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Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Frankenstein's nephew and Byron's daughter

Following on from the recent post about the Frankenstein's Legions novel, today I have an excerpt from the book. This is chapter three, "A Day in the Death of Ada Lovelace", and it gives you a pretty good idea of the novel's unique and heady cocktail of adventure, intrigue and steampunk SF. The illustration is by the peerless Martin McKenna, painter of many a great Fighting Fantasy cover; see more of his work here.

The day that she came, Frankenstein’s diary would have read:

‘Breakfast. Pep talk. Doodling. Bed. Six days to live.’

save that just before bedtime he had another visitor.

Security at the Heathrow Hecatomb was tight, but skewed towards preventing escape, not invasion. On the whole, the reputation of the place was its best defence against intruders: a bit like the Tower of London or Bedlam.

Even so, there were guards to counter the off-chance of French or Christian saboteurs. Great skill or wealth must have been required to shroud their eyes. Julius put his money on the latter.

‘Good evening, sir,’ said the stranger, in a soft-spoken voice.

His uninvited guest seemed courtly but looked otherwise. A prize-fighter turned flunky was Frankenstein’s wager. Scrubbed-up and instructed in the non-spitting, non-swearing lifestyle when his pugilist prime was over. Most certainly not a Hecatomb staff member.

Frankenstein raised his glass.

‘Good evening to you, dear fellow.’

‘Dr. Frankenstein, I presume?’

Julius felt no great alarm: indeed, he felt no great anything at all lately. His sabre was within reach if need be.

‘You presume correctly, sir. How may I oblige?’

‘Permit me to first introduce myself, sir, and to apologise profusely for the interruption. I would not dream of intruding were not my purpose pressing. My name is Foxglove.’

‘Do you have a calling card?’

‘Not as such, sir, but I do have this.’

Foxglove drew a pistol from his coat and cocked it.

Frankenstein dismissively waved the aim aside. ‘Fire away and do the world—and me—a favour. My present life holds little savour. Alas, sir, you choose to toot upon a muted trumpet…’

Foxglove accepted it on trust and returned the pistol to his pocket.

‘Forgive me, Doctor, but I had strict instructions to start thus. Were it my place to do so, I would have pointed out such considerations hold little weight with true gentlemen. Unfortunately, whilst my employer is a worthy person they are also inclined to be impetuous, even wild, you might say —and especially so at present. ‘Tis in their blood you see, though do not mistake me to imply criticism by it. But I assure you, sir, they have good cause. In those circumstances, might I be permitted to begin again with sweet reason?’

Frankenstein smiled.

‘You may as well,’ he said, ‘since you are here. As a mere foreigner, kept nigh prisoner in this ghastly place since reaching these shores, almost any diversion is welcome.’

Foxglove raised one eyebrow (near the full extent of his permitted emotional range, Julius suspected) in sympathy.

‘I commiserate sir. Nevertheless, that same internationally acknowledged expertise in your field which binds you here is also the reason for our interview.’

Though not the scientist that his late uncle hoped and late father feared, Julius could extrapolate the present data into an elegant theory.

‘If it’s lazarans you require, I cannot—indeed, will not—oblige. The black market attracts capital punishment and though, as I state, my current existence holds few charms, neither am I minded to quit life via what you English call the “Tyburn clog dance”. Nor does my moral code permit cooperation. If—and I stress if, sir—I were minded to be helpful I should merely inform you there are alternative sources of supply. Certain depraved surgeons would comply, I’m sad to say. Find one made reckless by drink or debts and there’s your man. Or you could even attempt what I believe is termed a “home-bake” —’

Foxglove looked pained by such second-hand crudity.

‘There remains the need for serum, sir,’ he reminded, still courtly.

Frankenstein scoffed. ‘Serum? Bah! The very dogs in the street know that to be just an activated admix of formaldehyde, egg-yolk, alcohol and… ahem, vital seed…’

Still the visitor stuck to his guns.

‘Possibly so, sir. But those same well-informed canines cannot help with the matter of relative proportions. Nor with that “admixing” you referred to. All highly rarefied tasks, I’m told; requiring specialist skills. Not to mention the activation itself.’

