We Ought Never To Have Done It: Part Six
"He’s absolutely barmy," whispered Tittlefeather to a passing maid. "Off his rocker completely. Have you heard him?"
"Only in passing, sir," whispered back the maid. "Went to clean his dishes and he asked me whether or not I believed in my other self. Couldn’t rightly answer him and he told me to only come back once I’d found the world from which we do not come."
"Ah, so ‘tis. I wondered whether the rest of the tower was as much privy to his madness as I. Thank you, girl. Go now." Tittlefeather watched the Kyrii go down the stairs before returning to his own task. He had with him a tray of crackers and cheese, specially requested by R.J. Milford to be brought to the "Everything Place," as Milford had requested it be known.
The Everything Place was in the lower levels of the tower complex, accessible only by elevator and lit only by several quavering torches. It was always unfortunate when Milford sought to spend time there, since it most always meant that several meals (as well as several other bizarre loads) were to be brought down to him over the course of a few days. Visits to the Everything Place were never brief; it was not uncommon for Tittlefeather to descend to that level seven times over the course of a single week. During one abysmal month, he had gone down twice a day, every day, for the whole month. Neither Milford nor Tittlefeather had been quite right after that.
But on this day, Tittlefeather came bearing crackers and cheese, per Milford’s request, as he had done every day for half a year. When he stepped out of the elevator into the Everything Place, he was greeted by a sight he had often seen before. Milford was slumped over a table, breathing heavily, muttering to himself, and scribbling without looking in a journal that, from the amount of care that had been taken with it, seemed to have been made from scraps of napkin. Tittlefeather cleared his throat gently at first, then sharply, then brusquely, and finally got his employer’s attention.
"Your snack, sir," he said. "A simple cheese and crackers from the city."
Milford looked up from his arms with watery eyes and stared at Tittlefeather as though seeing him for the first time. "Ah. You’re…Tittlefeather. You’re you, aren’t you? Truly you? Can’t rightly be sure anymore. Never mind, though. It’s a matter for another time. Cheese and crackers, delightful. Yes, yes, bring it here. Can’t science on an empty stomach, wot?"
He extended his arms and automatically accepted the plate from Tittlefeather’s arms. He reached down, grabbed a piece of cheese, and brought it to his mouth with a gracefulness that a kindergartener might not have been proud of. "Mm, quite delightful. Will that be all, Tittlefeather?"
Tittlefeather paused for a moment, unsure. He was bred to be a manservant and held the utmost respect for his employer, and yet…he could not help but be worried about the evolution he had taken the last few months. Ever since moving into the tower and beginning his study of the mining site, Milford had begun to exhibit strange behaviors, things he had not once been given to (even allowing his eccentricities!) Perhaps it was true, what they said about the imaginations of the wealthy, those with nothing better to do; perhaps they simply fancied their minds away, lost it upon whichever thing hooked their interest. Many ladies in the city, it was said, became obsessed with the Poogle races to such an extent that they lost all care for anything but. Perhaps the same was true of Milford; this mine shaft had so encapsulated his attention that he was now consumed by it.
But Tittlefeather was not convinced.
"I said ‘will that be all, Tittlefeather?’ Perhaps you wish me to share with you the secrets of the unliving? The secrets I have uncovered here beyond the Door We Shall Not Cross? Ha! As Van Coorhaenis before us said, ‘Trust not your closest friends with your closest secrets, for you shall then your closest enemies make.’ Begone, Tittlefeather, now that you have brought your cheese and crackers! Begone from my sight and leave me to my work!"
He was not convinced at all.
We have been in this tower over a year now. What have we learned? What have we accomplished? What do I know now that I did not when I first started?
What is behind the Door? Oh, I know. I have collected samples from The Lurking Fear that lives behind that Door. But to what end? What has science given me which I did not already suspect upon the embarkment of this…this…
Tonight, I try something new. There is much buzz regarding a promising researcher by the name of Francis Sloth, out of the city. He has published papers regarding the mutation of extant tissue leftover from surgery. He claims it can be reanimated and even shaped into something new. His appraisers claim that he may well have invented a new species of pet, but only I see the true potential in his creation. I have seen Dot A and Mr. Sloth (Dr. soon, perhaps) has created for me Dot B. It is now a simple matter of bringing Dot A to Dot B. To this end, my goal can be achieved. That goal which I first pontificated upon back in the ancestral home in the city. To take the self in the mirror and bring it into reality. As the tabloids have mockingly called it…cloning.
But to understand Dot A…that is the predicament. How do you understand that which defies logic? Defies the very rules by which you live? I have seen the Dot, hidden it behind the Door. I can physically understand what it is. I can even, in a cosmic sense, understand how it is that it can possibly be. Yet I cannot fathom it. It breaks down my mental faculties day and night, much like it attempts to break down the Door both day and night. What is it? How is it? Perhaps, most importantly, by what means is it?
I wish to speak to it. I know I have written many times of such a thing, but I feel as though it is impossible to scientifically dissect the Dot without attempting some sort of sociological relation with it.
Am I mad?
Tittlefeather will undoubtedly say so. He does not understand. I will not let him. I have spent the last three months down here, in the Everything Place. I have not left. No doubt my office rots at the top of my labyrinth, constructed as it was to keep the Dot out. And yet I sit here, surrounded by it and its permeating influence.
I am mad.
And that is how it must be.
Tittlefeather stood above it all and watched, waiting for his wings to take flight and never daring. He would, of course; his survival instinct was not completely gone, after all. But it would be hard.
