Elanor was dead. Dead as a doornail. Dead as the Dodo. Dead as a Norwegian Blue Parrot. That should have been it, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars, go directly to the grave, and that’s mostly what happened when Knox stabbed her with his tricked knife, but only mostly. It was that “mostly” that was really getting up Katherine’s nose.
Up until about five hours ago, she hadn’t existed, now that she did, she was having serious doubts that the new gig was all that it was cracked up to be. So far, her first taste of life was undercooked, squishy, and smelled like old fish. If life had been a restaurant she’d already have walked out without paying the bill.
Her brief existence had been filled with things that ranged from mildly irritating, to soul-wrenchingly painful. Sure, there might be joys and triumphs, but from where she stood, they were the decorative rainbow sprinkles on top a giant turd cake.
Katherine placed the blame for her rough start squarely in Elanor’s lap. When shuffling off their mortal coil most people were content to let out a terminal sigh and slump to the ground. Not Elanor. No, she had to go and complicate things. Using the skills she’d collected over four centuries of study, her last act was to create a construct using her own flesh as a sort of macabre modelling clay. Katherine was the well and truly freaked out result.
That by itself might not have been so bad, she could have come to terms with how she was made given some quiet time alone, and maybe some self-help books; Chicken Soup for the Golem’s Soul, or, I’m a Magical Construct, and that’s Alright.
When you got right down to it, people were made of the same old stuff that had been eaten and recycled by plants, animals, and fungi for millions of years. Everyone had protein in them that had once belonged to other animals, protein that at some point had to have once belonged to other humans. It was all part of the well-mixed biological stew every living thing was made from. It was nasty to think about, and it would have taken some time, but Katherine would have eventually come to terms with the unusual method of her creation, except for one thing.
Elanor had downloaded all of her four hundred plus years of memory and experience into Katherine’s skull with one massive, brain-pulping shove. The process was like being force-fed every single episode of a four hundred season reality television show, except you could never look away, never pause, and there were no bathroom breaks. From where Katherine stood, Malcolm Mc Dowell in A Clockwork Orange was a howling pansy who had absolutely nothing whatsoever to be upset about.
The process had been so traumatic that there were large chunks of her borrowed memory that were simply absent. Whether she’d ever get them back, Katherine didn’t know. The memory that was absolutely crystal clear in her mind though, was Elanor’s final transformation. There was no getting around it, no possible doubt. She was made from one hundred percent, post-consumer recycled Elanor.
Her brain shied away from the thought and she focused on her senses and what they told her. Compared to the second-hand memories, her current state didn’t seem much different. Cold was still cold, though maybe it lacked the bite it had in Elanor’s memories. Her senses were sharper, colours were deeper, but that was to be expected. As a rule, Golems were more durable and came with better senses than your standard version 1.0 human. It was helpful to have durable subordinates who could aid in dangerous experiments.
She couldn’t help but listen to the voice in her head that told her that all she was, was a magic doll with someone else’s memories stuck in her head. Where did she begin, and her maker end? Was she a person, or did it just feel that way? It was with these thoughts in her head that she sat, cold and naked looking over the destroyed laboratory.
Neat and orderly rows of familiar glass tubes, retorts, and pressure vessels were overturned and shattered. The mass spectrometer that was only three months old, the centrifuge, microscopes and stills, all smashed and scattered across the room. She reminded herself that they were Elanor’s things, and that made it slightly more bearable.
Elanor had been absolutely right there at the end when she discovered that, yes, as a matter of fact, dying really did suck. The only thing that could possibly suck more at this point would be to experience it twice in the same night. Knox was out there, and worse, he had Madame Rag and Mister Bone with him. If they came back for whatever reason, Katherine would be in a very bad situation.
She rose to her shaking legs, took a hesitant step on unfamiliar feet, wobbled, and fell on her face. She should have known better. Coordination was one of those things that needed to be earned.
Infants took months and years to burn in the neural pathways that made moving second nature. Most of that time was spent thrashing around in bouncy seats and pooping indiscriminately, which was exactly the point. It took the brain time to figure out how to pilot a new body. It was the same with alchemical constructs, if a much faster process. It would likely only take hours to really get the hang of things rather than months. In the meanwhile, she wouldn’t be winning any gymnastics competitions—not unless they needed a pommel horse.
She used the edge of Elanor’s desk and shuffled around to sit on the office chair that was still placed neatly behind. It didn’t take much coordination to push off with her legs, and soon she was rolling on the chair through the vandalized workshop. Glass and ceramic shards jabbed into her feet unnoticed as she rolled her way through the room. They were pushed out of her flesh just as quickly.
The laboratory was a large space with high ceilings, a curious mixture of high tech medical-grade equipment housed in a medieval-style workshop. Bright lights made glowing islands over individual workstations spaced along chemical-stained wooden trestle tables.
The workstations were just as likely to have a smashed Confocal Microscope as they were to have a dusty copy of The Six Keys of Exodus laying next to a mortar and pestle.
Explosions of yellow sulphur, white alum, red iron oxide, and blue copper sulphate lay over the mess and gave the destruction an incongruously festive feel. At least Knox and his crew had been thorough. She’d hate to think that they hadn’t put a full effort in.
