The Iron Sea

Black Seas of Infinity

There was an ache starting to form in her head. That dull, dehydrated feeling between the eyes, forcing you to take note of your dry mouth, and sleepy legs… and the fact that you’d been staring down a microscope for the last three hours solid. Sighing briefly Magnus pressed her eyes together and released, gazing distractedly out the window on her right.

New York's skyline was an immense expanse of silver and sky – the slowly sinking light reflecting off of window panes like it did the sea, in sharply defined and orderly rows that opened out into the infinity of the ocean. From up here the world made sense – everything had its place – a far cry from the teeming reality on the ground. That this was where Nikola had chosen to locate his workplace made complete sense to her.

After all, he'd always had rather impeccable, not to mention expensive, tastes. The Metropolitan Life building was not just one of New York's famous skyscrapers, naturally, but the tallest building in the world, for now. Besides which, Helen rather suspected the Campanile-esque tower and Renaissance features had appealed to his old-world, Classicist sensibilities. From the outside at least she found it rather garish, like a Coney Island replica scaled to the greatest possible heights. Inside, however, the layout was highly functional, comfortably appointed, and the view… spectacular.

He had grinned so wide when he'd introduced her to it, extending an arm towards the panes of glass with a dramatic flair, his whole body enthused as he anticipated, correctly, the look of astonishment that would possess her. She smiled at the memory, shifting in her seat a little in order to stretch her back. Now the evening would soon be upon them, and Helen wasn't sure any amount of tea was going to resuscitate her concentration. She was just too exhausted. Frankly, her eyes were gagging for the opportunity to close, first chance they got, and she had to count the platelets three times before getting it right.

She'd have to pull a few strings and get her hands on the coroner's report when it was finished, just to correlate with her results – but in the meantime, she was starting to get a picture. The report she'd been concocting from the blood work seemed to support their own theory. Platelet levels indicated the likelihood of a toxic substance, no indication of a bacterial infection, though there were similarities to the sort of results she'd expect from an allergic reaction… the toxicology results would probably reveal more. At the moment her best guess was precisely that – a toxin – and the sample of fluid from the wound was looking increasingly interesting.

Tapping the base of her pen against the table, Helen caught her eyes drifting to the window again, and the white gulls heading out towards the docks. Out to where the Carpathia was no doubt still in harbour: if it hadn't been sent out in search of the dead. She bit back the emotion that threatened to gather in her throat and took a steadying breath. Composed, she felt the sudden need for disturbance and distraction. The make-shift lab seemed to shrink on her: it was too quiet, too sterile, too bereft of life. She needed a break, and if she was going to stop now, well, she might as well stop until after dinner at least. Perhaps take a short rest.

Packing up the samples and experiments, so that only the ones still developing remained out, she tugged off the spare lab coat and headed for the adjoining office. She nearly knocked on the open door, before she saw Tesla's back was rigid in his chair, his chin perched atop interlaced hands in deep thought. Narrowed eyes were cutting through whatever mathematical or theoretical problem had stalled his progress with all the intensity of a concentrated laser, so that Magnus was somewhat loathed to be the cause of a distraction. She hung at the door, debating whether or not to simply leave him a note, when she realised those fierce grey eyes had turned on her – flat, and slightly annoyed at the disruption.

She half-opened her mouth to speak, but paused long enough for him to get in first.

"Really? First you banish me to my office to stop distracting you…"

"Think of it as returning the favour," she smirked coyly, remembering how infuriated she'd been with him pacing, and hovering, and tinkering, in the other room, "I'm going back to the hotel for a spell, but I was thinking of coming back after dinner – if that's alright?"

The slightly narked expression disappeared in an instant, "I'll escort you back." He said, making to get up.

"I'm fine," she insisted, making him pause and look at her interestedly. Realising she'd been a bit forceful in her reply she made a conscious effort to sound calm and reasonable, "I mean… I don't want to stop you in the middle of-" she gestured aimlessly at his work.

"A bit late for that, don't you think?" he pointed out with some amusement.

She looked back reprovingly, "No, no. It's only ten minutes or so down the road. You carry on and get to a more natural stopping point, and I can meet you for dinner later; it's still only… six o'clock."

He smiled toothily, a little coy even, fingers absently drawing shapes on the nearest piece of furniture, "Well, I have a reservation for us outside the hotel… if that's okay?" She looked surprised but not instantaneously adverse, he gestured, a little nervously, as he continued, "Thought you might prefer a change of scene, after last time."

She was looking at him as though trying to work out his angle, "Where?" Her words came out a little suspiciously, "And there better not be another dress waiting for me in the hotel room."

