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Elle n'a pas Peur des Fantômes

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Mademoiselle Adèle Blanc-Sec's holiday was not proceeding entirely as planned. She had anticipated that Professor Dieuleveult would attempt to wreak some revenge upon her for his humiliation in Egypt. She had therefore taken care to rig up a small booby trap on the case where she stored her latest manuscript, nor had she brought any particularly valuable texts with her. Indeed, half the purpose of her trip was to access some archives in the Library of Congress which were not available to her in Europe.

Still, it was annoying to return from dinner to discover two louts in her cabin together with a great deal of smoke, courtesy of the booby trap.

"You have burned my fingers!" one of them said indignantly.

"You should not have been poking around in my possessions," Adèle said.

After that matters began to go downhill. The second lout made a lunge for her, which Adèle was fortunately able to duck. A sharp elbow in his stomach slowed him down long enough for Adèle to grab the case containing her manuscript and escape into the narrow corridors of the ship. She intended to report the incident to the captain who was presumably paid to handle this kind of thing except, as it quickly became obvious, the captain had other matters on his mind.

Adèle had prepared for many eventualities en voyage. The ship sinking, however, was not one of them. The next few hours were an awkward mixture of exhilaration and tedium. The louts seemed remarkably unconcerned for their own survival and spent a long time pursuing her which, she felt, might have been more profitably spent securing a place on a lifeboat. As a result, Adèle had to waste precious hours dodging behind pillars, and running through increasingly crowded decks.

Three o'clock found her floating in an upturned bath tub somewhere in the North Atlantic with only the case containing her manuscript, the clothes she was wearing and an oar, rescued from one of the lifeboats. At least the possession of an oar meant she could steer the bathtub. The important question was one of direction.

Dawn found her bathtub bumping up against the edges of an ice flow. Mademoiselle Adèle Blanc-Sec considered her options. She prodded the ice dubiously with her oar and debated whether to attempt to paddle her bathtub away or venture out onto the ice itself. She surveyed the scene through the brightening sky. A figure appeared on the ice, walking towards her. Given her predicament, Adèle opted to remain in the bathtub as the figure approached. She could always push off the ice and attempt to paddle away should it prove unfriendly.

It must be said, her courage was somewhat tested. As the figure came nearer it was impossible not to realise that it was tall, exceptionally so. It was difficult to make out the details of its visage, for its face was swathed in a heavy scarf, but as the light improved and it drew closer, Mademoiselle Blanc-Sec could discern two watery eyes possessed of a faint glow. Still, if there was one thing her adventures had taught her, it was that one should not jump to conclusions based on appearance alone, nor upon the assertions in ancient Egyptian texts, if it came to that.

"Are you perhaps in need of some assistance?" asked the man, for so she presumed the figure was, albeit a very tall man. He spoke in German.

Adèle was briefly grateful for her extensive education, including an extremely unpleasant season being finished in the Swiss Alps.

"I appear to have lost my direction. If you could perhaps point me in the direction of New York?" she asked.

"You are French?" the man asked, in French.

"Yes, indeed. The direction to New York?"

The man pulled a battered compass out of his pocket and consulted it. Then he gestured to her right.

"Are you certain that you can reach New York without assistance?"

"Do you have any to offer?"

The man appeared to consider this carefully. "I am in possession of a boat which I think will be more seaworthy than your own conveyance."

"Is it near here?"

"Not far."

Adèle considered her options. The man's French was excellent and his accent impeccable, though there was still a faint Germanic tone to his words. Speaking good French was, alas, with acknowledgements to Professor Dieuleveult, no guarantee of character. On the other hand, the mysterious gentleman was hovering a respectful distance away from her on an ice flow in the middle of the North Atlantic patiently waiting for her to tell him whether she needed assistance or whether she was quite fine rowing her own bathtub to New York. In Adèle's experience that spoke exceedingly well of his character.

"Yes, I think your boat would be an excellent idea, if it is not too much trouble."

"I assure you it is not." The man approached. He was very tall indeed and held out a gloved hand. "May I help you out of your vehicle?"

"Thank you, that is most kind."

Adèle allowed herself to be handed out of the bathtub. The man peered into it.

"Only one case?"

"Alas, there was a ship-wreck."

"How unfortunate. I fear I do not have many conveniences suitable for a lady, but I can probably provide an extra coat."

"That would be most welcome."

They walked together across the ice.