‘Well, yes,’ conceded Frankenstein, ‘there is that. You cannot afford to get any component wrong.’

So-called ‘half-bakes’ were justifiably the stuff of legend and nightmare. The fortunate among them soon expired, but others had been known to live for years, to the horror of all, including themselves.

Frankenstein recalled himself from reverie.

‘But you need not have penetrated this grim edifice to learn such commonplaces,’ he said. ‘And on that subject, how did you penetrate here?’

‘Sacks of sovereigns,’ said Foxglove succinctly, also conveying decent distaste.

‘Mankind...’ mused Frankenstein, mostly to himself, ‘how can one fail to love it?’

‘Indeed so, sir. But not all men are mercenary. I know I am not, for all my failings. Nor, I trust and pray, are you. Reflect, if you will, on what brings me here, at risk of life and limb, not to mention terror. For I am bound by ties of loyalty and gratitude. Were it not so I would be far away and in safety and comfort. As it is, I have lost all: home, position, good name, everything but honour, to be here to speak to you. Concede then, that some men act unselfishly for the good.’

Frankenstein waggled his hand.

‘My father believed thus,’ he said. ‘And his brother, the most famous or infamous of my family once believed thus. As for myself, I waver. However, pray continue.’

‘My instructions,’ said Foxglove, ‘prescribe pleas and promises of enrichment should threats fail. Monstrous enrichment...’

Again, Julius just waved the prospect away. Mention of monsters was not a happy choice of phrase, and nor was gold a starting motor in him. The visitor perceived both mistakes and quickly moved on, guided by the light of instinct.

‘However,’ he said, ‘I will dare to disobey and skip such sordidness to ask one thing, and one thing alone, of you: will you meet my patron? She waits on the Heath.’

Bedtime and a restart of the grey cycle was the only alternative. Frankenstein shrugged to signify ‘why not?’

* * *

Normally, Frankenstein needed written permission to visit the Heath, but the same sovereigns that got Foxglove in now let Julius out. Outside, a carriage awaited with a passenger inside.

As greying twenty-something women went, Foxglove’s mistress was worth seeing: some might even say she was attractive. Necrophiliacs especially. That face, though pointy-nosed, might once have been thought piquant and pretty. However, Julius Frankenstein had met enough dead people for one day (and lifetime).

He withdrew from the coach-window. The ice packed round its sole inhabitant made the interior appropriately tomb-like. In passing, he noted the rich livery and scrolled ‘L’ painted on the door. Some faint association stirred in his brain.

‘Well,’ Julius told Foxglove, acidly, ‘it was perfectly… average to make her acquaintance. We really ought to do this a lot less often.’

The servant remained charmed.

‘She has — had — her father’s likeness,’ he reflected, drawing on happier memories. ‘He was a loveable rogue —though I grant the balance between the two qualities varied vastly. Of course, presently you cannot note the family’s wild eyes…’

‘No indeed. ‘Tis the practice to close them when laying out a corpse.’

He instantly repented of his sarcasm when he saw Foxglove shudder. His loss was too recent for levity.

‘You are taking a risk here,’ Frankenstein added out of charity. Heathrow is not safe at night even for armed coaches, whereas you are but one man and a cadaver. Doubtless you also bribed the sentries to shield your vehicle and… cargo, but it will soon come to notice. Be on your way and give her decent burial. The old adage is trite but true: grief yields to time.’

For a second, Julius thought he’d gone too far and Foxglove was reaching for his gun again. Happily, a letter was produced instead.

‘Read, I beg you.’

Julius looked back to the looming Hecatomb. If any director should see, or an unbribed guard betray him, there would be need for explanation and written reports. He bit his lip in indecision.

Foxglove was more subtle than he looked (not that that was saying much).

‘The night is long, Doctor, but my lady’s message short.’

That played upon the right strings. And he saw that it was personally addressed to him. Julius broke the seal and unfolded the missive.

At top were two impressive coats of arms, embossed and in colour. Then a bold hand took only a few lines to cover the whole page with confident script, richly expressive of the author. It flowed wastefully free over on to pages two and three.

‘My dearest Herr Frankenstein,

If you are reading this, then I am gone. Moreover, it must be presumed that my revival has been forbidden or thwarted, despite explicit instructions.

