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Doctor Moreau's Other Island (link to Nesvadba homepage)

Members of the Scientific Council, Sirs,

I have discovered a new disease. I therefore wish to describe the symptoms before you conclude your discussions on the abolition of the medical profession. I myself am a woman doctor, but I trust that you will not suspect me of ulterior motives, of wishing to save my own job. There are not many of us left; what was originally considered under the heading disease, states caused by parasites or by unreasonable use of some of the organs of the body, have now disappeared entirely; every citizen can take his own preventive measures. I had already considered changing my profession; I have always been an active gymnast and understood the functioning of the human body from my own practical experience, as it were. I was about to begin work as a lecturer on surface anatomy in painting and sculpture studios when I was surprised by an invitation from the Cosmological Institute, where the post of medical attendant was to be filled.

"You will soon see for yourself," said the Professor of Elemental Research, who was substituting for the Director. "In recent weeks there have been strange things happening at some of the places where our work is conducted. We have consulted experts of various kinds and finally came to the conclusion that it would perhaps be useful to employ a medical man or woman too. It took us a long time to find one, however, and in the meantime one more of our research workers disappeared."

"What do you mean, 'disappeared?'" I asked. "I did not know doctors were expected to do the work of trackers." He explained the whole affair to me and I was given a room to work in, equipped with books and complicated instruments -- what used to be called a surgery -- where I was supposed to sit and wait for my patients to appear. I waited a long, long time.

I remember very clearly the day Ivan came to see me; he worked in the Institute for Research into the Curvature of the Universe. He declared that he felt ill, and that he needed to go somewhere to the seaside for a rest. Even if only for a couple of days.

"Like William and Stephen?" I asked; those were the two whose disappearance had led to my appointment. "Do you want to go off to the Pacific too, and disappear en route? What is the matter with you all? Have you made a secret pact or something?" That was what it looked like to me. Before long that department would be completely destaffed. He looked offended; his colleagues' disappearance had been as much of a surprise to him as to the rest. He really felt ill, he really needed a rest, that was all there was to it. He was indeed pale, ill at ease and run down. His hair had been thinning and he kept screwing up his eyes; he even stooped a little.

"You have been neglecting physical exercise," I told him, "you haven't been for a complexion check-up for a long time, and you need a thorough examination." He would not hear of it. He wanted to get away from the Institute and I knew I could not hold him back. And so I set out to follow him, like a real tracker.

Of course he did no go home. He went straight for the rocket-plane station at Ruzyne. I did not want him to see me following him, and so I boarded the next aerobus.

When I reached the airfield Ivan was already going past the automatic stewardess; he was the last passenger. In vain did I try to get on the same plane. It was another example of the stupidity of machines. There was not a single human being in the place and it was no good explaining my reasons to the automatic stewardess. She wouldn't have understood, or at any rate not in time. The rocket-plane took off without me. I had to wait for the next, and that meant a few hour's delay. Anyway, I had the chance to follow the flight and see where Ivan had gone. It was a place called Arica, a port somewhere in Chile; I had never heard of it before, and it was only natural that planes did not take off for Arica frequently.

The flight lasted about half an hour. When I reached Arica the airfield was crowded with people; an alarm had been raised because a passenger had been lost overboard from the plane before mine. There was no need for them to give his name, I knew well enough it was Ivan. They said people had been disappearing on that Arica line lately, in the strangest manner. At first they thought it was a mistake in the calculations of the machine that despatched the passengers, but nothing was found to be wrong. Then a whole plane disappeared, crew and all. Nobody could blame the machines for that. Ivan had been seen by the other passengers as he went towards the refreshment bar, over the Pacific, roughly at latitude 53 degrees south and longitude 101 degrees west, according to the log. He never reached the bar nor did he go back to his place; neither the doors nor the emergency exits had been tampered with, so that he must have left the plane deliberately. I found an old English map and there, at that spot, lay a small volcanic island named Noble Isle.

I volunteered for the rescue party and was given a small helicopter boat. I left with the rest of the party.

We searched for a long time, but although I flew very low over Noble Isle I could not see a trace of any living thing. There were only some ruins of an ancient war base there, and rusty launching ramps jutted out of the long extinct volcano crater; down by the water there were a couple of rotting wooden huts. Not even a rabbit was to be seen. I examined it all very carefully, although the other members of the party had flown off to the north by then.

