The Artists of Science
The soft sound of a rhythmic pitter-patter of slow, nervous, stuttering footsteps smacked softly against the wet pavement, lit dimly by the gaslights burning desperately, agonisingly, as if calling out a weak, subtle warning to the passersby. Perhaps it was the atmosphere of the London streets, shrouded in disconcerting veils of thick, cold fog, hiding away much and revealing very little to anyone who tried to take in their surroundings. The skies were black as coal, littered with dark clouds that whispered threats of a pouring rain, a thunderstorm that could shake the bones of the strongest men. The type of tempest men of the sea often feared and dreaded, and prepared to fight, to take on, to defeat.
However, this lean, young man, dressed in his black trench coat, top hat and sleek leather shoes, seemed unfazed. He marched on, the previously drenched paths slowly beginning to dry. Useless, pointless, certainly, that was, for another bout of atmospheric waters were soon to follow. But what was such a finely outfitted gentleman doing out at such a late hour, along such dodgy streets? Well, you see, he was torn out of the comfort of his warm, cozy home with rather strange, equally dodgy business, as shrouded in mystery as the streets were in covers of frozen, blinding, gaseous H2O.
Albion Stratdford was a rather passionate, innovative, quick-witted — also rather eccentric — individual, always curious about the unique, the otherworldly, the peculiar, the new. He strove for the whole world to discover untold truths, bewildering facts, mind-blowing enchantments and even obscenities, no matter how harsh or unusual, seemingly ‘unnatural’, he wanted to know it, dissect it, learn it, spread it, express it. He was more than simply a discoverer or explorer, one thing or another. He was an artist-scientist. Perhaps an artist of science. A rebel, a mascot, a leader, a freedom fighter, a creator. And that was one reason behind his odd timing, his shady journey. Much like a magician, a weaver of illusions based on the perception of humans, he had to work in the shadows, to give his work the feeling of otherworldliness.
He finally stopped after turning down a few smaller roads, before an old, metallic gate, cramped into the brick walls of an ancient building. Using the slightly rusted knocker — scaring away a black widow and destroying its somewhat freshly created cobwebs — he made his presence known to the inhabitants of the creepy building.
Slowly, the rusty hinges squeaked in complaint as the door was opened, a pale, bony hand coming into view while it pulled aside the gate, revealing a lanky, tall, incredibly tall, thin old man. His head was a globe of brown dots on greyish, strange terrain, decorated with white, fragile, haphazard wisps of what could maybe be called hair. He stood there, in a cheap suit, made to look more luxurious than it truly was, with fake silk and satin created by the brilliant mind of Albion’s closest, most trusted, and quite truthfully, most loved companion, Dr. Vincent Nightshade. The circle of people who indeed knew him to be a doctor was very small, and it consisted of the only individuals who appreciated his peculiar talents and unorthodox pursuits. The observation of animals in simulated environments, contrasted against their behaviours in their home ecology. The animals most feared, such as bats and rats and the minuscule, repulsively fascinating creatures that inhabit the rodents’ fur. Beings surrounded and obscured by mythology and legends. Bats may suck the blood of other animals, but Dr. Vincent found it to be such a simple, natural process, that its so-called sinister facet seemed empty and valueless at best.
The only negative side-effects such a habit of feeding had on the prey being used as a source of easy-to-digest nutrition, was the transmission of diseases, especially potentially lethal pathogens. Otherwise, these animals were simply practising what they adapted to best, what nature itself found to be the easiest, cleanest route. Perhaps the injection of deadly microorganisms was an apparently wicked method of the natural world itself, to keep populations of different animals from skyrocketing, thus disrupting the somewhat fragile equilibrium developed over millennia, centuries, sometimes decades.
In rare cases, say an outbreak of a horrible zoonosis, a newly disrupted bacterium or virus that would not have made its debut appearance without the interference of humanity itself, could bring the total annihilation and demise of a species, but such things are part of nature and occur more frequently than homo sapiens may imagine. Quite a few facets that people loved to romanticise, Vincent looked at objectively, logically, without the crime of anthropomorphising it. A distant, intelligent observer, who saw much more than someone with preconceived notions that limited one’s perspective.