"I am Mademoiselle Adèle Blanc-Sec, the travel writer."

The man sighed. "It is many years since I had the chance to acquire new books. I hope you are not offended therefore that I have not heard of you."

"Not at all. And you are?"

"I call myself Proteus. Proteus Frankenstein."

"How long have you been out here?"

"Very nearly a century."

Adèle allowed herself a moment to blink slowly, but decided that to express surprise would be somewhat gauche. "That explains why you have not heard of me, I have only been writing for a few years."

They travelled a short distance across the ice flow to where, it appeared, Proteus had a small camp. There was an up-turned boat that was being used as a shelter, a string of frozen fish and an ancient sea chest from which he pulled a slightly musty but perfectly serviceable fur coat which he handed to Adèle. She accepted it gratefully and pulled it around her. Proteus lifted up the boat single-handedly, scattering seal-skin curtains and a dusting of snow, and hoist it upon his shoulder.

"You may help yourself to the fish, if you wish. It may take you some time to reach New York."

"What about you? If I take the boat you will be without transport," Adèle said.

Proteus shrugged. "When people see me they often react badly. I do not have much use for the boat and nowhere to travel."

This was unexpected and Adèle found herself angry on Proteus' behalf.

"Who reacts badly?" she asked.

He inclined his head to one side. "You have not seen me properly. If you did, you yourself would recoil in horror."

"I would not," Adèle said. "You can hardly look worse than an Egyptian Mummy and I have dealt with plenty of them."

"Egyptian Mummies do not move and speak."

"You might be surprised. Come, Proteus, I am made of stern stuff and if anyone in New York gives you trouble they will have to answer to me."

Proteus hesitated and then he put down the boat and slowly unwound the scarf that concealed his features. Adèle managed not to gasp audibly. It was true that his visage was uniquely unsettling. His skin was almost translucent and she swore she could see the outlines of muscle and blood vessels beneath it. His lips were almost black in colour, contrasting with the strange glow in his eyes. Still, his behaviour was that of a gentlemen which, as far as Adèle was concerned was the main thing.

"Good, well now I have seen the worst, we can get on with things. You will come with me to New York, yes?"

Proteus stared at her a moment longer with his glowing eyes and then his mouth twitched in a hideous grimace which was probably a smile.

"Indeed, Mademoiselle, I will accompany you to New York. Will you permit me a few moments to assemble my belongings?"

"But of course."


Meanwhile, in Paris, Agathe Blanc-Sec the recently recovered twin sister of Adèle had arranged a meeting with the eminent scientist Marie Curie. This had been achieved only with some difficulty and, in the end, Agathe had been forced agree to accompany Madame Curie on an investigation into the crypts beneath the Sorbonne.

Agathe, it seemed, was destined to act as Sherpa on this little expedition and she found herself weighed down with electrometers, a large battery and some kind of leaden hooded lantern. She also had a notebook and a pencil with which she was trying to record her interview with the famous Nobel prize winner.

"So, Madame, how does it feel to be the first woman awarded a Nobel prize?" Agathe asked as they struggled down a narrow and dark staircase somewhere underneath the main library.

"It doesn't feel like much in particular. It does mean I am now beset by irritating reporters as well as obstructive old men and awkward student admirers. This way! According to the map, our destination is under the old anatomy rooms."

"What are we doing down here anyway?" Agathe asked, curiosity getting the better of her as she struggled after Madame.

"You are familiar with the theory of radiation?"

"I have done some reading. The rays of radiation penetrate the surface of the world and reveal what is hidden beneath."

Madame Curie shook her head. "That is somewhat romantic phrasing, and misses the essential heart of the matter. Still, it is not completely off track."

"Thank you, Madame."

Madame Curie stopped and bestowed upon Agathe a glare that suggested she believed Agathe to be making fun of her.

"So far, the radiation has only revealed things that we already know lie concealed, such as the bones of the body. But what if it could also reveal some of the mysteries of the world?"

"Such as?" Agathe asked.

"Such as ghosts. There is supposed to be a spectre down here and we, Mademoiselle Blanc-Sec, are going to reveal it."

"Reveal it? How?"

"With the power of radiation how else?"

"And where is this radiation?"

"You are holding it. I have adapted the hooded lantern to contain a small sample of uranium. When we remove the cover, a beam of radiation will shine out onto this photographic plate. Then we shall see if there is any ghost that may be illuminated. Right, this is the spot!"

