Read Frankenstein: City of Night Online
Authors: Dean Koontz
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Thrillers
, less than one day from the creation tank, found the world to be a wondrous place.
Nasty, too. Thanks to her exceptional physiology, the lingering pain from Victor’s punishing blows sluiced out of her in a long hot shower, though her shame did not so easily wash away.
Everything amazed her, and much of it delighted—like water. From the shower head it fell in glimmering streams, twinkling with reflections of the overhead lights. Liquid jewels.
She liked the way it purled across the golden-marble floor to the drain. Pellucid yet visible.
Erika relished the subtle aroma of water, too, the crispness. She breathed deeply of the scented soap, steamy clouds of soothing fragrance. And after the soap, the smell of her clean skin was most pleasing.
Educated by direct-to-brain data downloading, she had awakened with full knowledge of the world. But facts were not experience. All the billions of bits of data streamed into her brain had painted a ghost world in comparison to the depth and brilliance of the real thing. All she had learned in the tank was but a single note plucked from a guitar, at most a chord, while the true world was a symphony of astonishing complexity and beauty.
The only thing thus far that had struck her as ugly was Victor’s body.
Born of man and woman, heir to the ills of mortal flesh, he’d taken extraordinary measures over the years to extend his life and to maintain his vigor. His body was puckered and welted by scars, crusted with gnarled excrescences.
Her revulsion was ungrateful and ungracious, and she was ashamed of it. Victor had given her life, and all that he asked in return was love, or something like it.
Although she had hidden her disgust, he must have sensed it, for he had been angry with her throughout the sex. He’d struck her often, called her unflattering names, and in general had been rough with her.
Even from direct-to-brain data downloading, Erika knew that what they had shared had not been ideal—or even ordinary—sex.
In spite of the fact that she failed him in their first session of lovemaking, Victor still harbored some tender feelings toward her. When it was over, he’d slapped her bottom affectionately—as opposed to the rage with which he had delivered previous slaps and punches—and had said, “That was good.”
She knew that he was just being kind. It had not been good. She must learn to see the art in his ugly body, just as people evidently learned to see the art in the ugly paintings of Jackson Pollock.
Because Victor expected her to be prepared for the intellectual conversations at his periodic dinner parties with the city’s elites, volumes of art criticism had been downloaded into her brain as she had finished forming in the tank.
A lot of it seemed to make no sense, which she attributed to her naivete. Her IQ was high; therefore, with more experience, she would no doubt come to understand how the ugly, the mean, and the poorly rendered could in fact be ravishingly beautiful. She simply needed to attain the proper perspective.
She would strive to see the beauty in Victor’s tortured flesh. She would be a good wife, and they would be as happy as Romeo and Juliet.
Thousands of literary allusions had been a part of her downloaded instructions, but not the texts of the books, plays, and poems from which they came. She had never read
Romeo and Juliet
. She knew only that they were famous lovers in a play by Shakespeare.
She might have enjoyed reading the works to which she could allude with such facility, but Victor had forbidden her to do so. Evidently, Erika Four had become a voracious reader, a pastime that had somehow gotten her into such terrible trouble that Victor had been left with no choice but to terminate her.
Books were dangerous, a corrupting influence. A good wife must avoid books.
Showered, feeling pretty in a summery dress of yellow silk, Erika left the master suite to explore the mansion. She felt like the unnamed narrator and heroine of
, for the first time touring the lovely rooms of Manderley.
In the upstairs hall, she found William, the butler, on his knees in a corner, chewing off his fingers one by one.
IN THE UNMARKED SEDAN
, driving fast, seeking what she always needed in times of crisis—good Cajun food—Carson said, “Even if you were Jack’s mother, even if you were his wife, even then you wouldn’t know he’d been replaced.”
“If this were like some Southern Gothic novel,” Michael said, “and I was
his mother and his wife, I’d still think that was Jack.”
“That wasn’t Jack.”
“I know that wasn’t him,” Carson said impatiently, “but it was
Her palms were slick with sweat. She blotted them one at a time on her jeans.