That was a huge reason why Albion and Vincent had such a powerful bond. The former was led into the house, away from the freezing cold, to a stale, stony, bearable chill of the halls that created a labyrinthine kingdom of a residence, perfect for the so-called mad scientist Dr. Nightshade was rumoured to be. Perhaps, he was truly insane, but that would mean Stratdford matched him in his mental superiority (madness, as it were, was the feared, misinterpreted projection of highly evolved mental faculties, a beautiful, wondrous thing that those who did not understand, nor own it, often negatively criticised. It was a siren’s whisper, a magnetising fear, indoctrinated into the minds of the gullible and the weak from an early age, creating a mass phobia of being unique, different, of standing out among the crowds of zombies, when such a thing should be praised, appreciated, encouraged, loved).
Albion had a rather special, deep appreciation for the structure that Dr. Nightshade called home. He loved every single detail of it, the way it was so meticulously and immaculately put together — with the precision which the masses described as that of the mad, and yet loved when it benefitted them — and what it represented, the stories it told. Every single building block, every single brick, held a meaning to the doctor, the scientist, the magician of the world, of nature, the pupil of life. There were words scribbled in random corridors across the walls, notes the doctor had to take, probably while mumbling to himself. He was rather comfortable with the way he carried himself, the way he processed the world, the way he saw things, the way he was. Talking to himself, being himself, in front of strangers and those who may judge him, was never an easier task, more so a pleasure, an indulgence, especially as it brought him some cheery amusement to toy with the feeble, simple minds of those he saw as mentally inferior, those who held no true value to him, as easily discarded as a broken tool. He was baffled, shocked, amazed, morbidly fascinated by the lack of substance, of value, to some people. Instead of feeling rage for the human race, composed by sympathy or perhaps detached disbelief, he felt wonder. How could people lose themselves into crowds? How could they surrender their one chance for a unique identity? Why? What was it about them that made them so lacklustre and incompetent? He studied them to find out, to figure it all out, step by step, to know what could cause such behaviours in the species he came from, but felt so alien from all the same.
The frail, aged male named Timothy Pippins, the loyal caregiver and assistant to the artist of science led one of his favourite people into the chambers of knowledge.
It was majestic, humbling, ethereal, a sort of globe, smacked right into the centre of the maze of passages; the heart, the birth point of everything else. The laboratory, or the Orbis Litterarum (The Globe of Learning), aptly named by its creator. The walls, unlike their grey counterparts outside, were painted black, however the high, domed ceilings were coated in imagery of the cosmos, of the stars, the planets, from the ancient maps of the universe to the most recent studies. The stellar names were inscribed carefully, in beautiful handwriting, next to or under them. The paint was made of chemicals which made it appear as though the intricate designs on the ceilings could glow, once there was enough dim light scattered about the chamber. Vincent was an exact, beautiful man, thus he made sure to create the perfect environment for himself while he worked. He even went to the trouble of using a prism to push the light of three candles out through it, against a mirror and to the artwork of the universe on the underside of the dome, which caused the stars to glint and glisten with the tones of the rainbow. Such a creative mind was the only thing capable of achieving such beauty through meticulous practises.
The walls were covered in curved bookshelves that soared high, until they bent like an old man who carried heavy items on his back like a beast of burden until he reached senility, and then some. Crooked like an S. Every inch of the shelves housed volumes that could not be easily found anywhere else in the world. He was a collector of rare and frowned upon studies. The most challenging concepts and ideas were inscribed upon the fragile papyrus pages of the ancient tomes, as well as more recently written books that were banned by one person or another. Usually, the church had a hand in preventing such knowledge from reaching the populous. Ah, the church and its strange stand against learning. From the moment they killed a man for observing that the Earth was not the centre of the world, they had been a source of grief for all learned men and women.
