Read Frankenstein: City of Night Online
Authors: Dean Koontz
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Thrillers
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.
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?”
“I don’t know what dance step, sir. My education is largely in surveillance and extreme violent combat. I didn’t learn no dance.”
dance,” Victor corrected. “Why would Randal want to dance?”
“He’s not people.”
“No, sir, he’s not.”
“I didn’t design him with the desire to dance. He isn’t dancing. It looks more as if he’s trying to avoid stepping on something.”
“Yes, sir. The cracks.”
“The cracks between the floor tiles.”
When the escapee passed directly under a camera, Werner’s observation proved to be correct. Step by step, Randal had been painstakingly careful to place each foot inside one of the twelve-inch-square vinyl tiles.
“That’s obsessive-compulsive behavior,” Victor said, “which is consistent with the developmental flaws I gave him.”
Randal passed out of the view field of one camera, appeared on another. He boarded an elevator. He went down to the bottom floor of the hospital.
“No one made any attempt to stop him, Werner.”
“No, sir. Our assignment is to prevent unauthorized entrance. We were never told we should be concerned about anyone leaving without authorization. None of the staff, none of the newly made would ever leave here without your permission.”
Frowning, Werner said, “It isn’t possible to disobey you, sir.”
On the bottom floor, Randal avoided cracks and reached the file room. He concealed himself among the metal cabinets.
Most of the New Race who were created in Mercy were eventually infiltrated into the city’s population. Some, however, like Randal, were experimental, and Victor intended them for termination when he had concluded the experiment of which each was the subject. Randal had never been meant for the world beyond these walls.
Werner fast-forwarded the surveillance tape until Victor himself appeared, entering the file room by way of the secret tunnel that connected the former hospital to the parking garage of the building next door.
“He’s renegade,” Victor said grimly. “He hid from me.”
“It isn’t possible to disobey you, sir.”
he was forbidden to leave.”
“But it isn’t possible to disobey you, sir.”
“Shut up, Werner.”
After Victor passed through the file room into the lower floor of Mercy, Randal Six emerged from concealment and went to the exit door. He entered the lock code and proceeded into the tunnel.
“How did he know the code?” Victor wondered.
Hitching and twitching, Randal followed the tunnel to the door at the farther end, where again he entered the lock code.
“How did he
“Permission to speak, sir.”
“When he was hiding in the file room, he heard the tone of each digit you pressed on the keypad before you entered from the tunnel.”
“You mean, heard it through the door.”
“Every number has a different tone,” Victor said.
“He would’ve had to learn beforehand what number each tone represented.”
On the surveillance tape, Randal entered the empty storeroom in the building next door. After some hesitation, he went from there into the parking garage.
The final camera captured Randal as he haltingly ascended the garage ramp. His face was carved by anxiety, but somehow he overcame his agoraphobia and ventured into a world he found threatening and overwhelming in scale.
“Mr. Helios, sir, I suggest that our security protocols be revised and our electronic systems modified to prevent unauthorized exit as well as unauthorized entrance.”
“Do it,” Victor said.
“We’ve got to find him,” Victor said more to himself than to Werner. “He left with some specific intention. A destination. He’s so developmentally disabled, so narrowly focused, he could only have accomplished this if some desperate need drove him.”
“May I suggest, sir, that we search his billet as thoroughly as if we were police searching a crime scene. We might find a clue to his purpose, his destination.”
“We better,” Victor warned.
Victor went to the door, hesitated, glanced back at Werner. “How is your mucus?”
The security chief came as close to smiling as he ever would. “Much better, sir. The last few days, I haven’t had no snot at all.”
“Any snot,” Victor corrected.
“No, sir. Like I just said, I don’t have no snot at all.”
CARSON O’CONNOR LIVES
in a simple white house given some grace by a veranda that wraps three sides.
Oaks draped with Spanish moss shade the property. Cicadas sing in the heat.
In respect of the substantial annual rainfall and the long sultry summers, the veranda and the house itself are raised almost three feet off the ground on concrete piers, creating a crawl space under the entire structure.
The crawl space is concealed by a skirt of crisscrossed lattice. Usually nothing lives here but spiders.
These are unusual days. Now the spiders share their redoubt with Randal Six.
Crossing the city from the Hands of Mercy, especially when a thunderstorm brought the sky crashing to the earth in bright bolts, Randal had been afflicted by too much noise, by too many new sights, smells, sounds, sensations. Never had he known such blind terror.
He had almost clawed out his eyes, had almost poked a sharp stick in his ears to destroy his hearing, thus sparing himself from sensory overload. Fortunately, he had restrained those impulses.
Although he appears to be eighteen, he has been alive and out of the tank for only four months. All of that time, he has lived in one room, mostly in one corner of that room.
He doesn’t like commotion. He doesn’t like being touched or having to speak to anyone. He despises change.
Yet here he is. He has thrown over all he knew and has embraced an unknowable future. This accomplishment makes him proud.
The crawl space is a peaceful environment. His monastery, his hermitage.
For the most part, the only smells are the bare earth under him, the raw wood above, the concrete piers. Occasionally a whiff of star jasmine finds its way to him, though it is a richer scent at night than in the day.
Little sunlight penetrates the interstices of the lattice. The shadows are deep, but because he is of the New Race, with enhanced vision, he can see well enough.
Only an occasional traffic noise reaches him from the street. From overhead, inside the house, come periodic footsteps, the creak of floorboards, muffled music on a radio.
His companions, the spiders, have no smell that he can detect, make no noise, and keep to themselves.
He might be content here for a long time if not for the fact that the secret of happiness abides in the house above him, and he must have it.
In a newspaper, he once saw a photograph of Detective Carson O’Connor with her brother, Arnie. Arnie is an autistic like Randal Six.
Nature made Arnie autistic. Randal was given his affliction by Victor. Nevertheless, he and Arnie are brothers in their suffering.
In the newspaper photo, twelve-year-old Arnie had been with his sister at a charity event benefiting autism research. Arnie had been smiling. He looked happy.
During his four months of life in the Hands of Mercy, Randal has never been happy. Anxiety gnaws at him every minute, every day, more insistently some times than at others, but always chewing, nibbling. He lives in misery.
He never imagined that happiness might be possible—until he had seen Arnie’s smile. Arnie knows something that Randal does not. Arnie the autistic knows a reason to smile. Perhaps many reasons.
They are brothers. Brothers in suffering. Arnie will share his secret with his brother Randal.
Should Arnie refuse to share it, Randal will
the secret out of him. He will get it one way or another. He will kill for it.
If the world beyond the lattice were not so dazzling, so full of sights and motion, Randal Six would simply slither out from under the house. He would enter the place by a door or window, and get what he needs.
After his trip from Mercy and the ordeal of the thunderstorm, however, he cannot endure that much sensory input. He must find a way into the house from the crawl space.
No doubt the spiders do it often. He will be a spider. He will creep. He will find a way.