Soulless (Parasol Protectorate #1)

6,049
07.03.2019

The young scientist, still cranking with one hand, pulled a small lever down with his other, and the beam of light shifted through the exsanguination machine to run up the tube attached to the seemingly comatose human subject on the platform next to Lord Akeldama.

This man's eyes also opened. He, too, jerked and screamed. The scientist stopped cranking, and the electrical current, for Alexia surmised that must be what it was, dissipated. Ignoring Lord Akeldama, who slumped with eyes closed, looking small and sunken and very old, Mr. Siemons, Dr. Neebs, and the young scientist rushed over to the other man. Dr. Neebs checked his pulse and then lifted his now-closed eyelids to check his pupils, staring hard through the glassicals. The man lay perfectly still.

Then, suddenly, he began to whimper, like a child at the end of a tantrum—out of tears, with only small dry heaving sobs left. All the muscles in his body seemed to lock up, his bones stiffened, and his eyes practically bulged right out of his head. The three scientists backed away but continued to watch him intently.

“Ah, there he goes,” said Mr. Siemons with satisfaction.

“Yes, yes.” Dr. Neebs nodded, slapping his hands together and rubbing. “Perfect!” The gray-clad youngster busily scratched notes into his leather pad.

“A much more rapid and efficient result, Dr. Neebs. This is commendable progress. I shall write a most favorable report,” said Mr. Siemons, smiling widely and licking his lips.

Dr. Neebs beamed with pride. “Much obliged, Mr. Siemons. However, I am still concerned by the charge current intensity. I should like to be able to direct soul transfer with even greater accuracy.”

Mr. Siemons looked over at Lord Akeldama. “Do you think you left any behind?”

“Difficult to tell with such an ancient subject,” Dr. Neebs prevaricated, “but perhaps—”

He was cut off by a loud knock on the door.

“Me, sir!” said a voice.

“Expositus,” said Mr. Siemons.

The automaton turned stiffly and opened the door.

In came the other young scientist accompanied by Mr. MacDougall. They carried between them the body of a man, wrapped tightly in a long length of linen, looking like nothing so much as an ancient Egyptian mummy.

Upon seeing Miss Tarabotti, strapped to her own platform, Mr. MacDougall dropped his end of the body and rushed over to her.

“Good evening, Mr. MacDougall,” said Alexia politely. “I must say, I do not think very highly of your friends here. Their behavior is”—she paused delicately— “immodest.”

“Miss Tarabotti, I am so very sorry.” The American worried his hands together in a little ball and fluttered about her anxiously. “If I had only known what you were at the commencement of our acquaintance, I might have prevented this. I would have taken proper precautions. I would have…” He covered his mouth with both pudgy hands, shaking his head in an excess of troubled emotion.

Alexia attempted a little smile. Poor thing, she thought. It must be hard to be so weak all the time.

“Now, Mr. MacDougall,” Mr. Siemons interrupted their little tête-à-tête. “You know what is at stake here. The young lady refuses to cooperate willingly. So this is how it must be. You may stay to observe, but you must behave yourself and not interfere with the procedure.”

“But, sir,” the American protested, “shouldn't you test the extent of her abilities first? Make some notations, formulate a hypothesis, take a more scientific approach? We know so little about this so-called preternatural state. Shouldn't you utilize caution? If she is as unique as you say, you can hardly afford to take unnecessary risks with her well-being.”

Mr. Siemons raised an autocratic hand. “We are only performing a preliminary transfer procedure. The vampires call her kind 'soulless.' If our predictions are correct, she will not require any kind of electroshock treatment for revival. No soul, you see?”

“But what if it is my theory that is correct and not yours?” Mr. MacDougall looked worried beyond all endurance. His hands were shaking, and a sheen of sweat had appeared across his brow.

Mr. Siemons smiled maliciously. “We had better hope, for her sake, that it is not.” He turned away and issued instructions to his compatriots. “Prepare her for exsanguination. Let us analyze the true extent of this woman's capabilities. Dr. Neebs, if you are finished with that subject?”

