IX. ASSETS 

 THE WAREHOUSE 

 

Jessica

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(Lights cross to HENRY on the warehouse mezzanine, dressing with JESSICA’S assistance.)

 

Under.

 

Yes.

 

Under.

 

Yes it is, thank-you. There is much beyond my manipulation, but a Windsor knot is not among them… Dash it!

 

(JESSICA takes the cravat, ties it. A beat.)

 

You’ve been absent much of late.

 

And what makes you think this so?

 

I haven’t seen you.

 

Come now, Doctor Black. Observable forces are themselves subjects of change. Much that we cannot see is there, and much we can is not as is appears.

 

You haven’t been here, so I haven’t seen you.

 

You haven’t seen, or haven’t wished to?

 

Would that both were true.

 

(A beat.)

 

You’ve dreamed.

 

Yes, I’ve dreamed.

 

What about?

 

Little of consequence.

 

For example?

 

For example, last night I dreamed of space. Of things in space. Stars. Voices. Cold. The space between them all. And it struck me, as it must surely have struck you, that space is the most irregular of things. Terrestrial dimensions have no meaning in space. The cosmos is as vast as the oceans are deep, and just as impenetrable. And yet, we may perceive these depths with the help of any glass-bottomed bucket. (What is a telescope, in reality, but a bucket with pretensions?)

 

So may the casual eye observe some measure of the unknown. And what might he see, turning such an eye upon the heavens? Things I may see in a dream, or with the naked eye: A multitude of stars. The passing of orbiting bodies. The flash of the ancient aurora. Disproportionate distance –  monumental forces moving beyond our control. We see, in short, the face of God. And why is this? Because these things are distant to us, and in their distance, they are unknowable, like Him. Would we find such awe in God were He or She near at hand? I wonder.

 

And so what we conceive as an empty vastness can be observed to be the very opposite. But beyond space – beyond all matter, beyond the rocks and ice – is light. Through light we know time. Through time we touch our reality. We are born. We live. We… die. We pass through time as if through a veil, a curtain of… well… light, so light we barely feel it.

 

And out there, in space, is a multitude of light. Light from uncountable stars, spilling their light upon countless multitudes of people, each living and dying and yearning to live again, sending their own light back out into the night sky, into darkness, into the stars in a frenzied, fevered explosion of life.

 

And so this light exceeds us. It extends us beyond our limited notion of time. But for how long? Surely light itself is not immune to time?

 

No. Somewhere out there is a point in space where the light we send out – rushing light, breathless light, light hurtling through space as we ourselves hurtle through life – this light has slowed to a standstill. To a point where time, as we might know it, has come to a halt.

 

To stand at that exact point would be to stand upon the zenith of a great golden arc. To turn oneself one way along its edge would be to look back upon the light of earth as it always was, in perpetuity; all of history, all of man’s achievements, all occurring in one frantic moment, one blaze of human life.

 

But to turn the other way would be to see something far greater still, for looking this way one would see that light projected forward into a time still yet to come – not one time, singular, but all of them. One time upon another, upon another, upon another.

 

All of time, all of space, all of… life… to observe as you will. From this place, one could know the face of God in pure extremis – for to stand there in possession of both past and future, all lives equal and laid plain in balance, whom else must you be but God himself?

 

(Lights come up in the warehouse. JESSICA has vanished during his speech. OTIS stands awkwardly at ease below, TIM slouched sullenly in the corner.)

 

Ha ha. Well. You’re in a fine mood today, Doctor Black. Waxing most… lyrical.

 

Preaching is the word you’re after…

 

(Descending, enthused) Just think of it, Mister Fairweather! The wonders one could see. What advancements of industry – what progressions of human endeavours one could witness in the yet-to-come? What follies of our past could be avoided with such knowledge?

 

It would certainly be handy for discerning sound investments and… suchlike.

 

I have a mind, Mister Fairweather, to build just such a device capable of perceiving this flow of time. The physics are uncertain but the mathematics is sound. Perhaps when you’ve satisfied my fiscal holdings we could discuss a further line of credit?

 

Perhaps, Doctor Black… although I’d prefer we focused on one thing at a time for the foreseeable moment in… time.

 

Of course. How may I be of assistance to you?

 

I am here, sir (as I have plainly stated numerous times already) to conduct my contractually entitled inspection of your worldly assets for my records as assurance against your outstanding loan.

 

So soon?

 

Doctor Black, there has been more than due course. As of today, you’re a month and almost one quarter in arrears.

 

(HENRY looks shocked. HENRY looks to TIM. TIM nods uncomfortably. HENRY composes himself.)

