The Iron Sea


Morning had brought a little improvement in the maid's health, enough that Tesla didn't fear Magnus' reproach for leaving the bedroom door open and leaving to check in on her. The girl's breathing was regular now and deep, her heart rate steady. With any luck the worst of her ordeal was over. Quietly he stole into the brighter room, where the curtains were already wide open, and Helen had rooted herself by his experiment at the window, hands wrapped round a china cup as she stared at the rooftops. The just-eaten remains of her breakfast were by the fire place, though she was already dressed for the day in her sombre black.

It was like a uniform on her, utilitarian, distant. Tesla wasn't sure whether he liked it. Her expression was weary, tired; just like it had been when she'd stepped off the Carpathia. He'd been doing his best to pretend as if all was normal with her, to not treat her like some kind of invalid and coddle her with hollow comforts… but this wasn't normal, she wasn't normal. Another part of her had detached.

When his vampirism had surfaced Tesla had experienced that same severing of self. That dark pit where you weren't entirely sure whether you had lost everything you were before, to the uncontrollable sensation taking up residence inside of you. It made you desperate, unpredictable: rarities indeed in the calm, decisive doctor.

The thing was, Tesla knew what he'd like to do, what he'd like to say, but he didn't have the right. They were friends, and if he wanted it to stay that way there were lines that couldn't be crossed, ways of expressing what he felt that were just too close, too honest, to allow things to continue as they had before. Once said, such things could not be unsaid, and until he had more data, he had no intention of testing that particular hypothesis for it to simply bite back. That didn't mean, of course, that he could just ignore what he had seen, plain as day, in Helen's unusually conflicted demeanour.

"Give it five years and you'll see nothing but the walls of other buildings."

She looked up to him, realising his presence in the room, and almost getting out of her chair "How's Miss Marino?"

"She's fine," he dismissed, urging her to sit back with a gesture of his hand, a direction which, surprisingly, she took, "Breathing's regular, pulse returning to normal, and the shaking's stopped." Having reeled off the list, he looked at Magnus as if to say 'see, nothing to worry about', before growing more serious – noting the redness of her eyes, "You didn't sleep again."

Not a question, not an accusation, just a statement. Still it clearly irritated Magnus that he'd noticed.

"No. It's a bit hard to rest with a veritable wave of, presumably abnormal, attacks on my mind."

She was dodging it again, covering it well but ultimately, in his presence at least, failing. She was drinking up the tea as though she could force it down, and remove herself from his scrutiny.

"...and everything else," he hinted.

Her stare was ever-so-slightly panicked, darting to look him straight in the eyes, holding them for the longest of moments before she spoke: "I'm not sure I understand what you mean-"

"Come on Helen," he sighed, deriving no pleasure from being right this time, "we've known each other too long – besides, you talking in your sleep is strange enough."

The thought of mumbling aloud anything she actually said in her dreams sent an icy shiver down Helen's spine. Knowing that, of all people, Nikola had been the one to hear it, put her instantly on guard.

For his part, the words Nikola wanted to use simply hesitated in his oesophagus. You can't let it prey on you, night after night, he wanted to say, talk to me, confide in me… you are not alone. I am here. As a friend, just in case there was any ambiguity on that front, I am here.

Instead, the front door burst open, along with an overwhelming sense of relief in Magnus' bones, as Miss Marino's friend – the maid who had been with the footman yesterday evening – bowled rudely in.

"I'm so sorry Dr Magnus," she spoke quickly, her whole body humming with panic so that Helen instantly reclaimed her sense of self and stood to attention, "…Mr Tesla."

"What's the matter?" she asked, already moving towards her.

"It's Mrs Cabot, down the corridor…"

"Just breathe…" Helen realised she couldn't remember the girl's name, even as she took her shaking hands to reassure her.

"She's dead."

Helen blanched, having expected to be called upon to help someone and realising, just as suddenly, that there was nothing she could do. She looked at Nikola, who frowned slightly, not knowing the name but understanding this was serious.

"When?" She asked, manoeuvring the shaken maid to sit on the sofa, and squatting down in front of her to stay at eye level.

"Oh, God, not five minutes ago. She… she… jumped outta a window."

Helen's eyes narrowed instantly, looking again to Tesla, whose expression was an exact mirror.

"From her room?" he asked.

"Yes," She whispered, looking at him for the first time since she came in.

"Florie… wasn't it?" Helen managed to dredge the name from her memory, and received a nod in reply, "Can you watch after Miss Marino, Florie?" she asked gently but firmly, "Stay by her side, and if anything changes – heart rate, breathing, fever, convulsions: you come find us immediately."

Florie's brown eyes met her, a bolt of determination cutting through the panic. "Sure," she managed nervously.

"Thank you."

They both stood straight, Florie heading for the bedroom, Magnus catching Tesla's eye and indicating that they were moving out.

"We'll be in Mrs Cabot’s room or just outside the building Florie, unless we tell you otherwise."

"Yes ma'm."

They headed out into the corridor in almost perfect synch, Magnus leading the way ever so slightly.

"Another bite?" Tesla surmised as they walked speedily towards Mrs Cabot's suite.

"We'll see," Magnus replied grimly, "Mrs Cabot helped me yesterday, when Miss Marino started to convulse."

