the boy. “No. I am sorry. Her shackles are empty, as well as those of her sisters, but brace yourself, lad, that’s a good sign. It means she has eluded Punchinello.”
Eluding Punchinello. She had never stood a chance. The Honey Moon swallowed Anne that first night here, when they flew down from the Looking Glass into Olde London, to crash into a mass of angry Men from Mars; escaping that nightmare, only to run into Punchinello after the puppet show in the park.
Anne told him that she was kidnapping him, to have him all to herself. She had tried to move things along for them, since she explained that they had met and fallen in love, time after time, only for her it was rather a nightmare, because she survived the reboots, safe in the Looking Glass, whereas Jack always had to start off fresh. She wanted to expedite the process, claim him for herself right off, with a bit of clenching. And it worked, powerfully.
Jack remembered a nightmare vision of Anne, sliced into small pieces, spread out across a work table. He remembered Punchinello wearing headgear of various eyepieces, a score or so gleaming blades and scalpels and saws spread out in serious fashion, gleaming and deadly.
Feverishly, it had seemed that Anne and Jack had been together, all this time—but the last time he had actually seen Anne was after the puppet show, when Punchinello confronted them on the street, and Jack had to fight Bill Sikes, and things were never the same. Despite their ferocity in battle, they were overwhelmed, and the spectral Stacey never appeared to aid them.
“Adam?” Tesla called, and when the creature was near, Tesla shook Jack’s shackles. “Can you open these?”
Adam reached down, seized the chain, and gently tugged it out of the wall. The steel links popped. Then he snapped open each cuff, actually being careful not to damage Jack’s wrists.
Jack gaped at the creature, shaken to his core. He seemed to remember seeing the monster, from a distance, during his time locked inside the iron cage. At the time, he thought he was seeing fever phantoms—images from childhood monster movies. Although Frankenstein’s monster was far more grim a specter when seen from up close and personal, here in the real world. The creature seemed to be aiding them, and despite the strange elongated eyes, there seemed to be a very real kindness in that disfigured face. Jack almost caught a smile in the monster’s expression—almost.
“Jack,” Adam moaned.
“Jack, this is Adam, our friend,” Tesla said, making the introductions.
“Friend,” moaned Adam.
“Good,” Jack said, “friends.”
“Good,” moaned Adam.
Sherlock Holmes stood away from his own shackles and when Tesla looked at him with surprise, the detective showed him a small piece of wire.
“Keep a few of them on me at all times, a little trick I learned from the magician, Houdini,” Sherlock Holmes explained, releasing Henry Jekyll while he spoke. Many of the captives were now waking, even without any stimulating slaps.
Apparently Punchinello’s spell was gradually dissolving. From back down the line they heard a deep voice, furious, cursing in French.
“That’s Cyrano,” Jack said, recognizing the singular voice. He hoped this was the real man, and not the puppet. He had only dark memories of the puppet, although he remembered that he did recognize a certain gleam in the puppet’s demeanor, one of caring, and empathy, despite his uncanny thralldom to Punchinello.
Holmes and Jekyll swiftly moved along the lines, freeing the captives. Jekyll was not as adept as Holmes, but he seemed to pick up lock-picking extraordinarily fast. Perhaps he maintained some of Mr. Hyde’s abilities.
Jack remembered, but was not certain whether it was a dream or reality, but he did a quick system check, calling up a few windows, his Google window—Café Real, Old Ben, Kronoss, Manda, it was all real, although right now it seemed like a fantasy. A terrible thought struck him with force.
What if this was all a continuation of the dream—what if he was even now strapped down to that same table, next to what remained of Anne? What if this escape was just further games on the part of the Puppet Master? He remembered walking free of Punchinello’s Theatre, liberated, with Anne, and the world had looked so beautiful. This could be more of that, tantalizing dreams, golden gleams of vision—he remembered that weird rabbit creature, scrawny and absurd, beckoning for him to leap into the rabbit hole—escape the lullaby. He swallowed, hard, remembering how Anne—no, that was not Anne, but how the...woman, how she clutched at him, and begged him to save her.
