V. HOMUNCULUS 

 THE WAREHOUSE 

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(Lights shift to the laboratory as HENRY enters. TIM is at the desk with a wooden box of glass jars.)

 

Here, Tim. You have returned.

 

I have returned, Master Henry, twice the man I was in girth but substantially lighter of pocket. And don’t you dare tell me you need more than this, because I’ve gone done pulled a thing in my back, and I ain’t yet had my lunch. If I had a union, they’d be on you.

 

Good thing the nuns were happy with thruppence and six or I’d have the wrath of God descend as well.

 

Thruppence and six! Now there’s a likely story. When you recount the sum of your expense, why’s it somedays twice of sixpence, and somedays less a pound?

 

Does it matter?

 

I should think it does. Rare’s the chance to get the value of a man, less so of it himself, and most especially told in sterling.

 

Then for you, Tim, I’m sure I paid top-dollar.

 

Good. A fella likes to know his worth.

 

You right, Master Black?

 

Fine. Thank-you. And since when did you care how much I paid that damn orphanage? It’s not like I bought you, like some rug, or pocket square – it was a charitable donation, for their troubles and your sins. You’re a man, for God’s sake, not haberdashery.

 

I was only teasing, Master Black, so as to put you in a jocular mood. Only now…

 

Yes, now?

 

I’m beginning to rue the effort…

 

You saw her, didn’t you?

 

I didn’t.

 

You did.

 

Honestly, Tim, I don’t know what you’re even talking about.

 

(Crossing himself) I knew it. You get that look about you – more hunted than usual, and steely around the eyes. You’ve had another visit from the restless spectral plane.

 

What my eyes think they see are but tricks of the mind, the products, most likely as not, of relentless fatigue. Purely psychological in timbre, beyond the shadow of a doubt… and certainly no business of yours.

 

Will you listen to that? Ghosts about the halls and no business there of mine…

 

I am afflicted by a waking dream, Tim, no more extraordinary than you yourself might dream at night asleep. A simple lapse of the mind, nothing more.

 

Oh, well, that’s put me right at ease. “Pay no heed to them spirits, Tim, it’s just your Master gone mad…”

 

Must everyone be in such a rush to declare me mad?

 

In all honesty, sir? It’d be barking of us not to.

 

The supplies, Tim. Did you get it all?

 

Yes, I told you, and not an ounce more if I wanted – Eccleston’s quite cleaned out, and I’ll not show my face at Bristol’s, neither, not with his odd notions and my back the way it is…

 

Leave it on the workbench, Tim, and fetch your goggles. We’ve work to be doing.

 

You’re sure there’s no time for a brief respite? Only I really am rather / peckish…

 

Science is a locomotive, Tim, hurtling down the tracks of advancement. To stand in its way is to face shuddering obliteration.

 

Right. I thought as much.

 

First thing’s first. Tim?

 

Master Henry?

 

More power.

 

(TIM moves to the crank wheel, waits for a cue. HENRY puts on his coat and thick gloves, gives it. TIM turns the crank. Lights go out in the warehouse, except a single spot above the upright shape beneath the painter’s sheet. The sounds of power growing. TIM continues to turn. The sound grows. TIM turns. The lights flicker with strain. TIM turns. A shudder and crack. HENRY gives a signal. TIM stops turning. The lights slowly come back on in the warehouse. A humming sound drowns out the waves.)

 

You had me there a second, Master Henry. I’s thought you were going all or bust that time…

 

I know full well the safe voltage threshold. I’m mad, Tim, not stupid.

 

Good to know.

 

Current holding firm at eighty-eight and a third. Secure the wheel please, Tim.

 

(Locking the crank) Sir.

 

Very good. Prepare the Homunculus for Stage One activation.

 

(TIM removes the painter’s drop sheet from the freestanding object. Beneath is a coffin-shaped chamber glowing with inner blue light, giving the appearance of transparent liquid. The HOMUNCULUS.)

 

(TIM looks to HENRY. HENRY looks to the Homunculus. A silence. HENRY begins to unpack the jars from the wooden crate. He stops abruptly.)

 

Tell me, Tim, do you know any bedtime stories?

 

Bedtime stories, sir?

 

Yes, fairy stories, fables. Did the sisters ever read to you? Jonathan Swift? The Brothers Grimm?

 

One lady, Sister Jude, kept a subscription of penny dreadfuls. She’d sometimes read to us of a nighttime, if we’d been good, which I mostly weren’t. There was one about a man who et people in puddings, and another about a monkey what had a lust for young ladies, he’d lurk about their boudoirs and shove their bodies up the chimney /

 

No, no, Tim, nothing so tawdry as that. I’m talking proper fairy stories, the kind you’d tell to children. Surely I read you one in your time?