R.J. Milford stood on the landing. He smiled and waved. "Tittlefeather, be of good cheer. I have written of this in my notebook, which is quite safe! If there shall be others after us, they shall only know of our failures and shall stay well away! I shall, of course, lead the great behemoth back to the Door, back to whence it came. There is a failsafe mechanism on the door; we shall be inexorably locked inside. Be of good cheer! It is as it is meant to be, and, perhaps, I shall get a firsthand look at it after all this time."
Tittlefeather fluffed his feathers. "Sir, are you quite sure?" A roar sounded from somewhere above the pair of them, and a beam fell through the intervening space. "I do not wish to leave sir if the option remains to me."
Milford flipped his feathers airily and laid down on the wooden planks of the landing. "Tittlefeather, you bother me. Go flap your beak elsewhere."
"Sir!" Tittlefeather rejoined. "You cannot entrap the thing if you lay down upon the landing! I beseech you, rise at once!"
Milford rose, begrudgingly. "Pshaw, nothing like a servant to remind you of your civic duty to the rest of your kind and refuse you the ease of an easy scientific expedition. A pox on you, Tittlefeather. Though of course, I don’t mean that. It’s simply…the science talking."
Another roar from above, closer this time.
"I…suppose we shan’t be seeing each other again, Tittlefeather."
"I suppose we shan’t, sir."
"Unless you come back this way, ha! But then…I suppose I shan’t be the same Milford you left behind. Or rather, I will be the same, just not…the same way. Ha. Ha ha."
"Quite, sir. I shan’t return, all the same."
Milford turned. "Oh, quite right." Another turn. "Quite right."
"Sir, it might not be my place to say so, sir, but might you not be wanting to descend to the Everything Place, sir? It sounds…" The roars conveniently sounded not ten feet above their heads. "…as though you might be needed elsewhere."
Milford turned to face Tittlefeather. "Quite right." He looked in the direction of the subterranean elevator. "Tittlefeather…I…"
"Sir, you need not say anything. I know. That is my job, after all."
A more poetic soul would have seen a tear in Milford’s eye. "Quite right, Tittlefeather. Quite right. Goodbye, then. And good job. Look after the estate. And little Marabel. And say hello to the missus for me. And-"
"Sir, if I may be so bold, you ought to go."
Milford stared blankly as Tittlefeather continued, "Sir, everything depends on you."
"…Quite right, Tittlefeather." The poetic tear. "Quite right. Goodbye."
With that, Richmond Jasper Milford, heir to his own estate and self-proclaimed scientist disappeared into one of the many passages he had had built into his home. Those passages were, he said, a safeguard against the all-too-real possibility of a containment breach. As so often happens, those safeguards only stood to isolate and destroy the unfortunate souls present at the time of said breach.
What the deuced date is it, Gathering, Milford thought, as the elevator descended.
I can write all the tripe in that journal I like. I can be mad all I like. There’s nothing like impending doom to bring one to one’s senses. This is madness. If Fyora can hear this, let it be known that this is madness and none should ever tread this ground again. Let it be forsaken and let all who come here speak of
…Milford cast around for something appropriate.
how haunted it is. Haunted houses are the fashion of late, and I’d wager my left flipper that they shall stay in vogue long after I’m gone. Let the Milford estate carry with it the moniker of a haunted house. No one should venture here.
The elevator shunted. A roar sounded from above.
Why should it end like this?
Hundreds of feet above, Tittlefeather fluffed his feathers and fluttered across the central landing of the tower. He considered the hallways to either side, but, of course, they were empty. He had known the entire tower was empty. The Dot, as Milford had come to refer to it, had happened. There was nothing left in the tower. There was nobody left. Tittlefeather alone would bear witness to its trespasses, and he would take its secrets to the grave.
He waited in front of the elevator to the Everything Place, making sure that the lever reached the lowest number and assured himself that it didn’t again rise. The Dot would have made its way down the shaft by now. There was destruction enough to be assured of that. And, with any luck or grace, it would remain down there in the Everything Place where it was born. Or perhaps hatched. Or, better yet, untombed.
Tittlefeather left the estate. He flew out of the front doors and hovered, aghast, above the monument to Neopian ingenuity. He pictured the clearing as it had been a year ago, nothing but a dirty field surrounded by pine trees with a few scaffolds around a shaft. He saw it as it had been half a year ago, a freshly-minted tower, replete with possibility, class, and science. And even up to a month ago, the tower had still held that possibility, that wondrous, slightly dangerous hint that something amazing could happen there. But nothing amazing had happened in that clearing. Only destruction and pain had happened. Something unnatural had reared its ugly head there and stolen the master away. Something that he had sought control over and had, in turn, been controlled by.
Tittlefeather flew away from the tower on the fourteenth of Gathering. He flew away, landed somewhere safe, far away from Neopia Central, and renamed himself. He became another pet entirely and never again thought of what once he had done. He never thought of his former master and never again served a master besides. Above all else, he never again would hear talk of science in his presence, be it biology, chemistry, or geology. If talk of the unknown came near him, or word of Dr. Sloth’s latest achievements reached his ears, Tittlefeather would immediately leave the room, claiming to be ill of beak. Science, it seemed, had left his mark.
When asked about this many years later, Tittlefeather would only respond with the same cryptic line he had always put forth. "We should never have gone there, sir." It did not matter who asked him this; he would always respond the same. "No, sir, no. We should never have gone there. We ought never to have gone there."
To be continued…