“Mr. Tesla, are you sure this isn’t all...him?” Jack whispered as Tesla helped him to his unsteady feet.
Tesla considered. His intelligent eyes seemed to go inward, and then he startled, slapping down at the large metal belt around his slim waist.
“Damn!” he muttered, then glanced at Jack briefly. “Please excuse me, but that damned Punchinello is still very much active. Damn him. Damn. Damn. Oh, excuse me, I am wandering the mental mazes.”
He displayed a frayed black wire, and examined it closely.
“Well, what do you think about that? He has tricked me, again—the little monster, he is a genius—using his mental magician’s trick to force me into thinking I was hooking these wires up correctly. All this time the little monster has been tapping into the capacitor charge, draining my power storage, drawing power off of me! Using it against me.”
Jack stared at the gizmos and devices attached to the inventor’s body. Quite frankly, the whole thing looked amazingly cheesy, like some old electric-belt invention from a hundred years ago—enjoy amazing health with the electric vitalizer belt! Still, there were an awful lot of wires involved. Jack did not doubt for a second that all that metal was working, doing something.
Jack glanced down the line of captives. There must be hundreds of them. And poor Holmes and Jekyll had only progressed in freeing about ten or so, men and women, who rubbed at their wrists, blinking, staring about.
Jack concentrated a moment—what was he thinking? Glancing slowly up the line, he sent forth a simple command, skimming his eyes along the lines, and then it was happening, the shackles shook a moment, clicked, and then all were popping open, the shackles falling away like a tumbling double row of dominoes. Sherlock Holmes and Henry Jekyll stood startled, staring at the seeming magic. They glanced back at Tesla.
Tesla looked away from his belt, watching the shackles pop open in a wave of metallic rattling snakes falling limply against the wall, men and women going slack—the magical wave sweeping to the very end of the hall. Tesla glanced at Jack through the sides of his eyes.
“Is that you? Did you do that?”
Jack nodded. “Advanced technology can seem like magic, but it’s pretty much the same thing you do, with all your wires.”
“I understand. I think. Quite handy,” Tesla said, nodding. “Real time saver.”
Jack pulled himself a coffee from the air, and sipped at it, and then gulped. Ah yes, coffee, with ginger, and cinnamon, and raw honey, with just a dollop of almond milk, yes, wonderful. Who knows how long it had been since actual coffee went down this, his actual throat? But then, drinking the coffee, he considered, was this an actual throat? Was this actual coffee? Wasn’t this all just a simulation? Of course, he thought, mentally scrubbing the thoughts from the blackboard of his mind, what wasn’t a simulation? Everything was a simulation. It’s just that most simulations were not quite this whacky. Most simulations were common, boring—not much happened in them. Ah, he wouldn’t mind one of those...most simulation, bring on the most simulations—you could have your High Vale, your Looking Glass, your Honey Moon.
Tesla blinked, watching Jack drink his coffee. After a few moments, Jack noticed the scrutiny.
“I’m sorry, would you like some coffee? Or tea? Maybe cocoa?”
“I could certainly use a big glass of cold tea,” Tesla said, hardly thinking about what he was saying. But then he had a big glass of cold tea in his hands, and he sipped at it, and sighed. “Our friend here, Adam, would like a nice cuppa tea, with seven sugars.”
“Sugar. Seven. Milk,” Adam said, nodding slowly. And then as if in speaking he had produced it, the creature held a cup and saucer of hot tea, set to the way he liked it, and the creature slurped it all down with his eyes closed, a look of sheer delight lighting up his ragged countenance.
“And this is all...technology?” Tesla queried, lifting his glass in a toast to Jack.
