Albedo One is proud to round off your Spring of 2014 with a fine SF-Horror from Guy T. Martland, published for the first time exclusively online as number 7 in our Albedo 2.0 Fiction Showcase series. Enjoy!!
The New Galvinsim, by Guy T. Martland
The Elizabeth Lavenza sailed into Bournemouth bay, the yacht anchoring just outside the regatta’s fleet. She was a resplendent vessel, her presence causing something of a stir. Her graceful lines drew the eye and she dwarfed many of the assembled celebrities’ crafts. Lucas’ company logo NG-Tech was emblazoned on the flurry of sails that adorned her three masts.
Bournemouth city stood proud along the seven miles of golden sand, a series of skyscrapers standing like giants along the cliff top, forever surveying the ocean. The beach was full for the occasion, dotted with the colours of life. The promenade and pier approach were lined with stalls, an ad hoc market where people sold timeless seaside confectionery such as sticks of rock and candyfloss. There were even a few Punch and Judy stands.
Lucas’ presence at the regatta was a diversion. The usual raucous society events held little interest, although to maintain form, he’d scheduled a few drinks parties in the Harbour Sky bar. He didn’t enjoy such occasions – like the Elizabeth Lavenza, his presence divided people; those who thought what he did was fascinating clustering around him, whilst others thought his life’s work abhorrent. Death does that to people, he often mused.
His life’s work, the so-called ‘New Galvinism’, had begun when he’d invented the clay, the complex mess of nanochines that had at first been used to repair damaged human organs. The first iteration, when applied to the organs, could rejuvenate them. It heralded a huge breakthrough in medical science. But then as the technology advanced, it was used to resurrect newly dead pets. And then finally humans.
That had been the turning point: humans. Bringing people’s recently dead relatives back after days, then weeks and finally months. There were still limits to the technology. But even so, it had established the New Galvinism system-wide, giving him wealth beyond his imaginings as well as subjecting him to the wrath of religious groups who believed in the ‘one true life’, groups such as the Life Guild.
As Lucas sipped a cocktail, admiring the view across to the Isle of Wight’s needles, and of course that of his beautiful vessel, he listened half-heartedly to some sycophantic man named Coulson, who seemed to be interested in carcinogenesis. There was always someone like him at drinks parties, someone who would bore the arse off him. He looked around as the man droned on, examining the throng for anyone who could be from the Life Guild, come to spoil his fun. While his bodyguards would no doubt have informed him, he still felt the need to check.
‘Yes, of course, I’ll give it some thought,’ Lucas replied, politely brushing the man off. He wandered over to where his chief scientist and friend stood – Dr Agid Marathantri, subcellular machine specialist – a man of furious intelligence and handsome to boot. Agid seemed to be lecturing on the topic of nanoware to a bevy of blondes, who hung on his every word. The group dispersed when Lucas approached, as if repelled by a magnetic force. Agid turned to speak to his boss.
‘None of them take your fancy?’ asked Lucas, pruriently.
‘None of them had the faintest idea what I was talking about, unfortunately. You know, Lucas, these days I prefer women with brains.’
‘Like Mary herself?’
Lucas hesitated for a moment, finished his drink, before replying. ‘And are we ready? I think it should be tonight, after the race. Everyone will be distracted.’
Agid nodded in reply. ‘The lab is ready.’
He left the party early, wading through the crowds, past men juggling fire, past rich holograms that sprang to life, beckoning you to listen, past drunken revellers singing old sea shanties. For some reason, the festival organisers had decided on a pirate theme, and everywhere he looked there were men with eye-patches brandishing fake cutlasses.
His bike was located just behind the pier approach. He checked to see that no-one had tampered with it and climbed on, punching the AG into life, cruising upwards above the crowd, passing through the collected seafront scrapers, following a dark road that ran parallel to the gardens.