Dr. Neebs nodded. “For the time being. Cecil, please continue to monitor his progress. I want immediate notification of dental protuberance.” He began rummaging about, unhooking the two machines from each other and then from Lord Akeldama and his companion sufferer. He pulled the tubes out of their respective arms roughly. Alexia was disturbed to see that the gaping hole in Lord Akeldama's flesh did not immediately begin to close and heal itself.

Then there was no more time for her to worry about Lord Akeldama, for they were moving the machine in her direction. Dr. Neebs approached her arm with a very sharp-looking knife. He ripped away the sleeve of her gown and poked about with his fingers at the underside of her elbow, looking for a vein. Mr. MacDougall made nonsensical murmurs of distress the entire time but did nothing to help her. In fact, he backed timidly away and turned his head as though afraid to watch. Alexia struggled futilely against her restraints.

Dr. Neebs focused his glassicals and placed the knife into position. A great crash reverberated through the room.

Something large, heavy, and very angry hit the outside of the door hard enough to jar the automaton that stood in front of it.

“What the hell's that?” Dr. Neebs asked, pausing with the knife resting against her skin.

The door reverberated again.

“It will hold,” said Mr. Siemons confidently.

But with the third great crash, the door began to split.

Dr. Neebs lifted the knife he had been about to use on Alexia and took up a defensive position with it instead. One of the younger scientists began to scream. The other ran about looking for a weapon of some kind among the scientific paraphernalia littering the room.

“Cecil, calm yourself!” yelled Mr. Siemons. “It will hold!” Clearly, he was trying to convince himself as much as anyone else.

“Mr. MacDougall,” Alexia hissed under the hubbub, “could you, perhaps, see yourself toward untying me?”

Mr. MacDougall, trembling, looked at her as though he could not understand what she was saying.

The door cracked and caved inward, and through the splintered mess charged a massive wolf. The fur about his face was matted and clotted with blood. Pink-tinged saliva dribbled from around long sharp white teeth. The rest of his pelt was brindled black and gold and brown. His eyes, when they turned toward Miss Tarabotti, were hot yellow, with no humanity in them at all.

Lord Maccon probably weighed a good fourteen stone. Alexia now possessed intimate knowledge supporting the fact that a good deal of that weight of his was muscle. This made for a very large, very strong wolf. And all of it was angry, hungry, and driven by full-moon madness.

The werewolf hit the exsanguination chamber in a vicious storm of fang and claw and began unceremoniously tearing everything apart. Including the scientists. Suddenly, there was noise and blood and panic everywhere.

Miss Tarabotti turned her head away as much as possible, flinching from the horror of it. She tried Mr.MacDougall again. “Mr. MacDougall, please untie me. I can stop him.” But the American had pressed himself back into a far corner of the room, trembling with fear, eyes riveted on the rampaging wolf.

“Oh!” said Miss Tarabotti in frustration. “Untie me this instant, you ridiculous man!”

Where requests had failed, orders seemed to work well enough. Her sharp words broke through his terror. Trancelike, the American began fumbling at her bonds, eventually freeing her hands enough for her to bend down and untie her ankles herself. She swung to the edge of the platform.

A stream of Latin sang out above the sounds of carnage, and the automaton slid into action.

By the time Alexia could stand—it took a few moments for the blood to return to her feet—the automaton and the werewolf were grappling in the doorway. What was left of Dr. Neebs and the two young scientists lay crumpled on the floor, swimming in small pools of blood, glassical parts, and entrails.

Miss Tarabotti tried very hard not to be sick or faint. The smell of carnage was truly appalling—fresh meat and molten copper.

Mr. Siemons remained unscathed, and while his construct fought the supernatural creature, he turned to seek out Alexia.

He picked up Dr. Neebs's long sharp surgical knife and moved at her unexpectedly fast for such a well-fed man. Before Alexia had time to react, he was upon her, knife pressed to her throat.