“Yes, of a sort—very high technology,” Jack replied. And then he did the same for all the freed captives, setting up an instant “machine” based on query and answer, so that everyone present held their beverage of choice—almost instantaneously, Jack caught the whiff of various alcoholic beverages. Nobody questioned the “magic,” they just drank. Jack knew he was playing with fire, and set the limit of alcohol to two, but unlimited production of everything else, and he saw that the creature, Adam, was already throwing down his third nice cuppa tea with seven sugars and milk.
Tesla was deep in thought, still sipping at his first iced tea—Jack noticed a wedge of lemon floating amidst the crushed ice.
“What about Punchinello?” Jack asked, still afraid that they were all of them suffering under the same delusion of freedom, that Punch still was pulling all their strings.
“Can you produce an insulated box with a power source to surround the box with an electric charge, a magnetic field of sorts?” Tesla asked, and Jack noticed the genius was dubious in his enquiry, as if he were proposing a magical trick to an illusionist. Or making a complicated request to an ignorant child that spoke an entirely different language.
“A Faraday cage, right?” Jack said.
“Bright lad, yes, exactly that,” Tesla said.
And Jack had a strange twist of déjà vu—he had done just that, in their first “escape” from Punchinello, when the old white-haired Stacey had appeared and cracked open Punchinello’s head like a piñata. But that was all an illusion—or not, because he had physically walked away from Punchinello’s Theatre, only it was not him, not exactly, that walked away with a woman that was not exactly Anne. For Jack had only bested a proxy of Punchinello, not the real creature. Apparently, Tesla had somehow taken this same particular box out of the real Punch.
Jack showed him the box, and Tesla snatched it out of his hands and examined it closely.
“This here, this metal sliver, is this the...battery?” Tesla enquired, studying every inch of the box.
“Yes, sort of, I don’t exactly understand how it works, I just specify what I need and the system provides it. But this isn’t the first time I’ve produced this box—the last time it was all a trick. How do we know Punchinello isn’t still manipulating us?”
Tesla considered. After a moment he spoke, speaking slowly, considering.
“He is still very much present, and is attempting to control us. Both Adam and I have felt his force in our mind. In fact, he insists on twisting my logic so that I hook up my version of what you just produced from the air. Hopefully, yours is more effective. But I seriously doubt that you ever retrieved this box. I think you successfully dealt with one of Punchinello’s many proxies.”
“That’s what I think, too. We thought we won. Hopefully, that’s not what is happening now. Are you sure you got the real guy?” Jack whispered. Holmes and many of the others were gathering about them, listening. Holmes was smoking a big meerschaum pipe, and Dr. Jekyll held a long ivory cigarette holder between his teeth, with an odd-looking cigarette affixed smoldering to its end. Both Cyrano and d’Artagnan gathered close, and Jack noticed they were glaring at each other—each man smoking what looked like identical cheroots, small, thin cigars.
A tobacco cloud was forming overhead in the peaked lodge ceiling, as more and more of the liberated captives figured out that Jack’s invisible machine provided other things than mere refreshments, as many were eating sandwiches and chicken legs.
“I checked. I slew several of his proxies, checking each one. The final Punchinello was not a proxy, but the creature himself,” Tesla said, sure of himself. “But that does not mean that he cannot still manipulate us, unless your—high-technology—Faraday box works more effectively than mine.”
“Let’s test it,” Jack said, opening the lid of the new Faraday box that Tesla still held reverently in his grasp.
Tesla removed the golden, jewel-encrusted box from his own insulated carrier, and transferred it carefully into Jack’s new box. The fit was perfect. Jack closed the lid and tumbled the combination lock (he just added that detail). Several green LED lights illuminated, and the crowd about them gasped, for never had they seen such tiny lightbulbs.
“Anything trying to come out of here, any force or power, will be dampened,” Jack said, not knowing what he was talking about, or understanding his own words, but knowing that everything he said was true. It was like using MS Word, you didn’t have to understand all the coding to create stories with your fingertips. That’s what he was doing by accessing Vestigial Surreality, he was creating stories, using VS as the most powerful word processor ever imagined. “If he is successfully transmitting any kind of force, this little red light will ignite, you won’t be able to miss it, it’ll be very bright. So, green lights mean good, red light means bad.”