Michael said, “So Helios isn’t just making his New Race and seeding them into the city with fabricated biographies and forged credentials.”
“He can also
real people,” she said. “How can he do that?”
“Easy. Like Dolly.”
“Dolly the sheep. Remember several years ago, some scientists cloned a sheep in a lab, named her Dolly.”
“That was a sheep, for God’s sake. This is a medical examiner. Don’t tell me
The fierce midday sun fired the windshields and the brightwork of the traffic in the street, and every vehicle appeared to be on the verge of bursting into flames, or melting in a silvery spill across the pavement.
“If he can duplicate Jack Rogers,” she said, “he can duplicate anyone.”
“You might not even be the real Carson.”
“I’m the real Carson.”
“How would I know?”
“And how will I know if you go to the men’s room and a Michael monster comes back?”
“He wouldn’t be as funny as the real me,” Michael said.
“The new Jack is funny. Remember what he said about the dead old guy on the table having more personality than homicide cops?”
“That wasn’t exactly hilarious.”
“But for Jack it was funny enough.”
“The real Jack wasn’t all that funny to begin with.”
“That’s my point,” she said. “They can be as funny as they need to be.”
“That would be scary if I thought it was true,” Michael said. “But I’ll bet my ass, if they ring a Michael monster in on you, he’ll be about as witty as a tree stump.”
In this neighborhood of old cottage-style houses, some remained residences, but others had been converted to commercial enterprises.
The blue-and-yellow cottage on the corner looked like someone’s home except for the blue neon sign in a large front window:
WONDERMOUS EATS, FOR TRUE
, which translated from Cajun patois as “good food, no lie.”
Michael preferred to read it as “good food, no bullshit,” so from time to time he could say “Let’s have a no-bullshit lunch.”
Whether the legal name of the restaurant was Wondermous Eats or whether that was just a slogan, Carson had no idea. The cheap Xeroxed menus had no name at top or bottom.
Cottages had been cleared off two adjacent lots, but the ancient live oaks had been left standing. Cars were parked in the shade among the trees.
The carpet of dead leaves looked like drifts of pecan shells and crunched under the tires of the sedan, then underfoot as Carson and Michael walked to the restaurant.
If Helios succeeded in the abolition of humanity, replacing it with obedient and single-minded multitudes, there would be nothing like Wondermous Eats, for True. There would be no eccentricity and no charm in the new world that he desired.
Cops saw the worst of people, and grew cynical if not bitter. Suddenly, however, flawed and foolish humanity seemed beautiful and precious to Carson, no less so than nature and the world itself.
They chose a table outside, in the oak shade, apart from most of the other diners. They ordered crawfish boulettes and fried okra salad, followed by shrimp-and-ham jambalaya.
This was a denial lunch. If they could still eat this well, surely the end of the world was not upon them, and they were not as good as dead, after all.
“How long does it take to make a Jack Rogers?” Michael wondered when the waitress had left.
“If Helios can make anyone overnight, if he’s that far advanced, then we’re screwed,” Carson said.
“More likely, he’s steadily replacing people in key positions in the city, and Jack was on his list already.”
“So when Jack did the first autopsy on one of the New Race and realized something weird was going on, Helios just brought
Jack on-line quicker than planned.”
“I’d like to believe that,” Michael said.
“So would I.”
“Because neither of us is a big cheese. On his short list, our names wouldn’t be there between the mayor and the chief of police.”
“He would have had no reason to start growing a Carson or a Michael,” she agreed. “Until maybe yesterday.”
“I don’t think he’ll bother even now.”
“Because it’s easier just to have us killed.”
“Did he replace Luke or was Luke always one of them?”
“I don’t think there was ever a real Luke,” Michael said.
“Listen to us.”
“When do we start wearing aluminum-foil hats to protect ourselves from alien mind-readers?”
The thick air swagged the day like saturated bunting, hot and damp and preternaturally still. Overhead, the boughs of the oaks hung motionless. The whole world appeared to be paralyzed by a terrible expectation.