 

My apologies, sir, for the untimeliness of my repayment. Time, as it were, has got away from me of late. I am, of course, profoundly indebted to you and your associates in extending me courtesy I’m afraid I neglect to observe myself.

 

Indeed.

 

Please. Will you take a drink? My manservant /

 

Oi!

 

A sherry? Whiskey? Port?

 

Doctor Black… it’s not yet gone nine o’clock.

 

It hasn’t?

 

(HENRY looks to TIM. Again, TIM nods.)

 

Perhaps a cup of…?

 

Of…?

 

… of tea might be more appropriate?

 

Of course. Quite right. Tim. Tea.

 

Yes, yes, right away, m’lord…

 

(TIM exits. OTIS regards HENRY with some distain. HENRY appears flummoxed.)

 

Please, Mister Fairweather. Do make yourself comfortable. (There is nothing to sit on) I could fetch a chair from my rooms, if you’d like /

 

Doctor Black, need I remind you that this is not a social call. You may take my word for it, were it not for the matter of your outstanding debt, I shouldn’t think to elect to pass my morning in a quayside storehouse. I am partial to chills.

 

Of course. (Gesturing) Shall we begin?

 

(HENRY and OTIS begin to tour the warehouse.)

 

As you’ll recall, your loan was provisional on a satisfactory evaluation of your inventory in the event you are remiss – or, ahem, further remiss – in complying with your agreed rate of return. I will now take such inventory for my records. To ensure authenticity, I require a detailed description of applicable valuables, as well as an estimation of worth. Now. (Staring at an arcane object) What is this?

 

This is an astral heliotrope, based after the Copernican model.

 

I see. And how much is it worth?

 

This model has been modified to fit my own specifications. No other exists.

 

Its worth?

 

I should think it’s priceless.

 

I see. Let’s say… ten pounds even. (Another object) And this?

 

Apparatus for combining corrosive solvents.

 

Swarovski crystal?

 

Of course.

 

That’d make a smart brandy decanter, you know. Two pounds six. (Another object) Is this sterling silver?

 

I can assure you, sir, that every item in this laboratory is compliant with the highest medical and scientific standard.

 

(Greedily realising) You don’t say? Indeed. There is rather a lot of it, isn’t there?

 

Your investments have not gone to waste, sir.

 

(Terse again) Yes, well, quality collateral does not an investment make. I must say, given your pronouncements on the betterment of all mankind, I had expected to see something altogether more… remarkable.

 

(Annoyed) I’ve not satisfied the conditions of our agreement?

 

Oh, I should think the terms of the immediate clause are covered in this assorted bric-a-brac – or at least, in the worth of its component parts. Let us not forget, however, the extent and depths of your existing debts. (Moving to the stairs) What resides upstairs?

 

(Interceding) My private chambers. There’s nothing there of worth.

 

With respect, Doctor Black, I think I’m more than qualified to say if that’s so.

 

Personal affects, a bed, objects of sentimental value, little more. Would you intrude on a gentleman’s chambers with impunity? Think of the form, sir.

 

Yes, well… For the sake of due diligence, I do require a fiscal value, sentimental as it may be…?

 

Eight pounds… nine shillings and… sixpence?

 

(Nodding) Adequate.

 

(OTIS’ attention turns back to the laboratory, and is drawn to the covered shape of the Homunculus.)

 

What is that?

 

Nothing of interest.

 

There’s little here of interest, but that does not negate its value…

 

I assure you it’s nothing of value.

 

Come now, Doctor Black, I cannot possibly assess your potential for a future loan if I am unable to make a proper inventory…

 

You’d concede a further loan?

 

I am rather mollified by my inspection here today. I must say, our reluctance to extend your line of credit had been based on an antiquated assessment of your holdings. Now that I see those have been grossly underestimated, I’m sure we could see our way to a mutually beneficial extension. Now, if you don’t mind…?

 

(A beat. HENRY is deeply conflicted. At length, HENRY nods. OTIS approaches the Homunculus. TIM enters, carrying a tea tray. TIM takes in the scene, moves quickly to intervene.)

 

Your tea, m’lords! (He plies them with cups) Cor blimey, that sugar took some finding, and you’ll have no idea the toil it took to produce that milk. Sisyphean don’t half describe it, but it comes mighty close. Biscuit? They’ve still got crunch. That’s nuts.

 

Thank-you, Tim. You’re most thorough.

 

(Forcing jocularity) I am you know, and what do I have to show for it, ey? A twinge in me back and nary two kind words to rub together.