I flew round practically every tree, so engrossed that I did not notice a storm brewing. The first gust of wind blew my little helicopter into the tops of the tallest trees, it overturned and was wrecked. It was pouring rain and lightning was flashing all over the sky. It took me some time to free myself from the wreckage. I was not injured, but very wet. I wanted to inform the rest of the rescue party, but the communication panel in my machine was damaged. I would have to stay on the island until they realised I was missing. I thought I could take shelter for the time being in one of the tumbledown huts.

"Did you take every precaution?" I was asked by a man sitting behind a heavy oak table in the first room. I could not see his face because he was holding up a hand lamp. All I noticed was a mane of white hair. "Did you take every precaution?" he asked again, and I thought I had heard his voice somewhere before.

"Of course..." I stammered out, and went closer to him.

"You know what you are embarking on? You have taken the oath, you wish wholeheartedly to join in our work..." for the first time he looked up at me and started to his feet. "Who are you?" he shouted and without waiting for a reply dashed out and into the next room, where he sounded the alarm. Bells rang on all sides.

"Get out!" said a voice behind me, and I felt a knife in my back.

"Where to?" I turned round. Behind me stood Ivan with an expression of determined callousness on his face.

"Why should I go anywhere else now I've found you? We'll wait here till the rescue party comes. They'll see where we are by the wreckage of my helicopter. As soon as the storm blows over..." I looked out of the window; the rain was still pouring down but the wreckage had disappeared. The white-haired man came back into the room and bent over me. I recognised him and fainted.

When I came to myself the sky was blue again, but I was looking at it through bars. I was imprisoned in a sort of cell that must have been hollowed out of the rock years ago, in the age of wars. I could see several rescue helicopters right overhead and cried out, but they were too far away to hear me. They apparently noticed nothing on the island, and thought it was bare. Then I heard a different cry, long, howling cries of pain. Once again I recognised Ivan's voice. He groaned again. I tried to open the door but it was iron-studded. I ran to the window again, to shout or at least to wave a scarf, but the helicopters had gone. Ivan was screaming now, like a man being tortured. I shouted his name but his cries drowned my voice. I remembered who the old man was. Of course -- the famous professor of surgery whose lectures I had travelled to Vienna to attend. I remembered how he had protested when they closed down his department after the discovery of life-preserving solutions and artificial tissue, which made operations and remedial measures superfluous; the old man had not wanted to close his surgery and hand it over to the museum. He loved surgery the way the old alchemists loved their pseudo-science, and declared that in our day surgery could find its mission in adapting men to perform specialised tasks; to transform them, as it were; like a Creator. That was when somebody nicknamed him Doctor Moreau, after the fictional vivisector in an old book by Wells. I could not be mistaken; in my last year at the university he lectured on surgery for the whole of Europe, and there were only four of us who went. I always sat right in front of him to be able to follow the demonstrations properly. Perhaps he had recognised me, now...I had never done him any harm, I had never laughed at him; I was rather sorry for him in those days, because I realised that he was the last exponent of one of the great arts of ancient times, an art that had done much for humanity for generations. Why had he had me shut up here? What was he hiding here? How had Ivan got here? Why was he groaning in pain nearby? By this time I was feeling hungry. In my pocket I found a little nail file. The bars were set in masonry; I felt like the heroine of a romance. I did not have to work at them long; nobody could have been imprisoned here for years past, for the bars were rusted and almost came apart on their own.

I was standing in a dark wood. There was another cry of pain from Ivan. I tried to hide in some undergrowth but a bell rang as I approached, like the alarm bell in the hut. I leaped for the nearest palm tree but that seemed to begin sounding the alarm too; I ran through the thickest of the undergrowth pursued everywhere by the bells. I was scratched and my clothes torn, but at last it stopped and I found myself in a little clearing where there were camouflaged tents. The bells were all silent, and dashing into the nearest tent I collapsed on the first camp bed.

It smelt of carbolic, like the hospitals in the old days, and I could not help smiling. Perhaps the whole island was a museum of ancient medicine.

My eyes got used to the half-light in the tent, under the old-fashioned war camouflage, and I looked round me. A cry of horror escaped me. There were beds all round the tent, and from each a wounded man was looking at me, like they used to do; they were alive. There were about five of them; they were young, healthy men, and they were all crippled.

"Welcome," said the one nearest to me; he had no limbs except the hand in which he held Hubble's "Problem of Astronomy." "You are really a woman, aren't you?" I nodded, speechless. "You are the first woman to ask to come to our island..." he looked round at the others as he spoke. They were all smiling, the legless man opposite him, the one with the mutilated face, and the one-armed man in the shadow of the furthest corner, one of whose legs was extended in an old-fashioned traction extensor.

