Beneath the Surface
They hurried right around the corner and into the main complex, before attempting to walk slower and look less conspicuous. Even so Tesla and Magnus had a harried look about them, keeping alert for the slightest sign that Dr Fleisch had decided to do the right thing, and notify the police. It was a couple more corners in the medical labyrinth before Magnus felt safe enough to speak her mind.
"We need to find the x-ray department," she paused at the sign they were passing, reading the list of locations to which the arrows were pointing. It was two floors up.
"Tonight?” Tesla asked flatly, taking the opportunity to dispose of the light bulb he was still clutching onto, in the soil of a decorative plant pot. “After Dr Softie there just caught us red-handed?"
She looked at him, very certain of what needed to be done, "If we don't do it tonight we might never get another chance." Taking her medical bag back from his grasp, she glanced around the corner and opened it up, leaning against the wall whilst retrieving the syringe from its contents. Thankfully their victim's blood hadn't escaped, and she emptied it into a vial for safe keeping, replacing it quickly before someone approached them. Taking a deep, recovering breath she recomposed herself, feeling the puffiness of her eyes with cool fingertips before remembering she hadn't washed her hands yet, and snapping them back down.
Tesla, it seemed, was still unconvinced by the plan. He was staring at her with the narrowed eyes, and hand-on-hip, of someone about to point out that this hair-brained scheme might benefit from a little thinking through. Her response, automatic and unapologetic, was the 'we've come too far – we have to stick this out, even if we don't like it' look. It was an expression she'd been wearing with increasing frequency, ever since that fateful night on which the five of them had started down this course: the fearless glint of her mettle shining through even the roughest of occasions. Only this time, and for such a seemingly unimportant matter, it burned with a ferocity he'd rarely seen. One could clearly see the hard-edge which Druitt and Worth between them had successfully polished in her attitude to life and death; the certainty and begrudging acceptance that not everything could be fixed – that some things simply needed to be cut down. He wondered, for the first time all evening, whether she really was coping with the sinking. Or whether this was just displacement on an absurd scale, and they were in fact chasing wild geese – all because she could not look that calamitous night in the face.
Then she smiled, as if amused by an ironic inward observation, and tilted her head back against the wall in a way that was very distracting. "Come on Tesla," she challenged playfully, making a quick glance in the direction of an unexpected noise, "if I didn't know any better I'd say you were afraid."
The quirk of her eyebrow was damn near flirtatious, and he was falling for it. He sighed dramatically, agitatedly swivelling on the spot as he thought about it. Yes, getting one over on people was entertaining, but something was starting to bother him about all of this. She was being inordinately impulsive, unusually quick to circumvent authority, as well as question it. Not that Tesla was complaining, but what did it matter whether John Doe was bitten by an over-zealous kitten, or died because of the worst headache known to man? It didn't – to him – but it mattered to her. Why, he wasn't sure, but he was developing a niggling suspicion that it had everything to do with the Titanic.
Helen started to move away, "We need-"
"Fine!" he cut in flatly, drawing her attention sharply back to him as he approached. A conspiratorial gleam settling into his eye with the beginnings of a smile, "But when I get to say I told you so, you're not allowed to get mad at me."
0 0 0
The third floor was quiet, all the testing facilities closed for the night, and the blinds drawn. One particularly thick and windowless door had the words they were looking for emblazoned across it: Radiography. Magnus looked questioningly to Tesla, and he shook his head to the negative: there was no one inside, no one living at least. A look of relief passed over her as she opened the door and checked inside. Sure enough the X-Ray lab sat unlit and dark, empty of all but the machine looming inside.
Closing the door Tesla switched on the light and started to inspect the machine, "Great, now we only have to get a corpse up two flights of stairs unnoticed."
She hardened a little at the unhelpful comment, "Why was it you never managed to make me an x-ray machine again? Oh, yes, of course," she smiled wryly, "you got distracted."
That put his back up, he paused, staring at her and raising a finger in her direction, "Hey, Colorado was not just a distraction – it was ground-breaking – and, need I remind you, I lost most of that research in the fire." He turned back to his assessment of the operational controls, "Besides, the amount of radiation my experiments were producing you wouldn't have wanted it to hang around and take a picture." He stole a grin at Magnus, remembering the destruction it had caused last time he'd been tinkering with his designs.
She merely shook her head, "It might've come in useful if you had… but I guess Edison's X-Ray will have to do."
