Disclaimer: The graphic novel the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was created and is owned by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neil. The film adaptation is owned by 20th Century Fox. No illegal infringement is intended.
Chapter 22: Pray for Us Now
Coughing, from the other side of the door. Skinner? He was coughing like a man half-drowned. Like he had just run out of a fire.
Jekyll had to cram his fingers into his mouth to keep back the shrill giggles that threatened to burst from him like water through a matchstick dam. Instead, they caught in his chest and he shook with violent mirth, hot, hysterical tears peeling from his squeezed-shut eyes.
And then he was just weeping. I've finally lost my mind, he thought, both parts. And that nearly sent him into another fit, until he was staggering with containment, his teary eyes bulging in their sockets, teeth bared in a skeletal rictus, those screaming cackles hissing through his clenched teeth in soft, asthmatic-sounding wheezes. And distantly, he could hear the frame of his mind creaking, like a tree branch beneath the weight of snow--
"Help me, damn you!" He screamed. Only no doors in the lonely hall flew open, so it must not have been much more than a whisper --
Edward said nothing.
It passed, eventually; he could find no rest even in that great white abyss that was a far worse beast than Hyde could ever hope to be. And when it passed, it seemed to take everything from him: he was empty, right down to the hollows of his bones. And yet he felt so heavy; his chest full of lead. So heavy, as if he lay down he might never get up again--
There was a scream from the other side of the door, though it didn't startle him. It was not a scream of pain but a cri de coeur -- in a strange way, it was familiar; he would have thought it was his own had his throat not been so parched and dry . . . and had he enough life in him for a sound like that. It was a scream full of rage and despair, and Jekyll thought that maybe that was the white noise of his soul solidified. It was almost comforting.
"Lo ucciderò!" The cry dissolved into a fit of railing coughs.
Jekyll reached out. The metal of the door was cool against his sweltering brow; his hand rested gently on the doorknob, not in the expectation of turning it, his fingers just dithering indecisively as he leaned against the door, listening, waiting . . . for what he wasn't sure. A sign, maybe, that he could turn around and wash his hands of this, of this damnable place and these damnable people. They were not his, after all. He was burdened enough already, wasn't he? Selfish to impose himself upon them, really; his great burdens were not theirs to shoulder. It would be better for them all, really, if . . .
And so he hesitated for no reason and for every reason, still not sure how he had come to be standing here and not still stagnating in that frigid refrigeration tomb, or, better yet, in a watery one--
And then, finally, Hyde spoke. Takes quite a bit to make Italian sound that ugly.
"Delirium, from high fever or lack of oxygen to the brain." Jekyll replied quietly after a long minute, "Probably some sort of lung infection; the cough sounds productive--"
Maybe the silly sot drank himself insensate and suffocated on his own bloody vomit.
"-- too sudden to be tuberculosis. Pneumonia? I didn't notice any symptoms before."
Well, Hyde harrumphed, as if that were the end of it. He's dead anyways.
He was so very weary.
Jekyll turned the doorknob. The door swung open without sound, and he stepped into the room.
The door leading to the helm was closed. It had never been closed before, if not exactly inviting: it was tacitly understood throughout the ship that the helm was Nemo's private domain. Amongst the crew the impression seemed to be that trespass was akin to ransacking Nemo's very quarters; Mina had known herself and the others in their motley syndicate to cross the threshold only in crisis. In this instance, Nemo had apparently deemed it prudent to remove any doubt from a possible encroacher's mind. Under separate circumstances, Mina might have been cowed by the simple finality of a closed door. Presently, her patience for such trivial things had long since dried up.
The wood of the helm's door, unlike the rest of the doors in the Nautilus, was carved ornately with idols Mina didn't recognize, ones she had been taught in her youth to regard only as barbaric. She allowed her fingers to trail over the avatars for a moment, collecting her thoughts and her voice (and calming her tongue) before she rapped smartly on the dark wood.
There was no answer.