“I already discern a difference,” Tesla said. “It is working.”
Adam moaned loudly: “Gone.”
“I better keep this,” Jack said, taking the box from Tesla. He slipped it into a small military-grade backpack, and slid his arms through the straps.
The crowd about them muttered, some with wonder, others with doubt. They had seen Jack producing things straight out of the air, plus there was their miraculous liberation to consider, and the beverages and snacks and smokes that appeared at their own whim. If he were not a genie, then most likely young Jack was a witch—what else could they be thinking?
“I never witnessed Houdini perform any similar illusions,” Sherlock Holmes said, staring at the ground in deep concentration.
“Remember who subjugated you,” Tesla said in a loud voice, turning about, addressing the great minds about him as they collected near. “Remember how he manipulated you. We do not understand yet how he produced many of his effects—techniques that can only be explained by black magic, but even then we do not understand Punchinello’s methods, and magic is the term we employ when we do not understand the method—but this boy here, Jack of Nine Tales, is not using the same methods. There is no magic here, nor even illusion. What he is doing is using a force of invention that is far beyond anything we know in Olde London. It is not steam, but rather I believe he is accessing the ether, and is manipulating that ether in much the same way we here bend electricity to do our will, above and beyond the way we channel steam to do our bidding.”
Jack pretty much heard nothing beyond the Jack of Nine Tales, what the hell was that all about? He glanced and saw it written in old-fashioned curlicue, an almost indecipherable extravagance of flaring Olde English type, similar to gang graffiti spray-painted on concrete:
Jack of Nine Tales – Rogue, Thief, Scoundrel.
Other people were reading the words and the murmuring increased. Tesla noticed what Jack and the others were reading.
“Remember,” he addressed the crowd, “who wrote these words. Punchinello. Our enemy. The enemy that wished to turn Olde London into a city of subservient, degraded zombies. And remember: the enemy of our enemy is our friend.”
“Think about what we have been doing in our degraded proxy state,” Sherlock Holmes called out in his commanding tones. “Think about those things! Thing we never would have considered doing, in our proper bodies. Remember the hazy existence we have been living. Remember what we were believing, the decisions we were making, and the foul creatures we were becoming.”
The crowd murmured, but at least the negative, fearful consensus was turning away from Jack and his strange, unusual...gifts, and focusing more appropriately against the atrocities of Punchinello.
Jack stood tall and stretched himself to his limit and lifted his voice: “I failed in my attempt to defeat Punchinello. He lost me in mazes in my own mind, even with my high-technology weapons. But Nikola Tesla took him on, head to head, and freed all of us.”
“Friends!” a large, white-haired old man called out. He was large of frame, not quite fat, but solid, and meaty. He raised his hands, standing just on the other side of the small crowd that now encircled Tesla and Jack—the rest of the crowd drew close, bunching up, filling the hall from side to side. “Friends! We are not done here. We must find our lost children! They are not here among us! We must find and save our children!”
The crowd began to roar in assent, until a new, booming voice echoed through the hall.
“I have found you, Valjean! At last, Monsieur Le Mayor—let everyone here pay attention, and focus upon this man, for he is a criminal!” Inspector Javert cried, striding through the crowd, glaring at Jean Valjean, pointing an accusatory finger.
The old man did not look away, but tilted back his head, jutting his chin. He was about to answer Javert’s condemning declaration, but Jack beat him to the punch.
“Good night! Javert, forget your backstory, sheesh. Don’t you see where you are, what is happening? This isn’t Paris. This isn’t even London. Think about it!” Jack roared. “Jean Valjean is right. We haven’t won yet. We still have to find the children! Everyone put aside your programmed grievances, for crying out loud. You are all intelligent people—you know this isn’t the world you know, that things are not as they appear. If you have a backstory that doesn’t make sense, and you hate someone in this room, it is because the Puppet Master has been massaging us into the positions he wants. Think about it, think about the dream world you just woke up from—it was a horror show!”