He almost growled at the name, unable to go near the damn contraption now she'd reminded him who had been responsible for it. Magnus was taking far too much pleasure in testing him. "What, were you planning on stealing the body?" he quipped reflexively, his distaste evident in his expression; "In case you hadn't realised the world's still a few years off of portable x-ray equipment so it would've hardly changed anything." Reflexively he began to wipe his hands on his fresh kerchief, as if he'd touched something vile on the machine's innocuous dials, "You know, you find me a transformer weighing less than 500 pounds and then, maybe, I could make something work. Besides..." he continued unrelentingly, "if Edison had even bothered to actually read my research, he might've noticed my observations on the effects of radiation, and saved that assistant of his a hand."
She eyed him critically for his lack of sympathy, "I believe Mr Dally lost more than a hand Nikola."
"Yeah, because Mr Trial-and-Error is a moron."
Magnus shook her head in amused disbelief at the acidity of Tesla's expression, railing against his much despised 'arch-nemesis', "Are you quite finished?"
He shifted in response, as though rolling out a crick in his neck. "So…" he sighed.
"We'll have to get him up the elevator," she started looking for something, though what, Tesla wasn't sure yet. "Which means," she found a lab coat, "we need to look the part."
He grinned instantly, catching the lab coat she threw at him.
"Well," he hummed excitedly, "I'm sure we can appropriate a nurse's outfit from somewhere."
She automatically rolled her eyes, despite the heat creeping into her cheeks at the unexpectedly lewd insinuation and anticipation in his voice. Not that Tesla had ever given propriety much thought, but still… it sounded a little too much like his own personal fantasy for Magnus to continue looking at him straight.
By ten o'clock at night the only animated part of the hospital was the Emergency Room, and the Maternity Ward on the other side of the complex. Everywhere else had succumbed to the sleepy hush that had settled on the Radiography floor, with the occasional Nurse or Matron keeping an eye out, and making sure the patients were settled for the night. Magnus and Tesla wheeled the body round the corner with their hearts in their mouths, hoping no one would look closer and realise their patient was a particular shade of pale, and entirely breath-less.
One nurse had already passed them with a risen eyebrow, but she'd had her nose too deep in a medical file to twig, before the body was whisked away from her examination. Tesla couldn't help but grin at the thought of the jealousy in Griffin's expression when he got to recount this one! He would have loved it. Thieving in the dark, the thrill of almost getting caught in the act, it was right up his alley. He might've been slightly less impressed with the dead cargo, but Helen Magnus in a nurse's outfit was certainly quite the sight.
Conceding that it would simply encourage less scrutiny to pose as the auxiliary, and not the one in charge, Helen had indeed relented to the disguise. Though it had been pilfered from the clean laundry supply and not, as Nikola had dared to tease, from seducing the well curved blonde that had passed them in the corridor.
That comment had made her purse her lips thoughtfully and scrutinise the vampire, unsure of what exactly had gotten into him. Something was wrong, something he was trying to hide and at the same time, knew she would notice. She had just been too preoccupied before to see it. Later, she decided, she'd have to figure it out later. For now they swiftly, silently, set about their task; bringing the body to the patient elevator and closing the doors behind them.
She looked at the controls, quite glad that by chance they had ended up positioned closer to Tesla than herself. The levers offered no explanation as to how they were operated, and she really didn't fancy a crash course. In New York it seemed every building had a lift.
"I take it you know how to-"
"Of course." He cut in, getting the elevator to a shaky start; which indicated that perhaps he hadn't ever actually applied his theoretical knowledge until today.
Helen reflexively gripped the side, watching warily as the box car glided up the elevator shaft, the creaks and grinds of the metal intensely audible in the quiet. Tesla happened to catch the look on her face and grinned at her evident discomfort, nearly missing his cue to slow the lift to a halt. The break creaked as he levelled it to the correct stop, and the floor beneath them shuddered with the abrupt instruction.
Looking at each other with relief, the arguments about paying attention soon played out on their features, from admonishment to excuse, without a word needing to be said. Helen shifted to open the door behind her, trying to keep the clunk of the metal gates to a minimum and they continued wheeling the victim to their destination.
Somewhere down the darkened corridor Magnus imagined Watson's response to all this. He probably wouldn't have approved. She'd have persuaded him, of course, and James wouldn't have baulked at the danger, but his sceptical, yet exhilarated stares would've been somewhat admonishing her all night. She'd have to write a letter to him tomorrow. She had, after all, promised to do so before even leaving Southampton and well, if her suspicions were right, it would be good to keep the Sanctuary informed.
