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Francesca Stein

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The door to Victor’s laboratory swung open, and before Paul had time to wonder what he might find, there came a soft voice from within.

“Abashed the devil stood and felt how awful goodness is, and saw Virtue in her shape how lovely: and pined his loss-”

“Francesca! We have company!”

Within the laboratory, there was a sight that chilled Paul to the bone. Not only was Victor’s monstrous creation still alive, albiet in chains- some part of him had always known that Victor would manage to save it, and would never be deterred by morality or practicality. But stranger still, there sat a lovely girl beside him, of perhaps sixteen years, reading aloud from a book as if to a child. The creature did not seem to entirely comprehend, but still looked at her and was as docile as had ever been.

At Victor’s call, the girl stood up and rushed over to greet them. She was just as lovely as she had been at a distance, but somehow strange and wrong. Her long hair was as white as an old woman’s, and upon her wrists and throat there were bright red scars, with black stitching holding the limbs in place. Her large blue eyes were full of life and happiness, but such a sight upon a milky white face (tinged, if it wasn’t Paul’s imagination, with the grey of rot) was more disquieting than that of deathly emptiness.

“May I present Francesca Stein, my greatest creation.” Victor bore a proud and almost paternal smile. “An amusing name, I admit, but I must have my little jokes.”

Francesca gazed at Paul with appreciative wonder.

“A beard! You have a beard! I’ve only seen them in books. My father and brother have none, but now I can see they’re real!”

There was something of Shakespeare’s Miranda to her, in her innocent delight with the newfound world. While Victor explained how he’d come across the fresh female body parts and begun his work anew, she paid little attention, not even to the grisly details of graverobbing; her birth seemed to her as natural as any other.

“Francesca is a very clever and useful young lady. As you’ve seen, she reads Paradise Lost to my first creation; a waste of time, of course, but thoughtful of her nonetheless. And she’s a great help around the laboratory, for a woman.”

“Father!”

“Alright, Francesca. For anyone.”

Victor being generous and friendly was somehow more eerie than his threats, when coupled with the gruesome environment. Paul took him by the arm and pulled him to the side, speaking as softly as he could in his shocked state.

“Victor, it’s obscene! Creating a beautiful woman for your own sick pleasure-”

Francesca, who evidently had been listening more closely than Paul realized, made a sound as if she were about to be ill.

“He’s my father! You’re the one that’s sick!”

Victor nodded at her words, a rare self-righteous look upon his face.

“As she said. Besides, Francesca is my work- you don’t really think I’d interfere with a project in such a manner, do you?”

The fact was that Paul didn’t know what Victor would do anymore, or what, if anything, was beneath him. Both friends understood that, but even in their current state of mutual disapproval, couldn’t bring themselves to speak about it. Paul wandered over to a work table and examined an electrical tool in order to give himself time to think. Finally, he turned about to face Victor.

“At the very least, I hope you are keeping Elizabeth ignorant of her!”

This was the wrong thing to say while a lonely and excitable girl was in the vicinity.

“Elizabeth? You mean there’s another woman here?” Francesca’s eyes lit up even more than they had before. In her excitement, she all but floated away from the ground; bouncing up and down on her toes was a close facsimile. “Can I meet her? Can I can I can I please?”

“Eventually.”

“Never!”

Victor and Paul had spoken at the same time, and Francesca looked from one face to the other in confusion. When it became clear Elizabeth wasn’t about to be brought up and introduced, her face fell so piteously that Paul could almost forget she was a thing made of cadavers whose “father” had proven himself a murderer.

Victor eventually filled the awkward silence.

“We’ll discuss it later. For now, why don’t you continue your reading?”

Francesca’s disappointment was still clear, but she nodded.

“You will keep your promise about school though, won’t you?”

“Certainly! You’ll learn to be refined by the time we present you to the scientific community. I’ll see to it. But until then, we must try to keep you out of trouble.”

When Victor guided Paul back out of the room, the former tutor thought he saw Francesca looking contemplatively at the window. Perhaps he should warn Victor about a possible excursion by his new creature- or perhaps he should leave him to deal with his own disasters himself.

He’d make a decision once the shock had worn off. Unfortunately, that might not be for some time.