His smile was unrelenting, "Delmonicos, where else?"

Helen's frosty mistrust melted a little at the mention his favourite haunt, where the food was excellent and, more importantly (for Nikola at least), the wine list sublime.

"I'd like that, thank you," She smiled, warmly, pleased by the thought of a more pleasant distraction. However much she enjoyed her work, it couldn't be called a relaxing pursuit, and she supposed she could use a little more of that than she had first estimated.

"Go on," Nikola said, attempting to settle back into his thought process by casting another glance over the formula on the chalk board, "try and get some sleep."

The comment made her pause, snapping her thoughts back to last night as though they'd been tied together with elastic. Her eyes narrowed a touch, wondering why he seemed so concerned for her sleeping habits all of a sudden.

It was almost as if he knew that those memories had been haunting her, causing her restless, sleepless nights. Then again, maybe she shouldn't be so surprised if he did. With his hearing, he could no doubt monitor her heart rate and breathing from the next room in the silence of the night. That didn't make the thought of Tesla potentially knowing just how vulnerable she felt right now, any easier to accept. In fact, it rather brought out Helen's stubborn streak. She was sorely tempted to pointedly storm back into the lab and carry on working until she was flat out exhausted and he literally dragged her to eat, sleep, and rest.

Except Magnus wasn't stupid, and she knew when it was in her best interests to swallow her pride… unlike certain other people she could name. So she simply nodded, distantly, filing away her observations to call him out on his concern later, when it might be of greater value. Right now, it could only lead to an awkward conversation about things she had no desire to discuss, and memories she had no desire to relieve in her waking hours.

That she left without so much as a comment on his remark, made him turn his head to watch her go. A gritted disquiet elbowed in where calculations for heat resistance should've been, setting his mind off down another kind of labyrinth entirely: one where the variables were far more numerable and the risk infinitely high.


The walk to the hotel had been chill and brisk, the wind rattling through the Roman-straight roads and dragging with it the occasional shower. Still, Helen didn't mind. She was rather keen on that crisp, refreshing feeling after an afternoon cooped up indoors. By the time she reached the twelfth floor the light outside had dimmed significantly under the influence of thick, heavy clouds, and that wind was rattling round the exterior windows as though it might succeed in punching a hole through the pane.

Exiting the elevator she carried on walking down the red corridor, round the corner to Tesla's rooms, wondering to herself who their victim was: who his family were, what his connection to the Titanic might've been. John Doe's body was starting to yield its secrets, but aside from knowing he was a gentleman of means, they didn't even know if he'd been staying at the hotel – a fact which could be easily ascertained. Something which would have been almost first on James' list; had he only been here to steer their investigation.

An abrupt crash from behind brought her to an immediate halt. If it had sounded accidental Magnus probably would've kept walking, but the smashing crockery had come down far too hard to have been incidental. Curious, her Doctor's instincts wanting to make sure that whoever it was hadn't hurt themselves, she backtracked, almost certain that she was about to come upon something unusual.

Sure enough, there was a maid leaning back against the wall, the remnants of a tea tray thrown a good distance away towards a door, the coffee pot in bits and its black liquid spreading across the evening paper. The young woman was clutching her head as if in pain, her breathing sharp and irregular, drawing through clenched, bared teeth. She was whimpering as though she'd been in a fever for hours, eyes shut tight against the light.

"What's the matter?" Helen asked, quickly making her way over, and trying to get the girl’s attention.

The girl shifted, as though the pain was unbearable, as though she might, somehow, be able to outrun it. She was struggling to steady her breathing, and instead all that came out was a long, whimpering gasp.

"Don't panic," Magnus heard herself offer calmly, though her heart was pounding at the sight of her, "let me take a look."

She was almost close enough to lend a supportive hand when the maid span on the spot and started to take hurried, uncoordinated steps in the other direction. Thoughts of the crash victim's behaviour flashed in Helen's head, and instinctively she grabbed for her shoulders, hoping to keep the girl still enough to appraise her symptoms. Instead she shrugged and tore away as if to run, forcing Magnus to drop her bag, and grapple with the maid's flailing limbs and skirts. Tackling her to the ground, to stop her shooting off into whatever hazard might cross her path, the girl began to scream and thrash wildly beneath Helen's steady grip. Her face was contorted by some frenzy such as Helen had only seen on rabid dogs.

Cautioned by the comparison, she made sure to keep the girl's teeth at bay, though what she was going to do next at this point was anyone's guess. Her sedatives were in the bag abandoned across the floor.