 

No, sir.

 

Never?

 

Not as such.

 

Ah. Well.

 

Well there was one I used to tell so often I could scarcely go a day without its recitation, and do you know, even though I haven’t spoken it aloud in more years than I care to admit, I can still recall it, word for word. It’s this cask that’s done it. I’ve been put in mind of it ever since you walked in the room.

 

Are you sure I never told you? I have a memory, quite clear, of you sitting on my knee and demanding stories ’til I were blue in the face!

 

No, sir. I think you have me confused with someone else.

 

Yes. Well. Perhaps.

 

There was a man, you see, out tending his field one day. It was a cold day, the ground very firm, and the man tilled it with a heavy plough. The field was well turned, long denuded of stones, and the man was surprised to strike something hard with his blade. He dug a little more, and to his profound astonishment, uncovered an old iron cauldron.

 

As you do.

 

Now the man was a practical sort, not rich, and finding the cauldron of solid construction and no worse for its interment, he hitched it to his plough horse and returned to his cottage, where he tasked his wife to cleaning it, which she did, with a short bristled brush.

 

The man repaired to the field, and when he returned to the cottage that night, the man was startled to find his wife not only in possession of the scrubbed iron cauldron, but a vast multitude of bristle brushes.

 

“How came you by these many brushes?” he asked, to which his wife replied, “These are but the same single brush, but many times over.” The man was rightly confused. His wife elucidated. She had set to its cleaning just as he’d asked, but the cauldron was very wide, and very deep, and while scouring the depths of its basin, his wife had so happened to drop her bristle brush to the bottom. The moment it struck, she heard a hollow ringing sound, like the tolling of a church bell, and when she’d peered into the cauldron to retrieve the brush, she’d been shocked at the sight of a hundred bristle brushes, identical to her own, filling the cauldron to the brim.

 

Is a magic pot.

 

Quite so, yes, the thing was quite clearly a magical thing, and his wife plainly stated so. The proof was there, in so many brushes. But the man, as we know, was a /

 

/ practical sort /

 

/ practical sort, yes, and believed the proof of his own eyes. He went at once to the mantle and removed a solid gold guinea from the snuffbox which housed their modest fortune. He returned to the cauldron and dropped it in. The coin struck the bottom with a hollow ring, like the tolling of a church bell, and when the man and his wife peered over the rim, their eyes were met with a glittered ocean of solid gold guineas.

 

His wife was right – it was, indeed, by any rational measure, a magic cauldron. And so the man and his wife found their fortunes changed by chance… and lived a charmed life forever after.

 

Well, that sounds like a very fortuitous and implausible story, sir.

 

Absurd in the extreme, scientifically without precedent.

 

I imagine the intent is less factual accuracy and rather to convey a moral through whimsy?

 

Yes, well, this one seems unreasonably saccharine, even for a fairy tale. And yet my own mind, for all its finite mechanical capacity, deems such a story worthy of remembrance at the expense of so much else. For instance, is this chemical ratio two parts to ever hundred, or one hundred parts to every second? Clearly my mental faculties place more use in the nonsense of some farm man and his heretical pot. Honestly. Fairy tales. On the whole, Tim, I’d say you’ve done well to steer clear of them.

 

If you say so, Master Henry.

 

I do. I did. Would I waste so many words otherwise?

 

(A silence. HENRY measures chemicals into a beaker. TIM approaches him with a pair of protective goggles.)

 

Sir?

 

Sir?

 

What?

 

(TIM hands HENRY the goggles. TIM puts on his own goggles with emphasis.)

 

Mad, not stupid, right?

 

Yes, of course. (Putting on goggles) Quite mad.

 

(HENRY finishes mixing, secures a plunger to the beaker of chemicals.)

 

There. Take this solution and administer it to the fluid in the parabolic chamber. Let us hope my memory for chemical composition remains among the bedtime stories.

 

(Taking the syringe carefully) You have often espoused the specific chemical conditions within the Homunculus, Master Henry, and their need to remain undisturbed. I trust you have good cause for this particular adjustment, yes?

 

My cause remains, as it always has, in pursuit of something good.

 

Thank-you, sir. I am thoroughly assuaged of any and all doubts. (He prepares to inject the mixture into the Homunculus through a vein-like pipe.)

 

If you must know, Tim, the combination of chemicals you so kindly procured this morning – and which I stooped to no small measure of prideful injury to secure sufficient funding for – share two unique properties: first, they exist either in their natural state, or can be rendered under certain stress, into a soluble liquid form. Second, they are powerful conductors of electricity /

 

(Withdrawing the syringe) No.

