Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was based on early misunderstandings of those experiments, as some mistook them for proof that electricity is some sort of life force. Vital principle. Prana, or Qi, as the Orientals refer to it. But, he produced no battery or wires. Instead, with a grunt, he heaved a odd looking contraption up onto the desk from the space under it.
“This was our original prototype” he offered. As he plugged it into the wall, confirming electricity still played some part, I again wondered if it wouldn’t be smoke and mirrors. A rudimentary deception to exploit men with more money than brains. “Just a few more treatments are needed”, I imagined them promising their gullible patron, before disappearing soon after with the advance deposit.
He opened a hatch in the top of a glass cylinder filled with what looked to be saline solution. Depositing the limp frog into the fluid, he shut the hatch, made airtight by means of a rubber seal around the rim. Then, satisfied that he’d captured my attention, he flipped a switch. A pump rattled to life and as I looked on, a cloudy black fluid issued forth into the cylinder, billowing outward as it mixed with the salt water.
Once fully saturated, the water appeared hazy and fog-like. I could just make out the form of the frog, floating motionless inside. Beady toggled a second switch. A loud hum sounded, and brilliant blue arcs of electricity spread through the liquid, sending the frog into violent spasms.
As I thought. The trivial application of current, to give the appearance of life to a dead animal. Before I could ask that they spare me any further insult to my intelligence, Beady turned off the current. Yet, the frog continued moving. Thrashing about frantically within the cylinder as if in need of air. I blinked in disbelief.
“I can imagine what you must’ve thought when you read our card. We encounter a great many skeptics. But the demonstration never fails to make believers out of them.” He opened the hatch, and seized the still frantic animal from inside.
It croaked loudly several times before settling down. “They’re frightfully strong when freshly reanimated. The glass has to be very thick or they’d smash through it. That initial buzz will taper off in time. Of course, without regular injections it eventually de-animates.”
Injections? Scholls produced a leather case from within his vest. Inside, a neat row of syringes, all filled with the same thick black fluid I’d seen enter the cylinder. I demanded to know what was in them.
“Oh come now. As a man with a background in business, surely you know that we cannot freely share our proprietary formula. As of yet, we have no competitors, and I’d like to keep it that way.” He flashed me a knowing grin. I did not reciprocate.
“I can tell you it’s adulterated somewhat, with additives that help keep the revived organism in good condition” he offered. “Preservatives mainly, of the sort commonly used for embalming.” I balked. “Poisons! Surely they would only return one to the grave if ingested?” He laughed.
“There is much about the physiology of a resurrected creature that defies conventional understanding. They have no need to breathe, but do so out of reflex. No need or ability to digest victuals. Their hearts do not beat unless electrically induced, for which we include a small device. It’s necessary to maintain bloodflow for a minute or so, in order to circulate the injected materials throughout the body.”
My stomach began to churn. A feeling familiar to me as instinctive warning of unseen danger. As yet I did not believe anything except that they had resuscitated a frog. Perhaps one they’d put into a deep sleep by refrigeration, making a big show of startling it back to wakefulness? Yet, the splinter in my mind only grew stronger. I now dared to hope. However foolish, however certain my disappointment.
So it was that I descended with them into the building’s basement where I found a subterranean tunnel, with a small electric tram positioned as if to enter it. “All aboard the grave-y train! Do you get it? A little levity helps in this line of work.”
Why he imagined I would laugh under such conditions is a mystery to me. I piled into one of the precarious steel carts. As he twisted a knob, I heard the electrical whine of a motor under load, and we began to move.
I experienced my first pangs of hesitation as the train entered the tunnel. Had I done the right thing in coming here? Might they be abducting me with the intent of seeking ransom from my father? But as the little train trundled noisily down the damp, pitch black corridor, I pictured Annika ahead. The light at the end of the tunnel. The impossible possibility which drew me here. I had to know.
We came out into an astonishingly vast underground warehouse of sorts, with “Gravestation 001” stenciled in letters twenty feet high along the far wall. I held my nose as the stench hit me. The source of it soon became apparent as the train passed by heaps of waxy embalmed corpses. “What is this unholy place” I muttered, wondering again what I’d gotten myself into.
“Now now”, Mr. Beady admonished, “Your family fortune was made by filling countless graves. Can you blame us for emptying a few? Besides, did not Lazarus rise from the dead by God’s will? Did not Christ also rise from the grave, that we might all have eternal life? Does it particularly matter how we accomplish that? I say it doesn’t.” He harrumphed, stopped the train and hopped off. Scholls followed, his considerable mass tipping the little train as he climbed out.
A great grid of tracks stretched out across the floor of the facility. Along it, a sort of bi-directional motorized carriage scooted along, with what looked to be a hydraulic elevator mounted to it. As it raised the platform to one of countless sliding hatches in the ceiling, receiving a casket from it as it opened, I realized we were standing directly beneath the cemetery. Long transparent rubber tubing ran up the walls, connecting to a spigot beneath each grave.
“Do you mean to tell me….!” I exclaimed. He nodded, plainly proud of his handiwork. “Every grave is individually addressable. The caskets removed from below, with no visible disturbance above. Really diminishes the danger of our work. In the old days we’d slink out there under cover of dark with shovels, looking like common criminals. Too many close calls. When I found out that the remains of an abandoned tube station lay beneath the cemetery, I hatched a plan to excavate from there, which eventually resulted in what you see before you.”
What exactly was I looking at, though? Industrialized grave robbing. Under everyone’s noses, the remains of their dearly departed extracted from what was to be their final resting place by this bizarre little man and his burly counterpart. “For…what…possible reason?” I managed. Still dazed, I was herded towards the centerpiece of the installation, a scaled up version of the little machine he’d demonstrated for me in their office.
Five cylinders rather than one. “Business is booming. Had to increase throughput. More than enough to pay off various coroners, though.” It dawned on me that the rash of mistaken burials were a cover story. He confirmed it. “You’re far from the first to avail yourself of our services, young man. A great many men and women in the city above us, attending galas, taking tea with friends, sitting even now in theatres and even parliament, are-”
“No. It can’t be…” I cut in. He slowly nodded, not breaking eye contact. “Of course, they’re sworn to secrecy. As are you from this point on. No paperwork necessary. If we get away with all of this undiscovered, I’m sure you realize how easily we could dispense with you. Even with your connections, there are enough powerful people who depend on our outfit to keep them supplied with injections that they’d gladly throw you under the bus if you tried to go public with any of this.”
I assured them I had no such intentions. As yet I couldn’t really say what I intended to do except gawk at the disturbing spectacle around me. The gentle throb of a nearby generator intensified. One of the glass cylinders, the fluid inside the same hazy black as I recalled from the model, now pulsated with current. Resembling a storm cloud, arcs of lightning leaping from one part of it to the other.
Then the throb died down and the arcs vanished. Below the cylinder, a sort of silicone sphincter bulged. As I watched in morbid fascination, it birthed a nude man coated head to toe in the filthy black slime. He gasped for air as Beady and Scholls rushed to wrap him in a blanket. “How do you feel? Do you remember your name?” He struggled for a time to orient himself, then after that to form words. But soon he was able to answer their questions.
Stay Tuned for Part 4!