I am NOT content with that. I wish to return. My life’s work is not yet complete.

You are foremost in your field and kin of its inventor. You have access to finest serum. Therefore, I could ask for no better person to restore me to full life.

Assiduous research (insurance against this awful day) makes me feel that I know you already. You will not fail me.

Therefore, I will not insult you with offers of wealth or position, though both are mine to grant should you so wish.

Rather, my dear Julius—may I call you Julius? I offer you ESCAPE &, what is better, ADVENTURE.

Such is my sure promise from beyond the grave and shall be repeated—even put in contract, if you demand—when we meet amongst the living.

From, I assure you, your most fervent and true admirer:

Lady Ada Augusta Lovelace, nee Byron.’

Julius Frankenstein didn’t even have to think. Now they were talking! Why didn’t they say so in the first place?

* * *

Geo. Washington: ‘This “serum”, sir, by which you work your blasphemous horrors, what is it comprised of?’

Victor Frankenstein: ‘Essential oils, Mr President; a complex melange of mixed vivifying chemicals, to which is added a tincture of the electrical fluid. And, with all due respect, sir, that much detail must suffice.’

Washington: ‘How so, sir? Do you impute to us sordid commercial ambitions? Do you think we mean to rob you of your patent?’ [Uproar in the house].

Frankenstein [shouting to be heard]: ‘No indeed, sir. On the contrary, my reticence stems from far higher motives. I decline to describe the precise formula only because amateurs attempting the Revivalist process have resulted in the production of impermissible monsters! Therefore, when it comes to serum, Mr President, I assure you that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.’

Washington [pausing, with great solemnity]: ‘Indeed, sir, I do not doubt it. And therefore how much more dangerous is your entire knowledge.’

Transcript extract from ‘Submissions to the Congressional Committee on the Legalisation of REVIVALISM, popularly known as Corpse-raising.’ 13th July 1793.

* * *

‘When did she die?’

‘Two days ago,’ answered Foxglove. ‘Foully murdered.’

Julius’ question arose from professional interest and required asking even though his hands were full. The onset of decay was harmful to the Revival process. Therefore he should have stopped there and got on with his preparations. However, the extra detail supplied sparked mere curiosity.

‘How? Who?’

‘A severe blow to the head. As you will see, Mr Frankenstein, sir, the family surgeon who attended the scene closed the gaping fracture for cosmetic reasons, because a public laying-in period was intended—before I purloined the mistress’s remains that is. If your ministrations are successful the damage should heal.’

Julius probed the relevant area with skilful fingers. Scarlet sealing wax! It would do, but some more lasting form of cap would be necessary in the long term—if there was one. Meanwhile, caution and laudanum should see Ada through the recovery period—if he chose to go through with this.

Disturbed by these attentions Ada’s locks released a waft of spice, despite death and chilling. Long deprived of such sensations, Julius discovered himself more than usually hopeful his charge would tread the long path back.

He let the cold head return to the pillow and surveyed the whole. A pale vision in a scarlet gown with green buttons. It was strange that so evident a beauty hadn’t attended to the premature greying of her crowning glory. It hinted at a character worth the risk of snatching from Heaven.

‘Fasten the leg straps whilst I attend to her hands.’

Julius had better qualified assistants on call but there wasn’t time to bribe or persuade them. The guards who admitted the coach and swallowed Julius’ ‘special ladyfriend’ explanation had delayed them enough already. Besides, Foxglove had disgorged yet more money to buy them and Frankenstein wanted there to be some left for after. ‘Escape’ and ‘adventure’ rarely came cheap.

In deference to the skull trauma, he rigged up a neck restraint also. Quite often renewed life wasn’t welcome, or last painful memories were still lodged in the brain: therefore, frenzied thrashing about was by no means uncommon. Vocal distress likewise, so a gag was applied too. They’d already pushed their luck with excess activity disturbing the normally silent Heathrow night. Screams (or unscheduled screams) inside the Hecatomb would almost certainly wake unwelcome attention.