But slowly, their power ceased its hold on what people could and could not read, say, ponder and contemplate. Examine and produce into something new. Vincent did not worry his mind with such nonsense. He found his esoteric learnings and dissected them detail by detail, taking in what he found rational, logical, while discarding what was, quite simply, idiotic enough so as not to qualify as any information of true value or substance. He was a discerning man, and it was one reason he shone as brightly as the sun itself, or his favourite star, Sirius. Certainly, Sirius was a better example, for it was a blue star, far brighter and of a much larger energy output than poor little Sol. And this man, black haired — which was a shaggy, sharp, spiky shock of raven feathers atop his head — pale, thin, tall, held the appearance of a mortician, or maybe a ghost, rather than a scientist, which was one of the best examples of “appearances are deceptive”.
Albion exuberantly stepped into the Orbis Litterarum, inhaling the relaxing scent of chemicals, books, papers, ink and pipe smoke. Not just the dusk-like scent of tobacco smoke, but the signature mixture Vincent liked to inhale periodically. Filled with natural herbs and plants that enhanced thinking and relaxed the body, put the mind at ease. Also filled the chambers with a lovely scent of spring.
The doctor was buried in an enormous volume that was most likely written in Latin, his pipe to his lips, his lab coat, over a simple white button up shirt, neatly pressed by Timothy, looking a little messed up, as usual. The permanent stains on his cuffs whenever he forgot to roll up his sleeves — ink, chemicals, burns, a plethora of marks that told tales — standing out against the white of the fabric. His hair was as chaotic as always, his crimson irises — perhaps it was forgotten to mention the fact that he was an albino, whose skin was whiter than ice and whose eyes looked as alluringly red as perhaps the devil’s himself — lined with artificially darkened, long lashes that framed his foxlike eyes, fixed on the words before him. His long nose, sharp, elegant jaw, that beautiful countenance of his appeared happy, effervescent, at ease. Indulgent in the pleasure of knowledge, of his mind’s capacities, an air of wonder etched in his brows, brushing gently along his high cheekbones.
His sneaky guest knew better than to distract the scientist from his studies, thus he handed his top hat and coat to the gentleman Timothy, making his way with quiet footsteps towards the mahogany table upon which the oddly large book lay. He stood a few inches away from the subject of the doctor’s attention, and after perhaps a minute and a half, his head rose and his ruby gaze rested upon Albion’s emerald one. His face shone with a genuine smile of pleasure, and his elegant, long fingered, unusually cold hand went out of his pocket to shake his friend’s gloved one.
“Ah, Mr. Stratdford! So wonderful of you to come!” He exclaimed, his quiet, melodic voice only made louder by the design of the room they were in. It was one thing that worked for his favour, as he hated having to speak up. Working off the intelligent architecture of an amphitheatre was all he needed to make his life easier.
“I have here a book once thought lost. It covers all aspects of alchemy, my curious lad. The very beginnings of our modern sciences, the sorcery with which people sought to own the world. Silly nonsense, certainly, but one must not dismiss the possibilities of the observations of learned individuals before testing them out for oneself, must one not? Ah, yes, of course you agree. You are quite the eager one.” He shook his index finger in the middle of his self-indulgent speech, the rest following suit in a spider-like manner, akin to the movement of a pianist’s in its rapidity and grace. “But that is not the reason behind your presence, is it? Come, Albion, let us address the issue which brought you to my globe.”
Albion rarely ever had to say a word with this man. When he was not depressed, due to having stumbled upon an exceptionally disappointing collection of so-called knowledge (he termed it “rubbish of fictional proportions so vast, it could only be dessert for the soul; lacking in nutritional value while only bringing short-lived pleasure.”), he was an energetic, active, restless being, even forgetting to eat and sleep as his obsessions drove him on. He became most eloquent, rather than going into a fit of utter silence, matching that of the dead, accompanied by foul moods and a rather irritable temper, a general hatred for humanity that poisoned everything he looked upon, masking even what brought him happiness with a cynical outlook and a general distaste for everything. The world, unlike its former, colourful, fascinating, lively, vibrant, magical appearance, became lacklustre and grey, dead, vacant, desolate, matching the eyes of a corpse.