 

I was unaware you retained a staff, Doctor Black. Such expense should be disclaimed on all future documentation. I shall make a note now. What is the man’s annual salary?

 

Oh, he don’t pay me.

 

Your manservant works… pro bono?

 

I told you, I ain’t his servant.

 

Yet he performs that function?

 

Timothy is indeed a member of my household, and his service is rendered free of charge. His presence need not be part of your evaluation.

 

I see. A queer arrangement.

 

Well well, Doctor Black, if I’m correct in saying I have seen the extent of your current holdings, I need not intrude upon your briny domicile a moment longer.

 

Your assessment is concluded?

 

Such as it is.

 

And have I satisfied your conditions for a further loan?

 

I shall return to my associates and make a decision with all due considerations.

 

Meaning?

 

We shall see.

 

But you said my holdings were of ample value not ten minutes previous /

 

Rhetorically speaking, Doctor Black, rhetorically speaking! Such assets are indeed of worth, but only in their component parts, which speaks of labour to render them so and nothing of the market price for such raw mineral materials! No, we must investigate this option further and return to you with a more detailed prospectus.

 

How long will this process take? I must stress my work here is of the utmost importance, and time is a relative factor. If you could approve me for further funds, it could make a world of difference.

 

I can assure you, Doctor Black, an assessment will be made with all due haste. As things stand, however, I see no apparent necessity for immediate recourse. Your toils here appear… impenetrable… to the layman’s eye. I shall bid good day to you. (Goes to leave)

 

Wonderful, m’lord, and good riddance…

 

Mister Fairweather, wait!

 

(Stopping, coy) Yes? Is there something further?

 

(HENRY looks to TIM. TIM shakes his head in the profound negative. A desperate silence between them. HENRY, regardless, moves across the stage and reveals the Homunculus beneath its covering. OTIS returns, surprised and impressed.)

 

I implore you, sir, that under ordinary circumstances I would not permit such a candid viewing of my work. It is sensitive to environmental factors as much as scrutiny. Your word to speak nothing of this device to anyone would be a blessing.

 

Hmm? Yes yes, of course, a word to no one, as you wish. It’s enormous, isn’t it? Sterling silver and brass, I presume? To the same medical standard as the rest, yes?

 

Your generosity, sir, has been well spent.

 

My word, the size of it… It must be four hundred pounds at least! And the quality, as you say, being what it is… It’s worth a King’s ransom!

 

I can assure you, sir, its material value pales beside its incalculable worth to mankind.

 

I don’t follow. How so?

 

(TIM goes to protest further explanation; HENRY silences him with a look. HENRY gestures for OTIS to approach the Homunculus. OTIS does so, peering into the glass viewing window.)

 

(Recoiling) Good God, man! There’s a…  man in there!

 

I remind you, sir, you’ve sworn not to speak of word of this…

 

A vow made out of ignorance, I declare!

 

There’s a lot of those around here, Doctor Black…

 

Is this the true timbre of your experiments, Doctor Black? What your pronouncements and grand gestures amount to? Malpractice? Murder?

 

There is no malpractice here, I assure you, and no wrong doing of any lawful kind /

 

Nonsense! You’ve accosted some young waif and… and… embalmed him!

 

Master Henry, if I might make a suggestion /

 

Tim, you may not.

 

Mister Fairweather, please, if we might sit and discuss this like gentlemen /

 

Don’t you come near me, Doctor Black! I warn you, I am affronted, and I am armed, sir! One step further and I’ll have the constabulary on you, you mark my words!

 

Perhaps it’s best if I fetch some of the lads in the dockyard /

 

Tim, you will render yourself into silence, or you will go!

 

Mister Fairweather, I’m afraid you’re terribly mistaken /

 

Mistaken? Correct, sir, I am most mistaken about you. Never have I been so horribly deceived! To think, every appeal to my better nature in service of this… charade! A dark bloody business indeed! And what does that make me? An accomplice by proxy? A gilded accessory? I can assure you, sir, that should any disrepute come to Fairweather and Fairweather Associates, I shall see you hang for it!

 

Blue bloody Christmas…

 

Your funds, sir, are no blood money! On the contrary, they have ensured the boy’s survival.

 

Yes, the boy! He must be freed! Who is the miserable wretch anyway? Some naïf off the streets of dreary Blackfriars, anonymous and unremarked? No, more likely the child of some wealthy merchant banker, some insane assurance against further loans, held to ransom for a ghastly sum! Who is he? Who, man? Speak!

 

Mister Fairweather, the boy is my son.

 

(A beat.)

 

Preposterous! Your son is dead. The papers said so.