"Have you spoken to the Doctor?" they asked. At last I found my tongue, and going to the middle of the tent, I spoke my mind:

"Yes. I happen to know him. I am a doctor, too, you see. And I am in a position to tell you that he will cripple you for life. Who ever saw wounded men treated in this way? With carbolic all over the place? With sutures? Don't these books I see all round you say anything about the new discoveries in healing and treatment? All you have to do is signal to the first rescue plane -- Moreau takes care to hide you from them, doesn't he? -- and they will bring you regenerative solutions which will heal your wounds in a few minutes; in a short time you will be given new limbs of biological materials. You have got to get away from here -- Moreau would deform you for life..." I was quite determined. While I was talking they had all sat up in their beds and the weights of the extensor had crashed to the gound.

"What is all this nonsense? Haven't you taken the oath?"

"We don't want any rescue parties!"

"Don't you dare leave this tent!"

"How did you get in here at all?" the three who could walk put down their books and hobbled over to the doorway of the tent. They raised their old-fashioned crutches but I beat them off easily. They started shouting and alarm bells sounded again out in the clearing. Moreau stood in front of me, helping along Ivan, mutilated so that I would never even have recognised him had he not still been groaning in pain.

"This is criminal! You will answer for the crime!" I cried out; Dr. Moreau wanted to hold me back but I have proved too much for stronger men than this queer old creature. I threw him off with a single movement of my arm, and as I turned I saw Ivan, Ivan who was still groaning in pain, lifting his heavy crutch to hit me. I could not understand why the victim was trying to help his tormentor; I forgot to defend myself, and lost consciousness again.

This time they woke me up themselves. They were sitting round me in a closed circle, and I could not move.

"We are here voluntarily," Ivan was saying for the umpteenth time, "me, William, Stephen..." he named them all, and they were names well known in science; all of them crippled. He pointed to them one by one, and I noticed that on his right hand Ivan had seven fingers. I could not understand, and I began to feel afraid. "You know yourself that our research into the fundamental nature of our three-dimensional universe is not moving forward at all..."

"We have got no further than when Hubble made his discovery," said the man with the mutilated face.

"All we know is that the galaxies are moving away from us and that their speed is relative to their distance," said the legless man, and his voice shook as if he were a priest absorbed in religious incantation.

"The radius of curvature of our universe is increasing. The content does not change. Hasn't for years. Why?"

"Is the universe finite?"

"Has it a fixed form?"

"What is beyond it? What is in the fourth dimension?" the cripples were shouting one another down as if there was nothing on earth so exciting, as if these were the only urgent problems there were.

"We have got to experiment," said Ivan; he was the newest recruit, and the calmest. "We have got to send a probe out into the universe..." They all fell silent, their eyes shining. I felt as though I was watching a primitive tribal ceremony.

"Why should you have to hide because of all this? All you have to do is tell the Cosmological Institute what you need, and your proposals will be included in the next plan. The experiments you need will be performed as soon as the technicians deliver the appropriate rockets..." they were smiling as though I was a child.

"No such materials exist," said Ivan. "It is impossible to make a rocket that would carry a man on a vast journey such as we mean. There appears to be some law, a law by which nature limits the extent of human knowledge..."

"There are no such laws. It is necessary to find the right way to do what you want, that is all. The mind has found the way out of every difficulty so far."

"That is just why we are here," replied Ivan. "We have found the way. We shall make our bodies smaller, get rid of unnecessary organs. We have found a masterly surgeon who has promised to perfect us until we can send out into the universe just our brains and more perfect hands, an organism capable of conscious observation, memory, and the ability to draw conclusions. Then we can use normal rockets left over from the old war days. We shall weigh so little..." They were smiling. The monstrous creatures. As if they had longed for mutilation, as if it was their heaven. The man with the mutilated face merely bared his teeth.

"That won't be life, though," I protested feebly. "What good will your knowledge be to you then?"

"We ought to have put her to death at once!" Moreau burst out fiercely. He was standing in the shadows behind them. I shivered.

"I was always well prepared for your exams," I said foolishly, for it seemed quite incomprehensible that in our times anybody could think of killing men.

"She will not betray us. She does not understand our ideas, but she will say nothing to anyone. She only came here because she wanted to help us," said Ivan. "We do not need your help, we are doing everything of our own free will. Go back home."

I got to my feet unwillingly. They went down to the shore with me. Of course they were free agents and they could do as they wished; nobody could force them or prevent them. Ivan and I were alone.