Swinging open the door to the X-Ray lab, they soon had the body up on the horizontal platform and ready to take some images. Magnus placed the coated glass plate in the frame, aiming it above the head, before taking cover behind the screen near the controls. She left Tesla to position the x-ray tube beneath so they weren't blinded, and adjust the dials for the correct exposure. Taking the capture button in hand, he started the generator.
It made a whirring sound from the high voltage crackling through its system, though the rays themselves were silent. They didn't have to worry about keeping down the levels of radiation, the patient was dead after all, so they could shorten the time down considerably and still get a sharp image. With the first exposure settled, Nikola shut the machine down. They moved in concert to extract the plate, and turn the body to its next position, when suddenly the door opened and both of them paused, like a frozen-frame, staring at the nurse who'd appeared as if from nowhere.
"I heard the machine going from the outside," she explained in the distinctly nasal tones of a Queens' accent, Tesla's least favourite, he was already staring daggers at her, "what are you up to?" she shuffled inside the door a little more, "Is that guy… dead?"
"Haven't you got patients to see to?" was Nikola's prickly, dismissive response.
Quickly deciding it was better not to get involved Magnus hastily finished what they were doing.
"Well, shouldn't the department be closed for the night?" the nurse posited blithely.
He tilted his head down a little and glared, "It's research. Now," he started shooing her with his hand, "Go."
Her expression soured and she snorted, "Yeah sure, whatever, just don't expect me to lie when Dr Jennings realises you were using his equipment without permission."
Tesla looked to Magnus the minute the door closed. She raised an eyebrow. Not that she was complaining, but shouldn't the woman have been a mite more concerned, or intimidated at least? She kinda liked her a little, just for having brushed off Nikola with such ease.
"Worst accent in New York," he sneered.
Magnus made an amused huff, "Guess I'll develop this then," she started towards the Dark Room door to the left, flashing a look of soft concern, "Be quick."
He rolled his eyes, really, he didn't need reminding.
With three successful images captured of the dead body's skull they left the images to settle and got the body back before it started to rot in the warmer climes. It was only then, with the dead flesh back in its resting place and the morgue door locked again, that the adrenaline kick started to dissipate. Both breathing a little easier they headed back upstairs a little more talkative than before, to analyse their results.
With the glass against the light box they both fell silent, their eyes roving over the patterns of bone and tissue that made the shape of his head. Searching for the slightest smear or blur that might hint at what had been happening to his brain in his final, desperate moments, and finding any obvious signs of a solid growth surprisingly lacking.
"Well there goes the cancer theory," he remarked.
Magnus stared at the images even more intently, barely listening to him, "Yes, but there…" she pointed, squinting with her head tilted ever so slightly, at the top two thirds from the back of his head.
The colouration in that part of the skull was different, ever so slightly darker in blurry lines that tipped away from the edges, as though it was less dense, as if, perhaps, the brain had thinned or shrunk and let the rays penetrate with greater ease. She wished she'd gone with her gut instinct and opened him up, she could've seen, instantly, what was going on. Whether there was discolouration, or striations in the tissue. She could've taken samples for God's sake, now all she was left with was a tantalising glance at something that wasn't quite right.
"It bears similarity to the colouration there, look, around the head wound he sustained… could be localised hydrocephalus."
"Enough to affect behaviour?"
She hummed thoughtfully, wishing she'd revised radiography analysis in the last year. Honestly, she really needed to start taking refreshment courses on a biannual basis so she didn't fall behind with the times. Perhaps she'd spent a little too long resting on her laurels since they'd gotten government approval for the Sanctuary. Her attentions had certainly been turned since she'd been granted the resources to properly study abnormal physiology.
"Any pressure on the brain is going to hurt eventually... or deterioration, if that's what we're looking at." She reasoned, "And the pain alone could've affected his perception, compromised decision making. The question is… how did his brain end up damaged there when the physical trauma was located in a completely different area of the head. There's no identifiable foreign object lodged inside, and no growth..."
She looked him in the eye with a half-smile, "Precisely."
His eyes flitted to the bag at her side, containing the two samples, "Well that bite's starting to look more interesting."
"You see?" she gestured at the plates, "They won't have even begun to link the two."
He smiled at her, resting casually against the light-box, "Next time it will be something entirely mundane and you're going to be sooo, so disappointed."
She pulled a wry face, "Let's call it my sixth sense shall we?"
"Please," he scoffed, "leave the séances to Conan Doyle."