Frankenstein’s private laboratory was a dolls’ house version of the main production line. Therein, he’d been expected to work the wonders Governments believed inherent in his family name. Devoid of inspiration or inclination he had proved a sad let-down so far and daily expected expulsion to menial work: if he were lucky. The arrival of high-ups like Sir Percy Blakeney suggested exalted impatience and that the dread day would not be long delayed.

Therefore, Ada’s arrival might be that luck. Julius hadn’t considered that before. All his own planning seemed to end in dead-ends like beggary or bullets in the back whilst trying to escape. Or, worst of all, boredom. This wild-card could be his last chance at playing a decent hand in the game of life…

Which made his mind up.

‘I suggest,’ he said, ‘that you avert your eyes.’

Foxglove, worried but entirely in another’s hands now, reluctantly turned his back on the zinc table where his mistress lay.

Julius parted the scarlet gown with two hands, baring Ada’s breasts. Then he reached up to position the primed serum spear.

‘You never did say who...’

Mainly he desired to distract Foxglove during the most distressing part of the process, but he also wanted to know.

‘ “Who?” sir’

‘Who killed her.’

Foxglove clenched his huge scar-coated fists.

‘Her lazaran lover, who went berserk as such beasts do. If you could believe such a slander of such a woman. Alas, Lord Lovelace did. He went through the motions of requesting revival but did not demur at its speedy refusal.’

Frankenstein threw a lever and impelled by lead weights the serum spear descended. It penetrated spot on, deeply piercing the dead heart.

No blood flowed, demonstrating life was long gone. The body jumped once at the impact but returned to repose.

Gruesome sound effects almost made Foxglove turn but he restrained himself.

‘It… will not hurt her?’

‘A fractured rib perhaps, probably a lingering ache. Certainly a lasting scar. All but the last will pass. A small price to pay for life anew.’

‘Ah yes… and it shall be the best serum, as we agreed?’

‘I am provided with a select store: the much distilled sort used for reviving generals and the like. Royalty even. The same stuff that runs in Neo-Nelson’s veins. It was intended for my experimental program which proved sadly stillborn. So, having no use for the stuff, I shall not stint it now.’

Ada probably had pale skin even before Death made her pallor permanent. Now she was stuck with it. Not even the vintage serum being forced under pressure through her body cells would alter that, for all its high quality. It was one of the defining features of the Revived and no method yet discovered could alter that. When life returned a lazaran might spend its entire un-life pearl-diving under tropic suns and still remain ‘pale and interesting’.

Frankenstein took hold of his patient’s right hand and foot. He sought and found the faint plumping that said the steam-spear had done its work, pushing serum to the far extremities.

Whilst the Galvanism tank warmed up, Julius brought Foxglove back in to fill the pregnant pause and save some sweat.

‘You can turn around now. Help me roll her in.’

If he’d expected miracles in the interval, the faithful retainer was disabused. Lady Lovelace remained as she was: mere breathless meat with a tenderised head.

‘Crank the wheel when I say. Ready? One, two, three, go!’

Julius Frankenstein was young and hale but it was still arduous work setting in motion a mechanism meant for two. Foxglove’s brawn provided ideal assistance. The conveyor belt fairly shot Ada into the open maw of the tank in one fluid motion.

Frankenstein hid her from view and fastened the heavy seals.

‘I should stand back. Leaping arcs are not unknown.’

A rubberised mat was provided for the purpose. Julius beckoned Foxglove over to join him on it.

‘You don’t believe that explanation then?’ he asked.

With but one topic occupying his mind the visitor knew what was meant.

‘The murder story? Indeed not, sir. Those who knew her ladyship recognise the wicked imposture for what it is. Or they should. Sadly, Lord Lovelace was not of that number. Perhaps his mind was misled by grief and shame, but he remains at fault. Sorry as I was for him, my obligations to his house severed that day.’

‘So she wasn’t a lazarophile? It does happen you know: bored aristo ladies appreciative of super-human staying power. Plus there’s attractions in a lover who doesn’t get in your hair afterwards.’

Foxglove’s face was eloquent answer enough.

‘Not a flighty piece at all…?’ Julius persisted. The hum from the tank had not yet reached its optimum.

‘No.’ The reply was firm, not encouraging any challenge. ‘Madam’s passions lay elsewhere. In realms of the utmost propriety.’

