Prose

Number 84: The Society

16 May 2016

For every government, people allege there is somebody else ‘pulling the strings’. For all the wild stories, a cry goes around that they were ‘covered up’. This is, of course, ridiculous.

Firstly: governments are not controlled by strings – they are powered by something immense, radioactive and probably homicidal. Secondly: not every strange and unusual event is swept under the rug – you just need to know where to look. Case in point: The Society. In his seminal history of meta­human activity, Scars to Spandex (1988), Neal Morrison argues,

“The Society are the definitive representation of the necessity for meta­human recognition.” Up until that point, there had, of course, been individuals with peculiar abilities (see Note #39, The Burning Woman, and Note #63, The Forever Lion), but the establishment of The Society marks the first instance meta­humans had been gathered together with a specific purpose. As Morrison laments, “It is tragic that such a remarkable moment in the world’s history was geared toward its destruction.”

The Society was established in 1926 by Dr Thaddeus Lamniform; self­styled 7th Earl of Ashburnham. Lamniform had nursed a grudge for thirteen years against the British Empire ever since Bertram Ashburnham, the 5th Earl, died in 1913 and the title passed to his brother, Thomas. Lamniform protested publicly, claiming to be Bertram’s rightful heir. Parliament and the monarchy rejected Lamniform’s claims, citing his ‘deformity’ as an obvious hallmark of his illegitimacy. Having revealed himself to the country, Lamniform was decried as a monstrosity and forced to flee to Europe, his estate in ruins and his assets abandoned.

There is no visual record of Lamniform’s physical characteristics but the accounts of his contemporaries paint a vivid picture – “unusually muscular for an Englishman”, “a rugose quality to his grey skin”, “an immense row of teeth punctuated by tenebrous eyes”. A multitude of observers describe Lamniform outright as half­man, half­shark – because that is what he was.In 1914, Lamniform was caught up in the horrors of World War I, where it is believed he met The Cabinet, a being carved from sentient wood and the alleged inspiration for Robert Weine’s Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). It was in the dark heart of postwar Europe that Lamniform and The Cabinet gathered together the other meta­humans that would make up The Society. Thomas, 6th Earl of Ashburnham, died in 1924, and in 1926, a black envelope was delivered to all major international powers:

Attention.
You are now at war.
Yours,
The Society.

The outcry was immediate. Who dared to violate the sanctity of armistice? The attention was exactly what Lamniform wanted. Within a month, attacks had begun.
The Clockwork Queen and her tin soldiers marched on rural Spain. The Vrykolakas carefully infiltrated the United States. Lamniform himself hijacked an airship and enabled the rhopaloceri (‘ash­flies’ as the press called them) to descend on London, an attack compounded by the grandiloquent heists of the Glass Acrobats. Meanwhile, in the Berlin midnight, The Cabinet prowled, harvesting nightmares.

– Neal Morrison, Scars to Spandex.

In 1928, The Society issued a manifesto – The Empire of Unorthodoxy – declaiming superstition and prejudice the world over and calling for global surrender to “the other, the outré and the infinitely more interesting.” Critic Rehema Kirabo makes an important point in her 1994 article on meta­human relations:

Despite their militant approach, the aggressive politics of The Society distract from a very honest cry for acceptance in the homogenous attitudes of postwar Western society. Even their choice of name echoes a desire to be a part of something.

Regardless of their intentions, governments the world over called for drastic action to be taken against what they regarded as a threat to newly established order.

Their heavy use of propaganda was The Society’s undoing. A degree of public support for their challenge to the ruling classes meant the printing press that distributed the manifesto was tracked down and from there, a base of operations was identified – the abandoned Slains Castle on the Scottish coast. Lamniform’s architeuthid allies foiled a 1930 raid by sea but an ambush from the air acted as sufficient distraction for ground troops to take the castle by force. The meta­humans that did not escape were killed and surviving members of The Society would later come forward to express regret that their actions had necessitated such a violent response. But what of Lamniform? Nobody knows. A global effort to locate him was abandoned in the events leading up to the Second World War. The extent of his abilities unknown, it is plausible he still survives, having returned to his cloistered 19th Century existence.

After the Second World War, a great number of meta­humans emerged and built the community that exists today. The documents and artifacts that defined the reign of The Society have been, by and large, stored in highly secure collections – with one notable exception.
(To be continued in Note #114 – The Confusaphone)

Revolution is like Saturn, it devours its own children. – Danton’s Death, Geörg Buchner


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