The people murmured, nodding, coloring, many looking down at their feet. But Inspector Javert frowned at Jack, and returned a fiery glance upon his prey, the man he had pursued through a vast novel, into movies, plays, musicals, and now even another world, an out-of-context Steampunk Olde London.
Cyrano and d’Artagnan still glared at each other, each with their right hands grasping at where their swords should be, each puffing away on identical cheroots.
“Later, Monsieur, s’il vous plait, remember,” d’Artagnan glowered.
“Oui, I shall remember to dismember your member,” Cyrano said, lightly, winking over his fantastic proboscis.
From the back of the hall three men strode, one of them incredibly short, although his head seemed larger than a normal man’s head, with large but foreshortened legs and arms, while another man was immensely fat and dressed in the most ludicrous of fanciful Roman emperor garb, and the middle one was a brute who was incredibly filthy, smiling through yellowed, broken teeth. They stood glowering at the assemblage, until the crowd began to notice the newcomers, and gradually, all talking ceased. Jack recognized the brute in the middle of the three.
“Bill Sikes,” he said, flexing his fingers into fists, producing his special emergency knuckles that Anne had given him.
“That’s me, aye, good memory, Lad,” Bill Sikes said, displaying what looked like a blunderbuss, a large metal rifle of some sort with a large horn-shaped bell at its business end. It looked very heavy in his meaty hands, with several hissing tanks arranged about the rear of the odd device.
Tesla stepped forward, unslinging his tuning forks from the holsters upon his thighs. Even though his capacitor charge was all but depleted, the forks yet seemed ominously threatening. Bill Sikes lowered the absurd bell-end of his blunderbuss.
“You are holding one of my inventions,” Tesla said to the rough henchman, “one that I never perfected. The steam gun is as likely to explode in your hands as it is to send a concussive burst of searing hot steam.”
“Oh we shall not start worrying about the originator of these toys,” said the immensely fat man, smiling, looking benign and nonthreatening. “What is of most importance is that the greater genius perfected what you began.”
“That is Count Isidor Fosco,” stated Sherlock Holmes. “He is a known criminal mastermind. The man with the blunderbuss is Bill Sikes, wanted by Scotland Yard for murder. And the oddly shaped little fellow there with the horrid countenance and the big head is none other than Daniel Quilp, also wanted by Scotland Yard.”
“Count Isidor Ottavio Baldassare Fosco,” the immense man said, bowing theatrically. “At your service.”
“I taint servin’ none o’ye, but ye kin call me Quilp,” the dwarf said, but he was no ordinary dwarf, but rather part giant and part dwarf, all of him twisted and turned half around the wrong way. He drew what looked like a club from his belt and did something to it, it clicked loudly and a ball of flame ignited in a flaming torch. He did not seem nervous at all, standing before such a large, angry throng of such strong men and women.
Adam, the creature, groaned at sight of the fire.
Jack knew there was more going on just behind the three villainous men. He could sense a whole lot of people, very close, and something else, something very bright that hurt the eyes of his mind. That something was coming toward them. He could almost taste the doom approaching.
“Please, it is not too late,” begged Jean Valjean, “turn over to us the children. We will take the children and depart this place.”
The creature, Adam, groaned loudly and stepped toward the three villains.
Bill Sikes lifted his blunderbuss and Quilp waved his torch suggestively. Adam paused, lifting his hands before him, as if the light of the torch was a special kind of torture.
“Now, now, now, gentlemen,” Count Fosco implored, the soul of sincerity. “We do not wish trouble here in the town of Frankenstein. But these are, unfortunately, private estates, the Master wishes our villagers to remain unmolested, far and free from prying eyes, and we must implore you all to leave. We have a special ferry down at the docks, which will bear you back to Olde Londontown.”
“Ludicrous,” said Tesla, loud enough to be heard over the murmurs of the freed peoples. “We are under the ground, there is no dock, no ocean, and no ferry to bear us. Do not listen to this man. Be not deceived!”
