The people at G. Limited worked strange hours.
The technicians broke the seal and carefully opened up the large glass capsule on the platform in front of them. Wearing protective gear, two of them reached in as the last of the amber-colored liquid vapored off and began removing the figure still held inside. She had been completely depilated, more hairless now than she had been at birth, and her skin gleamed like plastic under the hot lights glaring above. They arranged her feet, and with the help of a support mechanism they stood her upright to dry.
A tall, thin man in a dark suit watched from the background. The chief technician, after checking the figures on his clipboard one last time, slowly walked up to the man and cleared his throat. "Sir, S-21 should be ready within the next few hours. This latest acquisition brings our numbers up to twenty-five this fiscal year. If you would care to see . . . ." He offered the clipboard.
His employer didn't deign to notice him. Instead, Oberon Fip strolled forward and examined his new mannequin. After a moment the technician nervously followed. He didn't like being this close to the head man; like almost everyone else at the company, he took pains to avoid his glance. Considering the nature of their business, they were all intimately familiar with the story of Medusa and the gorgons, and though Fip's gaze was not necessarily in that sort of league, still not one of his employees liked looking him in the face. The eyes were bad enough, but that grin . . . that constant, evil grin.
S-21 had been a lithe girl, probably around twenty or so at her capture. She had a handsome figure, and Fip especially admired the cheekbones in her face. They had an aristocratic quality about them. They reminded him of a duchess he had known many years before, a lovely woman in the court of George III. She had had the most delicate of features, and her hair had been the color of a summer's sunset. It was a pity he had never acquired her. He had still been new to the Cirque then.
In any case, S-21 would make an excellent mannequin.
Once she was trained, that was.
Fip turned abruptly and walked out of the preparation room. He pretended not to notice the technicians breathing a sigh of relief at his departure. He checked his pocket watch and noted the time. It was one a.m. He had a meeting with Albert at six, and he had very little to do until then. His long legs carried him swiftly to the front office, and his thoughts had to hurry to keep up with him. He could have spent more time with the new mannequin, perhaps even saw to her indoctrination himself. Or he could have toured his stock room and supervised the loading and unloading of merchandise. There was an auction coming up, with established members of the Club looking for more collectibles in stone and metal, and he could have practiced his sales talk, but he didn't.
The truth was, he was angry.
He entered his office and without turning on the lights strode rapidly to his desk and sat down behind it. His manner was that of a petulant child who had just been scolded and banished to his bedroom. He turned around and looked out the window to the seascape beyond. Fip had always liked the sea, and he had set up his company headquarters as near to it as possible. The moonlight glimmered over the thrashing waves.
He had come a long way since his acting days in Ireland. A long ways. But what did he have to show for it?
Sure, he owned a large and profitable company he had himself founded. Sure, he was still young while all those he had grown up with were now dust. Sure, he was rich and powerful, and he knew the many ways in which the spirit and the flesh could be altered and transformed. He could have anything he wanted . . . but it wasn't enough, not nearly enough.
Fip's fingers clenched around the walking stick he habitually carried, and his teeth ground together audibly as his smile grew wider and more bitter. Had any of his employees seen his face at this moment, they may very well have been turned to stone, or at least to some other form of inanimate substance.
The others had warned him. They had told him not to become so obsessed with production, with business. They were artistes, they said, performers and not wholesalers. Business was mundane, practical, and not at all magical. Or artistic. But he ignored them, and while he had lived to see many of his fellow Dancers fall by the wayside, lose their favor or popularity with the Spokesman, Fip still felt he was looked down upon.
He knew what they called him behind his back. The Salesman, they said, as if it were an insult.
He sold to the rich, and he had become rich himself, and it was his money that ultimately funded so many of the Cirque's projects nowadays, like the new casino being built in Las Vegas. He had proven his point time and time again. This is the modern age, dammit, he thought, so why don't the others act like it? We have the power; why don't we use it?
The ebony walking stick began to crack under the pressure he was putting on it.