"Captain, it is Mrs. Harker." Still no answer. Mina closed her eyes, pursed her lips. "Captain, I must give you fair warning that I have spent the last day tending to a boy too foolish to know not to stray to a foreign land alone, a man too stupid to realize that near-fatal burns lend a certain fragility to one's state, and a doctor too wrapped up in self-pity to help me in caring for either. I am at the end of my rope. This is a very lovely door. Do not make me break it."
"Come in, Mrs. Harker."
Nemo was not, as she expected, standing at the wheel; it was unmanned, rocking from side to side gently in abandon. Stepping further into the room, letting the door fall shut behind her, she finally spotted sign of the captain: a jeweled hand, resting on the arm of the captain's high-backed chair.
Mina approached cautiously, rounding from behind the desk for a better perspective. "Captain?"
Nemo was not pouring over maps or working with the esoteric tools of the sea; he was simply sitting, one hand on the armrest, his chin resting on his other fist. His head was turned towards the silver topography map but his gaze penetrated far beyond it, his dark eyes like dusted black glass. At her voice he blinked twice and his gaze cleared; he glanced in her direction.
"What is it that I can do for you, Mrs. Harker?" Nemo said airily, as if she were nothing more than a casual business acquaintance. Mina felt suddenly painfully out of place, her previous anger now a gauche overcoat.
"I've come to check on your wounds, Captain." She said quietly.
Nemo did not reply. With an apathetic motion that, to her, was terribly intimate, he reached up and began removing his turban.
Averting her eyes, Mina afforded him the privacy the act seemed to demand. She stepped forward to set Jekyll's small bag of medical supplies on the mariner's desk, toying with the latch and collecting a few items she thought she would need. After a few more minutes of distracted searching, when she gauged that Nemo had finished his task, she lifted her head.
Nemo sat placidly, his hands in his lap, gaze focused straight ahead, looking humorously like a man waiting for the barber. His black, curly hair was longer than she had expected. Immediately she saw the area requiring attention: a strip of plaster on his temple was rusty with old blood. Mina reached forward and smoothed the bloody hair back from his brow, then gently peeled the bandage away.
The gash was perhaps two inches in length. Despite Mina's careful actions it began bleeding on contact. Instinctively, she had kept her distance (it was not him, per se, just something she had learned over time, when being too close meant her head became drowned in the metronome of another's heartbeat) but presently she stepped forward in response to the sudden spill of red. She turned and retrieved a cloth from the desk and pressed it against the wound. "Hold this." Nemo's large, leathery hand came up to replace her own.
She pressed a cottonball to the mouth of Jekyll's small iodine bottle and flipped both upside down, until the cotton soaked through with the yellow fluid. Once the blood flow had tapered off Mina directed Nemo to pull the cloth away.
"This doesn't look too bad." She said, then admonished, "You're lucky it didn't become infected, leaving it untreated this long." She painted the wound with the yellow cottonball. Nemo did not flinch. "The scalp has been torn, but the bone underneath looks undamaged."
She wetted her hands, a needle and thread with carbolic acid, and leaned over him. With a well-practiced medical boldness she took his cheek in one hand and tipped his head towards her. The captain did not protest. With a quick plunge and a draw, black thread began to pull the wound closed, turning the gaping red maw into a grimace.
"Do you know how I came to be in the service of the English Government, Mrs. Harker?"
The question surprised her. "No, Captain." She could have added a great many things to that statement, concerning the rumours of his hatred of the crown, but she did not. Nemo, though, offered a knowing glance.
"Do you remember the Martian Invasion?"
This question surprised her even more, and she paused, considering. "Yes. That was . . . nearly two years ago." She resumed her needlework. "Shortly afterward some of the alien carcasses were sent to Dr Challenger for dissection and study."
Nemo nodded. After a pensive moment, in which Mina was not sure he would continue, he said, "Mr. Quatermain was not wrong when he called me a pirate." He chuckled. "Though not, perhaps, in the sense he intended. The Nautilus was fashioned from the pirate ships of old in that they were the first true democracies. The men aboard my ship have come from every corner of the world, every background: some have been princes, some have been common thieves. They have all rescinded their ties to their home countries and have become wanderers, like myself. Each member shares an equal amount of responsibility on the ship and to his shipmates, and, in turn, is rewarded with an equal share of the treasures we have encountered at the bottom of the sea. Though I am the creator of the Nautilus, if the crew were to object to my serving as Captain I would willingly step down and teach my replacement her ways. I am, really, an elected official." The captain let out a little, melancholy sigh. "None of my crew objected to my continued command. None decided that the next port should be their last on the Nautilus."