Julius was minded to say ‘pity’ but thought better of it.

‘Then who? And why?’

Foxglove drew a deep breath.

‘Those questions are projects for another day. We shall see what her ladyship says.’

His confidence was flattering but misguided. The public didn’t realise Revivalism was not an exact science. Persuading a critical mass of atoms to resume work when they thought their job was done and eternal rest in order, required both skill and luck. Many cadavers were stubborn (or safely ensconced in Heaven, according to theologians) and the failure rate significant. Yet even a failure was better than a botched job: the halfway returns were terrible to see—and hear. It was a kindness to send them straight back to oblivion.

For Julius such thoughts evoked inner pictures of scenes he’d witnessed as an army field surgeon. Unfortunately some things seen can’t be unseen.

Frankenstein gladly left his mind’s-eye version of the Battle of the Vatican for even this present. The whine from within the tank was almost transcending human range. He checked the gauge and its fail-safe twin and then threw the remote-lever.

Dynamo columns atop the tank lit up like lightning-struck trees. They exchanged arcs of power and fed them back into the container. Dust on its surface hovered in sprightly blue-lit dance.

In the absence of screams or any other sign Frankenstein gave it an extra second but dared no more than that. The only thing worse than half-returns were what the Hecatomb wits called ‘fry-ups’.

How he hated the English way with words! Other nations would have been more… indirect, more delicate.

The lever was lifted and the dynamos died. Residual sparks gradually subsided.

One way or the other, they hadn’t long now. The power usage would register on every other Hecatomb system. The duty officer might assume it was just the useless foreigner burning some midnight oil for a change—or he might not.

Donning protective gauntlets Frankenstein opened the door a fraction sooner than was prescribed. Burnt ozone wafted out.

‘Give me a hand again.’

They reversed the belt drive and Ada emerged head first.

She was still pearl white, not charcoal black, which was a good sign. She lay absolutely still, which was not.

Nevertheless, Frankenstein removed the restraints and observed the exposed chest for signs of heaving. There were none.

Foxglove frowned.

‘Slap her,’ Julius ordered.

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘It works with babies and likewise lazarans.’

‘Why me?’

‘She’s your mistress. You wouldn’t like seeing me do it.’

Foxglove hesitated. It went against Nature —or his nature—every bit as much as raising the dead.

‘Hurry!’ said Frankenstein. ‘Do you want this thing or not? The opportunity is fleeting. Oh—I see your problem...’

The English were brutal but bashful. A Frenchman or Italian would have jumped at the chance.

Frankenstein spelt it out. ‘No, man: not exactly as with babies: I meant slap her face.’

Foxglove almost panicked but recovered. He marked his target and then shut his eyes.


Ada’s head rolled in response to the blow: her sole response.

‘Again!’ said Julius.


Back the other way went Ada’s face.

Foxglove looked at Frankenstein in extremities of distress.

‘Can you not repeat the process?’

Julius shook his head.

‘One attempt is all that is meaningful. You may have to reconcile yourself that perhaps she is —’

Smack! Smack!

Foxglove delivered without restraint.

Julius suddenly realised that the corpse’s face was reddened where the blows fell. Which implied—

Ada’s eyes flicked open. Foxglove’s next strike was too far advanced to cancel.

‘Owwww!’ she said. ‘How dare you?’

The servant flinched back, both mortified and awash with joy. Each flickered briefly across his normally impassive face.

Ada Lovelace sat up like a jack-in-the-box. There was obviously more energy in that slight frame than met the eye.

Speaking of which, as a doctor (albeit a mere military one) Julius recalled from his studies that all eyeballs were of much the same size, and that only eyelid variations gave the illusion otherwise. Yet Ada Lovelace’s face seemed dominated by windows to the soul of extraordinary size and sauciness.

She felt her face and rubbed it. Previous paleness returned. She next noted her display of more cleavage than decorum allowed and sought to repair Julius’s careless undressing.

Only then did she deign to view the wider world. First Foxglove.

‘Hmmm…’ she said, with neither gratitude nor reproach.

Then Frankenstein.