 

Much that’s been written about me bears the stamp of truth, I won’t deny it. But in this detail, they are incorrect.

 

You mean to say, the disaster of your wife and child… The fire of the Exposition… These facts have been misreported?

 

No, not all. Just one.

 

But your son was but a boy when he died his not-quite-death, and this man within is yet a man, or near enough. Are you to say they are one and the same?

 

They are.

 

Then your crimes are no less compounded! To have imprisoned a child thus for nigh on… ten years! My God!

 

He experiences no trauma, no sense of confinement. He sleeps, in a sense, unaware of his surroundings.

 

And to what end owes this unconscious cruelty?

 

The prevention of a greater crime, of course!

 

And what greater could there be?

 

Just as you claimed to condemn me for - without confinement, he would be dead!

 

(A beat.)

 

So he’s… alive, you say?

 

Yes. Or close enough. The chamber sustains him, keeps his broken body in a state of reparation, although it does so at the expense of his waking life.

 

He has grown from boy to man inside this… shell of steel?

 

His body continues its natural course in time, although his experience of it is unconscious. He is apart from the passage of time, but not immune.

 

Sustains him, you say? How so?

 

The camber provides a hermetic seal, a shield from the elements that would destroy a wounded man without. The fluid within provides nutrients, sustenance, time with which his body may heal through a pure organic process. What you see here is nothing so extraordinary as a replication of nature’s grand design – not the same as the motion of his true biology, perhaps… but a viable substitution.

 

Substitution for… (Realisation) Then this device, it must be…?

 

The Homunculus of Substitutiary Locomotion.

 

No!

 

It is.

 

You lie!

 

Why should he?

 

After all these years, it works?

 

After a fashion.

 

No!

 

Yes.

 

I say… Well this rather changes things, doesn’t it?

 

What d’you mean? You were screamin’ blue murder not one minute ago.

 

Gentlemen, my pronouncements of criminality may have been… in haste. I apologise. Of course, we suspected you had --- Well, it only stood to reason --- But to find the infamous machine itself! Why… the world believed it dead as… well. Ahem. Clearly not.

 

How much longer must he remain inside? Until his body is restored, I mean?

 

He need not linger. Between the work of the machine and my own administrations, his body was healed many years ago.

 

Then why does he remain?

 

My machine is designed to sustain, and in this it succeeds – better than I had hoped… and much better than I designed. There exists a process of reactivation, I am sure. The materials are expensive. Your loans have helped. But the flaw is not chemical – it is mechanical, and therefore… mine.

 

And to what does this amount? To the layman, I mean?

 

We can’t wake him up, you bloody twerp.

 

(A beat.)

 

Still… this is a small matter, surely? A minor quirk, surmountable as Notting Hill, if only for the simple fact remains… the machine it works! The Homunculus works! “The device to put an end to all known science – to extend man’s existence beyond the mortal span – to cure all, heal all, shrug off the very hand of death” – it works!

 

Doctor Black… you’re a genius!

 

I must tell my associates at once.

 

You swore an oath of secrecy, sir. You must keep it, I beg you.

 

But this changes everything, my good man! This discovery will reshape the world! Not to mention your own fortunes…

 

Then you’ll approve me additional funds?

 

With capital such as this in hand, Doctor Black, I’d have no earthly cause to reject you! Here. How much more do you require? To get things back on track, as it were. Three hundred? Six? Here, let me write a cheque…

 

(OTIS scribbles a hasty cheque, hands it to the incredulous HENRY.)

 

Mister Fairweather… this is most unexpected…

 

Think nothing of it, Doctor Black. But make it out as cash, if you please – a little coin is always helpful in greasing the rusty wheels, eh wot? And better for our books if it’s taken all at once, since I’m issuing you a personal forward loan…

 

Mister Fairweather… I don’t know what to say.

 

I have a few ideas.

 

I shall return within the week with a formal offer of extension from my office. In the meantime, I expect to be kept informed of developments as they occur. You may send a message by telegraph to this address.

 

Thank-you, sir.

 

Thank you, Doctor Black! Well well… I must admit, sir, this has been a most gratifying morning. Good day.

 

(OTIS exits.)

 

(A long beat. HENRY looks at the cheque in his hand. TIM stares at him. HENRY meets his eye.)

 

 … I had no choice, you know.

 

(A silence. TIM fetches his coat, preparing a pencil and pad, waiting expectantly.)

 

Business as usual then, I guess?

 

Yes. But this time, Tim… This time…

(HENRY and TIM look to the Homunculus. The lights drop.)
 

 


(END OF ACT ONE.)

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