Agathe looked around. They were in a large empty chamber. It had the faintly damp smell of a little used room. Old wooden shelving against the walls told her it had once been used for storage. She gratefully deposited her equipment on the ground and waited as patiently as she could manage while Madame Curie bustled around the room, laying out wires, photographic plates and thermometers.

"What do we know about this ghost?"

"Not a great deal. Rumour says it is the ghost of Professor Wolter, a German. He came to the Sorbonne in 1795 to teach anatomy and died a year later in mysterious circumstances."

"What kind of mysterious circumstances?"

Madame Curie shrugged. Clearly she was uninterested in the circumstances, only in the ghost. Agathe made a note of the name in her notebook. Even if there was no ghost she could turn it into an interesting detail. Though perhaps it would be too fanciful. Agathe did not want to end up writing adventure stories in the fashion of Adèle, no matter how popular they were. She had explained this at length to Zborowski only the night before and he had agreed with her that serious science journalism was a much higher calling than mere travel writing. Agathe added a question mark after Professor Wolter's name as a reminder not to get too carried away.

"All set!" Madame Curie said.

She placed the hooded lantern in the centre of the circle of equipment and pulled aside the shield. Agathe had been expecting a bright light to shine out but there was nothing.

"Nothing has happened," she said.

"We must give time for the exposure to fall on the photographic film," Madame Curie said in a withering tone of voice.

Then Agathe noticed that a faint green form was appearing above Madame's head.

"Is this radiation green?" she asked.

"No, of course not!"

"Then what is that?" Agathe pointed at the form which was now beginning to look somewhat like a skeleton in ancient academic dress?

"Fascinating!" Madame Curie said, peering up at the apparition.

"Is it friendly?" Agathe asked doubtfully.

"It is almost certainly harmless, I think."

At which point the apparition suddenly opened its mouth and flew downwards towards Agathe making a loud screeching sound.

For a moment, Agathe was on a small boat, surrounded by floating ice. A vast and hideous figure sat opposite her pulling on the oars. Then everything went blank.

Agathe awoke to a perfectly frightful smell that was being wafted in front of her face.

"Good, you are revived," said Madame Curie firmly.

"What happened?"

"The creature was obviously agitated by the presence of radiation. Fascinating, not what I was expecting at all, but fascinating none the less."

"I saw a boat! And a monster?"

"Probably just a side effect of shock. I had not taken you for the fainting type."

"I am not the fainting type. I think my twin sister may be in terrible danger."

"Twins eh? Twins are supposed to have some kind of supernatural link to each other, though I've never placed much store by the idea myself. However, it is possible that the ghost was drawn to you on that account. We should re-run the experiment and see what happens."


New York was awash with news of the Titanic tragedy. This was of some advantage to Adèle and Proteus. She explained to anyone who cared to listen that he was an Esquimaux who had rescued her and heroically rowed her to New York using his prodigious strength. This conveniently side-stepped any requirement that he provide papers, at least in the short term. Adèle's own lines of credit were sufficient to secure them both rooms in a decent hotel though her budget would suffer in the long run. Taking Proteus shopping was entertaining, if mildly irritating. He would keep becoming distracted by book shops and art galleries which was all very well but, as Adèle explained several times, it was necessary for him to acquire first some clothes that were neither 100 years out of date nor made from seal skin. Then, and only then, could he investigate the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It was a good job that he was strong for he was carrying at least two dozen books by the time they got back to the hotel. Adèle sent telegrams to both her publisher (DID NOT SINK STOP FOUND HISTORIC CREATURE ON THE ICE STOP WILL SEND FULL STORY SOON) and her sister (STILL ALIVE STOP DO NOT FORGET TO PAY RENT). Then she picked up a newspaper and tried to decide whether to take Proteus to a Broadway show or a poetry reading. She had a feeling he would prefer the poetry but The Whirl of Society sounded more to Adèle's personal taste.

She took time for a bath and gratefully changed out of the unfortunate dress that she had been wearing ever since encountering Dieuleveult's men. It was a good practical day dress but she feared that, after sinking on the Titanic and then spending more days than she cared to think being rowed across the Atlantic, it was unsalvageable and would have to be burned. It smelled of an unfortunate combination of sea water and whale fat. It took some time to comb the tangles of several days from her hair but once that was done she felt she was ready for a civilised meal and an entertaining evening. The Broadway show it would be.

