Sunday 4th October 2015
I shouldn't be feeling despondent. I've escaped from the enemy who has made my life miserable for the past four hundred years, my new Master (though he doesn't want me to call him that) is the best friend I have ever had (well, apart from my brothers), and tomorrow I am going to school with him for the first time. I've got no reason to want anything more.
But I do. I can't help wondering whether I really am the only homunculus still alive. I don't even know whether to hope that I'm not, or that I am. If there are others, they are probably being intimidated and abused the way I was. But if not, it feels terribly lonely to be the last of my kind.
Or perhaps I won't be. Scientists today seem to be at least as curious as Renaissance alchemists about creating life, whether by cloning or genetically engineering existing animals and plants, or even trying to make amino acids from scratch in a test tube.
This morning, there was an article in the paper about the possibility of cloning woolly mammoths, and Professor Greenbloom was exclaiming about people who can find the money to try to recreate a species that evolved for a climate that no longer exists, but can't be bothered to protect the elephant species that are still alive. I found myself asking, 'Do – do you think scientists today would be able to create a homunculus?'
At once all four humans – and even Hob and Billy, two of the six brownies who share this house with us – were looking at me with such sympathy that I wished I'd kept quiet and let the Professor go on ranting about mammoths. My Master said, 'You're missing your brothers a lot, aren't you?'
'Yes,' I said. I climbed over the assorted spare sections of newspaper strewn across the kitchen table, to sit with my Master, snuggled into the crook of his arm. He is the only human I've told about how my brothers were killed. The Professor and Professora and Miss Guinevere are used to being part of a normal family, and I didn't really expect them to understand.
The Professora looked up from a manuscript of an article on 40,000-year-old Australian paintings which she was reviewing. 'I know you must be lonely, but I'm not sure if creating a new homunculus is the answer,' she said. 'Have you read…'
'Yes, I have read Frankenstein,' I said indignantly. 'And as I recall it, the Creature's problem wasn't that he was an artificially created being, but that he was the only one of his kind. If Dr Frankenstein hadn't gone back on his promise to build a wife for him, they'd have gone away to South America and not caused any trouble to anyone!'
'That wasn't actually the book I had in mind,' said the Professora gently. 'I was thinking of the legend of Blodeuwedd, the woman who was made from flowers of oak, broom, and meadowsweet, to be someone's ideal wife – only for her to fall in love with someone else. Being created to be a companion to someone else would – well, put a lot of pressure on the companion to be perfect, to live up to expectations. Is it really fair to do that to someone?'
'Is it worse than being created to be a slave to a monster?' I retorted.
Everyone was quiet for a moment, and then Billy lifted his furry head from the bowl of milk and cornflakes he was lapping up. 'Aye, maybe it is worse,' he said. 'If someone's ill-treating you, you can run away from him with a clear conscience. But if you created a homunculus of your own, and you were nice to him – or her, even – well, they'd know they owed you their life, and they couldn't repay that debt. So if they wanted to leave, they'd never know how to ask. They'd never be free of you – not unless you die when young Ben does, and then maybe your little mate would feel guilty about having wanted to be free. Why you bother wasting space in that tiny skull by filling it with emotions like guilt and loyalty and so on – oh well, that's your problem!'
'As opposed to you filling your massive furry cranium with ploys to get the largest share of ice-cream?' I snapped. 'You brownies are all the same.' Admittedly, the household species seems to be more fixated on milk than forest brownies like Sorrel, who prefer mushrooms, but their priorities don't differ much – though I suppose Billy does think more rationally than most brownies.
'I don't think people of any species are "all the same,"' said the Professora. 'And that's why creating a new homunculus wouldn't be the same as having your brothers back. You can't replace people with someone new. It would be more like becoming a parent – and there's nothing unreasonable in wanting that, as long as you're able to help your children learn to be independent, and be willing to let them go their own way when they're ready. Do you think you could do that?'
'I don't know,' I admitted. I don't know how it's possible to learn to be a parent, when I've never even had parents. What must it be like, not just to be made in the image of a mammal, but to have actually been born a mammal, soft and helpless and needing your parents to feed you, clean you, and guess what your cries meant before you were old enough to utter articulate words? Admittedly, birds and mammals aren't the only creatures who care for their children. Scorpions carry their babies on their backs, and woodroaches, burying beetles, and earwigs regurgitate semi-digested food for their young. But if I have any subconscious parental instincts from whatever creature I was created from, they are so deeply buried that I'm not aware of them – not that knowing how to spin an egg-sack would be particularly useful to me now, anyway.
It was a frustrating conversation. It would almost have been easier if someone had made some really crass, tactless remark about how creating life was contrary to nature and 'playing God' and that no good would come of it, so that I could have retorted, 'And I suppose you wish I'd never been brought into existence either?' and spent the rest of the day sulking about the way nobody understood me. But the truth is that they do understand, and that being understood doesn't actually solve the problem.
My Master's friend Ivan came to visit today. I enjoyed spending time with him, discussing the eccentricities of Atticus the sixth-former with the dark green ponytail, and the long green coat, who always tries to stay out of the sun, on the rare days when it is sunny round here. Ivan is fairly sure that he wears coloured contact lenses, in which case his real eyes could be anything.
'So he could be hiding red eyes?' I asked. 'Do you – do you think he could be an enchanted being?' If so, he might be someone who understood how it felt to be centuries old, and ageless, and to have lost all the people you once loved. Or he might be someone like Nettlebrand, who had never loved anyone. I don't suppose the ravens did, either. I wonder what's become of them. Do they even realise that Nettlebrand no longer exists?