Nemo seemed to shake away that stray tangent, though his head did not move in her grasp. "It would be easy for me to say that I was urged by my crew to intervene on England's behalf in the face of that great invasion. I have a number of crewmen who were once Englishmen, and it would be dishonest of me to claim that my own heart is free of my homeland's heavy hand; for them, I would expect it is the same. In truth," he smiled faintly, "no matter my own history and personal devils, I could not bring myself to allow innocent people to suffer. The Nautilus managed to destroy a Martian craft from the Thames, before that strange weed clogged the water, and the Nautilus was as immobile as if she had been adrift on an ice shelf."
And Mina could see, in her mind's eye, London burning, London bleeding, the mainstay river that cut through the city dyed red by the clogging mass of that great weed. And it didn't take a great stretch of the imagination to see a fat little man in an expensive suit guiding a line of nervous soldiers across the spongy plant to where the Nautilus was netted by a web of red creeper.
"They threatened you?" Mina tied a knot in the stitches with a few quick motions of the needle.
Another strange smile passed over the captain's features. "No, Mrs Harker. They did not have to." He unconsciously pulled away, his weathered hand once again coming up to rest his knuckles against his lips. "How thoughtlessly I have volunteered the lives of all of those who sought out my ship for sanctuary and freedom. And how thoughtlessly I have allowed so many of them to die."
"You are good to them, Captain."
"Am I?" Cynicism made the quiet words heavy.
Mina, unperturbed by the drawback, leaned once more towards him in order to wash the remaining blood from the newly sewn wound, to press a piece of plaster against his temple. "Could it not be judged as ingratitude of their service to criticize the man they deemed worthy of their lives?"
Nemo did not respond, did not look in her direction for a full minute. When he did, an appreciative, almost artful humour had come into his eyes. "You are very clever, Mrs. Harker."
She smiled slightly, and, thinking that to be the end of things, turned to replace her materials in the bag. "Do you have any other injuries, Captain?"
"A few broken ribs." He said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I've wrapped them myself, no need to concern yourself."
"I can give you something for the pain--"
"How are the others?" He interrupted.
The reminder brought Mina's previous mood on like a black thundercloud, and she could feel her expression turn with it, her posture change. "Skinner is sick as a dog and getting worse by the hour, and I'm afraid Dr. Jekyll has finally lost whatever tenuous grasp he had on reality." She rubbed her eyes with her thumb and forefinger. "Thomas will be fine. Though hopefully that trouncing he took taught him a little bloody sense."
Nemo's eyebrows rose at the uncharacteristic profanity. "And how are you, Mrs. Harker?"
"Honestly Captain, you know me well enough by now for it to just be Mina." She let out a blustery sigh. "And I am fine, thank you."
Two pills had sat in her left hand throughout the little speech; she stopped fingering them absently and offered them to him with a nurse's brisk impatience. "Take these."
Nemo took them, eyed them warily. "I have things to do tomorrow, Mrs. Harker."
"Well, I'm afraid they're going to have to wait." Her things packed and bag in hand, she started towards the door -- How long had she been away from them? How many things could have gone wrong by now? -- and hesitated in the doorway. Nemo had not risen, had not even turned to see her out.
"You're a good man, Captain." She called, finally, and closed the door quietly behind her.
I don't even know what you're bothering for. Hyde had been uncharacteristically silent throughout the motions of examining Skinner: listening to his wild heartbeat and labored breathing, trying to soothe his fevered insistence that Sawyer was on some mountainside, all the while feeling the young American's anxious eyes on his back. The familiar exercise had returned some . . . levelness . . . to the doctor. Now, as he backed out of the room with a despondent excuse (off to find Mina, to retrieve something from his room -- what he wasn't sure anymore, his head was aching so badly and the pain in his shoulder had become excruciating), Hyde's words were almost . . . gentle. He's going to die, Henry.