The waitress brought the crawfish boulettes and two bottles of ice-cold beer.
“Drinking on duty,” Carson said, amazed at herself.
“It’s not against department regulations during Armageddon,” Michael assured her.
“Just yesterday, you didn’t believe any of this, and I half thought I was losing my mind.”
“Now the only thing I can’t believe,” Michael said, “is that Dracula and the Wolfman haven’t shown up yet.”
They ate the boulettes and the fried-okra salads in an intense but comfortable silence.
Then before the jambalaya arrived, Carson said, “Okay, cloning or somehow he can make a perfect physical duplicate of Jack. But how does the sonofabitch make his Jack a medical examiner? I mean, how does he give him Jack’s lifetime of knowledge, or Jack’s
“Beats me. If I knew that, I’d have my own secret laboratory, and I’d be taking over the world myself.”
“Except your world would be a better one than this,” she said.
He blinked in surprise, gaped. “Wow.”
“That was sweet.”
“What was sweet?”
“What you just said.”
“It wasn’t sweet.”
“It was not.”
“You’ve never been sweet to me before.”
“If you use that word one more time,” she said, “I’ll bust your balls, I swear.”
“I mean it.”
Smiling broadly, he said, “I know.”
she said scornfully, and shook her head in disgust. “Be careful or I might even shoot you.”
“That’s against regulations even during Armageddon.”
“Yeah, but you’re gonna be dead in twenty-four hours anyway.”
He consulted his wristwatch. “Less than twenty-three now.”
The waitress arrived with plates of jambalaya. “Can I get you two more beers?”
Carson said, “Why the hell not.”
“We’re celebrating,” Michael told the waitress.
“Is it your birthday?”
“No,” he said, “but you’d think it was, considering how sweet she’s being to me.”
“You’re a cute couple,” said the waitress, and she went to get the beers.
“Don’t shoot her,” Michael pleaded. “She’s probably got three kids and an invalid mother to support.”
“Then she better watch her mouth,” Carson said.
In another silence, they ate jambalaya and drank beer for a while, until finally Michael said, “Probably every major player in city government is one of Victor’s.”
“Count on it.”
“Our own beloved chief.”
“He’s probably been a replicant for years.”
“And maybe half the cops on the force.”
“Maybe more than half.”
“The local FBI office.”
“They’re his,” she predicted.
“The newspaper, local media?”
“Whether they’re all his or not, when’s the last time you trusted a reporter?”
“Clueless,” she agreed. “They all want to save the world, but they just end up helping to weave the handbasket.”
Carson looked at her hands. She knew they were strong and capable; they had never failed her. Yet at the moment they looked delicate, almost frail.
She had spent the better part of her life in a campaign to redeem her father’s reputation. He, too, had been a cop, gunned down by a drug dealer. They said that her dad had been corrupt, deep in the drug trade, that he’d been shot by the competition or because a deal had gone sour. Her mother had been killed in the same hit.
Always she had known the official story must be a lie. Her dad had uncovered something that powerful people wanted kept secret. Now she wondered if it had been
powerful person—Victor Helios.
“So what can we do?” Michael asked.
“I’ve been thinking about that.”
“I figured,” he said.
“We kill him before he can kill us.”
“Easier said than done.”
“Not if you’re willing to die to get him.”
“I’m willing,” Michael said, “but not eager.”
“You didn’t become a cop for the retirement benefits.”
“You’re right. I just wanted to oppress the masses.”
“Violate their civil rights,” she said.
“That always gives me a thrill.”
She said, “We’re going to need guns.”
“We’ve got guns.”
“We’re going to need bigger guns.”
in the tank had not prepared her to deal with a man who was chewing off his fingers. Had she matriculated through a real rather than virtual university, she might have known at once what she should do.
William, the butler, was one of the New Race, so his fingers were not easy to bite off. He had to work diligently at it.
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,
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 property.
“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
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,
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 finger 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
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
, 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 fingers. 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.”