The show was a great success though arguably Proteus was a greater one. Adèle would repeat her vague story about his background and then Proteus would launch into an earnest discussion of impressionism (he was impressed), expressionism (jury still out) or cubism (he disapproved). Adèle suspected few of his listeners had much idea what he was talking about, this was a Broadway audience after all, but they were impressed by his erudition. She promised to take him to the museums the following day.

However, the next morning she was surprised to find a telegram waiting for her at reception. She considered leaving it unread until her evening ablutions but warmed by the thought that Agathe had been anxious she opened it then and there.

AGATHE GONE MISSING STOP COME AT ONCE STOP ZBOROWSKI

It was most irritating. However Proteus would be a massive hit in Paris, especially if Adèle could tease from him the details of his tragic and mysterious past at which, so far, he had merely hinted. She went in search of a passenger ship.


When Zborowski opened his front door two weeks later he was surprised to find Mademoiselle Adèle Blanc-Sec with a most extraordinary figure, almost monstrous in appearance, standing behind her.

"This is Proteus Frankenstein," Adèle said without preamble. "He will have to stay with you while I find Agathe."

Zborowski tried to marshal his thoughts, so often scattered in Adèle's presence. "He will?" he asked.

"Yes. I had not budgeted for two passages back across the Atlantic so I can't afford to put him up in a hotel until after I sell the story. Obviously, it is impossible that he should stay with me."

"Obviously," Zborowski stuttered as Adèle pushed past him into his flat. "Impossible," he added weakly.

"You are very kind," Proteus said, bowing as he entered.

"Proteus is a poet," Adèle said, as if this should enlighten Zborowski in some way.

"That's very... artistic?" Zborowski hazarded.

"Only in art can we find the true beauty of our souls," Proteus said with a serious expression.

Adèle smiled. "Excellent! Now Zborowski I have promised Madame Pinachat that Proteus and I will attend her soiree on Sunday evening. We met her on the voyage over and she was enchanted by the piquancy of his villanelles. In the meantime, I will return to my flat and see if I can find any clues."

"Clues?" Zborowski asked.

"To Agathe's whereabouts. It is possible she has left some notes or correspondence behind her at the flat."

"She mentioned writing a story for Le Monde," Zborowski said. "Something about modern science."

"I see."

"There is an exhibition on at the Anatomy Section of the Sorbonne. Perhaps she went there?"

"I have an interest in Anatomy," Proteus said. "My father practised the art. Perhaps I could advise."

"I would be only too glad to help you in your search," Zborowski said.

Adèle looked sharply between the two men but clearly could think of no reason to refuse their help. "Very well, but do try to stay out of trouble. It is bad enough having Agathe to rescue."


The Anatomy exhibition was macabre in subject matter, featuring as it did numerous jars of preserving fluid containing the twisted remains of freaks of nature. The curator was more than anxious to describe every facet of the exhibition in excruciating detail. Adèle had an inkling that he was attempting to shock the lady, which served only to make her irritated. Zborowski was looking distinctly green about the gills and she was concerned that he might faint. Meanwhile Proteus regarded everything with a solemn and lugubrious interest occasionally commenting upon the obsessions of his father in relation to anatomy.

"These are anatomical instruments from the past 500 years kindly loaned to the exhibition by the University of Ingolstadt"

"That was my father's institution. I wonder if any of these instruments belonged to him?"

"I very much doubt it. Most of these devices are over a hundred year old."

"As it so happens," Proteus began but Adèle chose that moment to step on his foot.

"As it so happens, Mr. Frankenstein's father was something of a collector. He liked the older tools."

"This exhibition is heavy with its ghosts," Proteus said thoughtfully. "It makes me think of the ages of time and human mortality." He began to scrabble in his pockets where he had taken to keeping a notebook in which to record ideas for poems.

Adèle left him to it. She did not discount the possibility of ghosts but was hoping for a simpler explanation of her sister's disappearance.

"Has another lady such as myself visited this exhibition recently?" Adèle asked.

The curator shook his head. "The exhibit has not been as popular as we had hoped. The only visitor has been that student of anatomy over there. He has been here every day for the past week."

Adèle looked across the room. The student of anatomy in question was dressed in an ill-fitting suit that hung from his frame. He had a hat pulled down almost to his ears. Adèle narrowed her eyes. Unless she was very much mistaken the young man had hair piled up under that hat and if his moustache was genuine then Adèle was a husky.