She expected nothing less but was still dismayed when she came to the steel door that was the entrance to the vault. The door itself was largely undamaged, but the hinges were a melted ruin. The door was propped crookedly against the wall, and steel ran like wax down the wall to puddle on the stone floor. There was faint heat radiating from the solid puddle even now.
The steel that made the vault door was Elanor’s own creation and was far stronger and purer than any steel modern science had yet come up with. Just the tempering process for a piece this size was a feat only a hair on this side of impossible. She knew metallurgists who would gladly trade their mother for the chance to examine this door—then begin casually looking around for other people’s mothers who might be laying around unattended.
As durable as the door was, it melted at the exact same temperature as regular steel, and any alchemist of any colour knew how to run a heat still.
She paused outside of the vault, knowing what she would see, but still not wanting to confront it. Gritting her teeth, she pushed her chair with its juddering wheels past the ruined door and into the vault.
The interior was a shambles, bright lights glared down on ransacked chests and lockboxes that had been torn open and dropped to the floor like discarded candy wrappers. All of Elanor’s most important successes, every alchemical marvel she’d ever created had been stored here. Some of it was still present, inscribed cogs and broken lenses peeking out from under the ruin. Empty spaces on the shelves showed where Knox had carried off something he liked. None of the objects had been any less than years in the making.
Most worrying of all were the now-empty shelves where Elanor had kept her notebooks. Nearly five centuries worth of hard-fought knowledge were in those books. That thought galvanized her like nothing else had. Knox could not be allowed to gain that kind of knowledge.
At his current advancement in the Guild Knox was like a poorly behaved house cat. He could act all pissy, scratch your furniture, and throw up the occasional hairball to show his displeasure. Deadly to the mice, but if he got too out of hand the Guild would be there with a spray bottle and rolled up newspaper to take him down a peg. With the knowledge contained in those books though, Knox would become a cat the size of a pickup truck. It would be a PR disaster for the Guild and a catastrophe for the arcane community.
Elanor had taken her notes in code, but no code was unbreakable. To make matters worse, Elanor hadn’t been nearly paranoid enough. With the use of a gifted technomancer she could have made her code near-unbreakable, instead, her code was merely difficult. Knox needed to join the ranks of those who no longer paid taxes before he broke those codes.
The idea of killing the alchemist surprised her as she thought it, not because it was coldblooded or dangerous, but because Elanor would never even have considered it. Elanor had lived with the bone-deep belief that you simply didn’t kill other alchemists. Katherine felt no such constraint. In her opinion, any world where Knox no longer drew breath would be an inherently better one.
Thankfully she wasn’t starting from the ground up. Elanor had not survived as long as she had, navigating the murky politics of the Alchemist’s Guild for all those centuries, without a healthy dose of paranoia. The first rule of surviving a long and healthy life was to never, ever put all your eggs in one basket. Elanor had many different baskets, and Katherine knew exactly where all the eggs were hidden.
First things first though, she couldn’t do much without clothes, and here again, Elanor would provide. In the lab there were a hundred ways for a shirt or pair of pants to meet an untimely end. Flame, corrosive vapours, acids, reagents, and even a good old-fashioned explosion could take their toll. These types of occurrences, while extremely rare, weren’t as much a concern as they might be in a conventional lab. With Panacea, it was easy to become complacent when it came to workplace safety. Safety glasses were created for people who couldn’t quickly grow a new set of eyes.
Getting dressed, Katherine wasn’t surprised to find that she was the same size as her creator. Unfortunately, Elanor hadn’t considered socks, bra, or panties to be emergency wardrobe necessities and Katherine was forced to go commando. That was just as well, she wasn’t at all sure about wearing another woman’s panties. Once finished, she was dressed in a pair of comfortable jeans, t-shirt and zip-up hoodie.
With the help of her chair, she carefully stood upright and shuffled toward the exit of the workshop. Already, her body was becoming more coordinated.
She passed by the blackened portion of stone floor and Katherine felt her eyes beginning to swim. Elanor had been a decent person, she hadn’t deserved this. Nearby lay the knife Knox had been too squeamish to recover. Its tip was still stained with Elanor’s blood.
Katherine stooped carefully to pick it up. It was a single-edged affair made of acid-darkened Damascus steel. Its blade was four inches long, curved and tapered from a long drop point. The handle was a dark grained brown wood and the finish made her think it was a high-end piece of equipment. Regardless of its quality though, it was a knife meant for slicing, an all-purpose knife, not a stabbing weapon, not a weapon for fighting. No assassin would choose a knife like this one—no competent one at least.
She held it in her hand and closed her eyes. For a moment she was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to feel anything, but faintly, ever so faintly she could make out a faint pulse of a magical resonance over the white noise of her own consciousness. If she hadn’t had Elanor’s memories twisting through her brain she would have doubted she felt anything at all, but it was there, and maybe she could use it. She wrapped the blade in a piece of printer paper and pocketed it.
At the door, she slipped on a pair of running shoes, chose a good rain jacket, and picked up a sturdy wooden umbrella. Straightening slowly, she carefully let go of her rolling chair to stand on her own for the first time. She was gratified to find that she wavered only a little bit.
When she opened the lab door, a gust of cold wind blew inside and swirled around her hood. She could smell the faint scent of Elanor’s hair in the cotton, and couldn’t help but think that from now on the smell, and everything that had once made Elanor a person would fade out of the world. All except her. Using the umbrella as a cane, she walked slowly and carefully out into the cold night.