The two supposed ‘madmen’ marched across the carpeted wooden floors and to a deeper area in the globe, away from the framed paintings adorning the walls by the archway entrance, opposite the bookshelves. They reached the most centred shelves and without a moment of hesitation, Vincent pulled back an unassuming volume, which opened up a secret staircase into an underground location. This entire complex may have been a secret, but this scientist, artist, eccentric, loved the mysterious and the hidden. He could not afford to keep his most precious, prized belongings on display for easy-access by anyone who could somehow stumble upon this seemingly alternate dimension of higher existence.
Down the concrete steps the two went, light footsteps echoing against the deep chasm dug into the earth. With a box of matches always ready in Dr. Nightshade’s pocket, he lit one momentarily and brought to life the torches hammered into the walls. The pathway slowly lit up as they went, from utter darkness to a cold, electrical glow (the flames were chemically modified to hold the dimmest, most pleasant shade and brightness to the sensitive eyes of Vincent). At the end of the hall, next to a strange, crooked gate on the right side, there stood a table, small and common, made of metal. Upon it lay a safe, which the doctor slowly opened, taking his time, like a performer easing into the climax of his show. He simply opened its door as it made that distinctive clicking noise upon unlocking, and pushed his hand, without a rush, into its insides, pulling out a medium sized, intricately locked box. Handing his friend the beautifully decorated pipe, he began to do the puzzle that would enable him access to the one thing that brought the curious Albion to his home.
Opening it with a certain finesse and a feeling of mystery that sent chills down the pair’s spines, he revealed its contents with a soft, mental gasp from the green eyed male. “Is this really what you told me it was?”
“With a 99.98 percentage of certainty, I can say this is, in fact, iron formed in the core of a now dead stellar object. The chemistry, its properties — it is simply undeniable.”
“Have you tested it against the different types of stars with a spectroscope?”
Vincent’s features turned blank and emotionless. “Of course. How else would I have known this? I may know the new discoveries made by said spectroscope, but you know I am always skeptical, and must know for certain, personally, everything concerning whatever holds my interest.”
Albion smirked slightly, knowing he had asked what could be considered a ‘pointless question’ (he never called a point of enquiry stupid), and looked to his mate, whose face slowly broke into a smile. “Dammit, Al. Don’t do that.”
“Oh, but it is amusing, so.”
“Right. To business. You do realise that this discovery proves, without question, that stars are much older than we thought the universe to be? You do understand, my kind sir, that this would challenge all old notions of the age of our universe? Thanks to that overrated German, we know much more about the nature of light and its effects on perception, on gravity. This could make us famous.”
“Well, my lad. I would much rather keep my practises secret. You, on the other hand, are known. Lord Stratdford, with the lovely mansion down by Piccadilly Circus, the lovely eccentric whose library is better than that of the richest noblemen, could become even more popular, respected. I want people to know this. I would just like to preserve my precious anonymity. If you could, I want you to make it clear you discovered this with me, however, not with me. With an unknown, close comrade.”
“You… You want the credit to be given to my name?”
“Do I need to repeat myself, Albion?”
“No, no… I am simply humbled, flattered, shocked. This is your hard work, mate.”
“And you have much helped me throughout the years with your lovely conversations, your brilliant inputs, your money that you give so generously for science and knowledge in general, for learning. Your companionship. Your constant presence when I need you most. I would say this is reasonable compensation.”
“More than reasonable. There is nothing to compensate for, dear Vincent. It is my pleasure, above all other pleasures.”
Vincent blushed from ear to ear. “You deserve this.”
“I will do my best to spread the word. Will you write a paper, signed “Anonymous”?”
“That was my first thought.”
Dr. Vincent Nightshade valued his privacy above all. And yet, he was more than ready to bring change to the world.