Jekyll felt blood flood into his face. His teeth gritted. "You don't know that."
Oh, don't insult your own intelligence. Hyde snapped. Even if he hadn't gone up like a Christmas yule log in Mongolia it would be a hard sell. But you know as well as I do that if that poor bastard doesn't already have bacteraemia he will before the night is out, and it'll be septicaemia by this time tomorrow. All you're doing is delaying the inevitable. If he's lucky his heart or lungs will give out first. But you know if his kidneys or liver go, he'll rot from the inside out, in agony. If you were a real saint you'd give him a bit of air in one of those syringes and end it quickly. I'm sure if Skinner still had the ability to form a cognitive thought, he'd thank you.
Jekyll raised a hand, balled it, and drove it into his plastered shoulder.
It wasn't a terribly strong blow -- clumsy and ineffectual, like a woman's weak little fist banging against her husband's barrel chest, or maybe a little child striking in petulant injustice at a parent. His fist was not a man's fist, it had no strength behind it. (The the fact that it was his own mind that was providing these snide taunts and not Hyde -- who seemed to have become quite enamoured with silence, as of late -- made Jekyll feel like weeping.)
There was conviction in the blow, however, and it had been hours since his last dose of morphine; his shoulder was a bed of smoldering coals. And the pain from that little blow was explosive.
His vision blacked out. He staggered, blind, and fell against the corridor wall, gasping and shaking and pouring sweat and there he stayed for an eternity while white hot agony poured from the pyre of that bullet wound. The world lost and regained dimension half a dozen times, and with each turn Jekyll thought, This is the end of it, and felt only relief.
His vision came back to him first; slowly, in shades of gray. The pain ebbed like a sea tide after a hurricane. Jekyll weakly fisted the sweat out his eyes with his good hand. His tongue flickered out over his dry lips and he chuckled, a dry, ugly sound.
"The day I take you as a moral authority is the day I borrow one of young Sawyer's guns and blow our collective brains out, you rotted appendix."
"Dr. Jekyll?" Rapid footfalls. Jekyll raised his bleary eyes, squinted.
"Gabriel?" No, that didn't make sense, Utterson was long dead by Hyde's own hand. But the thought was enough to shoot a bolt of fear even more jolting than the previous agony through his frame, because thought it was not Utterson, perhaps it was someone he had known before (before the League, before Hyde, Before, when his greatest fear was that someone would learn he spent his Friday nights not reviewing scientific journals but fucking tarts in Whitechapel.) As the figure was half-running down the brightly lit corridor towards him neared, it seemed inconceivable in his pain and fear addled state that his name could be known any other way. And so Jekyll lamely tried to straighten, opening his mouth for a confused, trembling greeting, trying to smooth the bloody dressing gown he hadn't realized he was still wearing, even as these actions sent new squalls of pain up and down his half-dead arm.
"Let's have a look." This thin, elderly man, (who Jekyll was relieved to find he did not, in fact, recognize but for a shade of a shade, like half-glimpsed figure from someone else's family portrait, and that really didn't relieve him much at all), with no introduction, pushed aside the sleeve of Jekyll's robe and began plucking at the bandages. Jekyll watched helplessly, objections rising and quickly dying on his trembling lips. He would have laughed, had he been in a better humour, at how absurd the scene must look. "Good, you haven't reopened it." The elderly man muttered with no discernible inflection of actual relief. "You're very lucky. This is some of my best work."
"I'm sorry?" Jekyll managed finally, in a quavering, reedy voice. He cleared his throat and backed away half a step, good hand flying to cover the exposed black stitches that cut across his white shoulder and collar in an ugly railroad. "Have we met?"
"Ah yes, how rude of me." The man re-approached brusquely, his introduction flat as he brushed aside Jekyll's hand and began re-wrapping the wound. "Doctor Alphonse Moreau."
" . . . Moreau?" The name, too, was familiar.
