From the Depths
She woke up with a start, the harrowing sounds of her dreams as real as the pigeons cooing beyond the window pane. Her heart, beating so violently she thought it might damage her lungs, gradually slowed as daylight flooded into her eyes. As the bedside table took shape next to her, and the world grew more solid. Automatically, her hand reached for her gun, and it wasn't until her hand met nothing but wood, that she remembered it had sunk into the depths along with hundreds of innocent people.
Rolling onto her back she stared at the bright white ceiling, starting wonder how come the curtains were open when they'd been closed last night.
"Well, good morning Sleeping Beauty."
For a moment she panicked, head twisting instantly to the Tesla lain out like a cat on top of her bed sheets… well his sheets technically, but, Helen had always been remarkably territorial over sleeping arrangements. He was dressed from head to toe, immaculately as always – though his jacket was leaning on the back of a chair. It was the teasing grin which earned him the stare. For all his unnerving proximity, he was still a good two feet away from her.
Common sense told her, from the brightness of his eyes, the crease-less attire, and the tamed hair that he had slept the night where she last saw him – on the sofa – and only joined her after waking up, probably hours ago. She eased on him, choosing to ignore the tease in his greeting; relaxing a little, despite the fact he was still sitting there, with apparently no intention of moving.
"What time is it?" she asked, hugging the sheets higher up her chest as she sat up.
With a sigh he slinked off the bed and straightened himself out, "Seven. You only slept for six hours and twenty-four minutes."
Magnus studiously ignored the accurate measuring of her sleeping patterns, putting it down to Tesla's predilection for being right about everything rather than a sign of concern.
"You should probably try and sleep some more."
That was, quite frankly, the last thing she wanted to do. She pushed at her sheets, about to step out of bed and get ready, when she remembered she didn't have any clothes. Damn it.
"I need to check in on the lab, but if you'd prefer some company…"
"No," she answered just a little too quickly, "No, thank you I'll… be fine. I think I'd rather… have a little time."
His lips automatically smiled a little at the unintentional rhyme. Magnus didn't do hysterics. It wasn't just the British stiff-upper-lip coming through, but her sound, scientific mind. If she said she needed some time alone, he wasn't going to tell her otherwise. Though keeping an eye on her – from a distance – would probably prove a wise decision.
"Very well," he stretched out and found his shoes, clearing his throat a little, "if you get bored, you know where to find me."
Watching him tying up his shoes on the edge of the bed, Helen somehow wished she had somebody there to curl up with her and chase the nightmares away. Shame the last person to be there for her like that had become one of those nightmares.
She needed to get out of this bed.
"Nikola? Are there, perhaps, some clothes…"
"Ah, of course, how remiss of me," he grinned, moving a wine glass from the top of a box on the dresser, one set of finger tips resting on the lid as the others rested on his hip. "These are some… undergarments, sent for last night, to your size." Curious how even the word describing female underwear managed to make him uncomfortable, Helen mused with the barest smirk, remembering how flustered he always used to get when Nigel started prodding him about girls. She watched him, walking back to the foot of the bed, fingers arching together, "And the maid brought a dress this morning, from the boutique across the street. She er… approximated on the basis of seeing you and the…" he pointed his finger in the general direction of the unmentionables, “so…” He shrugged off the rest of his caveat, wordlessly excusing himself from any errors in size, just as he would avoid admitting he was wrong about almost anything else.
Helen tried not to chuckle. It made her smile warm and her eyes sparkle, for the first time since she'd made land. Tesla was oblivious to the cause of it, naturally, but the sight was most welcome nonetheless. He smiled cautiously, in return, before regaining his composure.
"Now," he began abruptly, swivelling round to find and retrieve his jacket, "if you require anything at all… there is a maid and a butler available – just press… here, to call."
"I'll be fine," she reasserted. It wasn't a statement she entirely believed. In fact the more she said it, the less honest it felt.
The brief pause he made, standing in the doorway, told her he knew it was otherwise, but he said nothing on it. The tight press of his lips was the only indication that he wished he could have, without complicating things beyond repair.
"Shall I meet you for lunch, or will you be searching for a new wardrobe?" Great, he thought to himself, make it obvious you want to know where she is every second of the day. Could he sound anymore protective? Probably… but even this level was strange and uncomfortable to the scientist.
Magnus, however, didn't seem to notice. Indeed, the thought of mundane trivialities like clothes shopping was so alien after the last week that it panicked her a little. It wasn't just clothes either. Her medical bag, a new journal, damn it that was three months' worth of research in those pages – gone, all gone!
She snapped back to reality, "Hmm, yes. I probably should. Thank you for the offer," She managed a weak smile, "perhaps dinner instead?"
He smiled quite warmly, genuinely, at that, remembering fondly the dusky colours of the Hotel Miraflora by candlelight. The look she gave was guileless, perhaps she hadn't realised yet the connection, simply said it on instinct: but how could it be coincidence, when it had been the last dinner they'd shared alone, a decade ago, and on such a beautiful night?