"A moment, sir," she murmured to the curator and then marched across the museum towards the young man.

As she got closer she even recognised the clothes. She snatched the hat from the student's head saying, "Agathe!" in her severest tone of voice.

Agathe turned to look at her and Adèle's admonition dried in her throat for behind the wire glasses Agathe was affecting, her eyes glowed a suspicious shade of green.

"Agathe what has become of you?"

"The twin!" Agathe cried out in a strange deep voice. "At last the twin has come which means my monster cannot be far behind."

"Father?" Proteus said doubtfully.

"Oh, evil creature. Now at last I can rid the world of you!"

Agathe produced a revolver from a pocket of her coat and let off a shot. Fortunately, she had not braced herself correctly and the shot went wide. She staggered back. Adèle swiped out with her umbrella, knocking the gun from Agathe's grasp. Agathe swung her fist at Adèle and missed before opening her mouth and Adèle could only describe it as vomiting a strange sticky substance all over Adèle. As Adèle gasped in disgust, Agathe rose up into the air and glided across the room towards Proteus.

"Professor Wolter sensed your survival through the link between these two sisters. He came to me at once with the news and I knew I must return to the world to rid it once and for all of the abomination I created."

"But you died out on the ice!" Proteus said, apparently rooted to the spot in horror.

Zborowski, with more presence of mind than Adèle generally gave him credit for, lifted a glass jar containing the head of a kitten and threw it at Agathe. It bounced off her.

"I died, but you survived and so I could not rest. It was by chance that Professor Wolter felt the connection established here between this woman and her sister. Thus I came swiftly and was able to inhabit this body. Now I am the one with the power."

Agathe raised her hands. Adèle sprinted across the floor of the exhibit and crashed into Proteus. She did not exactly knock him aside for Proteus had the solidity of a large rock, but he did move a step which was just sufficient to avoid the stream of energy that burst from Agathe's fingers.

"Begone! Begone! Foul apparition!!"

Adèle looked up to see an older woman, holding a large fire hose. She turned the handle on the hose and a beam of light sprung out snaking in the general direction of Agathe. Several glass cases exploded. The light appeared to wrap itself around Agathe's ankle but the hose then bucked in the woman's hands and she dropped it. The light vanished. Agathe let out a shriek, flew high in the air and vanished out of the door of the room.


"I spent some time calibrating the detection equipment, but I observed that I got particularly strong effects when your sister was present," Marie Curie said as she poured herself a cup of tea.

"And it didn't occur to you that it might be dangerous?" Adèle asked.

She picked up the cup and scowled at it. She had managed to get the substance with which Agathe had covered her off her face and hands, but her hair felt sticky and uncomfortable and her coat was ruined. She was currently making do with a lab coat supplied by Madame Curie and felt as though matters had, at least sartorially, got somewhat out of hand.

"Everything involves risks," Madame Curie said dismissively. "The theory I am developing is fascinating. Did you see my latest device was almost sufficient to trap the spectre?"

"I observed. Let me make sure I understand clearly. During your experiments my sister made contact with the ghost of some dead German professor and then had a vision of Proteus and myself. This ghostly professor informed the ghost of Victor Frankenstein of all that had passed and Frankenstein then possessed Agathe during one of you later experiments. Frankenstein is now resolved upon the destruction of Proteus."

"Which is excellent news, for now we know that, sooner or later, Frankenstein will make another attempt on Proteus' life and I can test my machine once more!"

Adèle glared at Madame Curie over the rim of her china teacup, but the scientist appeared oblivious to her disapproval.

"Let us hope that all ghosts are such gossips. If they are, there is a good chance Frankenstein will learn of Madame Pinachat's soiree on Sunday," Adèle said.

"A trap!" Zborowski's eyes lit up.

Adèle nodded before turning back to Madame Curie, "I think you should, perhaps, make more than one machine. I suspect we may need them."


Madame Pinachat's soirees were renowned throughout Paris. Madame herself liked to believe this was because of the brilliant talent she frequently discovered and unleashed upon the artistic scene. If truth be told, much of their popularity rested upon the ability of her cook and the excellence of her husband's wine cellar. Still, they had become the place to be seen and her six month absence in the United States had only whetted the appetites of fashionable Parisiens.