Moreau's expression soured slightly at the quavering timbre, apparently mistaking Jekyll's discomfited state for something else. "I saved your life, Doctor. No need to thank me. Though, in light of who you are, I would understand if you weren't exactly eager to."
" . . . sorry?"
"Never mind. You should be resting, not mauling yourself whilst staggering about the halls. For the love of God, if you're going to kill yourself, at least wait until after you've healed properly. My work is impeccable, and I'll not be blamed if you were to expire of your own accord. Challenger would never let me hear the end of it." Moreau finished rebinding the wound, and began pulling Jekyll down the corridor, using none of the gentleness that Jekyll attempted to handle his own patients with. Jekyll allowed himself to be lead dumbly. "Now, lets get you back to the infirmary. That Harker is already harping at me because I've misplaced that young American. She would very likely pitch a fit if she saw you in your current condition. For the life of me I cannot understand what you people have against staying put--"
Jekyll stopped. His one good hand raised and fluttered by his head, as if it were telling him it had an important appointment to keep and he really must allow it off. "No, I'm sorry Doctor, I--" He stopped.
It quite suddenly occurred to Jekyll how odd it was that this Moreau fellow had happened to be in that particular corridor when, if he remember correctly, the infirmary was two hallways away from the guest bedrooms -- more notably, the quarters of the invisible thief, who was sequestered from the masses in an admittedly poorly-enforced quarantine. That mundane thought pushed through all the worries and fears of the past few hours like they were cobwebs. It wasn't important, really, most likely a mistake, yet Jekyll found himself blurting out, "Was there something you needed, Dr. Moreau?"
Moreau stopped. "Oh yes, I nearly forgot." His hand dropped from Jekyll's arm and he began fishing around in his waistcoat. "I was coming to give Challenger this, hopefully without actually having to encounter that insufferable cretin." Moreau produced a small bottle and openly admired it as the contained liquid caught the light. "A few years ago I worked for the French government engineering new viruses and bacterium. Incidentally, I happened to come across the research of a young man named Ernest Duchesne, who had made the discovery that certain types of moulds kill bacterium. Unfortunately, due to his youth, his research was not given the credit it deserved and he would later abandon the project. I, however, saw the incredible promise of this discovery, and continued his investigations."
Moreau turned, offered the small bottle to him. "This is the fruit of those labors. I developed it to help keep my patients alive post-operation. Their conditions are very delicate and with the number of open wounds my research demands, they are very susceptible to bacterial infections." He gave Jekyll a pointed look, nodded towards the hallway. "It may help that invisible fellow, from what little I've been able to discern about his condition. Another few days without it and he will be dead."
Jekyll took the small bottle warily. His short time with the league had made him suspicious of strange kings bearing unrequested gifts. "Why are you giving me this?"
"You all have saved my freedom, possibly my life. And I repay my debts." Moreau smiled thinly. "I suppose you should get back to it, then. Get some rest when you can, lots of fluids. You're a doctor, you know the bit."
Without further word, Moreau started back from whence he had come.
Jekyll watched him go, then turned his eyes to the small bottle in his hands. "Doctor Moreau?" He called. Moreau. It quite suddenly occurred to him where he knew the name from.
"If this were created for your vivisection of animals, Dr. Moreau, it would be useless to humans."
Moreau offered a thin, enigmatic smile. "Lets not be coy, Dr. Jekyll."
He turned, and walked away.
First, let me just apologize for sucking so bad. Nearly a year since the last update! Egad. But do not fear, for I have returned. Unfortunately, my only excuses for this are, 1: I'm so lazy it's not even funny, and 2: I allowed the perfect to become the enemy of the good. Anyone other authors out there, I'm sure, will understand.
Only a few chapters left! On that note, some may notice that I have diverged from the comic's timeline. However, there are a few reasons for this: since this is the movie universe, the League was not created until 1900, two years after the Martian Invasion. Second, the Martian Invasion is the only plausible reason I can come up with for Nemo joining the League: how the British would have even found him, much less recruited him, otherwise, is a complete mystery to me.
Anyways, if you cans find it your hearts to forgive me, I still enjoy hearing from you all!