It was too much of a coincidence.

The door was wide open as they arrived, so they could see that a servant was perched on the sofa, white with shock. The girl's superior was keeping an eye on both employee and hotel guest – a man desperately trying to bite back the overwhelming tears that revealed his heartache. His elbow was resting on the mantelpiece, his head staring into a fire that could do nothing to keep off the chill of the wind blowing through the large window behind him.

Helen turned to Tesla instantly, "Go see the body," she said quietly, "quickly, before anyone else gets there."

He nodded in agreement, promptly turning from the emotional scene to the more empirical task of swooping down twelve floors and assessing the body. To say he was glad to be dodging the weeping bullet was an understatement – the dead weren't going to spend hours pouring their hearts out to his disinterested ears. Helen's bedside manner, on the other hand, was exemplary.

"Excuse me?" she enquired gently, gradually drawing the attention of the crying man whom she had addressed, "Mr Cabot, I presume?"

He sniffled a little but stood straight and addressed her with a modicum of grace, "Yes."

"I just heard… I am very sorry Mr Cabot – I saw her only yesterday, and she was such a great help to me, and the young lady I was assisting."

He looked up at her as she grew bold and approached him, unable to push back the emotion of thinking about his wife's typical kindness. This stranger's sympathy touched his oddly tender heart with an understanding he wouldn't have thought possible, not from someone who'd never really known Marie.

"Thank you," he said, though it whined breathily through his vocal chords.

"What happened?"

It could have been half an hour, or even an hour since they'd gotten here. Magnus couldn't be sure. Speaking with the shaken husband she had soon discovered that, merely moments before taking that fatal leap, Mrs Cabot had received the devastating news that her two year old son in Boston had died. Helen had been about to chalk the incident up to grief, remembering all too well how greatly the death of a child could affect someone, when Tesla returned, confirming a fresh bite mark on her corpse. The body was being moved by the emergency services, he confirmed, but he'd managed to take a look before they, or the journalists, had arrived. He'd drawn a few funny looks from passers-by though, for trying to look at the lady's legs; that was until they saw the vicious looking wound on her left ankle.

Armed with this, and having gained Mr Cabot's trust, Magnus had requested to take a look at where she had slept. A request which not even the arriving police could obstruct, when Mr Cabot personally insisted she be given the opportunity.

"Why her bedroom?" Tesla asked, eying the door until it closed properly, and sobering from the entertainment of those cops being politely told where to shove their objections.

"I have a theory," Helen mused, her eyes sparking intelligently as she scanned the room, and avoided touching anything – just as Watson did. He was always so much faster at this than she was… "That they're being bitten whilst they're asleep, and the toxin takes time to affect them." The bedroom was much like Tesla's, Magnus noted, dressers and a wardrobe, with a large wooden bed at its heart. It seemed the maids hadn't gotten as far as making the bed before the hubbub which had ended in Mrs Cabot losing her life. Continuing to analyse the walls and skirting boards, she addressed Tesla directly, "What did you find out in the lab yesterday?"

"Well," he started, glad to see that with a problem to solve she seemed more like herself than she had in a while. Casting his own eye over the side of the room she had yet to reach, he answered her question. "I managed to identify the toxin's structure, and confirm that they were both victims of the same species."

She didn't look at him, but still made an impressed expression as she noticed the photo of the Cabots and their children stood on top of a dresser.

"I was working on the antidote but… well, I thought you had better take a look. Medicine is hardly my speciality, after all."

She looked at him then, a slight teasing smile on her lips. The great Nikola Tesla, admitting there was something he couldn't do?! Ha! But he was purposefully avoiding her gaze, robbing her of her victorious moment, and concentrating on whatever might lay behind the wardrobe instead. It didn't matter that he wasn't sure of what, precisely, he was meant to be looking for.

"The good news is," he continued, "that unlike Mr Doe, the girl's blood already has anti-toxins in it, rushing to her rescue. Clearly her immune system is responding."

"Hmmm," Magnus agreed distantly, "if she gets through this she'll probably provide us with the key." Then she sighed, "The creature would've had to have gotten in here somehow…"

Tesla opened up the wardrobe, looking inside, "If it did, wouldn't the husband be affected too?" He posited, looking over to Magnus thoughtfully, "This is a one bedroomed suite, right? And he claims to have no bites on his own body."

Then, whilst looking up at the cornices around the ceiling, Helen squinted at something. The vent on the wall, no bigger than a large brick really, but loose from its usual position – something James would've noticed almost instantly. "Not necessarily…" she pointed to the bedside tables: one clear of all but a clock, on the right of the bed, the other, nearest the vent, sporting a book. A collection of Oscar Wilde to be precise. "Not if Mrs Cabot was sleeping nearest to the vent."

Taking in this hypothesis Tesla, arms crossed against his chest with interest, continued to extrapolate, "So… presuming the creature was spooked - defensive, as the bite suggests…"

"It might've only lashed out at the nearest object."

They looked at each other meaningfully, knowing that whatever was crawling in the ventilation had free movement through the entire building. Even with that worrying thought, and time suddenly of the element, neither of them could quite overcome the glint of excitement in anticipation of a discovery about to be made.

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