"You must have something else to occupy yourself with, art, or music, or sport..."

"I was never interested in sport, I always found it a waste of time," he replied. "I broke my ankle once or twice on purpose, and then they stopped asking me to join in. I said I was going to study painting, but in fact I only copied works by less well-known painters of an earlier age, using a technique I discovered myself. Nobody noticed anything, they just thought I was not talented."

"Haven't you got anybody you're fond of?"

"I am fond of cosmology," he said without a smile. "For that I am willing to sacrifice the whole of my life. Goodbye." He went quickly off and did not even look back.

I did not feel like leaving. Why, I wonder? I have only realised why, now. Men were always trying to gain my favour, my affections; they said they loved me for my beauty. Not one of these mutilated creatures had used the word. Now perhaps I was beginning to love Ivan. I do not know, but in any case I decided to stay on the island and fight for him; I told myself it was my duty. I thought of it in terms of the medical profession, but in reality it was my duty as a living woman.

I see that last night as if I had dreamed it. In the moonlight I walked back and fore along the water's edge, singing songs I remembered from childhood. I may have danced, too, I don't remember, but suddenly I felt as though my own thoughts, my voice, my legs, thighs and breasts, the dark hair I was twisting up with a silver ribbon, could all help, somehow, to change these men; as if I could save Ivan if I stripped and ran and jumped as though I was taking part in a gymnastic display. The sand was damp with the lapping waves, and it held the imprint of my feet only until a new wave washed over it. All at once I felt it was in vain; I realised that the mutilated creatures did not even know I had remained on the island; they preferred torture to life; they would not change even if I brought the loveliest gymnasts with the most perfect bodies and organised the biggest display in the world, on this shore. I sank to the ground and wept. It was a strange feeling; I had never wept in my life before.

It was morning before Ivan came to me; I was cold and I knew I was anything but beautiful. My teeth were chattering and I thought he would cover me, put his arms round me, and keep me warm. I thought that was why he had come, and I told him I loved him. He did not even smile.

"Either you must leave the island at once, or you must become one of us," he said sternly. I was horrified, I had always feared injury and suffering. "If you stay we shall be near each other." I was not interested in being near him like that, two brains floating side by side in a nutritive solution. That was not my idea of a happy life together. "Together we can discover the secrets of the cosmos. Together we can master matter. Then we shall be lords of creation..." he spoke calmly. I stopped shivering. I had seen quite clearly what was before me. They were not interested in science for its own sake, they were not mutilating themselves for the sake of knowledge, but for themselves, for power and glory; they wanted to know more than the others so that they could rule the others; they were like the medicine men of olden times who created their own taboos to subjugate their fellows; they were like the secret societies of the alchemists. They were not free men with the rights of free men; they were sick and did not know it.

"I am going away from here. Now, first thing. Leave me here alone..." I spoke calmly now, as though he were sitting in my consulting room. I left that morning by the first helicopter that appeared. When I reached Arica I wanted to report the whole business, but they looked at me as though I was a child.

"Noble Isle? Haven't you heard of the catastrophe? Last night an ancient military dump exploded there, probably one of those old bombs that every now and again automatically explode and are a threat to us still." I insisted on telling them the story over again. I set off with members of the security command, but the island was deserted, the dump had burned down, the rock in which I had been imprisoned in that cell was now under water.

"It must have been an exceptionally powerful bomb," the commander said.

"It was their experiment, and it probably worked, because the navigators found no trace of any rocket. The men may have scattered, or settled somewhere else. They are ill, dangerously ill; you have got to find them or they will infect everybody round them..." Nobody believed me.

That is why I am writing to you, sirs, members of the Scientific Council, to draw your attention to the matter and to describe to you the symptoms of this disease. I do not know what name to give it, but I am of the opinion that it has been endemic since the beginning of civilisation. I believe that a special branch of research should be opened; it might not have much in common with medicine as we used to know it, but it would help to protect us all against this infection which causes the mutilation of the human organism by its own particular degenerative process.

(from Vampires, Ltd.; translated by Iris Unwin from the Czech original Druhy ostrov doktora Moreaua, 1962)

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Coverpage | Bio and bibliography | Interview |
The Half-wit of Xeenemuende | Horribly Beautiful, Beautifully Horrible |
The Einstein Brain | The Storeroom of Lost Desire | Dr. Moreau's Other Island

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story copyright by Josef Nesvadba all rights reserved
reprinted with permission of author

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