It was the Spokesman's fault, Fip knew. The others, Paddock, the Prodigal, Her Radiance . . . they all drifted in and out of the good doctor's presence like planets orbiting the sun. The Spokesman preferred the ways of the past, and so the others followed his example. And that was the reason, Fip acknowledged, for why the Cirque's leader had to go.
He had to be embarrassed, and when the Spokesman had abandoned poor young Anthony Huer a few years ago, Fip knew then it was his opportunity. He set Huer up, put him in business, encouraged subtly his dream of the Nine Muses incarnate, and then let him go. He even let the Prodigal's clockwork detective investigate the case, knowing that when Cross found Huer, the trail would eventually lead back to the Cirque and thence to his superior, who would naturally be blamed for any possible exposure.
The Spokesman would lose credit, and Fip would take over.
A brilliant plan. Simple, yet effective.
His walking stick snapped in two.
If only Cross were a little less efficient, the president of G. Limited viciously thought, or Huer so incompetent. The detective wasn't supposed to have found out Huer's name until it was too late to do anything about it. Fip had done his best to forestall Cross's investigation, but Cross simply wasn't his toy. He was the Prodigal's, and that meant he couldn't just remove him now from the picture.
Cross had disappeared. Fip had no idea where he was.
Fip closed his eyes suddenly and leaned back in the velvet chair. He tossed the remains of his stick over his shoulders.
It doesn't matter, he thought. There was nothing Cross could do now anyway. I might not know where he is, the salesman went on, but I'm sure he doesn't know where Huer is either. The plan is still secure.
Fip let himself dream. He didn't sleep much anymore, not for a long time, but he still dreamed on occasion, and he smiled wickedly at thoughts of what the world would look like when he was the new Spokesman for the Cirque de Artificiel.
They would no longer need to hide.
It would be a thoroughly artificial world.
* * * *
Tony took his time about getting up. For over an hour he just lay curled up in one of the motorhome's bunks, lightly dozing, musing about the special day ahead. Today was the today, he thought. The project would be finished.
He just had two more Muses left, Euterpe and Urania, and then he would be finished.
Tony could barely contain himself. He giggled like a schoolgirl.
Finally, he looked over at the alarm clock on the mantel. It was almost time to get started. Moving slowly and deliberately, his cracked ribs still paining him, Tony peeled the bedsheets back and sat up in the bunk, swaying back and forth slightly. The place where Sarah Norton (No, he thought, Polyhymnia) had kicked him remained swollen too, and his stomach hurt as well. His body had become a textbook of aches, and as much as he enjoyed the holy work he was doing, he would be glad when it was over.
A sudden stomach cramp paralyzed him for a second as he tried to stand up, and Tony fell to the floor gasping and lurching, for once all thoughts of Muses, patrons, and petrification wiped from his mind. He felt like he was dying.
The cramp passed away eventually. Tony got up - slowly, slowly - and limped out the door into the barn. The first thing he saw was the three goddesses he had already manifested, standing like the paragons of frozen beauty they had become. Polyhymnia, Terpischore, and Melopomene - immortal statues of porcelain, silver, and crystal. However much pain he was in, Tony realized, it was more than worth it for the opportunity to bring such beauty to fruition. He felt sure that Sarah, Lily, and Megan felt the same way, though of course now they would never answer. They had reached a more elevated plateau of existence. Tony turned his head to the right slightly and examined his two remaining subjects, Ruth and Louise. Maybe he could ask them?
A casual observer might have thought them a display from a men's magazine - two nude girls leaning against the side of a motorhome, posing seductively for an invisible camera. Tony had reinforced the effects of the Freezer last night; the two girls remained this morning as still as the statuary they would soon become.
And then there would be Nine.
God, he wished he could see them all posed together .. . . but such was not to be.
