Stories

Label

frankenstein - lily and the creature look at labels with texture

The first installment, more a note and background development exercise than anything, for my Frankenstein rewrite.


People had all sorts of ideas about the future, way back when. Entirely different worlds, landscapes of dizzying strangeness. Something entirely alien, because then the problems of the past must be entirely alien as well. That’s Lily’s theory on that particular cultural trope, at least.

People were almost invariably wrong, anyway. The future is no brave new world. The future is the past, mashed together, different periods sliced whole cloth from their origin and stitched together in whatever patterns the modern man fancied, no matter how garish. A patchwork quilt of convenience and aesthetic fancy, the only context that which the people of the future felt best complimented them.

Nothing was ever really gotten rid of. Sometimes it just had to wait for people to find it useful.

“I produced these during alpha for the Complex Tissue Generation Network,” she explains to Victor’s creature.

Behind the slightly clouded glass of the display cabinet’s window, a row of polymer jars stands neatly arranged. Each has a different organ or system suspended in preservative gel, the labels impeccable and new. White paper, serif type, each with the serial number and date of the specimen within. They seem out of place in the fancy cabinet, made as it is to resemble a vintage piece. Art deco and art nouveau and stately Victorian, all swirled together into something that looks like it could be from any time period long gone, but belongs only to the present.

Papa adores this sort of thing, and Lily supposes she doesn’t dislike it. It’s just in her nature to dissect ideas that way. She can see where someone might confuse this for distaste. But you may as well ask the rain not to fall, or grass not to photosynthesize.

Victor’s creature blinks slowly down at her, then turns its attention to the specimens. It brings one massive hand, more a paw than the gracile digits of a baseline human, to the glass, presses its palm to the surface. Not hard, for the creature has great control of its incredible strength, but shyly. Tentatively.

Is it afraid?

“Me,” it says. Its vocabulary and grammar are a bit lacking, but what could someone expect for something barely a week old?

Lily puzzles out what it could mean, and it continues to stare at the specimens.

“Sort of. Your body was made using the same system,” she finally starts. “But all the pieces that were you… they’re, well, they’re you right now. I worked out all the bugs before I started on your body.”

She glances at the livid scar down the center of its chest, that y-shaped wound that makes the creature seem a risen corpse. Like the crooked skull of a baby and the severed umbilical cord, that terrible fissure is the mark of a violent birth. Victor and Lily are lucky it didn’t die only moments after drawing breath. The only mistake in the entire process, and it was on her shoulders. Naturally.

“Or, uh, I thought I did, at least.”

“Me,” the creature says again. This time, it points with its other hand. “Me?”

“I… I don’t know what you’re asking.”

It points, more insistently than before, then slaps its chest. The plaintive look in its eye is really starting to bother Lily, but she doesn’t know what to do.

“In… there… me? Me?” it begs.

It dawns on Lily as she watches its gaze return to the specimen jars, both hands on the glass now.

“No. No, no, those aren’t… we didn’t use your genome for these. Victor hadn’t finished writing it when I was producing these. Biologically speaking.”

The creature doesn’t look away.

“Speaking on a whole, even if I did use your genome, those wouldn’t be you,” she continues. She reaches out, cautiously, and puts an awkward hand on its elbow. To leave it just standing there and stewing seems… cruel. “You’re you.”

The creature stays staring, so Lily moves onto the next section. These are much older specimens, collected by the Frankenstein family for years and years. Many of the specimens have gone all stringy, partially dissolved by the very formaldehyde that keeps them from rotting, and all of them are bleached ghostly pale. The labels here are peeling and yellow, the paper cracked, the adhesive decayed to nothing.

The spidery handwriting of generations of Frankensteins tells Lily what’s what, though she’s long since memorized every single one. Victor’s grandfather, Henry, he was an avid collector of these things, and of obsolete, antique books of knowledge proved false. It’s his handwriting, his flourished signature, that marks many of the strangest specimens.

In particular, Lily dislikes the series of jars containing human embryos in various stages of development. She wants to believe that they were sourced… well, as ethically as fetuses can be sourced. From Victor’s stories of his grandfather, it’s just as likely they weren’t.

“Who?”