As if in answer, a loud foghorn bellowed out, loud and clear, just at that moment as Tesla finished speaking. This was a crowd of stout-hearted people, nary a one of them common folk, but many of them were at their breaking point, and a small portion stumbled away from the main body, heading toward the entrance of the lodge.
“Do not go out there, you do not know where you are!” Tesla bellowed, but he was much weakened, and the group—ten to fifteen people—kept on going, now near to panic.
“Please!” Count Fosco cried, “let them go, they are freed peoples, and must remain free-willed and unmolested. Let them go! They are free to go! Down to the docks, that is where your salvation lies, as there is only death here in this room!”
The count seemingly possessed some of Punchinello’s persuasive powers, for a few more people trailed out after the initial small group of people fleeing the hall. He did seem like a reasonable man, this immensely fat count, and not at all furtive or nervous. He wasn’t even carrying a weapon like the other two goons. Perhaps Jack should check it out for himself. It did not seem realistic, as Tesla claimed, that they were under the ground.
Who was telling the truth, and who was lying?
Jack concentrated, nodding his head. He thought and sent out the command, closing the doors. Perhaps they would all head outside, in just a moment or two, but for now, he would invest all his trust in Tesla, the only man able to stand up to Punchinello and remain free.
The first people fleeing the hall slammed up against the suddenly closed doors, and began to wail, banging and kicking, attempting to bash their way through the heavy doors. Jack sensed that if anyone passed those doors, well, something unimaginable would happen.
“We better push through, this way,” Tesla said to Holmes and Jack, indicating the three villains who seemed willing to resist them.
“Please, do not panic,” Count Fosco implored, folding his meaty hands together, begging the crowd to be reasonable. “There is no need for violence. The Master is coming, he is even at the door!”
Jack knew he wasn’t kidding, for something terrible was coming. In comparison, the approaching terror made Adam, Frankenstein’s creature, seem like a powerless child.
“Something is definitely coming,” Jack warned. Tesla glanced at him, as did Sherlock Holmes. “I don’t know what it is, but it is...worse than Punchinello.”
“Perhaps we ought to look about the place, see about arming ourselves,” suggested Henry Jekyll.
“This high technology, Mr. Nine Tales, might you tweak the production for the issuance of weaponry?” Sherlock Holmes asked, his arms folded across his chest.
Jack briskly checked through period-piece catalogs of weaponry, and established a few rules, the first being that only real, working weapons might be produced, and only for the years of manufacture 1700 through 1895, and only weapons that one person might employ.
“Give it a shot,” Jack said, his voice low enough that only those closest to him could hear his words. At the last second, he excluded the three villains from the granting of weapons. That would have been just great, providing Bill Sikes with a revolver.
Henry Jekyll, surprisingly, was the first to produce his weapon of choice, a very tony walking stick, with a silver knob. He unscrewed the knob, slightly, and pulled free several inches of shining steel.
“Lovely,” he said, “I lost one just like this in a gentleman’s ribcage, when I was but a boy.”
Jekyll sounded very wistful, perhaps producing moisture in his eyes at the nostalgic reverie.
Jack produced his shillelagh, the one he had devised when he went to confront Punchinello. He tested it now, twirling it, hefting and delivering practice strikes and blocks. Good, it wasn’t all a dream, then. He had really equipped himself with the ability to use this weapon. Maybe not like Stacey, because this wasn’t a magic shillelagh gifted by a low-rent god, but then again, they weren’t in High Vale.
Sherlock Holmes sighted down the long barrel of a very large revolver. He cracked it open and checked the load, and apparently satisfied with the make and model, he grinned at Jack, and winked.
“It is just like the pistol with which I learned to shoot; excellent my boy, excellent,” Holmes said, tucking the gun into his voluminous cloak. “I see no reason why it should not fire in a similar fashion to a conventionally produced revolver.”