"I don't want to keep you from your work, anyway."
How could he have ever met such a woman as this? He mused.
"If you're certain," he smirked. "Then Dinner it shall be."
She nodded with a sense of amazement, wondering what thought had put such a human look on his typically incomprehensible face just now. It was probably his admiration for her inability to obstruct the path of science and her friends, despite everything she'd been through. Trust Tesla to bring everything back to his work. Magnus wasn't one for kid gloves though. Her comment had stemmed from the simple fact that the sooner they went about life as normal, the better she would feel. It sounded more selfish that way, but it was the reality.
Without another word, Nikola tipped his head goodbye and left her to her own devices, closing the door on his way out to give her a little privacy. She heard his footsteps until the entrance clicked shut, and even with the hum of traffic down below, the silence hit her like a sledge hammer. The hotel suite felt suddenly very large, and very empty indeed.
The honk of horns was like a fanfare for her entrance, as she hurried into the hotel lobby and shut out the hectic road behind. The precariously balanced boxes in her hands threatening to betray her, wobbling at the force with which she hit the marble floor until she forcibly stopped herself moving, for a moment. Closing her eyes she attempted to reassert an air of calm which, right now, Helen Magnus was certainly not feeling. Her skin was flushed, nerves shot, gut twisting anxiously at every small nudge.
She'd never really been one for shopping. Not like her aunts had been, not like the girls she had befriended as a teenager. Even so, she had never felt quite so overwhelmed as this. Perhaps it was the tall buildings and rude claustrophobia of New York, or the way the shop attendants made her feel like a ragamuffin, a pauper who shouldn't be there. It was foolish, she knew, she had every damn right to grace their boutiques with her presence. If she had played the victim card she'd probably have gotten a discount too. Too bad the thought of their pity made her skin crawl.
So it was that, less than three hours after stepping out – preferring to walk and having gotten no further than West 53rd – she had decided enough was enough.
It was not a retreat… she was simply resting her nerves. The thought made her scoff. Since when had she ever been the kind to rest her nerves?
Come on old girl, she thought to herself, channelling some of Watson in the process, chin up.
At least she'd held out long enough not to come back empty handed. Though she was now regretting having insisted, a little too firmly in hindsight, that she carry the boxes back herself.
"Excuse me ma'm, may I?" One of the bell boys had approached her in those two seconds of respite, and he was looking to her like the tin soldier, arms outstretched to take her belongings.
"Oh, oh thank you," she smiled warmly, suddenly unsure of what to do with her arms, "Er… could you send them up to Mr Tesla's suite. I think I shall take some tea."
Thank God the clothes Nikola had found her were presentable. Nothing flashy, or expensive, but at least they fitted… kind of. The maid's choice wasn't particularly flattering, but at least it didn't look ridiculous. Which was something when navigating the social mine-field of the Tea Room. Magnus had absolutely no intention of striking up an acquaintance anyway; she simply wanted to immerse herself in an atmosphere that was busy, but congenial, and a mite less temper-inducing.
She unfurled the roll of dollar-bills from her pocket – she hadn't gotten as far as accessories yet – and tipped the bell boy as though it were her own money. The fact that it wasn't, really didn't matter to the ever-practical doctor.
When she had finally realised that she would need some money that morning, she'd cursed out loud at her own stupidity. That was, until she spied the envelope on the mantelpiece, with a distinctly Tesla-esque scrawl across its front. She was lucky to have such friends, she knew. Wherever she landed, even here, on the other side of the Atlantic, she could rely on them to put her back on her feet. One day she'd have to repay him. Even if he insisted she needn't. It was too much to just give away… and besides, when Tesla had money to burn it wasn't necessarily a good sign. He had absolutely no fiscal moderation – as their time spent sharing a laboratory had proven on more than one occasion – and that's even before he started getting inventive with the finances.
Half-way down the corridor to the Tea Room, the large lobby clock chimed 10:30am. It was unusually busy, she noted suspiciously, seeing a uniformed seaman duck through a nearby doorway. The sound of a gavel hammering onto wood emitted out of a private function room in an oddly authoritative way. Frowning, Magnus found herself drawn to the door even as the crowd of men gathering inside became so many that, still standing, their advance into the room ground to a resounding halt.
She'd reached the edge of the room, tucked just inside the doorway and suddenly very glad of her plain attire. Realising she was the only woman in the room, she was more than thankful that she'd pulled back her hair this morning with a less feminine flourish, and been without ownership of a hat. At the moment she could just about pass unnoticed, hidden behind one of the taller men. Everyone's focus was elsewhere anyway, directed to the heavy wooden table, and the man at its head, clean shaven, grey haired, and in possession of a large, but not undignified nose. Around him, Helen recognised a few of New York's political elite. Though without names marking their places, she couldn't quite remember their importance. The crowd had continued to murmur, so the gavel came down again.