A door opened up ahead, a woman in her thirties whose eyes immediately bulged at the sight of the two women on the floor, and threw a hand to cover her wide-open jaw, "Dear lord, what’s happened?"

Helen grimaced, looking at the guest in a way she hoped would engender some compassion for her situation, "She's having a seizure, I need my medical bag." She nodded behind herself where it lay abandoned, "Would you be so kind…?"

The maid gave a moan and a lurch beneath her, almost causing Helen to lose her grip.

"Oh of course…" the woman insisted, sneaking round as though the maid was sleeping and needed to not be disturbed.

"Quickly," Helen urged, noticing something rather worrying in her fingertips, "her pulse is increasing she could go into shock."

The woman said no more, presenting the bag in a heartbeat.

"Open it up, in the main compartment," Helen instructed in her most sensible and commanding voice, making sure to keep eye contact with her. "Show me… thank you, right, the blue vial, it's a sedative… I'm going to open her mouth, and I need you to administer two drops."

The woman looked worried for a minute, but soon realised that there was nothing else that could be done. The maid flailing wildly looked in fear of her life, and this woman was entirely tied up with stopping her coming to harm. Her maternal instincts took over, sealing her mouth shut and throwing a steady nod of assent in Magnus' direction.

"Alright," Magnus was starting to feel the strain of fighting against the maid's strong, young limbs. Mustering her strength, she took one hand away from the girl's wrists and gripped the girl's jaw like a cat at the veterinarians. The middle-aged woman managed to keep herself together, slipping two drops from such a distance that they almost landed on her chin instead, but they hit home nonetheless. The minute they were in Helen closed the girl's jaw until it had time to be swallowed down, and took a proper pulse reading from the neck.

Slowly but surely the girl stopped tossing and turning, pulling and hefting, slipping into an uncomfortable looking sleep. Her pulse was stable, her breathing rapid, but regular.

Magnus finally had time to look at the woman who'd so kindly helped them. She'd fallen into a soft, stunned shock almost the instant her part had been played. Gaping at the scene as though she were a hundred miles from it, her hands clutching aimlessly to the bag and trembling ever so slightly.

"Dr Helen Magnus," she introduced herself, offering her hand to get the woman actively doing something, "thank you for your help."

"Marie," the woman accepted the hand, "Mrs Marie Cabot. My goodness…" she couldn't stop staring at the girl. "I heard the commotion and I…"

"Marie, could you ring the bell in your room?"

"What? Yes, oh yes, of course. Of course, she can't stay here."

In a flurry Mrs Cabot hoisted herself up, shuffling into her room as quickly as her dress would allow, to call for help.

In the surprising silence that followed Magnus let out a breath she didn't even realise she'd been holding onto, taking in her surroundings and the broken crockery one door down. What had set this off?

The girl had rather fetching dark hair, Italianate complexion, and though she was of average height, she'd been exceptionally strong. Even in sleep her brows were furrowed, and starting to perspire. Magnus was keen to keep her under observation to make sure the situation didn't deteriorate.

Marie returned, but hovered around uselessly, only making a fuss when a few servants who hadn't been called for happened upon them, and immediately exclaimed their surprise.

"We need to move her," Magnus interceded quickly, addressing the footman first.

"Of, of course but hadn't I… I mean, I'm not sure I can take her very far ma'm."

"That's fine, we can move her to where I'm staying. I'm quite happy to see to her needs."

He did a double take at such an unusual offer, but nodded, picking up the girl with a heave. His reservations could wait until after the crisis was averted.

"Where?" he asked, struggling a little under the weight.

"That way," she pointed, "Mr Tesla's suite."

She noted with amusement that the footman almost rolled his eyes at the mere mention of him; perhaps the staff had grown a little tired of all the wine bottles that inevitably accumulated each day?

"Thank you Mrs Cabot," Magnus offered quickly before they started to move, "I am very grateful to you for your help."

She smiled, throwing up her hands, "No, no, I… you're welcome."

The other servant followed them as they started in the direction of the suite.

"Do you know her?" Magnus asked the maid with a kindly tone.

"Yes, Kat and me do the linens. What's-"

"Has she ever had a fit, or convulsion before? Does she have any conditions?"

The girl balked at the idea, "You think they'd hire someone who's ill Ma'm? This is the Waldorf-Astoria. If she had a probl'm she ain't been tellin' nobody."

"Well then, I need you to go find your superior. I need to know for certain if there was anything which your employers were already aware of."

She nodded and quickly made off for the servants' access, leaving them to bring the maid to her bed.

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