Jack considered telling Holmes that a revolver produced in a factory on this world would be no different than the pistol in his pocket, both were identically crafted, although the one that Jack had just enabled had no flaws, unlike weapons made in this day and age, subject to human error, and lack of quality control.
Jack looked back and saw Cyrano testing a new rapier, making practice thrusts, and right there by his side was d’Artagnan, making similar practice thrusts and slashes with a new saber. The two men eyed each other, perhaps calculating the consequences of testing their weapons on each other.
When Jack glanced back at the three villains he was surprised to see that Count Fosco had mysteriously vanished, and Bill Sikes and Quilp were looking about in confusion. Apparently, seeing his opponents magically equipped with weapons was just a bit too much for the fat criminal mastermind. The two remaining henchmen didn’t appear quite as confident now.
Tesla was about to enquire from Jack if there might be a way to charge his capacitors, but then could not think of a way to ask the question without making Jack look like an idiot. He was just attempting to produce a relay station to connect through the ground to Wardenclyffe Tower, possibly by running a cable through the soil up to the surface into an antennae, but he had no idea if Jack’s high technology could produce equipment at a distance, when suddenly the ground began to shake in great booming echoes. It sounded like the approach of a titan.
“The Master comes,” Quilp called out to the gathering armed mob.
Adam stepped out and away from Tesla and the crowd. Most of the people, even Sherlock Holmes and Henry Jekyll were taking slow steps backward, away from the approaching steps of doom.
“Where is your weapon?” Jack murmured to Tesla, clutching at his own shillelagh for the small comfort it provided.
“This is my weapon, all the weapon I need,” Tesla said, lifting up his tuning forks, but he didn’t have the heart to admit to young Jack of Nine Tales that his electrical charge was on empty, and that there was no way of receiving power from Wardenclyffe Tower, not down here in the ground.
And then the true miraculous spectacle appeared, shining in the darkness, eclipsing all other lights. It was the image of a man, tall and preposterously thin, but somehow majestic and inhuman and full of awe—it was Victor Frankenstein, but unlike he had ever appeared before. At least, he must be as tall his own creature, eight feet in height, but his legs were insectile thin and long, and hinged all wrong, as if he had more than one pair of knees. And his arms were long and fragile looking, but beautiful. Frankenstein’s hair was long and white, hanging down to below his knees, and his face was grim and beautiful, oddly angled like the facets of a diamond. His eyes glowed with golden fire.
“What the hell is it?” Jack breathed.
“It is Frankenstein transformed,” Tesla said.
Frankenstein was an angel of light and glory, only missing wings, and terrible to see.
Jack’s mind was full to the brim of fear, and he could not think of anything other than that judgment had come, and Jack was judged as lacking, and this being could swat the lot of them, or strike them dead with a look. Jack wasn’t at all sure what this thing could do, but if it equated to what it inspired in him just by looking at it, there would be no means to combat it.
“Trespassers!” a crashing voice washed over them—it sounded like the world had unhinged and opened in half upon rusty hinges. It shook the ground, the volume and the force of that terrible voice.
Jack was knocked backward. He sat down hard, his ears ringing, his head spinning. He glanced behind him and witnessed that every soul in the hall had fallen over backward, and looking forward again he saw that only two figures yet stood before Frankenstein: Tesla, and Adam. Even the two burly henchmen were knocked back and lay as if dead. How Tesla remained standing, Jack had not a clue. Adam looked unmoved, the creature stood staring at his maker.
“Abomination!” roared the terrible voice, and a bolt of yellow electricity shot out Frankenstein’s mouth, and struck Adam, surrounding him, and poor Adam stood transfixed, in grand mal seizure, hands thrown down at its sides, shaking, head thrown back in agonized screams.
Jack could hear Adam screaming. He scrambled in his mind to try something against Frankenstein, work his administrative control, but his mind was a furious white blank of noise. He could not think a single thought, for the life of him. He could not even feel sorry for Adam, who stood in electrocution.