"Gentlemen," A spindly, civil-service type stood and announced, "Order please. The time is 10:30 a.m., this is a United States Senate Inquiry for the recent loss of life, during the sinking" Helen's stomach lurched but the man hadn't paused a second, "of the RMS Titanic, White Star Line. Senator chair is Senator William Alden Smith," Helen heard him carry on but she wasn't listening. Her face felt numb, buzzing slightly. All the hallmarks of shock, but she didn't faint, couldn't faint. Blanched of all colour, her pale face stared at the mass of dark suits and tried to swim to the surface.
Senator Smith had been speaking, for quite some time, "…I will ask Mr. J. Bruce Ismay to come forward and take the stand."
She gritted her teeth, watching as Mr Ismay made himself apparent. To think, she'd been sitting at dinner with that man not four days ago, now look at him. He hadn't a scratch on his body. The same could not be said for his soul. His eyes were dark, haunted. His skin pale, his wrinkles – which had seemed so refined before – made him appear somewhat haggard and worn. It stole the anger out of her a little, reminding her, as any wounded creature always did, that there were very few beings out there undeserving of a second chance.
He took his oath with a brave face, but little enthusiasm, knowing, as if he didn't already, that the responsibility for all this would fall to him. Even if he hadn't been at fault, even if he was blameless, his destiny was now forfeit to the press' portrayal. Coward or hero. That's what it would come down to. His very presence was already indicative of the former.
"Mr. Ismay," Senator Smith began matter-of-factly, "for the purpose of simplifying this hearing, I will ask you a few preliminary questions. First state your full name, please?"
"Joseph Bruce Ismay."
"And your place of residence?"
"And your age."
The hearing kicked off, a series of questions and answers. It was absolutely surreal, to be able to put actual memories to the descriptions coming out of someone else's mouth.
"…would like to express my sincere grief at this deplorable catastrophe… … we welcome it. We court the fullest inquiry. We have nothing to conceal; nothing to hide… … The weather during this time was absolutely fine, with the exception, I think, of about 10 minutes' fog one evening."
Yes, Helen remembered it well. She thought she'd caught sight of an as yet unidentified marine species, some kind of giant electrical eel – or at least, that's what it looked like. Flashes of pale blue, then pale yellow, like a signal, but moving beneath the glassy water in the same wave-like pattern as an eel or snake. She'd only noticed it because she'd been unable to sleep, and, wondering whether staring at the dark ocean might be more interesting than the ceiling, she'd taken a walk. The fog had cleared within minutes, and then that had been the end of that brief encounter. It had occurred to her that the combination of darkness and fog might've confused the abnormal into thinking it was further from the surface, seen as though it disappeared pretty quickly. Of course, all her notes were now gone…
"The accident took place on Sunday night," Ismay's voice had gone soft, "What the exact time was I do not know. I was in bed myself, asleep, when the accident happened."
For a second Helen remembered the almighty shudder in her bed, then, later, the rattle, of the floor boards and that groan… that echo of metal bending and pressure changing.
"The ship sank, I am told, at 2:20."
The water had been icy. If it hadn't have been for the fat she'd somehow found – God, how did she even find a pack of lard?! And rubbed between her skin and layers she'd have… and the way it pounded into the water, the wrong way up, crushing all those souls into the surf.
"That, sir, I think is all I can tell you," Ismay thought about it a moment, clearly struggling to put aside his own fevered memories in favour of the facts, "I understand it has been stated that the ship was going at full speed. The ship never had been at full speed. The full speed of the ship is 78 revolutions. She works up to 80. So far as I am aware, she never exceeded 75 revolutions. She had not all her boilers on. None of the single-ended boilers were on. It was our intention, if we had fine weather on Monday afternoon or Tuesday, to drive the ship at full speed. That, owing to the… unfortunate catastrophe, never eventuated."
It sounded detached, because that's precisely what he wished he could be. Magnus listened, as though in a trance, half expecting someone, anyone, to recognise her and demand she join Mr Ismay in explaining it all. How could you? How could you even begin? It was like explaining the existence of abnormals without a specimen to prove, beyond doubt, that what you're saying was true.
"…In what part of the ship were your quarters?" The senator asked.
Ismay showed him on the map, explaining the First Class decks, and Magnus knew she couldn't leave. As the words flowed the memories followed, and she looked death in the face yet again. His ignorance of what was happening on that ship was astounding, but she didn't think he was lying. As far as he saw, it was the case. Of course, he knew differently now. He had just been told about the women who had rowed themselves away, the life boats which were engulfed… the truth had a nasty taste to it, and desperation too.
"You did not see her go down? …You did not care to see her go down? …When did you last see her?"
"I do not know… I could not say… No. I am glad that I did not."
Magnus knew that if she could find a way to un-see those sights, she would have been glad for it too, and still, still, she could never have turned away. Even with the cold creeping into her skin, when it looked like she'd never be dry, never be warm, never live to see the dawn again – she could not turn away.