Julius had been brought up with Swiss manners before he learnt less starchy Italianate, and then anything-goes English, ways. He bowed politely.

‘Lady Lovelace. Welcome back to this wicked world.’

She did not acknowledge him but swung her long legs to the floor via a flash of silk stocking.

‘That “wicked world” awaits us,’ she said to both all and none—but proving she must have heard. ‘Foxglove, fetch my coach.’

* * *

Foxglove not only fetched it, he proposed to drive it, for there was no one else. From having a horde at her beck and call Ada Lovelace was reduced to just one lackey.

Not two. When Frankenstein joined them in the waiting vehicle, Ada looked at him like a side dish no one had ordered.

‘Foxglove!’ she called through the carriage roof. ‘Is this man coming with us? What did you offer him?’

‘Only as per your letter, milady.’


She had a rich variety of those, all meaning something subtly different. Meanwhile, she studied Julius up and down.

Frankenstein felt it was time he had an input. ‘Escape and adventure were the core contractual features, madam. You promised both.’

Ada had a hat now. She threw back her bonnet and laughed heartily.

‘Did I? Did I really?’

‘Those were your very words. And now my bridges are burnt I must hold you to them.’

Lady Lovelace was selectively deaf. It was as if he’d never replied.

‘I see he has packed a bag, Foxglove; plainly meaning to accompany us. What do you think?’

‘He’s sound,’ said the voice from the driving seat. ‘But I’ll be guided by you, milady.’

Ada fixed Julius with her gorgeous eyes.

‘Do you have pen and paper, Herr Doctor?’

Packing hastily (for the guard’s bribed blindness wouldn’t last forever) those were indeed amongst the few items he’d scraped into a case to take with him. Latterly, all Frankensteins travelled light. Julius demonstrated to her that he owned both.

Ada smiled and snatched them.

‘He’s in, Foxglove. Drive on!’

* * *

As with her revival, Ada’s next step presumably followed a pre-laid plan. Not being a party to it, Frankenstein sat back and relaxed as Foxglove clattered along the Great West Road, heading only God and he knew where.

Hounslow went by in the dark, then progressively larger villages and miles of thriving market gardens till they were skirting the outskirts of the Capital. Finally, they came to a halt before the Turnham Green Bastion and awaited—so Frankenstein presumed—the opening of the gates at dawn. Unseen hands trained wall-guns upon them.

Fortunately, there were other untimely or impatient travellers, and a small collection of conveyances and horsemen gathered close together for mutual protection from the perils of the night. For it was a known fact that the lightless hours were the preserve of feral humans and rogue-lazarans, to which ignorant superstition added werewolves and vampires as well.

Though rarely known to attack so close to civilisation, precautions against such threats were always advisable. Therefore the coaches were manoeuvred into a circle and a watch set. Armed with a blunderbuss, Foxglove took on all the sentry duties assigned to three.

Meanwhile, inside her vehicle, Ada ignored her new companion just as she did the wonder of returned life. Instead, she sat hunched over Julius’s loaned notebook, scribbling furiously into it. And increasingly furious—for from time to time she wrenched out pages in a rage, or viciously scored through what she’d written. Sometimes, the pen was jabbed so hard it pierced straight through the page, or ink flew from the companion pot. Likewise little gasps of frustration escaped her ladyship’s pursed lips, along with occasional most unladylike hisses of hate.

Frankenstein stayed by her side but left her to it. There was wisdom in his inaction for he had nowhere else to go and it was as well not to show his face to the world so soon. The Hecatomb’s working day would be starting soon, and shortly after he’d be missed. Also, Lady Lovelace didn’t seem the sort for small talk.

Julius only wished Ada’s schemes hadn’t included a liveried coach. It proclaimed her presence as good as a flag, and Bastion guards would recall it. However, there was nothing to link him and the ex-deceased just yet. The association needn’t be fatal to him moving discreetly for a while.

Then, just as the huge windlasses creaked to open London’s gates to another day, Ada deigned to notice her companion once more.

She threw the book at him. It bounced off Frankenstein’s forehead, leaving an angry mark.

Her eyes glared at him, equally angry.

‘Charlatan!’ she spat. ‘Fraud! Where is my spark?’

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