She looks up from the macabre fetus parade. The creature hasn’t looked away from the specimens. What is so enrapturing about them? Or is it just that Lily has spent so long up to her elbows in the inner workings of the body that the sight of organs and tissues are no longer meaningful to her?

“What, who are those tissues cloned from?”

It looks down at her, and she has to wonder how much of her explanation it’s actually been able to grasp. She doesn’t usually have anyone to talk to besides Victor. She’s not used to having to dumb it down. Victor’s the one who has to deal with that.

“Who?”

“Me.”

The creature starts, mis-matched eyes wide, shoulders raised. Why does it always react like someone’s trying to hit it? If Lily was an eight foot tall, musclebound superhuman, she’d never be afraid again. The creature could snap her in half without even meaning to.

Does it even know that, though? Does it not realize how dangerous it is?

She comes back up to the creature, and it doesn’t flinch away, just stands there and lets her enter its space. Presses its hands back up to the glass. Lily does the same, and studies the labels and specimens behind the glass.

Giusto. I used me. I mean, I was right at hand.” She snickers, and the creature goes on staring. It has such a piercing stare, and it’s always doing it. “See? It’s a joke. Wordplay. Because of my hand.”

She points to the seemingly severed limb within the cabinet. It has the same olive skin as her, but no fingerprints, none of the scars or freckles or lines that identify her. It was printed by machines, not grown in her mother or any other sort of tank.

“I suppose you wouldn’t get it. Not yet, anyway,” she concedes.

The creature looks at its palms. Like the hand in the jar, it has no fingerprints. But Lily curled its hands and fingers while it was in its nutritive vat, just like a normal baby’s hands would be. So it does have some lines, at least. It looks more human than the thing in the jar, even with its heavily modified DNA.

Lily licks her lips, bounces from foot to foot as she prepares herself. Then, she reaches forward and puts her hand in the creature’s, grips it tight. The creature doesn’t look away from the specimens.

“Come along, now. This is obviously making you unhappy,” she urges. “Let’s go to the library. I’ll read to you. You’d like that much more, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes…” It nods, a mimicry of what it’s seen her do. But that’s all language. “Let’s… go…”

She clicks out the lights behind them. The library is empty, as usual, Victor still too busy having an extended panic attack in his rooms to visit. The creature sits at Lily’s feet as she finds something she thinks will be less distressing than whatever apparent existential dread it has going on. Something light, something easy. Poetry.

She reads until her voice is getting hoarse, and the hour is late, and the creature doesn’t move. Only sits and listens intently.

“Do you like Keats, creature?”

It nods again, and tries for a smile, though its mouth seems unsure of how to make it work, or if it even should.

“You know, I can’t keep calling you creature,” she confesses. “It feels like I’m insulting you. We’ve got to pick a name for you.”

She looks out the window at the dreary evening, the sunset not even visible behind the cloak of slate-gray clouds rolling in off Lake Geneva.

“Something good,” she murmurs, more for herself than it. “Something nice. A nice name. With a good meaning. Not something like ‘creature.'”

For the first time, the creature initiates contact. It puts its hand on her knee, pulls her book down with the other.

“Adam,” it says. “Adam–is–nice. Adam is nice.”

Lily blinks the shock from her eyes a few times, tries and fails to close her mouth. Sentences. Sentences that read like a real unit. And opinions! Voiced opinions and preferences! And–and naming itself–this is excellent. Victor will love to hear this! This might even drag him out of his fugue!

“You like Adam?”

“Like… like in the books.”

She knew all this reading would be a good thing.

There’s no way the creature–Adam–no way Adam could possibly understand the full connotations of the name it’s chosen. Only that Lily has used it to describe it, only that the name recurs in the near-ancient literature she reads to it. Only that it’s a name that belongs to someone important. But it’s a good, appropriate name after all.

“Alright, Adam. You want me to finish this book?”

It’s a good name. She feels it suits the creature well. She’s not certain she’d have picked a better name herself.


Names are a sort of label, aren’t they? They’re one of the ways we define ourselves. Maybe Lily and Victor should be more concerned about the name ‘Adam,’ though. Adam was the first man… and also the second sinner.

Done for Daily Prompts.

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