 

I beg your pardon?

 

No, sir. You promised.

 

Tim, any such promises I may have made in the past were done with the limited knowledge in my possession at such time /

 

We had an agreement.

 

Do you think Tesla withdrew his hand from the diode at the first spark of his ingenuity? That the progression of his invention might cease for fear of consequence?

 

I don’t bloody care if Mister Tesla cooked himself a Christmas ham. No more electricity.

 

For God’s sake, Tim, we’re scientists. Electricity is our bread and butter!

 

You swore, Master Henry, that the last time was the end of it. “I swear to you, Tim, no more currents of either kind.” That’s what you said, me right here and you where you are.

 

Honestly, Tim, you’re being absurd. I will not be held to statements made in ignorance!

 

Begging your pardon, sir, but that’s precisely your problem, as it seems I need remind you…

 

(TIM removes his cap. The left side of his head is hairless and scarred from an electrical burn.)

 

(A silence.)

 

Tim. I appreciate your concern. As I make a habit to recount (for not a day goes by in which I do not), the mistakes of my past are both terrible and without counting. And as I hasten to repeat (for again, I always do), they are the mistakes of a man lost in the obscuring dark of ignorance. Every day I am reminded, and every day I make my aim to light myself a candle, the better to see my way for every step I take towards a more enlightened way of seeing. This is what learning is, yes? This is what it means to move beyond the limits of one’s understanding.

 

It’s not the path you tread that concerns me, sir. It’s the stumbles you make along the way.

 

I will not say there is no risk. I can’t. It would be a lie, and a lie is something I can never tell again. You know this for a fact, yes?

 

Yes, sir.

 

And in so knowing, know this also: Henry Black is a man who learns from his mistakes. I will not let them repeat. I swear.

 

Please, Tim. For James?

 

(A silence. TIM looks at HENRY. HENRY looks at TIM. TIM, resigned, injects the solution into the Homunculus. The fluid within glows and changes colour.)

 

What exactly are we doing here, Master Henry?

 

Preparing the Homunculus for Stage Two activation.

 

But we’ve never been able to achieve Substitutiary Locomotion.

 

Yes I know, Tim, that’s the problem, that’s always been the problem. And what are problems but the little gifts we make for ourselves to prove how clever we are?

 

But we’ve tried. Electricity doesn’t work.

 

Never once before, correct. But why? Better to ask why lightning strikes this tree, but not that tree, or why a hundred bolts may strike the lightning rod and yet never leave a mark.

 

Why? We innately understand. We see it for what it is: the last remaining tether between mankind and his God – the depth of the unknown world and the limits of our weak perception. Tesla sees this as well as I, but so did others before us. Franklin saw it. Michelangelo saw it. Shelley saw it, too, for crying out loud. The power to raise, resurrect, destroy – to commune with the nameless divine – to conduct us past the problems we create to the font of unknown great solutions…

 

(HENRY pulls a switch. The warehouse lights reduce dramatically, illuminating HENRY, TIM, and the Homunculus.)

 

The problem, Tim, has never been in its solution, but how we conduct ourselves towards it. And the solution you have just now delivered is exceeding conductive – far more so than the proteins and phospholipids that make up the chamber’s internal fluid. I posit that while the instrument of activation has and still remains the application of an electric charge, the concentrated conductivity of the Homunculus itself has denied it – which you have now just remedied!

 

But what if it doesn’t?

 

What do you mean?

 

What if that very flaw has been a blessing in disguise? You said yourself the chamber’s make has resisted activation up till now – made, as it is, too well to permit conduction. What if said resistance not just prevents but protects also?

 

(A beat.)

 

The nature of the Homunculus is protection against the force of time itself. A spark poses no danger.

 

How high’s that voltage turned?

 

You know very well how high! Eighty-eight and a third, more than sufficient to penetrate the protective case.

 

More than enough to kill?

 

(A beat.)

 

(Softly, to himself) The law of natural things is but one of two states, be it living or dead, with no place in between. No man may dwell in the house of the dead, and no one yet dead may return himself to life. No place on earth may these two be observed, and yet here, on this stage, stands not one life between lives but two, identical: one grasping at death, one pretending at living.

 

Should I succeed or fail, one solution remains. My son’s dead either way.

 

(HENRY pulls the switch. The generator hums, grows louder. The lights flicker and dim. The spot above the Homunculus throbs, growing louder, growing faster like a heartbeat, now beating out of control.)

 

(A brilliant flash. The generator stops with a bang.)

 

(Darkness.)

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