Tony went over to the table and examined his materials. The fight with that . . that thing . . had almost ruined everything. He had wasted his freezing solutions in trying to get the false Melopomene, and for a while he had thought that he wouldn't have enough stuff left to finish his quest, that he would have only eight statues and not the perfect Nine perfection demanded. But he had lucked out. Tony picked up the tightly sealed jar in front of him. He estimated there were just enough flakes inside that, with some careful division, he would have just enough for two more transformations. The symmetry of his project was ruined - he would just have to accept that his two remaining Muses would look almost exactly the same - but there was nothing he could do about that. And, after all, Tony commiserated, Persian rug makers always included at least one tiny flaw in all of their breathtaking creations, to remind themselves and others that perfection was reserved only for God, or the gods, as in this case.
Tony was mortal.
He would leave perfection to those beloved peers whom he had worked so hard to please.
Tony put the jar down and went back into the motorhome to dress.
He had a busy day ahead.
* * * *
It was just past three a.m. when Fip heard the door to his outer office softly open. He opened his eyes, broken from his reverie of a world of mannequins and playthings, and held his breath listening.
No one, absolutely "no one," in G. Limited would have dared to enter Fip's office at night. Most would have gladly slit their wrists before trying. That at least would have been a cleaner form of suicide. So, to say that he was mildly curious was a bit of an understatement. Fip got up quickly and silently from his chair, his movements as smooth and effortless as a cat's, and slipped behind the drawn curtains of the window. He waited, his eyes probing the darkness with absolutely no difficulty at all.
There was a click, and then the inner door gradually opened. Hiram Cross crossed into the nearly pitch-black room, a small penlight in his hand too being the only illumination he needed to see around with. Behind the curtain, Fip began to smile again. He watched the detective approach his desk. Looking for clues, my mechanical friend? he thought. How delightfully ambitious you are sneaking into the lion's den. How very brave . . . and how incredibly ignorant.
Fip's eyes gleamed with an evil light.
Cross must have seen it or heard the owner of G. Limited moving. "Crap," Fip heard him say softly, and then the detective suddenly dived forward, not back to the door he had just come in through but towards the desk and beyond it to the window... where Fip himself was standing. Fip ducked with inhuman speed, and Cross's fist smashed through the plate glass window instead of connecting with his now laughing face. He dived to his left and rolled out into the center of the room, his every movement as graceful as a professional dancer's might be. It's the thespian in me, Fip thought amusedly as he bounced again to his feet.
The window completely shattered, the pieces falling in jagged chunks around Cross, some as large as his head, and all as sharp as razors. The detective paid them no mind. He spun around, changing his momentum just enough to avoid falling through and into the sea beyond, and grabbed the desk now in front of him. Without a murmur of protest, his arms and legs pistoning forward, he picked up the heavy oak frame and hurled it at Fip. It flew through the air like an Olympic shot-put.
It didn't even come close. Fip was ancient before Cross had even been born; his speed and dexterity had been built up over generations. The desk crashed to the place where the salesman had been a half-second before with such a resounding noise it was heard all the way down in shipping and handling. The detective was strong, but he was an ox compared to a gazelle. Still laughing, Fip grabbed the pieces of his cane from the floor and fit them back together. They fused instantly into a single, unbroken whole. The silver tip at the end glowed with inner fire, balefully red.
Cross stampeded forward, and Fip poked him in the chest with the cane's glowing tip when he got close enough. Instantly the detective stopped. His mouth opened and a buzzing, crunching noise came out of it. It sounded like a car's engine would when the gears were being stripped. A look of total amazement was frozen on Cross's face. His eyes bulged.
Fip straightened up and slipped his cane underneath his hand again, leaning on it, its glow rapidly fading. Cross remained how he was, unmoving. A thin whisp of smoke emerged from the socket in the back of his neck.
"Unwound, my friend," Fip said delightedly. "Unwound, and unwound, and unwound." He started laughing louder then, louder and louder, and when the employees who had come in response to the crash heard it, they backed away, pale and sweaty.
It sounded like the laugh of the devil himself.
. . . to be concluded
Read the conclusion, "The Arts, Part Nine"
Return to The Statue Story Archive