He was at the church in a few minutes, having made a few false turns to make sure he wasn’t being followed. St Peter’s stood incongruously in the centre of the town, which had grown up and around it, dwarfing its tall gothic spire. The surrounding streets were filled with rowdy bars. In several of these bars, as predicted, men under his employ would be about to start a series of major fights, diverting police attention away from what he was about to do.
He carefully landed the bike in the shadow of a jutting transept, pulled a bag from the back and stole across to the tomb. It was a rectangular granite structure, the stone lintel bearing the names of those interred, one of whom was the reason he was there: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.
Swiftly, he unzipped the bag and pulled out the smart cloth, which he then erected around the sides of the tomb. It was a precaution only – the grave was so tucked away that it was unlikely he’d be bothered, but Agid was certain it was necessary. If you will insist on doing this, at least let me help in some way, he’d said, before handing over the cloth and instructing him on how to use it. Should anyone pass, the cloth would display the intact image of the grave. He heard some nearby drunken shouts and the sound of sirens; it seemed his men were doing as requested.
Lucas stepped behind the cloth and began to shift the lintel, the power pack that strengthened his arm whirring as it stirred into action. With a deep rumble, the lintel moved, and a gush of musty, stale air issued from the tomb. When there was enough space, he slung the bag over his back and clambered in.
It was more spacious than he’d expected, although he still had to bend to examine each of the caskets, all in varying degrees of repair. Eventually he found Mary’s, the wood of which was crumbling; it took little effort to pull the lid off. He involuntarily held his breath as he shone the torch down onto its contents, staring at the skeleton. In its right hand was a shrivelled black stone that had once been someone’s heart.
Delicately, he transferred all the bones to his bag, slid the lid back in place and climbed back out into the land of the living.
‘We wrapped her bones in our special clay,’ Lucas explained to the small scientific gathering. ‘For a few days, we thought nothing was happening. Then, the clay managed to reassemble fragments of residual DNA from her skeleton. It took a while to assemble the whole genome, but of course, we had the skeleton on which to build.’
‘Eventually, it began to recreate her body, piece by piece, filling in the spaces where organs should be, new tendons and ligaments stringing together the pieces of skeleton and strengthening them. Naturally, we weren’t able to do much for her brain – the complexities of a human’s brain and its life experiences cannot be extrapolated from DNA alone. But in all other respects, this is what she would have looked like.’
‘So you have managed to recreate a human from their skeleton?’
‘To all intents and purposes, yes. Given that she has little brain development as yet, it took a while for her to develop basic functions such as continence, but she learned this quicker than your average child.’
‘May we see her?’ asked one of the audience.
‘With pleasure, Professor Audin,’ Lucas replied. ‘Dr Agid, if you would kindly show in our subject.’
There was a gasp as Agid led the woman into the room – her first presentation to the public. She looked at the audience with the fascination of a small child, but from the face of a woman. Her skin was pale, her features delicate; she returned the glances with a shy smile. She was dressed in an antique black velvet dress, flowers embroidered around the cuff and collar.
‘Who was this woman, who is this woman?’ asked Professor Audin.
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, please may I present Mary Wollstencroft Shelley, author of Frankenstein, once more made flesh.’
The wooden panelling of the old combination room seemed to amplify the subsequent ruckus, Mary reaching up to place her hands over her ears. A few of the Cambridge scholars left at this point, some silently, some shouting obscenities at Lucas and Agid. But a few stayed, intrigued by this vision from the past.
Lucas was thrilled by his creation. He spent hours with Mary, reading her the stories she’d written, slowly encouraging her to start talking. He felt fatherly towards her, to this being he’d created, but at the same time there was a strange longing to be even closer to this resurrected woman.
Always something of a misanthrope, Lucas found himself more alone than usual, despite Mary. Friends he’d had for years ignored messages he sent them. A number of staff left the company and even Agid seemed more distant, eager to divert the company’s attentions away from the clay into other areas of research. There was an investigation when her grave was found to have been robbed, which hadn’t helped, but by then he was lecturing around the moons of Saturn. And, as his team of lawyers pointed out, he could hardly replace the bones, even if he could be shown to have stolen them.