“Do not move, Miss Tarabotti. You neither, Mr. Mac-Dougall. Stay where you are.”

The werewolf had its massive jaw about the throat of the automaton and appeared to be putting concerted effort into decapitating it. It was to no avail, however, because the construct's bones were made of a substance too strong even for a werewolf's jaw. The head remained attached. Wobbly, but attached. The automaton's sluggish blackened blood spilled out of massive neck gashes over the wolf's muzzle. The supernatural creature sneezed and let go.

Mr. Siemons began inching toward the door, which was mostly blocked by the battling monsters. He pushed Miss Tarabotti in front of him, knife to her throat, trying for a side approach behind the wolf.

The werewolf's massive head swung toward them, and his lips pulled back in a snarl of warning.

Mr. Siemons jerked back, slicing through the first few layers of skin on Alexia's neck. She squeaked in alarm.

The wolf sniffed at the air, and its bright yellow eyes narrowed. It turned its attention completely onto Alexia and Mr. Siemons.

The automaton charged from behind and grabbed for the wolf's throat, trying to choke it to death.

“Godth's truth, I am hungry!” someone lisped. All forgotten, the human half of the Lord Akeldama experiment stood up from his platform. He had long, well-developed fangs and was looking around the room with single-minded interest. His eyes flitted about, dismissing Lord Akeldama, the werewolf, and the automaton but lingering with interest on Miss Tarabotti and Mr. Siemons before zeroing in on the most accessible meal in the chamber: Mr. MacDougall.

The American, huddled in his corner, shrieked as the newly created vampire vaulted over Lord Akeldama and across the intervening space with supernatural agility and speed.

Miss Tarabotti did not have time to watch further, as her attention was drawn back to the entranceway. She heard Mr. MacDougall scream again and then the thumping sounds of fighting.

The werewolf was trying to shake the automaton off his back. But the construct had established a death grip around his furry neck and would not budge. With the wolf momentarily distracted, the broken door was partly freed up, and Mr. Siemons began forcing Alexia once more toward it.

Miss Tarabotti wished, for about the hundredth time that evening, for her trusty parasol. Not having it, she did the next best thing. She elbowed Mr. Siemons hard in the gut while stomping down onto his insole with the heel of her boot.

Mr. Siemons cried out in pain and surprise and let her go.

Miss Tarabotti twisted away with a yell of triumph, and the werewolf's attention switched back toward them at the sound.

Choosing his own safety above all else, Mr. Siemons gave Miss Tarabotti up for a bad risk and fled the chamber, calling for his fellow scientists at the top of his lungs as he ran pell-mell down the hallway outside.

The automaton continued to fight, its hands tightening ever more surely around the wolf's brindled throat.

Alexia did not know what to do. Lord Maccon undoubtedly stood a better chance against the automaton in werewolf form. But, wheezing from restricted air flow, he was coming toward her and ignoring the automaton attempting to strangle him. She could not allow him to touch her if she wanted him to survive. A hoarse voice said, “Rub out the word, my darling tulip.”

Alexia glanced over. Lord Akeldama, still pale and clearly in unmitigated pain, had tilted his head up from where he lay. He was watching the brutal proceedings with glazed eyes.

Miss Tarabotti gave a cry of relief. He was alive! But she did not understand what he wanted her to do.

“The word,” he said again, his voice wrecked by his suffering, “on the homunculus simulacrum's forehead. Rub it out.” He collapsed back, exhausted.

Miss Tarabotti dodged sideways, positioning herself. Then, shuddering in revulsion, she reached forward and brushed her hand over the automaton's waxy face. She missed all but the very end of the word so that VIXI became VIX.

It seemed sufficient to do some good. The automaton stiffened and let go enough for the werewolf to shake him off. The creature was still moving but now did so with apparent difficulty. The werewolf turned all his concentrated yellow attention on Miss Tarabotti.

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