That evening, Madame Pinachat had let it be known that she had made a new and exciting discovery. She talked considerably about how form could be deceptive and that great pearls would be found inside the ugliest oyster. Society anticipated a spectacle, if nothing else.

Madame Pinachat's salon was large and spacious. She had decked it out in a pale gold colour and elegant furniture was carefully scattered about the room to create an impression of casual informality. A grand piano stood next to the large fireplace and creatied a performance space.

Proteus, even without uttering a line of poetry, was already creating a quiet sensation. His vast eight foot form towered over the assembly and several of the ladies had affected to faint at the sight of him. However, his impeccable manners and philosophical demeanour were rapidly winning the gathering around. Madame Pinachat fluttered back and forth, introducing him to a writer here and a politician there. She was torn between regret that his clothes were clearly a size or two too small and quiet delight at the eccentric appearance of the whole ensemble. She was only puzzled that Mademoiselle Blanc-Sec would be arriving late. Madame Pinachat had hoped she could give a reading from one of her travel romances first, in order to set an appropriate tone for the main attraction.

At a quarter to eight Madame Pinachat rang a small bell and her guests settled themselves into the chairs surrounding the piano. She bowed graciously and indicated that Proteus should begin. He walked to stand next to the piano, several sheets of foolscap clutched nervously in his hands. He cleared his throat, a deep stentorian sound, and then began.

"In the Arctic the day when it comes,
if it comes at all,
comes slowly
like a maiden stealing into a room,
scared that she may be noticed,
like a.."

But the assembled crowd were not destined to learn what else the Arctic dawn was like for the double doors at the far end of the salon flung open to reveal Agathe Blanc-Sec. Possession by the obsessive spirit of a seventeenth century German academic had not done any favours to Agathe's sense of propriety. Her hair floated loose in an ethereal breeze. She glowed with a pale light.

"I will restore the natural order of things," she called out in a voice that echoed uncannily around the salon.

Proteus stood tall, still clutching his poem to his breast. "Observe, father. Observe that I am no longer outcast. It was only your imagining that made me so."

Agathe Blanc-Sec shrieked a high-pitched wail and all of Madame Pinachat's expensive electric bulbs exploded. The salon was plunged into darkness, lit only by the fire in the grate and the strange light that emanated from Agathe. At this point several members of the assembly, both male and female, really did faint.

"Not so fast!" Zborowski stepped forwards. He had been lurking at the back of the crowd. He had arrived with Proteus but Madame Pinachat had quickly dismissed him as uninteresting and he had been able to fade into the background and take up position as a sentry, next to a small side door that led down to the servants' quarters.

Agathe turned to face Zborowski, her expression a strange mixture of curiosity and malice.

"Not so fast?" she asked.

He nodded and glanced anxiously behind him to the door which remained resolutely shut. He cleared his throat and said "Not so fast!" again, only a little louder and with more emphasis.

Agathe grinned evilly and raised up her hands.

The reader will, of course, have been wondering what has become of Mademoiselle Adèle Blanc-Sec and the redoubtable Madame Curie. All this time they have been in the servants' quarters having infiltrated the establishment in the disguise of two inspectors of electrical wiring from the municipal supervisory committee. Madame Curie's "nucleon hose" (for thus she had dubbed it) required a powerful battery and an exceedingly expensive quantity of uranium. These had been borrowed from the Radium Institute and were mounted on three trolleys that had been hooked together with chains. Not without difficulty, the travel writer and the scientist had contrived to conceal both the hoses and themselves in a convenient broom closet.

It was exceedingly cramped and not a little warm.

"My false beard itches," Madame Curie said, scratching at the offending item.

"Leave it on. We may need to impersonate the inspectors again," Adèle replied. She heaved uncomfortably at the padding around her waist. It had felt in character to her that inspectors from the municipal supervisory committee would be well-fed and perhaps a touch indolent.

"How much longer do we have to wait?" Madame Curie asked, not for the first time.

Adèle glanced down at her watch in irritation. "Not long now, though who knows when or if Agathe will put in an appearance."

"Half of Paris is talking about Proteus, even some of my students have heard of the soiree. This Frankenstein seems to be a pretty predictable ghost. I am confident he will be here."

"Well I hope he turns up soon. You are not the only person with an itchy beard."

They waited a moment.

"Did I hear a scream?" Madame Curie asked.

"I'm not sure, the door is quite thick."

"We should possibly open it a little."