Lucas wanted Mary to become the figurehead of his company, her face emblazoned on all their promotional material. He took her with him to all the meetings he attended, not understanding the repercussions, why some people reacted so strongly to her presence.
It was on Titan that it happened. He had just presented Mary to the collected scientists of the Cassini division, who behaved in much the same manner as the Cambridge academics had, when six men walked in with guns.
‘Who are you?’ Lucas stammered. A tall man stood in front of him, his beard and moustache neatly cropped. His features were slightly bird-like.
‘My name isn’t important. We aren’t here to talk about me.’
‘So what is it you want? Why have you tied me up like this?’
‘We believe in life and death. A true death, where the soul and body separate forever.’
‘You are from the Life Guild, you are one of them.’
‘I told you, Lucas, it really doesn’t matter who I am. It is what you have done that matters.’ The man pulled up a wooden chair and sat down in front of Lucas. ‘You created your Mary – some would go so far as to call her an abomination. You used your scientific knowledge to resurrect someone who had had their true life, someone who didn’t request another.’
‘Science is dangerous in the hands of people like you,’ the man retorted. ‘You were given a gift, and with it you began to help people, sick people. You did good things. But that wasn’t enough. You used your powers wisely in the beginning, but with that power you became corrupted. Ironically, like Frankenstein’s monster himself.’
‘My c-c-company…’ stammered Lucas.
‘Lucas, don’t try and devolve your responsibility here. It was you who raided the Wollstencroft-Shelley tomb, wasn’t it?’ The man sighed before continuing. ‘And as for your company, it is being dissolved. Your medical patents will be disseminated, but as for the rest, we cannot let it continue.’
‘I just thought…’
‘For such an intelligent man, you did not think. Dr Agid has told us all. This was your act of hubris, and for that we need a fitting punishment. But we’ve decided that we aren’t going to kill you – in fact your so-called clay will keep you alive.’
‘What do you mean?’
The man stood up, removed the chair from Lucas’ grasp, before turning back to face him. ‘I assume you recall the other title Mary Shelley gave to her work?‘
Time passed. He did not know how long. He opened cracked lips and yelled out. The noise echoed around the dark chamber, and seemed to disturb something in the shadows. He thought he saw something move, thought he heard the flapping of wings.
He was woken by bright surgical lights. Two figures approached in surgical masks. He felt the cold steel on his abdomen, and then the sharp twinge of the cut as they sliced through his skin and muscle. He screamed, passed out with the pain, waking to an empty room. Everything hurt and his vision was blurred.
In lucid moments, when he managed to hold onto some semblance of reality, he reasoned with himself. Was what he’d done so wrong? Maybe it had been in poor taste, but the act had had a certain circularity to it. Almost as if the past had been egging him on, pushing him toward this: his destiny. Maybe in a similar way he’d pushed the Life Guild toward their actions.
But he thought of Mary’s blank expression. He thought of fellow scientists, people he’d worked with for years, whose opinions he respected, waving their arms in horror. He thought of the few friends he’d had cutting all contact with him. He hoped they hadn’t hurt Mary, or Agid.
No, it had been an act of utter hubris. He could see that now. He’d been carried away. He’d glorified in the science, not in the humanity of what he was doing.
He tried, for the umpteenth time, to stretch against the bonds that held him in position. But he couldn’t move. And the act of stretching caused new waves of pain to crash across his prone body. He didn’t dare look down, to see what they’d done to him.
He thought he saw a bird in the corner of the room, or was he just hallucinating? As his eyes struggled to focus, he realised must be a bird. It flapped around the room, finally coming to rest in a corner. When his failing eyes finally managed to focus, he clearly recognised it as an eagle, ruffling its feathers.
He heard himself scream as it took off again, circling the room. The next minute he felt its claws as it landed; it began to tear into his flesh, its beak pecking out pieces of liver from the open hole the surgeons had left. He began to scream again, but this time couldn’t stop.