Strangely, step, by staggering step, maintaining his feet, Tesla strode forward, to Adam’s side. As Jack watched Tesla seemed to stab Adam in the thigh with something, it looked like a wire, and then Tesla was immediately immersed in the dancing rays of energy, only as they covered him, locking him straight, they turned from yellow arcs of power into deep, deep blue.
Jack cried out. He had to do something to help them, but already, there was no way any human could survive such a barrage of power.
Jack reached out with his mind, calling upon his AC, turning the power crawling all over Adam and Tesla’s body like infuriated insects, and Jack shifted the power, calling up all the healing menus, sending out messages with his mind, demanding and desiring healing for Adam, rejuvenation for Tesla, turning aside the destructive power, and channeling the power to smooth out Adam’s scars, blend in the irregular ridges where his unusual, mismatched flesh merged.
Jack heard Adam screaming, a terrible, inhuman shriek of pain and torment, and then, almost as if they were singing, Tesla too was crying out, his voice booming from his chest. And still Jack attempted to turn the power away from its lethal dosage, but messages came back to him, much of the power was not going into Tesla, but into his capacitors, flaring his equipment to maximum charge and beyond. And still the energy flowed from Frankenstein’s mouth.
Suddenly the power flowing crackled to silence. And Frankenstein stood looking pristine and exhilarated, smiling upon them, a god looking down upon mortals. But then the angel of light gasped, and gaped at Adam, for the creature was no longer a mismatched collection of odd body parts sewn together, but instead was a perfect creation, whole, and new, and beautiful. He looked even taller than before, if that was possible.
“Father?” Adam called, looking up hopefully at Frankenstein.
In reply, Frankenstein opened his mouth to again blast his own creation with overwhelming power, but as the charge leapt from his mouth, Tesla lifted his tuning forks crashing together, pulling the triggers and aiming his blast of sound and blue energy sprayed like hoses directly into the beam emitting from Frankenstein’s mouth.
The three energy blasts—one from Frankenstein meeting the two from Tesla—crashed together and blossomed like a terrible flower directly between the two points of origin. Tesla had his goggles lowered and did not falter, but maintained his hold upon his tuning forks, and the ululating pitch wavering from the forks intensified. Jack threw his hands over his ears, it was too much, even with his palms pressed tightly against his head, the pitch ground his teeth together, and the world began shaking. Dirt and rocks fell from above.
The forces were equal, meeting in their cosmic clash of light and fire, blossoming like a continuous explosion, spiraling and flowering like the sun, until Tesla increased the pitch by holding his tuning forks closer together and the resulting crash of power lifted Frankenstein off his feet and hurled the mad doctor backward, end over end, where he exploded against the rear wall in a spray of sparks.
Tesla immediately released the triggers on the tuning forks and the terrible hum died away. Tesla glanced down at his capacitor meters, and smiled.
“Full charge,” he said, but nobody could hear him, for all in the room were deaf. Jack saw the inventor’s lips moving, but from the angle he was at, he could not read his lips.
Jack sought through his menus, and enabled the healing programs to seek and repair, correcting all the hearing in the room—some people heard better after this experience than they had since they were young. Nothing was impossible, because data was data.
People rose from the floor, confused and dreamy, and they collected the two henchmen Quilp and Bill Sikes, who had lost all braggadocio concerning their safety in this mob, as they had witnessed the destruction of their very own god.
“It’s not over,” Tesla whispered into Jack’s ear. “That was not Frankenstein, but a proxy. We defeated his tool, but the villain yet remains, lurking.”
“He’s not anywhere close,” Jack assured him, doing a search. But if Frankenstein had taken any lessons from Punchinello, he was hiding somewhere, in his own Faraday cage.
Quilp and Bill Sikes readily agreed to lead the mob to the children, and they set off from the lodge, to what Quilp called the cattle pens.
Jack felt a building sense of anxiety, afraid of what they would find in these pens.
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© Copyright 2016 Douglas Christian Larsen. Vestigial Surreality. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).
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