They pushed open the door of the broom closet and listened intently. The tenor of polite conversation from within the salon had shifted to something altogether more agitated.

"Not so fast!" Zborowski's voice sounded nervous though, in Adèle's experience, that was nothing new.

"That's our signal!" Madame Curie said in excitement.

They hauled the trolley with its battery and radiation source out of the broom closet and uncoiled the three nucleon hoses.

The plan was to burst heroically into the salon. However, this is not so easy when there are two of you carrying three fire hoses and when one of you is wearing a pillow under your clothes in order to disguise yourself as an overfed inspector of electrical fittings. Still, they entered the room conspicuously if without quite the élan Adèle had planned.

Adèle Blanc-Sec surveyed the scene. Zborowski was standing just in front of the door glancing nervously between it and Agathe who was glowing with ethereal green and purple light.

"Mr. Frankenstein, you have no business occupying my sister!" Adèle said firmly. "Please relinquish your hold now!"

"But I must rid the world of my terrible mistake."

"That decision is no longer yours. If you don't mind my saying so, Proteus seems much better equipped for polite society than you do. I've known him several weeks and he has attempted neither to possess nor murder anyone in that entire time."

"Your feeble judgement is clouded," Agathe said.

Adèle's eyebrow quirked up just slightly. She handed the spare nucleon hose to Zborowski, glanced quickly at Madame Curie to check all was in order, and then turned the valve on her own.

Light poured out into the room.

More of the guests screamed, fainted and headed for the doors.

The dancing beam caught Agathe in its grasp and she writhed. Madame Curie hastily flanked the figure and opened her own hose, catching Agathe in a second beam. Zborowski stood staring and clutching his own with his mouth slightly agape.

"Zborowski!" Adèle shouted.

He blinked once and then hurriedly turned his own hose on, catching Agathe in a third beam. They remained like that for half a minute.

"Is it working?" Adèle Blanc-Sec asked Madame Curie.

"It is hard to say. I only considered discorporated forms when I developed the theory."

Agathe laughed maniacally and raised her hands. Sparks of electricity briefly flashed about the room. Proteus ducked behind Adèle.

Adèle frowned. "How do we discorporate it then?"

"I don't know!" Madame Curie said. "Maybe some kind of shock?"

Adèle sniffed with irritation. She handed Proteus her nucleon hose. Then she marched up as close to Agathe as possible.

"On my mark switch off the hoses!" she ordered.

"But..." Zborowski began but then shut his mouth quickly in response to Adèle's glare.

Adèle drew back her fist. "Now!"

The three beams of light quickly switched off. Adèle punched. Agathe shuddered and a luminous outline briefly blurred around her as if something was being shaken free.

Adèle huffed, shook her head, and then hit her sister again. If she was honest with herself, it was a little cathartic. This time the ghostly form came completely free, revealing itself to be a young man wearing 17th century garb and a haughty expression.

"Hoses on again!" Adèle shouted and threw herself on Agathe, tackling her to the ground.

The beams of light streamed out once more, capturing the ghostly figure. It writhed for a moment and then dissipated like smoke.

"Switch of the nucleon hoses!" Madame Curie said.

Adèle Blanc-Sec sat up and dusted the front of her dress. Agathe sat up also, looking vaguely bemused.

"You hit me!" she said after a moment, in a tone of mild indignation.

"It was necessary," Adèle snapped. "Really, Agathe you do get yourself into such scrapes."

She scrambled to her feet. Zborowski darted over and hurried to help Agathe up also. Adèle watched them for a moment with raised eyebrows but decided to say nothing. She turned instead to Proteus with a smile.

"Now then, I believe we were to have a poetry reading." She clapped her hands. "Come, come everyone, the excitement is over, do get a grip on yourselves."

Naturally, that particularly soiree of Madame Pinachat's was the talk of Paris for a twelve month and Proteus Frankenstein became the toast of high society. Madame Curie, however, decided her theory needed more work before further experimentation could take place. She then became distracted by other matters. A year later she sent her notes to a researcher in Chicago who seemed to have a promisingly similar line of research. The Great War intervened, and the researcher died in Northern France. The notes lay forgotten and unregarded in Chicago's central library.

Unregarded, that is until a hundred years later a promising, if eccentric, graduate student named Jillian Holtzmann, stumbled across them while researching a paper on early uses of radiation.

The rest, as they say, is history.