Professor Greenbloom, when we told him about our latest theory, looked sick with horror for a moment, and then collected himself. 'Well, if he does have red eyes, that's not so bad,' he said.
'Compared to…?' asked Ivan, my Master, Miss Guinevere, and I, more or less in unison.
'Well, we've certainly seen that not all enchanted beings are bad,' said the Professor, smiling at me. 'The same goes for a lot of creatures who have a reputation as monsters – I've met some perfectly sweet-natured gorgons, for example. And if Atticus is some other kind of red-eyed creature, like a vampire – well, there are plenty of vampires who stay off human blood and are just trying to live as normal a life as they can. No, I'm more worried about – well, when I was Ben's age, there was someone who suddenly turned up at my school, and started following me around everywhere, until it got to the point where my parents had to move me away for my own safety.'
My Master considered this. The Professor was speaking in English, since Ivan was here, and my Master's English is still improving. I think he got the gist of what Professor Greenbloom was saying, but he had to pause a moment, take out the sentence that was forming in his head, and put the words together in an English order. 'So, mean you – do you mean – that if someone me follows – if someone follows me – I to the Rim of Heaven – I mean, that I should go to the Rim of Heaven?' He looked alarmed by the suggestion that he was being stalked – but also glad to have the excuse to go and live with Firedrake and the other dragons.
'I hope you won't need to,' said the Professor. 'All the same, would you feel terribly embarrassed if Vita walked to and from school with you and Guinevere until we've had a chance to meet Atticus? She doesn't have any lectures first thing in the morning, but she teaches a seminar on Thursday afternoon, so you might need to stay at the homework club until half past four. Would that be all right?'
My Master looked dubious. 'Look at it this way,' said Miss Guinevere. 'There are some kids at our school whose parents insist on driving them to school every day, because they're convinced that they'll bunk off or get kidnapped or run over otherwise. At least our parents wouldn't do that unless there's a genuine reason. But – does it always have to be Mum?' she added to her father. 'Couldn't you take turns?'
'I just think your mother would be better at dealing with this one,' said the Professor.
'You mean she's a vampire hunter?' asked Ivan. 'What's she gonna do to Atticus? Spray holy water at him?'
'No, I think the best idea would be to invite him to dinner here, sometime fairly soon,' said the Professor. 'He sounds a very interesting person, and I'd like to meet him – I'd just prefer it if Vita was there as well.'
'But if he really is some kind of pervert…' began Ivan.
'If he's the sort of threat I'm thinking of, once he's met Vita, he won't come anywhere near any of us again. And if he isn't, I'd like to meet him.'
In the meantime, Ivan's father, Dr Newlands, and twin brother Josh were coming to join us for dinner (Ivan's younger brother, Joseph, was with a babysitter). The table was fairly crowded with seven humans sitting round it, even after I had hidden in my Master's pocket and all the brownies had decided either to go out for the evening, stay in the bedroom, or, in Lobber's case, curl up by the heater in the living-room, but stay in feline form and feline size and not talk. All six of the brownies here are excellent shape-shifters, and can look just like ordinary domestic cats, but Lobber tends to default to roughly the size of a Siberian tiger.
After all these efforts to keep fantastic beings out of the way of Dr Newlands until we knew how he was going to react, however, he actually started the conversation with, 'Have you seen some of the news reports about sightings of weird creatures? There's been a spate of photos on the internet, all from different places, and mostly blurred ones taken from cellphones, but it looks as though a couple of big flying creatures, like giant bats, are heading west from Asia.'
'Are you still sure you don't believe in dragons?' said Professor Greenbloom, with a smile.
'No – I've been thinking a bit since our last conversation. I remember a few years ago, when my wife was alive, we took the kids to a National Park – we've got real National Parks where I come from, not tame little things like Dartmoor or the New Forest, with farms and quaint little villages with thatched cottages. No, sir, these are vast expanses of wilderness where anything could be hiding out. Anyway, I remember seeing big clawprints – far too big to be a bear or a panther or anything like that…' (I wanted to stick my head out and explain that melanic leopards were found in the tropical rainforests of Malaya and Africa, not temperate forests in North America) 'and they didn't look like anything from a mammal anyway. And then I found a few blue scales lying around, as if some kind of giant reptile was shedding. So – let's just say, I've got an open mind. If we could capture one of these beasts, we could examine it at close quarters.'
'And what if there are dragons, and they don't want to be captured?' retorted Professor Greenbloom indignantly. 'Would you want to be stuck in a cage?'
'If they exist, we need to conserve them, and we can't do that without studying them,' replied Dr Newlands. 'It might be best to try and breed them in captivity, where their young will be safe from predators. Sorry – have I said something wrong?'
'When I was a boy, I was sent away to somewhere to keep me safe,' said Professor Greenbloom. 'It was supposed to be for my own protection, but while I was there, I couldn't learn anything about the world, and I couldn't learn to be an adult. It was as though I was doomed to live the same day over and over, always staying a child, for the rest of my life. In the end, I decided I'd rather take my chances in the outside world, and I think that most wild creatures would make the same decision if we gave them the choice.'
They argued about it until everyone remembered that it was a school day tomorrow, and that all four twelve-year-olds (and one four-hundred-year-old) needed to get some sleep. I ought to have gone to bed hours ago, but my head felt so full that I needed to complete this diary entry first. Maybe I'll be able to sleep now.