“Ladies and gentleman, members of the Board, I have two wonders to share with you tonight. First, allow me to present the next evolutionary milestone of our species – immortality.” Ever for theatrics, Dr. Monroe says this with arms outstretched, his burgundy dress coat flowing with every gesture.
There’s a collective gasp from the audience when the curtain drops and the pale, topless form of a seated man makes his appearance. Shackles pin his wrists to the arms of the chair; his face eerily mirrors the confusion of the onlookers.
“This man – a thief, a murderer and admitted pox to our society has generously offered to help demonstrate the latest breakthrough in medicine.” He pauses for effect, before removing a small, decorative vial from his belt. “This! This was born of my research into Xenotransplantation. I’m sure you must remember Sir Winston?”
They did. They would never forget last year’s unveiling of a genderless human body; naked and draped callously on the floor. Nor the drooping eyes of the basset hound’s head that had surgically replaced the original. For hours they’d watched with abated breath while the monstrosity lapped up water from a dish, only for it to seep freely through stitches at its throat; the fingers and toes twitching as if deciding whether to obey their new master.
Dr. Monroe smiles at the recognition sweeping the room, “Yes. Beyond cellular rejection, it all came down to one thing: the secret was in the temperature.”
“But I digress. It was through this previous research that I observed the secret electrical blueprints all living organisms use to repair themselves and thus developed the Invictus Toxin you see here. When ingested, and given ample time to spread through the vascular system, it will open the sodium ion channels of the body and react to an electrical field.” Grinning, he flips an enormous switch and the unnerving sense of buzzing fills the air. Brilliant blue sparks appear to flit along every surface and John Hanes of Phillips and Sons becomes sure that the entire room will burst into flames.
“There is also the bizarre side-effect of rendering the drinker impervious to pain. I imagined the limitless benefits this would have as an anesthesia, but then of course, the rueful surgeons could never perform surgery – the patient would simply keep healing before even a minor incision could be completed.” He produces a long shaving razor and waves it for all to see.
“This is it! Exitus acta probat!” Slowly, suspenseful, he brings the razor to rest below his captive’s ribcage. Sensing what’s to come, the man cries out, whipping his head frantically while struggling against the restraints.
Ignoring him, the doctor slices inward and down the specimen’s skin which separates like softened wax – but no blood pours out. He doesn’t cry out in pain, nor does he seem to have noticed the damage done. And then, miraculously, the wound begins to close, starting from the top of the gash heading down until the skin appears as unblemished as before.
The crowd is dumbfounded. Some doubt their eyes – even their own minds. But it had happened there, before them.
A voice cracks from the back of the room, “Dr. –”
With purposeful speed, Monroe reveals a pistol from beneath his coat, presses the barrel against the forehead of the nearest audience member and fires. The target, Rosa Smith of the Saint Mercy’s Herald slides to the floor screaming. Though it’s clear from the damage to the wall behind her that the bullet had passed completely through her skull, she continues screaming, as lively as before.
“It is fortunate that Miss Smith had the forethought to drink Invictus. Indeed, you have all been preparing yourselves this evening.” He points at the empty champagne flutes that stand at every table.
The silence that follows is malleable like taffy, locking shut the mouth of every guest. And then, curiosity wins out and a diminutive man nearest the stage gently nibbles on the back of his own hand. His eyes grow wide when he senses not even the faintest of pain and then he clamps down, peeling the flesh from his the back of his thumb to the wrist. Again, as before, there is no blood. Only a small shimmer of blue light as the skin curls back into place.
The violence begins subdued as the guests test the waters of the vast ocean before them. And then it erupts. A large man from two states north asks – practically begs for the pistol from Monroe. When he receives it, he dares the others to fire at him, vividly living out his fantasies as an indestructible hero.
A woman who couldn’t stop reminding everyone how she’d traveled ‘For three nights by train!’ is absorbed in twisting the long nails off her right hand and then watching as they clitter across the table and back onto their roosts. “This is going to be marvelous,” she says. “Think of all the women who would die to never have another broken nail!”
Amidst the chaos of snapping limbs and frantic stabbing, Dr. Hearz stops, panting for breath. “You’ve really done it, Dr. Monroe! A world without pain, suffering, injury; though I fear you may put me out of work,” he laughs, stroking his white goatee. “But you said there would be two items to present tonight. With your first as Earth shattering as this, I can’t imagine how you could top it!”
That’s when he catches sight of it – the first drop of scarlet they’d seen all night. The prisoner’s thumb is bleeding. Horrified, Dr. Hearz turns to Monroe, “Dr., what do you make of this? Why hasn’t he healed?”
Monroe doesn’t answer at first but instead appears absorbed in the pocket watch he’s holding, “Don’t worry, good doctor, he clearly must was injured and subsequently healed while we restrained him. It’s simply opened up again, roughly eight minutes after the toxin had been metabolized.”
Everyone stands silent, hanging on his every word. “Despite my greatest efforts, the Invictus Toxin passes through the human body in eighteen-hundred seconds. That is to say – half an hour. Thus, we move on to the final experiment of tonight: an exercise in inevitability.”
He glances at his watch again before bowing and pointing towards the test subject. As they follow his gesture, the pale man begins screaming and convulsing in a fit. The wound along his stomach opens as if cut by some phantom blade. A glaring red crescent – much like the grin of the illusive Dr. Monroe.